Each one of us has been manipulated at some point. Sometimes you lose your money or life because of this manipulation, when your mind becomes injected with an idea or an ideology to the extent that makes you a slave to it. Then you no longer have control over your decisions and way of thinking, I still remember the year when all of this happened to me.
In the winter of 2010 I drove from the ancient city of Alexandria to Cairo, where contradictions settle together. I was on my way to visit one of my best friends who was studying there.
When I arrived, Adam welcomed me. He said with a smile, “You must be tired, I made you tea.” We sat and started to discuss. While listening to him I noticed that something had changed – his way of talking and even his apartment.
“Where are all the posters of famous football players and celebrities, which used to be everywhere around the apartment?!” I wondered.
Maybe he wants to leave the apartment, or to buy new posters with better quality, but what about that weird smile on his face and that long beard I am not familiar with? Also, what about the open Qur’an on his desk?
Curiosity was killing me and I couldn’t keep all those wonders inside. I asked him about all the changes. “Allah has enlightened me and I am very grateful,” he answered.
His answer was strange to me. so I remained silent and let him explain: “Do you remember that man who came to visit me last month?”
I did remember him – a man in his 40s, huge like a bodybuilder, with a short beard, white skin and sharp eyes.
Adam continued, “I am about to tell you something deeply secret, and you should be careful not to tell anyone about it, especially my father. Information like this could get me murdered.”
His father is like most parents in Gaza, he is a religious man, so why would a religious man kill his son because of how became religious? I was more and more confused: “Don’t worry about that, but I still can’t understand what you are trying to say. You act like a Salafi. I hope you are not – Can you explain what is happening?”
“His name is Maheb. I saw him in the gym, he is my trainer and he is Baha’i. Have you ever heard about the Baha’i faith?” I moved my head as a sign of “no”. “Baha’i faith is a new religion compared with Islam and Judaism. It is a monotheistic religion that emphasizes the spiritual unity of all humankind. It seeks global peace and love. God opened the door again and I entered. Maheb is on his way here and you will meet him,” he said with shiny eyes.
At that moment I realized why he had warned me of what might happen if his father knew. Being Baha’i is a crime in Gaza, but I still couldn’t understand how he dared to leave Islam– it is unthinkable for the most of us. I was afraid that this man manipulated hi: “I know that the current form of Islam contains dozens of unfixable problems, but I don’t see the difference between you and Salafis. I mean your beard, that open Qur’an over there, and the removal of your posters – is th…?”
He interrupted me, saying, “No no, it’s not like that. About my beard… it’s long because I don’t have enough time to shave it, and the posters have been disturbing me… I couldn’t concentrate on my research. I aim to communicate with Allah. It requires a lot of effort. I want to be a priest, it is not the right expression but you get the idea right?”
The doorbell rang at the end of Adam’s explanation. He let Maheb inside. “Maheb, I want you to meet my friend Amr. He is a good person and he would like to hear about the Baha’i faith.”
His words were tidy, consistent and attractive. He magically quivered my soul strongly, so I couldn’t do anything except being a good listener. I was truly impressed by his knowledge, and his clear understanding of The Divine Books and how spiritually convincing he was.
Three hours of drowning in the sea of divine words, and I still remember the last words he said: “Do you think that there will be no more messengers from Allah?”
His words kept knocking in my mind all the way back to Alexandria. I was confused, tired and with so many questions blowing around: Is he really a messenger, or a devil that wants to take us away from the straight path?! We will see…
I decided to start my own research in the Qur’an, despite the fact that I had read it many times before. But eventually, I gave up, the situation was too complicated to understand. It was like a mystery.
Maheb was very kind and helpful to me. I used to see him 3 times a month. He came to visit me many times and he introduced me to his wife and son, who were lovely and polite. He has more than 30 devotees – young men who were willing to do anything for him.
After five months, he called me and said, “There is a poor lady who needs money for an expensive heart surgery. I did everything I can to help her, but I still don’t have the total amount and I know that your father is a businessman – could you ask him for help?”
I told him that I will do my best to help this lady.
I did call my father, got the money and gave them to Maheb. Five days later, I received a call from my friend Adam. He told me that Maheb’s brother, who works in Kuwait, sent him money to buy a new car. Apparently Maheb was facing a critical financial situation after he helped the sick lady.
I felt confused again but I contained my anger. I did some investigation and I discovered that Maheb never helped any sick lady. When I told Adam he didn’t believe me and preferred to believe Maheb’s story. I felt disappointed and upset. I took my keys and went out. I was walking from one street to another – the streets took me up and down just like my life. I was in a really bad situation and I kept thinking about how simple and naïve I was. After walking around for two hours, I found myself on the street that changed my life.
On that street, there were bookstores on both sides. How come I never entered a bookstore until then? I was looking at the facades and felt that there was something pulling me inside. I entered quietly and started looking at the books on the shelves around me. I liked how they looked together – colors and pictures, attractive covers, mysteries, thrillers, love, romance, religions, culture. I felt like anything I needed to know was in there. The people there wanted to share information with me about anything I wanted to know about. At that moment, my eyes fell on a book with a special title written in golden letters, and a black cover with a painting of a beautiful lady in the middle of the frame. She looked sad. “Have you read that novel, sir?” the sales women asked. “Actually, no,” I replied. “It is one of the best novels I have ever read,” she said.
That day, I bought that novel called Azazel, and it was the first novel I have ever read.
Eventually, I realized that every situation I have ever experienced was a result of my actions, and if I hadn’t learned from those situations, then I wouldn’t be able to move on. By reading, you can build your own defensive wall that will give you the ability to deal with people from different cultural backgrounds and to never become a victim of manipulation.