Aug. 3, 2008

Inshallah and the Unfettered Place

“I’ll see you at the meeting tomorrow!”

“Inshallah.” (If God wills it)


“Inshallah (God willing) she will grow up to be a strong and intelligent young woman.”


“He was hit by the car crossing the street.”

“Inshallah.” (God willed it)


Syrians with whom I conversed often referred to the will of God while I was teaching in Aleppo, but this ubiquitous philosophy was driven home when I explored my first castle on the Week Without Walls trip with the Grade 6 and 7 students I had been teaching for the last three weeks.  The absence of railings.

In Canada, it seems that every historical site and tourist attraction is bound by railings or barriers intended to keep unobservant individuals from plummeting to their doom, being ground to bits, or otherwise being seriously wounded.  In our litigious society, parties that manage spaces which are open to the public must go to great lengths to ensure that those individuals with a chronic lack of common sense have no opportunity to injure themselves.

While I do not deny that a teacher would likely experience a certain degree of comfort in the knowledge that a waist-high railing will to a certain extent deter his 11-year old charges from running headlong off a castle tower, the absence of typical safety barriers did give wider scope to one’s historical imagination.  It was easier to describe the purpose of castle architecture and paint a picture of a vibrant castle community existing eight hundred years ago when there were no recently-installed barriers to ignore.  As was the case at the other castles I would visit, the only barriers to sections of the castle or the hard ground below at Qalat Salah al-Din were heavy blocks of rock from fallen walls that had been moved to a new location.  These barriers rarely reached knee-height.  Thank goodness we did a good job of impressing upon our students the importance of moving carefully along stairways and castle walls. 

If somebody was to be injured at a castle as a result of leaning out too far to take a picture or losing his or her balance on a narrow and eroded set of stairs, this would simply be a matter of God’s will at work according to the dominant set of beliefs.  While this is doubtless of little comfort to the victim of an accident, on those days when there are no accidents at a castle, (and I presume that these days vastly outnumber the days when there is an accident) visitors are treated to a historic place less fettered by modern influences and additions.  Each of the castles has suffered deterioration and probably lost a great deal of the grandeur that accompanied lit hallways, constant habitation, and regular upkeep; however, visitors today to the castles today have access to spaces and views shared by people who lived almost a century before.