Lazy Luddite Log

26.3.19

Mosque Open Day

I visited the Westall Mosque last week. The occasion was the state-wide Mosque Open Day. This annual event has been happening for some years but my motivation in attending was the very recent mass murder of Muslims in Christchurch by a lone Islamophobic terrorist. I wished to express fellow-feeling with Muslims and so made for the closest mosque.

I almost never went inside. Entering a place of worship as a stranger and a non-believer is a thing I do with some trepidation. I walked passed the mosque on the other side of the road. I crossed to the neighbouring shops and stopped to respond to a text message. All the while I was wondering whether it was truly okay for me to attend. Would I be the only agnostic or indeed the only stranger there? Was my presence of any value at all?

Contrary impulses told me that I should be resolved in my intentions. I am a devotee of the face-to-face. I am a collector of (admittedly rather sedate) life experiences. It was an open day for goodness sake! As this internal dialogue progressed I got closer to my destination. I coyly read a poster by the gate offering respect to the traditional custodians of this land. It was then that a young man enticed me to go inside.

I’m an ‘ambivert’ and all it takes to tip me from introversion to extroversion is a warm welcome from an engaging person. From that moment on everything was simpler for me. I walked to the porch of the converted suburban house and put my shoes in the space allocated. Inside the doorway a young woman invited me to partake in the various activities on offer. These included a question-and-answer session, information stalls, and an Indonesian lunch. I looked into the carpeted open-plan space and saw mingling and chatting. From dress I could tell that the local congregation were there in force. However many visitors were also present.

Some Christian nuns had been departing as I arrived. A gothic geek had popped in to offer flowers. A immaculately presented ‘suit’ came to do exactly the same thing. And further inside I’m sure I saw the local state parliamentarian. There was definitely engagement happening with wider society.

I was persuaded to eat and then a young man asked me to sit and talk while I ate. He asked more questions than I did. Of some interest was what ‘community’ I belonged to. I was initially stumped by that – I’m one of those individuals in mass society whose only community is the kind forged from shared interests. I talked a bit of my ancestry but more of the groups I got involved in at uni. This was a common characteristic for us as he had also studied at Monash. We agreed that the open day was an excellent event and I hope I showed my gratitude at the hospitality so amply offered there.

A session of prayer began as I was preparing to go. I sat in the background and observed silently. It was a bit odd to me but only as odd as any other religious ceremony I've observed. Even its segregation of sexes is only different by degrees from the many casual instances of this I've known. I did get some inkling of the value of prayer in providing a sense of belonging to something bigger than oneself.

I left feeling more centred than I had expected. And I then wondered why I had never been to a mosque till then. I've set foot in many churches and a few synagogues for the purposes of religious life events or nominally religious concerts. Ours is a society of many creeds but its integration is far from even. Too many of us live in parallel rather than in more crisscrossing patterns. It had taken an inhuman atrocity to get me into a mosque I had walked passed many times.

I had wanted to do something more personal than political to support Muslims. The irony is that once there it was I who felt supported by an ethos of connection among strangers. The message they gave me that day was a universal one – we are all part of the same humanity.

Labels: