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Published: March 8th 2011
The Grand Mosque
There is also an Islamic Center associated with the mosque in the background.
This afternoon Jason and I went to see the Grand Mosque. This site is analogous to the main cathedral in any Christian town. It is relatively new (22 years) but built in the classic style. I was surprised that they offer tours for non-muslims. We were guided by a very knowledgeable and articulate woman who learned her English at Oxford where she completed an advanced degree in English Literature! She was Egyptian by birth but has lived in Bahrain most of her life.
She explained the architecture and the significance of the the design. You may know that Islam prohibits the depiction of humans and animals in any art form. So Islamic artists tend to compensate by developing very complex patterns and designs. She took us from the main entrance courtyard into the prayer hall with it's magnificent dome. She explained the significance of the prayers and also showed us the process. We happened to be there when a call to prayer was issued. In the old days ("before microphones" as our guide said) the muezzin would have to climb to the top of the minaret and sing out the call. In our case, he entered the hall and used
a microphone which broadcast the call inside and out. Although a Muslim may pray anywhere, many choose to come to the mosque and share the experience with other people. About ten minutes after the call, there were 50 or people in the hall and they began prayers which we were able to observe from the balcony. One person (he does not have to be clergy) will lead the group. The process takes only about seven minutes.
You may know that Muslims pray five times a day so the total time spent in prayer is about a half an hour. It is not required to pray exactly at the time of the call. One can pray anytime between the call and the next call. Our guide was also a student of comparative religions and was able to discuss several commonalities among Islam and other religions. The major thing that I learned was that Islam is always expressed in the context of local culture. One of the women in our group asked whether women prayed at the same time and in the same room as men. In Bahrain, that is the case. In other cultures, there may be separate rooms setup
Main entrance is thru the large door under the arch.
or there may be screens separating areas for men and women. When men and women pray together, however, the women line up behind the men. This may seem to be making women second class citizens, but our guide pointed out several things. First, there is no preferred location to pray in a mosque. The ritual is between the individual and Allah. Second, there is a very practical recognition of human nature. During prayer, there should be no distractions. For some men, having women bowing on their knees with raised posteriors could be a distraction!
We learned a great deal more but I do not want to bore anyone. If you have a specific question about anything in Bahrain you can always leave a comment or send me a message.
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