The sun was setting behind the mosque and over the desert that surrounds the ancient oasis city of Wahatayn. Abdul Qadir bin Abdullah Al-Faheem, the muezzin, was shortly to mount the steps of the minaret to proclaim the salat al-maghrib from the top of the tower using only his voice and a simple, conical horn to amplify and direct it. Although the mosque had a powerful PA system, Abdul Qadir was a traditionalist. He refused to make use of modern technology to call the faithful to prayer, preferring to exercise his strong lungs. Five times each day, every day, he climbed the minaret and did his duty. He had held the post for more than twenty years without ever taking a break, apart from two short periods of illness, when he was physically incapable of making the climb. On those days, a pre-recorded call was played. It was his voice, but everyone who knew Abdul Qadir could tell the difference.
Something had happened to Abdul Qadir this day; something that had upset and disturbed him almost to the point of questioning his calling, even his faith. And yet it was something he couldn’t mention to anyone because no-one would believe him. Not one of those he called to prayer would accept what Abdul Qadir had heard this day. As his imaginary friend, though, he tells me everything.
This is the gist of what he told me.
Minutes after he had announced the salat al-‘asr, the sky above him changed. He was the only man who saw it. All the other men were at prayer in the mosque. It is likely that some of the women and children noticed the change, although at that time in the afternoon, most are indoors either shielding from the harsh sun or preparing food. In any case, they all knew that unless they could give some tangible evidence, which they couldn’t, the men would never believe them.
A cloud appeared in the sky above him. Not unusual – at this time of year clouds tend to appear sporadically over the course of a week or so, before the tail end of the Indian monsoon front whips by giving a couple of overcast days, sometimes with violent rain and even hailstorms. So he wasn’t fazed by the fact of the cloud’s appearance. Truth be told, it probably didn’t register with him, so unremarkable is it at this season.
He did notice the tight beam of intense light that emanated from the cloud, though. A hundred metres or so in front of him, it outshone the afternoon sun by several orders of magnitude. That was when he spotted the cloud. It was unusually low in the sky; lower than any he’d seen in his more than six decades of life; and it was an unusual shape. Its outline was reminiscent of a badly-drawn and incomplete heart shape – a broken heart, if you like. Perhaps its shape was designed to convey a message.
When the light stopped, Abdul Qadir looked in amazement. It was like being in a partial solar eclipse. Somehow, for a few moments, the raging afternoon desert sun seemed somewhat dim.
Out of the beam, or where the beam had been, stepped a man. It had to be a man, right? Nothing else could have been there. Anyway, it looked like a man although, perhaps, taller, more solid and muscular, like the Olympians of old. Abdul Qadir struggled to find a word to describe the man’s appearance. The only word that came to him was perfect.
The man approached Abdul Qadir and knelt before him, placing their two heads on a level. He rested a hand on the muezzin’s shoulder and said, softly, “You’re doing it all wrong. You’ve always done it all wrong. People of all flavours of belief. You’re all doing it wrong. This,” he said, pointing to the minaret, “is not what we want. What we want, what we have always wanted is an attitude of compassion, mercy, tolerance, understanding, forgiveness, generosity, forbearance. Not slavish obedience to rules.”
Abdul Qadir looked at the man blankly, his mind awash with questions, none of which he could articulate. The man rose to his full height. “You think you have answers… You don’t even understand the questions.” He looked sad. He walked back to where the light had deposited him, and as the light reappeared and he started his ascent, he said, in a sad whisper, “You’re doing it all wrong.”
Then he was gone. So was the light. But the cloud is still there, extremely high in the sky now. If you look carefully, you can see it, still in the shape of a broken heart.
Abdul Qadir raised his head to the sky and gazed on the cloud; an action replicated by thousands the world over, standing by mosques, churches, cathedrals, synagogues, temples, all types of places of worship including monoliths, standing stones and sacred woodlands. His voice joined theirs as they looked upwards and asked a single question with a single voice: Why me?
This was written in response to Kreative Kue 333 published on this site.