The flight from Orlando to Mumbai with a stop in Dubai is over twenty-three hours, and jet lag does not let me sleep much last night. Still, it is the wafaat of my Imam Hassan (a), so I have to pay my respects, naturally. So I take the crowded Metro line from the Leela Hotel to Versova and a bumpy rickshaw ride to Zeb Palace Imambargah near Yari Road, not too far away. It is already November, but the city still sizzles at 95F; at least the humidity is contained, as a very trivial and stunted winter season looms.
Bleary eyed, I join others for zohrain salaat, but I am told later that the Khojas of India commemorate the shahadat of Imam Hassan (a) on a day different than Khojas elsewhere; I fume. Can’t we all choose one day and stick to it for heaven’s sake! The aim is to pay respects to our Imam (a) for crying out loud. Isn’t the annual Eid ul Fitr tamasha enough grief? The mood of worshippers is tense, however, soured by the circus of recent events related to the events in Karbala. Rightly or mistakenly, individual jamaats have opted for the ban of four Aalims from reciting at India-wide Khoja centers. And for some bizarre reasons, the banning of nikkah recitation at Beb Palace as well. I have personal opinions on this trivial and silly issue, of course, but I will keep my lips zipped, for the safety of my limbs and life. The Khojas of India are beginning to have anger management issues. An argument in Gujarat was settled with firearms recently, resulting in deaths and tragedy. So I head out back to the hotel for a possible nap before the start of a very hectic schedule the next few weeks.
As I wear my sandals and walk out, I nearly jump out of my skin. There, sitting in the shade, playing with the lever of his motorized wheelchair, is Mullah Mchungu, grinning at me with his ghastly bleached dentures. I gawk at him aghast, thinking I have perhaps died and am meeting the old geezer on my way to the heavens? No, we are both alive, since I can still feel the sleep deprived dudus in my head. Is this guy stalking me?
After we are both over with the mostly phony pleasantries of how we are and our health and everything else we care not a hoot about, the Mullah tells me he is in Mumbai for knee surgery. He has apparitions of walking again, so he has coerced his son Ali in Orlando to split the whole expense with the daughter in Dar. The surgery is after a few days, so he is grabbing all opportunities to attend as many majaalis as possible since he will be incapacitated for Arbaeen. Like a fool that I must be, I get strong-armed for a cup of tea at his temporary rented apartment close by. With the Mullah’s grandson Sibtain by his side, we guide the wheelchair a short distance to a comfortable looking two-bedroom apartment that the daughter has rented for the surgery.
Over a strong freshly brewed cup of tea (not the phony tea bags I use in Florida) and Zanzibar-like fried bajeea fritters, the Mullah steers me towards the very contentious and highly controversial subject gripping the Khojas. That of Kassam, son of Imam Hassan (a) supposedly marrying the daughter of Imam Hussein (a) Fatema in Kerbala before Kassam goes for martyrdom. I have heard and read of the lunatic hullabaloo in the social media, pitting Khojas and ulemas against each other. I am sick of it, want none of it, don’t want to talk or discuss it. I make that very clear to the Mullah but the old man, however, seems not to be least bothered about my sentiments.
Aree Ghadeera, what is your problem Kisukaali? Just because the subject matter is unpalatable and uncomfortable does not mean it’ll go away, will it? We have to confront it, deal with it and settle it. You are spineless. Like the majority of us. Maulana Baqri is right; the silent majority will see the demise of us Shias.
Both the daughter Sabira and Sibtain quietly finish their tea and quickly scram, leaving me staring at a grinning set of teeth fitted in a severe face. I would have given the old hag a fitting response for terming a donkey but am bothered by the lack of sleep, and my thinking is curtailed. So I keep quiet and pray he’ll rant it all out and I can also escape.
Listen to me Kisukaali, and don’t interrupt. Imam Hassan (a) was an infallible, incapable of error, in acts, advice or judgment. Period, no arguments there. Durust?
I nod a weary agreement.
Now use your Allah-given brains. The Imam (a) supposedly writes a will, requesting his underage son Kassam to be married to Fatema, the Imam’s niece, just before Kassam goes off for battle in Kerbala and is martyred. Don’t you see how incalculably ludicrous this sounds? Have we lost our capacity to think? Do the writers of these stories even think before they pen this junk? Do we hold this Imam (a)’s intellectual faculty so low? Remember now; he is infallible. I don’t care which ulema have written this pathetically anemic story; it does not have logic so should be thrown out. Let us please show due respect to Imam Hassan (s).
But Mullah sahib, I counter, I know all this…
The Mullah clicks his dentures so severely; he almost loses them. But he is quick in recovery.
Listen to me I said, without interruption. Now, few Zakirs, those without proper grounding of rational, digest these stories and recite them from the mimber and the gullible Khojas swallow it - bait, line, and sinker. But, that is not enough, we Khoja’s take it a few steps further. We inject some garam-masala into the story and make it into a tormenting tamasha. So we reenact the marriage ritual, Bollywood style, taking out henna plates and dress up allams as male and females couples in sparkling attires…
The Mullah’s voice goes heavy at this point; he chocks and begins weeping; I am aghast and shocked. I look around wildly, frantically, hoping Sabira or Sibtain will come and rescue this very awkward moment. Nope, no such luck. I can’t will myself to go to the guy and console him, so I let him be. He recovers after a while, violently blows his nose, clicks his dentures in place and continues.
The argument for this tamasha, by these who do it and the ulemas who support and egg them on, is that we are only enacting what Kassam’s and Fatema’s mothers and sisters would have wished to do for the marriage then. But because they did not have the means to perform such rituals, we are doing it in memorial. It is also a tool to stir up tear-jerking memories; I have yet to hear a better nincompoop argument like this in my seventy-seven years. Fatema and Kassam’s mothers and sisters and cousins, including our very own infallible Imam Sajjad (a) made it back to Medina, yes?
I do not respond, since I don’t want to get involved in this highly combustible war.
Yes, or no! The Mullah roars.
I nod hurriedly. He glares at me for a while, while I stare at the grinning dentures, my heartbeat at odds with its natural rhythm.
You tell me, Kisukaali, is there any recorded history, even a feeble one, that records any of the blessed mothers, sisters, cousins… anyone, even remotely reenacting the marriage of poor Kassam and Fatema, my life be sacrificed for them both, in any way or form? Even in their native Arabic culture? Did they not have every right to, if the event is indeed genuine and the enactment permissible, depict it when they returned home and had the means to do so?
I have nothing to say, the Mullah’s arguments are rock solid. What I think, or say, will not make an iota of a difference in these ignorant superstitions and rituals in our culture, where they cross over to shirk, at the least.
We have so many critical challenges, grave ones, in Afghanistan, in Yemen, in Syria, in Iraq, in Haiti, you name it… Yet, we bicker on irrelevant and trivial matters, tearing each other apart, exhausting our energies. This menace includes some of our divided ‘ulemas’, with their uniformed, opposing, confusing, erroneous and many times comical opinions. As we destroy ourselves, our enemies, rightly, laugh at us and make merry. I can’t get to my hotel fast enough. My sleep is punctuated with the image of the Mullah’s dentures floating in front of my face, trying to strike at a mouthful.