August 28, 2013

The Mosque, the Muslim, and the Morning Prayer

(This story is one to be continued)
This is a serious topic. I'd even say it is a controversial topic. Religion always is.  It wouldn't be a serious topic in Holland, but that's because we're a pretty much secular society. Lebanon is not, and as such, this is quite sensitive. I'll bring it to you as gently as I can.

Many Lebanese families have a second home in the mountains. This ‘house in the mountains’ phenomenon (or ‘house in the village’) traditionally was the family’s house in the ancestral village, and was used to escape the oppressive summer heat of Beirut during the long summer holiday, which, in the old days, could last as much as 3 months.  These days, it could be anywhere, but in general it is a place that is cool and quiet; perfect for summer and long weekends.
It is cool in the mountains when in Beirut it is 33C with a humidity of some 90%
And so some years ago, we also acquired ourselves this little house, not that far from Beirut, but way up high, in a cool and quiet place. It is on the edge of a small – primarily Christian – village, overlooking a little valley with pine trees. And quiet it is. We hear the jackals laugh at night , the cicadas chirp at dusk , and the birds tweet in the morning.  In summer we hear the fireworks from weddings, and in spring and fall the sporadic gun fire from the bird hunters. And on Sundays, we may hear the church bells chime, if the wind is in our direction. It is lovely, cool, and quite idyllic. 

Same view, just a day later
When we bought it, across the little valley, on the other side of the pine forest, they were constructing a little mosque. It looked like a small thing.  
I though it odd they would construct a mosque in a place where there were – very obviously – very few moslims, except in the summer months, when the gulf Arabs and the Saudi flock to the area (to escape the even more oppressive heat in their home country, as well as the oppressive laws related to alcohol and women). There's plenty of mosques in the mountains, but in moslin villages. Moslim villages are mixed in between the christian and the druze villages. And although no village is 'pure', in general one tends to stay to his own kind for reasons of security and tradition.
The little mosque with the moon rising behind it
Construction was slow. I never saw anyone really working there. But somehow the project grew and grew, and this spring, the mosque was finished.  
The speakers were installed on the minaret.

 They’re not actually going to call for prayer, right?” I asked my husband, “There are no muslims here.” (except for hubbie, that is)
No, of course not, Siets,” he replied.

Well, it did start calling for prayer. Five times a day.
 Now I live in the heart of Beirut, and I am surrounded by a total of 7 mosques, all in a radius of half a kilometer. Depending on the wind, you can hear all 7 mosques. And as is well known, there is no synchronization here. There’s always a very early starter, a very late one, and the rest sort of merge in the middle.

And I love the sound of the call for prayer. It lingers in the evening air, it has a medieval feel to it, and it speaks of an ancient tradition that has been passed on from generation to generation. My favorite is the evening prayer, the ‘maghrib, which takes place at dusk , and I like it because it is always a time when all the family members are coming home.  There's safety in that prayer for me.

I don’t even mind the ‘fajr, which is the early dawn prayer (read 4 A.M.) that takes place at a time when everyone is fast asleep. I don’t mind it, because Beirut is a noisy city anyway. There’s the cars, the little scooters that never seem to sleep, the sirens, the drunks walking home and the Sokleen trucks picking up the trash. When I hear that early morning prayer, I know that I still have about an hour and a half of sleep, before I’ve got to get up and go to work.
In the mountains, the quiet and serene mountains, it was another story.
 I am fine with the day and evening prayers, but that ‘four o’clock in the morning’- fajr was difficult. The speakers are directed at my bed room, there’s but a little valley between me and the mosque, and not a moslim in sight. If it is far away, and a little remote, you can drift back to sleep. If it is in your face, you’ll be counting mosquitoes until you can get out of bed.
We bore it the first night, we bore it the second night, and we bore it the third night. And then we were done. Now I, as a person born under the christian flag, could hardly go and complain. It was my husband, a muslim, who had to do the job.
He went to the mosque. There was no one, but the janitor. It took my husband multiple visits before he was finally able to catch the sheikh. As it is an empty mosque, with no visitors, there was no reason for the sheik to actually be there. It was just the janitor, and his recording of the prayers, that was needed to do the job.
The sheikh was a reasonable man. Of course, that morning prayer was a little loud. And yes, he understood that in an environment with hardly any muslims, maybe that morning prayer could be sort of put on silent, especially as everyone has alarm clocks these days.  After Ramadan, he said, he would take care of it.
And so we endured this throughout Ramadan. Actually, my husband endured it; I was on a holiday. 
With friends up in the mountains. Cold and windy on the mountain top; hot and balmy in Beirut
And then Ramadan was over. But the early morning prayer continued.
Hubbie went back to the mosque. Only the janitor was present, a man with little education.
We had an understanding with the sheikh that the ‘fajr’ would be put on silent,” he said.
Who is we?” asked the janitor.
Well, me, I’m a muslim, and my Christian neighbors.”
Oh, so you’re siding with them?”
Siding with them?”
Yes, you’re taking their side?”
Whose side?,” asked hubbie.
The Christians. We put the prayer if we want to, and now get the hell out of here,” replied the janitor.
But I had an understanding with the sheikh.”
 To make a long story short, hubbie (a moslim) was almost kicked out of the mosque, and the 4 o’clock in the morning prayer is up and running, loud and clear, regardless of the fact that there are no muslims to heed the call. Now you can give me a religious reason, i.e. it is an Islamic duty, but somehow I believe that if we are going to live together, there's room for compromise. Hubbie is now looking for the owner of the mosque . Let's see if we can comewto an understanding.

(to be continued) .


Anonymous said...

Good Luck,,, Owner will not do anything about it. You will just have to wake up for for morning prayers,

Anonymous said...

Remember Bush: those who are not with us, are against us. Goos luck. Y.

Anonymous said...

Owner is likely one of those wealthy gulf arabs you mentioned. It seems incredibly stupid for a lebanese to do this, but a tourist/seasonal resident might not understand this and feel it is their duty to bring a mosque to the village.

Anonymous said...

This is one reason why Lebanese villages are divided based on religious beliefs. It is nearly impossible to reason with those that feel that it is their religious duty to impose/force their religious beliefs onto others that do not share the same beliefs. Hence the reason why we have these religious people killing/bombing innocent people and using their religious beliefs to justify their actions. How bizarre it is that these all too common and often, these barbaric acts are committed as the killer or " martyr" sites religious text to validate the killings of innocents? If this is a religion of peace, who needs an enemy? People please do not be afraid to question the obvious- there is a big difference between political correctness and education oneself..

Anonymous said...

Some Muslims these days are so in-your-face with their beliefs these days.

Anonymous said...

Yes, true compromise. I feel sorry for you. Things like these are the reason why I left Lebanon. It's hard to reach any understanding at all. It's always me or you, and of course I'll do everything in my power for it to be me - unless you are a friend or family member. Lebanon has a history that talks about failure to compromise, written all over it.
I wish you best luck. There is no harm in trying. But I don't think you will be able to put the fajr prayer "on silent". Call for prayer is maybe the only reason of being of this mosque, since it's empty most of the time. Maybe you can get them to turn the speaker another way, maybe even lower the volume a little on top.