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This report documents ethnographically the cultural scene of a women’s prayer room in a local culture in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), with the view to assisting the researcher to acknowledge how the prayer room assists individuals in the local community to deal with issues of prayer in the Mosque and also to keep their hearts pure, sincere and busy only with prayer.
In the context of this report, the fundamental concept of culture is defined as the knowledge individuals in this local setting use to generate and interpret social behavior, while that of ethnography is defined as a systematic endeavor to discover the knowledge this group of individuals in this local setting have learned and are actively using to organize their behavior or describe culture.
In this report, a cultural scene is perceived as an underlying pattern of meanings which are not only known and assumed by the participants in a social situation, but are shared by these participants to define some aspect of their social or cultural experience.
The rest of the fieldwork report is organized as follows: the following section discusses the field work methods, before introducing a section on the physical setting and social situations related to the cultural scene; afterwards, the researcher undertakes the cultural description of the local group in terms of domains and categories used and their relationships, before concluding with making tentative interpretations about the cultural scene and recommending areas for future research.
Field Work Methods
The cultural scene of people in a prayer room is selected to get as much information as possible relating to how social issues and cultural orientations of the local people influence how they pray at the prayer’s room. Contact with informants has been made through the usual greetings and expression of interest once they researcher meets with the informants at the prayer room.
Majority of the informants are women, are affiliated to Islam, and constantly participate in prayer at the women’s prayer room at the mosque. In terms of fieldwork methods, it can be argued that observations and interviews have been used by the researcher to collect important data about their lived experiences.
The only problem experienced during fieldwork has been the unwillingness of some individuals to provide information and ensure that their behaviors are located in a culturally relevant and meaningful context.
In the context of the physical settings, the prayer room is very peaceful and quiet, emboldening a serene and sacred place of worship. Women cover their hair, bodies and toes when praying inside the room.
It is a common practice for people to remove their shoes prior to entering the prayer room and line up beside each other, making sure that their shoulders are in alignment. Another important observation is that not every person who comes in the prayer room is of UAE’s origin; rather, Asians and other individuals of Middle Eastern origin come at the prayer room.
The major domains and categories of behavior as per the field notes and interviews include women’s beauty (e.g., makeup, nail polish) and prayer, importance of prayer, praying the sunnah, negative experiences in the mosque, preference of praying at mosque or home, reasons for praying at mosque, if women should be compelled to pray at mosque, intensity and timing of prayer, performance of ablution (wudu) before every prayer, and means used by the local community to go to the mosque.
The Cultural Description
There are several domains or categories that need to be described in the current fieldwork report, especially in the context that some of these items go hand in hand in this particular culture.
The domain of women’s beauty is an important one, with the interview results showing that wearing makeup is a largely acceptable behavior for women in the local culture as long as they have made “wudu or ablution, which is both a traditional ritual and a practical means by which the Muslim religious faithful may seek out to preserve good physical and spiritual hygiene. However, it is not the norm for women to pray while wearing their nail polish.
The importance of prayer is also of importance in this ethnographic study, with majority of the participants describing that they feel a sense of relief, peace of mind, happy, comfortable, relaxed, amazing and peaceful after praying. The Sunnah is utilized by a great deal of informants, implying that Islam is engrained in the local culture as the dominant religion and the way of life.
It is clear that many informants experience negative experiences in the mosque, particularly those dealing with personal hygiene, etiquette and theft of personal items.
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One participant account suggest that a negative experience entails “people who leave their tissues and sometimes litter and eat in the mosque”, while another one says “the smell of the mosque is usually bad and people eat in the mosque.” However, some informants suggest that there are no negative experiences in the mosque.
More women prefer to visit the mosque for prayers, though others still prefer praying at home. The major underlying reason that seems to inform this behavior is that the Muslim religion demands the faithful to pray in Mosques. One participant account suggests that “in our religion, that’s how it is.
Muslims pray in a Mosque five times a day.” Others firmly believe they get more rewards from God by praying in a mosque, and also are unified more.
The local culture firmly believes that it is not compulsory for women to pray in mosques. Individuals also pray every day to keep in line with the Islamic faith and tradition, and most pray their Fajer prayers at home. Additionally, most faithful keep their time in prayers to demonstrate their fear of God and respect of their Muslim faith.
Indeed, their faith and respect for their religion is demonstrated by how a large proportion of participants always practice ablution before conducting prayers. Lastly, majority of the participants in the local community go to the mosque by car.
The categories discussed above are organized around the issue of prayer in the women’s room and how it is affected by socio-cultural and religious orientations in the local community in UAE.
They are related to each other by virtue of the fact that religion in this community is viewed as a way of life; hence it affects every aspect of personal life and society. These categories provide meaning to the local culture not only in reinforcing their belief in religion and way of life, but also in enabling the participants to establish mores of behavior that govern their associations and interactions in their social life and culture.
This fieldwork report demonstrates how the social and cultural orientations of the participants in the local culture influence how they interact with Islam as they engage in prayer in the women’s room.
Two foremost interpretations can be made from this report: (1) the stereotype that women do not pray in mosques is incorrect as most women tend to pray in mosques, and (2) the stereotype that mosques are always clean is incorrect as the ethnography has found that most people do not like the mosque environment due to overcrowding, bad odor, and littering.
The recommended area for future research, therefore, would be to develop a cultural lens to interpret what could be done to improve the environment of local mosques.