May 31, 2007

My Shrine...

As I was staring out of the window, I noticed the full moon.
I remember when I was a child, I associated the full moon with my love for my grandmother.
I used to tell her: " Bibi, every time I see the full moon, I see you. You are my moon."

I absolutely adored my grandmother. She loved me kindly, warmly, with no strings attached...
As benevolently and as gently as the moonlight.

So naturally on a full moon, I remember her.
As a matter of fact, I remember all my departed ones, members of my family, my great grand parents, my ancestors...Everyone I have ever heard of, even those remotely related to me.

Remembering them gives me a sense of continuity...A sense of belonging.
And now that Iraq is in pieces, their rememberance is even more of a priority for me.

As a matter of fact, I dream of them often, or more like they visit me in my dreams ... rather too often, these days.
And true to our traditions, every time they visit me in my dreams, I make it a point to offer food or alms to any worship place (be it mosque or church) in their souls name.

Another thing that reminds me a lot of my departed ones is Sheikh al Gaylani(Gilani) mosque and shrine in downtown Baghdad.

Sheikh AbdelKader Al Gilani was a sufi and a good number of my family followed his teachings.
Some even say that we are related to him and can trace our roots right back to 13th century Baghdad through the Gaylani school.

So when I heard that Al Gaylani mosque and shrine was bombed, something in me snapped.
I felt it physically, something around my heart...

I have often visited this mosque, with members of my family, one of which was my grandmother.

We would sometimes go in the morning and sometimes in the early evenings.
In the mornings, women (sunnis and shias - we never thought of these terms before the occupation) would congregate, pray and pay their tributes.
Some would distribute candies because a secret vow or wish had come true.
So whilst praying, sweets would fall around me and it was always a good omen.

In the evenings, you could hear after the muezzin's call to prayer, the chanting -Dhikr - of the sacred Divine names, repeated over and over until they mingled with the sunset and became One.

This shrine is more than just a place of worship for me.
Every time I walked in there, I would draw strength, feeling it infusing my roots with a new breath...
Everytime I sat there, I connected with all those who sat there before me, all the way back to the 13th century...
This place symbolized for me, my sense of belonging, my sense of being.

In my mind, this place was my point of reference, like some lieu that my inner compass recognized, gravitated towards, affiliated and identified with...
An attachment beyond time, space and geography. An attachment like some invisible rope handed down through generations of worshippers and contemplators. All the way back...

When it got bombed , I asked Aziz who knows this mosque better than anyone else, who was behind it. He replied matter of factly as if he knew it all along :" Mahdi of Iran, Mossad and the Americans."... And I believe Aziz for he knows.

And instead of sweets falling as a good omen, falling debris buried the wounded...And instead of sacred chants uniting with the sunset, the cries of mourning...

What have you done?
Not only have you smashed my country into tiny pieces.
Not only have you slaughtered my people.
Not only have you snatched my loved ones, my family, my friends, away from me.
Not only have you destroyed our homes.
Not only have you exiled thousands of us.
But you have also managed to shatter my memories, pull them out from their roots, like some unwanted weed.
You have managed to reach the only sacred place I had left.
The only place I had jealously safeguarded, secretly held in silence, lest you should find out about it.
But you even managed to penetrate that too.
Leaving me with nothing...
Leaving me with absolutely nothing but this pen and paper and a full moon staring coldly back at me.

Painting: Iraqi artist, Salman Shalhoob.