Normally I don't comment on religious matters but something happened last week that made me break my own tradition. Mosques are normally packed during Ramadan, especially the Taraweh prayers.
On the eve of the Eid, seasonal mosque goers abandoned the holy house not to return until twelve months later. By chance, I entered a mosque I have never been to before during the dusk prayers. I counted the faithfuls while entering it and there were exactly six of them. Mind you, this mosque was in the middle of a shopping street, not in an isolated area.
When the prayer ended, I cornered the elderly Imam. I told him about my observation. He smiled sadly and said, "the pressures of modern life". Then he told me about how crowded the mosque was during the Ramadan nights. I asked if it was because the month has more rewards than the rest. That was a layman's assumption but experts like him had a different view.
He stroked his beard for a while then explained, "I am afraid that these days the mosque is treated like a social club and not what it is intended to be. Some come here to meet their friends and keep up with the gossip. Some want to be seen as religious. Of course, the rest come here for genuine reason to worship but they are in the minority."
He was talking about the six worshippers who turn up throughout the year. He was also talking about the modern pressures and the social fraternity. I thanked him and he said I was welcome to seek guidance anytime. I walked to the shops and saw shoppers coming out with heavy bags. I also saw shopkeepers rubbing their hands after dropping money in the till. They were all oblivious to a building with a green minaret. Some of them even parked their cars in front of the mosque without a glance towards it.
When I passed an electronic shop just yards away from the mosque, there was a deafening racket of a hi-fi system blaring the latest disco number. How on earth would one hear the call of prayers above that noise? I looked at the two loudspeakers that hung solemnly on the roof of the holy house. They were old fashioned and completely outdated by the state-of-the-art stereo speakers of the electronic shop. I could not help thinking that the mosque was caught in the blitz of the modern world. It was supposed to tame wild hearts, slowdown the aggressive minds and give strength to the weak. But the world of commercialism was too strong in that long street.
The bright lights from the signboards illuminated the pavements but not the conscience of the people visiting the place. It is easy to take a break while shopping and go to pray, the way you would snatch a sandwich between two tasks at the office. But then, office work is contemporary and pausing for divine nourishment is medieval. Oh, I forgot to mention that the old Imam added something that I ought to tell you. He said that whenever a twinge of guilt creeps into someone's mind, that person would build a mosque to try to sleep easy. The mosque he would never visit but pay for all the maintenance from the comfort of his own office.
I caught a glimpse of the Imam as I was driving away. He was closing the door of the mosque. I guess it is a job that all of us are taking for granted. But I am sure it has its rewards. At least he is not a potential victim of sudden panic attacks. He is enveloped in peace even in the midst of a busy shopping road.