Masood / BAD MUSLIM DISCOUNT
How you begin things is important. This is true in checkers and in life, because at the beginning of things you are freer than you will ever be again. Once the game starts, every move you make is influenced by what someone else has done. The longer the game goes, the messier the board becomes, the more that influence grows. But the opening, Anvar, belongs to you.
I killed Mikey.
It sounds worse than it actually was. You have to understand that I didn’t kill Mikey because I wanted to do it. I killed him because God told me to do it.
I don’t suppose that sounds much better.
It helps, I think, to know that Mikey was a goat. He had bored brown eyes with rectangular pupils that made him seem a little creepy. Loud and obnoxious, he shat tiny round pellets all over the cramped garage he shared with three of his brethren. He was probably the only one of them who had a name. I know my parents didn’t name their goats, and my brother, Aamir, said that naming animals was stupid.
Mikey was the only pet I ever had. He was mine for about a week. I fed him dry straw, brought him buckets of water and asked him if he really wanted to be slaughtered for the sake of Allah at the upcoming Eid because, quite frankly, that seemed like a poor career choice. He remained stoic in the face of his grim fate, at least so far as I could tell.
Eid al-Adha marks the end of the Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca. The name of the celebration translates to “the Festival of Sacrifice.”
Yes, Islam has a marketing problem.
The festival commemorates Prophet Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son, either Isaac or Ishmael depending on what you believe or disbelieve, to God. Muslims all over the world purchase and slaughter rams, goats, cows or camels in memory of the moment when God saved Abraham’s son from God’s own command.
Mikey was my sacrifice to Allah. Since I was only ten, his purchase was financed by my parents.
I remember that Eid well. I was forced to wake up a little after dawn and shower. My parents gave me a brand-new, bright white shalwar kameez and a matching woven skullcap. Then they took me to a mosque to pray.
When we got home, butchers my father had hired were waiting for us, carrying the sinister tools of their trade. Eventually, these men would skin the animals, gut them and chop their carcasses up into manageable bits to be cooked, frozen or given away as gifts or charity.
Mikey was the first one they led out of the garage. He didn’t resist.
My father handed me a long, sharp knife and instructed me to be careful. He said that the butchers would hold the goat and expose its neck. All I had to do was slice open the carotid artery and Mikey’s blood would flow out. One clean motion would be enough. He clapped a heavy hand on my shoulder.
“Be brave,” he said.
I did not feel the need to be brave. I wasn’t scared. I felt something else entirely. I didn’t say anything to my father. I could’ve told him I didn’t want to do this. I don’t know what he would have said. Instead of speaking, however, I gripped the knife. I held on tight because the plastic handle felt slick and slippery in my hand.
The men tripped Mikey to bring him to the ground. Now he resisted. He kicked, trying to struggle to his feet, but was restrained.
I walked up to him. I think he saw me, recognized me, because he seemed to relax a little. I heard my brother say, “Allah hu Akbar.”
God is Great.
Aamir told me later that he’d said those words, necessary for the ritual to be properly completed, out loud because he knew I would forget to say them. Aamir had almost forgotten them himself when he had done this for the first time a few years ago.
What I haven’t forgotten are Mikey’s unattractive eyes full of unshed tears once the deed was done.
I haven’t forgotten his blood. It was everywhere.
I didn’t move away from him in time and his blood, it didn’t seep out. It gushed out in a wild torrent, a flood, a fountain that soaked my hands and my clothes with all the force of a panicked, dying, still beating heart, and I stepped back and there was so much red and I was the cause of it.
I ran. I showered. I wept.
Once I’d changed, my father came to speak to me.
“You know, Anvar, people don’t understand these days,” he told me, “the real sacrifice. They think their offering is the money they spend on the animal. Or they think it is the life of the animal. But it isn’t. You are the sacrifice. What you are feeling now? That is your sacrifice. The lives of other creatures are not yours to take. Life is precious and to end one is final. Remember to never take more from the world than you can give back to it.”
Then he told me to come have breakfast. My mother had fried up Mikey’s liver and it was, apparently, delicious.
Unfortunately, Mikey’s death may have been in vain. Four months after he died, I was informed that my soul was damned to eternal torment.
My mother, a self-proclaimed authority on all things religious, told me so.
