Today, fully replenished from another wonderful dinner the night before with new London friends, I set off bright and early for the advertised Kingsbury Park One Eid celebration in the park.
This organisation aims to encourage Muslims into following the Sunnah of the Prophet – praying the Eid prayer in the park, rather than in the mosque. It was only two bus rides away, but jumping on the first bus that came, I found myself next to a friendly, elderly (probably not much more so than me that is) South Asian sister who greeted me with Eid salaams – something that would happen many times today from total strangers, even non-Muslims! She explained tearily how excited she was to have finally been able to fulfil a lifelong wish of doing i’tikaf in the mosque due to the marriage of her son and the help provided to her by her new daughter in law. The difficulty with i’tikaf is that once you are in retreat, you cannot leave the mosque and therefore rely on family and friends for food, clean clothing and other essentials of life for the ten days that you are there. Fortunately for her, despite a little baby, her kind daughter in law and offered to provide for all of her needs, and she had only returned from the mosque the evening before.
As we said the takbir together, she told me that she wanted to go the local mosque, and encouraged me to come with her. I was a little hesitant, but looking at the clouds outside and the possibility of being lost trying to walk from bus to park, thought that an Eid salat in the hand was worth two in the park – figuratively speaking. I was even more concerned when she alighted from the bus and led me to the closest mosque which I had previously assumed to be Shia. There is a reason for this I thought, as she continually beckoned with a smile and almost pulled me into the ladies entrance. The salat was about to begun and a quick appraisal showed a broad multicultural congregation including Malays and Africans – not usually Shia followers. The salat was as usual a huge relief – the spiritual celebration of a month of sacrifice for Allah s.w.t. as waves of satisfaction and joy sweep through the believer who has managed to fast, and can now thank Allah and celebrate with fellow Muslims. Meeting and greeting after the prayers I quizzed a tall Dutch convert who was quite surprised that I had thought it was Shia.
My next priority was to head for the closest coffee! After peeking into the first five located at Cricklewood, I chose ‘Sandwich Plus’, none of the five having the tasty pastries that I was looking forward to. After the usual greeting of ‘Eid Mubarak’ the friendly shop owner explained that the TV screen I was watching was from Algeria, and that this was an Algerian coffee shop. Seeing my bemused expression at the huge framed photograph of an old steam engine protruding from historic buildings after seemingly crashing nose first into the pavement – he enthusiastically told me that he had the full history of this occasion, and that the steam engine was now housed permanently in a museum. I realised that the shop – as were others on the street – was full of celebrating Muslim men, but no females. The coffee was reasonable, a little bitter and the milk not sufficiently creamy. Two stars.
As the trains were out at my local train station I spent most of the day talking to my children via Skype, or trying futilely to get to the city and its alluring pasty and coffee shops. In the end, the traffic was so slow that I alighted from the replacement bus and headed for an Italian restaurant in Kilburn for lunch. The melted goats cheese over tomato on traditional Italian bread was good, the decor was great (dark, traditional Italian and rustic), but the coffee was flat and weak. I had an apple pie with custard but could hardly finish it – it seemed to be a supermarket reheat. Two stars again.
For dinner I was lucky to discover a fantastic quality Indian restaurant only metres from my front door. With newspaper reviews giving it a four star rating glued beside the entrance, I bought the huge London Times and settled down for a long Indian dinner. Palak chicken – (spinach and coconut milk) was good, although a little gritty – something I always struggle with when cooking spinach, Pilau rice, mango lassi – a yogurt drink and absolutely delicious, followed by Karahi Kulfi’s mango – a rich and creamy ice cream. Four stars and the service was excellent including a delightful hot towel after the main course for a total of 16 pounds. To top the evening off for Eid was a new season of Doc Martin. Thank you Allah!