Last Friday night, like many Glaswegians throughout the city, I had a curry for dinner. However, I dId not head for the local take away or restaurant, instead I made my way to the Al’Furquan Mosque in the West End of Glasgow, as a guest of the Muslim community there, invited to join them in their celebrations of Eid. It is their custom to ask their neighbours to a meal on these occasions and their guests included members of the local churches as well as students and other folk who live nearby. St Mary’s Cathedral is their nearest church, which is why I was fortunate to be there.
I had never been to such an event before, in fact I had never been to a mosque before, and although I knew the Provost and another member of our congregation would be there, it was with a little apprehension of the unknown that I arrived at the hall next to the mosque for the meal. Within minutes of my arrival I was completely reassured. Three young Muslim women greeted me with smiles, jokes at each other’s expense, and admiration of the interior of St Mary’s, which they had visited out of curiosity. I was whisked into the hall by two of the women and seated at a table near the door. I was early and the room was almost empty. We chatted, how we chatted, about our families, our backgrounds, my role at the Cathedral and their role at an Islamic Centre in a nearby town. Before I knew it the tables had filled up and the proceedings started.
We were formally welcomed by members of the Mosque, including their President. They spoke movingly of their desire for dialogue within their local community and beyond, to ensure all diverse groups could meet together in friendship, acceptance and above all peace. They drew attention to the standing banners, which were arranged round two sides of the hall. One set was entitled The Celtic Crescent, the result of research by members of the mosque to describe the link between Islam and the Celtic history and culture. The other set described the Five Pillars of Islam, faith, prayer, fasting, charity and pilgrimage, which are the five basic acts in Islam and the mainstay of Muslim life. We were told that the Mosque is open five times a day for the prayer, as prescribed by their faith, and were invited to call in at any time.
The buffet meal that followed was delicious and the hospitality most generous. There were twelve tables with ten people at each table and yet very quickly everyone had helped themselves to the fragrant, appetising dishes. Mmmm, the seekh kabab, chicken tikka, baby potatoes, vegetable spring rolls! Yum, vegetable curry, lamb karahi , pilau rice and naan bread! What a feast, what a celebration! And all round the hall the conversation and laughter continued.
While we ate the dessert we heard a young Muslim academic deliver a talk entitled In the Footsteps of Abraham. He told us that the Eid we were celebrating had links with the Hajj (pilgrimage) to the Grand Mosque at Mecca and spoke sadly of the deaths caused this year when a huge crane collapsed on a crowded square and later when an even greater loss of life occurred when pilgrims were crushed to death in the heaving crowds. He described the importance of the sacred history and worship of the prophet Abraham and in quiet, lilting tones sang from the Koran, telling the story of Abraham and his son, Isaac.
It was then time for thanks from the guests. Members of the Church of Scotland, the Reformed Church, Interfaith Scotland and our provost, representing St Mary’s Cathedral, spoke of their appreciation of the opportunity to meet in this way. Kelvin described how part of our Eucharist includes the Peace when the congregation wish each other peace with a handshake. At this point he shook the hand of the President of the Muslim community and said the words, “Peace be with you”.
We knew from the original invitation that the event was due to finish at nine o’clock but when it got near to this time we were told that if anyone would like to go to see what happens at the final prayers of the day in the Mosque then we would be welcome to go along. At this point one of the young women who had welcomed us invited some of us to join her in the women’s upstairs room while she said her prayers before returning home. She explained that she had not attended the earlier prayers and now needed to catch up. She would say the final prayers of the day later at home. We followed her upstairs to a long, bare, softly lit room, the floor covered in a spotless red and gold carpet with individual prayer mats incorporated in the design. We stood in silence while she said her prayers, kneeling and touching the floor with her forehead repeatedly. She prepared then to go home while we went downstairs to the main Mosque. But as she left she turned back, rushed up to me and two young women guests, kissed us in turn and was gone. It was a moving moment.
Downstairs in the main mosque, chairs had been placed at the back for the visitors while at the front the men’s final prayers of the day had begun. The prayers were chanted and the men went through the ritual of standing, kneeling and prostrating themselves. Throughout this time men continued to arrive and afterwards it was explained that latecomers stay behind to complete the whole pattern of prayer.
The evening over the guests drifted out into the Autumn evening. It was a fascinating evening, over too soon, and opened my eyes to a religion and culture I knew only the basics about. It was privilege to have been there.
And I will never forget that young woman rushing back to kiss me.