The Islamic Garden
Dressed all in white - the
This is how I entered a mosque for the very first time. It was an event that would change my life forever! I was confronted by the inconsistencies in my behavior and the weakness of my understanding. It served to shake me a little and wake me up, so I could take the necessary steps to more sincerely submit to Allah.
come," I said, as my friends beckoned me to hurry up or we
would be late.
"Oh, by the way," I asked as I came running back to the car,
"What do you wear to a Mosque?"
My friends looked at each other and said,
"Your best clothes. Wear your best clothes!"
I ran inside the house excitedly and changed into what were at that time, my best clothes.
"How's this?" I asked as I stood beside the car. "Do I look Ok?"
I heard them sigh and say "Come on, get in."
We traveled one hundred kilometers to reach the Mosque and by the time we reached there, I understood how inappropriate my short dress, make-up and high heels were. There was nothing else to do. I'd had no time to change, so I'd have to go like that.
When we arrived,
my friends pointed to a stair-case and told me
"When I say go, you run over to those stairs and stay up there until it's time to go home. Well run I did! I don't think anyone saw me. The men had already lined up to pray and when I climbed the stairs I entered another world. I saw many women and girls and they looked at me but didn't make me feel uncomfortable. One young woman showed me how to wash and another old woman showed me a box full o
f long skirts and
veils. She helped me put these over my clothes and adjusted
it to fit me properly. "You look like an angel my
What's your name?"
I told her my name but I certainly didn't feel like an angel.
I had felt like I was a Muslim for a few years. I'd read a lot about Islam and read the Qu'ran a number of times. I sympathized with the way Muslims are oppressed in many parts of the world. I had a bit of catching up to do on the practical side of things but part of me felt completely at home with these gentle, kind and serene women.
I sat in the
mosque with them, watching some of them pray, some reading
Qu'ran, others just sitting thinking, while I sat watching.
I looked up at the high round dome above me and felt myself so
small among the multitudes of human beings that had passed by
this earth. I lowered my head in gratitude that I was
sitting there that day watching people whom I wanted so much to
I thought to myself that if I keep these clothes on, I should be able to venture downstairs and have a look around.
When I went downstairs, I saw something I'd never seen before. Rows of men praying together. Every country or race of people you could imagine was represented in these rows of people, all standing, bowing and prostrating before the Maker of all. No intermediary - just the individual and the Creator. A unison of individual worship. Not only did they stand together in solidarity but after the prayer they shook hands, hugged each other and ate together. This scene contrasted strongly with the faith I'd been raised in, where black people were not allowed to hold any official position and where the leaders were all white, upper middle-class men.
I found myself affiliated more and more with these people, who had no class or race distinction. We were all just Muslims who happened to have been born into this world in the same era, sharing the responsibility of caring for each other and this world, by following the word of Allah and the example of Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him).
On this particular day, Yusuf Islam (alias Cat Stevens) was visiting the mosque and holding a press conference. I'd read a lot about him and had listened to many cassettes telling about his life story. I listened to the press conference with great interest.
I felt myself divided that day. One part of me felt completely at home and comfortable with the Muslims but the other part of me felt like a cheat, a coward, who didn't really belong at all. I was someone who understood the message of Islam but as yet, had failed to align my life with the commands of Allah.
After the press conference, I walked around a little more. My friends wouldn't come to pick me up for another half an hour but I didn't really care. I was preoccupied with what was happening within myself. I had an earnest desire to re-arrange and fix myself and my life. To shake off the shackles of a life-style that only desired material progress and trivial, transient entertainment. I knew that the happiness this life had to offer never lasts. When the song is over, we're left feeling either depressed or aware of a sense of anti-climax. And then life continues in its mundane fashion. So human beings try to dress-up the daily practices of eating, drinking, sleeping, working or resting with as much variety and joy as possible, but it passes and we are left like something the tide left behind.
That was me, on my hands and knees trying to climb out of a lifestyle that was bent on destroying me - not physically perhaps, but spiritually. That inner light, that we all have or had at some time in our existence, was nearly burnt out for me. But in the Mosque, with the Muslims, I found a feeling of peace, inner solitude and quietness that I'd also found in reading the Qu'ran and pondering over its meaning and trying to practice what it tells us.I left the mosque that day somewhat different to how I'd entered it. I was determined to learn and to slowly and steadily practice what I knew was true. It took some time but after a while I was able to take my place within the ranks of the Muslims and say with confidence, warmth and a feeling of deep rooted pride founded in humility, that
'Now! I am a Muslim.'