Are you Muslim?
I’m not a Muslim. But a Muslim friend once told me that I’d make a good one. When I asked why, he said that I live by the same creed, based on loving one another.
“It’s the Christian creed too,” I said, “And that of most religions as far as I can gather.”
That was in Jordan, a quarter of a century ago. My friend taught me how to pray like a Muslim.
Although I couldn’t do so in Arabic, I found the physical ritual that accompanied the process energizing and mentally stimulating. It helped me slip easily through my thoughts into my spiritual world.
A few days later, hoping to augment my experience, I took a taxi to a nearby mosque to pray there.
In preparation, I had showered till I shone, dried, brushed and covered my hair; I’d dressed in a long skirt, long-sleeved, loose blouse and black gloves.
The cab driver assured me that, turned out as I was, I would be safe anywhere. But he said he’d wait till I’d finished praying so I wouldn’t have to find another cab home. No cell phone in those days!
There were two mosques adjacent to each other: one for males, one for females. Not wishing to enter the wrong one, I approached the keeper. “Please, I’d like to pray,” I said.
“Are you Muslim?” he asked.
I hesitated. “I’d like to pray.”
“Are you Muslim?”
Thus we circled each other, until finally I lied, “Yes. I am Muslim.”
A man was summoned to direct me to the female mosque. I removed my shoes and proceeded to take my place inside, facing what I hoped was Mecca. I saw no pointers to direct me. No altar. No pulpit.
I waited for the man to leave. But he remained, standing, silent and close, behind me.
As modestly as I could in such a circumstance, I began my ritual.
But instead of slipping through my thoughts into my spiritual world, I could only repeat, over and over, “Please God, make this man go away. Please God.”
As if in answer to my prayer, I felt a tap on my shoulder.
Pointing to the space directly behind me, the man said quietly, “Mecca’s that way!” I’d been facing Damascus!
“Please, continue,” said the man.
I feigned outrage and said I could not because he had touched me - something forbidden in such a sacred place.
In truth, my shame killed any desire to go on and I have not entered a mosque since.
Until one day recently. In Vancouver.
Just as I’d done twenty-five years before, I had bathed and covered myself. At the door, I removed my shoes and stepped reverently inside. No one gave or denied permission.
All was peaceful and quiet. Several men were praying silently.
I stood, reflecting on how six men who had prayed in like manner, in a mosque in Quebec, must have been in this same state of grace at the moment when their lives were stolen. Small comfort, but some perhaps.
Then I left.
I laid my flowers and gentle words alongside those of others, in honour of the dead and in solidarity with the mourners.
When I turned to walk down the street, lost in thoughts of the past linked with those of the present, steeped in remorse for what time and intolerance have brought, a man approached.
“You’re not Muslim, right?” His dark features and olive skin suggested he was.
Had the man in that Jordanian mosque caught up with me at last?
“Pardon?” I said.
“You’re not Muslim, right?”
“No. I’m not Muslim.”
“Thank you,” he said. And he smiled.
I smiled back; swallowed tears; found no words.
Later, I wondered whether, once again, I had lied.
Why not Muslim? Whether we choose to pray in a mosque, temple, synagogue, church, walking down the street or through the woods, love is the creed that binds and makes us all, simply, Human.