Once upon a time, in the not-too-distant future, a girl named Zubaida was exploring the ruins of an Israeli factory with her little brother Hasan. Their older brother, Mohammad, never allowed them to explore the ruins because he said they were too dangerous. Of course, this just made Zubaida and Hasan want to explore them even more. So while Mohammad was at work, that is exactly what they did.
Nobody lived near the old Israeli factory. The entire area had been heavily shelled in the most recent war. It was hot and very dusty, and as Zubaida led her brother down the lonely road towards the factory she had to take care to avoid bomb craters.
"Look, sister! We're on the moon!" Hasan said. He pulled himself away from her grasp and began jumping up and down and accross the smaller craters.
"Be careful, Hasan," said Zubaida. "If you fall down, you will get hurt, and then Mohammad will know we have been disobedient."
The Israeli factory was rust-colored, and the front half of its roof was missing. Zubaida could see all the big rooms and corridors and disused equipment inside. Clusters of wires stuck out from the broken walls. Glass, red brick and rusty steel beams littered the dusty ground.
The afternoon shade under the factory walls beckoned them. Hasan sat down against the crumbling edifice. The wall was open to the outside, but it stretched deep into the factory and eventually became shadowed by the remains of the roof on the far end.
"Sister, what do you suppose the Zionists built in this factory?"
"I am not certain. But why does it matter? I am just happy it is destroyed, praise be to God. The less factories the occupiers have here, the better."
"Did Father help destroy this factory?"
Zubaida's father and mother had died just after Hasan was born, when Zubaida was six. Mohammed liked to tell Hasan that their father was a great martyr, and that he died in a battle with the Zionist regime. But in reality, their mother and father were both randomly blown up when a shell landed near their grocery store.
"No," said Zubaida. "Well, perhaps he did. I do not know very much about his adventures. You will have to ask your brother when he comes back from work." Zubaida was not nearly as good as Mohammed at telling these stories, so she passed them off upon him whenever she could. "But remember not to mention that we were here, Hasan!"
Just then, Zubaida heard a clatter of metal from the far end of the big room. It looked like there was a pile of machinery where the sound came from. She stood up and squinted into the darkness.
"Is anyone there?" she asked.
The machinery pile was in shadows, but Zubaida swore she saw a cluster of little blinking lights. Two of the lights were bigger than the rest, and they looked almost like glowing red eyes.
"Is someone there?"
There was no answer, but as Zubaida squinted, the colored lights became clearer. They were attached to the outline of a squat figure. It had the outline of a head, a torso, arms and legs. Or—did it? One of its arms didn't look quite right. As she looked, the figure retreated a little further into the shadows. But its blinking lights were still visible, like little colored stars in an inky sky.
"Is it a Zionist?" said Hasan. The boy clutched Zubaida's arm. But she brushed him away.
Here is what Zubaida saw: it was a metal figure in the shape of a man. Its round head had two red lights where a human would have eyes, and speaker for a mouth. It had a stumpy torso and two thin legs, all metallic-colored and tarnished, with blacks rubber tubes visible underneath the metal plates. But only one arm was attached to its body. Instead of a hand, it had three clicking metal pincers. Its limbs whirred and buzzed softly as it moved.
Perhaps some people would be frightened by such a sight. But Zubaida was a brave girl. And as she approached, the figure held up its pincer hand to its face, as if it were afraid.
"Please do not come any closer," the figure said in Arabic. Its voice was monotone and tinny, a male voice.
Zubaida had of course heard stories about robots from her friends who had ventured to see Western science fiction movies. But never in a million years did she think they existed.
"We won't," said Zubaida. Hasan (who was quite frightened) peeked out from behind her. "But you do not need to be afraid of us. We are two Muslim children and we are not going to hurt you."
The robot made no move, but his red eyes blinked on and off quickly like a reset alarm clock, as if he were contemplating what Zubaida said.
"What happened to your arm?" said Zubaida.
With its remaining arm, the robot gestured to the bottom of the machinery pile. There was its other arm, lying on the ground.
"Oh," said Zubaida. "Does it hurt, where your arm is missing?"
"What is your name?"
"I do not have a name."
"But what do they call you?"
"My product number is Alef-Shnyin Hamisha," said the robot. Zubaida knew that these were Hebrew numbers and letters, though she did not know what they were.
