Yesterday was the last day of my childhood. As my friends and I left Northlake Jamatkhana (a mosque for Shia Ismaili Muslims located in Northlake, IL), we looked back and teared up a little bit. The jamatkhana would be closing down soon because of two new jamatkhanas being built in different towns, effectively splitting up our group of friends between the two. But this was not why the tears were flowing.
Through new friendships and fights, moves and colleges across the country, we had stuck together with the help of cell phones and Facebook. We would survive this as well. But this time, Northlake would not stick with us. As the founding location and headquarters of our group, Northlake has held a special place in all of our hearts and has served as another person in the group, everyone’s best friend. A friend that was never unavailable or mad at you, even if you were a little late, a friend that provided you with the support of a community and the satisfaction of living Islam.
Islam is a way of life; I learned this in Northlake Religious Education Center in the 5th grade. We talked about it as a class, reading an article about it in groups and covering all the important discussion points. But looking back, I realized that the concept itself was not reflected better anywhere than Northlake.
For the past 18 out of the mere 20 years of my existence, my home was Northlake. My friends and I always took part in the jamati activities Northlake provided for us; indeed, it was the existence and continuity of these activities that slowly turned my friends into a part of my family.
In our childhood, it was a teacher, instructing us on how to pray and recite ginans (Ismaili devotional literature), and explaining our history to us.
It was a coach, organizing annual sports tournaments in which we took part. It showed us the importance of physical fitness, humility in the face of victory and the hope of next year after defeat.
It was a stage on which we performed countless cultural dances and small skits for special events, even if it was only for our parents and siblings watching.
It was a tutoring center after daily morning and evening prayers, where so-and-so’s dad or someone’s cousin in college would show us the importance of our education by leaving jamatkhana at 10 or 11 pm, so late that only a few people were left, so that they could explain to us how exactly to figure out that calculus problem that we had for homework.
It was a Domestic Arts class, where we learned how to effectively wash, dry, scrub, dust, mop, sweep, wipe and vacuum an entire building during the weekly jamati cleaning that everyone participated in. It was a weekly cleaning that could have been done by hired services, but was instead done by the people of the jamatkhana itself, something that spoke volumes of the value of hard work, cooperation and self-reliance.
It was a summer program, actually, many summer programs, for kids of all ages. It was a program that emphasized fun ways of keeping minds active during those three short months without homework or lectures. And as we grew older, it was a summer program that awarded us with the satisfaction of volunteering and contributing to the development of those same programs that we had so much fun in when we were kids.
It was a party room, where we held the celebrations for the three biggest holidays of the year, and played dandia raas until the wee hours of the morning. More importantly, it was a party that we attended every Friday night, at least, which prevented us from going to friends’ house parties. We complained about this endlessly while we were in high school. But afterwards, I realized the reason I never started drinking alcohol in high school, like many of my friends did, was because I could never attend their parties on Friday nights. I was in jamatkhana.
It was a weekend retreat home, but better because it was available to us every day of the week. We could walk into jamatkhana after the bells and drama of school, and know that we were walking into the familiarity of community and the peace of prayer and meditation.
At the closing of Northlake, it will be about 20 years old, just like me. It has given me a wonderful childhood, one that I know I would not have been able to find anywhere else, and its closing will represent the end of one chapter and hopefully the beginning of another relationship with a different jamatkhana; a new jamatkhana that will give me new experiences, but will reflect the same ideals that Northlake, as a parent, first taught me.