Back to top

A Sense of Place

Ziauddin Sardar
9 May 2018

From Resurgence. 223, March/April 2004.

That Illusive Door

I have been there only once; but it has become a permanent part of my being. The passage of the Badshahi Mosque in Lahore. On a chilly dawn long ago when I entered this walkway, it appeared as an infinite corridor of doors. Almost instantly, it projected me on a journey that can never end, a thirst that can never be quenched, a longing that knows no bounds.

I visit it regularly: in my dreams and hallucinations, in moments of calm and introspections, in times when I need to think through a knotty problem. There is always a moment of expectation: just before a door is opened. A moment of potentiality and mystery: just what will I discover on the other side? And a moment of infinite possibility when the hidden becomes manifest. But not all doors I open reveal their mysteries. Some lead to deeper mysteries. I walk through the door of my father’s grave and reflect on the eternal mystery of death. But walking through the countless doors of Badshahi mosque is always a humbling act for on the other side is awe and humility, wonder and bewilderment, atonement and ecstasy.

But doors do not only open. They also close. And when doors close conflict and stagnation is not far behind. Much of my life has been spent on working out why ‘the door of ijtihad’ – sustained reasoning – were closed in Islam. Just what consequences the shutting of this door had on Muslim societies? And where is the key to unlocking this door and solving the perpetual angst and alienation of Muslim civilization?

Wherever I am and whenever there is an instant, I think of doors I have closed and ones I am about to open. But it is not simply about where I am coming from and where I am going. It is also about the journey in between: how am I traveling. Frequently, I find myself trying to open the door of common understanding. This is the one that leads, from many different environments, into a room where mutual appreciation of discrete and respected differences enables different cultures to inhabit a shared future. That is a door that we all need to open.

So today, let me open a new door and extend an invitation. Why don’t you come in and share my special sense of place?