Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Four centuries old mosque, the prophet's last sermon, a dream-come-true, etc.

"...All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab, 
nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over black, 
nor a black has any superiority over white except by piety and good action..."
The Last Sermon of Prophet Muhammad

On my right is the sea of Marmara. On my left, the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, the four hundread year old Blue Mosque. Ahead, on the other side of the bridge, is the contemporary part of Istanbul, but this - the old historic part - is where I love: the unevenly paved streets, small hotels, minarets, old, dilapidated buildings across from the local train tracks, and seagulls, seagulls all around with the expanse of the sea so close you can touch it. A call for prayer woke me up at 5.30 am, just as I was beginning to dose off. The prayer call transported me to another place and time where I felt the southern Indian sun on my skin. That summer when I walked, took train or bus throughout the whole of southern Kerala and Tamil Nadu, stopping at all places of worship, stopping at places of beauty, the Arabian sea, the Indian ocean. Although I took photographs, I lost a lot of them. Photographs somehow diminish the beauty of everything. That summer of 1997, I walked all around for a month, mostly alone, sometimes staying with friends, and the places I went to were the places of worship: Hindu, Christian, Muslim, didn't matter. Lured by the pure energy those spaces seemed to exude, the only places I couldn't get inside were the Islamic places of worship. Half-dreaming, with the memories of sun on my skin and pouring sweat that that summer alone was, I recalled how I loved those desert and sky inspired soul tunes full of nameless longing hard to describe. How I walked around mosques, trying to get in, but stopped every time: no women, and, perhaps, no "infidels" allowed, I was always told. If they only saw through to my soul. I was fifteen when I first found myself humming a tune that seemed to emanate from the depth of my being. I hummed and hummed those wordless tunes when alone, when overcome with grief over things that were my life then: caught, stranded, imprisoned in my own skin, in my own life that was imposing things I couldn't accept. Then at 19, when I first heard a muslim prayer call from a mosque in India, I recognised those tunes from my wordless humming that began a few years prior to that. Who knows what kind of soul threads connect self to the rest of the world, and why these tunes at times when all I felt was darkness... Finally, I made it inside a mosque.

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