Mosque Field Trip Reflection
Below is a reflection written by an eighth grade student at Westside Neighborhood School after a visit to the Friday prayers at the Islamic Center of Southern California in April.
During the second trimester of seventh grade social studies, my class studied the religion of Islam. We had watched movies, read books, and had discussions. The second largest religion in the world, Islam has over one point five billion followers, yet it is one of the most gravely misunderstood religions in the world.
Stepping off the big yellow school bus into Koreatown, California, a place I had never been before, to visit a mosque, the place of worship for a religion I knew facts about, but had never really experienced, I was a little nervous. But, collecting in a big seventh grade blob on the shallow white painted steps leading up to the Islamic Center of Southern California, my doubts started to fade away. There, we were met by an excited looking young woman in a striped shirt, flowy black pants, and a black hijab, or head scarf that covered a messy arrangement of curly hair the size of a ripe apple. She was smiling and asking us questions Mr. Cameron had asked a thousand times, bursting with excitement when we got the answer right, building our self esteem as if it were a house. After a bit of this ‘Are you smarter than a fifth grader’ quizzing, we were hushed and quieted, and arranged into a slightly less shabby seventh grade blob so the lady from the mosque could lead us inside.
When we tentatively stepped through the beautiful glass doors of the building, the mood of the class changed from a thank goodness it’s Friday fireworks display of excitement for the weekend, the Hunger Games, and just relaxing for a while to the silent reverence for something we didn’t understand. Maybe it was the you could hear a pin drop if there wasn’t such thick carpeting silence, or the barely there scent of incense, or maybe we were all just stupefied by the beautifully peaceful atmosphere inside, but whatever it was, this mosque had stunned my seventh grade class into utter silence, and that wasn’t exactly easy peasy lemon squeezy.
The mosque lady (who hadn’t told us her name in her characteristic excitement) led us into a room designated for the mosque youth group. It was simple- just white with some nice art on the walls- and there were rows of chairs to accommodate our rather large group. When we were all settled into chairs the lady introduced herself as Soha, and we got to asking questions. At first, Soha was blown away by our knowledge on the five pillars of Islam, but soon learned there was much we didn’t know, like many muslim traditions that weren’t mentioned in our textbook. Soha answered every question energetically, and we learned a lot of interesting information from her. We learned firsthand how the rigorous prayer schedule of Islam affects a day to day schedule, how arrestingly beautiful the pilgrimage to Mecca is, and how people always know she’s muslim because of her hijab.
At first, I thought that it must be kind of annoying, sharing a fact about yourself without even speaking to people, but she said that it inspired her to be a good example for muslim women. She had a responsibility to represent muslim women everywhere, and it affected her decisions for the better. Soha also explained to us what the hajj was like. Hajj is a pilgrimage to Mecca, a holy city for muslims. This tradition was started by the first muslims, and is still carried out today. All muslims are required to go on hajj at least once in their life if they have the resources. Muslims may also send someone in their name on hajj if they can’t go. Soha was lucky enough to go in her earlier life and for her, the hajj was a beautiful thing. Apparently, when she saw the house of Muhammad, the prophet, in Medina, she cried in awe, which represents how meaningful it is to muslims. After our long question and answer period, we were hushed and shushed and led down carpeted stairs that we couldn’t have stomped down if we had wanted to (which, I assure you, we didn’t), and into the main prayer hall. Many students sat in chairs in the back of the male prayer hall, but there wasn’t quite enough space, so some students, like myself, went to the back of the female prayer hall.
When we stepped into the large room that was the female prayer hall, an overall atmosphere of quiet and calm settled over the slightly out of place group of students visiting the mosque. We were all a bit timid or nervous, not knowing exactly how to behave in a completely new environment, and there was so much to observe that I felt as though I was walking around with my head on a swivel. Everywhere I looked there was something new. It made focusing difficult, and easier at the same time, and it took my mind off of how out of place I felt.
Everyone our age (and frankly younger) at the mosque knew exactly what to do. At first the large floor rug covering more carpet was empty. Then a few worshippers trickled in for some earlier personal prayers. By the time the service began, we couldn’t see the rug there were so many people. (Prayer at a mosque is not required except on Fridays, the day of congregational prayer, which was when we came) Muslim people pray with a set of motions from the Sunnah, or Muhammad’s example. While Muslims do not worship Muhammad, the Prophet, they do follow the Sunnah, his example, because he was so close to God. Muhammad was born in Mecca in 570 CE. He was born into the poor Hashim Clan. As Muhammad grew, he found a job as a merchant, and had a reputation throughout Mecca for his honesty. Muhammad was called to prophethood by the angel Gabriel, in 610 C.E. and began preaching. At first, his teachings were rejected for multiple reasons connected to greed, fear, and misunderstanding. As Muhammad kept preaching, the Meccans who were anti-Islam polytheists took extreme measures and tortured and killed weaker Muslims. Eventually, because muslims were persevering despite all their efforts, they established a boycott of the Hashim clan, most of whom were muslims. The boycott meant that Mecca would have nothing to do with the Hashim for three years. So they spent that time living out in the desert. This took a significant toll on the Hashim. Muhammad’s wife, Khadijah, and his uncle, Abu Talib the leader of the clan, died. Soon after the muslims were invited into Medina, a safe place for them to live. The journey from Mecca to Medina is called the hijrah, and it is now the beginning of the muslim calendar.
After the prayer service, we tiptoed back up the soft carpeted for a little conclusion, and made our silent way out to the bright yellow school bus, waiting on the corner of a gray business block of Koreatown, looking as much like a fish out of water as a school bus can. Reflecting on the visit, the mosque had such a friendly atmosphere, and I was pleasantly surprised at how welcoming everyone at the mosque was. I knew that it was a field trip I would not soon forget. It was very special, and opened my eyes to a beautiful new culture that has a unique background and story.