Saturday, March 07, 2009

Opening the door -- the Islamic way

Last week, I arrived at the home of my student Ahmd 5 minutes early to teach him and his friends English for our weekly English class, in the working class neighborhood of Bolaq. Working class means few to no foreigners ever step foot in this neighborhood. And the residents tend to be poor or of the lower class. After a few knocks, I called him on his cell phone. The mobile rang in the living room. Hmmm…Perhaps, he was out visiting with neighbors for his nightly round of religious talks a la Mormons or Jehova’s Witnesses. Ahmd spends 2 hours each night walking his neighborhood and knocking on doors, on behalf of Islam, to answer any questions neighbors may have about God.

A few minutes later, the door opened, but only a few inches. I could see a light inside, but no voice. Perhaps, the 3 year old nephew opened the door, but was too shy to poke his head out the door. I tried to push open the door a little, but I felt a slight resistance. Ah…perhaps, it was his sister.

At that moment, Ahmd arrived and greeted me. A 27 year old computer engineer, Ahmd is warm and always has a friendly smile. He wears a galabiyeh and slippers. A bespectacled believer, he wears his beard long—in the tradition of the Prophet Mhmd (PBUH). When I first met him months ago, he reminded me very much of an Orthodox Jewish man. Ahmd explains his tardiness: he was praying the Asha prayer at the mosque. Once we entered the living room, Ahmd explained an interesting custom for traditional Muslims. When one knocks on a Muslim door, one should

A) knock 3 times at the most. During his wait, he must stand three feet back. If there is no answer, then he must leave.

B) One must look at the floor and present his right shoulder to the door. This way, if a woman answers the door, then he will not be distracted by her appearance or ever be in the position of accidentally brushing up against her, should she be rushing out the door.

And finally, if a man answers the door, then he can look up from the floor, greet his friend with a handshake and kiss him on the cheeks.

Ahmd also informed me that his sister opened the door a crack for me to tell me that he was not in the house at the time. Unfortunately, I did not hear her voice--at all. Perhaps, the door was not the only barrier to her being heard by a man.

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