A Journey Through Hell Fire
Chapter 3: Ahmed Saleh
It might be unorthodox to name a chapter after a man. But this is a very special type of man. A man you would meet once, and that would be sufficient to change the course of your life. This is not an exaggeration, nor is it “click bate”, some kind of trap statement to raise the reader’s interest. This is the raw material of the word “truth” in my book. I had heard about Ahmed, from whom I had acquired consent to mention his full name, a while before I met him.
When I met Ahmed
I was in my first year at the university. Fascinated by classical Arabic singing, I was not permitted by my family to study music or learn the instrument that I adored the oud, but I had a good friendship with an oud player with whom I went to school. He liked my singing voice, and we often met to fulfil our love for music. He decided to introduce me to his close acquaintance and his major source of inspiration, a graduate engineer a few years older than us, a singer-songwriter named Ahmed Saleh.
Why Ahmed was different
Ahmed was very different to everyone I had met at that point. He was intelligent, talented and extremely well-spoken. He could talk to me about any subject, and I would listen and learn. My huge interest in music was not huge enough to divert me from stealing the essence of his intellectual, philosophical moments whenever we could fit a meeting into our busy schedules. We developed quite a strong friendship, and it was all going well until almost a year after meeting him. We used to meet and play music with others but my role as a musician was limited as I was the least experienced. They were kind enough, however, to let me sing a song or two every night and share a few pennies of their recompense with me.
Too close for comfort
One night, when we were singing in the holy time of Ramadan at a casino by the river Nile in Cairo, Ahmed started to sing a song he had written. The words were too close to the edge of my religious comfort zone. They said something like, “Let our hands come together; let’s create a better world.” I was a bit upset, and I decided to tell him. Ahmed was kind as usual and asked me to wait until we finished; he said he would explain “things”!
I started to arm my thoughts with a few verses of the Quran and remembered a couple of holy speeches of the prophet Mohammed I had mastered from the old times when I was giving lessons in the school’s mosque. I was ready to put things right in his head. I thought he was displaying mere ignorance and that when I had enlightened him, he would stop this foolishness and write better songs, songs that did not upset God. I cannot recall how many miles we walked that night, but not less than ten. It was not mere ignorance; he was “molhed”, Arabic for an atheist. I was faced with a molhed for the first time in my life. I‘d only ever known one of those, and he’d reconverted to Islam and written books to support his re-conversion. I felt terrified. The kind-faced, cultured friend turned into a devil—a representation of decadence and nihilism. I hated the journey, the walk, the musicians, and everything related to music or the arts. Ahmed became my enemy, for he had launched a brutal offensive on the pillar of my core belief. He was wrestling God in front of my very own eyes. From that moment, my life would never be the same.
What did Ahmed say to me?
[To be continued]