balmy evening during our undergrad days, one of my friends,
an orthodox Muslim named Esa, and I went out for an
after-dinner walk. We talked of various things, and
he told me this story. Muslims refuse to believe in
reincarnation, and so this was the last thing I ever
expected to hear from Esa.
told me that when he was a young boy of six, he and
his family went on pilgrimage to visit the most important
Shiite holy town of Karbala in Iraq. Those were the
peaceful days under Saddam, even before the Iran-Iraq
war. As they wandered around town, they realised that
they had lost the way to the most holy Imam Hussein
mosque and mausoleum. Unfortunately, no one in their
group knew proper conversational Arabic and, before
long, they had given up hopes of arriving at the mosque
in time to attend evening prayers.
Esa, who was tagging along with his mom, was smiling
broadly, as if relishing the discomfiture of his family
members. Bemused, they turned to him and asked him whether
he knew the way. To their surprise, he exclaimed "Yes!"
led the group through the maze of narrow walkways and
alleys and, within a few minutes, they'd reached the
main mosque, well before prayer time! Turning to him,
his mother asked him how he'd known the way. He still
remembers his reply: "I was born here, and I was
Imam at this mosque!" Esa's father's great-great-grandfather
was the chief priest at the famous Imam Hussein mosque
sometime in the last century.
Posted January 31, 2008