An afternoon with Islam

Well the religion tour I have so enjoyed with Elisabeth is over, and I’m really glad I asked to come along. I learned a lot, but probably the greatest thing I have taken away is the humanity. Visiting the temple, the synagogue and mosque puts faces to a group of people, and I know next time I hear someone refer to Buddhists, I will picture the white-haired Buddhist priest on his knees in front of an altar, chanting. When I hear “Jews,” I will think of the couple who sat in front of us at the synagogue with their cute little boy sitting between them. And when I think of Muslims, I will think of the mother and daughter I wrote about below, standing in silence, praying.

Most of my beliefs are not in line with those of the Buddhists, Jews and Muslims, but I still respect them and think it can do us all some good to experience different cultures and faiths. I don’t know if a Buddhist, Jew or Muslim has ever visited a church that I’ve been at, but I hope if that ever happens, I will get to share the experience with them.

Here’s story 3 of 3 about our visit to a Muslim mosque:

Hours before visiting a mosque, I watched a YouTube video about how to wrap a hijab on my head. I wrestled with my long, blue shawl and looked more like the Virgin Mary in a nativity scene.

I found the mosque Saturday in a charming residential neighborhood and fixed my makeshift hijab in the car, a little disappointed no one would witness my good hair day. The building was short and long with an adjacent trailer for a library and bookstore. An old basketball court was in the back, a picnic shelter in the front.

When my friend arrived, I was glad I didn’t have to walk in alone. I was self-conscious and didn’t want to stick out, but my attempt to blend in didn’t last long. After removing our shoes, we realized we were in the men’s section. A man politely told us the women’s entrance is in the back. We apologized and put our shoes back on.

In the women’s prayer room, we found a mother and daughter reading the Qur’an, their pocketbooks sitting beside them. It was their first visit to this mosque. They dressed conservatively and I was glad I wore a long skirt and long-sleeved shirt. Muslim women often wear loose-fitted clothing to hide the shape of their bodies. I appreciate the modesty.

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Across the room, a sign read: “Please no strollers or car seats in the mussalah,” or place of prayer. Wide, white blinds covered the windows, and a flat screen TV hung above a carpeted space where women usually pray. That afternoon, though, the four of us moved into a partitioned space next door to hear the imam. We peeked between gaps in the partition to see if the men were praying yet. I respect the separation, but for me, one of the best parts of worship is sharing it with my husband.

My friend and I read an English translation of the Qur’an while they prayed. I’ve read the Bible twice and would like to read the whole Qur’an. I’ve read only bits and pieces.

We watched the two women stand, then fall on their knees, then put their heads to the ground, praying. It was quiet besides a muffled imam and a child whining in the next room. I admired their focus and humility as their foreheads touched the floor. It reminded me of church when we take a moment to reflect on our shortcomings and God’s grace. Muslims might also wash exposed parts of their bodies before prayer so they are purified and presentable to Allah. Unlike Christians, they don’t believe in the divinity of Jesus, or the Trinity.

The daughter later showed us a Smartphone app that lists daily prayer times. The five prayers are said before dawn, at noon, in the afternoon, at sunset and in the evening. For each one, Muslims pray the first chapter of the Qur’an – seven verses praising Allah, “the most gracious, the most merciful.” Other prayers are also said. While I enjoy quiet reflection and prayer, I also like singing in church.

The mother, originally from Egypt, patiently answered our questions afterwards. Her family is celebrating Ramadan, the month in which Muslims believe the Qur’an was revealed. They spend sunup to sundown fasting, avoiding food and water, but also practicing self-restraint in other areas — trying to avoid negative thoughts and actions for a complete spiritual cleanse. She said they eat lots of dessert after dark.

Although I get cranky without food, I like the idea of this “extended revival.” Church revivals typically last a week at most, but I wonder what a month would do. We’re all imperfect, and I think it’s impossible for a person of any major religion to walk the walk 24-7.

To break the fast that evening, some Senegalese served a meal, but we left beforehand. On the way out, I noticed a bulletin board with several ads: one to help Syrian refugees, one advertising a house for rent, another about a girls’ youth group learning about the prophets, and one selling Moroccan pastries.

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