Evliya in Medina

Rare-Photos-of-Madina-A-rare-Black-White-photo-of-Masjid-an-Nabawi-Madina-Old-Rare-Pictures-of-MadinaI’ve been condensing my Evliya Çelebi treatment to reach the required 10 pages for an upcoming grant deadline. Since Evliya’s own manuscript is approximately 14,000 pages long, he’s not a good influence – though his individual stories can be remarkably concise.

On Monday, July 4th, I’d finished trimming Evliya’s affectionate tribute to the Prophet Muhammad’s Mosque in Medina to the minimum: “If I were not so besmirched with worldly affairs and not so inclined to travel, I would not budge from this mosque,” when I saw a news alert on my computer. A suicide bomb had just exploded outside that mosque.

Along with shock, there was also a jolt of connection, as I had been seeing the mosque in my mind while writing about it – imagining it from Evliya’s description when it looked far different than it does today. Be that as it may, the sense of connection is what’s important.

From Istanbul, which I left about a week before the attack on Ataturk Airport, to Dhaka, to Baghdad (twice) to Medina, each attack has been heinous. I know I’m not the only non-Muslim westerner to think so and feel a connection despite  less media attention and fewer  public expressions of solidarity than in other recent attacks.

Since I began writing this, a new, very American cluster of violence has made the headlines: Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Falcon Heights, Minnesota, and Dallas, Texas. In mourning our own and committing to change laws, procedures, and attitudes that led to these deaths, we can’t forget those on other shores, because we are connected.

Evliya Çelebi loved life: good food, good company, raunchy jokes, spirited horses, awe-inspiring architecture, verdant mountain meadows, and the variety and unpredictability of human society. His perspective was not Panglossian but humanistic, acknowledging cruelty and tragedy but not succumbing to hatred himself. In any time and place, that’s a perspective worth remembering and putting into practice.


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