Recently (on a family road trip) we had a discussion about the-state-of-the-world.
It revolved around terror, corporate greed, and the nature of evil. (There was a certain irony in that discussion happening in the car with Taylor Swift playing along.) But as we talked our way through it, Roger said “That’s all true but there is still not a time I’d want to go back to.”
That abruptly changed the tone of the discussion and we ended up talking about what is good in the world. We talked instead about inspiring people and heroes and the importance of noticing and remembering them.
The Grand Mosque of Paris came to mind and became part of the conversation.
This is a wonderful, inspirational book that speaks of the little-known history of Muslim heroes in Paris during World War II and their rescues of Jews, Resistance fighters, Allied pilots, and prisoners of war.
The Grand Mosque served as a sort of halfway house and its rector, Si Benghabrit, coordinated rescue efforts.
The story is remarkable, pieced together from eyewitness accounts and scraps of written history. It's a lengthy picture book – most appropriate for older children, teens and adults. And because the story is being told as history, it includes salient details such as:
“In France 11,402 Jewish children, toddlers and even tiny babies were deported to death camps. Only about three hundred of them survived the war.”
Important information but not bedtime reading for little people.
However … for older children, adults and teens this is a stunning book full of truly beautiful pictures that perfectly evoke Paris in a time of fear and faith.
It’s a book to remind ourselves that:
Kindness is not a cultural construct – it’s easy to recognise people in need.
Recognising people in need requires us to act.
Acting kindly in difficult times can require great bravery.
Bravery comes most easily when we care for those around us.
Caring for those around us changes our relationship with them.
The Grand Mosque finds its way onto our coffee table regularly - which is why we were all able to talk about it so readily. I bought it from the bookshop section on the ground floor of the Sydney Jewish Museum and actually, I don’t think I’ve ever made it out of there without a book or two (this one is an all-round favourite).
More from The Grand Mosque time that you might like: strictly for adults, the movie The Round Up is difficult but inspiring viewing (but does not mention the Mosque).
If you’d rather something lighter, there’s also a French comedy made in 1966, La Grande Vadrouille, that includes scenes in the Grand Mosque. (Both films have English subtitles.)