Men Go Here, Women Go There: Worship Experience at Seyyid Madani Darga Ullal
As we walk up to the Mosque, it is busy with men and women coming and going. Upon making our way to the entrance of the building, we remove our shoes, and step inside the busy place of worship. We are ushered to a room off to the side where we are fed caramels, plantains, dates, and told about the history of the Mosque we are all about to enter. I am feeling anxious and excited to see this Mosque, as I have only ever heard about them, but have never been inside one.
After our Mosque orientation, we are invited to visit the shrine. As we exit the room off to the side to the main part of the building, I hear someone say, “women go that way,” pointing down the vast gathering area to an indeterminate direction. My immediate inner reaction to hearing this is, “here we go again.” Often in the various airports we have traveled in and out of on this pilgrimage, men and women have been separated in the airport security lines for being hand searched. I am not a fan of airport security in the first place because who I am does not match my identification. And, even though I move easily through the world passing unanimously as male, I still find it hard to separate myself from those 32 years where I was made to go in the line that matched my identification.
As the women in our group make their way past me, I turn to the entrance of the shrine, step up to the entrance where the attendant is at, and wonder if he will figure me out and turn me away because I am not like the other men here to worship. Shame can feel terrible. Shame feels more terrible when I am turned away from being part of something I really love, like experiencing God in new ways. But, there is no shame. The attendant looks me in the eyes, smiles, and says, “right in here, sir.”
I enter into where the shrine is. The room is exquisite, with a large shrine located in the center. To the side of the shrine stand two Imams giving blessings. I see Bernie with an Imam holding a blue sash to Bernie’s forehead for a blessing, and decide I would like to be blessed too. As I am waiting in a short line for a blessing, it dawns on me that I have not seen any of the women from our group yet. I wonder if perhaps they have a separate shrine to worship at. And, if they do, I hope it is as ornate as the one the men have. It is now my turn to be blessed, and again feel the anticipation of a possible gender nightmare at hand as I step up to the Imam. The Imam looks me in the eyes, and places the blue sash to my forehead, and offers a blessing. No questions. No confused looks. Just blessings.
We finally see the women from the group, and learn that they were not allowed in the shrine room where the men were worshipping. And, they did not have a separate shrine to worship. Instead, they were only allowed to watch the men be blessed from behind a dark glass window. I could not help but feel that part of me took that repressive journey with the women. But, I didn’t.
Finally, I should feel a large sense of satisfaction and pride for being seen for who I really I am. And, a large part of me wants to feel that way. But, there is a small and burning piece of me that is beginning to understand the privilege that comes along with fully living life the way I feel most comfortable. This privilege is something I struggle with finding acceptance around. I know what it feels like to be turned away from something because of my gender. And, now I know what it feels like to be accepted because of my gender. I hope someday there is no wall that divides people.