By Richa Pokhrel/@NepaliChoriBlog
Last Saturday, Chris and I joined our Muslim friends to break fast for Ramadan. This was my first time being inside of a mosque. Coincidentally, it was only 3 blocks from our apartment. This place of worship was inside a house so we had no one idea it even existed. That day, Chris had decided that he wouldn’t eat anything, he did eat breakfast, but chose not to eat or drink anything until we joined our friends later that evening. Unfortunately, I do not do well with fasting so I decided that I would eat during the day. I have had experience with fasting, Hindus fast as well and throughout my life I have attempted to fast. Fast forward to 8 o’clock when we met our friends. Our male friend showed us how to clean ourselves before we entered. The cleansing part was very refreshing and I found it similar to my Hindu background.
As we entered, my friend and I covered our hair with scarves. The main room of the mosque was already being set up, with long rugs being placed on the ground and bowls on food being put on them. The men were seated at the front, while the women and children in the back. I have never been to a place of worship where there are all different kinds of people there (black, white, Middle Eastern, South Asian, African). Our friends are Egyptian. Because I have never been to a mosque, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I was nervous to be honest because I didn’t want us to stick out like sore thumbs. I found the opposite to be true, people were so welcoming. The energy of that room was contagious. I found people to be happy, engaging and willing to answer the questions I had. Around 8:37 we broke fast and ate our dates and drank water. After the initial snack, we cleared the rugs and began the prayers. During the prayers, we bowed and kneeled. Everything was in Arabic and my friend translated some of it, but due to the noise in the room I didn’t hear all of it. Towards the end, we did a prayer for all those who had died that day, I found that moment to be very meaningful. Just like in Hinduism, prayers consist of bowing and kneeling, and respecting the space.
After prayers, we began the dinner. Various members of the Mosque had volunteered to make food for the rest of the community, we all sat down on the floor to eat our meals and talk. I found the overall experience to be very casual, with people coming in and out, children running around the room, people talking in clusters. This may be different at other mosques. But the coming together of the community gave a lot of depth to the experience. Even if I had come with no knowledge of Islam, I would still be able to understand the intention. As I have mentioned before, I wouldn’t call myself religious, but I really do enjoy these types of gatherings. Coming together to celebrate a religious holiday always leaves me with the desire to find my own spiritual path (whether established or not).
In Nepali society, there is a clash between Hindus and Muslims. Our parents, our relatives, and our community always tell us that the worst thing we can do is marry a Muslim. This is especially true for women. I have heard this so many times! In my opinion this mostly has to do with the narrow view Nepalis have about Islam, mostly relating to what they hear and see on the news. People always talk about how badly Islam treats women, but we fail to recognize that Hinduism is also patriarchal. We also have a lot of good things that are similar. It seems that the world forgets there is a range of religious practice, people fall everywhere on the spectrum, and I bet most people fall somewhere in the middle. I realize that there is history between our two religions and what I am saying is perhaps more simplistic, but if you get to know someone of a different religion, you realize that our belief in something bigger than ourselves is the same. It’s just the who we believe in and how we get there that is different.
When I was growing up in Iowa, my childhood best friend was half Egyptian. She was the first person I knew that observed Ramadan. Before her, I didn’t know any Muslim people. One year Ramadan fell during the summer months and I remember thinking about how she went without drinking water. I was awed at her strength because as young teens, I could never imagine myself doing that, especially when we lived in area where most were white. So thank you Sarah for helping me open my eyes to new and different things! I recently listened to this podcast in which Muslim Americans talk about Ramadan. It was very helpful in understanding what people go through during this holy month and how their experiences vary.
Ramadan is more than just about fasting, it is also about how you talk to others, how you act with others, how you treat other people, and much more. There is a lot of reflection and appreciation during the month of Ramadan. I need to incorporate a daily practice with more reflection and appreciation. Perhaps I can try fasting again, I know its good for my body, but it would probably increase my mental strength and will power too.
Thank you to our friends for inviting us!
*Have you been to a mosque before? What is your knowledge about Islam and Ramadan? Have you fasted?