IHYA ULOOM AL-FATALBERTMy younger sister (she is 5 years older than me but younger than my eldest one) has always been a little eccentric. Even as a child, she used to watch World Championship Wrestling and would cheer Andre the Giant as he’d (pretend to) perform plastic surgery on someone’s face by smacking it against the floor. She was 9 years old at the time. She was most amused. She would laugh. I was 4 years old. I was most terrified. I would cry.
She also enjoyed watching the cartoon Fat Albert. She could really relate to it. So could I, but for different reasons. She related to his message that you should be proud of who you are, even if you are fat or can’t talk properly or have no face and a bad afro. She wore glasses and would be picked on at school.
That message of Fat Albert was too profound for a chubby 4 year old. But I could still relate to the show. Why? Because all the kids used to call me Fat Albert. And because I was not exactly skinny.
So it was with mixed feelings that, 32 years later, I accepted my sister’s invitation to see Uncle Rupert bin Murdoch’s latest cinematised version of Fat Albert. Her eccentric 10 year old son would also be joining us. I took my ipod along in case the movie was boring and I could always entertain myself with a cocktail of Shaykh Nuh Keller and AC/DC.
At the Movies
We visited Macquarie Centre and headed to the Greater Union Cinemas. My sister walked ahead of us all to quickly buy tickets before they sold out. She walked in long strides, like a woman on a mission. She was determined to see Fat Albert tonight. Not even Andre the Giant could have stopped her.
We sat in the cinema slurping on our frozen coke slurpees. Eventually the movie came on. And I could here that familiar sound that the kids at school used to mock me with:
“hey Hey HEY … it’s Faaat Albert!”
After 20 seconds, my sister and the rest of the cinema were clapping and singing away: “Na na na, gonna ava good time!” I realised my sister was not the only eccentric person in the cinema.
After 5 minutes, I realised I didn’t need the ipod. This is a truly captivating piece of kid’s cinema. And what makes it so good is that kids of all ages and sizes, including overweight grumpy cynical 36 year old lawyers, can enjoy it.
Fat Albert & His Gang
Fat Albert’s gang are a dysfunctional bunch of black kids hanging out in some junk yard in North Philadelphia. Somehow they manage to break out of a school girl’s TV set after Fat Albert notices she is crying. He pulls his head out of the TV, but gets stuck half-way. Eventually, he is pushed out as the girl looks on horrified. The whole gang follow.
This dysfunctional bunch each have something nasty school kids can poke fun at. One has a serious speech impediment. Another wears a balaclava to hide his face. But together, they rule their part of the junkyard. And the ground is not all that shakes when their leader Fat Albert appears.
Fat Albert & Love
The movie has numerous lessons. Perhaps the most touching lesson for me was seeing Fat Albert being able to attract the heart of the most popularly attractive girl who happens to be the foster-sister of the school girl. Fat Albert charmed her with good manners and a sweet demeanour. Watching him in all his clumsy fatness reminded me of my own childhood. Yet the prettiest girl overlooked all that and found a warm and kind-hearted man who treated her like a lady and not just a piece of meat. After their first date, he walked her home. At their front door, she said: “Albert, now we are BFF. Best friends forever!”. She kissed him on the cheek.
At that moment, I just had to send a text message to a certain person of the female persuasion that worked in a bar from time to time and that I was pursuing with some vigour. “Mamoo, put your phone away! Who are you texting now during the movie?”, my nephew asked. My sister laughed, this time at me!
Perhaps the most important lesson of the movie was at its end. Fat Albert had to leave as Bill Cosby warned him that his continued stay in the real world might see him turn into celluloid dust. Albert reluctantly went to tell his sweetheart. She became upset and asked herself: “Why is it that I meet someone who really loves me but then has to leave me? I should never love anyone”.
Fat Albert & Dhikr (Remembrance of God)
Fat Albert said something that reminded me of a verse in the Qur’an. He said that loving someone is inherently wonderful, even if the person is not physically with you.
“When you love someone, you think about them. And you know they are thinkin’ about you. Isn’t that wonderful, just knowin’ that? Don’t let fear stop you from lovin’ somebody.”
Applied to human relationships, it is an awesome message. Sometimes when I visit a certain bar in the inner-western suburbs of Sydney to see a friend of the female persuasion, she will say to me: “I’m so glad you are here. I was thinking about you just yesterday”. When she says that, Fat Irfan begins to feel like Fat Albert.
But applied to our relationship with our Creator, it is even more awesome. Because in God’s case, we know Fat Albert’s words are true. God promises us: “Remember Me and I will remember you”. That is God’s personal promise to each individual human being on this planet.
And we know God remembers us even without our remembering Him. God provides for us just as He provides for birds and other animals. He never burdens us with a burden that is unbearable. He has provided a cure for every disease. We have miracles all around us. Our lives in the womb and our emergence from the womb is miraculous.
Fat Albert & the Prophet of Mercy (peace be upon him)
God sent a Prophet of such extraordinary mercy and compassion. A perfect man who suffered like no man on this earth has suffered. That wonderful man who found time to weep for a fallen soldier that he described as one of his family, the soldier named Julaybib that suffered from facial disfigurement and had no family. God sent us a man who knew what it was like to be an orphan, who buried his own mother in the sand and who watched his own grandfather die, all this before even reaching adolescence.
Those Acehnese children suffering from the loss of their parents and loved ones in the tsunami can find comfort knowing that their Prophet also lived as an orphan. Those fathers who must suffer the pain of a divorced daughter returning home can find comfort in the fact that their Prophet experienced this pain twice. And those depressed people contemplating suicide will find comfort in reading about the Prophet’s feelings when the revelation stopped for a while and the Prophet felt like throwing himself from a cliff.
This Prophet of Mercy made time for a woman suffering from schizophrenia who would frequently grab him by the hand and take him to some place where he would listen to her babbling. He spoke with such compassion about a prostitute who was forgiven by God for showing mercy to a dog dying of thirst.
Such is the love of God that He reflected His love in the life of a human being. Indeed, in the lives of hundreds of thousands of human beings we know of as prophets. And in hundreds of thousands of human beings (since the demise of the last prophet) that we know of as God’s friends (awliya).
Na na na, gonna hava good time
I could go on and on about this extraordinary love and remembrance that God favours us with. Imam Ghazali wrote over 4 volumes on it in his Ihya Uloom ad-Din (Revival of the Sciences of Faith & Religion). And without realising it, Uncle Rupert bin Murdoch has revived the same sciences by producing this wonderful rendition of my sister’s favourite cartoon character.
Wisdom is the lost property of the believer. Tonight I found some of that property in a cinema in suburban Sydney. I don’t wish to be as fat as Fat Albert. But I hope that even after losing all this weight, I will remember his message about love not being hampered by fear.
“Oh you who believe! Fear God as He should be feared and do not die except in a state of Islam [peace through submission to God’s will]”. This fear is grounded in love. We fear God because we love Him and are afraid to offend Him. If I can remember this one message, I know that my life here and hereafter will be one where I’m “gonna hava good time”.
Sorry for the corny ending.