I’ve been to a church before. I’ve been to a Sikh temple. And a Hindu temple. I’ve even been outside a Buddhist Temple before. Sunday, however, was my first time visiting a mosque.
Walking into the King Abdullah I Mosque in downtown Amman, I was astounded by the beautiful blue tile mosaics that adorned the pillars of the mosque, and the tall minarets. Upon entrance, all of the girls were directed towards a changing room, where we were given abayas, which are long black cloaks to wear. I was confused. We had all been instructed to wear conservative clothes and bring a scarf; was something lacking in our attire? As it turns out, our local coordinator, Nadia, was the only female in the group who didn’t have to wear an abaya, so it must have been a rule that applied to all foreigners in general. We donned our abayas with curiosity and a sort of excitement for the unknown, and Nadia helped us wrap our scarves into hijabs. At first, I was worried about how we would survive the heat. But to my surprise, it really wasn’t too hot! This may be hard to believe, but in all honesty, the black cloak wasn’t significantly hotter than what we were already wearing. It may have been because the garment was very loose, but the fact that we were able to be out in July in Amman, Jordan at four in the afternoon without melting, clearly meant that it wasn’t as bad as I had presumed.
Prior to entering the actual mosque, we were taken to two mini museums where we were able to learn a bit about this mosque, and had the opportunity to see tiny three-dimensional models of Mecca, Medina, and the Al-Aqsa mosque, the three most holy sites of Islam (in order). Learning about the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem was especially interesting considering the recent conflict over the site. As it turns out, while both Israel and Palestine lay claim over the holy city, the Jordanian government has a say in the administration of religious sites in the region.
Stepping into the general prayer area, we were all amazed by how incredibly quiet it was inside. There were only a few people here and there, some resting and others praying, but for the most part, the large room was empty. We took time to admire the intricately adorned ceiling of the dome, and of course the main wall, which faces Mecca. The girls in our group were allowed to view the specific women’s prayer room, which was small, but still very beautiful. There was a certain peaceful feeling around the premises; a sort of quiet that surrounded the inside and outside of the mosque.
Of all the experiences, the most novel for me was wearing an abaya. I dress conservatively both in Jordan and also at home in the States, but it was a new experience to be wearing a nondescript, long, black, straight-cut dress, paired with a beige scarf. In Amman, it is commonplace for a lot of women to go out in an abaya, and many won’t step out without one. In the past weeks, I’ve become used to seeing women everywhere wearing these long dark gowns. However, I never imagined wearing one myself. I honestly thought it would feel a bit unfair to have to wear such an attire, while the males in our group walked about in regular clothes. To my surprise, when I was actually wearing the abaya, it didn’t really trigger any such reaction. Upon reflection, I think that for most of us, it felt more like a costume or dress-up session; something temporary. I guess we were not really making the connection that for a lot of women, this was a way of life. While I totally understand and respect people’s religious beliefs, I personally wouldn’t be able to do this in real life.
I definitely valued the experience of visiting the mosque this Sunday, and it gave me more insight on the official religion of 23 different countries across the world. Being in Jordan, a place of such rich religious history, I really hope to be able to visit one of the old churches here in Amman.