Hinduism is my life. Mythological epics like the Mahabharat and Ramayan are my most trusted guides. The mischievous Krishna is my playful friend, and the dutiful Ram is my moral teacher. All in all, Hinduism shapes every part of my existence. It may come as a surprise, then, that my most moving spiritual experience did not occur in a Hindu temple: it occurred in a Turkish mosque.
While in Istanbul a few years ago, I visited the iconic Sultanahmet mosque. Upon first glance of its imperial grandeur, I felt something stir within me. The massive yet perfect domes and minarets appeared too splendid – too grand to be merely man-made creations. Immediately, I ceased being merely an American tourist, just as the ornate Ottoman finery ceased being merely aesthetic embellishment. Something deeper was at play there, something I had yet to understand.
By a stroke of coincidence (or perhaps divine intervention), my eyes drifted to the individual who would soon help me understand: a Turkish man in his early twenties. Though my gaze was fixed upon him, he crossed my path without a second glance back, moving determinedly towards the primary praying section. I was forced to remain where I was, for females (and non-Muslims, for that matter) were not allowed past the waist-length wooden gate. Thus, I carefully tried to observe the man’s actions, hoping to vicariously experience what I physically could not.
He knelt down upon the precious Ottoman carpet without the slightest breach in his fluid and focused movement. It was apparent that he was solely focused on his spiritual search, unmoved by distracting thoughts like which sultan had commissioned the carpet or its inestimable monetary value. He bore a demeanor of the utmost calm, not outwardly displaying any of the fervency or intensity that I had anticipated. His posture straight and resolute, he raised his slightly-curved palms in dua, an act of supplication that calls upon the divine. To me, it felt as though his palms were calling Allah on my behalf as well – as though he somehow knew that my hands did not have the liberty to move.
Then, the volume with which he recited his prayers increased and reached my eager ears. The full and sweet cadence of Arabic seemed to vibrate every air particle around me. Though I lacked a literal understanding of the words he spoke, I felt an undeniable surge of internal comprehension. The purposeful shaping of his lips and the melodic firmness of his voice were as clear to me as my own during prayer. I could feel his devotion. Different languages and religions could not prevent my spiritual connection with this nominal stranger but emotional friend. Even structural barriers were meaningless: the gate could restrain my feet, but no gate in the world could restrain my thoughts.
After concluding his prayer, the young man lingered in reflection for a second before standing up and walking in my direction. The stern dedication I had witnessed before transformed into light-hearted content, the sort of blissful relief that follows a difficult but valuable effort. His once pale complexion had been enhanced by a smooth gleam, and his dull blue eyes had acquired a sapphire glow. It was then I first encountered the true light of God – the divine light that all believers seek. In that moment, I tried to mentally describe it as the Hindu term, divyaprakash, but the thought spontaneously transformed into the Islamic name, noor-e-ilahi. The harder I tried to separate the two, the more unified they became.
As I struggled to reach a conclusion, the former recipient of my undivided attention passed in front of me. We exchanged a glance, my confusion questioning his steadfastness. He said nothing, but the corners of his lips curved up slightly and his eyebrows drifted together, as if to say, “Why do you wonder? It’s not that difficult.” I could not see his face after he had passed, but when I subsequently broke into a smile, I just knew he was smiling, too. He knew, and now I knew. It didn’t matter that I went to temple and he went to mosque. It didn’t matter that I called divine light divyaprakash and he called it noor-e-ilahi. We both sought a common light. Ultimately, we both sought a common God. What else mattered?
Crafted by Rama Godse | College Class of 2019