I wrote this for an assignment in my World Religions class, but I thought, hey, this is suitable blog material. The picture above is of the mosque in Northgate, about two blocks from the mall. If you’ve never been, it’s definitely a thought-provoking experience. Enjoy:
We were only able to visit the mosque for one of the prayer services, offered seven times daily. Arriving about a half-hour early, we were met on the steps by a young man who couldn’t have been any older than me sweeping the sidewalk. He was very friendly and invited us around to the side door to enter, where we removed our shoes and headed downstairs for a ritual cleansing. There were special washing rooms with stainless steel bins and separate faucets. Our new friend (whose name escapes me) taught us the ritual: cleanse each hand (starting with the right) three times, rinse the nose and mouth, face, head, and feet. It is important to do this, he said, because you need to get rid of all your sins. Every corner of the face must be cleansed, lest any impurity remain upon praying to Allah.
On our way back upstairs our friend was stopped by one of the older men (I saw no women during my time in the mosque): he had left out some food that he had prepared, and the older man wanted to make sure that the proper sanitary laws were followed. I am unsure of the details of what was required, but it was clear that our young friend had violated these laws before and that the older man was quite annoyed. Our friend was passive-aggressive, submissive but defiant at the same time. They alternated between Arabic and English as they argued back and forth, and finally the older man let him go, this being the last time he would let him “get away” with this. Next time, the meat must be properly handled and disposed.
We followed him back upstairs and entered the sanctuary, where we directed to sit in two of three creaky, plastic chairs set in the back corner. Across the room from us were a few bookshelves full of expensive-looking books, most of which had titles in Arabic. At the front of the room were three stairs which lead to an elevated perch, which remained unoccupied throughout the service. On our left were a few shelves for shoes, and on our right, a box with three slots, labeled “International Relief”, “Zakat”, and “Mosque”. Other than that the room was basically barren: carpet, brick, and windows. We were not invited to participate in the service: rather, we looked on as about twenty-five men gradually entered the room. They were mostly of Middle-Eastern descent, but some were African-American. One of them had two sons whom he had brought along, who looked around furtively and up to their father for guidance. All was quiet.
They stood in a line that would make the strictest of sergeants proud, twenty of them or so, backs straight and shoulder-to-shoulder. Soon enough the sheikh, who stood near a microphone a little bit in front of the group, began to chant in Arabic. His voice was monotone but emphatic, pushed from his lungs in a slow rhythm. Everyone seemed to know exactly what to do: with a look of intense purpose and concentration they knelt on both knees, arms crossed, sitting on their heels. They were not uniform in timing—some stood before others, some knelt more quickly, and so on—but their postures were exactly the same. After kneeling and another chant from the sheikh (I never did get out of our friend what, exactly, the sheikh was chanting), all twenty-five of them put their noses to the carpet, hands palms-down beside their ears. This was clearly a posture of ultimate, willful submission. After ten or fifteen seconds of this they sat up again, then they stood, the backs of their heels still lining up perfectly. After a few minutes some of them began to breathe more heavily—the movement was fairly rapid, and no one position was held for more than fifteen seconds—and sweat appeared on some of their foreheads. No more than fifteen minutes of this and the service was over.
After the service most everyone left as quickly as they had seemed to appear, save five or six, the sheikh among them, who retreated to the back of the sanctuary. The sheikh and a few others talked in the corner while another opened his calculus textbook and began studying. We followed our friend to the back to chat, and it was almost a shock how quickly and aggressively he began talking to us about Islam and “the confusion of Christianity”. For instance, he insisted that Jesus had said in Matthew (I think he meant Luke) that it was “expedient” for him to send a comforter to guide us into all truth. The word for comforter, he said, comes from the Greek paraclete (quite correct). But the Aramaic word, translated into Arabic, was Muhammad. Thus, Jesus was sending Muhuammad. Another example: he reminded us that the Bible says that a woman must cover herself up, I clarified that the Bible gave that commandment for women while they prophesy, at which point he respectfully disagreed. After three or four of these examples, he explained to me that I must forgive him, for he would be held accountable for his lack of wisdom, and that I should consult the sheikh with any questions I might have.
I was able to glean from our discussion that every Friday (the day of the main service) he felt a kind of familial bond with the other followers of Islam. Imagine what it feels like, he said, to have hundreds of brother and sisters—a funny thing to say, since Christianity offers me the same kind of feeling, so that I was by no means jealous. Our friend proved to be aggressively talkative but otherwise unhelpful, though he and a man Faradh, who had sat near us during our discussion, were able to give us some helpful websites on our way out the door.
The end. I’m sure I’ll be processing my thoughts further on in the week.