I remain unsure if the following event really took place. Maybe it was a reverie, perhaps not. Nevertheless, something to muse over?
It is a mini-baraaza this time, just Mullah Mchungu and me, seated outside the Husseini Islamic Center, here in Sanford, FL, a stone throw away from my house. Majlis finished a while ago, so the crowds have thinned out. There is a chill in the air; winter is definitely around the corner. It has been a long day for me, so I am ready to call it quits as well. But Mullah has told me to wait; he wants to chat. He told his impatient son Ali to leave; saying I will drop the Mullah later. I wish he had asked me first, but that is okay; Ali lives but a short distance away.
Despite my past differences with the old man, I am genuinely happy to see him. He looks much better than last time we met; alert and dapper in a crisp black khanzu. I have seen him around first few days of Muhaaram majaalisis but this is the first time we talk.
You are back, Mullah, I say, how nice to see you again! I thought you had tired of the USA?
Aree, shoo karuu? He responds while lighting a beedi with unsteady hands. The pull are my grandkids, even if my own son will not give me due heshma.
Allah! The guy is already setting a combative tone; I wonder what’s on his mind. I really hope this is not going to be too long; I have a hard, long run planned for next morning.
What is this kitoto Sheykh up to? Mullah starts, irritation clear on his face.
Eh? What do you mean? I ask.
I know what he means all right. We have a young Sheykh for lectures this first aashra; very polished, articulate, Arabic fluent, a bit green perhaps; divisive certainly. He has, to many in the community, embarked on a mission to stir up a hornet’s nest. But agitating hornet nests, most times, have nasty consequences; they sting, sometimes in unholy, uncomfortable places.
The Mullah regards me with teary eyes of age.
You know what I mean, you say you are kisukaali, no; the whole community is abuzz with this kitoto’s unwise topics. These watoto mullas of today, with a year or two in Kerbala or Qoom, consider themselves mighty experts. They pooh-pooh years of solid study, training and sacrifice of our ulemas by questioning established laws of Islam. All in the name of tolerant Islam, progressive thinking or the probing youth. This smarty-pants has completely spoilt the spirit of my Muharram.
Oh dear, I moan inwardly, these are harsh words perhaps.
Aw, come on Mullah sahib, that’s an exaggeration, surely?
Aw, come on Mullah sahib, that’s an exaggeration, surely?
The Mullah rolls his eyes to the heavens and his lips twist in contempt.
I thought you had some gray matter in here, Kisukaali, with all the writing you do, he says, pointing to his head. But I am obviously wrong. He yawns wide and long, showcasing several missing molars and deteriorating gums. You are as useful as the useless Sheykh.
That really stings, and I bristle at the onslaught. Since we are the only two left outside the Center, I have a good mind telling him to walk home. Instead, I argue, to my peril.
Mullah, give the kid a break. He is not a traditional speaker. He is challenging established norms and paradigms. He is stimulating us to think outside a box, to be progressive, to experiment, to think about Shia Islam 100 years from now. He is obviously very popular with the youths and women.
The Mullah closes his eyes while I make my passionate plea for understanding. He stays quiet for a long time and I seriously think he has decided to take a nap on me when he snorts in contempt.
Our youths like him because he speaks in a snotty British accent and the women because the kid looks so seriously starved, they want to feed and mother him...
I am so shocked; I can’t bloody believe my ears. I get up and gather my keys, indicating for him to do the same so I can get rid of him. But he does not move and stares at me stoically.
Oh, don’t be over dramatic, Kisukaali and hear me out. Sit!
I have seen at least fifteen – twenty more Eids than you, so you’ll have to hear my farts, whether you like it or not. I don’t have much to live and nothing to lose by saying what I say. Muharram is an invaluable gift to us Ahlebeyti Shias, that Allah has gifted no other people. It is a time when we rejuvenate our faith, affiliate with the mission of Abaa Abdillah for truth and justice. More importantly, it is a time when we learn how to live a proper Muslim life shaped in the heroism of Abbas, of Qassim, of Akber. Fashioned after the patience of Sajjad and Zainab. It is not a time for high drama and controversy.
The Mullah stops, coughs, hawks and shoots a blob of phlegm right across towards a nearby trashcan, missing wildly. He lights up again and blows acrid smoke my way.
Let me tell you where this kitoto Sheykh is going wrong. Allah, in His infinite wisdom has promised the safeguard of Islam Himself, hasn’t He? All He wants us to do, really, is believe in Him without associates, His Prophets (S) and the Aimaas (A). Outside of wajibaats, which are compulsory, He wants us to make our best efforts with the best of intentions. That’s it! He knows our strengths and limitations; He is our Creator, right? So why go through all this rigmarole of worrying about our youths excessively? He will guide them insha’Allah, just as He guided you and others when they came to this country. All this talk about worrying about Islam 100 years from now and joining Occupy Wall Street movement is hogwash. To suggest there are major differences of opinion between our Marjas is dividing us when we need utmost unity. To suggest women be allowed same rights as men in leading salaat or witness issues is downright precarious. Next we’ll be talking about giving Muslim rights to gays, just because the youths are demanding it. Fine, demand away! We cannot alter Islam or the Quraan to fit a changing world. It’s the other way around, silly! Have you been to Iran, Kisukaali?
Startled at the change of subject, I nod.
Khoob. You will have seen the progression of women’s hejab? It was total coverage of the hair once, then it went to half the head, now it’s a quarter only, pretty soon the hejab will fall to the shoulder in the name of progressive Islam. Then, we’ll be told to pray behind them as well. You tell me Kisukaali, with the fancy MBA and all that experience behind your ears, is it logical to espouse any and all changes that youths and women demand just because ‘times are changing’ and our ‘youths are being challenged’ at schools and universities? You were challenged during your time at the Uni, I’ll bet; you didn’t turn out all that bad.
So now I am bad but not so much? I don’t say anything; there is not much to say really.
Shall we leave Mullah? The caretaker will lock us in if we stay much longer.
The old man gets on his feet with the aid of his very menacing looking cane. When I attempt to help him, he angrily waves me away.
I can still get up Kisukaali, I’m not dead, am I? What a waste of my Muharram. I should have stayed back in Dar. The MC at HIC should have used their usual good judgment than invite such lecturers here. These new kitoto maulaanas have progressively differing, colorful opinions about everything. Each new graduate from Qoom and Najaf dreams up a new twist or theory, enough to make me go mwenda wazeemu!
With that temperament and a cane in his capable hands, I tread carefully, not say much, nod or shake my head respectfully at apt moments of further small talk and safely deposit Mullah Mchungu in the care of his not-too-happy-to-be-woken-up daughter-in-law.
Aashra – Ten days.
Heshma – Respect.
Khanzu – A loose fitting robe.
Kitoto – Small, Young.
Mwenda – Go.
Wazeemu – Crazy, Mad.