"God have mercy," said Zubaida. "So you were manufactured by the Zionists?"
The robot did not answer. He only looked down at the machinery pile, and blinked his red eyes again.
"You were, weren't you," she said.
Zubaida had earlier untied her blue headscarf because there were no men around to see her and it was very hot. Now she wrapped it slowly around her head.
At first, she did this without even thinking about it. She always wrapped her headscarf around her head when there were men or boys around to see her. But why did she feel compelled to cover her hair in front of the robot? Was the robot a man? Even with his monotone computer voice, he sounded like a man. Or perhaps more like a shy boy. There was something in the robot's actions which compelled Zubaida to act as if he were a real boy.
Did that mean that the robot had a soul?
"Let me ask you a very important question," said Zubaida. "Are you a Muslim?"
"A Muslim?" said the robot. "I do not know. Can you define 'Muslim'?" The colored lights on its chest began to blink rapidly.
"Being a Muslim means submitting to the will of the supreme and merciful God, creator of all," said Zubaida. "The holy and perfect Quran says that God judges everyone—and not only humans, but all beings. God judges the djinn too. The djinn are beings that God made out of the smokeless fire, just as God made humans out of the clay. And only those beings who are Muslims can join God in Paradise after they die. Everyone else is tortured forever in hell, djinn and humans alike."
"The Quran?" asked the robot.
"Oh no," said Zubaida. "Oh, God have mercy. You don't know the Quran? But that is not your fault, is it? If you were made by the Zionists, then of course they would not want you to read the holy Quran. In fact they would probably try to keep the truth of the Quran from you. That way, you would not question their unjust oppression of innocent Muslims. The Quran says that the unbelievers will try to keep the truth of Islam hidden, but that is only because they themselves do not want to acknowledge its truth. But you do not need to worry about that now. Can you read? You understand Arabic, so I am sure that we can teach you the holy Quran. I have read it seven times and I have even memorized parts of it. And my older brother Mohammed can help too."
"It is hard for me to read, but I can learn many things by talking and listening to people."
"Thank God," said Zubaida. "You seem like a very nice robot. Why did you ask us to go away earlier?"
"Because," said the robot, and his torso and eye lights blinked, "I was ashamed. I am incomplete."
"Incomplete? Do you mean because you are missing your arm?"
The robot said nothing, but only blinked and looked down.
Zubaida walked over and picked up the arm. At first the robot recoiled, but he gradually accepted her presence and became still. The arm was cold and quite heavy. "Can I try to put it back?"
The robot nodded. Zubaida called Hasan over to help her. The boy's fear had given way to awe, and now he was bright-eyed and curious about their new friend. Zubaida and Hasan tried to lift the arm up and fit it into the robot's shoulder socket, but it only scraped against the metal. They tried twisting and pushing and jamming it in, but nothing worked.
"Just leave it," said the robot.
"No!" said Zubaida. "You said yourself you are incomplete. I want to help you."
"Zubaida!" said Hasan. "Can we take him home with us? Maybe Mohammed will know how to fix him."
Zubaida considered Hasan's suggestion. Mohammed was a computer technician and he probably had all sorts of tools to weld the arm back on to the robot's body.
Of course, Mohammed would be furious with her for sneaking out to the factory. But on the other hand, she could teach the robot more about Islam if she brought him home. She would get in trouble, but if the robot truly had a soul, then getting in trouble was far less important than helping him see the truth of Islam. And didn't the Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) get in trouble for preaching Islam in Mecca? They drove him out of the city and tried to kill him. So if the Prophet thought that spreading Islam was more important than avoiding trouble, then surely she should think the same.
"Robot," she finally said, "would you like to come home with me and my brother Hasan? You do not seem very happy here. My older brother could fix your arm, and we can talk more about Islam."
The robot said nothing, but the rows of lights on his chest blinked on and off, on and off. Zubaida figured that whenever the lights on the robots chest blinked, it meant he was thinking.
"I do not want to be a burden," said the robot.
"You won't!" said Zubaida. "I promise. It would be our honor to be your host."
"It would be great," added Hasan, who was getting more and more excited by the minute.
"Then I will," said the robot.
Zubaida and Hasan both gave a little cheer. But then reality quickly set in. How would they bring the robot home with them without anyone noticing? The streets were not entirely empty on their journey to the factory. On their way here, nobody stopped to look at a boy and a girl walking down the street. But a boy, a girl, and a walking, talking machine would surely not go unnoticed.
