Sunday, July 19, 2015

Muslim friends and southern Spain

The ceiling of La Mezquita, Cordoba.
A few days ago, Muslims celebrated Eid.  Our Afghan driver ferried us to JFK airport while supping his wife's home-cooked food, apologizing profusely for the aroma in the car and explaining that he was breaking his fast and that otherwise, he would not have eaten at all.  While I stopped over in Dubai, the muezzin call to prayer reminded me that that was perhaps an important moment, 8pm in the evening and the last breaking of the fast signifying the end of Ramadan.  By the time I arrived in Singapore, the Malay immigration officer was only too glad to change shift and return home, lontong beckoning at the doorstep.

Growing up, I was surrounded by my mother's Muslim friends.  They made the most delectable cakes and practiced the most gracious hospitality.  My father, on the other hand, worked with Muslim chauffeurs and restaurant owners; and played football with Malays from his workplace and neighborhood.  Many of these family friends were Arab - or 'Ah Rub' as they pronounced it.  The very word conjured exotic images of Ali Baba's cave, the movie I watched at the beach club called "The Thief of Baghdad" and the newsreels of handsome Sheikh Yamani negotiating oil prices in the 1970s.

Sadly, in this day and age, the word 'Arab' almost seems like a dirty one, connoting the terrorists who attacked the Twin Towers and a dreadful nightmare of hijackers lurking around in your airplane.  This is especially reminded when you visit the new 9/11 Museum.  The depiction of Al-Qaeda almost scares you.  And these days, you are greeted almost daily by morning headlines screaming "ISIS" and such.

The famous arches of the mosque in Cordoba. 

A ceiling in the Alhambra.

Real Alcazar, Seville where Games of Thrones was filmed.

The pool in the Real Alcazar, Seville.

Yet, I must not forget that for every rotten apple in the barrel, there are many Muslim friends I still hold dear, descending from a rich heritage manifested in food, architecture, literature and history (violent or romantic or both).  My family recently made a trip to southern Spain and I remain mesmerized by the symmetry and geometry displayed by the mosaics, wood panelling and window lattice frames, strictly adhering to the Islamic command not to create any images of God.  The floral scent emanating from the Alhambra promises me of what heaven will be like, that the real heaven would surely exceed what I could already sense in those lovely gardens in Granada created to be 'heaven on earth'.   And the Nasrid cuisine - a small taste of it one night - evoked murtabak and soup kambing and reminded me of the Muslim influence that spread across the world,  that reached our doorstep many generations ago and culminated in the very friendships my parents made and which I would like to continue to keep.

Generalife, the garden in the Alhambra.

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