Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The Terrorist and the Sufi

Shoaib was all alone, but for the classes at the madrsa that he attended. Nobody was his friend-neither brothers, nor his parents, nor his grandparents. His only friends were his ‘teachers’ at the madras, who taught him the true meaning of the Holy Quran, and how not to let yourself be deluded by the evils that surround us all-the televisions, the radios, the movies, the music-and to defend yourself and other brothers of the faith from the torment and the Satan that tried hard to surround them all around.
“You must learn the true meaning of the Quran-e-Sharif, and save the world. You must try hard to make the entire world Dar-ul-Islam. Hell be to the infidels; the kafirs have to be removed from the face of the earth. That is the only true way to save the faith, which is under attack from the kafirs today everywhere. There is only one true faith, and that is the path that the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) has chosen, which only a select few like us are destined to use.”
This was what he believed in-this was his true calling in life. Waging jihad against the infidels in the world was his destiny, and he cried for the deaths of his brothers-in-arms who sacrificed their lives at the various warfronts for the sake of defending their holy faith. They will truly get the jannat that they deserved, and I pray to you Allah that they do, he would pray thus every year. His teachers were very impressed by his dedication to The Cause, and secretly admired his resilience at such a young age, and his passionate hatred of the un-Islamic practices that surrounded them, trying to corrupt the youth of this country.
That is, till he met Anwar.
The day still is very well etched in the mind and heart of Shoaib. He was walking past the coffee-house, reciting the lesson of the Quran-e-Sharif that taught him the virtues of waging jihad against the infidels. And he was walking at a brisk pace, so that even the pitiful shadows of the evils do not manage to touch his clothes at all. It was hell he was walking through, he remembered, and the true test of God is that when you do not give in to the temptation, just like Ibrahim had done while sacrificing his son. The price of staying true to the faith is high, but it is nothing compared to what the promise of God to the true believers was for the Day of Judgment.
Suddenly, he heard the ney’s high pitched but soothing sounds, and the chant of Allah’s name began to stream into his ears, in tune to the ney, the tar and the davul. The music started to play about in a circular pattern. So much devotion, and yet so much love and passion for God was filled into the sounds, that one could feel it if one were deaf, could touch it if they were maimed, and could see it if they were blind. There was a subtlety in the entire surrounding. Shoaib had never felt like this before-was it love that he felt? No, it cannot be, thought Shoaib, cursing himself for falling prey to the temptation, as he stormed past the building, reciting his lesson for the day louder than ever, making even the passers-by stare at him, and mistake him for some sort of a fanatic lunatic. But he did not care-he was making sure that not only he, but the entire world knew the word of God, and all that it should imply for the non-believer traitors of Islam, the ones who committed haram in the eyes of Allah.
Back home, as he entered his room, he could not help but wonder what the entire scene in the afternoon was all about. How could they desecrate God’s name so openly, make it victim to the evil temptations like this? How could they commit such a deep sin so brazenly, without anyone to stop them? He must ask his teacher this, and ask for his advice now, he thought, as he laid down to rest before he went for his final prayers of the day. The way of Allah is not easy-it demands sacrifices out of the true believers, so that they can spread the Word of Allah and bring the non-believers into conformity and folds of the only True Faith that exists today. He has to stand by The Cause, and perform his part in this, and be ready to sacrifice himself when the need arises.
And yet, as he walked towards the wazu, he couldn’t help but remember the tune and the chant. There was a strange divinity about the music-it felt that the people who listened to the music were actually moving closer to God. It felt that the musicians and the singers involved could see God in front of their own eyes, and their music was actually an outlet, a vent to their joy, and an expression of the bliss one could feel on seeing God right up in front of them. What was he thinking-realized Shoaib, as he went into the sanctum to pray, and offered his prayers, and walked back slowly, puzzled by all that had happened to him that day.
The next day, Shoaib walked past the same route after his class, and coincidentally, heard the same kind of music played around him, this time to a different tune. Shoaib was highly intrigued and puzzled about all that was happening around him. He pretended anger and decided to step into the coffeehouse to stop the infidels from performing the haram again-he had to; it was his duty as a true Muslim to stop what is wrong, prohibited by the Book. And so, he walked in, unaware of what he would next see.