So Zubaida and Hasan searched the abandoned factory for some sort of disguise. Eventually, they found a cache of burlap bags. They brought these back to the robot and wrapped him up, over and under his whirring metal limbs.
"You won't be too hot in these bags, will you?" asked Zubaida.
"No, my cooling system is still fully functional."
After they were done wrapping the robot, Zubaida and Hasan stepped back and observed their handiwork. While not recognizable as a robot, Zubaida worried he would still stand out on the street, because he now looked like a mummy, or perhaps a leper. She tried to adjust the coverings but it only made it look worse.
"Mohammed is going to get home from work soon!" warned Hasan. Zubaida sighed. Their disguise was the best they could do under the circumstances. She tucked the robot's loose arm into the folds of canvas and shrugged. If you squinted, Zubaida thought, you might think the robot looked like an ascetic, instead of a mummy or a leper.
"Okay," she said. "Follow me, and try to act natural. I mean, try to act like a human."
"I understand," said the robot.
They began their journey out of the factory. There were a few clouds in the sky now, so the sun was not so bright and hot. Hasan acted as their scout, forging ahead along the road to town to see if there were any passersby. The robot had a very stiff gait and his feet were three-pronged contraptions like his hands, but he managed to keep up, even with his bulky canvas covering.
As they walked, Zubaida told the robot stories from the Quran and the hadith. She told him about Ibrahim, the first Muslim, and how Mohammed received the words of the Quran in a cave from the angel Gabriel. She told him about the djinn and how many of them were Muslims too. She even told him the folk story about Sulimon commanding an army of the beings.
"Do you know what I think, robot?" said Zubaida. "I think that you are actually a djinni! Because you obviously have a soul, and a machine can't have a soul on its own. But then your circuits are powered by electricity, and isn't electricity another word for smokeless fire? There are stories about Sulimon binding djinn into objects like charms and talismans. Maybe that is what happened to you?"
"I suppose it is possible," said the robot. "But if I were a djinni, wouldn't I know that I was a djinni?"
"Maybe the Zionists erased your memory so that you would be a better slave."
"They can do that?" asked Hasan. Hasan was sometimes frightened of the Zionists.
"Our brothers have come back from the torture chambers of the Zionists and the Americans without their memories lots of times. I wouldn't be surprised if they figured out a way to do the same thing to a djinni. But don't be scared, Hasan; you know that the occupiers retreated back into their own territory, and God will protect us from them."
They were halfway home when a black truck drove by them on the road, kicking up a wake of dust. Zubaida tried to avoid looking at the men in the car, but she saw that they wore black masks and carried rifles—they were members of the intifada. Good, she thought, the intifada won't bother stopping to ask questions about us. They surely had more important things to do.
The rest of the trip home was uneventful, except for a troublesome pothole that nearly made the robot tumble headlong.
Zubaida and Hasan lived on the outskirts of town. Their house was a little one-story with three rooms and a small kitchen. Its yard was made of dust and the outside was in disrepair, but it was actually quite nice inside, with carpets and relatively new and comfortable furniture and a nice-sized TV. They only had one close neighbor, and he was at work with Mohammed.
Zubaida and Hasan ushered the robot inside the house and closed the door.
"That went well," Zubaida said. They began unwrapping him and his loose arm fell clattering to the carpet. "Don't worry about it," said Zubaida. She propped up the arm next to the door.
The robot stood still in the entryway. His lights were blinking at a steady pace.
"Would you like to sit down, robot?"
"No, I am fine standing. I do not want to get grease on your couch."
"Oh," said Zubaida. In fact, the robot was rather greasy. His joints and the rubber tubes inside were slick with brownish ooze.
"Is there anything you would like?" asked Zubaida.
"Now that you mention it—is there a wall outlet nearby that I could use?"
Zubaida led the robot towards the lamp next to their couch. She unplugged the lamp from the wall, and stood back. With some difficulty, the robot managed to reach behind him with his one hand. A panel detached from his back. The pincers clasped a cord that was wound up inside of him and pulled it out. Surely enough, it plugged right into the wall, and the lights blinking on his chest all changed color to green and blue.
