Inside the main hall there is usually a focal point, and while being seated anywhere, you had access or a view to this focal point. In a Hindu temple, it was the idol. And most if not all the other places of worship had a symbol, even if it was not a specific idol. Sometime it was a book, or it was pedestal from where the preacher or a leader would lead the prayer. It was easy to get used to the differences amongst the many religions and focus on this unifying theme of a place of worship.
It is easy to be mislead, like any wayfarer views, Hinduism to be a religion that propitiate a stone idol in place of god. As you mature in the faith, you realize and become aware of other teachings in vast truth of Hindu teachings, that god is universal. God has many forms. An idol is simply a symbol of god, and only a token to help your mind focus. And then it is easy to appreciate the different systems of faith, and how invariably, every religion that abhors idol worship, has to succumb to the trappings of us mortals. That God needs to be replaced by a symbol of some sort. The choice of the symbol, like the gods, are many.
All of these teachings and learning, didnt prepare me for my first visit to a Mosque. My first visit to a mosque, was the Jama Masjid in Delhi. For whatever reason, i didnt get the opportunity to visit a mosque before that. I have seen many a Dargah, but also realize the difference in this Sufi tradition of Islam, from some of the core tenets of Muslim belief system. God is formless, as God is beyond all this. I get that part, as there exists a similar concept within the teachings of other religions too. But there is philosophy, and then there is the practical offer of a prayer.
When i walked through the main courtyard of the Masjid, and arrived at, what would otherwise been the location of an idol or pulpit, i was instead greeted by a book shelf. Although this was part of a pleasure trip, the visit to the mosque, was not just to see around, but also offer prayers. And so, here was me, standing just before this old wooden shelf, filled with even older looking books, i would presume they were copies of the Qur'an.
I suddenly felt lost. I was unsure, what to do next. I am not a Muslim, nor had i before this, attempted to learn how Muslims offered prayer. All this was immaterial though, because in my mind it should have been simple as walking up to sanctum sanctorum, and offering your prayers. Well in this case, i was perplexed, as there was no defined sanctum sanctorum. And even if this was the center or a pivotal point within the mosque, there was nothing to grasp my attention.
As i stood there, contemplating for a few seconds, i was able to better understand the concept of a formless god. Hindus see god in every form. But here i had to come to terms with this new idea. New idea? Not at all. At the least, not to me. No matter which temple i visit, my prayers are always done with my eyes closed. And so, truly when i think about it, the temple, an idol or a sanctum is only helpful in creating an apt ambiance and an appropriate atmosphere. But, standing here facing nothingness, was an important lesson, often missed out in temples and other idolatry worship. It was a reckoner to the fact, sometimes it is difficult to conceive the inconceivable. And so, even with a lot of gyaan around this, i was for a moment, taken aback.
We take it for granted that it is so easy to access or imbibe the spirit, we call god. Its in a picture, in a name, in an idol, a book, a cross, a stone, a metal, even a piece cloth. Its quite another thing to think that it is, but unfathomable. It is, beyond comprehension. And hence i think the reason to mandate that it be kept that way in Islam. A difficult choice to make, but when adhered to, a creates a truly higher plane of thought.
In the end, when you think about it really deep, you will understand: many forms, any forms, no form, are all the same.
Jab kahin pe kuch nahi bhi nahi tha
Wahi tha Wahi tha Wahi tha Wahi tha
Woh jo mujhme samaya
wohjo tujhme samaya
Maula wahi wahi maaya
Kun fayakun Kun fayakun