Trying Out: Idris Mosque (Week Thirty-Three)
I had a brief course on world religions during my Social Studies class. Hearing about a thing from a teacher is one thing. Hearing about it from someone who cares passionately is another.
The local mosque was having a friendly barbecue. They wanted their neighbors to feel welcome to stop by, say hello, and be a part of their community. They invited folks from my church. I saw no reason why Quakers and Muslims could not have a visit under their roof.
They drew a nice crowd. There was a line of people happy with their food. I heard a family try to offer a donation and the volunteers politely declined. “No, no; this is on us. It is our pleasure.” One of the senior members of their mosque was standing out on the sidewalk, greeting those that came in.
I walked up to this man, introduced myself, and asked if it would be possible to take a peek inside since I had never been in such a building before. He pointed me to a spot by the building, informed me that tours would be starting there in about half an hour, and strongly suggested that I try some food.
Right after that, I greeted a woman. I held out my hand, but she informed me that she did not shake hands. I was a little taken aback by that. Honestly though, it could have been for any number of reasons. Maybe it was cultural. Maybe she was shy. Maybe she had a cold.
In my half an hour or so of standing about, I noticed all sorts of people shaking hands left and right, so I decided that mine was probably a minor interaction. If nothing else, it was hardly worth worrying about. I was their guest after all, so it was up to them to dictate protocols. I tried to be respectful since they were being kind enough to open their doors. (And pantries.)
The tour was my main reason for attending; besides the desire to show them that Quakers care. We took off our shoes, gathered in a small circle, and followed the guide around.
The mosque I visited was built in 1981. It was the first mosque in Washington. The basement floor we came in through had rooms for preparation, but mostly was a large gathering place for lectures, weddings, and other gatherings.
Upstairs, on the main level, was the central worshipping space. There was a large chair for the speaker and a few others next to that. Along the same wall were many bookshelves. (The community and neighbors are welcome to come and peruse the books whenever they like.) The rest of the room was covered in carpets, but no chairs.
The tour guide had attended the mosque for many years. Yet, that time that she was in the main/men’s room with us was the first time she had set foot in there.
On the second floor was the women’s worshipping area. It was essentially an indoor balcony, looking down on the main floor and the speaker. If they had questions, there were gaps in the wall and railings where they could throw down pieces of paper. It was quite easy for them to see everything that occurred downstairs, unless it happened in the space under their floor. Again, there were very little, if any, chairs provided. Carpet for all.
There were side rooms as well. They had rooms that could be used as a nursery and rooms that could be used for over-flow crowds. At its heart, it was a very simple layout with three stories and stairwells on both sides. The building, operated by volunteers, was sufficient for the tasks required; but never extravagant.
Towards the end, we started to talk about the woman’s personal views. How she enjoyed having the fabric wrapped over her head, but that she did not agree with the covering of one’s face. If she were in a place where the culture strongly suggested it, perhaps in the Middle East, then she would don the facial covering out of respect. Yet she stressed that the coverings were a choice.
She also had some very positive things to say about how she and her community were treated in this country, which I had not expected. She said that America was very tolerant of her religion. She stated that workplaces were pretty respectful of their prayer requirements. She had gone through some scares with 9/11 and the current administration, yet she remained positive about her current country’s treatment of Muslims.
In one of the few comments I made during the visit, I stated, “Well, we want you to feel safe.”
(I was there to listen and learn. Others had plenty of questions. I tried to keep quiet.)
I have some opinions about their methods. I am sure they have their opinions about mine. I like having women and men comingling during worship. However, Quakers used to split genders down the aisle. And I can see it as being less distracting and more God-focused to have certain areas to worship from. Once the guide made it clear that she felt free to choose; that the choice was hers? That rather nipped any concerns I had in the bud.
It is very important to me to be able to worship how I feel led to. I do not want anyone else restricting how I interact with God. I want that some freedom for everyone. Whether in a meeting house or a mosque, I am glad that we can peacefully coexist and learn from each other.