What you need to know:
- I certainly owe you, dear reader, deep thanks for your precious and priceless attention.
- I will keep writing as long as you keep reading.
It is seven years to the day today since we first met in these pages and started chatting about our memories, our loves, our beliefs and our hopes. If there is a “perfect nine”, á la Mumbi and Gikuyu, there is also a perfect seven in many cultures, including that of the biblical Hebrews, of whom our seven-year celebration reminds me.
The Saturday Nation and NMG should give us our beloved Rachael to hold and to keep, for we have laboured, in love, a perfect seven years to earn her hand. Or should we end up with dear homely Leah and have to toil another seven years in order to win the top prize? Many of you will remember the tale.
We will return to it in a minute. First, however, let me join you in congratulating all Allah’s faithful (mu’minun) on their successful observance of the holy month of Ramadhan. Eid mubarak! I strongly believe that whenever a community of believers sincerely practise their homage (ibada) to the Almighty, all of humanity benefits.
Did I tell you that, in Uganda, my moniker of “Mwalimu” presupposes (to my flattered satisfaction) that I am a spiritual instructor? I am, thus, expected to deliver a hutuba (homily) on such occasions as the two great festivals, the eids. My message this year was going to be simple.
I would say that discipline, self-control, self-respect and charity towards our neighbours does not begin and end with the holy month. The great fast should be seen as a recurrent training class for all of our lives. This year however, a serious development compels me to add a word of caution to the believers.
You saw recently that a pack of murderous men threw a clutch of bombs into a girls’ school in Afghanistan, killing over 50 of them just as they were breaking off after school. Earlier in the year, in the same country’s capital, Kabul, three television workers, all women, were murdered, apparently because some men do not approve of women doing such jobs. Nearer home, in Nigeria and other West African countries, schools are being raided, girls being raped and forced into marriage with their abductors, who believe that they should not be attending school.
The perpetrators of these grisly acts often claim that girls’ education and the visibility of women in public life are against their “religious beliefs”. Do you remember the case of Malala Yousafzai, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, who narrowly escaped death as a teenager after being shot in the head on a bus in Pakistan? Her “offence” was daring to go to school and encouraging her agemates to do the same.
The beastly men who commit these heinous crimes on our daughters and sisters are the real renegades and apostates (kafirun). They distort and pervert spiritual faith, even that whose very name is peace and security (deriving from “salaam”), into monstrous claims which have nothing to do with humanity or the Creator’s plan. Massacring scores or hundreds of innocent children, simply because they are girls and they have gone to school, is neither faith nor holy war. It is plain murderous hatred of womanhood and progress, primitive, atavistic femophobia and femicide.
May we be permanently preserved from such. Indeed, adherents of every faith should be on their guard against the distortion of their beliefs into anti-human and anti-progress practices. These, as we know, may range from preventing people from scientifically managing their health and lives to sending them to die and kill in the name of “religion”.
Back to our Rachael claim, the story is in the good old book, the Bible. Jacob, the sly, wandering adventurer, ends up married to two sisters, daughters of his relative Laban. Rachael, the younger sister, he truly loves and he offers seven years’ labour as bride-price to Laban. He is, however, tricked into taking Leah, in disguise, as wife. When he protests, Laban agrees to give him Rachael as well, on condition that he toils for another seven years for her.
Seven-year long conversation
The Canadian literary critic Northrop Frye, author of Anatomy of Criticism, was quite influential in the late 1950s and early 1960s, especially among the “new” and practical criticism devotees, who taught most of us in those days. Frye was also a clergyman, and he wrote another insightful book called The Great Code: The Bible and Literature. Some fundamentalists did not like it, claiming that it was disrespectful, if not downright blasphemous.
My own view is that there is nothing wrong with approaching holy scriptures as Literature. Indeed, the Bible is one of the best libraries of literature and orature of which I know. What poetry, for example, can beat the lyricism of the Psalms or the Song of Solomon (Song of Songs)? In any case, if God so loved the world et sequentia, he had to choose the best vehicle of literary creativity for its communication. The Holy Qur’an, too, has been described as “a miracle of composition”.
The Jacob and Rachel story reminds me of a nuptial or marriage dance I once watched in a community on the Kenyan North Coast. The bridegroom had to pass an identification test. Moving among a bevy of dancing girls, all fully veiled, the young suitor was required to identify his fiancée and unveil her. The lad managed somehow to pick out his bride and all ended well. But what would have happened if he had landed on the wrong girl?
As for our claim of a bride or groom for our seven-year long conversation, obviously no one owes us a reward. If anything, we, and especially I, should feel profoundly grateful and privileged for this opportunity of a weekly tête-á-tête with people we love, cherish and respect. I certainly owe you, dear reader, deep thanks for your precious and priceless attention.
I will keep writing as long as you keep reading. You know how much I love being loved.
Prof Bukenya is a leading East African scholar of English and literature. [email protected]