18 August 2011

In West Philadelphia...

I've lived in Philly for a week now, and I've had a lot of minutes where I've wanted to post, but because I hoped to concentrate this blog on Morocco/Islam/etc., I didn't really have anything to post until now.

The Masjid Al Jamia is 2-3 blocks north of my house. I first noticed it, kind of, the first day I was in the house, last Wednesday. I was sitting on the front porch, talking to my dad on the phone, when I noticed a tall black man wearing a white fooqiya (that's Moroccan Arabic, in English, most Muslims call them "thoobe" which in Moroccan Arabic "tube" means simply cloth) and a woman wearing a black abaya and black headscarf walking north. I was confused about the time, so I thought they were walking back from the post-break-fast prayers called Tarawih. I thought about saying "Happy Ramadan" to them, told my dad they passed by, and forgot about the whole thing 10 minutes later.

The next couple of days, however, I noticed that West Philadelphia is full of Muslims. For America anyway. Maybe it's my hijab-dar (think ray-dar) from living so long in Morocco, but I am noticing more Muslims than I've ever noticed in a US city. And especially black American Muslims.

My defining experience happened when I went to my nearby grocery store, Supreme Shop 'n' Bag. The pinnacle of urban grocery stories with surprisingly good produce... Anyway, I was wandering around, trying to pick foods I knew I couldn't find at the farmer's market the next day, when I hear a lady mumbling to herself. Turning around, I saw a very covered hijabi woman (we're talking extra shawls and socks here), older, searching the pasta aisle for something easy to cook. I smile and say hi to her, like the nice Midwesterner I am, and she and I start talking about what she needs to buy. Her skin was white with red undertones, but when she spoke to me, I could tell that she was either ethnically black American or was raised in the same linguistic environment. I could also tell that she's a little bit lonely and a little bit slow. We discuss pasta options for a while, and then, just to check my suspicions, I ask when she has to break fast. Maybe 7:45? She tells me, no, it's 7:12, check the mosque outside. We part ways, mostly because I have to get to the dairy aisle before I leave, and sure enough, after I leave Shop 'n' Bag, I see the 5 prayer times posted on the side of a building I would not think to be a mosque.

Of course - because this is America - there is no minaret. Of course, I have not heard the adhan (call to prayer) - probably also because this is America and people don't like their sleep disturbed by anything except maybe church bells. But also, it's a very non-descript, white brick building. With green doors. I should have seen those green doors (color of Islam) and I should have noticed the prayer times. But when I walked by the mosque, the doors were closed. As I left the Shop 'n' Bag, there were lines of men outside. Mostly thobe-clothed men. I don't know what they're doing, because it's not time for break-fast yet, but I guess they are maybe either gathering after the afternoon prayer (a little late in my opinion) or coming to collect free iftar (break-fast) food from the mosque. But I don't know how good mosques are with community service around here so...

I'm very happy and almost comforted to know there is a mosque in my neighborhood. Everyone who knows me knows that I'm obsessed with Morocco, but less people know that I spent about six months reading every book relating Islam I could get my hands on. Including Salman Rushdie. And there is something about the spirituality of Islam that comforts me in a way Christianity doesn't/didn't. It's so contrary, and it's probably related to my experience with Moroccan PEOPLE as opposed to Islam itself. Either way, I have been told by more than one Muslim from more than one culture that I (a) have either already converted to Islam in my heart and just need to accept God's will or (b) I will convert to Islam someday. I'm not denying that this is a possibility, but no such conversion has happened yet.

Side note: I have been tempted, however, the last few days, to fast and then wear a hijab and go to the mosque during break-fast time and see what happens. But that seems slightly sacrilege to me still...

For now, I am just content to know that there is a connection that love and joy I knew in Morocco nearby. Next stop: find me some Moroccan friends!

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