Monday, February 11, 2008

Doktooor Moustafa: teacher and preacher

Beer causes cancer! So says Dr. Moustafa, my Arabic tutor at Fajr Center. He has been teaching me Classical Arabic this past month and he is a wonderful instructor. He uses humor, stories, and lots of patience to teach me. He speaks no English, unless it’s absolutely necessary. When I do speak English, he punishes me by asking me to hand over LE 1 to him.

His odd statement came about after I told him about my doorman Mahmoud, who asked me for beer. First, he was amused, but then a little upset. He said to me, “haram alayk” or shame on you! Shame on the doorman for drinking beer, but also shame on me for giving him the beer. Alcohol, of course, is Haram, or forbidden by the Qu’ran. Devout muslims do not touch the stuff. Dr. Moustafa advised me to say this to my doorman the next time he requests alcohol:

What’s your name?
That’s the name of the prophet! Shame on you!

The doorman should stop asking me for alcohol after this exchange. However, I explained to my tutor that I need to maintain good relations with the doorman. So far, he likes me. If I were to stop giving him beers, he may turn against me. Dr. Moustafa asked me, “how about your relationship with God?!”

Last week, I brought in a bag of beer concealed in dark plastic bags. I placed my bag next to my chair, as always. During the middle of the lesson, he asked me what I had in my bag, as it looked rather bulky. He then picked up my bag, saying it was very heavy. I told him of the Koosharee party I was going to in Garden City, by downtown. “Ah…then you have Koosharee ingredients in your bag!” I told him I had “juice” in my bag. Satisfied with that, he did not press me further.

At 35, Dr. Moustafa is fluent in Farsi, French, Arabic and some English. He studied history at Cairo University and still teaches there during the week. He is the most personable teacher I’ve ever had in my life. For example, he hugs me every time he sees me before class. Last week, he fed me breakfast of bread, mashed potatoes, cheese and olives. I reciprocated by bringing him a box of kanafa and bisboosa, two popular pastries in Egypt. A few days ago, he fed me a Kofta lunch. And today, he made me a ful (bean) sandwich during break.

A lecturer on Huda TV, the Islamic televangelism channel on cable TV, explained that when someone praises you, generally he wants something from you. I’ve been thinking about this statement. Obviously, Dr. Moustafa is a very kind and pleasant person. He has treated me like a brother. However, he wants to convert me to Islam. And he has not been shy about his intentions. For example, in the first week of class, he would ask me to recite and then to sing the Fatiha, the opening sura of the Qu’ran, with him. In the second week, he invited me to pray with him at the nearby mosque. I never accepted, telling him “later.” A year of living in China as an English teacher taught me to have a long distance relationship with the word “no.” I would love to pray with him or with any other Muslims; however, with so little understanding of the Qu’ran and Islam, I feel that the prayer is meaningless to me at this point. And in subsequent classes, he would talk about Prophet Mohamed (Peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) and his life during the lesson.

The other day, Moustafa accompanied me on the metro to downtown, where we waited for my friend David before dinner with his aunt. On the metro platform, he took my hand and asked me, “What is the purpose of life? These are important questions you must ask and be able to answer. You will find many of these answers in the Qu’ran. Surely, you will become a Muslim, insh’allah!” This is a phrase that he has used repeatedly in class for many weeks: “Surely, you will become a Muslim, insh’allah!” And I humor him with “insh’allah!” or “God Willing.”

The proselytizing will continue. And I will continue to say “insh’allah!” I love all the food he has been feeding me, but I remember Economist Milton Friedman’s saying, “there is no free lunch.” Surely, there must be a cost to Dr. Moustafa’s largesse.

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