Idris Mosque

IslamSymbolToday I visited a Sunni Mosque in the Northgate neighborhood of Seattle.  Idris, so named for the Saudi Sheikh who financed its construction, was built back in the 1980’s.

The part of the building that I visited was showing its age a little, and was a little small and cramped for its task.  I arrived a little bit before the service, not nearly as early as I usually do, so I really didn’t have time to wander around looking lost and talking to folks in the way I like to.

I had been playing phone tag with a person from the mosque to arrange a visit, because their website indicated that visitors needed to make an appointment.  By the way guys, your website is quite possibly the worst website for a religious institution I’ve ever seen.  Take a cue from the Mars Hill website, it’s just about the best.

Anyway, through phone messages I was able to determine that it would be okay for me to just show up at a prayer service, and I’d be welcome, and I was able to figure out the best time to go from the awful website.  I attended the mid-day service.

I wasn’t sure where to go, but fortunately there was a line of men going in through a side door, and so I just followed them.  I took off my shoes and backpack, and stowed them in a handy wall-mounted shoe cubby, and followed the men into a large room.  Off to one side was a door marked “women only.”  I resisted the urge to peek inside.  Just barely.  They probably wouldn’t have had a sense of humor about that.

Part of the room was very tall, rising up about three stories internally, with an outlying area that had a lower ceiling.  There were already a lot of people there, and so I wasn’t able to sit up front like I normally do.  I went to the low-ceilinged back area, and found an open patch of carpet to sit on.

The carpet was that kind of neutral-semi-shag carpeting that you see in new model demo homes.  Only it wasn’t that new.  I could see seams going across the room and strands of burlap from underneath poking up here and there.  I’d say the carpet was about five years over due for a replacement.

Up front, there was a sort of stage, and behind it was an alcove that was about fifteen feet tall and minaret-shaped.  It was as if someone had taken a minaret and pressed it into clay, forming an indentation.  A man walked into the indentation, where there was a microphone, and, with his back to the crowd, began to chant the prayer.

It was pretty musical, he fairly sang it out.  It was in Arabic, so I couldn’t understand any of it, except the part where he chanted “alahu akbar” (God is great), which I’ve heard often enough on TV and such.  At times during the chant, there would be a chanted response from the parishioners.  Most everybody was sitting, but a few were standing, and occasionally bowing at the waist.  A few sitters were also bowing occasionally, touching their foreheads to the carpet.  Most of us just sat still.  The guy in front of me fiddled with his iPhone until the guy next to him tapped him on the shoulder and tsk tsked at him.  There’s one in every crowd.

I want to say a little more about the decor.  There wasn’t any religious symbolism anywhere, with the possible exception of the minaret-shaped alcove.  And that might just be a cultural thing, not religious at all.  But what the inside of the mosque had in great abundance was clocks.  There was one in the back area, two in the larger part of the room, and then a fancy digital one by the door.  Time is important to Muslims.  At least, praying at the right time is important.

After the praying, the man stepped out of the alcove.  To the right of the alcove was a little set of stairs, over which was a wooden carved archway.  A person with a white cap (the imam?) ascended the little set of stairs, turned around, and used the top of the arch as a sort of podium.  The whole setup looked portable, or at least not part of the original architecture.

He spoke at some length in Arabic, and I thought, aw man, I’m not going to get anything at all out of this.  Fortunately, after his talk, another person went to the alcove, and, facing the congregation, gave the same talk in English.  By then, my left leg had fallen asleep, and my attempts to revive it had caused it to go from being numb to feeling like I was being pricked with a million little needles.  I tried really hard not to wince or to do anything that would seem rude.  I think I succeeded.

Also, by this time, I was beginning to realize that the mosque had no air conditioning.  Or if it did, it wasn’t turned on.  There were probably 150 people packed into a space that would only have held half that many if we were sitting on chairs.  It was beginning to take on the aroma of a locker room, and the temperature was in the mid to upper 80’s.  The man in the white hat had been repeatedly mopping his brow with a hanky.  I was forced to use my sleeve.

So, the lesson.  The main thrust of the lesson was about being obedient, plus a little advice on living, and a dash of misogyny.  A mixed message in my view.

I learned that the direction of prayer changed at one point pretty early on in Islamic history.  They used to pray towards Jerusalem, like contemporary Jews.  But the Prophet commanded them to pray towards Mecca, as a test of obedience.  Those Muslims who followed the Prophet’s command and prayed towards Mecca were faithful and good, and those who continued to pray towards Jerusalem were fools.

There was a lot of talk about obedience, and then it moved on to a story about giving money and misogyny, and some actual good advice about not going into debt, and trusting others so they would in turn trust you.   That last bit I file under “Good and timely advice.”  Being skeptical, I’m not into trusting complete strangers, but my review criteria states that I will accept advice as “good” even when I don’t personally agree with it, so long as it’s in the category of personal advice and it doesn’t contradict the other categories.  So there’s two points in there.

