A Christmas Nasheed: Saba Mahmood, Progressive Islam, Postcolonial Subjectivities and Hajar

Sheikh Yufist, Imam of the Dangerousnutter-on-Sea mosque, penning his Christmas hutba.

It was the jummah before Christmas, and Sheikh Yufist (the Imam of the Dangerousnutter-on-Sea masjid) was delivering the guest hutba at Visible College.

The Professor was in attendance, breaking a several month long abstinence. An abstinence begun in the somewhat acrimonious aftermath of his previous Islamist fiasco, but which had gradually calmed into a blissful and noiseless state of permanently temporary ambiguity between his own Faddakian Autonomous Zone and the Walled and Wailing City. There was, however, a good reason to be in attendance: he was hosting a distinguished research visitor from the Far East who, with the refined and balanced character of his people, managed to maintain the group prayer as a rule. He had not intended to bring this friend to the College jummah, as the hutbas were generally of a low quality. Given the choice, he would have preferred the Urdu speaking masjid because, not knowing any Urdu, there was a no chance of comprehension and irritation. Unfortunately there was no time to go elsewhere.

Oh well, he resigned himself: this jummah might always present an opportunity for a reactive observation or two. Sometimes the worse the hutba the better in that respect. That’s how it worked out last year: a terrible hutba led to his solving the problem of the number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin. Who knows, this jummah might even provide the elusive conclusion to pages of his ongoing roman à clef, now long overdue for completion.

And as expected, the hutba was indeed weak, if not exactly bad. The sheikh railed against the dangers of the West, in typical fashion but, this time, with a seasonal twist. “You are students at this College, in this English country, and people here — maybe other students, maybe your lecturers — expect you at this time to conform to their ways. But their ways are those of jahiliya, ignorance. And you as Muslims, you have made a solemn pact with Allah subhanahu wa-ta’ala, not to return to that: if you return, you commit a serious sin and you risk the hellfire. So if someone says ‘Merry Christmas’ to you, do not reply back, oh my brothers. Tell them proudly you are a Muslim and that to celebrate the birth of the Prophet Isa (upon whom be peace) is shirk: we do not celebrate the birth days of any prophets! We submit to the one Allah alone, not to the grave Christian error of a God-in-a-man! Do not reply back ‘Merry Christmas’, even though you feel the social pressure of lecturers and students — that pressure is nothing more than shaytan’s whisper! And beware, oh my brothers, shaytan is closer to you than you think. There are those, they are even here, in this jummah, maybe even sitting beside you — who call themselves Muslims but they are munaqfiq, hypocrites: they will tell you it’s just a conventional greeting, this ‘Merry Christmas’, they who will argue for so called progressive Islam, secular Islam. But that is just their way of saying compromise with our enemies!”

And so on.

After the hutba the Professor met the Wild Haired Postcolonial Theorist, the Builder and the Geographer at a local cafe.

“I think that bit about munafiq was directed against me,” said the Builder. “You know he’s been banging on against Christmas for three weeks solid now. The College was got concerned so they called me in to mediate between the Rector and the students who invited him, but that seems to have only added fuel to the fire. There’s a real lost opportunity here: they could be speaking about Mariam, the fact that she’s mentioned more times in the Qur’an than in the Gospels. Instead they’re wasting their time on this stuff: of course there never was any danger we’ll all start celebrating Christmas, it’s insulting to the audience to even suggest this might be a temptation.”

“Oh, nuts to the colonial forces of Visible College! If you are serious about a true awakening of the student body, you ought to stop talking to the authorities and start giving hutbas yourself,” said the Geographer to the academics (the Professor, the Builder and the Wild Haired Postcolonial Theorist all worked in various departments within the College). “Work with the Muslim student association, not bemoan their poverty after prayer. Form an Tawhesive assemblage of students and academics. Just think of how powerful a force that would become for good. They respect you already as teachers, right? They’ll respect you if you sat down and explained it all to them, your reading, gave them the zakat of your marifat. What if the Professor and the Builder were to give a double hutba, say, about nature of your trip along the A12, what you saw, what you became at the end of that road. Of course you’ll have to step down from the high tower a bit — that’ll do you good too. Just say it clearly, without the difficult academic language. Bring them along for the ride, next time you head out that way, why don’t you?

“It would be funny too,” he mused, laughing, “improbably so: all those East End rudeboys and you camp academic types working to free the ummah from its enslaved mindset.”

Tovarisch, if I related 1/46th of what I came up with in my last Ramadan Reading, loudly and clearly without the academic language, the people would kill me,” replied the Professor. “Plus, I’ve got this massive Christmas tree at home, so there’s my credibility blown.”

“We’ve got a little one too actually,” chuckled the Wild Haired Theorist. “I didn’t realise kuffardom was a size competition.”

We leave the men at their cafe and move forward a few hours, to the Ilford maisonette of Sheikh Yufist. Having stayed up a third of the night in recitation, making his Witr prayer and miswaking his teeth and putting on his thermal underpants, the sheikh was settling down to bed.

But what’s this? A scratching at the window. Outside, a storm is raging, and the rain weighs down heavily. The window was accidentally left half open, and the winds bellow the curtains out, like three sails (lightning flash) like three giants walking toward him (flash) like three angels, now towering over him, cowering in his nightgown.

“W-Who are you? What manner of jinn are you?” he whimpers.

“We are the triple spirit, thrice named, of Christmas past, present and future,” the being replies.

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