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IUK: Fisk - A defiant sermon in the town of the infidel killer
By Robert Fisk
19/10/2001 2:09 pm Fri
A defiant sermon in the town of the infidel killer
Robert Fisk in Ghaziabad, North West Frontier
20 October 2001
Ghaziabad lay under a grey, smouldering sky. Its brick-stacks
pumping a black smog over the equally angry Mosque. "Now
Afghanistan is like a bloody river," a voice shouted over three tin
loudspeakers fitted to a tiny minaret. In Ghaziabad, they make
bricks, not money. A wide, pale green river of sewage floated
gently between the road and the mosque. "Blood ... blood ... why?"
the voice appealed.
I stopped the car and walked over the bridge and approached the
Afghan imam - white-turbaned, with intelligent eyes, a
well-combed black beard, and a deep black scar above his left
eye. But an old man shouted at him: "Why do you let the kaffir
[unbeliever] into our mosque?" he shouted at the imam. Fisk the
Kaffir. I hadn't come across him before.
This was definitely not CNN country. Indeed, there are times when
I would like all those Westerners who preach to Muslims about
their respect for Islam - all those Bushes and Blairs and Powells
and Straws with their sermons about Osama bin Laden's
perversion of religion - to cross the dirty concrete bridge above
the sewer to brown-brick mosques like the one at Ghaziabad. The
names of all the Pakistani villages around here have a
meaning. Bad, of course, means town. Ghazi is a warrior, one who
is honoured to kill unbelievers. So this was the town of the infidel
killer. And after a few minutes listening to the imam, you can see
Maulawi Tajmohmed had been about to lead me into the mosque.
When the old man complained, he waited patiently on the steps.
"Bring some chairs," he said, bowing to the old man who
hatedkaffirs. But no one brought any chairs. So the Maulawi and I
stood together, surrounded by an ever-growing number of Afghan
youths and elderly men, their eyes avoiding the cleric but
searching the face of the "unbeliever".
What, I asked Maulawi Tajmohmed, had he been praying for today.
There was a muttering and a perceptible movement of anger, that
ever-so-slight closing in of the crowd. A young man on the
Maulawi's left drew in his breath.
But I got my sermon. Looking at his congregation, only
occasionally at me, the Maulawi answered my question: "I will tell
you what we pray. We pray to God like this - O God, in all your
great majesty, hear our prayer. Please show to our human world
the correct way. If some do not walk this road, they are not from
Islam. We believe they will go to hell. O God, if these people
cannot hear you and will not obey your word, please keep true
Muslims safe. And kill those people, as Moussa [Moses] killed the
The crowd were silent now, though they had been joined by a
score of children, boys in grubby brown robes and small girls with
silver braid in their hair. I rather guessed what was coming next.
Maulawi Tajmohmed was in his stride. The chairs had been
forgotten. Indeed, I rather thought - and hoped - that I had been
"And what more do we pray?" the Maulawi asked. "We pray - O
God, you are all powerful and you can destroy all American
equipment [sic] which the Americans use in our country against
Muslims. O God, please help the Afghans and give them victory
over the people who are non-believers."
Across the drainage ditch, a bus groaned past, its cloth curtains
sewn with black eyes to ward off evil. Two horses clopped down
the stony road, hauling trailers of logs and undergrowth, the leaves
brushing the highway, the drivers hunched over the reins. Yes,
winter will be here soon; winter up in those high mountains that
you could see, far away in Afghanistan, over the fields of rubble
Maulawi Tajmohmed's eyes moved around the crowd, at the old
man, at the youth by his side. "O God," he said, his voice rising,
"You know our situation better than all others. We trust your
promises. When you tell us in the Koran that Muslims will be
victorious over the unbelievers. Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Emir
of the Faithful, and Osama are the great mujahedinof Allah and we
believe they will be victorious." The Maulawi turned to me: "That is
what we said in our prayers today."
The youth by his side piped up: "Why did I want to know what they
prayed? Who was I to ask such things? What had it got to do with
me?" Good questions. But the Maulawi interrupted. "The people of
this town tell me that if American soldiers come to our land, our
blood will race and boil and we are ready to fight them." He
paused, his hand motioning towards me. "I pray that God shows
you how to write the truth."
So let us tell a few truths. All through the Afghan refugee villages
outside Peshawar they were saying this yesterday. All along the
drainage ditches, past the brick stacks and across the old railway
line outside the Peshawar ring road, they were talking about the
Americans in the mosques. They were not bad people. They meant
what they said. They felt it. The Maulawi shook hands with me
when we said goodbye. Even the old man who hatedkaffirs shook
hands. "God says in the Koran," Maulawi Tajmohmed added, "that
He gives to all people a heart, eyes, hair, hands - so why do they
not understand him? Those who do not will perish in hell."
I wonder what Messrs Bush and Blair will say about that. They
would prefer, no doubt, the even smaller, even poorer village of
Bahader - "bahader" means "brave heart" - three miles from
Ghaziabad, where the Afghans live alongside Pakistanis and
remember that this was the birth place of the great Pashtu Sufi poet
Rahman Baaba. The villagers say that he died 400 years ago, but
most claim they could quote his verse by heart.
A smiling, middle-aged man urged me to sit on a cane sofa by a
little sewer. "Rahman," he said, "wrote this: 'Can you see the first
step on the journey to paradise? - Yes, of course I can see this,
when the Sufi walks to paradise.' I'll tell you another: 'If you don't
love to see Rahman, why do you sew those big eyes on to cloth?'"
Yes, this was definitely CNN country. Bush and Blair would feel
more comfortable in this mystical town whose imam kept strictly to
the Koran text for his Friday sermon. Just don't mention the name
of Osama bin Laden. Because when I did, the faces of the
villagers lit up as if they had heard the name of the Messiah.