He’s huddled between two kinds of books. To the north, the nanny-reared orientalist glides his pen with the cultural demeanor of a well-born futilitarian. At times he emits an air of sympathy and the nasal erudition of a trained and subtle scholar. Turn up the lantern and annoying assumptions peak out, assumptions that are not at all sophisticated. The author needs to explain with the verve of a Crusader and as a eunuch of secular natural history the accident called Islam, how this mishap succeeded, how the mutation of Christianity crossed with Judaic wisdom and Bedouin lore leaped from the petri dish and spread in all directions—India to Morocco and too many points beyond. He must provide an explanation to the collars how a simple caravan runner œ became the most revered man in creation’s history, and how his band of Mohammadan companions humbled the most stubborn of regions and brought faith and culture to both the ruffian and the sensitive poet, and brought purpose and psychological sovereignty to the lives of the ordinary and the truly exceptional.
There’s a shuffling toward the other pile of books, authored by the Muslim, the modern religious mechanic, who reacts and has all the answers. He advocates the need for conviction so that this ideal can be liberated or that paradigm established or that land conquered or this regime felled. Technical Islam, synthetic religion, that’s what he’s talking about, a perfunctory interpretation that’s long on anecdote and fact, but desperately short on soul and depth. To the sermonizer, God revealed a severe action plan, a stone cold blue print for the management of the human corporation, complete with a thumb index and a bureaucracy of nameless faces—men and women without personality. He calls it a movement with modern heroes.
The undergraduate keeps the pages turning looking for the hooks to hang all the facts on. But it’s late and the undergraduate has to be patient. It will not come tonight, or perhaps any earthly night, not to the degree that he’s hoping for.
A signal from above, the library lights flicker on and off. He gets up and stretches his back, arms, and legs—grunting a low, slow grunt. He rubs his eyes and smiles as he remembers an examination he has in the morning. He’ll walk by the circulation desk and say goodnight to the zombies. He will amble alone down a dark wooded pathway between Morris Library and the dorm where he will most likely engage in another polemic, only a little more equipped for this round, a talk about God. How many are there? And can one be divided into three? Salvation through violence? Did He make the world and let it roll with divine apathy? Was it a natural emanation? Is there purpose?
The sky is cool, the moon large and bright, and his warm breath ascends and vanishes in the night air. More than two decades later, he still remembers.