Yacoub, a young Kuwaiti, pursues truth in Islam. His search takes him to King's College in London, where he abandons his sexual morals, and then to the University of Arizona for his Ph.D. in the history of Islamic law. In his thesis, he confronts the Sunni hadiths, the words and deeds of the prophet Mohammed. Frustrated by his discoveries that many hadiths are not authentic, he continues as a Muslim, but one no longer grounded in his beliefs.
He engages in an affair with his Ph.D. professor, who bares his child. He then kills a child in an auto accident and avoids legal consequences. As an experiment, he attends Christian worship. He's intrigued, but doesn't get it. Upon return to Kuwait to teach at Kuwait University, he marries Rabea, who becomes a Christian solely through Bible reading. She can't convince Yacoub to follow suit.
Yacoub proceeds with his shrewd lies as he cheats in currency trading and assists the Iraqis in obtaining nerve gas. He flees Kuwait and deserts his family during the Iraqi invasion. But Rabea is still there waiting when he returns.
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The Conflict Joined
Suhayb brought out the curved knife from under his dishdasha. His only words were, "You're a thief, and I'll relieve you of your thieving hand. My Quran commands it." Where had Suhayb gotten the big, jeweled dagger? Fear soon caught up with my admiration for the weapon. Why was the Quran in the midst of our sibling conflict?
He straddled my chest. I was weak, and he was strong. Trapping my left arm under his right knee, he then grasped my right forearm with his left hand, and took the knife in his right hand. Due to the sharpness of the knife the initial pain was less than I expected, and for a moment I felt an odd relief. But then I saw blood drip from my forearm onto the sand, where the blood grew into a small pool before the sand swallowed it. The bright sunlight glistened on our wet skin, and only the slippery sweat dripping off of us prevented completion of the intended act. I slithered under Suhayb with the lubricating sweat. My forearm slid from his grasp for a moment, but he soon regained the advantage. The dust rose and adhered to our skin. By this time the other children in the schoolyard had gathered in a circle around us.
Their cry, "Suhayb is killing Yacoub," summoned the schoolmaster, Abu Salim.
By the time Abu Salim arrived, Suhayb had transected a small artery, and the flow of blood pulsated rather than dripped. When I saw Abu Salim's frightened expression, I lost any residue of bravery and sobbed. Abu Salim seized the knife and applied pressure to the wound.
I looked up in envy at my red-maned brother, his pale skin, and blue eyes. Where did he get the blue eyes? My own dark skin and black curly hair did little to set me apart from my schoolmates at the Kuwait English School.
Abu Salim and a teacher dragged us both to the school office and forcibly set us down in chairs at opposite ends of the room. Abu Salim opened the phone line; the only phone at the school. "I must speak to Salman Al-Tamimi immediately. No, I can't wait." At least five minutes passed as we sat staring at one another. "Salman, come and get your sons. Suhayb just tried to cut off Yacoub's hand. Yacoub needs to see a doctor."
My father arrived in thirty minutes and grabbed Suhayb and me by the collars of our dishdashas. "What've you done? You've disgraced our family."
Abu Salim gave the knife to Salman, who took the weapon, examined it, and put it in his pocket.
My father dragged us to the car and gave us no opportunity to walk on our own. As the driver started the car, there was silence for several minutes.
Suhayb was the first to speak. "He took the masbaha [Islamic prayer beads] you gave me when I was six. I must have his hand now for my own." He was unrepentant.
In defense I said to my father, "Why didn't you give me masbaha when I was six?" I put my face in both hands and whimpered.
"I give gifts to whom I wish. Suhayb is the first son. You're the second."
I never wanted to see the beads again. But continuing in my mind's eye was the picture of Suhayb counting the delicately carved silver beads as he recited the ninety-nine names of Allah. What really hurt was the fact his religious fervor exceeded my own. Why was I small not only in stature but also in belief? And how did the law of the Quran support such an attack? Was the law not designed for my best?
We proceeded to the mission hospital down by the Gulf. The young doctor prepared a glass syringe with local anesthetic, but my father interceded. "He doesn't need that. Just sew him up." So went my first encounter with Sharia law, and my blood had counted for nothing.
