Friday, July 7, 2017

The Elusive Shawaal Crescent – An Earful From Mullah Mchungu


On the eve of the last Friday this past Ramadhan, I sit at HIC for the ritual duas. As in the recent past years, I have, deep in my bones, an inkling of pending disaster. So, I pray, I beseech, I implore Allah to make the last Friday of Ramadhan a day of peace for all Muslims and humanity, that there be no violence in the world. Alas, my prayers are too feeble, my past actions and deeds mired in grave sins, perhaps, for my prayers to be accepted. Two suicide bombers take the lives of 95 people, out and about shopping for Eid in the Shia bazaars of Parachinar, Pakistan; I plummet into desolation and despair. I cannot begin to feel the pain the families and those hurt must be experiencing, not even close.

Next Sunday, at 01:30, Maaha Zainab’s non-Muslim friends call to ask if the Eid crescent is sighted, so they, too, can partake in Zainab’s happiness at HIC. Embarrassed, I say no, it hasn’t. I begin to explain the complexities of this requirement, but give up; I feel my efforts sound hollow, absurd, even to my ears; Zainab is disappointed. At 04:00, I am bleary-eyed with (lack) of sleep and try to convince my reluctant stomach to accept sehri of elchi-less vitumbooas. Ordinarily, I swoop on these and keep the others at home wanting, but the consistent lack of sleep is finally catching up to me; food tastes weird this time of the day.

It’s been a crazy night since Eve yesterday, with the usual tamasha of the crescent (non)sighting. The SMCSC declares Eid early in the day, but closer to Florida, our brethren at IABA in Austin announce the holiday by 23:30, based on confirmed sightings in Brazil and applicable to those in the southern USA. For the followers of the Honorable A. Sistani, I think. Or is it the growing list of other scholars, no less capable, few past and many present? It is so confusing now, no?  Anyway, HIC holds out, while (heated, I am informed) debates ensue between local learned ones and others; some say aye, others say nay, Nasimco says this and that, and the circus plays out. Alhamd’Allah. I only hope IABA is not ignored because the resident aalim there is of a darker complexion?

After a flurry of emails and WA messages about yet another possible sighting, I learn that the hung jury at HIC has finally come to a decision, that the crescent, supposedly sighted somewhere in California is credible news, and it’ll be Eid tomorrow. Zainab is happy, but her friends are snoring and will not be able to share in the gaiety. The vitumbooas sit heavy in my stomach as I prepare for Eid salaat rituals.

Mullah Mchungu's dentures flash their fixed grin close to my face, giving me a terrible fright; my heartbeats take off faster than an SR71 Blackbird. He is lurking among the crowds at the HIC Eid breakfast, where most of us, having fasted for 29 days (lucky us) set upon the served sufro of fiery neehari like starved feral animals. I have not seen or heard from the old geezer for a long time, so meeting him here is a shock, yes, but a pleasant surprise nevertheless.

We go through (mostly false) pleasantries, and I help him navigate the throngs, and we sit inside the baytus salaat where it is comparatively quieter. Surprisingly, he can now walk, leaning on his menacing legendary cane; the wheelchair is for outside battles. I ask him if I can get him some of the neehari.

Aye ghaando, Kisukaali, you expect to destroy my intestines? That junk is for young ones like you, with guts of steel. You want me to have the runs that’ll put me six feet under?

So, I gulp, change the subject, bring him a steaming cup of chai instead and ask about his health and Dar es Sallam.

Oh, never mind my health, Kisukaali, as if you care. Our Magufuli is giving all of us bad gas at home. Everybody is complaining that business is down, down, down. But the restaurant business, from the looks of it, even in Ramadhan, is up, up, up. Full of our Khoja brethren stuffing their mouths, hardening their arteries with mishkaaki and nundu and kuku…

I try to keep my eyes averted from that goofy denture grin, it's disconcerting. The Mullah informs me he is here to spend Eid with his son Ali and his family. He adds that his daughter in Dar es Sallam paid for the airfare, not Ali. I’m not too sure why he adds this bit of information, and I don’t ask; he will get off on a tangent and I am not in the mood for one of his long lectures. This does not stop him, however.

So, Kisukaali, he begins, another Eid fiasco, no…?

I groan audibly, but the guy cares not, glares at me in a fury. He can spring very startling subjects most times, predominantly controversial, on me. I have no desire to have him start on this topic, at least not here, where we can easily get into some serious trouble. This Mullah, however, is as stubborn as an Afghani mule on a mission,

Ghadeera, he fumes, do I have bad breath? Why did you groan? Show some respect, Kisukaali! I am at least twice as old…

As usual, I stay quiet and let the old hen rant. It is best this way, he will have released the built-up stress in him, and I may be able to get some sleep.

