Along the banks of the Anacostia River, scores of Moslems, mostly black Washingtonians, knelt on blankets in prayer as part of the District's Islamic celebration that coincides with the hajj, or pilgrimage, to Mecca.

That most holy of occasions in the Middle East was marred by tragedy, with more than 400 people killed last week during a clash with Saudi police officers.

But this served only to stimulate discussion in Anacostia on Tuesday. It was a lively discussion indeed.

"I know a lot of people here sympathize with the Iranians," said Tarik Abdul-Qasim, a Washington resident who works for IBM. "They represent the vanguard of the Islamic movement. And while I don't agree with a lot of their views, I respect them for having the guts and the heart to establish an Islamic base."

"If Iran defeats Iraq, there's going to be trouble for us Sunni Moslems," said Muhammad Abdullah Mustafa, a businessman and student at George Washington University. "Already we are having conflicts on the campus. The Iranians {who are Shiite Moslems} want to bring gravestones into our prayer room. We don't believe in this, so there is constant friction."

The issues of global Islam and its many factions aside, what was most striking during the Eid Al-Adha, or commemoration of the sacrifice of a ram, was that so many men and women -- about 2,000 -- showed up for the celebration here.

"Ten years ago, there wouldn't have been more than a handful of blacks participating in this," said Tarik Abdul-Qasim. "But consciousness about Islam is definitely on the rise."

The appeal of this religion is apparent. Children of Islam, for instance, appear extraordinarily well-behaved.

"There is no question that they shun the vices -- drugs, alcohol, even dating," said Muhammad Abdullah Mustafa. "The thing about Islam is that it provides a total way of life."

Islam is an Arabic word meaning submission, surrender and obedience; Muslim or Moslem means one who submits.

"What's so hip about Islam is the Koran," said Abdul Ahmed, who was a Baptist until seven years ago. "The Koran is the word of God. It's not like the Bible, which has been interpreted and reinterpreted through the years. I grew up on a King James version. Now tell me, who is that man?"

"It's not that I don't believe Christianity is a true religion," Mustafa said. "But Islam makes me adhere to principle better. It's clearer. As a man, it gives you responsibility; it says you must take action and that all men are leaders."

Because of what is sometimes billed as the "fanaticism" of those practicing the religion, Moslems are often misunderstood, if not outright shunned, by other residents. Part of the problem is that Moslems tend to be uncompromising and quite serious about their religion.

"I had been away from the church for about 10 years before I decided to check out Islam," said Muhammad Shakur. "Religion no longer seemed relevant, or I figured I could do without going to church, but that was not true at all. I realized that we need something spiritual in our lives. After being invited to the mosque by a friend, I came to see that there is a reason why Islam is the religion of Africa and black people around the world."

Shakur flipped open his Koran to guide him through a recitation. "Allah says: 'O ye who believe. Retaliation is prescribed for you in the matter of the murdered; the freeman for the freeman, and the slave for the slave, and the female for the female. And for him who is forgiven somewhat by his {injured} brother, prosecution according to usage and payment unto him in kindness. This is an alleviation and a mercy from your Lord. He who transgresseth after this will have a painful doom."

Shakur snapped the book shut, pursed his lips and squinted his eyes, knowingly.

"You better get on board, brother," he warned. The tone was kindly. Sort of.