my mum has a special place in our mosque, by which i mean her own particular physical space. it's at the right hand end of the first row, in the women's section. this is where she likes to be when she prays. i don't know why, i guess it's just that part of human nature that makes us creatures of habit.
my mother's special space is respected and protected by the rest of the community. and particularly the somali community. they make sure that space is available for her. apparently, it's a well-known fact amongst the somali women that no-one else should take that space. women of other communities are much the same, they just don't take her space if she happens to be there.
my mum goes to the mosque regularly, pretty much every day. so when she isn't there, people notice. when she was overseas at the beginning of ramadan, i had an elderly somalian woman ask me, in her broken english, "where your mum?". another pakistani woman told me that praying in the mosque just didn't feel right without my mum standing in her special place.
i find these connections to be fascinating. these are women that never socialise, that never see each other outside the mosque. they don't converse much inside the mosque either, because many of the senior somali women don't speak english. but despite that, there is that sense of closeness, of concern, of belonging that i find really touching. it's such a little thing, the protection of a little bit of space in the corner of the mosque. but it seems to say so much about human connections, that i can't adequately describe.
our mosque is special. it's special because of the mix of colours and races you find there. from the white europeans, to the ivory of the arabs, to the golden bronze of the malays and indonesians, to the darker brown of the south asians and maori and right across the spectrum to the various shades of black that make up africa. it's all there in one room, particularly noticeable in ramadan because more people come to the mosque for prayer.
this not something you see in many countries. mosques in muslim countries will be dominated by the ethnicity of the people native to the land. you may get a bit of diversity, but not so much. mosques in other western countries tend to get drawn along ethnic lines. as an example, i remember attending a RISEAP conference in sydney back in 1989. it lasted 7 days, and each evening, dinner for delegates was hosted by a different mosque. so, we went to the lebanese mosque in lakemba, to the yugoslav (as it was back then) mosque, to the south african mosque, and so on. you get the picture.
it's not that the ethnic groups don't get along, and anyone is always welcome in any mosque. it's just that people tend to drift towards others who are similar to them in culture, language and religious practice.
a bit of that happens in auckland, where it's mostly south asians that go to the stoddard road mosque, fijians who go to the south auckland mosque. but even then, there's still a reasonable amount of diversity. in a smaller community like hamilton, we don't have the numbers to have different mosques for different ethnic groups.
so we all come together in the one mosque, and it's a pretty amazing feeling to be in that bunch. it's amazing because race and colour truly don't matter, and not being able to understand one another really doesn't matter much either. we understand enough, we understand that we belong together in that place. i wish that was how the rest of the world could be.