Eid is a time of joyous celebration and spiritual accomplishment at the culmination of the month of fasting. From dawn until dusk, it is a time of celebration in the company of one’s family and community, accompanied by new clothes and henna. As part of our fieldwork for the research project, Journey into Europe, which took us across Europe and into Germany, I woke up early at 3:00am with our team: Frankie, Mina, and Ibrahim. We drove one hour from Munich towards the Alps in the misty morning and into dusk, which held a sense of adventure to come. We did not know what to expect, only that there was this mosque built in the Alps and we were invited for Eid prayers by the Imam himself, Imam Idris. The very word “imam” is rooted from the Arabic word meaning ‘one who leads’ or ‘the one in front’; and appropriately he would stand in front of the men below on the ground level and women above on the first floor who had gathered in rows to offer prayer to God, the Compassionate, on this day of Eid.
The mosque’s appearance pleasantly surprised me. It was not like any other mosque I had visited on this journey (and we had visited many). The first thing I saw were two large glass windows containing a modern library with books, tables, chairs and plants – systematic and well laid out in the best Germanic style. The minaret outside was like a piece of dazzling jewellery with Arabic kalimas inscribed all the way to the top in steel. Brilliant blue glass covered the front of the mosque. Inside the look was clean, cream, and calming. Imam Idris in traditional clothes sat in a large hall against an arch made of inscribed Arabic holy words. The pattern within the designs on the wall around us was so subtle that they could easily be missed by one who does not see through the eye of an artist. In sophisticated artistic designs “Allah” in Arabic on the right, and “Muhammad” (PBUH) in Arabic on the left, were inscribed above the Imam.
[quote]The geometric Muslim pattern was a symbol of Al Andalus[/quote]
The male members of our team made themselves comfortable downstairs, whilst removing their shoes as a sign of respect. In the upper section, the blue carpet was clean and simple. I sat with Mina, next to a row of women I had never met; but they smiled at me and when I asked what the imam was saying in German and in Turkish they kindly explained the details. I sat absorbing the atmosphere. In the women’s section, the word ‘Allah’ was written in a simple geometric cubic design inscribed onto the cement ceiling above me repeated again and again, as in the repetition of zikr that removes the zang (or rust) from the heart (here I am alluding to a Quranic verse). On the roof and directly above me was another motif in cement I was familiar with. The same motif was repeated on the panels behind us and on the large glass window to the right. The motif was a geometric pattern that I had found on the tiles in the Alhambra and Cordoba mosques. Subsequently, I saw this pattern borrowed and adapted from Andalusia to Germany, Dubai and even in our very own Shalimar Gardens in Lahore.
This to me was fascinating. The country we had visited prior to our arrival in Germany was Spain, Andalusia. There I had seen this pattern everywhere, even on tiles that were a very popular souvenir item with thousands of tourists from around the world. The geometric Muslim pattern was a symbol in this mosque of Al Andalus – a time in Europe’s medieval history when people of all faiths and cultures lived together with deep faith, reason and mutual respect. Knowledge was of utmost importance and of great value – no matter where or from whom it came.
As the time for Eid prayer approached, the lower hall was packed to an extent that the men over flowed into the top floor, and the women moved behind. There was an atmosphere of great respect between the men and women – none of the men stared at the women, but rather adopted a demeanor that brothers have towards their sisters. With a unanimous voice and sequenced action, all the believers fell into prostration by lowering the most supreme part of the human body and faculty, the brain – the seat of intelligence and knowledge, to the ground in humility before the Creator of the Universe.
After the culmination of the Eid prayers, mutual greetings echoed within the halls. The Imam and his wife were meeting and greeting all the members of the community like gracious parents. I had requested the Imam’s wife, Nermina, for an interview as part of the research project and she graciously took me to the library for the interview where tea and sweets as part of the celebration for Eid were served. Her young teenage son (barely 12) brought her a gift – a beautiful rose wrapped in festive wrapping paper – and they warmly embraced. During the interview, Nermina talked about her life. She was from Bosnia and women in Bosnia, she said, are very strong, “the first they say is, ‘I have rights!’.”
She went on to talk about how her own Serb neighbours who had come to Bosniak houses just the previous day for birthday celebrations had come to take them away the following day to the slaughter houses. Her own brother who was 10 was killed as well as many male relatives in her family. She said this took away her will to live but her parents persuaded her to move to Germany where she met Imam Idris – an educated charming man with good manners. Together, they built a modern community based in this mosque with educational and welfare facilities. They have two sons and this has given her hope to live. Nermina’s pride in the mosque, while people celebrated over cups of Moroccan mint tea, was palpable when she said, “I am proud to say that there is not one revenge. Because we say, even though it was such a great and deep loss, we say “forgive, let it go”.
This is an important message for this time and age. Showing mercy and compassion towards our fellow human beings, no matter which group, culture or faith they may belong to, is a great human strength and high virtue, a quality which must be learnt and cultivated within each of us. Imam Idris came in and greeted his wife warmly and attentively for Eid. This was a perfect moment. In a pocket of Germany, men and women of all cultures (Pakistani, German, Turkish, Bosnian, Albanian, etc) gathered under one roof in profound compassion, humanity, and deep respect for each other. Our last act, before departure was to take pictures before the fantastic library collection of books, in the two windows that dominated the entrance view. A fact that seems to embody everything Imam Idris and his wife Nermina have strived to build here. This seemed to me to be a thriving model community for humanity in the scenic green Alps of Germany.
Dr Amineh Hoti is the only female academic in the project Journey into Europe. For more details, please see journeyintoeurope.com