This week, a friend asked me the meaning of the Arabic words on the historic Abou Ben Adhem Shrine Mosque at 601 E. St. Louis Street. I didn't know, but I certainly was curious.
So I went to take a look because I had never before noticed the Arabic writing atop the two towers.
On the off chance you don't know this - the mosque is not a real mosque. It is not a house of worship for Muslims.
It was constructed in 1923 by local members of the Abou Ben Adhem Shrine Mosque, Ancient Arabic Order of the Mystic Shrine. The builders were Masons, otherwise known as the Ancient Free and Accepted Masons. (You have to be a Mason to be a Shriner.)
Going further back, the Shrine was founded in 1872 by two white guys who wanted to be around other white guys for fun and fellowship.
In fact, the founders were 32nd-degree Masons. I don't know exactly what that means but I do know that water freezes at 32 degrees.
In other words, what I'm saying is that the folks who built the mosque here in Springfield- and the 3,300 Shriners today who live in Southwest Missouri - are most definitely not Muslims. They do not follow the tenets of Islam.
Instead, they just thought mosques and camels and fezzes were cool and mysterious.
I should add that Shriners have done a tremendous amount of charity work since 1920. They have given millions to 19 Shriners Hospitals that provide free medical care to sick children in need.
OK, as I was saying, I went to the mosque to look at the words and, lo and behold, Bobby Pinegar, in charge of membership, was in his office.
He does not know what the Arabic words mean. He called a fellow Shriner who did not know, either.
But he did tell me something interesting.
Occasionally, Muslims will come to the temple thinking that Springfield - home to the national headquarters of the U.S. Assemblies of God - for some bizarre reason has one big honkin' mosque.
Pinegar, of course, tells them it's not a real mosque. and often gives them a tour.
He tells them things like Harry Truman spoke here, Cassius Clay (Muhammed Ali) fought here, and Elvis Presley, John Philip Sousa, Will Rogers, Ella Fitzgerald, Johnny Cash and Frank Sinatra performed here.
He tells them the Shrine Mosque was built for $600,000; added to the Springfield Historic Sites Register in 1973; and to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.
All interesting, but I still had no translation. I returned to the newsroom thinking I would have to show a photo of the writing to someone - perhaps a Saudi national at Missouri State University - who could translate.
But that's when my editor, Cheryl Whitsitt, told me the News-Leader has written about this before.
A long informative story about the mosque ran in October 2000. It states that the Arabic writing on the mosque means: "There is no God but Allah."
Who would have thought? Right here in Springfield, Mo., one of the whitest cities in America.
And if for some reason you are upset by this, you can thank a bunch of white guys.
(These are the views of Steve Pokin, the News-Leader's columnist. Pokin has been at the paper 31/2 years and over the course of his career has covered just about everything - from courts and cops to features and fitness. He can be reached at 836-1253, firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter @stevepokinNL or by mail at 651 N. Boonville, Springfield, MO 65806.
Steve's articles: http://www.news-leader.com/topic/f471bbef-b023-4ca2-b031-eda137400290/pokin-around/)
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