Monday, June 18, 2007
In the office of a reformist cleric I waited. My irritation at a sweaty attempt to locate the place gave rise to a modest conflagration with his Amani suited, salafi bearded, assistant. As soon as I walked in, he strutted toward me, refused to indulge my weak Arabic, and displayed an almost effete but bitchy manner reminiscent of an office queen sensitive to their petty rank. Moments later he demanded my business card for presentation to the office director. Once he had thankfully departed, I slipped into the toilet to great my dearest friend. Upon my exit, the start of the call to pray had seen the waiting area fill with all the office’s foreign staff as the rolled up carpets I had previously spied were pressed into action and the nida was answered. I stepped between genuflecting devotees and stood awkwardly at the back as the prayers continued. I noted that those Saudis still present in the office (it was 330pm) continued to chat as their underlings got on with the serious business of respecting what is almost mandatory in the kingdom. Before long, a friendly Pakistani bawab ushered me into the meeting room where my things had been arrayed in anticipation for the arrival of the cleric. With prayers still continuing as he arrived, indifferent to any need to join in, he apologised for being late. I guess the hadith on exemptions to the imperative to observe the call to prayer and the cultural imperative to honour guests did not obligate his participation. I wondered also if, for all his religiosity, there is resentment with the regimentation that is officially required from the religious establishment, as opposed to the popular enactment of religious principles that he wants to see. He proved to very impressive, and highly pleasant to boot. I am intrigued by the scope of the transformation that would be wrought, should power be as consensually based as he wants.