Friday, June 6, 2014

Machbous, Prayer and God

Each guest received a laminated cookbook
 
The voice echoed pure, smooth, clear off stone walls and tile floors, sailed into the glass dome that fed light into the majlis space, filled every corner of the larger-than-my-apartment rectangular shaped room. Full, rich, angelic. Trills over a monotone, alto to soprano, singing but not.
 
More than 50 women from France, Germany, Spain and other countries settled into couches along the walls. Voices quieted. Movement ceased. Conversation ended. The only sound was the smooth, honey textured voice.
 
A rustle hummed beneath the melody, just a whisper. I searched the room for a microphone or stereo, but there wasn't one. All eyes seemed to be focused on the high arched entryway, just outside my field of vision.
 
We'd been invited to attend a presentation about prayer and Ramadan offered by the Qatari Women's Association (QWA) for ladies from organizations throughout Doha. I'm not a member of any group, but learned about the program through a Qatari friend.
 
ready to learn about Ramadan and prayer
 
I emailed interest and provided the name of our inviter. I received a map to our host's home: a walled villa the approximate size of a city block located just outside town.
 
The gate was ajar. Inside, a freshly dug garden surrounded a wide covered porch and concrete patio. Thobe-wearing little boys with skateboards scattered as we approached. We climbed the stoop, pushed the glass door, stepped over the threshold.
 
Inside, a group of Qatari ladies dressed casually in jelabiya, suits and dresses circled a wide entry. Thick rugs were placed neatly over tile under a high ceiling. Warm arms enveloped us, pulled us close for hugs and kisses and passed us from one woman to the next. How are you? Where are you from? We're happy you're here, welcome, welcome! Please sit, would you like something to drink?
 
We twisted, turned, hugged, squeezed, kissed, touched cheeks, chattered in the traditional Qatari greeting - until we popped out of the huddle through the arched opening and into the tile floored, domed living room/majlis/meeting space.
 
QWA women made their way around the walls of the majlis shaking hands and offering kisses. Our hostess's young daughters offered tea, water, soda and bright, welcoming smiles.
 
In Islam, a smile is considered a charity and a gift
 
Our speaker sat in a chair at one end of the room. There was tea and soda and low tables for cookies and drinks. There were familiar faces, new friends, questions, answers, good conversation.
 
And then, without accompaniment, microphone, or introduction - this sweet voice.
 
I left my cushioned seat, stepped into the middle of the room, turned toward the arched opening.
 
In the entryway before the front door were three lines of women wearing black abaya and sheyla. They stood shoulder to shoulder, eyes closed.
 
In the middle of the front line a young woman raised her head and her clear voice sailed forward.
 
In Qatar, a woman may lead the women's prayer.
She receives no special training
and is called an imam, just like the leader of the men's prayer.
In a private home, the imam is usually the hostess
but may be anyone who knows the "rules of prayer."
The Maghreb prayer always has an imam.
It's better to pray congregationally than alone
but either are acceptable.
 
Following the angelic uttering, each woman's lips moved silently. All together, in harmony, synchronized through years of piety, they stood, kneeled, bowed, head lowered to the floor, stood again. Behind the last row, two women sat on plastic chairs near the front door. When lines of ladies' heads bowed, the sitting women lowered heads too. When lines of ladies stood, sitting women sat high in seats.
 
How to Pray
From My Prayer Book, Darussalam
 
I'm not Muslim and don't know the prayers or rules of prayers but from the looks of things (and factoring in my own biases), I imagined the young imam uttered the Muslim version of this:
 
"Now we'll do the part where we pray for special intentions…"
"Bend at the waist, ladies…"
"Tap your knee once here…"
"Raise palms to your face and lower them while saying Allah…"
"Kneel and say this…"
"Get ready to stand…"
"Turn to the left and then to the right and repeat after me: salaam alaykum wo rahmat allahee…"
 
How to Pray
From My Prayer Book, Darussalam
 
A final note and then, it was just - over. Eyes opened, lines dissolved. Some ladies sat on the floor where they'd ended, others gathered in groups or wandered off.
 
Only an echo remained. God?
 
louqaimat
saffron and cardamom donut holes-ish fried in honey
melt in your mouth deliciousness
 
Later, the wide entry was stocked with long tables and food: chicken and lamb machbous, harees, madrouba, louqaimat and more. Each member of the QWA had brought a local dish, potluck style. Take away tins were provided so guests might share the culinary wondrousness with the folks at home.
 
Welcome
 
Tea, conversation, information, friendship, machbous, prayer and God. What could be better?

 QWA Machbous Recipe
QWA Machbous Recipe
(My favorite Qatari dish)
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