It’s been five months since my trip to Bahrain, but so many memories still linger on. Every time I’m at an airport and hear of a flight leaving for Bahrain, I am overcome by the urge to run and catch it. The warmth of its people was the kind that could get me through a cold night. I remember it as the land of a thousand friends.
Wearing a flowing black abaya, my head covered in a black hijab, I enter the gracious dome of the Grand Mosque of Bahrain. Under the high, intricately designed ceiling, a massive open space appears to welcome us – Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Free Thinkers from over twenty countries – with arms wide open, into the frontiers of Islam. We gather in a circle, around a scholar of Islam, ready to fire questions related to the religion, that we have harbored since stepping foot in Bahrain, or much before. Arabic coffee is served, sip by sip in the traditional Bahraini way, and the topics slowly change from conversion to after-life, from karma to the morality of fornication and stone pelting. I choose to kill the elf in the room by asking about the inequality of rights among women and men, and below is a snippet of the conversation that ensues (in my own words): Me: I’m curious to understand why the interpretation of Islam is different in different countries, when the Quran is considered the ultimate word of god. Mawlana: How do …
I stroll along the cobbled by-lanes of Adliya, observing in fascination, the cafe culture of Bahrain. The men are predominantly dressed in white thobes, and each time they flick the striped red and white gutras on their head, I am reminded of the omnipresent red and white Bahraini flag – painted on walls along walkways, displayed outside houses and cafes, and even adorning car windows. This sentiment of patriotism seems to flow throughout the country, not only in ostentatious displays, but in the pride and warmth with which the Bahraini people speak of their island nation.
Ahlan wa sahlan. That was one of the first phrases I learnt in Arabic, almost five years ago. I’ve lost touch with whatever little of this beautiful language I learnt, but that phrase has stuck with me. It is an old Arabic phrase that means, we welcome you. I landed in Bahrain without many expectations; a small city-state that has been in the news for all the wrong reasons, one that not many people travel to outside of business needs. At the airport, I could hear as much Hindi as Arabic, and I didn’t realize then that with the Bahraini stamp on my passport, I was being welcomed as much into the hearts, homes, and lives of the Bahraini people, as I was into the borders of (evidently) the most liberal country in the Gulf region.