Falling for Uzza
The Green Bay Packers were playing the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship game when I showed up at her place of work. I had not been there since our last get-together before Christmas. The place was wall-to-wall fans watching the game on walls covered with TVs.
The only seat to be had was at one end of the bar. If you were there to watch the game, the sightlines were not very good. It didn’t matter; I wasn’t there for that, even though I am a fan of American football. They were drinking beer and eating nachos, chicken wings, ribs and such; I ordered a salad and a glass of wine, settling in with my iPhone and the BBC.
I was poking at some lettuce with my fork when I looked up and saw her at the other end of the bar waiting on an order. She acknowledged my presence with what I thought was a tentative wave, but there was no mistaking that Mona Lisa smile. Maybe I should have let our last time together at that other place, where mostly young people go to eat, talk and have fun, be our last time together. Maybe I should leave.
All misgivings vanished when, maybe ten minutes later, she made her way to my end of the bar and told me how nice it was to see me again. She said she had finished reading the book but tonight was obviously not a good night to talk about it, to come back later in the week.
I returned a few days later and waited, as she suggested, until her shift was over. When she was ready to go and we got outside, I suggested my place a few blocks away. She gracefully declined.
Perhaps I should have known better then to extend such an invitation even if my intentions were realistic, except for a forlorn hope which springs eternal, especially in old fools who long for the old days. Days when I was a much younger older man and the girl who started it all and to whom Uzza is dedicated—with my beloved departed Lucette’s approval, I might add—would knock on my door after the bars closed and ask if she could spend what was left of the night even when there was no impediment to making her way home.
After a while, she didn’t bother to ask if she could come in. With a sleepy, comatose host to greet her, she simply made her way to the bedroom, got naked and slid under the covers. Some nights she kept to her side of my king-sized bed, and some nights she didn’t; other nights I made the journey to her side, if that is what she wanted, or we simply met in the middle.
It was always her choice and it was not to have sex but to be close, to cuddle. With a wonderful wife waiting for me at the train station when I returned home after another week in Montréal, I would not have had it any other way, even if what I consider inadvertent sex was inevitable. I told my Lucette about her. She said she would like to meet her.
(I believe I owe you, but particularly my wife’s friends, an explanation for the situation I found myself in and why my lawfully wedded partner of 38 years was accepting of a situation she knew was an aberration. An explanation is forthcoming.)
How I wish she was still with us, then maybe my other beautiful girl and I would not have ended up at a place I go for brunch on Sundays to discuss Uzza.
We would definitely have been better off at my apartment and I would not again be left wondering, “What just happened?” It was like night and day, literally. Not quite what I expected. The lights were much too low but the music was not too loud when we sat down at a banquette across from each other and started talking about the book. During our conversation, I handed over an envelope with the remaining $250 owed, saying that she had completed what I considered a contract to my satisfaction—in ways she will only understand if she reads this.
Our conversation about Uzza started innocently enough. She wished—spoiler alert—that the story had not ended so abruptly, that she could have gotten to know Uzza better. She praised my knowledge of Islam as superior to hers. I don’t know if that was a good thing. It was shortly after what I took for praise that she said my portrayal of the Prophet hurt her deeply, that she was raised on believing the Prophet to be a good man—the perfect human being, in fact—and not the person in my book.
What she said reminded me of another young woman about her age, a little taller perhaps, with blond hair about the same length as my beautiful brunette’s, a vision of serene loveliness strolling in a long white chiffon-like dress on what I believe was Les Champs-Élysées, next to a moving mass of grey shouting its murderous rage for the cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo.
She attracted the attention of a journalist who caught up with her and asked what she was doing there. She stopped and looked at him as if he had asked the stupidest of questions. “Mais, ils ont insulté mon prophète! (But, they have insulted my prophet!)” she responded with visible indignation.
The cult of the Prophet, I had been warned, runs deep and will surface, as it did here, in women you would never suspect of harbouring such devotion and admiration for a man who openly disparaged their sex and boasted that he had been made victorious through terror, a tradition that endures to this day like that of murdering his critics: men, women, and even girls. Two of the four females Muhammad had assassinated after Mecca surrendered without a fight (on assurances that no one would be harmed) were girls who, as children, had good-naturedly sang someone’s satirical lyrics about an illiterate merchant who claimed to have been chosen by God to speak on His behalf.
The man who warned me about the insidiousness of the cult of Muhammad was a veteran of the Iraq/Iran war. He may have been instrumental in my writing of 1001 Sayings and Deeds of the Prophet Muhammad after completing an umpteenth edition of Pain, Pleasure and Prejudice - The Koran by topic, explained in a way we can all understand.
