Oct 022011

One of our members recently attended Friday prayer with a Muslim co-worker. Since many members of the SEA have been to Christian services, but not many other faiths, there was a lot of curiosity. He’s kindly written up his experience for us.

On Friday September 23, 2011 I attended a Jumu’ah at a mosque here in Edmonton. A Jumu’ah is the special prayer that is performed by Muslims in the afternoon on Fridays. I have always had a bit of a fascination with Islam and, now that I have a coworker that is Muslim, I am able to learn much more about the Muslim faith.

A few weeks prior to this, I had actually asked my coworker if I would be able to attend a prayer service with him. He always leaves work for about an hour on Friday afternoons to go pray, and I always wanted to go with him. It took a few weeks to find a day that was good for me to attend. Last Friday, I finally got my chance.

Usually, he walks between the Mosque and our office, but on this particular day his wife wanted to attend, so we drove to pick her up. Because it was just my coworker and me when we left the office, I sat in the front seat of his car. When we pulled up to his building, I told him that I would move to the back seat so that his wife could sit in the front with him. He told me just to stay where I was. I protested and told him that it wasn’t a problem for me to sit in the back, but again, he told me that it was fine to stay where I was. I rationalized this in my mind by telling myself that it really didn’t make sense to play this vehicular version of musical chairs when we only had a limited amount of time. So, his wife approached the car and got in the back seat. After some brief introductions we were off to the Mosque.

When we arrived at the Mosque, the prayer had not yet started and there were people congregating around the entrance talking. As soon as we parked, my coworker’s wife got out of the car and immediately walked to a side entrance near the back of the building. My coworker got out and escorted me to the front entrance where the males enter. As soon as we got inside, I was told to take off both my shoes and socks. We then went down a set of stairs where, in what looked to be a shower room, there was a series of stations where people could wash their hands, feet, and face. I did not participate in this process but I was able to observe. When my coworker was done we went up to the main room where the prayer was to take place and where the Imam was going to speak.

The main room was a square room covered with carpet. There were no chairs or pews; people just sat on the floor. When we entered, the sermon had already begun. For about fifteen minute the Imam spoke to the congregation about the Hajj. The Hajj is the pilgrimage to Mecca that Muslims must take at some point during their lives, and is one of the five pillars of Islam. The Imam talked about who was able to go on the Hajj and how to prepare for it, both physically and spiritually. The sermon was in English and I was able to follow most of it but the Imam used a lot of terms in Arabic, most of which I did not know.

When it came time for the formal prayer my coworker came up to me and told me that I would either have to participate in the prayer or leave the room as it would not be proper to remain in the room and not pray. Because I did not know how to pray according to the Muslim tradition, and because I do not share their beliefs, I chose to leave the room. I did not want to risk offending anyone by appearing to not take their faith seriously, or worse yet, by appearing to mock the religion by not knowing what to do. Even though I left the room I was still able to watch from the doorway. It was fascinating to watch the prayer. Everyone went through the steps in almost perfect unison. They knew when to stand and when to kneel and bow. This is probably what I found the most different from Christianity. There is a lot freedom when it comes to Christian worship but Islam is definitely more structured and rigid. Many Christians have an arrogance about them that might lead you to believe that they consider themselves to be god’s equal. Muslims have no confusion when it comes to their place in the world and recognize that they are subordinate to Allah.

While I was standing outside the room an Imam that was not praying came up to me and asked if he could help me in anyway. I explained to him that a friend had brought me because I was curious and wanted to learn more about the Muslim faith. He smiled and shook my hand and I resumed watching the prayer.

After the prayer was done I entered the room and listened to another shorter sermon. Some people were still praying individually, but many started to leave. A young man about my age came up to me and asked how I was. I said “fine” and asked how he was. He told me that he too was fine. We shook hands and parted ways. While it was obvious to me that my presence made some people uncomfortable, all of the people that did approach me were very kind and welcoming. I, too, was very kind in return as I did not want to upset anybody. It was obvious to everyone there that I was the only non-Muslim and I did not want to ruffle any feathers.

When we walked outside the women were exiting as well. I later learned that the women are kept separate just to make sure that none of them is uncomfortable in the presence of a strange man that they do not know. The sermon is broadcast over a PA throughout the whole building so the women were able to hear it. The room that the women were in is completely separated. Not even a door or a window connects the two rooms.

As the three of us went to get back into the car, I offered to sit in the back seat again. My friend’s wife told me to sit in the front. It was strange for me to sit in the front like that, but I think that she would have been more uncomfortable sitting in the front than I would have been. That cultural difference was probably the most shocking for me having, lived in North America my entire life.

We dropped off his wife and then returned to the office. It was certainly a unique experience and one that I will not forget. But, my lack of a belief is completely irreconcilable with any faith, so I think that attending once was enough. If anyone is even remotely curious then I recommend going some time. I’m glad that I had a Muslim friend to go with me but I don’t think it is necessary.

 Posted by at 5:59 PM