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a religion which Allâh has not ordained
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The Visit of the Old Lady!

The Visit of the Old Lady!

Published in September 14, 2010

Translated by: Ahmed Fathy

  This is real story from our own memories in Egypt. It took place within the last years of Sadat era in Egypt, in the late 1970s, when we used to deliver lectures as an assistant professor within a faculty building of Al-Azhar University outside Cairo, inside the Delta Al-Menoufiya Governorate. This Azharite faculty building was a new one on the highway leading to and from Cairo. After delivering our lectures there, we used to wait for the bus to take us back home to Cairo; we used to wait before an old rural building adjacent to the faculty, with a signboard showing the building to be an agricultural society; this building reminded us of the agricultural society in our country village in Al-Sharqiyah Governorate. At one time, we began to notice that this building of the agricultural society near the faculty building of Al-Azhar in Al-Menoufiya Governorate was painted in yellow, and the old signpost was removed to be replaced by another one showing the place to be a social solidarity society; we felt an eerie feeling regarding this sudden change. A week later, suddenly, we saw signboards within the skyline on the highway before the village and many of them beside the faculty building and the agricultural society building that turned overnight into a social solidarity society, welcoming Egypt's first lady at the time, Mrs. Jihan Sadat, who would be here within days to inaugurate this building of the social solidarity society! Instead of delivering our lecture in Muslim history, we talked with our students at the faculty building within a forum about the negative centuries-old Egyptian bureaucracy and its arts of flattery and hypocrisy leading to holding celebrations, processions, and moulids/feasts, before and after 1952 revolution, to create media propaganda over imaginary projects whose cornerstones would be photographed and filmed and much ink is wasted to write about them, to be eventually forgotten, making cornerstones like tombstones signaling the death of conscience. The dean of this faculty was apparently and seemingly a man with integrity, dignity, and high resolve; we used to admire his setting himself apart from the rest of hypocritical professors who tended to flatter everyone who seemed an 'important' figure. We used to respect this dean, and it crossed our mind to talk to him jokingly and have a good laugh about this deceit that would occur beside the faculty, to re-label an old building to allow Egypt's first lady to inaugurate an imaginary society that will never exist; the whole matter was confined to a new signboard and yellow layer of paint, with the total cost of less than LE 100. Yet, the inauguration ceremony costs would reach thousands of LE, a waste to the Egyptian State finances. When we told the dean about this, he silenced us with a nonverbal sign from his finger, while looking frantically around him so that he would make sure no one heard us talking to him! preparations were fast being done to receive Egypt's first lady, and smile of the dean disappeared and he wore a look of seriousness and feeling in charge or in control; he seemed to be bent on making a significant appearance in such procession of flattery to 'honor' the faculty. We began to look down upon this dean and to despise him; he became no different from any other hypocritical professors and employees of Al-Azhar who surrounded him for days to prepare for the reception of Egypt's first lady. One day before the very day, the 'big' day, our students told us that they are not going to attend lectures tomorrow as all lectures got canceled because of the celebrations of the coming of Egypt's first lady. We engaged into open democratic discussions with our students, eventually making them agree with us to attend our lecture tomorrow so as to avoid their dignity and ours being hurt by being forced to attend such celebrations and to leave lectures because of such silly event. We agreed to hold the lecture normally and ignore all celebrations to prove to everyone else that Egypt still has men who adamantly refuse hypocrisy. We met with the dean in his office to notify him of the decision made by the students, and we talked formally, not cordially, with him, asserting that tomorrow would never be a day off, and lectures would go on so that we protect the honor and dignity of the faculty, its students, and its professors. The dean allowed us to talk to him for a while, and then said to us that he never made a decision to make the next day off in the faculty; he himself assured us that he would not attend the hypocritical celebration of Egypt's first lady. We felt overjoyed, and fearing he would eat his words, we readily and hastily told our students of the decision of the dean. Our students came with us to the dean's office and saw him asserting to some professors, in a loud voice, that he would not attend such event to preserve his dignity. Some professors protested against this sudden decision of the dean, and they warned him that his post as a dean entails his being among the first figures to welcome Egypt's first lady, as his absence from the event would be noticeable and would open up the scope of surmises about his political stance that might harm his high-rank and stature, making him under scrutiny of Sadat's men. We were about to interfere to support the stance of the dean and to assert that dignity of the dean and the faculty is far more important than anything else and any other considerations; but we fell silent as the dean said in a wavering voice that how come he would attend while not receiving a proper, formal invitation; invitations were sent to the headmaster of the nearby high-school and high-rank agricultural engineers and other employees and officials, but not for the dean himself. He seemed about to weep and cry! We looked at our students and they looked at us with astonishment mixed with sorrow. As we and our students were leaving this scene, some of them asked us if the dean would attend the hypocritical event the next day, and we assured them that he would attend willingly, however realistically he feigned being on the brink of tears! On the 'big' day, our students and us were at the lecture room talking about the hypocrisy of Egyptian bureaucracy within the past eras until now, while the dean and all professors, employees, and officials stood at the procession holding signboards of welcoming and supporting Mrs. Jihan Sadat s they receive her. We said to our students by the end of the lecture: How come you are wondering about our bad health? Being in a good health amidst such circumstances is the real source of wonder!                        


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