Muhammad, the Child, Chapter 60, The Search for Beauty in Islam: A Conference of the Books

By Khaled Abou El Fadl


I call upon the Conference and I hear agonized wailing answer my calls. Where are you my Conference—where is the sanguine voice of reason and the flirtatious melody of beauty? Where is the resonance of your words and the power of your belief in humanity? I implore you talk to me, my Conference. I am God’s slave—I am your faithful son and the lover of beauty. Don’t leave me gasping, frightened, and mummified by this merciless doubt.


I want to devour words and thoughts and pretend that they matter. I want to stroll in the gardens of love and pretend that it matters. I want to inhale the fragrance of beauty and pretend that you matter.


Talk to me my Conference! Talk to me. Don’t you see how much I want to reach out for the heavenly song concealed in her blissful eyes, distill the sweetness of her smile, and build a supernal shrine for the truth of beauty? Don’t you see that every night I enter the shrine, wrap myself in dreams and only then can I sleep?


But I call upon you, and I find you sitting by the walls of the shrine, frozen by the agonized wailing, drowning in the screams of a father and child—unable to speak. We witness the scene in horror and disbelief; how do we reach the father and child, how do we nurse their screams with persuasion and speech, how do we heal the terror in their eyes with gifts of gentle beauty?


Muhammad al-Durrah, a 12 year-old child, cowers behind his father screaming, “Aba ilha’ni (Dad, save me)!” His little hands cling to the back of his father’s shirt, wishfully praying that the soldiers’ binoculars and riflescopes can see his tears. For 45 minutes, father and child scream for help, pleading to be spared this utter insanity. Just an hour earlier, the father decided to visit the used car market and the son, excited by the prospect of a new car, begged to join him. Muhammad wore his colored turtleneck shirt, sneakers, and Uncle Sam’s blue jeans, but now, Muhammad and his father cower next to a wall for 45 minutes, screaming and pleading.


An Israeli sniper moves into position and shoots Muhammad four times and his father eight times. Muhammad first curls in his father’s lap, then slumps to the ground, covers his face with those little hands, and dies. An ambulance that attempts to reach Muhammad and his father is shot at as well, a paramedic is seriously wounded, and the driver is killed.


The father is crippled for life, the mother struggles to make sense of hell, and so she calls it a sacrifice. But I sit with folded hands, on my moronic chair, with my idiotic papers, my revolting coffee, my abandoned books, and stupid, stupid dreams.

You see, if the Conference would speak, Muhammad can no longer hear.

Muhammad, my child, in the embrace of the grave, there is no beauty, only the waste of the life left behind, and the abominations of decay.


I refuse to take you as a symbol for the Palestinian tragedy or Israeli belligerency. I refuse to take you as a sacrifice for Jerusalem or the Mosque’s sanctity. I refuse to take you as a symbol of our utter uselessness and futility. I refuse to take you as a sacrifice, cause, or symbol for anything. I refuse to sugarcoat a rotted, foul, and bitter reality. My son, the truth is that you were not sacrificed for anything; the truth is that after living through an agonizing terror, you were pointlessly slaughtered.


I look at my 11 year-old boy and shudder. I want him to grow and to reach out for the heavenly song concealed in blissful eyes, distill the sweetness of a smile, and build a supernal shrine for the truth of beauty. I want him to be touched by the breath of life, I want him to have the chance to listen and speak, I want him to grow, and when he does, he can decide whether he wants to become a symbol or cause.


Muhammad, I know that now you are among the beauties of Heaven, and this knowledge consoles my heart. My belief in God’s justice empowers me to continue calling upon the Conference to come back to me. But what tortures me is the ugliness of human beings who can politicize the death of a child. What tortures me is that I know that right at this moment some ravished heart is swirling in the torrents of hate, plotting to retaliate by killing another child. What tortures me is that people dare to grant terrorism citizenship, a religion, or a race, and then declare it a diplomatic mission entitled to full moral immunity. In what hellish treatise of immorality has it been written that the death of a Muslim child can make the death of a Jewish child just, or that the death of a Jewish child can make the death of a Muslim child just?


Despite the bizarreness of the logic exploited by humans, my faith in God and in God’s beauty tells me that the murdered children, Jews and Muslims alike, will rest in Heaven side by side.


October, 2000