* * *
We arrived home in Bneid Al Qar late in the afternoon, and our mother, Fatima, met us at the door with a questioning expression. She saw the bandage on my forearm. My father explained, "He's a thief. He should have lost his hand." My mother was not free to argue with Salman, and she kept silent as the details of the day came out in pieces.
Suhayb recited his side of the story. "He took my father's gift to me." There was no excuse. It was true.
I was sorry for my mother, who may have felt responsible for me. She was partial to me in defense of Salman's preference for Suhayb, but I had failed her again.
The events of the day were only a continuation of an ongoing battle between Suhayb and me. Had we forced our parents to take sides?
The evening closed with a typical event. Fatima laughed at my latest game. I donned a toy stuffed camel on my head in imitation of Suhyab's red mane and chased our laughing cousins around the courtyard, growling in make-believe anger. "I'm a big, red lion, and I'm going to eat you."
The next day we had to return to school and face the questions.
School of Torture
Both of us should have been dismissed from the school. Fighting was not allowed, and certainly not with a dagger.
My father assured us he had secured our continued attendance despite our disgrace. "They're taking you back only because they have no choice. I'm rich with many sheep and goats, and now there is the oil. The Emir lets us have a little, and even with the leftover oil, we could buy the school. Both of you must thank me for making your life too easy. You don't have to live in a tent as your mother and I did."
Suhayb walked into the school with his head high, as if he was proud of his attack.
I hung my head. I was unwell again, as I was on so many school days. I was too small for my age, and I often fell asleep in class. But my teachers indulged me.
School was painful every day, and the day of my return after the attack was no different. The classwork demanded endless repetition — word recognition, multiplication tables, boring facts of all kinds — the whole class repeating them over and over in unison. It was a song of prolonged torture. But if there were questions, I always had the answer. My teachers couldn't challenge my knowledge even though I slept through their teaching.
Zahra, the anxious little girl sitting in front of me, was asked to repeat the times table for sevens. She was afraid of making a mistake, and she stumbled at seven times eight. She was rewarded with a sharp rap on her hand with a wooden ruler. Crying in response to punishment was not allowed. Such was the treatment of those who failed at rote memorization.
To occupy my mind, I concocted stories. As our desert predecessors had collected around the fire for a tale, my classmates gathered around me on the playground for the narration of a story. My gifts lay in stories, and the day of my return from the embarrassing attack was no different. I began, "There once was a camel who knew what was going to happen in the future. The camel was white. The white camel belonged to me, or perhaps I belonged to him. I tried to keep the camel from coming to me in the morning of my dreams, but the camel would not obey. I think he was a good camel, but he wouldn't mind me. Sometimes I wish the camel would just go away, because the camel told me things I didn't want to know. Is this a betrayal or a trick? The camel told me my brother was to hurt me, and the next day my brother attacked me with a knife." Those listening had witnessed the attack, and they looked at each other. "The camel told me my father would not love me like my brother. He told me only my mother loves me." Even then, the white camel could be cruel.
"But the scariest part is that the camel told me I would search for something I wouldn't find on my own. And that something would be the most important thing in my life. I tried to make the camel go away, but he always comes back. He tells me I'm going to be famous and that he will give me more stories to tell. I think the white camel follows me." Some of the children looked around for the camel.
One asked, "What is the most important thing?" I had no answer. I was not certain if anything about the story, or the camel, was real. But the camel had announced his presence, real, either in truth or dream. Yes, he was charming, but I couldn't be sure of his character.
* * *
I hoped none of the children would tell Suhayb of the story, because I knew my father would then be informed. But Salman did learn of the story, and I hid in my room while I heard the argument. Salman said to Fatima, "Who has been in my house?" Was this an accusation? "Who is this pedantic little maker of stories who lives in my tent?" I learned another new word from my father: "pedantic." I wanted to tell my father that my love of words had come from him.
But there was no room for such talk with my father. He was preoccupied with his search for more grazing land to replace what the Emir had appropriated for oil drilling. He was often absent, trying to repair the damage to his flocks. Suhayb was asked to accompany Salman while I remained in the walled family courtyard.
I learned to escape the slow torture of primary school and life in the Al-Tamimi household. I lost myself in my own thoughts. The white camel became more and more real, and after a while the white camel was always there in my morning dreams. Once, the camel laughed, if a camel can laugh, as he departed my bed.
