Zawiya Perspective – Understanding the Third-Space
Written By: Batool Ali
First popularized by Ray Oldenburg author of The Great Good Place (1989, 1991), a third space or place refers to places in the community separate from home (the first place) and work (the second place) wherein people spend time in a way that facilitates positive and creative social interactions. All of us are aware that there is a spiritual element missing from current society and even amongst current or even outdated understandings of Islam. How do we go about bridging the gap between religious denominations? Many mosques host open houses and many secondary education centers have awareness campaigns. However, sometimes these surroundings can be intimidating especially for new Muslims. Zawiya is a laid back atmosphere open to all, much like a café or poetry place. Cushioned-walls, a homey feel and free deliciously flavored teas and meals are available to all visitors. In addition, it is also accessible to people with disabilities.
Informal meeting places that can be considered third spaces already exist in society and include community clubs, mall cafeterias, church, barber shops, bars and pubs, nail salons, parks, libraries etc. These spaces may be formal or informal, outdoor or indoor, academic, recreational, commercial or even spiritual.
For the first time four months ago, I stumbled across such a place in Los Angeles, California. It was called Zawiya Perspective. The intention behind this organization was to be a place of non-judgment open to people of all faiths. And it lived up to its purpose. I immediately took a liking to the openness and warmth of the atmosphere and the crowd. Multi-racial, men and women and people of all ages came during the holy month of Ramadan, some from near and some from far, to participate in a humble meal and meditation. Everyone was open and friendly. Deep, heartfelt bonds and friendships formed. The space had a calming effect on my heart.
I commend the management of Zawiya and its volunteers for maintaining a clean, welcoming and humble physical environment so that visitors are able to feel comfortable in opening up and discussing various issues and topics that are on our minds whether it is the nature of religion, science, current politics, gender issues, personal spiritual journeys, relationships or even sports. Zawiya is a special third space because it incorporates a spiritual dimension. Power is defined as the ability to create change. And Zawiya has been able to effect change on a personal level in everyone’s lives who has visited.
Management hopes that Zawiya is able to fill a void within the community. As more and more people become aware of Zawiya, there will be a greater understanding of the potential that humanity can reach – simply by having a space to come and discuss ideas. In addition, Zawiya hopes to increase modern society’s understanding of the capacity Islam has to foster spirituality through providing a safe place to learn more about, experience and practice meditation.
I am so grateful to Zawiya and everyone I met there for providing me with a sense of safety, community and friendship on my journey and I hope that everyone who is able to has the pleasure of at least one visit.