I set off in the early hours, on a long trip through Spain from north to south and on my way towards Morocco. Actually, I had inadvertently taken a detour from the main motorway route, and so found my way driving through countryside and small villages when the time of Fajr prayer entered; the sky still dark, but showing the first signs of day separating from night.
I pulled over at the side of the road of the next village I entered, a serene scene of narrow streets and low houses. I could still feel the chill of the morning, but I lay out my prayer mat on the pavement just next to my car, prayed, and then got back in, to sit and read some Qur’an until the sun had risen.
I was absorbed, reading at the time that the Qur’an itself describes as “witnessed“ by the angels. So absorbed that I was quite taken aback by the tapping on the window right next to my face half an hour later. Only once I had pulled down the window and said hello did I notice the rather large police van from my rear-view mirror.
‘Someone called us and said that they saw you praying,’ the police officer said.
‘That must have been an annoying phone call,’ I replied, ‘did you tell them to stop wasting your time?’
He was accompanied by three friends, two compañeros and one compañera, and after the exchange of pleasantries, I was asked for where I was going, and then my passport. Handing it over triggered a telephone call to their superiors.
‘So you’re Moroccan,’ the very fat but also friendly officer with the phone to his ear asked me.
‘No, I’m from the UK,’ I replied. Further hurried conversation ensued.
‘So you’re originally Moroccan?’
I was then informed that myself and the entire vehicle would have to be searched, for reasons that will forever remain unknown. The officer who had originally tapped on my window made some attempt at an explanation.
‘We’re really sorry about all this (they always are) but, you know…’ From the inclination of his eyebrows, and nothing else, I could tell that he was expecting some kind of response.
‘No, I really have no idea what you’re talking about.’
‘Well, you know, with the news and everything… everything that’s been going on… in the news.’
‘Oh sorry, I misunderstood,’ I laughed, ‘I thought you were talking about real life. No, I haven’t been watching the news, what’s been happening?’
The car search must have been much more of a hassle than searching me, because it was packed with my wheelchair, clothes, lots of books to read on my travels, and a walking frame for an elderly person in Morocco. Amazingly, one of the officers was not satisfied with such an impressive haul. He waited until the others were away from the car before turning towards me conspiratorially, like a Spanish James Bond.
‘Where are the weapons?’ he asked me. I presumed that I must have misheard.
‘Come on,’ he repeated, ‘where are the guns?’
Oh dear. Lucky I can speak Spanish, otherwise I might have mistaken these upholders of law and order for a group of complete lunáticos.