A day, sometime in the not-too-distant future.
Even though he was completely alone in his apartment, when the man stepped out of the bathroom, he looked left and right down his own corridor. Not satisfied he checked every room, and switched off the lights.
In his bedroom he shut and locked the door, switched off the television and covered it with a black cloth, then he closed his laptop, put his smart phone and tablet in a drawer and closed it. Finally he walked over to the windows and drew the already closed curtains even tighter.
He waited a few minutes to allow his eyes to adjust a little to the complete blackness, then walked over to where he could make out the silhouette of his bed. He knelt down and groped around underneath it. He found the box and pulled it out. A fingerprint recognition pad allowed him to open it.
‘Bismillah’ he uttered as he reached in and pulled out a book. Lovingly and gently, he kissed it, and then he laid it on the bed. He hadn’t actually seen it properly, or even read it for months, perhaps more.
He reached back into the box and felt for the sturdy material folded within. Pulling it out, he opened it up and laid it flat on the floor. Standing at one end of the rectangular rug, he paused and whispered under his breath, then raised each palm to brush his ears and silently mouthed: ‘Allahu Akbar’.
Twenty minutes later, he completed his prayers. With a sigh of relief he locked away the prayer mat and the Holy Quran, switched on all the lights and then he went back to watching the latest episode of series four of Star Trek Discovery.
The woman grabbed her large handbag and jacket just as Ted was passing her desk: ‘Off to lunch?’ he asked.
‘Er… yes… oh… I’ll finish off that project proposal as soon as I get back!’ she responded, somewhat caught off guard.
Being her line manager, Ted thought he had made her unduly anxious about her work: ‘Oh of course, don’t worry, there’s no hurry. I don’t need that till tomorrow morning.
‘Where are you heading?’
She had to think fast: ‘Joe’s obviously’ she beamed.
‘Perfect, I’ll walk down with you. Wanted to grab a sarnie myself!’ he responded.
‘Oh I could get it for you if you like,’ she proffered hopefully.
‘Nah, I could do with getting out of here for a bit,’ he grinned back, unwittingly charming. She could hardly resist. She shouldn’t. Particularly if she wasn’t to arouse suspicion.
The only response she could think of was to giggle a little. It seemed to be the right one, he perked up and they headed out together.
At the cafe he placed his order and then turned to her: ‘Go on, go for it. Don’t worry, I’ll stick it on expenses… “business lunch” innit?’ he laughed.
Smiling back at the lovely man, to whom she dare not reveal her secret, she ordered a Roasted Vegetable Cheese Panini. ‘Oh you vegetarians!’ he scoffed in a jokey manner. She giggled again and on his insistence also ordered a bottle of mineral water.
As they waited they nervously talked meaningless office chat – he because he was rather taken with the gorgeous dark-eye beauty, and she because of what she couldn’t tell him, and what she had to do. She desperately needed a way out. And she could see that he was scoping out the cafe for an empty table for them to sit at.
Suddenly her phone rang. It was some random telesales agent trying to sell her a bank loan. But it was much more than that. It was an opportunity. Discreetly hanging up with the press of her thumb, she kept the phone to her ear and pretended to have an entirely different conversation with someone entirely different, whilst feigning rising alarm and agitation.
Thinking fast, she told Ted that it was her mum. The water main had burst at home and she was freaking out. Her mum was old, so she’d have to go and sort it out. Fortunately it wasn’t far, so she’d be back in the office just after her lunch break.
Disappointed, but trying to look as concerned and sympathetic as possible, Ted told her not to worry and to take her time. Just as she was about to rush off, their food arrived. He called out to her to wait, and she caught her breath. So close. So nearly out the door.
‘Mate, stick this in a paper bag will ya please,’ he asked the boy behind the counter. Then handed it to her. ‘Here ya go, no point missing out on those roasted vegetables, hey?’
She smiled back sweetly and in fact sincerely, genuinely, meant it. Then quickly made her escape. Outside she jumped on the first bus heading anywhere, and glanced back to make sure Ted wasn’t watching. Relieved she shoved the sandwich deep into her handbag.
Thank Allah she hadn’t had to break her fast. Again.
The blonde blue-eyed man turned left into the side street and immediately felt a bead of sweat form on his forehead and his heart rate jumped dramatically. He was entering the ghetto. He thought to abandon the foolishness and turn around, but somehow he found some determination and gunned the engine.
He reached the coordinates given to him. Parked up, switched off and waited. Just as he’d been told. Shortly a beat-up old Toyota Camry, riding low, rumbled down the street towards him. It slowed but kept moving and rounded the corner. A few minutes later it was back, having circled back around.
This time it paused next to him and the window went down slowly, squeaking loudly. Two dark-haired men looked at him and whispered something to each other. Then the driver addressed him.
‘Hey dude, looks like you’re in the wrong neighbourhood. You want directions? You might want to hustle back outta here.’
