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.
Some 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; 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 25 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 prayed 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 to chastise me for lying 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 us all and makes us, simply, Human.
Formerly of Vernon. Christine Pilgrim is an actor, historian and writer now living in Vancouver.