This is Day 25 of Hindtrospectives’ #MyMosqueMyStory series for Ramadan 2015
By Shahina Bashir
There are no chandeliers hanging from the ceiling, no beautiful Islamic art adorning the walls, and no columns in my mosque. But its grandeur lies in its simplicity. It stands conspicuously at an intersection in a modest neighborhood. Baitur Rahman is the mosque I have frequented for the last nineteen years. It is the national headquarters of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community and located in Silver Spring, Maryland.
I was born in Bangladesh but grew up in Pakistan and Malaysia until I settled in the US which I have called my home for the last thirty-five years. My only recollection of joining a congregational Prayer as a child was an Eid Prayer I accompanied my father to. The largest mosque in Dhaka was Baitul Mukarram. I never went there and neither did my mother or any of my female relatives. Mosques were not meant for women. Although I lived in Dhaka, Karachi, and Kuala Lumpur, my father didn’t encourage us to step inside a mosque. The most beautiful mosque in Kuala Lumpur was Masjid Negara and to this day I regret that I didn’t avail the opportunity to visit it.
I did not grow up in a religious household. My parents did not emphasize the practice of the faith. But of course, it was their duty that I should at least learn to read the Qur’an in Arabic. I finished the first reading when I was thirteen. Whatever I learned about Islam I did so at school. I learned Salat from a grand uncle when I was fifteen. I prayed sporadically and never touched the Qur’an again after I completed reading it in Arabic, not to mention that I did not read its translation either. I distanced myself from religion even further when I came to America as a college student.
It was twenty years ago when I had a complete spiritual transformation. I read the translation of the Qur’an for the first time and was overcome with immense emotion that was at first scary. I always considered myself a Muslim but I didn’t really understand what it meant to be one. But I was still hesitant to step inside a mosque. It was only after I became a member of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community that I perked up the courage to enter a mosque. The moment I stepped foot inside the beautiful Baitur Rahman mosque I knew this is where I belong. The women’s prayer hall is on the upper level and only slightly smaller than the men’s area on the first floor. There are two sound proof rooms on each side where mothers with small children can use.The mosque is not only a place for daily congregational Prayers but it is a multi-purpose community center as well. Women attend it as frequently as the men. This is where children come every Sunday for their religious school. Ramadan is a special time when hundreds of worshippers arrive to take part in the blessings of congregational Prayers. The daily schedule includes Darsul Qur’an immediately following Asr Prayer, Iftari, Maghrib Prayer, dinner, Isha Prayer, and finally Taraweeh.
My mosque is a place where I have built sisterhood. Nineteen years ago when I walked into this place, I was welcomed with open arms. I was a newbie and still learning about my faith. But here I was not judged. I am always looking forward to seeing my sisters in faith. There will be hundreds of women on Eid and it will probably take me a good hour to meet and greet everyone.
I am grateful to Allah that He has brought me back to His path. I was floundering around in the dark and He showed me the light. I was at the brink of plunging into an abyss when He reached out and pulled me towards Him. I have indeed grasped a stronghold which I don’t plan to let go.
Shahina Bashir is the chairperson of the Ahmadi Muslim Women Writer’s Guild, USA. She is a contributor for the Examiner.com. Her letters have been published in several newspapers including Washington Post, NY Times, and LA Times. Follow her on Twitter @shabashir.