Monday, August 18, 2008

Mohammed is my new tailor. He is very religious.
While we are working in my studio we talk of many things. He came to Djenne, the famous centre of Islamic learning, to study law- he means Sharia law. Such studies are not undertaken in order to become a lawyer, but in order to understand and to meditate upon the laws of Allah.
So does he want Sharia law to be introduced in Mali? I ask him. What I have understood of Sharia appears rather terrifying and doesn’t square with my gentle tailor, nor with a Muslim idea of Allah the Merciful either, for that matter.
Mohammed, to my relief, acknowledges that Sharia law would be impractical to introduce unless the aim was to get rid of a large proportion of the population- the streets of Djenne would be flowing with blood because of the immorality of today’s youth. (sic).

But let’s look on the cheerful side of things. Sharia law with regard to fornication and adultery is exemplary as far as equality of the sexes goes: An unmarried man receives exactly as many lashes of the whip as an unmarried woman for the sin of fornication. As for adultery, it will be of some comfort for feminists to hear that the man, as well as the woman caught in adultery will be stoned in the streets until dead…
At this point in our conversation I thought the moment was right for a bit of proselytizing, and I asked if he had heard the story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery. ‘Let him who has no sin throw the first stone’. It is surely one of the loveliest stories of the New Testament, showing the great mercy of Christ. Mohammed had heard the story, and he admired it.
Mohammed’s conversation see-saws between wisdom and admirable insights and the most surprising rubbish:
We started talking about magic. Mohammed has learned the secret of finding gold. Some Marabouts know the secret of making gold, he told me, but others know how to find it. (This probably means that there is going to be plenty of Alchemy in the Djenne manuscripts I thought to myself).
Apparently one has to retreat into a lonely place and pray for two days. So far so good.
Then one holds one’s prayer beads over any piece of earth one wants, says a certain amount of suras in the correct mystical order and manner and then it is just a question of digging, the gold will certainly be there.
‘Well if it’s like that, what are you doing here making waistcoats for me? Why don’t you get on with it?’ I want to know. But Mohammed tells me there are unfortunate complications: it says in the Koran that man is supposed to work for his bread, and that to indulge in magic is a shortcut which is not allowed. I reflected that in that case it seemed surprising that Allah would grant something he didn’t approve of. But then there are Biblical parallels: The devil tempts Christ to throw himself off a cliff because the angels will come to his rescue and catch him. But Christ replies: thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God’. It is implied that it would work, but the choice is not to do it.
So, surprisingly close to the Christian idea of the occult. There are things which just should be left alone.


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