This essay is part of the #MyMosqueMyStory Friday series
By Laura P
That moment when you realize you would leave your current mosque without a second thought and not go back, if there was an alternative. That moment when you discover there is going to be an alternative.
I was minding my own business last Wednesday, checking Facebook during my lunch break, when I saw a post from the (now-former) imam of my local mosque. Most of his posts are pious reminders of various types, but this one was different:
Masjids have far too long been established on ethnic division and old culture.
As a convert, that made me sit up and take notice. When a mosque is dominated by one ethnic group, converts are often left on the margins. We don’t have family who belong in that community (especially if we’re not married, as is the case for me). It’s often difficult to find a place in existing friend groups. In some cases, news about mosque events is spread only through word-of-mouth networks. Networks that we’re never a part of. I read on:
A group of diverse professional brothers and sister have taken the initiative with the support of many of our community members to establish a community center and masjid on the foundations of the Quran’s teachings and Prophetic guidance. It will act as an inclusive center to all people regardless of their cultural and ethnic backgrounds and work to empower women & youth in the leadership and programs of the center.
What’s that? A new mosque? As I eagerly refreshed the page over the next few hours, checking for new comments, I learned that there is indeed going to be a new mosque. And it’s going to be within walking distance of my home.
I was stunned, and still am a week later. Is this real and not a dream? Is there really an opportunity for something better? That the new mosque will be within walking distance is a big deal for me. I’m not able to drive, and that severely limits how much I can take part in events and activities.
A mosque within walking distance would mean cutting nearly in half the time I need to take from work for jumu’a. A mosque within walking distance would mean being able to go by in the evening without needing to worry about bus schedules. A mosque within walking distance would mean taking part in tarawih for the first time in my 16 years as a Muslim. That alone makes it worth switching.
It was only after my excitement over the new mosque’s location calmed that I began to think about what it might mean for me as a woman and as a convert. There was a good discussion in the Facebook comments started by a couple of convert brothers who had been alienated at the current mosque, and the new mosque is now explicitly listing converts among those it seeks to empower and include.
The words are encouraging and I believe Imam Abdullahi gets it and will be a good leader for the new mosque. How well the promise will be fulfilled in reality remains to be seen. But almost anything would be better than the situation at the current mosque.
I knew all my frustrations – the separate building for women, having no access to the imam or mosque leadership, feeling like I’m an afterthought and not an integral part of the community. But it was only this week, learning about the new mosque, that I realized just how spiritually deadening the last year has been. How stalled I’ve felt in remosquing as I’ve faced these issues. How it was only a sense of duty and then pure stubbornness and refusal to quit that’s kept me going every Friday that I’m able.
I tried to find a gateway to community at that mosque and found myself facing a featureless concrete wall everywhere I turned. I’ve got a pretty high tolerance for isolation. I wouldn’t still be Muslim after all this time if I couldn’t handle feeling alone on my path. There’s never been a time in these 16 years that I haven’t been on the margins for one reason or another.
But the old mosque has not offered any hope of change. I’m not sure it ever will. I have no attachment to it. No reason to keep going once the new place opens. Allowing myself to feel that, to acknowledge it, to speak it aloud to myself, has given me a sense of freedom and hope.
It’s time to move forward.
Laura P is an European-American convert to Islam who lives near Seattle. She works in online tech support and volunteers for the Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative. She is active on Twitter at @muhajabah.