In my pre-teens, I remember coming across a letter that caused waves, the turbulent kind that shifts you into panic-mode without asking first, amongst all my friends. The school I attended had a predominantly Muslim student population and this letter evoked fear in our hearts by cunningly targeting a subject that we had been rigorously drilled to hold in awe.
It claimed that some great scholar had a dream. While the letter lacked the oomph! of Dr. King's "I have a dream" speech, it did contain certain magical phrases that made even the boldest, most sensible amongst us think twice about refuting its contents. These phrases were: the blessed city of Makkah, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and the curse of Allah.
It is no joke to be exposed to these three extremely evocative expressions in one address – especially when the dream was beheld in the city, the visitor in this pseudo-death trance was the holy personality mentioned, and the dire consequences of ignoring to pass on the contents of the parchment at hand: the Divine affliction.
By now you must have guessed that I am referring to the infamous chain-letter of the time. I was recently able to view (with great astonishment at its survival skills) the same letter in an almost identical state, kindly passed on to me via email. Apart from the varied font-sizes, the extra exclamation marks and the extremely long list of (gullible) people through whose inboxes it had traversed, it was an exact rendition of the thumb-marked, dog-eared missive that I had peered at over the shoulders of fellow scholars-in-training.
It then occurred to me that many of us tend to delete all lengthy forwards as soon as we see the dreaded "Fw:" code in the subject heading. And we all know (don't we?) to immediately banish to the Junk folder, emails that promise you: a) the love of your life by 4.p.m. tomorrow; b) x cents (usually to save a baby) for every time you forward the mail - from Microsoft no less; c) a six figure lottery winning or d) any other such almost-plausible promises.
However, when it comes to religion, no matter how twisted the content, the inner critic is admonished to walk cautiously around the issue. Delete the mail? But it mentions – gasp! – the Prophet! What if I get – gasp! gasp! – cursed? Maybe I'll just pick a few names from my address book and send it anyway. What's one more mail in cyberspace? (Sometimes, quite a lot! Especially for those of us still struggling with dial-up connections.)
But the point isn't convenience or inconvenience, neither is it precautionary measures. It's a matter of sense – and faith.
If we seriously believe that when we say in Du'a al-Mashlool or Sura Rahman that Allah is "everyday upon some new labor", it means He decided that one of the ways to manifest His glory was through the Phenomenon of the Chain-mail then – and I say this with the best intentions – we need to re-work our perception of Tawhid. Soon. Immediately, if possible.
A god who monitors cyberspace to see which of his net-minions passes on a specific mail is not a god worth worshipping. Allah's will cannot be not confined to the Web and He manifests it with good reason only. Sending forward a chain-mail might indicate a mindless servitude that may invoke His Wrath in the long run, rather than fend it off!
We have a glorious Lord. If we take as much care in obeying Him as we do in forwarding those (please, I have to say this) ridiculous mails, we may learn to write things that are worth forwarding.
If you're still hearing a little voice whispering: "But what if…?" in your head, here's my final proof: despite the fact that I have deleted every one of these mails with great, almost malicious glee, I still have the honour of being a Muslim, the blessing of being a Shia, the support of a wonderful family and fantastic friends, all my limbs and the general bounties that God has promised even to ungrateful creatures like myself.
If I have a tendency to bump into things or an uncanny ability to put my foot in my mouth, then these are traits I share with many worldwide. Thus, I am before you a tangible, living example of the Failed Chain-mail Curse.
One of millions, probably.