I went to visit a mosque as a parent helper on a school trip. I was quite excited.
I was surprised to see how twitchy I was about getting the physical-appearance etiquette right. Some, in fact all of the hijab tutorials online were totally too tricky, so I went with the scarf over head with the ends flipped back. Seemed to go okay. I also got agitated about the leg thing – as I don’t have any trousers that aren’t jeans and I don’t have any skirts or dresses that are below the knee. And then it turned out that shoulders are to be covered too. So I managed to cobble together a dodgy dress and leggings combo and felt okay about it.
Thing was, the guy at the mosque didn’t seem fussed about the appearance thing. It was us that were twitching to get taking our shoes off and keen to get our scarves on and worrying about who was allowed on what carpet.
In the foyer to the mosque you could see the foundations of the minaret and the kids, being kids, were intent on playing sardines in it. Fortunately the mosque guy swiftly took us away into the first room of the tour before the sardines got stuck.
The main feature of the room was a display screen with all the prayer times for the day listed. He went through all of the prayer times and when people would be expected to turn up.
The next room was the wash room for the men. He said that with no washing there could be no prayer. He said that the water had to be pure and had to be checked during the ritual for its colour, taste and smell.
The next room was an absolutely enormous room with a carpet with stripes to indicate the lines people would pray on. He explained one part of the wall was an alcove to show the direction of Mecca and all the people could face that way. He showed us the inside of the dome and explained its original function as mediaeval air conditioning. He explained about the Koran and that how so many people had memorized it that even if there were some huge calamity the Koran cannot be lost. There were about five clocks on a board – again, I think they were the different prayer times.
Above the prayer room was a large balcony space for women to come and pray, should they wish. He explained that women were not under the obligation to come and pray, but that they had the option, whereas the men were expected to come.
The atmosphere was very open and accessible.
One contrast with Christianity that struck me came through the words of Paul: “you are not under the law, but under grace”. I think I am right in saying that Islam means “submission” – and that would fit with the expectations and rituals that were explained. There is an expectation that the adherents will submit to the laws and the rituals – the ways of doing things.
In Christianity there is the idea of grace which releases the believer from the law – but the question is then raised: “Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means!” – there is the temptation in Christianity to abuse the freedom that grace brings to excuse sinful behaviour. The idea is supposed to be that instead of keeping God’s laws to try to win favour with God, one keeps God’s laws as a voluntary response of love – with no expectation that this makes a blind bit of difference. I think.
For all the mosque was the centre of a different culture and religion than mine, the whole place was still intensely Scottish and Glaswegian. The Central Mosque is a familiar part of the city skyline, and the feeling of the building was not unlike that of many other public and community spaces. It was very open and has a clear ethos of trying to support the local Muslim community in their efforts to maintain strong families and to continue the faith into the next generation.
And as we drove away my head was buzzing with ideas about the value of family, the roles of women, the place of ritual and the value of traditions.
All very interesting. I am glad I went.