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Day of the Dogs, Part 11: Reunion

Muslim Matters - 17 December, 2020 - 03:01

See the Story Index for Wael Abdelgawad’s other stories.

This is chapter 6 in a multi-chapter novella.  Chapters:  Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Chapter 7 | Chapter 8 | Chapter 9 | Chapter 10

“Keep it up and you’ll see what I can do with a machete.” – Ivana

How Interesting Life Is

AS IVANA SCREECHED INTO A FREE SPOT in the airport loading zone, Omar immediately spotted Hani standing at the curb several meters away, amid the touts, taxi drivers and thieves. The man’s thick, muscular frame was hard to miss. His face was set in a scowl as he – in typical security guard fashion – scanned everyone around him. A tall woman in hijab stood beside him, both of them clutching the handles of their wheeled suitcases.

Omar stepped out of the car, and Ivana followed.

Woman in black hijabIt was blazing hot, with the humidity level sky high, as always. The two visitors had not seen him yet, and he studied them as he approached. Used to the cool weather of Bogotá, Hani and his wife looked flushed, like a pair of penguins suddenly transported to a tropical island. Hani’s wife wore jeans, a blue sweater and a black abayah that was open in front. Omar’s first thought was, that sweater and abayah are not going to help her here. His second thought was, huh?

He stared at the woman. Tall and lean. Wide-set green eyes, high cheekbones, and a slight cleft in her chin. A face he knew well, but one that had aged beyond what he would have expected in ten years. Crow’s feet radiated from the corners of her eyes, and curved wrinkles parenthesized her mouth. He’d once thought this woman could be a model or an actress. She was still attractive, certainly, but no one would expect to see her on the silver screen.

They saw him. Hani’s scowl deepened, if that was possible, with the wrinkles in his forehead looking deep enough to cast shadows.

“Oye, parcero,” Halima said in that Colombian slang that Omar remembered from their school days. “Qué más?”

Omar looked between the two of them. “You two are married?”

Anger flashed in Hani’s eyes. “Why do you find that strange?”

Halima looked at her husband. “You didn’t tell him about me?”

Hani’s eyes shifted left and right. “It didn’t come up.”

“You look amazing,” Halima enthused, earning her an angry glance from her husband. “Hani said your scars were nearly invisible, but I didn’t believe him.”

Omar touched his mangled ear. “Except for this.”

“Who is your beautiful friend?” Halima asked, smiling.

Omar looked at Ivana standing beside him. Her hair was disheveled from the events of the day, and her eyes were slightly puffy from crying, but these imperfections somehow only added to her attractiveness.

“She’s Fuad’s wife. She gave me a ride. You remember Fuad?”

Halima gaped in astonishment. “Indian Fuad? Nerdy Fuad from high school?”

“My beautiful love is not nerdy,” Ivana said in Spanish. “He’s a wonderful man. I was Miss Cuba. Qué bolá?”

“Eh.. Encantado.” Halima embraced Ivana and they kissed each other’s cheeks.

Ignoring this entire conversation, Hani said, “You’re late. I was starting to think you were blowing us off. Like this was all some big prank.”

Hani wasn’t joking. The man had only just arrived, and Omar already felt dismayed and apprehensive. “I’m sorry about that. I-”

“What happened to your shoulder?” Hani pointed with his mouth in the Panamanian way.

Omar noticed that blood had seeped through the bandage, shirt and sling, leaving a large, dark spot on his shoulder. Now that he saw it he detected the faintly metallic odor as well. “I got shot. That’s why I’m late, actually, I mean part of it. We also had a traffic accident.” He gestured to the car with his good arm. “You’ll see.”

“You got shot?” Halima exclaimed. “When?”

“Like forty five minutes ago.”

“Forty five minutes?” Halima’s mouth fell open. “Who shot you?”

Omar nodded at Ivana. “She did.”

Halima and Hani looked back and forth between Omar, who stood blank faced, and Ivana, who had assumed a bored posture, arms crossed, as if this rehashing of the shooting was an old argument best forgotten.

“It was his fault,” Ivana offered finally.

Halima burst into loud guffaws, tipping her head back and laughing until tears leaked from her eyes. Wiping them away, she said, “Oye, Omar. I forgot how interesting life is when you are around.”

Hani didn’t like that, and flashed his wife an annoyed look.

Mambises Cubanos

Omar tried to move things along. “Let’s get you both in the car and crank up the AC before I have to mop you off the pavement.”

In the car, Ivana asked, “Do you want to go to Torre del Cielo to get your car?”

He’d forgotten about his car. But he felt too tired to drive, and asked Ivana to drive them all to his house.

“Okay, but you owe me big time. I’m not your chauffeur.”

Cuban mambises

Cuban mambises

“I wouldn’t need you to drive if you hadn’t gone all Mambises Cubanos on me.” Omar had done a paper on the Mambí fighters in college. Cuban guerrillas who fought for decades for independence from Spain. Nearly the entire black population of Cuba – men and women alike – fought as mambises, winning their freedom from slavery in the process. In one battle, 8,000 starving mambises, armed with little more than courage, ferocity and machetes, wiped out 20,000 highly trained Spaniards.

Ivana seemed to like the comparison. She flashed a rare grin, and said, “Keep it up and you’ll see what I can do with a machete. I used to cut cane before I became Miss Cuba. So knock that over.”

Halima sat in front next to Ivana. On the road, Halima wanted to know what had happened between the two of them. But Omar was closed-mouthed because he was still angry and didn’t want to start another fight with Ivana; and Ivana refused to talk about it for her own reasons, maybe because she was embarrassed. So the two ladies chatted about being Miss Cuba (Ivana’s favorite subject), their families, and life in Cuba and Colombia, as Omar and Hani sat in back, making stilted conversation about the flight.

As they passed the skyscrapers of Costa de Este, shimmering in the midday sunglight, Hani peered out the window. “Do you live in one of these?” He said it jokingly, but Omar detected an edge of jealousy or bitterness. He was having a hard time deciphering Hani’s emotional undertones.

“I wouldn’t be caught dead in one of those glass monstrosities.” He ignored the scathing glance Ivana gave him in reply. He’d forgotten for a second that she lived in one of those monstrosities.

Happy for You

When they pulled into Omar’s driveway, he saw Nadia Muhammad’s mini SUV already parked there. She must have dropped by for one of her surprise visits. She’d gone native that way. Panamanians loved to show up unannounced. If you didn’t feel like entertaining visitors, you simply said, “I’m going to make coffee,” and you disappeared into the kitchen until they took the hint and departed. If they were a bit thick, and called out to inquire what was taking so long, you’d call back and say, “Don’t leave yet, wait for the coffee!”

On the other hand, when Panamanians actually said they were coming to your house – or any other meeting – half the time they never showed up. And if they said they were coming at, say, 5 pm, you shouldn’t expect them before 10.

Stepping out of the car, Omar pointed to a two-story whitewashed home across the street. “My mom lives there. She remarried a couple of years ago.” He went to lift the suitcases from the trunk but Hani insisted on doing it himself.

“Aren’t you coming?” Halima said to Ivana, who still sat behind the wheel of the car.

Omar realized that he must invite Ivana. Not to do so would be to treat her as if she really were a chauffeur. She would refuse anyway – she was only interested in her rich party friends – so he put a smile on his face and said, “Yes, please Ivana. Come and join us for dinner.”

Ivana frowned. “Why?”

Omar blinked. His mind was a blank. Finally he said, “Nur would love to see you.” Which was true. Nur was convinced Ivana was a movie star.

With a trace of a smile, Ivana shut off the engine and got out.

Halima admired the garden, then sat on the edge of the gently splashing fountain, dipping her fingers in the water. “Ooh, it’s so nice and cool,” she murmured. “This is lovely. I’m happy for you, Omar.”

At the door, Omar knocked with two slow raps, then three quick ones. Then he rang the doorbell. He had a key, but this gave his wife time to put on her hijab if needed. The special knock told her it was him, and the doorbell meant he had visitors with him.

The thick wooden door, like the house, was painted light blue. The door was fashioned in the shape of an arch, with a blue floral pattern painted around the edge, and was divided into vertical halves, both of which could be opened as needed. The house’s interior and exterior had all been redesigned two years ago, after Omar made a sales trip to Morocco to meet a distributor, and fell in love with Moroccan design. He’d actually brought a craftsman named Abbas back to Panama with him, and the man had spent four months working on the house before returning to Morocco.

The heavy door swung open and Omar’s wife appeared wearing blue jeans, a white scarf and a knee-length, sky blue blouse that matched the house’s color perfectly. “What took you so long?” she asked. “Was the flight delayed?”

A Colorful Feast

“Ay Dios, parcera, look at you,” Halima gushed, rushing forward to embrace Omar’s wife. She and Ivana had been speaking Spanish on the way from the airport, but now she switched into English. “You look fantastica, hermana! How you got so skinny?”

Samia touched Halima’s face gently with her fingertips, tracing the line of her jaw. Halima stiffened as though to pull away, but Omar had already told Halima and Hani about Samia’s blindness, and Halima seemed to remember this and relax.

