I have been inside a mosque twice in my life. In 1998, I walked through the Al-Aqsa mosque on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, after visiting the Dome of the Rock; in 2002, I toured King Abdullah mosque in Amman, Jordan. I remember both as being beautiful places. To visit the King Abdullah, I rented a gown for two dinar, like a black chorus gown with a hood. I have a photo of myself standing, barefoot and cloaked and smiling, in the middle of the carpeted floor. Both visits were at a time of day when prayer services weren’t happening, so the mosques were either mostly or entirely empty.
Lately I've been thinking that I'd like to attend prayers at a mosque, for at least three reasons.
One reason is pure curiosity. I'm a religion geek; this is my idea of a good time. I know a bit about Islam in theory, but nothing about it in practice. Since ritual and liturgy and prayer are an abiding interest of mine, I would like to experience Muslim prayer. Judaism and Islam both teach that our faiths share a root in Abraham, and (to extend the metaphor) I would like to know more about my siblings on that side of the family tree.
Another reason is the desire to reach out, to connect. Over the last few years there have been countless stories of Arab-Americans, and American Muslims, being ill-treated by other Americans. Visiting a mosque, respectfully and with the desire to learn, seems like a small and personal way of counteracting those stories. I want to walk the walk of religious openness. (Tangent: halakhah, the word for Jewish Law, has its root in the verb 'to walk'...)
And my third reason is that I want to know what it's like to attend a prayer service where I do not know the customs, and neither speak nor understand the language. I suspect that visiting a mosque for prayer is as close as I can come to the experience my non-Jewish husband has when he accompanies me to shul. (Going with him to church isn't comparable: church services are in my mother tongue, and besides, Christianity is sufficiently culturally-dominant in America that snippets of standard Protestant liturgy permeate our movies and television. Muslim liturgy, in contrast, is pretty non-represented in pop culture, which means I'm totally unfamiliar with it...making me a complete outsider. I want to know what it's like to try to gain access to a liturgy from that kind of outsider position.)
I have long been impressed with the story of Reb Zalman among the Sufis of Hebron. The way Reb Zalman has opened his heart and his understanding of God never fails to move and amaze me. I want to grow up to be like Reb Zalman someday. This seems like a first step on that path.
I would like to find a mosque which admits visitors, but I have no idea how to go about that. (Any suggestions?) I live in rural western Massachusetts; I'd be open to a mosque in either Boston or New York, since both are cities I am likely to visit in the coming year.
I know there's a danger of being perceived as someone merely interested in exoticising what I don't understand, and I neither want to commit that error nor to be viewed as someone taking her cultural privilege lightly. Of course, neither do I want to look like (or to be) an ignoramus who doesn’t know how to be respectful. So if anyone has tips on what to expect and how to behave, I welcome those too.
The only Arabic words I know are ones which mirror their Hebrew counterparts: the greeting which means "peace be unto you," and the words (often descriptors for God) which mean "merciful" and "compassionate." I'd like to speak more Arabic someday, but peace and mercy and compassion seem like good places to start.