An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.
My name is Javid Qasim. I am a Muslim‚ a British-born Muslim.
Do you know how many times I have been pulled over by the police since 9/11? Once. And that was because I was nonchalantly jumping lanes without indicating my intentions to my fellow drivers. I got a ticking off from the fuzz who were quite happy to forego the paperwork and give me a friendly warning. They didn’t even search my car‚ even though the stench of skunk was unmistakeable. To this day I am proud to say that I have never had my fingerprints taken.
Do you know how many times I have been racially abused since 7/7? Not even once. I get called Paki every day‚ but not in the what the fuck did you call me? way. In my circle it’s a term of endearment. You see‚ we know who we are. And what some may see as an insult‚ we see as a badge of fuckin’ honour. The word Pak means pure and the word Pak means clean. And if you didn’t know that‚ then consider yourself educated.
I’m not stupid or naïve. I am aware of exactly what is happening around me but you’ve got to play the game otherwise you might as well carry a big fat kick me sign on your back. Don’t walk around wearing a sodding shalwar and kameez with a great big dopey beard and drive around in a fuckin’ Honda. That’s when you get pulled over and that’s when you get racially abused. But not me. Why? ’Cos I play the game.
I know the plight of my Brothers and I know the struggle of my Sisters and I feel for them‚ every fuckin’ one of them. But what do you want me to do about it? No‚ man. It’s not my war. Call it religion or call it politics or call it greed. It all amounts to the same thing: bloodshed‚ devastation and broken homes. Why would I want to get my head into something like that? Especially since my life has basically been one sweet ride – not too different from my latest acquisition‚ a black BMW 5 series. It’s only two years old‚ less than thirty on the clock and it’s comfortable as fuck‚ which is essential in my line of work‚ as I spend a helluva lot of time in my car. It’s my mobile office. I picked it up for a cool twenty G. I paid over the odds but fuck it‚ I could afford it as business was ticking.
I was sitting in my ride at the back of Homebase car park in Isleworth‚ West London‚ waiting on a customer. He was late which would normally piss me off but I was otherwise distracted by all the shiny buttons and gadgets on my new whip. The speakers sounded sik and my nigga ’Pac never sounded so good as he rapped about dying young. I clocked my patron approaching and I couldn’t help but frown. This was exactly what I was talking about. He’s wearing a plain white suit shirt tucked into his tracksuit bottoms‚ finished off with a pair of Bata flip flops‚ looking like he just stepped off the fucking boat. I know for a fact that he’s forever being targeted because he looks like a fucking freshy. No one likes a freshy.
He looked around the car park and I realised I hadn’t told him that I’d replaced my Nova. I flashed my lights at him and his smile widened at the sight of my Beemer. He approached and walked around it whistling appreciatively‚ taking special notice of my customised rims. I slid my window down and told him to get the fuck in. He did and he slammed the door‚ hard. I bit my tongue.
‘Salaam‚ Brother.’ ‘You’re late‚’ I said.
‘Sorry‚ Brother‚ I just came straight from the Masjid. Didn’t see you there. Then I remembered it’s only Thursday. You only ever come for Friday prayers‚ Javid‚’ he said‚ laughing at the unfunny observation.
We shook hands and the deal was done. He left with a fistful of Hounslow’s premium and I with a fistful of dollars. He slammed my door and toddled off in his ridiculous outfit. I hate that fuckin’ sanctimonious prick. In the space of a minute he vexed me twice. Firstly‚ he took a swipe at me because I don’t go the Masjid day in day out. It doesn’t make me any less of a Muslim than he is. So what if he decides to grow a beard and I decide to grow marijuana? I’m still a Muslim. I couldn’t care less if you sit in Aladdin’s eating your Halal Inferno Burger whilst I sit in Burger King eating a Whopper. I am still a Muslim. I’ll drink when I want‚ I’ll curse and I’ll fuck and I’ll gamble and I’ll get high. So what!? Read my lips. I. Am. Still. A. Muslim. I believe in Allah and only He can judge me. Not you. Or anyone else who walks this land.
Secondly‚ he called me Javid. No one‚ but no one‚ calls me Javid‚ not even my Mum. No self-respecting drug dealer is called Javid. No playa is called Javid. Girls don’t wanna be giving out their phone number to a guy called Javid.
