Sunday, 31 March 2013

Where Do I Stand?: Being a Newbie at a Mosque


Although I've been a Muslim for two years now,  it might surprise you to hear that I still have no idea what to do in a mosque. In fact, when it comes to mosques I might as well be a complete newbie. I get myself all in a nervous muddle not knowing where to go, what to do or when to do it. 



I hadn't been going to any of the small repurposed buildings used as mosques in Bologna because there were either too far away, had no spaces for women or you got the feeling that a huge hoo-hah would be made (with a lot of be-grudging huffing and puffing) as the space was provided for you. I'd only been to a sports hall in the suburbs for Eid prayer and that was about it. 

Then huzzah! and Alhamdulillah we discovered a mosque not too far away which is lovely, shiny and new. The main selling point was that the women's section has a huge plasma screen TV so you could see the imam speaking (in Arabic and Italian) and the women wouldn't miss out on anything. I was so excited when I heard the news that I contacted my new friend Nameera and organised to meet there.

Source: Imaan & Beauty
The Comfort of Carpets 

After waving my husband goodbye, I was ushered into the women's section and knelt down next to my friend who (thank goodness) was able to show me the ropes. I was delighted to find myself a clean white space with a deep burgundy carpet. The design on the carpet allocated each person a space to pray on so there isn't any bumping or jostling. 

Nameera informed me with a Cheshire cat grin on her face that the carpets smelled amazing. I looked at her rather quizzically to which she responded, 'it's not always the case. This mosque might give you a ridiculously high expectation of all carpets.' Indeed, I'd heard horror stories of people coming up from bowing only to find things stuck to their forehead ranging from leaves to other items which I'd rather not care to mention. 
The Practicality of Segregation

I'd always had issues with segregation in Islam before I converted. My mum being a Christian minister meant that I'd grown up in an environment where women have an active role in religious life and part of the joy of being in church was the feeling of community that everyone was together sitting side by side. Of course, sexism rears its ugly head in all communities but at least in this area, gender wasn't an issue. Therefore the very idea of separation tends to raise an conflict inside me. 

I'd never fully understood the logic behind segregation until I was actually in a mosque and I saw the practical reasons why you'd pray separately. If they didn't all belong to the same gender, you'd be very distracted by the sea of bottoms bobbing up and down! 

Prayer is a very intimate act, and the Islamic way even more so, if you consider that you're prostrating yourself physically in front of many people. So just as I'd always use a women's bathroom facility, I'm very thankful for that separation of the sexes as far as prayer is concerned.



The Vulnerability of Praying in Public

Prayer in Islam is not just a spiritual act, it's also highly physical. I like to imagine that old Muslim men and women must have very limber joints in comparison to the relatively sedentary christian way of praying!

Getting into the 5 daily routine was (and continues to be) quite a challenge for me because unless I was saying a prayer aloud in congregation, my prayers were usually silent and spontaneous in my head as thoughts occurred to me. 

Shyness when it comes to praying in front of others is quite a significant challenge for me to overcome. It even took me a long time to feel comfortable praying in front of my husband without feeling self-conscious. There's a significant element of trust involved because you're incredibly vulnerable when you pray and at a mosque you're surrounded by people you don't necessarily know and that makes me rather apprehensive. 



When I arrived at the mosque not knowing what to do, Nameera helpfully advised me to pray two rakat (or in my simplified way of thinking 'two down, two up'). I dilly-dallied around hesitantly for a while watching what everyone else was doing but then eventually I got down to doing it and I felt so much better once I'd prayed. I think it'll take a while to feel completely at ease with just arriving and praying straight away even though you don't know everyone in the room. 

If I'm honest, probably my main fear is that I'll do something wrong. To be fair, I could see in the corner of my eye that a little old lady, who had been watching me with great curiosity ever since I'd walked in, was continuing to glance over as I prayed and so my fears of being watched were not completely unfounded. Luckily the lady was adorable despite the fact that we didn't speak a common language. 



The Solidarity of Being Shoulder to Shoulder


As it was Jummah (the prayers on Friday afternoon which are obligatory for men to attend) the prayers take a slightly longer fancier form. The ladies all stood up and moved to the front of the room where they formed a line standing shoulder to shoulder. The little old ladies fussed as they organised us younger muslims and it wasn't until my friend Nameera leant over and explained, 'you need to be touching so that there's no space for Shaytan (Satan) to get in between you' that I understood why. 

I tried my best to stay focused but I have to admit that I was rather distracted as I was observing what was going on and trying to work out where I was in the rakat because my normal rhythm was thrown off kilter. When it was all over I felt so exhilarated to have been to Friday prayer and so chuffed that I couldn't think of anything better than a kebab to commemorate the event! 

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I'd love to hear responses from you. 
Have you ever been to a mosque? 
Have you had similar experiences? 

