Throughout my travels in Egypt mosques were a dominant presence. If I didn’t see one I certainly knew was close by the call to prayer ringing out from a minaret some where nearby. Finally on my last day in Egypt I had the opportunity to visit one which was a great way to end my journey through this remarkable country. I have always been curious about what a mosque would be like to visit and traveling in a country where Islam is the majority religion only increased it.
The Mosque I visited was built for Muhammad Ali, a beautiful mosque made from alabaster and limestone. When visiting Alexandria my guide Mohamed had pointed out a grand statue of a man riding a horse in the town square. It was of Muhammed Ali a commander in the Ottoman Empire who ended the French occupation of Egypt and then became the countries ruler, his dynasty would rule Egypt for over a century. Externally the building is quite impressive especially the courtyard tiled completely of alabaster, but it was what I felt and found inside the Mosque that really moved me.
The inside of the Mosque was absolutely stunning, it felt as though I had stepped into a completely different world. It was so open and spacious, the high domes decorated in gold and blue was like staring up into the heavens. Serene is what it was like, so peaceful and calm with people just chilling out on the floor enjoying the space. One of the best vibes I have ever experienced when visiting a religious place and I certainly visited a few during my travels through the Middle East.
Haram was a word that I learnt that day. Sitting in a cafe after my mosque visit the Friday prayer session was being broadcast live. I watched as Muslims prayed and then a sermon was delivered to the hundreds in the mosque and the millions across Egypt watching the same broadcast as me. When speaking his emotions changed dramatically and the word that stood out was haram as it was spoken with such an authority and force. I asked Mohamed what it meant and what it was in reference to. He explained that it meant something that is forbidden as it goes against Alah and the sermon being delivered was about ISIS.
Thinking about a past interview I watched where a CNN reporter asked a really stupid question to a very intelligent theology professor who also happened to be a Muslim. “Why does Islam promote violence?” his response stuck with me and I now understand it more than I did the day that I watched the interview. “Religion is neither violent or peaceful it is just religion, it’s what people bring to it that can make it violent or peaceful.
That statement is so true and I really got it that day standing in the mosque, like a light bulb being switched on. When I entered the mosque I felt peace and tranquility it was absolutely amazing. A similar thing happened when standing on Mount Zion at the tomb of Jesus Christ or before the tomb of King David. While these historic religious places are all very beautiful I don’t think they actually have any ethereal presence, after all they are just made of stone. I think it was the energy of the people around me reacting to these places, positive, peaceful and love projected out for all to feel. That is what these people brought with them that day and what I was lucky enough to pick up on.
For me this hasn’t been about searching for a religion that I want to convert to and embrace. It’s about learning and making up my own mind up about what Islam represents. Peace, equality, family unity, self reflection and empathy for those less fortunate were the lessons learnt. I have enjoyed learning about Islam and grateful to the kind Muslims that I met during my travels who helped me learn about their beautiful and diverse religion.
My learning has not stopped with my travels and I am currently reading a book written by the intelligent theology professor I mentioned earlier named Reza Aslan. His book No God But God is an interesting read about the history and future of Islam.