Yesterday was the UK Visit My Mosque day. All over the country, Mosques opened their doors to the public, and having discovered the event on Twitter, I decided to go along.
Edinburgh Central Mosque (there is also one at Blackhall) is located right in the middle of University-Dom, nearly the McEwan Hall. It was built in the mid '90s.
We were made very welcome, and after taking our shoes off, we were invited in to the main hall where prayer takes place five times as day. I have heard the call to prayer in Marrakech and it goes out across the city from the tall Mosque towers. You really can't miss it. In Edinburgh, and perhaps in other U.K. cities, it is only heard within the Mosque. The call goes out half an hour before prayer to allow people to arrive in time.
In Edinburgh the building is two storey, and the downstairs has a library and a long hall where the social events are held, including a Muslim Scouts troop, a playgroup, women's groups, a mental health initiative, and a gardening group.
We went back upstairs and we're invited to watch the prayer taking place.
Men line up at the front and women at the back. This is not hierarchical, but for modesty purposes, because there is a lot of bending over and kneeling. If women prefer, they can pray in a separate area.
The men lined up along the long golden yellow lines which are woven into the carpet. They seem to start in the middle, opposite the Imam, and then spread out evenly to left and right. Only when the first line is completely full does a second line start to form behind them, starting in the centre, just like the first.
Prayer lasts about five minutes, and the Imam spoke to us afterwards, saying how pleased he was that we had come to visit.
Afterwards I asked a young man (a sash-wearing volunteer guide) about why the lines were so long. In a Christian church, people may sit in the same place each week, or perhaps not, but the lines felt completely random, with people not knowing their neighbour.
He came to stand beside me, our shoulders touching, and explained that the closeness meant our hearts were touching. It there was a gap, we were not connected in the same way. This is why everyone stands side by side with no planning or organisation; they are sharing their hearts. That may not be the best explanation ever, but I rather like it.
If you get the chance next year, do visit. It was a lovely way to spend a Sunday afternoon. I learned a lot.