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Biter

Fear of God

Taking the 'care' out of 'day care'

THIS MAY COME as a shock, but Biter, too, has a religious side. And, in an age in which the trappings of spirituality--incense, auras, minor gods and goddesses and math-based cosmologies--are OK, but those of organized religion aren't, Biter, like any good American, usually tries to keep faith and its practice low-key. God may not be dead just yet, but there's no doubt that he's been forgotten. But while Biter would usually remain mum on these matters so as not to ruffle any feathers, sometimes situations arise when broaching the subject of religion becomes permissible. Here's one:

Less than three weeks ago, Biter was patronizing one of the omnipresent strip malls that San Jose's city planners have so thoughtfully permitted to dominate the city's landscape. This strip mall, on Capitol Expressway near Highway 87, boasted, among other evidently much-needed businesses, another Albertson's, another Subway, another Longs Drug Store and another Fantastic Sams. Biter had just grabbed some coffee from the Java N Juice and finished some photocopies at Albertson's.

And Biter's religion of choice being Islam, the time for the afternoon prayer had just come in. Muslims, as most readers probably already know, are required to perform five daily prayers at specific times. Biter grabbed a prayer rug from the car and ambled on over to what seemed to be the least conspicuous spot in the strip mall, on a patch of grass on the far side and away from most of the major businesses.

Biter spread the prayer rug, faced the Kaaba on the Arabian peninsula and began prayer. Depending on which prayer they're performing, Muslims pray between two and four cycles--one cycle consisting of the worshipper standing, bowing and prostrating. Biter was nearing the end of the afternoon prayer, on the fourth cycle, when a high-pitched voice rang out authoritatively:

"Excuse me, excuse me."

Biter, still immersed in prayer, ignored the voice. Again: "Excuse me, excuse me."

The "excuse me"s continued incessantly for the next 20 seconds, and for the next 20 seconds, Biter just as incessantly ignored them. Finally, after the prayer was completed, Biter turned to respond. A young woman, donned, sorority-girl-style, in a Harvard sweatshirt and khaki shorts, leaned toward Biter and without mincing words said that Biter's motions were frightening her children, so could Biter please move along? She worked at High Quality Child Care, a day-care center that Biter was unwittingly praying across from, she informed Biter. Biter, not wanting to frighten any children, apologized and asked if perhaps she could explain to her children that Biter was only engaged in prayer, that Biter was a Muslim and that's how Muslims pray. The motto on the door of the day-care center, after all, boasted "your child's path to creativity," and what's a more creative way to teach children about other cultures than show them another culture?

Here was a gift of a teaching opportunity, Biter thought.

It sounded all very logical to Biter, but to Khaki Shorts, it apparently didn't. She reiterated her desire for Biter "to please do what you're doing somewhere else," gave Biter one of those I'm-polite-but-firm smiles and walked back into the High Quality. It felt as if Biter had been caught smoking a cigarette outside a day-care center, not praying. If her children had never seen a Sikh before and were frightened by the turban, would she have shooed the Sikh away or would she have explained to her children that all people aren't the same?

A quick telephone call to the owners of the strip mall didn't clear things up either. "To be quite honest, I've never had this [happen?] ever," groaned the voice on the other end of the line. "What I usually have arise is it's a homeless person loitering because he's not a customer. If [Biter] had gone to Subway, bought a sandwich and was going to sit on the grass and eat it, I'd assume it was OK. I just don't know where the praying Muslim thing falls into the scheme of things."


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From the June 19-25, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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