An Eid of ‘flying’ hugs

May 24, 2020

Dr Ajaz Anwar remembers the “different experience” at Süleymaniye Mosque in Istanbul, where he once attended Eid prayers

Hugging is part of our Eid rituals. As soon as the faithful finish with their mandatory namaz, in assembly, all embrace their near and dear ones, holding each other tight.

This is also an occasion to forgive and let go of one another’s misgivings. It’s like everyone at the congregation makes a fresh start to making the same mistakes all over again which they will want to forgive and forget for the umpteenth time at the Eid next year.

According to the Sunnah, Eid namaz should be held outside the city in the open, and not inside a mosque (I can say this with authority, being a PhD in Muslim architecture). Taraweeh, too, is Sunnah; so that it is not essential to go to the mosque for it. No Turkish Sultan ever went for a hajj, because they always had state responsibilities to attend to.

My friend Minhaaj and his father weren’t on speaking terms with one another for quite some time. My friend asked me if I could mediate. I told him to wait till the Eid. On the Eid day, I took both father and son to the Diyal Singh Majithia grounds on Empress Road (sadly converted into Haji Camp). As soon as the prayers were over, I signalled Minhaaj to give his father a warm embrace. He followed the cue and clung to his father, not willing to leave him. The duo’s post-reconciliation emotional ways had the whole gathering join in with fondness.

At last Minhaaj’s father took a small coin out of his pocket and gave it to him, as ‘Eidi’, just to tell him that he was still a kid to him.

Of course, all that was in pre-Corona times.

I had a different experience during my first days in Istanbul. I went to the Süleymaniye Mosque for Eid prayers and was surprised to see the people leaving already. I learnt that in Turkey, the exact days for moon sightings as well as prayer timings are calculated scientifically and notified in the annual calendar. These remain the same across the country. There’s no Ruat-i-Hilal Committee comprising members with thick eye-glasses looking through expensive telescopes of pre-Galileo times that showed only inverted images (all for TAs and DAs). (The khutba too is issued by the state.) If you are late, you miss the namaz.

When he came to know that I was a guest from Pakistan, the imam (prayer leader) hugged me and said, “Bayram Kutlu olsun!” (Eid Mubarak). I thought he had introduced himself by taking his name; so I did the same: “Ajaz Anwar!” Funnily, he thought that I had said Eid Mubarak in a Pakistani language.

Upon hearing the multiple greetings being exchanged, the whole gathering that had dispersed by now returned to greet me. In fact, the imam made the announcement about me on the mosque’s loud speaker. Now everyone was hugging me and wishing me “Ajaz Anwar.” I respectfully reciprocated the same.

It was Eidul Azha, so there must have been some delay in slaughtering the animals that day. On my way to my hotel in Sultan Ahmet, many others said my name to me, making me feel quite a celebrity.

In Turkey, there is a tradition of displaying religious messages on minarets of mosques using neon signs. To claim that on the following Eid, my name appeared, composed with numerous bulbs swung across the lofty minarets of the mosques, would be too gross an exaggeration, but I must say that I dreaded the eventuality.

By Eid, I had learnt a bit of Turkish language. After attending the prayers, while I wanted to make the required correction, somebody announced that the correct greeting was “Eid Mubarak” and not “Ajaz Anwar”. I too grabbed the mike and spelt it out loud: “Turk kardeslerimize Bayram kutlu ve mutlu olsun!” The imam now took the mike from me and made the announcement in near-perfect Urdu: “Biradiraa- i Islam, aap sab ko bohut bohut Eid Mubarak ho!

It so happened that ever since our chance encounter last Eid, the imam after discovering the meanings of my name in various dictionaries, had found it easy to learn Urdu because it has so many words in common with Turkish language, including the word ‘Urdu’ itself which means army.

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Turkey has been locked down for the past couple of months, in compliance with the highly wise saying of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him): “Don’t visit [an area] which is affected by an epidemic; and don’t leave your area if it is affected by an epidemic.”

I am sure all those thousands who had impassionedly hugged me that day now under the looming threat would be sending me “flying hugs,” albeit sanitised with the traditional Turkish “kolonya”.

We, in Pakistan, need to follow the mandated SOPs by keeping safe distances, wearing masks and using disinfectants. Thronging to markets to make all sorts of purchases at the artificially inflated prices would only upset family budgets and at the same time increase your chances of getting infected.

(This dispatch is dedicated to my childhood friend Minhaaj)


The writer is a painter, a founding member of Lahore Conservation Society and Punjab Artists’ Association, and a former director of NCA Art Gallery. He can be reached at [email protected]

An Eid of ‘flying’ hugs