The college campus and everything I know in this strange land is quickly left behind. I sit in the back seat of the car next to one of my favourite relatives.

When I saw her on this continent for the first time, she seemed... different. Perhaps it was that I had never seen her in jeans before, or perhaps it was because the image of her sitting in the back seat of the her daughter's car contrasted so sharply with her social butterfly persona back in Karachi. But then she demanded a tour of my campus, asked lots of questions and delighted in everything I showed her and everything felt normal again.

She peers at me from over her glasses. "So," she says, "tell me about who you'll be rooming with next year. Did you pick him yourself?"

I nod and give her his name. She nods thoughtfully at his Muslim name.

"And why did you pick him?"

"Well because he's a practising -"

"Practising Muslim? Hmm, what do you mean by that?"

It takes me a split second to come up with an answer. Unfortunately, I start speaking before that has happened. "Well he prays and -"

The trap, however, has been sprung.

"Does he lie? Cheat? Does he say bad things about people? Does he steal? Fight? Is he a good person?"

Flustered, I nod slowly. "Yes, of course."

Satisfied, she turns away. I, too, turn to face the trees zipping by, silently grateful that such conversations and ideas do not exist solely in late-night conversations on the campus of a fancy, private liberal arts college, grateful that I have people like her in my family. Not everyone is so fortunate.


"How about these?" he says, handing me a pair of glasses. I replace them with my own and peer into a small mirror. Without the proper lenses, the whole world is blurry. For a proper inspection, I bring my face so close enough to the mirror that my breath fogs its surface. I make a noncommittal sound, take the glasses off, and place them in the small pile I've made for frames that have passed the first round of inspection.

"I like these, but they're a little too rectangular," I say. "I'm looking for something a little rounder."

He strokes his large, black beard, nods, and begins picking out glasses from a rack. While I wait, I look around the shop. The man's father, similarly bearded, sits in a corner reading something.

The sound of the front door opening - or rather, the intensification of the sound of Karachi outside - makes my head turn in the direction of the newcomer. Probably in his sixties, he walks in with a gait that may have been rolling and fluid in his youth. His hair is as white as his dark glasses are black, and his moustache is stubbornly in the middle of the two colours. He sends a loud greeting in our general direction.

"Assalaam alaikum." 

We all reply appropriately.

He then walks up to the counter and positions himself next to me and my pile of glasses. Taking of his dark glasses, he gives the man - who is still picking out frames with the right amount of roundness - a hard look. "Oho! Iss ko bhi maulvi bana diya hai?"

At this, the father walks to his son and thumps him on the back. "Haan ji, he is a haafiz now."

"That's very nice! Aik baat yaad rakhna. Aik dafa toh Quran tarjumay kay saath toh parhna chahiyay."

Two taken-aback beards bob slowly in agreement.


nuclearbattery said...

religion much on your mind?

Asad said...

It kind of always is.

The point of this post, however, was that the sane voices of moderation, marginalized though they are, do exist.

Fathima Zahra said...

Love your blog. :)

Neshmia said...

It's wonderful to see some rational moderation in the middle of the misguided extremism this country remains constantly submerged in.
Your posts, though not frequent enough for my satisfaction, are always worth the wait.

Asad said...

Thank you, Fathima.

And thanks for being patient, Neshmia.

The Me. said...

I'd read your book if you wrote one.

Neshmia said...

See that, Asad? You've already got two readers even before you've written the book! ^_^

BT said...

The advice at the end was fantastic.

Cluster said...

Love love love you :))

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