Today I went to a meeting where an ACLU lawyer was speaking against an impending voter id law. The meeting was at a church in the middle of downtown (that actually is a picture of the church). We got lost finding the gymnasium but the impromptu tour... I can't even put in words how it made me feel. We walked through a playground up to a door. It was not the correct door. It was the door to the domestic abuse center of the church which was relocatin next to the ballet hall the church bought to convert into the states largest homeless shelter. There was a school catering to the underprivelged, a workout room with fitness classes, drop area for clothing donations. A sign posted that the therapist had returned from vacation and was accepting appointments. Finally we found the gymnasium and listened to the Reverand's wife discuss voter ID followed by action items regarding tackling the city's homelessness problem. The meeting was secular but I felt the love and compassion that God wants us to show each other in that room not just through our words or kneeling or bowing in prayer but also through our actions. The church was not just a place to pray it was a community focal point for their worshippers. They went not just to pray, they went to feel needed and to belong.
It reminded me of the Blue Mosque in Turkey. Musjids were not meant to be solely places of prayer. The Ottoman Empire musjids had "soup kitchens" and fountains of water for the poor and provided shelter for travelers. Musjids used to be a place where people would gather and share ideas and feel part of a common community. When I saw this church along with my deep respect for the good work they are doing, I felt frustrated and very... sad. How would it feel if I had a musjid I could go to where I went not just to pray but also to participate in the community? How would I feel if I felt comfortable attending the musjid. Visiting this church brought to sharp focus my issue. Though Muslims have a lot more in common than different for some reason the musjid goers I've known since childhood are places to go to remember how sinful we are, and to sweat the small stuff. We focus on whether tendrils of hair are visible from her scarf. Whether her shirt properly covers her butt. And we not only focus we will walk over and very righteously berate her. We will say men and women are equal (which they are) but will sit in rooms 1/5th the size of the regular masala, completely closed off and hardly able to hear the imam. And once we are done with our prayer. We leave. Yes some musjids have schools, but most schools (yes there are exceptions) are rarely accredited. I know that we dont have the sort of budget to perhaps create musjids that could rival this church but I dont know if I even hear of dreams such as this even in wistful conversations. Maybe I'm not meeting the right people when I go.... It would feel nice to have a place like that church to congregate. To feel accepted and not judged. Regardless of our differences there is so much more we could focus on and grow from. The church had an open and warm atmosphere, participating in politics, they smiled and greeted people. Why did I feel infinitely more comfortable in a church than in a musjid?
My friend to whom I often complain about this says the only way to improve things is to participate and not give in to the negativity. I have tried and even taken leadership and teaching positions. But I'm weary of the constant uphill battle. I admire my friend for enduring. I'm choosing to do my part in different ways.... and I'm okay with that.
But looking at the church today I felt a strong twinge of something... perhaps it was wistfulness as I remembered the Ottoman Empire, a time I never knew. Walking through the church I wondered. Is this how it would have felt? Will it ever feel that way again?