Friday, 24 September 2010

The Neighborhood Mosque

Here is a beautiful poem my friend the Iranian poet Majid Naficy wrote to stress the need to separate state and religion in Iran. “I have come to this realization that for me as an Iranian it is not enough to request separation of religion and state, but I should also show how this tragic fusion had taken place,” he told me.

Majid was born in the ancient city of Isfahan and became a published poet at the young age of 13. He was politically active against the Shah's regime. After the 1979 Revolution, the new regime began to suppress the opposition, and many people, including his first wife and brother were executed. He fled Iran in 1983 and settled in Los Angeles where he lives with his son. He has since published eight collections of poems, including Muddy Shoes and Father & Son.  

Here is his poem:

The Neighborhood Mosque

                  by Majid Naficy

In our neighborhood

There was a tiny mosque

Which had a dome, but no minarets,

And as a child I thought

That Ali had been stabbed there. (1)

The man who called us to prayer

Was a chubby laughing janitor

Who dyed his hair, and beards

Hands and feet with henna,

And the big toe of his right foot

Stuck out from his torn shoe.

Every day early in the morning

I awoke to his harsh bellow

From the rooftop of the mosque

And thought of the shivering boys

Who with sleep around their eyes

And copper bowls in their hands

Passed by the empty mosque

To buy brains and tongues

Ears and cheeks

From the lamb cookery

At the entrance of the alley.

The Revolution gave the mosque two tall minarets

With loudspeakers on their balconies

Blasting days and nights.

The mosque was filled with bearded men carrying rifles

And veiled women standing in line

Collecting their monthly ration carts 

From the state head of prayer

Near his pulpit or prayer niche. (2)

But the laughing muezzin had gone

And instead of him,

The son of the local lamb chef

Sat on the balcony of one of the minarets

Keeping an eye on the neighborhood.

From then on, I would cover my ears

At the sound of the call to prayer,

And never pass by the mosque again

Fearful that the bearded young men

Would jump on top of me

And butcher me in the prayer hall,

Then wash their dirty hands

AT the ablution pool

Without asking themselves:

Is it lawful to shed the blood of a "warring infidel"

In the confines of the neighborhood mosque?

          September 16, 2010

1. In 661, Ali, the first Imam of Shi'a muslims was fatally stabbed in a mosque in Kufa, Iraq.

2. Prayer niche (Mihrab) is a niche in the mecca-facing wall that marks the direction of prayer in a mosque where the leader of congregational prayer stations himself.


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