Kisukaali, he begins earnestly, I know you are tired of this charade we have every year, so am I and anybody who is endowed with common sense. It is not funny anymore. When will we come together and unite on this very elementary issue? I know many good youths, religious and upright, many in my family, who are getting turned off religion with this annual crescent sighting tamasha. We’ve gone through the silly arguments, every year, and all of them are ridiculous, illogical.

The guy’s tenor has risen, and others in the hall are giving us furtive, curious glances, so I close into the guy, hoping he’ll tone it down. He does. He begins hissing his ire at me.

I argue, again and again, that our ulemas cannot have differing opinions if we believe in the one Allah, the same prophets (s), the same aimaas (s) the same Quraan…it's illogical. Allah has given most of us brains, alhamd’Allah, let us begin using them. Science has given us the ability to predict, with utmost accuracy, the presence of the crescent, let us use it to our benefit. The Quraan says nothing about traveling by airplanes, only animals, and ships. This does not stop us from flying, does it? The crescent is a guidance, to set the months and years, as a general guideline. So, if science can tell us there is or isn’t one out there is not so bad, nai?

The Mullah pauses, gulps down his tea and regards me sardonically, but his dentures are still grinning, so I am not sure if he is happy or mad. He closes his eyes as if spent; I find out he is about to burst a vein soon enough.

Kisukaali, he says and picks up his danda; I tense. Some of us are too dense here, he jabs at his kofia covered bald head, to realize Allah’s given blessings and change for our good. So, we prefer to stick to ancient times because it gives us a false sense of security, while our community is rend asunder and made a mockery of. People go to the moon, while we struggle to sight the crescent from the earth and fight about it.

Mullah Mchungu makes a move to leave, and I sigh in relief; I can go home and snooze. He’s not done yet, however, for he strikes the carpet with his stick in apparent frustration.

The intellectuals among us, who falsely believe they are the only ones that love the Ahlebeyt (a) and therefore have the right to protect us all from hellfire, have the audacity to ask us for patience and fast one more day, that it won’t kill us. That is not the point, idiots! If Allah wants, we can fast for ten more days! Use logic and science that Allah and the Quraan demand from us and make the end a certainty. And they claim that it’s okay to celebrate the one day that unites us and brings us profound joy separately, all in the name of diversity. Fools, I say, bloody fools. Let them know I called them absolute brilliant fools, by God!

He struggles to get up, so I leap to my feet to help, but he glares me off with the fury in his eyes. Unaided, he limps away, hollering at some rampaging kids playing with a ball to get out of his way; they scamper in feigned terror.

I rush home to catch up on my sleep.


Friday, June 23, 2017

Ramadhan In Sanford – 2017

I return home from my extended trip jetlagged, harassed and homesick, with tons of pending home tasks and office paperwork that a ten-week hiatus entails. I tackle these troubles quickly, within a couple of days, alhamd’Allah. But the month of Ramadhan, in a few days, is staring in my face. Hot, long, weary, dog-days of belly rumbles and lethargies and pining for magreeb. These will be the longest days of Ramadhan in the northern hemisphere before we slowly swing the pendulum the other way.

It has been soopa hot and dry here in Sanford, with temperatures testing the 100ยบ F mark. But guess what? Allah’s mercy rolls in with the arrival of the blessed month. The skies darken, the rain pours, and pours some more, and the temperatures subside; it has been consistently wet and balmy since the month set in. The dreaded first few days are a breeze, so are the subsequent days, Allah sends His blessings of tranquility and ease and serenity as I fast and reflect. As usual, I am overly apprehensive and ungrateful. Even working out, mandated by my medical doctors, fall into place. Ninety minutes at the local gym is a challenge without water and the omnipresence of scantily clad humans of course, but I engage in supreme jehaad of the nafs and prevail. Only just. Even jogging the five mandated miles on alternate days is possible before duas and magreeb at HIC. So, I merrily trot away as our upright President bobs, with the mighty executioner’s sword in hand, with honorable Bedouins in faraway lands. It’s all in the mind. Life’s good, alhamd’Allah.

We are blessed with Hasnain Rajabali as the lecturer for the first half of Ramadhan at HIC. His lectures are a shot in the arm, as usual. Here is a man who is a pleasure to listen to, and teen daughter Maaha Zainab is in love with his practical, sometimes witty, advice. I see other teenagers as well, their lifeline mobile phones ignored, in rapt attention to his lectures; now, that’s a miracle, no? As one who is not too public savvy or running in a popularity contest or being always politically correct, I feel an affiliation to Rajabali’s frankness in matters that can (and does) ruffle feathers at times. Unfortunately, too few of our current pool of ‘speakers’ want to venture away from their comfort zones. Rajabali’s is one of a very few who does not have his head buried deep in the muck.

