Single female revert looking for a warm and welcoming Mosque

I was not sure what I would write about this week. With my recent move and starting a new job, I feel like I am constantly exhausted and am not as engaged as I normally am.

So I thought I would give a quick update on my Islamic explorations and get your thoughts and advice.

I have spent the last two weekends exploring Mosques around the city. There are still a few really big ones I have yet to visit, but so far I have visited nine Mosques.

To be honest, I am not sure I have found ‘my Mosque’ yet. Though, I don’t really know what I am looking for, or what I should be looking for.

I guess I still have in my mind the notion of a congregation dressed in their Sunday best that meets for pancake breakfast after Mass and being welcomed by the parish priest. It is so odd how parts of my upbringing pop up at the most unexpected moments – especially since I did not feel particularly strongly about these things growing up.

So… what am I expecting or hoping for? I suppose I am looking for a place where I can pray all of the five prayers, including Jumua – which I definitely did find. (I may pray mostly at home, but I would like to option.) I also hope it is a place where I can continue my education, and learn about lectures and other events around the city. (Though I have signed up for an Arabic and Qur’an class at a local Islamic Institute, which I will start in October. So excited!!) And I would like a Mosque where I can meet a diverse group of people to hopefully connect with.

So, what does it mean to you to belong to your community Mosque? What makes it feel like your community? Where did you find information about the Mosque – or from whom? How does one search for a Mosque?

Coffee Klatch

After my first Mosque visit – see my previous posting for that story – it was a while before I went to another Mosque. First was in a large hotel when I was traveling on business – but I was alone in the prayer room.

Next….. was Istanbul. I am so amazingly fortunate! I was able to go to these enormous, beautiful, historic mosques.

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And this is where I really gained insight into what it means to pray in congregation – or at least an insight.

I was still a bit nervous going in to pray, and I definitely caused a bit of confusion. Heading to the Blue Mosque for Asr I was greeted with shouts of, “Lady. Lady! The Mosque is closed to tourists. Lady!” I did not break stride, I just kept going until I found the place for wudu for women, where I received more looks of confusion. Then I went into the Mosque and entered the woman’s area.

It was a bit before Asr still. There was a small group of women in a corner chatting, a young woman sitting in the window reading a book, an older lady peeking over the partition at the men’s area, a couple of other women praying according to their own rhythm, and children running in and out and all around.

And, if I am really honest, there was also the smell of feet. But that could have been me as my shoes were in my bag that was just in front of me, and it was a very hot day.

As we reached the time of prayer, the place was packed and we all prayed together in our little section of the Mosque. It was wonderful.

I went to a different Mosque each day I was in Istanbul, and it was a similar experience to varying degrees depending on the time of day that I was there — women chatting quietly, praying, lying down, reading.

And it occurred to me. The women’s section is a total coffee klatch but without the coffee! A place to go think, rest, chat and – of course – pray. And how wonderfully this supports, or is the result of, the importance of community in Islam.

Alhamdulilah.

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?

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