Why I am now ‘Muslim’

by tkos on August 17, 2012

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So I find myself barefoot and surrounded by men. Some of them sitting, some of them praying, some of them reading the newspaper sprawled out over the floor.  Mosques can sometimes seem to be a little more laid back than churches, even the Grand Mosque in Tehran, Iran’s capital.

I’m with a friend of Kimmi’s that she knows from London, Faraz. He’s kindly offered to show me around the Grand Mosque. Not because he is a devout Muslim, (which he completely is when appropriate), but more because I am a tourist and it seems like a bit of a touristy thing to do.

Kimmi has had to go in alone as men and women are not allowed to pray together, so she is in a different area that we cannot see into. She also has had to wear a chador, which literally translates to tent. It’s one of those large pieces of material, a little like a curtain or a table cloth that the women can wrap themselves up in to keep unwanted eyes looking at them. Much like a security blanket I suspect.

And as for me, I am walking around a large room, covered in various carpets, a high ceiling and little else. No chairs, no tables, no benches, no candles, no pictures, no statues, just a lot of men sitting and kneeling barefoot and facing the same general direction. Some are deep in prayer, some look like they are just kind of hanging out and some are looking at me. My eyes are wondering all over the place like a Japanese tourist on holiday. Fascinated by every detail, every behaviour, every sound and every smell. I walk around with Faraz, looking like a lost soul. Little did I realise that I was looking like a lost soul in need of saving.

Faraz was doing his best to try and explain some of the customs within the mosque and the history of Islam. It was all a bit quiet and I wasn’t sure talking was permissible. Faraz was keeping his voice down as more and more eyes focused on the Westerner in an Islam lesson.  But I think Faraz was just keeping his voice down because he wasn’t that confident about what he was saying. All of a sudden, we were approached by an elderly man who questioned Faraz about my being inside the mosque. As a white Westerner, it is often incorrectly assumed that I am a Christian. But most people who know me, know, that I don’t discriminate between religions, I think they’re all a load of bollocks.

Faraz justified this white Christian invasion of the mosque as a curious and interested soul, looking to learn the ways of Islam. The man looked me up and down and quickly deciphered that I was not a threat, but an opportunity, an opportunity to do the work of Allah. If he converts a Christian to Islam, he is guaranteed a place in heaven. He sat me down on the carpet, in the middle of the mosque and began to explain the origin of Islam. He was confident of his practices and had no qualm of his ‘lesson’ overpowering the thoughts and prayers of those around him. He was proud to let the whole mosque know that he was the teacher and I was his student.

The ‘lesson’ took a good 45 minutes. Faraz sat there politely, nodding occasionally, as if to say ‘I was going to tell him that’, but it all seemed pretty new to Faraz also. I too, sat politely and nodded along. I wasn’t about to inform him of my own personal beliefs or lack thereof, I was just happy to entertain his stories and do my best not to yawn.

He went on to talk about only being one God whose name is Allah. It is the same God of Christianity and Judaism, but with a different name. ‘What’s the difference between the religions if it is the same God?’ I ask nervously. Nervous not because of the answer, I already knew the answer but wanted to hear his interpretation of events, I was more nervous as to how long I was going to have to sit there and smile politely as my legs were starting to feel a little stiff and my mind was beginning to think about other things, like dinner.

However, his response was worth the uncomfortable sitting position. ‘Islam is the most accurate religion because it is the newest. Prophet Muhammad came 1400 years after Jesus. Just as Jesus said he would. So the Christians are OK because they are half right, they just don’t get the whole picture because they do not believe in Prophet Muhammad. But the Jews, the Jews have got it completely wrong because they don’t even believe in Jesus. The Jews are nothing but a bunch of back stabbing, money grabbing, thieving gypsies. You can never trust a Jew, they will all go to hell.’

Wow. Now I was mentally uncomfortable as well as physically!

I stopped talking in an effort to lead by example. Eventually, the man summed up his lesson as I continually ‘agreed’ and nodded, thanking him for the wonderful insight to his interpretation of Islam. And I could tell Faraz was desperate to get out for a cigarette, so we thanked him again and made our way to the exit.

Outside I see Kimmi, waiting relatively patiently, still wrapped in her chador. I put my shoes on and start to explain what took so long when the man steps out in front of me, beaming with pride from his holy lesson. He now has a little entourage with him.

‘I want you to try and say something for me’, he asks.

‘OK’, I reply, looking around at the seven or eight people gathered around.

‘La ilaha il-Allah, Muhammad-ur-Rasulullah’, he says slowly.

Damn it. I am never very good at linguistics and have no idea about pronunciations in Arabic. I just cant get my ‘R’s’ right and I never cough up phlegm at the right times. This could be embarrassing with such a large crowd watching.

‘La la la- il Allah, Muhammad ra la la la sa la’. Kimmi starts to laugh because she knows I hate trying to pronounce words in front of locals when I am not confident. She grins as I squirm.

‘La ilaha il-Allah, Muhammad-ur-Rasulullah’, he says again slowly.

‘La la la- il Allah, Muhammad ra la la la sa la’. I repeat again, but my lack of phlegm in the pronunciation does nothing to amuse the locals. I need to try a little harder.

‘La la ha il Allah, Muhammad ra sa lu la’, I stumble through, hoping that he would be proud of my linguistical effort, and therefore leave me alone.

‘Ha! Close enough!’ as he slaps me on the chest much harder than he needed to for a token gesture of appreciation. ‘Give me your hand!’  he says, grabbing it before I know what’s going on.  Then, from his pocket, he pulls out a ring and slips it onto a finger that would fit.

‘Congratulations! Now you are a Muslim!’

My face dropped to the floor and the crowd looked on approvingly. I looked at Faraz for some sort of annulment, some sort of escape but all I got was a translation.

‘You just said ‘There is no God except Allah, Muhammad is the messenger of Allah’, in Arabic. That means you are Muslim now! Congratulations!’

I look to Kimmi, my saviour, my best friend, my atheist ally, my partner, but she doesn’t notice because she is too busy pissing herself laughing.

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