WASHINGTON – (A memory from Kabul, Afghanistan). The October weather was just glorious in Kabul. The pale blue sky was terse. Not even a small cloud. The air was balmy. The temperature very comfortable, notwithstanding the altitude. The venue for the workshop I was going to lead was in the outskirts of the city. From the yard outside the main building, I could see a large hill. And, over there, people were flying lots of colorful kites.
It all looked peaceful, serene and very pleasant. Over there, no fortifications, no armed guards, no signs of any troubles. As we convened around a large table in the main conference room, the head of the organization called the meeting to order. Before we could get started, he politely informed me, the tradition is to say a prayer.
And so he asked a young man sitting almost in front of me –I shall call him Abdullah– to recite the prayer. I had met Abdullah shortly before. There was a tender, gentle intensity about him. A rather tall and strong man, with dark hair and green eyes, he spoke softly about a Province in Afghanistan’s North East, where his home is.
The beautiful prayer
Anyway, as Abdullah was about to begin, I expected a brief, almost mechanical invocation, just because it is a ritual obligation. I have witnessed similar (Christian) invocations at some public events in America. People politely listen, and then they move on to whatever the business at hand is.
But this was different. Forgive my ignorance, but I did not expect the prayer to be in the form of a song. Abdullah had a hauntingly beautiful voice. Very melodious. And the prayer sang in Arabic sounded both solemn and soothing. It was not long and yet not short either. I was struck by Abdullah’s singing. After he ended there was a long moment of silence. Everybody was quiet.
And then the head of the organization spoke and got our meeting started.
The Koran’s teachings
Afterwards, during a pause, I approached Abdullah and complimented him for his beautiful singing. Even though I understood nothing –I told him– I was really touched by the melody of his voice, and by the harmony of the sounds.
He smiled, and said to me with an intense, yet gentle expression in his eyes :“The Quran teaches us to be good people. It is so sad that some have misinterpreted it so much. Being a good Muslim is all about faith, and about how to be good.”
I listened to Abdullah. Afer he spoke, I looked again at the magnificent Kabul sky. I felt the balmy air, and I saw the kite runners in the distance. Serenity all around me. I was at peace.
And I really wanted to believe what Abdullah had sincerely said to me. I really wanted to.