Mix of faith, facts and fiction
Kanchan Mehta

The Order of Light
by Haroon Moghul
Penguin. Rs 250 Pages 274

The Order of LightHaroon Moghul’s book is a discourse on the predicament of the Islamic world. The opening chapter "The end of Islam" which encapsulates the Arab world’s stormy history could be turgid reading. The militarily weak Arab world’s sad history of humiliation at the hands of well-armed crusaders tugs at the heartstrings.

The book surveys the gamut of issues affecting the Arab nations. How dismantling Islam can restore its primacy is the biggest of all. Jerusalem is a sore point with the Arab world. Arab disharmony, the superiority of Israeli force and the plight of Palestinians are causes for concern for oil-rich countries.

The writer takes us on a witty trip to Egypt and its capital Cairo. Egypt, the land of Nile, the brown world, has been the nerve centre of the Islamic world. Cairo is a "sprawling castle", "a poor and decrepit place devoid of any fantasy’s realisation" The writer lashes out at overpopulation and "the brainless governments and backward thought processes" for its dismal developments.

Haroon Moghul underlines Egyptian sensitivity which is in marked contrast to the Arabs, "who exhibit an open racism so common it ceases, to be offensive and is instead expected." The loud-mouthed Egyptians are specifically "generous, warm hearted and inviting, a spitting image of the true Arab."

We are acquainted with eminent Masjids and their historical importance. We are taken to the site of the traditional Muslim festival, "Mawlid of Sayyidna Husayn". The believers go berserk at non-Muslims. The irate young men rant at the pitiable state of Palestinians to jolt the silent mob and government. The infuriated voices are quelled by cruel cops. The writer comments; "Egypt is a country that took pride in oppressing whoever got a little too autonomous".

The writer has registered his protest over Egyptian capitulation to Westernisation. He writes:

"The restaurant was filled with young Egyptian heads bobbing to top ten American pop. Their very presence was unsettling.... No matter how hard Egypt tried, it simply could not be that bold, colourful and artificial."

Egypt’s adaptation to westernisation appears offensive to the basic Egyptian sensibility. But since "America is powerful, Egyptian reasoning goes, American fast food is therefore tasty, healthy and fun. (It is rarely if ever these three). Still, that’s also the explanation for the incredible fusion of fast food popping up all over Cairo faster than you can say Gamiat-al-Duwal-al-Arabiyyah."

The Order of Light is a thought-provoking book seething with critical observations and laconic comments. "Hypocrisy" is Haroon Moghul’s word for "American reality". "Impotent and Irrelevant" capture the waning glory of Islam. It denounces the Islamic and Western worlds for their prejudice against women. Both reduce woman to a commodity with the only difference being that the Muslim man does it crudely while the Western man uses subterfuge.

"The Muslim man is marked by his penchant for possession, for more than one wife, for multiplicity bonded to a single and strong axis.... The Western man goes trying one woman after other letting them walk free so that he can use them easily — liberation or exploitation depending on your perspective — but the poor women are too slow to catch one. Some of them even think that the more they reveal, the more they’re emancipated."

The worst thing about both of these worlds is their sense of superiority, a source of trouble, which the writer strongly disapproves.

The Order of Light is a synthesis of fact and fiction. It teachers the readers of the past and current history of the Arab world. It is also a story full of agony and tragedy and presents a gallery of portraits sharply and sensitively etched.

In a moving manner, the experience of a young Pakistani American, a victim of hybridity i.e. half-Muslim/half-American, who enrols at a language institute at Cairo to study Arabic and Quaran — Haris is his roommate and Mayabyn is his second self.

The writer penetrates the neurotic mind of the young protagonist who considers himself a failure. He engages himself with religion out of fear and haltingly. He admits regretfully:

"We had become faithless men worried incessantly about faith. We were increasingly unable to come together and more and more puzzled by panic precisely because we could not. And we also felt a deeper harder fear, which comes at random hours of the day..."

During one of his restless flights, he bumps into the Order of Light, a faction of five men, self-proclaimed descendants of Sulah-al-Din’s 12th century Kurdish retinue. The Order of Light works to restore the glory of Islam and preserve the sanctity of Islamic culture through self-sacrifice. The Order flays the modern man for his godlessness and seeks to chasten him.

The young protagonist has a heated exchange with Rojet, the leader of the order.

Rojet attempts to mesmerise the protagonist with his arguments but the protagonist disagrees profoundly with his dictum of "suicide". The suicides committed by members of the order freeze the protagonist to stone and inspire terror in Cairo.

The young protagonist is an unforgettable character and through his neuroticism and frantic attempts to escape the writer has emphatically conveyed that religion needs to be freed from fear and compulsion. It must spring from one’s own will.

"Those who came to this religion of their own volition were gripped by an insurmountable faith. Each progress was made by their careful determination. But those like me, born into Islam and taught the perfect past that belonged to their blood, had a legacy for which they suffered enormously."