Tuesday, March 30, 2010
Mosque Rules: Please leave shoes and women at the door...thank you.
The beautiful Grand Mosque has been up for quite some time, since August of 09. For the grand opening, Sam was one of the first on sight to perform the Jumuah (Friday) prayer (lucky him). I have been wanting to go see it since its opening and finally committed to go for a visit. Visiting hours are from 8AM until 11AM, as indicated on the sign propped out in the front. In the last couple of years my hobby to visit and photograph Mosques around the world has intensified, and I planed to add Salalah’s Grand Mosque to my scrapbook.
I load the offspring, snuggle my camera underneath the backseat, grab my to-go coffee mug and pop into the passengers seat. My adrenaline kicks in with the anticipation of walking into a vast open space decorated with elaborate details and intricate geometric shapes.
We make it to the Mosque at 8:57. Kids still in tow, Sam goes to the men’s section to inform the guard that we would like to come in for a tour. I watch them from the car window, Sams hand motions to our car, and then as the guard speaks, Sam places his hands on his waist. I can already tell that he is carrying bad news before he approaches the car. Our conversation goes something like this
Sam: “He said women aren’t allowed to visit the men’s section” (eyebrows raised)
Me: “What? Whatdoyoumean?”
Sam: “Women can’t go in there…”
Me: “Did he tell you why not?"
Me: “Is anyone inside? Are people praying?…. Why can‘t I go in?”
Sam: “No, No, its completely empty, you just can’t go in, women aren‘t allowed in the men‘s section…."
Steam literally shooting out of my Darth Vader ensemble. I flip my burqa up, inhale unfiltered air, wipe the steam from my beneath my eyes, and say, (bottom lip quivering)
Me: “Are you freakin’ serious????! I can’t go in? (pause) cause’ I’m a woman??!”
Sam knows I’m on the verge of an explosion, so he interrupts before my fuse blows.
Sam: “Want me to take some photos for you, I can go in and take some shots for you…Ill do a good job this time?”
Me: “No!, I don’t want you to take photos for me!!, Why can’t I go in myself? Is he afraid I’ll seduce him? Does he think ill make the place dirty by being in there? So you’re saying I can’t go in JUST because I’m a woman???!! But I’m covered from head to toe, and I only want to take photos???! This is such BS man, such BS!"
Burqa gets flapped down again. I‘m so done with trying to figure out why.
Sam: “Why don’t you at least check out the women’s side and take some photos of the outside too. I’ll take photos of men‘s side…come on…” he pleads.
Me: No answer. Just more steam blowing out through the burqa.
I get out the car, slam the door, take the offspring out and head to the men’s section. I pull out my camera and start snapping as many shots as I can. I am deliberate in my movement and obviously taking photos of the guard who I’ve decided to take out my rage. At the moment I don’t care if he is just the messenger or not, maybe its his rule, maybe its not. I don’t know, don’t care. The more shots I take the calmer I get. The surrounding area is very beautiful and I am able to capture some really nice shots. My nerves settle and I make my way to the Women’s section of the Mosque. The sign clearly says “no children“, I open the door and usher the offspring into the Mosque, yes defiantly. I hold my breath, the door opens and the room is….disappointing, nothing grand at all. Its small. Very little décor and the carpet is unimpressive, almost tacky. I take photos anyway, mostly of the kids running around in this cool, soft floored playground. We leave the Mosque, sit on the steps and admire the outside. I give Sam my camera to take photos of the inside of the “forbidden zone". Twenty minutes later, we are back in the car, heading home. I take a look at the photos he’s taken, not bad at all. My head is swirling though, with all kinds of ideas.
I realize that my feelings aren’t just built on anger, but that I am hurt, disappointed and I feel discriminated against, yes discriminated against. Upon further reflection I see that the issue is so much more than not being able to enter and photograph the men’s section of the Mosque. It is this constant second-class citizen feeling that I get here, in Salalah. It takes on subtle forms, but the conscious, those who reflect, can clearly see through these subtleties. The Mosque was built for worship, I know, but anyone should be allowed in, to admire, ponder, maybe even supplicate, it was visiting hours for goodness sakes!. What should it matter whether you are male or female? To add insult to injury, the Mosque was EMPTY, not a man on sight (except the Indian care-takers and the oh so gracious guard). I am not a feminist, whatever that means. But I believe women should have equal opportunity as men. Separate but EQUAL is fine. I started thinking………. some more…
Every day, nearly without fail, Sam goes to our local Mosque to pray…FIVE TIMES. As soon as the adhan (call to prayer) goes off, he drops whatever he is doing, starts getting ready and poof he’s gone. I’m left, with the offspring, either cooking, cleaning, changing a diaper, wiping a nose, scrubbing crayon off the floor, writing a post… and before you know it, the prayer time has gone out. Guess who missed out on praying on time? MOI. Don’t get me wrong, I am happy and seriously grateful that Sam is able to pray at the Mosque, it’s a blessing no doubt to live in a place where you can do that so easily. But, what about me?? How great would it be if I could just, throw on my Abaya, walk outside, bump into a neighbor along the way, and get that 10 minute high of praying in congregation, that peace of mind that comes with connecting to the Creator. Why am I not given that opportunity? The women’s section of the mosques are locked, inaccessible. It seems society has conveniently created a world of solitude for women. We come out only at night, when the moon casts its light upon us, leaving us to look like mere shadows.
So we have been given permission to pass our time by shopping… at the few shops available; Thobe Alley, Abaya Street, Center Point and Max. Fine. I have thobes, I have Abayas, I have lingerie and I have my workout sweats. What's next? I want to go to the Mosque and pray whenever my heart is inclined, can someone please remind me why I can't?.