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On Friday morning, I joined James in the Peartree for an editorial meeting, and after a lot of hard work, we were both as drunk as lords by noon. At these meetings, we usually chat about everything under the sun, but one item of conversation had sprouted below James’ very nose:

“Your goatee looks very striking, very distinguished,” I observed.

James grimaced. “It looks as if I have dipped my chin in horse-shite. But the thing adds ten years to my face and it stops me getting carded at the bar.”

“You now get I.D.’d if you look under twenty-five?”

“These weasels!” James fumed. “If they had any balls, they would introduce prohibition and then we could all get a bit of peace. We could drink moonshine in speakeasies without being constantly I.D.’d or nagged about drink-driving, and heart disease, and how we have to drink five units a day…”

“Err, I think that’s fruit…”

“I haven’t eaten five pieces of fruit this year.”

When we left the Peartree, the Edinburgh Central Mosque was opening its doors for the Friday prayer. “Follow me,” James said, as he slipped into the crowd rolling towards the mosque. “I love wandering around this building – the architecture is superb – and the whole thing was paid for by a Saudi king. The feudalism is so kitsch!”

It was cool inside the main hall. James was chatting to Hamad al-Matroodi, the director of the mosque, and I then watched as he was introduced to the imam. They spoke in Arabic. I should explain that Arabic is not actually a language – the Arabs just make silly noises – and James and the imam both gurgled and whooped and blew raspberries, until James got tired and snapped that, “ we should get serious and talk in English.” He led the imam to one side.

Then the recitations began and I sat down in the shadow of a pillar to listen. The women prayed up on a balcony. I presently received a text message from James, which said that he had persuaded Matroodi and the imam that he was a visiting sheikh, and that they had invited him to give the khutbah.

The recitations ground on. I remembered that my friend, Renata, had once described being sent by our employment agency to clean the mosque. She had arrived at the mosque with a furious hangover. A few at the mosque had been polite, whilst others had grumbled and muttered darkly to themselves. Soon the very walls of the mosque had seemed to frown at her. At one stage, she put aside her mop and hollered to a fellow cleaner, “hey do you have any paracetamol?”

“Huh?”

“Paracetamol… For my period.”

This was overheard by several people and Renata was asked to leave. Yet as she was collecting her jacket, the director of the mosque hurriedly intervened and ordered her back to work. The prohibition against menstruating women entering mosques was hardly watertight, he explained. In fact, the whole case against periods was rather contested. Renata had left anyway.

This was still in my mind as James stepped up before the congregation.

“Hello everybody,” he called cheerfully. “Today I want to put to bed the whole business concerning the hijab. This thing has gone on altogether far too long. We dress up our poor women in burqas and veils, subjecting them to all sorts of trouble, and none of this is particularly sanctioned by the Quran….”

The congregation looked a little suspicious.

“Like with most issues, the Quran sits on the fence when it comes to female dress. Indeed, it comes out with all sorts of things on the topic. But I need not remind you that Mohammad was a chivalrous old chap – always the perfect gentleman where women were concerned – and he never would have agreed to anything which inconvenienced a lady.”

Some of the congregation nodded appreciatively.

“The most significant line in the Quran concerning the hijab instructs male followers, “And when ye ask of them (the wives of the Prophet) anything, ask it of them from behind a curtain.” Note that this specifically states that the man should be behind the curtain and not the woman…”

The imam looked puzzled. “I don’t get it.”

James smiled. “The correct interpretation is that the man should wear a blindfold.”

There were gasps. A murmur of voices arose, some hostile, others pleased and surprised. There were a few claps.

“ My brethren!” quoth James. “Today, we shall put on the blindfold!”

The subsequent proceedings were somewhat unsightly. Some of the elder Muslims were indignant and protesting. Others happily went along with the idea, boyishly submitting to being blindfolded. There was little material to provide blindfolds, however, and most of the men eventually took off their jackets and draped them over their heads, whilst James marched around with a roll of brown parcel tape, tucking in sleeves and plastering up the covered, crumpled heads. Some of the men could not breathe and they blacked out, but James continued his khutbah regardless.

“And now the ladies will be unveiled!”

Up on the balcony, it was like Christmas. Women were eagerly unwrapped and unpacked, and a few veils were rolled with abandon over the balcony, in the same way that freshers string toilet paper around the winter branches of the trees in Pollock Halls. Most of the women were breathless and uncertain, and all of them gleamed with the ghastly, slimy pallor of those little sea monsters which dwell so deep that they have never beheld the light of day. Once the women had been unwrapped, there was a great cheer, as if they were the winning team in a pub quiz.

“Err… are you wearing the blindfold as well?” one of the men asked James.

“Of course!” James winked at the women and they laughed mischievously.

James and I drank away the rest of the afternoon in the Standing Order. Meanwhile, I am saddened to report that Edinburgh’s Muslim men have lately found themselves on the receiving end of a revolution in the fullest sense of the term. Forever blindfolded by their enlightenment, their wives and daughters now drive them everywhere, whilst they sit helplessly in passenger seats, listening to the city passing. They are now unemployed in their own workplaces, crouched in darkened rooms in the backs of shops and restaurants, with only the radio for company. Deep in their homes, alone with their loved ones, the blindfolds can slip off, but the brethren are no longer what they once were. They are feeble and inarticulate, they are led everywhere like small children, their ambitions are now modest and petty, and they are content to sip at the dregs of life. Mohammad would surely be dismayed to behold the latest cost exacted by his mission. For my part, I have witnessed the thesis and the antithesis, but the synthesis still eludes me.

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