Wednesday, April 29, 2009

We Visited a Mosque

My friend, who was once teaching my daughter and me embroidery before I realized that I hated it and didn't want to learn embroidery, is Muslim. She is a practicing Muslim and recently had an open house at her mosque so her non-Muslim friends and acquaintances could come and ask questions and so we all could share some recognition of commonality.

It was a lovely, warm time.

I had met some of her Muslim friends before at a Weston A. Price meeting, and had seen another woman before at a science fair at a nature preserve, and at the recent homeschooling conference. These are some people who I have a passing acquaintance with and I felt very comfortable there.

My daughter had a great time getting henna decorations on her hands; it is also known as mendhi.

It kind of looks like brown, fine-tip marker, and I believe I know someone who will try to replicate this same effect once the henna wears off. I just think it's likely...

My son, unlike my getting-decorated-with-the-cool-henna daughter, was almost bored completely out of his mind. Like any religious tradition, the speakers tend to be a bit long winded. Yep. Check. We had long windedness. But, the recitation of the Koran at the beginning was beautiful. It was sort of sung and sort of intoned by an older gentleman and he had slight, intention filled pauses that lent it a grace and a spirituality that I didn't think I'd recognize there. I spoke later with my friend's husband and he said even if you don't understand the Arabic, people are sometimes moved to tears by it. I could see that.

I asked some questions after having gone online the night before. I didn't want to inadvertently offend anyone, and because my ignorance is vast, I thought I should have some basis for some of my questions. I wanted a basic understanding.

I found out about the 5 pillars of Islam.

  1. Faith and belief in God--Allah.
  2. Prayer 5 times a day.
  3. Fasting for Ramadan.
  4. Giving 2 1/2 % of your value to charity (Not 2 1/2 % of your money--your value. You include your car, house etc. in that figure.)
  5. Visit to Mecca at least once--The Hajj.
I wondered about fatwas. I had a vague understanding, but asked for more information at the mosque.

They instantly got a bit defensive and started talking about Jihad, and I explained that I wasn't really asking about that. I had seen online at a site a listing of new fatwas. A fatwa is a judgement based on Koranic law about an issue in a person's life. The fatwa is handed down by a scholar or someone with authority with knowledge of the Koran. I had noticed a question a college student had about whether he could cut his prayers short because he had a long commute to school. There was a fatwa issued about that. I didn't find out what the verdict was on that, but was more interested in the idea that Muslim life is so proscribed by ritual and etiquette and traditions that no one wavers from.

Again my friend's husband later explained to me that it is a way of life that they always know as they grow up and it is steeped in their daily habits. They eat with the right hand and not with the left. They enter a bathroom with one foot and exit it with the other. There are rules of etiquette that describe proper Muslim behavior and it is second nature to them. My friends don't think to question it--it is more than cultural. It is one of the ways they honor Allah.

The not quite Imam who was speaking and answering questions explained that a fatwa can apply to an individual person and not necessarily to the whole Muslim community. And online I had noticed that it said that the conscience of the person still must guide their acceptance or rejection of the fatwa.

I asked about the hijab. I had read that there is some discussion about the reference to covering yourself as a woman in the Koran and that it only specifically mentioned the wives of Mohammad. No one else was told to cover themselves in that way. They explained that it is in the Koran and that there were ways that Mohammed's wives should cover themselves and the way others do. They also said that the hijab is a way of following in the good example of Mohammed's wives. All of the women at the mosque looked comfortable and were very cheerful and welcoming.

There was wonderful food that my friend had made and that was also catered. We had curried chicken and rice and a bulgar, lentil, beef dish with caramelized onions on top. The kids found the dessert trays and enjoyed the various cookies.

At 6:00 everyone had to go pray. We were able to watch the men on a closed circuit TV, but were not to go into their side. The women had a different room and prayed in exactly the same way as the men did and at the same time.

My son was able to join the men and stayed in the back of the room. He later asked my friend, at my urging, why they kept saying, "Riiiise up white men. Riiiise up white men." Well, my friend laughed because that's a little bit what the Arabic sounded like, but that's not what was being said. She thought that was cute.

My son knelt down at one point, as the men did in front of him. Not in imitation or in a disrespectful way, but my son did it just to feel it in his body as they did it as part of their prayer.

We are not a religious family at all. My husband and I are agnostic/atheists. We leave a little wiggle room for the possibility of God and we feel the wonder of the universe and of life and of our children. We know life is fleeting. We know life is beautiful and has meaning--just not what all of the religions necessarily ascribe to it.

Religion feels very manufactured to us. My husband should know, he designs stuff for a company after all. It feels like other man made things. Catholics have incense and confession. Muslims have prayer 5 times a day and a set of rules for daily living. Jews (like Muslims) can't eat pork, have to use separate dishes for dairy items and meat items, if they keep kosher. It all seems a bit forced to me.

Having said all of that, I have an appreciation for everybody's right to their religion. I like this country. I like that we have encoded in The Constitution the right to believe whatever we want. That is supremely American.

I wanted to visit my friend's mosque because I did want to have a chance to ask some questions. But, I had another reason for going as well.

A while ago, my friend was driving and a friend was with her. Both had on the hijab. My friend's two daughters were in the back. These are girls who attend a performing class with my kids. These are girls that played with my daughter while I grudgingly learned embroidery until I got up the nerve to explain to my friend that I didn't want to learn embroidery. These are sweet girls.

My friend was driving through a kind of upscale community. It's a little bit horsey and lot white. A guy in a pickup truck drove her off the road, and yelled at her once she came to a stop. He called her a foul name and told her to go back to her own country. This is not OK.

The police did not file a report at the station after my friend told them what happened. This is also not OK.

We visited a mosque to learn a bit and try to see how we are all human and American. Gosh, that sounds so silly as I read that back to myself. Of course we are all human! Yet, we still see so many as The Other. I visited to show my friend support and to show the greater Muslim community at her mosque that there are Americans who don't see them as an enemy or as The Other.

Plus, there was great food, and that couldn't hurt either...


Nora said...

At the risk of sounding religious, Amen!

Laura said...

Thanks Nora. LOL

I'll see your Amen and raise you a hallelujah!

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