Today I visited my first ever mosque, Al-Fateh Grand Mosque. Truly breath-taking it stands in Manama, as the largest holy place for Muslim worshippers in Bahrain with its ability to hold up to 7,000 devotees at a single time. I was instantly enthralled by its magnificent architecture. The internal courtyard is lined with tall ecru arches, sandstone columns, intricate window paneling and sphere glass shades with several access ways but most appreciable is the tremendous “west-south” door positioned to face Makkah of course. Our tour guide, Mohammed points to the door, “once you enter, you exit the materialistic world and enter the spiritual world.”
The courtyard is roofless for ventilation I am told and here, naturally rain is not an issue Tamanuiterā beams down all year long. Perspiration is already forming on our noses so Mohammed ushers us inside out of the heat. The main hall is simply transfixing. Framed by five mammoth archways, the dome shaped ceiling is huge (Mohammed boasts that upon its construction it was the largest in the world) with small glass stained windows and carved geometrical shapes and patterns encircling the impressive chandelier suspended in the centre of the space. I point to the mehrab (niche/alcove) of the Mosque and ask Mohammed about what I think is the repeating pattern along the edge that appears everywhere in the Mosque. He replies that it is no pattern but scripture of the holy Quran, the central religious text of Islam which Muslims believe to be a revelation from Allah (God). In describing the Quran to us he likens it to the manual of a car, in the sense that is not meant to tell you how to live your life like a manual doesn’t instruct you how to drive a car (you should already know that) but like a manual, the Quran’s purpose is to give guidance. Mohammed directs my attention to the ceiling, “look” Al-Fateh is covered in scripture of the holy Quran inscribed in the ceiling, carved into the walls and engraved above the doorways. He points to the glass stained windows and panels and says if I concentrate hard enough at each Star of David I will see, ‘Allah’. Mohammed asks us if we’ve noticed any pictures, photos or sculptures in the Mosque. To my surprise, no I haven’t. He informs us that this is because it is not the nature of Mosques to showcase illustrations in fact it is a central tenet of Islam: the worship of Allah alone, no intermediaries needed. He asks us whether we believe in oxygen. Of course, we do. Then he asks, “well can you see oxygen?”
Mohammed moves through our tour covering the basic beliefs, practices and traditions of Islam. One of the Five Pillars of Islam is the five daily, obligatory prayers recited at dawn, noon, afternoon, sunset, and nightfall while facing the direction of the Kaaba in Makkah, Saudi Arabia only 1300 km south west from where I’m standing. Mohammed describes them as five spiritual meals for the body that can be performed anywhere, but the Mosque is preferable because of its allowance for fellowship in prayer so people come from far and wide. There is a call made before every prayer time by someone standing in front of the mehrab to alert and gather people in the region for prayer. One is made while we are visiting, loud and booming with the assistance of a microphone it echoes and pulsates throughout the Grand Mosque and undoubtedly throughout the streets of Manama.
Men and women begin to file into Al-Fateh lining up behind the Imam waiting for prayer to start. Mohammed tells us once you enter the doors of the Mosque from the materialistic world, everyone is equal. Social status does not exist within the spiritual world, even for example to the King of Bahrain. The devoted come to stand shoulder to shoulder in Islamic prayer to feel the connection and share the spiritual energy generated. He says we are all equal in the Mosque because on Judgement Day we are stripped of all our titles, made to stand as equal, in the Presence of Allah.
In reflecting upon my experience at Al-Fateh Grand Mosque I find myself being able to resonate with a lot of things we learnt about Islam. A very different and unexpected encounter it was for me, a 17 year old, Māori and Tongan Kiwi, it is an experience I will be taking back with me to Aotearoa to learn more about, draw parallels with my own life and ponder further.
All posts by Institute delegates reflect their own thoughts, opinions and experiences.