In my recent trip to Sri Lanka, there was really a sense of relief to get a connecting flight that would not pass by the overly congested NAIA (Ninoy Aquino International Airport) in Manila.
As I would routinely do in any transit airport, when I was in Changi Airport (Singapore) en route to Colombo, I started to perform my ‘rituals’ – the three (3) P’s: (1) picture, (2) purchase, and (3) prayer, in reverse order.
After the performance of the two rituals, I roamed around the airport to snap pictures, particularly around the airport’s Enchanted Garden.
Prior to that, I purchased two pieces of magnetic souvenir items for the refrigerator back home.
As soon as I entered the airport, the first thing I did was to look for the prayer room. As I could not find any “Muslim prayer room” sign, I ventured to ask from an airport staff, who indicated a particular direction.
When I went there, what I found was “Multi-religion Prayer Room.” I hesitantly entered the room, and the first thing I noticed was the ablution area for gents. Eureka!
The beauty of openness which this room embodies inevitably brought to my mind the Mosque in Madinah during the time of the Prophet.
During the 9th Year After Hijrah (a year after the Fall of Makkah), which was known as the Year of Deputations on account of the delegates around the Arabian Peninsula visiting Madinah in order to embrace Islam or pay jizyah (tax paid by non-Muslim citizens of the Islamic state), a delegation of Christians from Najran (border between Hijaz and Yemen) came to discuss with the Prophet. (See “Tarikh al-Ya’qubi,” vol. 2, p. 66)
As recorded in “Sirah al-Halabi” (vol. 3, p. 239) and other sources, the Christian delegation was entertained in the mosque and when their time for prayer set in, they were granted the full permission to offer their prayers right there.
After I offered my prayer in that all-embracing room of the airport, little did I know that I would witness a more fascinating beauty of openness and tolerance in the heart of Colombo – a mosque and a church attached to one another for almost a century now.
(An excerpt from my upcoming book, COMBO TRIP TO COLOMBO)