Appreciating Akhals

Other than Kheri Kitchrie, is there anything better than the Wonder Why pizza from Akhals?  The chips, the cheese, the clay oven crust…

I think everyone has an Akhals memory, especially people who were at university in Jo’burg and spent afternoons eating soft squishy chips, leaning against the back of their car.

Indians can’t seem to eat anything without throwing some spice on.  I remember a colleague once imploring me to try some Turkish food, he said that the flavours were not all mixed together like Indian spices, but that you would be able to taste individual ingredients and flavours.

I tried to make something the other day with coconut milk but mostly, I just tasted chilli and the familiar flavour of that generic mix of dhanajeeroo and chilli and arad and gingergarlic that seems to be in every single Indian recipe.  Now I’m left with a cup of coconut milk that I’m not sure what to do with, so I’ve been adding it to my tea and cereal and orange juice, and it’s delicious!

I did end up trying the Turkish “separated flavours” food, but I still prefer the mishmash of Indian spice.

Can our tastebuds be re-trained?  I guess they can, people give up salt and sugar and don’t miss it.  But apparently a baby in utero starts developing a taste for foods, and prefers things that his mother ate while pregnant.  So if you want a healthy baby, try eating broccoli and carrots for 9 months.  I don’t have that much willpower though – I’d rather have an Akhals steak rounder right now.



Famous beards

I saw a clip on Facebook where Mufti Menk is speaking about Sonny Bill Williams (the New Zealand Rugby player) and what a good Muslim he is.  He also explains that Williams (whose Muslim name is Hamza) did not give away his world cup medal as a publicity stunt but that is just the type of person he is, generous.

[Unrelated side note: I saw other Facebook posts about Sonny Bill: many Muslims praise him, while some others were asking why he has tattoos – people are so strange, wondering about a revert’s tattoos of all things – get a life!]

Anyways, that story got me thinking about Muslims in the media.  I was once asked by a colleague about how the soccer and rugby players manage to play in Ramadan, do they fast etc – this guy was genuinely interested and concerned about how they do it.  It’s good to see that Muslim celebs and sportspeople create some positive discussion around Islamic practice.

I wonder how much the internet and quick spread of information has affected our ability to properly learn about Islam.  It’s probably a good thing that information is so accessible, but also a dangerous thing that so much of this information may go unchecked, and that false information spreads as quickly (if not quicker) than the truth).

There is an interesting article by Shaykha Zaynab Ansari Abdul-Razacq called Blurred Lines: Women, “Celebrity” Shaykhs, and Spiritual Abuse where the author says that the “combination of electronic delivery of Islamic content and personal interaction with scholars and teachers at onsite venues has led to a revolution in ‘classical’ Islamic learning”.

She talks about the rise of the “celebrity Shaykh” and the pitfalls of that.  While most Muslim scholars probably do not set out to become famous, it seems that they sometimes become “victims of their own success” and fall into the web of “likes” and “shares” on social media, with huge numbers of followers who put them on a pedestal, leading the boundary between student and teacher to become blurred.  She also mentions sad situations where some unscrupulous scholars use their position of authority to lure women into marriage, often without much formality and without the knowledge or consent of their first wives.

As I’ve become more interested in Islamic teachings, I am becoming more and more aware of how some local scholars are spoken about as celebrities, discussed and judged, liked or disliked, some bizarre aunties even seeming to be infatuated with certain celeb Shaykhs, hoping to one day be their second wife maybe.

I guess I’ve watched all of this with a quiet amusement, often oblivious to the religious celeb scene, just sometimes catching a glimpse of the strangeness of human nature, and our odd need to put people on pedestals.  We do need to respect our ulama – but we must not deify them.

I’ll try to remember (if I ever get caught up in any celeb fan culture) that the best mentors are the Ambiyaa and the Sahaba, and try to keep a grip on those great figures of history.