Alice in Talibland-3
24 May, 2010
By Anwaar Hussain
Phew! exclaimed Alice with relief on being awoken, ‘that was some nightmare.’
Except, immediately later, a wave of anxiety swept over her—she would be sleeping again tonight. Will she be back in Talibland? Presently, however, she put the thought away and agreed to accompany her sister to the river bank to pick some daisies. Later, she busied herself in making daisy-chains for herself and her sister under the cool shade of the old oak tree.
After a light lunch of cookies, cheese and fruit, Alice just sprawled there on the grass and plunged into her thoughts. Oh, how she loved these long and lazy summer days.
She never knew when she dozed off.
‘Stop!!!!’ Alice heard someone shout. The crowd enclosing upon her stopped dead in their tracks. ‘Let the girl be’, Alice heard another command. When the crowd dispersed sheathing their long knives, Alice saw that it was the kind faced Talib who was giving the orders.
‘Well! that was close’, thought Alice. She was grateful to the kind faced Talib for saving her life.
As she was getting up, the Talib came close to her and said, ‘Look here girl, I can see some merit in your questions but I am not well versed in all the branches of knowledge in my religion to be able to answer every one of them. Why don’t I take you to our Imam? He is God’s chosen one and is wise and learned. He will be able to satisfy your curiosity.’
Alice readily agreed and bounced along with the Talib in lead. She had forgotten all her recent troubles.
Soon they came upon one of the biggest rooms in the underground cave system. Hand woven mats were spread upon the floor. A bunch of Taliban were sitting in front of the Imam who himself was sitting on a slightly raised platform facing them.
The kind faced Talib bowed and approached the Imam respectfully leaving Alice behind. The two had a rather long dialogue in a hushed tone. The Imam had his gaze fixed on Alice all this while. Presently, he waved to Alice to come nearer. At the same time, he dismissed all the rest in attendance with an imperious gesture of his hand.
‘You have questions about our religion I am told?’ asked the Imam in a surprisingly calm voice. When Alice nodded her head in affirmative, the Imam said, ‘start asking then but please be respectful of our beliefs whether or not you choose to convert to these in the end. Is that understood?’ ‘Yes’, mumbled Alice.
After a brief pause she asked her first question, ‘perhaps, sir, you will agree that today we look back with amusement, even ridicule, at the Greek, Roman and Mayan Gods and the belief systems of the time. What is the guarantee that a future civilization won’t treat your Gods and beliefs similarly?’
The Imam and the Talib exchanged a quick glance before the Imam answered, ‘God does not send down the ultimate message to mankind until they are ready for it. Those earlier gods were false and so were their religions because human thought had not yet reached its maturity to absorb the final message. When it did about 1500 years back, this one final, truest message, our religion, was given to us by God. Do you understand?’
‘Yes, perhaps I do but like I told the Mad Hater out there that someone once said, ‘religion of one age is the literary entertainment of the next’. Is that someone wrong? If yes, how is he wrong?’, Alice asked.
‘That someone is most definitely wrong because before our holy scripture God never took responsibility for preserving his word. Only in our case did he do that. There can’t be any better guarantee than God’s own word, can there?’, responded the Imam.
Alice was stumped by the circular logic but decided not to press the point. ‘Alright, my next question is, why an omnipotent and omniscient God has to battle evil all the time and yet never succeed in fully eradicating it? Or is it that he doesn’t intend to actually end evil for all times? If so, why?’, Alice asked instead.
The Imam’s face changed to a shade redder but he controlled his emotions and answered in the same serene voice, ‘First of all, if there was no evil, how would you know what is good? How would you know the taste of sugar if only salt was all that you ever ate? If you had only known nights, how could you appreciate days? The two must exist side by side. That is why God allows evil to exist. Understand?’
Yet again Alice felt she was being taken for a ride. If evil must exist side by side with good, why must it be battled all the time? But then she knew better than to press her point.
Next she asked, ‘if God exists, why does he allow scientists and atheists to dispute his existence and create confusions in the mind of us common folks? Why our loving, merciful, all-powerful and all-knowing God leaves us in such doubt as to his very existence, forcing us to turn to vague experiences, uncertain evidence, and foggy arguments? Why doesn’t he give us a clear assurance of his love and a definitive explanation of the miseries of the world?’
The Imam starting rising up from his reclining posture. He looked meaningfully at the other Talib and answered her with a rising sense of alarm, ‘only God knows God’s ways. It is not for us mortals to try and inquire about those. There must be good reasons for doing what he does. You are just a little girl. Don’t try to be wiser than your parents.’
Having forgotten all about her predicament, typical of her, Alice once again started getting animated. ‘If God has good reasons for what he does or does not do, why do his vice regents on earth, people like your good self sir, forbid us, on threat to our lives, from exploring God’s ways beyond a certain point?’, she shot back.
‘Careful girl’, the kind faced Talib hissed. The Imam too sat bolt upright. Though Alice had sensed that she had either crossed another boundary or was approaching it fast, she once again lost control. She continued, ‘Let me ask something different. God is supposed to be the ultimate creator of the entire universe, of unimaginable expanse, and whatever is contained in it. That also means he created the super computers, the internet, the space lab and all the cutting edge technologies that abound today on just one planet. If so then why is he so concerned about, let’s say, the growth of hair on someone’s face, head or other bodily places? These are such minor issues really.’
‘The scriptures’, Alice continued with a sense of foreboding, ‘tell us that there are sins that if committed the sinner will rot in hell forever. We are also told we will not be reborn. If the idea of punishment is correction, then how can the sinner, having learnt his lesson, lead a better life when he stays in hell forever and cannot be reborn? And if the idea is vengeance not correction, because the sin was so grave, what is the fun in burning someone forever when that someone knows it will never end and there is neither another death nor another birth for him? If the idea is for others to take heed from the sinner’s example, then all the ‘others’ too are dead and will not be reborn even if they see for themselves the horrors of punishment for such grave sins and learn from it.’
‘The Mad Hater, the Mad Hater’, the Imam shouted. The kind faced Talib lunged towards the door. But Alice once again experienced a brakes failure on her emotions.
Unmindful, she continued, ‘why does God call for the annihilation of disbelievers in all Abrahamic religions? If the unbelievers are to be indeed slaughtered, why did God create them first? Why must we do the killing on his behalf? Why doesn’t he kill them himself by, for example, striking them with lightening or deluging them with another Noah’s flood?’
There was shuffling of the feet outside and Alice heard a clang of iron as if long knives were being unsheathed yet again. But she was by then out of control. She raised her voice above the din and continued, ‘if good and evil can exist side by side in all other matters, as you just suggested, why belief and disbelief can’t co-exist? Why is belief good and disbelief evil? Which one is the one true belief system and why?’
Though none were forth coming, Alice wasn’t even stopping for an answer now. ‘The Mad Hater, the Mad Hater’, the Imam, on the other hand, continued to shout with all his patience gone. His eyes had narrowed down to mere slits. Foam has started to form at the corners of his mouth.
But Alice was now totally out of control even though she saw the Mad Hater enter the room with his men with their long knives drawn. ‘God says that the one sin He won’t forgive is for us to equate some other Gods with him. Are there other Gods then? If so, why did God create such challengers to his own self? And why would he not forgive this one sin but forgive a murderer who has slaughtered a child upon a mother’s knee or a people who have butchered millions? Why?’
That was the moment when Mad Hater yanked her viciously by her hair from behind. Alice could only manage to utter a weak sound.
There was darkness after that.