Ali’s Flat: The Muezzin’s Howl

The minaret, a concrete needle against the bleached sky. Heat shimmers, distorting the muezzin’s call into a guttural howl. This is the Islam of the bazaar, not the sterile mosques of Wahhabism.

Ali, the anthropologist, his eyes like pools of Turkish coffee, lays it out. He spoke of a religious crossroads. Sunni Islam, he rasped, a desert sun beating down on intricate tapestries of law – the Sharia, a labyrinth of rules dictating everything from dawn ablutions to the permissible width of a beard. A life lived by the compass of the Qur’an, a dense jungle of dos and don’ts, mirroring the meticulous codes of Judaism, the Mitzvahs, a relentless hum of what to eat, how to pray, where to tread. Sunnism, a labyrinthine code, a million Mitzvahs tangled like desert vines. How to wash your feet, the angle of your prayer rug, the permissible number of dates to break your fast. A religion etched in the meticulous calligraphy of law.

Christianity, on the other hand, a hazy opium dream. Jesus, a bleeding icon, a tragic rock star strung out on love. No dusty tomes dictating spoonfuls of lentil soup. Just the raw, bruised image of a man-god nailed to a cross. Christianity, the anthropologist smirks, washes its hands of such legalistic grubbyness. Forget the Mitzvahs, forget the Sharia. Here, it’s all about Jesus, the flip-flop-wearing hippie radiating love under a dusty Palestinian sky. Follow his groovy vibes, man, that’s the only commandment. Saints become pin-up idols, their piety a performance art for the impressionable masses.

But before the desert wind of puritanism swept clean, Sunnism too had its prophets of love. Wasn’t there more to Sunni Islam before the puritanical Wahabis rolled in, their desert sand eroding the vibrant tapestry? Back then, Sufism pulsed through the veins of the faith, a mystical love affair with the Prophet. Not a craven copying of his beard style, mind you, but an adoration of his character, a yearning to embody his compassion. The Sufis, whirling dervishes lost in ecstatic spins, intoxicated by the Prophet’s essence. Not a slavish imitation of his beard, but a yearning for his compassion, his desert wisdom.

We walk through the Marrakech souk. The air thick with the stench of spices and sweat. A wizened holy man squats beneath a threadbare awning, eyes closed, muttering prayers. Is he a Sunni or a Shiite? The distinction blurs in the shimmering heat. Suddenly, a muezzin’s wail tears through the cacophony. A high-pitched shriek that echoes off the mudbrick walls. It’s a call to prayer, yes, but also a primal scream, a yearning for the divine in the face of the relentless desert sun.

Back in Ali’s cluttered flat, we sip mint tea, the sugar gritty on our tongues. He speaks of the Prophet’s companions, the Ahl al-Bayt, revered by the Shiites. But aren’t they role models for all Muslims? Aren’t their lives testaments to the Prophet’s teachings? But Shiism, ah, Shiism, he chuckled, a sly glint in his kohl-rimmed eyes. Here, the law recedes, a mirage shimmering in the heat. In its place, a pantheon of Imams, holy figures bathed in the afterglow of Ali, the Prophet’s cousin, a constellation guiding the faithful. Like the Christians with their pale Messiah, a figure of love and suffering, the Shiites revere their Imams, not for the rules they laid down, but for the lives they lived, testaments of righteousness. A celestial role model to emulate, not a legal code to dissect.

The lines blur further. Sunni, Shiite, Sufi, Christian – all facets of the same desert jewel, refracting the harsh light of faith into a kaleidoscope of rituals, laws, and love.

The desert wind picks up again, whistling through the cracks in the walls. It carries the scent of sand and the distant echo of the muezzin’s howl. A reminder that faith, like the desert itself, is a vast, ever-shifting landscape.

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