DRAFT: Al Qiblatain


I cannot tell from the arc of the stairs which way I am meant to go. How big of a prayer space should I be looking for? A few older women sit crouched under a concrete cove. Is the space before them all that there is? Am I meant to rise or remain? Hollyhocks and palm trees shush the muttering wind. I do not know what to do.

Climb the stairs, I will my limbs. When you arrive, you will likely find out if you are where you are meant to be. Bismillah, I say to Isra, and we start off with our right feet.  We have come to the Mosque of the Two Directions, Masjid al-Qiblatain.

Like dampness or dust, like something enclosed, the air up the stairs is powdery. Its taste recalls basements and attics: it is the smell of boxed sealed with tape, of washing powder and lime.

At the top of the stairs, a guard in black sits in a corner, sleeping. Her presence is reassuring. I have come to a place where there is something reckoned worth protecting. Climbing out from the stairwell, my feet touch carpet. Oxblood red, its thickness dampens the musalla’s evening sounds.

The women’s section is built up high, like a tree house, with grated walls protecting the privacy of the supplicants above and below. They do not see us and we do not see them, and Allah sees everything. Through the grate’s wide woven mesh of interlocking holes, I can make out discrete sections of the main musalla. It is lined with pillars. These in turn are painted white, with hollows cut into their faces to hold musahaf, gold and green. Clustered between the pillars are brothers in robes whose hands reach, beseechingly cupping. Please, they seem to be saying. Please, my Lord, Please.

It could be any other mosque, if you did not know about its history of change.  A beautiful mosque to be sure, with the spaces between its pillars forming a warren, a maze of places for the worshipper to come, to sit and to think. From far away, the columns and arches seem plain and clean, warm yellow-white. But from the faces of the pillars nearer to my peeping place, I become aware of the patterns woven into them. The color of bone, they are ornately engraved, geometrically enticing. Like the display of tiny, repeating skeletons that forms the curves of a coral reef, each inch of the pillars’ decoration invites contemplation.

We have come to this mosque to reflect on impermanence. We have come to remember the value of change.

When the community first arrived here, on the Medinan plain, Muslims faced Jerusalem when they wanted to pray. In accordance with the revelation, the companions learned to turn their faces toward the Farthest Mosque to pray. It was at the Mosque of the Two Directions that this practice was changed.

While leading one of the daily prayers, the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) received a command in the form of a new verse of the Quran.


posted under Islam

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