He is in his 60s.
I’ve known him ever since I was 3 years old. I’m 50% Syrian.
When I went through my “atheist phase,” back when I was 15 years old, he and his wife started a war-of-words against me. Every relative, friend, and family-member got to know I had “questions” about God. How dare I? He even took the luxury of looking at me disdainfully, treating me like I was garbage… up until the day my Sufi grandmother, God bless her soul, told my uncle (a then-famous writer) about their actions.
That’s when my uncle walked into a room full of people who were back-stabbing me (in the name of religion), and talking about the “foe of God” (me) who had the nerve to pose questions about religion.
My uncle entered the room and (as we say in Arabic) wiped the floor with the relatives discussing my atheist self. He told them they suffered from religious superiority. “How dare you judge a teenager looking for the Truth, searching for answers?” he said. I had goosebumps. I never thought anyone would stick up for me, since I was sort of an outcast, at school and among relatives. My teachers thought I was a danger to society. But that’s another story.
“If you ever bother this girl again, you’ll have to answer to me,” my uncle said. “Under this roof she can ask all the questions she liked, and wander with her mind to the very limits of the universe.” Go, Go, uncle! I don’t know what my grandmother had told him, but from his words, I could tell, freedom of thought was a luxury many didn’t have at their homes.
From that point onwards, my relative hated me under his breath, and made every effort to “hit me below the belt” when the opportunity presented itself, however, without ever showing outright animosity. My uncle was feared among his network of relatives and friends, and my relative knew better than to bully me when I was still under my uncle’s custody.
For years, I read so many books about mythology, psychology, spirituality, etc, in search of God, and the Truth… until my grandmother passed away a few years ago… and my heart broke to a million pieces.
The only way to stay alive was to believe in what she believed in, in who she believed in. She was Sufi, she believed in Allah and loved Prophet Mohammad (SAAW). She was a woman made of light, a great, loving, pure woman. After she died, I decided to believe and love what and who she believed in… to keep her legacy, and honor her presence in my heart. I became a Sufi.
I love Prophet Mohammad because Teta (my grandma) loved him. Full stop.
I believe wholeheartedly she was a “Weli” (Saint), because every time I entered the room and found her praying, I could see light in and around her. Her stories about Prophet Mohammad, Sufism, and Syria, became my lampposts, my “truth.” I moved to Syria a few years ago because this is where all her bedtime stories started and ended. This is where I’d like to end, one day.
Back to green man…
Green man, mentioned in the first sentence in this story, took the Tariqa (followed the Sufi path) under the supervision of my grandfather, husband of my aforementioned grandma. Green Man has been at it for over 40 years. When I became Sufi, he took the role of the know-it-all religious authority, which in my mind was quite anti Sufi. He started bullying me about what kind of books I read, what kind of rituals I performed, and made every effort to show me he knew better, while I was still a Sufi novice.
I kept on reminding myself about what Teta had told me on numerous occasions: “Among every breed of people, even among Sufis, you find sick people.” Hard to digest as a child; very useful to remember as a grown-up.
So, I ignored him and stopped talking about Sufism.
Green man, the bucket and the fridge…
My mom and I were invited over to Green Man’s house a few days ago for a yummy meal of grilled kibbeh (kibbeh mashwiyyeh). The actual person who invited us is his son, who paid for everything, and grilled the kibbeh outside on a coal grill.
Twenty one pieces of kibbeh remained uncooked, after everyone devoured their share of kibbeh… so my mom asked what was the best method used to keep grilled kibbeh in the freezer without spoiling them. The son told her kibbeh needed to get a touch of fire to “wax” the pieces, then they would be ready for the freezer. “They get cooked after they are taken out and the ice is thawed,” he told her. Then he said: “I will wax the kibbeh for you so you can take them back home with you.” Mama doesn’t live in Syria, you see, so that was a great treat.
She innocently boasted about her 21 pieces of kibbeh over tea following dinner.
Next day, mama (who was staying at Green Man’s house) opened the freezer, and found there was a bucket filled with water to its brim. The Water had frozen and expanded in a way to block the rest of the contents of the freezer. The kibbeh was behind the bucket. Why would anyone in their right mind fill a bucket up with water that way… unless to purposefully prevent mama from getting her promised bag of frozen kibbeh?!
Being experienced with stupidities like this, Mama managed to break the ice and get her bag of kibbeh from behind the bucket. Green Man played stupid when his wife lost her mind asking him, what on earth was going on in his mind when he decided to fill up a bucket with water that way!?
Lesson learned: Grilled kibbeh aren’t cholesterol boosters only, but are great greed detectors, too.
Finale: My mom felt amused telling me the story, while I felt sick in the pit of my stomach.
P.S. Names of characters in this story were changed to protect the privacy of the people involved, including the narrator’s identity.