The Future Of Secularism: Chapter 19

THE RETURN OF THE MAN

By the fourth Friday, I think my parents resigned themselves to my routine: I would go to the mosque for Friday Prayers. I never talked to anyone after prayers, maybe a Salam ‘alaykum here and there at most. I didn’t like the khutbahs; they were very boring. On occasion, they crossed the line and became only mildly boring. Many times I found myself yawning heavily, so much so that my eyes would water and I would have to struggle -- we’re talking all out greater and lesser jihad -- just to keep them open.

Many people were intrigued by me. Nobody knew what to make of my necklaces, my bracelets or my nice car. The more upper class had their own mosque, which was far more opulent (and even more boring -- I yawned with just the thought of it). I could just imagine the khutbahs. "Why Your Money is yours and why God doesn’t want you to spend too much of it," and other similarly comforting topics.  

And the really active Muslims never went to these mosques regularly. They had their own underground services. In the villages and towns secret sermons were the norm. Outside the capital and the other few big cities, there was a lot of underground Islam. I had no idea how I’d ever get in touch with that. I thought: Khattab would know.

He didn’t talk to me as much. I missed his company (I get attached easily), but at the same time I think he was worried about my new interests, and kept away. Or perhaps he was like a parent, watching me stumble intellectually and trip emotionally into my new Islamic life.

I stared at people in the mosque — well, actually, they stared at me first, but I started to stare back. I imagined my great intellect and furious creative abilities streamed out of my eyes, and I stared nearly everyone down (or they’d walk into a namazi, and create an embarrassing situation for all of us).

There were a few people at the Mosque who I knew were not just worshippers. They were government agents. I noticed them early on, sitting in key positions: In the corners, against the walls, where they could sit without attracting much attention but still get a good view. I knew because I sat there too; nobody could see me too well, and I could ignore the sermon when it got too boring. I could also check out the hot sisters.

Maybe the government agents thought I was some horny Muslim guy who just went to the Mosque to see a girl he liked. My ethno-Euro dress safely hid me from suspicions of Islamism, so maybe they thought I was doing this to satisfy some need for religious services. As for everyone else... well... the whole congregation hated me. I think they thought I was a government agent. I hated them for looking down on me. (Of course, what I should add is: I also looked down on them, but I looked down on them for the opposite reason they looked down on me, so their dislike of me was justified. All we had to do was figure out who started looking down on who first, and then reach a compromise). 

The Shaykh of the Mosque was named Erfan. He was a medium-sized man, with a thick wad of black hair on top of his head and a full beard. He wore traditional robes over a suit (no tie though; he looked Persian).

One day he told us: "Starting next Thursday are Qur’an classes for adults."

I’m an adult, right? (Most Muslims define adulthood as not-virginity; but I appealed to Western notions of majority in a vain attempt at unqualified ijtihad (1)).

Erfan continued: "Classes began at twelve noon, and will go till Zuhr prayer time. I will teach them."

I considered it. I figured that it might show on my face, so I started to pick my nose. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the nearest government agent look away in disgust.

After I came home, I picked up the phone and dialed Absal. I told him: "I really need to talk to you." He pulled up to our driveway while I was waiting outside, this time only two rings on my finger and one necklace around my neck. Since it was a nice day out, we decided to stop by a coffeehouse and have a light meal.

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1. Ijtihad refers to a very debated concept in Islamic law: That of exerting one?s self to independently find the answer to questions concerning the Muslim, when there is no text directly addressing the issue in either the Qur?an or Hadith (sayings of Muhammad, peace be upon him). After checking these sources, the Muslim scholar often turns to the consensus of other scholars or making an analogy (qiyas). Ijtihad has been a controversial doctrine, because scholars can turn to the exercise of their reason in the absence of other, direct evidence for the answer to a pressing question. Islamic scholars and intellectuals have argued hard over this issue, but I myself believe that ijtihad is permissible, but only in case the mujtahid (one who performs ijtihad) is a pious Muslim, well-versed in Arabic, the Qur?an and the relevant other sciences (in other words, a well-educated scholar). Furthermore, I believe in our age, Muslim philosophers, academics and scientists must cooperate with scholars on issues of ijtihad, since nowadays we confront many issues and our societies face inevitable specialization. It has become nearly impossible to find anyone who is well-versed (and I mean very well versed) in more than two or three areas, just because there is so much information out there. To ensure that Muslims make better decisions, we should pool our resources and not ignore the inputs of the non-scholars (like me, you could say?). And God Knows better, of course.

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