Friday, February 28, 2014

Zamzam: Drink, Pray, Believe

"I brought you something." She reached into her bag, pulled out two small, plastic bottles.

zamzam water

Imam ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawziyyah, may Allah have mercy on him, said, "Zamzam water is the best and noblest of all waters, the highest in status, the dearest to people, the most precious and valuable to them. It was dug by Jibril and is the water with which Allah quenched the thirst of Isma'il."
The Story of Zamzam

The story of Abraham, Sara, Hajar and Ishmael appears in the holy books of many faiths. This is the Koranic version, as it was shared with me:

Abraham's wife Sara was old and couldn't have children so Abraham took a second wife. Her name was Hajar. When Hajar's baby Ishmael was born, Sara became jealous. The conflict created an  unpleasant home environment. Abraham asked Allah what to do.

Allah told Abraham to take Hajar and Ishmael into the desert and leave them in an destitute area between two mountains called Al-Safaa and Al-Marwaa.

Abraham took his wife and baby to the sand and windblown place. He gave Hajar a few days' worth of food and water and walked away.

Hajar followed her husband, calling out, "Why are you leaving us here?"

Abraham didn't answer.

Hajar said, "Did Allah tell you to do this?"

"Yes," said Abraham.

"Then it's okay," replied Hajar. "Allah will take care of us." She smiled at the baby in her arms. "Allah knows best."

When the food and water were gone, Hajar's milk dried up. Ishmael cried.

Knowing Allah would take care of them, Hajar ran from Al-Safaa to Al-Marwaa and back, pausing at the top of each rocky dune to search the desert for signs of food, water or a passing tribe. Once, twice…seven times she ran over the desert and up each mountain. Always stopping to check on Ishmael where he lay in the sandy space between.

Baby Ishmael became weak. He stopped crying. He began to die.

The seventh time Hajar stopped to check on Ishmael he was weaker than ever. But this time something was different. Beneath his little foot, there was a furrow in the sand. Water poured from the spot.

"…she heard a voice, and she said to that strange voice, 'Help us if you can
offer any help.' It was Gabriel (who had made the voice). Gabriel hit the
earth with his heel like this (Ibn 'Abbaas hit the earth with his heel to
illustrate it), and so the water gushed out."
"Zoom Zoom!" said Hajar, a word which meant in her language "to stop" or "to
collect something precious." She reached forward with her arms and made a well from mud.

"…the Prophet said: ...May Allaah bestow his mercy upon her (Hagar, the
mother of Ismaa'eel), had she let go (of the water of Zamzam) it would have
become a spring (rather than a well) whose water shall never dry." [Ahmad]

With the water, Hajar's milk supply returned. She nursed Ishmael and he grew.

An ancient Bedouin tribe heard about the well, visited Hajar and asked to share the precious liquid. She agreed to share the water in exchange for food. "But you have no right to own the water," she said. They agreed.

A community sprung up around the well.

The community became a city.

Today this city is the Muslim holy place, Mecca.

When you drink its water you should
face the direction of the Qiblah,
remember Allah,
drink it in three breaths,
drink as much as you can,
and praise and thank Allah when you finish drinking.

Today, Zamzam Well is moved below ground to facilitate modern distribution through pipes, hoses and fountains for the millions of faithful, grateful pilgrims who visit Mecca every year. Each Muslim circles the Kaaba seven times in honor of Hajar's struggle. They drink, wash, cleanse in the water and may collect it in containers to take away to places all around the world.

Zamzam water is pure, never going bad, always nourishing, filling, sustaining, life giving. Just like it was in the beginning.

"You must say a prayer when you drink," said my friend. "And - if you believe - your prayer will come true."

About Zamzam
  • may only be obtained in Mecca, Saudi Arabia
  • free, pilgrims may collect it in containers and take it home
  • the well is 35 meters deep and topped by a dome
  • the well is located approximately 20 meters from the Kaaba
  • satisfies both hunger and thirst
  • high in calcium, magnesium salts, fluoride and other minerals
  • heals the sick
  • does not go bad
  • the water is not chemically treated or chlorinated
  • there is no unwanted biological growth or algae in the well
  • no break in its flow; the more that's consumed the more there seems to be
  • say a prayer as you drink, and, if you believe, whatever you ask will come true
Drink. Pray. Believe.

"Zamzam water is what one intends to drink for. When one drinks it to be healed, Allaah heals him; when one drinks it be full, Allaah makes him full; and when one drinks it to quench his thirst, Allaah quenches it." [Ahmad and Ibn Maajah]

Friday, February 21, 2014

Upside Down Moon Watching

Qatari Moon, 2012
photo credit: Mary Toula Bacandreas Gentile
Sun casts a shadow on the moon

As the earth spins round and round.

