Sunday, November 5, 2006


or, Let Them Eat Cake

The month of October marks the beginning of the Cat in Rabat Birthday Corridor (the CRBC): a consecutive string of birthdays (with Christmas tossed in for good measure) wherein I celebrate birthday after birthday, send card after card, purchase gift after gift, contemplate my impending penury, and ask myself why I didn't go into law school or, at the very least, learn how to macramé plant-holders or create stained glass ornaments. This festive little slalom finally comes to an end in mid-February, just one greeting card shy of debtor's prison. I have always been intrigued by the fact that from childhood into adulthood (and undoubtedly into dotage), the birthdays of all of my friends (and my nuclear family) fall between October and mid-February. It is not willful (unless the stars have something to do with it) but it is nonetheless so. I simply don't associate with anyone who is not a Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn or Aquarius* - or, more precisely, born between February 13th and October 6th. I'm sure the rest of you are all terribly nice people but it's just not going to happen for us. Especially you Virgos. Quite frankly, you frighten me.

When the Corridor approached last year, I went in search of a card shop. Silly Cat in Rabat, you think because you all know the answer, there are no card shops. Well of course you're right but every once in a while I get duped into thinking that, as a capital city, I might find things like greeting cards here. I can buy frilly thongs, soya milk, and web cams (no correlation intended) so why not birthday cards?

Truth be told, there are a couple of stationary shops that sell cards: they are yellowed, faded, dank things with non-adhesive envelopes 3 times too large, and look like they've been mouldering in their drawers for half a century, which is probably fairly accurate. These cards are likely the residual stock from the days when the French were still in power. Invariably embellished with moribund roses and lusterless gardenias, with a sappy French greeting as a finishing touch, they are eerily reminiscent of cards that your great-grandmother might have sent you when you were six (except for the French). Some of them - horror of horrors - are scented (probably fetid lavender) and are an affront to the sinuses and to good taste. Not a terribly cheery lot these - they make our in sympathy cards back home look positively whimsical.

But birthdays aren't a huge affair in Morocco. They are less than huge, barely fair-to-middling. The vast majority of Moroccans have never blown out the candles on a birthday cake let alone celebrated their birthday - with the truly alarming exception of the children's birthday party at McDonald's. If ever there was a reason to quash the upwardly mobile, it's the McAwful birthday party replete with inappropriate adult music played at ear-splitting decibels while screaming brats play musical chairs. Why has no fatwa been issued against that particular offense against decency?

But I digress. No birthdays, you ask? Well, let's ask the Imam ....

"It is not necessary that everything the West does is according to logic. The biggest proof that it is the invention of the west are the song words without which this function is not complete viz. 'Happy birthday to you.' No one says, 'Happy birthday celebration' or 'Happy Blessed birthday' or any other words of this kind."

Hmmm, I never thought of that before; however, I would prefer to defer to any logician or philosopher who might be glancing through this posting. Is this true? Is singing "Happy Birthday" irrefutable proof of our degenerate illogical western society? What about "Jingle Bells"? Any thoughts on "The Wheels on the Bus Go 'Round & 'Round?"

This disease of celebrating birthdays was never prevalent among Muslims before, but since Muslims started living alongside the non-Muslims, they have been influenced by them.

True ... but one might add wiping one's bum with toilet paper and using utensils to that list.

Birthdays are celebrated usually at the end of a year and not at the beginning of the year. For example, if one's birth date is on the 1st of January, then the birthday will be celebrated on the 1st of January and not the 2nd of January.

Huh? Should I grab my slide rule for this?

Now just ponder, what intelligence is there in celebrating and showing happiness when a year has decreased in one's life.

Cake? Champagne? Prezzies?

During a birthday celebration, candles are lit on a cake, amounting to the years of the one's life. He extinguishes these candles by blowing them out and all present clap their hands. Hands are clapped at two occasions only, one at the time of joy for some achievement of his. Secondly, when someone acts foolishly, then to mock at him. Here a person is extinguishing the rays of the years of his life by blowing them out himself. Then this is no happiness, nor is it any achievement. So the clapping of hands is only for mocking at this person's stupidity.

Apparently successfully blowing out the candles on your cake (which for all of us becomes slightly more challenging each year) is an invitation to mock the celebrant. Whatever. Clap clap mock mock I get the slice with the icing roses. Oh to be a member of such a humourless joyless dour society.

Ponder that this is a custom and sign of non-believers. When it is someone's birthday, one year of his life has decreased, and not increased ... [the Imam inserts a long & ponderous allegory of a king & his treasure, the rather esoteric moral of which somehow supports the heaving of all birthday cakes against a wall and the general extinguishing of joy & merriment.]

Another object of the birthday parties is show. Islam encourages simplicity. By this attitude of show, the poor feel inferior and deprived and the rich have a superiority complex.

Show? What show? Like the half billion dollars US that Casa's Hassan II mosque cost? That qualifies as "show" doesn't it? Apparently the Imam has never attended one of my birthday parties. Or at least recently. I haven't had the Chippendale dancers perform in years and last year Mr. Cat in Rabat and I decided to stop flying all of our friends to Mykonos for the weekend.

Also, in these gatherings, music, singing, video filming and the taking of photographs and other un-Islamic and forbidden acts take place.

Alright, I'll grant the Imam that. I confess that there have been forbidden acts at my birthday parties. Often - and I hang my head in shame - I have allowed unveiled female and unrelated male guests to mingle and converse unattended. I look forward to a long eternity assembled among other like-minded infidels toasting my heels in Hell-Fire.

So, in a nutshell, the celebrating of birthdays is the custom of the Kuffaar, the non-believers and is prohibited in Islam. Except for the prophet's birthday of course - then it's okay ('Happy Blessed birthday' to him), although I don't think he gets a cake. I can't help but think that a few cards in the mail and a nice chocolate cake might make my Muslim neighbours a happier lot. As it is, I still can't differentiate the sounds they make when they preach, quarrel, or express joy. Just a thought.

*With the one exception of Cancer, my love sign.

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