Heaven PointsPosted: August 27, 2015
In 1990, President De Klerk released Nelson Mandela from prison, the East German police dismantled the Berlin Wall, and, in a 10’ x 10’ makeshift classroom at the Ibn Sina Islamic Farsi immersion school in Sacramento, Khanoom Bahari, the religion teacher, liberated my soul from the threat of eternal hellfire with a cheat code for savab, or heaven points.
Khanoom Bahari had a ballerina’s posture and wore a permanent welcome-smile. She glided into the classroom to our metal fold out table, opened up our religion textbook, and, with her gentle voice, read aloud from the text describing charred skin, the screams of guilty souls, and the eternal damnation of hellfire.
As she ran down the list of sins, I searched my memory:
Lying – I lied to Dad almost every day, telling him that I’d done my prayers when really I’d been lying on my bed daydreaming.
Cheating – Every Monopoly game, I cheated and stole money from the bank. When I ran out of money, I’d act sullen. Then, I’d act surprised to discover that I’d been sitting on one of those bright orange five hundred dollar bills the whole time.
Eating Pork – There had been three occasions; once it was ham and twice it was pepperoni.
“Good deeds that hold great savab can wipe away sins,” she said, “We have an angel on each shoulder. One sits on our left shoulder, writing down every bad deed, the other sits on our right shoulder, noting good deeds. In the afterlife, God will weigh your two books. The heavier book will determine if you go to Heaven or Hell.”
“So how do we know how many points we have to get to heaven,” asked one of my classmates.
As soon as we understood savab as a kind of point system, we were all ready with our questions: How many bad deed points is eating ham, cheating on a test, breaking fast, not praying, lying, cursing? How many good deed points do you need to go to heaven? Is there a minimum? Can someone else with too much savab loan you their points? Can you save up heaven points? Can we check to see how many points we have? How will we know?
“In your heart, you should know where you stand with God,” she said, “without counting points.”
But, our calculators were already out.
“What act gives you the greatest amount of savab?” I asked.
“If you convert someone else to Islam, someone who has never known of Islam before. That is the greatest deed.”
“How much is it worth?” I asked.
“Millions and millions,” she explained.
“And one lie is like one negative point,” I asked.
“In a way,” she said.
I knew what I had to do.
As soon Dad parked the car in our covered parking space, I burst through the door to my friend Christina’s apartment.
Knock knock knock.
Her mother opened the door.
“Can Christina come out to play?” I asked.
Christina and I sat on the lawn outside our apartment complex. She tied together a necklace of wildflowers while I pulled at the wishing weeds and sent their seeds in the air. I told her all the stories my father had told me.
“Have you ever converted to Islam?” I said, “Because if you’ve converted before, then I don’t think I get as many points.”
“I don’t think so,” she said, “But maybe my sister has. Can she still do it too?”
“Yeah, and you’re Christian already, so you know most of this. But, like, a lot of Christians don’t know that after Jesus, Mohammed came and he like, saved a bunch of people from these really bad guys,” I said.
“What did they do?” she asked.
“Before Mohammed, all the people of Mecca were paying money to these statues thinking that they were gods and that magic would happen. But then Mohammed came and was like, nothing is happening and the sheiks—these really bad guys—they’re lying to you. And. They tried to kill him, Christina.”
“Oh! That’s just like Jesus,” she said.
“It’s pretty much the same thing. And now you won’t just celebrate Christmas, you’ll get money for Muslim holidays too. My parents give me money. And, you get out of school and stuff. Plus, if you convert, then we both get heaven points.”
“Yeah, so like, you get heaven points because you didn’t know about Mohammed and now you do. And, I get points because I told you about Mohammed.”
“Can my sister get off school for Eid like you?” she asked.
“Yeah! If you convert and she converts and we can get one more person to convert, then I get three million heaven points and I can give you some.”
We shrieked with laughter and ran to our friend, Casey’s apartment, adjacent to ours.
Knock knock knock.
Casey opened the door a crack.
“Hey,” she said.
“Casey, can you come over to Zahra’s to play? Her grandma is going to make us Muslim,” Christina said.
“I don’t want to be Muslim,” Casey said, shrugging her shoulders like she didn’t want to play hide-n-seek or like she’d just opted out of a game of tag.
“Casey, if you’re not Muslim then we can’t play with you,” said Christina. She surprised me, but I didn’t say anything in case in worked.
Casey turned around and yelled into the dark hallway, “Mom, can I go to Zahra’s?”
A distant voice yelled back, “Is her grandma there? …Okay! Have fun! Be back by dinner!”
We ran up the stairs of my family’s apartment, burst through the front door and startled my grandmother, who was sitting on the couch, reading the Qur’an. Grandma didn’t speak English, so I explained to her that my friends wanted to convert to Islam.
“Maybe we should ask their parents,” she said.
“Their parents are converting too,” I lied. I had three million points coming. I wasn’t worried.
La Ilaha Ilallah
“What’s that mean?” Casey asked.
“I think it means that you believe in one God,” I said.
Grandma taught them how to dress for prayer, which way to face, and how to sujdeh. I translated as she told the story of Hazrat Ali (peace be upon him). When we finished, Casey had to go home and Christina hung out with me a while longer.
“You should be Christian with me on Sunday,” she said, “The pastor gives out Snickers!”
“I can’t be Christian,” I explained, “That’s like going backward. And, I’d lose all my heaven points.”
“Ok fine,” said Christina, “then I don’t want to be Muslim anymore.”
“Well, now you know about Mohammed, so if you go back to being Christian, it’s like way fewer points,” I said, “Like, negative points.”
When Christina went home, she called me and explained that her mom said that she and her sister are not allowed to be Muslim anymore, but that she could ride bikes later.
Twenty years later, I still sneak pepperoni onto my cheese pizza. But now, instead of getting lectures on piety from Khanoom Bahari, my anti-pork, atheist husband sends me links to articles on the intelligence of pigs, and their inhumane treatment in slaughterhouses.
I’m still counting on those three million savab points to get me into heaven (INSHALLAH). Lord knows I need them.
Read more by Zahra, here.
Zahra Noorbakhsh is a Feminist Muslim comedian and writer. The New Yorker dubbed her one woman show All Atheists Are Muslim a highlight of the Int’l New York City Fringe Theater Festival, the largest multi-arts festival in North America. Her story The Birds, The Bees, & My Hole was featured in the groundbreaking Love, InshAllah: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women anthology. Her most recent one-woman show Hijab and Hammerpants is playing in theaters around the Bay Area. Zahra is also one half of the podcast “GoodMuslimBadMuslim.com” featured on PRI’s Global Nation, NPR’s “All Things Considered” and most recently, Tapestry on CBC.
To keep up with Zahra, visit “ZahraComedy.com” and join her newsletter.