Sometimes it seems the moon smiles up

Sometimes it grins upside down.
The moon looks different depending upon where you are in the world.  In the northern hemisphere, light shines on the moon from a clockwise direction, causing it to wax and wane from left to right.  In the southern hemisphere, light shines counter clockwise resulting in the opposite movement.
In the northern hemisphere, the first quarter looks like a growing D
while in the southern hemisphere it looks like a C
In places near-ish the equator, like Qatar, the first quarter of the moon grins upside down in an "n" shape while the last quarter smiles up in a "u."
What does the moon look like where you are?
Moon over Qatar
February 16, 2014
poem copyright 2014, Lucinda H. Kennaley
top photo credit to the illustrious and talented once-an-expat, Mary Toula Bacandreas Gentile.  Thanks, Mary!!

Friday, February 14, 2014

Camels on Main Street, TP in the Can

display inside Zubarah Fort
reflection of the fort's interior
At the Northern tip of Qatar, the desert is sand and dirt with shallow pockets of green, waving grasses. The winter earth is marked by yellow, blue and rose colored flowers. Here, when conditions are right, families comb the brush searching for truffles.
truffle hunting
desert near Zubarah
Where the land drops away a shore rises, dotted with tiny cone-shaped shells and circling an emerald sea. Nearby is an area pocked with mounds of sand that shield what was once an old pearling village. And standing guard over everything: Al Zubarah Fort. Four walls linked by turrets. A tall door with a smaller door inside it. Visitors may climb into the towers, sit on a cannon, peer into a deep, black-hole well.
The old city was abandoned in the 1800s. The fort was built in 1938.  Hardly a relic by Egypt-has-the-pyramids standards. Still, visiting the area makes for a nice family day trip.
Kimber, Bob, Katie
inside Zubarah Fort
January 2013
We've been to the fort more than once: an hour's drive into the desert. Lunch in the car surrounded by sand. Twenty minutes inside where we'd peer through (weapon holes) at the sea and wonder at the ruins of the old city.
No one can say "This is how it is in Qatar." One can only note "This is my experience in Qatar today."
It seems that since our last trek into the desert, Zubarah Fort was named the country's first ever UNESCO World Heritage Site. Where once was an empty courtyard, blank rooms and unexplained curiosities, are now signs, interactive maps, displays, photographs, informational materials, puzzles, Legos, tours - and a bookstore! There are security guards, an emergency station, tents, majlis style exhibition space…and a huge, active archaeological dig site.
Bob reads up
inside the Fort
map of the dig site
rebuilt section of the city wall
inside an excavation space
porous stone is covered with lightweight concrete as protection
from the effects of sand and wind
More than a casual trek up country, a tour of Zubarah Fort is now a fascinating adventure into the history and culture of Qatar.
January 2014
When we arrived in Doha less than three years ago, wind worn streets were flanked by mounds of sand. To escape the ever present crush of traffic, frustrated drivers drove over narrow brick sidewalks and stone medians - and on the wrong side of the street too. Road names changed regularly. A recording played bird calls through speakers tucked into tree branches. Public restrooms featured sanitary spray hoses instead of paper - and if you brought your own tissue you were expected to drop it into a trash can, not flush it.
the can is for used tp
yes, really
Communion at the Catholic Church meant crowds of people climbing over one another to queue for Jesus in a horde shaped clump - waiting-in-line Middle Eastern/Asian style.
Today, an evolving infrastructure offers means to nurture broad swaths of color along multi-lane streets. Some homes and businesses display actual street and building numbers. There may not be structure to the lining up, but there is order during communion. Palm trees play Simon and Garfunkel tunes instead of birdsong and it seems that winged creatures - and trees! - are everywhere.
pretty day
Museum of Islamic Art Park
In less than 20 years the country has gone from sand, stone and rock to highways, bullet shaped towers and sky high, multi-hued, color changing structures. There's a twisted cone shaped mosque and zig-zag building.  Museums, stadiums, hotels, shops, malls, convention center and, well…lots more.
Less than 100 years ago, school meant children sitting cross legged on a dirt floor. Today it's internationally renowned educational institutions like Virginia Commonwealth University, Weill Cornell Medical College and the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service. There is cable, internet and electricity in the most remote areas. Gordon Ramsey and Stella McCartney are represented locally and funnyman Gabriel Iglesias performed here.
Wide, modern highways mean drivers rarely need to cruise along the sidewalk anymore and, generally speaking and most of the time, cars keep to appointed lanes.
hey guys, welcome!
seen along the highway
It's true that restaurants still use Kleenex as napkins and restrooms provide trash cans for disposal of used paper. But more often now…there is paper.
Doha is mosques, tents, traditional desert people in traditional attire. But Lamborghini, Porsche and headlight flashing Land Cruisers - not camels - cruise city streets. Flowers, birds, trees, shiny malls, modern buildings, boat races, tennis and golf events, yachts…
Kimber, Katie, Bob
before UNESCO
Zubarah, January 2013
and a UNESCO World Heritage Site  - with a cannon. Top that, Egypt!

