Friday, September 23, 2016

The Faces Of Islam

It's impossible to be bored here. Just viewing the sheer range of humanity on display is fascinating. This must be the most cosmopolitan place in the world - paradoxically, of course, since everyone is Muslim. That in itself is a reminder of the variations within Islam, despite its essential Oneness.

I reckon the average Taliban would get fairly depressed here. From my understanding they make something of a fetish of the notion that a male Muslim must be bearded in a luxuriant untrimmed fashion. But I reckon that despite the wealth of beards on display around fifteen per cent of the guys here remain resolutely unbearded or simply stubbled. And the variety of styles of facial hair matches the variety of physiognomies available. My favourite is a version associated, I think, with Pakistan, Bangladesh and India. The beard (for the old guys) is long and white, but has been dipped (I assume) in henna, often around the halfway mark. This results in a curious transition from the elderly white into a sort of youthfully flaming orange. The fact that no one tries to hide the complete artificiality of the colouring adds to its charm.

It's interesting to try and guess what part of the world folk hale from. Of course, eavesdropping on the language they're using sometimes gives a clue - and can occasionally completely contradict their appearance. A young pilgrim who looked for all the world as if he came from India heard me chatting to a guy from Thailand the other night, asked me if I were English, and told me he came from Leicester. (And, yes, he did support the EPL champions, as it turned out.)

But the great thing is just how many of the faces one sees here, especially those of the elderly, are so full of what used to be known as 'character'. They look as if they have really splendidly lived life. So many could easily grace a cover of National Geographic, and I mean grace.

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