Call me Jay.
I woke up in my own sweet time. I rubbed the shit out of my eyes as I ran my tongue over my pearly whites‚ which were anything but. It was Friday. Day of worship‚ day off from my daily dealing. On Friday I should be clean and my thoughts should be pure‚ which is not easy especially as Katrina Kaif‚ Bollywood sex siren‚ was staring down at me‚ wearing a sheer sari which had obviously been soaked whilst she was out singing and dancing in the heavy downpour. Her sari clung to her every arc and her smile was greeting me with more than just a good morning. I resisted the urge‚ instead averting my eyes to Malcom X‚ looking dapper in his black suit. The quote emblazoned at the foot of the poster read: If you’re not careful‚ the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed‚ and loving the people who are doing the oppressing. – Boom. There you have it‚ what a fucking line. I don’t know much about Malcom X‚ but he was a Muslim and made shit happen and he was friends with Muhammed Ali. I mean how many cool points is that? I had a couple of books on his life knocking around somewhere‚ which I hadn’t got around to reading‚ but I have seen the movie a couple of times. Denzel Washington’s portrayal was on the button.
Prayers was at one. Sutton Mosque was only a mile away but I still had to allow myself at least half an hour travel time because Friday prayers are always packed and there’s always traffic as Hondas and Nissans jostle for parking spots. I stayed in bed for a touch longer and browsed through my phone‚ hungry customers requiring merchandise. Sorry‚ not today. Hit me up tomorrow was my token reply. There was a text message from my Mum asking me if I wanted eggs for breakfast‚ sunny side up? Oh yes please was my response. She came back with Well you better go to the shops and buy some eggs. I could just picture her downstairs in the living room chuckling to herself whilst watching Phil and Holly. My mum is pretty cool‚ she ain’t like the other Asian parents where it’s all education‚ education‚ education.
We’d lived in the same house‚ just the two of us‚ all my life. I’d be hitting thirty in a couple of years but I had no intention of moving out. Have you seen the house prices? Fucking obscene! No shame living at home with your Mum‚ especially if you’re Asian. It’s the norm. I may not be where I expected to be by this stage of my life‚ but‚ you know… Fuck it! Got my health‚ a few quid in my pocket. Life ain’t so bad. Well-doers telling me to knock dealing on the head‚ find a real job‚ get out of my comfort zone‚ the fuck I want to do that?
My old man died in a motorbike accident whilst I was still warm and developing inside Mum‚ so I never actually got to see him – so it’s not like I lost him because‚ really‚ I never had him. They had an arranged marriage and the accident occurred within the first year. Mum wasn’t too cut up about it either‚ as she once told me that she hadn’t got around to loving him yet. Anyway‚ Dad died. The world spun along and Mum and I spun along with it.
Mum doesn’t treat me like a child but on the flip side she doesn’t treat me like a man either. To her‚ I’m somewhere in-between. I realise that she dates and isn’t averse to a night out‚ and I know she knows that I’m out there getting up to all sorts‚ but as long as I’m not bringing the police to the door‚ and she’s not bringing guys home for me to call Dad‚ then it’s all good in the hood. We keep out of each other’s business‚ adhering to our unsaid rules.
In preparation for prayers‚ I took a thorough shower‚ the water hot enough to cleanse away all of my bodily sins. I rubbed and I scrubbed to compensate for my colourful lifestyle. I didn’t drink the night before because I did not want to be hungover at prayers‚ but I did party hard and I did toke hard and at the end of play‚ in the back of my Beemer‚ I spent some quality time with a half ’n’ half girl‚ christening my new car whilst listening to fuckin’ Beyonce‚ who‚ by the way‚ I can’t stand‚ but the chicks seem to like all that girl empowerment crap. I’m all for it. What do I care?
I brushed my whites twice in the shower and tried to get rid of the lingering taste of her in my mouth‚ concentrating in particular on my tongue‚ which felt like it was about to fall out of my mouth. My final act was to go to town down below – I have to be free from any sins. Have to be Pak.
