By: Anwar Iqbal
They do not have a word for ‘ghairat’ in English,” said Khadim. He paused, looked at his audience and asked: “Do you know why?”
Without waiting for a response, he added: “Because they do not have ‘ghairat’ in the West.” His remarks, as he had expected, pleased this audience of South Asian Muslims, Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis. “Not true,” said Farhan, one of the few liberals in the crowd. “They do have a word for ‘ghairat,’ honour.”
“Incorrect,” declared Khadim, “honour is a very light word. It does not have the intensity of ‘ghairat.’”
Many in the audience understood this ‘intensity’ well. They had grown-up daughters. And every time their daughters went out, in jeans or shalwar-kameez, they felt this intensity. The intensity increases, if the jeans are a bit too tight or the headscarves do not cover the head properly.
Farhan had so far been very patient. It was the ‘barsi’ or the annual prayer meeting for someone who had died last year. It was a solemn occasion, where conservatives outnumber others. He did not want a confrontation with them. Whenever they lose an argument, they go to his father who forces Farhan to apologise to “your elders.”
But he could hold no more. He looked around and found a copy of the day’s newspaper. He opened a page, holding it above his head and said:
“Look, this is your ‘ghairat’ and this is what you do when this intensity gets out of control.” And he started reading the caption under a picture:
“This is a June 19, 2012, file photo of Iftikhar Ahmed, the father of murdered teen-ager Shafilea Ahmed. A British court found that Iftikhar and his wife Farzana Ahmed suffocated their 17-year-old daughter, Shafilea, in 2003, because she was seeing boys and had refused to accept an arranged marriage. Both parents are originally from Pakistan.
“During the trial, Shafilea’s sister Alesha told the jury that her parents pushed Shafilea onto the couch and she heard her mother say ‘just finish it here’ as they forced a plastic bag into the girl’s mouth.”
(On Friday Aug. 3, 2012, the court found the parents guilty of murdering their teenage daughter in a so-called honour killing.)
Farhan stopped, waiting for the words to sink in, and said: “If this is ‘ghairat,’ thank God people in the West do not have this ‘ghairat.’ They only have honour.”
“Enough. Sit down,” shouted one of the elders at Farhan. “Who invited this brat to this religious gathering?” Nobody answered him, although they all knew why Farhan was invited.
Unlike most in the audience, Farhan had learned the Holy Quran from an Arab teacher. He recited it faster than others and pronounced every word correctly. He also had a sweet voice. So he was always invited to such places.
And his parents made sure that he went to all such gatherings, sometimes against his will.
This was the last Friday before Ramazan. They finished the recital, said the evening prayers and were waiting for the meal when the argument started.
They usually served kebabs and rasmalais at such dinners and Farhan loved both. But the argument upset him, so he walked out, got into his car and drove away.
Once outside, he realised he did not want to go home yet. So he drove to a nearby shisha bar.
“Still no news of the moon?” Razi, who runs this alcohol free shisha bar in a Washington suburb, asked as he saw Farhan.
“Not my problem,” said Farhan, who was still upset.
“It is my problem, though,” said Razi, also a Pakistani-American. “I need to know, to decide whether to have belly dance tonight.”
Around 10 pm, a friend called and told Razi their local mosque had announced that Ramazan starts tomorrow. “OK, there will be no belly dance tonight,” he said.
It was Friday night and the dancer was already there. Razi paid her $400 and sent her home. The dancer, Zebi, although nobody knew her real name, was also a Muslim, a Central Asian Muslim. “I am going to fast as well,” she said. Some believed her. Some did not.
“You wasted $400,” Farhan said to Razi.
“Yes, I cannot do this during Ramazan,” said Razi.
“Oh, I see. You are a Muslim too, right?” said Farhan, “As if Islam allows dancing on other nights.”
“It does not and that’s why I do not serve alcohol at my place. You see, this is America so we have to compromise on some issues.”
What Razi and thousands of others do in America is not a simple compromise. They modify their faith to suit their needs.
Selling alcohol is prohibited but some Muslims sell alcoholic beverages. They justify it by claiming that since they deal with an interest-based banking system, which is also forbidden, they can sell liquor too.
Others deal with the problems they face by drawing lines between what they would and would not do. For instance, most people will not eat pork but they will comfortably gulp down a bottle of beer or a glass of wine.
Some are so particular about halal or haram that they carefully read ingredients list every time they buy a chocolate or a packet of biscuits. But the same people do not mind having girlfriends or even bringing call girls with them.
