Since the Arab Spring I had started to associate Fridays with a new round of protests in Arabic countries. I was not feeling happy with Fridays since I am studying Arabic societies and it is hard to know that the most volatile day is also the most Holy. When you study a culture, they switch from being “the other” and turn into being people, just like yourself….I have felt this way for some time about the Arabic World. I don’t want to see other people explode into violence at all but especially on a Holy Day…it crushes me. One of the saddest aspects has been watching the mixture of a Holy Day and the over zealous nature of politics creating a match scenario that sets off the tinderbox of violence.
Last week we were in our orientations and class preparations. This week is the first week of the real deal. I actually went to my first real policy classes and language courses after working so hard to get here.
I have seen way too much of that violent aspect of International Relations and it was time to follow through on a wish I have had for a long time. I have really wanted to reverse this trend in my thinking poorly about Fridays and my wish was granted by my new friend Serena.
Serena took me with her to the mosque.
Serena is a beautiful woman who wears the traditional head scarf of a muslim woman. I have had a fascination with hijabs them since to me they seem to exude elegance or class….a sophistication that I don’t usually have in my bearing and the way I carry myself.
Serena carries herself with this elegance and sophistication yet she reminds me of girls that were cheerleaders when I was in high school. There elegance made me feel more awkward then I already was, but it was reassuring since it seemed that they were saying with their friendship that I was fine the way I was normally.
In fact Serena was a lovely person to spend a lunchtime with…we discussed politics, boys and men, Christians, muslims, Americans and Arabic people. The entire time she oscillated between being witty, gentle, humorous and deeply thoughtful. It was like scoring a conversation with Benazir Bhutto, the Pakistani Prime Minister for two consecutive terms. Serena was beautifully attired in a hijab/headscarf that had sparkles that accentuated her sparkle in her eyes.
Serena invited me to go to her mosque when I told her I have always wanted to attend one. She did not miss a beat. She welcomed the idea of taking me personally to experience a prayer session with her the next day.
Years ago I told a couple of my Sonora friends, Maryanne and Jane, that I wanted to eventually pray my way around the world. People who knew me thought this was odd since I am not the regular church going sort. If you ask me to label myself I think I might be most comfortable with pagan…I like the holiday-food oriented nature of it. I like the way it views every religion as valid and holding keys to truth. I guess I think of the whole world as my church and all of its people as my brethren…..but I like cultural playing…I love to dance as if I belonged to whatever the specific culture I am in today is…last week I was Turkish at the Turkish Festival….they were real and human and loving and fun. I spent the weekend being Turkish…I could feel it…I dressed like a Turk….I looked around and tried to act like a Turk…I used Turkish phrases…I drank Turkish alcohol, (part of my quest to learn to hold alcohol…I can’t be the diplomat who can’t hold her alcohol!), and Turkish coffee and Turkish Tea…I ate like a Turkish woman and I felt like a Turk. There is one thing I did not get to do that I would have wanted to do if I had visited Turkey…I would have prayed at a church there.
When you feel the rituals and church life of a community I think you switch gears to a deeper level. You no longer feel the surface of their minds or their bodies through dance and words but in prayer I feel like I suddenly become in tune with their hearts.
Hence my excitement at attending a mosque. I have studied the biographies, politics, home life and languages of the Arabic World for years….now I had an opportunity to feel their hearts.
I leapt at the chance when Serena presented it…
I had scarves and an open loving heart when Serena met me at the car.
She played me a lovely chant called a Nasheet…I was able to sing along for a bit since it was repetitive.
The nasheet washed away my worries that I was harboring about the US intervention into Syria. I had been listening to John Kerry’s speech just prior to picking Serena up, which spelled out the need to stop chemical weapons and their usage against people in a Damascus suburb in graphic detail.
Another element was upsetting my soul. I have many friends that I have suddenly acquired from all over. A few are boys from different programs than mine….I feel a friendship and motherly, protective vibe about all of my fellow students but these guys are my buddies…one is from one of the Carolinas…another from Finland…two are from Pakistan. They are there for me…last night they showed up when my car died in the dark of the parking lot….
But my protective mother side has always worried about any military action since we are talking about boys and girls from our culture and theirs, (whomsoever that may be this year!)…but now military actions are including not just my own sons and daughters but friends that I have grown rather fond of…here on my new campus…
Peace is important…everyday…I meet new people that it would hurt to lose…people with real smiles and real eyes and great senses of humor.
This collective bunch at my school, might go home and now I can never again think of Pakistan as an abstract concept or a line on a map…Pakistan is now filled with grad students…and their families.
When I entered the mosque I was filled with emotion.
Serena gently guided me into the ladies area.
No longer is a mosque a foreign concept. I listened to the Imam give his sermon. He was an eloquent speaker. I only understood occasional Arabic words…but I could feel the emotion in the room…the love spilling out everywhere.
I had washed my hands and feet in preparation for ritual of Friday prayer so I felt cleansed of any negativity I had hung onto from the morning’s experiences of car problems and sad world news.
Instead my focus was now on the kindly ladies around me. One of the ladies grabbed me by the hand and showed me lovingly where to stand. She took off her own scarf and straightened my hair with a smile on her face, even though my recalcitrant hair kept finding ways to spill out from under the hijab.
I copied everything she did with the best precision I could muster. As we prayed, the children and toddlers played quietly. I found myself weeping quietly…tears streaming down my face…this service was filled with love, these people were love. I have never in my life prayed so fervently for world peace before.
The woman who lovingly straightened up my hijab and hair, gave me the beautiful scarf she had used to tame my wild short mane of hair…I was touched….it turned out it was her son who was the imam giving the sermon.
Serena and I talked afterwards about the world’s trajectory. We decided that things are already headed towards a peaceful planet already…I told her I want my work to be a part of it all…I don’t know how but it sure would be fun to help that side of things, the peaceful side of discussions…grow bigger…
Before I went to bed I found myself writing about all of this which has been swirling about in my head…and it occurred to me that maybe the best way to help create a more peaceful world is to have more of us cross the lines and pray together in each other’s churches…where our hearts are laid bare and our motives disappear
Here it is Sunday….and I can’t get over how positive I feel about Arabic Fridays now…no longer will I cringe, expecting a new round of fighting…from now on I will realize that Friday, in the Arab world is a time for reflection and prayer…now I will remember the violence I see on TV, is but a small group, while the vast majority of muslims are doing what Christians do on Sunday….praying…with their hearts full of gratitude and love…just like I experienced in our church’s here.
I guess on this Holy day for my culture, I will reflect on peace and globalization…peace is seeming to loom larger then I realized….sort of breaking out everywhere inexplicably finding a way to connect two people like Serena and I from completely different cultures.
wal hamdu lillah وول الحمد لله