Exploring the Essence of Religion

Like a tree, religion is ever-changing, always growing, dropping branches, sprouting leaves, allowing children to climb up to discovery, and giving adults the gift of exploration into the unique grooves within its grain. With very little religious knowledge in my own forest, I reached out to one of my dearest friends, Jude Eraky. She is an inspiringly religious Muslim, and I have realized that despite our closeness, I know very little about the religion that is engraved in her heart. Perhaps even more incredible than witnessing Jude’s religious practice was the news that she prays five different prayers, five times a day. I remain astounded that an act so important in her life is something I had never even known about. 

Raised as a Christian, growing up, I sat in churches with mystique in my mind. I witnessed and prayed, and even though I never stretched beyond the surface into understanding, I could always feel the intense passion through people around me. The first time I can recall stepping foot into a church, the leaves were orange and most were grounded from the gusts of Autumn wind. My youthful spirit had never been around so much sadness, second grade did not show me this part of life- the dying part. I remember the sound of crying coming from a room that my mom suggested for me to not go into. I did not know why I had to get a black dress- I normally wore pink. 

The first time I became interested in learning about Jude’s religion, Islam, was in my first semester of college after receiving an unexpected assignment. I sat on the quad under the shade of a tree and searched for a mosque to explore… on a Saturday. I quickly learn Muslims hold their services on Friday nights. I was convinced that I had missed my chance until I decided to reach out to Jude. She was one with her religion in such a soulful way, I was sure that she could connect me to the new adventure that I was searching for. I asked for her advice, and she assured me I have indeed missed the big service, and may not easily find small events at a mosque, especially ​for someone who was not looking to practice. So, she gave me an experience herself that I was so grateful to have. She propped up her phone and offers me a step- by- step rundown of her prayer routine.

 Mid-day was upon us as she began, “this is called Wedoo- basically it’s cleansing ourselves before praying.” After she explained the series of three swipe movements that the cleansing requires, I watched as she began with her arms. She lifted up her sleeves, and began with her right hand to her wrist, she wiped water. One swipe, two swipes, three swipes. With each movement, I felt more deeply connected to her and her routine, disregarding expected discomfort associated with newness. Each movement has a purpose, a meaning. She moved to the left and repeated. She proceeded to rinse her mouth, again repeating until completed three times. She cleansed her nose and face then moved back to the arms, wiping from hand to elbow. The first time the series of actions in threes is broken occurs when she swipes water over her hair only once and both ears once. She finishes the Wedoo process, so she prepares for prayer.

 

The second time I recall being in a church- the leaves were vibrantly green with the middle of the summer sun shining upon them. I was short, with small-heeled white sandals and long striped socks adorned with purple frills on the ends. Why my mother decided to dress me like this, I still have no idea. I remember being old enough to appreciate the wedding, but I was also unsure of the songs being sung and the traditions being carried out by my pew-mates.

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In the next video clip Jude sends, she is unfamiliar, in a new outfit. She is beautifully passionate, and her connection to religion is so inspiring, she wears her religious clothing proudly and majestically. She is covered from the top of her head to her ankles, leaving only her face, hands, and toes exposed. Her outfit was flowing and light, making her appear as an angel embracing pacifying prayer. The afternoon light shined through the window of her bedroom which doubles as her prayer space. She explains that she is preparing to pray 'Dhuhr', which is four sets of mid-day prayer.

I curiously witness her movements, simplistic and quick, making her experience with prayer very evident. Her body lifts and falls, her hands acting as a guide for the rest of herself. Though I did not understand the words that travel with the movements of her body, I can feel the prayer as she works through it. She was deeply attached, it seems that she has forgotten that she is recording for me. Her peaceful hands pull close to her chest and continued to relocate themselves as minutes passed. She kneels, and her head reached the ground before she came back up to stand, in order to repeat the process three more times. I had not participated in the prayer, nor had I even been in the room with her, but I felt intensely present. 

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My third time in a church- I christened my Godson. The trees were bare with the harshness of winter, and my favorite new heels slid along the tiled floor. “Please, Alyssa, don’t drop him… that would not leave a good impression.” Now less concerned about the customs and more about baby Angelo, I appreciated the religion more, but even still, it has never grasped me the way it does some people. I enjoy stories and learning about my Christian religion, but I have never immersed in it. In fact, prior to adventuring outside of my own religion, I had never immersed in any religion at all. 

After Jude sent me the videos, I  proceeded to ask questions. I heard first-hand from someone who began the cycle of prayers at age seven and has been continuing since, how powerful prayer can be. Through learning about Islam, I felt more in tune to the force that religious practice can have in everyday life, and am intrigued to learn more not only about Islam, but also about Christianity which I grew up around, and whatever other practices that may come across and accept into my ever-widening world-view. Now I sit in my dorm room, watching the trees outside my window sway in an essence of freedom and spirituality, much like the incredible power that religion and people like Jude exude every day. Like the swiftness of her arms in prayer and the cleansing of the body and soul that comes with Wedoo, I wish to immerse in the newness of different religions and even grow the branches on the tree of my own Christianity that was planted the day I was born.