Remembering Uzza

If Islam Was Explained to Me in a Pub

A Shirley Temple, Anyone?

UzzaArchie: So what will it be: tea, coffee, orange juice, a glass of water or maybe a glass of milk?

Uzza: [pointing to Gerry and Bob who are drinking beer] I think I will have what they are having.

Archie: I thought you said you had read the sign?

Uzza: No, I did not!

Archie: Well, if you had, you wouldn’t be asking me to serve you a drink containing alcohol.

Uzza: I cannot win, can I?

Archie: No, you can't.

Uzza: Fine, do you have apple juice?

Archie: Looks a lot like some white wines we serve, or light beer. Are you sure?

Uzza: Yes, I am sure!

Archie: It's your funeral. It might be safer if I give it to you in a cup.

Uzza: For Allah's sake! Nobody drinks apple juice from a cup except children.

Archie: In a water glass then, a small one.

[Archie brings Uzza an apple juice just as the head of a balding bearded man appears at the top of the stairs leading into the pub. Just behind him is a woman, it is assumed, invisible beneath a head-to-toe bulky black tent-like garment. The eyes behind a face-covering-veil, the niqab, move from side to side like a Cylon's. Black cloves complete the cloak which, except for the eyes, leaves everything to the imagination. The bearded balding man and the impressive form which towers over him make their way to the bar and stop to survey the range of bottles on shelves in front of a bar-length mirror.]

Archie: Can I pour you a Holy Warrior, my friend?

[Archie knows better than to ask the cloaked figure what it wants and to avoid eye contact.]

Balding bearded man: I AM NOT YOUR FRIEND![15]

[The cloaked figure makes its way to the end of the bar where Uzza is sitting. A quick hand grabs Uzza's apple juice and disappears beneath the curtain-like mask.]

Bob: [leaning over the bar, whispers to Archie] Is it going to drink Uzza's apple juice?

Archie: No, it is just sniffing it, checking for alcohol. That is why I warned her about the colour of her choice of beverage.

Cloaked figure: [returns Uzza's beverage, and in a hoarse whisper which everyone can hear] Whore!

[One last look around and both the cloaked figure and the balding bearded man disappear down the stairs.]

Gerry: That was creepy, and what the hell is a Holy Warrior?

Archie: You mean the drink?

Gerry: Yes.

Archie: It’s a mix of ginger, grenadine and orange juice.

Gerry: Isn’t that a Shirley Temple?

Archie: Not anymore. And let’s not mention it again. It’s now a man’s drink, the type of drink that men who believe that drinking alcohol is a sin drink, and you do not give a man’s drink a woman’s name where they come from.

Uzza: [sees this as an opportunity to join the conversation] Did you know that ginger and grenadine − or grenade, which is French for pomegranate − are mentioned in the Koran as some of the best foods Paradise has to offer?

Gerry: Sorry, what did you just say?

Uzza: [raising her voice] I said that… [before she has a chance to repeat what she just said, Gerry is next to her]

Gerry: Hi, my name is Gerry, what is your name again?

Uzza: [hesitantly shakes his hand] Uzza.

Gerry: Nice to meet you, Uzza. So, Allah drinks Shirley Temples. I did not know that.

Uzza: Allah does not require food or drink, and you should not make fun of Him.

Gerry: Sorry. So how do you know that in Paradise you will have the makings of a Shirley Temple, I mean, eh, a Holy Warrior?

Uzza: There is no mention of oranges per se in the Koran, but Allah did reveal in surah 76, ayat 17, “And they are given therein to drink a cup whose mixture is ginger”[16] and in another ayat He revealed to Muhammad that in Paradise there are palm trees and pomegranates[17].

Bob: What's a sir-ah, and what’s a hey-at?

Uzza: A surah is a chapter of the Koran and ayat means a verse, which is also referred to as a revealed truth or revelation, an immutable fact made known to a mortal by a god.

Gerry: Beautiful and can quote God. I’m in love.

Uzza: [is slightly embarrassed but finds Gerry’s charm hard to resist] Muslim children are expected to have read the Koran from cover to cover by the age of seven[18], and, if they attend a madrassa, that is a Muslim school, spend at least an hour every day memorizing the Koran. Since madrassas are no longer subjected to the old provincial educational laws, much more time is spent by children memorizing Allah’s words.

