Alone in the Crowd
Yesterday I had a conversation with a friend that reminded me about something that happened in the early part of the summer. We were talking about how when your child is involved in an activity that requires you to be a spectator with all the other parents, even though you see all these parents many days a week, most weeks of the year, and for many years on end, if you are introverted…it is difficult to be around them. I often find myself alone in a crowd when I don’t see a familiar face, and sometimes even when I do, especially if that familiar face is male.
Earlier this summer, our Imam asked Khaled if I was happy. He said, “Whenever I see her, she isn’t smiling and she always is looking at the ground.” His wife had mentioned that no one talks to me at the Masjid. He was concerned that I was unhappy. They were concerned about me. I was surprised. Until earlier this year, I didn’t know the Imam even knew who I was. The women’s entrance is on the other side of the building, and when we go inside for Jummah we never see any of the men. I had never been introduced to him. How could he know who I was?
No, no one usually talks to me at this particular Masjid. Often, I don’t speak to anyone other than my daughters and my son when we meet back at the car. Of the three that we have in town, it is the smallest and the newest. At the big Masjid across town, there are soo many people in the congregation, you are easily unnoticed. I know the Imam there because he is extremely focused on interfaith dialogue, and makes sure to introduce himself to everyone, he is approachable. He is very friendly, and goes out of his way to say hello to you. At the Musullah where the girls go to school, I’ve never been introduced to the Imam, but I know his daughters, and I say salaam to him every morning. I don’t know if he knows who I am.
It is a quandary then on Fridays during school holidays. If we go to the school, I will see JJ and most often Auntie Faye; we will see a lot of the girls’ friends and often their mothers, who sometimes will say hello. But the Khutba is not often something that I really can get something out of. A lot of time it is focused on the world community of Muslims, and how we need to think not of ourselves, but of the people in other countries, and strive to do better, to be better because even while they are being oppressed, they are better Muslims than we are. You should be thankful that you are here, not being slaughtered in the streets, now give up your whole life and sit and read Quran. Read Quran, and make Salat. These are the only two important things you do every day.
Sigh. This is not useful to me. I don’t pray this way. I cannot read Arabic. Yes, when I’ve gone to halaka and Auntie Fay has taught us about certain Surahs they somehow find their way into my life, but unless I have someone to sit and tell me the stories…
So, we go to the new Masjid, where I know no one. We go into the entrance on the side of the building; the women’s room is secluded. The Imam here speaks about topics that are applicable to our lives; how to help your children be good Muslims, how to have a good relationship with your parents, how to treat your spouse. We leave directly after the prayer, and I meet Mr. Fox back at the car. I might have said Salaams to one or two people.
When Khaled told me about this conversation, I was shocked. Then I laughed, and I explained. I was never introduced to the Imam. I have no idea if he knows who I am. In my life with Khaled, the idea that we should not speak to men outside of our family has been so ingrained in our way of life, that for me, it also applies to the Imam. When I bring the children to Quran Class, I say Salaams to him, but I never look at his face for more than a glance. Then I look back at the floor. Why? Because, I don’t want to offend him. I don’t want to be that wife who is disrespectful because she doesn’t know what is appropriate. I don’t want to be an embarrassment to my family because I am an outsider.
Over Ramadan, we had the Imam and his family over to the house for Iftar. Now, I know he knows who I am. I know he can speak fairly good English, enough for me to know that he could have a conversation with me. But even in my home, I found I could not look him in the eye for more than a glance. I felt I could not speak directly to him. I wanted to be the gracious hostess but I could not. I was afraid I would mess up and do something to offend him and embarrass Khaled.
The Imam’s wife is such a nice lady. She reminds me so much of Naena somehow, but in a big sister kind of way. When I see her, there are big hugs, and kisses, and sincere salaams. I know that she has made it her mission to make sure I feel welcome wherever we see each other. Really! She makes a point to say hello to me, and now I’ve found I do the same. I look for her, and I say hello. I would like to be able to talk with her and someday have a full conversation. Maybe someday I will be able to ask her about this problem. Maybe not. Maybe someday I will meet an Imam that I can speak with. Maybe not.
Khaled explained to the Imam that I’m used to no one speaking to me, and that if no one bothers my children it is not unusual for me to not say anything to anyone. It doesn’t mean I’m unhappy. It doesn’t mean that I don’t want to be where I am. This is just the way it is. But just because I’m used to it, just because this is the way it always is, doesn’t mean it is any less lonely.