At the Propagation Centre

THE ENCOUNTER

As I said before, the bookshop was full of people, and books in many different languages, but I was too shy to ask anything lest I be misunderstood; I couldn’t speak any of their languages. Glancing through the shelves, I could see no thick tomes, and all the titles in English seemed to be about Jesus or explanations of particular religious areas. I noticed that there were some stairs at the back next to the shop counter, leading up to the next floor. The Policeman had indicated the offices of the Guidance Centre were upstairs, so, on the vague hope I may come across a reading room, or something, I climbed the stairs at the back of the bookshop, smiling hard at the people behind the counter in lieu of speaking because of being so self-consciously tongue-tied.

At the top of the stairs was a huge empty room that looked like a meeting hall. Adjoining it, I found a room that had a huge table in its centre and shelves all around, but only a very, very few, battered books – perhaps that reading room I had hoped for. Unfortunately, the books were all in a foreign language, or languages – foreign lettering I could not make head or tail of. I began to despair of locating what I wanted on my own, or getting what I wanted in a land that not could speak my language.  Luckily, one of the office staff found me and asked me what I wanted, or what I was doing there, or something of that nature (he was speaking in his language, which I could not understand). I replied in English, telling him I was looking for a copy of the Quran to read. He indicated that I should to wait, because he was going to fetch someone. So I waited; perhaps a solution was about to come my way.

A tall, handsome bearded man came into the room I was waiting in. I was to know him later on as Brother Abu Abdurrahman, my teacher and mentor, but at the time, he was just another ‘Saudi’ who might be able to help me get the book I desired. He asked me in English what I wanted, and I told him I wanted to read the Quran.

“Why do you want to do that?” he asked me.

“I want to compare it to the Bible.” I replied.

“What for?”

“You know, to see if it is like it.”

“Do you want to know about Islam?”

“Well, yes, I suppose.”

“Why don’t you read this pamphlet?” He said, showing me a pamphlet that said ‘Who is God?’ I didn’t really want to know the Muslim view of theology or religion. That wasn’t what I was after. I wanted to look at their scripture, to see if it compared to what was in the Bible.

“No. I don’t really want to read about Islam. I want their book,” I said.

“Really? It is better if you learn more about the religion before,” he wheedled.

“I’m not interested in the religion, per say,” I said, trying not to offend, “I just want to read their book.”

“The book isn’t a game,” he said.

“I’m not playing,” I said. “I am seriously interested in what it says.”

“OK. I will see what I can do,” he said, giving way. I thanked him and he walked out of the room.

The Book

When he came back, he was carrying a thick book in a shiny jacket. He held it gently, cradled in his hand. He told me this was not a translation, but an explanation of the meaning of the Noble Quran  in English. That confused me, and I re-iterated that I wanted a translation. He said that it was a translation, but no translation was the same as the original, which is why it was called ‘an explanation of the meaning’.

Not really following his train of thought, I accepted. It crossed my mind that it was better than nothing.

He seemed to know what was going on in my head. So, being the good psychologist he was, he started to hand it to me, and then withdrew it as I reached out to take it.

“There are three – no, four – conditions I want you to agree to before I give it to you,” he said.

“What conditions?” I asked, nervously.

“First, please don’t put it down on the floor or even on a chair. You might accidentally step or sit on it, which is disrespectful to the holy book.” Well I could understand that condition.

“Secondly, I know it is the habit of some people to read while they are doing their business sitting on the toilet.” He was right. I sometimes did it myself.

“Don’t do it with the Quran!” he continued.

“Why?” I asked.

“The place where you eject your waste is not the place read it. You shouldn’t even take it into the toilet with you.” Well, I could see what he was getting at, though I thought it a bit extreme. But I was willing to follow that condition too; anything to get hold of it, I thought.

“Thirdly, whenever you stop reading it, place it in a shelf, rather than leave it out. It demonstrates more care.” No problem, I thought. It shows that the Muslims cared for and respected the Quran a great deal.

“Fourthly, try not to put the Quran open and face down in order to keep your place.” That was very picky, I thought.

“Why?” I asked. The question was getting to be repetitive.

“The word of Allah should not be facing down; it should be facing up. If you need to keep your place, there is a place keeping ribbon attached you can use.” Well, of course! I thought. That must be the reason the Bible has one, too!

“I accept those conditions,” I said, aloud.

He asked me to come and tell him how I got on, which I took lightly at the time, and I hurried off with my prize. I could not wait to get home and really get my head stuck into it that very day, especially since the next day was going to be Wednesday, my last free working day before the Saudi weekend, which was Thursday and Friday.

Read On:  Crossing the Line

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