Wide Awake: My Visit To A Mosque
“What other questions do you have?”
By Marianne Aleardi

Sometimes you watch the news, you read your Facebook feed, and you become a bystander as a national discussion goes on and on. But other times, the national issue becomes easier to understand because, much to your surprise, it shows up in your backyard. Then you see it – clearly – right in front of you. 

Last month, someone I’ve gotten to know over the past year invited me to her mosque for Friday prayers. I had no idea what Friday prayers were. I didn’t know what the inside of a mosque looked like, and I didn’t know who would be there or what would be happening. But I believed it would matter if I went – if I walked in, met people and maybe asked questions. I thought, somehow, that might matter. 

I will admit I was a little nervous the day before my visit. I was afraid I might say something to offend someone – not that I would be rude, but I am uninformed when it comes to the religion. And considering how much hate is thrown at Muslims, I didn’t want my lack of knowledge to come off as disdain or disrespect.   

The day before my visit, my friend sent me an email with a few notes: I didn’t need to cover my head, but the rest of my body should be covered, so she suggested I wear pants or a long skirt. She gave me the address and said the women’s entrance would be clearly marked. I didn’t understand the reasoning for any of that, but I did what she asked out of respect for her beliefs.  

The first thing I noticed when I pulled into the parking lot was the sherriff’s car parked at the entrance. It took me a minute to realize he was there to protect people entering the mosque.  

Read More From Marianne Aleardi Here

My friend texted me that she hadn’t arrived yet, so I got out of my car and stood by the door to wait. Other women were entering. You know how they say if you see something, say something? I was the something. I suddenly became aware that just my presence was enough to make others feel uncomfortable.  

I went back to my car to wait.   

Once inside, I took a tour. The mosque reminded me of my children’s pre-school, which was in a church. It was bright with lots of different rooms, including two large rooms: one where men prayed and one where women prayed. We sat on the floor in the women’s room and I asked, “What is the reason for separating men and women? And why did I have to cover my body?” 

My friend began to answer me but called over her aunt to explain. Her aunt teaches Koran classes, so she was well-versed in the teachings. It all came down to modesty and not tempting men. It isn’t a philosophy I agree with, but I wasn’t there to debate. I was there to learn about a new culture, not to defend my beliefs, and not to judge. 

I also asked why the women were facing the wall when they knelt to pray. They are facing Mecca, my friend told me, not the wall. All Muslims, no matter where they are, face the direction of Mecca when they pray. 

The women I was meeting were well educated, independent and kind. And it was clear they were eager to share information with me. At one point, after we had talked for a while, my friend’s aunt said, “What other questions do you have?” It was clear they wanted to help me understand their culture, because so much is misunderstood. 

When it was time to go, I was able to walk away from the national issue and leave it at the mosque. But I know for my new friends, the issue, with all its misunderstood complexities, follows them wherever they go. And so I am grateful they welcomed me into their religious home. Even better, I admire how they welcomed my questions. Our talking, our new friendship – that’s what really matters. 

December 2018
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