“Islam is the worst mistake the Kurds ever made.”
The Kurds trace their heritage to the ancient Medes of the region. They converted to Islam as a people during the time of the Crusades, under pressure from the Ottoman Empire. Islam requires even non-Arab believers to read the Koran in Arabic, to pray in Arabic, because Arabic is God’s language. When Kurds pray to Allah, they recite their prayers in the language of their conquerors.
Kirmanji, not Arabic, is the language a Kurdish woman speaks to the baby at her breast. At the time when I lived in Syria, my Kurdish friends hid Kirmanji literature in their homes, because it was illegal to read or write in Kirmanji. At their Nuroz festivals and at weddings the Kurds recite poetry and sing songs in Kirmanji, so that their children won’t forget the language they are not allowed to read or write.
Sanaa told us that her sister would be married at the end of the month, that there would be dancing, and singing in Kirmanji, and music played on the tanbur, a stringed instrument beloved of the Kurds. Family members would honor the bride and groom by reciting Kurdish love poems, though the books they came from were illegal to print and distribute in Syria.
“The mullah came and told my father not to allow alcohol or pork at the wedding—and not to spend money on the feast, neither food nor drink, for that would wipe out the blessing,” Sanaa told us.
And she went on, “But the wedding must be Kurdish. We will feast and sing and dance. On that day, we will forget about Islam.”
In the northern part of Syria, called Kurdistan only in whispers, the Kurds still hold tightly to their songs and poetry and music, teaching these things to the next generation in quiet courtyards and inner rooms.
I pulled out my memo pad and wrote down Sanaa’s words as we sipped our tea. I didn’t want to forget.
Then the Call to Prayer broke our silence, invading the air around us. This was the same recording—the same male voice I heard broadcast five times a day, the same voice that called out from every mosque in Syria. In the old days, muezzins used to climb the minaret to chant the call to prayer for their community—but now the muezzin simply presses a play button. Or maybe the recording is set on a timer nowadays and there isn’t a real muezzin at all.
God is Great
is his prophet
Five times a day we heard the Call to Prayer, and I found that I was beginning to understand the Arabic words.
Rise up to pray
Sanaa spoke in a low voice, “But no one is praying.”