The Islamic Post Blog

Touring: In the Mountains, a Day on the French Side by Khalida
February 2, 2009, 8:37 am
Filed under: January Volume I- 2009, Magazine/ Culture, Touring, travel | Tags: ,

By Razia A. Muqit

Islamic Post Contributing Writer

France. Most people, when they think of this country, have visions of city life with bright lights and big tall towers. But that is not what I saw in the French Pyrenees, when I arrived from the small Spanish village in which I had been staying the previous week. What I saw was peace. The mountainous area exuded a feeling of calm serenity. People moved here and there in the markets, but the countryside called me home.
“Wow. Is this where we are stopping?” I asked Abuela (or grandmother –for me she wasn’t blood, but that is a title used for the local older women).  “Not here, but a little ways further up we will. I want to buy some fresh baked bread and I know a good stall about 10 kilometers from here where it tastes the best.”
“Okay,” I replied, looking off at different pictures displayed on the post cards that covered a stall directly outside my window.
“Allah’s majesty is ever present throughout the entire world,” I thought to myself. Just look at these flower and mountains, vibrant colors bursting from them the way light bounces off a shiny surface and gleams on everything. Allah Almighty’s grandeur was also very noticeable in the streams we passed, their crystal clear water running quickly over the smooth surface of various rocks that sparkled, reflecting His might and majesty. “France and I are getting along well so far,” I mused in my mind, as the car came to a screeching halt.
Abuela decided since the pedestrians in front of us didn’t have the slightest idea of how to NOT walk in front of the car; we would all just walk from here on. So we walked. We walked past brightly painted portraits of lilacs that sat perched upright on the vendor’s tables. We walked past the murmur of a few smiling people who were all staring at me, my religious clothing separating me from the rest. We walked past twirling children and the smell of roses; past goat cheese that had a faint odor and shoppers all babbling on in French about what to buy and where to buy it; we walked through a picturesque scene that made me realize how blessed I was.
Finally we bought the bread and some fresh cheese, along with some other food purchases that I couldn’t eat, such as a spread made from duck meat. After that, we all trekked back to the car and continued our drive through France, to an ancient French monastery. While driving, my little cousin began asking me about being Muslim.
She said, “Is it like being a nun? If it’s not, then why do you dress like nuns do? Do you believe what mommy believes? Or what Abuela believes?”
And the questions continued on until Allah Almighty allowed us to arrive at the little village where the monastery was located.
Walking around the monastery, although strange to me at first, soon began to seem like a trip through history. Islamic influences were visible everywhere. The structure of the monastery, the archways of some of the entrances, and most of all: the way many of the people dressed in the various portraits on the walls. But where do long robes and covered heads come from? Not Rome or Greece, where the fashions tend to bare. Not England, nor Germany, nor even France. Religious people dressed the same in the time of Mary, mother of Jesus, as they do today.
The Pyrenees, which are located between both Spain and France, have much, if not the same, Islamic influence that the Spanish side received during the Muslim rule. The influence didn’t just stop at the border and say, “Oh, well. This is the end of Spain so…I guess that’s it.” No. It spilled through that little French village with defiance and pride, boasting of itself.
The walk took us through more than just the monastery. It took us around the village, through beautiful lush gardens, and to a park; where we had lunch. It was approaching Asr time now, the time for late afternoon prayers, and my mind began to think of places where I would be able to pray. Nothing came up. I decided I would make my decision when the time for prayer actually arrived and, for the time being, I would just savor my crisp French bread and delicious Spanish cheese. For a while we stood around that park under the shade of an old wooden gazebo. Next to me, a fountain trickled and I saw more influences from Muslims.
“The Muslims who came here came from the desert, and they believed water was a relic to be persevered and respected as a gift from God.” My tour guide at Al Hambra had told us, when a fellow tourist asked why there was water running constantly everywhere we went. Even now in the middle of a small village there was a fountain of water. Near here I prayed. The unique design of these fountains was that there was no outlet for the water to escape, the water was simply kept flowing at a rhythmic pace in a complete circle of fountains so that the water was always fresh and never stale or settled.
After completing lunch, we headed back through the town to the car. On the way to the car, a group of people were passing us. They were definitely French because they were chatting together in their own native languge. Before they made it past us, I said in a booming, excited voice, “Bon Jour!” and, that quickly, France was gone, in a whirl of bread, monasteries, fountains and flowers.


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