Even the smallest details such as facial expression, eye contact and tone of voice will provide clues as to the hierarchy within the group. The observer must also consider that there very presence may have an effect on the natural and normal flow of events in order to impress the observer or attempt to manipulate the observer into feeling a certain way about the experience. For this assignment I chose to conduct an ethnographic study on a religious service, unlike one I had ever experienced before, at a local Mosque.
The service is actually called a masjid and I dressed in my usual American attire. I noticed that the men wore clothing which covered both the upper and lower body to the ankles while women were dressed in clothing which was of a material that was not sheer, or see-through, and also scarves that covered their hair and neckline. Being exposed to this culture, so different form my own, easily allowed me to make distinctions between the two. Ceremony and ritual is much more prevalent in this type of service and everyone seemed to understand and know their place within this culture. This service is called "Salaah", though it is translated in Islam to mean daily prayers.
Salaah is offered five times daily; dawn, noon, afternoon, dusk, and night and all take place in the Mosque, known as Masjid in Arabic. Leaders during these prayer services are known as Imam. It is appropriate for worshippers to stand behind the Imam during ritual prayer and to bow in a prostate position and stand in a specific way while uttering certain ritualistic words that are part of the ceremony. Other members who attended the service were calm and respectful in attitude displaying reverence while also being warm and friendly to other worshipers.
I learned through the interaction with other worshipers that obtaining a role of leadership is based on numerous factors; including knowledge of the text, volume of memorized scriptures, good moral character, and knowledge of Islamic jurisprudence. I saw no evidence of boredom, which would likely be viewed as a major offense to the Islamic Imam, though this is common in many other religious services.
Most members seemed to be focused and sincere in their worshipping and respectful of the sanctity of the service. The building featured very large floors with little seating, primarily carpet with many shelves for books and the Mosque’s pulpit is actually known as a Mimbar. I suspect this has to do with the fact that much of the worship service is spent in a standing position or in a contrite bowed position, showing deference to the Imam.
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