by Nushrat Nur

Mosque (n.) – a Muslim temple or place of public worship.

It’s quiet; save the faint whispers of prayers recited under hushed breaths and the distant shouts of hyperactive children. Rows upon rows of men and women sit with their heads bowed, immobile as fans circle above, buffeting their soft silks and cotton like gentle caresses. If one didn’t know better, the scene before them could be mistaken for an art exhibit. Still-life captured in the peaceful sanctuary of a mosque.

A high and clear voice rings throughout the space, and suddenly the exhibit sheds its stillness and comes alive.

The mosque has always been a steady presence in my life – the open courtyard beckoned mischief in my younger years and forged friendships on sunlit afternoons later on. There was the ever-present ice cream truck which came every week at 12 o’clock sharp and had kids patting themselves down for pocket change for a chance to feast on a red, white and blue icicle. It hosted spring fundraising picnics with bounce houses, cotton candy machines, discount hijab booths, and a faux farmer’s market. On sleepy yet festive mornings after Eid prayers, there was always a comforting guarantee of boxes upon boxes of Dunkin’ Donuts and coffee.

It was a place where I spent my Sundays being schooled in the faith and then teaching it to younger kids. Where I fumbled over my Arabic alphabet until I managed to recite whole chapters of text in a language I couldn’t speak from memory.

I grew up wandering its halls, and in turn, it grew up with me.

I was lucky to see it through its numerous renovations and refurbishments, slowly becoming the place that we could truly claim as our own. A place whose chipped walls had been lovingly replaced by murals of the names of Allah, painted by volunteers on days the mosque stood quiet and introspective. A place that the brothers would gather after services to sweat through their thobes, playing endless hours of basketball on a new court my cousins and I would race across barefoot on late nights.

A place that our sheikh, Ibrahim Habash, could speak his Friday sermon with a blend of gravitas, revelation and dad humor.

There was the evergreen thrill of bringing non-Muslim friends to Ramadan iftars.

Watching their faces light up as they bit in the soft flesh of a date.

Fixing the placement of their hands as they tried with some effort to look natural as they joined the masses for Maghrib prayers. Kissing their perfumed cheeks goodbye as they left the space later in the night, taking a little piece of our faith with them, tucked safely between the sweets in their Styrofoam boxes.

My mosque’s walls bore the weight of Janazah (funeral) prayers, as we gathered in swathes of white and let our grief slowly pool and then trickle out of our raised hands.

It has heard collective mourning for those taken by hate-fueled terror both abroad and at home.

The weathered pulpit has remained steadfast as sermons of unification sounded out to the masses, seeking to ease minds plagued by fear and indecision.

Strength surging from our sheikh’s voice and seeping into the green and white carpet. Steady, he would say. We are going to be okay. We will forge on.

The mosque that I have been attending since I was eight years old holds more than a decade of memories. Some are sad, some are happy, and some are embarrassing.

But every single one is precious.

Every scraped knee, every dog-eared Quran page, every gap-toothed salam, every Friday dinner.

Every moment my nose touched the carpeted floor praying that this sanctuary remains untouched by those who only mean to do us harm.

I remember it all.

And as we process our grief and anger and frustration from this senseless tragedy, I hope we take a moment to breathe under the hum of the circling ceiling fans in each of our mosques.

And commit all those precious moments to memory.