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Istanbul

istanbul

When you’re surrounded by mosques, ducking into an alleyway to get a fix seems almost hypocritical. The thump of dance music behind you mocks the devotion of the women wearing the hijab entering the mosque for morning prayer. A thread of religious devotion permeates the city, everywhere religious symbols plead for attention, but they can’t win. No matter how many mosques and churches they build around you, you find deeper and darker holes to hide in; not even the Imam can blot out darkness with stone and mortar.

Sometimes it’s nice to visit a mosque or cathedral, these are buildings designed to instill awe in its visitors. Awe wont save your soul, and neither will visiting a mosque, but there’s a part of you that no amount of dancing, drinking, and psychedelics can quiet: a small fragment that wants to find Allah. You try to suppress it, but every time you think it’s dead the star and crescent remind you that He is waiting. The quiet rhythm of salat that stops the city five times daily clashes with the rapid beat of the nightlife: this isn’t a place where you can escape from Al-Jabbār.

In the narrow streets you rub shoulders with men in robes and women wearing the hijab, screaming devotion, demanding that you abandon the street and join them. You are the minority, you are the sweating, gasping darkness that Mahmoud would have counseled against. You fill the dance clubs and taint the alleyways, imbibing the bright drinks of rebellion, your trendy clothes symbols of irreverence. The bright lights that call the attention of western infidels are yours also: you may have been Moslem once, but the hedonistic West has taken you.

The East is collective: families share small apartments, you share your space on the bus, you is nothing except within the collective. You are not a Moslem you are Moslem, you are swallowed up in the group, you belong to it. Every person you touch in the cramped streets, every person that you push past to catch the bus, the driver of every taxi that cuts through a crowd to get where its going, the passenger screaming, their employer scolding them for being late, everyone is your brother or sister in the faith.

The dance club is a false collective, it makes you feel like you are part of something bigger than yourself, but everyone is alone: alone in their high, alone in their pleasure. You use the hot pulsating bodies around you for pleasure, but she isn’t your sister and he isn’t your brother; she can only give you sex and he can only give you drugs. You might feel something in the music, surrounded by lights and fog, but in the morning it will be gone. You lose it by stepping out into the cool night, and you lose it when the morning breeze rolls through your cramped apartment and you are alone. Being an individual is an isolating addiction. You can’t let yourself surrender to Allah. You have become your own god. You are lost seeking pleasure, alone seeking God.