Well, I did it.
I went to prayer, not at a mosque, at a banquet hall, but Muslim prayer nonetheless.
An amazing cousin kindly sat next to me, guided me, and explained all aspects of the service. Thank you!!!
First, when you walk in you take off your shoes and are given plastic bags in which to keep them. Then you enter the side of the room reserved for women, similar to orthodox Judaism, the men and women are separated. The women sit in rows which are outlined by long rolls of a white cloth.
The actual service is quite short. The Imam, I believe, chanted and again, similar to Judaism, we alternately sat and stood and performed a ritual movement with our hands. There was also a sermon which I could not quite hear over the din of chatting and due to the lackluster quality of the audio system. After the sermon, there was a short chant and that was it.
It went by so quickly that I barely had time to process the experience. The one thing I did notice was how similar it was to the Jewish prayer services I’ve attended throughout my life. Really. Really. Similar.
After prayer, everyone had traditional finger food and sweets in an adjoining room, men and women still separated. (Similar to a oneg — I’m just saying.) Afterwards the men and women came together outside visiting.
So here is my take away: It is prayer like any other religious service and remarkably similar to the Jewish high holidays.
:: Everyone wears their finest traditional clothes;
:: The women all talked about who was wearing what;
:: The core of the service, to my best understanding, was to praise a god and try to be a better human being; and
:: People from all over the community gathered and genuinely rejoiced in seeing each other.
Like I said, pretty similar. So why was I so nervous?
As I write this I am reminded of my conscious choice to hold off on researching secondary sources. I want to capture this experience step-wise and provide as raw a portrayal as possible. So why was I so nervous about going to prayer? I was nervous because I was trained to be nervous. Without sources (yet, wait for future posts) I am inclined to say that the American media has done very little to allay any fears of Islam and much to create them.
Before I found out about my family and my born heritage I identified myself as an educated, liberal, New York City yuppie. Turns out that not only am I not as educated as I thought; I am not as liberal or open-minded either. Which brings me back to the question of why I was so nervous. I don’t know. I’m just beginning to face these emotions myself and frankly, I don’t see a quick path ahead. But as any well-trained Jew would do, I’m going to answer that question with a question (please insert evil laugh here).
Would you be nervous if this were you?