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Finding lost property at the soul supermarket

Lawyer, raconteur and Muslim man-about-town Irfan Yusuf's last piece for Webdiary was Anne and Nada.


by Irfan Yusuf

Angel portraits. Sacred oils. Chanting. Yoga. Reiki. Various forms of Buddhism. Theosophical books. Mystical retreats. Burning incense.

Am I dreaming of a day of basket weaving in Balmain? Or is my soul soaring toward Byron Bay?

Nope. I'm talking about spending almost 4 days at a stall at the MBS Festival at the Sydney Convention Centre somewhere near Darling Harbour in Sydney. The festival ended on Sunday 20 November 2005. If you missed out, don't cry. Just read on.

In case you're wondering, MBS stands for "Mind, Body & Spirit". And if I had less Jasmin incense up my nostrils, I'd say it stood for more of something else.

The MBS is the closest thing you get to Franklins spirituality. Except at this supermarket, you’ll find everything priced at David Jones prices. Almost everything pricelessly spiritual and other-worldly was available – at a price. I have never seen so many cheap Indian wall hangings on sale for so much.

I discovered this year that at MBS, it pays to know how to speak Hindi. That way, I could understand the mantras and even chant a few of my own. Here's a sample of an exchange of mantras between me and one of the MBS resident gurus. Now I must warn you that your soul might get blown away by the subtle spiritual truths emanating from this sacred discourse …

ME: Bhaiyya, yeh ishwari thawliya ka kya bhao hay? [Trans: Mate, how much is this friggin towel with the god-design?]

HIM: Chalis Daalar. [Trans: 40 bux.]

ME: Om iyi Gaad! [Trans: Oh my God!] Bhai thum log in gore logon ko lootrahe ho! [Mate, you people sure know how to rip off the white fellas!]

HIM: Kisi ko bathaana nahi. Khaasthaur se Margo ke parne valon ko. Varna mera visa application sathiya naas hoja-ega!! [Don’t tell anyone this secret. Especially not Margo’s readers. Otherwise, my visa application might be stuffed!!]

So what on earth was I doing at MBS? Well, apart from exchanging mantras, I was helping out at the stall of a small bunch of private investors who call themselves "Islamic Realm"  We've been at MBS each time this year. And each MBS seems to coincide with some controversy that every punter who can afford the $17 entry fee wants to talk about.

(That’s $17 to enter the entire MBS. Not to enter our stall. The price of entering our stall is having to put up with me smelling like an oversized Jasmin.)

In April, the controversy was over comments made by a young Aussie Sheik about how women dressing a certain way deserved something no woman in fact deserves. This time round, it was the terror raids.

MBS isn't for everyone. In fact, few mainstream faiths bother to turn up. I doubt it's Cardinal Pell's scene, and the St Andrews Choir weren't singing on stage either. In fact, apart from us and the young hip dudes and dudettes from Hillsong, conventional religion was nowhere to be seen.

So why do Islamic Realm turn up each time? For Alf, Hayden and the young professionals involved in the stall, it's all about hosing down misconceptions. And just by looking at these guys, you can tell they don't exactly conform to stereotypes.

Alf is a 30-something IT engineer born in Australia who enjoys reading philosophy and Rumi poetry. Hayden is a well-dressed podiatrist who speaks with a slight Turkish twang and drives a sports car. Sorry, ladies. Both are married.

Then again, Muslim men can marry up to four wives. On second thought, I think I'd better withdraw that remark in case the wives of Alf and Hayden are reading this.

So what were this funky duo doing and MBS? What incense were they selling? What secrets of spirituality were they peddling?

Well, nothing spectacular. They were handing out copies of an English translation of the Qur'an (the Muslim scripture) for free. There were also brochures and pamphlets and stuff thrown into an Islamic Realm show bag. And if you asked nicely, they were even prepared to provide a complimentary mintie, the closest thing to suicide bombing but whose victim is bad breath.

Also at the stall were White Ribbons for sale. Only $2. Perhaps the cheapest fashion accessory there. And all for the good cause of campaigning in readiness for November 25. And what is happening on that day?

Well, it's my mum's birthday for starters. Put her in a sari and I reckon she could make a few thousand bucks as a clairvoyant at MBS.

