I am one of these crow-like women now, draped in black

Travel Writer: Blathnaid De Roiste visits the sacred shrine of Fatima Masuma in Qom

The sacred shrine of Fatima Masuma in Qom, Iran.

The sacred shrine of Fatima Masuma in Qom, Iran.

 

A roadsign directs us to the Persian Gulf and our car swings a turn. Suddenly we’re driving into the evening sun; watching the golden globe hurrying to settle itself behind the rocky hills.

Moment by moment, we’re losing sight of the salt sea; a stretch of land, 12 hours across by car, where pure salt sits glistening on the darkening horizon. We ask our driver about it, but with no common language, we fail. My mobile app calls out the Azan; we’ll be late for Maghrib, the evening prayer to Allah, uttered in the moments before darkness truly falls.

Finally we reach the city of Qom, 125 kilometres southwest of Tehran, and make our way to the shrine of one of the Ahlulbayt, Fatima Masuma (pbuh), descendant of the Prophet (pbuh).

Her final resting place sits in a stunning courtyard, marble and turquoise; the shrine covered with a dome of gold brick. I enter through a mirror mosaic doorway, that sparkles from every angle, like the polished Waterford Crystal on the Christmas dinner table of my childhood, testimony to my father’s days as a glass-cutter.

Inside the chamber, a crush of women clamber towards the shrine, all draped in the long chador that covers all but their face and hands. Moving and breathing in one body, I smile to myself, thinking how strange life is. I am one of these crow-like women now, draped in black, here to offer my Salams.

I push and weave and finally my hand succeeds in gripping the grill of the shrine; I pull my body with sheer force against the wave of women, until I’m touching it from my head to my feet. Kissing the silver of the chamber, a grief overtakes me and I cry.

Many around me are crying too, saying over and over the names of the persecuted of the family of Muhammad (pbut). But though I too cry for them, I also cry for myself; for the years spent wandering in faith’s wilderness before God led me out into in the light. Those around me whisper “Allahu Akbar”, submitting to God as the greatest, aspiring to his life of peace and gratitude. And I sob harder for how misunderstood we are as Muslims.

Where I come from, these words can mean something so different; signifying moments of terror, falling skyscrapers and suicide-vest clad passengers boarding commuter trains on weekday evenings.

Those who twist the tenets of Islam have claimed these words, to justify their brutality and barbarism in their quest for power.

Leaving the shrine, I make a final prayer: that our knotted confusions about one another will be untangled, that we’ll find a common language, that our failure to understand each other will fade, like the salt sea, into the darkening horizon. Insha Allah. God willing. Le cúnamh Dé.

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