The Faithful: The Road to Paradise
The sun had set and the darkness was descending slowly but surely to enshroud the village. A few screeching sounds and the loud speaker came to life. “Gentlemen! The date palm of the mosque has lost its keys. If anyone finds them, please to return them, thank you.” Obviously the announcer had been either too panicked, or in too much of a hurry. So instead of saying the mosque with the date palm has lost its keys he made the above announcement, much to everyone’s amusement. Come to think of it what could one have possibly stolen from the old mosque? Why did it have to be kept locked? Maybe to keep out the members of rival parties. For it does happen, people claiming the house of Allah as their own and barring others from entering it.
The mosque with the tall date palm tree is perhaps the first mosque of the village. At least that’s the only one I remember from my childhood. That was where my cousins used to go to learn to read the Holy Quran. They would leave early in the morning, the ‘sipara’ in one hand, the other hand busy adjusting and readjusting the skullcaps, with sleepy eyes and hesitant steps; stopping and staring at the most uninteresting objects. On their way back though they would dash off at top speed, chirping cheerily like young birds.
The girls learn from some older woman who would consent to teach them. Sitting on the cold floor, huddled together like a herd of sheep or goat, each girl trying to learn by rote the day’s lesson, while the lady of the house builds fire and cooks breakfast for her family. Small girls with unwashed faces drop in at regular intervals to take the milk or buttermilk. The girls more interested in these visitors than in their lesson. Some smile shyly at the new arrivals, others just stare in a sulky manner because they cannot remember their lesson and are being constantly scolded by the instructoress. The younger ones fret over Arabic alphabet, looking greatly perplexed as they keep mixing them up with the Urdu ones. In a few years they would learn to recite the Holy Quran, in an accent that is neither Arabic nor Punjabi, but a sort of compromise between the two languages; piously moving forwards and backwards in a rhythmic movement. Funny how all girls and women alike recite the Quran and make Du’a moving backwards and forwards. Where did the tradition start? Perhaps they find comfort in the rocking movement?
There are five mosques in the whole village. Too many mosques, each under they impression that they are the most upright and pious. There are occasional outbursts of anger against each other. Then the loudspeakers are used to hurl insults at each other. The mosque with the date palm is the most active one. And they are the ones who are begging for donations constantly. At the beginning of each month the Imam turns on the speaker and informs the unsuspecting villagers in a doomed voice, “Gentlemen! The electricity bill has arrived.” A pause as if he is waiting for people to show their sympathy or surprise. “All those who want to give money in the name of Allah please send money. The bill is too much this time. Every brother and sister please help pay it and Allah will give you unlimited Sawab(reward).”
Promptly young children start trickling in with money clenched in their fists. They are excited because the Imam announces each child’s name and the sum of money he has donated. Every young kid wants to hear his or her name announced on the loudspeaker. “Ma sha Allah! Jazak Allah! Fahad Butt, son of Saeed Butt has given ten rupees to the mosque. May Allah reward him. Fahad Butt son of Saeed, ten rupees…”
He seems to have invented various blessing and uses them at appropriate times. If it is some man he would go something like. “…may your business prosper”. For old ladies it is the prayer for a fabulous house in paradise. The small kids are usually referred to as “…the cute one” or “the innocent, sweet little child”. One can even buy blessings for their dead relations. “Here is a sum of ten rupees sum from the daughter of Rehmat Khan. Five rupees for the soul of her grand mother, and five for the grandfather’s. May Allah award them a place in heaven, ten rupees…” And thus the reward is split equally between the soul of the deceased grand father and grandmother.
