Sunday, September 19, 2010

My Visit to a Mosque

For several years at the start of my career I worked under a physiotherapy director who was a Pakistani Moslem. I never paid much attention to his religious observances and he shared little about his faith. We took turns bringing in treats for coworkers’ birthdays and he always checked to make sure they were not made with lard. At another workplace our clinical secretary read the Quran during her lunch hour and coworkers brought her chocolates at the end of Ramadan. I visited the Dome on the Rock in Jerusalem and all I remember was the pile of shoes at the entrance and the large rock in the centre of the mosque. My knowledge of Islam is limited at best.

Men's Prayer Area

Our region hosted a Doors Open event this weekend. Buildings of architectural, historic, cultural and social significance opened their doors free of admission to the public. I looked through the extensive list of participants and selected a few I could visit in half a day. One of them was an Islamic school, community centre and mosque a few kilometers from our house.

I parked on the street and walked through the open gate which had a sign which read “No Trespassing.” Members were celebrating Eid with outdoor games and food and I felt very out of place as I walked up to the main door. Other caucasian, non-Moslems were inside waiting for a tour and I joined a group led by a young woman who taught at the school. She was dressed conservatively with a head covering and clothes which covered her wrists and ankles. She grew up in the area attending high school and university locally.

We toured the school and the mosque and she shared openly about her beliefs and her place as a woman in her culture. The people in our group were very interested in what she had to say and asked many questions which were answered articulately. We were all impressed with the presentation and the gracious, friendly reception which included refreshments at the end of the tour. The members of the mosque obviously wanted to reach out to their neighbours and promote an understanding of their faith.

Women's prayer area on upper level

I was born into a Christian family and have embraced the faith I was raised in. I am not interested in becoming a Moslem.

The young woman we met was born into a Moslem family and has embraced the faith she was raised in. She is not interested in becoming a Christian.

I was impressed by the fact that the Moslems at this Sunni Moslem centre did not all look the same. Some women wore jeans and t-shirts and others wore burkas. We asked about this and were told that the core beliefs of Islam are the same for all believers and details such as dress are a matter of personal choice. There are two main groups of Moslems but Islam is not fragmented into multiple denominations in the way Christianity is divided.

Eid Celebration

I tried to imagine a Christian centre in the area where Christians of all types would meet daily or weekly and worship together without arguing about doctrine, worship styles and outward observances.

We were offered an English translation of the Quran and I took one out of respect for their scriptures. How could I ask a Moslem to read my Bible if I would not look at their holy book? And I realized I need to make an effort to become friends with people of this faith.

Religious extremists exist in every belief system and unfortunately they get the most media attention. I am tired of receiving hate-filled email forwards about Moslems, many of them coming from so-called Christians. Earlier in the week I met a Moslem lady who left her abusive husband and was living at a women’s shelter in town. But that same shelter houses abused women from many other backgrounds.

I visited two other Christian churches which participated in Doors Open this weekend. Visitors were not welcomed as warmly and nothing was shared other than a hello and a view of the architecture. It left me with a lot to think about.

...worship Christ as Lord of your life.
And if someone asks about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it.
But do this in a gentle and respectful way. Keep your conscience clear.
Then if people speak against you,
they will be ashamed when they see what a good life you live
because you belong to Christ.

1 Peter 3:15 b, 16

Postscript: My brother and nephew, who live in the Middle East, pointed out in the comments that Islam is fragmented into many sects, just like Christianity. I am referring to Islam in our community when I say that relatively conservative and liberal Muslims meet together at the same mosque. There are other factors, historical, political and economic, which influence the beliefs and actions of Muslims around the world. The people in our area are well educated and comparatively affluent.


  1. There are many segments of Islam, both in Sunni and Shi'ite.
    The splits between the different groups do not seem as extreme as in Christianity, but ones like Wahabi are getting there.
    And the fights between the two main groups in this region ......

  2. Sand Land Son4:07 am GMT-4

    I like your post, but Islam is incredibly segmented. There is off the top of my head Sunni, Shiite, Sufism, Ahmadiyya, Kharijite, Kalam, Quranists, Bahai, etc etc etc. This is not even mentioning the Black Muslim movement in America with the Nation of Islam and the Five Percenters and the rest of those lunatics. Going back to "real" Islam you have the reformists, the liberals, the wahabis, etc etc etc.

    The funny thing is that everyone hates each other. Many of the above branches, such as Ahmadiyya, are banned in the Muslim world.

    There are many Muslims that would have you believe that their "religion of peace" (ha ha) is perfect, but it's just as screwed up as all other religions.

  3. Very interesting post Ruth. I, like you, would have chosen to visit there as well and learn about their faith. It's only when we try to understand and respect one another's beliefs that there can be real peace. We are starting an adult education class today about Islam at our church. Knowledge is the way to decrease fear.

  4. I will have to put "Visit a Mosque" on my list of things I want to do. Thanks for writing this.

  5. This was a very informative and thought provoking post.I guess ,as christians we have a lot to learn from some other religions.We must let our light shine.

  6. This seems like a worthwhile stop on a Doors Open day -- a lot better than our recent day.

  7. SLD and SLS....thanks for your insights. I have added a post script to the post. I know the two main groups are very antagonistic.

  8. I like this open door idea. What a great way for people to see other cultures and their way of practicing religion. If you believe in your truth there is no reason to convert others.

  9. Thanks for the postscript Maple Leaf Sister.
    Hopefully the moderate and cooperative view that you see will spread elsewhere.
    Living "inside the mosque" so to speak as we do, does change your view.
    But in general our Muslim friends here are all good people too.

  10. There...I changed my profile picture to reflect my new name...MLsister.

  11. I grew up in Liberal Sarawak, then Ayatollah came, and the muslim women then had to TUDONG. Wear a white or black head scarf.

    I had a Kenyan 12 year old student, and she told me how she didn't like to live under a regimented Muslim law in New Zealand.

  12. I admire you for having the gumption to visit a Mosque and then post about it publicly.I don't know much about Islam but I do have some questions about it.It seems to me like a good idea to me to learn about others cultures and religion if they are interested in sharing that information.Thanks for the post-I found it interesting and informative.

  13. Ann- It must be especially hard for young girls to accept the restrictions of Moslem culture especially when they are surrounded by others who do not follow those traditions. And the surge in conservative thinking has had a bigger impact on women.

    Larry- As "tolerant Canadians" we are not as Moslem-phobic as some people in America so I not qualms about visiting and writing. There is a large Moslem population in the cities of southern Ontario and our daughters had many Moslem students in their high school.

  14. When I said that I admired you posting publicly I meant in spite of the hateful e-mails but now I see they were more general e-mails forwards maybe not specifically sent to you. Either way,I liked your post.

  15. What I like about the post is that you took the time to visit and ask questions and sensed respect e.g. as in your conversation with your woman host both realising being from different faith traditions. This is the beginning of understanding between religions. It is when religion gets equated with a certain nationality or heritage or the extreme fundamentalists that we get in trouble. Good post.


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