Joined: 04 November 2008
There's A Lot More To It Than Meets The Eye
"They killed him."
Asma looked up, from where she was tucking her three-year old son, Arbaz, in bed, to see a haggard looking Shuayb standing at the door to her room. His eyes appeared sunken and deep with dark shadows beneath them. She could see the despair in them. His hair was tousled, a stubble of a beard and stains of dirt covered his face. His shirt tails hung loose and untucked. She slid the comforter over her son and kissed his forehead tenderly before making it to where Shuayb stood. She looked him in the eye and said, "He deserved to die."
"He was your husband," Shuayb replied with fervor following her out to the living room.
"My relationship with Allah, my master and creator, is more important to me than my relationship with my husband. Moreover, being my husband doesn't make his crime any less," Asma replied from where she now stood at the window watching as the sun set beyond the woods painting the sky in hues of dull orange, blue and gray.
"At least, show him some –"
"Respect? Compassion? Sympathy? He deserves neither," she snapped turning around. "He lost the right to those from me the day he got involved in this so called cause."
The day was still a vivid memory in her mind. He'd come home late that day, just in time for dinner. She was sitting on the porch waiting for him as she gazed into the night sky. The moon was veiled from sight by the clouds and the twinkling stars did little to dispel the darkness. The lone bulb in the porch cast an eerie glow around their little house tucked in the woods. The tiny flies dancing around the bulb were her only companions as she sat there waiting for him. It had grown cold as she had waited and she could hear the sound of the cicadas buzzing in the night. She stifled a yawn and rubbed her hand across her arms in an effort to instill some warmth in her body. She pulled her shawl tighter around her and stood up to return to the house when she saw his tall figure walking towards the house. She raised her eyebrows and pointed to her watch indicating that it was too late a time to be returning home. He laughed and sprinted across the remaining distance to her. He took her hands in his as he pulled her close and placed a lingering kiss on her forehead.
"I'm sorry to keep you waiting, my beautiful wife. Work beckoned," he said. "Imteyaaz Bhai wanted to see me about something really important."
Her heart sank as she heard the name. The man was well known for what he was and what he did. He was notorious in the area for roping in the youth and training them in militant activities to prepare them for fighting for the cause of Islam –as he liked to call it. Asma had always feared for her husband but at the same time had also always hoped that Imtiyaaz Bhai would not lay his sights on Usman. However, Usman was also known for his adventurous nature, which bordered on the reckless, in the vicinity and hence, the fear had always been a gnawing one, keeping Asma on edge. Now, judging from the light in her husband's eyes, she knew that her worst fears were coming true. She gulped and asked him more about it. He was hesitant initially but then relented to her requests and when he'd said it all, a futile discussion ensued –on his part explaining why the cause was important and on hers trying to make him understand that Imtiyaaz Bhai's way was not the right one. It wasn't the way to go about things. She hadn't succeeded however, and with a sinking feeling she'd realized that with every passing day, with every argument to dissuade him from his cause, she lost her husband a little more.
"What kind of a Muslim are you?" Shuayb asked, exasperated, breaking her reverie and bringing her back to the present.
"The kind that follows the Holy Quran and the word of Allah as preached by his messenger, the Holy Prophet of Islam, PBUH," she replied lifting her chin and looking him in the eye.
"Usman did the same," replied Shuayb.
"Don't flatter yourself, Shuayb. Taking birth in a Muslim family is not sufficient a criterion for being a Muslim. Following the word of Allah as preached by his messenger is what is the most important criteria. Usman was nothing but a terrorist and terrorism has no religion."
"Asma, I expected better of you. But you, just like the world, call him a terrorist?"
"Because that is what he was. He was responsible for the killing of hundreds of innocent people and the holy Quran clearly says that one who kills a person is like the one who has killed entire mankind and one who saves a life is like one who has saved entire mankind. Look at the battles fought in the early days of Islam. Have you ever read the instructions that the Holy Prophet PBUH gave to his commanders before dispatching the expeditions to war? He explicitly asked them to not touch those servants of God busy in worship (in the churches). He asked them not to kill any child, minor boy or an old person, or lift their hands against any woman to strike her. Surely you are not above the Messenger of Allah. Are you? Then what gives you the right to take hundreds of innocent lives of men, women and children alike? If you claim to follow the Messenger of Allah and his preaching then how can your actions not coincide with his? How can they be a stark contrast to what he taught and did?"
It had been a Friday. He'd woken up early that day as was his habit and had set out for a sudden meeting with Imtiyaaz Bhai post breakfast. When he returned, she knew something was grossly amiss and her heart shouted that today was probably the last day that she would ever see her husband. He'd been silent since his return and hadn't talked much. He'd bathed and dressed in a white kurta pyjama for the congregational prayers and just before he set out for the mosque, he'd said to her, "Asma, I want you to know that I have always loved you and Arbaz dearly and will continue to do so till the last breath of my life, irrespective of how or where I am. Tell Arbaz that his father loved him."