Gerry: So, Uzza, [continuing his Sam Malone impression] when did a good-looking woman like you become a Muslim?

Uzza: There are as many beautiful Muslim girls as there are beautiful unbelieving girls.

Gerry: Sorry, that is not what I meant.

Uzza: I know. I was born a Muslim. A child born to Muslim parents is born a Muslim.

Bob: But you're not fat?

Uzza: [taken aback] WHAT do you mean?

Bob: Like that cloaked woman who sniffed your drink. Was she fat, like many of the women who dress like her, or is it just me?

Gerry: It's just you, Bob.

Uzza: Maybe not...

Gerry: WHAT?

Uzza: What you called a "cloaked woman" does not get much sun. A home quarantine, combined with clothing that leaves no exposed skin when venturing outside, deprives the wearer of necessary sun exposure, especially in Canada if they don't take advantage of the warmer months to fill up on vitamin D. A lack or shortage of this essential vitamin can lead to a shortened lifespan; but not before experiencing weight gain, headaches, bladder issues, constipation, diarrhea...

Bob: Too much information, thank you.

Uzza: Muslims come in all sizes, cloaked or not. It is unfortunate that more Muslim women are not aware of the health risks associated with a lack of sunlight, which may not have been an issue in the sunbaked Arabian peninsula when Allah mandated that women wear what some refer to disparagingly as a portable tent when venturing outside the home. In fact, it may have been a good thing for the time and place.

Archie: Maybe it's not that they don't know, but prefer believing in Doctor Allah?

Gerry: Archie, be nice.

Uzza: [answering in kind] Perhaps, but they are definitely not as obsessive as Christian parents who do not believe in blood transfusions even when their children's lives are at stake. Many Muslim women who cover up take vitamin D supplements, of which I am sure Dr. Allah would approve.

Gerry: Good one, Uzza!

Bob: I heard that if you don’t want to be a Muslim anymore they kill you.

Uzza: Allah revealed that He preferred a community of believers be slaughtered rather than be allowed to leave Islam, verse 2:191. Muhammad said: "If a Muslim discards his religion, kill him."[19] But what of it?

Bob: [not expecting the curt response] Nothing. Sorry I asked.

Uzza: Nehru said that we have to remember the age in which a scripture was written, the vast distance in time and thought and experience that separates it from us, the rituals and religious usage in which it is wrapped and the social background in which it expanded. Many of the problems of human life, he said, have a permanence and a touch of eternity about them, the reason for the abiding interest in these ancient books. But, he warned, they also dealt with problems limited to their particular age that have nothing to do with us and the problems that we face[20]. Islamic scriptures, the Koran and what Muhammad said and did may have been relevant then; today, many are a dangerous anachronism.

Bob: An anana what?

Gerry: What Nehru said about something that belongs to an earlier time. Now, be quiet.

Uzza: Like many Muslims who no longer dare admit to it, this I believe. But Islam is still part of my heritage. I will not deny my heritage, if that is what you want me to do. It is what it is.

Johnny: [sensing unease in Uzza, Johnny limps over and introduces himself] Don't mind them. Hi, my name is...

Uzza: You are Johnny MacDonald. It is so nice to meet you.

Johnny: You're not afraid to shake my hand?

Uzza: Of course not, and I must apologize.

Johnny: Apologize for what?

Uzza: For you getting shot.

Johnny: You did not shoot me, and if you had...

Uzza: I mean, apologize on behalf of Muslims who would not do a thing like that. Who believe in freedom of speech even where religion is concerned; especially where religion is concerned.

Archie: That is you and who else?

Johnny: Archie, shut up.

Uzza: I understand why you feel that way, Archie. May I call you Archie?

Archie: Sure, why not. Better than Mr. Bartender.

Uzza: All my parents wanted when they came to Canada from Pakistan was to live like Canadians. To be able to send their kids to school where God was not omnipresent so that they might learn to think for themselves and not be afraid to speak their mind about both the sacred and the profane without the threat of physical harm, or worse. To live under a legal system which at least attempted, even if it was not always successful, to be fair to both sexes without prejudice or bias towards either. To live in a place where women were not considered chattel but persons in their own right, free to choose without regard for the feelings of gods and men. Then it happened. YOU LET IT HAPPEN!

Archie: What happened? What did I do?