Excerpt of an email written 11th of August, last year 2011.
Yesterday in a congregation of about 30 men before
taraweh prayers, I was asking the Mullah questions about his life,
memorizing the Quran, his impression of the concept of sin, his views
on Christianity and Judaism …..and what he thought about the
Taliban. I did not ask to debate/question. I just wanted to learn his
perspectives; which to the most part I completely agreed with. In fact
when I asked his impression of the Taliban, he answered with a clever
question “What about the Taliban are you asking my impression on?”
Later Shoaib’s brother told Shoaib not to translate any further
questions about the Taliban. It turned out the Mullah was a Talib from
At first we did not look at each other, but after that we were talking
like student and teacher.
After my questions he asked “Why did you come for only
for one taraweh prayer?”
I told him, “I did not mind staying behind
the pardah but I felt left out and could not see what was happening.
So I did prayers at home.”
He replied “God created these opportunities
to bring people together, not create distance between them. If I knew
you were upset, I would have put you right in front with us.”
Actually in the beginning Shoaib had asked the Mullah if he could
stand with me behind the pardah and the Mullah said it was not
appropriate. That night after Mullah and I started talking, he let me
pray behind without pardah and allowed Shoaib to stand behind next to
Shoaib did not want me to come for the feast because it was
inappropriate, me being the only woman in a group of 30 men. I came anyway to
celebrate their Khatam of the Quran.When introducing me, Mullah and I
did not really look at each other. He was not rude and actually later
turned out to be the nicest Mullah I ever met.
The event turned out to be like a talk show. I was asking questions,
Shoaib translated, Mullah answered and all of the rest sat down and
listened. He said I had many many questions and perhaps this was the
characteristic of a traveller coming to somewhere new.
He asked me who I came with. And one of the guards interrupted quickly
in defense of me and said, “She came here with an Uncle.” Women travelling alone
is not something to be proud of!
He was happy I was here. He said God sees not your face or your origins, but only
your soul. He said I should never forget this event; it would be one
that will stay with me for a long time. He asked about my family, and
about Singapore; which Shoaib interrupted and proudly boasted about
how religious we were, and yet still how tolerant we were about other
faiths. He did not quite buy that in Singapore, we have mosque, church and temple standing beside each other. Actually all the men were a little shocked by this new revelation.
He had just wonderful things to say about Islam, about community-life. He
said look at how forgiving God is, so why do we humans not forgive all
the small things we have with each other. He also said today’s society
has the power to build building, develop science and technology, but
little have the power and courage to have faith (and faith is that
At the end of the evening, I asked the Mullah if I could have a
picture with him. My colleague said “Ok nowwwww you are pushing it.”
Mullah in his own words said as a joke, “Chi bala ast.”
Meaning what a devil she is! Mullah refused a picture :)