Monday, April 4, 2011

I saw a woman in the mosque

It was my second visit to the Imam Ali Mosque, its brick minaret rising proudly from the balmy leafy backstreets of Bankstown, a suburb in Sydney's scattered West. Friday prayer silently calling Muslims from around the neighbourhood. Parking was hard to find.

In the mosque, I sat down at the very back end, Ash thought my jeans were too low-cut for dignified prostration. Soft murmurs and whispers fill the air as more people arrive, taking seats along the ornate carpet lines, forming rows which expand through the prayer hall with immaculate diagonal precision. A few are standing, silently reciting Al Fatiha, face toward the ground, right arm folded over the left just under the chest.

The mosque is sparsely decorated, Quranic verses connect through intricate Arabic calligraphy along the walls and around the ceiling. A Moroccan chandelier descends from the central dome, the bright afternoon light seeps in through windows, its rays intersecting symmetrically with shadows, touching the heads and faces of a patiently assembling congregation.

Then I spot her. A woman among the standing, in the middle of the prayer hall, surrounded by a sea of seated men. I see her from the back, her head and body draped in a flowing white fabric, almost like the picture in my mind of the Virgin Mary. No one is looking at her, no one is paying attention. She descends humbly onto her knees, prostrating, and rises again. She repeats her Sunna prayer the prescribed two times, and before she sits, she turn around, and our eyes meet. Her face is bearded and wrinkled, she turns out to be an old man.

I hope that one day, men and women can pray together, side by side.

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