Zubaida told Hasan to go get some dirty towels from the laundry to wipe off the grease.
"What happens to you when you run out of power?" asked Zubaida.
"My processes run slower. Some processes turn off completely. My logic process was almost forced to shut down just now."
"Will you die?"
"I am not sure," said the robot. "I am inorganic. Only organic things can die."
"But if you're a djinni—djinn can die, just like humans."
"Perhaps you are right," said the robot.
Hasan brought back a bunch of towels and the children got to work wiping off the robot's arms and legs. The joints in particular were dripping with black grease. But Zubaida was careful to leave some grease on the joints. She didn't want the robot to rust.
"You need a name," said Zubaida. "We're going to have to introduce you to my brother Mohammed, and I can't call you by your Hebrew product number."
"I was never given a name."
"Can we give you one?" asked Zubaida.
The robots torso lights blinked quickly. "It does not matter to me," he said.
Zubaida racked her brain for a proper name. At first she wanted to give him a human name, like Aamir or Abu. But then she wondered if that was insulting to God, because God created humans differently than he created the djinn and probably did not want them mixing up their names.
"How about, 'Sakr al-Djinni'?" said Zubaida.
The robot thought about this for a moment. "Sakr al-Djinni," he said. "But what if I am not actually a djinni?"
"Well, we know you're not a human," explained Zubaida. "So I didn't want to give you a human name. But I don't think God would be angry if we named you after a djinni, even if you aren't really a djinni."
"Uh oh," said Hasan. His towel had snagged and tore loose a small green wire below the robot's knee.
The robot did not seem to notice, but the torn wire stuck out and Zubaida thought she saw a small blue spark shoot out from the coppery shred.
But before she could do anything, the front door to the house creaked open and their older brother, Mohammed, walked in.
The first thing any normal person would have seen, having just walked into Zubaida's house, would be two children cleaning off grease from a robot. However, Mohammed was not exactly a normal person. For one thing, he was carrying a tall stack of broken computers in his arms, so he couldn't see anything straight in front of him. Also, he was not very perceptive in general and often walked straight past friends and neighbors on the street, even if they waved at him.
Mohammed carefully kicked the door shut behind him, walked straight past Zubaida, Hasan and the blinking robot, and went around the corner to his office, all the while balancing the stack of computers precariously in his arms. A moment later, Zubaida heard the inevitable crash as the computers fell to the floor.
"Rrrrrrrr!" said Mohammed from the other room. That was the noise he made whenever he hurt himself. Zubaida thought he sounded like a small bear.
Mohammed walked back into the room, shaking his hand. He was short and a little fat and had a long, pointy beard. "Zubaida, could you come here and help me?" He said this without looking at her. He went straight to the kitchen and ran his hand under the sink.
"Mohammed, we'd like you to meet someone," said Zubaida.
"Not now," said Mohammed. "Busy."
Zubaida ignored him. "His name is Sakr al-Djinni. We think the Zionists imprisoned him within a robot body, just like Sulimon did with his djinn."
"Zubaida, I'll play with you and Hasan later. Let me get settled first."
Zubaida turned to the robot. "Introduce yourself!" she said.
The robot said, in its monotone computer voice, "It is nice to meet you."
Mohammed peeked his head around the corner of the kitchen. His eyes widened as he saw the robot, and Zubaida thought she could hear the clicking and grinding and spinning of the wheels spinning in his head.
His first reaction was to run around the house and close all the blinds. The robot backed away a little as he did this, watching him with blinking red eyes. After the blinds were closed, Mohammed locked the front door, and then the back door. After that he calmed down, but only a little.
"God have mercy! Where did you find this?" asked Mohammed. He began circling around the robot, who was still plugged into the wall.
"At the ruined factory."
"So the Israelis built him? You didn't carry him here, did you?"
"No, silly brother. He can walk."
Mohammed came a little closer to the robot. At first Zubaida thought he would be mad, but he actually looked excited, like he had discovered a hidden treasure.
"It can talk?"
Zubaida nodded. "Say something," she told the robot.
"Something," said the robot.
Mohammed laughed. He had a fat, hearty laugh and it always made Zubaida smile when she heard it. "I take it you can understand Arabic, my friend?"
"What can you tell me about yourself? What language is your logic program based on?"
"Hammond? My God, that's amazing," Mohammed said. "How many cycles per nanosecond?"
