What happened to the uncomfortable pews?

One of my big challenges – other than my wardrobe – was going to Mosque for prayer. I am not sure if all converts find this intimidating, but I definitely did.

I grew up Catholic and I know what to expect when I go to church — standing, kneeling, sitting, hand gestures, as well as all the prayers and confession. Thus, I was certain there must be many aspects of prayer in Mosque that I don’t know or understand that are natural to those who grew up Muslim. I imagined – or feared – that I would do something wrong and offend an entire community of Muslims.

My first challenge was to find a Mosque – not easy where I live currently. A friend who has become my personal Islamopedia found a couple of places near where I live.

So I ventured by myself one Saturday to the first place. Excited and absolutely terrified. Unfortunately, no woman’s section and nobody spoke English. (My German is functional shopping-, dining-German at best.)

There was a woman’s section at the second place I tried but only on Fridays. So, I went the very next Friday. I received a lot of odd looks going in as I asked where the woman’s section was. They pointed upstairs — to an apartment above the Mosque.

The woman’s section was the apartment of this lovely woman who took in total strangers for prayer every Friday. I was overwhelmed with her generosity and trust. I told her excitedly that this was my first time at Mosque….. uh… she did not speak a word of English.

Her mother was there along with her young daughter and another woman with her young daughter. That was it. And no one spoke any English.

I watched as this sister provided tea and cookies to her guests and readied herself for jumua. The two young girls ran around the apartment laughing and happy. Later on two older girls came home from school – though they went back to their room. And the grandmother folded laundry.

Finally, I heard the call to prayer – which takes my breath away every time I hear it. Everybody finished up what they were doing and I was waved up to come join them in the middle of the room. I forgot everything I had learned and memorized beforehand, and I just started following them. They guided me as needed, making sure I was standing in the right place and providing me with a long black covering to wear. (Apparently I was not as suitably dressed as I thought.)

Between prayers we sat for a long time on the floor, though the grandmother was lying down on the floor. A lot of talking was coming through the speakers connected to the Mosque downstairs. Everything was in German or Arabic, and the children continued to run around us.

I was completely lost.

This was not the orderly, precise, reserved Sunday Catholic Mass where we sat stiffly on uncomfortable pews. And I was a bit worried about the Grandmother. Why was she lying down? Was she feeling okay? (For those who were raised Christian, can you imagine if your grandmother just lied on the ground during church service?)

Then, as suddenly as it started, it was over. I received a kiss on the cheek and was wished well. I handed back the covering they had lent me, put my shoes on and left.

I was not sure what exactly had just happened – but was thrilled for the experience.

I spoke later to my friend who explained it all to me. And while I fully intended to make this a routine part of my week, I never did. In the end, I didn’t think this would be the place I would find the community I am seeking. But I am so grateful and humbled by this woman’s kindness and generosity to allow me and other sisters into her home for Friday prayer.

I wish her and her family all the blessings of Allah.

(And yes, I realize now the grandmother was just fine. :-))

For those who grew up Muslim, what is your advice to converts as they begin to attend prayer in the Mosque? For other converts, how did you manage your first experience going to Mosque?

2 responses

  1. Amazing blog, thank you. That’s hilarious. This reminds me of the time I went to Eid prayer entirely in urdu with kids running about and screaming while I looked around horrified. One of my first experiences was being unmodestly dressed for an open house session and asking about Muslims, hijab, and conversion. Yup. And this little kid running around wailing his lungs out like it was racing track. Since then, each mosque has a personality of it’s own based on the people in it and by far the most comfortable one I’ve been to is Masjid Toronto, although it’s not the same for everyone. As you search, visit, and worship, I’m sure you will find one with plush carpeting, friendly sisters, and sermons in English. 😀


  2. Salam, loved this post! It was amusing and enlightening. Never heard of people providing their home for Jummah Prayers. Also sister, glad to have you as part of the Ummah. As pink suggested try to find a Masjid with English speaking congregants and they will be more than happy to help you.

    On a side note @ PINK, I am also from Toronto and Masjid Toronto is one of my favourite masjids 🙂

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