Friday, January 20, 2006

"There is a space between man's imagination and man's attainment that may only be traversed by his longing" -Gibran.

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?

35 comments:

Baraka said...

Salaams Aisha,

I love this post. You capture the longing for a holistic, welcoming center of worship & community so well.

There are some masajid like that but unfortunately the majority are places where many people feel an emptiness & discomfort. Instead of disengaging I'm hoping our generation's coming of age will change things over time. After all, the Uncles & Aunties can't last forever, lol! :)

Warmly,
B

Aisha said...

Salaam Baraka thanks!! :) The author of "Even Angels Ask" published a new book "losing my religion" discussing the drastic drop of 20-30 somethings in the musjid arena. This is hwy. I wish it was just an an auntie/uncle thing but I notice their progeny's following in their footsteps... :(

mystic-soul said...

I recall a post from a girl around in blog here - sobia 3/4 months ago (I don't have her blog site now) -that how as a new convert muslim 'gori' she was badly treated at masjid. Do I have any answer accept for apology.

The enviroment in masajid are so superficial and 'ritual' and 'dress' oriented that you want to ask like Michael Moore: Dude! where is my religion?

Being a muslim, it was such a sad post to read to face such a naked truth. I hope baraka's hope is right.

This is not the place of worship what Rumi described:

Come, come, whoever you are; Wanderer, worshipper, lover of learning...It does not matter.
Ours is not a caravan of despair. Come, even if you have broken your vow A thousand times.
Come, come, yet again come.

Aisha said...

Mystic I do remember that post of Sobia's. I was very moved by that post. It's sad. That poem by rumi is simply beautiful. It made me emotional to read it. Come, Come yet again. Perhaps one day Rumi's poem will live in reality.

Sobia said...

Aisha, I was so moved by this post. That "twinge" is exactly what I was talking about missing. You described the feeling so perfectly. It's weird when you grow up surrounded by this kind of support, and then take a giant leap in a masjid and feel so........alone. I know that sounds horrible, but that is how I felt. You know though, I think in new city I'll try to be involved more and make a small change in the masjid. Maybe I can make a difference. Who knows. Today I'm wishful thinking :).

mezba said...

Mosques here in Toronto used to be like that but no more. Usually what I find is if a mosque strictly caters to one older people from the ethnic community it becomes like a ghetto mosque but those that are young and multicultural are very open.

The Islamic Foundation mosque in Toronto does good social work (soup kitchens, food drives, open houses), they are involved with the community (fundraisers, political debates and so on). It's I think because they serve a young community who will not tolerate bullshit nonsense from the older folk (pardon my language).

wayfarer said...

i've heard of mosques that let families sit together etc and have community functions (from a friend in Toronto) but have yet to see one yet. InshAllah we'll see mosques being built for better intentions than they are now. But i've always thought the Muslim population was exclusive...that is, not welcoming. I felt it before i converted when i was trying to find information about Islam and felt it after i converted and still feel it today.

Aisha said...

Sobia, I thought of you when I wrote this post because you wrote about this before, and you have personal experiences in both venues. I have a question for you though Sobia, is your Mosque mostly comprised of older people? I seem to be hearing that its an older people thing and the young will change things. I personally really havent seen that. I was curious if you noticed a difference in your community?

Mezba, maybe because Tornoto has such a large Muslim population there are musjids doing that. That sounds great to hear Mezba. I feel here... its even young who have the same mentality though. I have a question for you Mezba, how is the treatment of women in these musjids? Is it very disporportionate amount of men over women volunteering? are women judging each other on their attire?

Wayfarer, I agree. This is sad to say but I doubt anyone would go to a musjid today and be so moved to leave with a better impression of Islam. My statement is limited to women.

Huda said...

You really need to come to Augusta with me one weekend. It's exactly the kind of masjid I think you would appreciate; for one thing, the women are in the same room as the men for prayer, unless there's so many men that we don't fit, and even then we just go into the adjacent room and open the doors, so we can still see into the main room.

The atmosphere is different too, I think because the youth influence much of what is said and done. It didn't happen overnight with us either, but Alhumdulillah, I think we're moving in a positive, welcoming direction.

Sobia said...

