Handsome Husband decided we ought to do something cultural, learn something, about our new home. The Grand Mosque here was offering tours during Eid, an open door of sorts to show expats what Islam, the mosque and Eid are all about. I shrugged, not feeling particularly enthralled about the educational tour, and feeling guilty that I would prefer to stay at home and play house. So I went, for the kids, it would be good for them. But there was a condition. I would not sit and be lectured to and I would not be forced to wear an Abaya. Yes I would cover my head, take my shoes off and show all due respect but I had no wish to be draped in black and made to feel invisible.
I’m the open minded world traveller here, but still ,what’s a nice Jewish girl to do in a Mosque?
We parked and looked up , the minaret glinted in the deep heat, pale sand colour against the bluest sky, a sky too blue in the burning heat.
And then inside to the cool exterior where smiling men dressed top to toe in white pushed us in the right direction.
Within 5 minutes I was taken aside, along with a rather worried Trooper, dressed in a black zip up abaya, head entirely covered, top to toe invisible and plopped down in front of a man holding a lecture stick. I was handed a succulent date soaked in honey and a thimble full of rose tea.
Handsome stifled a laugh, Princess was jealous and Trooper blushed. We were swept into the main hall of the mosque and lectured to for the next 45 minutes. And once I got over my great discomfort I have to admit we learnt something. The whole experience pulled me out of my tidy little world and plopped me into another one. And if felt most odd.
But I realize that sometimes we need to feel uncomfortable.
The majority of Bahraini women walk around all day the way I did for 45 minutes and we have no idea what it feels like. I felt anonymous, disguised and frankly uncomfortable that I was made to feel invisible. However I know that for many women it is a quiet relief to not be defined by their outward appearance and they might take pride in the fact that only they know exactly who they are and how they look. Over in the West much stock is put on what people think of us and we find ourselves dressing up for others, hoping and wanting their approval. It is quite disconcerting to suddenly not matter, but rather to blend in with a crowd of other women tidied up in black.
And so I did it, the very thing I dreaded and expressly did not want to do. I have visited other mosques in the past, I have gladly covered my head but I have never been told to cover up entirely. It was rather extreme in my opinion and as much as I am sort of glad for the experience, I do not wish to do it again. I was pretending, playing a part, wearing someone else’s skin and it didn’t feel right.
When we walked out of that mosque, the one where all Muslims stand side by side, equally, before God, where the lights come from Austria, the marble from Italy, the doors from India and the carpet from Scotland; when the girls had henna beautifully applied to their hands in the ladies only room and we had felt the cool marble on our bare feet, when I slipped off my black abaya, removed the head scarf and put on my shoes, I became once again just simply me. But a little changed by the whole experience. Eyes open and all that.