Sunday, April 2, 2017

When I was in high school I read this joke in an Arab magazine.
A-      Imagine America and its allies entered a nuclear war with the USSR and its allies, the Northern Hemisphere would be annhilated, and so we the peoples of the South would become the masters of the world !
B-      Stop dreaming. America and the USSR have already agreed to destroy the South before starting a war in the North !


When the first believers from Madinah met the prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) secretly in Makkah for the first time, and discussed with him the idea of his migration to their city, they said to him : "What would we have in return if we gave you asylum and protection ?" He said : "Heaven". And they were satisfied with that. When Islam became strong in Madinah, the same  Madinah people who first met the prophet (pbuh) in Makkah said to him : "We have done what you asked for, can you now confirm that we’ll go to Heaven ? " He said : "Yes ! "

But…  "Lagouader, there are no 'cinemas' in Heaven, no sporting clubs, no beaches, no places to go. You just eat and drink and sleep. That’s boredom !" We were a few classmates having a little casual discussion in the school library when someone threw that comment on me as though she wanted to pick a row. That classmate was aged between 24 and 26. She was still single and, of course, she saw the future in bright colours. She was right. Immediately after graduation she got a good job in a heavenly town. I have not heard of her since. But I have never forgotten her words.

Maybe my former classmate meant by "cinemas" movie theaters rather than movies. Well, in all of Casablanca (pop : 5 million people) there’s only a dozen movie theaters and only a few people can afford to pay 70 dirhams (8 dollars US) to see a film in the cinema when a DVD costs 5 dhs. The only two cinema rooms in my city were shut down more than 25 years ago. The best coffee for two people (plus WIFI and free TV) at the best café won’t cost you more than 25 dhs and you can stay as long as you wish. A good breakfast is at 30 dhs. 5 dhs is what you’ll pay for an hour in the best internet café. If you have a smartphone (and most people have one) you can have a 24-hour internet access (one day only) for 10 dhs. So how many people would pay 70 dhs to go to the cinema in a country where the monthly minimum wage is a little more than 2,500 dhs ?


Personally, I have never seen a film in a movie theater, but I have seen many films on TV. Besides, I can see cinema everywhere. Life is cinema. "57.20. Know that the life of this world is only play, and idle talk, and pageantry, and boasting among you, and rivalry in respect of wealth and children; (…) the life of the world is but matter of illusion." Initially, football was a game, a passtime for the youth. It has now become so serious that it has been linked to nations’ honour ! Initially, music was a hobby, a passtime. It has now become an industry ! Just see how football players and managers talk in press conferences, how musicians behave in TV shows. A lot of ethiquette, a lot of do’s and don’ts : all cinema. Cinema is everywhere : in our wedding and funeral ceremonies, in our official receptions, in (the way we sit and talk at) the café, restaurant, public places. Think of match-fixing, think of election rigging, think of plagiarized speeches…We play cinema even when we talk on the phone.

Sometimes cinema is inevitable. When Moroccan merchants in previous times arrived at the (empty) marketplace in Sub-Saharan Africa, they would lay down the goods they wanted to sell and then retreat to a safe place ; then they would make a fire and beat huge drums to indicate their arrival. The local merchants would then arrive at the marketplace, lay down their goods and take away the Moroccan goods and then withdraw. They too beat their drums to indicate their departure, so the Moroccan merchants would collect the African goods and come back home safe and sound. That’s beautiful cinema.

I can’t name names, but let me tell the story like this. A wealthy man from a poor Arab country married three young Arab women at a time, none knew about the man’s marriage with the other two. The scandal broke out when one of the three discovered the truth. You can imagine her shock : she was a beautiful Arab actress. This clever lady played cinema on us poor Arab viewers, the lucky man played cinema on her in one of his homes.

A man chose a good traditional musical band to play in a wedding party. The band did not come on time. The man became angry as time wore on. When the band finally arrived, the man showed no signs of anger. He welcomed its members with a gorgeous smile. He waited until the party was over and all the guests had dined and gone away. Then he said to the band : "Come along !" He showed them the head and feet of a big cat and said : "Look ! That’s what you ate !"

That’s real cinema. We Moroccans love couscous. Take a listen ! I heard this on the radio. A group of fuqha (men who know the Quran by heart) were guests somewhere in the countryside. The naughty boys of the hamlet knew that the fuqha would be served couscous. Their leader had a Satanic idea. He and his comrades collected scorpions in the nearby woods, then pulled out the poisonous stingers and kept the thus inoffensive creatures. They waited until the fuqha started reciting the Quran, then until they were served tea, and then (I don’t  know how) they setcretly put the scorpions inside the room where the fuqha were reciting the Quran, and once the big plate of couscous was brought in and placed in the middle of the room one of the naughty boys started to shout : "Scorpions ! Scorpions !" And some of those in the room saw the scorpions indeed and in no time the house was evacuated while the boys ran off with the couscous ! 