Friday, February 7, 2014

Sheikh Faisal's Museum: Not in Kansas Anymore

Dawn, Samantha, Eva, Mary Anne, Lynnette
This week - an escorted peek into the vast and diverse assortment of treasures lining the walls, dotting windows and shelves, inside nooks, around corners and behind doors at the Sheikh Faisal bin Qassim al Thani Museum, Qatar:
poster on display at Sheikh Faisal's place
yes, really
Qatar has museums: the Museum of Islamic Art, Arab Museum of Modern Art (Mathaf), Alriwaq (currently exhibiting the controversial work of artist Damien Hirst), Qatar National Museum (under construction).
And Qatar has National Treasures: Sheikh Faisal Bin Qassim Al Thani and his castle sized, floor to ceiling, fantastically diverse, nationally renowned museum of eclectic wonderment.
Sheikh Faisal Bin Qassim Al Thani Museum
housed in an old fort just outside Doha, Qatar
It started as an assortment of the sheikh's personal and family memorabilia: the desk he used as a child, his crayon masterpieces, watches, money, prayer beads, mom's ancient washing machine, an old mouse trap. Today it's an ever expanding 17,000 piece, personally assembled collection of treasures from countries, cultures and religions all around the world - but especially Qatar.
museum entry hall
Guns, knives, furniture, photographs, documents under glass. Paintings, statues, gowns, robes, headdresses, carpet, teeny tiny Korans. An actual Syrian house with marble floors, carved and painted walls, lanterns, plus outdoor majlis and (interior) winter room. A family's desert tent, minaret, pearling dhows - and an honest-to-goodness well, dug deep into the earth to demonstrate how difficult it was for early Qataris to acquire water.
The sheikh's museum bursts with halls stuffed with ancient plain and ornate Middle Eastern style doors.  Rooms overflow with mirrors. There are swords and guns in the windows. Glass cases packed with precious mother of pearl items, old currency, other-era shoes. An airplane hangs from a ceiling above a model of a desert camp. There is a reconstructed Qatari home, a family wedding display, traditional clothing.
plane, cars, camp, dhows, minaret and more
But that's not all. There are fossils, dinosaur bones and eggs, a monster's relic skull and teeth encased in rock. A flamingo skeleton, shark teeth, smooth obsidian, desert roses. Limousines. Tiny trucks for little sheikhs.
Samantha with tiny truck
And vintage cars. Hundreds - literally hundreds - of cars.
purportedly Sheikh Faisal's sons take the cars
(any/all/whichever they want) out on Fridays
Of course automobiles didn't come to Qatar until oil, the Brits and roads arrived in the 1940s-ish. And Sheikh Faisal's collection is not limited to one era, decade, culture or even a single religion. There is a room full of Jewish memorabilia, another which highlights Christianity and includes an old confession booth. A third space features artwork from other religions.
The collection is currently organized according to the sheikh's interests and travels and displayed by acquisition date - which (even with the homey, hospitable carpets placed throughout) means it's impossible to absorb everything in a single visit. Or, well…ever. Unless you're particularly knowledgeable about history, that is…since there are few labels or other expositional materials available.
Fortunately, Sheikh Faisal is a forward thinking kind of guy and recently hired an interesting, knowledgeable historian with an internal database that includes analyses of the Ottoman Empire, Muslim brotherhood, history of the pyramids and world architecture plus Ford (the car) and Dorothy (of the ruby red shoes). Who answers questions about money in good humor: "the sheikh does not reveal an item's cost because (his workers) would want more money!"
Samantha, Dawn, Eva,
Nabil the Knowledgeable Historian
This knowledgeable historian's mission is to catalogue and organize artifacts, ie, identify, designate, tally, tag, classify, label and otherwise notate displays. Also on the horizon: a bookstore, museum guidebook, expanded website and personal tours. Huzzah!
Bring your walking shoes.  You're not in Kansas anymore!

  • Qataris arrived approximately 1850 from Saudi Arabia in search of pearls.
  • There are nine original tribes in Qatar.
  • In Qatar, sheikh and sheikha are titles bestowed upon members of the royal family.
  • One should stand when a sheikh or sheikha enters the room, regardless of age.

Nabil the Knowledgeable Historian,
Eva, Dawn, Mary Anne, Samantha, Lynnette
 Sheikh Faisal's Museum is about 30 minutes outside Doha, across the road-under-construction from Shehaniyya and the camel race track. Visits are by appointment only.