“As you all know I don’t believe in talking too much, so each brother and sister please hurry up and send their share in the good deeds” he would remind us constantly. At intervals, when the ‘brothers and sisters’ are not sending any money some young boy would start reciting a Naat: praise of the Holy Prophet (P.B.U.H). Some with voices so hoarse you can barely make out any word at all, others with squeaky thin voices. Madina is their favourite subject. So one small child would tell us:
"…I would go through the forest, there is a date palm tree. I would go to Madina, there is the Roza of the Holy Prophet (P.B.U.H). In Madina: the holy city, I saw such beautiful sticks which the pilgrims used to wash their clothes…" That makes one wonder where did they conceive these ideas about the holy city. Definitely they must have seen their mother thrashing the clothes, to beat out the dirt imbedded in the very threads of the material. Another one sings: "…for ages I have been living in the hopes that I will be invited to the holy city, when will my turn come…"
But collecting the donations is not the only use of the loudspeakers. It is used to make all sorts of announcements. “A poor fellow from a nearby village came to sell the pulses. He has lost his purse, any brother and sister who finds it please to return it to him. He is a very poor man.” Or. “ Gentlemen! All of you are informed that the wife of Azmat is selling her fields to Farid Khan. And she says that this is our personal matter, everyone please to stay away. Once more you are told not to bother, it is their home’s affair.” Er okay, but then why are you announcing that on the loudspeaker?
On Fridays and in Ramadan of course all the maulvis are in their element. Each one has a different theory on why Allah created Man and the universe. But all of them are unanimously agreed that every individual would rot in hell unless they belong to their sect. They would invent their own meanings for each Ayah of the Quran; would tell baseless and fantastic stories that they claim are true. Their best-loved topic though is hell. It seems to give them immense satisfaction to constantly dwell on the tortures the evil people would suffer in hell. It never appears to leave their minds or tongues for even a single second. So one excited mullah in a hurry blurted out, “ May Allah grant you Heaven and Hell”. Why wouldn’t they sometimes tell the people how Merciful and Compassionate Allah Almighty is?
The holy month of Ramadan is observed with much religious zeal. That is the time when everyone is feeling charitable and pious. Even those who never enter or even pass the mosque fast and go to offer prayers. Women and young girls recite the Quran. Young boys, who love abuse and pick fight refrain from so doing. Young girls refrain from putting the Kohl in their eyes, under the mistaken belief that it would break their fast, or the appliance of any perfume or scent would corrupt it. Dates are considered a must to open the fast with. Bangles and Henna are exchanged among young girls as a token of friendship and love.
Eid is the time of festivity. Young kids are keen on collecting the money that is traditionally given to them by the elders. Then stuff themselves with all that is there to be eaten, and end up falling ill. The men like the ‘Big Eid, when they can gorge on the meat. Women complaining on too much of work to do on both Eids, yet do everything cheerfully.
The Christians have a church that has been invariably painted blue ever since I can remember it. IT has a long room, and a courtyard that used to serve as a wedding hall for the villagers. Then the Christians in a fit of rightful anger closed the door, and carved out a new door for themselves on the other wall. The one facing their ‘colony’. The only time there used to be a service was on the ‘Big day’: Christmas. That was the only time of the year when the Christian men, women and children bothered to wash themselves and wore clean clothes! Then a minister would be invited from some far away place to give a sermon. We used to watch their services from the top of the roof, amused at their strange chants. The Christian weddings of course take place in the church. They buy a gold ring, and once the ceremony has been performed sell it again to pay off the debt they had take to buy it in the first place!
A few years ago the church also got a loudspeaker. Mercifully they are a little less charmed by it than the Imams of date palm mosque. Occasionally the ‘padri’ would scold the Christians. “Why don’t you fast you wretches! Look at the Muslims, even their small kids are fasting too! And you good for nothing people cannot do as much” he had said exasperatedly once. And all the young Muslim kids were overjoyed, to hear themselves mentioned and praised by the padri. “See even the padri is praising us” they would tell us proudly. So much for the Christians.
October had started and the Imam was busy once again with the loud speaker. Poor guy has trouble pronouncing unfamiliar names. So young Khansa became “Aneesa Bibi”. “Please excuse me. A very cute little girl, but a very difficult name…Ma sha Allah! Jazak Allah!…”