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prayer-handsI was in my village home on the night of Shab-e-Barat. This is a very important night for the Muslims of this sub-continent. I was once told by an Arab friend that there was no such thing as Lailatul Barat observed in any part of the Arab world. What is Shab-e-Barat in Persian is Lailatul Barat in Arabic. Well I have not been to many Arab countries so I could not check on the validity of my friend’s statement.

Whether Shab-e-Barat is or isn’t a done thing in Arabia is immaterial to me. For as far back as my memory would travel I have known about this auspicious night observed all over in my own country. On this night people pray, some times through the night, visit the graves of their departed family members and serve sweets to the friends and relatives. It is said that on this auspicious night God listens to you and grants your wishes of both material and spiritual desires. Usually special prayers are held in the mosques and milads are held in mosques and houses.

In my village on this night this year I was sitting in my open veranda listening to the waaz or religious sermons by the maulanas from various mosques. Sometimes the words came to me loud and clear, some times they became muffled because of the distance. Most of what was said is what we usually hear in any religious congregation. They speak about this life being inconsequential, the need to prepare yourself for the life here after, the harsh punishments that would be meted out to you for the sins you have committed for not being a performing Muslim in this world. They also talk about the beheshth or the heaven of which there are various kinds, the ultimate in terms of luxury there, the abundance of food and drinks, the things that you have always wished you had but could never have. They speak about salat, zakqat, hajj and roja as the compulsory deeds for every Muslim. And in each of these they add their own little spice. This improvisation depends on the kind of audience they are invited to address. They try and bring the sermons to as close a proximity to comprehension by common people as possible. Therefore, a lot of anecdotes are added copiously to make their lectures captivating.

So, I was listening to these sermons coming from various directions, thanks to the invention of the loudspeaker. All of a sudden it dawned on me that I have always been hearing the same sermons from the same group of people for years on end. I thought the poor and simple people of our country have not become lesser Muslims lately. Nor have their faith in Allah receded a wee bit over the period of time. What they are intrigued about and what they would long to get from these religious leaders is a sense of direction in these days of increasing restlessness fraught with danger. Our people, and I am not including the urbanite and well-off “us” in this, know very well or at least are in a position to guess who are behind the misdemeanour that have made our society unliveable.

Every society has a set of rules, values and ideals. We have grown up with these values. These were told to us by our parents, they by their parents, and so on. These, in some cases, have been watered down to conform to the demand of time. Our religious beliefs and these values have never been at conflict with each other. In fact, our religion has contributed to these ideals phenomenally and has made these obligatory for us as believers. These are as simple and mundane as, not telling lies, not stealing, not intimidating with others’ societal rights, not usurping others’ properties, not taking recourse to corruption, not hurting people’s sentiment, etc. I distinctly remember my mother telling us that “breaking some one’s heart is tantamount to destroying a mosque”.

The lists I have mentioned here contain only a few that come readily to my mind. Recording them all could convert this column into a lexicon of values. Pray, why don’t we hear such indispensable and religiously fundamental values included in the sermons of many of our present day religious leaders any more? They have the microphones in their hands. A crowd of people willing to listen to whatever they are told. Then why do they refrain from speaking on the most crucial things that are tearing our society apart, materially and morally?

I would not be as sweeping in my remark, like many, as to say that perhaps some of them are the direct beneficiaries of the misdeeds of their benefactors (?). I would once again turn to my most favourite playwright and say:

“O judgement, thou art fled to brutish beasts,
And men have lost their reason” *

*from William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar

Aly Zaker is among the leading personalities in Bangladeshi theatre, a renowned actor on stage and television as well as a noted ad-filmmaker.