It’s only on Fridays‚ when the Shaitan – Satan – is banished from my thoughts and replaced by Farishta – Angels – that I seem to spend all day feeling guilty. I put on my cleanest clothes‚ loose dark blue jeans with a plain black T-shirt. The tee has to be plain – no depiction of any unbelievers. That’s what Mr Prizada‚ the guy who runs the newsagents and after school Islam Studies‚ used to tell me back in the day. I selected my aftershave carefully‚ ensuring that there was no alcohol present. I chose my rattiest‚ tattiest‚ vagabond sneakers as they would be off and shelved as soon as I entered the mosque. Muslim or no Muslim‚ a thief is a thief is a thief and I’ve had a pair of Nike Air Jordan’s Limited Edition liberated from me in the past and I ain’t walking home in my socks again. Lesson learnt.
I was clean. I was dressed. But not quite ready. Even though I had showered and scrubbed to within an inch of my life‚ I had yet to perform Wudu – Ablution. Running order goes like this: wash hands and arms up to my elbow‚ three times. Rinse out my mouth‚ three times. Wash my face‚ three times. Wet my hands and run them from my forehead to the back of my head. Clean behind and in the grooves of my ears. Finally‚ wash each foot. Three times. All this had to be carried out with the right hand where possible. Now‚ between Wudu and the end of prayer‚ if I have to visit the toilet for a number one or indeed‚ a two‚ the Wudu is broken and has to be carried out again. If I happen to pass gas from behind‚ Wudu is broken. If I fall asleep‚ fall unconscious‚ bleed or vomit‚ Wudu is broken. Honestly‚ I find it tough‚ and I only do this once a week for Friday prayers. Others… Well‚ they do this five times a day‚ seven days a week.
I gave Mum a kiss and walked out of the house into the cold sunshine‚ my trusty rucksack tight against my back. I passed my old Vauxhall Nova and gave it a loving pat on the roof. It was my first car and it did me proud. It was going to kill me to sell it. With a press of a button the boot of my Beemer flipped open and I stashed the rucksack rammed full of bags of skunk and bundles of cash inside. Even though I don’t deal on Fridays I still had to have the bag nearby at all times‚ and that particular night I had to drop off the cash to Silas‚ my supplier‚ and pick up my cut and he’d decide whether to send me back with the leftover gear or replenish. I started the car and the air conditioning took mere seconds to kick in. I switched from CD to radio‚ as I couldn’t have rap music and all the profanities and sexualisation that comes with it polluting my pure mind‚ and I headed for Sutton Mosque.
I saw a handful of parking spaces directly outside the mosque. I double checked the time just in case I had turned up an hour early‚ and I wondered if the clocks had gone back and I was still on yesterday’s time. The mosque was normally rocking around this time‚ with wall to wall Pakis lining the streets. Instead‚ it was quiet.
With difficulty‚ I parallel parked in a tight spot directly outside the mosque. There were other‚ bigger spaces but I wanted everybody to see my ride. It took me a few attempts but I finally managed to squeeze in. As soon as I turned off the engine I realised that I couldn’t leave my car here‚ not with weed and unscrupulously collected money in the boot‚ so close to the House of God.
I whispered Bismillah to myself as I stepped into the near- empty mosque. The first person I saw was Kevin the Convert who was stood near the shoe rack‚ which‚ like the mosque itself‚ was near empty. Kevin was speaking animatedly to Mr Hamza the Cleric.
‘A crime reference number‚’ Kevin said‚ incredulously‚ waving a piece of paper in his hand. ‘And what? You think that is enough?’ Kevin scrunched up the paper and looked as though he was about to throw it to the floor in disgust‚ but thought better of it and handed it back to Mr Hamza.
‘Brother Kevin‚ we must stay strong‚’ Mr Hamza said in that same deadpan tone that we were accustomed to when he led Friday prayers. He flattened and neatly folded the piece of paper and put it into the side pocket of his kameez. ‘This is a time to keep your head and have faith. I know‚ just like you know‚ just like everybody knows‚ the Police will not help.’
‘So‚ why call them?’
Mr Hamza‚ smiled‚ revealing a gap in his teeth that‚ as kids‚ we used to rip the piss out of. ‘A crime has been committed‚ Brother. The police have to be called. Even though it is to give us a meaningless number‚ we must still adhere to the law of the land that we have chosen to reside in‚ otherwise we are just as wrong as the sinners around us.’
