The orange-painted Chevy, wide and low slung, its shell chipped and dented by nearly two decades of strenuous service, bowled sturdily along the dusty desert road …..
….. a vignette by Paul D Kennedy
A sheikh sat in front, in the place of honour to the right of the driver. Though he was clean and perfumed, his untrimmed beard and short dishdasha contrived to give him an unkempt appearance. He talked incessantly and stared out of his side window from time to time, keeping his eye on the position of the sun.
I sat directly behind the driver. Next to me Mustapha, my friend of many a year, was in the centre of the back seat. Between Mustapha and the door the sheikh’s string-wrapped box weighted down the seat. What it contained neither of us knew, except that it was too important to go in the lidless boot or on the roof-rack where our stuff was held down by strong twine. The driver grinned as his old well-laden car swayed up and down, reliably eating up the miles, despite the heat.
The sheikh declaimed the superiority of Islam and the Muslim way of life. It was for my benefit of course and after a while I let it all flow over me; I’d heard it all before. The hajji – for he announced that he had fulfilled his duty of pilgrimage many years ago – told me proudly that he did not know any language except the one in which the Final Message has been delivered, and needed no other. My Arabic was improving and what I did not understand was translated quickly and briefly by Mustapha. We were both relieved when the good man’s monotonous discourse finally ran out of steam and he drifted into slumber.
The sheikh woke with a sudden start. He stared out the window looking for the sun and then barked abruptly at the driver. The car slowed and turned off the road. ‘Another prayer-break’, Mustapha whispered in English. We got down from the car and the driver spread three prayer mats on the sand. I stood politely back as the three men bent in obeisance, led by the sheikh. The car clicked several times and settled on its springs.
As soon as the prayers were over, the sheikh squatted on the sand. The driver put the mats back under the front seat of the car and, at a word from the good man, brought the box from the back seat. The sheikh gently unwrapped the twine and took out a primus stove, some large bottles of water, and a few small cups, and announced that he would make tea.
As the driver prepared the tea, the sheikh pointedly asked me to join them, explaining that Islam was charitable even towards non-believers. I smiled my gratitude.
As we sat sipping, a plane passed overhead, high in the empty sky, heading west. The sheikh put down his cup, pointed at the aeroplane and said with satisfaction:
‘Now we can see how God loves the Muslim people above all others.’
He dropped his hand and pointed at the primus stove and then at the car which was still giving the occasional click as the engine cooled.
‘Everything we use has been created by Christians in order to serve Muslims. Even the wheels of that car, which are carrying us so securely to our destination, were made by Christians. All in the service of Muslims!’
The driver nodded sagely. Mustapha took a deep breath. I had long learned not to waste my wind in the heat.
‘In truth,’ the sheikh continued, ‘Islam is the final revelation of God. The Holy Quran contains everything we need to know. The Sheria, the Law of God, covers every aspect of human life and behaviour. It tells us exactly what to do for every occasion and situation. The Muslim need do nothing except obey the Law of God.’
There was a pause. Finally Mustapha said. ‘But we never do anything for ourselves. We can’t make any progress on our own. We never invent things.’
‘There is no need,’ the sheikh said sternly. ‘God has provided others to do these things for us.’
‘Islam is very practical,’ the driver said.
‘Yes,’ said the old Sheikh with absolute conviction. ‘Islam provides for the whole of a man’s life. A good Muslim has no need to worry his mind with questions. Every answer is given to us. We are so fortunate, unlike the Christian, our servant, who spends his life searching for answers to questions that are really of no importance.’
Mustapha kept quiet and I smiled politely. I watched as the driver repacked the car and the sheikh once again settled himself in the position of honour in the front seat. As we walked around the back of the car, Mustapha turned to me, laid his hand gently on my arm, and muttered quietly:
‘You see! Sheikhs of religion! They don’t even want us to think. Not even to dream.’
© Paul D Kennedy, July 2003