Learning to Do Islam ~ First day at Prayer

NOTE: This post was drafted WAY back in the beginning of 2017, or end of 2016. I’m finally getting a chance to post it. 🙂

DATE: Early 2017 or late 2016

Today I attended my first prayer gathering with the Muslims of the Sunshine Coast.

Let me set the scene a little.

I really don’t own ‘Muslim appropriate’ clothing. So I wore black work pants and a regular t-shirt. I tied my hair back in a pony, but this was only because the day was incredibly hot and I wanted my hair off my face.

So, I arrived early… like REALLY early. I was a good 25 minutes early. I live about 3o minutes away so I left ridiculously early because what if there was traffic? Or a road incident along the way. I didn’t want to be late. So I waited in the car for about 15 minutes before I went in.

I’ll be honest. I was anxious. I don’t think I’ve every really had that ‘first day at a new school’ experience, but I imagine it felt something like this!

As I walked into the community centre (the Mosque is under renovation), I saw a pile of shoes, so I removed mine. No biggie, lots of cultures have a ‘no shoes’ type policy. The space was like any other community centre. An indoor space, bathrooms off to the left then as you walk through the open space there is a big doorway (like garage door size) and a regular door leading to an outdoor covered area and behind that a children’s play space. I imagine playgroups would use this space too.

I was the first woman there. Awkward.
A man entered the centre and walked past me, greeting me with Assalam. I think I remember vaguely mumbling assalam back, absolutely NO confidence! I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to issue the same greeting back or say something else. Also, what if I pronounce it all wrong?!

I saw the Imam/Sheik Zain, who I recognized as I had googled him before coming (research, very important). I walked over and half-heartedly explained who I was. He gestured to the area inside that looks out via the large doorframe and advised that this is the women’s area.

He moved on. Must be busy!

Now, I admit, I had no idea what to do with this women’s area. Women have an area? Why? Why is it here? Do women do something different here?

While I waited for 1pm, I had a brief wander around the community space, looking at the posters and various signs for the different groups that use the space.

After a few minutes, another gentleman came to let me know about the women’s area. I thanked him. I assumed we must be about to start, and perhaps Zain had sent him. Which means I’m supposed to do something… ok… let’s look at the women’s area..

There were patterned rugs on the floor, clearly for comfort and prayer. I was still the only woman here.
I saw in the men’s area that those who had arrived were either sitting or kneeling on the rugs. Some people were in prayer. Not being sure if there is something I should do first, I simply sat down on a run at the very front of the women’s space and waited.

When things began, one of the men recited something, an opening prayer of some sort (mental note, google what actually happens at these things). Then Sheik Zain began to talk. It was much like a sermon you’d have in church where the priest talks about something, generally related to what’s happening in the real world, and links the religious text to that. This talk was on social justice, how zakah or zakat (essentially Muslim Tax) was used.

During Sheik Zain’s talk, more people kept arriving. Men who were coming in late would briefly do some sort of prayer then sit or kneel and listen.
Women started to arrive! I felt more at ease once the talk began and women arrived. I know how to listen and I can copy what the ladies do if I need to.
And, because I think maybe god knew I needed a baby on my lap to provide me with something I was experienced in, one of the ladies who sat next to me had a beautiful 9 month old girl, who I had the pleasure of holding and sitting with.

Towards the end, the talk ended and the Muslim prayer began.
As I don’t know how to do the prayers, and I certainly don’t know the Arabic, I just sat and watched. The women around me were doing the prayers as well. But it wasn’t awkward for me, I had a baby to hold. 🙂

Then it was finished! People started leaving. The ladies began to talk with me and introduce themselves and I explained briefly how I came to be here.
I was invited out to the shopping centre where they go afterwards and grab coffee and subway etc.
As it was still school holidays, someone’s primary school aged son came up to me and said Assalamu Alaikum (forgive the spelling, it’s spelt differently all over the web!) and I said that I’d love to give him the response to that greeting, but I don’t know it.
And he graciously told me what it was, and helped me out a little. 🙂 I instantly forgot how to say it, but he didn’t mind at all.

So there you have it, my first visit to a Muslim prayer gathering.

I wouldn’t say I learnt how to ‘do Islam’ today. But I learnt who some of the people are, I learnt how to greet someone and I generally just took the opportunity to become accustomed to the flow of things.

Will I return? Absolutely. There is so much I want to learn and understand. Though I will go looking for a hijab and more appropriate clothing. No one said anything negative, however I will feel 100% more comfortable if I can blend in a little.


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