Note: Part Four of Seven in the “Am I Muslim” series for new muslims.
My actual first trip to the masjid occurred while I was in college, doing research for a religion class. I remember I was asked to wear a headscarf (and provided with one) and was guided into the women’s section of the masjid, which was behind a thick wall, blocking all view of the Imam. I went into the masjid with an open mind, but seeing the separation (not to mention the very small area that the women were crammed into) was upsetting to me. The woman who was guiding me through the masjid continued to make excuses for the situation, but I just wasn’t convinced. I didn’t blame it on Islam – I already knew the religion stressed equality among the sexes – but I did feel that it was a situation that should be changed.
The second time I entered a masjid was as a muslim. The masjid I went to was nothing like the first one I had attended. I saw right away that the prayer area for the women was placed on a second floor, so that the women had full view of everything that was happening and a clear view of the Imam. This seemed so much more appropriate and as a woman, I felt much more comfortable in this environment. But this time was different, as I wasn’t just there to make observations and leave. This time I was there as a Muslim, as a member of the community – or so I desired to be.
Luckily my experience was wonderful. I was welcomed into the masjid so easily – there was a meeting organized just for people like me – new muslims who were unfamiliar with the masjid or perhaps with the religion of Islam itself. We discussed all kinds of things openly and freely, the Imam came to meet with us to welcome us and answer questions, and we were placed on an email list for further communications.
But not everyone has a similar experience. Some who visit the masjid may feel alienated or distant from others. Some may be too scared or nervous to even attempt a visit. It can take some time before you are ready to make that the first step outside of your comfort zone.
I’d like to help you on your journey with knowing what to expect from your first visit, and how to have the best experience possible in order for the masjid to become a comfortable place of worship. It seems that every masjid has a different “feel” to it. Some are more family-oriented, with programs for kids, outdoor community gatherings, and after-school activities. Others are more individual-centered, with less discussions and more educational activities, avenues for gaining more knowledge about Islam. So if one masjid doesn’t seem to fit with your personality, keep looking and perhaps you will find one that is more suitable for your lifestyle.
But all masjids are there for a place to worship, so the prayer hall is probably the most important area of the masjid. It can help if you have a guide, someone to help you through on your first trip. All you would have to do to arrange this is to call the masjid, introduce yourself, and ask them for help. This way you will know exactly where you will be going when you first enter, and you won’t be like me who wandered around for 5 minutes before getting up the gall to ask someone where the meeting was! If you want to go there just to pray, it won’t be difficult to find your way around, as this is usually the central “hub” of the masjid.
Another bit of advice is to get to know your Imam. The Imam has alot of connections and knowledge about the activities and schedules of the masjid, so he can be your number one resource for answering any questions you may have. They usually have time periods set aside for things like this, so you can call just to ask when the Imam is available to meet with you. This can be a great way to introduce yourself to the masjid.
There is a great list of masjid etiquette and customs written by a fellow blogger. These posts on Masjid Etiquette are so concise and well-written that I refer you to them now, as there is no better way to guide you on this issue than to direct you to this site and helpful posts. (Click here for the follow-up post regarding masjid etiquette.)
One more thing I want to point out is this: It’s okay if you make mistakes. There were a couple of things that I completely overlooked when I first visited – I forgot to take off my shoes in the prayer area. I passed in front of someone praying. I left too much space between myself and the next person praying. I entered the prayer at an inappropriate time. I made all kinds of mistakes. But the best part was that I learned as I went, and others helped me along the way. It’s okay if you don’t know everything there is to know about Islam. It’s alright if you don’t know all the proper things to do or say. You will learn and then someday it will be you teaching another who may not be aware.
The best benefit I have found of being at the masjid is praying in congregation. There is nothing like being a member of a community of people who believe in exactly the same things you do, who believe in the oneness of Allah and believe in the Qur’an as a message from Allah. To pray alongside another who prays the same as you, to be a part of such an environment does wonders for your soul. For years I stayed away from the masjid because I was too afraid to step outside of my comfort zone. But since I started regularly attending the masjid and praying in congregation, my imaan (faith) has improved beyond anything I could have expected, and in such a short amount of time. Knowing other muslims and reconnecting with a religious community has helped me to strengthen my faith as I have wanted for the past several years.
So I wish you luck and I encourage you to try going to the masjid. Ask Allah for help if you are nervous and know that Allah is with you always.
This concludes Part Four of the “Am I Muslim” series. Look here next week on Monday for some guidance on “How to Start Your Prayers.”