Countrymen love playing cinema on one another. Take a listen. I heard this story too on the radio. But I have to set the scene first. Only fuqha can lead prayers in mosques, especially in the countryside. Most of these fuqha are paid by the people living around the mosque. In one hamlet, though, a Jew offered to contribute like the others to pay the fqih (singular of fuqha). That was unheard of anywhere anytime. The fqih believed the Jew and accepted his offer. But some of the Muslim men of the hamlet had kind of bad faith. They wanted to poke fun at the fqih when he knew that the Jew had only beguiled him with a false promise. So the Muslim men gave the fqih the due pay. The Jew did not go to the fqih on the day of payment. He invited him to dinner instead, and gave him 200 dirhams –more than anybody else’s contribution. On his return to the mosque, the fqih found the "bad-faithed" men waiting to tease him. They said : "How about the Jew ? Did he keep his promise ?" He said : "Yes, I wish you were all Jews like him !"

Of course, as you would expect, some people can’t stand cinema. Here’s an example. The best known Arab ruler who said good poetry was Abu Firas Al-Hamadani. Oum Kalthoum sang one of his unforgettable poems. Ibn Al-Mu’tazz too was a caliph (although for a single day and a single night only) and he wrote good poetry. But one of his predecessors, Al-Mamoon, was not a good poet. And yet he ventured to read out a piece in front of an audiance who could tell good from bad poetry. No sooner had he finished his reading than the audiance started hailing him as a great poet. One man did not speak, though. It was Abu Nawass, the most famous Arab poet of all times. The Caliph said to him : "What do you think of Our Poem, you poet ? Did you like it ? " Abu Nawass said : "By God I didn’t ! It’s anything but poetry." Furious, the Caliph sent him to the stable, as humiliating imprisonment. After a whole month spent in the stablewith donkeys and sheep, Abu Nawass was released. Soon after, he was invited to a new reading by the Caliph. As the Caliph began to read out his new poem, Abu Nawass rose up from his chair and headed for the door. The Caliph shouted at him : "Where are you going ? " Abu Nawass said : "To the stable, sir ! "

This reminds me of an anecdote I read in Taha Hussein’s book, Al-Ayam. A group of Egyptian university students (in the 1940’s) decided to boycot the lectures of an Italian professor in protest against Mussolini’s role in WWII. The Italian professor waited for some time in the classroom, then went to the Egyptian students gathering outside. He said (in Arabic) : "You are like someone who wanted to anger his wife, so he made himself impotent ! " That’s a creative comment. That’s what poets do. They play with words. In a way, they make verbal cinema. A talented poet can say a love poem about a person he/she has never loved. Those poets who have actually fallen in love can express their love in the most exaggerated way. Old Arab critics said : "أعذب الشعر أكذبه"  (The sweetest poetry is the least truthful). That’s why the Quran says :
(…)
But there must be poets, real or fake. Just like cinema, poetry too is inevitable sometimes. We need to compliment or soothe one another. We all love to hear nice words about us, about our possessions, our cities, our countries. Advertisers hire people who have the beautiful word, the beautiful quill. Also movie stars sometimes. These people are happy to play cinema on you and me and we all like it. I am saying this because my former classmate also spoke of beaches and places to go. She said there are no beaches in Heaven.

Personally, I live in a sea-side city and I don’t go to the beach in the summer. But I do go the rest of the year. So I have seen some of the walls and houses that were brought down by a small Tsunami a few years ago. (There’s a video of that on line.) Each time I go to the beach now I recall the real Tsunami, the one that hit many of the best beaches in the world in 2004. You all know that no script-writer or film-director can ever imagine anything like that. People talked of the Apocalyps. Eyewitnesses spoke of it better than poets. I remember seeing on Al-Arabiya TV channel a young German woman and her mother who returned there to meet with the brave man who saved them from death. But that’s what can happen to any beach in the world. No one is immune to this kind of macabre cinema.  It does does not take much for the fire to devastate a whole forest or a tower block. And yet all that is closer to our cinema than to the real thing. There’s much more than just Tsunami or fire. There’s the Apocalyps.
(…)
That’s frightening. And that’s the point. God wants to scare me in order to save me
(…)
Many people are not afraid of smoking, junkfood or road accidents. Many people venture into dangerous places. They are heroes. But I am afraid and I am not ashamed to say so. I don’t want to go to Hell.
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Now look at this scene and see the cinema in there.
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And this :
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I am scared. I am cowardly. I am what you will. But I want to be with these :
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I am scared, but I am hopeful.

Is there going to be any such thing as the cinema in Heaven ? Why not ? The Quran says :
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But I am not interested in Heaven only. I want to lead a normal life in this world too. God says to me :

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