The first two mosque's were mostly Arab (Saudis and Egyptians) and consisted of older people. They were VERY strict inside the mosque and honestly no one even spoke to me when I came for Friday prayers. If I came for Haliqa that is when they attacked me. The third mosque was Pakistani & Bengali and it was much more liberal and younger, but still the older women were very hateful and it was the worst in terms of people correcting you and telling you what to do. I just haven't had a good experience all the way around. Maybe I've expected too much. I don't know, but it's been very disheartening.

Anisa said...

exceptional. you hit the nail on the head. it's sad not to feel comfortable at masjids. very sad. and i feel the same way.

Tee said...

The Musjids of the Ottoman Empire sound so ideal and wonderful the way you descibed them. I can imagine the people coming and going and getting what they need, spiritually and otherwise.

This is one thing that drew me to my church - the attitude towards community. They always have something going on - something for everyone, and try to have the doors open as much as possible. The people are actually interested in your life and what you need as a human being. The teachings aren't above anyone's head - they're all useful and applicable to life... Just these past 2 weeks the Pastor did a series on personal finances. He worked God and the Bible into all of it but it was useful - something to take with you. When I go, I feel like I'm getting a taste of water to revive me and help me through the next week... I imagine you felt that at the Blue Mosque from the way you've spoken of it.

I hope you find a place... or make one if necessary. You're not alone Aisha. I've read quite a few times in blogs written by Muslim women, how unhappy they are with their place of worship.

Champ - Love Hound said...

Aisha Dear! What a Great Wish you 've inside your Heart. I 've this wish for so Long. The Ideal Mosque you described it's Great to 've one. I saw Mosques like this only in Uzbakistan. If you ever get a chance, ever in your life, Do visit that country. Your wish 'll come True.

I'm member of "Multi Religious Peace Concil" I meet many Modrate Religious Jewish, Christians, Muslims 'n' many others. I often meet people like this in our Concil. Infact I attended one of that gatherin' yesterday 'n' I 've posted about it on my Blog.

Your Innocent Religious wish shows that how much Beautiful heart God has Gifted you.

I hope you 're doin' good.
God bless you....

Jaycie said...

I loved this post. I love reading your blog. You know since I have converted a little over two yrs ago I have never been contacted by anyone from the mosque and I would be shocked if I ever was. I don't even dare go to the mosque or Eid prayer because I have no idea what to wear and I don't really want to wear shalwar kameez because I just don't feel like myself.. ya know I'm not Pakistani. I'm so paranoid that what I think would be nice they wouldn't. So even though I'd like to go I haven't. Not to mention I married into a family that doesn't believe that women are supposed to go to the mosque. When I asked my sil in Pakistan if she attened she said oh no that's only for gents. Why???

Baji said...

Great post. I have never attended a mosque. My hubby seems to shy away from it. He gets very angry every time he goes because he feels like a lot of the men are judgemental and hypocritical. Now, that we have moved, I would like to try and get involved with the local University. I have sent an e-mail to the club, but haven't heard anything yet. I would suggest getting involved in a local interfaith effort. These people are generally very progressive and do a lot of good for the homeless, etc. The woman in his family do not attend mosque either. When we were in Pakistan they had a women's only prayer at the home. It was beautiful. Maybe you could find a group of women who would be willing to start a women's prayer circle??? I would love to do something like that. Sorry post so long.

Aisha said...

Wow. I sort of expected an angry response at how dare I criticize the way things are. I'm astonished (and slightly releived and not quite so lonely) to know that so many of you feel the same way. Some of your comments are so thought provoking I feel that they require full long answers in themselves.

Sobia I dont think you've expected too much. You should feel a sense of community when you go to a musjid.(btw I sent you a secon demail shortly after my first one with more venting on the matter! :))

Anisa... it's sad isnt it.

Tee, that sounds so nice what you described. It's like a sip of water to keep you going. Unfotunately the Blue Mosque does not serve that function anymore. It too is the same as any other I've seen. My nostalgia with the blue mosque is for a time I never knew.

Huda.. so would you say that the Augusta musjid engages in political and social activism?

Boxin, I will have to do some research on the Uzbekistan thing thanks for the heads up. That's awesome you are on such a council. I shall check your blog out tonight :-) You made me actually blush with your kind words at the end :)

Jaycie: Thanks! I love reading your blog as well!!

