EATING FROM THE TREE AND EVERYTHING AFTER
The music was nice. The dinner was better - mostly cuz’ Khattab was paying. We ate and drank slowly. There was a lot to talk about and I didn’t want to go home and spend my time alone.
"She said no," I said, as if I hadn’t said that to him before. "She said she just wanted to be friends and I just gave up. I ran, Khattab."
He swallowed what he was chewing and said, "You opened your heart to her, you told me you did. You said a lot of things to her. You don’t owe her anything, Hayy."
I was still depressed. "Did I give up? Did I run?"
Alone on the island, not giving a damn for the beautiful jungle around me, I fled at the first chance I had. Society, I begged - and so to society Absal took me. Absal was like a wave, he created a stir wherever he went, but he was smooth and at the bottom of it, he could vanish in a second and you wouldn’t even see him leave. He carried me back home in his wake.
My parents took me in because they said it was safe for me once more. Not that I ever knew what they meant by that, nor did I ever really believe they were my parents. Sometimes I just felt like I lived alone, all alone, till Absal came. I struggled to remember back, way back, but I could not.
"Are you afraid of her?" That’s what he asked me.
"I think I’m afraid of settling down. Because I don’t know who I am. And if I don’t know who I am, how can I be with someone else? But what the hell! I’m a guy. I want a girl. I have no time to sit back and think about how I’m ready or how I’m not, cuz’ if I want a girl I want a girl. Though now, I admit, the more I think about God and the more I pray, the less I can bring myself to act."
Was that a sign of God guiding me? Of Islam taking root in my soul? It was a slow, tortuous path.
"Maybe God is saving you for something better?"
Better than sex? I made the look with my eyes and Khattab laughed.
"Or maybe I don’t want a girl," I proposed, "I can’t fathom myself with one. I find fault with every single one. It could be internally I’ve given up, or my mind has said, ‘put it off till you’re much more mature.’"
Khattab nodded, like an extra in a Persian movie, when the main actor spills his guts and the stranger stares quietly... because that’s our culture and because we have to care. If I oozed manhood like Khattab, would I get girls? I wanted to ooze manhood because it just sounded like a cool thing to ooze. (Ooze is also a very funny word).
It felt like I gave up trying on Sophia.
"Because?" he wondered.
"Because she gave up. Because I didn’t really want her, maybe just because I didn’t try. Maybe she just wasn’t the one... but there is that one right person, right? Or a select few whom we would be happiest with. Right?"
"Careful," he warned me. "Too much Valentine’s Day-style romantic crap and you’ll end up miserable the next seven years, searching out that one perfect girl."
So what did I do? Go back to the island and start all over? Did the great warrior nomads who revived Islam’s fortunes cry in their minds about how that girl just couldn’t be found, and at the same time, lead brilliant charges into the madness?
"So," he asked, sipping a Cherry Coke, "Where did it start?"
About twelve years before the hijrah (1), in 610. All the world unaware that in the black of a mountain hole, a tectonic shift in history was quaking underneath all the other currents of the world. A long Perso-Roman war, the complete corruption of Jesus’ message - these were the preparations, the markers, the signals for the final flash of Truth.
The only Prophet (peace be upon him) who was ever accepted, in total, by his people during his lifetime… he was sitting in the darkness. Afraid! He who would shake the world with the flaming words of God brought to him by an angel, was refusing acceptance. He, the best of men, was scared. That was how it began. Alone, on his own, with only an uncertain future and only trust in God.
"Arrogance, Khattab... That’s what it is. I can’t surrender to God. How can I give myself up, even part of myself, to a girl? On the one hand, I’m worried about if people will pay attention to me, but that’s the same excuse I give with girls. I need a girl who is so beautiful, so perfect, so amazing, that I will never feel out of the spotlight. Then I’d know, people really do notice me. It’s insecurity sized up to the great size of my ego."
"Well a girl, Hayy," Khattab told me, "surely isn’t as tough to surrender to as God. Because God demands discipline, and girls are a helluva lot more immediately attractive. But there’s no one girl who is you. Who will give you all the attention you need, because you too need to give attention. You need to cut your ego down to size, where it doesn’t matter how highly people think of you due to the beauty of your girl. Who cares?"