While the stories preserved my position among my classmates and teachers, my moodiness and frequent episodes of spontaneous daytime sleep made me an object of ridicule at the most inconvenient times. My school classes were often interrupted by the shout, "Look, the storyteller is sleeping again." The sleep plagued by morning dreams left me anxious, because I suspected there might be truth concealed in what was usually, and should be, obscure. My abiding anxiety made me seem strange to my peers, causing them to avoid me much of the time. But at the same time it was a relief to be avoided. My early morning events often prevented me from attending school, and while the dreaded morning visions often frightened me and left me too anxious to get ready for school, they had that small dividend.
There was a recurring theme in my dreams. Their eccentricity alone was such that I did not wish to report the dreams, even to my mother. The white camel, the central character of my dreams, seemed rather unlike an animal, but more like a character in a play. His personality — I was certain it was a male camel — was confident and aloof, except for the occasions when he teased me.
I awoke in my room on the morning of Monday, December 4, 1950. I was twelve. I was lying on my back, and although awake, I couldn't speak or move. I had been dreaming of the white camel, who was stealing sheep from my father's flock. I tried to prevent the theft, but the white camel laughed at me and proceeded off across the desert with the sheep. Mama came into my bedroom and found me looking up at the ceiling, drenched with sweat, unspeaking and without movement. I couldn't respond to my mother's anger about my failure to rise for school. "Get up, Yacoub. Don't give your father any more excuses to blame you." After what seemed like hours but was actually only a few moments, I regained the ability to move.
I tried to explain to my mother what had happened, but she was unsympathetic and even threatened to inform my father. I didn't want to tell my mother this event she had just witnessed was a common occurrence, and I modified the explanation to minimize the event. "Mama, my stomach hurt too much to move."
After seeing Fatima's reaction to this event, disbelief and all, I learned to keep these occurrences secret. As I approached adolescence, I saw this as just another indication that I was peculiar. Stories were my refuge.
Out of My Element
The days on the desert in the spring, beautiful with the rise of the green shoots of gras, and beloved by the rest of my family, because they told themselves they were returning to their nomadic roots, were an awful time for me. As was the custom, the tribes, which had formerly come from the desert, took the occasion to return in the early spring. The temperature was moderate, and the black tents were livable again for those who had resided in the city.
But for me, the nights in the tent placed me too close to the rest of my family, and even to the herders employed by my father. I couldn't conceal my distaste for the desert life, and I had no idea what to do with the animals. And there were the morning events I often experienced, easy to conceal in my own bedroom, but not so when sleeping near others. In the desert my place at night was next to Suhayb, who wasted no opportunity to vex me.
Suhayb was in his element, and he pleased our father with his skill in camel riding, navigating the desert, and in reading the directions from the stars. Suhayb had even bothered to read a book on travel by celestial means. "Papa, I see the star that can guide us." He pointed to the North Star. On the other hand, I saw the stars only as a lovely jumble, an object for questions and wonder, rather than a heavenly map.
While Suhayb loved the time with animals of the herds and their herders, the camels, sheep and goats, I couldn't understand their ways, and the strange skills of the herders puzzled me.
The lambs were brought in first to the tent area in the evening, and each was tethered separately. Perhaps an hour later in the dark night, the ewes were brought in. Nasser, the chief herder, then called out the name of each ewe, and as the ewes came up to the lambs, he matched ewe and offspring without fail, even in the night. Nasser told me he knew the animals individually, not only by name, but also by feel and odor. I thought it an unnatural skill.
It was only then that the recollection of the schoolyard fight and the knife came back to me. Nasser was from Yemen and there in his belt I saw the traditional Yemeni dagger, or jambia. The large red jewel affixed to the bone handle was unmistakable. Nasser was the source of Suhayb's weapon. Was I so out of step with my surroundings that even the herdsman was a threat? Why would he give his precious jambia to Suhaby to punish me? My concern was compounded by Salman's return of the knife to the Yemeni herdsman. What was my place in this family? And what of the law of the Quran that motivated Suhayb? What more should I learn about such a law?
But it was the incident of the dhub that finished me for these spring forays into the desert. Suhayb proposed the venture. "Father, I saw a lot of dhubs over on the other side of the dunes by the water hole."
