Going to the mosque to say a prayer these days far from serves the object of the act i.e. to experience some sort of calm or peace in the "House of God". In our grand mosque in Stockholm, inaugurated in June 2000, Muslims from all over the world gather to say their prayers, attend lectures or classes, and go to work.
The building is the work place for many Muslim organisations that work within different spheres such as Islamic Relief, NewMoon, Al Khawarizmi (Swedish Muslim Student Association) and many more.
As for the history of the building itself, it calls for a separate post for it is a fascinating story.
Back to finding peace whilst praying in the mosque. I had a meeting with various organisations for the sake of discussing the material that should be included in a book that will be published in Sweden at the end of this year God willing about Muslim Peace Culture. We met in the office area of the mosque and the call for Asr prayer came so we all took a break to pray.
Now praying in a mosque in itself is not supposed to be a complicated affair. In our mosque the women's prayer floor is above the men's. However it is designed so that one can look down from the women's area straight to the men's in order to both see and hear what is going on better.
So the Imam calls out the adhaan (call to prayer) and one of the women goes and stands at the very front of the women's prayer room in order to start a line there. Very smart I think to myself, for that will allow plenty of room for people to come in from behind and make new rows should the amount of people increase. So I stand next to her and a few more women follow our lead.
An older woman, 55+ speaking Arabic comes to me and exclaims:
Laa laa, el rijaal! meaning no, no, the men!
I was startled for I did not quite understand what the men had to do with anything and furthermore the time for prayer was there and we were all trying to start. So she continues and pulls people telling them to move backwards in the room to the middle of it. I am still lost, but since everyone started taking a step back, I did not wish to pray solo for that sort of defeats the idea of congregational prayer.
This however, was still not good enough for the lady in question and at the same time another lady started joining in with different requests. Apparently we were not starting the line from the right side of the room. So she started pulling at people yelling yameen yameen (right, right) to move to the right whilst the other lady still calls out el rijaal!
By now I am fed up at the hen house our prayer room had turned into, along with many more around me and we were now in three different rows, one starting from the left, one from the right and one at the very back. It looked absolutely ridiculous. The woman came back to us again and now this time she was even more passionate about the rijaal so I had to ask her what she was talking about:
Hajjeh, ma fahimtek ya3ni sho da'7let el rijaal? meaning "Hajjeh (term of respect for an older woman), I didn't understand you, where do the men fit into all of this ?"
And she replied, as if it were the most natural thing I should have understood myself:
Ehna laazim naqif waraa el rijaal meaning we have to stand behind the men.
Behind? huh? we are in a separate room? They are not even in the room? What do you mean behind?
For a Muslim man or woman, the only person that one absolutely must stand behind, is the Imam. No one can stand in front of the Imam whilst praying. And our prayer room for women is designed so that the first row of the women is just behind the Imam, yet side to side (though on a different level in the building) with the men.
This woman meant that we should not even be standing next to the men praying one floor below us and she managed to rearrange the whole room of women into something that looked like abstract art á la Picasso, not only disrupting the time of prayer when silence and order should be in place but ruining the rest of my prayer for all I could think about during the whole prayer was how to tell her off in Arabic. So much for '7ushoo.
The incident stayed with me, not so much for disrupting my prayer which of course was bad enough but I thought to myself, she has probably raised kids, and along with that promoting an idea of men and women unto them which is far from anything one could call female emancipation. Women like her take us back to the days when women wore corsets and fainted at the sight of a man who most likely would be the only hope for financial security.