Monday, May 25, 2020

Minerats and The Call to Prayer: Ramadan 2020

         
          Successful indeed are the persons who offer prayers.
                                             --Quaran 23:02

      The Muslim call to prayer is one of the prettiest sounds on the earth at sunset.     
                                            --Barak Obama

My favorite Middle East landscape...looking out on Jerusalem

Often, when I lived in the Middle East for five and a half years, I would climb to a rooftop or other high place and look over whichever city I was in. Any balcony or hill would do. I enjoyed gazing out on the luminous mosques at night or with the glaring sun sparkling on them. Depending on the Middle East country you are in, they can be lavish and ornate, richly carved, or tiled by craftsmen of old. Other times they are ordinary beige in color, easily fitting into the sand landscape. They do not even stand out--only simple buildings with a small tower and a speaker for everyone to hear the imam call them to prayer. If you are high above the city or on a flat plain with minarets (towers from the mosques) surrounding you, their calls become a beckoning: to put your distractions down and figuratively come home.

Sometimes I miss the sprawling vertical horizon of sand and the everpresent sun that seems more bounteous in its size than anywhere else in the world. The Middle East hospitality, taught for dozens of generations, widens doors for strangers like me in a parched wilderness. I am not Muslim. Yet, I was generously welcomed--sometimes embraced like I was one of their own. Hearing the calls of the minarets throughout the day made me feel like I was part of a community and neighborhood, and in a way, I began to feel like we are all on the same path.

During the day, the ubiquitous minarets calling all to prayer was a rhythm I subconsciously depended on. I did not realize how much--until I am now away from the sound of their call. Although I have to say some imams have more melodious voices than others, their calls, sometimes accumulating like a chorus, reminded me of my own promises to keep. Often, I saw and was moved to tears when I saw people stop everything to pray. When they heard the minaret, they pulled out a small rug and thrust it in the sand or knelt in a grassy area of a park. I have witnessed many moments of holy solitude.

When I lived in Qatar, the five prayer calls were often like our pulse of life. They punctuated my day, schedule, reflections. I heard their clarion call if I was awake, and sometimes drowsily woke up to it--remembering the echoing call in my dreams. To hear their invitations or calls to prayer, I think, richly added to my daily life. When my Muslim friends told me of the prayers they made on my behalf, especially during Ramadan, again tears filled my eyes. I knew I was loved.

The mornings began with a call. At 4 am I knew my dear Muslim friend next door was awakening, and her husband was going to the mosque. At night, I watched the children run home in my compound when they heard the call around dinner time. I remember when I taught tennis classes to about ten or fifteen kids in our compound. They would quietly watch the sun start to slip behind the sky. Soon we would hear the minaret's call not too far away. In a moment, all of them were scurrying off. Suddenly, my son and I were standing alone on the tennis court. The call was dependable, predictable--reminding us to keep our commitments and rendezvous. Somehow our schedules all wove together--respectfully acknowledging and helping others keep their commitments.

When I asked my son who had just graduated from high school and moved back to the US what he missed the most about the Middle East, he immediately replied, "I miss the call to prayer." It has made me think we all do better with a pattern, some hallowed habits, and keeping our heavenly appointments. In coronavirus times, these days, weeks, and months can blur together if I do not have a pulse of life--reminders to have my own holy moments. I think whoever we are, especially now, we crave a little predictability of allotted time. Being in the Middle East always reminds me to respect others' appointments with their God--and to keep my own.


    A few favorite moments with minarets and mosques:

Blue Mosque--Istanbul, Turkey

Hagia Sophia--Istanbul, Turkey

I strolled around the ruins here at sunset, and then suddenly heard a choir of minarets--here in Jerash, Jordan
Muscat, Oman

The first mosque in Oman

Muscat, Oman
Cairo, Egypt

Cairo, Egypt
Jerusalem
Doha, Qatar


Abu Dhabi, UAE
Tangiers, Morrocco 

Marrakech, Morroco 

Up on a rooftop in Marrakech, Morroco

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