A year later, in Regents Park Mosque, Steph and I both covered, sit and wait anxiously in the Imam’s office, she surprised me the night before with the news that she has been studying Islam since we came back from Algeria and has taken the decision to revert to Islam. It took an English girl to get me into a mosque.
The reason for my presence apparently is that I helped show her a different side of Islam, a more moderate approach to practicing Islam, whereby you can be a believer and practice moderately and judiciously. She was drawn to the peaceful side of Islam and decided to look into it.
Imam greets us, takes a seat behind his desk, questions her motives and knowledge, apparently he had previously advised her to study Islam and its history for a year before she makes this decision, he seemed satisfied with her knowledge. I had no idea, I was shocked and embarrassed, Steph had amassed more knowledge on Islam than I ever did in all the years of being a Muslim (31 at the time), yet I would defend my knowledge so blazingly against any other Muslim who dared debate me, notably non-Arabs, as though Islam belonged to us Arabs only and nobody but the Arabs. Reasoning behind it is that the fact that I read Arabic I can understand the Quran when I read it and can understand the message conveyed whereas anyone who cannot read Arabic, their knowledge was tainted with their clerics distorted images and meanings were lost in translation. I have since come to revise my slightly stubborn reasoning.
Steph’s conversion ceremony takes place, I sign the certificate as her whiteness and we proceed upstairs to the ladies prayer hall, the lady keeper of the mosque welcomes us in, and shows us around, she offers us some paper to dry our arms and faces after the ablutions, curious onlookers, some ask us if we were newly reverts and congratulate Steph when I announce that she had just reverted today.
We enter the praying room, floors lined with red carpets, book shelves filled with books and Qurans stand against the back walls, some old women sitting in their chairs praying, some holding their prayer beads and whispering prayers, all smile at us politely, it feels very friendly and quite diverse, I can hear so many accents, middle east, Morocco, Egypt, Sudan, English and me the Algerian.
We go to the front row, pick a spot on the prayer mats facing the carved wood wall, and get a glimpse of the mosque and the men’s prayer hall, lined with lush red carpets, a vast dome decorated with mosaics and a beautiful crystal chandelier garlands the centre of its ceiling. We look at some of the men praying and getting in line, forming solid rows as the imam clears his throat and tabs his microphone to check the sound
ALLAHU AKBAR ALLAHU AKBAR
We pray Maghrib (sunset) prayer, three bows and three prostrates, a girl from the row behind me tabs me on the shoulder to instruct to uncross my feet as it was not sunna (1) and the women to my right without notice starts fixing my head scarf, apparently it was not done properly presumably because my earrings were showing, “breath, breath and don’t respond we’re in a mosque” whispers Steph as she makes a muffled laughing noise, knowing how I would react as the original “Muslim” girl with all the knowledge, I smile at the lady on my right and say thank you out of sheer respect because she was older and as you know Algerians are plagued with this respect your elder thing; then turn around to the girl behind me and unleash a look of death to this 14 year old preacher, I mutter a very obviously sarcastic “thanks” and hold myself back “we’re in a mosque for god’s sake Dz-chick calm down” as I talk to myself astakhfir allah (2) and leave the mosque swearing not to come back “this is why women are supposed to pray at home, you can’t even get a moment alone with your thoughts without some know-it-all- new born Muslim preacher coming to show you how to raise your hands the proper way or how to cross your feet when prostrating”I leave disappointed, I let them ruin my visit to the mosque and feel like swearing out loud, but I restrain myself for the sake of Steph and God of course. Steph thanks me for the experience, sarcastically I am sure.
We decide to celebrate with ....coffees. Feeling under the shock still and in need of something stronger than coffee, but cannot confess this to the newly Muslim girl, we stay alcohol-free for about 5 months before we fall off the wagon and have a glass of wine. Oooops
3 years later, Steph remains single and looking for her perfect man, a Muslim man nonetheless, still living in
She feels a strong connection to the country and the city where she discovered Islam and the Algerian culture she learnt to love so much, it is her adopted home; she hopes to meet an Algerian man who is moderately Muslim like her and live happily ever after or until one of them gets bored, cheats or decides to leave.
She is quintessentially the English girl in
(1) Sunna - the way of the prophet Mohamed (SAAW)
(2) forgive me God