“Halima?” Samia was amazed. “Is that really you? SubhanAllah, I can’t believe it!”

“And me too,” Hani said. “It’s true, you look wonderful.”

Samia smiled warmly. “Hani, it’s wonderful to see you again. So to speak.”

“Ivana is here too,” Omar said.

“Oh!” Samia didn’t seem to want to let go of Halima, but she did, and held out her arms to Ivana. “Is Fuad here?”

“No, only me.” The two of them exchanged the obligatory kisses on the cheeks.

Malaysian foodThey all entered the house. The heady scents of food flooded Omar’s nostrils: grilled onions, spices, meat: it made his mouth water, and he realized he hadn’t eaten since having a small breakfast many hours earlier, before martial arts class. His stomach rumbled audibly, and he rubbed his belly to quiet it.

Hani and Halima left their bags in the hallway. In the kitchen, Omar saw that Samia had prepared a Malaysian feast: upon the table, as colorful as jewels, sat platters of noodles with shrimp, veggies and eggs; barbecued chicken slathered with chili-ginger percik sauce, and laksa soup made with fish and tamarind.

Apart from the food scents, he detected the unmistakably sickly-sweet scent of tropical flowers – orchids maybe? – but did not see where it was coming from. It was a powerful scent that flirted with rottenness but managed to remain pleasant.

Nadia Muhammad stood at the kitchen counter, chopping a salad. As usual, she wore a brightly colorful shalwar khamees. She was barefoot, and wore an orange hijab – she’d begun covering only recently. Omar could hear the sound of childish play coming from deeper in the house – Nadia’s two kids playing with Nur, no doubt.

There was no sign of Nadia’s husband Shahbaz, which was not surprising. He was a successful lighting systems designer, and his specialty was rare enough that his services were in constant demand. The man was making money, but developing wrinkles and gray hair at the age of thirty.

Oh, and now he spotted the flowers, in a blue glass vase beside the kitchen window. The vase held two huge heaven lotus blossoms. With their velvety white petals curling up around nearly spherical pink ovaries, which in turn were topped with yellow filaments, the flowers looked alien and almost obscene. He’d seen heaven lotuses only in one place before, growing in a greenhouse at Florida State University. Omar’s mother had taught him to identify many native Panamanian species, and he knew that you rarely saw heaven lotuses because the heaven lotus tree – a small tropical tree that grew to about eighteen meters in height – was endangered, and even more importantly because the flowers survived for only one day before wilting and dying.

He wondered where the two flowers had come from, but he didn’t get the chance to ask, because when Nadia and Halima saw each other, they broke into shrieks of excitement. Soon all the women were speaking at once, asking questions, expressing amazement at being together again, praising Samia for the amazing banquet she’d laid out, and commenting on the beauty of the house.

Then Hani stiffened, not even blinking, as if he were a troll that had been turned to stone by the rising sun. Halima turned to see what Hani was looking at and she too fell silent in mid-sentence.

Omar saw what had turned them into statues. Internally he cursed himself for being a dummy. He should have considered that this might be a problem.

“Guys, I’m sorry,” he said hastily. “She’s Samia’s guide dog. She’s a sweetheart.”

Halima gave a nervous smile. “You are sure it won’t bite?”

“I promise,” Samia said. “Her name is Berlina.”

Hani had not moved. “I can’t believe you have a dog… I mean. You know.” He was tense, as if he might turn and run out of the house. But Halima knelt and called Berlina, and the dog padded softly to the newcomer and nuzzled her hand. She did not lick, as she had been trained not to do so.

Halima squealed with pleasure. “Her nose is cold!”

I Smell Blood

Samia halted in the midst of her conversation with Halima and Nadia and scanned the room, tilting her face slightly upward and turning one way and the other. “Is someone hurt?” she said to no one in particular. “I smell blood.”

“Oh!” Halima exclaimed. “You didn’t know?”

At the same moment, Nadia spotted Omar wearing the blood-spotted arm sling and said, “Hey Omar, what happened?”

“Omar?” Samia’s voice took on a note of panic. She held out one hand. “Come to me.” He went to her, and she immediately explored his body with her hands and discovered the sling. She touched the wet spot. “Hasbun-Allahu wa ne’m Al-Wakeel. What happened?”

Ivana flapped her lips in exasperation. She had seated herself and begun to eat before anyone else, plucking a piece of barbecued chicken from a platter and chewing it appraisingly.

“It’s only a scratch,” Ivana offered in Spanish. “My beautiful love already stitched it. He said it’s nothing. Just change the bandage. You know…” She licked her fingers. “This chicken is better than a kiss from my Fufu. But don’t tell him I said that.”

“But what happened, for God’s sake? Were you attacked?”

Halima, grinning as if she were party to an inside joke, pointed to Ivana. “She did it,” Halima said. “Ivana shot him.”

“What? That’s not funny, Halima. What really happened, Omar?”

Omar sighed. “It’s true.” He knew he should defuse the situation by saying that it was all a mixup, but he was still angry at Ivana. As if in agreement, his shoulder gave a nasty jolt of pain as Samia probed it with her fingers, trying to see how badly he was hurt. He caught her hand and pulled it away. “Don’t.”

Ivana, unconcerned, licked barbecue sauce off her fingers and smacked her lips. “It was an accident,” she said casually, repeating her earlier defense. “He broke into my house like a burglar.”

Omar could not really dispute this, so he offered up the most damning piece of commentary he could think of: “She had a golden gun.”

“Not solid gold,” Ivana clarified. “Twenty two karats.”

Nadia Muhammad been watching this exchange with a growing expression of incredulity. Now, before Samia had a chance to probe further, Nadia began to laugh.

“Oh boy,” Omar said. “Here we go.” Nadia’s laughing fits were legendary.

Her laughter grew until she was bent over at the waist, hands on knees. “It’s not funny!” Samia protested, but this only made it worse. Nadia, wracked with huge guffaws, fell to the ground, clutching her stomach. Ivana seemed delighted by this turn of events, and began to giggle as well. Hani rolled his eyes and gave Omar a scolding glance, as if to say, “Can’t you control your women?” Which Omar thought was unfair, since his woman was the only sane one in the lot.

While this was going on Omar spoke to Samia quietly, telling her what had happened, and reassuring her that the wound was minor. She was upset. “Leave it for now,” he told her. “Let’s have a good dinner with our guests.”

The children came running to investigate the commotion. Nadia’s daughter Fariel, who everyone called Fairy, and who was eight years old and a rabble rouser, was followed by Jameel, who was four and had a beard and mustache drawn on his face in black marker. From the ink marks on Fairy’s hands, Omar was pretty sure she was the perpetrator.

They kneeled beside their mom, grabbing her arms, saying, “What are you laughing about, Mum?” But they were smiling. No doubt they’d seen their mother like this before.

Nur stood behind, looking uncertain. He’d dressed up for this dinner, and looked so smart in his blue pants, white dress shirt and bow tie. If only Samia could see him. Omar called him over, pulling the boy against his side. His little body was warm. “It’s okay. You know how Auntie Nadia is. She’ll be back to normal in a minute.”

Nur touched his father’s arm sling. “Did you hurt yourself, Papá?”

“It’s a scratch. I only needed a few stitches and a bandage.” Ivana overheard this and gave him a wink, as if to say, glad to see you’re sticking to the story.

Nadia stopped laughing and saw the mess on her son’s face. Her mirth turned to pique as she seized the children’s wrists and marched them off to the bathroom, shouting the whole way.

All I Got Was This Gold Ring

Halima bent down and gave Nur a hug, and he took it like a little man, stoically. “And you, conejito, my little rabbit, you are so handsome. I think your parents must be so proud mashaAllah.”

“Thank you Auntie,” Nur said dutifully. Halima laughed in delight, as if the boy had performed some bit of magic.

Hani and Halima went to the guest room to wash up, and Omar, headed upstairs to the master bathroom to change his bandage. Seeing the wound for the first time in the mirror, he was shocked. It looked ugly and messy, with ragged edges. And it hurt worse than an animal bite. He applied a silver-based antimicrobial gel that Fuad had given him, wincing as he did so, and rebandaged the wound.

When everyone was refreshed and seated at the table, with Jameel’s face scrubbed pink and all three kids at a folding table beside them, Omar said a mealtime dua’, thanking Allah for reuniting them all. Then they dug into the hearty Malaysian banquet with relish. At one point Halima said, “I can’t believe you can cook such increible food when you can’t see.”

Omar knew Samia well enough to know she would not be offended. People made thoughtless comments like this all the time, Samia was used to it.

Labrador retrieverOmar kept an eye on Hani, worried the man might still be frightened of the dog, but he seemed to have relaxed. Halima commented again on how good Samia looked, and how she’d hardly recognized her without the “baby fat.” Omar glanced at Samia, but her expression was calm. She knew that Latin Americans tended to be very forthright about such things.

