For the first time in the mosque

Since 2011 began, I promised myself that I was going to say ‘for the first time’ a lot this year. So last week in Ganja, my hometown, I did another thing for the first time.

As we know, the entire Muslim world is celebrating Ramadan this month. In the last ten days of Ramazan, there is Night of Qadir.  It is believed that the Quran was revealed on this night. Muslims stay awake and pray to God and ask to be forgiven.  Nobody knows the exact day of this night, so in order not to miss the beauty of this night, they stay up during ten odd nights of Ramadan.

My sister decided to wear hijab beginning this month of last year. Since then she has been more involved in the religious events. By coincidence (I have to say I don’t believe in coincidence at all), the first night that Muslims were going to spend awake, I was in Ganja. My sister insisted that I go to the mosque with her and my aunt. For the first time in my life, I went to the mosque.

I was really excited about the idea of going to the mosque and spending the night there awake.  In Azeri, Mosques are called ‘Allahın Evi” (the house of God). I truly believed that I was going to be much closer to God. When I was in Georgia, my friends and I went to the cathedral and lit a candle. I was feeling embarrassed that as a Muslim I had gone to the cathedral first. So this was a good chance for me to feel God in another house of His.

However my excitement faded away when I stepped in the mosque. No. I didn’t see the mosque, but the yard of the mosque. When I began to follow the crowd, which mainly consisted of males, my sister grabbed my arm and forwarded me to the tent. It turned out that males were going to spend the night inside the mosque with Akhoond, and females were to spend the night in the tent in the yard on the ground covered with old carpets. There was a speaker in the tent to hear the voice of Akhoond.

To be honest, I was really surprised, because I have read a bit of Quran, and God’s words say to treat woman kindly. Besides, in our culture, in the buses or other places, males always give their seats to females, or they always seem to be protective. Sometimes extremely protective to females. But no, in the house of God, males agree to stay inside and let females (their mothers, sisters, wives) sit in the tent on the ground in the cold weather. (That night it was drizzling). Another surprising thing was that the women didn’t care about it. It was just me asking around why males are inside. My aunt thought I should keep silence. Well I did. But I didn’t keep silence in my mind; I really thought a lot but didn’t find any answers.  Although my sister answered this question, it just seemed a pretext to me.

The night praying started later than it was supposed to. Until it started, most of the women were sitting on the carpets, chatting and eating. Very few were reciting something. Me? I was sitting on the chair that my aunt brought (you could see that other women brought chairs too) and reciting God’s name with the praying beads. But I was also observing women, and listening to what my aunt was chatting with the ladies next to us from time to time.

I have always complained about women, as I think most women are not good at listening. In our language we have expression ‘qulaq asmaq medeniyyeti olmaq’ (literary translation is ‘to have art of listening)’, but I am not sure if there is an English word for this expression or not. At university I can understand when they (females)  don’t listen, but in the house of God, in the middle of night, I really didn’t understand why those women, most of whom were in hijab, didn’t listen to the Akhoond. After seeing women chatting even in the house of God, I’d never be surprised when they chat in other places.

Then when Akhoond began to speak, he first began praying to God, but then he began talking about the life of Ali. Once he began telling stories of him, everybody was crying around but me. I am sure they thought what I was carrying in my left part is not a heart but a stone. I really didn’t understand that while there are so many people dying in the world, they preferred to cry so badly for just one person. Well, it is because of Shi’a, I know it but I really don’t understand. I am sorry.

I am also sorry to say that, I have found God everywhere, and in everything, but I couldn’t find Him in His own house. The entire night spent there showed me how people are regulated. The tools of the regulations were so clear for me there. However, I could pray to God there for 5-10 minutes. And you know why, because everybody was silent while crying for Ali. While everybody was busy with crying, I found a good chance to pray to God which lasted for 10 minutes. Those minutes will remain in my memory from this experience forever.

While women were chatting, eating, listening to Akhoond and crying at his words, the night came to an end. But the surprises were going on. In the end everybody should recite Surah  97 Al-Qadr altogether. For that, women were given small papers which this Surah was written on. I was shocked when everybody began to put those papers on their heads, and they stood up, and repeated what Akhoond said. ( Of course, Akhoon again made them cry) I was literally confused, even more confused when I saw my sister did the same thing. When everything was done, I asked her for the explanation of her act and this is what she said.  ”I saw everybody doing the same thing, so I also did.”  I remembered a play called ‘Rhinoceros’, where everybody becomes rhinoceroses, and in the end Berenger who remains a human vows to himself that he will be the last man standing against rhinoceroses. That night I could understand his feeling of being different.

