Gypsies! I first heard the word from Sheikh Jasim al-Ahmadi, the religious scholar. When I was ten years old, my family sent me and my cousin Saleh, who was nine months older than me, to spend our summer holidays at the sheikh’s home, for us to have fun and improve our Arabic. The sheikh had a kindly face and spoke as clearly as a BBC announcer.
In the meantime, Sumayya had completed seventeen rounds of her tawaf, and she’d started to feel as though her legs were about to detach from her body and go on orbiting the Kaaba forever. She was walking in circles with no beginning and no end, in search of a Mashari who had melted into the crowd. She hoped against hope that she would find him in the spot where she had lost him, loyally circling around the same point that she was. Her face drenched in tears and perspiration, she lifted her hands heavenward and cried: “Lord, I take back all the prayers I’ve ever prayed. Just bring my son back to me!” Health, wealth, the promotion she’d hoped for, for Faisal, a second child after four miscarriages. She didn’t want any of it any more. Every few seconds she would check the phone in her hand, hoping it would ring, hoping to hear his voice saying “Mama?” and telling her where he was waiting for her so that all this terror could come to an end.
London. Four in the morning. It was cold but rainless. A typical winter’s night. Darkness had crept into every corner and the pale light of the streetlamps did little to dispel it. Everything was still, frozen in a deep coma. At this inhuman hour, all activity had ceased. Shops and restaurants had shut their doors, and even the swift, tireless motion of buses and trains had ground to a halt. In the deserted aftermath, the streets appeared longer and wider than usual. London was a city of ghosts.
My mother and father took a more relaxed view and would always tell me that it was what God had decreed for us and we could not defy our God-given lot. But I was never able to believe them, nor could I accept that my fate should be so very bleak.
“You mean, all those dervishes don’t convince you? What about the engravings on the ceiling? And what about the prayer beads dangling from the lamps – you don’t like them?”He contemplated these points for a moment and then said: “I like them, but not because they have a Sufi style. In fact, I don’t believe there’s such a thing as a ‘Sufi style’. Sufism is a way of being, which can be taken anywhere in the world and to all kinds of people.”“So you’re not just a virtuoso musician . . .” she broke off as the waiter came up to them