He told me that the cult of Muhammad was more of an influence and more dangerous than anything I would find in the Koran. He gave as an example how the Ayatollah Khomeini used a nurtured yearning for death—your own and that of Allah’s purported enemies—that is part of the initiation into what many consider a death cult to send children as young as eleven years old to clear a path through minefields, to bring enemy fire upon themselves (so as to pinpoint enemy artillery positions ahead of advancing troops), and, I would even hazard, to wade into marshes that the Iraqis would electrify—what they called “cooking Iranians”—at an opportune time. Professional soldiers were too valuable to waste on such tactics.
The children were given a rifle and a plastic key was hung around their necks; they were told that, should they be killed, this was the key that would open the door to Paradise. The signal to advance and be frayed by exploding mines or artillery shells was a man in the distance sitting on a horse, dressed in black and waving a sword in the direction of the enemy. They were told that this man was the Prophet Muhammad who would greet them in Paradise.
The obsessive love and loyalty that men have for one for whom violence is a means to an end is easier to understand than the love and loyalty that women have for a man who loves them as a merchant loves his merchandise. They do have something in common, however, in that their unrestrained infatuation with Muhammad is based on less-than-accurate information, or outright lies sometimes told with the best of intentions. For example, to encourage young people who, like the man they admire the most, have no empathy for non-Muslims not to condone the violence done by terrorists in Allah’s Cause (a world governed by His Law: the Sharia).
Sheema Khan is the Globe and Mail’s—Canada’s most-read newspaper—go-to obfuscator and apologist for the bad things done by believers. In an article published in 2017, she expresses dismay after a talk with Canadian Muslim teens (a madrassa is assumed, as a woman cannot preach to males in a mosque except under exceptional circumstances, i.e., no imam can be found) who have no empathy for the 186 school children deliberately blown to bits by Islamists in the Russian town of Beslan in 2004.
How the Muslim community can tackle the scourge of extremism is smartly misleading in the way it introduces the types of falsehoods and half-truths that have so many Canadians displaying a positive attitude toward a religion whose scriptures would see them subjugated so that the religion of truth may triumph over all those other disingenuous faiths. .
48:28 It is He Who sent forth His Messenger with the guidance and the religion of truth, that He may exalt it above every other religion. Allah suffices as Witness.
Narrated Abu Huraira:
Allah's Apostle said, "I have been ordered to fight with the people till they say, 'None has the right to be worshipped but Allah' and whoever says, 'None has the right to be worshipped but Allah,' his life and property will be saved by me except for Islamic law, and his accounts will be with Allah, (either to punish him or to forgive him.)"
The male teens felt that the horrific murder of so many children by Chechen terrorists was justified retaliation. “The Russians got what they deserved for their brutal war against the Chechens,” they said. You can’t get much more brutal than blowing up kids in cold blood at their school.
In response, Khan tells them that Muhammad never killed children and unarmed adults, and that they should follow his example.
She is correct to the extent that there is no evidence, to my knowledge, that Muhammad personally murdered anyone in cold blood. But you I and know, if you have read this far—and I am sure the kids to whom she is telling this misleading truth are aware—that Muhammad, in his own words, admitted to ordering the assassination of defenceless men and women and his example must prevail.
Khan is splitting hairs for the benefit of those who don’t know any better and can’t be bothered to become better informed. You will find a posting here of the full conversation between Khan and the Canadian teens who expressed feeling nothing for innocent children deliberately shredded by explosives.
There is more to getting people to feel nothing for those other than their co-religionists, and to love and accept Muhammad as the ultimate example of beneficence than feeding them lies and half-truths from nearly the day they are born. Revealed truths (immutable facts made known to a mortal by a god) also play a crucial role.
Children and the Koran
The End of Empathy
Getting Kids to Feel Nothing (abridged)
I remember my parents telling me, when I was old enough to appreciate the silliness, about the day I came home crying and vowing to kill the Romans. That was the day I first heard about the crucifixion of Jesus. I got over this contrived piece of religious imprinting of whom to love and whom to hate; but what about Muslim children?
Christian children are told, early on, the story of the Crucifixion as an example of pain and suffering endured on their behalf to fire their imaginations, to get them to listen to the rest of the story and to accept Jesus as their saviour.
Except for a few terrifying minutes when his Meccan kin tried to suffocate him using the stomach of a camel for preaching what they considered a detestable, intolerant message that had their ancestors burning in Hell for worshipping other gods and goddesses along with Allah, and the flesh wound he incurred at the Battle of Uhud, Muhammad’s life was relatively free of physical pain inflicted by others. He also lived much of his adult life in comfort and luxury, in large part courtesy of his first wife’s wealth. When that ran out, the property taken from dead unbelievers from a war he started on his newfound god’s behalf more than sufficed.
So what do you tell children to get them to believe that Muhammad is special, even more special than Jesus who shed his blood to save you from Hell’s fire? It’s not enough to tell them that Jesus did not suffer that much, if at all, that the Crucifixion was all an illusion concocted by Allah and that it is the shedding of your own blood on God’s behalf that gets you into Paradise, no questions asked, not anyone else’s.
