Mullah Mchungu is preparing to return to Dar es Salaam tomorrow so has dropped by home to say goodbye. He says he’s not sure if I’ll see him again because he feels the angel of death is paying him real close attention. I laugh away, thinking the old man is jesting but the Mullah’s face remains static, as bitter as his nickname; I shut up real fast.
We are seated in my living room this time; it is too cold and windy outside, one of the few rare such days in Sanford, Florida. I feverously pray the tea he is now sipping is not followed up by the customary nasty Indian beedi he likes to smoke; for I will surely have to deny him that pleasure. And who can tell what calamity will that bring about? But he senses my unease and refrains himself, chewing instead on my Paan Parag and 160 pareeki concoction with aplomb.
‘This stuff is good, Kisukaali, very good,’ he affirms, nodding. ‘What’s in it?’
‘Oh, that’s proprietary information, Mullah Saheb,’ I joke cheekily, ‘It will cost you pretty plenty.’
The guy does not find it funny and stares at me unblinkingly, making me want to cringe; I give up and promise myself I’ll keep humor out of all future conversations with this grouch.
‘Did you hear Ammar Nakshawani’s lecture yesterday?’ He asks suddenly, catching me off guard. The guy has a tendency of doing this, taking pleasure in changing subjects of conversation to gauge my reaction.
‘Yes,’ I say after trying to read his mind unsuccessfully, ‘Yes, I did.’
‘Um, and what?’
I know what he wants me to say; he wants my opinion of some controversial issues Nakshawani brought up in his lecture at HIC yesterday, opinions I prefer to keep (safely) to myself. I brace for an outburst when the Mullah’s face clouds up with ire, but just as quickly, he relaxes, exhales deeply and gives me an obnoxious sneer.
‘You are such a chicken, Kisukaali and a skinny one at that, trying to be all diplomatic and nice-nice. Well, I have no such inhibitions so hear me out.’
I settle in for the majlis.
‘The guy Ammar is very good and I like him, no matter what others think of his lecture fees, hair transplant or tattoos.’
I am taken aback. Really? Nakshawani has a hairdo and a tattoo? News, really, to me; good for him! I open my mouth to ask how he knows such intimate details on the guy but the Mullah puts a finger across his lips and gestures me to shut up; I close my mouth and recede further into my soft sofa.
‘Listen up Kisukaali, before you have to start reciting fateha on the news of my demise. We Khojas have an irresistible itch for conspiracy theories and controversies; we thrive in such foolishness. Perhaps we lead boring lives and need this for cheap entertainment? We expect our aalims to be old farts, wear drab cloaks with an amaama and keeleemba. Sheykh Jehad wears fancy shoes and dresses smart; we go bananas. Sheykh Ammar gets a tattoo; we cry blasphemy. An aalim flies business class; yaa Allah, what calamity. The man gets a hair transplant; snicker, snicker. The ideal aalims should be almost poor, always looking for handouts. They should do no wrong, as if they are infallibles. Bizarrely, we digest and poop out everything they say from the mimber as gospel, unchecked or verified.’
Mullah Mchungu pauses for breath and closes his eyes but opens them when I begin to fear he has passed out from the effort of his lecture, asks for more pareeki, helps himself, smacks his lips in appreciation and continues.
‘Now then, about Ammar and his lecture yesterday. I thought what he said made perfect sense, nai?’
I take my time responding, my brains in full gear. I really do not want to voice an opinion.
‘Well,’ I begin, ‘Sheykh Ammar covered a lot of subjects, what exactly...’
‘You are useless, Kisukaali, a meatless chicken, I say. It would be futile making you halaal, there would be no meat to enjoy. You know exactly what I am talking about. The soora from the Quraan that Ammar quoted, you know it? Never mind. I’ll give you an English translation since both of us are fools and don’t understand Arabic. It is from chapter number 25, verse 63, Al Furqan and it goes something like this:
‘And the servants of Allah, Most Gracious, are those who walk on the earth in humility, and when the ignorant address them, they say, "Peace!"’
This command of Allah refers directly to Salman Rushdie and the editors of Charlie Hebdo. Allah has given us Muslims the best defense with this command. Had A. Khomeini not ordered the killing of the fool Rushdie and the lunatics not killed the French editors, Islam would have been better served.’
I am and look shocked, for Mullah Mchungu smiles at me mirthlessly.
‘Think what you like, this is a fact. 99% of the Muslims who protested against Salman Rushdie did not read the novel in question. Yes, it was insulting, yes it was hurtful but the fatwa made Salman a very popular and wealthy man. He is a mediocre writer, his works are hard to read and it takes a seasoned intellectual mind to comprehend what he writes. The best response should have been to snub his ignorance about our Prophet and shown him the middle finger and said ‘Peace.’ Same with Charlie Hebdo. The rag was selling about 3,000 miserable copies of their magazines a week, look what happened. Ask yourself this question: Are we Muslims better off in our reaction in both instances, did it achieve anything but grief? Logically, you must agree that the Quraan’s command was the only way to react. And that is what Ammar was saying. I agree with him. One hundred percent.’
The Mullah turns quiet; I remain quiet, afraid to say anything or make a movement. We stay like this for a long time.
‘I have the highest regards for A. Khomeini; he was a great aalim that etched Shia Islam into modern world history, no doubt. I have the same high regard towards other great ulemaas as well. But remember, they are humans, like you and I, pious, educated and wise for sure, but not infallible.
A car beeps outside, signaling Mullah’s ride is here. He gets up woozily and we say formal goodbyes.
‘I hear you are coming to Dar in March Kisukaali? Do look me up; I’ll treat you to the ghastly kahaawa and kashata you like so much. It’ll be a cheap treat from me. If I am gone, do come by the kabrantan and recite a fateha.’
With that, he limps away.
Okay, this Blog is going to ruffle a few feathers, surely just as the sun will rise from the East tomorrow. Spare the comments (the nasty ones) for Mullah Mchungu in Dar; if you can find him.