One such man came home with a call girl and while he was in the bedroom, his friends cooked ‘karahi-gosht’ for him. When he came out, he asked: “Where did you get this meat from?” When told that the meat was from the common refrigerator, he said: “No, I cannot eat this. I know the meat was not halal.”
Razi tried to engage Farhan into a debate on what is allowed and what is forbidden during Ramazan, but Farhan was not interested.
“Not tonight,” he said, “I have had enough of religion for one night.”
“Why, what happened?” asked Razi. Farhan explained and then said, “I am fed up with these FOBs (freshly off the boat). Why did they come here if they were so concerned about preserving their customs?”
Razi, a second generation American like Farhan, agreed. “I am also fed up these one-track uncles and aunts,” he said. “All they discuss is politics, religion or cricket.”
While they were talking, a customer came with a DVD of Afghan songs and asked Razi to play it. He did. The customer went inside the shisha room where a group of young men and women were waiting for him.
The women – all Muslims from Afghanistan, Pakistan and North Africa – started dancing. The men joined them.
“What will you do now?” asked Farhan with a big grin on his face.
“Nothing, this is America and here the customer is always right,” said Razi, eyeing the dancers with some interest.
As they were watching the amateur dancers, Farhan said he was hungry. Razi called a waiter from the halal restaurant next door.
“What is the Ramazan special, doctor sahib?” he asked the waiter.
“Partridges,” said the waiter, a physician who had twice failed the qualification in America and was now preparing for his third attempt.
“Wow, delicious,” said Razi, “bring two with nans.”
“You should tip this poor physician handsomely,” said Farhan.
“I always do but wait till he passes his exam and then he will be tipping us,” said Razi.
“Do you remember Dr. Nadir,” he asked.
“Yes, I do. Why?” asked Farhan.
“He used to live in a studio apartment before he passed his exam. Last week, he invited me to a dinner at his home. He lives in a palace now. His swimming pool is bigger than three of these shops put together,” said Razi.
“Yes, America is for the doctors,” said Farhan, a software engineer who earned a decent salary but nowhere near what a physician does.
The waiter brought three partridges. “Why three?” asked Razi. “Mr. Khan also wants to join you.” Khan owned the halal restaurant.
While they were eating, two middle-aged men came and said they wanted to talk to Razi separately. Razi took them to a corner, spoke with them for a few minutes and came back. The men went back to their car.
“What do they want?” asked Farhan.
“The same old story. One of them is a Pakistani and the other an Afghan. Their daughters are inside, dancing. They want me to send them home.”
“What did you say?” asked Khan.
“I told them I always checked their IDs and all the girls inside are above 21. So I cannot do anything but they started pleading, asking me to help them as a fellow Muslim. I asked them to wait in the car.”
Farhan finished his food. Then went to the shisha room and spoke to the women. Two of them came out with him, went to their fathers, spoke with them for few minutes, promised to return home soon and came back.
The men drove away.
“What did you say?” Razi asked one of the women.
“We told them we cannot go with them right now because if we do others will make fun of us. We will go soon,” she said. They stayed for another half an hour and then went home.
“This ended nicely,” said Khan. “Remember the other shisha bar, ‘Hookahwalas’? They had to close down because of the parent-children fights.”
“I learned from their mistakes,” said Razi. “First of all, I make sure that all my customers are adults. IDs are always checked.” Then he pointed at a police car, parked on the other side of the road. “And when I sense trouble, I call the cops.”
“I can see why they do that,” said Farhan whose anger had subsided and he was now feeling sorry for the parent-generation. “Poor devils, they had no choice. They came here because they wanted some prosperity, which they got. They were not ready for this huge cultural shock.”
Farhan was right. Most of their parents were from small villages, half-educated and were unable to understand the difference between working in Dubai and migrating to America.
“Why is their ‘ghairat’ always linked to women? Why not men? Nobody comes looking for their sons,” said Khan.
“They do, they worry about their sons too,” said Farhan thinking of his mother who often stays up at night, particularly during Ramazan, praying to God to make sure that her sons remained good Muslims.
Razi said that while the parents of his customers were upset with him for opening this shisha bar, they did not want him to close it down either. “They say that if you close, our daughters will go to other bars where they also serve alcohol.”
“I am sure those two poor souls must have been crying on their way home,” said Farhan.
“Yet, nothing justifies killing your daughter,” he added, thinking of the 17-year old girl killed by her parents in England. “No sympathy for murderers, even if they are parents.
They should be hanged,” he said.
“No, nothing justifies a murder, honour or no honour,” Razi agreed.
Khan, who was also a first generation immigrant, was too lost in thoughts in respond.