Friday, July 06, 2007

The Herati Roll

It just so happens that Herat is home to many graves of famous Sufis. Some of these tombs are known for their mystical healing powers or places to get wishes granted. People come from all over to make their pleas and receive some inner satisfaction from worshiping at these shrines of hope.
The main one is the grave of Ansary, an ancient Muslim who is buried on the outskirts of town. Of course like any holy place, besides the pilgrims, there are the odd lot of beggars who harass you as you make your way to the holy site. On our way through the graveyard to Ansary’s grave, we were followed by a crowd of boys pretending to be dumb, deaf or just plain retarded. Khaled and Seluhaddin, my guides to this site, caught some of them at their own game by getting them to talk or act like the normal kids they are. I guess we all have to make a buck somehow.
My guides, and former students, decided to take me to a few other shrines around town. Along the way we picked another former student, Zubair. Zubair has gone through the most dramatic change of all the alumni from our program. He went to a goofy, funny young man to a serious, no frills, devout Muslim. As you can see he’s grown a full beard, let his hair go long and makes himself out to be some sort of Muslim cleric. I guess a year in the US has made him go the other way and reach deep into his faith.
Anyway, we headed to another outskirt of town to a small shrine of another great Sufi prophet. This site has mystical, unexplained powers. Here one lays on the ground at the foot of the grave, concentrates hard on a wish they want to come true, turn themselves once or twice and suddenly this unexplained force spins you fast along the ground either in a straight line to the back wall or at a curve to the side wall. Going straight back means the wish will come true, flipping to the side means no wish. In a way it’s sort of like being that triangular piece in the Magic 8 Ball that flops around in the purple fluid until it reveals the answer to your wish.
One by one we all tried this. Khaled and Seluhaddin went, both flopping toward the side wall. Zubair laid down, went deep into concentration and spun straight back toward the wall. His wish will come true. Then it was my turn. I borrowed a patou from a guy also eager in getting his wish and laid down. Like Zubair, I went deep in to meditation, focusing hard on my wish, after a minute I gently rolled myself over once, then twice then something began to spin me, pulling me along the ground at fast speed. My eyes were tightly shut as I spun uncontrollably along the earth. Which way was I headed? I let the ground take control of my body. Everything was pitch black and I stopped. I lay there for a moment face down, afraid to see where I landed. I felt as if I curved and went to the side wall. Part of me thought that being an infidel, my luck wouldn’t be good at a Muslim shrine. But when I lifted my headed to see where I was, lo and behold I was at the back wall, with Seluhaddin’s foot next to my body to stop me from crashing in to it. My wish will come true!! The great Sufi prophet likes me!! “What was your wish Mr. Tom?”, asked Seluhaddin. “I’m not telling you. If I do, it won’t come true.” And I’m not telling any of you readers either.
Afterwards we drove to yet another shrine by the ancient minarets of Herat. These 5 minarets (there used to be 11 originally) tower above the skyline at all sorts of angles. 4 of them look pretty solid but the 5th one is at such an angle I expected it to fall down as we drove past it. Fortunately, some took the forethought to strapping large ropes around it to keep it upright. At this other shrine, also a Sufi prophet, people grind up rice or dried chickpeas in a little bowl on his grave. They feed the powder to their children to make them smart and wise. Also you can make a ball out of mud and leave it on top of his grave. When it dries, whatever ailment you have will go away. I didn’t really believe this when my boys told me about it. On the way back to the car, I scratched my head on a low branch from the tree at the gravesite. Was this the great Sufi prophet’s trick or just a random act of being tall and not bending low enough? Only the Sufi knows…