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Inside an Iranian Mosque

By Periscope @periscopepost
Inside an Iranian mosque

The Bogh’e-ye Sayyed Mir Mohammad mosque in Shiraz. Photo credit: Gabrielle Jackson

Inside the mosque – away from the men – we Western women received an even warmer reception by the local women than we’d receive on the streets. And that’s saying something.

At the Bogh’e-ye Sayyed Mir Mohammad, a mausoleum, in Shiraz we sat against the turquoise tiled walls and marvelled at the intricate mirror work on the walls and ceilings. Was it gaudy or grand? Some say it’d be a good place for a disco. We soon found it was a good place for social interaction, in any case.

Soon after we sat, an Iranian woman came over and plonked herself down right next to me, so close she was almost touching. There was a lot of space in this mosque, but she wasn’t shy to want to be near us, to ask me to pray for her. Maybe she thought if we prayed to all our Gods (not having one did not seem to cross her mind), help would be more forthcoming. She managed to communicate to me that she’d had some bad results at the hospital and she needed prayer. This is no different to how my mom would feel in the same circumstance – wanting people to pray for her. She may not go to church and sidle up to a Muslim woman in a headscarf, grab her hand and ask her to pray, but that’s perhaps just the difference between churches and mosques.

The mosque is not a quiet place. Sure, there are many people praying, but there are also some sleeping, spread out on the beautiful Persian carpets. Some are lounging more casually, feet toward Mecca and chatting on their mobile phones. A few kids are running riot and threatening to pull down the curtain that separates men from women. Nobody is too worked up about it. There are some girlfriends holding hands and praying, and since we’re at a shrine, there are people touching the sarcophagus and a few are crying.

A volunteer worker, who is normally a nurse in a burns hospital, told us that a group of women in the corner were there to read the Quran. Sometimes people come for five days, sometimes 10 or 20 in an attempt to become closer to God. This mosque is open 24 hours a day.

So, yes, people come for prayer and to be closer to God and that is clear. What is not clear is what some others come for. Maybe just some peace and quiet? Many come to relax. The important thing is that is doesn’t really matter. There doesn’t have to be a service on to enter. People don’t have to sit by themselves and be quiet. They can sit with a friend and chat, if that’s what they want. Or they can lie down or find a foreigner to stare at.

Soon after the woman with the bad test results joined our circle, two other women and their four children rocked up and made it a party. They videoed us, picked up their kids, plopped them down in the middle of us and took some photos. We exchange the few words we shared in Farsi and English but we mostly just smiled at each other and showed photos of our families and shared something. Something that doesn’t make sense in words on paper or screen, but something we all felt.

As a kid I was never allowed to play chase inside my Catholic church, but as I sat inside the mosque so close to other women and their complicated lives, I saw that religion was the least important thing in understanding other people.

This post first appeared on Kebab Quest.

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