Tuesday, September 6, 2011

eighty-fourth visit: Sept 2nd 2011 Islam

1:00pm friday
Muslim Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh
233 Seaman Lane, Monroeville PA 15146


For over a week, my attempts to get in touch with MCCGP (calls and a drive out to introduce myself in person), all land on days that the office is closed. Finally, I find an email address on the web and send a message—late the night before this intended visit. I receive the kindest reply from the secretary. Included: clarification on the fact that at this mosque, women use the same door as men, but head directly upstairs to the separate section.
And an invitation to come early to meet him before prayer begins. (Unfortunately I am not able.)

This visit is resolution to the urgency I was feeling. Urgency because of this:
I could not make it to Eid-ul-fitr, which every year marks the end of Ramadan. I will make up for this with not one, but two visits to Jummah at two different Pgh-area mosques. (At many instances in my life when I've voiced self-defined perimeters that border on penance, such as this, those around me have asked if I was raised Catholic. Answer: no. A complicated story for another time.) Anyway, these two visits to mosques are deliberately timed to serve as my own personal observation of the tenth anniversary of 9/11. I looked at other events that other places of worship are holding for this purpose—churches and such with special 9/11-themed services—but decided that this would be most meaningful to me.

I assume this to be my own quiet acknowledgment of 9/11, especially this week, with the date yet nine days off. There is next week's Jummah to occur on 9/9 just before the actual anniversary, so I do not expect there to be any mention of the remembered event in the homily today. But I welcome the unexpected. Today's message, delivered calmly throughout, is pretty remarkably empowering.

There are thirteen women in the designated balcony, including me and not including the two babies. We sit on the floor as I have done at Hindu and Buddhist services. Wrapped in fabric, all of us. (My dress now-a-days seems to blend in best with worshipers at Hindu or Muslim services.)
The Imam addresses the men on the floor below us. To us, he speaks via live video on the flat screen TV monitor mounted high on the wall. He says:

Immediately after Sept 11, 2001, we, no doubt, had difficulty defining ourselves as Muslim and had difficulty defining Islam for ourselves, as well.
Over the next nine days, there will be a lot of questioning again.
--We could become frustrated and doubt ourselves. Or we could see this as an opportunity to tell others about our belief as we practice it, in order to clear misunderstandings.
--It is through our own acts that we are held accountable for creating our own identity.
--The fact is, that in order for justice to be achieved, and voices to be heard, minorities must be able to depend on and trust the majority to protect and defend minorities,
to a certain extent. He says something that really sticks with me because it surprises me: We know that America is not an Islamophobic country.

And he says that going to pray at a mosque is one hundred times better than praying alone. Why? ...in such an act of introversion?
This is a question that I have come to on my own several times during this project.
I wish I could ask everyone who attends services of all types: Is it easier or harder to pray, when one is alone or in a group?
So far I know for certain of only one faith that acknowledges full legitimacy of practicing in solitude: Hindus. Perhaps also Buddhists? Correct me if needed. And Wiccas and Pagans hold very few gatherings. That is the official name of their services, BTW: "gatherings."

Back to our questioning: ...to pray at a mosque is 100x better than praying alone.
Of course, "better" does not necessarily mean "easier."
Does a religious leader simply desire a full house? Or is he is referring to the importance of solidarity and community even in the case of defining individual identity?

Does this also partly reveal the value (necessity) of participating in a larger artistic community as an artist, not just through artwork, but socially? As an artist, does it help to be an active part of an artistic community when attempting to discover personal artistic identity, define and establish our own voice? And later to grow and evolve? And is this why I returned for another degree, knowing I could not grow on my own, without that specific community? And is this why, when I loose my community of artists (through a move, the end of a residency, or whatnot) I don't feel like working until the new one is established?
Even though I
can only make art when I'm completely alone.

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