If you can’t wow them with your own suffering and self-sacrifice, gross them out by the pain that others will endure for expressing doubts as to your credentials. It is what teachers do every day around the world—and Canada is no exception—to get kids hooked on Muhammad and, in doing so, develop a love of seeing others suffer for their skepticism.
The following are excerpts from the Islamic Book Series for Children from the Islamic School of Ottawa © 2006, available worldwide as a teaching aid:
The nickname “the flame man” may have been added for the benefit of children mocking a man being roasted alive by Allah. As to Abu Lahab's wife being punished for saying bad things about the Prophet, in the hadiths explaining what caused Allah's sadistic outrage there is no mention of her* or of the rock allegedly thrown in Muhammad’s direction which changes a verbal exchange into a physical confrontation in what could be an attempt to justify Allah's over-the-top reaction in kind.
Narrated Ibn Abbas:
When the Verse: 'And warn your tribe of near kindred.' (26.214) was revealed. Allah's Apostle went out, and when he had ascended As-Safa mountain, he shouted, "O Sabahah!"
The people said, "Who is that?"
Then they gathered around him, whereupon he said, "Do you see? If I inform you that cavalrymen are proceeding up the side of this mountain, will you believe me?"
They said, "We have never heard you telling a lie."
Then he said, "I am a plain warner to you of a coming severe punishment."
Abu Lahab said, "May you perish! You gathered us only for this reason?"
Then Abu Lahab went away. So the "Surat: ul-LAHAB" 'Perish the hands of Abu Lahab!' (111.1) was revealed.
What we know for sure is that the tethered-like-a-dog wife of Abu Lahab, who will have the abject duty of assisting Allah in roasting her husband by gathering the wood that the Compassionate will use to stoke the fire, at no time tried to physically harm God’s spokesperson; for that matter, neither did her husband, from all available evidence.
Allah has very much a sadist’s understanding of empathy: that it can be used to add to the suffering you wish to inflict. If Abu Lahab loved his wife, seeing her literally put through Hell because of something he said may cause him a pain more acute than Allah roasting him for an eternity. As to his poor wife, her pain may be even greater than that of her husband, for not only will she have to watch him roasted over and over like an animal in a barbecue, but God has compelled her to be His accomplice in torturing her beloved in a fiery Hell.
Implied in the story of Abu Lahab is that it's okay to horribly torture Allah's enemies, real and imagined, and those who do not care for Muhammad as a person or for the message he communicated.
This story of unbridled sadism is also bound to leave a lasting fear in children of offending Allah by expressing any doubt about His spokesperson’s perfection and mission, and ending like Abu Lahab with God personally and continuously replacing their charred skin for an eternity, as if He had nothing better to do, so that the pain of being roasted alive is never-ending and as intense as He can make it.
Threatening to send people to some unholy, ghastly place is what gods do to get their way. Usually, gods do their worst reluctantly, but not Allah. In His holy book, the hell He created seems to be designed to satisfy a deep-seated pathology evident in innumerable revelations where He displays all the symptoms of an unabashed sadist reveling in the pain He will inflict, as He does in the following appalling revelation:
4:56 Those who have disbelieved Our Signs, We shall surely cast them into the Fire; every time their skins are burnt, We will replace them by other skins, so that they might taste the punishment. Allah indeed is Mighty and Wise!
Which such horrific displays of a god’s visceral hatred and lack of compassion for unbelievers, can children, exposed to so much blood-chilling animosity, ever experience the transformation that I did after wanting to take revenge on the modern Romans—that would be the Italians—after being told they were responsible for Jesus suffering the fate his father in Paradise had in store for his son?
Sheema Khan’s Canadian teenagers obviously have not. They may not grow up to be radicals, but when the radicals strike, they will not feel your pain because they will have been taught to loathe you unconditionally and forever for not worshipping an Arab's understanding of a Jewish concept—Islam is very much a synthesis of Jewish beliefs and pagan rituals—or idolizing its promoter.
If believers can’t even feel for children horribly murdered in Allah’s Cause, what hope is there for the rest of us?
A Real Life Example of the Appeal of Scriptural Sadism
What if you could re-create the sadism that is a hallmark of Allah's Hereafter in the here-and-now? Your run-of-the-mill holy warrior can only do so much. Doctors are another matter, and they are not immune to the seductive sadism that saturates His holy book.
Given the opportunity, trained medical personnel can achieve a very good approximation of the Almighty at his pitiless, cruelest best as revealed in revelation 4:56, the one about replacing burnt skin.
Issam Abuanza, 37, is a doctor who left his family in the UK in 2014 to join Islamic State in Syria.