I removed my shoes and placed them on the shelf. I kept my head down and walked past them and into the main prayer hall.
What I saw made me sick.
Illustrated on the far wall‚ just above where the Imam led prayers‚ was spray painted a crude drawing of two pigs. From the mouth of one‚ a speech bubble read eat me or get the fuck out of my country. The second drawing was another pig adorned with explosives with the caption BOOM. I averted my eyes and looked up at the heavens and at the large‚ beautiful chandelier that had only just been purchased and installed after a whip round. Hanging from it were ladies’ undergarments. With shaky legs I walked around the prayer hall taking in the scene. Holy literature had been removed from the large bookshelf and thrown to the floor‚ replaced by printed images of naked women and homosexuals harshly tacked to the bookshelf. The prayer rug had been removed – offensive graffiti had been sprawled across it‚ I later learned – and I found myself standing on a hard cold floor.
What should have been a house full of Muslims standing side by side‚ praying in harmony and perfect synchronisation to Allah‚ was replaced by a dozen or so Brothers cleaning.
I glanced around the Prayer Hall‚ I watched one of the bearded regulars bring in a ladder and hold it under the chandelier‚ but as there was no wall nearby he had nowhere to lean it. He shook his head in frustration as he laid the ladder down. I looked on as another regular placed a table directly underneath the chandelier and then a chair on top of the table to give enough height. Between the two of them‚ one secured the chair and the other climbed onto the table and then comically and dangerously scaled up onto the chair. They removed the ladies undergarments‚ holding them with just their fingertips‚ and then swiftly disposed of them into a black bin liner.
I looked around for a familiar face and I spotted Parvez‚ who lived across the road from me. Parvez is by far the most infuriating guy I know and bizarrely also the nicest. We had history. He would hover around me like an irritating mosquito‚ always popping around my house unannounced. He would go on about Fear of Allah‚ Judgement Day‚ Taqwa and Hadith‚ amongst other teachings. He was harmless though and despite my efforts I couldn’t not like him.
Parvez was knelt down picking up broken prayer beads and books and not quite knowing what to do with them. I stooped down on the floor next to him and immediately started to help out. Parvez looked at me with glistening eyes and just like that I felt my own eyes spiking with tears. I blinked them away and placed my hands on his shoulders.
‘They’ve stained our home‚’ he said. ‘We must get the Masjid back to a state of cleanliness.’
‘Parvez. What the f— What happened?’ I said‚ watching my language. ‘I… I don’t understand. What happened?’
‘Kafirs‚’ Parvez said‚ by way of explanation. ‘Kafirs is what happened‚ Brother.’
‘But‚ how? There’s someone here at all times.’
Parvez shook his head and wiped away his tears. ‘Everything will come to light in due course‚ Inshallah‚ and we will act accordingly.’
I nodded in agreement even though I didn’t quite know what I was agreeing to.
I left the mosque feeling pretty good about myself. My initial anger had melted away and was replaced by something similar to… I don’t know what. Faith? Respect? Solidarity? There were initially only about a dozen of us cleaning the mosque. Word had spread fast via social media and old fashioned word of mouth that Sutton Mosque had taken a beating. I wasn’t surprised that word hadn’t reached me; I didn’t move in those circles. The regulars were redirected to attend neighbouring mosques for the all-important Friday prayers‚ but as soon as prayers were over and the clock hit two‚ Pakis turned up like they were giving away free samosas.
No word of a lie‚ about two hundred of them all bearing the necessary tools: bleach‚ rubber gloves‚ tins of white paint and paint brushes‚ mops‚ refreshments and of course some of the finest home-cooked‚ butter-infested‚ blazing hot‚ heart-attack- inducing food. I watched as they made a social event of the whole scene. There was the sound of laughter bouncing off the walls‚ there were tears and embraces. The hall was treated to a brand new paint job and a local Sikh businessman – a Sikh‚ the old enemy! – who owned Punjabi Carpets‚ graciously donated a variety of new carpets and rugs until the prayer mats were replaced.
We turned that place inside out‚ leaving it looking brand new‚ and we left feeling holier than thou.
Those stupid fucking two-bit vandalising motherfuckers didn’t know the first thing about Islam and about our strength within. Attack us again. Go on‚ I fucking dare you.
