WHAT DO WE hope to achieve eventually? What would it look like? This is worth thinking about because it can inform and direct our actions now. The following story was written by one of our many incredibly talented readers, and explores one possible future...
It was Ali Qureshi's ninetieth birthday today. That evening, as always, after his afternoon's work, he sat down for an early meal at the Mecca Mosque Resort cafe and waited for the waitress to approach; a young smiling blonde woman with notepad ready.
"The usual felafel with a glass of beer, thank you," Ali said, taking off his hat and sitting back in the chair. The wait staff in Mecca were always changing as backpackers and university students stopped for a while to earn some money to continue their travels around Saudi Arabia, but Ali didn't mind as he knew how important it was for young people to understand history. He was thankful for the air conditioning in the outdoor seating area, where he and the many other diners could enjoy the scenery in front of him; the ancient Sacred Mosque, the park around it where people walked their dogs, or jogged, the new Zamzam swimming lagoon that was built on an old spring, and made to look like an oasis, and the Kibla Disco that opened each night. The superimposed new-over-old made sure that history could be enjoyed in a comfortable and fun atmosphere. Turning ninety, he had not slowed down one bit. In fact, he was still just as fit as he was when he was thirty. If anything, he felt younger today than he did when he was thirty years old; back in the olden days, when the world was a very different place to how it was now ... the year 2090 ...
Ali loved his job as historian and museum curator, especially this time of year when groups of school children flew in from all around the world to see the old mosque and the Museum of Islam. He loved their wide-eyed looks as he described how the region used to look, and their infectious laughter as they tried on old burkas and played at ghosts, scaring each other.
That afternoon he had been tour guide to two groups of 15 year olds from Israel and Yemen who were bubbling over with energy, most of them already dressed in their swimming gear so they could jump into the Zamzam lagoon straight afterwards. He had made them circumnavigate the kaaba so they could get a taste of what the ancients used to do, and burn off a bit of energy at the same time. He told them how the pilgrims used to kiss the Black Stone on the kaaba, and how archaeologists have proven it to be a Hindu Yoni stone. They had all crowded around the stone, out of breath after the laps around the mosque's interior. Once the Black Stone silver casing was observed more closely, there was the usual sniggering and elbowing amongst the male portions of this age group, and the eye-rolls from the girls. It was always the same; no matter which country they came from, confirming that we were all brothers and sisters the whole world over.
As usual, there had been the tour of the old mosque, that had been converted into a museum. Ali had begun telling the teenagers the same story that he had been telling for the past twenty five years, to thousands of youth and tourists who came through this way, from every country on earth. He never got tired of it.
"It all began here in the 630AD when a leader named Muhammad captured Mecca," said Ali.
"These conquered people here were my ancestors ..." Ali guided the children past the life size hologram reconstructions, thanks to late 21st century technology, showing how Muhammad and his gang made the siege, captured and killed dissenters. The children moved past the images cringing, as if they expected them to come to life at any time. A boy boxed the hologram of Muhammad brandishing a sword, his fists going right through the image. He glanced at his friends for approval, laughing.
"These ancestors you see cowering here," said Ali, pointing to the holograms of ancient people holding up their arms, pleading, "... were Jews and Hindus. But were forced to follow Islam or die."
They filed past another hologram of stone idols being smashed.
"The kaaba was a Hindu Temple and they used to worship Brahma here," Ali told them.
"Wasn't that Abraham?" a boy interrupted.
"Same thing," Ali said, as he waved the children through the walkway of history.
"Then we move through the centuries ... "
Ali led the now subdued teenagers through the Museum of Islam as it was set out to show the development of Islam through history, leading to its final demise. There were cases showing old artifacts from archaeological digs in the area, maps and photos of Islamic conquests and developments through the centuries.
They stopped at a large century-old aerial video of millions of people circumnavigating the kaaba. Some of the children laughed.
"Hey, it looks just like one of those black-holes in space!" exclaimed an Israeli girl.
As usual the children were especially in awe at the hundreds of photos of terror attacks.
"They used to actually strap bombs to themselves, stand in a crowd and blow up themselves and everyone in range, as they thought they would go to paradise afterwards," Ali told them.
The children laughed uproariously.
"Here we arrive at the year 2030, children, long before you were born ... " Ali said, pointing to the colourful timeline along the wall. They were getting more restless, so he knew he had to make the finale a good one. One that they would remember and tell to their own children.
"Islamic law, which was known as Sharia, took over the state governments of all Islamic countries once their dictators were removed. This was democratically elected by the people."
