This weekend, a Sudanese girlfriend had kindly agreed to take me to the Souq Al Arabi mosque for Friday’s prayers at 2pm. After hearing the prayers 5 times a day for 5 months and living in a culture dominated by Islam, I felt a visit to the mosque may give me a further insight into the religion.
The matter of whether non-Muslims are allowed inside the mosque seems ambiguous, and you receive a different answer from whoever you talk to. Amel maintained that the Prophet Mohamed would bring visitors to the mosque, and that in her view there was no problem with this. However, some people do not like non-Muslims to enter into what they regard as a sacred place.
Despite Souq Al Arabi being one of the poorest districts in the city, and that the size of the mosque is determined by the wealth of the area, this happens to be one of the largest mosques in Khartoum. I met Amel outside and she adjusted my headscarf so it looked like I was wearing hijab. She also joked that she would score “more points” praying in the mosque than praying at home, as it was seen as more virtuous. Unlike men, who are obliged to go the mosque to pray on Fridays, it is optional for women. Therefore the largest room in the mosque is reserved for men and the women are given a separate smaller space in which to pray. Women are also excused from prayers and fasting for Ramadan when they are on their period.
We removed our shoes and entered a very plain-looking room, with beige walls and a maroon and green carpet, on which the women were sprawled. Many lay in the foetal position, as though they had surrendered themselves to God. I was somewhat disappointed, having expected lavish decoration inside. Amel explained later that this occurs only in mosques built specifically to honour a deceased King, and that generally Islam dictates that there should be minimal distraction from prayers.
For 15 minutes, we listened through a speaker as the Imam gave his weekly lecture, this time about the negative effects of drugs on society. After that, everyone stood up to do their prayers. One woman ushered me over, and I tried to communicate that I had just come to watch. She pointed to the door. I still managed to watch from the doorway, and the rhythmic sound of the prayer filled my thoughts and allowed me to meditate. Being non-religious myself, I recognized the usual aspects I find attractive about having a faith; the ritual, the sense of community and time to be alone and clear one’s mind and in this case, think about Allah.
Whether or not it is deemed appropriate for me to have observed this ceremony, I feel privileged to have done so.