(Actually, Alf suggested I wear a sari and pretend to be one. It might pay for the stall!)

But more importantly, 25 November is the UN's designated International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. Men wear white ribbons to show that violence against women is a men's issue. It affects men because when women suffer then so do the men whom they love and who care for them.

So to all you big boofy Aussie blokes out there wanting to look a little metrosexual without anyone saying you're not heterosexual, you can still get some white ribbons. But you will have to contact Louisa Graham, the campaign boss at UNIFEM. Look her up on their website.

Getting back to the MBS, there was no violent terrorist training at the Islamic Realm stall. For that kind of stuff, you had to go to the Chinese massage stall. I did. The sign said I'd get a complimentary 1 minute massage.

Unsuspectingly I sat down. I was told by some dude out of a Bing Lee commercial about how tense my shoulders and neck was. For $30 I could enjoy a loosening of my muscles.

Twenty minutes later, and $30 poorer, my neck and shoulders were ready to fall apart. When the guy offered to do my lower back, I told him I'd had enough muscular terror for a day.

Then there were the Brahma Kumaris. My mum had a close friend who was a Brahma Kumari, and we used to hang around a lot with them. They are amongst the most tranquil people, and their system of TM (transcendental meditation) makes plenty of sense.

On stage, there were a number of performances by various musical and chanting groups. At least I thought there were. My ears were being iPod-blasted with a combination of the heavy guitars of Creed and the soulful sounds of Cat Stevens doing duos with Malay group Raihan.

At one stage I did take my earphones off to hear the chanting of some Tibetan monks. This was seriously haunting stuff. On a chair behind the monks was a portrait of the Dalai Lama. At that stage, a thought raced through my skull before sending some shivers down the spine.

It was the thought of my Kiwi Mossie barmaid "fwend" (I always poked fun at her baby speech) asking me whether she, as a Muslim woman, was allowed to read the Dalai Lama's stuff. Like so many of us aliens from the Planet Islam, she didn't quite know where she could find wisdom from. I gave her a simple answer straight from the Master.

"You know, dear, you can read whatever you like. Our Prophet told us: "Wisdom is the lost property of the Believers, so let them grab hold of it wherever they find it!" If you find wisdom in the Dalai Lama, read it and share it with me also."

She is so wise, my Kiwi fwend. Though I doubt she would go to MBS for her wisdom. She prefers Rumi and the Dalai Lama. It's more wholesome. And much cheaper as well.

I wonder what she'd think of me flogging White Ribbons for $2 at the Islamic Realm stall. She'd probably say "Urfen, yoh are sich a sinsutuv new age cheppay!"

Either that, or she'd jokingly punch me in the nose. And if I put on that stupid accent again, the punch might not be a joke. Funny, I thought they preferred to rub noses across the Tasman. Seriously, someone should invent a day for the elimination of violence against men!

So there you have it, folks. Expensive tea towels, chanting monks, Cat Stevens, TM, terroristic massage and Hillsong. Plus Islamic showbags white ribbons and a possible broken nose fist (or should thet bay fust?) -delivered by a Kiwi alien. It all sounds like pure MBS to me

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re: Finding lost property at the soul supermarket

Scientists, lawyers, football players, musicians, are all susceptible to inner corruption, with religion it is much easier to observe.
Marxists tried to deny the importance of the inner world and their representatives in power, Stalin etc just took the priests' place.
The same with musicians, John Lennon comes to my mind, not that he was corrupt.

Maybe you Margo and Malcolm can start something up.

re: Finding lost property at the soul supermarket

Charles Camilleri, I've heard of some weird threesomes in my time but that takes the cake. I hate mozzies in the bedroom and Margo and I would end up stonkered on red.

Why can't we have an international day against violence to people? Then I'd really have something to protest about.

re: Finding lost property at the soul supermarket

Good article Irfan. I particularly like this “Our Prophet told us: "Wisdom is the lost property of the Believers, so let them grab hold of it wherever they find it!""

Keep up the good work.

We need to know more about your Prophet in the Far North.

re: Finding lost property at the soul supermarket

A kiwi mozzie "fwend" who is a barmaid?

