07 March 2005

Muslim Poem

This is a poem sent to me by email by my Malaysian friend, Bayi. He said it was penned by a certain Rafil Elyas, a Muslim. It is a very moving poem, and though I'm a Christian, the poem brings back stories told by my folks about their strict grandparents who also got mad at them when they weren't able to recite their evening prayers well.

By Rafil Elyas

I am seven.

Ustaz instructs with a cane. Its end is frayed. A sliver of it goes into every boy it touches.

He told us that there are many levels in Hell, where we will be burnt to coal and tortured. The severity depending on our badness.

He told us in heaven we would have cool shade, sweet water and infinite virgins to pleasure us.

"The five pillars of faith keep our souls secure. They hold us up from the depths, safe on a platform built on our belief," he says.

"How can we feel pain and pleasure if our bodies have rotted away?" I asked.

The cane replies. Angered by the sting, I tell him he will go to Hell.

He lashes my thighs. I run home and his threats puncture the night.

I go home and find my mother on the phone, frantically apologising.

She screams at me and locks me in my room. She paces outside my door.

"I pray for you everyday," she sobs, her voice breaking with each breath.

Red welts blossom on my thighs. I pick out the slivers with my fingernails, it is excruciating but I try to make sure every bit is removed.

One piece is too deep for me to reach. The more I dig, the farther it retreats.

Blood wells.

And the sliver disappears.

I can't really tell if this is more of an essay than a poem, but it tells of violence exposure at an early age. As I've said, religious fanaticism is not limited to Muslims only but can be found in almost all religions. I remember my mom telling me that they were also whipped by their grandparents when they can't get their Our-Fathers and Hail-Marys straight.

I can't also say if the title 'Belief' is apt for this piece. Since the author chose it as title, I can speculate that it was written with sarcastic tones. How can there be belief in something enforced by severe lashing and pain?

Thanks for this poem, Bayi.

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