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Last Supper May 6, 2014

Posted by Janjan in I, Lawyer, Seriously now….
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It was the second night of my invitation. Together with my friend, Ali from Pakistan, we headed to the secluded mosque hidden behind a short path of alleyways located in a neighborhood downtown, at a very short walking distance from Elizabeth Mall. I normally see Ali dressed in a very cosmopolitan fashion but tonight he looked regal in the blue longshirt that is commonly worn in Pakistan.

Finally, the brightly-painted yellow walls of the mosque appeared, lit by the melon-orange sodium lamps nearby, stark against the dark starless sky. It was a three-story building, and looking from outside, you can see that the interiors of the wall was plainted entirely in white. There were no furnitures or any other ornaments inside, except for rugs which were used for prayer.

As we entered the gate, we saw that the Pakistani men had already set a carpet by the perimeter beside the mosque’s edifice. They were seated on the carpet and happily feasting. Ali and I went to a nearby faucet to wash our hands and then made way to the dining area. I took my shoes and socks off before sitting down cross-legged on the carpeted floor, taking my place beside the other Pakistani men. There was one Indian with us, who was also a Muslim. I was the only non-Muslim as well as the only Filipino dining among them. The other Muslim Filipinos were seated nearby but were not taking part of our supper.

There were no women. I believe that this mosque was, at present, reserved only for men.

In the middle of the carpet were metal bowls of food. On the largest bowl was a stew made of red beans and curry. On another bowl was a grilled flatbread, commonly used in Pakistani meals. On another bowl were quartered slices of red apples. And in the smallest bowl was nothing but water.

On one side of the carpet were seated the older men, a group of about 5 or 6 gentlemen with full, flowing beards, which was bare only above the lip area. They were dressed in traditional Pakistani garb, with the oversized shirts, the loose trousers and the white caps and turbans. Guessing from their appearance and the way they carried themselves, I understood them to be imams… leaders of the faith. On my side of the carpet were the younger Pakistanis, including my friends Ali and Azmat, who dressed in a more modern fashion.

There were no plates. While the flatbreads were as big as dishes, we did not put food on them. Rather, using the right hand, we tore the flatbread into pieces and used it to dip into and scoop the stewed beans. We took direct from the bowl in the middle, not using any serving spoons or forks, and ate with our hands. Sometimes, the men would talk to me, asking me, “How are you?” and smiling at my answers. All of them treated me with such warmth and welcoming, with no reservations whatsoever.  It was unusual for me, considering that I was someone that they’ve only recently met. All of the imams called me Brother.

On one hand, it felt a little surreal. Here I was, having an authentic Pakistani experience, supping from the floor and sharing a common bowl with my hands, with some men who seemed to walk off the pages of National Geographic. I didn’t mind keeping silent most of the time. I enjoyed listening to them talk in Urdu, their speech peppered with praises to Allah and admissions that Allah’s Will be done.

The food was certainly delicious, in a simple but soul-filling manner that only home-cooked meals can be. The beans were mildly seasoned and not overpowering in flavor. The flatbread was my favorite. It was soft, chewy but full, with none of the fluffy texture that I normally have with leavened bread. Someday, I hope to learn how to make that bread by myself.

supper

After we ate the dinner, I took the apples and a banana for dessert. The men kept saying my name Jan with a warm smile. I found out that my name is common in Pakistan, and that variants of the word Jan in their language could either be a term for endearment, friendship or respect. I think they took it as a sign of good fortune to have met someone with my name.

One of the imams took the time to sit beside me and talk. He started by instructing me on how to dine, the Islam way. First, I was to sit, and not to stand because only animals stood while they ate. Second, I was to look at the glass of water before me and take it with my right hand, which was clean, and not with my left hand, which was dirty. (In their culture, they used the left hand to clean themselves after defecation). Then I was to say a word which gave praise to Allah. Then, finally, I was to drink the water.

From their the conversation instructed more about the cleanliness practices of Islam, and then proceeded to an invitation for me to become Muslim, which was the one true religion as Yssa (their name for Jesus) was not God but merely a prophet.

I listened intently and smiled when he preached about the rightness of Islam and my redemption. I was not offended, actually, but saw it as an old man’s good intentions and wish that I be saved, as he, a Muslim, understood deliverance. It meant that he respected me and wished nothing but the best for me. I bowed in graciousness to his good words and thanked him sincerely for sharing me wisdom and enlightenment.

He seemed to be a man in his mid-60’s, face kissed by the sun and full of character, his eyes twinkling with the look of a man who has found peace and enlightenment. His full and bushy beard was white, and he had a strong masculine nose. His white hair (graying at the temples) was cut short and was very neat. For a man of his age, he had the stature and carriage of one full of vitality and strength. I felt like a child being patronized by his grandfather, a grandfather who admonished me for being 35-years old and unmarried. When he found out that I had a girlfriend, he said that the relationship was haram in Islam and that I should marry her right away.

I merely smiled. Under the darkness of the dimly-lit mosque grounds, the imam easily looked like my paternal grandfather, the one who died before I was born. It was easy to pretend that I was being scolded (in a fond manner) by my own lolo. For one moment, I wished he really were my grandfather. He seemed to be a very caring man.

He finished by inviting me again to convert to Islam and said that he was giving me a Muslim name, Jan Mohammad.

But soon, it was time to go.

I put on my shoes, washed my hands and gathered my things. The imams made their farewells. Some of them merely gave me a firm handshake. Most of them took me in a warm and tight hug and bid me to go with the blessings of Allah.

As we walked outside, Ali asked me what the old man and I talked about. I told Ali that they wanted me to convert to Islam. He smiled and said, “You know.. the guy you were talking to… he has grown fond of Filipinos. He said that you are a warm, friendly and loving people. You are almost Pakistani but only, you are not Muslims.” We both laughed at that. I told Ali that I will blog about this and conclude that the Pakistani that I’ve met are warm, friendly and loving people but only, they were not Catholic.  Ali smiled as we got into the car.

As we drove of, he said something which sums up my whole experience, “You and I… let’s form a new religion. One where every man treats each other with respect, kindness and friendship, and we shall call it ‘Humanity'”

I could only nod and put my faith in a better future. Inshallah.

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