Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Minsk Mosque

I saw a news report a few weeks ago, telling about the opening of a new mosque in Minsk. Apparently, it had been under construction for some ten years; and finally some donors from Turkey took steps to get it completed. I was curious to see it, and didn’t have too much trouble talking my friend Natasha into helping me find it, since most of her students are Muslim and she was curious as well.

Officially, they give tours on Saturdays, but we dropped in optimistically today. We walked around the building trying to imagine the proper way in. Finally, we tried a door on the lower level, which opened but we found nobody inside. We tried all the other doors, but none of them opened so we returned to the first one, but felt reluctant to go inside without an invitation. Cautiously, we let ourselves into the reception area, where we saw lots of coats hanging in the wardrobe but I still couldn’t find a person as I went around knocking on doors. The last time I’d been in a mosque, in Kazan, I felt a little unwelcome, so I wanted to avoid putting myself into a position where I might offend somebody else here.

Nobody at this mosque, however, displayed anything but welcome. The young man who eventually found us brought us back to a meeting room where the Imam was lecturing a group of Christian ladies, explaining Islamic theology from their Christian point of view. He answered their questions with patience and, I think, a little imagination. I asked one question myself, about something that puzzled me when I read the Quran last year. The Book talks a lot about what men can expect in the afterlife (it’s pretty great) but says nothing about provisions for women. The Imam explained that women are cared for too, and that they can be invited into heaven by their husbands. They can get there through their own piety as well, and even invite their wayward husbands if necessary. I hadn’t seen any of these details in the Quran, and enjoyed hearing his explanation. We stayed for about a half hour, and then slipped out when we heard the doorman walk down the hall. He invited us into the first-floor prayer room, where we looked at photographs on the wall of prior Islamic structures in Belarus. There had been quite a few Muslims here before Soviet times, and the original Minsk mosque looked a lot like the new one.

We asked about upstairs, and he offered to get a key so he could take us up to the main prayer room. It’s bright, spacious and cold. They only heat it for their big religious gatherings on Fridays, but the thick carpet felt warm under our stocking feet.

The women’s areas, both downstairs and up, are much smaller than the men’s areas. Our guide explained that women come to pray much less often than men, and they usually rely on their husbands’ piety to assure their place in Paradise. I hope that works out for them. I’d show up, just in case. Now they’ve got a nice place in which to pray.

Note: To see more pictures of the mosque and all of this month's photos, click here.

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