A Sojourner in a Mosque

I went and visited another mosque today, as I had a rare Friday without work. But rather than go all the way up to the major mosque, Northgate, I thought I'd check out one closer to home. Yahoo Maps tells me that there's a Jamaatul Ikhlas on Capitol Hill, just the other side of downtown from where I live.

After a bit of driving, and a bit of driving past the location a few times, I found it. It's just East of Capitol Hill, where most of the buildings were falling apart, and the ones still whole had boarded-up windows. (If you've never been to Seattle, it's not Detroit. This is unusual.) I climbed up the steps to the mosque and noticed the entryway just to the right had a giant stain pouring out of delivered cardboard box. UPS had left it there on the step. It looked like someone had delivered a bunch of brown blood. Or chocolate. It was probably a giant box of liquid chocolate.

No one was home, and the door locked. I had to peer though the window to read the hastily scrawled sign inside, directing you to Seattle Community College a few blocks away. Nicer neighborhood; less parking. After the 3rd trip around the block, I found some, and waited for the Muslims to arrive.

The mosque was a small interfaith room on the main floor of the dorm, with no adornment, but a large Arabesque rug on the floor, and two small rooms on either side for doing wadud, the ritual purification washing done before prayers. One room was for men, and one for women, which was odd. Women are not required to go to the mosque in Islam, and in many cultures they are discouraged from doing so. But when they do, they are in a separate room from the men, or upstairs on the balcony, or behind a partition. This room for prayers was so small that, had any women shown up, there would have been no room for them. No women showed up.

For those who don't know me, my long practice has been to ask permission of the imam before praying in a mosque. I do this even in the U.S., where it is commonly acceptable for someone of any faith to visit any house of worship. However, imams are not like pastors- they give the sermon, but they don't lead the congregation. In the U.S. they tend to have more authority, and they are perhaps more like a Quaker pastor in terms of leadership. But the service can easily go forward without them.

So I waited, and made conversation with a guy who arrived from Saudi Arabia 6 days ago. Looking at the time I went to perform wadud. The room for wadud is actually fairly advanced, with special long trays that look like communal urinals, one low for the feet, and one higher for the hands. I cleaned the extremities and parts of my face three times, but probably in the wrong order. There is something very cleansing in cleaning out the ears, nostrils, and mouth. It truly feels like you are about to begin something holy, and you are setting apart that next few minutes for something different. Sure, it is only a metaphor, a symbol, but every symbol takes part in the referent, and so the cleansing with water by this spiritual amphibian effects my spirit as well.

We heard the adan, the call to prayer, going out, muffled behind the wall, and hastened into the mosque room, removing our shoes. But it was an early call. Unusual in mosques in my experience, nearly every man did individual prayers ahead of time. Usually it's only the most devout who do this, making up for prayers they missed earlier. But still no imam.

And then, with nearly everyone finished with their extra prayers, and most of us sitting on the rug waiting, the Imam arrived- but too late for me to ask permission. It looked like today was going to be a day of simply blending in.

The imam was a young man, probably in college, and he gestured for the mu'ezzin, the Call-to-Prayer, to give the call again. As is my practice, I silently affirmed the majority I agreed with, and prayed to Jesus at the same time. The mu'ezzin sat down, and the imam began his sermon- traditionally first in Arabic, and then in English. His delivery was not particularly inspiring, but he shared how Mohammed (pbuh) stood at the funeral of a Jewish man, because the man was still a spirit, like anyone else. (This was before serious acrimony developed between Mohammed (pbuh) and the Jewish tribes of Yathrib - I mean Medina.)

We performed the ritual prayers with the two cycles, raka, mandated for the midday Friday prayer. Near the end you count with three fingers as you sit cross-legged, silently putting out a finger each time you say a particular phrase. I like to take the opportunity to pray to each member of the Trinity at this time. Then there is a greeting to the angel on your left and right shoulder, who records your good and bad deeds. (I appear to have an angel only on my left shoulder.) We turn our heads, greeting each in turn with a'ssalam aleykum. Since I don't believe in these, I take the opportunity to turn and silently pray blessing on my brothers to either side.

And then, not a serious investment in community in this small mosque. The imam left. The men filtered out, except for some who needed to make up more prayers. There was little in engagement in conversation, so I also went. But feeling a great buoyancy, a freedom, from this time in speaking with God, with brothers following the self-same God.


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