And we were off to shop! The spiritual enlightenment of Ramadan seemed to have caught us early, and there we were, out to shop for the coming Ramadan.
First stop- Baitul Mukarram
Everyone is aware of the presence of the Baitul Mukarram bookshops that exclusively sell Islamic literature, but few know the exact location. Opposite Dhaka GPO, behind the glamorous goldsmiths, line make-shift shops with bamboo and sheets of bluish polythene. From Namaj-made-easy, to the stories of the Prophets, to fragrance, prayer mat, surma and counting beads: the place has it all. Being the compulsive buyer that I was, the whole ambience seemed overwhelming but my friend who had a cool head on his shoulders muttered, “let me do the haggling,” and that put a leash on my frenzy.
“Do you have the translation of the Qur'an by Mohammed Asad?” I asked enthusiastically. After rummaging through a stack of books, the shop-keeper brought out a translation by Mohammed Yousuf Ali, printed in lavish art paper with an impressive, brown cover, “Saudi print”, he said with a sense of pride. Realising the confusion, Sahil explained that we wanted Asad not Yousuf Ali. But the aged man resembling Gandalf the Grey, gave a blank look. And he was not the only one. Our enquiry pretty much yielded the same expression from everyone.
Between the two of us, we had more or less all the notable English translations sans Asad. I already had a copy of Yousuf Ali, which I brought from my last visit to Saudi Arabia and also Shakir; Sahil had Pickthall.
We opted to set realistic goals this Ramadan. We were not habituated in reading the Qur'an on a daily basis. We figured, if we zero in on a certain aspect of the Qur'an and try to understand the religious position of the matter, the goal seemingly becomes achievable. But as it seemed, Asad had to wait!
A young brother with an impressive beard and an interesting haircut came to our help. “You will get the English translations in bookshops of Gulshan. Here you get only Bengali translations.”
He was like an angel in disguise. We needed help. There we were in a bibliophile's world without a road map. We wanted Asad, yes, but we also wanted Bengali tafsirs (explanation of the Qur'an along with translation), we wanted a sirah (biography of Prophet Mohammed, peace and blessings be upon him) and so much more.
“If you want pragmatic tafsirs you must try the modern scholars and Asad does give a different view of Islam. But you should not ignore giants of the field like Ibn Kathir, who can give you an insight into the realms of spirituality. The work transgress time, it is relevant today as it was centuries ago”, said Abdul Quadir.
“Do you have the volume that has Surah Nisa?” We had decided to concentrate only on Chapter Four, this Ramadan. We planned to read as many tafsirs as we possibly could on the chapter, along with pertinent literature from the Internet. We had questions in our mind that needed answers. We were pleased to get the relevant volumes of Ibn Kathir, Tafhimul Qur'an and Fi Jilalil Qur'an, best sellers we were told.
Somewhere down the lane, the bookstores blended into shops that put up flamboyant displays of brightly coloured tupi and soft, velvet prayer mats. A good thing, as we were looking for a jaenamaj- something light, something that can be tucked inside a small bag and carried around. The idea was simple, to pray wherever we were, as soon as the call for prayer, adhan was made. It seemed like the only realistic way of battling Satan. We were determined not to miss the five daily prayers at any cost.
Now, this is where my friend came to some use. His huge physique intimidated people and Sahil's haggling skills were legendary. I chose a thin, fabric jaenamaj in brown and he chose a similar design in green. I still wonder with utmost amazement how he managed two prayer mats for takas 140 only, when the vendor had asked a staggering 400. It seemed like an 'eighty takas store' when we also got a compass (that always points towards the Ka'ba), two tupis and two tajbihs (counting beads) all at takas 400! Before we came out, we also picked two Zaitun meswaks. Free!
Next stop- Kataban
We still needed the biography and books on hadith. Not that these were unavailable at Baitul Mukarram but we thought we would get cheaper prices at the Islamic book stores of Kataban mosque. And we got Asad! The hadia was a good thousand takas, but worth every poisha.
The Kataban shops presented a wider variation in titles. There were books on the lives of the companions (may Allah be pleased with them) of the prophet (may peace and blessing be upon him), books on the crisis Muslim youth faced, and there were volumes after volumes of hadith literature. Some very authentic, while others, obscure.
A collection of hadith is a must have, but they are widely available in the Internet. We were more interested on a sirah. No study of the Qur'an can be made without under standing the life of RasulAllah (peace and blessings upon him). Sirah and books on hadith are akin to references necessary for better understanding of the Qur'an, the words of Allah.
“Do you have the sealed nectar?”
Once again, we got the dreaded 'blank' look. “You know the sirah, Ar-Raheeq Al-Maktoom by Saifur Rahman al-Mubarakpuri?”
“I have the Bengali translation.”
Good enough! The shopkeeper suggested we also buy a CD called Alim. He ran the software for us and we could not help but be amused with its content. There was the recitation of the whole Qur'an in Arabic in no less than three different styles; English translation by Asad, Pickthal, Ali and Shakir (the CD can solve your problem of buying expensive titles if you are comfortable reading ebooks). It had the entire Bukhari sharif, and a good collection of biographies on the lives of the companions (may Allah be pleased with them). The price was an astonishing eighty takas!
Last stop: Bashundhara
We had got almost everything we set out for, except attar! The shops at Kataban did not have attar but a good-hearted fellow gave us the direction, “you will get good attar at Baitul Mukarram and if you want expensive ones, Bashundhara city.”
The shop was not easy to locate, situated deep into the maze that we call Bashundhara City. The perfumery seemed copied right out from the streets of Mecca and pasted against the backdrop of Dhaka.
Tinted in burgundy and green with metallic gold foil, or patterned floral prints, bottles lined rows after rows of the store. The names matched the elegance of the fragrances- Kishwatul Kaba, Full, Jannatul Fedaus!
White Oud seemed to be the most expensive with a price tag ranging from takas 1600-16000 per tola, depending on its purity and nature. The perfume made of wood extracts gave a fragrance that lingered in sweetness, not over powering the olfactory senses, as is common in some attar. Ruh al Musk was strong in its scent and contrary to Oud, spiked the senses. The star attraction, however, was an array of non-alcoholic fashion statements- CK, Azzaro, Cool Water, Kenzo- all imported from Saudi Arabia. My friend opted for a tola of CK ONE while I chose Fawaki- a fragrance from floral extracts that simply mesmerised the senses - neither pungent nor bland, just right!
As we were coming out of the complex, the call for Asr prayers came from the distance. What we experienced in those few moments would take eons to put in words. Our bodies shook intensely, the load of the words too much for us to bear. Without speaking a word, we turned, together, responding to the call for salah, and as the mellifluent Muadhin proclaimed, we repeated.
By Mannan Mashhur Zarif
Photo: Sazzad Ibne Sayed
Special thanks to Al-Musk and Iranian Emporium, Bashundhara City.