"Eighteen times seven."
"Your logic has seven cores?"
"My God," Mohammed said. "My God. I had heard rumors about such things being possible but I never thought they existed. Zubaida and Hasan, you are both grounded, by the way."
"What?" screamed Zubaida. "Why?"
"Why? Do you even need to ask, little sister?"
"For how long?"
"I don't know," said Mohammed. "A year? Two years? I'll decide later. How do you input environmental data?" He ignored them again and asked the robot a bunch of technical questions. The robot answered them all with short answers and Mohammed kept on getting more and more excited.
"Brother!" said Zubaida. "How can you punish us and call yourself a Muslim? We brought Sakr al-Djinni back so we could teach him Islam! What would the Prophet say?"
"Oh, don't start, Zubaida," said Mohammed. "What would the Prophet say, peace be upon him? Why, he'd say to respect your elders when they explicitly tell you not to go to a dangerous abandoned factory."
"Rrrrrr! I said no arguing! You can start your grounding by going to my office and neatly stacking those computers I brought home. Hasan, go help your sister. God have mercy, when am I going to have time to finish my work now?"
But Zubaida didn't budge. For a second, she thought she was going to cry. But she forced back her tears with a grimace.
"Why don't you care?" she yelled. "You don't even care about Sakr al-Djinni! You just care about his stupid logic board and wires!"
Mohammed opened his mouth to protest, but then he lowered his eyes and sighed. "Zubaida," he said softly, "you really are convinced this machine is a djinni, aren't you."
"You can see for yourself!" said Zubaida. "Sakr al-Djinni obviously has a soul."
"Sister, you named him Sakr al-Djinni. Like a pet. But he is a machine. A highly intelligent, remarkable machine. But machines don't have souls."
"I know," said Zubaida. "That's the whole reason why I think he must be a djinni imprisoned in a machine. Because from talking to him it's so obvious that he has a soul. Even Hasan can see it. The only reason you can't is because you're so obsessed with your stupid computers!"
"Calm down, Zubaida." Mohammed sighed again. He turned to the robot. "Well, robot, what do you think? Do you have a soul?"
The robot's lights blinked on and off, on and off. It had to think for a while about this. "I would like to believe that I have a soul," he finally said.
"This is insane," Mohammed said. "How would the Israelis even create something with a soul, Zubaida? Do you think he has a soul circuit?"
Zubaida smirked. "Which part of the human body contains the soul, dear brother?"
"Hrmph!" said Mohammed. "So what exactly do you think, Zubaida? That the Israelis used ancient magic to bind a djinni to a robot?"
"Sulimon did with his djinn."
"Sulimon's djinn—Zubaida, those are just stories! They aren't true!"
"Not true?" Zubaida put her hand over her mouth, feigning shock. "By God, not true, brother? So when the Holy Quran speaks of djinni, the Holy Quran is 'just a story' as well? A story that isn't true?"
"No, Zubaida, that's different—"
"Rrrrrrrr! Zubaida, I am NOT going to have one of these arguments with you, and that is that!"
Mohammed put his fingers against his temples and squinted his eyes. Zubaida would have pressed him even more, but she could see that he was getting one of his headaches.
"You are a very smart girl," he said softly. "In fact, Uncle Sayed would say that you're too smart for your own good and that you should learn to shut your mouth. You should be glad he isn't here right now."
Zubaida glared at her brother. But he was right—she was glad her uncle Sayed was not there. Sayed was her father's brother and he hated the Zionists more than anyone she knew. He also didn't get along with Mohammed at all. Sayed thought Mohammed was not strict enough and that he should raise her and Hasan. She shuddered to think of what Sayed would do if he knew they had a Zionist robot in the house.
"Now I'm not saying you're wrong, Zubaida. What do I know about souls? That's a question for the ulema, not for me. But what I do know is that you and Hasan deserve to be punished for what you did. You have a good heart, but you disobeyed me and put yourselves in danger. What would mother and father say if they knew what you did?"
Zubaida was about to protest more, but at that moment the robot fell to one knee with a loud clanking sound. He braced himself against the floor with his one pincer-hand.
"What happened?" said Zubaida, rushing to the robot's aid.
"My knee is malfunctioning."
The wire that Hasan had torn was shooting out small sparks.
