clack… clack… click.
I’m sitting on my prayer mat in the dark, absentmindedly fondling my favourite prayer beads. They’re a lovey blue opal stone with silver markers and a braided chain tail — a souvenir from our honeymoon in Turkey. I bought them in the old souq right next to the Blue Mosque, from a vendor hidden in a dark corner. Patterned, red pashminas covered his folding table and the contrast made the blue beads jump out in the dim light. Full of blissful newlywed arrogance, we haggled — throwing in French and Arabic words as if other languages could better get our point across. In the end, it was simple hand gestures that made everyone happy.
In my solitary reverie, my mind wanders and I start constructing my next blog post. How will it begin? What’s the best way to reflect on my stay here in Kuwait? Should I pull out the orientalized movie stereotype and refer to the adhaan echoing out over the hot desert? Perhaps it’s better to describe the earthy, human smells as throngs of worshipers push their way past me, spilling onto the dusty street after a night of prayer?
A sea of men in their white dishdashas and women in their black elabourate, gold-detailed abayas? Or maybe the dueling city neon lights — minarets that shine a path to Allah while garish signs advertise MacDonald’s, H&M, Parisian Fashion Houses, Marks and Spencer, and Starbucks coffee? Palm trees heavy with sweet dates and desert grasses that feel refreshing, bouncy and amazing on bare feet? Hearing the Qur’an being played from the kitchen while we watch the events in Libya unfold on Al-Jazeera? Smelling the salt water as a hot wind blows from the bay across the Cornishe? The joys of sharing the iftar meal with family and friends?
Eventually, the decision is made for me. Just like in the movies, a voice pierces the darkness and calls the faithful to prayer. As the dawn kisses the black sky, another voice joins him in the call to prayer — and then, another. The staggered round of adhaans echo across this part of the city, sounding completely at ease — a natural part of the day, comforting like a warm shawl.
I never grew up with the call to prayer being announced publicly five times a day — and so there’s a part of me that finds it impossible not to be in love with and perhaps exotify, Muslim culture. I get giddy and chills.
I’m a Muslim visiting a Muslim-majority country. But I’m also a tourist. An excited one at that. I’m burning through my camera battery on a daily basis and have already gone over 7 gigs of pictures and video in less than a week. This time my tour of Kuwait is limited to the mosque and exploring the sights of Ramadan. Thus far, it’s been very religion-oriented — making for interesting tourist blunders.
Maybe I shouldn’t have, but I raised an eyebrow the first time I heard the adhaan being replaced with the theme song to the epic film The Message in an upscale, touristy restaurant for the benefit of not offending non-Muslims. And perhaps I also shouldn’t have been surprised and embarrassed when I was asked not to take pictures of the Grand Mosque — forgetting as an ignorant tourist that perhaps not every woman wants her photo up on my blog.
But seeing that I am a woman, excluded from the male experience of the mosque, it certainly calls the recent 30mosques controversy into question. My only record of these events will be from the women’s section. If identities are hidden and everyone is covered, what are my rights as a tourist and as a practitioner? Would it be different if I were a photographer for Boston.com? (to be fair, I’ve seen many people snapping pictures and heard one being taken of me. When you’re a part of a 100,000-person event, it’s hard not to take a keepsake for Facebook).
It may be a combination of othering and over-appreciating Muslim/Arab culture, or perhaps it’s just my absolute joy and comfort at being in a Muslim-majority country during Ramadan. My absolute privileged too. Cultural misappropriation? But like any souvenir, there’s something extra special with owning a set of prayer beads from Turkey, buying an abaya in Kuwait or hearing the call to prayer live from the streets instead of recorded from your computer.
These objects and memories hold special meaning for me. An important time in my life. Sights and sounds I never thought I would see or hear. I certainly don’t think that prayer beads originating from a Muslim country makes them “authentic.” I didn’t come here to find the “authentic” Islam. Religion is deeply personal — and the only reason hearing the adhaan live breaks my heart and causes my soul to lift up, instead of being filed away as background noise, is because I’m at a place spiritually where I long to hear it.
All this in a non-post to say that while focusing on my religion, I also can’t help being a silly tourist too.