Tonight was the first night I have accompanied the women in my family to the neighborhood mosque. I hear the call to prayer and we go, prayer mats and head scarfs in hand. The mosque is filled with men, and a long line of men stand outside bordering the mosque’s walls. And across the road behind the men and mosque, the women, a couple of men and younger boys stand ready on their mats, shoes off. Hawh laughed when I asked if women could go inside the mosque. All face east and when the marabouts voice sings prayers over the speakers, all bow and fold in complete unison. Halfway through the prayer, the power goes out and all I can see are the billions of stars above me. As my eyes adjust I am struck by the absolute beauty of the scene–the sky twinkling above the dark mosque, the south face of the mosque’s only tower lit pale white by the reflection of the moon, a battery-powered lamp inside the mosque illuminating the shadows of the faithful inside. I can still hear the marabout inside and the praying continues unbroken.
It is hard to explain how it feels to live in a Muslim country. My grandfather (who I called ye ye) on my father’s side was a Chinese Muslim. I am for the first time, beginning to understand the Islam faith and a part of his life. For some reason, I never asked about it. Just accepted it as a part of my grandfather’s and father’s life. All I can remember from my youth was that I had to avoid eating pork when Ye Ye was around and the amazing food from our favorite Islam Chinese restaurant in Los Angeles. When my grandfather died, there was talk about how he was to be buried. But besides these small surface details, I knew so little. Here I am, wondering about Ye ye and his life. Wondering why I never saw him praying. I imagine he did it privately in his room. My father mentioned that he greeted his Muslim family friends the way that we do here in Senegal. Asalaam malekum. Malekum salaam.