Going to Mosque vs. Going to Church
From enforced, mindless obedience to liberation.
As an ex-Muslim Christian, I have experience spending time with Muslims and Christians in many different circumstances, which include, but were not limited to, their respective places of worship, i.e. the mosque and the church. I will now compare how attending the mosque as a Muslim is different from attending the church as a Christian, which was superior, and why.
I grew up attending the mosque in my childhood and teenage years, for two different purposes. One was that I joined other Muslims to pray namaz, the five daily prayers, during the designated times. Those five daily prayers were fajr, zuhr, asr, maghrib and isha. Zuhr on Friday was called jummah. The other purpose of attending the mosque was to recite the Quran, alongside several other Muslims who were approximately my age, in the presence of a Muslim scholar, who we usually addressed as “Maulvi Sab.” He also had the title of Maulana, but we rarely ever called him Maulana. We would recite the Quran in the presence of the Maulvi for the purpose of learning how to read it as accurately as possible and to memorize as much of the Quran as we could within the time we had.
I personally went to the mosque for this purpose from the age of six to age eighteen, i.e., twelve years. For twelve years, I went to the mosque after school for one hour, and later for one hour and thirty minutes. I did this five days a week for most weeks, but I received days off during Ramadan, Eid and if no one was available at the mosque. I attended the mosque for five days a week in my last two years of attending, because I was getting older and busier with other commitments. Besides reading the Quran, we would also learn about other Islam-related issues, such as the stories of the prophets in Islam, what to do to be a good Muslim, and what to avoid as a Muslim; I can’t even remember most of what I was taught.
My experience of going to the mosque in my childhood and teenage years wasn’t always great. Everyone there had to constantly recite the Quran in Arabic loudly and continuously, like a beating drum. We weren’t allowed to talk to each other most of the time, nor were we allowed to use our phones. If we didn’t recite the Quran loudly enough, the Maulana would shout at us. If we talked and got caught by our Maulana, he would shout at us and sometimes tell us to stand up in front of a wall and stare at the wall for an indefinite amount of time. Our recitation of the Quran also had to be reasonably accurate, so whenever we made recitation mistakes, the Maulana would get really mad, shouting at us and telling us off for not reciting the Quran properly. He even went as far as to use mild disciplinary punishments, slapping us on the head and slapping our fingers with a pen. In fact, on one occasion, I was reading a Quran verse and made a recitation mistake that changed the meaning so drastically that my Maulana resorted to slapping my head so hard that my tuppi went flying off, and told me to go to the corner of the room and say astaghfirullah (“I seek forgiveness from Allah”) 70 times. His justification for this was that I apparently committed shirk (the association of others as partners in worship with Allah), because the Quran verse that I was reading said that Allah is one, but I apparently misread it and said that Allah is two in Arabic. I think I was 14 or 15 years old when this happened.
In my early teenage years, I hated him for how strict he was and actually wanted to hit him back. I eventually let go of my grievances and forgave him, and he even asked me to forgive him if he was ever too harsh on me. Looking back on all this as an adult, I find all of this to be petty and ridiculous. Arabic is not my first language, because I’m not ethnically Arabic. None of my family members are Arabs, and I wasn’t surrounded by Arab culture whilst growing up. I was a Pakistani Muslim who grew up in a Muslim community that mainly consisted of Desis (i.e. Pakistanis, Indians and Bangladeshis). Arabic isn’t even my second language; my second language is actually Urdu, and although they are two very different languages, it’s actually quite common for Pakistani Muslims to incorrectly read the Quran with an Urdu dialect, because the Urdu language was actually influenced by the Arabic language, so we sometimes get certain letters and sounds confused between the two languages. So it’s not like we actually know when we’re making recitation mistakes, not all of us are Arabs, and even native Arab speakers today are prone to making recitation mistakes, because the Arabic language has evolved in the past 1400 years. Quranic Arabic, a.k.a. seventh century Arabic, is different from modern Arabic, just as modern English is different from Shakespearean English. We don’t live in the seventh century anymore. Trying to recite the Quran properly is like trying to recite it with the dialect of a seventh century Arab. So it’s just unreasonable to chide us and punish us for struggling to recite the Quran perfectly, and the sad thing is that this is common in Desi mosques. This to me is also one of the many signs that Islam is an Arab colonial imperialist ideology that seeks to Arabize the entire world.
