Wearing a flowing black abaya, my head covered in a black hijab, I enter the gracious dome of the Grand Mosque of Bahrain. Under the high, intricately designed ceiling, a massive open space appears to welcome us – Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Free Thinkers from over twenty countries – with arms wide open, into the frontiers of Islam. We gather in a circle, around a scholar of Islam, ready to fire questions related to the religion, that we have harbored since stepping foot in Bahrain, or much before.
Arabic coffee is served, sip by sip in the traditional Bahraini way, and the topics slowly change from conversion to after-life, from karma to the morality of fornication and stone pelting.
I choose to kill the elf in the room by asking about the inequality of rights among women and men, and below is a snippet of the conversation that ensues (in my own words):
Me: I’m curious to understand why the interpretation of Islam is different in different countries, when the Quran is considered the ultimate word of god.
Mawlana: How do you think the interpretation is different? Can you give me an example?
Me: For instance, women in Bahrain can drive and to a certain extent wear what they choose, while in its neighbour Saudi, the same is not true.
Mawlana: This has more to do with the cultural differences in the countries, and it’s true that some try to use religion to justify it. As far as women are concerned, there are some rules that the Quran dictates they follow – like they should cover their bodies at all times when they are around men, so they are not looked upon with lustful eyes.
Me: Does that rule apply to men too?
Me: I’m asking because the world over, we are fighting for equality of rights between women and men, but if the “word of god” itself suggests that the two don’t have equal rights, then is this equality even worth fighting for?
Mawlana: It’s not that men and women have unequal rights as per the Quran. They have different rights. Men have the responsibility to provide financially for the family. Women don’t. However if they do, they do get extra credit.
The debate continues, but truth is, none of us, with our feisty stance on women’s rights, is even expecting to find a satisfactory explanation. There are many ways to look at the debate, and many theories to explain the misinterpretation of the book. But we have to accept that this, like every religion, has its skeletons to deal with.
The call for prayer breaks our lines of thought, and the men make their way to the central area of the mosque to pray together. The Bahraini women among us start walking towards a separate area, and ask anyone of us interested in praying, to follow them. Out of curiosity, I do.
We stand in a straight line. Their eyes are shut. Mine remain open to be able to follow their actions. We raise our hands, their lips shivering as they pray. Allah-u-akbar. We fold our hands over our chests. We raise our hands, we bow. We kneel, we touch our foreheads to the ground. Standing up, my loosely tied head scarf falls. My mind races: should I break the drill and bend down to pick it up? I decide not to. We raise our arms. Someone steps up from behind, picks up my scarf, ties it on my head. We continue praying. The music of the recital is soothing to the ears, calming even. There is serenity around us, and within us. On either side of me, I hear the women sobbing. I look left, then right, concerned. They are deep in prayer. The music ends. We look right, then left, to greet each other. Their eyes are red, but there is peace on their faces. We slowly walk back to join the rest of the group.
Later that night, I ask a Bahraini friend why the women were crying while praying. They must be deep in prayers, asking for forgiveness or giving thanks, he says.
The photographs in this post are taken by my friend and photographer, Prathamesh KriSang. Find him on Facebook.
Join The Shooting Star on Facebook and Twitter for more travel stories from around the world.
Note: I visited Bahrain as part of the Discover Bahrain program; opinions are always my own.
Welcome to my blog, The Shooting Star. I’ve been called a storyteller, writer, photographer, digital nomad, instagrammer, social entrepreneur, solo traveller, vegan, sustainable tourism consultant and environmentalist. But in my heart, I’m just a girl who believes in the transformative power of travel.
I had an impression that in Islaam women are not allowed inside a mosque..because that’s what I observed local Muslim women to practice…. I suppose its different again, with different countries.
Yeah, I’ve heard so for some mosques in India too, but I suppose it varies by country. The number of men were certainly higher even here.
and… btw… you look pretty in hijab 🙂
Thanks 😉 I love the innocence it sort of gives to the appearance.
