To honor Martin Luther King Jr Day this year, I participated in an Interfaith Celebration that took me to a mosque and a synagogue (and an Episcopal Church had I stayed for the whole tour). Part of my 2008 creation is to visit services or organizations of many various faiths and divisions of those faiths, and this fit perfectly. I've really wanted to visit a mosque and attend a regular service (are they called services? I don't even know), in order to expand my awareness and minimize ignorance as much as possible. Which was the theme of Sunday's events.
While I've been to many Christian and Jewish services and events, Islamic faith-in-practice is pretty fuzzy to me. What are their regular services like? Traditions? Daily practice? Thoughts on prayer, afterlife, food? I jumped at this opportunity to even be inside a mosque. It was a big beautiful simple room. Empty. We took our shoes off and put them in cubbies. I put a scarf over my hair, not knowing if it was required or not. It seemed that other women did too, but was my scarf too pretty, did it defeat the purpose and draw attention anyway? They asked us to sit on the floor or bring a chair over. I sat in a chair. Is that considered disrespectful or wimpy? A man sang a song he wrote for the occasion, is it appropriate to clap? I desperately want to understand these things.
The short service was very nice. An imam recited/chanted two verses from the Koran in Arabic and then translated into English. They were messages about tolerance and acceptance, and his chanting in this big open room was mysterious and beautiful. He then spoke about righteousness from the Muslim perspective and how we need to continue working to realize King's vision, and this can only be done by minimizing ignorance and intolerance. It was very touching and lovely. But I still wonder, "Is this the kind of message that they preach every week? Is this just because we're in New York City?". Which feels kind of horrible to me. Why should I question their tolerant and progressive event?
I would love to attend again sometime with a host, someone who can explain things as we go along, answer my scarf questions, so I can better understand this religion and culture. I want to do this in every religious tradition, but how do you begin? How do you pick such hosts? How long will it take for a Methodist-raised, Quaker and Catholic school-educated Buddhist meditator with a Jewish boyfriend to fully understand and appreciate all the faith cultures out there? Why do I even care so much?