A defiant sermon in the town of the infidel killer

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The Independent Online

Ghaziabad lay under a grey, smouldering sky. Its brick-stacks pumping a black smog over the equally angry Mosque. "Now Afghanistan is like a bloody river," a voice shouted over three tin loudspeakers fitted to a tiny minaret. In Ghaziabad, they make bricks, not money. A wide, pale green river of sewage floated gently between the road and the mosque. "Blood ... blood ... why?" the voice appealed.

I stopped the car and walked over the bridge and approached the Afghan imam – white-turbaned, with intelligent eyes, a well-combed black beard, and a deep black scar above his left eye. But an old man shouted at him: "Why do you let the kaffir [unbeliever] into our mosque?" he shouted at the imam. Fisk the Kaffir. I hadn't come across him before.

This was definitely not CNN country. Indeed, there are times when I would like all those Westerners who preach to Muslims about their respect for Islam – all those Bushes and Blairs and Powells and Straws with their sermons about Osama bin Laden's perversion of religion – to cross the dirty concrete bridge above the sewer to brown-brick mosques like the one at Ghaziabad. The names of all the Pakistani villages around here have a meaning.Bad, of course, means town. Ghazi is a warrior, one who is honoured to kill unbelievers. So this was the town of the infidel killer. And after a few minutes listening to the imam, you can see why.

Maulawi Tajmohmed had been about to lead me into the mosque. When the old man complained, he waited patiently on the steps. "Bring some chairs," he said, bowing to the old man who hatedkaffirs. But no one brought any chairs. So the Maulawi and I stood together, surrounded by an ever-growing number of Afghan youths and elderly men, their eyes avoiding the cleric but searching the face of the "unbeliever".

What, I asked Maulawi Tajmohmed, had he been praying for today. There was a muttering and a perceptible movement of anger, that ever-so-slight closing in of the crowd. A young man on the Maulawi's left drew in his breath.

But I got my sermon. Looking at his congregation, only occasionally at me, the Maulawi answered my question: "I will tell you what we pray. We pray to God like this – O God, in all your great majesty, hear our prayer. Please show to our human world the correct way. If some do not walk this road, they are not from Islam. We believe they will go to hell. O God, if these people cannot hear you and will not obey your word, please keep true Muslims safe. And kill those people, as Moussa [Moses] killed the Pharoah, Rhamses."

The crowd were silent now, though they had been joined by a score of children, boys in grubby brown robes and small girls with silver braid in their hair. I rather guessed what was coming next. Maulawi Tajmohmed was in his stride. The chairs had been forgotten. Indeed, I rather thought – and hoped – that I had been forgotten.

"And what more do we pray?" the Maulawi asked. "We pray – O God, you are all powerful and you can destroy all American equipment [sic] which the Americans use in our country against Muslims. O God, please help the Afghans and give them victory over the people who are non-believers."

Across the drainage ditch, a bus groaned past, its cloth curtains sewn with black eyes to ward off evil. Two horses clopped down the stony road, hauling trailers of logs and undergrowth, the leaves brushing the highway, the drivers hunched over the reins. Yes, winter will be here soon; winter up in those high mountains that you could see, far away in Afghanistan, over the fields of rubble and shacks.

Maulawi Tajmohmed's eyes moved around the crowd, at the old man, at the youth by his side. "O God," he said, his voice rising, "You know our situation better than all others. We trust your promises. When you tell us in the Koran that Muslims will be victorious over the unbelievers. Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Emir of the Faithful, and Osama are the great mujahedinof Allah and we believe they will be victorious." The Maulawi turned to me: "That is what we said in our prayers today."

The youth by his side piped up: "Why did I want to know what they prayed? Who was I to ask such things? What had it got to do with me?" Good questions. But the Maulawi interrupted. "The people of this town tell me that if American soldiers come to our land, our blood will race and boil and we are ready to fight them." He paused, his hand motioning towards me. "I pray that God shows you how to write the truth."

So let us tell a few truths. All through the Afghan refugee villages outside Peshawar they were saying this yesterday. All along the drainage ditches, past the brick stacks and across the old railway line outside the Peshawar ring road, they were talking about the Americans in the mosques. They were not bad people. They meant what they said. They felt it. The Maulawi shook hands with me when we said goodbye. Even the old man who hatedkaffirs shook hands. "God says in the Koran," Maulawi Tajmohmed added, "that He gives to all people a heart, eyes, hair, hands – so why do they not understand him? Those who do not will perish in hell."

I wonder what Messrs Bush and Blair will say about that. They would prefer, no doubt, the even smaller, even poorer village of Bahader – "bahader" means "brave heart" – three miles from Ghaziabad, where the Afghans live alongside Pakistanis and remember that this was the birth place of the great Pashtu Sufi poet Rahman Baaba. The villagers say that he died 400 years ago, but most claim they could quote his verse by heart.

A smiling, middle-aged man urged me to sit on a cane sofa by a little sewer. "Rahman," he said, "wrote this: 'Can you see the first step on the journey to paradise? – Yes, of course I can see this, when the Sufi walks to paradise.' I'll tell you another: 'If you don't love to see Rahman, why do you sew those big eyes on to cloth?'"

Yes, this was definitely CNN country. Bush and Blair would feel more comfortable in this mystical town whose imam kept strictly to the Koran text for his Friday sermon. Just don't mention the name of Osama bin Laden. Because when I did, the faces of the villagers lit up as if they had heard the name of the Messiah.

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