Christians, Muslims, Brothers.
|Muslim friend, Kosovo|
“Be careful, don’t be too friendly, they are still a bit closed minded,” warned a kindly traveler as I boarded a bus to Kosovo from Bulgaria. But nothing could have been further from the truth. There was something in the air in Pristina; I sensed it as soon as I stepped out of the station in Kosovo's capital. Kosovo like the majority of its population is young –having only declared independence in 1998. The area has a history of religious tolerance but this doesn’t make the headlines. Conflict does, and territorial tensions down ethnic divides came to a head in the war of 1998 to 1999. This had left negative images in my mind that were not borne out by the helpful, polite and friendly people I met -particularly in Peja.
The western town of Peja lies at the foot of ravine cut mountains that rise abruptly from the flat plains of Kosovo. Travelling with a friend we were destined to visit the Serbian monastery of the Pec Patriacharchate but our driver insisted on taking us to see the spectacular gorge first, at no extra cost. At the monastery I prayed in the impenetrable silence deep in the bowls of the church. Prayer had become a bit of a habit since Afghanistan and Athos. As we walked the streets bells rang out from the Catholic Church followed by a gentle call to prayer from a Mosque.
It was the first time I’d ever heard the two sounds mix so sweetly. Taken by the atmosphere I felt no reservation in taking off my shoes, washing my hands and feet and entering the mosque. Sat on the carpet a line of young men bowed in contemplation as the mullah whole-heartedly led prayers. On the steps outside I said hello to the men and the Mullah as we put on our shoes to leave. “Are you Christian?” they asked, so I gave my standard answer: I was born Christian. I pointed to the sky and said, “One God!” with which they greeted me warmly and huddled together for a photo. “Ah brothers,” I said as I clicked the camera, so they insisted on including me in the next shot, as a brother too. We were standing in the mosque garden as the sunset behind the mountains and a crescent moon rose in the last remaining light of the day. One of the guys spoke up:
“Christians, Muslims, brothers.”
Three simple profound words...