In memory of my mother, Khafiza Abdulonova, the blacksmith’s granddaughter.
One day my friend and I were caught in a cloudburst. His friend Akhmet welcomed us and let us dry out in his house. Inside was a large, expensively framed color photograph.
“Do you like it?” asked Akhmet. “It’s the Rashida Mosque. There are two very interesting stories about it.”
The first happened long ago.
Ismail, a blacksmith, was known far and wide because he could make anything and never turned down any request.
One day he was found dead; his heart had failed. Everyone came to the funeral, in a long procession toward the cemetery across the river. The river was in flood; ice and water from the mountains washed out its bridges and rushed over rocky rapids.
Men struggled to build a bridge, but it looked dangerous.
The body was tied to the bier. Men pulled the bier across the bridge with a rope, but halfway across the rope escaped them. The bier slid onto a sheet of ice, which the current carried toward rapids just downstream.
People ran along the bank, shouting. A young Russian soldier heard the Tartars’ cries and leapt into the water. Ice-sheets knocked him off his feet. The current dragged him toward the rapids.
But he grabbed the rope to the bier and pulled the ice sheet to shore, where villagers hauled him out and made the bier safe.
The soldier was bloodstreaked, and his clothes began to freeze. Women took him to a nearby hut to get warm, in the care of an old woman, and returned to the procession.
Unable to cross the river, the villagers left the bier and Ismail’s body in their tumbledown mosque. They went to thank the soldier, but he was gone.
The old woman said, “His hair is like flax, his eyes blue as God’s heaven.” When he removed his undershirt to dry it, she noticed a cross around his neck. The old woman never asked his full name or just where he was going. He got warm and dry, and left. The Muslims looked everywhere for him, but could not find him.
Here’s the other story. The old mosque had needed replacement for years, but there was not enough money. Finally, villagers collected enough money for materials and invited everyone to help with the work. All kinds of people responded: Muscovites, Ukrainians, Belorussians, and people of the Caucasus, friendly and not bothered about nationalities.
Vasis, who had donated a lot of money for the mosque, was asked to name it. He named it after his mother, and made it a gift to the village’s mothers.
To many it also commemorates the help people of many nations gave one another, and honors people’s faith in each other.
For still others, it is a monument to Ismail the blacksmith and the heroism of a Christian Russian soldier.
I looked around the room again. A beam of light set the mosque in the photograph glowing with all the colors of the rainbow.