Thrice Displaced

If you were asked the difference between ‘home’ and ‘house,’ what would you say? My home isn’t limited by physical limitations. I feel at home when I’m around my family and friends and when I am comfortable in my surroundings. Duke, for example, can be defined as my home away from home not because of sub-par living conditions but because of the relationships I have formed there. A house, in contrast, is tied with physical limits; I have lived in a dorm, apartment, and house, but my home has stayed in the same place inside of me.

If you were asked to define the meaning of mosque, would you define it using the former or latter definition? Over the past few days, I have ventured into two rural, small mosques and a large, magnificently beautiful church. Although I felt a connection to the church, I felt ‘at home’ in these mosques that resembled my mosque in South Carolina. They were renovated buildings (church and warehouse) that now brought together a Muslim community. They each had an area behind the building for kids to play and enjoy both each other’s company and the outdoors. Lastly, they had a teaching facility that educated a thriving youth Muslim population. I did not recognize any of these details however when entering the empty Asheville Islamic Center today. We were supposed to watch their weekend school function and talk to a few mosque administrators. Instead no one was there for either the weekend school or Dhuhr prayer. I, however, still felt comfortable walking in to the building, praying, and then relaxing in the musallah (prayer hall), as I do in my home mosque. I was even tempted into wrestling a fellow Dukie as I do with my friends after prayer. Throughout all of this, I did not feel like I was a stranger intruding into someone else’s mosque. It felt like my own.

In Arab culture, we define a mosque in two different terms. The first is the masjid, which refers to the actual structure and place of prayer. It can be compared to saying a house instead of home. The second word is Jami’i, which means someone or something that brings people together or unifies them. Much like the word home, this meaning transcends the physical boundaries of how extravagant a mosque is. A mosque provides a sense of community that is hard to find elsewhere, whether a public setting or someone else’s home. It unifies people in more ways than spiritual, including social gatherings, educational programs, and a connection of support and friendship. At home, my masjid is second only to my home in importance. I go there to pray, play, volunteer, relax, and the list goes on. I studied there until 10th grade in a thriving Islamic school. Even after I left, a week did not go by without me paying a visit. Last time I drove home from college, I stopped by the masjid before I stopped by my own home. At Duke, the campus doesn’t even have an official masjid, yet I still identify with the Muslim community, my Jami’i at college. If I were to step into an extravagant mosque with no individuality I’d feel more out-of-place than entering a quaint, rural mosque that was once a warehouse. From this physical boundary arises a community that is bound by spiritual and social ties.

As a “nomad” for the past and next couple of days, I might be thrice displaced: I am far from my childhood Jami’i in Palestine, away from my community in South Carolina, and away from my newest home at Duke. Nonetheless, I find a home everywhere I go. With the friends I travel with, my home is the car we share. With the new people we meet, our home is the Jami’i that unites us.