Samia explained unashamedly – speaking in English – that during her first two years at Florida State University, she struggled with loneliness and gained a massive amount of weight. Her mother was busy with work, her father was gone of course, and she had no friends at FSU. Her diabetes spun out of control. She had high blood pressure, sleep apnea, fatty liver disease, and her eyesight was degrading.

“I was barely hanging on,” Samia said. “In fact I was on academic probation. Then along comes Omar, like a drill sergeant. What a pain in the neck! Made me walk laps with him on the school track. Pressured me about my diet. Study groups in the library. If I’d had a gun I would have shot him.” At this, realizing what she’d said, her smile faded and her head tilted in Ivana’s direction. An awkward silence fell. Ivana was not quite fluent in English, but she understood enough. She scowled, looking at her food.

They were rescued by Halima exclaiming, “Omar!” She waved a finger at him. Her hands were calloused from work. “Why you do that with Samia? It’s not your job to change her.”

“Actually,” Samia said, “that’s a good question. Why did you care so much? We weren’t even that close.”

“I-” Omar stammered. “I couldn’t leave you underground.”

Halima frowned, and Samia said, “What do you mean?”

Omar shook his head. “Just a dream I had once.”

“Okay… Very mysterious. Anyway,” Samia went on, “by the time he was done with me, I could have won an Olympic gold medal. Instead all I got was a gold ring.” She held up her wedding band.

Halima laughed at this, and Nadia joined in, which scared Omar for a moment – he couldn’t take another laughing fit right now – but she seemed to have gotten it out of her system.

With all of this going on, Hani ate silently, hardly looking up from his plate.

“So you got married in college?” Halima wanted to know.

“No. I graduated, and Señora Bayano hired me to manage the accounts at Puro Panameño. Omar proposed two years later.”

“But how you work when you cannot see?”

Samia gave a flick of her fingers. “Our systems are paperless now. I use assistive technology. A screen reader that can read text out loud. I touch type, I use keyboard commands instead of a mouse. Like that.”

“You have adapted totalmente, mashaAllah.”

Samia grunted. “I miss reading.” Her tone was matter-of-fact, but Omar knew this was a source of sadness for her. “I listen to lectures and audiobooks, and I have some Braille books, but the classical Islamic books are mostly unavailable in those formats.” She stood. “Let me get dessert.”

Nadia began to rise. “I’ll get it.” But Samia insisted she could handle it.

Samia set out little dishes of ondeh-ondeh, which were dessert balls made of rice cake filled with cream, and coated with grated coconut.

Tameem and Basem

“Oye, Omar,” Halima said. “Did you ever discover who did those pranks on you in high school?”

Omar looked to Samia, but her face was expressionless as she took a bite of ondeh-ondeh. “No,” he said slowly. “I never did.”

All this time Hani was silent. Omar suspected the muscular man was thinking of his purpose in coming here. Wondering when he’d get to present the business proposal. But Omar was proved wrong when Hani said, “I don’t mean to be a jerk in asking this, but do you ever hear from Tameem or Basem? I know they were bullies to you, I mean, if I’m out of line for asking-”

“No, it’s fine,” Omar broke in.

“It’s not like I want to get in touch with them. I’m just curious, you know. We were close for a while.”

“Hani.” Omar gave the man’s muscular shoulder a squeeze. It was like squeezing a rock. “I don’t mind at all, but…” He’d been hoping this subject would not come up.

“It’s not good news,” Samia finished.

Hani put down the ondeh-ondeh he’d been about to bite into. “What do you mean?”

Omar took a breath, let it out. “Basem crashed his car in a drag race on Avenida Balboa. It was years ago, like a year after high school. He died.”

“Oh.”

“Driving too fast is dangerous,” volunteered Fairy, from her place at the kids table.

“Yes, baby,” Nadia agreed.

“Then why do you drive so fast, Mum?”

“What about Tameem?” Hani asked.

Instead of answering, Omar spoke to his son. “Nunu, take your friends and go to your room. You can play video games on your iPad if you like.” The kids were done eating anyway. Nur was just pushing food around on the plate.

“Can we take Berlina?”

“Sure.”

“Yay!”

When the kids and dog were gone, Omar tapped nervously on the table.

“More bad news?” Hani asked.

Omar nodded. “Tameem is dead too.”

Hani deflated, his chest sagging. The sound that came from him was like the whistle of air escaping a punctured balloon. Omar wished this topic had not come up, but didn’t see how he could have avoided it.

“How?” Halima asked.

“You don’t want to know.”

At this Hani sat up straight, anger flashing in his eyes. “I’m not a child. You don’t have to send me to another room like you did with your boy.”

Amor,” Halima said, reaching for his hand, but Hani pulled away and made a chopping motion, nearly knocking over a pitcher of juice. “No! I didn’t come here to be condescended to.”

Omar shrugged. If that was the way he wanted it. “The whole family was murdered. Someone broke into their apartment in Punta Pacifica, tied them up, tortured Tameem’s father, then cut their throats. The police thought it was one of the Colombian cartels. That maybe Tameem’s father was laundering drug money through his construction business and dipped his hand into the pot.”

Hani sat stock still for a moment, then stood abruptly, tipping over his chair. He walked to the front door and went out.

Halima jumped up. “I will go after him.” She hurried out.

A Tree That’s Been Hit By Lightning

Omar sighed. Samia had tried to warn him about Hani, but he hadn’t listened. He eyed the popiah basah rolls. They were particularly toothsome Malaysian spring rolls filled with turnips, fried onions and bean sprouts. He’d already had dinner and dessert, but the rolls were so good. Crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside, savory and rich. He picked one up.

“So…” Samia said. “Hany is married to Halima. That’s interesting.”

Omar froze with the roll a centimeter from his lips. “Uhh… yeah. Crazy, huh? He never told me.”

“Is she still beautiful?”

Nadia, sitting back in her chair and rubbing her belly, said, “Yeah, she’s still as hot as heck.”

Ivana sniffed. “She’s no Miss Cuba,” she said in surprisingly good English. She must be learning from Fuad.

“What do you say, Omar?” Samia wanted to know.

Tree scarred by lightningHe studied his wife’s face. Was she toying with him? She was not normally the jealous type. “Yes and no,” he said honestly. He never lied to Samia. She knew him too well. Furthermore, she could hear the difference between truth and a lie. Maybe it had to do with being blind. “She’s like a tree that’s been hit by lightning. You can see that it was lovely once.”

“Very poetic. Are you writing love poetry now? I know about the love letter she wrote you on the last day of school.”

“What?” Nadia interjected excitedly. “Halima wrote you a love letter? Why did I never know about this?”

Omar slowly set down the popiah basah roll and leaned back in his chair. Hadn’t he thrown that letter away years ago? Or was it in a box at the bottom of the closet? “How did you know about that?”

“She told me back then, when she wrote it. She used to talk about you. Did you arrange this whole meeting with Hani just to see her again?”

He stared at her, trying to read her expression, but her face was as unrevealing as a brick wall. “Samia,” he said sternly. “How can you even-”

“Hah!” Samia squealed, pointing at him and grinning. “I got you. I wish I could see your face right now.”

Relief flooded through Omar as his cheeks grew hot. “You dummy!” Picking up his cloth napkin, he threw it across the table at Samia. It flapped through the air and hit her in the chest.

“Attacking a blind woman!” Samia cried. “That is the lowest of the low.”

“I’ll do more than attack you.” Omar rose from his chair and went around the table. His wife lifted her arms to him and he bent forward to embrace her with his uninjured arm, taking in her scent, somewhere between clean and spicy, due to the cooking no doubt.

“Oh my God,” Ivana said, still practicing her English. “Too much lovey dovey stuff.” She stuck out her tongue in a gagging motion.

“Seriously,” Nadia agreed. “Get a pushbutton.”

Samia disengaged herself from Omar’s embrace and pointed a finger in Ivana’s direction. “Ivana Maxiel Santiago Domingo. Just so you know, if you had killed my husband, wallahil-atheem, I would have killed you too.” Her face had gone white, and her arm shook.

“¿Por qué me culpan todos?” Ivana raised her hands to the sky as if supplicating the Creator. “Omar break into my house. I shoot him by accident, okay? I tol’ you Samia I’m sorry.”

“No, you never said that.”

“I tell you now, I’m sorry, lo siento, fue un accidente. You want me to go, I go!” She flung her arms out, knocking over her empty water glass, and stood.

“No. Come here.”

“Why? So you kill me?”

“I’m not going to kill you, idiota. just come here.”

Looking at the floor like a chastened schoolgirl, Ivana went to Samia. “¿Que?”

Samia reached out and pulled Ivana to her, and embraced her. Ivana stiffened for a moment, then put her arms around Samia. To Omar’s amazement, Ivana began to cry. Samia patted the beauty queen’s back until her sobs subsided.

A Crucible of Fate

“Well, this was all fun,” Nadia said. “Where did Hani and Halima go, anyway?”

Omar snorted. “They’re walking back to Colombia.”

“Really?” Samia asked.

