One day, two men were arrested at the Id Gah mosque in Kashgar and sent away for cultural citizenship education. Onlookers, rather stunned, watched as the men were ushered into the police van, while the accompanying officers scanned around for potential trouble. No one stirred as the officers jumped in the back of the van, next to the men, who were also seated silently. The authorities were expecting a massive uproar from the locals, especially as intelligence had uncovered that these two men were revered as holy men or healers, who lived on the streets and could heal supernaturally. But there was no resistance; no struggles. The locals seemed pacified and the two men just sat there calmly. Just as the van pulled away, a local grocer woman called out: “see you again, insha Allah.”
A police officer who sat opposite the men, as the van drove off, studied their faces carefully. These two men certainly were strange- their physical appearances betrayed a singular mixture of ethnic breeding. The first man with his arched brow and wide forehead haled from Uighur, Krgyzstani and Tajik stock, while the other, with his thin eyes and beardless face except for a few threads of a goatee was of Hui and Han extraction.
whispered to his colleague next to him: “half-breeds…” His colleague nodded and
frowned at the men.
Several hours elapsed, with the flat terrain around Kashgar giving way to great slopes and mountains in the distance. The van pulled into an enormous complex, like a gargantuan university college campus, surrounded by check points and neatly-kept terraces.
The men were
led inside and presented to an official.
officer spoke for them: “they have not uttered a word since we took them.”
The smartly-dressed official greeted the two vagabond-like men with customary friendliness and sympathy. “you two have been selected for citizenship education so that you can become productive members of the state. Your present condition does not help our goal for cohesion and national service. You will learn basic skills and literacy here which will help you to fully integrate into society, and then you will have an opportunity to work for our municipal services in Kashgar. Just think of it- you will gain a job for life with a pension.”
The two men
just listened, rather sullenly, expressionless, with dumb and distant looks.
asked the official.
The two men
spoke for the first time, still remote, still impenetrable: “Insha Allah.”
made the officer shudder, as he thought the two men would never talk and the
official smiled sympathetically again.
them to their rooms and we will begin their programme.”
marched the two men through the vast corridors of the complex, into an external
courtyard, framed with slogans of the authorities: UNITY, COHESION, COMMUNITY,
The men were
led into dormitories, which were inhabited by hundreds of faces like them: Uighur,
Tajik, and many others. They walked past male and female faces. And the rather
perplexing thing for the officer was that some of the residents seemed to recognize
the two strange men, smiling, pleased to seem them, but not uttering a word.
stopped and took a woman aside. “Why are you smiling at these strange men.”
politely: “Oh for no reason really. They are two strange men for Kashgar. They live
in their own worlds. Everyone knows them.”
thanked the woman and continued to lead them on, seeing the pleased looks on
the residents as they walked along.
they arrived at their room: a clean place, with bunk beds and on-suite.
seem to be local celebrities… Hopefully you will learn here and help society
better when you leave.”
The two men
smiled ever so slightly, once again reticent and disappeared into their rooms. The
officer watched them settle through the window in their door and wondered about
their silence. While he had been instructing them on the daily timetable and
chores, they had just walked on sombrely with him. Not a word from either of
them. Not a hint of anger or fear. Just silence and a kind of dumb calmness.
Over the next
few days, the official and officer noticed some strange occurrences. The rest
of the population seemed pleased to see these men, but no one engaged with them
and just kept their distance in a rather respectful way. Neither did the men
speak much to each other. They just went through the motions of the day; the
lessons, the food breaks with compulsory pork, the exercise routine, the chores,
the chanting for the state philosophy. But what they did do was say their
prayers in their rooms and meditate. Aside from these things, the men just took
A few months
elapsed like this when the officer and the official met for an evaluation of
the two men of Kashgar.
“So much for
spiritual leaders,” begun the officer. “These two are just dimwits we are
wasting money on. Even the locals think they’re crazy.”
replied the official. “I was hoping that by transforming their own spiritual
leaders, the locals will see the benefit of the programme and show more enthusiasm.
But these two are no such thing. They have eaten pork and renounced superstition.
They are probably happy to have a clean environment and readily-available food.
I agree we have wasted resources on them. But the locals…”
them?” asked the officer.
since we have brought them here, have become less enthusiastic with the
programme. In fact, we have sent scores of locals back to their towns because
their reluctance is affecting the rest.”
“Was that a
wise thing to do?”
“No, but we
are keeping them under observation,” the official replied.
So, after a sojourn of a few months, the two strange mixed-breeds were summoned back to the official, who looked at both men rather haughtily and said: “we are sending you two back. For verily, you can take the man out of the backwardness, but you can’t take the backwardness out of the man.” He pointed at the exit, and the officers returned the men to the Id Gah mosque in Kashgar.
The two men
found themselves shoved out of the van and deposited on the street in a vortex
The two men sullenly looked at each other. Suddenly, the grocer appeared and watched them. In a flash, the two men stuck their heads over the drain grill and started vomiting and retching vile things into the drain. When they had finished, the men looked relieved, tranquility filled their faces and they looked around as if they had suddenly woken up.
“My dear friends,”
shouted the grocer, “I heard from my daughter that you were in the re-education
centre. What happened?”
looked at each other, flummoxed.
you remember?” She said looking at them in amazement. “My daughter was sent there
as well. She saw you two. She said she saw you taking part in the programme,
eating pork, renouncing the faith. But she also said that she had forgotten her
kalima, her hajj and her salah. Until she saw you two. Just seeing you brought
it all back, and then she stopped cooperating, so they sent her back because
she was becoming a trouble-maker. In fact, she said hundreds were sent back
since you two arrived and now they are under observation.” The last bit the grocer
whispered, just in case spies were around.
strange men of Kashgar listened to her, rather dumbfounded and awestruck. The
first, the Uighur-Kygrz mixed-breed said: “well, we were somewhere else and we
have just returned.”
The grocer asked,
confused: “what do you mean? How can that be?”
man replied: “we were taken to the malakut world by our lord.”
The grocer gasped
went on: “we had been eating in a restaurant with questionable food which may have
been contaminated by pork. Then we came to the Eid Gah mosque. Suddenly, the
van appeared and that’s all I remember. Next, I remember, we were in the
malakut, in a cell made of light, guarded by impressive spirits. Our late pir,
Allah bless him, came to us every day and advised us on the importance of
eating pure food. Then, we just woke up here. I have a horrible taste in my
“So, do I,”
said the other.
The grocer smiled: “well it just goes to show, you can take the believer out of the mosque, but you can’t take the mosque out of the believer.”
malakut- Arabic- spiritual world
pir- spiritual leader
This story was inspired by the writings of Shaykh Ibn Al Arabi, may Allah bless him.
This story is also dedicated to the ancient, wondrous Muslim groups in China. May Allah bless all the ethnic groups there and help them to thrive and progress despite the onslaughts of atheism and communism. Ameen