The best thing about magical moments like the one I'm going to tell you about is that they occur so unexpectedly, they simply knock you out of your shoes. Well, socks in this case... because it happened in Bursa’s Grand Mosque one fine afternoon in July 2018 on our “maiden tour” with Anar Journeys.
Bursa’s “Ulu Camii” is a stunning prayer space with massive columns, countless domes, exquisite calligraphy, prayer niches and a burbling ablution fountain in the middle. What I love most about this mosque is that it has water in the center. The fountain not only gives the mosque a light and fluid energy. To me it also is a symbol of honoring the sacredness of water as the element of life.
As usual on our journeys, we began our exploration with some solo time. After an hour we found a quiet corner in the mosque to sit down in circle and share our impressions with one another in the council format. This means paying attention to listen and speak from the heart spontaneously, with an acute awareness of speaking the essence of what you want to say.
After a few minutes, two men suddenly sat down next to our circle. They started talking in Turkish in a loud voice. It was clear from their tone and macho-like gestures that they were mocking what we were doing. Many in our circle started feeling very uncomfortable. It was as if suddenly a heavy and destructive male energy had invaded our field. Some of us began to send spontaneous vibes of compassion to the two grumpy men.
My wife Aslınur was the only one who actually understood what they were saying. One sentence, as she told us later, went like this: “Look at those tourists… they don’t know anything about Islam and no one is explaining anything to them.”
Upon hearing this comment, Aslınur turned around and looked at the two blokes with a big smile: “Well, actually it’s me who is explaining Islam to them. We are on a spiritual journey together.”
Their faces dropped, not expecting that someone would understand what they were saying. With kindness and courage Aslınur invited the two men to join our circle. They hesitated for a moment. Suddenly they had turned very shy. But eventually they accepted her invitation.
In order to honor their presence in our round, the pilgrims started asking questions to the new members of our circle: What do you like most about Islam and Turkish culture? What is your first memory of entering a mosque? What do you think about Sufism?
Out of this emerged an amazing conversation. We could literally see the two men soften as they were sharing. Our curiosity made them feel heard and appreciated. Gradually they became a part of the circle. By listening to their stories, a personal connection was built. All the previous judgements on both sides were vanishing into thin air.
After this unlikely encounter there was a sense of having experienced a unique moment of collective healing in our group. The two men, in turn, were visibly touched by having met us.
How often do we judge each other by our appearances and actions, not noticing the common core of goodness and humanity that resides in all of us and – when touched by a simple gesture, word or even a smile – brings about instant connection?
May we strive to create such connections wherever we go and bring peace into our immediate environment. We might not always be in the frame of mind to act in that way, but it's something worth aspiring for. It's trial and error. My memory of that moment in the mosque helps me remember what's possible.
Cover photo: Our group after the circle (Credit: Siddharth Gupta)