Some of the children laughed, some rolled their eyes. On the walls were old photos of protest demonstrations in Europe. There was a photo of a man holding up a sign that said: 'Behead those who insult Islam' to which the children pointed and laughed.
"Sharia laws courts in Europe had expanded in number and power and the population of Muslims and their converts had grown to nearly 30%, mostly because millions of Islamics went to Europe and the US claiming they were refugees. Europe was poised to become Islamic as more imams became emboldened to encourage a revolution against the non-Muslim government institutions which they had already infiltrated, while governments could do nothing to stop them, since they still fitted in the box of "freedom of religion", and the UN had passed laws making criticism of religion illegal. Intelligence suggested that there was also an enormous stockpiling of weapons of mass destruction throughout the world," Ali pointed to the grainy pictures that were supposed to be old satellite photos.
He was familiar with the usual teenage "I'm-too-cool-for-this" attitude, so he made his conclusion short.
He pointed to a document locked in a glass case, lit up from behind.
"This did it," said Ali more dramatically, "a piece of paper saved the world."
The children peered over each other to get a closer look at the artifact — a signed document.
"A brave move by the United States that officially reclassified Islam as a political organisation, and no longer a religion, had a snowball effect. Europe followed suit, and within a space of five years all non-Muslim countries had reclassified Islam as a political organisation, like the old communism. They arrested those same imams for sedition and stopped funding their organisations."
An Israeli teen had raised his hand: "Why didn't the Islamics bomb us then?"
Ali smiled; "It had the opposite effect. It weakened the organisation since it had no more psychological pull on anyone. It was named as the thing it was — a totalitarian ideology. We in the then-Muslim countries began to question this whole thing our parents and their parents had passed down to us. We rebelled against our parents, especially when we learnt that our ancestors had been forcibly converted."
The teens brightened up and there were some sounds of approval.
"And, as you already know, many took on the religion of their ancient ancestors, before they had been forced to submit to Islam ... like Judaism, Hinduism, Christianity, Zoroastrianism ... Or they simply became agnostic."
"Excuse me, sir!" a Yemenite girl put her hand up, "but what's this black stuff in the jar?"
She pointed to an exhibit in a glass box.
"Oh! That's oil," said Ali, knowingly. But the children's eyes glazed over. 'Oil' made no sense to them as they'd never seen it in their lifetime.
"Yes, the whole world depended on this black stuff from the Middle East, would you believe! And Islamic countries refused to sell any more oil to any country that had reclassified Islam, and it seemed as though the entire world might come to a stand still! But," Ali smiled warmly, "in times of chaos like that, great discoveries are made ..."
How their lives had improved since then. No more need for oil or coal, no more wars or terror. No more "ozone" problems. But all this the children already knew. They were restless now and jostling towards the door, anticipating their much awaited time in the Zamzam pool.
"Islam collapsed almost overnight, and now we all live in secular nations ..." Ali concluded, smiling, but the children were already out of the door and running for the water.
Ali finished his felafel and beer. They'd tasted great. He watched as the children swam in the turquoise waters in front of the cafe, and heard muffled sounds of splashing, shrieks of excitement. This was the new generation of an era that had not known fascism of any kind. This part of the world was now called the "Tourist Mecca", and it opened up a new and innovative tourism economy after the oil trade collapsed. Noone followed Islam any more. In fact, the Koran had even gone out of print. It was such a boring thing to read!
After he paid and tipped the backpacker waitress generously, Ali set off towards the kaaba, as he did every evening. He wanted to make sure it was swept and clean, just as 1400 years of his Bani Shaiba ancestors had done before him. He reached the stone monument and stepped up inside.
"Surprise!!!!" Ali almost jumped out of his skin. Suddenly he found he was surrounded by family and friends, streamers and balloons, a birthday cake and bottles of champagne, right inside the kaaba!
"Open the champagne!" said cousin Samira, who was already opening it. The cork popped and hit the roof.
"Hey, careful of the marble and ancient writings on the wall!" cautioned Ali, "it is our family honor to preserve this amazing history."
Cousin Samira clumsily jumped outside onto the wooden step, and a large splash of champagne accidentally landed on the Black Stone.
"Oh well, it could do with a good wash ... and a Christening!" she laughed.
The birthday cake was brought out with candles lit.
"Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday to you! ... " they all sang.
"Here, cut the cake grandpa!" shouted six year old Saeed, "and make a wish!". Ali cut the cake, closed his eyes tightly and made a secret wish: that the world will never be pulled into any 'black-hole' of fascism, ever again.