“No, I don’t know. I’ll go see.”

“Say hasbun-Allahu wa n’em Al-Wakeel.”

Omar said it.

It was dusk outside, though it seemed later than it was due to the heavy cloud cover that hid the fading light of sunset. He found Hani and Halima in the front yard, sitting on the edge of the fountain. Hani rested his elbow on his knee and his cheek on his fist, while Halima rubbed his shoulders.

“I’m sorry I told you all that,” Omar said.

Hani did not look up. “Do you ever think about that day?”

Omar didn’t have to ask which day. “Not really.” Which was true. What happened, happened. He was grateful to Allah for everything.

“I do. All the time. And now… Tameem and Basem.” Hani shook his head. “Man. It’s like we’re cursed. Like that day was a judgement. It was a hammer that struck us all, and either forged us into something better, or shattered us. No, you know what?” He shook one finger at the ground as if lecturing the grass. “Not the day, but what we did on that day. What each of us did on that day has damned us.”

“You’re overthinking it, hermano. It was a thing that happened. Part of our Qadar. Not some crucible of fate.” Though inwardly he wondered. Was there something to what Hani was saying? Was it possible that your actions on a single day of your life could shape the remainder of your existence? Maybe so, but certainly that had nothing to do with Basem and Tameem’s tragic deaths. Did it?

“Did you bring me here just to humiliate me? Show Halima how rich and happy you are? The life she could have had with you?” Hani said, still looking at the ground.

“Hani!” Halima exclaimed. Then, to Omar, in Spanish: “I’m sorry, brother. He gets like this sometimes, you cannot take it personally.”

“Don’t apologize for me!” Hani barked. Without warning he stood and struck Halima, backhanding her across the face. The blow had the clapping, meaty sound of a hard hit. Halima cried out, reeled and almost fell into the fountain, saving herself only by putting one arm fully into the water.

Next: Day of the Dogs, Chapter 12:  Love and Affection

Reader comments and constructive criticism are important to me, so please comment!

See the Story Index for Wael Abdelgawad’s other stories on this website.

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Wael Abdelgawad’s novels – including Pieces of a Dream, The Repeaters and Zaid Karim Private Investigator – are available in ebook and print form on his author page at Amazon.com.

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Addressing Common Questions About The COVID-19 Vaccine | Dr Farhan Abdul Azeez

Muslim Matters - 16 December, 2020 - 06:23

The information below is based on what is known as of writing this post on December 15, 2020. References to trials unless otherwise specified are to the Pfizer vaccine which has been granted Emergency Use Authorization by the FDA.

Q: Does the Pfizer vaccine prevent you from getting COVID-19?

A: This may come as a surprise, but we do not know.

To further elaborate, we need to discuss Infection vs. Disease. Infection simply refers to contracting the virus. Disease refers to developing symptoms from the virus. The first important note from the Pfizer trial is that it did not look at infection, but rather, disease. Put in other words, it did not look at whether the vaccine prevents you from contracting COVID-19, but whether you would get sick from COVID-19.

What about the famous the 95% efficacy rate quoted? That refers to 95% efficacy against disease (i.e. did people become symptomatic from COVID-19), not infection. The trial showed that the vaccinated group had a reduced the risk of developing disease from COVID-19 by 95% when compared to the placebo group. Which is fantastic results.

If you are interested in the raw numbers, 8 out of 18,198 participants who received the vaccine went on to develop disease from COVID-19 (0.04%), whereas 162 out of 18,325 in the placebo group developed disease (0.88%). (Of note, “efficacy” is a term used in an ideal clinical trial scenario whereas “effectiveness” is what plays out in the real world. There tends to be a slight drop, but the vaccine is still expected to be very effective at preventing illness from COVID-19, even if a little less than 95%.)

Q: Does the vaccine prevent transmission of the virus?

A: This again may come as a surprise, but we also do not know.

The trial did not look at transmission. And if the vaccine does not prevent you from contracting the virus, it stands to reason that if you were to get the virus, you would still be infectious and can spread it. We do know that the vaccine is effective at preventing illness from COVID-19. But that gives rise to a possibility of increasing the number of asymptomatic carriers as the vaccinated population increases. This can of course, paradoxically further drive asymptomatic spread, which at current estimates is already about 40-50%. That is a huge concern. Which brings us to the next question…

Q: So if I get vaccinated, can I stop wearing masks and social distancing?

A: The unfortunate answer is no. At least not yet.

The above two points – not knowing whether the vaccine prevents infection or transmission – has significant implications. Namely, vaccinated individuals would need to continue to wear masks and social distance to avoid further spread to populations with whom the vaccine has not yet reached or is not effective for.

Take for example our African American brothers and sisters. This year has been somewhat of a national reckoning on race relations, and has also highlighted racial disparities. We have seen COVID-19 affect the African American community disproportionately. Yet, they are also understandably less trusting of the medical community and particularly vaccines. A vaccine itself isn’t a solution if vaccination doesn’t occur. What is concerning is ending up with a situation where certain populations are not vaccinated while also being at higher risk for severe illness from the disease. If the vaccinated population lets their guards down and stops taking precautions, this can lead to further exasperation of an already vulnerable population’s disease outcomes. Again, this is more of a concern if the vaccine does not prevent transmission, which is still unanswered.

Bottom line, vaccines will not be the golden bullet that you wanted to get back to normal life, at least not in the next 8-12 months until enough people get vaccinated or we confirm that it stops transmission. In the meantime, think of the vaccine as a supplement to masking and social distancing, as much as it hurts to say.

Q: How long does immunity last?

A: We simply don’t know. At least four months for now. I pray much longer. Time will tell. There is a possibility of needing a booster every X months or years. We just have to wait and see.

Q: What are the risks in receiving the vaccine?

A: This is a loaded question and requires a little more than just a list of side effects. It is rightfully the source of hesitancy about receiving the vaccine. However, I believe it should not be posed in a vacuum, but rather framed as “What are the risks in receiving the vaccine versus not receiving the vaccine?”

Let’s address issues surrounding the vaccine first. Vaccines inherently do have risks of adverse events, some common and some not so common. It also must be acknowledged that this method of using an mRNA-based vaccine is new (although it has been researched for years), and therefore, there may be things discovered in a few years that were not anticipated. Further, the virus itself causes systemic (i.e. widespread in the body, not just isolated to one organ) illness, the exact mechanism of which is still not fully understood. And if the virus itself is not well understood, what then can be said about the effects of a vaccine meant to combat it?

We have good data on the common side effects and understandably not so good data on the rare side effects. Regarding the latter, say there is a relatively rare side effect that occurs in 1 in 100,000 people. The trial enlisted just shy of 44,000 participants, of which half received the vaccine and half received placebo. It is possible that this rare side effect may have been observed in the approximately 22,000 people who received the vaccine. But it is also possible that it has not. It is only one event we are looking for and it simply may not have happened yet.

Another issue is time. Researchers have two to four months of observational data from the participants in the trial (depending when they enrolled and received the vaccine). While it is true that most side effects occur within six weeks of receiving a vaccine, we do not know about the rare long-term effects. Similarly, we do not know what the body would do when encountering the virus multiple times (which is a definite possibility in the midst of a raging pandemic). For example, will it mount a hyper-immune response that can end up being detrimental? Time will tell.

There is also less data available on minorities, as 81.9% of the trial participants were Caucasian. It would have been helpful to see a more diverse trial population to flush out potential adverse events not otherwise seen based on genetic composition of different races.

As for the common side effects, they are similar to what is caused by the flu vaccine: local injection site reactions (84.1%), fatigue (62%), headache (55.1%), muscle pain (38.3%), chills (31.9%), joint pain (23.6%), and fever (14.2%). Reassuringly, date from Moderna’s trial of just over 30,000 participants (which also uses mRNA-based technology) has shown strikingly similar results in terms of efficacy, side effects, and lack of serious adverse outcomes.

As alluded to earlier, the risks of the vaccine is only half the equation that one must consider. The other half is the risk of not getting the vaccine. Over 16 million people in America have had confirmed infection of COVID-19, and the number actually infected is likely significantly higher. As of this writing, COVID-19 is taking the life of someone in this country approximately every 30 seconds. For the survivors, while many recover fully, others – including those with no or very mild symptoms – are left to live the remainder of their lives with long term damage to their blood vessels, lungs, heart, brain, and other vital organs. We are still discovering the true extent of what damage this virus causes, with the unfortunate reality that more detrimental ramifications are still left to be uncovered.

Having said that, we have a vaccine that has been shown to be 95% effective in reducing one’s chance of developing disease from COVID-19. While there may be some risks with the vaccine, there certainly are tremendous, potential deadly, risks of not getting the vaccine and contracting COVID-19.

It is worth noting that healthcare workers are being prioritized to receive the vaccine first, but it has not been mandated upon us. The vast overwhelming majority of physicians are voluntarily taking the vaccine as soon as it is made available to them (administration will be starting this week). For the general public, this prioritization serves as additional time to gather data about any potential adverse outcomes prior to the vaccine being made available to them.

