Moustafa sped through the neon night, his fare kissing sloppily behind him. He tried not to feel disgusted, their liquor-laced breath, the cigarette stale stink clinging to their clothes. The smaells would linger into the night.
At the pub they tipped him well, exiting. He drove, was called to a near-by intersection, another stinking couple sloshed into the back sead…and so it went. Next week he would finally switch to the day shift. Less money, but he needed a bread. Allah be praised.
Moustafa’s wife, Fatima, woke him. It was still pitch black. The couscous and lamb had been reheated, delicious, nutritious. AS the dawn called out its greyness he went to his prayer mat and bowed to Mecca.
This morning’s first fare was a slight, bespeckeld, balding man with a serious manner yet twinkling eyes. As he unbottined his overcoat in the back seat a black collar with centre white patch was revealed – a Christian priest. Moustafa felt at ease, the two men greeted each other.
“I’m going to a conference at Royal College, do you know wehre that is?” the man’s accent was English, but softly so.
“Yes, it is downtown” said Moustafa.
“Good, because I’ve n o idea.”
They both chuckled.
After a short bit, the priest asked,
“Your accent, is it Lebanese?”
“Yes, I am from Beirut.”
“Goodness, do you have family there?”
“Yes, my mother’s family, all my aunts and uncles, their children, they all live there still.”
“Are they all right, was anyone hurt in the fighting this summer?”
Moustafa paused. This nice man was so genuine.
“My uncle’s granddaughter was killed. She was outside playing with her little friend. A cluster bonb from a previous day was there on the ground. They touched it. They both were killed.”
Moustafa’s voice sounded thick. The shook the gaze from his eyes.
“I’m very sorry.” The preists voice was low and comforting.
Moustafa wondered, why was he sorry, was he to blame? Did he somehow feel shame? Perhaps did he feel shame at his country’s implicit support that Isreal be the military hegemon in the Middle East? Was it his fault the Shiite Hezbollah hated Zionists?
All day Moustafa thought of that fare. He always felt comforted remembering the man’s voice, but disturbed at those words – I’m sorry.
There he was again, the same preist from the same boarding house, first fare of the morning.
“Good morning again!” the prist said briskly, almost joyfully.
“Good morning,” Moustafa tried to sound fresh, too.
Off they drove.
After a bit, the Priest asked, “Are you observing Ramadan?”
“Yes, we are now in Ramadan.” Moustafa rolled the ‘r’ proudly.
“I admire the fast of Ramadan immensely, what a difficult task.”
“Yes, it is not easy.” laughed Moustafa.
“Do you feel much closer to Allah, to God, during Ramadan?”
Moustafa felt he was the wrong man to ask. He had read the Koran, of course. The family listened tot eh Holy versus sung on CD’s. He mostly felt confused, and often bored. For him, the inspiration came from prayer, feom feeling close to Allah, from the surety of knowing one’s place in the world.
“Yes,” decided Moustafa.
He felt very good about his answer. They continued to chat of inane subjects such as the weather and architecture for the next twenty blocks.
Monday, and the Priest was there, looking well-fed and thoughtful. After greeting each other, the priest settled into the corner of the back seat, again looking thoughtful.
“Moustafa, I have a question for you. I don’t really require an answer, and you really shouldn’t answer if you don’t want to. ” He paused as though chewing on a bite of something savory. “You see, it’s a question we’ve been pondering on during this inter-faith conference.” The priest had described the conference days earlier. It was titled, “On Tolerance”, with delegates from every faith attending. Moustafa was glad he was not smart enough to be a person attending such a meeting, but he did wish he could be fly on the wall. Why had Allah put this priest in his cab? It was a beautiful morning, dampness highlighting the leaves’ turning colours.
“You see, we’re talking about the tolerance of other religions that’s always been a hallmark of Islam.”
Moustafa nodded his head. He knew his history well.
“And we’ve come to the very modern question of why this tradition seems to breaking down.”
Moustafa wanted to hit the break so hard it would send his foot through to the pavement. Of course. Of course these learned men at this learned conference would get to it. Why ask him? How could simple Moustafa, a Sunni torn from his homeland, thrown into the salad of Toronto, his son reading inflammatory Wahhadi web sites (he’d caught him at it just that very night), his wife content at home (yet developing a nasty addiction to the shopping channel), his daughter berating her mother for being too traditional, refusing to wear her headscarf, refusing to go to mosque…how could Moustafa answer such a question?
Of course Moustafa had asked himself this very same question. He’d asked it years ago, when he was a boy, and the Iranians and Iraqis were killing each other. He’d asked it when the Palestinians factions blew each other up. He’d asked it on September 11, 2001, as tears streamed down his face. He’d asked it time and time again.
Impulsively, Moustafa blurted out, “It’s the Shia’s. It them who blew up the Mosque in Iraq.”
The priest leaned forward., “Do you really think that, Moustafa? To me, to a westerner, it looks like Sunnis killing Shia’s, Shia’s killing Sunni’s.”
Part of Moustafa, though his training went against it, knew the priest had a point there.
“And why now? Why can the Sunni and Shia live side by side, peacefully, for generations, and now it crumbles? Do you think it has more to do with the Persians, the Iranians gaining control over the region?”
Was this man a priest or a politician? Again, Moustafa has to admit the priest had made an important point.
The priest sat back again, pondering in that chewing-type manner. “What I’m really wondering, is, why do we see a generation of Islamists turning into Jihaadi’s, Holy Warriors?”
Moustafa felt like crying, and stopping the car to lose himself in prayer. He figured this priest of his didn’t need a lecture on how American lifestyle perfectly fitted into the depiction of the ‘whore of Babylon’ described in the Koran. Again, the priest probably perfectly knew that those vices -vanity, greed, lust – could all be found in all of us – it’s how we purge ourselves of sin that matters, that makes us worthy in the sight of Allah. Moustafa felt like crying. How had he failed to impart this learning to his son, that the war is within not without. His son, Stephen, his Canadian born son, was so angry, so Muslim, so intelligent. Moustafa felt like his son was more Muslim than he had ever dreamt he could be…and yet he had caught him eating a chocolate bar in front of the TV at midday.
“Maybe they’re just sick of it.” Moustafa was being far too impulsive today.
The priest mulled over that one for a full two blocks.
“I’m worried, Moustafa. I think you’re entirely right.”