Once when Cousin Jamal was studying abroad, in Malaysia, he was found naked in bed with his girlfriend during Ramadan. And Uncle Muneer had darkened with rage and had him dispatched straight to the mullah, twenty miles from Petaling Jaya. The mullah was full of righteous fury and made Jamal recount everything, down to the last droplet of expelled semen. He then checked Jamal’s luggage, confiscated his CDs and DVDs and gave the boy a translation of the Quran.
“The Quran is a mirror,” he said. “Read and you will see the filth on you!”
He stood looking in the doorway and left. Jamal flung the book across the room and went through his suitcase. He found a DVD, Into the Blue, in the folds of a pair of faded blue jeans, took it out and studied its cover. His eyes lingered on Jessica Alba’s form. As he was putting it back, the door was flung open and the incensed face of the mullah bore down on him.
He dragged Jamal by his ear to the sitting room and pushed him into a sofa. He thrust the disc in the player and made the boy skip scenes until the one where Jessica Alba dived into the water in her two-piece arrested him.
“Naked, sex-crazed Christians!” his voice sliced through the silence as though it was a kafir. “Subhanallah! They believe men came from animals so they behave like them. Where is their shame eh? Where is your shame? Allah has revealed woman’s awra as everything but her face, hands and feet,” he cried, stabbing them with a thin, hairy finger.
Jessica Alba’s breasts bobbed in agreement, increasing the mullah’s wrath.
“And yet you look at her. At others like her. You know what you’re doing? You are raping them with your eyes. Raping! Do you realise your eyes can be gouged out for that?” his face trembled. “And fornicating with that whore! In this holiest of months! You won’t even smell the musk of Jannah on the Day of Judgment. God forbid.”
He glared at the boy and was satisfied with the expression of sullen resignation on his face. He fell into an armchair as if spent from a Hajj and poured two glasses from a jug on the table, handing one over to Jamal who took it instinctively and drank.
“Your father is a good man,” the mullah’s voice was softer. “He is very concerned about you. Just doing well in school won’t get you out of Jahannam. I was once like you, you know. Young, misguided. Never a thought about death or the Last Day. And one day my mother died. No warnings. I was only fourteen. She fetched me from school till her last day. They say her death made me lose my mind completely. Do you know what it is like, to lose your mind?”
Jamal jerked his head.
“It disappears so quietly you don’t even realise. You keep going as though nothing had happened. Then suddenly, you begin to notice things. Little things. But they are so obvious you wonder why you hadn’t seen them before. Then they begin to come together and you see the bigger picture. And in time you see those big pictures themselves are part of an even bigger one. And so on.”
The mullah grew quiet and a look of painful concentration conquered his face.
“Only prophets can see the final picture,” his said finally, in a voice thick with regret.
“You begin to see into the hearts of people. You see their thoughts. You see their secrets. Their guilt! And you curse yourself for not seeing it earlier. Why, it’s all over their faces! Darkening them. Making them twitch. It is in the clothes they wear. The way they walk. How they eat. Then it strikes you. You read the Quran and it says good men’s faces are radiant with the Light of God. The wrongdoers have theirs twisted. Because everything we do, every thought we have affects us. And God made it so that our thoughts and deeds appear on our faces.” He stopped for a moment to drink.
“And suddenly everywhere I turned, I saw faces blackened with sin. Even those of my family. My friends. All black, misshapen faces. Eating. Talking. The words dribbling out of their rotted jaws. But the worst face of all…” he swallowed. “The worst of them was my own!”
He had seen it in the mirror; rotten, the flesh falling off. Smelled its stink. His mouth had been grinning an animal grin. Grinning in ignorance. They said he hadn’t stopped screaming for days.
“Are you listening to me, boy?”
Jamal nodded quickly.
“It’s true in a sense that I lost my mind. But was the mind I lost really my own? It seemed less believable the more I thought. For that was a mind cultivated by the kafir teachers at school. A mind molested by Hollywood and Jewish TV. By the people in my home, yes, even those in the mosques. That was the one I’d lost. But that wasn’t my mind. It was one society created for me. This ignorant society that does not implement Shari’a, that lets its women go out on the street, naked. That allows the homosexuals and fornicators to walk with the rest of us!”
A frozen hand clenched in Jamal’s stomach and began push up his gullet. He rushed to his room and slammed the door. Staggering into the toilet, he grabbed the edge of the bowl and heaved. And felt it slip out of his throat, searing his tongue.
There was a knock on the door and the mullah strode in, his white tunic unbuttoned above the waist. A thin hairy line ran up the middle, expiring just below his neck.
“Allah showed me what He had hidden from you hypocrites” he was a presence behind Jamal, who was still on his knees, retching. The sound reverberated inside the bowl like a chorus of the diseased.
“Once you’ve seen you can’t unsee! Don’t you understand? It was the Joy of Revelation that made me scream! Do you understand, you sinful creature? It was the Joy!” The mullah pounced on Jamal, pushing his head deeper into the toilet. The boy’s arms flung out as his face hit first china then filth. A dark shape formed in the field of his vision and began to move. He opened his eyes and caught a flash of blue and bronze as Jessica Alba was swept into the gloom of the drain.
image via Jan & Anje Landage / kaleidoscopic nudes