My Pakistani cowboy

Mine was the only car so far in the mosque parking lot. I selected a space in front of what appeared to be the main entrance. Though the building had other doors, these were larger and a nearby sign that read “Notice: All Activities Monitored by Video Camera” gave it an air of formality.

As I waited, I arranged the scarf on my head. Growing up, I had always resented what I saw as Dallas’ feminine ideal of beauty. One had to be pageant-ready: hair shellacked into a “do;” figure accentuated; makeup clearly visible on face. I caught my reflection in the rearview mirror. The standard I was trying to live up to now was so far from any of those things. I had to admit it was kind of a relief.

A giant pickup roared into the parking lot. It was a shiny Ford, too new for plates. For an instant I was terrified that I would be witness to a hate crime. I thought about ripping off my hijab and fleeing the scene. With my doors locked and one hand on the key, I watched as a young man got out of the truck. He wandered casually to the mosque entrance. I could tell he meant no harm.

My first official Texas Muslim and he looked the part: new-but-faded blue jeans and pointy-toed shoes that resembled boots. It was a ranch-hand-meets-urban-hipster look.

I got out of the car. “Hello,” I called to him.

He was extremely friendly. He told me he was from Pakistan and specialized in the import/export business. His job was to locate gently used cars and arrange to put them on big ships and taken to different countries. I asked if he thought other women would come for the prayer service and he told me normally they did. He pointed out the entrance for women: a separate door near the main doors and another around the corner.

As we chatted, a third car swung into a spot marked reserved and came to rest at our knees.

“It’s the Imam,” my friend said cheerfully.

Through an expanse of windshield, I spied my first Imam. He had a beard the color of Ronald McDonald’s wig. It was either a dye job gone wrong or an excellent ploy to soften his image. His mouth was set in a no-nonsense expression but, surrounded by all that flaming hair, it was hard not to interpret it as a smile.

The Imam unlocked the mosque’s front doors and I waved goodbye to my Pakistani cowboy.

Directly inside my entrance, was a room for washing. Along one wall was a trough lined in marble tiles. In front of each spigot was a perch for sitting.

I removed my shoes and placed them on shelves for that purpose. I sat at one of the “wadu” stations and turned on the faucet. I let the water trickle on my toes and then I leaned forward and washed my arms and hair line the way Fatima had instructed. I was gentle on my face, hoping to keep on the moisturizer with sunblock I applied earlier. I cranked the towel dispenser and patted dry.

Beyond a set of glass doors sat the ladies’ worship area, which was a square of space carved from the larger square of the mosque and cordoned off with frosted glass walls. Masking tape applied directly to the thick green carpet divided the room into long rows. It wasn’t obvious to me which way to face, but I thought the lines were a clue. Back in the washroom, I had plucked a prayer rug from a stack offered by the door. It had a little built in compass in the center with a needle that bounced around. Now I spread it on the floor and plopped on top of it. From my bag, I pulled out the cheat sheets I had used to practice my prayers with Fatima. I arranged them on the floor around me. I needed them as a reference, especially if I would be doing the prayers on my own.

8 thoughts on “My Pakistani cowboy

  1. As I’ve said before, you are opening a window to the religious world through your essays. A nice safe way for people who wouldn’t be caught dead in some of the locations you’ve been to to learn something. Even me! 🙂 Thank you.

  2. I much enjoyed your Pakistani Cowboy piece. Those darned stereotypes…..even ones we don’t know we have…..tend to make us a bit paranoid.

    Thanks, too, for the description of the washing ritual prior to prayers. Is that also done by men? Or does it say something about the attitude toward women? I have never read about this before, so I am just wondering. Merrill

    • Hi Merrill! The wadu ritual–or washing–applies to everyone and is a traditional pre-cursor to all five daily prayers. It’s most often just done at home in a regular bathroom sink or tub. In the mosque, there are usually special spots. There are some instances when a person can skip the washing and go straight to prayers–like if you have just showered and haven’t done anything to mess up your cleanliness. I can only imagine that during Muhammad’s time it was not common to take a shower every day or even every other day and it was super dusty in the desert, so this was probably a way to make sure a person cleaned up at least a little bit several times a day. Today it seems less a necessity and more about getting in the right frame of mind to do prayers and give thanks and gratitude. The washing has a certain pattern and includes washing the feet, hands up to elbow, and around the face.

      • When we lived in Senegal, devout moslems would carry around a mat and a small pot for washing.

        I think you’re right, Corinna, about getting in the right frame of mind. Ginger’s comment made me think also of Jesus’ rebuke to the pharisees, who were also very careful about washing themselves before certain rituals, that they carefully washed the outside while ignoring the inside (i.e., the heart)–which is always a danger in any ritual. We Christians don’t do washing like that, but the Lord’s Prayer (or, the “Our Father”) and the Apostle’s Creed can be recited in a mindless fashion as well. Because of that, I’m very careful about judging other’s external ritual….I can be SUCH a hypocrite!

  3. Interesting. It made me think of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet and Peter saying “No way!” But Jesus insisted, “If I don’t wash you, you have no part with me,” to which Peter replied, “not just my feet by my hands, head, etc.” To which Jesus answered (after muttering to himself, ‘aye yi yi’) . . . “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean . . .”
    Afterward he instructed them to serve others in that same way. What if we took his words to heart?

    It’s amazing how, across the board–regardless of culture or religion–we all seem to know we must humble ourselves before God when we approach him.

    Hope the prayers went well, Corinna. You have a lot of persistence and guts in this search, and it is wonderful how people have accommodated you. You will never forget that.

  4. Salaam corinna. I have just stumbled onto your blog and I have been enjoying it. I admire your bravery and your desire to search for your spiritual needs. I Especially am enjoying it now that you have come to the islamic part. I love the way you write and your questioning nature. I sincerely hope you find what you are searching for.

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