Jaycie, I dont know where you live but where I am women dont all go in shalwar kamiz... I'd say its an even split. I guess it depends on how many american borns you have how many immigrants etc that will dictate the fashion at the musjid. I doubt wearing normal clothing to the musjid with a headscarf would offend anyone. A lot of desi people believe women should not attend the musjid. That is wrong. I will be the first one to say musjids have a lot of improvements to do but the ones I've attended though the conditions may not be fabulous for women, have never turned women away. That is taking even more steps backwards

Baji: A university is a great place to start. And thanks for the advice about the interfaith things. I'm sure where I live they have something like that. That's wonderful advice! Baji I hear what you're saying about the women's prayer group. Infact there are women who do that here. BUT Women should be able to go to the musjid and feel comfortable. In the Prophet's time, I'v heard from history books that women fought alongside men at times in war. They had a voice in their community. My goodness it's so funny with the way MUSLIMS have interepted their religion but back in the day Islam gave women LIBERTY an INDEPENDENCE and an IDENTITY that they never had before. It saddens me that now Islam stands for just the opposite particularly for women. Though I could organize the women and do our own thing, I feel that we should have a voice in the MUSLIM community not just the woman part of it.

Raheel said...

Any community centre whether its church, masjid or any other place does play an important role in improving the standards of society for sure. As Islam is diversed, I would say that some parts are still so orthodox in their beliefs and practices that they have suffered alot because of what they actually are and unfortunately its in the majority so the circle getting affected is also very large.

Gibran is the man!! I love reading him. He is simply the best.

mezba said...

Aisha, about how women attacking each other over attire, I don't know, you have to find a woman from Toronto to ask! But from talking to my mom, she said its fine over there, but she just went for prayers and stuff, never for volunteering. We did go to the mosque for few events, and it was all good. They have a huge number of women volunteering, but that's for women's areas inside the mosque (which is almost equal to men's areas). Outside in the parking lot and traffic direction - it's all men volunteers. This is the website. I think mainly it's a large mosque and is well known and funded (there's a school there too) that they are OK. Smaller mosques I feel will be more exclusive. Also I think if its South Asian the mosques are more open. Arab mosques usually have a stricter imam. You see this because South Asians follow Hanafi school of thought which is more liberal, whereas Arabs follow stricter interpretetions.

Aisha said...

Raheel, you make very true points. Thanks for sharing your perspective.

Mezba, you're right it depends a lot on the musjid you attend. I have actually fond ppl in smaller musjids to be more open and kind to one another beacuse each other is all you got. The bigger the city the more options the less you need each other. It's odd.

Thanks for the link though. Shall check it out!

Zak said...

my favourite Khalil poem answers the premise of your question for me
------------------------------
(just dont forget to replace the word nation with people :p)

Pity the nation that is full of
beliefs and empty of religion.

Pity the nation that acclaims the bully as hero,
and that deems the glittering conqueror bountiful.

Pity the nation that raises not its voice save
when it walks in a funeral,
boasts not except among its ruins,
and will rebel not save when its neck is laid
between the sword and the block.

Pity the nation whose statesman is a fox,
whose philosopher is a juggler,
and whose art is the art of patching and mimicking.

Champ - Love Hound said...

Made you Blush? *Smiles* Now I'm Blushin'. LOL!

God bless you....

August Sunshine said...

Hey, remember we were talking about this just a couple of weeks ago? You're not alone in feeling this way. It seems to me you're just thinking honestly about these issues.

As long as Muslim women keep putting up with it, they'll be treated like they're second-rate. The problem isn't just at the masjid, but it manifests itself there to an unacceptable extent.

I don't know how any self-respecting educated woman can continue to put up with the "way things are" at most masjids. Other options seem to be 1) try to change things, 2) ignore the problem, 3) leave the community entirely.

Aisha said...

Zak. Fabulous, straight on the dot poem. Thanks for sharing. I had actually never heard that one.

Boxin :)

Nadia. Yeah we did talk about this. The church's contrast just really brought forefront in my mind. It's true though it's hard to experience equality or to at least EXPECT equality in all other facets but not in what should be the most comforting and sacred place you encounter in your day to day life.

Hadeel said...

ok so everyone said everything - but i liked this post a lot too. i think most muslims would feel this way too actually...
thanks for dropping by my blog :)

Hadeel said...

...oh and has anyone seen "Me and the Mosque"? It's about a Muslim woman's quest to "fit in" to a North American mosque. Everyone should see it.

Aisha said...

Hadeel thanks for dropping by. Where do you think I can find "Me and the Mosque"? I would LOVE to see it.

Champ - Love Hound said...

Thankyoy for your Sweet comments on my Blog. So you enjoyed "Cinderalla man". that's Great! I 've added you in my MSN, I hope you won't mind.