My phone rang as I approached my Beemer. Before answering‚ first things first‚ I checked the boot and made sure that the gear and the bills hadn’t been jacked. Satisfied‚ I checked my caller display. It was Parvez. What’s he want? I had just spent the best part of the day with him‚ helping to clear up the mosque. I hoped he wasn’t taking the time we’d spent together to be some sort of bonding session‚ and he now wanted to hang out with the cool kids. He was a good guy‚ but well and truly part of the God Squad‚ and I think he’d always seen me as some sort of project. Parvez the Preacher‚ we called him. I ignored the call and pocketed my phone.
I closed my boot and over the roof of my car I saw the cops walking towards me. Just one copper‚ actually. He wasn’t in uniform but I have a sixth sense when it comes to picking out the fuzz from a line up.
And besides‚ this particular copper happened to be my best friend‚ Idris Zaidi.
I would never tell him this but Idris is one cool motherfucker‚ and the reason I would never tell him this is because he knows he’s one cool motherfucker and I don’t feel the need to indulge his already inflated ego. We go back to day dot‚ born within a day of each other. Our mums became friends in the maternity ward at West Mid Hospital. Aunty actually helped Mum a lot during that period‚ as my old man was busy decomposing. They were like sisters‚ and we like brothers. We were at nursery together‚ and then we hit junior school hard‚ making the right noises and earning respect at the grand old age of nine or whatever the fuck it was. Right little tearaways. But it was secondary school when things turned somewhat. Idris showed more of an interest in his studies and I showed the same commitment towards having a good time. The amateur shrinks amongst you would probably put that down to the lack of a father figure‚ but I was too busy having a good time to give it thought. So‚ soon-to-be PC Plod plodded off to university‚ and did pretty well too‚ according to the Masters degree hanging askew over his fireplace. He became a cop and I became a robber. Or‚ to put it more accurately‚ he a detective and I a dealer.
As Idris approached I surreptitiously checked him out. A dark blue casual blazer‚ with a crisp blue shirt. Wrapped around his neck in a loose knot was a lightweight black-and-white polka-dot scarf designed for design rather than to serve purpose. A pair of tight skinny grey trousers which made me wonder how the fuck he was going to give chase if the occasion occurred. Nice shoes though‚ black suede Fila hi-tops.
We shook and I nodded for him to jump in. I waited nonchalantly for him to acknowledge my new whip.
‘Nice‚’ Idris said‚ smirking at me knowingly. Always knowingly.
‘Yeah‚ it’s alright. Gets me from A to B.’
‘Look at you trying to act cool with your new ride‚ you crack me up.’
‘So‚ what’s the latest? You don’t call‚ you don’t write. Bad guys keeping you busy?’
‘Yeah.’ He smiled. ‘Something like that. Keeps me in a job.’ My phone rang again‚ I looked at the display and frowned.
‘The Preacher? That Parvez?’ Idris asked.
‘Yep. One and the same‚’ I said‚ weighing up whether to answer it or not. ‘I better get it. It’s the second time he’s called in the space of a minute. Hang on.’
‘He loves you‚ you know that‚ right?’ Idris said‚ poking me in the ribs. ‘He lurves you!’
‘Fuck off.’ I swiped my screen and answered. ‘Yeah‚ Parvez.
‘Aslamalykum‚ Brother.’ Parvez said. ‘Thanks for helping out today.’ Helping out? I didn’t like the way he said that. He didn’t mean to say it in that way‚ but it came across as a touch patronising and it wound me the fuck up.
‘Of course.’ I said. ‘Thank you for helping out today.’ Yeah‚ that’s right! How you like me now? Two can play that game.
Parvez comes back with. ‘Please‚ Brother. It was my duty‚ my Farz.’
Oh‚ I give up. He played the Farz card. Fine. Whatever. You’re a better Muslim than me. Sanctimony is not becoming. I inserted the key into the ignition and the Bluetooth immediately kicked in and the technology gave me a small thrill as I placed my phone down on the centre console. However‚ my thrill was short lived as Parvez’s voice was now emanating through my Blaupunkt speakers‚ sounding twice as annoying.
‘Am… Am I on speaker?’ Parvez asked‚ at the change in transmission.
