A call sounds in the distance. Like a ripple in still water, the sound has become feeble by the time it reaches me. I feel a tingle of anticipation. I know what is coming next. A powerful voice resounds across the horizons and I distinctly make out the words Allah o Akbar as they reverberate from a mosque far away. Once again I am aware of a sense of tranquility steal over me. For a few moments the four walls of my room seem to enclose a temple, a sacred space, For a few moments I am at peace with myself.
In my mind’s eye I see the faithful as they kneel and bow their heads with a singularity of purpose and a beauty of symmetry, unique to a flight of birds. My head as if wills itself to bow and I become one with the many others who are united in their reverence for what is greater than them. These prayers it seems to me, echo through the recesses of time filling the expanse of space. The sound rich with the faith that has survived centuries, carried forward on this very tide of prayers. Their prayers resonate in the skies as if calling upon their God, to descend from the heavens. Till now it has never struck me, that their God is different from mine, and I sincerely hope it never will.
As a teenager, I fancied myself an atheist, only to realize that it was my indifference to the idea of religion. Trying to place religion in my life only brought to mind memories, of numerous poojas attended, attractive only for their incense filled milieus and the incentive of delicious prasad. Visits to the temples were not only bereft of these attractions, they brought with them a sense of nausea, long lines, and sweaty bodies. Nothing in them inspired faith in me.
My first brush with the namaz however was quite unpleasant. As a 12 year old I briefly stayed in Oman. The house my family occupied happened to be just across a mosque, which I was told was an important one in the city. Five times a day, seven days a week, the blaring noise disrupted the peace of our household. The proximity of the mosque ensured the highest possible volumes. Instead of having a calming effect it was a source of disturbance to us who couldn’t or didn’t think it was possible for us to be a part of these prayers.
Years later I have come to realize that, figuratively being too close to the source of this repeated recital of their faith created an artificial sense of belief for those who did it and was seemingly offensive to those who didn’t share this faith. Religious fervor can transform itself into fanaticism, if rituals become mindless and soulless. But I may be wrong after all, their faith may hold stronger and truer than mine ever was, untested by time.
Coming to me from a distance the prayers acquire a mystical, magical quality. The distance gifts me perspective, and a welcome sense of detachment, the knowledge that I am not bound by ritual. This is the closest I have come to faith. I have only been touched by it; no depths have been explored or discovered. But it took a faraway mosque, an alien religion and a prayer without words to wake me to my faith. A call sounds in the distance, and I answer.