It was a Friday. The one on the Bakra`Eid day. A very special day for the Muslims.
They looked surprised, both Basha and Malik. Although they hid it well, I caught an under-pulse of surprise on their faces. Their surprise was on my request. My request (a very casual one) went like this, "Hey Guys, today being such a special festival for you, I was wondering if I should come along with you to the mosque to offer Namaz". I thought they will be thrilled and happy. They were plain surprised.
Anyways they took me along. Basha had to stay back to finish some urgent work in office, so I went with Malik. Malik is an Indian Muslim, born in Bihar and raised in States. The mosque was in Bellevue downtown, and hundreds of Muslims, from India, Pakistan, Middle East and some American Muslims too, had gathered for the afternoon Namaz. I got reminded of my school days in Delhi when I used to go to Jamma Masjid to play with some of my Muslim classmates.
The mosques (and even temples for that matter) in the US do not quite look like the mosques and temples here. Many times you find regular buildings converted into mosques and temples, and hence you miss all the lovely religious architecture we enjoy in India. Yet you feel a sense of purity and sacredness as soon as you enter such a place, for the prayers of devotees can turn a ‘Khandar’ into a ‘Mahal’!!
As we entered the mosque I sensed an uneasy feeling drawing over Malik. The reason, I learned was that non-Muslims were not always welcome to enter mosques. Its different with Dargas. Anyone is welcome at the hundreds of Dargas around the world. Sufism in that sense comes very close to Hunduism! I was born in Ajmer and have been to the famous Darga of Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti, and have loved it. But this was different. I caught on to the uneasiness and was soon wondering if I did the right thing by coming along.
Then suddenly, this thought came over me, 'Hey! Wait a minute! What we do say on the course!?! 'I belong to you'! Every human is One. God is One!'. The next second i was flashing my 1000 watt Art Of Living smile and walking like I was entering the Vishalakshi Mantap in the Ashram!!
As we entered the mosque, Malik whispered in my ear, "Do exactly what I do". "Ok" I said. And so I watched him closely and copied him move to move, word to word. We first went to wash-up. And it was quite a wash-up. Folded our pants to the knees, folded our shirt-sleeves to the elbows - washed our faces, hands and legs. I was impressed with the diligence with which each person was cleaning the physical body before we entered the holy mosque.
Then we went inside and the namaz started. Many times we bent down and stood up again, many times we looked to the left and then to the right, and many times Malik looked at me to make sure I was not goofing up! I noticed that just like in temples or churches, no one was smiling! They had a serious appointment with God and were busy prioritizing their demands from the Almighty. I sat down and meditated for a few minutes. I remembered the stories Michael Fishmann had told us about Guruji meditating in Mecca and some of the oldest Jewish synagogues in His trips to Palestine.
The old noble Maulavi explained to us the essence of Islam, and encouraged all to do kind things to others. In my head, lines from the Indian Ocean song popped up.
"Vo hi baat madina mein hain, Jo hain baat Shivalay mein". So true. All faiths preach the same old ragged truth, and yet humans cleverly succeed in misunderstanding and manipulating the truth!
We got ready to leave. I was disappointed to realize that there wasnt any "prasad"! I was hoping to find some hot sevaiyas!! I bowed to Allah once again and exited.
.................Today is Ganesh Chathurthi and the commencement of Ramzan, a day which marks the beautiful blend of these two faiths. India alone is a nation on the planet which can boast of a cultural heritage that peacefully allows all traditions to express their beliefs without any conflict (unless provoked politically)!!
Bismillah al rahman al rahim
Ganpatti Bappa Moriya!