And God Cursed us with Boredom
The diary of an Internet-addicted infidel
by Ian Murphy
Wednesday: Internet down! Panic ripped through me. Left with
no choice, I had to bravely stand up and do something. After deciding
on and executing a brief nap, I rummaged through an old chest I keep
filled with religious texts and classic pornography. I like to think
they have some pretty wild times in there when I’m not looking. The
milky white pages of the Bahgavad Gita intermingling with the supple
spine of the leather bound Buddhist Kyoden, Traci Lords riding the Tibetan
Book of the Dead like a jackrabbit in heat, John Holmes doing lines
off the Virgin Mary’s pristine ass through a rolled up Dead Sea Scroll.
Of course, I have no proof of any of this, but I have faith, and that’s
all that you need, apparently. Partially hidden under a stack of vintage
Hustlers, my never-opened, non-divine English translation of the Koran
was calling to me. It seemed to be saying “Mmmmph! Mmmmph! Get this
bitch’s ass off my face!” Allah’s will be done. I began reading. Everything
was going great, until I reached the second paragraph:
As for the unbelievers, it is the same whether or not you forewarn
them; they will not have faith. God has set a seal upon their hearts
and ears; their sight is dimmed and grievous punishment awaits them.
So basically, I don’t believe in Allah, because Allah won’t let me?
For an omniscient being to purposefully obscure people’s faith and then
promise hell to those who don’t believe—it just strikes me as counterproductive.
I couldn’t in good conscience read any further without first consulting
a local Imam. Without my virtual lifeline or even a phone book, I knew
there’d be one mosque local citizens could point me to: “The Home of
the Lackawanna 6 Terror Cell!” The folks there don’t much care for when
you call it that, I would later find.
Heading south in my car, I stopped at the first building I saw with
that squiggly writing the Muslims are so fond of. Damn! It was closed.
Walked into the diner next door to use the can and get some directions.
Rooster’s would have been a great location for an eatery, if the abandoned
factories and coke ovens littering the desolate post-industrial wasteland
still brought a massive lunch crowd. The proprietor’s face lit up at
the sight of a potential customer. He seemed less excited when I exited
the bathroom. “So, um where’s the mosque?” “Next door.” he said. “Is
that, you know, the, um, notorious one?” I asked, giving him a sly terrorist
wink. His eyes shot to my backpack with suspicion. He and the dishwasher
collectively recalled the route. “Why do you want to know?” he asked.
I explained I was bored and had whitespace to fill. “You should write
about Roosters!” he said hopefully, pointing to a wooden sign hanging
over the lunch counter that read, “It’s Roosterific!”
The Masjid Alhuda Guidance Mosque, too, was empty and locked. Guidance
denied; boredom prevailed.
“Google.com cannot be found.” Went back to Masjid Alhuda. A praying
man sprung up from the carpet to meet me at the door. There was but
he and another, the Imam wasn’t in. Spent rest of day drawing caricatures
of Mohammed quietly in my room. Fell asleep demanding Allah remove the
seals and show himself.
Friday: Day three without access to the web; my boredom was
at new heights. Signs of life lifted my mood, however, as I parked in
the same spot I did the two previous evenings. I opened the glass doors
and small brown children and the smell of cheap cologne enveloped me.
The kids took immediately to playing hockey in the parking lot. After
retreating to the curb, I kept my eye out for the grayest, beardliest
guy in the bunch. He would no doubt be in charge. I pretended to take
notes while all the men filtered out, each in turn giving me the once
over. Back inside the vestibule, I was met by a young Yemeni named Rathwan
who informed there was no Imam. We talked a little about terrorism,
but neither of us was really into it. A spindle-legged old man with
a cane gummed “terrorist center!” I wasn’t sure why he said it. Rathwan
was just as reluctant to discuss theology as terrorism and sent me in
the direction of local Koran scholar Ibrahim Memon.
Back on the road, burning refined Middle Eastern oil and failing to
decipher my own chicken scratch, I was lost. An enormous white complex
caught my attention, because of its sheer size. The building swallowed
the whole block with its heavily fortified brick walls and barbed wire.
Curious, I swung around the block for an inspection. As fate would have
it, it too was a mosque, just not the one I was looking for. It turns
out the place is an old detention center. I took off my shoes and made
my way through the cavernous labyrinth of dim hallways. The air was
thick with the same cologne I’d encountered at the Lackawanna mosque.
I was hoping it would cover the odor rising from my damp socks. After
interrupting the prayers of about a hundred guys with my dumb smile,
I was, appropriately enough, told to drive east to find Ibrahim.
I pass “Muhammad’s Mosque” on the way. No time! Must… get… seal… lifted…
I finally arrived at Masjid-e-Zakariya. The nearly empty lot was discouraging,
but a monkey-faced man with thin white hair and a dress loitered in
front of the main entrance. The once-Polish neighborhood was now the
stomping grounds for Middle Eastern immigrants. The mosque itself is
a former Catholic church; the Islamic meme had moved into the religious
shell like a hermit crab. A suspiciously patriotic fire wrecked the
place in October of 2001, I would later learn. After a minute or so,
the doors were opened for evening prayers and the calls of “Allahuwooowowowoo…”
commenced. I inquired about Ibrahim while I removed my shoes and was
told to sit tight. After some deliberation in a language I couldn’t
understand, it was determined a man name Fazal would keep me company
while I sat on the floor. Fazal, a Pakistani-born banker, was the most
Western-dressed man present. He left for a moment to go wash his feet.
Sitting alone, men walked past me, saying something about salami. I
nodded. “Yes, salami,” I thought.
Fazal went to the prayer room to do some leisurely calisthenics and
returned after a few minutes to tell me Ibrahim wasn’t there. While
he was gone I noticed several stray cologne bottles nestled on a ledge.
Fazal made some calls but the Koran scholar I’d been searching out couldn’t
be located. Fortunately, when prayers ended I was greeted by a talking
beard named Asim, pronounced something like “awesome,” which was his
high school nickname. Sitting cross-legged on the carpet, we had a lengthy
conversation about Islam. He was very pleasant and exuded a penetrating
calm. “As an unbeliever, how am I ever to become a believer if Allah
has placed this seal over my heart?” I asked, pointing to my Koran.
“If he’s this all powerful being, it seems like he’s holding all the
cards. If he wants me to believe, isn’t it Allah’s responsibility to
remove the seal?”
“Just seems like kind of a jerk thing to do,” I said. Asim distilled
the problem over the course of the next half hour into two words: “fear”
and “submission.” I must first fear Allah, then submit to his will,
to have the seals lifted. I again pointed to the Koran verse in question
and asked him how I could ever believe if I submitted to Allah’s will
of making me an unbeliever. Asim blamed the Islamic catch-22 on the
translation I was quoting, and stressed the importance of footnotes
and historical context. He repeatedly brought up the aforementioned
cornerstones of Islam, fear and submission. He was scared of eternal
punishment, for deviating from a submissive relationship with God. He
wanted to go to heaven. “For the chicks?” I asked. A subtle nod followed.
“Eternity’s a long time and some people think eventually you’ll get
bored,” he mused, “but what you have to remember is that boredom is
a creation of Allah; in heaven he’ll take all the boredom away.”
Great. All I needed to do was live an entire life of devout submission
and fear, and after that I’d never be bored again. That seems worth
it. Either that or get a more reliable Internet provider.