"Usman, why do you talk so?" Asma had asked her voice barely above a whisper.
"Nothing, love, fear not. All shall be well. Khuda hafiz," he'd said and kissed her on the forehead before he'd turned around and left.
Asma had slid to the floor against the door and wept. She'd wept not because she had lost her husband completely that day, she'd wept because Usman, who could've been a better man –and who had been one, once upon a time– was now lost in the wilderness of evil. The sun that rose two days later brought with it the news of death and destruction. A bus that was carrying passengers to the destination of their commute had blown up in the middle of a busy street during peak hours owing to a bomb blast. The loss to life was humongous and as per initial speculations the theory was that it had been the doing of a suicide bomber. She had instantly known that it was Usman. However, the feelings that had erupted within her were not of grief over the loss of her husband, but anger and hatred towards him for doing what he had done. He was responsible for the death of hundreds of unsuspecting innocents and she could never forgive him for that. Ensuing investigations had revealed that it wasn't a case of suicide bombing but the bomb had discreetly been planted in the bus. The knowledge that Usman was alive hadn't changed her feelings for him. The rage and hatred that she felt for him was still simmering and pure.
"He fought in the way of Allah! He practiced jihad and was a true Muslim," Shuayb's anguished voice penetrated her thoughts from what seemed like a distance away.
Shaking off the memories, she sighed and said, "Shuayb, I'd told him this then and I tell you the same, now. Don't delude yourself. The meaning of the word 'Muslim' itself is a person who surrenders to the will of Allah and obeys his command. While what you do, or what Usman did, is nothing but striving for power and political acclaim. And as to jihad, jihad means struggling in the way of Allah. Nothing would be a more powerful jihad than to practice religion in the face of oppression and persecution."
"But when oppression and persecution know no bounds, you have to put your foot down and pick the sword," replied Shuayb through gritted teeth.
"Says who?" Asma challenged.
"Why, haven't you read the holy Quran?" mocked Shuayb.
"I'm not surprised now, Shuayb, when I think of the perception of Islam that people have today, for it is people like you, Usman, and the likes of you whose words and deeds portray Islam in the negative light that it is seen in around the world today. People like you read the holy Quran, rip the verses out of context and take their literal meanings to suit your purpose. When in reality, Islam today is what it always was –the religion of peace and brotherhood. You talk of the verses of the Holy Quran that talk about war and conveniently ignore those that immediately follow and talk about forgiveness? When you quote any verse from the Quran out of its context, the standalone verse may end up with the message that is contradictory to what it actually means when looked at it in its proper context. You will never find any verse in the Quran that promotes indiscriminate slaughter, killing or murder of innocents in the name of religion or as payback or punishment for someone else's crimes," explained Asma. "And don't forget, Allah may forgive you with his mercy if you've wronged against him. But if you've wronged against his creation, his people, then he will not forgive you till that person, whom you've wronged against, forgives you."
"Usman knew what he was doing and so do I. I don't need you to tell me what to do, when and how," Shuayb said putting an end to their conversation.
"Apparently, you do," she scoffed.
"Arbaz will be proud of his father one day," Shuayb replied.
"For killing hundreds of innocents? Dream on. Till I am alive, I will ensure that I keep Arbaz away from this self-glorified cause. There is a fine line between the truth and what is perceived as the truth and if you don't understand the difference between the two, then you're only diving headlong into your own doom. Arbaz is my son, my responsibility now and I shall ensure that his upbringing teaches him this difference. He will not lead a life lost in the wilderness of evil. He will live his life with his head held high and as truly prescribed in the tenets of Islam so that when he dies, he is ready to meet his creator with his head held high," Asma said with pride in her voice.
As Asma looked at Shuayb, for a brief instant she caught a pensive look on his face which was instantly replaced by a vacant expression, "I only came to tell you that Usman is no more and the burial will take place two days later." With that he walked away.
The last of the mourners had left and Asma, with Arbaz peacefully asleep in her arms, was the only one who stood before the grave now. It had started to drizzle a while ago and now the drizzle was turning into a steady downpour. As she stood there looking at the water fall over the fresh mound of earth and wash away the mud, she couldn't help but think about the irony of the whole situation. In life, Usman had chosen freedom and lived his life well, being famous for all the good that he did for the children and the lesser privileged souls around him. He had never let anyone dictate his life but lived as per the commandments of Allah. Yet, when it was time to face Allah and take reward for all the good that he'd done all his life, he'd washed it away, like the rain washing away the mud on his grave now, by surrendering his freedom to a shallow, heartless, and greedy person like Imtiyaaz Bhai and dying for a causeless cause. Such was the irony of life. She turned around and walked away from the grave as a heavy mist settled over the graveyard blanketing in its embrace.
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