For, inside the coffeehouse, there were several men and women together, which was total sacrilege in itself. These people were dressed in flowing white robes, wearing tall red, tailed caps on their head. Some of them were singing, some of them played the ney, the davul and the tar, while the others were whirling like tops at their marked places, their eyes closed, their heads tilted on their raised shoulders, and their hands spouted in the manner of a teapot. They were reciting something he had never heard before, and performed salutations in the name of Allah for peace, for tranquillity, and for eternal bliss. They moved about in circles as they rotated, creating a mirage of sorts of white flowing about. If Shoaib could look from above, he could have seen how they all looked so much like beautiful white roses brought together into a bouquet that depicted nothing but absolute peace and serenity. Soon, some of the other, coloured roses joined this bouquet, giving it a multicoloured vibrancy that could not be even thought of, even as they all now started performing the zikr, remembering the various names and qualities of God that each human being should strive to achieve within himself or herself in their lifetime. Shoaib stood transfixed; having never seen anything like this before-he had not been conditioned to see such a sight ever. It was a highly entrancing sight, and he stood still there, near the entrance.
Suddenly a hand pulled him into the whole scene. Shoaib turned his head around to see a man dressed in those white robes taking him to join the semaa, as he quietly motioned him to recite the names of God, as many as he knew, along with them. Shoaib understood the sign language, but that did not clear the clouds of confusion that had occupied his mind. However, he did as was told of him-that was all he had done his entire life so far, and started the recitation. And, to his own surprise, he found a strange sense pervade his entire body. It was the feeling he had felt long ago, when, as a little kid, his mother had held his hand and led him to the weekend bazaar for the first time, and he was excited and elated at the same time. It was even better than that, he felt, as tears began to roll out of his eyes as he remembered his mother, who had soon after that excursion joined Allah, having been shot dead for not following her duties as a Muslim wife, which he had never ever witnessed, thanks to his father. And he felt his heart beat loudly for everyone to hear, as his pulse ran faster than the horses of the chariot of the Angel Gabriel, he felt, as he recalled the name La Ilaha Ill Allah non-stop. Soon, the duval’s beat picked him again, and they all started to whirl and move about in a circular movement. For once, Shoaib knew what to do, as he joined them similarly. He was not getting dizzy; a part of him observed neutrally, as he whirled about, and nausea did not grab his throat, as he felt deeply enchanted by all that was happening-for once, he felt that he was beginning to understand God, as every Surah that he had ever memorized flashed past his closed eyes, revealing its true nature to him. Even in his black coloured robes he did not feel out of sorts and out of place, as he felt a sharp surge of white light pervade his senses, blinding his already closed eyes. He felt like the entire universe had shrunk down into him, as if Allah had actually resided into his heart and soul, and was smiling generously at him.
Soon the music ended, and Shoaib was again standing all alone, till the man who had pulled him in came forward, smiling at him. He was carrying a tray on which sufi cha kehwa cups were placed, as he asked, “Have some, its good.”
“No thanks,” said Shoaib, really intrigued at all that had happened around him, and he looked around him to see people happy and joyous. They were all strangers, yet they all seemed familiar to him, as if he had met them before. “So, what’s your name?”
“Anwar. And yours?”“Shoaib. ”
“So Shoaib, is this your first Sufi semaa assembly?”
Shoaib did not answer. Instead, he walked away, feeling awkward about all that had just happened, and his own experience.
On reaching home, he walked over to his mother’s room, and for the first time in his life, he opened her almirah, which was forbidden in this strictly orthodox house-she had flouted the rules of Islam, and anything to do with her were hidden from the eyes of the world. He took out the album she used to maintain, and opened it after a long time, and saw his mother’s face. It was a photograph of him and his mother. They had gotten it done secretly, so that father does not find out and get all angry. He was wearing a western suit, looking very cute, as he remembered his mother’s words, and she was dressed as the typical Muslim housewife, minus the hijab, but the headscarf was there perfectly in place. Shoaib could not look further-there were tears in his eyes at the mere thought of a mother he had lost long ago, but who was still somewhere deeply etched in his mind. He went back to his room and for hours together, for the first time in his life, he cried like a child, but there was no one to console him. Not his father, not his brothers-no one was there to console him and comfort him. He was expected to carry their hopes of being a martyr to the cause, and crying was considered girlish and stupid. Crying out the long stored grief out of himself, he finally fell fast asleep.
