About two weeks ago, we got notification from the boys’ school that today, 17 June, would be a national holiday and the school would be closed.
National holidays on short notice. One of the perks of life in the U.A.E.
I’ll give you a minute to think about how parents in a large metropolitan area in the States, say New York, might react to a holiday delivered so casually. The brouhaha about banning soda would pale by comparison.
When the boys came home from school last week, excited for the long weekend, I asked them what holiday was being celebrated today.
Boys: It’s the day that Mohammed rode a unicorn to Jerusalem and met with all the prophets and they had like a prophet party.
Me: A unicorn?
Caleb, emphatic: Yes! Or maybe some other magical creature, no, no, Abdullah in my class said it was a unicorn. And that Mohammed met with God, too.
Me, again: A unicorn?
Liam, patiently, the way one speaks to the elderly: The word is buraq and that’s the word for unicorn or any magical creature.
Caleb, unconcerned about translation issues: What is a prophet, actually?
Me, realizing yet again that what my children don’t know about religion (any religion) would fill all the holy books, combined: Well, a prophet is a holy person who–
Liam: Noah was a prophet!
Me: Um…sort of, I guess, and some religions see Jesus as a prophet, but Christians see Jesus as the son of god–
Caleb: Whose idea was it to be Christians?
Me: The followers of Jesus called themselves Christians but they were originally Jewish –
Boys: JESUS WAS JEWISH?
Me: Yes but in this part of the world–
Boys: Jesus was from ABU DHABI?
Me: No, but this part of the world, the Middle East, is where Islam, and Judaism, and Christianity all began, thousands of years ago.
Boys: So is Mohammed from Abu Dhabi?
Me: He was born in a place called Mecca, which is a holy city to Muslims, but he also lived in a place called Medina.
Caleb, getting at the heart of the issue: Did Jesus ever ride a unicorn?
Me: I don’t think there are unicorns in any Jesus stories. Just donkeys.
The boys are unimpressed. Unicorns are cool. Donkeys, not so much. The boys wander out of the room to worship at the altar of “Star Wars the Old Republic,” which is our household’s primary religion. I turn to my holy book in search of answers to questions about Mohammed and the unicorns.
Wikipedia, praised be its name, says that the unicorn holiday is actually Isra and Mi’raj, which celebrates the night that Mohammed rode a magical steed to “the furthest mosque,” in what we now call Jerusalem. Apparently, at least in the realm of Wikipedia truthiness, this journey is also where Mohammed bargained with God about how often Muslims should pray. God originally asked for fifty times a day and Mohammed got him down to five.
Mohammed’s magical steed was called buraq. You can pronounce it “barack.”
And there you have it. Some Tea Bagger confused unicorns with Presidents.
(And no, I’m not saying anything about believing in unicorns being more or less ridiculous than believing that Obama was born in Kenya.)
Buraq also, according to my online holy book, can be translated as “a beautifully faced creature.”
So while it’s clear that Barack isn’t a Muslim, it seems entirely likely that he could be a buraq. After all, as I said to the boys: have you ever seen Barack and a buraq in the same place at the same time?
When you’re done reading through these various Wikipedia links, check out my review in The National of Lauren Groff’s entertaining and thought-provoking new novel, Arcadia. For that matter, if you’re searching for a good book to read on vacation this summer, look over there at the Amazon box. No, not the little ordering box, but the long box, with books in it, just to the right. Lots of good reading in that box. Help yourself.