So travel through the lands and see what was the end of those who denied [the truth]. (Qur’an 16:36)
Travel through the lands has never been so risky: as you enter the security zone of the first airport, you suddenly enter a zone of security checks, scanners, airport chaos, flight delays, and numerous other uncertainties. One simultaneous loses a certain degree of freedom in this dangerous zone of men trying to set their underpants on fire, armed guards on the watch, the old-time smiles of the airhostesses now have an edge to them as they are also being trained to watch for any unusual activity. Even bathrooms are no more safe; one cannot spend too much time there even if one has to.
Yet, leaving behind the high-tech, high-tension airport of Edmonton, arrival at Heathrow on my way to Damascus, had a surprise: Heathrow was filled with a strange, almost unbelievable sense of calm: the security was relaxed; no one was tense, the half-sleeping staff was actually friendly. The familiar T-3 building was buzzing with activity and the small multi-faith prayer room was occupied by no other faith than the one now maligned to the nth degree by the media hype which is always kept up by design; one event hardly vanishes when another emerges on TV screens with greater terror than the previous. The young man who was prostrate before his Lord did not notice my entrance and as I took off my shoes a man in three piece suit entered, said the ancient greeting of peace and asked if I was going to pray Zuhr.
Within minutes, we had established a jamaat, a congregation consisting of two individuals who had never met before and who were now joined in a common bond—a spiritual bond that tied them to a specific form of worship that no other faith in the world (now populated by some 7 billion human beings) practices. Five times a day, all around the globe, countless Muslims stand in awe of their Lord, they bow, prostrate and sit and these movements in their ritual prayer form a rhythm of life that has now existed for 1400 years without interruption.
Behind this rhythm is a Book—an unmatchable text, send down from High by the One who wrote in His Book that His Mercy shall prevail over His wrath—and a tradition which is the only tradition in the world that has survived all forms of tyranny from all kinds of despots. This tradition—the Sunnah of Noble Messenger, upon him peace—tells those who believe in the Book what to do with their lives in such detail that it is really an extraordinary event in human history: there is no other human being in recorded history whose words and actions have been preserved to such an extent that one knows what he said when he went to bed and when he got up; how he moved on earth and how greeted others; how he ate and drank and spoke. This tradition also tells its adherents what to do with their prayers when they are travelling and thus when I finished the prayer after two rakaats and my companion continued, I realized that he works at the airport. I waited for him to finish his prayer and then we shook hands, said, may Allah accept this prayer, and he walked out of the prayer room as calmly has he had entered. I may never see him again in my life but we have already been recorded in the book which leaves nothing unrecorded.
When the plane landed in Damascus, there was a sense of travelling back in time: the airport was so calm that one felt as if no one lives on this land. Unlike the modern airports of the Gulf States, this colonial remain in the Syrian capital still breaths the same air as it when it was first constructed by those deemed it fit to usher their colonies into the modern world by constructing one airport, one intercontinental hotel, one major road, and a few administrative buildings in the Capital city. They could now come and go as they pleased. These airports were often out of bounds or simply unaffordable for the natives; but those who ruled with a sense of superiority ran these outposts as if these were the back alleys of their hometowns.
Constructed during the late nineteen century or the early decades of the twentieth, airports such as the Damascus airport take one to the colonial era, even though the unfriendly immigration officers are now all Syrians who are perhaps trained never to smile at the visitors.
Why are you coming, where would you stay and for how long will you stay? All questions answered but hardly heard, the man in uniform stamped my passport and I walked away, with the greeting of peace which remained unanswered just as my greeting had met deafness when I had arrived at the counter. Outside the immigration area, the luggage was supposed to be arriving on a belt that looked like a piece of rubber totally out of place. Passengers were picking up trolleys at the cost of 50 Liras per trolley and then going to the conveyer belt which was moving with nothing on it. Behind this stood the custom staff, ready to pounce.
It seemed the luggage will never come but eventually it did. As I walked pass the custom staff (after answering a few question) into the fresh coolness of Damscan night, I breathed a long breath of freedom: finally I was out of security zones and the reach of the armed guards and scanners which can see through. The expectation of a blessed stay in this ancient capital of the world where so many Companions of the Noble Messenger once lived was a heart-warming thought.
To be continued……….
Muzaffar Iqbal is the founder-president of Center for Islam and Science (www.cis-ca.org), Canada, and editor of Islam & Science, a semi-annual journal of Islamic perspectives on science and civilization. He holds a Ph.D. in chemistry (University of Saskatchewan, Canada, 1983), but most of his published work is related to Islam and various aspects of Islamic civilization, including the Islamic scientific tradition. He is a regular contributor to Opinion Maker.
Born in Lahore, Pakistan, he has lived in Canada since 1979. He has held academic and research positions at University of Saskatchewan (1979-1984), University of Wisconsin-Madison (1984-85), and McGill University (1986). During 1990-1999, he lived and worked in Pakistan, first as Director (Scientific Information) for the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) Committee on Scientific and Technological Cooperation (COMSTECH) and later as Director (International Cooperation), Pakistan Academy of Sciences.