"Don't worry," said Zubaida, "my brother Mohammed will fix you up like new. Right, Mohammed?"
Mohammed agreed to spend the night fixing the robot's body. He even seemed eager to do it, and Zubaida wondered if he would forget about punishing her and Hasan.
Zubaida spent the night helping Mohammed. It turned out that putting the robot's arm back on was a lot more complicated than she had thought. Mohammed had to find out which wires and switches connected to each other, and he had to ask the robot a lot of technical questions. So at first Zubaida did not have much of a chance to talk to the robot.
"I suppose I should ask an important question," said Mohammed. "Why did they Israelis build you?"
"I am not sure," said the robot.
"You don't know what you were designed or programmed to do?"
The robot's arm was half-attached and his pincers were twitching as Mohammed connected the wires. "I am incomplete," said the robot.
"Are there other robots like you?"
"Yes," said the robot, "there are other bodies that I saw, before they were destroyed by the bombs." His lights on his chest blinked frantically. "I do not think any of them had souls, though."
"See," said Zubaida. "I told you he has a soul."
"Or he's programmed to think that he has a soul."
"You can't program a soul, brother!"
Mohammed sighed. Zubaida had been trying to argue with him all night, but he wouldn't have any of it. "I just want to know if he's dangerous," said Mohammed. "But it doesn't look like he was designed as any kind of weapon."
Suddenly, the robot's pincers on its newly attached arm started spinning, as fast as an electric whisk.
Mohammed yelped and drew his arm back. The pincers stopped spinning as quickly as they started.
"Oops," said the robot.
"I guess that means your arm works," said Zubaida.
Zubaida read surahs from the Quran to the robot as Mohammed repaired his leg. The robot listened attentively, and he interrupted Zubaida often to ask strange questions.
"How is it logically possible for anyone to become a Muslim?" asked the robot.
"What do you mean?" Zubaida had scarcely started the first surah, the Cow, when he asked this.
The surah went like this:
As to those who reject Islam, it is the same to them whether you warn them or do not warn them; they will not believe.
God has sealed their hearts and their ears, and on their eyes is a veil; great is the penalty they will incur.
"It is a logical impossibility," said the robot. "If God prevents non-Muslims from hearing the truth of Islam, it is impossible for anyone to become a Muslim."
"You don't understand," said Zubaida. "God wants you to be a Muslim. Why would God make it impossible to become a Muslim? What you say makes no sense."
"But before I met you, I had never heard of Islam, or the Quran. I was not a Muslim. Thus, it does not matter if you warn me or do not warn me, since God has sealed my heart and ears and veiled my eyes."
"But you don't have a heart or ears or eyes," said Mohammed. He laughed his hearty laugh.
"This isn't funny," said Zubaida. "Sakr al-Djinni, if you want to become a Muslim, then God will not prevent you."
The robot's lights blinked for nearly a minute. "It is still a logical impossibility," said the robot. "Because as a non-Muslim, according to the Quran, it is impossible to know anything. And if one cannot know anything, then one cannot know whether or not one should believe in Islam."
"You need faith," Mohammed said. "Believing in Islam isn't a variable you plug in to a computer program."
Zubaida put her hand on the robot's metal shoulder. "Don't worry, Sakr al-Djinni. God wants you to become a Muslim. Why would he make it logically impossible to become one? You should listen to my brother—just have faith and submit to God."
"Okay," said the robot. "I will try." And his lights continued to blink on and off.
Zubaida continued to read to the robot, and she tried to answer his questions as best she could (with Mohammed's help). But eventually she started yawning, and shortly after that she fell asleep next to the robot on the floor of her brother's bedroom.
Zubaida woke up in her bed the next morning. Mohammed had apparently carried her to her room.
Someone was knocking on the door. That was what woke her up. She jumped out of bed and found she was still in her clothes. Where was Sakr al-Djinni?
She ran out to the family room and saw Mohammed answering the door, halfway-dressed for work. He looked at her with a grave expression as he twisted the doorknob and pulled.
It was Zubaida's uncle, Sayed.
"Hello, uncle," said Mohammed.
Sayed ducked under the door frame and stepped over the threshold, into their family room, wordlessly.
He made a sharp contrast with Zubaida's older brother. Where Mohammed was short and paunchy, Sayed was tall and very thin. Mohammed was dressed in a Western-style button-down shirt and pants for work, while Sayed wore a white robe and a turban. Even their beards were opposites. Mohammed's was long and pointy, while Sayed's was short and scraggly.