Further, there will be continuous, ongoing data collection after the vaccine rollout. Existing mechanisms for reporting adverse outcomes from vaccines remain in place such as the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS, www.VAERS.hhs.gov). The CDC is introducing further measures including a program called V-Safe in which every vaccine recipient will receive a text message daily for the first week with a survey link to submit any symptoms experienced, and weekly thereafter for six weeks. If a medically significant adverse event occurs (predefined to include numerous conditions including autoimmune disease, seizures, bleeding disorders, Guillain-Barre syndrome, and many others), telephone follow-up and staff-entered input into the VAERS database. This database will have continuous rapid cycle analysis being performed to evaluate for safety concerns. The vaccine can always be withdrawn if the need were to arise.

Q: Should we be concerned at how quickly this vaccine was produced and released?

A: There were some key differences in the process of developing a vaccine for COVID-19 compared to the standard operating procedure of developing vaccines. For one, federal regulators were involved from the beginning in designing the trial; as opposed to having a company such as Pfizer develop the trial, then propose it to regulators, only to be sent back to the drawing board to adjust certain things. This saves significantly on time.

Secondly, a major factor in the length of time it takes to develop a vaccine is limited resources. In the case of COVID-19, there was massive investment in these trials, on the scale of billions of dollars. Imagine trying to run a trial with a budget of $10,000 versus $1 billion, or a team of 10 people working on developing a vaccine versus a team of 10,000 people. So much more can be accomplished and expedited with a larger budget, from research, manpower, recruiting participants, and so on.

Thirdly, we are in the middle of a global pandemic that has brought world economies to their knees. There are no weekends, holidays, or days off in a pandemic. Researchers have been working around the clock.

Another factor working in favor of vaccine development is presence of the disease itself. If researchers were working on a vaccine to combat a disease that is rare, it would take exponentially longer to meet the requirements to produce statistically significant data. However, in this case, the virus is so endemic and widespread, that is not a problem. Typically phase III trials have about 10,000 participants. In the case of COVID-19 vaccines, trials have recruited over 30,000 participants. Pfizer’s trial had just shy of 44,000 participants.

The primary concern of some experts is the length of observation for adverse events of participants in the trial, which stands currently at two to four months. However, in the midst of a global pandemic with current global loss of life from confirmed COVID-19 occurring at least once every eight seconds, at some point, a line must be drawn somewhere. Knowing that most adverse events occur within six weeks, the data available at this point is, while cannot be considered conclusive, is reassuring. Ongoing surveillance and monitoring however must continue and measures are in place to do just that as mentioned in the previous question.

Before moving on, it bears mentioning, there is a legitimate concern among many whether the decision to grant Emergency Use Authorization to the vaccine was due to political pressure. While I certainly cannot speak to the motives of any expert, it is reassuring that an independent, external committee, composed of top scientists across the country with no conflict of interest, voted to approve its use. A full list can be found here: https://www.fda.gov/media/144232/download?fbclid=IwAR274Do2mPHCglzvI_zikx6sWo8oThvUaQn1gaXY1PV_WQIQpsSPKBb9Wwo 

Q: Does the vaccine change your DNA?

A: If you forwarded WhatsApp messages saying that it does, ask God for forgiveness and stop lol. The answer is NO! It is an mRNA vaccine, not a DNA vaccine (nor a live virus vaccine, meaning you are not being injected with a part of the virus).

Let’s quickly have a short discussion on Messenger RNA (mRNA). In normal cellular function, mRNA is released from the nucleus into the cytoplasm where it goes the cell’s protein manufacturing plants (otherwise known as Ribosomes) to produce proteins. Think of it as an instruction booklet for what the ribosome is to produce. Now, mRNA is a very labile molecule that gets broken down fairly quickly. That’s part of the reason why the vaccine needs to be stored at such cool temperatures. To successfully get into the cell, scientists put the mRNA inside a lipid capsule (acting like a force shield) that allows it to be taken up into the cell when it makes contact with the cell surface. Once in the cell, the mRNA goes into the ribosome and which then follows the instructions to produce the proteins that will be excreted from the cell.

mRNA has no ability to go back into the nucleus, where DNA lives. Therefore, mRNA has no access to the DNA. Think of the nucleus as a fortified castle. So fortified in fact that if molecular scientists want to access DNA within the nucleus, they need to administer electric shocks to the cell in a process called electroporation to allow the nucleus wall to be permeable enough to be accessed. So yeah, a very labile molecule like mRNA has no chance to get in there. Basically, the vaccine has as good of a chance of turning you into Spiderman as it does of changing your DNA.

Q: Ok, if the vaccine doesn’t change our DNA, how does it work?

A: Our immune system learns by exposure. In the case of the vaccine, once the mRNA gets into the cell, it goes into the ribosome and uses the cell’s own mechanism to construct proteins that will be excreted from the cell. These proteins being created are identical to the Coronavirus Spike protein that is released had it been infected by COVID-19. The body recognizes it as the virus without it actually being the virus and mounts an immune response to it. Once exposed to the real virus, the body will be ready to fight it off.

Q: How long does it take for the vaccine to be effective?

A: As mentioned above, our immune system learns by exposure. Sometimes, the body needs multiple exposures to mount an adequate response. In the case of this vaccine, researchers found that after one dose, the efficacy was approximately 52%. Benefit is seen about 14 days after receiving the first dose (the body does take some time to mount an antibody response). However, after receiving the second dose 21 days after the first, efficacy went up to 95% seven days after that (i.e. 28 days after receiving the first dose).

In other words, if you receive the vaccine as scheduled, one dose on day 1, and one dose on day 21, by day 28, you would be significantly protected from developing disease from COVID-19.

Q: Does the vaccine contain aborted fetal tissue?

No. There is no component of fetal products within this vaccine. Zero. None. Not a trace. Not even 0.001%. Nothing. No amount of citing random WhatsApp messages, unrelated vaccines, or your random doctor uncle changes that fact.

As for the actual ingredients, rather than listing out several chemical compounds here that will make sense to no one save a select few, I will refer you to the FDA fact sheet: https://www.fda.gov/media/144414/download.

For those readers who are interested in whether the ingredients are considered Halal, I would refer you to the position statements released by the Assembly of Muslim Jurists of America (AMJA) () and Wifaqul Ulama in the UK . They have both stated that the vaccine is Halal.

In Summary

  • We know the vaccine is very effective at preventing disease from COVID-19
  • We do not yet know if it prevents actually getting infected with COVID-19
  • We do not yet know if it prevents spreading the virus
  • We still need to maintain precautions after getting vaccinated for the short-term future until enough people get vaccinated
  • The vaccine reaches peak effectiveness on day 28, after an individual receives the first dose on day 1 and second on day 21
  • There are possible risks with getting the vaccine, and there are significant risks with NOT getting the vaccine. You must decide for yourself what is most beneficial.

May God, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful, the Healer, cure the ill, give comfort to those suffering and in pain, and lift this pandemic from our lives. May we take this pandemic as a lesson to return back to our Creator and recognize the true purpose of our existence. May we be more caring and loving, more equitable in our dealings with others, more valuing of the relationships we have, and more attentive for the world we live in. Ameen.

Additional Links:

  • Pfizer Study: https://www.fda.gov/media/144245/download?fbclid=IwAR3RqVgP7tAcHKj5-oWhrPqhkkDPvDekJZ60UXCisFlJb5iOoY6uil9hBRI
  • FDA Letter of Approval: https://www.fda.gov/media/144412/download?fbclid=IwAR2lfDqs2BOdBCwsAu2MFbyEbDBt5zZL8uOFHGAoS5SRhf_YZvpEfMPIgVc
  • FDA Fact Sheet for Recipients and Caregivers: https://www.fda.gov/media/144414/download?fbclid=IwAR2X5ho0WnfinULa3_tACQVJDBnOv8XqSQ6DD-syL_E6Qe0JhEWGgcoo1rg

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Podcast: How NOT to Talk to New Muslims | Shaykh Abdullah Oduro

Muslim Matters - 15 December, 2020 - 04:24

New Muslims face many obstacles in their journey to Allah, and would you believe, old Muslims can be one of them? What are some of the ways that seasoned Muslims inadvertently turn New Muslims away from the Deen, and how can we avoid them? We talk to Shaykh AND convert Abdullah Oduro about culture, homogeneity, and the reality of American Muslims and their struggles integrating into the existing community.

New Muslims face many obstacles in their journey to Allah, and would you believe, old Muslims can be one of them?Click To Tweet

“A lot of people become Muslim, and still are Muslim, but a lot of them don’t know the basics of their faith. They don’t know how to make wudu. They don’t know Faatiha – they can’t recite Faatiha and they’ve been Muslim for ten, twenty years and have Muslim children.”

Shaykh Abdullah Oduro obtained his degree from the College of Islamic Law from the University of Madinah in 2007. He is also the founder of KnewU,  a non-profit organization for new Muslims. He is currently the Imam of the Islamic Center of Coppell and a research scholar with Yaqeen Institute. He is a native of Ghana and a naturalized Texan.