God bless you....

Aisha said...

Boxin I dont mind :) I dont use msn too much but maybe I'll catch you there.

Southern Masala said...

Hey, I wandered over here to check out your blog, you being a fellow law student and all and find out that you know wayfarer in person too! Small world. Well, always nice to "meet" a fellow law student.

Aisha said...

HEy Southern, yes I do know Wayfarer she is so sweet! :)

DareDevil said...

nice post :)

Aisha said...

thanks daredevil :-)

ASH said...

Nice post. First, we live in the West and as Muslims we make up a tiny and increasingly isolated minority....this tends to make people suspicious of us and also tends to make us suspicious of others. In this way early Jews to this country also built small non-descript synagogues until they had established themselves in the society and felt more accepted. Only then did they branch out and start funding universities and hospitals, etc. Second, Masajid around the world in predominantly Islamic countries still maintain and do the very things that you mention for the Blue Mosque in Istanbul. I remember a masjid I visited in India that had a community center, a soup kitchen, and a school all affiliated with it.
I just don't think that we are doing these things here, because we still feel we are treated as "outsiders" and also because since we are (myself excluded) mainly immigrants or a generation removed from them we see our fellow non-Muslim countrymen as "outsiders" from us as well.

The community feel you are looking for will come with time. In many ways you are building it yourself, as am I and the other friends we have here. We form a small community of friends here and with time will come our empowerment and then we can make the masjid and by extension the masajid around the country into places where people can come to worship but also be educated, get married, and have fun.

Don't be so down about it....it will come....I believe it.

ASH said...

I can also relate to Sobia, Jaycie, and Wayfarer on here. Converting was an important and transformational point in my life, one of many.....but my experience at various masajid has been less than kind. For one thing after converting many of the brothers acted like that was all I needed to do....so I had to actually teach myself how to do salah and such. I found one brother (a good friend) who taught me and helped me memorize some Suras so I could move forward. The rest I have slowly accumulated over the years.

Even to this day when I enter a strange masjid whether for Juma'a or something else I feel self-conscious like I might do something wrong. Too many of the older folks like to approach me, the unique "gora" Muslim, and explain that I'm not praying correctly according to their mathhab, etc.

When will they learn that my earnestness after 13 years of being Muslim proves that I mean it?

Huda: The Augusta community is absolutely awesome!! It is where I took Shahada and where I go every year for Eid al Fitr.

hypnosis said...

When we are born our brains are like empty computers waiting to be fed information. As we grow our peers act as our programmers, they supply us with the knowledge which we channel through the conscious mind into the subconscious (our hard drive). The subconscious mind is the biggest hard drive ever developed - it stores everything we come in contact with and by no means is all of this information of a positive nature.
All that we have heard, touched, smelt, tasted and seen are stored in the recesses of our minds. The subconscious mind holds on to this information until we need to recall it. For example when you were young your curiosity lead you to investigate your surroundings. When you approached a substance that was dangerous, such as fire, your parents or guardians would most likely have rebuked or scolded you if you ventured too near the flame. Perhaps you may even recall an incident when you were physically burned. Your subconscious mind then began to relate scolding (or pain) with the intense heat of the fire and would therefore feed the feelings of the scolding incident back to you whenever you got too close to fire again, thus acting as an early warning system.
This is the mechanism used by our brains to learn. It is also the same method employed by the mind in every situation. The subconscious mind has a tendency to emulate what it sees - it tends to replicate its environment. This is why so many people find themselves in similar relationships and situations that they saw their parents in while they were growing up. Most people also hold very strongly or similar views of their parents.
Think of a time when you gave yourself praise. What words did you use? Do you use the same words that your parents or peers used when they were praising you? The same is applicable when you scold yourself.

Watch your internal dialogue. Look at it closely. It takes diligence to change the way you think. When you notice yourself thinking a negative chose to think the opposite. This way you neutralise the negative thought. Now the think the positive thought again! You have just reversed the negative thinking in that moment and remember you only have this moment. No other time exists!
Daydream about what might be. Imagine things they way you wish them to be. If you catch yourself thinking "this is just a daydream - a fantasy" then stop! Think the opposite. It is not a daydream it is your reality. Now think it again.

By doing this simple procedure you will begin to retrain your subconscious mind to think positively and you will ultimately begin to consciously create a life that dreams are made of! hypnosis

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