Besides the petty fixation on our Quran recitations, we also had to make sure that we came to the mosque dressed in a jubbah (a long outer garment) and a tuppi (i.e. Islamic cap). There was also gender segregation, because boys and girls weren’t allowed to mix. In my first few years of attending the mosque, boys and girls were mixing in a class, but that was only because we were very young and in the beginning stages of learning how to read and recite Quranic Arabic. As time went on, we got segregated. The mosque I went to in order to recite Quran was the house of a Muslim scholar, so I would call it an “unofficial mosque,” and I think the rules in this mosque was pretty lenient on gender segregation, because it wasn’t an official Islamic organisation.
Granted, we were never taught to hate non-Muslims in the mosque that I went to, but we were definitely taught to have a supremacist attitude against other religious people. I and other Muslims had a habit of swaying (i.e. rocking back and forth) when reciting the Quran, which is a common phenomenon. One day, when my Maulana wasn’t at the mosque, one of his sons, who was a student of knowledge, told us to stop swaying, because that’s how Jews pray when they recite the Torah, and that we’re not supposed to imitate the way of the kuffar. Besides that, my Maulana also taught us that Shias were not Muslims and that we shouldn’t trust them, which I have gone into more detail about in previous articles. This was the extent of what I can remember of the attitudes that we were taught to have towards non-Muslims.
When I went to official mosques to pray namaz, there was often a khutbah (i.e. sermon) afterwards, but what was annoying was the fact that the sermons mostly weren’t even given in English; they were either in Arabic or in Urdu, and there was no translator. So I had no idea what was being said most of the time, because I don’t know Arabic and my knowledge of Urdu was very limited. So for most of these sermons, I just sat silently and listened. I didn’t learn anything valuable and useful except for when the sermons were in English, but 80% of these sermons were in a foreign language.
The best part of attending the mosque was the social interactions. I did enjoy talking to other Muslims around my age when we could afford to talk, but this is nothing unique to Islam. What I also liked at the time was learning about the stories of the prophets in Islam, what I specifically remember the most were the stories about Prophet Muhammad and Prophet Yusuf. Muhammad requires no introduction, but Yusuf/Joseph in particular was memorable because he had dreams, he was thrown in a well in his brothers, got imprisoned and went to Egypt. I don’t remember all the details of the Islamic account and biblical account of Yusuf/Joseph, but there’s a lot of overlap, so there’s nothing unique about the stories of the prophets in Islam, but I was always fascinated by his story.
Attending the church as an ex-Muslim Christian was a very different experience from attending the church as a Muslim (and as an ex-Muslim). I found the church to be so liberating, because they didn’t implement all strict and rigid rulings. I was able to attend Church and dress as casually as I wanted, because I didn’t have to adhere to a specific religious dress code; the dress code only applied to the deacons, ministers and priests.
The sermons were usually in English, a language that I actually know and understand, so I was actually able to learn something useful and valuable. One of the churches I attended had a Farsi service for Iranian converts to Christianity, which I sometimes attended, and the interesting thing is that even though I was in the minority of English speakers who attended the Farsi service, there was always a translator who would translate the Farsi into English.
I was also able to read the Bible in a language that I actually speak and understand, and I didn’t have to constantly read it out loud for everyone to hear, I was allowed to read it quietly and in peace and I didn’t receive petty disciplinary punishments for how I read the Bible. This is in stark contrast to how I was forced to mindlessly babble in Arabic, having no idea what I was saying 99% of the time that I was reciting the Quran, whilst receiving petty disciplinary punishments for making recitation mistakes.
Moreover, there was a lot more freedom with respect to social interactions. I was allowed to talk to Christians and experience fellowship with them. All the Christians welcomed and accepted me in the church. Not to mention the fact that there was no gender segregation in the Church; men and women mixed freely and talked to each other. I shook hands with Christian women, and there was no petty anxiety that shaking hands with the opposite sex would result in fornication or adultery, as there was in the Muslim community I was born and raised in. There was even one occasion on which a Christian woman kissed me on the cheek, and the action itself was not motivated by lust. 1 Peter 5:14 encourages Christians to greet one another with a kiss of love. This kind of leniency didn’t exist in the Muslim community, from my experience.
Of course, this isn’t to say that there are no rules in the church; there are actually plenty of rules, but these rules are actually reasonable because they exist to protect people. They’re not the same as the nitpicky OCD rules that micromanage what people do in the mosque.
I love the church. I wish I could attend church multiple times a week, but I can’t attend church every week. There have been several weeks where I’ve not been able to attend church at all, because I’m in the closet regarding my Christian faith, and there are other inconveniences that prevent me from safely attending. Lord willing, I pray that the Lord will give me the strength to move out of my parents’ house and escape from the Muslim community, so that I can fully embrace my identity as a Christian for the entire public to see.