It was an appropriately hot day for such a revelation. Of course, we lived in Karachi then, so most days were hot days.
Karachi, the city that spat me out into this world, is perpetually under siege by its own climate. The Indian Ocean does not sit placidly at the edge of the massive metropolitan port. It invades. It pours in through the air. It conspires with the dense smog of modern life and collective breath of fifteen million souls to oppress you. Under the gaze of an indifferent sun you sweat and the world sweats with you.
It’s probably not as hot as hell but it is definitely as bad as the sketchier neighborhoods of purgatory, the kinds of places you are just a little reluctant to wander after dark.
When I was growing up, Karachi was a place caught between ages, grasping at modernity while still clutching at the fading relics of an inglorious past. It was a city of skyscrapers and small, squat shanties. It had modern highways but was still pockmarked with peddlers wheeling vegetables over narrow dirt lanes on wooden carts. Imported luxury cars, rumbling, shining and glimmering in marvelous mechanical glory, were not uncommon, though neither was the pitifully obnoxious braying of overladen donkeys hitched to rickety wagons.
After a bad day at school, all I wanted was to go home. However, we were stuck in traffic and the air conditioner in our temperamental old Beetle was malfunctioning.
Trouble started, as it often does, because my mother decided to speak. “When we get home, you are going to have to take a shower.”
I ignored her and rolled down my window, hoping to alleviate the heat in the car a little. It was a mistake. There was no breeze and, in the vain hope for one, I had let the city in. As usual, Karachi was screaming at its inhabitants and they were screaming right back.
People were leaning on their horns, though the traffic light was red and there was nowhere to go. Hawkers carrying various goods yelled out a litany of prices in hoarse, worn voices. They sold information in newspapers and romance in strings of fresh jasmine. Divine protection, that is to say cheap pieces of plastic etched with verses of the Quran, could also be purchased for a modest price.
My mother raised her voice over the din. “Did you hear me?”
“Yes.” I folded my slick, thin arms across my chest. “Why do I have to shower?”
“Because you need one,” she said, her tone sharp. She didn’t like questions. After taking a deep breath, she went on in a more conciliatory manner. “Besides, showers are fun.”
“No, they aren’t.”
“But you will feel nice and cool afterward.”
“I’ll feel nice and cool when you get the AC fixed.”
My mother preferred morality to rationality because it put God on her side. When God was on her side, she won arguments against most right-minded people. I’m not such a person but she didn’t know that then and, truth be told, neither did I. So, she played what had long been her trump card, her divine ace. “Taking showers is good.”
“It is most certainly good. The Prophet, May Peace Be Upon Him, and his Companions used to take showers each and every day.”
I thought about that for a moment. “That’s not true.”
“That can’t be true. They were in the middle of a desert. They didn’t have any water.”
My mother’s lips disappeared. She was a gaunt woman, sort of like an exceptionally thin chapati. Her lips shared this quality. When she was angry and pressed them together, they vanished entirely from view. It was one of her more frequent expressions.
“Anvar Faris! How dare you?”
“Where did you get the courage from? How dare you say those great men were not clean?”
“You will pray for forgiveness, Anvar. It was an insult to the Prophet.”
“It was an insult to his Companions. They were the greatest of all men. And you dare. You dare? The first thing you will do when you get back home is get on your knees and beg Allah for forgiveness for having said such a vile thing. Or you will go to hell. Do you understand me? You will roast in hell for what you dare.”
“Dare,” by the way, was her favorite word. She relished saying it. Whenever the opportunity to deploy it in conversation presented itself, she took it. She was careful to enunciate it fully, drawing it out, emphasizing it by using the most piercing voice she could manage. Hearing her speak about someone, an uninformed observer was likely to mistake the meekest of men for Prometheus.
I was old enough to know that once sacrilege had been invoked, there was no way to win the argument. Any response other than silence would only intensify the wrath raining down upon me. So, I sat there, stewing in Karachi, until we got home. Once there, I went to my room, closed the door, kicked a few scattered action figures out of the way and laid out a prayer mat.
I knelt but did not pray.
That was the day the hold of the sacred upon me was broken forever.
It was the day that made me who I am.
The day I was first told I was damned was the day I felt I had been blessed.
Copyright © 2020 by Syed M. Masood. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.