10 Things I Learned at a Mosque During Ramadan
Preface: Sawm is a month-long ritual in the 9th month of the calendar year (Ramadan) that practices daylight fasting to commemorate Allah. This year Sawm started on Wednesday June 17th and ended on Friday July 17th.As a journalist and non-identifying religious person in a Muslim-dense area, I went to experience one of the holiest Muslim holidays at the King Fahad Mosque in Culver City. I’m the last person to ever be expected in a religious building let alone end up praying for 4 consecutive hours. As a complete outsider with no agenda, a journalist, and a curious cat, I went to the mosque alone and this is what I learned throughout my days:
- From sunrise to sunset you are not allowed to eat, drink, engage in sexual activity or do anything that constitutes being haram (or sinful). The purpose is to cleanse the body and soul by fasting and ultimately prove to Allah (God) your devotion. At first, I was ardently against this. No water¾all day. I immediately wanted to find facts regarding the rate of dehydrated Muslims during this month, yet I bit my tongue and listened to the experiences ones that annually participated. For the record, all men refer to each other as “Brothers” and all women refer to each other as “Sisters.” This makes the journalist’s job easy. Sister, a fellow Muslim, elaborated, “At first it’s very hard [to fast]. The beginning days are the most difficult but if you truly believe Allah will give you the strength to prove it. By the last few days of the fast, it is easy I laugh at how dramatic I was [in the beginning].”
- Each day after the sun sets the fast is broken with fruit and water among your fellow Sisters or Brothers. Separated from the men, without bringing any food or gifts, I shyly sat down to observe. Before I could take notes on my embarrassment and the emulating generosity among the attendees, a fellow Sister from Bangladesh greeted me with the warm friendliness you’d expect from an old schoolmate. Before I knew it she was urging me to eat to break my fast. That’s the thing about religion in general; it provides a sense of unity. She didn’t know or question why I was there, she and hundreds of others assumed we were all there for the same purpose and I was only surrounded with support.
- The support isn’t only confined to Muslim brothers and sisters. It transcends through race, religion, background and appearance. At that specific mosque, I met various types of people from a variety of countries from America to Pakistan, Thailand to France and everything in between. Although that shouldn’t be surprising considering that fact that Islam is the 2nd largest religion in the world, following Christianity. It was a 63-year-old Sister that summed up a teaching from The Quran to me in the best way, “It’s not about how you look, it’s about what’s in your heart. That’s what matters. Only that.”
Women are treated with the utmost respect. Contrary to popular phenomenon of Fox News and pathetic likeness, Muslim women are indeed respected within Islam. It goes to show with my experience: I had taken many beautiful photos of women but due to the fact that it would be disrespectful to see them in certain positions during prayer I was instructed to delete them. This is understandable since those on the Internet have seen the “face down, a** up that’s the way we like to pray” joke. Since I wasn’t able to legally keep these photos or post them, you’ll just have to attend prayer at a mosque and experience the organized religious obedience and devotion in a room of hundreds.
- Everyone makes mistakes and we should all strive and work to be the best version of ourselves. The speaker on the last day translated to English the sermon,“We must remember to remember them [the unfortunate] in our times of joy and to be able to enjoy this blessed day and be aware and conscious of the struggles of other people. We ask upon us to accept in the blessed month and be able to practice the spirit of Ramadan, the courage to forgive, and to seek forgiveness for those we have wronged.”
- Timing is everything. A Brother spoke for reassurance to those in harsh times to instill faith and stability, “He [god] allows everything in your life to arrive at the right time. That is the beauty of God.”
- Keep your friends long lasting. Throughout prayer and casual conversation, older sisters advised younger ones to make an effort and build long-lasting friendships because friends eventually become family.
- Islam promotes care for the environment. One of the parting mentions in the last sermon urged us to not exploit our resources because that is senseless.
- I didn’t know a word of what was said during the last day of prayer. During the reading of The Quran, in Arabic might I add, I didn’t understand a single word. Over 1,000 Muslims gathered into the mosque that night for the reading because during this time, God and his angels came down from heaven to listen. With God, his angels, and over 1,000 devout Muslims reading from their holy scripture, I managed to be the only one out of touch; Horrible for my career but in that moment there was a beauty in not knowing. I just trusted the words had the best intentions for you and those around. It was similar to a scene in "The Shawshank Redemption" where Morgan Freeman listens to an Italian Opera singer and exclaims, “I never knew what the Italian lady singing was saying and I don’t think I want to know. It’s beautiful just that way.” Later on I eventually discovered the repeated phrase:
Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar [God is the greatest, God is the greatest] Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar [God is the greatest, God is the greatest] Ashadu an la ilaha ill Allah [I bear witness that there is none worthy of worship but God] Ashadu an la ilaha ill Allah [I bear witness that there is none worthy of worship but God] Ashadu anna Muhammadan rasoolullah [I bear witness that Muhammad is the prophet of God] Ashadu anna Muhammadan rasoolullah [I bear witness that Muhammad is the prophet of God] Hayya’alas salah [Come to prayer,] Hayya’alas salah [Come to prayer,] Hayya’alal falah [Come to success,] Hayya’alal falah [Come to success,] Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar [God is the greatest, God is the greatest] La ilaha ill Allah [There is no deity but God.]
10. Lastly and most importantly which is not exclusive to Ramadan; Fearing the unknown instead of facing it won’t benefit yourself or anyone else. Often I see many members of one religious congregation fear another just out of pure ignorance. What you don’t know will hurt you and others, exhibit A is every war with religious misunderstanding as a catalyst. Immerse yourself and learn.