‘Yeah… So‚ what’s going on?’
‘Right. So some of the Brothers are assembling at Ali’s Diner at eight tonight.’
‘We need to talk about what happened at the Masjid. Discuss best way forward. Security and that. You know?’
‘Yeah‚ I know‚’ I sighed. I looked at Idris who was predictably shaking his head at me. I turned away from him. ‘What time?’
‘Eight‚ Brother. I’ll see you there‚ yes?’ ‘Yeah‚ cool. In a bit.’ I ended the call. ‘Really‚ Jay?’ Idris exclaimed.
‘Uh… Did you not hear what happened at the mosque?’ I asked‚ sounding defensive. ‘I’ve just come from there. It was a state. I helped with the cleaning. Man‚ we turned that place inside out.’
‘So‚ you helped out‚ right?’
‘Yeah‚ course. I was there most of the day. I don’t recall seeing you there.’
‘I was at work‚ you twat. What I’m saying is‚ you’ve done your bit. What is there left to do?’
I shrugged. I was an accomplished shrugger. I had a shrug for every occasion. This one was slight‚ barely a movement‚ a little lift of the shoulders. A shrug that said‚ maybe something‚ maybe nothing. ‘Are you going to track them down with the rest of the Brothers?’ He said‚ and I could just feel the cynicism dripping in his tone. ‘And then what‚ you going to give them a good beating? Maybe someone would be kind enough to stab one of
them‚ so this will never happen again.’
‘Look‚ calm down‚ Detective Inspector! Chill‚ man. Take your copper’s hat off for a minute and put on your Paki hat and see it from our point of view. Something like this happens‚ people just need to vent and be around others akin to them.’
I hadn’t realised until I’d finished that I’d raised my voice. Idris looked at me with elevated eyebrows. ‘Akin?’
‘Yeah‚ fucking akin. I can throw down an akin when the moment takes me. Or do I need a diploma?’
‘All I’m saying‚ Jay… Find another way to help. Sitting in a room full of angry Muslims isn’t healthy. You want to help‚ do it another way.’
‘What other way?’
‘I don’t know‚ Jay. Just another way.’ ‘I’m not you‚ Idris‚’ I said.
He looked out of the passenger window‚ I fiddled with the temperature controls on my dash. Silence filled the car. It wasn’t awkward. We were tight enough not to feel the need to fill the airwaves with inane chatter. Silence sat comfortably with us. After a spell I broke it.
‘Is there any heat on me?’
‘No‚ Jay. Not heard any whispers. Just keep discreet and don’t make any stupid moves‚’ Idris said‚ eyes roving all over my car.
‘It’s under Mum’s name. Asian parents are always buying cars for their kids‚ right?’
‘Yeah‚ maybe‚’ he said.
‘I know you wanna say something. Say it.’
Idris sighed. Then he shrugged. His shrug wasn’t as good as mine. It was exaggerated‚ shoulders touching his ears. Then he sighed some more.
‘Fuck’s sake. What‚ Idris?’
‘Jay. We go back a long way‚ right? Me and you‚ we’re like brothers. Fuck that‚ we are brothers and I know you better than you know yourself.’
‘So‚ I know that you can’t be happy with what you’re doing. You’re smart‚ Jay. You’re one of the most creative guys I know. You can do better than this. Yes‚ you’re making some money but is this what it’s going to be like for the rest of your life? You’re not on our radar because you’re low level but inevitably—’
‘I can’t be doing a Dolly Parton‚ Idris. Starters‚ I got no qualifications. So what are my options? Burger King‚ security guard‚ baggage handler? Nah‚ you’re alright‚ mate. Not for me.’
‘Start a business… A legit business.’
I wasn’t about to tell him about the rented one-bedroom flat in Cranford. Fluorescent lamps‚ bags of skunk seeds and soil‚ the fucking lot. It was a rash decision‚ a moment of grandeur delusions‚ one I realised that I could not have gone through with. I planned to clear it out at my first opportunity.
‘You must have some savings by now‚’ he continued. ‘You’ve been doing this forever.’
I shook my head.
‘You’re sitting in it‚’ I said‚ sheepishly.
‘You spent it all on the car?’ He sounded incredulous. I felt stupid. He smiled at me.
A smile laced with sympathy.