I did. "I dream too loftily."
Khattab: "How so?"
And so an answer had to be found. "Nothing satisfies me. I’ve never been with a girl that I could say I was happy with. Maybe it’s just, maybe it’s just that I can’t get over my first girlfriend."
She had golden hair, like a ray from the noon sun, when the sun stops halfway across the sky. The kind of sun that slaps your skin, insults you and shines a light so bright that it makes everything too clear. Her beauty mocked me, but still - and may God forgive me for this - I touched her. She burned me, and I refused to nurse the wound. Allah healed me because my soul refused to let go. Over time, I accepted it was over.
"Did you?" Khattab had an annoying way of asking the right question at the right time.
"You know," and thus I began my words as I usually always do... "The day after we broke up, I walked out to the parking lot with my friend. And she was arguing with his sister. Of course, I had nothing to say to her. But Khattab [he looked into my eyes to see if he could know what I would say, before I would say it]... that day she was the most beautiful girl who ever lived. Her eyes were blue, like the summer sky, but they didn’t belong to me anymore. Her hair was sacred. Her smile had launched me into sin. I don’t think I ever really liked her. I don’t think I ever really wanted to be with her."
"You don’t sound convinced of that."
"No, I guess I don’t," I admitted. Till this very day, I would sit and think: If only I had tried a little harder, she would have been mine, and never would life strike me down. But maybe it wasn’t because I was a coward. Maybe she was the trophy I didn’t deserve. Maybe some things just aren’t meant to be.
"So, when did it end?" Khattab asked me.
In 732, somewhere outside Paris (2). If only we had pushed once more, one more time and captured that city. Then the Germans, the French, all would have subordinated themselves to our might and our fury. Italy would have bowed, the Pope would have fled, and none of our lands would have later turned red. The Mongols would have run, like cowards, from the size and glory of our great lands. So close to Paris, but yet, not close enough. But maybe we weren’t failures. Maybe Paris was a trophy we didn’t deserve.
She must have been a beautiful city, despite her darkness and ignorance. Her wintry weather, a sign of the cooling of our fire. Her dark streets and desperate poverty, an ominous sign of where we might find ourselves. Our fire was weakening. Never again would we - would it - be so stoked. Never again would we fear Him so. Never again would we love Him so.
"Did you ever feel you were out of place?" I asked Khattab, rather than answer his question.
Seeing that he sought an answer, I offered it: "When you see these mosques and minarets, these ruins and remember our memories and our conquests, do you think: we can never go back? The first time’s the charm, and that’s it? Sometimes, I’m afraid, it’s over. It was a beautiful one thousand years but it won’t come back."
When we first stormed out of Arabia, there had never been such perfection. The sand had never been so fine. The sun had never been so bright. No civilization has had a birth so beautiful, so tremendous, so awe-inspiring. How could anyone forget such a sunrise? The Muslim will never forget her emergence into the world. All the past had been broken and buried. All the future was a liquid sky, dripping with the promise of paradise.
Khattab nodded, "The magic of the first girl is that you won’t think it’ll end. You don’t know it’ll end."
I smiled. "I used to sit with her, and sometimes, I’d just think, ‘how did this even begin?’ It’s such a beautiful innocence. I couldn’t imagine an end, because I didn’t even believe it began. It was… I guess you could say it was perfect."
"And then," Khattab added, "When it’s over, you get wisdom in return. We lost some naïveté, but we also lost some courage. We’re smarter, but we’re more tired. That’s why you have to understand the past. You can’t have her again. But it’s not that you can’t have any girl again, you just can’t have that one. That was a dream. Isn’t it about time you woke up from it?"
Was the One State a dream too? A hope, from when Paris was beautiful and we were mad with lust for Vienna?
"The problem," Khattab told me quieter now, "Is that we haven’t learned how to let go. There’s only so much we can bring with us, through our lives. We have to wake up from the dream. Those empires are gone, Hayy. There is still beauty, but a different kind of beauty. That girl is gone. Miss her, dream her -- you kissed her before but now, you can’t ever kiss her."
