It's been a long time since I was in a predominately Muslim country, but coming to Morocco was an easy choice. For starters, Jonathan and I have never traveled to Africa, and as a bonus, we have friends here who have been gracious hosts and guides for our first few days. Morocco is a fascinating place and a true crossroad of cultures, and in just a few days we have seen its rich history. We spent part of a day in Casablanca seeing one of the world's largest mosques and certainly one of the most impressive, too. Ornate and imposing, this mosque juts out over the ocean and dominates the landscape. Thousands of hands conspired to make this structure a reality, and the result is astounding. Marbled surfaces abound, along with intricate tilework.
But the mosque is anything but ancient. The groundbreaking began in July of 1986 and the entire structure was completed just six years later. Its minaret became the tallest in the world at 689 feet and it includes some delightfully modern features - heated floors and the largest retractable sunroof I have ever seen (also the most beautiful, putting our football stadiums to shame). The capacity for worshippers is also noteworthy: 25,000 can worship inside the mosque, with room for 80,000 more on the grounds. As Ramadan approaches next week, I can only imagine the crowds coming in and covering the place in prayer.
This was my first time inside any mosque, and although the flourishes and fancy marble floors were stunning, what was most interesting to me was seeing a worship hall completely devoid of chairs, tables, or any furniture. Of course this is the way of Islamic worship, but seeing that grand hall without a single pew or pulpit was intriguing. Imagine the largest, grandest church you've ever seen. Now take out all of those wooden, creaking pews. The result, for me anyway, is viewing the place of worship in a different way, one in which we all kneel side-by-side rather than cling to the aisles. And that isn't what travel is all about - seeing your world in a new light?
PS - The title of this post, "Down in Africa" is for my sister who always used to like that song by Toto, "Africa." I can't get it out of my head.