If well postured tubby toddler, Roshan, had had a (presumably more street wise) older sibling to giggle and whisper in his ear the truth about the penalty for treading the barefooted crime, would he still have screamed with such shrillacrity at the sight of his Mother’s usually dainty gaze and gazelled disposition advancing towards him from the kitchen, dimorphing into the purposeful ogre which would carry out a hasty and affirmative replacement of his little unwanted plimsolls onto his reluctant little feet? Would he still have scrambled wildly to climb onto the sofa (‘off the floor’ being the only loophole allowing him not to wear shoes in that cool marble floored industrial city) before she could reach him and repeat the exercise?

If Toobaa’s older brothers, all those young young years ago, hadn’t had each other to finger-paint over the uncertainty with giggles of excitement, would they have clambered into that cardboard box and sled down the stairs? They had already carried out a test-run with a ‘large’ teddy bear, observed with horror the disastrous skip and tumble of the box over the banister and Teddy down the stairs, and decided to face the fear and do it anyway. What would they now recall and laugh about until their sides split open, releasing hundreds of tiny cardboard boxes skiing out, full of mini-thems, eyes wide with glee, toothy grins, breathless laughter, and the rushed feeling of never-ending ness?

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It was the driver who had insisted that there was no basis for Muslims, in reference to the newgen Muslim- a.k.a ‘practicing Muslims of the West’, to address one another with the default titles ‘brother’ and ‘sister’, when, in fact, we were not related at all. He was resolute in his claim and proclaimed that on the authority of ‘someone’ there was no scriptural evidence that the Muslim community should be referred to as a brotherhood.

Despite the fact that brotherhoods or fraternities of any belief, aim or order were the natural consequence of a shared idea on any scale, and the historic reality of this fact and the irrelevance of the entire topic to anything useful, he was given the benefit of the doubt as his audience was unarmed with the relevant Qur’anic ayat to fire at him with hasty little catapults. The substance of affinity is rather delicately woven into this matter of names, too delicate for the pullback of a slingshot.

A simple search using The Alim for Windows returns more than one verse, as well as ahadith, specifically calling the believers a ‘single brotherhood’, the key word being ikhwah, brotherhood.

إنّما المؤمنونَ إخوةٌ فأصلحوا بينَ أخويكمْ واتّقوا اللهَ لعلّكمْ تُرحمونَ

(The believers are but a single Brotherhood: So make peace and reconciliation between your two (contending) brothers: And fear Allah that ye may receive Mercy. 49:10)

It is a somewhat contagious verbal ritual, with which we appear to involuntarily baptize one another. In the warm, wisdom soaked corridors of SOAS, it was like plaiting everyone into one and the same braid, which, yes, formed a rather strong and tough old rope. And anyone could become part of this gloriously welcoming strand simply by being addressed in the above mentioned manner. Yet, it became that to some, referring to anyone by their forename in their presence, without the default title at least prefixed, resonated rather awkwardly. Some people upheld the tradition and used the nominative out of habitual, nevertheless genuine, respect for their colleagues in work or study, or their brethren in faith. Some played it as background music so that freedom of expression to free mix and Islamic political correctness could foxtrot to the fraternity jingle.

And THEN there was the confusing grey area. It is because marriage is always the elephant in the room spraying gawshings of water at any unmarried Muslims. It is here that the brethren terminology treads its thinnest ice. With the big heavy elephant on the thin crispy ice it is inevitable that we should have to make our way down and explore the case from a submerged angle.

Something to do with exhibiting timidity, innate apprehensiveness, guardfulness, and, marking out your MC Hammer space- you-can’t-touch-this- causes some to cling onto the terms as though they were barge poles between their chastity and anything challenging that. And yet, when investigations about the other person begin, running the potentiometer over a persons life and everyone associated with said persons life as though it were a metal detector, and it is with this that the driver had a problem, it was odd to then refer to one another as brother or sister. But some still, absent mindedly, did it.

‘Oh, did you enquire about that sister’s proposal? What’s she like?’

To better inform someone if you get the inkling that they, or anybody watching, may have the impression that you would make ‘such a wonderful couple’ you must cite those four syllables. ‘Greetings, Brother.’

‘Wahhhh! She called me… brother!!!’

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This clearly works better in Urdu. There is no word for ‘cousin’ in Urdu. Your cousins are referred to as your ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’ even though compulsory bashfulness (if it doesn’t come instinctively) and reserved behaviour in the trenches of bachelorism would not indicate so, not to mention the legitimacy of a marriage taking place between such cousins. It is simply a term of address.

As a weapon, therefore, it has been known to reduce grown men to tears, to hear a girl he may have imagined as a bride for himself, pointedly calling him ‘bhaiii jaaaan’. Dear Brother.

The lazy department of my brain collates the pages and stamps the top, concluding in the summary box that, regardless of context, in true essence, it is the declaration of a shared affinity, the acknowledgement of which is demonstrated in the verbal hemisphere as a grand celebration of His Bounty of Guidance. And used ruthlessly when required.

[Thank you Oz and K for your comments.]

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