“Converts and young Muslims, their experiences are very much similar in not knowing the religion, not knowing the first pillar of Islam, not really understanding tawheed. Why do I have to go to Saudi Arabia and go around a black box. What does that even really mean?”

“I remember my mentor, he told me he used to walk around in a thobe with the kohl. The guys in the hood where he used to be there were looking at him like man, what happened to you bro? Why are you wearing a dress and mascara, man? What’s up with that? Why would you convert to a religion that makes you wear a dress and mascara?”

The post Podcast: How NOT to Talk to New Muslims | Shaykh Abdullah Oduro appeared first on MuslimMatters.org.

Scholars, Speakers And the Culture of “Edu-Tainment” Part 2

Muslim Matters - 12 December, 2020 - 05:17

Part 1

15. As to the question of charging extortionate fees and exorbitant honorariums for teaching or da‘wah – a serpent that is now in the garden – with what good faith can that be justified? Of course, what is or isn’t exorbitant is up for discussion. Of course, large organisations will have greater overheads. Of course, quality produced books, translations and media productions are more costlier. Of course, we have a collective duty to assist the ulema‘. And of course, we must thank those organisations that have helped up the ante in terms of the ethos of excellence and professionalism they have brought to the teaching and da‘wah. All such matters are, hopefully, not in question. It’s simply that while many have sacrificed well-paid jobs in secular arenas for a lesser (or even no) salary in the Islamic field, some teachers and preachers are acting rather unbecomingly when it comes to the question of financial remuneration. And that’s a shame; if not shameful. Is it even lawful for event organisers funded by the public to misuse monies given to them on trust by forking out such sums on such speakers? Or to do so without public knowledge of how their money is being misspent?

16. Imam Ibn Taymiyyah mentioned a golden rule concerning taking payment for acts of worship. As part of his reply about whether or not it is permitted to charge a fee for performing pilgrimage on someone else’s behalf (hajj al-badal), he wrote: ‘He may take [payment] to [help him] perform the pilgrimage; he may not perform the pilgrimage just to take [payment] (an ya’khudh li yahujj la an yahujj li ya’khudh). This applies to all wealth one takes so as to undertake a righteous action.’21 Then he states: ‘There is a difference between one who makes religion his goal and the world his means, and one who makes the world his goal and religion his means – the likes of this [latter person] will have no share in the Hereafter.’22

17. Ibn Taymiyyah’s words apply to taking money for teaching or da‘wah too. There’s a big difference between someone who puts receiving money at the heart of his da‘wah affairs, and one who, although in financial need, puts it at the periphery. Again, what a difference between one who says: “I won’t do a talk unless I’m given such and such a sum of money,” and one who says: “I can’t do a talk unless I’m given some money.” If the intention is corrupted by money matters, if the niyyah isn’t solely for Allah, the act is invalid and sinful – and every person is a vendor of their own soul. Indeed: ‘Two ravenous wolves let loose amongst some sheep do less harm than craving after wealth or status does to a person’s religion,’23 said the Prophet ﷺ.

A few more concerns related to the seemingly apparent corporatisation of the da‘wah need to be queried, beyond the insatiable drive to maximise personal profits:

18.  With a corporate model of da‘wah, there’s a danger of seminars and courses being designed as consumer products, and the need to put out more and more products just to keep revenue flowing in. At what point is the role of money to help deliver courses, and courses to help deliver money? Now this doesn’t apply to organisations offering a clearly structured curriculum or syllabus, but to those that are mainly in the business of delivering courses or seminars. Al-Hasan al-Basri, rahimahu’Llah, said: ‘The penalty meted out to the scholar is death of the heart, and death of the heart causes a person to seek this world by means of actions intended for the hereafter.’24 As for how one inoculates the heart from corrupting its sincerity, Imam al-Ghazali said: ‘The remedy for sincerity consists in breaking the gratifications of the soul, ending the craving for this world, and being singularly devoted to the Hereafter such that it dominates the heart. By this, sincerity becomes possible.’25

19. Scholars and preachers who fuss over their first class travel arrangements, or their five star food and accommodation; or who design and sell courses with a desire other than the rida of Allah; or who are in the habit of turning certain topics whose essence could be explained in an hour and should be done so for free, into lucrative weekend courses – may give out the “wow” factor to their young audiences, but are unlikely to illumine hearts; unless their hearts are illumined with ikhlas to Allah, mindfulness of His scrutiny, taking significant steps in the direction of zuhd, and being sincere to the public with regards to extracting money from them. As for those who invite such DIY da‘is or celebrity speakers, they too may be answerable in the divine court for bending to the hype and not being truly concerned about the wealth or spiritual welfare of the seekers and servants of Allah.

20. Possibly of greater concern is the culture of self promotion, and not being able to point others to more learned and spiritually rooted shaykhs. Groups will do this due to hizbiyyah, or the revenue loss it entails if their own speakers aren’t the public’s port of call. Individual souls will usually do it out of vanity (‘ujb), ostentation (riya’), craving fame and status (hubb al-ri’asah), or some other inglorious nafsi reasons. Consider this Ghazalian wisdom: ‘How many an act has man troubled himself with, thinking it to be sincerely seeking the Face of Allah. Yet it contains deception, the harm of which he cannot see … Those subjected most severely to this trial (fitnah) are the scholars. Most of them are motivated to profess knowledge for the [mere] pleasure of [their] mastery, the joy of [gaining] a following, or of being lauded and eulogised.’26 He then gives this example: ‘So you see a preacher who advices people about Allah and counsels rulers. He is overjoyed at people’s acceptance of him and his utterances. He claims to rejoice in having been chosen to help the religion. But should one of his peers who preaches better than he appear, and people turn away from him, accepting the other, it would displease and distress him. Had religion been his true motive, he would have thanked Allah for having spared him this weighty [duty] through another.’27

21. Compare today’s self-promotion with the attitudes of our venerable salaf. Of how those of them who were less travelled in knowledge and spiritual realisation deferred to those who were more rooted or well-travelled. Indeed, even the well-travelled ones would desperately avoid giving fatwas whenever possible, especially if they could pass the buck on to someone else. Ibn Abi Layla, a famous successor (tabi‘i), narrates: ‘I met one hundred and twenty Companions of Allah’s Messenger ﷺ, from the Ansar. There wasn’t a man among them who was asked about something, except that he loved that his brother would suffice him [by answering].’28 In another narration: ‘… Whenever one of them was asked about an issue, he would refer it on to another, and this other would refer it on to yet another; until it would return back to the first person.’29 Al-Bara’ said: ‘I met three hundred of the people of Badr. There wasn’t any among them, except that he wished that his companion would suffice him by [giving] the fatwa.’30 And Bishr al-Hafi said: an ahabba an yus’ala fa laysa bi ahli an yus’al – ‘Whoever loves to be asked isn’t from those who should be asked.’31 So let no vacuum be left, and no ego promoted.

Our final issue concerns an alleged celebrity culture of sorts which surrounds certain speakers and preachers. Here, let us remember these few points:

22. The Prophet ﷺ said: ‘He is not of us who does not honour our elders, have mercy on our young, or know the rights of our scholars.’32 In Islam, the scholars have always been held in great esteem and affection by the masses. Be it as guardians and teachers of sacred knowledge, or as mediators between the wider public and the ruling elite, or as wise, pious sages of the ummah, the masses have often thronged around individual ‘ulema and showered them with huge amounts of love, honour and esteem. That type of celebrity culture encircling the ‘ulema has not been absent from Muslim history or its societies. One hadith states: ‘Indeed, when Allah, blessed and exalted is He, loves a person, he calls to Gabriel saying: “Allah loves so-and-so, love him too.” Gabriel then loves him. Gabriel then proclaims in Heaven: “Allah loves so-and-so, so love him too.” The angels in Heaven then love him. Thereafter, acceptance of him is placed into [the hearts of] those on earth.’33 So whilst fame, for many, comes about by them actively craving attention, for others it is brought about because of Divine love and Heaven’s grace – especially in the case of the ‘ulema and awliya. Just because some scholars and preachers are famous doesn’t mean they’ve craved or fuelled such fame.

23. While fame has always been around, our current celebrity culture is pretty much a modern phenomenon. It is said that fame is when people know who you are; celebrity is when people know what you’re doing. Social media has given fans the opportunity to connect with their interests, crushes and idols in an unprecedented way. Fans and followers become ever more absorbed in the lives of their favourite celebrities, to the extent it becomes increasingly hard to draw a line between what is appreciation and what is obsession. The flip side of the fandom frenzy is that celebrities carefully craft public profiles on social media in order to garner fans and following, so as to sell their particular brand to people. And if not that, then it is to seek validation and adulation and assuaging the ego by publicising their lives, careers, views and talents. In fact, it can reasonably be argued that the egotistical promotion of the self is not a byproduct of social media, it is inherent to the institution itself!

