My first trip to Timbuktu occurred in 2003, long before this current conflict. I arrived in Timbuktu and the air emitted a certain respect for history. The architectural structure reminded me that I was in the midst of a city of knowledge that had existed for hundreds of years.
When the trumped-up passions of "Innocence of Muslims" cool, burnt-out buildings will be repaired, diplomatic dances will reboot. But who will stand up for the freedom to disbelieve, to criticize and to mock?
Unlike Him, we do not have infinite capacity. We are failed deities. We try and we stumble, and we have few resources to fall back on. So we end up as I did, prostrated pathetically after the prayer, tears streaming from my cheeks.
A mosque is worth only as much as the people inside it. It's the communities that give the mosque meaning and weight. How we serve our Creator and our fellow neighbors is ultimately reflected in the spirit of each and every mosque.
With mosques functioning as the local centers of Islamic faith and the object of renewed Western suspicion, it is undeniable that mosques also help keep alive the memory of the divide of civilizations that once rent the world irreparably in two.
Even when Americans began to travel to Muslim lands, from the start they displayed a more diverse response to Islam and its mosques, which over the course of a century graduated from the crude to the reverent.
Compared to the European writers discovering the great mosques of Islam for the first time, the mention of mosques is more muted and void of romance to the Muslim secularists inured to them from birth.