Monday, September 08, 2003

I spent a lot of time in a mosque today. It was fascinating. Beautiful. I am learning so much. Of all the different faiths I am documenting, I have the least experience with Islam, and so I feel right now that I am learning the most when I work in that community.

One of the things that really surprised me relates to the different kinds of dress the people wear. I always sort of assumed that there was one standard "uniform" and that people wore various types of clothing, head coverings, etc. in accordance with the level of piety they observed. Not true. It really varies most according to the country of origin or ancestry of the individual.

In order to go into the mosque, I had to cover my head. I could go anywhere, including the men's half of the prayer room, use my flash, whatever, I just had to cover my head. I came prepared for this. While I was getting help wrapping my scarf properly from K., one of the women I have sort of befriended, an elderly man came up to speak to us. (I had also assumed that the older people in the community would have the most conservative views, particularly in regard to the presence of a women taking photos during a prayer service in the men's half of the prayer room, but I was wrong. The only person who really glared at my presence on the men's side- which K. warned me might happen- was a teenage boy.)

Anyway, the elderly man looked almost exactly like the Christian children's book cartoon version of God. He had a long white beard and was dressed in long white robes. We talked about my being from the newspaper, and he was telling me about this photo of him that ran in a story about Ramadan last year ("It was the biggest picture! On the Page! I'll show you next time!) when K. finished fixing my scarf. He stopped and said, "Ah, see? So beautiful! The head scarf is so beautiful for the women!" I can't do it justice here, but he wasn't being judgmental or oppressive as he said it. He was being very, very kind.

And- all day- I kept thinking about how very, very similar all of the faiths are. We are so much more alike than we are different. I've never been to an Islamic prayer service, and I suppose I thought the service would be sort of graceful and murmured, and it was. But also? There were babies crying, mothering carrying out toddlers hitting each other with dolls, 3-year-olds passing crayons back and forth. I don't know why i thought that wouldn't happen in a mosque. It happens in church all the time; the old joke goes for Catholics, "Babies crying? What do you expect from a church that doesn't believe in birth control?" Still, it surprised me.

The Islamic Center is preparing for Ramadan, a month of fasting and prayer, a time when many people observe the pillar of Islam that emphasizes givng to charity. And- it just- seemed like preparing for Lent. And I had lunch with them, (this was a special Sunday School sign up picnic day), and it was wonderful, and they were so gracious- "Have more!"- and it was like the little old ladies at the Interfaith Seder last Passover insisting that I stay, at least for "matzoh ball soup! Have more!" and the priest at the Greek Orthodox Church telling me, "You'd better come hungry! I insist!" to this big festival I'm covering next week.

We are just.... so much more alike than we are different, and I feel it on a level that I can't really explain.