The mad mullah has just landed. Not him exactly but his partner. Mad mullah – a term the British Empire gave to a Somali man who went out alone to fight its imperialism is used for religious zealots. He did not kill only whites but Somalis who looked suspicious. He bit so hard that the British soldiers he killed went to the grave with poems about their experience.
I am not sure if he was mad or not but he was a religious zealot who did not budge until aeroplanes dropping bombs put him into hiding and left his mission unfulfilled.
The one who just arrived is no mad man. She is a mad woman who could very well be the wife of the mad mullah – or rather the mad mullah’s partner. She is in her mid 40’s and lost most of her teeth to chewing the notorious narcotic qat which have not only left her wobbling but toothless. She’s only 40 but she looks 80 and can easily get the free disability pass. Unlike the mad mullah though, she is slow. He was fast and furious. She, like a computer suffering from information overload, takes good few minutes to process information. Her strength is not that of sharp mental acuity. Far from that – she has a different kind of mental ability. One she learnt on the streets, the sort of survival instinct that does not allow people like her to feel embarrassment or shame of their actions because they don’t understand the feeling. This mad mullah bites too – the kind of bite that does not cut into the flesh like a knife but the one that cuts into the character of her threats. Those she find threatening for whatever reason, she cuts them in half like the shark in the deep ocean and moves on without remorse. Her friends would call her generous. Yes, she would squander every penny in her disposal but to get attention or steal a moment she thought she had lost then deals with the severity of the consequences.
Before she landed next door, I walked right into the abode of this zealot. If the mad mullah converted with the sword, zealots like this one seem to use their eyes in the place of the sword. The moment I walked I realized the piercing eyes cutting into the baggy pants and the light jacket I was wearing. She sat in the mosque alone clad in black from head to toe, so I ignored her glances and walked straight into the ablution room for quick ablution. When I returned to pray quickly before the later afternoon prayer, I could feel her cruel eyes all over me. I finished and she does not spare a minute to play the apostle. Look lady! She shrieked. I turned to my right to hear her. Do you know that a woman wearing pants is going to hell? Do you also not know that every step she takes is cursed by Allah? To her last statement, I said ‘God Forgive,‘ for her because I am not sure I can trust her sermon I listened patiently, expressionless so this must have given her the permission to carry one. Also she said, ‘while you were praying you did not follow all the rules of prostration. You did not use all the seven places of it. At this point she demonstrated for me the way to prostrate. I accepted wholeheartedly without a hint of my frustration with her.
The Imam calls the prayer and we stand to follow him. She stands to my right. Her whole body weight pressed against mine. Then she steps on my little toe. I wriggle my toe from under her weight and eased my body to the left. She follows and steps on my toe again and presses her body to my right side to the point I felt I was going to fall on my left. We continue with this battle of the while and soul while the prayer was going on. Also she starts getting hysterical and reads the Qur’an aloud. It is becoming increasingly difficult to follow the imam or read the qur’an on my own. It was the longest prayer I endured. It was over. I sit quietly until she invades again! Before she starts her sermon, I beseech her with mine. I approach her as quietly as she did and ask her for her permission to speak to her. She nodes in agreement. I tell her that I read the whole Qur’an as a child and follow it. Alhamdulilaah. And I tell her accusingly that she invaded my private moments with my Creator when she stepped on my toe and pressed her body toward mine. She smiles knowingly of the argument and says ‘but the devil is going to come between us if we don’t do that.’ Never mind the devil I retort. The prayer is between you and your Allah and the most important aspect of it is focus and refection. What you have done is break that and create chaos. She tells me she lacks focus. This zealot does not know how to focus on her prayer so she ruins mine with her litter rituals. It was my turn to say: Look! The imam does not spend hours straightening the lines or stepping on others. It is not his job. He tells the congregation to stand straight and next to each other and this is all. Our Prophet was told to deliver the message and let it be. Who appointed you to spend your prayer times harassing others? She smiled. Also I carried on with my accusations, you have been confusing me with your loud reading and that is wrong especially on this time of day. She took my advice with a grain of salt since I was wearing pants and a jacket and I left her wondering about a world of focus and reflection she does not understand. Zealots or mad mullah like her do not understand the inner dimension of life. Reflection is foreign to them. Therefore, their self imposed duty is to harass others in the Mosque. One of these mad mullahs once travelled to several cities to confirm that wearing pants –albeit baggy one- was wrong. She travelled from scholar to scholar to ask that question alone and each learned scholar reject her rigid notion of dress code. I just feel like screaming at her and tell her: ‘Go to psycho-analysis.’ Yours has nothing to do with piety. Find yourself and leave me to my pants. These zealots are sometimes so tired with life because they are so busy keeping attention on them and that weary is written all over them. In spite of that, they won’t skip the chance to brew a juicy gossip and circulate it quietly or be what I call the seeker not of truth but of a delicious gossip. Imams should spend a lot of time not on their dresses but building their Islamic character – the dimension called Ihsan- or rather the right to fight their own demons.
Rhoda A. Rageh