If she can accommodate both Islam and making a living by selling alcohol, I don't see how she can have problem with reading the Dalai Lama's stuff.

re: Finding lost property at the soul supermarket

Who Makes These Changes?

I shoot an arrow left
And it lands right.
I ride after a deer and find myself
being chased by a hog.
I plot to get what I want
and end up in prison.
I dig a pit to trap others
and fall in.
I should be suspicious of what I want.

Jelalldin Rumi

re: Finding lost property at the soul supermarket

Priceless, Irfan, and may you continue to grace this forum with your enviable common-sense and tolerance.

All the best,

John Henry Calvinist (but not really a Calvinist at all).

re: Finding lost property at the soul supermarket

Why can't we have an international day against violence to people? Then I'd really have something to protest about.

Malcolm, I shall go and kill the mosquitoes while you and Margo carouse. And - in the interim - there is some talk of a Canberran Club Chaos meeting round Xmas. Anyone out there interested?

Margo: Hi Fiona. Let's make it the 20th at the place you mentioned.

re: Finding lost property at the soul supermarket

I love it, JHC, when tolerance evidently includes, as it does with Irfan, the ability to mock and deride other people, in his case NZders. Oh dear, I don't have a sense of humour?

I could roll out all those old Arab /Irish/ Polish/Jewish etc etc ridicule to prove that I find them hilarious. Should I tell you the funny one about the girl in the hijab? Or, by golly, what is even funnier, when I ridicule the accent of Middle eastern immigrants.

Good one, Irfan. I see right where you are coming from.

re: Finding lost property at the soul supermarket

Canberra sounds good - haven't been to the War Memorial for a while. Where and when? Anyone interested in a bulk booking at Olim's or one of the Colleges at ANU?

Margo: It's coffee at the cafe of one of Canberra' s many fine national institutions. The date's been changed to December 22.

re: Finding lost property at the soul supermarket

Lighten up F. Kendall, I am from NZ, and have copped teasing about my accent as well as more than my share of Kiwi jokes (usually the same ones we have about Australians). This has always been a part of the relationship between our two countries.

It is ridiculous to equate this good natured teasing, with the blatant and vitriolic attacks and general intolerance of the Muslim community by the Government and media.

re: Finding lost property at the soul supermarket

Malcolm, I spend many a Saturday at the WM back in the '60s - we lived just up the hill, so the subs, G for George, and the uniforms, were part of the fabric of my life.

Such a shock - in some ways - to revisit a couple of years ago. Now everything is organised, signposted, interpreted. And yes, it's a damn' fine museum and rightly deserves its accolade as one of (possibly the) best in Oz. But - so much stuff isn't visible any more.

(On the other hand, still had to escort one weeping mother and one tearful daughter out of it all, while trying to maintain my own stiff upper lip. Next time I go - alone, I think - unless I can find a suitably stoic companion.)

re: Finding lost property at the soul supermarket

Drivel, F Kendall, as any dinki di reffo bastard will tell you.

re: Finding lost property at the soul supermarket

"Lighten up", Ann Brookes? That sounds like an advertising slogan for some American product.

"It is ridiculous to equate this good natured teasing...."

No, it is ridiculous to suggest that attacking/ridiculing people on the grounds of their nationality/race/colour can sometimes be benign.

re: Finding lost property at the soul supermarket

Irfan, suddenly realised that my undertaking: "I shall go and kill the mosquitoes..." could be grievously misinterpreted.

No, no, really, I only mean the six-legged ones with the annoying high-pitched drone....

In all seriousness, sir, I applaud your contributions to this august site. It is richer for your clinically good-humoured analyses of the foibles of this diverse society that I hope we may long call Australia.

re: Finding lost property at the soul supermarket

Onya, Anne Brookes! I have never been so glad to hear the sound of a Kiwi accent, which is actually basically similar to the Aussie one, as when listening to NZ PM Helen Clark of late.

How has a small country like NZ produced a strong leader like that when the best we can do is the likes of Nelson and Howard, and the Yanks GW Bush?

re: Finding lost property at the soul supermarket

For your information, ladies and gentlemen, my Kiwi "fwend" always laughed the loudest at my pathetic attempts to impersonate her accent.

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