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Sunday, October 4, 2015

Upon Visiting the Jesus Christ Church

Biology proved humanity as one species with different colors and features, but in core anatomy, we are all the same. However, with the great gift of the mind and the power of thinking, we developed to be enemies of each other and we fight like no other wild animal does!

Away from home, away from everything familiar, I found myself in need of praying, in need of spiritual connection. At home, because of personal crisis, I always had the need to visit a house of God and pray or cry there, asking God to rescue me from the abyss I was falling into. As a Shiite, I always asked my family to take me to the holy shrines of our saints, somehow finding solace in letting out my grief with prayers and always found myself lighter after spending time there. But today, in this foreign land, I couldn't bring myself even to do my prayers properly in my room, and always suffered nostalgia for the shrines in Baghdad.

While I was walking in a park, two lovely young ladies approached me and started a small chit-chat. When they knew I am Iraqi, they gave me their card and invited me to visit their church, Jesus Christ Church of Latter Saints. For some time, afterwards I struggled not to go there, and I thought this would be betrayal for my faith, since Muslims visit churches mostly as tourists to see the fascinating buildings and historical possessions included inside. I wanted to visit for another reason: not that I was interested in the beauty of architecture or the historical treasures in the many English Cathedrals I pass by every day. I was really eager to get inside any of them and take full image of amazing designs a human mind and hand can create. However, during the last couple of weeks, with my nostalgia increasing, I wanted to speak to God, and for some reason I failed to achieve that in the small studio-room I live in. I didn't even know for sure where Mecca's direction. Something was setting me off, and it tormented me that I couldn't pray the way I needed.

On Sunday morning, I set out toward Jesus Christ Church of Latter Saints in Exhibition Road, London. When I arrived there, it appeared to be a modern building, with no particular architectural design to attract tourists, who would rather, maybe. visit the many amazing museums surrounding the area. I approached the building and with the encouragement of a middle-aged man with broken English, I entered the building and waited for the morning sermon to start.

The place felt reverend: all the men dressed in suits, as if it is the meeting of high-profile corporation. Someone on the pedestal was adjusting the screen for some video to display. The man with broken English told me that he became a Mormon five years ago, after being an Orthodox. I looked at the book of Hymns in front of me, and it was full of poems in praise of God the Almighty. Nothing was there to drive me off, or arouse any suspicion. Everyone sees me greet me with smile, and some extend their hands introducing themselves. I knew I looked different to them with my head-scarf, but it was a relief that all were warm and welcoming.

From what I understood from the man sitting next to me, this Sunday was a day for celebration for the Mormons. I listened to couple of sermons from outstanding people in the Church, and throughout the stories they told of different prophets, I kept wondering what was different between Islam and Christianity or Mormonism?!!! They talked about people who, in a hard moment of desperation in their lives, managed to grasp their faith, and rise above their hardships and spot the light at the end of their dark tunnel. They talked about people whose names mentioned in all holy books of Abrahamic religions; they preached honesty, integrity and faithfulness. Again, how this was different from Islam or any other religion?!! I know that there is no religion would allow lying, stealing, hurting others; I know there is no religion would preach shedding the blood of the innocence for earthly power!! So why we are fighting?!!

While listening to sermons that sound so familiar in its content regardless of its foreign language, my mind wandered back to all the sermons and essays I read about Islam as the greatest religion, and Mohammed the greatest prophet, and how many preachers did what they take against the Jews: believing arrogantly that they are "the chosen ones", and only they had the true word of God!! If Islam means "surrendering to the will of God, and obeying the creator", how is that different from Christianity and other Abrahamic religions? Is calling the creator Allah or Lord makes the Muslim's God different from Christian's God? Shakespeare's says a rose by any name would smell the same, and the creator that inspired Abraham is the same creator that inspired Jesus and Mohammed toward his word, so why we are fighting again?

Our division weakened us, and made us susceptible to doubt and fruitless skepticism. We are too busy in pointing out differences, highlighting assumed advantages and privileges, to notice that we all pray to one heaven.

I am a Muslim. Shiite, but I find comfort in a house of God, where He was referred to as Lord, and hymns were considered prayers, and music filled in the air. Still, I left this house of God as light as I used to feel when I leave the holy shrines of Muslim saints.

Nadia F. Mohammed      


Friday, October 2, 2015

First Morning in London

I am one of thousands, if not millions, who left Iraq escaping the violence, killing and terrorism which are killing the Iraq we knew since 2003. I had a relatively good job with good salary, but I couldn't bring myself to submit to its internal politics and accept its slavery of my mind and integrity. I am well-educated in a subject which barely means anything in a country where literature is dying and people, too busy with figuring out the harsh reality they live in, become indifferent to aesthetic expressions. I have a good loving family, for whom I speak a language that they don't understand. In a moment of despair and skepticism over the future in Baghdad, I reached out for every possibility that can take me somewhere safe where I can find myself and speak the only language I  knew. When a hand was stretched to take me out of the abyss I lived in, I took the chance and packed my bags. I folded my broken-heart, and said good-bye to the world that felt lately so small and suffocating the last breath out of me. 

I arrived London late in the night of the last day of July. Familiar faces of colleagues welcomed me in the airport to help me settling in. My first night in the strange city was sleepless. I was too excited to put myself to sleep. With the first threads of light in the sky, I jumped out of bed, got dressed, and hit the streets to explore the new place. Luckily, there was a park just around the corner in Russel Square. One of the things that I always wanted to do in Baghdad was to walk in a park full of flowers and green gardens, and now my wish was coming true. Pigeons were picking the grounds searching for crumbs, and there was a scrawl running from one tree to another. We don't have scrawls in Baghdad, and was so excited to see that small cute animal that for a moment I wished to be Piper, the witch who freezes time, so I could keep the scrawl on the ground long enough to see it closely and maybe take a picture for it. Bad I was not! I spotted a cafe in the corner of the park; the need for caffeine took me there. A nice old man greeted me with a smile and "how can I help you darling?". With a cheerful voice, I ordered cappuccino and a muffin. My ideal idea of breakfast: sitting in small cozy cafe in a park with the sweet morning symphony of birds and smell of flowers filling the air, while I sip my cappuccino and eat my muffin. Best breakfast ever and now it was happening. 

The breakfast was over, but not my appetite to explore the place. I knew that it was too early for my friends to wake up, so instead of going back to the hotel, I walked down the main street to the south of Russel Square. I walked on the right side trying to capture in my mind every spot my eyes were drawn into. I was not just looking, I was literally gazing at everything. With every step I was taking in my high heels, I could hear my mind screaming Joey's catch line when the six Friends visited UK, "London Baby!!"; I tried to hide the smile which my lips do whenever Joey's line flashed in the middle of my mental cheerful screams, but I couldn't. Luckily I restrained myself from doing his excited moves which he does when saying that!!

The city was waking-up: stores started to open, cafes are arranging their outdoors chairs, and the smell of coffee from the competing Starbucks, Costa and Nero cafes was filling the atmosphere. What could be more beautiful than this: my eyes captured images of flowers on the windows, in the stores and the smell of various coffee brands! But above all, it was safe! It was safe for me to walk and explore with no expected judgement, it was safe for me to walk on my own without a male guardian, and more importantly, it was safe for me to walk, watch, sniff and enjoy without the fear of hidden enemy waiting around the corner or unexpected sound of explosion to ruin the peaceful first morning in London

Nadia. F. Mohammed