Rajabali touches on several topics, but the following are outstanding, worthy of continuous ponder:

> The religion of Islam, hands down, is ahead of the pack, in both substance and intelligent rational. It is clear, logical, hits the bull's eye in the matters of truth and justice, establishes and elevates the honor of an individual based only on deeds.
> Given the above, Islam is primarily a verb and not a noun. It is a religion of action, not from a birth or an acquired title.
> Humans are a universe in ourselves. Allah has bestowed in all of us His many attributes. And given us all free will to choose good from evil. We need to elevate ourselves and reach for the sky so that we can touch the stars. That Allah has created us with intrinsic goodness and that it takes hard work to do evil or be seekers of hellfire.
> We, ahlebeyti Muslims, will be held to a higher standard on Judgement Day. Because we epitomize the truth, follow the best that Allah has sent to mankind, and that tabligh is not trying to convert others; rather it is in our actions, our akhlaaq, our morality, our speech...
> That smoking, in whatever form whatsoever, is inherently haraam, a fact I heartily embrace, even though I am stupid to have indulged in the nasty habit in the past. Even though some of our marajas, for perplexing, frustrating reasons, will not come out and openly outlaw the menace.

But even though we are all pepped up during the lectures, old habits are hard to abandon. The air outside HIC is as stinking and polluted as ever, and I scramble to find pockets of clean breathable air. The grounds are littered with ugly, sodden cigarette butts, even though management has provided containers across the grounds. I wonder if we give our homes the same treatment? Time for HIC to restrict all smoking the rear of the complex perhaps? Wishful thinking?  

Rajabali touches upon the goodness of life, of good deeds and kind words. There is an abundance of good in all of us, yet some of us are fixated with a woman’s sexual anatomy; except for the wrong reasons. One of our upright member, ‘leadership’ material no less, has just finished reciting Dua e Iftetah, a gem of a dua, given to us by none other than the Imam (a) himself. He sits outside HIC afterward and cites a woman’s sexual anatomy in casual Kiswahili banter three times in a span of two sentences. Kxxxmamayo, he says, this guy did this and this, kxxxmamake this and kxxxmamababiyo that. Baffled and repulsed, I glare at him; to no effect. What is it with us? Why do we have to resort to this offensive uncouth and vile word repeatedly? I hear it all the time, every time I visit HIC. Is it an East African Khoja curse? And why pick on the poor woman, a mother? Why not hurl this offense at the man’s sexual organs? The father for a change? I guess this is a question that’ll never be answered, beyond comprehension. Not meaning it as abuse is not an excuse, ever.

The management of HIC and its volunteers shine through and through. Yet again. Incredible selflessness and dedication from the team ensure the smooth running of the center - from the yummy food (most nights), especially the new addition of exotic salads, cleaning up, parking and the various programs for all ages throughout the month; there are after-events almost every day. The inter/intra-faith programs are a resounding thumbs-up, and again, Rajabali shines with the keynote address and the ready answers he has for the attending guests. HIC is growing…there are so many new faces…with wonderful additions like the ever smiling and industrious Akil Anjarwalla. HIC will move into their new digs a short distance away soon, insha’Allah. It has been a long six years since I witnessed spade touch the dirt at the start of the construction. It is a beautiful structure, grand and imposing. Although a bit further to me than the current HIC, it’s so close I plan to continue attending it every day when in town, insha’Allah.

There are reciters and then there are good reciters, and then there are disciplined reciters. Amongst our reciters, are a few, bless them, who take upon themselves to add masalas to the standard duas and amaals rituals that take place on the eve of 19/21/23. Even more than the Imams (a) recommend or did. Imagine! Because they are convinced they have a good tenor. Khoob. So, they slip in a few of their own concoctions that will prolong their echo from the mic and elongate the already two hours plus spent pleading and begging and imploring Allah for everything under the sky. These masalas would be okay, I guess, if this was a one-time deal. Alas, these tend to stick, and become rituals. Till kingdom come. Never mind it is the peak of summer, with short nights, it is late in the night, there are infirm elders who can’t but want to finish the rituals, there are infants and young ones barely able to keep their eyes open. No Sir, the masalas be must be added, by God, whether logical or not, like it or not. Never mind that we rarely follow up these duas with concrete action. A good tenor does not compensate for taqwa, I say…

The sanctified and blessed period is sullied by events in London with illiterate animals mowing down and knifing innocent people, all in the name of my religion. Seven are dead and scores injured in this heinous act. What did you achieve, you bastards, except the damnation of hellfire and for us here, to yet again, bear the burden of consequences that wrongly, but understandably perhaps, raise an accusing finger at us or view us with reproachful eyes? I get engulfed in gloom and utter frustration. When will this all end? When will the powers that be take the fight to the original land of these lunatics? 

Allah knows best.