The blonde man replied: ‘I need something, I was told to find MK here. I have money.’
The driver burst out laughing: ‘Man, we will take your money fer sure, and I do mean WE WILL TAKE your money. But you is the wrong type to be looking for MK. Who gave you that name? You a pig?’
Every fibre of the blonde man’s being was urging him to fire up the motor and get the heck out of there right away. It took every ounce of resolve and courage to even reply, but he remembered the code-phrase, he’d been rehearsing it all the way on the long drive down: ’50 to 5, it was thanks to Moses’.
The dark-haired men stopped grinning and looked at each other in some surprise. Then turned back to him: ‘follow us’.
He followed them into an old warehouse and literally jumped as the shutter was rolled down and slammed shut behind him.
‘Get out of the car!’
A third man, tall, muscular, moustachioed and menacing, in blood-stained overalls and wielding a cleaver marched right up to the blonde man as he got out. He stood and glowered down at him.
He started sniffing him. ‘He ain’t one of us! What the hell guys! You brought a pig here?! Hey, pull his pants down!’
The overalls man seemed very agitated and the blonde man was literally shaking. ‘No, no, there’s no need for that… you’re right. I’m NOT one of you.’
He regretted saying it out loud so blatantly, even as the cleaver was lifted up above his head, readied into a strike position. He started screaming: ‘No, no!! I’m getting it for a friend of mine. I wanted to get him something for the special occasion – “Eid” right?’
The muscular man relaxed and moved back. His frown transforming into a grin. Then he slapped him on the back with such force the blonde man nearly tumbled to the ground. The muscular man laughed: ‘I’m MK, welcome my friend!’ The lights went on and the muscular man turned and pointed: ‘we got some mutton and chicken, all fresh, all halal. What’ll it be?’
The blonde man finally stopped shaking. Ever since he had discovered his best friend’s secret faith of Islam, he’d wanted to do something for him. This Eid, after so, so long, his friend and his family would finally eat meat – halal meat.
The men gathered at the secret rendezvous atop the desert mountain, confirming good visibility down in all directions and not a soul otherwise to be seen. They prayed Friday prayer in congregation and then sat down to a hearty meal of kebab rolls, mint tea and dates.
To the casual onlooker, if there had been any, they were just a bunch of guys having a bit of a picnic. Unless, that is, someone could actually listen into their seditious discussion. Although of course, as usual, it started off innocently enough with general chit-chat about movies, sports, the latest smartphone and so on.
Then it moved on to more serious matters mostly revolving around the logistics of maintaining a practice of the Islamic faith by the few who still were brave enough to do so, despite strict bans in place that could see this entire group disappear into a brutal internment camp if found out right now.
Typically the conversation moved from religious issues to politics, rising resentment with the status quo, a hopeless notion of some kind of rebellion, and at that point tempers and tension would usually flare up a little.
At this point someone would usually strive to ease everyone with a few jokes or some hadith or Quranic verse about patience and how self-control not violence was the path to righteousness.
In this group that would usually be Sam (not his real name of course, no one had Muslim names any more). However today he was sitting on a rock in silent contemplation gazing out onto the desert vista below. A natural break in the conversation was a subtle cue for him to jump in with a quick-witted jibe, a gentle joke or a deeply relevant quote about being strong in one’s faith.
When he didn’t, the others glanced at each one another and then looked across at him expectantly. In a beat or two it appeared Sam became aware of the silence and turned back to face them. He attempted a grin and opened his mouth as if to speak. Then he decided against it, got up and walked a few paces away in the direction he had been staring.
‘To go forward, we’ve got to go back.’ He said finally.
The others barely heard him. He turned: ‘We’ve got to go back and understand where we went wrong…’
‘Oh now c’mon,’ said one of the friends. ‘Where WE went wrong?! Hey we were the oppressed; they banned us, banished us, vilified us, shut us down. We didn’t do anything!’
Sam was nodding. ‘Yes you’re right, we didn’t do anything.’
‘Oh I get it,’ said another of the friends, ‘you mean we should have taken up arms? Fought them? Waged jihad!’
Sam put up his hand. ‘Jihad yes, but not the manner in which you speak of it. Do you know what Jihad actually means? It relates to an internal struggle to better ourselves. If we had truly waged Jihad – to be better Muslims, better people, to attempt to better the world around us in general, then we would not be as we are now: despised, ashamed, desperate, underground and dare I say – delusional.’
The others sat aghast but captivated. Seeing no further interruption, Sam pressed on.
‘It wasn’t so long ago – I remember it well – that we as a people had ample opportunity and good fortune (and I literally mean fortune) to learn not just from our own history, but from those around us.
