محاضرة (Muhadar)

Two days ago, my counterpart’s sister held in my honor what is called a Muhadar, or at least an informal version of what Muslims attend when they have questions or want more information about Islam. The word I looked up that sounds like what I heard, actually translates to Lecture, if I sounded it out correctly, but I wouldn’t exactly characterize it as that.

Since I have been in this country, it has been more or less impossible not to face the religious aspect of daily life. There really isn’t anything of comparable nature in any other place I’ve traveled in my life thus far, except maybe perhaps the Vatican city, but even then, the tourists and steep admission prices take away just slightly. Plus Catholicism in Italy seems more part of their history than a daily faith people practice.

Anyway, from what Khadjetou (my counterpart’s sister) told me about what a traditional Muhadar is, I’d say religious lectures would be a semi-accurate translation. It makes sense too because Islam doesn’t have anything equivalent in its religion to a Christian church. Muslims have mosques but only men go there to pray, and there is no equivalent to a priest or minister who lectures from the Koran or gives other teachings or stories. Mosques have Imaams, who stand in front of all the men in a mosque and lead the prayer—(and by this I mean, the series of bows Muslims take in prayer). Therefore, Muhadar’s are events that are held for Muslims to come and listen about their religion’s teachings, and also as a forum for questions.

Zeinabou came to get me at 5:40 as the Muhadar was to start at 6pm. I went over to her house, talked with her family for a little bit, and then they took me into their second limbaar just on the otherside of their huge lot. Inside the limbaar which looks like a hanger for people instead of planes, they had hung mulaffas down the middle, dividing where I was to sit with her family from where the man who was to talk to me about Islam. I was caught off guard a little because this seemed a lot more formal than I had imagined. The voice on the other side spoke in Arabic for a while, and then he switched to English (I found out later, the man was an English teacher at the Lycee), which is how he was able to explain and answer my questions in very good English. Just then Ashley showed up to visit Zeinabou, and so she was also able to participate in what followed.

The man let me know that he had been informed by his Muslim sisters that I had been curious about the religion ( I have always asked many questions about Islam, since I’m living in its wake, and therefore, despite advice I’ve read in the RIM manual, conversed openly about religion on numerous occasions with my Mauritanian friends. I figure when and where else am I going to be able to learn from people who care about me, as much about the roots and its current practices and beliefs than now.) He said he was called here to answer any questions I had about the religion. And then I was put on the spot. I would have definitely come more prepared if I had known what I was really in store for.

The first question I asked was what role women played in Islam. Now let me say that during stage, Pablo had a book called No God But God, which of most I had read, and plus living here now for almost 11 months (insaneeee), I had some kind of idea, but I wanted to get the ball rolling. He told me that women are at the center of the home. It is there role and responsibility to insure that the home is a place for the family to be nutured and taken care of. I was glad Ashley was there, because she jumpstarted the conversation we then had about Prayer. I will break it down for all the readers who don’t know too much thus far. Muslims pray five times a day, or at least they are supposed to. Each prayer has a different meaning, and the number of bows they take is different each time. For the most part, the times for the prayers are: right when they wake up or anywhere from 4:30am-6:30am, noon, after or before lunch, sunset prayer, and then a night prayer.

He continued for thirty minutes to answer our questions, and then said that if we wanted another meeting with him, that could be arranged. It was really nice because there was never, during the whole time, any pressure of being converted. It was just a very open space to learn. I was thankful for this. Sometimes when life gets difficult here, it is really these small instances in which make me realize just how much compassion I find in some of the people here; and so I keep my head up, and try even harder at becoming fluent in a dialect that I’ll never speak again, and tell myself, yah, I guess I can wear a bed sheet for another year in 110 degree heat.


One Response to “محاضرة (Muhadar)”

  1. P. Harper Dillon Says:

    Wow Amanda!

    What a powerful post! Since I first came into contact with Islam and Muslims (leaving aside Elijah Muhammad and the black Muslims perhaps) I have always had the feeling that Islam does have a deeply compassionate side that is rarely understood outside the Islamic community itself. You seem to have touched that. Also, Islam is so varied as one goes from Morueqos to Indonesia . . . But in the west (i.e.. Christian world) we usually only see the rather extreme sides, e.g., recent Saudi Islamic judge ruling that men can slap their wives , etc.

    I also really liked your observation that religion, even in Italy, is not a part of everyday practice in the same way that it is in the Islamic world. That is so true . . . as is often said: there never was a “Reformation”, e.g., Luther, in the history of Islam. No division of church and state . . .

    As far as speaking a dialect you’ll never use again, maybe that’s true at one level, but I’m sure it will make learning any other language a lot easier, for what it’s worth. I

    I’ll try to call soon.


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