There is a penis measuring contest that takes place five times a day—everyday—between the imams running the three mosques near my building in central Cairo. The criteria seems to be that the louder, more distorted and whiny their call to prayer is, the larger their penis is.
It’s an unfortunate contest because it’s the people living around these mosques that have to suffer these penises battling around them in a scriptural cocktail of cacophony. And it’s the same all over Cairo.
While this may sound like a childish attempt to insult figures in a society that deems them beyond insult, it’s nevertheless true that when you witness a phenomenon that is so utterly mystifying in its unwarranted assault on peace of mind, you are tempted to settle on some pseudo-Freudian explanation for it: in this case, a pathetic show of “my penis is bigger than yours.”
Writing a novel is fun—though only in the sense that making a baby is “fun”.
Ideally, it starts with a blissful eureka moment for a story idea (orgasm), which over the following days solidifies into the vague outline of a plot (conception). Then it’s months or years of writing and re-writing (gestation), and towards the end you want to kill yourself because it feels like you’ll never finish (labour), until finally it’s out there (birth)—at which point you hopefully don’t suffer from post-partum depression and think your book-shaped offspring belongs in the rubbish bin.
How do you define compassion and mercy? Whatever way you do, I’d be willing to bet that your definition of these terms is highly incompatible with the way the Quran’s author seems to define them.
Consider this appalling verse from the Quran that, in my book, continues to haunt the protagonist Donia Nour:
Indeed, those who disbelieve in Our verses – We will drive them into a Fire. Every time their skins are roasted through, We will replace them with other skins so they may taste the punishment. Indeed, Allah is ever Exalted in Might and Wise. (4:56)
To my mind, it takes a certain degree of inherent cruelty just to think up of such a punishment. Yet the most disturbing thing about this kind of (arguably worst imaginable) torture is that it is not reserved for mass murders, sadistic paedophiles, or even petty thieves—it’s for people who happen to think the Quran is not actually particularly impressive, and so “disbelieve” it.
Growing up in Egypt to become a vegetarian non-believer is an unfortunate way to turn out. At least that’s if you are keen to foster a sense of “fitting in” among your fellow citizens. After all, vegetarianism remains incomprehensible; atheism unthinkable.
Still, presuming you keep to yourself, you are a lot less likely to be harassed for being a vegetarian non-believer in Egypt than for being Baha’i, Shia, Jewish, gay, or even Coptic (though, of course, more generally being poor, or worse, being a woman, entails a whole other level of daily persecution).