I am busy at my computer when my cell phone goes off, startling me. The screen flashes Mullah Mchungu’s number from Dar. I don't want to take it as it'll mean loss of thirty minutes, at least, and I have my run coming up in that time. I give in and answer the phone, however. The guy was quite ill when I met him in Dar a few months ago and this could be an important call.
Ah Kisukaali, says the Mullah, in a firm, wholesome voice. He must be feeling a lot better. I sigh resignedly…there goes my run. This man will not let me go easily. I am glad you answered, I was getting worried I'll get your answering machine. I thought maybe you were catching up on your sleep after your regular gossip session at IEC last night? You know what I mean? The Baraaza where you yap, yap like women and smell other people’s chuddies to find out which smells worse?
Blood gushes up my face and my fingers curl up into fists at the deliberate provocation. I am sure I would have punched him if he was physically here. I take deep breaths instead and try calm my blood pressure.
That is a very rude thing to say, Mullah, and a very sexist one. Not all women gossip and it is not confined to any gender. Our Baraaza is not for gossip; we talk about intellectual issues, politics and even have aalims join us for religious discourse…
Oh, spare me that crap, young man... The man then begins to cough. I can hear him cough and wheeze and splutter at the other end. He hacks so much, I become genuinely alarmed. He calms down after a while, so I try to be nice.
You okay, Mullah? How is your health? I ask.
That’s not important Kisukaali, you'll know pretty fast if and when I die through your Baraaza, he replies tartly and coughs some more. I watched the lecture at IEC yesterday. On the Internet. From my laptop. My daughter got me a laptop to watch all the maulaanas drive me crazy from the world over. So I watched Stratford's yesterday. What a disaster. You guys cannot find anybody more reasonable? Or sensible? You guys so desperate?
I frantically wreck my brains to try think about the subject matter yesterday. Must not have been too stimulating, because I can only recollect the good man talking about salvation by Imam Hussein (a) on the Day of Judgment. Nothing wrong with that surely?
Yesterday was a happy day for me, as an ahlebeyti Muslim, the birthday of my Imam Hussein (a). But I cried for our lot Kisukaali, I really did. I am a nut, a rebel, I don’t accept everything said from the mimbar as Gospel, I agree. But I despair at some of the idiotic things our so-called aalims advise us about…
I am suddenly very nervous and look around my empty living room instinctively. Surely this is blasphemous, or close to it? I consider hanging up and not be part of this conversation. But the Mullah sounds earnest and passionate; there is pain in his voice. So I decide to hear him out. I look around fearfully once more, just to make sure there are no ghosts around.
We Ahlebaytis are educated about Imam Hussein (a) from the time we are in our mother’s wombs. Our mothers infuse the adoration for this Imam (a) through the very milk she feeds us from her breasts. This, in turn, changes to love and reverence through the very blood that give us life. This is Hussein (a), the flower from the garden of the Prophet (s), the blood of Batool (a). His very name palpitates our hearts and moistens our eyes. But we then betray him and his mission. The man from the mimbar did great injustice to the Imam (a), reducing him to the role of giving us Ahlebeyti Muslims a guaranteed pardon from evils, a carte blanche to commit sins…
This is not true… I holler in protest, I am sure he did not mean…
Oh, do be quiet and listen to me Kisukaali. I am not deaf or stupid. He might not have said the very words, but that was the gist of his lecture. The entire lecture was about blind aqeeda, all of it. It was an insult to my intelligence to even listen to the man. Let the Maulaana, us especially, use our Allah-given brains. Do you know your Usool e Deen?
The Usool e Deen, Kisukaali. What you learnt in Madressa? Immediately after Tawheed, even before Naboowat, comes Adaalat, the justice of Allah. Allah is very just. This is our core belief. He must, simply must, judge with absolute fairness. There can be no injustice with Allah, it goes against His wujood, His being. This He says in the holy Quraan, repeatedly, perhaps the Maulaana should go back and read it, to refresh his obviously failing memory!
The Mullah is shouting now and I can hear the anger in his voice and feel the splutter of his saliva on my face as if he was right in front of me.
Don’t you see Kisukaali, these Maulanaas are hampering us from using our brains! They cite bewildering traditions, many on the verge of ludicrously, that we blindly accept. We rightly condemn extremist Salafists for violence and point all sorts of fingers at them. They say Laa Ilaaha IllAllah and chop of a man's head in the belief the act will send them to paradise. What is the difference here then? The guy is giving us a free rein to commit sins that will be wiped clean with Imam Hussein (a)’s intervention? By simply reciting salawaats, retaining a light of love for him (a) or shedding tears. What bakwas! It reminds me of the Sufi Malangs in Pakistan. They’d get stoned in hashish and happily do rigorous maatam, fully intoxicated, in the belief the Imam’s (a) love supersedes all ills in them. Take it from me Kisukaali, the Imam (a) will not lift a finger to save us from Allah’s punishment if our acts are malicious, especially if we wrong a fellow human. The Imam (a) cannot and will not act against Allah’s justice system. The time to repent is now, when we are alive. Allah will forgive us, most probably, for that is within His infinite mercy. But don’t expect Imam Hussein (a) to interfere with Allah’s justice system.
There is complete silence after this emotional outburst so I think he must have hung up. But he continues shortly, much more calmly, resignedly.
Imam Hussein (a), all our Aemaas (a) for that matter, are a waseela for us Kisukaali. They were sent by Allah as raw models and defenders of His religion, as examples for us to try and emulate and if need be, as a leverage for legitimate needs that only Allah can fulfill. They cannot be tools of misuse for evils we do. Kapish?
I open my mouth to respond but Mullah Mchungu, in his usual style cuts me off, shouting.
And get some proper aalims to guide you guys, in the holy name of Imam Hussein (a). Stick to Deen e Noor! The man talks sense. With much humor!
I open my mouth to speak but find the phone dead. The dude has hung up.
I fearfully look around the living room once more. I see no visible ghosts.