Lima Al-Azzeh

A Cool Muslim Cat

In Uncategorized on February 3, 2011 at 10:06 pm

My father, my sister and me - early 1985

I remember September 11th, 2001 a little differently from other people. Mostly for the same reasons, but for a few very different ones also. While others watched their televisions in awe, some crying, some speechless with shock, I, like many other Muslim Arabs I’m sure, thought “Damn, those guys really fucked it up for the rest of us.”

For many years after, travel became ridiculously difficult for Arabs, and what’s more, Islam unfortunately earned the worst reputation of all world religions. And fair enough. The measures taken on that day are nearly impossibly to defend.

But since then, I’ve always been of the mind that I wish my father would be around today to show people what it’s like to be a genuinely cool, learned Muslim, worthy of praise, and none of the bad rep.

My father was a devout man who, while taking religion extremely seriously, never seemed to push its value on anybody. He was faithful without being preachy. I think he always recognized that religion is a deeply personal experience and that the relationship between an individual and their faith is not cookie-cutter, maybe comparable, but certainly not the same for everyone.

He even found tiny blasphemous idiosyncrasies about Islam that he would exploit for reasons of hilarity. Not in any way that would be considered complete sacrilege, but just enough to show that even religion could be funny.

The most notable example is the somewhat excessive ritual of the Wudu (washing) prior to Salat (prayer). Muslims are required to pray at certain times of day, five times a day and prior to each prayer session an adult Muslim must cleanse their bodies, literally clean themselves, in an extremely detailed sequence. Don’t believe me? Here’s what a Muslim must do before they pray (which I should mention, the entire prayer probably only lasts about 10 minutes):

1.) Wash face once, from the forehead to the chin then over one earlobe and the other.

2.) Wash both arms from hands to upper arms, making sure to get the elbows

3.) Return to the head for Masah (another intricate series of washing movements) wherein a Muslim must pass water over the head, then use the first finger of each hand and wash the inside of the ear, then wash the back part of the neck only, but not the front part of the neck.

4.) Finally, a Muslim must wash both feet, up to the ankles

Here’s the kicker, if you accidentally miss a movement, you have to start over, and if you happen to fart, well then you really have to start over.

My father used to love this joke.

My father wasn’t manipulative or strategic when it came to sharing Islam with me. His aim was never to convert me, he just genuinely enjoyed being a Muslim.

I remember sitting in the car one day, I can’t quite remember why we were just sitting there in the car, with time to kill, but he pulled out a Cat Stevens cassette tape and proceeded to tell me how Cat Stevens had converted to Islam.

Cat Stevens was a famous English musician who converted to Islam in the 70’s and subsequently peaced out of the music biz in favour of spreading the good Muslim word. He was a major philanthropist and an extremely well-spoken and educated man, and my father loved him dearly.

Around this time, I also learned about a man named Cassius Clay, perhaps better known as Muhammad Ali. Him, I knew but I had never realized that he wasn’t always a Muslim man. I thought it was so cool, that this American boxing star chose to be a Muslim, but I thought it was even more impressive that my father knew about it.

My dad found it genuinely flattering that such major world players would risk so much, wealth and power and successful careers, for the sake of adopting a religion that they believed in above everything. His religion.

What can I say, my father didn’t just select good role models, he picked out some freaking cool ones.

On February 3rd, 1996 my father died in a car crash. He was on his way to work, it was early in the morning, and nobody really knows if it was the fog, or the fact that he was sleepy, or even, as some speculated later, a heart attack that actually caused him to crash the car, but by around noon he was taken to hospital, having suffered a major blow to the head, and had arrived already dead.

I won’t go into details about the horrifying couple of weeks that followed this news. The funeral in Jordan in the midst of the desert heat and humidity. The sea of black that encompassed our world for days on end. The crying, the wailing and then later the fleeing of our home and our city on a clichéd midnight flight to Canada because unlike my father, his very devout, Arab family didn’t quite subscribe to the same cool, reasonable, rational Islam as he did.

But in all this, there was one slight detail that brought us a tiny bit of comfort.

Right before the accident, my father pulled into a gas station to pray.

He completed his long, intricate ritual washing and then faced towards Mecca and prayed. Not only that, but he was fasting for Ramadan, the Muslim holy month. In the Muslim faith, it is commonly believed that those who pass while fasting during the holy month will be received in heaven, absolved of all their sins.

In my estimation, such special treatment is only reserved for the coolest Muslim cats who ever lived.

  1. Limo, I did not know that he stopped to pray.. amazing detail that only your dad would do.. god rest his soul. He has enriched our lives by being part of it. A wonderful peice. Well done sweetheart.

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