But the story he told didn’t sit as well with me.  It hit on two things that I don’t particularly like:  Church salesmanship, and misogyny.  Here’s the story:  A man had been financially supporting his cousin in his studies to be faithful, because financially supporting people who are spreading the good word is something that God really likes.  Nudge nudge wink wink say no more.

But there was a problem.  The cousin was apparently a jackass who wrongfully impugned the integrity of his benefactor’s daughter.  Which, by the way, doesn’t sound like a smart thing to do.  Hey cuz, thanks for the money, oh, and you’re daughter’s totally a slut.  So, after determining the truth of the matter, the rich man cut his cousin off, and swore to Allah that he would never give him another cent.

Because he’s such a good and caring father that he was concerned about his daughter’s feelings and reputation. Because his cousin had insulted his honor.  He didn’t give a wet slap about the girl.

So, realizing that he had just made a terrible financial mistake, the beneficiary and false accuser apologized profusely to the daughter father for insulting her his honor.

Honor satisfied, the rich man once again began financially supporting the loud mouth jerk family member and God was pleased.

Now, if someone talked trash about either of my kids, I wouldn’t be inclined to be very nice about it.  Unless, of course, the kid who was insulted decided to be forgiving.  It wouldn’t be my place to forgive anybody on their behalf.

The other part of this was to enhance the underlying theme of giving money to God, which was mentioned at several points.  After Mars Hill Church, this is the second money-askingest place to which I’ve been.  And, like Mars Hill, they had forms you could fill out to set up payments with your credit card.  They didn’t pass around a plate, though.  For that, there were boxes by the door.

After the English portion was concluded, the chanter went back to the alcove, and chanted a very similar set of melodic prayers.  This time, the congregation got up, and we all bent at the waist at the appropriate time (I was grateful to be standing up), and then back down again to bow, forehead touching the carpet.  Up and down a few more times, and we were done.

I didn’t want to be the only guy in the place not bowing, and especially if it might be considered rude, so I did my best to follow along.

After the calisthenics were over, we all slowly filed out the one open door, and out into the fresh, cool air.  The light rain was very welcome after being slow-roasted in the sauna with the Sunnis.


Being good to your fellow human: -1 (misogyny)
Help your community: 0 (no mention)
Be good to yourself: 0 (no mention)
Good and timely advice: 2 (borrowing, lending, trust)

Total: 1

If they could just get over their “women as property” thing, they’d have a much higher score.


9 thoughts on “Idris Mosque

  1. Your posts are like a breath of fresh air. I like your attitude.

    Recently, i have had several occasions to donate high quality items to a charity. My client, being a Christian preferred that they go to a church but didn’t care which one. I spent days trying to deliver the goods to any organization that would accept them and found to my surprise that almost none would do so, including the most popular larger congregations. They only accepted money and apparently there is no shame in requesting large donations, suggesting amounts to be donated or setting up automatic payments via bank or credit card….almost all of them did it. I was eventually able to find a small church that had a school attached to it and the school accepted the donations.

    I’m curious to see if your quest uncovers the existence of any church/organization that is NOT money motivated.

  2. Wearingabullseye – next time you might try Deseret Industries. It is run by the LDS church (the Mormons) and will accept just about any kind of non-monetary donation. They don’t like being a dumping ground of junk – but they will take anything they can rehabilitate. Clothes, furniture, toys, electronics (that work), books, music. You can check out the store and see what they do with the items. As part of the store they also employee and train special needs people and others who need employment help. Many of the clothes are bundled and recylced other ways. A lot of it is used to provide blankets and resources for areas in great need through the church’s welfare program.

    I think there are other church run stores like DI, but that’s the one I’m familiar with since I’m affiliated with the LDS church. I know I’m biased since I ‘am one’ but the LDS church really doesn’t focus on the money thing. Yes – it is there. Every organization needs money to work, but it isn’t focused on. A lot of that money does go to service efforts, both within and outside of the church. Deseret Industries is one great example of that.

  3. Did you try St. Vincent de Paul society?

    Most individual parish churches are not set up to process, store, or distribute donations.

  4. Mark,

    I appreciate the fact that you were just allowed to walk into the mosque. I don’t know how unusual it is (my sample size has now doubled from 1 to 2 with your visit), but the one time I tried to visit a mosque, I was told that a) the only good reason to visit was if I was considering joining, which I wasn’t, and b) that I would have to attend a sort of orientation for visitors first, which turned out to be congenial enough but still seemed a little weird to me.

    Now this was in Oakland, around 25 years ago, and of course mosques vary considerably in their attributes and policies, but I am glad to hear that you got an open reception – that’s nice!

    • Their website indicated that visitors should set up an appointment. But they were so bad at actually doing that, that I just decided to go and see what happened. It might be that it was their policy to give me an orientation as well, but it all turned out okay.

      • Just goes to show that no amount of heavenly favor can compensate for administrative failings.

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