Last week we visited the King Abdullah Mosque and observed the afternoon prayer. In order to enter the mosque all of the women were asked to put on a long black cloak with a hood. I did not mind doing so, but while walking into the mosque I noticed that the cloaks really did hold in the heat. However, as I sat in the mosque, captivated by the newness of the experience, the heat became tolerable. Upon our entrance to the mosque, I immediately noticed that the mosque, in contrast to other mosques that I have seen, was beautiful and ornately decorated. I was captivated by the stained glass, the celestial blue and the gold writing and artwork surrounding the building. I noticed a few interesting things about the mosque. I noticed that every third light on the chandelier was turned on, the stained glass seemed to be without a pattern and the light that poured in through the glass beautifully illuminated the building. I also took note that the walls of the mosque were brown, wooden and rather detailed and the carpet was very soft.
As we waited for the prayer to begin, my eyes followed and traced along the patterning on the carpet. Following the call to prayer men from all directions and all walks of life flowed into the mosque in the name of prayer. I loved watching the men flood into the mosque. Old and young walked into the mosque, construction workers and business men, traditional bedouins, Palestinians and many others to be sure, all stood together before God, praying. I loved seeing all people come together for the worship of God, each of them removing their shoes and leaving their titles behind them at the entrance of the mosque. The communal prayer definitely reveled the Arab culture’s tendency towards collectivism as the community took part in the ritual together. As I observed the ritual and the tradition of the prayer, I marveled at the historic tradition.
I wondered how individuals could actually focus upon the prayer and not get caught up in the motions and the positions during their prayer. I do understand and see the beauty in their very physical action of surrendering to Allah, but I myself would honestly find it challenging to focus both on God and on prayer during the prayer sessions because of the beauty of the mosque and the motions themselves. It reminded me a bit of my own Catholic upbringing. Many call the motions and the repetitious kneeling and standing that is present in mass, Catholic aerobics. Having this background with the ritualistic prayer motions of mass, I understood the significance of the prayer aerobics or motions but also can testify that such things can be rather distracting.
Another interesting aspect to the experience was seeing that even after the prayer had begun, many individuals continued to flood into the mosque. At least thirty men came late, many even running to take their place in the direction of Mecca, this reflected the polychronic aspect of the Arab culture. I also find it so interesting that the prayer in Islam does seem rather time oriented though it has origins in the Arab culture which tends to be less time orientated.
My experience in the mosque was wonderful. I loved seeing all the men, from all different walks of life, come together in the name of prayer. I do wonder if the prayer and the attendance of individuals is because they desire to obtain more deeds so that they can enter the gates of paradise or if it is their desire to grow in relationship with God. I personally would struggle separating the two if I grew up in Islam. I also wonder how individuals can conceptualize God without giving God some sort of image. I do like that Muslims do not label God as a man and do not decorate their mosques with pictures of God, but I personally cannot imagine trying to conceptualize God without the images I was subjected to as a child. I look forward to not only experiencing more Mosque prayers in the future but also learning more about Islam and its notions of God and prayer rituals. I am thankful that I was able to experience the mosque prayer at King Abdullah Mosque, it is something that I will always cherish as it has helped me understand the practice of Islam in personal way.