On social media, Dr Abuanza has said he wished that a Jordanian pilot burnt alive by IS had taken longer to die: "I would've liked for them to burn him extremely slowly and I could treat him so we could torch him once more."
On his Facebook page he is pictured wearing doctors' scrubs and carrying a gun in a holster. He smiles as he raises his finger in the air - a symbolic gesture to represent the oneness of God that is commonly seen in the iconography of Islamic extremism.
Another image shows him in combat fatigues, cradling an automatic rifle and reading the Koran.
BBC News May 24, 2016
Dr. Abuanza, a poster child for the banality of evil, was trained to heal and relieve suffering, not to torture and murder, and he could not resist. Imagine the Koran's impact on impressionable young minds...
Khan’s controversial portrayal of Muhammad notwithstanding, her reporting does illustrate an appalling and dangerous lack of empathy on the part of Muslim-Canadian youths for victims of terrorists, even children. Equally distressing is the faith-based tribalism evident in her audience’s defence of the indefensible.
Tribalism is one of the consequences of religion. There are other sources of tribalism—nationalism and racism, for instance—but shared religious identity has global reach… It creates in-group loyalty and out-group hostility, even when members of one’s own group are acting in abhorrent ways. Muslims often rally to the cause of other Muslims no matter how badly behaved they are, simply because they happen to be Muslims.
Sam Harris in conversation with Maajid Nawaz, Islam and the Future of Tolerance, Harvard University Press, 2015
A lack of empathy, whether it is an instilled pathology or a manifestation of loyalty to one’s tribe that successive governments and our courts have encouraged by favouring religious stigmatization over shared secular values, means we can no longer count that love of country or respect for Western traditions will see us through.
I asked my beautiful girl, on a previous occasion, if she knew the story of Abu Lahab and did it bother her? No, it did not! The teacher said that this was not going to happen to them, and that was that.
Did you detect a lack of empathy? If you did, I am sure she was unaware.
It may be what happens to children who should be reading Babar the Elephant or Cinderella, but instead are inundated with stuff meant to instill a fear of God and unquestioning reverence for a Dark Age man who, like the God for whom he said he spoke, was pitiless when dealing with those who would not concede that “None has the right to be worshipped but Allah.”
Apostle never took revenge (over anybody) for his own sake but (he did) only when Allah's Legal Bindings were outraged in which case he would take revenge for Allah's Sake.
My beautiful girl may have done her primary and secondary schooling in the Middle East but she took her undergraduate degree in Canada, and Islam was not a part of the curriculum.
What she said about my honest portrayal of the historical Muhammad, which is based on what is written in authenticated hadiths (sayings and example of the Prophet) that are part of the Sunni Cannon, is probably the strongest argument I could make about not letting religion have its way with kids. It is as if an Islamic education and upbringing can’t help but create the equivalent of the Manchurian Candidate, with the trigger being anything negative said about Muhammad.
I am not saying that my beautiful girl’s reaction was the result of indoctrination equivalent to brainwashing, for I could not tell if what she said was in anger or sadness.
Remembering Uzza is really two books in one: the first book comprises the conversation in the bar; the second is more than two hundred pages of endnotes of mostly Muhammad’s own words or verses from the Koran in support of what is said. Our contractual understanding did not extend to her reading the second part.
I tried to explain that my depiction of the Prophet was not made up when whatever I was saying was drowned out by a disk jockey who, having just set up his equipment, was now belting out the tunes at a decibel level rivaling the noise made by jet engines on takeoff. I shouted to be heard by the waiter serving our drinks that with only us and a few others at the bar, maybe he could get the music man to turn it down a bit?
“No can do,” and besides, he explained, the music was meant to be heard out on the street to draw people in.
The noise level meant we had to hunch forward to be heard. Even then, because of the darkness, I could not tell by the look in her eyes how she really felt.
There is a scene in Remembering Uzza where Gerry detects that Uzza is troubled by some of the stuff they have discussed and reaches out, touching her hand. You guessed it; that is what I did after hearing my beautiful girl’s cris de coeur. Her hands were flat on the table. As I leaned forward, I could not resist doing what the character Gerry did for my Uzza.
Gerry was the right age to do something like that without being misunderstood or looking like a creep to an outside observer; and if what she had said was in anger, I was adding insult to injury. When I took my hand off hers to take a sip of wine, both hands moved out of reach. I apologized.
It was getting late and the noise made a meaningful conversation next to impossible. We decided to leave, but not before I managed to ask if she had read Falling for Uzza. She wasn’t aware of the posting so I texted her the link.
When we got outside we went our separate ways, but not before I again hazarded a hug, which I think was reciprocated. Then again, it may be wishful thinking. I do more of that now than ever before, and for good reason.
* There are, however, some hadiths where a woman says bad things about Allah's spokesperson that are attributed to her.
Bernard Payeur, Feb 8, 2020