Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A visit to an old mosque in Sanaa

Another interesting writing from my Singaporean friend :)

"My father and I had just come back to Aden from Hadramawt. Cousin J welcomed us back and said:“I will take you and your father to Sanaa tomorrow”.

I could not believe that cousin J spoke to me (it was the norm for my male cousins not to speak to me or my sisters, perhaps it was chauvinism, perhaps it was the wide age gap and, in cousin J’s case, it could be that he was just socially awkward).

I could not believe that he wanted to take us to Sanaa. I was speechless. I did not want to speak (in case I would say something wrong and cause him to change his mind), so I smiled, my best smile, and nodded vigorously in agreement. He smiled back approvingly.

In Sanaa, before we set out to explore the city, cousin J decided to warn me on how I should conduct myself:“Although this is a city, this is Yemen, and we do things differently here. You have to walk behind your father and me. This is for your own protection.

”I stared at him with disbelief. It did not make sense to me:“Danger comes from the back and the side too, you know! I may just be kidnapped while you both may be thinking that you are protecting me… absolute nonsense… there is no way I will walk behind you or my father because you want me to…. Watch me!”

At that moment my father came. I grabbed his hand and led him away, signalling to my cousin the end of our conversation. I heard cousin J grumbling behind me… probably regretting his decision to take me to Sanaa.I forgot the conversation soon enough. There were much more important scenes to take in. We smiled and laughed at many sights, were touched by many scenes, ate good food and smelled many exotic odours.

I could not keep track whether I walked infront, behind or with my father and my cousin, probably all three at different times. The day passed quickly. As it was approaching dark, cousin J brought us to an old mosque. Cousin J said that the mosque had been there for a long time, rumoured to have been built at the time of the prophet.

I was of course excited to see it and thought it was a privilege to be able to do my prayers there. But before we could come in, cousin J burst my bubble when said that only men were allowed inside.

As if pre-empting my disagreement, he reminded me it was not him that I had to fight with. I was defiant. I was enraged. I thought it totally unfair. But perhaps I was tired, perhaps I got the message that if I were to make any attempt to force my way into the mosque, I would only create embarrassment and deprive my father and cousin J of the chance to pray in the mosque, so I dutifully agreed to stay outside.

Cousin J paid a beggar lady a few coins to look after me. I thought the beggar lady was only going to cause me more trouble. I kept my distance. The beggar lady was still within sight but I was lost in my thoughts, trying to pacify my defiance and rage over what I perceived as an injustice from high above.

I remembered how I had debated many times against the wrong perception that women were not allowed in mosques and there I was sitting with a beggar lady outside a mosque. How much worse could things get (for a feminist like me)!My thoughts were distracted by the sight of another beggar lady approaching. I sensed trouble.

I was alert. But my fear turned into laughter as I saw the two beggar ladies bickering. I did not understand what they said but from the gestures I could make out that the one who was looking after me was showing me and the coins she got from cousin J off and the other one wanted a share of the coins. From soft hush tones they became loud, they became angry. They came closer to me. At that point, I wondered if they thought that my cousin J had sold me off to them. I became quite frightened.

The commotion caught the attention of a passing man. He was dressed to go to the mosque – clean, white dress, white skullcap. He stopped, looked at what I thought was a pitiful sight of three women - me caught in between two bickering beggar ladies. He seemed to know that I was not local and did not speak to me. He looked disapprovingly, and asked the beggar ladies a few questions. Initially they tried to answer him in their loud tones but turned quiet when he reprimanded them. I felt safe.

Then he turned to me and asked:“Muslim?”I nodded my head and replied with the little Arabic I knew:“Naam”.

He gestured me to follow. I followed him into the mosque. In the mosque, he showed me to my corner and left. I mumbled a “Syukran” but he did not turn back. In my corner I did my maghrib prayers. The mosque was not large and I was spotted by cousin J and my father. Cousin J could not believe that I was allowed into the mosque. He told me I was lucky, perhaps it was even a small miracle. My father merely smiled."

1 comment:

Lisa said...

Maybe cousin J was mistaken. It could be women are not allowed only during peak time, like at Malaysian mosques on Friday. During Friday prayer there wouldn't be a corner for women to pray or even space to pass through.