When you were in Turkey did you not visit the Haga Sofia or the Blue Mosque? Or did you mean this was your first time interacting (rather than just visiting / photographing) with a mosque? I’ve only ever witnessed the prayers, but it sounds like you had a great experience in the line with the other women – beautiful.
I meant the interaction / praying bit, yes. I’ve been to a mosque before, though not to Hagia Sofia or the Blue Mosque. Got turned off by the queues and seen too many pictures on google!
Another insightful post . You bring alive the people and the flavour of the place u write about. But I have already told you tat many times. So here is something new, you look great in a hijab!
Thanks Sapna! I love it too, made it my profile picture on Facebook and you can imagine the questions that attracted 😉
I actually can 😉
I find it difficult to believe that a benevolent god would really give a toss whether women wore a scarf on their heads or not. I would have thought there might be some more important issues to think about.
In an ideal world, a benevolent god would never let so much injustice happen beneath his nose.
Wearing a scarf is out of respect and not bcz God cared about it….It is obviously not difficult for God to set things straight and right in less than a moment but this was a duty given to us (humans) to ensure injustice doesnt happen in the world. We are undergoing a test, the result will come hereafter. But unfortunately we humans consider this life to be the ultimate truth and abode and so most of us do not care .. as a result corruption, betrayal, cheating, etc. Now, we can keep questioning why God did this and why He did that or we can take some action and thank Him for what He has given us.
Hi Shivya… You have handled a very sensitive topic in a very mature way. I have so many Muslim friends, but I have never been inside of a mosque, I guess I need to go and pray in one.
I’m glad you thought so. Tried to give a subtle message through this post, wonder if it came through. It’s quite an overwhelming experience. Tell me when you do try.
Thx for sharing your experience Shivya ! I personally feel that every religion has been formed based on sociopolitical situation at that point of time. Interpretations have to change with respect to changing needs of the society without affecting its basic character; otherwise it will not grow.
By the way you are looking really cute in that Hijab. It suits you :p
Your post reminds me of my similar visit to Jumeirah mosque in Dubai. It was quite an experience
Tell me more about it!
Hey, you can read my detailed post at – http://the-shooting-star.com/2013/04/06/inside-a-mosque/
Sorry, meant the link below -http://getsetandgo.wordpress.com/2013/05/01/finally-one-curiosity-satisfied-inside-the-jumeirah-mosque/
Was curiously looking at the earlier link :p Shall check out this one now!
A unique experience handled in a very sensitive way. You were doing a tightrope walk and you managed to do it graciously 🙂 Beautiful post as always ..
Thanks Purnendu, glad you enjoyed reading about this very unique experience.
You’ve got yourself a new fan… 🙂
Thanks Nidaa, and welcome to The Shooting Star! Looking forward to your virtual company on my travels 🙂
What a special experience! That sounds so wonderful. I visited a few mosques while I was in Istanbul recently and felt so in awe of the spaces and the prayer going on around me. But as a Christian it never crossed my mind that I would have been “allowed” to pray with the women – was the invitation to join in prayer open to all faiths?
Yes, absolutely. That’s the thing I found most appealing about the Bahraini people, even though I’m not religious. I never ventured into a mosque Turkey (not sure why in retrospect), but I’ve been to a mosque in India where women were not even allowed in, forget praying. I suppose it could vary by country.
Sounds like it must vary quite a bit! I’m not the most religious person myself but it sounds like an awesome spiritual and cultural experience. Bahrain never crossed my mind as a travel destination but now my curiosity is piqued.
Not mine either, before I visited. It’s such a beautiful country, with the most heartwarming people. Plan a trip before the word gets out 😉
It sounds like they must vary quite a bit! I’m not the most religious person myself but I still think it sounds like an amazing spiritual and cultural experience. Bahrain hadn’t crossed my mind as a must-visit destination but you’ve piqued my curiosity!