Sunday, February 5, 2023

Seminarians at a Mosque

Yesterday was a 9-5 day for my World Religions class.  This hybrid model works well:  2 week-ends during the semester with a Friday night class and an all-day Saturday class, with online modules in between, including discussion boards to keep us connected.  I'm glad we met for one of our week-ends before doing discussion boards.  I've never had hostile encounters in a class discussion board setting, but I know it's possible.

Each Saturday, we meet for a morning of instruction and discussion, followed by lunch, and then a field trip.  Yesterday's field trip was to a mosque.

Come to find out, it's the oldest mosque built by US born people--there are older mosques in the US that were built by immigrants.  This mosque is the oldest mosque in the U.S. built by descendants of enslaved people.

The mosque was once a Nation of Islam mosque, but it has since become a Sunni mosque.  The building has a community center or a reclaimed gym kind of feeling, but that's probably because of the curved ceiling:


Here's a longer view:

The mosque is open for prayers during 5 times a day, with an extra prayer time on Friday.  We were there to observe the prayers at 3:11 yesterday afternoon.  The leader asked each man where he was from:  Ghana (3 people), Ethiopia (5 people), Turkey (1), another East European country I didn't quite catch the name of (1), Pakistan (1), and 3 from the District of Columbia. The 5 leaders were also from DC. They do have women members, but none were there for 3:11 prayers.  The men prayed shoulder to shoulder on these rugs:

My class is half women, and we had been told in advance that we would need to cover our hair, so we did with scarves that we brought.  I thought we looked lovely.  I didn't feel oppressed particularly; the men who gathered for prayer also wore headcoverings.  Plus, I had a Muslim friend in grad school who explained why she covered her hair.  The idea that she reserved part of herself just for her husband to see made sense to me and felt less oppressive than the other explanations that had been offered by non-Muslim media that I had read.

We were all asked to wear masks, which makes sense to me, and everyone did.  People who arrived without a mask were offered the box of masks to take one, and no one protested.  On Friday, the synagogue had a section of seating reserved for those who wanted to wear masks and not sit next to unmasked people.  Two people sat there, clearly together, and one woman removed her mask part the way through the service.

At the mosque, we were offered bottles of water and a snack, which came in a globed container (see above).

The snack was some sort of bean cake, which was slightly sweet, with the moist texture of a very firm pudding.

At the end, we took group pictures, but no one has sent those to me.  When they do, I'll circle back here to post one.  I was touched by the men in charge of the mosque who wanted pictures and wanted to assure us that we're always welcome to return, either as a group or individually, for any reason.

In short, it was a great afternoon, and just the kind of opportunity I hoped I would have if I was able to take classes at the seminary, instead of only from a great distance.  I feel very lucky.

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