Helal olsun

From the window beside my desk, I watch a white 4×4 pickup pull up outside our house. Three men get out one by one and wander down into our garden. They seem to be heading for our apple tree; perhaps those big juicy fruit look irresistible.

From the balcony downstairs, I hear my wife’s voice ring out. “Alo! Ne yapıyorsun?” (What are you doing?)

The oldest of the men shouts back. Not a penitent apology, seeking permission to help himself, but a defensive rebuttal.

But nobody messes with my wife. If they had asked her permission, she tells them, she would have said, “Helal olsun!” Meaning, that’s halal — permissible — to you.

There’s context here. We’ve always taught our children that they must never help themselves to produce from other people’s land without permission. That goes for hazelnuts overhanging the road as we pass by, let alone fruit or vegetables a neighbour has cultivated with care. The kids still try their luck, only for my rebuke to ring in their ears. “No, leave it,” I say, “that’s not halal to us.”

The gentleman in our garden, however, seems to have had a different religious education. “Olmaz!” he yells back, “I’m hafiz!Hafiz generally means a Muslim who knows the Quran by heart. “I know what’s halal and haram,” he shouts.

“Then why are you in my garden,” my wife asks him, “helping yourself to fruit?”

The poor man seems a little stunned. He may not be used to such a forthright Muslimah, taking him to task.

Abla, we’re not eating your fruit,” he replies. “We’re doing an agricultural survey. We’re checking the trees for disease.”

“Even if that’s true, you should still ask permission before traipsing through my land,” insists my beloved. “I’m here. My door is there. What does it take to ask?”

No, but nobody’s in the mood to ask now. Instead, the three men scramble back up the bank, return to their pickup and drive off without looking back.

Is there such a thing as an agricultural survey being conducted in this region? Nobody knows. Our neighbour hasn’t heard of it. Regardless, they say she did the right thing, challenging them there and then.

It’s not that we’re mean. We’d freely give to anyone who asked, and to any guest even if they didn’t. It’s about the principle, of differentiating right from wrong, halal from haram, permissible from impermissible.

We have had thefts here before. While we were building the house, thieves made off with the rebar steel destined for reinforcing the concrete skeleton beneath us. This is not a religious utopia, populated by righteous folk living pious lives. It’s a land of hyperinflation, in which some will do whatever it takes to make ends meet and survive.

Some people hide behind, “I’m hafiz.” Some hide behind a big bushy beard, a headscarf or a turban. This is called using religion as cover. But that’s not what religion is for. This is a path of reform, towards achieving a state of safety, health and fairness in our lives, individually and collectively.

Helal olsun.

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