BY BABA GALLEH JALLOW
Alkatan could never understand why humans were so cruel to each other, why people like Kiyanka, thinking they have lasting power, would pounce upon innocent and helpless people like Nyaka and seize their goats and cause their babies to cry of hunger all through the night, while they slept comfortably in their beds. Human greed and corruption and hypocrisy brought tears to his heart, and occasionally, to his eyes. He was a man who saw the vulnerability of human beings and who could never understand just why people could be so deluded as to think that they can do or say anything and everything to their fellow humans and get away with it.
Alkatan hoped Kiyanka had learned his lesson and that he would not have to deal with the likes of the greedy Alkalo again; or with bullies like Degere who liked to beat up people just because he could. But Alkatan knew that human society was what it was, and stood ready to confront any person in Tonya Kunda who took advantage of other people simply because they were powerful, or hiding behind the cloak of hypocrisy by deliberately trying to corrupt the true teachings of their religion. Alkatan particularly hated hypocrisy, for it was the slippery foundation upon which all injustice was built.
Alkatan had heard of Imam Sukuro at the Bantaba. While he would normally not contribute much to the ongoing conversations between the men who sat or lay under the large silk cotton tree that served as the village’s bantaba, Alkatan always listened carefully, for the bantaba was a school of its own, and revealed the contours of the human mind and interesting details about what was going on in Tonya Kunda and even surrounding villages. And so he often heard the men say just how strict Imam Sukuro was, and the many things he said about those who would definitely go to hell when they died because they did not did not do certain things, or they acted or did not act in certain ways. Alkatan thought Imam Sukuro was a bully and a hypocrite, but he did not think he would have cause to confront him like he did Kiyanka.
Imam Sukuro was what some in Tonya Kunda called an extremist, although most saw that his extremism was only skin deep, and that the imam in fact secretly enjoyed most of the things he condemned in his loud and garrulous sermons. Often, the imam would preach that men who did not grow beards could not possibly cross the famous bridge to heaven. He would describe how such men would slip and fall into the roaring lakes of fire below where they would forever burn. Added to these beardless men were men who refused to wear hats, and men who looked at women or thought of them with less than honorable motives. For these men, he would say, swords of fire will be thrust into their eyes and they would be asked if they thought they could get away with their evil intentions. As for men who did not give total respect and submission to their leaders, they would be placed in the hottest layers of hell!
But Imam Sukuro’s specialty was the type of women who would go to hell. The imam was very familiar with the names of all the fashionable dresses that women wore and had a knack for knowing the names of the kinds of dresses and makeup that young girls put on, and he would call these out and say what exactly would happen to any woman or girl who dressed in a certain way or used a particular type of make-up. Women who wore high-heeled shoes, he would warn, will be made to wear shoes of fire that will make their brains boil in their heads, and they will not be helped. As for women who wore wigs or did not cover their heads, the angels will use saws of fire to split their heads in two, and they will then be thrown into the fiery lakes of fire. Those who wore make-up will be forced to stick blades of fire on their lips or on their eyebrows and then they will be thrown into lakes of fire where they will forever burn!
Women, according to Imam Sukuro, must cover their bodies from head to toe, showing only their eyes, their palms and fingers, and their toes. Women who did not dress like this will be forced to wear garments of fire that will forever burn their bodies and they will not be able to remove them. And women who dared to question what their husbands and fathers want, whatever that was, were the first ones to be plunged headlong into the lakes of fire and they will be told, this is for not submitting to your husbands and fathers! Often when he made such frightful predictions, the imam’s disciples would scream and screech and the imam himself would wear a gleeful look in his eyes and his oily face would sign with satisfaction and he would stroke his full beard at the fact that he was clearly striking the fear of hell into the hearts of everyone who listened to his sermons!
Alkatan heard all these stories and more about Imam Sukuro. But he did not have anything to say to the imam. He did not believe in what the imam said, but he had no business challenging him about his views on anything because there was freedom of expression in Tonya Kunda. Until, that is, one day a girl of about 18 years came running and crying to his hut wailing, Imam Sukuro wants to kill me, Imam Sukuro wants to kill me!