If you think a religious life is slow and contemplative, you've never met Imam Sheikh Rashid Lamptey. From before dawn until nearly midnight, the young Muslim cleric is dashing from prayer to person, putting out brushfires and doling out spiritual guidance.
Two months ago, Imam Lamptey cut the ribbon on the new Dar Al Noor mosque in Manassas, Va. The mosque sits near a busy highway, but at 5:30 in the morning, very little stirs except for the crickets.
Inside the building, a couple dozen sleepy men and women slip off their shoes and quietly kneel in a large room, facing east. At precisely 5:45 a.m., a slim, nimble man in a mauve robe and burgundy cap rushes into the room. After a quiet moment of reflection, he calls the faithful to prayer in a haunting, elegant song.
The Role of an Imam
Most days, Lamptey leads devout worshippers through the dawn prayer before they drive off to work. Even for the 35-year-old imam with boundless energy, it's a little early.
"You have to be up at 4," Lamptey says, laughing, "putting cold water on your body, washing all your sleep away, and standing for some time for God, bowing and prostrating. It's not very easy, actually. It is a test."
By 7 a.m. or so, he sits in his study, lined with leather volumes of books about Islam, Christianity, Judaism. When asked to define his job, Imam Lamptey, who came to this country from Ghana four years ago, gives a surprising answer.
"The imam is a negotiator. He's a social leader. He's a teacher, a guide, a mediator, an arbitrator," Lamptey says, ticking off his tasks on his fingers. "And sometimes, he goes spiritual, where he makes prayer for people, to smooth and calm them." (MORE)