The next day, Shoaib went back to the madrsa, where his teacher took him to another room, alone. It was occupied by several older men, complete strangers to Shoaib. As he walked in, another one of his teachers walked up to him, gleaming with pride.
“Shoaib, my child, thank Allah today from the bottom of your heart. Only a select few get the chance to participate in the holy jihad that we are waging against the non-believers and the infidels.”
Shoaib looked up, puzzled. He could see several people, some of them eve armed with Kalashnikovs. He could not understand what was happening around us, but he was getting a bad feeling about all that was happening around him right now. Even then, another teacher spoke up to him.
“Shoaib my boy, you have been selected to start the jihad in this city. You have been offered the opportunity to undertake a fidayeen attack on the church in the city on Sunday, the day those kafirs will assemble to celebrate the resurrection of Issa. Let the world know that you are the true follower of Allah, that you will wage jihad to inspire your brothers here to continue the good work, and that you are among the few who truly deserve jannat. Prove us your mettle my child by accepting this mission.”
Shoaib nodded his head in approval, though his mind had not approved of anything, even as Kalashnikovs began to fire all around, as if people had won the jihad even before starting it. At this point, everyone congratulated Shoaib for his noble deed, and his teachers blessed him at which he managed a smile on his face, and said, “Yes, I will fulfil my destiny.”
And yet, Shoaib was not happy from within.
As he walked past the coffeehouse again, Shoaib could see that people were assembling there for the semaa. They were a little late today, for the entire city was witnessing traffic jams, and yet they had all made it. Just then Anwar walked over. “Salaam Aleikum friend,” smiled Anwar, as he saluted Shoaib.
Shoaib saluted back in return, but remained quiet. Instead, on Anwar’s insistence, he walked in into the coffeehouse, as Anwar called in other people, and instructed them, much to Shoaib’s opposition, to change his clothes into robes similar to them. Soon, he was in robes like them, and they all assembled, as Anwar today picked up the ney, while he made Shoaib sit there, and join them amongst the musicians.
“Do you know any songs in the praise of the Lord Shoaib?’asked Anwar, “or should we give you something?”
“But why?” asked Shoaib, baffled by the unusual question posed at him by Anwar. What washe doing here anyway, he thought simultaneously, which also came out on his face as an expression.
“You will sing today,” said Anwar, as he oversaw everyone adjust their instruments, even as he inspected the ney. “Please.”
Politeness can never be ignored, Shoaib had read once, as he remembered a song he had learnt from his mother, and replied, “Okay, I’ll sing. I know one song, and I will sing only one song, if you do not object.”
Anwar nodded his head in approval, as he began to play the ney and ws playing a haunting tune, even as everyone began reciting the selaam, and the duval and the tar joined in.
Soon, Shoaib began a song he had been taught by his mother, who was a Sufi herself, because of which she had been killed. He sang a song that asked for Ilahi to help them in times of need and pull them out of the various storms that come across everyone’s lives. The song also expressed the love of the adherent similar to that of Mejnun, even as he pleaded for the divine guidance. His eyes were closed, but he felt he could see his mother there, twirling in her sky blue robes. He tried to reach her, but she kept moving farther from him, and soon she disappeared, leaving him all alone in the room, with nobody around.
The song ended, and he opened his eyes, to see that the Sufis were whirling away, as somebody else took over the singing. He realized that the song spelt out his heart’s dilemmas, and the confusion clouded his mind so much that he felt like running away from everything. And yet, he was sitting there, watching the entire proceedings take place. Shoaib got up and walked away after giving a salute to a surprised Anwar, and headed back to his home, where he was greeted by an ecstatic group comprising his father and brothers. His father walked up to him, and kissed his forehead, having held it in his hands that were holding a rosary, while he kept softly whispering Allah’s name. “My son, you have made all of us proud today. May you go to jannat without any delay, and may your hands kill countless number of those bloody kafirs. This is my prayer for you.”
