Passing the Al-Shabaab Test Brings Me No Peace

(This post was originally published in the Huffington Post)

‘La Ilaha IllAllah Muhammadur Rasulullah.’

These words form the basis of Islam, and any Muslim, good or bad, will treat it with the utmost of respect (even if the bad ones might fail to give you the exact literal translation): There is absolutely no deity worthy of worship other than Allah, and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.

I’m not here to argue the validity of this statement. Maybe it’s because I was raised and indoctrinated in Bangladesh, a Muslim country that’s pretty tame on the fundamentalist scale but still devout all over, that I give this kalimat its devotional dues. Or it could be that the time I’ve spent behind the peace pipe has left me thinking anyone can believe whatever the hell they want, as long as they don’t hurt me or bore me. Hell, maybe I’m just shit-scared some dickhead might take offence and put a fatwa on me. Whatever my motivation, these words are sacred to me. So much so, in fact, I pray these will be the last words I breathe in this life.

As recent events show, you don’t have to be a bit of an idiot child to completely misunderstand the Qur’an. Like millions of other Muslim children for whom Arabic isn’t their mother tongue, I learned to read and recite the Qur’an in Arabic. Translations are something you read when you’re older, if you want to, that is (and we wonder why there are so many cretins out there laying down lives in the name of a book they don’t have a clue about).

I was reminded of the power of these words in the aftermath of the ungodly terrors in Nairobi last week. The ‘quote the Quran or die’ element had chilling echoes of the Iranian death commissioners of the late 80s who executed thousands of people based on their grasp of the Quranic word – this terrifying notion that whether you lived or got brutally assassinated could possibly hang on your ability to bust a rhyme. It’s a disconcerting thought I haven’t been able to shake off; that had I been in that shopping mall, lined up with those poor souls forced to recite passages from the Quran or be gunned down, I’d have most likely passed the al-Shabaab’s sick little test. My Arabic pronunciation is impressive, and I can not only tell you the name of the prophet’s mother, I can throw in a few wives, disciples and mates for good measure. Like I said, I paid attention at mosque.

But what about my wife, who was born a Hindu? Or my kids, whose mum is a British blonde with religious roots so vague they hardly warrant a mention – something Christian, none of us really care, least of all her. Would the al-Shabaab just let them go, seeing as I proved to be such a good contestant, ‘congratulations pilgrim, now get outta here with your crazy kafir brood, and remember kids, don’t buy Calvin Klein!’ Not even in my most flippant of dreams can I see such an outcome.

So what am I to do? Pass on my Get Out of Hell Free card to my kids and teach them the kalimat, so that they too might have salvation by hanging onto the thread of a verse? For verily the word is mightier than the AK-47, right? Then I think: no. I’m not going to prepare my kids for an eventuality where these sickos get to inherit the earth, where they have to learn to speak in their language or die.

Fuck that. No one deserves to be gunned down because they don’t sing from the same hymn sheet you sing from, especially when what you’re singing is so out of tune from the actual verses written in the Quran, you bunch of ignorant, evil, embarrassments to every God under every sun.

And just as the actions of scum like al-Shabaab shouldn’t make a dent in the resolve of good Muslims the world over, nor will it make me break the promise I made to my 9-year-old self. When I die, I still hope the kalimat will be my final words, comfortable as I am with the idea that my kids may well pass off my senile old mutterings as just a bit of bollocks.

I just wish I could say it was harmless bollocks.


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