Thursday, November 21, 2013

On Wearing a Chain

As a young kid in the Middle East, one of my "phases" included wearing a metallic chain around my neck and a steel bracelet on my wrist. It was 'cool' and everybody at school was doing so (remember, this was the 80s). On the other hand, I was still brought up with good values and was quite religious. So this one time, I went to visit this city (Abu Dhabi - the now famous, bigger brother of Dubai) with a couple of friends and it was time for afternoon prayers. We entered a mosque.

After we were done with the congregational prayers we saw the imam making his way towards us. As soon as he was upon us he started to gesture wildly and say something. Whey I say "say something" I really mean "shout". And in Arabic.

A peculiar feature of the UAE is that many of the people who live there, even for decades, do not speak Arabic. Us included. So while the imam ranted and frothed at the mouth, we could only look on helplessly. Some Pakistani labourer then took the trouble to translate to us.

"He doesn't like that." He pointed to the chain and the bracelet. "It's very un-Islamic. Please don't wear that to the mosque."

Silly me, I didn't know that bad 80s grunge look existed in 6th century Arabia to be banned by the Prophet (along with, say, soccer). I remember being shocked at the imam's behaviour (we were only 10 or 12 at that time!) and thinking, "I am never coming to this mosque again!"

I remembered this incident, years later, this summer.

It was a nice summer's day in Toronto and I went biking with a neighbor. We cycled through routes and hills and were riding home when it was time for Maghreb. As luck would have it, we were riding past the biggest mosque in the city.

"Let's go in," Was my decision but I was a bit apprehensive in what I was wearing. A white t-shirt with the Toronto skyline picture on it, and the long shorts. The shorts reached past my knee, which was good (and made it halal), but still left a LOT of the ankle exposed, which is probably not people normally wear to the mosque.

I went in, expecting another frothing imam.

I was pleasantly surprised. No one paid any attention to me.

I went in, enjoying the refreshing blessing of God that is Air Conditioning, did my ablutions, did the congregational prayers, and then even said salaam to the imam (just to tempt fate) and then left. While leaving, I saw plenty of people dressed like me.

They seemed happy to be there. And I wondered, how many attendees does a frothing imam lose?


beingFab said...

I completely get what you're saying. It's really worse for women. I once went to a mosque covered from head to toe in my all white prayer dress, feeling bright and fresh. And then these old women seated on the last row decided that I had committed murder when a strand of hair came out loose. They bugged and bugged me till I was close to tears and almost decided I didn't want to go to a mosque again. On another incident, I reached the mosque late for the Friday prayer and forgot the sunnah prayer which you pray as soon as you enter the mosque. When I was leaving, a woman grabbed my hand and reprimanded me loudly in front of everyone and then told me to attend her 'classes' in a threatening manner. I don't think I ever went there again.

Bongi said...

This is a bit off topic, as in not being put off going to mosque by a frothy imam or not nice Aunty jee telling you off for religious reasons. But also the general behaviour of people in a mosque can be off putting. For years I have been wanting to go to regents park mosque (I live in London) . So a few years back we decided we would go for eid Namaz. I was heavily pregnant at the time. It was very very busy, but we had gone at a reasonably early time as had my young niece with me. However as the mosque filled up people starting going a bit loopy. To the extent I was standing minding my own business but I felt a very deliberate and very hard actually push from the row behind... They were a good praying distance behind me so it was deliberate. I turned back gobsmacked and asked why they pushed me, and a lady said "move your stuff" we had placed our bags infront of us and she was pointing to some bags behind us which weren't even ours. Totally shocked and unable to say a word, my sis in law butted in to say... Do you realise you just pushed someone... In a mosque no less, and she's really heavily pregnant. The response? Another Aunty butts in screaming like a jungli "move your stuff, it's in the way" I just cried whilst my sis in law politely explained it wasn't even our stuff. No apology. I didn't go to that mosque again. The following eid we went to another mosque and there again there was completely jungli behaviour... So I for one will not be going to a mosque again in a hurry unless I get a recommendation to say that the people attending it won't behave like this. Sad state of affairs. I really do think it's much worse In the women's section for some reason. There's a stampede from the front rows as soon as they feel they've prayed enough, so they walk right infront of you when the majority are still mid prayer.

mezba said...

beingFab and Bongi, people should take care how their behavior affects other people, particularly in religious matters, lest they be questioned for those on the Day of Judgment. The ladies who behaved badly with you discouraged you from going to a mosque!

Musa said...

You are lucky you went to the "other" O Level School popular with Bengalis in AUH.
If you went to the more puritanical one, you would have realized the extent of anger that can be inspired by a false sense of morality.

mezba said...

Musa, care to name and shame? :-)