No, I couldn’t. Nor did I miss her so much. I missed the idea of her. The idea that I was strong, that I got the hot girl. To accept failure takes a strong faith - a faith I don’t have. So we sing of Saladin and imagine that nothing has changed.
Jerusalem was never so beautiful as she was after we lost her. When we walked into the parking lot and could no longer walk up to her and just smile, because a Jewish man had her and held her, and ran his fingers through her hair... and then suddenly, not ours, Jerusalem became the most beautiful place in the world. Her eyes, her domes, her sunset...
So I asked about the future. "How do I find the right girl? How do I know?"
Unless you accept the past honestly, and your faults honestly, you will not have a future. Don’t turn to cynicism and imagine all women are enemies that exist but to be conquered. That is not the meaning of being a man, not at all. And don’t grow weak and throw yourself at women’s feet. They will use you and throw you away. Wake up from the dream. Then perhaps you will know how to dream again.
* * *
RELEASE NO. 025
PUBLISHED BY HIZB FAZILAT (THE PARTY OF VIRTUE)
PHILOSOPHICAL FUNDAMENTALIST EDUCATION
IN THE NAME OF ALLAH. LOVING AND MERCIFUL.
this educational series is produced by Hizb Fazilat to increase
awareness of Islam and to promote the beauty of the Serhat against
the emptiness of the materialistic culture we suffer under. This story
presented by Shaykh Aragon. Discussion is encouraged.
ONE GOD, ONE BOOK, ONE PEOPLE.
HIZB FAZILAT: FIGHTING FOR THE FREEDOM OF OUR FUTURE
SUNRISE AND THE WASTED FREEDOM
He was quite a big man, large of proportions but he wasn’t wide enough for his height. He stroked his long beard, cleared his throat and boomed: "Iqra!"
The little boy, now quite frightened, began to read very quickly, and mixed his baa’s and taa’s till everybody in the congregation had witnessed some form of shirk. Alarmed at the consequences, the mullah waved his hand in desperation -- enough! This was enough for the day. There would be nothing beyond Qur’an lessons because the Invasion and Domination Forces (IDF) under which we spent our curfewed days would not grant us much more. After all, to contextualize the wahy in his (peace be upon him) life would be too much.
I came in to pick up my son, Mu’awiya, from the study circle and mullah Husayn wished a few words with me.
"He does not want to read."
Mu’awiya was a special boy. Why should he read Qur’an if he doesn’t want to? I assumed this thought was revealed to the mullah who sat before me, so I stifled it in fear he might read it from my mind. Did the Imperial Dark Forces (IDF) also have this power?
Mu’awiya was reprimanded, but he would only laugh.
I grabbed his collar -- this son of mine was turning out more like me than I wished -- and dragged him back to my car. The violence had ebbed; I could walk around and no snipers kicked up dust around me with their hate-coated bullets of poison. I recalled that mullah Husayn gave a very inspired khutbah the week before, talking about our need to spread Islam amongst each other and to share our lives and wealth, sacrificing for each other in these times of hardship. I would have stayed to ask questions, but the Invincible Dastardly Forces (IDF) had decided to impose another daytime curfew. I raced to the market to find milk.
Merchants sold fast fast fast, like we praise Allah three times at least. Food was in short supply; the rest of the Ummah didn’t really care that we were starving. As I walked, I blinked and off in the distance, coming towards me on a majestic carpet of light, I saw that angel again. He smiled from afar, "Aftab, my brother, you look better."
My heart is clean, I swore to him, and he believed me. "Your life has been changed."
And so it had, for "I was struck by a ray of light."
Mu’awiya’s arm was tugged severely by mine. This boy was always about to run off. He would have ran and ran, till they would have emptied their bullets into him and he would have fallen down dead. I would have cried; he would have laughed. My son, whom I loved, knew only how to love life by smiling at all that came his way. This was what I did. How I hurt my parents and how I saved the world. He was hurting me now. How could he be so foolish, so brave, so fun, so crazy, so alive? I was once that alive. I told him to stay close. There was little time and soon they would begin firing.
"They kill the Muslims," I told the angel. "They kill our people like we’re animals in the street."