‘Whilst others formed unions and alliances, laid in stone constitutional and human rights, strived to push the boundaries of technology and medicine, built social welfare systems and sought to stave off the very erosion of an environment that served to protect our fragile planet (at the same time acknowledging the destruction that humanity itself had wrought upon it); we in the Muslim world quietly seemed to renounce what our faith had guided us too; adopted greed, corruption, confrontation and prejudice; and solely pursued our personal agendas. And I mean that both on a geo-political scale and on an individual level.
‘Forget about us seeking unity – a union which would have seen the Muslim world make open its borders and allow people, trade, knowledge, talent, new thinking and charity to travel freely. We should have collaborated with each other, and worked together for peace and prosperity of all.
‘Instead, we not only tightened restrictions, but actively fought against neighbouring nations of our own faith, ridiculously hyping up minor differences of creed, colour and whether we adhered to this school or that school of thought, and whether we were Shia or Sunni. Never realising that none of this ever mattered.
‘The Almighty blessed some of our governments with untold bounty, and they squandered it and built meaningless monuments to themselves, whereas we could have set an example in distributing that wealth amongst our people and others. I don’t mean just giving people money, but giving them resources to improve themselves and contribute meaningfully to wider society and the development of mankind.
‘We should have been helping where help was needed, and investing in the development of mankind even when it was not. We could have spent on technology, medicine, education, arts, culture, space exploration… But we didn’t. At least not to any meaningful degree.
‘We should have been spreading the message of togetherness and love, and forging peace amongst all people. Instead we wasted all our time quarrelling with each other; and when we lost our own foolish childish brawls, we focussed our angst outwards and blamed others for our follies, ineptitude, short-sightedness and – let’s be honest – crass stupidity.
‘Worst of all, when those radicalised idiots sought to spread death, destruction and fear in the name of our sacred text and beliefs, when they unleashed their evilness, our thought-leaders should have extinguished those cinders of misplaced fury, frustration and fear as soon as they started glowing. Minds should have been set right, hearts should have been cleansed, souls should have been saved. Sadly they did not. And perhaps not enough of us, spoke out to voice the revulsion we truly felt at the atrocities committed in our name.
‘Finally when the world turned against us, and tarnished all of us with the same horrific bloodied colours of our moronic and brainwashed misrepresentatives – who were convinced by manipulators to seek heaven through suicide and the killing of innocents, but who would awake to an afterlife of unbearable eternal damnation; even when we were all dubbed radicals, and extremists, jihadists and terrorists (despite the fact that all that 99.9% of us ever really wanted was to live in peace) even when we were banned, and oppressed and locked away… our own people, our own governments, abandoned us too.
‘Whilst empathetic non-Muslims unleashed a tidal-wave of outcry and appalling disgust at the treatment of their Muslim friends and neighbours in the midst of their communities, by their own leaders (something we hardly ever did for other communities); some of our own Muslim leaders, particularly those that should have been the bastions of our faith, actually applauded and lauded the very people who oppressed us.
‘At that point our fate was sealed. What hope is there if you can’t count on your own brothers and sisters? Only the kindness, generosity, voices, strength, courage and conviction of others outside of our faith, helped the few of us who did, to survive the culls.
‘I don’t know about you, but I see this survival, these small acts of religious defiance of ours, that no one but us and Him above will ever see, as utterly hollow and meaningless. It’s a sham. We are a sham.
‘We and others like us can sit and shout at each other all we like about how great we all were once upon a time – though we haven’t been anywhere near greatness for a long, long time indeed – and we can lament about how things should have been so much better, how WE should have been better… the reality is that they aren’t and we aren’t, and it’s all our own fault.
‘Because we never did anything about anything. We never choose to unite and strengthen. We never reached out to help others, we never self-sacrificed and never stood up for the rights of all living beings.
‘We never sought to grow our entire communities economically and technologically. We never sought to share our spirit and work with sincerity and unrestrained openness with all. We never joined hands with each other, much less with the rest of the world.
‘Frankly our stern stupidity, arrogant hubris and close-minded prejudices annihilated our paths to progress. We nailed our feet to the floor, threw the hammers at others, and once they caught them, ranted and railed at the injustices inflicted upon us.
‘We failed; we failed ourselves and our children; we failed mankind, and worst of all, we failed our faith.
‘I look out there for answers and I see nothing but the harsh ungiving barren desert, and I feel that’s a metaphor for who we became in the end times.
‘If only we could go back, if only we could be more enlightened, if only we could unite – not only with each other, but with other faiths and communities to pursue common good for all, if only we had demonstrated our worth, our value and our contribution to society, we would not have been labelled so easily and dismissively with one horrible tag – Terrorist.’
Sam shuddered with spent anguish and fell silent. One of the friends spoke up: ‘So what can we do about it now.’
‘NOTHING! You’re all coming with us!’
Suddenly they were surrounded by armed men. They would disappear now. And only the desert echoes would reverberate to Sam’s words dripping with regretful hindsight.
Now if only we could go back to TODAY and correct things. Hmm…