At the mosque, some of the women who entered skipped the socialization and set about praying. They came in with an air of determination and completed a series of rakahs on their own before settling down to listen to the Imam. I noticed on the monitor some of the men doing the same. At first I thought I had missed an instruction to begin but eventually I realized they were either catching up on previous prayers or just doing extras.
Now we stood. A few of the more elderly, including my neighbor, stayed seated but the rest of us came shoulder to shoulder. A couple of women acted as the prayer police and instructed us to fill gaps and move in closer. Everyone, including the seated, arranged and scooted until even the most finicky in the group looked pleased. We were squeezed together too tightly for my papers to be spread in front of me; I gathered, folded, and tucked them away. I’d wing it.
Guided by the Imam’s voice, we went through the rakahs together. The Imam narrated long portions for us and then fell silent so we could recite our own parts. When memory failed me, I repeated my favorite short phrases—“Allah Akbar” and “Bismillah”—again and again or I concentrated on the sound of the suras being whispered all around me. I enjoyed the process of synchronized prayer so much that I was disappointed when it came to an end at the end of the second rakah. We turned our heads to the left, and then to the right. “Thank you,” I whispered in each direction because I felt privileged to have joined this group for worship.
I was in the car about to back out of my parking space when I heard a knock. I turned to see an impressive mustache, handle-bar style, in my passenger side window. It belonged to the face of an older gentleman. I pressed the button to make the glass come down. “My wife tells me you are learning Islam.” Behind him was my prayer neighbor in her sari.
He asked if I had Eid plans and I told him I didn’t know. I wasn’t sure what day Eid was or how it was celebrated.
“Please, may I have your phone number? We would like to invite you.”
I wrote my name and cellphone number on a piece of paper and handed it to him. I explained I was visiting my grandmother in Dallas, that’s why my area code was weird.
I asked his name and he said something I couldn’t quit grasp. I hesitated and he said, “Please, call me Raj.”