“007” in a mosque during prayer time

A few years ago I had the opportunity to go into my city and photographically document what was happening in a mosque during prayer time.

I do not remember the exact time. I was in Brescia.

I went to the imam with whom I had an appointment and presented myself. I remember most of the members present turned up their noses at the sight of a camera.

The people at the core of a particular religious centre are always wary of making public their place of worship, and what is happening within it.

But I did.

The mosque was initially deserted. I waited a few minutes, and then within a few moments I could see hundreds of people arriving suddenly by every means: walking, car, motorbike, bicycle.

Have you seen a flash mob in full swing? It seemed the same now in this place but with extreme precision.

I made the first steps to enter when my guide reminded me that you cannot enter the mosque without first taking off your shoes. Without bothering I did as instructed and put my shoes in my bag.

The first thing that surprised me was indeed that immense and endless shoe rack where each person placed their pair of shoes, mixed with others, before accessing the prayer halls. From the main space there came a faint background music, just like those melodies that we hear only in movies shot in Middle Eastern countries.

In the midst of the ‘melody’ a leader of the mosque started to climb onto a sort of altar with a lectern, a part of the mosque, wearing a classic scarf in white and red small greek squares wrapped on his head. The exact definition of the garment eludes me.

He must have been the second imam of the mosque because suddenly in a loud tone of voice began a seemingly endless discorse of ever-more intense tones, that seemed to resemble when we argue with somebody, or as when a politician at his party’s event points his finger against the fiercest member of the opposition.

They explained to me that it was all calm and quiet, it was the rite, the prayer, he was the one who led the rest of the mosque in the worship of Allah.

The main hall was an immense room that had room for perhaps a thousand seats. It is hard to say why there were no chairs but a giant single carpet on which everyone could kneel to pray, some in their stockings, others barefoot.

Taking advantage of a moment of distraction of my “tour guide” to the mosque, I went to explore the adjacent areas and was astonished to realize that in a totally separate room there was a prayer corner for women alone.

Every religion has its own belief, it has its own customs and rules, but at that moment I was wondering the difference between praying together or being separate.

As I went back to the main mosque I knew that in the surrounding walkways there were people who were praying everywhere, even outside. About 30 minutes had passed since the beginning of my visit, and one of the leaders pointed out that it was time for me to leave this place.

I do not know why.

Perhaps that little of the Islam I had just discovered was enough for them, and I could not get to know the rest. Unfortunately, I will never know this. I was content, however, by being able to penetrate a reality like the Islamic one and to have documented this little-known world.