Faisal Mosque, Islamabad. One of my favourite places in the world. The clean architecture forming a crisp modern backdrop to the gentle softness of the people wandering calmly around its plaza. Both utterly serene, there for ancient rituals.
The sun dips behind a solid gold crescent moon; a gift from Saudi Arabia that sits guarded by four, tall, white corner pillars. Monkey silhouettes move athletically along the ridges of a roof shaped to resemble a bedouin tent. Their ears prick. Salmon pink faces turn and glare at a sudden hum of loudspeaker static.
Call to Prayer
The Maghrib call to prayer washes over the marble of the mosque plaza and seeps into the deep green Margala hills that surround this north edge of the city. My eyes water. Although in no way religious the haunting call and its universal affect on the Muslims present is beautiful; tear invoking.
A stream of flowing robes ebbs barefoot towards the mosque doors. We can only stand and watch. My heart sinks. I have never felt such an urge to be part of something. Committed to the sidelines by my atheism. Temporary purgatory. A joyful jealousy though; happy for all those with spiritual membership. All who believe.
Trying not to sound choked up I turn to Claire. “Everyone needs to come here. Everyone needs to come here at least once and see this. Islamaphobia would just disappear. These people are extraordinary.”
Simply put, we are in a devoutly Muslim country. Two lone westerners wandering oround in, arguably, Pakistan’s major place of worship. And it is categorically not possible to be made to feel more welcome.
People come up to us and say hello. They shake hands. They invite us to ceremonially break their Ramadan fast with them. After prayer they invite us to their picnic rugs to enjoy dried fruit, curry, naan and drinks with a few generations of their family; to talk about Manchester, tea and James Bond. They invite us to be shown around their city. They invite us to stay with them at their homes. “You leave tomorrow? Come tonight then, don’t stay in a hotel!”
They invite us into the beating heart of Pakistan. To experience true Islam. To bathe in human kindness.