"Yes they do," and he gazed down, sad at this state of affairs. "But you have showed change in your heart. Soon, perhaps, the darkness will be crushed. If more change." [Oh God, let this change come fast fast fast].
My Islam had grown. Then I bumped into Shaykh Husayn at the market; he began to recite ahadith for me and gave me more light for my soul. Too little light and it was dark; too much (all these words) and I was being blinded. But I listened nonetheless. He warned us that unless we improved ourselves, we would be destroyed, and he pleaded for us to change. When it came to the occupation, he was silent, and only shrugged. The soldiers were all around and this was no time to spit water in the face of fire.
Better shut up, and "quiet boy" he told Mu’awiya, yet Mu’awiya stared at him and smiled, "All you do is talk, Mullah saab. I talk too."
And so Mu’awiya laughed.
Now very embarrassed, I said my salam and turned the corner, desperate to find some milk -- this curfew might last as long as a week. What would my son get me into next? What would we have to drink at home? In the madness of my thoughts, the angel whispered into my ear, "Laugh, he does, because life flies about him and he flies with it."
The angel seemed to carry little respect for Husayn. Husayn who preached Islam and prayed.
I lost track of Mu’awiya.
He was now in a corner, where the teen-agers had congregated. I spied some young men, none of whom I wanted around Mu’awiya. Poor boy would learn from them and not from the mullah. I told him "Come here this minute!"
He stared, staring at Hasan, the troublemaker. Hasan who chain-smoked like there was no Day of Judgment, Hasan who chased girls like four just wasn’t enough, Hasan who ignored the elders like respecting them wasn’t sunnah and oh Hasan threw stones, Hasan who was angry at what life was and never stopped throwing his stones. Hasan had a fresh scar; a bullet had struck his arm. But Hasan was alive and maybe he smoked, maybe he drank -- Allah knew -- but he loved his people and I feared he, like so many other men once alive, would die the real death. I wished I hadn’t died before the chance to die like them. I didn’t want this lesson for Mu’awiya. What if he learned to die, before he learned to give in and live?
Mu’awiya didn’t heed my call so I began to walk quickly towards him, in anger.
Suddenly an arm grabbed me. "Aftab!" It was the angel, stopping me. I demanded: "What’s the matter? I have to get my son!"
He looked me deep in the eyes, beyond me to that which He gave me and no one else knew, and then he gestured to Mu’awiya. Hasan was talking to him and being very animated. Of course, he had a cigarette in one hand. But his other hand pointed to God and the sky. The sun was coming down, but Hasan’s fingers wouldn’t cease moving.
"Mu’awiya isn’t laughing," the angel told me — I looked and so it was.
LET US CLOSE WITH PRAISE OF ALLAH, LORD OF THE WORLDS
hizb fazilat. banned for nearly fifteen years.
1. The hijrah was the central moment of Islamic history, the axis upon which the faith turned, from when Islam went from only a religion to a society and a way of life. The Muslims had been hounded and persecuted ever since Muhammad, peace be upon him, received his first revelation (of the Quran) in 610. A handful of devoted followers joined him, but the people of Makkah - pagans, mostly - tirelessly attacked, insulted and even tortured and killed the Muslims. Finally, in the year 622, less than one hundred Muslims fled to Madina in a harrowing journey. There, in Madina, Islam established a base, and grew with phenomenal rapidity. By 630, after the Makkans violated a truce with the Muslims, the Muslims were able to raise 10,000 men who marched into and conquered the city (granting general amnesty to all and not harming a soul). Thus, the Muslims have in fact dated the Islamic calendar from this migration. The Christian year of 622 is the Muslim Year 1.
2. The Muslim army, having stormed through Spain in the early 8th century, pushed into France around 730. In 732, a raiding party was turned back by Charles Martel. They were not too far from Paris. That was the exhaustion of the initial Muslim conquests to the West; it is a date we Muslims often look back on with a certain amount of pathetic nostalgia. If Paris had fallen, would all Europe turn Muslim? Ah, how we blame the reverses of the past for the reverses of today. Let us let go, and let us worry about what happens in the future.