By Meredith Smith
“I’m so nervous, guys!” I said as we all piled into Megan Buczkowski’s two-door red Honda Civic. True to Corban’s guy-girl ratio, we made our way to the mosque in Corvallis, four women to one man. Karli Havens, Hannah Loban and I giggled in the back, my legs pressed up to my chest in the middle back seat. Jay Jacobsen sat in the front seat, with all the leg room a man could want.
“How are we even supposed to tie these on?” Karli asked, winding her black and purple checkered scarf around her face.
Jay put us all to shame. Showing the women how it was done, he wrapped my green scarf around his head and neck, leaving only his face exposed and a few spiky hairs poking through the material.
Pat Cate, the speaker for World Outreach Missions Week, gave Corban students the opportunity to sign up for a visit to the Salmon Alfarisi Islsamic Center to learn more about the culture he and his wife Marianne had been teaching about throughout the week. He gathered the 50 or so of our group, well over two-thirds of whom were women, in Schimmel, and he explained to us that the women would have to be modest with long sleeves and a head-covering scarf. He also explained that there would be two entrances, one for the men and the other along a path behind the building for the women.
I am a feminist by no means, but I was offended at this. I did not realize how much until we arrived at the mosque.
Our little red Civic had quite the adventure, getting lost in the streets of Corvallis and driving around Oregon State University at least twice before finding the Fred Meyer parking lot where Cate had instructed us to park. The five of us crawled out of the car and into the sunshine, feeling the heat in our modest layered sweaters. The four of us women hastily wrapped scarves around our heads, helping each other to make sure no hair peeked through.
As we crossed the street toward the plain white building, we felt the eyes of people in cars driving past. “I feel like I’m being judged. We look like a bunch of white Muslims crossing the street,” Megan said with a nervous giggle.
Jay led the way toward the building, and we walked past a door labeled “Women’s Entrance.”
“Is that where we’re supposed to go?” we whispered to each other.
Two college-aged men from the mosque noticed our confusion and stopped to give us direction to the correct entrance. Still confused and now feeling awkward, we waited while Jay asked Pat Cate, who was standing in front of the main entrance. He waved us his way, then pointed us past the entrance and, indeed, behind the main building.
“This just makes me so mad,” Megan said as we walked toward what appeared to be a restroom door.
We crossed through the door and up a flight of stairs to a room full of shoes. We slipped our feet out of our own, adding to the pile, and stepped into a room full of Corban women covered in colorful scarves. A woman from the mosque was leading a time of questions, perched on a table, her legs crossed under her body, which was entirely covered by a draped brown cloth. A few women filed through the door in the next few minutes, but took one quizzical look at our unfamiliar faces and passed through to another room.
The room we were in was dark, lit only with natural light streaming in through the windows. Not at all what I had been expecting, it looked just like any other old church building: faded lacy curtains hung in front of doorways and wooden chairs sat around a table that looked like it had just hosted a party, with sparkly streamers hanging around it.
We sat together in the darkened room as the woman told us of her faith; all the while an angry-sounding Arabic voice was filtering through a speaker in the room. “He will now start the sermon in English.” The woman stopped speaking and sat down on the ground, her legs folded under the shroud covering her body.
The sermon began, and I found myself nodding my head in agreement with much of what the Imam, religious teacher, was saying. He taught that we will all go through hard times and face difficulties and problems. We must trust in God to save us from these tough times. As the sermon continued, I did notice something I did not agree with: he taught that when we trust in God, all our worries and cares and problems will just disappear.
For illustration, he told the story of great women of the Bible who demonstrated this faith. “Well, that’s not what I was expecting,” I thought as the voice droned into the room. I looked around at my fellow Corban women, wondering if they had caught the irony.
The Imam went on to explain that one of the misconceptions of the Muslim faith is in their treatment of women. He said Muslims respect women. “Interesting,” I thought, “that he would choose such a teaching on a day that so many outside women just happened to be visiting the mosque.”
When the sermon ended, we were led into a separate room, where the women could perform their prayers. They stood in a line facing a wall, which I supposed faced Mecca. As the Imam began to chant and pray in Arabic, the women went through the ritual motions, kneeling to the ground, putting their bodies in a full prostrate position.
As I watched the women, I felt tears welling in my eyes and a constricting in my chest. I looked around the room and saw a few Corban woman conducting a prayer ceremony of their own, their eyes closed and lips moving in a silent prayer.
When the time was over, we went back to the main room and were able to ask questions of the woman who had been leading the earlier discussion. She told us that she, “by the grace of God,” had found her salvation in the Muslim faith after marrying a Muslim man while attending OSU. She told us that she was not a terrorist, but believed in God just like we do.
As she spoke, a mother sat with us with her two daughters. The youngest, probably about 2, was eating a cookie at a little table. I watched as the little girl rocked back and forth in her chair repeating, “Allah, Allah.”
When we arrived back at school, Pat Cate had arranged a time for teaching and reflecting. We shared our thoughts, questions, and experiences with each other, while Cate shared his heart for a mission to Muslims. “I enjoy putting a foot in the door and bringing the Gospel where it isn’t supposed to go,” he said with a smile.
“It’s possible that some of us are saying, ‘Well, they seemed sincere,’” he said. “Sincerity is important, obviously, but we can be sincerely wrong. Opposites can both be wrong, but opposites can’t both be true.”