Without waiting for a response, he added: “Because they do not have ‘ghairat’ in the West.” His remarks, as he had expected, pleased this audience of South Asian Muslims, Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis. “Not true,” said Farhan, one of the few liberals in the crowd. “They do have a word for ‘ghairat,’ honour.”
“Incorrect,” declared Khadim, “honour is a very light word. It does not have the intensity of ‘ghairat.’”
Many in the audience understood this ‘intensity’ well. They had grown-up daughters. And every time their daughters went out, in jeans or shalwar-kameez, they felt this intensity. The intensity increases, if the jeans are a bit too tight or the headscarves do not cover the head properly.
Farhan had so far been very patient. It was the ‘barsi’ or the annual prayer meeting for someone who had died last year. It was a solemn occasion, where conservatives outnumber others. He did not want a confrontation with them. Whenever they lose an argument, they go to his father who forces Farhan to apologise to “your elders.”
But he could hold no more. He looked around and found a copy of the day’s newspaper. He opened a page, holding it above his head and said:
“Look, this is your ‘ghairat’ and this is what you do when this intensity gets out of control.” And he started reading the caption under a picture:
“This is a June 19, 2012, file photo of Iftikhar Ahmed, the father of murdered teen-ager Shafilea Ahmed. A British court found that Iftikhar and his wife Farzana Ahmed suffocated their 17-year-old daughter, Shafilea, in 2003, because she was seeing boys and had refused to accept an arranged marriage. Both parents are originally from Pakistan.
“During the trial, Shafilea’s sister Alesha told the jury that her parents pushed Shafilea onto the couch and she heard her mother say ‘just finish it here’ as they forced a plastic bag into the girl’s mouth.”
(On Friday Aug. 3, 2012, the court found the parents guilty of murdering their teenage daughter in a so-called honour killing.)
Farhan stopped, waiting for the words to sink in, and said: “If this is ‘ghairat,’ thank God people in the West do not have this ‘ghairat.’ They only have honour.”
“Enough. Sit down,” shouted one of the elders at Farhan. “Who invited this brat to this religious gathering?” Nobody answered him, although they all knew why Farhan was invited.
Unlike most in the audience, Farhan had learned the Holy Quran from an Arab teacher. He recited it faster than others and pronounced every word correctly. He also had a sweet voice. So he was always invited to such places.
And his parents made sure that he went to all such gatherings, sometimes against his will. This was the last Friday before Ramazan. They finished the recital, said the evening prayers and were waiting for the meal when the argument started.
They usually served kebabs and rasmalais at such dinners and Farhan loved both. But the argument upset him, so he walked out, got into his car and drove away.
Once outside, he realised he did not want to go home yet. So he drove to a nearby shisha bar.
“Still no news of the moon?” Razi, who runs this alcohol free shisha bar in a Washington suburb, asked as he saw Farhan.
“Not my problem,” said Farhan, who was still upset.
“It is my problem, though,” said Razi, also a Pakistani-American. “I need to know, to decide whether to have belly dance tonight.”
Around 10 pm, a friend called and told Razi their local mosque had announced that Ramazan starts tomorrow. “OK, there will be no belly dance tonight,” he said.
It was Friday night and the dancer was already there. Razi paid her $400 and sent her home. The dancer, Zebi, although nobody knew her real name, was also a Muslim, a Central Asian Muslim. “I am going to fast as well,” she said. Some believed her. Some did not.
“You wasted $400,” Farhan said to Razi.
“Yes, I cannot do this during Ramazan,” said Razi.
“Oh, I see. You are a Muslim too, right?” said Farhan, “As if Islam allows dancing on other nights.”
“It does not and that’s why I do not serve alcohol at my place. You see, this is America so we have to compromise on some issues.”
What Razi and thousands of others do in America is not a simple compromise. They modify their faith to suit their needs.