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Qutab Minar

I am for the first time in my life, in a mosque.

It is not fpr religious observance, and I hope I will not offend my Muslim brothers and friends by my story. I am there at the behest – and aid – of my friend Magdhul, Madie for short, a south Indian whise family sells carpets from Iran.

You see I have Delhi belly. Not that I am troubled by spices. After years in India chillies are a delight not an upset. A week before, drinking bottled water in Agra, the   label gave way revealing my Bisleri was fake. I have paid for it since.

Now I am in Delhi – a bout of Agra belly in tow – because of the unexpected death in the family of my travelling companions. Giri mourning lasts 13 days, so I am sent with two friends to their relatives as they pay respects to their beloved dead.

Now, at the Qitab Minar, past road and concrete, where once harvested mustard and millet,  my belly can stand it no longer. Unfortunately public water is out. I am unable to flush my foul smelling filth or to fill a water cup to hand wash. Traditional   – Indian Style – do not come with toilet paper. I am in desperate need to wash my hands.

Rescued by bottled water – two litres and 40 rupees later, Maddie senses my discomfort. He wants to attend namaz and I just want to feel clean again.

Now I find myself my feet before a stone trough. I don’t know what they’re called. Fortunately, I am dressed in my favourite white Kirta and blend in.

Kya aap Musselman hai?” often followed my wearing it In Pune. “Nahi, Musselman nahi hun.

I am now instructed in the act of Wadu – the ritual washing of hands.

‘Wadu he called it, and I thought it was called Fiqh, which shows how little I know’ I thought.

Aware of the Quranic injunction to wash hand up to the elbow, heads and ankles, I felt a need to be as careful as possible. It is performed in preparation for prayer or handling the Quran.

Make your intention, prepare the mind, wash hands up to the elbows, three times. Rinse the mouth from water from my right palm – three times. Sniff water into the nostrils – again , three times. Face three times, again three times forearms arms are washed  before a single rub of head and cleaning the ear inside with the index finger, the back with your thumb. Once.

I think I have it right, watching him carefully.

Then come the feet and ankles three times.

Posting this story two years after the event, I still wonder whether my presence may have offended some had they known why I was there.

To be fair, in the Mosques and shrines I have visited since, the Taj-ul-Masjid, the shrine of Ajmeer and many others, I have found only hospitality.

When I have unwittingly forgotten rule or custom, all is forgiven immediately upon “I am sorry. I forgot.”

“That’s alright” almost always follows.

But still to this day, I wonder.

After all, to borrow a Christian adage, Cleanliness is next to Godliness.

It is also true in a mosque.

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