My First and Only Visit to a New York City Mosque
As the child of an immigrant, I am full of of stories. Stories from my dad’s life in the “old country.” Stories about hilarious cultural misunderstandings here in America. Stories that convey just how difficult it can be to grow up navigating two wildly different sets of social norms. But none stick out quite like the time I visited a mosque in New York City.
I had been living in Manhattan for about three years. For the most part, I lived a typical mid-20s New York lifestyle: brunch on the weekends, mid-week Bumble dates, late nights out with friends. But every once in a while I got homesick and felt like doing something Muslim-y. That year, the time came on a Muslim holiday. I usually flew home to celebrate with family, but at the time I was too busy at work to take a day off. So I decided to stop by a local mosque for the holiday prayer. Now, there are a lot of different ways to practice Islam, so it is important to be somewhat careful in selecting a mosque to visit. As a progressive Muslim, I didn’t want to wind up somewhere that preached outdated or sexist beliefs. But I figured this particular mosque would be okay since I heard that Huma Abedin, one of Hilary Clinton’s aides, had been there before. Even so, I recruited a friend to join just in case things got weird — a male friend, one of only two or so other Muslims in our law school class.
My friend and I walked up the path to the front of the mosque. It was a beautiful building, with a central dome and colorful mosaic tiles decorating the doors. Doors I would not, however, get to enter because of what happened next. As we approached the entrance, a group of men stopped us. “You” one of them said, pointing at me. “You have to go to the women’s entrance, it’s on the other side.” I was so confused. “What?” I asked, staring incredulously. My mosque back home didn’t have separate entrances for men and women. “Women go to the back,” he responded. “Seriously? A women’s entrance?” I questioned. “I can’t just go in with my friend?” The men shook their head and kept pointing at the women’s entrance, ushering me away. And since I’m the type of person who has a very hard time turning back once I’ve started a mission, I reluctantly headed to the “back” entrance. A back entrance that was noticeably less majestic, by the way. My friend shot me a pitying look.
Now on a solo mission, I walked in awkwardly. I was the only person there alone, without a group or family. My homesickness intensified, of course. Some people stared at me. I sat down by myself and did the holiday prayer. When it was finished, I got up to leave when a woman approached me and handed me a piece of paper. “Don’t forget to fill out your application,” she said. Once again, I was very confused. “What application?” I asked. “Your marriage application,” she answered…as if it was the most normal thing in the world. A long pause ensued. “Um, What?” I asked. Then I looked down. She had handed me an actual marriage application. The woman repeated, “Your marriage application!” this time in a more exasperated tone. “How do you expect to get married if you don’t fill it out?” Apparently, the mosque was running its own Muslim matchmaking service. I somehow managed to stifle my laughter and tried to leave. But someone else stopped me at the door. “Sister! You forgot to fill out your marriage application! You shouldn’t go without filling it out. We can find someone for you.” And then, perhaps out of equal parts curiosity and a desire to leave, I filled out the application and went on my way. I found my friend outside and we left the mosque, chuckling about it the whole way home. He, of course, hadn’t been asked to fill anything out.
I thought that would be the end of my mosque matchmaking journey. What I was certainly not expecting was to get a phone call on my office phone two days later. I was in the middle of a meeting with a colleague about some court filings when a New York number showed up on my caller ID. “Hold on one second,” I said to my colleague. “Hello, this is Amanda,” I said into the phone. “Salam, sister Amanda. We received your marriage application and have your perfect match waiting for you here. You must get to the mosque right away!” My cheeks went red as I tried to hide the situation from my colleague. I whispered into the receiver: “Can I call you back later? I’m in a meeting at work.” The woman responded, “You can, sister, but I don’t know how long he will be available. You really need to hurry!”
I hung up and finished my meeting. When my colleague was gone, curiosity got the best of me once again. I called the mosque back, but no one responded. I never heard from them again. I’ll never know whether he really was my perfect match.