24. For Muslim scholarly engagement on social media, ikhlas must be key. As scholars or da‘is maintain profiles on platforms like Facebook, Instagram or Twitter – posting fatwas, advice, anecdotes, smidgens of religious wisdom, glimpses into their personal lives, or even the occasional scholarly selfie! – they must guard against being taken on an ego trip, and against acts of narcissism. Online followership can lead to toxic levels of self-conceit (‘ujb), given the tsunami of unrelenting flattery showered on the posts. pictures or preaching of popular scholars and da‘is. A man was once praised infront of the Prophet ﷺ, to which he repeatedly exclaimed: ‘Woe be to you! You have slit the neck of your companion.’34 In another hadith, he ﷺ stated: ‘If you see people lavishly praising others, throw dust in their faces.’35 The logic why ‘you have slaughtered him, due to your praise of him’36 is fairly straightforward. For such flattery, lionisation or adulation, writes al-Munawi, all too often ‘gives rise to delusion and arrogance,’37 and can become an addiction and lead to one’s spiritual downfall.

25. Contextualising the above hadiths, Imam al-Nawawi said: ‘As for praising a person to their face, there are some hadiths which judge it permissible or recommended, and others that judge it prohibited. Scholars hold that the best way to reconcile between them is to say: If the one praised has perfect faith (kamal iman), firm conviction (husn yaqin), spiritual discipline (riyadat nafs) and complete gnosis (ma‘rifah tammah), such that he will not be subjected to temptations, nor become conceited because of it; and neither will he be played by his ego, then it’s neither forbidden nor disliked. But if any of these things are feared, then praising him [to his face] is severely detested.’38 Al-Baghawi seems to have hit the nail bang on the head as far as the condition of most of us are concerned. He said: ‘In general, praise and compliments of a person [directly to him] is disliked (makruh). Seldom is the one who praises safe from lying in his praise, and seldom is the one praised safe from conceit (‘ujb) which seeps into him.’39 Hence we should all try to balance between words of appreciation and encouragement, and those that are praise, flattery or likely to be spiritually ruinous.

26. Some insist that, ‘The knowledge should be what inspires us, not who the speaker is or isn’t.’ As true and as ideal as this is; in reality, it’s also a failure to appreciate what it takes to motivate people. Revelation teaches that familiarity, eloquence, charisma and the art of persuasion do have their place in the da‘wah and do make a difference to the receptivity of hearts and souls; as do sincerity, humility and the realisation that it is Allah who ultimately guides, not us. Indeed, Allah has gifted some people a fuller share of such qualities than others, and has made souls attentive to the words of some more than others: That is the favour of Allah; which He gives to whom He wills. [62:4] Of course, with Allah’s favour comes the eye of envy (hasad) – and many of the criticisms levelled against scholars or da‘is is nothing but envy. And of course, with the favour of sacred knowledge comes immense responsibility and trials.

27. Having a large following is a trial (fitnah) for the one being followed more than the followers. If audiences are regularly coming away from talks of particular scholars or da‘is feeling merrily entertained, or overwhelmingly wowed; but are not coming away with feelings or remorse for wrongdoings, a desire to repent and reform, or a yearning for Allah and the afterlife, there’s something truly amiss with the speaker’s intention, learning, or ability as a guide – however popular they may be and however large their following. An Arab poet has said: awradaha sa‘d wa sa‘d mushtamil/ma hakadha ya sa‘d tuwradu’l-ibil – ‘Sa‘d came in while leading them. O Sa‘d! That’s not the way you bring in camels.’ Let not scholars or callers fill hearts with frivolity, but with fear of Allah. Let them not inspire audiences to roll over in fits of laughter, but to repentance and hope. Let them not plunge Allah’s servants deeper into the dunya, but help raise their gaze to Allah and the akhirah. To do otherwise is just not da‘wah – it is not calling to Allah in any meaningful sense of the word.

28. Thus far in the blog, I’ve cited wisdoms and rulings from some of Islam’s classical and contemporary legalists and pietists. Let me end, however, by quoting, not from a scholar, but from Shelina Janmohamed – author and commentator on Muslim social and religious trends. Speaking of Generation M – young, urban, middle-class Muslims, committed to practicing Islam and being fully immersed in the modern consumerist culture – she remarks: ‘Since Islam is supposed to be about self-effacement, and our Generation M individuals aspire towards modesty and humility, the almost cultish popularity of religious scholars can be confusing.’ She then cites from Safia Latif who observes: ‘We love our Muslim scholars so much so that we jump at the first chance to follow their lives and they indubitably mean well in their efforts to reach and relate to a tech-savy generation,’ concludes Safia. ‘But we must question the psychological and sociological impact of this culture on our collective Muslim ethos.’40 I think that more or less sums things up.

29. Finally, we ask Allah to protect all our scholars, shaykhs and da‘is; increase them in sincerity, understanding and goodness; continue benefitting our ummah with them; and help them be exemplars of learning, depth and piety, as well as courage, character and compassion. We ask Allah, too, that He help the wider public sort out the wheat from the chaff with regards to scholarship; steer them away from worldly scholars to scholars of the hereafter; inspire them to yearn for the company of the truly learned lovers of Allah; and shield them from callers to frivolity and amusement, who crave for fame and seek only to buttress their own egos.

Allahumma jammilna bawatinina bi’l-ikhlasi laka wa hassin a‘malana
bi ittiba‘i rasulika. As’alu’Llaha’l-‘azim rabba’l-arsha’l-‘azim
an yaj‘alana wa iyyakum mimman yastami‘una’l-qawla
fa yattabi‘una ahsanahu. Wa akhiri’l-
da‘wana ani’l-hamduli’Llahi
rabbi’l-‘alamin.
Amin!

1. Al-Harawi, Dhamm al-Kalam, 1:14-15. Al-Albani declared its isnad as sahih, despite it containing Muhammad b. Tafar b. Mansur. For a discussion about how such a verdict was reached, cf. al-Albani, Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Sahihah (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Ma‘arif, 1996), 6:1:40-42; no.2510. I extend my thanks to Dr Abdul Haqq Baker, an old and dear friend, for alerting me to this hadith.

2. Al-Bukhari, n0.3461.

3. Fath al-Bari bi Sharh Sahih al-Bukhari (Cairo: Dar al-‘Alimiyyah, 2013), 8:77.

4. Bakr Abu Zayd, al-Madkhal al-Mufassal (Riyadh: Dar al-‘Asimah, 1997), 1:73. Ibn al-Salah and Ibn al-Qayyim have said something similar. See: I‘lam al-Muwaqqi‘in (Saudi Arabia: Dar Ibn al-Jawzi, 2003), 6:99-101.

5. Majmu‘ Fatawa (Riyadh: Dar ‘Alam al-Kutub, 1991), 35:233.

6. As explained by al-Tufi, Sharh Mukhtasar al-Rawdah (Beirut: Mu‘assasah al-Risalah, 1988), 3:663-64.

7. Cited in al-Khatib al-Baghdadi, al-Jami‘ li Akhlaq al-Rawi wa Adab al-Sami‘ (Beirut: al-Mu’assasah al-Risalah, 1996), no.212.

8. ibid., no.213.

9. As in his advice to one of his sons, Laftat al-Kabad ila Nasihat al-Walad (Beirut: Dar al-Muqtabas, 2013), 60.

10. Al-Khatib, al-Jami‘ li Akhlaq al-Rawi, 1:232-33.

11. Al-Bukhari, no.5737.

12. ibid., no.5149.

13. Al-Bukhari, no.1473; Muslim, no.1045.

14. Ahmad, no.23357; Abu Dawud, no.3416. The chain contains Mughirah b. Ziyad and al-Aswad b. Tha‘labah who have been disparaged by hadith critics such as al-Bayhaqi and Ibn Hajr. Despite that, al-Albani graded the hadith, with its supporting chains, to be sahih. The details are given in: Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Sahihah (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Ma‘arif, 1995), 1:1:513-17; no.256.

15. At-Tirmidhi, no.2917, where he said: ‘This hadith is hasan.’

16. Ibn Majah, no.714; al-Tirmidhi, no.209, where he said: ‘A hasan sahih hadith. The people of knowledge have acted by this hadith and disapprove that a mu’adhdhin take a wage for giving the adhan.’

17. See: Fath al-Bari bi Sharh Sahih al-Bukhari (Cairo: Dar al-‘Alimiyyah, 2013), 6:42. Ibn Hajr notes the basic objection against the allowance of taking a fee – namely, that the allowance has been abrogated by the prohibition, and that the word ajr, “wage” in the first hadith means thawab, a spiritual reward – and argues the majority case, thus: [1]: While the “allowance” hadiths are undoubtedly authentic, the same cannot be said for the “prohibiting” ones; for they are not free of defects in their chains. [2]: Even if they are sound, the prohibitions in them are not categorical. [3]: The claim of abrogation is highly speculative and therefore invalid. [4]: To interpret the word ajr as thawab, given the context of the hadith, is far-fetched and therefore invalid.

