I think I am going to go ahead and sue Mullah Mchungu’s son-in-law, Hyder. He is some big shot businessman in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and makes all sorts of worldwide long distance calls. For this, he gets free talk time from his phone carrier, gifts he innocently bestows on Sakina, his beloved wife. This wife, Mullah Mchungu’s daughter, gleefully passes them to her annoying father, to keep him occupied and out of her hair. The Mullah uses them to call and torment me. In this holy month of Ramadhan, when sleeping is ebaadah, when I am in hard fought slumber, my afternoon, the Mullah’s late night, when he can’t sleep because of insomnia. No sane judge or jury will or can deny me this justice; the evidence is ironclad.
So Kisukaali, he says in his well-worn 80 plus year’s grating voice, we almost there. What’s it going to be, Friday or Saturday?
I swear I feel like squeaking whatever life is left out of his waddled neck.
What Mullah, what about Friday or Saturday? I ask groggily, cursing the day I made his acquaintance.
Aree ghadeera, when are you going to celebrate Eid, Friday or Saturday?
I fume internally and can’t miss the chance to be sarcastic.
I know you regard me highly Mullah, but I am not a seer, nor an angel, so let us wait until Thursday night, no?
There is a pause; I can hear his old-age labored breathing down the line. I also imagine his face turned into distaste and ire at my cheek. The guy chuckles instead, surprising me.
Touché Kisukaali, he says, touché. I like you. You will go far in this ugly world of ours.
Eh? I am hoping this is it and the guy will let me return to my sleep, but these kinds of people are born to torment.
Yes, we are no angels but I can predict, with almost 100% certainty, confusion, chaos and contradictions regarding what day Eid will fall…
I groan audibly, distressed, but the guy continues unabated.
One group will follow this Aagha, another group will claim to follow the laws of an alternative one, long passed, poor guy. We’ll hear of crescent sightings in this city, this continent, by this or that sect, the Saudis will do their own thing, Iran will poo-poo the Saudis and vise verse and it’ll be a whole bloody tamaasha. The majority of non-Muslims will harden their view of us as nincompoops. There will be more than one Eid day within many families; pitting father against son and the circus will be repeated once more, may Allah have mercy on us. The intellectuals amongst us will, again, argue this shebang is okay in the name of diversity and more Eid days to celebrate, knowing very well these are banal arguments because they have nothing new to offer.
A pause again.
You asleep Kisukaali? This call is not free, so don’t you fall asleep on me. Sakina has to fight hard to get the minutes from Hyder, you know?
A lie, I know. But the Mullah continues before I can respond.
I wish I were a fourteen-year-old once more, Kisukaali, growing up in Dar es Salam. The first year I fasted all 30 days, there was so much excitement the last few days of Ramadhan. My Mom had saved hard to buy both my brother and I brand new clothes; chuddies, vest, shirt, pants, white socks and a gleaming pair of shoes. We had to wear these treats until they were almost in tatters, mind you, and they got used some more after we shamefully discarded them down to our poor servants.
My ears perk up, for, like the Mullah, I am a sucker for all nostalgia Tanzanian. The Mullah continues. I wonder how many free minutes he has been gifted.
That night of Ramadhan 30th was a frenzy of rumor and anticipation. I made sure my pants and shirt were pressed to razor thin crease; my shoes gleamed until I could see my face reflected on them. Mum and sister cooked desserts and saltines as if were there was no tomorrow and the servants cleaned the house to a squeaky shine. I had to fast all 30 days that Ramadhan, the crescent was not sighted in all of Africa and we went home disappointed, but there were no controversies about which Aagha to follow. Everyone in the family celebrated Eid in unity the next day, no arguments about who was right. You there, Kisukaali! You listening to me, nai?
I fake a cough so the Mullah knows I am still on the line, and so he continues, happy in his memories.
Then came lightning fast communications; cheaper phones calls and the Internet, and our lives got complicated. We learned there are several respected Aaghas, not only one, who we can follow, each with different interpretations of the one Quraan, same Prophets (a), same Aeemas (a) and the same rules. Imagine! It was downhill from then, at least for me. Moon sighting became a charade, but not funny anymore. One Aagha said do this and another said, no, my way is better. We heard new supplications, never before heard, in melodious Arabic and Persian tenor, prolonging salaat; qunoot with exotic duas, not that this is bad, just tiring for us oldies. We were introduced to the concept of Wilaayate Fakih, something alien to us in East Africa, perhaps the world. We were suddenly divided, within the Shiee community, one against another, in every country you can imagine. I can safely argue this concept is the single most divisive issue for us today; we are killing each other for it. Hardened proponents, who will deny you the recitation of azaan or dua if you are not in their camp. This is happening in communities right there where you live Kisukaali, in the US of A.
The Mullah pauses; coughs robustly; continues.
Haaya, sorry Kisukaali, I know I have taken up much of your valuable time, but I had to get this off my chest. I wish you a very happy Eid, Beta. I am not sure if I can be happy this day, with the mayhem the world over. My heart bursts with agony for the innocents killed and maimed in Yemen, Kuwait… I am grateful to Allah for everything, but happy, I am not.
The Mullah hangs up abruptly, leaving me with confused and troubled emotions; sleep that is now impossible.
A very blessed and happy Eid Mubaarak to you all. Really!