It was Friday morning, May 17. The jet lag was over. The sun was bright. People were elegantly dressed, the roads relatively busy, but nothing near the congested roads of bigger cities like London, New York, Jeddah or Lagos. Some people were walking by the side of the road, a common culture in this beautiful land. When is the Friday prayer? I asked a fellow. It normally starts around 1 p:m, he answered. How far is the mosque? “It is nearby, you can either walk or take a taxi,” a uniformed officer told me. A gentleman by the side looked at me and said, “I am actually going to the mosque”, and so I joined him in a taxi. About 10 minutes later, the taxi driver stopped, and we paid him five Somoni (the name of their currency) each. In Dushanbe there are two types of taxis, the ones that are officially registered, and those run by individuals. Of course for a stranger, it is always advisable to use a registered taxi, although they might be more expensive, but at least they are relatively safer. This is an advice that can help you, whenever you travel around the world. I once had terrible a experience using a non-registered taxi in a foreign country, a subject for another day.
Almost everyone in that area was walking towards the mosque, gently and respectfully. Although people tend to be liberally dressed, they are modest in their public attitudes compared to what you see in European and other Western capitals. Those who drive left their cars in a relatively long distance away, avoiding unnecessary congestion. As I turned right, I was greeted by this marvelous architecture, squared in shape. The inner part of the mosque was built within the shape of the square, while the central part of the square was left as an open space. As we entered the main prayer hall, the Imam was delivering the pre-Khutbah (pre-sermon).
The Imam is a relatively old man, approximately in his late sixties or early seventies. He was wearing a medium sized turban, and an Eypto-Persian style long gown. His trimmed beard was grey, and was seated comfortably on the pulpit. Although I don’t understand the Tajik language, but from the ahadith (sayings of Prophet Muhammad (upon whom be peace), I could figure out he was speaking about generosity and humility. He was particularly emphasizing the reward for those who are rich but humble, as well as the poor people who are generous. Even if you don’t fully understand the Tajik language, there is something beautiful about this Imam. He has a compelling humility. One of our tour guides told me that the style of Khutbah (sermon) employed by the Imams, is one of the factors attracting people to the mosque. Because they focus on piety, generosity, brotherhood and those social values that hold the society together – a theme that people identify with in post-Soviet Tajikistan.
After finishing the pre-Khutbah and the call to prayer was made, the Imam took to the pulpit again. Standing and facing the congregation, he started delivering the main sermon. Here was another lesson I learnt. The sermon was the shortest I have experienced. It was not more than ten minutes long. So those coming from work, or having other responsibilities to attend, can benefit from the sermon, and then go back to their businesses on time.
Secondly the voice of the Imam was one of most melodious I ever heard. Another quality that is common among the reciters of the Qur’an in Tajikistan. Their voice has a thinly-vibrant eloquence that keeps your nerves intact, and your mind fully focused when they recite the Qur’an.
As the Friday prayer ended, I could see strangers like myself busy bringing out their cameras, taking pictures, and the joy on their faces summarized how fulfilling it is to visit this country. As we came out of the mosque, I noticed there was a bookshop by the side. I quickly entered. Looking around, I saw prominent texts in the Islamic sciences, like Tafsirul Qurtubi, Tafsir ibn Kathir, Fathul Bari (the commentary of Sahih Al Bukhari) etc. One of the youths quickly came towards me, with a smile on his face. After we exchanged greetings, I asked him the name of the mosque? “This is Abu Hanifa mosque,” he said in fluent Arabic. “It used to be called Imam At-Tirmidhy mosque, but it was changed to Abu Hanifa mosque about three years ago.” “I understand you have a unique way of memorizing the Qur’an?” I asked again. “Yes we do, there is actually a school called Mehrubat outside Dushanbe, they are specialists in that, just quote any verse, and the reciter who memorised the Qur’an will immediately tell you the chapter and the number of the verse,” he explained. Looking outside the bookshop, the gentleman said “apart from the mosque and the bookshop, we also have Abu Hanifa University”. So it was a triangle of a mosque, bookshop and a university. As I crossed the road around 2:30 p.m, I heard the enzymes in my stomach beginning to hold a noisy conference. I quickly intervened by entering the next restaurant, where none of the staff on duty speaks English or Arabic. So how do I place an order?
To be continued…
Read part 1 of this travelogue here.
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