13 July 2009
Walking with a friend from the Damascus Gate to the Western Wall, I stopped to photograph sights in the Muslim Quarter, including archways and a beautiful display of pastries. I photographed some graffiti on a wall because its colors and nice details caught my eye. I wondered what the Arabic writing said.
Several weeks later I started studying in the municipal ulpan and met a friendly Arabic speaking classmate who said she would be happy to translate the writing for me. I printed out the photo on paper and brought it to class.
A number of the Jewish students had arrived early and they looked at my photo. They also were curious what the Arabic writing said. I pointed out that it might be a statement of Arab or Palestinian pride, since the colors used were the Palestinian national colors. When I pointed this out, all the Jewish students nodded at my observation, then uniformly groaned and guessed that the writing was therefore something derogatory about the Jews. I suggested it might be an expression of pride without any aspersions.
The young Muslim woman came in and glanced at the photo. “Oh,” she said, “this is an individual’s announcement. His name is Suleman [last name withheld here] and he is saying that he just returned from making hajj in Mecca.” She pointed out the repeating image that lined both the sides – the Ka’bah, the cube-shaped building in Mecca in whose direction Muslims all over the world face to pray.
“So he painted this announcement on the wall?”
“Yes, because he was happy and proud and wanted to tell people that he had made hajj.”
The other students were wrong in their gloomy prediction.
Here is my prayer: May those who fear the worst in people receive such pleasant and surprising glimpses of the best.