May 13th, 2009

Through the Gate

Ever since my first visit last year, the Jamia Mosque, located near the top of the Central-Mid Levels escalator, has had a special pull on me. Hidden behind its stone walls is a verdant respite from the noise and stress of Central. A stately wrought iron gate acts as a portal between a frenzied city and a quiet place of contemplation and spiritual release.

The mosque is a welcome diversion whenever I find myself riding up the escalator. I enjoy the well-worn appearance of its grounds, the songs of the birds in its trees and the particular coziness created by the wall of skyscrapers that surround it. It’s also a place I like to show visitors to Hong Kong, and on a pleasant evening last winter, I found myself sitting on a stone ledge next to the mosque with a couple of my friends from Montreal. As the sounds of the evening prayer drifted through the air, an old man with a beard and more than a few missing teeth came up to us and started talking about everything he could think of: politics, the weather, Islam, his childhood. He mentioned that he had grown up at the mosque and had witnessed the complete transformation of the neighbourhood around it from an airy collection of walk-up tenements to a dense, dizzying cluster of highrises. He said that there were many families that lived around the mosque, in haphazardly-built houses and an elegant, now-decrepit building once used to house travelling Muslims and Islamic scholars.

Unfortuantely, the old man dashed away before I could ask him for his name. The next time I saw him, he brushed me off, muttering under his breath. “Don’t bother him, he’s crazy,” said someone standing nearby. But my interest was piqued. I decided to make a documentary, with three of my classmates at the University of Hong Kong, about the mosque and the diverse community of people that worship and live there. People started moving in during the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong during World War II. They never left, and now 20 families call the mosque home.

Through the Gate is my first documentary. It offers a glimpse of life at the Jamia Mosque through the experiences of three people. Andy Putranto is an Indonesian grad student who sees the mosque as a home away from home. Leila Karchoud is a Tunisian woman who was drawn back to Islam when she moved to Hong Kong. Mustafa Mohammed was born and raised at the mosque. I’ve tried to use their stories to convey the atmosphere of the mosque and its significance as a place both sacred and secular.


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