Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Faith & Anger

Why does being religious make so many people so angry these days?Or is it that they're angry to start with & they turn to religion as a means of expressing that anger?

This is so strange for me. Growing up I always envied religious people their serenity. When I think of my grandfather for example I always remember him as this calm, unruffled person who was always smiling. And he was so religious. We used to joke that he lived on his prayer mat. He had most of the Quran memorized. He and my grandmother would get up & leave the room if you criticized anyone infront of them because they believed that it was 7aram(unlawful) to gossip about people. And they both had such strong work ethics. Once I was home on leave & a friend got me a fake sick leave from a hospital in Casablanca so I could stay a few days longer. My grandfather was so disappointed with me. He gave me a lecture about how if we don't do our work properly then the money we were being paid was 7aram like stolen money and that God doesn't bless people who live on 7aram income. And he made me go back to work. I never forgot that & until today I get this incredible guilt complex if I don't go to work.

And yet my grandfather was never angry. He never raised his voice or used bad language and no one in the family could do that in his presence. Being the nervous wreck that I am I was always so impressed with the way he never seemed to stress or worry very much about anything. And he was so understanding. To us he seemed so much more liberal than our parents. My cousins would ask him to intervene when they couldn't get their parents to listen. They all miss him so much now that he's gone. And they remember him & cry everytime there's a problem or a fight in the family because he was the peacemaker and because people didn't fight so much when he was around.

I was impressed especially because I heard from my father, uncles & aunts that my grandfather was not always like this. That as a young man he had a terrible temper & was very rigid & dominating. They all say that it was becoming more & more religious as he got older that changed him.

This is how we understand religion in my family, that it's something that gives you inner peace, that makes you more joyful & loving. You look at people who are religious & you want to be like them, to know their secret.

Last week my friend S. & I decided that we wanted to start praying at the mosque. This used to be difficult for women in UAE because most mosques were only for men. Women were expected to pray at home. But lately that has been changing so we decided to take advantage of it. We couldn't make all 5 prayers at the mosque but we found that both of us could make 3asr & Maghreb(afternoon & sunset) as well as the Friday prayer so we started last Tuesday.

The first day went fine. We really enjoyed it. The nice thing about praying in the mosque is that there are no distractions so you can really focus & take your time. It's not like praying at home or at the office with phones & doorbells ringing & constant demands for your attention. You always end up feeling rushed.

But on Wednesday, right after the Imam finished the 3asr prayer, this woman who was praying next to us suddenly turns to S., grabs her hand in a really aggressive way & points to her nails & tells her what is this, don't you know this is 7aram and how dare you come to pray like this etc....She just went on & on.

I guess she thought that S. was wearing nail polish which wasn't true. S. doesn't wear nail polish precisely because she prays. She just has one of those kits which come with a nail buffer & a white crayon-type thing that you use to color inside the tips of your nails so it looks like you had a French manicure.

But even if we were wearing nail polish is that a reason for being so angry with us?I can't believe that woman's manner, the way she was looking at us. We were both so shocked. But what could we do?She looked like she was in her 60's & we're raised to be respectful & not talk back to people her age. Besides you don't start a fight in a house of God at the time of prayer do you?So we just said "7adir ya khala. Inshallah. Allah yihdi." (Yes. God willing. God guide us all.) And we left - even though we had planned to stay until Maghreb.

On Thursday we ran into her again. When we walked in we said Assalam 3laikum and everyone replied except her. I was watching her. She was just glaring at the two of us. After the prayer we were sitting trying to read Quran & everytime I would look up she would be glaring. There were other women with her & they were talking & looking at us in this contemptuous way, clearly talking about us. They made us so nervous & uncomfortable that we left the mosque for the second time.

On Friday S. told me maybe we should find another mosque. That made me angry. What right does anyone have to drive us away from a mosque?We have as much right to be there as any of them. But S. said she felt too uncomfortable & didn't want to go back to that place. I felt so frustrated that I told her am just going to pray at home. And that's what she did too.

I don't get it. What did we do?Was all this just about the nail polish?But we explained about that!