Humanosity says..Venezuela has disappeared from the news yet despite this a human tragedy of epic proportions is still unfolding. This article examines the collapse of the country through the prism of a mosque in a Colombian city on the border.
It’s 3:20 in the afternoon when the adhan echoes across Maicao, Colombia.
The Arabic call to prayer flows through the sun-baked streets, lined with street vendor stands stocked with plastic bottles of contraband gasoline, smuggled across the nearby border with Venezuela. Crowds of migrants fleeing their country’s turmoil fill the marketplace in the central plaza.
Towering over it all is the source of the call, the Mosque of Omar Ibn Al-Khattab, named for one of the most prominent figures in Sunni Islam, a companion of Muhammad. It is easily the small city’s most prominent landmark.
Star-shaped aqua and purple stained glass windows adorn the Italian marble facade, and palm trees and violet flowers burst from small gardens flanking the doors. Cream-colored arches and pillars encircle the 101-foot minaret, which reaches into the cloudless desert sky in three stacked stages like a fountain. From the street, the large central dome is barely visible beyond the cornice that crowns the building.
It’s one of the biggest mosques in South America—some say the second, others the third. Regardless of where it falls on the list, it rivals the mosques in the continent’s biggest cities: Buenos Aires, Caracas, Bogotá. The building was once packed with the community of Lebanese immigrants who made up a significant portion of the population.
“Twenty, thirty years ago, this community was one of the most representative Arabic communities here in Colombia,” says Pedro Delgado, a researcher who works with the National Center of Historical Memory, headquartered in Bogotá, to document the history of the country’s Muslim population. “The mosque was the center of Islam in Colombia. That’s what it represented.”
The city of 160,000 in the country’s northeastern desert has long been defined—culturally, economically, even spiritually—by cross-border trade with Venezuela, which is what had drawn the Lebanese community there. In recent years, the border has continued to define Maicao, but in a different way, as successive tides of violence and the exodus of Venezuelans fleeing the country’s deepening, all-encompassing crisis have swept through. This desert border city now bears the weight of the 21st century: civil conflict, corruption, international trade, criminality, inequality, economic collapse, mass migration.
As the adhan rings out across the dust-filled streets, this building, a monument to a community, feels more like a relic. The thriving migrant community that constructed it is mostly gone, replaced by another……