Saturday, February 28, 2015

Same Old, Same Old

The baraaza area outside HIC in Sanford wears a forlorn look, the cold and wind making it uncomfortable to socialize. Usually it is busy with people chatting, smoking or smacking lips (or spitting) with Mehboob’s paans; the rising smoke from beedis, cigarettes (regular and the modern E) reminding me of choma kuku dhabas around the Khoja mosque in Dar es Salaam. I have to satisfy my nicotine itch before I venture in so I light up, all lonely.
At one corner of the center, I notice a teenager, huddled shivering inside a parka, smoking away. We make eye contact and he waves a salaam my way; I reciprocate. He ambles over after a while and stands by me. I smile in camaraderie, since we have both poisoned our lungs and polluted the air.
‘Are you Yusuf Uncle? The Kisukaali guy?’
Surprised, I nod, hiding my ire for being called ‘uncle’; a title that gives me (severe) allergies. We chat for a while. I have seen him around sometimes but do not know who he is. I am about to enter and welcome him in but he refuses.
‘No Uncle, all that does not interest me, same old, same old.’
Intrigued, I pause and look at him sharply.
‘Aw, come on, we’ll still learn something and get some thawaab.’
The guy snorts contempt and then laughs.
‘No Uncle, I’ll fall asleep, like the rest of you, except you’ll have your eyes wide open, glass-eyed and I’ll probably start snoring. There is nothing I will learn that I have not heard before. It’s all like a broken record...’
Now I become a little more irate.
‘That’s not a nice thing to say, young man. It is a majlis in memory of our Aimaas, yes? Isn’t that plenty reason to sit and listen?’
The young man lowers his gaze and shakes his head.
‘Sorry, Uncle, I don’t mean to be mean or disrespectful. I am here because Dad feels bad if I don’t accompany him. But I feel very estranged in there; almost all of us are far removed from what is said in there. Sorry.’
Now I am even more intrigued, so I play hooky as well and chat with this young man, about the same age as my own son. So we light up again and he opens up to me. I feel he wants to shed some load off his shoulders, so I encourage him to speak. This, he does.
‘You see Uncle...’
I stop him and ask him to call me Yusufali instead of Uncle. He looks confused for a moment but then smiles.
‘You are all right, you know Unc... sorry, Yusufali?’
I nod and smile encouragement, so he continues.
‘Do you see boys my age in there? Maybe one or two, no more. Even the good boys,’ he gestures quotation marks with his fingers, ‘they are out, helping make tea or cleaning up. You know why?’
I say nothing, wait for him to continue.
‘Because they have no connection with what is being said in there. I attended all the lectures when I was younger, my dad forced me to. But then I rebelled, when I realized all that is being said is repeat. Really, Uncle! Oh, sorry, so sorry. I am made to feel guilty for being a Shia. We always seem to be on the defensive, trying to prove our beliefs against Sunni accusations, over and over and over. It is non-ending! Abu Bakr did this; Ommer did this or that, the Fadak fiasco... There is not one Shia who disputes the facts regarding the atrocities meted out on the Aimaas. Not one. All these are facts that we have accepted. We grieve for them, we hurt for them. Fine. Why the need to prove it over and over again? I can understand it being related to us once, twice, thrice; but every lecture?’
For someone so young, I am struck with the depth of grasp he has on the complexity of subject matter.
‘You know what my mind thinks about? Perhaps I am different. I think about ISIS and their atrocities to humans in the name of Islam. I worry about my future in this country because of these animals. The general public does not discriminate between the terrorists and us. The tag of Muslim is like an enigma, a real problem. Especially in my potential employment when I graduate. With all that is going on, you think a Muslim stands a chance against other competitors? I worry about my mother and sisters wearing hijab in a public place. You think us harping about the Sunni Shia divide will help us in this bread and butter issue?’
It is getting quite cold out here; the majlis in well underway inside, but this kid has me captivated.
‘You know what my friends are up to? You’d be surprised, shocked, even. They are more worried about Madonna falling off the stage. They are interested in girls, how to win over easy college girls, or boys.’ He must have seen me flinch, for he nods energetically and continues. ‘Yes! Boys! They drink beer on weekends and some even do drugs, disguised in sheeshas. Tell me Yusufali Uncle, you think the subject matter discussed in the lectures inside,’ he jabs a thumb towards the centers wall, ‘will interest or hold them? Guide, correct or reform them? If we people are supposed to lead this community after you guys are gone, I despair.’
Jeez. This guy is a shaana, talking about me kicking the bucket already. The kid has some pluck.
‘I am not trying to say all that is being said is not true, sure it is. But it is a broken record; way overdone for sure. We are not going to achieve diddly-squat by making the same issues our theme song. If we must do it, let's not do it in front of the choir. If we feel brave enough, let's take it to the battlefield. But we want to do it in the safety of our mimbers. Surely Sir, Islam, our beloved religion, is much, much, more than this?’
Huh. I do my hujjat to the kid, advising him that history shapes the future, it’s important. I try and explain that zaakirs have limitations, they do their best, research and prepare and do us a huge favor by coming and giving the lectures. If nothing else, we should respect them for this effort and sit through the lectures. The least we will accomplish is thawaab for the reverence we pay to our Aaimaas.
But I can see the kid is not convinced and people are coming out with steaming cups of tea and kabaabs. They come out and start complaining about the cold and the wind. I head inside for some warmth and tea and kabaab.

Note: I am certain some zaakirs reading this Blog will take offence, so I sincerely offer my apologies. My aim is not malicious; Allah is a witness to this fact. The kid might be off track somewhat, but his thinking should resonate with anybody willing to think outside the box. And surely Allah knows best.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Peace To The Ignorant

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.