I have always had an interest in the Islamic religion and I felt that this was the perfect opportunity to fulfil my curiosity. I decided to visit the Masjid Al-Ansar (Sunni) in order to gain first-hand knowledge on this complex religion. Being that I am a Catholic and grew up in a Catholic household, I found this experience to be insightful and very different compared to my religion. Knowing how important learning about a religion that is not my own is, I went to the mosque with a very open-mind and positive attitude knowing that I might not get this chance again. In order to increase my knowledge on the Islamic religion, I proposed questions about rituals, symbols, and gender roles in their religion. My awareness and understanding on this religion has broadened and I feel that I can better appreciate the importance of those who practice this religion.
My site visit field work consisted of two trips to the Masjid Al-Ansar mosque. This mosque is also an Islamic elementary school and is considered a Sunni sect. The reason for a sect in a religion is to be able to separate the different minds within the religion. Everyone has their own way of thinking, so the sects are put in place to split people up upon how they interpret things. The Islamic religion has two different sects, one being Sunni and the other is Shiites.
My first visit consisted of getting a feel for what it is like to be present in a mosque. I got to observe the service and listen to what the Imam had to say during his sermon. When I first arrived, I was greeted by one of the local Muslims who bowed to me and showed me the way towards the mosque. As I entered, I began by taking note on the small things that the Muslims did to prepare for the service. They first took off their shoes when they entered, got dressed in their proper clothing for the service, and then went on to kneel on the carpet and prayed until the service began. Once the service began, the Imam started with a prayer and proceeded with his sermon. As I was listening, I was observing how the men and women were dressed. The women wore long, loose, dress-like outfits that covered them from head to toe. They also wore a hijab or head scarf, which covered their whole head including their hair. Most of the men were wearing pants and long sleeve shirts, not as intricate as the women. I realized that the way Muslims dress for their services is more thought-out than how Catholics dress. The service went on and ended with a prayer that was in Arabic. The Muslims all gathered and began to kneel and bow as the Imam said the final words in the prayer. My first visit was just to get a general sense of what happens in a mosque and become as comfortable as possible for my next visit.
My second visit was more intricate than the first. I got to the mosque early enough to be able to ask the Imam a few questions that I had before he began his service. I started by asking him about the different rituals that happen within a mosque. He proceeded to tell me that the most well-known ritual is taking off your shoes when entering the mosque. He also said cleanliness is very important in their religion, because they believe everyone should be clean when in the house of their God, Allah. The Imam went on to tell me about the different Islamic prayers. The Muslims kneel down on the carpet when they enter the mosque and recite a prayer called “du’a” before the service begins. He also said everyone has a choice of whether to pray to themselves or with the Imam.
After speaking about the rituals, I asked him if there are any symbols or art located around the mosque. The Imam explained how there are no symbols or art in the mosque, but that the crescent moon is often used to represent the Islamic religion. He told me how some Muslims do not associate themselves with the symbol because it is very controversial within their religion. As the Imam was showing me the way to the mosque, I tried to notice any posters hanging on the wall. All I came across were some about upcoming events and important dates which were located when you first walk into the school. There was also a poster about the Islamic holiday “Eid al-Adha” which was on September 2, 2017. Muslims also celebrate “Ramadan” which is usually held between the months of May and June, but the days differ from year to year.
Upon entering the mosque, the Imam and I entered through separate areas because the women have a different entrance than the men. When we reunited, I asked him about the gender roles within the mosque. Before he answered, I quickly noticed a divider that was in the middle of the room. I noticed men were in the front while the women and children were in the back. The Imam went on to tell me how the Islamic religion is quite equal when it comes to gender roles, which surprised me since men and women were sitting on separate sides. He explained that their religion believes that men cannot focus and become distracted if a woman is sitting near them, which explains the divider in the middle of the room. After researching this issue, I came across an article that stated how women were once not able to enter a mosque at all and were asked to pray at home. If they did enter the mosque, they would have to go in through a back door or hallway that was not the main entrance.
As the service started, I was trying to grasp everything the Imam was saying. The prayers were in Arabic but the Imam told the sermon in English. I feel that I connected with him in a certain way because he had previously told me that his family is Catholic, but he converted as a young adult because he did not like what Catholics preached. Although I am no thinking about converting to a new religion, I thought it was interesting how we had a similar religious backgrounds. In his sermon, he talked about how many people ask him why Muslims do not baptize children when they are born. He explained that the Qur’an states a woman’s womb is holy and that the child has already been baptized when it comes out. The Imam was very passionate towards the issue of women and strongly believed in their rights. He spoke about how women and men are both equal beings under their God, Allah. I think that listening to the Imam’s sermon really impacted me in a positive way and opened my eyes to how the Muslims worship.
The last part of my visit was what impacted me the most. When the service concluded and I was preparing to leave, the woman sitting next to me approached me. She embraced me in her arms, and softly said to me “Islamic Welcome” and then went on her way. I feel that her actions were a way of giving me a sense of comfort and welcoming me into the Islamic community with open arms. She added a piece of positivity to my whole experience.
My experience as whole was very impactful. I was able to get a first-hand sense what happens in a mosque and how the Muslims practice their religion. I felt that my second visit was the most knowledgeable since I was able to ask the Imam questions regarding rituals, symbols, and gender roles within the Islamic religion. Throughout this experience, I realized how different the Catholic religion is compared to others. I have gained a sense of appreciation for not only the Islamic religion, but all the other religions that are not my own. I am overall grateful to be able to have observed and learned about a religion that is foreign to me.
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