Today I went to my first Friday Prayers at the Mosque. I have been inside a mosque twice before in my life, once in San Francisco with my Arabic class and once in Damascus at the Omayyad Mosque, but never like this. I had been wanting to go, mainly because everyone does and to really begin to understand a little about the people and the culture I have to at least experience it once.
I asked a friend one day and he said of course he would take me, so this morning at 12 I went to meet up with him at his place. I lucked out because not only was it a friday (like Sunday for Christians) but it was also the last Friday of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month. Walking there I felt kind of nervous, I’m not really sure why. I kept asking if it was cool if I came, and my friend said “of course, no one cares (that i’m not Muslim).” But I guess this is how a muslim would feel walking into a church on a Sunday, I knew it was ok to be there but I guess I just didnt want anyone to notice I wasnt a Muslim, less explaining to do. As we walked toward the mosque we joined a procession of men and women coming down the streets heading in the same direction, it was a cool feeling to know everyone was going to the same place, a real community feeling. Its like at sundown during Ramadan, when I see everyone on their porches or rushing to their houses to be with their families for iftar (the meal to break the daily fast), it just gives this happy holiday feeling, ironically something like Christmas eve, only everyday of the month.
As we walked up the stairs to the mosque we passed a lay out of toys, candies and Islamic dress a man was selling, there were all types of people there. Old men in traditional Islamic garb, young men with dress shirts and ties looking like they came out an office building, guys my age who looked alot like me, and little kids running around playing. We actually passed a man as he got out of his car, who was wearing what seemed like a simple overcoat and a fez hat with a interesting white cloth wrapped around it, who I later noticed was the Imam, clean shaven and smiling, not quite what they depict in the news. The women did split off to another entrance as we entered the area to bathe ourselves. The process of washing is an essential part of entering the mosque, apart from entering with your right foot first and taking off your shoes, you have to do a type of washing ceremony (I forget the name, I promise I will learn it soon). In the bathroom area there are cement seats to sit on with a faucet in front of them, and as my friend told me what to do I washed myself. First the hands three times, then the face three times, then the mouth and nose three times, then the fore arms all the way to the elbows three times, a splash on the head and behind the ears and then the each foot and leg three times. As i’m not so practiced I got a little more water than I would have like on my pants and shirt, woops. I have heard that the cleansing is done for two reasons: one is hygenic, that you must wash yourself because you will be walking barefoot and putting your hands and face on a carpet that lots of other people are walking on, that makes sense, and the other is because the Mosque is a holy place and one must be clean when they enter before God.
The Mosque is basically one big room (there are probably small ones that I didnt see) that is covered in a large carpet, lots of fans, and very impressive Arabic calligraphy lining the walls and roof. It was a very beautiful and simple inside, the architecture and the calligraphy made it so there was no need for ornate pictures or showy items. We found an empty spot (people line up in rows so as to give space for when they pray) and although my friend insisted that I didnt have to go through the prayer motions if I didnt want to, I stayed. I wanted to do them partly because it was packed and I would stick out like a sore thumb if I didnt do them (like that one time my mom brought us to a mass at christmas eve because she loves to hear the singing, and at one point everyone dropped to their knees to pray and my brother and I were left standing like a bunch of idiots) and also because I wanted to know the process and what it felt like, I was already at the mosque and I might as well go all the way.
After we went through the motions of the prayer (everyone does them on their own so I could lag a little behind and watch and copy) we sat cross legged with everyone else as the Imam began to speak. He spoke in Fus-ha, the Modern Standard Arabic which is what I am learning in school, I could only pick up sentences here and there but it was definitely interesting to try. After he was done my friend told me he spoke of it being the last day of Ramadan (that much I got), and about Ramadan and fasting being a time to cleanse your body and to remember that their are millions that feel the pain of hunger everyday and to not forget about them. I’m assuming there was a lot more said but I got the short summary. After repeating the prayer motions one more time (this time everyone in sync) we sat as people got up to leave. The whole thing only took about 45 minutes tops. It was interesting to see everyone sitting on the ground, cross legged, listening to the Imam. The kids, like always whispering and pushing eachother, the elderly either fully attune to the speaker or slightly falling asleep, and me just browsing the crowd. When everyone left we walked around the room and checked out the large selection of ornate Korans, the calligraphy on the wall and the intricate carpets. We then went to talk to the Imam. He was very nice and very excited that I came, he told me where I could get a copy of Koran to practice my Arabic and also to learn about Islam, he even gave me his phone number. Unfortunately he thought I was English, something I wasnt about to correct while in a Mosque talking to the Imam, although we say we didnt declare war on Islam, we werent really fooling anyone and with the way the American media has demonized Islam it was better not to correct him. Its one of the few times where I would let it slide, that’d be for the second visit.
It was a really good exprience to be inside the mosque, listening and participating, seeing what a large part of the western world doesnt. Everyone was great and similing, not to mention how helpful it would be just to listen and talk to people here (the more religious people are more likely to speak Modern Standard Arabic, which is what I’m learning in school). It was a comfortable place with a community atmosphere, probably similar to most places of worship, its definitely an attractive feeling. I’m glad I got to go, (and so was my friend, seeing as most foreigners in Jordan just ignore the fact that 96% of the country is Muslim.)
I apologize for lack of editing in this blog, its 240am and I have a long day tomorrow, something I hope to write about soon.
Salam alekom wa rahmetola wa barakato,