We missed a couple of months, and there were reasons for that. But for those exceptions, we were gifted the opportunity to convene on the second Monday of each month, starting with the first email invite back in November of 2012:
"You are invited to an evening of drink and song. We don't really get enough of either, so we're going to fix that, insha Allah."Somewhere in the neighborhood of thirteen people showed up at my apartment about three weeks later, on Monday, December the 10th, 2012. And, as will happen with first-times, nothing will shake the memory of that night.
We have changed venues, moving first from my apartment to another. And last night found us our most recent location, Zawiya Perspective in Santa Ana.
Not much else has changed, though. Sessions start with a short introduction, the what and why of the whole thing. Then we talk about the frame drum and do a quick primer on basic strokes. We learn a simple rhythm and this will take us into a short but exciting drum circle experience, which was particularly nice last night, masha Allah.
And then we bring out the song books. Traditional qasidas, sacred poetry, almost entirely in Arabic. That's a barrier for some, but the drum offers an opportunity for non-Arabic speakers to make a very powerful contribution.
We sang for about an hour, through a haze of burning aloeswood, before refreshments were served. A brother from Afghanistan brought this amazing dish: baked chunks of pumpkin and caramelized onions covered in yogurt and infused with a fiery spice blend that was perfect for taking the December chill out of our bones. Our host, Brother Abdullah, served soup and a lightly roasted Yemeni coffee blend seasoned with ginger and cardamom. Served in tiny little glasses, the brothers were pounding shots like sailors at port.
One of the attendees was a man from Bosnia who is working hard with the local immigrants from that community, some 45 families in the southern California area, by his estimate. He told us a fascinating story about how gatherings such as ours were the only thing keeping Islam alive in Bosnia after the arrival of Communism.
Formal religious practice was outlawed by the State, but locals were able to maintain some semblance of worship and remembrance through frequent celebratory gatherings. The recitation and singing of sacred poetry was a staple at these events. They would use any acceptable pretext, a wedding, or a birth, for example, to gather in song. In so doing, they were able to preserve something of their adopted religion.
It kind of makes you wonder. What will people will say about Qasida Monday twenty years from now?
Dunno. But between now and then, here's to another great year!
Wa billahi tawfiq.