Song of the Sands

Sunday, January 22nd, 2023
Shuruq, Daabab 4th, 412

Fuaad Yazahlii was old. He was one of the oldest people he knew, at 78, and even he had never seen the Qalb Alriimal Maktaba open. Nobody he knew had. While the building had once been a tremendous library, the heart of knowledge of the First Divine Republic, its glory had faded; Golden Oil had made it an administrative center and closed it off to the public, it being the only building big enough in the area to serve as such. It was in Hasa, the city of stone, so called because of the palace carved out of the face of the mountain centuries before, and the capital of Suleiman’s domain. But while some good had been done by the Mirhaimians, like the airport that now connected Hasa to the outside world without a long camel ride (or an ATV, if you were lucky enough to afford one), much of its splendor had been lost during the occupation - the vibrant colors muted, the sandstone parapets crumbling, the sounds of the children in the street silenced.

Like I said, Fuaad was old, and even still when he was growing up he was taught nothing about his culture or religion - what he knew was told to him by his grandfather in hushed whispers at the dead of night. While in school he learned algebra and “history,” his night lessons took him on adventures through our world and others. They taught him about the desert, about change, and about kindness. He took much more away from the legends of Suleiman and the myths of Mohamed than he ever did from school. So when he was 23 and a limping stranger knocked on his door with a bullet wound in their shoulder and a broken leg, he didn’t ask questions. He simply helped. Like all people do, without realizing it, his action affected real change, in his life and others.

The stranger’s name was Dua Isaawi, the leader of the main resistance group in Mukarras called Tawaabah, which fought against Golden Oil using a mixture of violent and nonviolent subversion. They were also not somebody WEGEC liked civilians to know about, although hope was a hard thing to suppress after nearly 50 years. But still, Yazahlii had never even considered fighting back, actually doing something. Dua gave him a card when she left, with only one thing on it; a set of coordinates. He had thought over it for a day, but he knew in his heart that following the Three Tenets as he tried to do asked him to enact change, and on the day after he went to the coordinates.

After making contact for the first time, Yazahlii became something of a smuggler; he was well respected within the community and could move while being seen, an even more beneficial trait than moving unseen. He picked up guns, medical supplies, and rations from dead drops at the airport - the irony of it didn’t elude him - and would deliver them in the middle of the night. And yet his adventures during this time are best left for another day. Let it suffice to say that he was a faithful and useful member of Tawaabah. And when Yufraan Faruuk’s revolution succeeded, Yazahlii was the first one to the old palace to celebrate as Golden Oil’s security was recalled from Hasa, an end he had worked his whole life for yet never thought he’d see.

Even more surprising was when he was approached by Anahid Terzian, the leader of the Amanshii herself, to become the Sahiikma of the Qalb Alriimal Maktaba. While certainly he had devoted himself to his spirituality, nothing had made him seem qualified for being the Sahiikma of the most important library-church in Aldaar. When he asked Terzian, she only said,
“These people do not know who they are. They need a true storyteller to remind them.” And so he, at the age of 78, would soon take on the same role that his own grandfather had taken - that of a protector, a guide, a teacher, dedicated to preserving the culture of the wastes. He would lead others in the pursuit of knowledge and enlightenment just as he himself had been led. And while it had taken some time to reopen Qalb Alriimal, the Heart of the Sands, he would lead his first congregation in only 4 days.

Fuaad Yazahlii is old, one of the oldest people he knows. As his mind races across his past, his present and his future, his body sits silent and weary. He is at the same rough-hewn wooden table he has known his entire life, a cup of tea and a bowl of fruit in front of him. The bright light of the morning sun streams in through his window perfectly capturing the dust in the air. He thinks about everything he has done in his life - sitting up in bed at night as a child, watching the stars and listening to his grandfather. Running guns and medicine at twilight, desperate to make a change. Every birth, every death, every friend lost and gained, all would lead up to this week. Yazahlii gently lifts his tea to his mouth with a shaky hand and takes a sip.

“I suppose I should get to preparing, then,” he says, as he pulls out a notepad and begins to put his wisom to paper.

Thursday, January 26th, 2023
Askiiz, Daabab 7th, 412

The Qalb Alriimal Maktaba, once upon a time, was the center of the Dawra religion. Suleiman Abd’ildarra had preached there, once upon a time, and some of his successors. And now Fuaad Yazahlii was to be the first Sahiikma to hold khutba here since 1928. But despite his nerves (and his mild arthritis), Yazahlii nevertheless moves with grace and confidence to the lectern. It is fitted with a microphone, but Yazahlii has turned it off. He doesn’t think he needs it. As he opens his notes and begins to look out, he is shocked and delighted to see that his audience stretches past the seats to the back of the hall, and not only that, but it is one of the most diverse audiences he’s seen - every possible species and age group seems to be represented in the crowd. He clears his throat, silencing the crowd (or rather, leading them to silence each other). And he begins the first Dawra sermon given in Aldaar in 95 years.

"Greetings, all. As I’m sure many of you know, this is an extremely momentous occasion. For the first time in almost a century, we are free to practice our religion. For the first time in almost two centuries, that religion has a head. And for the first time in over three hundred and fifty years, we have a true prophet - one who Ildarra has revealed herself to, in order to bring peace to the desert.

This is likely the first time many of you will have ever set foot in a Maktaba, listened to a Sahiikma, or attended any sort of religious service. I expect many of you are more than a little unsure of if you even belong here or not. And I understand that, even though this is the culture you inherited, it is difficult to get into religion when one has been absent from it their entire life. Which is why this khutba - or sermon, or lecture - will be different from many others. This will be an introduction to Dawra - Dawra 101, if you will." The crowd slightly chuckles. "There are two main parts to Dawra, and to any religion. Mythology, and morality. Mythology is what the religion is - Gods, Heroes, Legends, tales of creation and destruction that help us understand how to interpret the world. Morality is what the religion wants us to take away from the myths - who we become. Some religions may teach about warriors and bravery, like Ulvriktru, or focus on traditionalism and piety like Paxism. Today, I aim to give you the basics on both aspects of Dawra.

