While researching Islamic geometric patterns I realised that I have actually never been inside a mosque. So, coming across an open invitation to an open day held by our local mosque I thought it would be a good opportunity to rectify that. Sunday morning we went off en famille to look at the interior of this impressive building that was built and opened less than two years ago.
I must admit that I was a bit nervous but that soon disappeared when we were so warmly welcomed with Arabic coffee and fresh dates. As it is a modern building the internal decorations were quite restrained and Islamic geometric patterns were limited to the tiling in the men's ablutions room, the carpet and ceiling decorations in the main prayer hall, etched window panes and some fretwork screens. A far cry from the riotous colours of some mosques I found on the internet.
We were told about the role of Ramadan as part of a moslem's life and the Imam recited the beginning of a verse from the Quran. I thought that was really beautiful and restful.
After we finished looking around the rooms on all three stories of the mosque we were treated to drinks and some of the best samosas I've had in long time. Of course, this was a PR exercise for the mosque but their main aim was to educate non-moslems in the hope to encourage tolerance and understanding in the community.
Our visit lasted for about ninety minutes and I left with mixed feelings. We were made feel welcome and this mosque seemed a very peaceful and mindful place. I could see how practicing Islam with its structures and rituals could appeal to people and how Ramadan can be a way of refocussing on what is important in one's life. There is a lot of beauty in these rituals and practices, which appeals both to mind and senses and is not unlike similar elements found in most world religions.
However, my problem lies with the position of women within Islam. This is only my personal impression based on a fleeting visit and what I have picked up in general otherwise which is not based on intensive studies. So, I am open for corrections but this is my current opinion.
Before our visit I was aware that women and men are visually separated from one another during prayer times. But I was a bit shocked to see how far this separation stretched. There is a dedicated gate accessing the property reserved for women drivers which leads to their own separate carpark. The main entrance at the front of the mosque is reserved for men and the women access the mosque around the back by a separate entrance which leads to a separated stair case. Within this mosque the women's prayer room is on the third upstairs floor, which was totally reserved for women's use only, without being connected to the prayers going on in the main hall except for it being piped in via speakers. But in actual fact women didn't seem to be encouraged to worship at the mosque but are given dispensation to pray at home where it wouldn't disrupt their duties.
Hm, I know this is only a very superficial understanding of Islam but it definitely left me with a feeling of women being unequal to men. However, on the whole this was a very good experience and I am glad that as a family we made the effort to go and see the mosque for ourselves. So, now I can stop second guessing at what it looks like inside of this mosque. If given the chance I'd definitely go and visit more.