The other day I was chatting in a shopping mall when my cell-phone rang.
“Aren’t you going to answer it?” asked the person.
“No,” I replied, “the caller can leave a message.”
“But, I don’t mind, you can answer your phone,” he insisted, surprised that I was just letting it buzz in my pocket.
“It’s bad manners to interrupt,” I said.
The strange and searching look I got told me that my behaviour had not been regarded as sane. I had done the unimaginable. I’d broken social convention by refusing to answer my phone in public.
But it did make me think. Had life got to the point where rudeness was now considered conventional: that it was perfectly normal to ignore those in your presence to attend to other matters?
I remembered the body language of great people, those always able to make you feel significant by focusing on you, albeit momentarily. I remembered the Companions of the Prophet (s) recalling that whenever he spoke to them, he caused them to feel as if they were the only people in the room.
But now with the advent of the cell-phone, it seemed as if every crowded room was filled with a lack of eye contact – and the meaningless gabble of anonymous voices talking electronically to other anonymous voices.
I also remembered how a work supervisor (long departed into the ether of “former management”) had annoyed me. He’d always attended to other affairs while I spoke to him. His hollow reassurance that he was still “listening” to me as he tick-tacked SMS’s was infuriating.
Or the pompous low-level politician I was trying to interview, a silly little man who pretentiously told his secretary to “hold all calls”, only to fall victim to his cell-phone when it chirruped on his desk.
“Yes dear, I won’t forget the milk,” he said submissively. I was sorely tempted to leave that bubble-bursting disruption on tape.
Of course, we’re all familiar with people being imprisoned by their cell-phones: in banks, on planes, in restaurants, in saunas, in malls, in meetings, in mosques, in queues, on toilets (I swear I once heard the flush) and even at the Ka’bah in Makkah. The list is endless.
But there is now another dimension to the cell-phone syndrome, the phenomenon of “cell-phone rage”: this “rage” expressed in response to the inconsiderateness of those who answer, or let their phones ring at the most inopportune times.
And it is to the latter I turn. This is because the following incident is just so wacky, so bizarre and, well, so current.
It happened to a friend of mine – a Capetonian we shall call “Yusuf” – who decided to attend the ‘Isha, or late evening prayers, at a Gauteng mosque. The mosque – located in a suburb near to Alexandria with a name similar to that of the nicotine cowboy, the Marlboro Man – was full as he joined the jama’ah.
“It was during the prayer that my problems began,” related Yusuf, who went on to say that a cell-phone started ringing in the pocket of a worshipper next to him.
“It was loud, and was playing a lively rock tune. This person – possibly thinking it was pious to ignore his phone – made no effort to kill the sound, and it just rang and rang,” he said, “this in spite of his school of thought permitting him to put his phone off without breaking his prayer .”
“Suddenly, I heard someone hissing behind me ‘Haram! Haram!”
Yusuf added that he didn’t think much of this, and carried on praying.
“It wasn’t my phone and so I minded my own business,” he said, or at least until the hissing became more insistent, and he realised that the “harams” were being directed at him.
“Still, there wasn’t anything I could do,” he explained. “It wasn’t my phone!”
However, for Yusuf things took a turn when blows began to rain down upon him; first a push in the back, then the tennis rally of a forehand, a backhand and a forehand to the neck.
“I used to play rugby so I can stand my ground physically. I ignored the blows and concentrated on my prayer. It was difficult, but I managed to keep my composure,” said Yusuf.
“At the conclusion of the prayer it was discovered that I, the modern-looking guy, was not the source of the offensive upbeat ringtone, but an innocuous-looking man with a traditional robe and long beard.”
“What disgusted me was my aggressor’s muted response to him, ‘o sorry, be careful in future, brother’, compared to the hostility I’d had to endure. All right, my aggressor did have the decency to feel embarrassed and apologise to me, but the damage had been done,” said Yusuf, “and I went home.”
“For me, there were unanswered questions: I didn’t wear a robe, I didn’t have a fez, and, I can’t grow a beard! I have no problems with religious codes. But were my odd-man-out appearance, and the tune of the ringtone, the reason I was picked on?”
Was my transgression regarded as being more severe because I was a foreigner?”
“Sadly, I can only conclude that it was,” remarked Yusuf, who is still disturbed by how he was abused and assaulted by a senior musallee of the mosque – and all because of his ‘non-conforming’ attire and the concomitant blaring of what was thought to be his intrusive cellphone with its rock tune ring tone.