I'd also like to tag Nye Armstrong (Iloveelhassan) and Heather
(Delusional Mom) to hear their first experiences in mosques. 


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Related Links:
Karima's Crafts Tutorial for a Felt Muslim Doll Praying
My Dad's Mosque Visit in Derby



23 comments:

  1. This is so wonderful to read. I can't pinpoint exactly why, but I think it is eye-opening for me and I appreciate your honesty. Your experiences just seems to real, I guess. Not all perfect, but in process and part of community.

    I'm also curious how you got such beautiful photos?! Some of the most moving photos I've seen or taken are of spiritual/faith-based things but of course those are so difficult to take because it is such a personal, intimate moment.

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    1. Thank you, that means a lot. I like the fact that you're not sure why you like it - it reminds me of the logic my Mum used when she said if you can say why you love someone, then you don't really love them : )

      I'd love to be able to take such lovely photos but alas these are not mine - if you click on them, they should take to the source. I don't think I'd have the guts to take a photo of someone praying. You're right - those intimate moments are often the most beautiful and the most difficult to capture.

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    2. btw I found most of them via Pinterest (which I love!)

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  2. I think it's really interesting to read your experiences. I am raised a Christian and very open-minded about different religions, including Islam , Boedhism(you name it I think it's all very interesting, all religions have there differences and equalities). I just want to learn about different religions and try to understand why people do / be the way they do. I am happy for you that you finally found a mosque. Hope to read more from you soon!

    Saranda

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  3. Thank you for the information. I walk past mosques every day and have no idea what goes on inside.

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  4. Such an interesting post! I love hearing about other religions, thanks so much for sharing!

    www.edeltherese.com

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  5. Assalmualaykum. Your post is a real eye opener for me. Honestly, even I who is a born Muslim still have that feeling somebody is watching me, waiting for me to make a mistake while I'm praying. The best thing to make that feeling go away is to ask yourself why you're there.We're not there because of the little old lady or anyone else but for the sole pleasure of Almighty Allah. May you find peace in solah.

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    1. I agree, I'm trying to focus on why I'm there rather than who's watching me. Thank you : )

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  6. I loved reading your post! It was a few years after I reverted that I stepped into a Mosque too! I was totally lost as to what to do! Unfortunately the Main Mosques in my City don't have facilities for women so don't get to go much! I attend on the odd occasion the University Mosque (Little Hut) as they have a tiny room for the female students to pray which is open to all (non students too) for Jummah which is good.

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    1. It's interesting that it seems to take reverts a long time to have the confidence to go to the mosque for the first time. I hope that one day there'll be somewhere comfortable for you to pray in too inshallah.

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  7. Nice post! I remember the first time I started going to the mosque, I was so self-conscious.

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  8. Thank you for your insight. I am new to Islam and still trying to work up the nerve to attend mosque alone.

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    1. I'm very happy for you : ) The idea of going on your own can be very daunting. If you can, try to find someone from your area who might be able to show you the ropes - twitter might even be able to help there - it depends where you're from.

      will keep you in my du'a. let me know how you get on : )

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  9. Sister, I go through the same thing and I'm a male. You're not alone.

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    1. Thank you. It's very comforting to know that everyone has these insecurities.

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  10. Your post makes me smile, dear. It sounds very honest :)
    What I love from mosque is when all people do the same thing, Do the prayer, praise Allah, read Quran, etc. No matter who they are.

    Btw, I love the top photo, the green scarf makes you stunning <3

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    1. I love the community feeling as well and how everyone is brought together - I'm particularly looking forward to Ramadan which really brings out that community aspect - encouraging each other and sharing food together. Thank you for such a lovely comment : )

      Have a lovely week x

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  11. masha allah sister God bless u allahu akbar

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  12. Hi Sarita,

    Interestingly enough, my first time in a mosque was the day before I said my shahada. I was fortunate in that the MSA at my school uses an old Church to hold Friday prayer in... so in the weeks leading up to my Shahada, I attended these services with female friends from the MSA. It was less pressure than a mosque, to be honest. After telling my closest friend that I wanted to say my Shahada, he took me to the mosque to speak to an imam. I was able to catch a glimpse of the prayer area on the way to his office. Although there was trepidation when I went to the mosque the next day, I'm not sure if it was due to the fact that I was nervous of the mosque itself or if I was nervous about saying my Shahada. A positive thing that happened is that after my Shahada, all of the sisters in the mosque came up and hugged me and invited me to pray with them. This put me totally at ease. I'm looking forward to going back. :)

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  13. Subhanallah, i'm hapy to hear that, you might consider doing itikaf from maghrib till isya prayer with some dzikir and praise Allah, it will enlighten your hearts and calm your mind, Inshaa Allah

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  14. Mashallah, great job on this post! You really hit the nail on the head when you started talking about how intimate salah is...I was hoping I wasn't the only one who felt shy praying in front of other people XD

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