What I love about travel is that there is always some kind of magic in experiencing the beauty of this world. Such was the case when Safia drove us to Casablanca for a meeting, and I would see the city on my own for just a couple of hours. I felt the lightness and smelled the slightly salty seaside air of the Atlantic Ocean as we drove into the city on a beautiful, sunny day. Instead of dropping me off, Safia, being the most hospitable Moroccan, parked her car so she could walk me toward the Hassan II Mosque. This was a place I wanted to visit but neither I, Safia, her family, nor the parking lot attendant knew if I would be allowed in. The Hassan II Mosque is the largest mosque in Morocco, largest in Africa, and is the 7th largest mosque in the world. So when I inquired about the possibility of entering this place (as I heard and read that entrance for non-Muslims is strictly prohibited), I received mixed answers. Back in Chicago I asked a certain Moroccan man and he said absolutely no way I would be allowed in. He was married to a Caucasian who was the mother of his child and even his wife was not allowed into the mosque. Oh, well. I guess I would find out when I get there, I thought. But the kid in me, always eager to see and experience the magic of travel wondered about the following: the mosque’s prayer hall opened it’s floors to a glass view of the Atlantic Ocean, and I would absolutely love to see it! Amazing. But again, who knows?
When we got to the entrance there was a lady sitting in a chair as if she was the gatekeeper. Since there is no entrance fee, I’m not sure why she was there, perhaps to keep the non-Muslims away. Safia asked her in Arabic, I believe, if we could enter. As I stayed far behind as if to pretend I didn’t care, the lady looked my way and asked Safia if I was a Muslim, knowing full well that I was not. Safia came back letting me know that I could not enter. I quickly responded by saying that it was fine and that I would be so happy taking lots of pictures while she would have to attend her meeting. So after asking me, again, if I would be totally fine by myself, Safia and I walked away from the mosque and onto the front grounds to depart for awhile. Then a car pulled up and the driver got out to greet Safia. It was clear that they knew each other although I did not know to what extent. After a few minutes Safia called me over while I was engrossed in taking pictures and she said the following from my memory: “I don’t know how this is happening…but you are going to get a private tour of the mosque. You must be a very good person for this to happen.” She was dumbfounded, as I was, that I would somehow be allowed inside. I recall her piercing eyes, puzzled but looking at me with wonder. It turns out that the driver of the car was a well-connected friend of Safia’s family, and he was there escorting a group of four into the mosque, and I would have the opportunity to join them! This seemed too amazing so even Safia decided to enter the mosque, risking her being late for her meeting. This kind of divine timing is too good to ignore, and I think Safia wanted to be enveloped in the amazing fortuitousness. She had never been inside this mosque, but I think a part of her wanted to join in because the timing was just too good to be true, and she, too, wanted to be enveloped in the bubble of the divine timing.
We entered through a small door, small compared to the huge titanium sliding doors of the mosque’s main entrance. As I write this, I imagine puffs of smoke coming out of the doors as if magic. As my logic catches up to the reality of the matter, I cannot believe that this was happening and I still don’t believe it as I’m writing this story. But it is the truth. We took our shoes off and the carpet was soft and plush, way too nice to put inside for welcoming shoes, I thought. It wasn’t the normal door mat feel but instead, luxury times a thousand. Then we walked on the glossy marble floor and felt its cold familiarity. The gleaming white marble and granite columns, pillars, and decor along with the exquisite chandeliers inside truly made me feel like I was entering some kind of heaven. The space was breathtaking, and I wish I could express the right words to compare this to the exquisite churches I have been in. I don’t know why, perhaps my wanderlust being ignited in Turkey, but somehow I feel a connection to the Muslim art and architecture. I find the beauty far more enchanting, and I could almost hear a faint sounds of Arabian music in the background as I tell this story. After taking pictures, ignoring the tour guide because I was too enchanted at the beauty, Safia decided to leave to go to her meeting.
What happened next was ordinary. The guide took us through the mosque, I took pictures, I admired the beautiful architecture, and I came out of the mosque to the main grounds. Then, the lady, “the gatekeeper,” saw me from the distance and I could feel her bewilderment from across the way. I felt her eyes and her imaginary scratching of her head. The little girl in me imagined myself sticking out my tongue at her. But then I realized that I forgot something. I forgot to inquire about the prayer hall’s view of the ocean floor, but since it wasn’t offered for showing I assumed that it was off limits to us anyway. I wish I was lucid, but honestly, the reality of being allowed inside the mosque seemed too unreal. My spirit seemed to float above me while my logic was contained in my body. The reality of the moment came to me upon seeing the sun outside, soon to be setting.
I continued snapping pictures at the magnificent structure as Safia was still in her meeting. The sun was starting to turn bright orange while hints of blinding light bounced on the ocean’s waves against the horizon. I felt lonely for a moment as I witnessed many families walking, lovers talking, and friends sharing. There were kids playing, men with a fishing line, and everyone around seemed to wait for the sun to set. The magnificent sun was brilliantly shining with its orange luminescence. The ocean view was spectacular, and I allowed myself to soak in the moment as I knew this would be my only day and night in Casablanca. Before it got too chilly and the sun almost beyond the horizon Safia arrived. When I got into her car and we drove away, I still wondered if the hours before actually happened. How did I fly to Morocco, drive to Casablanca from Rabat on a certain day, and then run into Safia’s friend just so that I could get a private tour of the Hassan II Mosque that I was denied entrance to moments earlier? Magic, I suppose. Yes. It was that Casablanca magic…