I enjoy going to Friday prayers at the mosque. When I mentioned this to a friend over tea he said, “How can you? Don’t you find it oppressive that the women have to be separated and secluded from the men?” I was glad he asked. Actually, no, I am not offended, but I see the separation of women and men differently. The men have to stay down stairs, and that is not a bad idea one day a week. Besides, the practice allows an intimate gathering of women and children in the balcony.
Since there are no chairs in a mosque, we stand, sit or lay on plush carpet, some in prayer or simply resting and everyone taking part in tending to the children. Through exchanging knowing smiles or words, whispered, showing gratitude for each other’s presence, we form a beloved community. I enjoy wearing a long silk scarf over my head. This feels more of an expression of my femininity than an affront to it and I appreciate the very feminine embroidered flowers and lace that adorns the scarves of the other women. Of course, I have a choice to cover my head or not, but all of the women I pray with would say the same thing. They choose to follow the practice of their faith in this way. Culture also plays a big part in choice, but that is true for all of us. We are women of many cultures here, Southeast Asian, East Indian, Middle Eastern, African and American, Christian and Muslim. We have all come to pray and it is a gift to do this in a family of women and children.
I feel at home in the mosque for other reasons. My father’s family is Orthodox Christian and descendents emigrated from Syria in the early 1920’s. I grew up listening to the conversations of relatives in Arabic. In the Mosque, verses of the Quran are chanted in the same melodious Arabic sounds that I heard as a child.
Faith is often intimately connected to culture and childhood. Faith practices are expressions of our search for meaning and belonging. The varied forms of this expression have the scent and beauty of a rose garden with many different varieties of roses. Friday prayers at the mosque is like this for me.