In appearance only, Kramer Kramer (real name altered) resembles Christopher Lloyd, the Reverend Jim Ignatowski character from television sitcom Taxi; raggedy, unkempt. My new home sales agent recommends him to me when I purchase my current home. Kramer is a very good handyman, suitable and thorough at almost all work he undertakes at home, from doing up Tasneem’s salon room to minor alterations or additions I want, his finished works a delight.
Tall, overweight, in rumpled clothes, thick hands carved heavy with incomprehensible tattoos, meeting Kramer for the first time is a bit intimidating. But he is an amiable character, once you get to know him, plenty of interesting tidbits to contribute about everything in general as he works along. He is originally from New York area, a staunch White Republican, an ex drugs addict, now reformed, former alcoholic, now sober but alas, a religious smoker. What strikes me most about Kramer is his inquisitive mind, with loads of questions about my background and culture, especially about the religion of Islam.
Listening to conservative radio talk show hosts the likes of extremely unpleasant Rush Limbaugh et al, have predictably, manipulated Kramer’s mind on Islam, so he is full of questions, loads of them. Some of our conversations go something like this:
What is Sharia law? Do you support it?
Well, Sharia law is a vast subject and I am not qualified enough to tell you a lot about it. Unlike US laws, for example, Sharia laws govern all aspects of a Muslim’s life, personal life, business practices, marriage laws, children’s rights, family inheritance and so on…
But do you support it?
I do, of course, as a Muslim, I do.
Hmmm, but we in the USA believe in the separation of church and state…
Oh, Sharia law is not applicable to non-Muslims.
Kramer makes a dour face.
Why are your wife and daughter all covered up? Do they dress up like this all the time? Are they not hot?
No, they are not covered up, they have to be modesty dressed and have their hair covered in front of strangers; they can uncover their hair in front of close family members. They maybe hot at times, but they must follow our religion.
I think women look beautiful uncovered, the less the better.
Kramer laughs out aloud and lowers an eyelid in a lazy, knowing wink.
Exactly why our religion wants them dressed the way they are! Keep them safe from prying eyes, yes?
The sour expression appears once more.
What? From dawn to dusk? No eating, drinking, even water? No sex? You gotta be insane Owlie!!! And your daughter as well??? God Owlie, that is so cruel, that is awful! In Gods name, why?!
We are discussing the holy month of Ramadhan, of course. The guy is so horrified and looks truly alarmed to know we don’t eat or drink during the day, with him gulping down gallons of cold water to replenish all his sweating, working in the furnace-like attic. Americans get tongue-tied with names like Yusuf Yusufali; I can relate many hilarious tales getting my name recorded with American institutions when I first set foot in this country some thirty years ago, but that is another story. So I settle for Ali except Kramer can’t (or won’t?) pronounce that either; so it’s Owlie. Owlie – sounds awful…
It is really matter of the mind. Once you make up your mind you are not eating or drinking until such time, your body adjusts. Why? Well this is a law ordained by God, not only to Muslims, but to Christians and the Jews as well, if you were to follow the Bible and Torah. I think God wants us to contemplate the hunger of less fortunate in this world. It is a month of connecting with God, purging your sins, asking for His mercy… Plus it is an excellent way to cleanse your body; drop some pounds as well.
Kramer looks at me dubiously but cringes somewhat as I look up and down his overweight body.
He is most respectful in and around the house however, always knocks before entering to make sure womenfolk are in hijab and promptly leaves the house when the call to prayers goes off from our prayer clock. He is also most intrigued with the holy Quraan, asks several questions on it. He wants to see what a mosque looks like so I ride in his dump one mile down the road to see Masjid Al Hayy under construction. It blows his mind.
Wow, Owlie, this is beautiful! Beautiful! Man! It is huge!
He shakes his head in astonishment.
You guys are really committed to your religion.
Do I hear a tiny twig of envy in his voice? I invite him to visit our current center sometimes, if he wants.
We have a wonderful preacher, a young guy with a lot of good things to say; he can answer a lot of your questions I could not. But let me know much in advance when you want to visit. Our preacher, although very good, makes many disappearing acts, so we need to plan it out.
Kramer agrees, says he had wanted to visit, even talked to another community member whose home he is repairing about a visit with his live-in girlfriend; she even agreed to cover her hair! But he is now single again, had a huge falling off with the girlfriend, whom he has had to evict from his home.
One day, he curiously reads a wedding invitation card sitting on the kitchen counter.
Hey Owlie, it says here someone dead has invited you. How can a dead person invite you to anything?
Kramer points out the words in the card… Late xxx and Late xxx Requests The Honor Of Your Presence…
I scratch my (barren) scalp, stumped.
Kramer loves dogs; goes on and on about his pet dogs that he says will lick you to death. Now, I am unsure about being licked to death by any animal but I am fond of dogs as well, so is Maaha Zainab. I explain Muslims consider dogs unclean and are not allowed, by religious law, to keep them in the house, the nose is considered unclean, they smell everything. This infuriates Kramer, for he looks at me as if I had assaulted, insulted him.
Unclean, eh? Hmmm…
He wags his head in despair, rolls his eyes to the heavens.
How about cats, are cats allowed?
I respond enthusiastically, almost shout, so happy to share a common animal Islam allows me to domesticate.
Owlie, did you know, cats are even dirtier than dogs? And they, too, sniff at everything? A dog will whimper and let you know he needs to pee or shit and run out to do his business. A cat, they are a nasty. They will either pee or shit on your carpet and stink up a storm…
I scratch my (barren) scalp, stumped, a dour look on my face.