I wash my hands three times, taking a handful of water to rinse my mouth, I wash my face, my arms and feet whilst muttering foreign words I don’t understand; “La ilaha ila Allah Muhammadu rasoul Allah”. I don’t even know if I am saying it right, I say it anyways. The same way I heard my grandfather say it many years ago. Unwavering, he persisted, to in grain this ritual and phrase in my mind, that even as I have forgotten the order of this tradition and its purpose, I hold on to it desperately, hungry for the familiar calm it brings my heart.
This sacred ritual is so strange and illicit, “It is your secret, no one must see you do this” my grandfather would fearfully warn me. My secret, reminiscent of dead relatives and rituals long forgotten, it is the only way I can connect with a spiritual being I don’t know. The only way to fill this emptiness inside me. I bow down on my hands and knees, put my face to the ground and those same foreign words come to mind. “La ilaha ila Allaha Muhammadu rasoul Allah, La ilaha ila Allaha Muhammadu rasoul Allah”. I repeat this fervently. I don’t even know if anyone can hear my pleas.
Imagine that is you. That you don’t know how to make wadu, or why, that you utter the Shahadah but don’t understand it. Imagine, not knowing how to recite the Quran, not having the words of Allah(SWT) to reassure you in your struggles. Imagine, not knowing that “Indeed with every hardship, comes ease”. Imagine, not having stories of the Prophet(SAW) and his companions, imagine, not being able to follow their traditions.
Imagine, that you forgot Allah(SWT), the one who created you, the one who sustains you, forgives you and never forsakes you.
Imagine, your only possessions of a glorious past are a few foreign words, a forlorn effort to hold on, to fragments of you, lost before you even knew they were a part of you.
It seems inconceivable, hard to imagine, that Islam would be so forgotten, wiped from the hearts and minds of the Muslims, so much so that basic tenants of the faith become foreign. Yet, that is exactly what happened to the Muslims of Spain, who went from the glories and centuries old legacies of the great Tariq bin Ziyaad to centuries of war, torture and complete annihilation.
Imagine, Muslim Spain boasting paved roads, street lights that illuminate paths, physicians with pioneering medical tools to treat the ill in hospitals, and libraries full of books for monks, priests, and sheikhs to unravel. Imagine conquests, glory, knowledge, inter-religious tolerance and honour. Imagine all that greatness lost and destroyed, because in fighting and rivalry amongst amirs of Muslim Spain gave Christian crusaders an open door to invade, and betrayal sealed the fate of the last of the Muslim enclaves.
Imagine the level of persecution against the Muslims intensify, as a decree in 1526 forcefully destroys any remnants of Islam. Imagine books of knowledge drowning in ink-stained rivers and thousands more getting burnt. Imagine Muslim names changed, hijabs torn from the heads of covered women. Imagine Arabic outlawed in speech and writing, and Muslims forcefully converting to Christianity all the while professing their religion in secret. Imagine Islam becoming illegal.
Imagine the Muslims of Al-Andalus resist as they passed on their remembrance of the Quran underground, reverted to their Muslim names at home, wrote their books of knowledge in cryptic texts of Aljamiado to evade their oppressors. Picture them as they prayed in hiding and did wadu as if they were washing themselves normally. Imagine their pain at holding on to a religion that felt like holding on to a hot coal. Imagine how the decades turned that hot coal into ashes and their rituals became forgotten. Imagine that their descendants could only remember their grandparents say, “This is your secret, no one must see you do it”. Imagine, the children of the Muslims of Spain wash their hands, face, feet and kneel down, putting their faces on the floor, whispering fearfully “La ilaha ila Allah Muhammadu rasoul Allah, La ilaha ila Allah Muhammadu rasoul Allah” Hoping that their pleas would be heard and that one day their children would know, how and why they prayed.
Aljamiado: Is Spanish written with Arabic letters, it was used by the forcefully converted Muslims of Spain to pass on knowledge of the religion secretly.