His brothers took turns to congratulate him, even as he stood there, feeling lost and all alone. Is this what he had wanted all along, wondered shoaib, even as he headed towards the mosque to offer his namaaz, and as he finished it, he felt more confused than ever about all that was happening around him. What is you will, Allah, he thought, with tears welling up in his eyes at the mere thought of what he was supposed to do. How can I kill so many people, when the Holy Quran advocates peace as the ultimate goal of jihad? How can we achieve peace? Is this what Dar-ul-Aman is supposed to mean? Is not jihad to be waged against your own shortcomings, as opposed to those of the others? When the Quran does not question anybody’s beliefs, why should I?
All these questions continued to torment Shoaib, even as he was learning the use of the explosive he was supposed to bear on his body when he had to perform the ‘Sacred Act’. Those men with the Kalashnikovs were rough, and did not respect anything or anyone that ‘dared’ to perform any ‘un-Islamic acts. They were blind, realised Shoaib, ever observant that he was, blind to peace, to harmony, to the path of moderation. To them, their will was paramount, their word the law. And yet, as he was being explained the layout of the Church, they were doing it all in the name of Allah and his Prophet (PBUH). He faintly heard the plan, though mentally he was lost somewhere, of how he was to enter the Church on Sunday, dressed as one of the kafirs, with the bomb strapped onto his waist and how he was to rip apart everything when the Mass ends, including himself. Looking back, Shoaib thanked God that he had met Anwar, because of whom he realized his true calling, and because of whom he shunned the dangerous path that he was treading on.
It was Saturday, a day before the momentous day, and to Shoaib, the day held in its garb great agony and anguish for him. His mind was driving him to the point of insanity, as he struggled to even move forward. And again, he found himself, after such a long time, in front of the same coffeehouse that had started it all. The faithful were gathering there, and he decided to move in, so that he could give his mind some peace for the last time in his life. He moved forward, walking into the coffeehouse, and sat there in a corner, even as the dervishes danced and recited poetry in the praise of the creations of Allah, citing their beauty and thanking Him for all that he has bestowed on him. It seemed that they were all filled with divine light, and with their spouted hands, they were trying to give it all out to the others so that they too fell blessed. Shoaib however noticed that Anwar was missing from today’s semaa. His eyes searched for him, but he was nowhere to be seen-not amongst the whirling dervishes, not amongst the musicians and the singers. Puzzled, Shoai waited for the semaa to end, and then moved forward to the person serving cha, asking him about Anwar.
The man looked up at him, and after a few moments of awkward silence, motioned Shoaib to follow him. Having come to the ground floor, he told him with a serious face, “Anwar is dead.”
Shoaib was traumatized to hear the news. “How did it happen?” he asked, fighting hard to hold back his tears.
The man then told him about how some guys from the madrsa down the road had warned him a few days ago to stop these activities of haram if they loved their lives. But Anwar never paid any heed to their warnings, and continued to hold the meets in his coffeehouse here. He was shot dead last week only, as he was coming out of the coffeehouse after the semaa by some unidentified people.
“His last words really showed how highly thoughtful he had become. He had actually come really close to Allah, much closer than any one of us could even imagine. He asked for forgiveness for the assassins, and said to us that the choice was ours; either we become like them, or we show the world what Islam was truly all about.”
Tears were flowing down his eyes, as Shoaib could not believe what he had just heard. Anwar’s last word…the choice is yours; he had finally come to a conclusion in life. He now knew what his life was to be all about, and what his choice would be now. He had decided to choose life over death, peace over war, love over hatred and Allah over the true Satan. He slowly walked away, as the darkness engulfed him so as to fade even his bare outlines.
Newspapers of the city next day carried the news of how the city had been saved from a dangerous terrorist strike, and how it took the courage of one man named Shoaib to rise up and choose the peaceful path by telling the police all about the terrorist, who had all been shot dead in an encounter that had lasted for four hours deep into the night. Shoaib was never seen nor heard of after that-not at his house, nor in the madrsa, not even in the coffeehouse. But he left behind a legacy-a legacy of understanding what Islam truly means.
Shoaib, in the meanwhile, had left the city, and had decided to head towards the city of Konya, where the tomb of Rumi lay His mother’s last wish, he had found out, was that her belongings be buried near the garden in which her spiritual master Rumi lay, and he had to fulfil it.

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