Mullah Mchungu makes this nerve grating sound from a warped mouth, twisting his lips inwards revealing aged toothless gums. It is a sound that is unique to Africans, especially East Africans. You will hear the Khojas of East Africa utter it sometimes, like the Mullah now. It is used to express displeasure generally but the Mullah uses it now to show contempt.
The Mullah sits at the porch of my house, his lethal walking cane parked by his side on the floor, within easy reach. I have tried to be hospitable, as usual; served him tea and cookies and chewdo. The super spicy chewdo is compliments of my visiting sister Nazma from Minnesota, who has made it from scratch. I am slightly concerned how he will grind the savory snack with his gums, but he seems to be doing a fine job, so I let him be. The Mullah eats with gusto, asking for an extra helping of the chewdo, which he finishes as well.
Now, after puffing on the predictable Indian beedee, after hacking nicotine phlegm into the discarded can I keep especially for him, he makes this contemptuous noise. I instantly think it is the super spicy chewdo causing him heartburn. Not so. There is a castoff look on his face, a sure sign he has an opinion that he wants me to hear. I hope he is not going to give me more grief over my novel The Chief Minister’s Assassin, like he did the last visit; I brace myself.
Kisukaali, he begins benignly, tell me. Are you convinced about the wilaaya of Imam Ali (A)?
Oh boy. This is a weird question, if not a damn silly one.
Of course! I resort hotly, instantly offended, what a ridiculous question.
Hmmm… of course, what a ridiculous question, he mimics mockingly. I see a glint in his eyes however, seeing me intrigued. Tell me, why are we always on the defensive when it comes to his (A) leadership?
I am confused, and this must show on my face, for the Mullah continues.
If we Shias of Ali (S) are convinced, nay, it is our aqeeda, our belief, that Imam Ali (A) is the man after the Prophet (S), indeed, that Allah (S) has chosen Imam Ali (A) and his progeny (A) as rightful inheritors of His religion, then why do we Shia always become defensive on the subject of wilaaya?
You see what I am getting at Kisukaali? You listen to any majlis, any lecture, and all you get from the Mullas is a mouthful of defense posturing on the Imaamat issue and ridiculing of others for not sharing that belief. You know and I know that Imam Ali (A) is the Man, it is our firm belief, so to hell with what others say, no? Why should we care what others think or say? If others want to say Aboo Bakr, or Oomer or Oothman were the chosen ones, well, more power to them, I say. Let them go beat themselves silly in their belief and see how far they get, how hollow their claim is.
The Mullah has said a mouthful and I am not sure I want to indulge in such delicate a discussion; but my mouth, as if with a mind of its own, dissents anyway.
But Mullah, surely we can’t just stay quiet on the onslaught of filthy propaganda that others dream up…?
The Mullah bolts upright, startling me. He reaches for his cane and stands up; I get heart palpitations. I mean the guy is unpredictable, can be nasty if provoked. But all he wants to do is pee-pee, so I relax and guide him to relief. He resumes after another cup of tea and the predictable puffing on a bedee.
Our Imam Ali (A) was a diamond. Have you tried throwing sludge on a diamond, Kisukaali? It doesn’t stick; the diamond shines through. No matter how much muck is thrown on the Imam (A), he will shine through, because he (A) was a rare diamond, unblemished. Allah (S) elevates whomsoever He pleases, no ifs or buts. But no, all we want to do is go on the defensive, again and again and again, there is no let up. I can predict, with 95% accuracy, what the lecture content will be on 95% of the lectures come next Ramadhan at HIC. Are you a betting man, Kisukaali? You wanna bet me on this?
I ignore his challenge. Because I know, at the back of my mind, I’ll lose. So I tamely repeat my question.
So what do you suggest we do, Mullah? I ask. Totally ignore the attacks against our Imams (A)?
The Mullah looks at me in surprise at first but then his face takes on a look of contempt. He screws up his face, lifts a side of his bum and lets out a protracted fart. You would think he would excuse himself for this breach of etiquette, but no, he continues, as if the disgusting act he just did was most usual.
Mcheee. Do you pay attention to anything I say? And you are supposed to be a worldly man, I thought. Bah, what a fool! Aree, let our lectures focus on all the wonderful lives the Aimaas (A) lived, the examples of moral excellence they left behind. And then attempt to reform us towards these lives and examples. Truth always overcomes falsehood, always. Let the adversaries burn their behinds in hate and jealousy, that is their shauri, not ours.
Although I smart at the insult, his words resonate with me; kind of?
You must admire and give credit to the Agha Khan Ismailis, Kisukaali. They may not be ardent followers of Imam Ali (A) commands and examples, but they do love him nevertheless. But you will never see them bending out of shape over the injustices meted out to our Aimaas (A). They could care less what others say or do. They go on in life oblivious to any and all mischief to the Imam (A) who they love unconditionally. And they are progressive… beat our community… anytime.
I look at him in incredulity and want to laugh at his naivety. But I stay mum and bear through the burden of an old man’s ranting.