Saturday, 11 April 2009

Favourite Writings - Damascus


Even now, as if in salutation, voices welled up along the edge of dusk; first a long-drawn, musical sigh from the mosque of al-Mouradiye, and a muffled answer from the al-Jarrah. Then, in an underbreath of melody, the gossamer-voices chimed in from all over the city, rising in splinters of sad sound, falling tenuously away.

Allah, akbar
Ashhad an la ilah illa –llah …

Every sunset the phrases are bandied between the minarets of the city ; the tenor near the Palace of Justice is buttressed by a deep-toned, passionless exhortation from the Mameluke tower by the Street Called Straight; elaborate cries issue from the loud-speaker of the Tingiz, and all the pre-recorded voices of Mecca and Cairo and Jerusalem fill the air with grace-notes and roulades. It seemed to me, standing by the tomb of the first muezzin, as if the singing had started from here. But the cries, which sound so frail, never die. Soon they would follow the death of the sun up the villages of the Barada valley.

God is great
There is no God but God …

Ashrafiyeh, Huseiniyeh and Fijeh would take up the call, and from a hamlet in the hills above Bessima the voice of a Caruso among muezzins threads down the valley on a legato of silver.
Northward, the harmonies steal into Anti-Lebanon, infiltrate the foothills of Antioch and force the Cilician Gates. From pink-roofed mosques the cry is thrown among the wooded steeples of the Taurus, disseminates through Anatolia and bursts over the minarets and chestnut trees of Istanbul. For a moment it is lost in the clamour of Bosphorous fishermen, and fades away where the Golden Horn dies a muddy death at Eyüp. Then, turning back in the red steps of the sun, it vaults the Iron Curtain and mingles with goat-bells in Bulgaria, insinuates itself among the mosques of southern Yugoslavia, until it overlaps the night.

Westward the voices move towards the Pillars of Hercules, hover round Mecca and Medinah like the playing of flutes, and purl over the rice-fields of the Nile. Already men bow to prayer on caïques in the Arabian Sea, and the last suras are being intoned through the mosques of East Africa. From Libya to Tunis the message springs into the crenellated villages of Berber tribesmen, and scales in redundant echoes the peaks of the High Atlas. Westward again, from the tiled towers of Rabat and Marrakech, Moorish voices peter out against the deaf waves of the Atlantic …

In my mind the cries had already reached Brazil,where a faithful member of some Syrian community was groping for this prayer-mat with a Portuguese oath. Black moslems were turning their blunt faces to the east, and the call was flitting from Indonesian isle to isle, taken up by a hybrid mosque in Singapore, thrown from the bunion cupolas of Lahore to the dome of Isfahan …
It was almost night.

Colin Thubron - Mirror to Damascus (sent to me by a kind friend who knows my love for such writings - like this )