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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Flophouse in Morocco - The Mosque

The day began at 9:30 AM when my trusted counselor and guide, Mustapha, stopped by the hotel to pick me up for a trip into the center of town.  First stop, the Hassan II Mosque, the third largest mosque in the world.

Full disclosure, this is the first time I have ever visited a mosque.  

About 20 years ago I glanced, just once, at the interior of a very small but beautiful mosque in the northern part of the city of Seattle but I did not dare to enter.  So, I had no idea what to expect.  No preconceptions.  Just a sense that being allowed entry to a sacred place was an exceptional honor.

I arrived just in time for the 10:00 official tour of the Hassan II Mosque which, unlike many mosques, is open to the public.

I wish I had had a tape recorder during the visit.  The guide, Mohammed, was exceptionally warm and gracious. I heard more of the elegant French I have come to expect, and he made us all laugh and feel at home as he led us through the main areas and down into the lower levels.  

I noticed as well that he made an effort to single out each person in the group, asking questions or including a person to illustrate a point about the mosque. 

Mine was:
"Madame, do you see the writing in Arabic above that column?  
Do you know what it says?  
It says "Interdit aux blondes" (Forbidden to blondes)."

After we had a good laugh, he smiled and said, "What it really says, Madame, is, 'All this is made possible by God.'"

My writing skills are unequal to the task of doing justice to this extraordinary structure.  I am sure you can find better descriptions in books and on the Net. Here is one. I shall, nevertheless, do my poor best to tell you what I saw and what I felt.

My first thought was: such elegant simplicity and luminosity, such spacious grandeur.  As we moved around the inside of the mosque and approached the walls and the the ceilings, I completely changed my vision and suddenly everything became complex - a dance of intricate, changing patterns repeated perfectly. The grand chandeliers above my head reminded me of Dale Chihuly's work.
Three of the four elements, air, earth, and water, were all represented:  the roof that opens to reveal the sun (or the stars), the stone columns and floor, the carved wood of the gallery, and the river that flows down the center aisle.  

And all the technology was cunningly hidden from view in the middle of the patterns that graced the ceiling and walls.  Necessary but secondary - nothing that would distract a visitor (or more importantly a believer) from the visual beauty and harmony surrounding him or her.

I left the mosque with a sense of peace as though some hungry part of my senses and spirit were fed in the brief time I spent there.  I will come back and I will try (if allowed) to visit the grand mosque in Paris when I return home.

Tomorrow: the old quarter the sea and the bazaar.

And a passing view of the King, Mohammed VI...

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