Children Classics Inspirational
As a child I grew up in a multi-ethnic community; among people belonging to different countries. My father was employed in an American oil company in Abu Dhabi and I studied in the Abu Dhabi Indian School. Though it was a school specifically for Indians, still we had students from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and other neighboring countries as well (except Pakistan and China, they had their own schools). A majority of my classmates were Muslims and Christians. And we used to have sports competitions (mostly football) with the Japanese school, the American school, etc.
Also a majority of my father’s colleagues, who were also his friends, were Muslims and Christians. He even had a couple of friends who were from Pakistan. And one such friend often visited our house with his family. The thing about living in an alien country is that people try to find commonality in others and try to stick together as a group. Differences didn't matter in a country that belonged to neither the Indians nor the Pakistanis. To the Arabs and the Americans we were just workers.
So this specific incident I am going to narrate happened in 1985. I was in the 5th standard and ten years of age. I remember having a fight with a kid called Zacharia. You know how kids fight; no holds barred. We just exchanged abuses (believe me, I knew a lot of profanities even back then. It was the influence of the community). As other kids chose sides with us, the argument was getting heated up.
That’s when Zacharia told me that Allah would punish me. And I blurted out my response almost immediately.
I shouted at him, "Your Allah is a stupid idiot. He cannot harm me."
All hell broke loose then. Imagine saying something like that while living in an Arab country. Of course back then I did not know about the repercussions such a statement would have.
Just a few days before this incident, a Hindu teacher in our school (her son was my classmate) found one of my classmates, Mir Ahmed (an Indian Muslim), reading a book in class while she was teaching. In a fit of anger, she snatched the book from him, threw it on the ground and stamped on it, only to realize in horror later that it was the Holy Quran!
Mir Ahmed of course cried and brought everyone to the class. He complained that the teacher abused him and the Quran while he was reading it. The teacher was jailed for a week and if not for the school’s interference, would have been flogged. (Being a slightly more liberal country compared to the other Arabian nations, UAE had not imposed a death penalty for blasphemy committed by mistake. Had it been Saudi Arabia, the teacher would have lost her head). I remember the teacher coming back to class after completing her jail term. She was totally broken. Soon after that she stopped coming to school and we heard that she had resigned her job. So you can imagine what a blasphemous act would cost there.
Anyway, back to my story, after I blurted out those blasphemous words like an idiot, Zacharia had me by my hair.
In school we had a subject called UAE Social Studies which was basically about Islam, Prophet Mohammad, Mecca, Medina, etc. And I was a topper in that subject, for reasons I don’t understand to this day. We had two teachers for the subject. One was the typical Arab, with the white robe (it is called Thawb). He was a mountain of a man who didn't speak much English. He had hands bigger than my face. And when it comes to beating, he was brutal. He would hold you in place by stamping his foot on yours and then slap on both sides of your face using both the hands. So you actually felt the pain of the next slap before you recovered from the previous one. And he would continue slapping to a count of ten at least. We dreaded him.
Then there was this other man, an Egyptian Muslim, with receding hairline and a thick mustache like Albert Einstein. He always wore either a blue or a brown safari suit that looked really elegant. He spoke decent English and was a soft-spoken person.
Thankfully for me, that day it was the Egyptian teacher’s class next. As soon as he entered the class, Zacharia promptly went up to him and complained about what I had said. The teacher called me over, gave a tight slap and asked me to stand in the corner for the rest of the class. Zacharia went back to his seat with a contended smile on his face. I was afraid of what the teacher would do after the class.
It was the last class of the day and as soon as the bell rang, all the students ran out of the class to their buses (Our school was in the outskirts of the city. So the majority of us went home by school bus).
The teacher waited until everyone had left.
He then came to me and said, "You made a big mistake by talking like that. You shouldn't say something like that, and especially not in this country. Do you know that because of your mistake your parents will also be punished?"
I didn't know what to say. I just kept looking at him. I was wondering why my parents would be punished for something that I had done.
He then explained, "The parents will be punished because the law would take it that the child is speaking so in school because the parents were speaking so at home. They will hold your parents responsible for your behavior. So never ever utter such words hereafter. I will not punish you as you are just a child and I know you made a mistake without knowing it was wrong."
I shook my head, agreeing that I would never do it again. Then he told me something that I never forgot ever in life.
He told me, "I slapped you in front of Zacharia and the class so that they would be happy that I've taken strict action against you. If I had not done that and shown leniency in front of them, they would have complained about you to the other teacher next who may not take this matter slightly. I wanted to avoid that. You are lucky that it was my class today. God is with you."
Back then I did not realize the gravity of the entire thing that had transpired. I was just happy to be let off the hook. But as I thought about it in my later mature years, I realized that, that man just saved me and my family from disgrace and punishment because of a mistake I did as a child. He was not angry with me for insulting his God. He still acted as a human being and saved me and my family from the negative consequences of a mistake I made without any intent. He was a Muslim who lived by the Holy Quran.
What he did for me that day really did shape a lot of my thinking in the later years. He was really one of the best teachers I've ever had because he taught me something through his actions that I shall remember to the end of my life.
Of course I never told about this incident to my parents because I knew my parents wouldn't appreciate what I had done.