Monday, October 6, 2014

When you're being chased out of Eid ul-Adha prayer because of a baby

Hope everyone is having/had a blessed Eid ul-Adha 1435.

This was the first year that I was not alone in the women's section of the mosque, since being married. I'm largely unmosqued, mostly because I hate going to a mosque and then having to be separated from the Dutchman - with the exception of the Tokyo Camii (Mosque), where we prayed side-by-side in one of the first rows. (Being a musafir or traveller can buy you a lot of leeway, just plead ignorance.)

I know I'm not alone in having this sort of separation anxiety. Many other couples made up of one partner who is not raised Muslim, may similarly feel anxious being handed over to the 'sisters' or 'brothers' (ie total strangers) in a completely different part of the mosque. (I mean, somehow total strangers can be more helpful just because they are of the same sex?) That being said, I'm very proud of the Dutchman for being able to hold his own among these 'brothers' (after I prep him on what to expect).

This month marks the fourth year I've been in the Netherlands, and also four years of this blog! (So much for the initial title, A year in NL). It's also the fourth year that I've been going to the Indonesian mosque in my town. It's three storeys high, and the main prayer space is on the second floor (there's a complimentary balcony for women). The first floor houses some classrooms and a kitchen.

Spot the complimentary balcony
As with many other mosques that make space for women, during big congregations like the two Eids, this mosque repurposes the first floor classrooms into special rooms for women and children. All men go into the main area space, while the female congregation is split into four different spaces: the (complimentary) balcony, two or three saff or rows in the main hall, and two rooms on the first floor: one for women with children, and one for women without children.

I've always been a big supporter for equal and equally decent prayer spaces, and ever since I saw the room labelled 'women with children' four years ago I've told myself, hell no. By putting all the children into one room, it becomes extremely chaotic because the children don't see the imam and learn how to carry themselves during a congregation. Nothing against the need for children to play and run around - in which case why confine them to a room with women trying to get the best of both worlds? Just set aside a room dedicated to fun and games, get a few adults to watch them and ta-da, everyone's a winner. (By the way, this arrangement is exactly what several mosques in Singapore organised during tarawih sessions in Ramadan earlier this year.)

I rave about this mosque because of the low wooden barrier (lower than waist-height) that seems to nominally demarcate the male and female praying spaces in the main hall. But this year, with little Nootje I had to face the attitudinal barriers head on.

When we arrive at the mosque a good 30 minutes before the Eid ul-Adha prayer is due to start, I wave off the Dutchman into the main entrance and I go round to the side entrance. I saunter up the stairs to the main area space, carrying Nootje in my arms. I find a spot near the door ( to make a quick exit if he starts bawling) in the front row, look around for the Dutchman in case I decide to pass Nootje over to him, and settle down.

The takbir is being chanted over a booming microphone, which freaks out Nootje a bit. He unusually lets me carry and rock him in my arms, hardly moving (very rare since he doesn't like being held unless we're walking or bouncing him) since he's an hour overdue for a morning nap - I have high hopes that he will zone out through the noise or maybe even fall asleep (a mum can dream can't she!).

There's a mother on my left, with a 1.5 or 2 year old girl in a pink dress, who is sitting quietly. Not five minutes pass when one of the women who is working today as an usher for all the congregants tell me that babies are not allowed in the main hall. I decide not to point out the toddlers in the men's area, who are shrieking. The mother beside me quietly sneaks away to the second row and her little girl almost melts into the pipes along the wall - she's just as stealth as her mum!

I have so much to tell this woman who's trying to chase me down to the vrouw met kinderen room. 

Did she know that God loves the laughter of children? That the Prophet would shorten the prayer if he heard children crying in the congregation? That the Prophet's original mosque was relaxed and inviting? That if families were so highly regarded in our religion, they should be able to sit and worship together in the mosque, which is meant to symbolise society? That asking me to leave the area because I was holding a baby made me feel like a baby is unclean, unholy and unworthy?

Instead of all that, I fumble out an answer in half Indonesian and half English and respond to her order as if it was posed to me as an option: it's okay, I'm staying here. She looks confused and tries her command again, this time in Dutch, stressing that "it's the rules". Another woman chips in with English, because I'm beginning to look like a right tourist who doesn't understand anything anyone is saying.

By this time, another mother has taken the empty space to my left, and she has two children: one looks about 6 or 7 and the other is older. She helpfully tries to encourage me into leaving ("This is the first time I'm here [in the main hall]. All these years I've been downstairs.") but this only makes me determined to not banish myself.

I simply shrug and smile to both women and assure them that I'm not taking extra space and that Nootje will be quiet. Mosque lady is not satisfied, but happily she moves away to usher more women downstairs as the main hall is filling up. Woman to my right is ambivalent, and no one comes to my support. Clock is ticking... ten more minutes to prayer. I continue rocking Nootje and whisper the takbir in his ear.

Finally! The prayer starts, and it's an exercise in balancing a 8kg weight while bowing and prostrating without putting any hands on the floor. Takbir seven times with one hand, and hope that the communal and extra loud "Ameen" doesn't startle Nootje. He doesn't mind the shift in orientation during the ruku', and I make an almost-there prostration with him right under me. 

After the prayer ends, he is looking super tired (nap is two hours overdue by now) so I pop out a boob under my hijab to feed him. He contentedly nurses to sleep and I get to listen to 15 minutes of the sermon. And no one seems to mind the two toddlers running around in the men's section during the prayer. (The section which, by the way, had two extra rows free, which could have been filled up with women.)

The imam tells us the story of how when God created Adam, God told all the malaikat (angels) to prostrate to the first human being. They all did so, except Iblis. Iblis believed that being created from fire was better than being created from clay. Because Iblis disbelieved, he was sent out of Paradise for his arrogance (7:11-18).

(Side note: I'm often quoted this story from the Qur'an by those who think that whatever I write or post is controversial, or that I'm being arrogant and stepping over my God-given womanly boundaries, whatever those may be. Essentially, likening me to Iblis... stay classy, guys.)

But I love how the imam interprets this story. To him, the moral of the this parable is that even though God creates beings from clay, fire and light, all the creations lived in Paradise together. While we humans, all made out of earth and are all flesh and blood, can't even live together on Earth. 

Post-sermon selfie

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