Last Thursday (November 13th) two of my friends attended afternoon prayer at a Portland area mosque. Neither of them had previous experiences with Islam or Muslims, but they whole-heartedly embraced the opportunity to step out of their bubble, and see beauty beyond their realms of experience. In our present world of war and terror, it seems like many Americans have lost their ability to respond to this particular religion with anything but fear and hatred. Therefore, I find the openness of people like Megan and Katie, not only extremely rare and refreshing, but the beginning of a way forward into peace. For peace cannot come without a desire to understand, a willingness to respect, and, ultimately, the ability to love.
Here are some excerpts from reflections they wrote for a class:
The Beauty of Religion
Several days ago, I dropped in on a mosque with some friends for a class project. We were welcomed with more open arms and beaming smiles than I’d seen in quite some time. There were four women there who gladly took us aside – all of them separately – to talk to us about Islam. Not with the intent to convert us, not with the intent to educate the infidels, but simply because we were curious and they were only too happy to talk about their religion.Through the Eyes of a Muslim Woman
All of the women wore a hejab, the traditional Muslim headscarf. Here in the States we tend to think that a hejab is somehow restricting of a woman’s personhood . . . Yet one of the women explained the hejab to us with a grin on her face. Women are intelligent, she said, and ought to be respected for their intelligence rather than their body. The hejab, and other modest Islamic dress, reserves a woman’s beauty for those who deserve to see it and not a gawking passer-by. She was liberated and not confined by this perception.
What struck me most was the joy I saw in these women. They were all incredibly knowledgeable, yet without exception they prefaced nearly all of their statements with “but I don’t know very much”; constant smiling humility. They rejoiced in what they knew of life and love and religion. One of the women sat down with us and . . . talked through some of the stories in their holy book, until she got to the revelation to the Prophet Muhammed. The angel Gabriel says to the prophet (and here I’m very much paraphrasing), “The Lord knows you, He who formed you from a drop.” She beamed with pure delight as she explained to us the wonders of this God who knows us so intimately, . . . the Truth she found in His words.
And I thought, how beautiful is that. I feel as though this is the way we should all be. I long for some piece of that true utter beautiful joyful glad Truth revealed to me. I want my face to beam as hers did, to radiate delight in the Most Merciful God . . . Which, I feel, is what all religion should be: pure gladness in the God of peace and the Lord of hosts.
(photo from here)
We arrived at the Bilal Mosque forty-five before the Call to Prayer . . . An elderly gentleman named Hai Amin came and asked us if we had any questions, and then proceeded to tell us about Islam and its traditions. He explained that there was a women’s room, and a men’s room, and that is where the prayer service was held. Then he brought us to the women’s room . . .
There were three traditionally dressed Muslim women there with their children. When we came in, they all gathered around, and we sat in a circle on the floor while they taught us about Islam. Miriam, an older lady, shared with us . . .
When the call for prayer came, Miriam invited us to join them. We stood in line behind the women so we could watch and imitate what they did. The prayer took perhaps fifteen minutes total. When it was finished, a lady from Bangladesh came and sat with us to tell us more about Islam. I asked her what had been said in the prayer, and she replied that she didn’t entirely know, since her Arabic wasn’t very good. She translated the few sections that she knew, but she explained that you didn’t have to know what was being said. You did the prayer out of devotion; you knew that you were worshiping Allah, and that is good enough . . .
Before the Bangladeshi woman left, another woman came and sat down with us. I don’t know what country she was from, but . . . I was captivated by her. As she told us about Islam, she just glowed. She told us about the beauty of the Koran, and how she was constantly moved by it. There is no way I can believe that Islam is essentially oppressive of women; this Muslim woman found so much joy in it. She didn’t look at all like a woman subjugated by her faith.
Because she was so open, we asked her about the head scarf. She explained to us that especially now, women are looked upon as sex objects. That is the only quality that many men see. She told us that when you wear the head scarf, you aren’t judged by your beauty, but by your intelligence . . . I think that lots of the oppression that we connect with Islam is cultural, rather than religious. We have to remember that Islam was extremely liberating within their very patriarchal society.
I loved that the women had their own room to pray in; their own mosque. It was such a female place. We talked about coming of age, and menstrual cycles without the least bit of discomfort. There was such a warmth in the place. I felt so blessed to be able to hear this untold story of Muslim women of faith. As the last woman was talking with us, I realized how privileged I was to be part of this gathering of women. Sitting next to her I really felt like I was in the presence of a great teacher. It was like I was sitting at the feet of Jesus. Muslim women do have a voice, (and what a powerful voice it is.) They are saying come hear my story, I am a woman, and it is good. Thanks to Allah that I was born a woman.