By Alex Reedy
Upon exiting the train station of Rabat, my eyes nearly immediately gravitated to St. Peter’s Cathedral, an early 20th century Roman Catholic church. An exemplary piece of Art Deco architecture, the church’s twin spires grace the skyline of the Moroccan nation’s capital. A seemingly peculiar fixture in a country whose state religion is Islam, the cathedral was built during the French colonial era, and is joined by several other Catholic churches throughout the city as relics of a bygone era. Today, masses at these tattered churches are largely populated by dwindling congregations of French-Moroccans and Sub-Saharan African immigrants.
Each time I passed these churches, I sensed a painful desire to reattach myself to the religious community that had provided me comfort in my earlier years. My disbelief began at an early age, but for years I clung to faith as I attempted to comprehend the world around me. As an agnostic now, the absence of a religious institution in my life is a void that I have not yet filled.
Wednesday’s day trip to Casablanca began with a visit to the Hassan II Mosque, the largest mosque in Morocco. Although open to non-Muslims at certain times, I was unable to enter at the time of my arrival that afternoon. Gazing into the interior of the enormous structure from the doorway, I watched as Daud entered and began to pray. A pang of envy pulsed through my body as he connected to a higher power that could instill in him a grander purpose to life. As I attempted to peer into the mosque from its doorway, I was peering into religion itself from the outside—a difficult task for a yearning, emotional individual searching for meaning.
The following night, I was violently ill for several hours. The confluence of my sickness and individual worries became unbearable, so I climbed to the roof for fresh air. As I stepped outside, the first call to prayer began, reverberating between the narrow alleys of the medina.
A tranquil calm enveloped my body, and I instinctively lied down on the roof of the riad. I stared into the night sky, the stars masked by the city lights of Salé illuminating the sky.
Even though I didn’t understand the Arabic words emanating from the minaret, I no longer felt separated from the esoteric power that Daud had sensed in the mosque the previous day. As I thought of the thousands of people in the medina around me listening to the words drifting through the air, the millions celebrating Ramadan around the world, and the centuries of people who have celebrated beforehand, I felt a connection to the collective subconscious of humanity, at once a source of both comfort and power. I realized my spirituality need not derive from a deity whose existence I struggle to justify—instead, it comes from the people around me. As the call to prayer continued, Jordan and Meghana lied down on each side of me, protecting me from the surrounding abyss and reminding me of the inexplicable strength of the human bond. Finally, the call to prayer ended, and I stood up, my body eased of its pain and my mind cleared of its qualms.
As I continue traveling this week, I think of the people who have left indelible impacts on my life who are no longer with me. Saying goodbye has always been my most difficult task, but perhaps people aren’t supposed to remain in our lives forever. Loved ones enter our lives to share something special with us—laughter, advice, the residual warmth of a forgotten memory. These are the things we can hold on to long after they are gone. As I listen to the calls to prayer, I’m reminded of the aggregate power of the human experience, an infinite source of strength that will never fail.
Alex is a rising sophomore in Branford College. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.