I've been staring at a computer screen all morning, wondering what I should do. For most people decisions like this one are simple. It's either yes or no, and there are no real reprecussions to the decision. You just do it. For me, it's not that easy.
The decision I'm struggling with today, is whether or not I should go to the Friday prayers.
As a child, going to an Islamic School at the time, we'd go every friday. We had halfdays on fridays, so the prayer was always the end to another week. Whether it was a good or bad week, it was over with the call to prayer. I remember sitting there between all the other boys, daydreaming of worlds that were entirely my own, and then the actual prayer would happen, and I remember wanting to be the loudest to say Amen. I didn't always understand what I was saying Amen to, but I was introduced to a world where famine, death and suffering existed far earlier than most. I learned sympathy, empathy, and eventually compassion duing those sessions. I would not have dared to miss a single friday, not because I was forced in any way shape or form, but because they sang to my soul in a way that I didn't know existed outside the mosque.
Canada came around next, and instead of talking about problems the world was facing, we talked about prayer and religious practices. There's nothing wrong with that, but mix it with the having to bike or walk to get there, and the fact that everyone stared at me as if I was out of place, and did not deserve to be there, pushed me away. In Arizona I was from one of the original families. I belonged there more than I belonged in my own home. In Canada, I was an intruder that dressed too baggy for his own good, and had a bad attitude for life and everyone around him.
In Jordan, I was the drug dealer that people kept their kids away from. And they dove even further into the world of religious practice, and away from the world around us and how those practices define the world. Islam is a way of life, it's not pray five times a day and you're done. I didn't hear that in Jordan, or even Canada to an extent.
These are generalizations. Of course not all mosques are this way, not even close. But, these are my experiences, and they have morphed my view of mosques to this day.
I can estimate the number of times I've been to a mosque in the last six years. I can honestly say that I haven't been to a mosque for prayer in months. I'd be lying if I said that it's because of my schedule, but my schedule is flexible and I can fit prayer in better than most people. I just can't find a reason to anymore.
Because, despite being back in the US, I still feel like an outsider going into any mosque, just like I feel like an outsider in most places. The thing is though, mosques in the US, to an extent, were built for people like me. They were built for males, from good families, Engineers or Doctors, highly accomplished, white (I'm white passing, except within middle eastern communities), and physically sound, like most places. Mosques were built for people like me. (I apologize for the over generalization, if your mosque is not this way then fantastic, the ones I've experienced are).
I feel invisible during Jummah when the Khateeb tells people to be grateful because they don't have cancer. When I hear the racist jokes with the excuse of it being cutural. When I am asked repeatedly to help any woman doing any kind of work, but never asked to support the men or the boys. When you say someone is retarded, someone is crazy and insane, someone is handicaped. When you remark 'miskeen', and 'ya haram.' when you talk about the husband or wife someone on a wheelchair will never get. When you talk about how 'she's pretty' but she's insane. When you tell me over and over that someone can't be helped because they have 'issues.' When you try justifying treating someone a certain way because they have 'mental issues.'
I feel invisible because I am closer to all those groups of people than any other group you percieve that I belong to. Because even though I'm not on a wheelchair, or going through chemotherapy, or visibly 'insane', I am an individual with disabilities, I am an individual with terminal illnesses, and I am an individual that suffers from mental health illnesses, not one, not two but five. Five! And that's right now, not the things that I've worked through and the others that were replaced along the way, and the ones yet to come. I have been suicidal for years. I have attempted suicide. There are days when I can't get out of bed. There are days when I cover the mirrors in my house because it's too much. There are days I can't go to work. Days I can't do a thing because the illness is always there. There are days when I am on ledges, both figurative and literal.
And there are days when I can walk into a mosque, days when I can reply to the one or two people that notice I'm even there. There are days when I can do it all, and you beg me to slow down. I am the most functional, dysfunctional version of myself. So you don't see it, you talk to me about marriage and looks, you talk about 'the others,' when I am the others.
Just because you don't see it, does not mean I, and everyone else like me do not exist. We are not invisible, we are here, all around. Statistically speaking we might outnumber you. You might be one of us.
I feel invisible. Every single time I walk through those doors. Not because you can't see me, but because you can't see ME. You see my body, the way I look, my degree, my careers, but you don't see me. You don't see the scars and wounds I carry, the same scars and wounds that inflame anytime I'm in a mosque. I know it's not that you don't want to see me, but I have never been a priority. Let's face it, our religious centers were not built for us, it was built for a very specific group of people just like the rest of society was.
But we exist, and we should not have to feel so out of place and never belong within our own religious communities or any other community.
Blame this on me being an emotional Millenial but it does not change the fact that you are unwelcoming to many people out there. I can speak from a place of privilege because I look, talk, and walk like you do. So you might not understand where I'm coming from, but think about the last time you saw someone with a quide dog in your community center, if they're even allowed.
I chose not to go today, not because it doesn't break my heart, but because it'd take me longer to recover if I do. I, like many others, find myself stuck between my religion and the religious community associated with it.
There are so many groups out there that are not on our radar every single day. I am guity of this as well. I am guilty of it because I am part of many of these groups, and I go out of my way to learn about others experiences and the challenges they face. We often tell ourselves that we're better than others. That should not be the standard. We need to be asking ourselves if we're better than we were last year, six months ago, two weeks ago, yesterday? If your answer is no, then maybe, just maybe, it's time...
It's time to start seeing people, and not the things that you believe influence who they are.
As I'm writing this though, there are hundreds of centers that are becoming more open. Thousands of individuals working to make places of worship more loving and compassionate, so everyone can have the experience I had as a child. Will you be one of them?
Ahmad Abojaradeh is the Co-Founder of Muslim Community Link, An Engineer, a world traveler, a Peer Support Specialist, a Novelist and the founder and editor of Life in My Days. He hopes to spread awareness of living a life of wellness through his writing, workshops and speaker events. Follow Ahmad on twitter or facebook.