The night was over, it was dark outside. The last surprise in the mosque, happened when I stepped on the guys who were trying to separate males and females with their bodies, kind of a human barrier that we used to see in the concerts. Another surprise was when the males from the mosque were passing by walking women with their cars. I don’t know, but I’d expect them change a bit, after being so close to Akhoond. I think God would appreciate it if they gave a ride to at least the old women.

I have tried to cover my experience in the mosque. Although I could not write everything of what I saw that night, I mentioned the main points that made me think most.

In the end, as for me,  Sabina, I do believe in God. For me the existence of God and love is inexplicable. One needs to feel it. And as long as I feel God, as long as tears appear in my eyes when I begin to speak to God, I’ll continue to believe in him. But God has given me a brain too. The workings of this brain do not understand and accept what was said and done in the mosque that night. I really feel upset for that.

At university we learned about Transcendentalism. In one word they were claiming that there should not be anything and anybody between God and human beings. I knew it and accepted what they said even before I read about it. But in the mosque I was convinced once more. It is just me and God, nobody and nothing else. Maybe I am doing a sin, as those people think, but I am doing what I believe. I believe my God knows me very well, he sees my heart, and he knows that the owner of this heart doesn’t pretend, no matter what. I love my God and I believe he loves me too, as I exist.

God bless you all

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12 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Morgan Sturt on August 25, 2011 at 9:32 am

    Yes! the difference between going through the motions and true belief. You can find God wherever you are. Sometimes being in a “holy place” one cannot find him because we are busy doing the traditions and rituals created by other humans instead of quieting our minds and actually spending time with God. I find that even in Christianity, people get caught up in what others expect of them. They can be one type of person in the church, and another person outside. They don’t carry with them the lessons they learn to their outside life. It’s sad. To me, a believer is someone who constantly walks with God and is not consumed in himself, so he would stop and drive at least one old lady home. 🙂
    You are an inspiration to me!

    Reply

    • Thanks for your comment, Morgan. Agree true belief is different at most points, I don’t know how we can be a true believer, but it is good to begin finding God wherever you are, as you said, a believer is someone who constantly walks with God and is not consumes in himself.
      I am an inspiration to you, because mama ducks always are! 🙂

      Reply

    • Posted by Lannea on August 31, 2011 at 2:39 pm

      Sabina, your post reminds me a little bit of the book, “The Forty Rules of Love.” While I don’t really like the ending of the book, I love the principles in it– that connecting to God is a matter of relationship and of the heart, not a set of rules or traditions. I loved your honesty as I read this post. May you be blessed in your journey.

      Reply

  2. Posted by Niquli Alizada on August 25, 2011 at 11:34 am

    agree with you at all!very interesting.

    Reply

  3. well Sabish,i would like say that living in shia muslim country these scenes (telling stories about life of Ali(r.a),crying women) are predictable. actually there is nothing abnormal for me, however attitude of men also was strange for me,but it doesn’t mean that this is normal for all muslim men,no no again no. i would like your first visit of mosque was awesome or pretty good,but the same time i would like your first writing about your religion and muslims was on more helpfull topic for muslim world, but not critical, especially in this holy mounth Ramadhan,
    good luck

    Reply

    • Thanks, Arzu, for your comment. I know that mosque was shi’a mosque, and it is not abnormal people crying for him, however what seemed abnormal to me is they did it on the Night of Qadir, to be honest when I did some search on this night, I didn’t see it among the things that were supposed to be on this night. FYI I used to spend that night at aunt’s house, and we used to pray to God and read prayings from Quran and other books. Believe me, I also wish I used to write different topic about our religion, but this is what I saw and observed. I do hope it was different, as you said especially in this holy Ramadan.
      Thank you

      Reply

  4. Posted by Eugene Gabrys on August 26, 2011 at 7:02 am

    A tremendously lucid piece of writing. I like how you recounted and reflected on the experience. You are becoming quite a wordsmith.

    Strength comes from what is in your heart and the power of your character is a result of your belief. Others benefit from your insight and reasoning. The experience may not have been what you expected but you succeeded in transcending norms that can be binding.

    Congratulations!

    Reply

  5. You are really catching your stride. You have a very open mind, Sabina, and it is a wonderful to watch you engage the world with skepticism.

    Reply

  6. […] of August this year, I thought I’d share a thoughtful reflection by a blogger, Sabina, on her first experience going to a mosque last week during the Qadir: I was really excited about the idea of going to the mosque and spending […]

    Reply

  7. This is a really thoughtful and reflective piece of writing and gives a non-Muslim other insights to the Night of Qadir. In the end, Sabine, you must learn to be true to yourself always.

    Reply

  8. […] Aaron in Azerbaijan introduces its readers to Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting also known as Ramazan, and comments on a reflection on gender and faith during the period of observance of the by a local female blogger, Sensible and Sensitive, who visited a mosque for the first time in the oil-rich secular mainly Moslem republic. […]

    Reply

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