Now, if you leave here today feeling like you have learned nothing or like Dawra isn’t for you, that’s okay. Organized religion, even one as loosely organized as ours, doesn’t work for everyone, and that’s okay. Especially considering there are some traditions that are… esoteric, at best.

I’ll start with a story. Once upon a time, in the desert, there was a caravan of traders coming back from the mountains full of precious goods. They were on their way to Hasa when they were caught in a sandstorm. When the dust cleared, the camels carrying their goods were stuck in the sand, buried up to their stomachs. Many of the traders continued trying to coax their camels to move as if they were not buried, sure that if given time the situation would solve itself. After a time, many of these traders gave up, sure that their goods were unsalvageable. And yet there was one trader who was wiser than the rest. Instead of refusing to acknowledge the reality of the sandstorm, or meekly accepting their loss, he got to work. For what seemed like hours, he shoveled the hot sand away from his camel, eventually allowing it to easily get onto the top of the ground again. When he finished the journey to Hasa, his wares made him rich and he was able to found his own trading company.

This story teaches us many things, especially the full version which could really fill a khutba all on its own. But what this story teaches us is the primary tenet of Dawra - things change. It is inevitable, from the smallest blade of grass to the universe itself, nothing stays the same. We must not ignore these changes, like those who tried to let the camels save themselves, nor must we accept them as a set reality and move on like those who left their fortunes behind. Because we, too, can affect change, no matter how small. In fact, the majority of Dawra is about this - understanding change, accepting it, and affecting it. Just as the desert is constantly shifting, so too is society, and so too are we as people.

There are many other morals of Dawra that I would like to briefly touch on. The most important is accepting all people, no matter their species, nationality, religion, gender, sexuality, or beliefs. Even if someone has committed horrible crimes, we must remember that changing a person takes time, effort, and most of all, love. Another moral is searching for truth, whether it be the truths of the universe or your own personal truths. The third is always treat others with compassion and mercy. And finally, honor the sacrifices of your elders - and be willing to move on from them. Their time is over, and it is our time to make the world.

Before we get into a myth, I’d like to cover some other important things. First of all, the bathrooms are down the hall to your left - " Fuaad Yazahlii grins, and the crowd cracks up. Yazahlii puts on a jokingly stern face. “I don’t know what you’re laughing at. This is very important. But in all seriousness, I’d like to briefly talk about the structure of Dawra. For those who don’t know me, my name is Fuaad Yazahlii. I was taught my culture from my grandfather, during the early days of the occupation. I am the Sahiikma of this building. My job is to preach on Thursdays and help run the library every other day. Which brings me to my next point. This building is a Maktaba, or a library-church, here to help all those who wish to further their pursuit of knowledge, regardless of beliefs. We also have computers - monitored by our staff,” he says eyeing a row of teenagers. "With that being said, know that I am here to answer any questions you may have or help you with whatever I can. Now, on to some of the fun bit - mythology.

The mythos of Dawra is weird, because it does not make pretensions of correctness - This is simply the version of events we choose to believe in. A story, just like any other, built for a purpose. In the beginning, there was nothing, and there also wasn’t. Because in order for there to be nothing, there must first be something to oppose it. After some meaningless period of time, the three deities would be born, perhaps due to sheer boredom from the universe itself - my personal favorite interpretation. Their names were Ildarra, Arzaal, and Salahayr. Ildarra was curious, and she loved to create, making an infinitude of planets, galaxies, universes. Salahayr was curious, too, but with the mischievousness of a child - he liked breaking things and chaos. And Arzaal served as the mediator between them, establishing the rules and regulations of the universe mathematically, scientifically, and spiritually. As the millennia stretched on, the deities became quite good at their jobs. Ildarra became more creative, Salahayr more subtle, Arzaal more nuanced. And one day, by accident, on the planet called Urth - yes, us - Ildarra created life. Unsure of what would happen next, she joined with her siblings to determine what should be done. In the end, they agreed to imbue life with an aspect of each of the three deities, believing that they could over time hone these powers and become deities in their own right. Ildarra gifted life with creativity, love, and harmony. Arzaal gave them intellect, a desire for structure, and rational thought. And Salahayr gave them emotion, individuality, and awe. Together, they watched life grow, and Ildarra began making more - she started off with plants and fungi, moving on to wild animals and the things that filled out the natural world. But something was missing, and Ildarra thought she knew what. She began creating what we know as sapients - beings who knew what they had been given, who knew about the deities. Ildarra would watch as they did great things no matter their form or needs - creating societies to organize themselves for the greater good, forming pantheons to honor their creators. There was a dark side to them, too, perhaps due to the mixtures of the traits they had been given, perhaps due to external pressure from an outside force - the nothingness that counteracted the somethingness of the deities. And still, Ildarra loved her creations, and they loved her no matter how they perceived her. And thus, the world was born.

We’ve run out of time for today, but I hope I’ve captured your interest. This is our shared culture - it is what brought us together, what was stolen from us, and what we now reclaim as our birthright. It is what generations of ancestors have fought and died to protect, and what we shall fight for again if need be. Thank you for listening to the long spiel of an old man who has a lot to be excited about. I hope you join me next Daabab for regular khutba, and the building - and its library - are always open for whatever any of you may need. Thank you, and have a good day." The crowd erupts into applause, and slowly but surely, everyone filters out.

Well, almost everyone.