Did I tell you about that time when a mom asked me to watch her baby during prayer?
When my children were very young, we didn’t go to the mosque. When Mr. Fox was 3, Khaled began taking him to the Eid prayers, but not to Jummah. Then, as he got older, they would go to Jummah when Khaled had time to come and pick him up beforehand. The ladies didn’t really start going to the mosque for Jummah until they started doing it at school. I didn’t go regularly until Mr. Fox reached the age of requirement. Now, we go every Friday.
When we started attending Jummah on a fairly regular basis, I noticed that during the prayer part of the service, the babies and toddlers were almost community property. At first, I thought that all the women must know each other so, when one lady’s baby is crying while their mama was in prayer, then the friend who wasn’t praying would take care of the child. But then I noticed that the mom often didn’t know who was holding their child. They would approach the woman, and thank them, introduce themselves and then retrieve their baby. I would watch this in awe. It happened over and over again.
Living in America my whole life, personal space and privacy is something I take for granted. Having strangers touch my child was something that would cause me great anxiety. I remember the first time we went to Egypt. Random people would come up to Mr. Fox and touch his hair, tweak his cheek and tell me how handsome and smart he was, they would often whisper something in his ears. Khaled didn’t think anything about it. I would freak out. After the first time it happened and the person walked away, I was in a panic and Khaled explained to me that it was something normal in Egypt. People didn’t want to cause harm to the children, they just wanted to enjoy the tiny life and offer blessings to us for his life. I never really got used to it, but I understood that it was a cultural thing.
When we would go to the mosque for weekend school or for Eid, it would happen there, but to a lesser extent. Usually it would be people we knew, but sometimes it would be people who knew Khaled and I hadn’t met them before. They would come up to the car carrier and look at the baby. They would touch without asking. They would exclaim at the beauty or the intelligence of the baby. I would tense up and even though I tried to relax because there wasn’t anything I could do to prevent this exchange. It would happen when I wore the ladies in the front carrier, someone would touch their hand, their foot or their head. I tried to relax, but often I came across as standoffish.
So, when I would watch these women at the mosque, who clearly didn’t know each other, tending to a crying baby or a wandering toddler, I thought it was just a cultural thing. I would not try to calm a fussy child. Not because I didn’t think I could, and not because I didn’t care, but because I was the thing that didn’t belong. Like one of those children’s games of same and different. I was the thing that was different. I never wanted to cause the mother distress by touching their child. I didn’t want to risk being ostracized further by taking liberties, under the guise of help.
So, I was stunned when we were at English Jummah one Friday and I was asked to watch an infant during prayer. Of course I said yes. How could I not? I wasn’t doing anything except waiting for the ladies to finish praying, tweeting about the subject of #EnglishJummah. I sat with the little man in his car carrier next to me. He was silent the entire time, eyes wide and sucking on his tongue. I talked to him a little but his expression never wavered. At the end, his mother told me that she has seen me at Jummah many times, and she thanked me over and over for looking after her child.
I told her I was happy to help, but I felt like I should have thanked her.