Hearing the ritualistic prayer is a comfort, a reminder of the things that have stayed the same for centuries. For hundreds of years, Bombay Muslims have climbed out of bed in this pre-dawn hour to say their morning prayers. The prayer is also a reminder of the cosmopolitan city Bombay was and is. A city where a multitude of religions and ethnicities live together in relative peace.
But that peace is gradually under assault.
As our plane from London to Bombay flew over Pakistan, I discussed the degrading situation in Bombay with the man sitting next to me. His family is from Northern India, and he bitterly spoke about how the native Maharatis (full disclosure: I'm half Maharati) have been trying, with some success, to Maharati-cize this cosmopolitan city. I nodded in agreement and then mentioned the terrible ostracization of the Muslim populations. At which point, my educated and wealthy plane-mate, sat up straight.
"Well, that's not just a Bombay thing. Muslims have problems everywhere." And then he told me a joke about a man who had made the statement that "All Muslims are terrorists," and then finally, under much pressure, revised his statement to "All terrorists are Muslims." It was clear that this man sitting next to me on the plane agreed that while all Muslims might not be terrorists, certainly, all terrorists are Muslims.
I didn't know what to say, but not wanting to engage in a lengthy debate with a man I was stuck sitting next to for the next few hours, I shut up.
The world has changed tremendously since 9-11, and India along with it. Where once, Muslims may have lived next to Christians and Hindus, now Muslims are pushed out of housing complexes, regarded as potential terrorists by their neighbors.
And it's a vicious cycle. The more Muslims are ostracized, the more they resort to violence. And the more Muslims resort to violence, the more the rest of the world ostracizes them. It's a downward spiral, and an incredibly dangerous one at that.
That's why Three Cups of Tea is such an important book. Perhaps the most important book I've read all year. In a time when most of the non-Islamic world is turning its back on Muslims, Greg Mortenson is gaining the trust of Pakistanis and Afghanis, one school at a time.
Three Cups of Tea relates the true story of Greg Mortenson, an American former mountain climber. How a wrong turn coming down from K-2 resulted in his new life path building schools for girls all over Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Mortenson believes strongly that education and especially the education of girls is critical in diffusing tension and fanaticism. He points out articulately that terrorists are not created in a vacuum. And that when children are given education and opportunity, they are much less likely to resort to terrorism and fundamentalism.
Three Cups of Tea makes the case that the majority of Muslims are peaceful people who want the best for the children, just like the rest of us. So, today, on September 11th, I highly recommend you go to the library or your local bookstore and pick up this book.
Is it about the environment? Not really. But it's about humanity, and about the values and beliefs that unite us all.
Five out of five stars, and recommended for everyone, green, dark green, fuschia or turquoise.