My father’s rules and occasional smack did not make life any easier

Violent abuse was my father’s response to almost every engagement I had with him. I never heard the words “please” or “thank you” from his mouth, and I don’t recall discussing anything with him; not school, not girls, not boys, not cars, not mountains, not even rugby or wrestling, which he enjoyed watching on our black and white Telefunken cased in its brown wooden box.

Anyway, from early pubescence to my teens, I would attend Malay School every day where I was taught to recite passages of the Quran, but had no idea what I was reciting.

So ingrained was this that I can still recite passages from the Quran and (still) have no idea what they mean.

Between Malay School and home life was belaboured with dos and don’ts. There were always prayers, prayers and more prayers.

Before you eat, you have to say a prayer (eat with you right hand – the left is for washing your bum). After you have eaten, you have to say a prayer. If you’re happy, say “alghumdulilah”. If you’re sad, say alghumdulilah (things could be worse).

Don’t speak while eating and when you’re done go and wash your plate. (Make the mistake of leaving the dirty plate in the sink as I sometimes did, and the inevitable slap on the head arrives and invariably left me dizzy and discombobulated – while deepening the hatred of my father and of violence). Don’t stamp your feet because when you are in your grave the earth will remember and crush you.

Don’t accept food from non-Muslim friends, it’s haram. Don’t look at girls, its haram. Don’t masturbate, its haram. Don’t curse, it’s haram. Before you make your daily prayers, make a ritual cleansing with running water, and say a prayer.

During the cleansing, say a prayer. After the cleansing, say a prayer. Proceed into the mosque to say one of five daily prayers, and you have to say a prayer. Don’t go outdoors after maghrib or iblis will do something cruel to you. (I still don’t know the difference between Iblis and Shaytan). As far as I remember it was never as cruel as the slap on the head.

Pork is haram, as is meat when the animal has been slaughtered without a prayer. Girls, cover your hair. Wear long sleeved shirts. Don’t show your legs. Don’t associate with moffies (gay boys). It’s all haram.

Don’t leave the house on a Thursday night because it’s the start of the sabbath (which starts on a Thursday night and ends at sunset on Friday).

Every Thursday night light frankincense resin in a small bowl, take it to every corner of every house in the room and say a prayer each time. I don’t remember the prayer, but it was either to get rid of bad spirits, call in good spirits, or make the place smell like frankincense. Talking about spirits, don’t drink alcohol, it’s haram.

Some time in my late teens during one particular month of Ramadan I sat through a Friday prayer lesson on the benefits, values and sacredness of the month. Ramadan is the month during which Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset. But it is also the month the imam told us when Muslims lowered their voices, treated each other with kindness and humility, refrained from telling lies and restoring faith and trust in one another.

I was bothered.

“If all that is so important, and so good for everyone then why don’t we [Muslims] live like that all the time?” I don’t recall the answer, but it had to do with not questioning the words of God and his angels and prophets.

Meaninglessness grew. Once, when my father saw me arranging items on a side cabinet, he slapped me over the head so hard my neck was in pain, and I felt sick for almost two days.

“Are you a f*cking moffie?”

Apparently boys don’t arrange the lay-out of doilies and trinkets on cabinets. That’s girls’ stuff…


  • This is an extract from Too White to be Coloured, Too Coloured to be Black (On the Search for Home and Meaning)
Ismail Lagardien

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