18. Nayl al-Awtar (Cairo: Dar al-Hadith, 1993), 5:344-45.

19. See: Mufti Muhammad Shafi‘, Ma‘arif al-Qur’an (Karachi: Idarat al-Ma‘arif, 2008), 1:207-8; in his discussion of Qur’an 2:41.

20. ibid., 1:208.

21. Majmu‘ Fatawa (Riyadh: Dar ‘Alam al-Kutub, 1991), 26:19.

22. ibid., 26:20.

23. Al-Tirmidhi, no.2376, who said: ‘This hadith is hasan sahih.’

24. Quoted in al-Ghazali, Ihya’ ‘Ulum al-Din (Saudi Arabia: Dar al-Minhaj, 2011), 1:221; and its like is in Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr, Jami‘ Bayan al-‘Ilm (Riyadh: Dar Ibn al-Jawzi, 1994), no.1165.

25. Ihya’ ‘Ulum al-Din, 9:70.

26. ibid., 9:70-71.

27. ibid., 9:71. I based my translation of these passages on A. Shaker (trans.), al-Ghazali, Intention, Sincerity and Truthfulness (Cambridge: The Islamic Texts Society, 2013), 62.

28. Abu Khaythamah, al-‘Ilm, no.21; Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr, Jami‘ Bayan al-‘Ilm, no.2201.

29. Jami‘ Bayan al-‘Ilm, no.2199.

30. Al-Khatib, al-Faqih wa’l-Mutafaqqih (Riyadh: Dar Ibn al-Jawzi, 1996), no.1076.

31. ibid., no.1084.

32. Al-Hakim, al-Mustadrak, no.421. It was graded hasan in al-Albani, Sahih al-Jami‘ al-Saghir (Beirut al-Maktab al-Islami, 1986), no.5443.

33. Al-Bukhari, no.7485; Muslim, no.2637.

34. Al-Bukhari, no.6061; Muslim, no.3000.

35. Muslim, no.3002.

36. As said by Ibn ‘Uthaymin, Sharh Riyadh al-Salihin (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-Risalah, 2015), 1476.

37. Fayd al-Qadir Sharh al-Jami‘ al-Saghir (Beirut: Dar al-Ma‘rifah, n.d.), 1:362.

38. Al-Nawawi, al-Adhkar (Saudi Arabia: Dar al-Minhaj, 2008), 448.

39. Sharh al-Sunnah (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1983), 13:151.

40. Generation M: Young Muslims Changing the World (London & New York: I.B.Tauris, 2016), 200.

The post Scholars, Speakers And the Culture of “Edu-Tainment” Part 2 appeared first on MuslimMatters.org.

Blaming ‘Remainers’ for hard Brexit

Indigo Jo Blogs - 8 December, 2020 - 22:51
A poster on a billboard that reads "Turkey (population 76 million) is joining the EU. Vote Leave" with a picture of an open door with a British passport displayed on it, with footsteps passing through it. The Pinnacle/ClearChannel billboard appears in front of a railway bridge.A Vote Leave poster in Salford, containing a obviously false claim.

There is an article on the Guardian website by Owen Jones, probably due for publication in the print/daily edition tomorrow, blaming those he calls “hard Remainers” for the current threat of no-deal Brexit (and the likely bad deal the government is negotiating) on the basis that they refused to compromise after the 2016 referendum, portraying anything less than overturning the result as “both disastrous for the country and morally untenable”, and devoted themselves to overturning the referendum result despite it having been a democratic result, patronising Leave voters by harping on the illegalities and lies of the Leave campaign and claiming Russian interference rather than winning them over, and in some cases using the issue as a means to undermine Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour party. There is some truth to this: Remainers did undermine their own cause, but not in the way he suggests and he ignores the history of some of today’s Remain politicians.

People forget that Remainers and Leavers didn’t exist until 2016. In the mid-2000s, leaving the EU was the demand of fringe parties such as UKIP (who were in the wilderness under Lord Pearson’s leadership, entertaining Dutch far right politicians at Parliament) and of some fringe elements in the Tory party. Even during the Coalition years, some of the politicians now known as Leavers were saying that they opposed leaving, or that it would be ‘madness’. By 2015, the momentum had built up and the Tories won a majority on the basis of a promise of an “in-out referendum” in an election in which UKIP, then under the leadership of Nigel Farage who had spent the past five years harping on immigration, won the third biggest share of the vote (3.88 million or 12.6%) and made the biggest gain (9.6%) despite holding only one seat and losing one (both involving former Tories). In explanations for the Tories’ majority that year, the collapse of the Lib Dems as a result of the coalition and the collapse of Labour in Scotland, leading to fear of a Labour/SNP coalition are often cited, but support for that referendum is also likely to have been a major reason. However, the Coalition made no moves towards leaving the EU, bound as it was by the Lib Dems’ involvement; that same coalition was responsible for the Hostile Environment and the harassment of the country’s disabled people through the austerity programme, as well as the destruction of so many local services in the name of deficit reduction. It is no surprise that many people who had voted to stay in the EU could not stomach voting for a Remain splinter party that included many of them, let alone one of the parties that participated.

A number of what British people perceive as problems with the EU are in fact of our own making. Britain has a history of engaging with Europe to the benefit of business rather than of ordinary people. Other countries have open borders; we (and Ireland) are the only countries that always required everyone to have a passport to travel. The benefits of EEC and EU membership were largely sold as a free trade agreement that made it easier to sell and buy goods and services to and from Europe. This lay at the root of Tony Blair’s decision to allow unrestricted worker migration from eastern Europe in 2004, a decision not replicated in other European countries; opponents to that were dismissed as racist. The upshot was that hundreds of thousands came here. As someone who was working in a manual occupation, I can say that my wages did not go up for several years and when I gained an HGV licence, I found it extremely difficult to get jobs because employers required two years’ experience because it gave them advantages with their insurers and there was no shortage of drivers with that because of the influx from eastern Europe. In an unregulated labour market like ours, an influx of workers from a country with a weaker economy than ours benefits business owners, not native workers; it frees employers from having to invest in native talent. Academics will dismiss objections as “lump of labour” (i.e. the idea of there being only so much work to go around) and say that economic activity generates more work, but there is no guarantee that natives will benefit when employers have found immigrant workers reliable. By 2016, the influx was water under the bridge; workers were no longer arriving in large numbers, but the damage had been done.

As for the behaviour of Remainers after the referendum, Jones blames their intransigence in demanding a re-run or revocation of the referendum result but does not really go into another factor which was their sabotaging of their own cause and indeed their country’s future. This was first really apparent in 2017 when the first election was called; calls for people to hold their noses and vote Lib Dem as a way to hold off a hard Brexit, or preferably any, were shouted down by people who made an issue of Tim Farron’s views on homosexuality, which until then had not been widely known of and in any case were not party policy. By the 2019 election, a number of prominent pro-EU MPs had defected from Labour and a smaller number from the Tories to form the Independents/Change grouping, most of them ultimately joining the Liberal Democrats. Labour dissenters harped on Corbyn’s association with antisemitism while ignoring Boris Johnson’s very obvious history of brazen racism and the fact that his party had rounded up innocent Black British citizens and expelled them from the country for no reason. Such a policy might have been justifiable if the alternative to Corbyn had been a middle-of-the-road Tory like, say, Stephen Dorrell, but it was Boris Johnson! I even saw a Twitter thread that claimed that a Corbyn premiership was “a disaster on at least the same scale as No Deal” because “Jewish charities and organisations would no longer feel they had a sympathetic ear in government” and “Israel would be slandered at the highest level” (as if anyone needed to slander Israel). The author of this drivel was not even Jewish. The consequences of a no-deal Brexit could be calamitous and the loss of jobs and the disruption to food and medicine supply cause all kinds of social breakdown and even violence, yet we who don’t have another country to go to are supposed to just put up with it so that Israel can get an easy ride?

Remainers’ ‘intransigence’ really became an issue after Leavers decided that the reason for the result was immigration and that the ‘Norway’ option was not an option because it would mean workers could still come here freely from Europe (and we could do the same, but nobody appeared to believe that was important). It was the next best option after remaining in the EU but it suited nobody: it was being signed up to the rules without having a seat at the table when they were being written. It was not on the table and it was not even certain that EFTA, the organisation we left when we joined the EEC, would even have us back given that we would have a bigger population than the rest of the association combined. Yet, ‘Norway’ is what we were promised before the referendum — Leavers talked about the benefits the Norwegians got all the time — and if that was not an option, there was only one that delivered what people were promised, which was simply staying in; people who thought we would end up with no deal were a tiny minority of those who voted to leave, but the result did not reflect that. And why did people believe it was morally unacceptable to leave? Because of its impact on Northern Ireland, because of its impact on EU nationals who had lived here for decades and had families here and on British mixed families in the EU, because Scotland had rejected it, because tariff barriers would threaten jobs and red tape would threaten all kinds of trade. There is a limit to what can be justified on the basis of what people want, or think they want.

Image source: Geograph, posted there by Neil Theasby. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license.

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