I had nothing but fear for the spiny-tailed lizard, often nearly a meter in length. The animal was so quick I could not see how it would be possible to interrupt its dash to its burrow. Would the dhub's sharp spines reward me with serious wounds if I actually caught one? I saw the only real reward to be a tasty grilling over the fire, and someone else could just as well achieve that prize.
Suhayb said to the men in the tent, "If we go out this evening, I'm certain we can catch several for breakfast. I bet I can catch more than anyone." I had no doubt he could do so.
Salman agreed, "We'll see who has courage to catch them." Salman seemed to know this event would be favorable for Suhayb and painful for me. Fatima kept silent, as there was no way for her to rescue me.
I couldn't refuse the silly endeavor. I already saw Suhayb capture and torture one of the poor dhubs during the day, and I did not wish to repeat the matter at night.
Perhaps the dhubs would not appear. But, no, there they were. The moon was bright, illuminating the desert, and there was no excuse. Suhayb was the first to make a capture. Salman gave congratulations while Suhayb cut off the animal's head and deposited the carcass in his basket. Another and then another became Suhayb's victim.
I knew I had to get one, even if the beast stabbed me with his spines. "There's one. This one's mine." My father laughed at my clumsy efforts.
As I was about to complete the capture, it happened. I lost strength in my trunk and legs, and I fell face first into the dune as if I were a wet rag. I couldn't move or speak. Suhayb was on the dhub and completed the capture, all the while enjoying my failure. "He's fainted. The great dhub has frightened him to death." But I had not fainted. I was unable to move but fully awake and able to hear Salman's derision. Of course there had been similar episodes upon awakening in the morning, but never before when I was up and about. The event itself, which I did not understand, frightened me, and made me think there was something seriously wrong. But in the face of the men's taunts, I could not reveal concern about the event. Was there some magical significance, or was I ill?
The spring foray into the desert that year concluded with a two-day trip by the men on camelback northward to the border with Iraq, formed in that area by the Wadi Al Batin, a rocky rivulet. Salman organized the trip for Suhayb so he would not forget his Bedouin roots. The trip was painful for me. The camel saddle was agonizing and unpleasant. As we reached the wadi, I saw low-lying rock cliffs surrounding it. Had the little stream once been a great river? The wadi still contained gently flowing, clear water from the spring rains, and we dismounted. The others washed and drank. I stood by my camel. Salman, Suhayb and the other men gloried in the scene but I vowed not to repeat such a journey.
Excerpted from "Kuwaiti Seeker"
Copyright © 2018 Jim Carroll.
Excerpted by permission of CrossLink Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 The Conflict Joined 5
Chapter 2 School of Torture 9
Chapter 3 Out of My Element 13
Chapter 4 June 1956, King's College 17
Chapter 5 Another Desert 23
Chapter 6 Lost in Lust and Dreams 29
Chapter 7 A Word from Salman 35
Chapter 8 Sharia and Me 37
Chapter 9 Lost in Hadith 43
Chapter 10 A Son is Born 47
Chapter 11 How Did This Happen? 51
Chapter 12 Al-Ghabani's Visitation 59
Chapter 13 First Relief and Then 67
Chapter 14 Can I See the Ghost? 73
Chapter 15 Forward? 77
Chapter 16 The Prodigal Returns and the Lamb is Killed 83
Chapter 17 The Engagement 87
Chapter 18 Betrayal 95
Chapter 19 Rabea 101
Chapter 20 Another Wife 105
Chapter 21 A New Friend 111
Chapter 22 The Great Divorce 115
Chapter 23 Another Committee 119
Chapter 24 Now the Committee is Glorious 121
Chapter 25 Committee Action and Sharia 127
Chapter 26 Am I Insane? 131
Chapter 27 All the Riches of Kuwait are Mine 137
Chapter 28 Back to Sharia 145
Chapter 29 Rabea and Lydia 147
Chapter 30 There's Enough for All 151
Chapter 31 Were the Lessons Learned? 159
Chapter 32 Perhaps There is Something Else 169
Chapter 33 Does the White Camel Interfere? 175
Chapter 34 The Friedeckers 193
Chapter 35 A New Venture 203
Chapter 36 Summer 1990 207
Chapter 37 What's Left for Me 215
Chapter 38 The Kingdom of the White Camel 225
The Author 231