I stared across the table at the unfinished burger. There were two, maybe three bites left. He was taking his sweet time.
I looked up at him, “Will you hurry up? We’re going to be late.”
He looked back at me, “Don’t rush me. You’re not supposed to rush while eating okay.”
I was getting annoyed, “We’re going to miss the prayer.”
Taking another bite he said, “Google says it’s a five-minute walk. We have ten minutes until it starts.”
“You’re disgusting, don’t eat with your mouth full.” I responded.
Finally finishing up his food now, “Alright lets go.”
We left the building and started walking towards the mosque. I could see the sky fill with shades of orange and red as the sun began to finish its descent. I could hear my friend’s voice behind me as I began to walk faster and faster, “Wait up. Don’t walk so fast man. I just ate”. I slowed down a little allowing him to catch up.
“Have you ever been to this mosque before?”, I asked.
“Nope, In this city for the first time, same as you”, he answered.
We kept walking. While I was looking for the mosque, my eyes happened to catch the scene of a man sitting on the curb in front of an unremarkable building. As we hurried passed him, I heard his voice, “You don’t wanna go that way. That’s not the place you’re looking for.”
My friend looked at me, “That was rude. He was talking to you.”
I answered, “I don’t have time to talk to some guy on the curb. We are going to be late.”
My friend shook his head, “You need to chill.”
I saw the mosque in front of me now. It was an ordinary building with only the Arabic writing on the door to set it apart. A strange feeling came over me as we walked in. Still in a hurry though, I did not want to waste time figuring it out. I put my shoes on the shoe rack and hurried into the prayer hall. The feeling became stronger. Something really wasn’t sitting well and I felt a strong urge to leave. I could not ignore it now. Suddenly, I felt my friend’s hand on my shoulder.
I turned to him and he whispered, “Dude, why are the women in here?”
I looked around to see that he was correct; there were women everywhere. My first instinct was to think that we were in the wrong place, but I also saw men everywhere. The men’s and women’s prayer areas should have been and are normally separate.
He whispered again, “Let’s just leave.”
I nodded in agreement and we started walking out. As we approached the exist a young woman stopped us, “hey! Where are you going?”
I answered, “Oh we just had to…”
I was interrupted by a young man accompanying her, “They’re leaving. You know.”
She rolled her eyes, “Well I thought so, but I just don’t like to make assumptions. You think you’re better than us so you won’t pray with us. Is that it?”
I was never good with confrontation and I had no idea what to say. Luckily my friend answered, “If you don’t like to make assumptions then don’t. We don’t judge you. Don’t judge us. Excuse us.”
With that he grabbed my arm, and we rushed out. I stared at the floor the whole way out, still trying to shake that strange uneasy feeling.
I heard the door closing behind me followed by my friend’s voice, “I guess we can just go back to the hotel room and pray there.”
I nodded. Then, I saw him again. That same man stood up from his seat on the curb and said, “Oh, I see you guys are back. I told you not to go in there. Come on now, everybody’s waiting for you.”
My friend and I exchanged confused looks. He answered the man, “Who exactly, is waiting for us?”
The man smiled, “Everybody. I asked them all to wait to start the prayer because I knew you’d be back.”
Thoroughly confused, my friend asked, “Who are you?”
The man grinned as he motioned towards the “unremarkable” building behind him, “Asalaamuwalaikum, I am the Imam of this mosque.”