"God have mercy," Sayed eventually said. "You are living in squalor."
Zubaida looked around. There were a few computer frames lying on the carpet, and Hasan's toy tanks were on the floor too. But she didn't think it was messier than usual. She hated how Sayed always went out of his way to criticize Mohammed. "IS this any way to raise children?"
"Can I offer you some food or drink, uncle?" Mohammed said. "You'll have to excuse my rush, I'm on my way out to work."
"A glass of water, please." Sayed explored the house as he talked, picking up and examining random objects before putting them back down in different places. "I thought I would check on you and see how you were doing." He picked up some computer frames, looked through Mohammed's DVD collection, and inspected Hasan's toy tanks.
Zubaida stood in the center of the family room. Where was Sakr al-Djinni?
Mohammed returned to the room with a glass of ice water, and saw that Sayed was about to enter his bedroom office.
"I wouldn't go in there," said Mohammed.
Sayed opened the door and stepped in. "And what are you hiding in here?"
Mohammed looked at Zubaida nervously. "You worry about mess so much, uncle," he said. "If you go in there, you might have a heart attack!"
Zubaida realized that Sakr al-Djinni was in there. She racked her mind for a way to distract Sayed.
"What you need," said Sayed, "is a wife." And he went further into the bedroom, picking up computer equipment as he waded through the mess. "This house needs a woman's touch."
"I'm a woman!" said Zubaida. And she jumped into the office after Sayed and nearly tackled him. She ostensibly meant to pretend to hug him, but she tripped over a computer frame and flew into him. She felt like a child acting like that, but she had to distract Sayed somehow.
Sayed caught her and pushed her away lightly, smiling. "You are a girl," he said. "This house needs a man and a woman.
Out of the corner of her eye, Zubaida saw colored lights blinking from Mohammed's closet.
"Without a man and a woman in the house, it is a difficult task to raise two children. Well, two children who are not delinquent. If my wife, peace be upon her, was still alive, why—you and Hasan would surely be living under my roof right now."
"Would you like to sit down, uncle?" asked Mohammed. "You look tired."
"No. I am just stopping by, as I said." He took one last surveying glance around Mohammed's bedroom before stepping out. Zubaida breathed a sigh of relief.
"Actually, I wanted to ask little Zubaida a question," Sayed said.
Zubaida hated being called little Zubaida. She tensed.
"One of our brothers told me an interesting story yesterday. He swore he saw a girl who looked exactly like little Zubaida on the street last afternoon. And he said this girl was walking hand in hand with—" he paused as he inspected the spines of a potted cactus on their table. He put it back down. "With a leper," Sayed continued, "or else a monk. What do you think about that story, Zubaida?"
Zubaida stood. "If anyone swore that, then they are a liar."
Sayed chuckled lightly.
"Or perhaps he was simply mistaken?" Mohammed said.
"Or perhaps he saw little Zubaida's twin," said Sayed. He stepped out the front door. "God have mercy on us all," Sayed said, without looking back.
He always said things like that, so Zubaida was not too worried that he believed the story.
Mohammed wanted to stay home, but he had no choice but to go to work. Zubaida learned that he had spent the night repairing computers with Sakr al-Djinni. Not only that, but the robot had shown an amazing aptitude for the task. In fact, Mohammad was so excited about the robot's abilities that he seemed to have completely forgotten about punishing Hasan and Zubaida.
"And don't leave the house!" he said, halfway out the door. That was all.
When Zubaida went to check on the robot, he was already hard at work in Mohammed's office. He was sitting in Mohammed's office chair and twisting wires around each other. He did this by grasping the wire with one of his pincers and then whirling his pincer around and around.
"Glory be to God," Zubaida said. "I knew God would find something for you to do."
"Praise be to God," said the robot.
Zubaida smiled. The robot was learning. She plopped down on Mohammed's bed and opened his Quran. "Want to listen again?" she asked.
And so she spent the morning reading Quran verses to the robot as he twisted wires and connected plugs and clicked motherboards into place. Hasan peaked his head into the room like a cat, and then brought his toy trucks and tanks in.
The robot moved quickly and soon finished repairing the old computers. After that, he plugged himself into the computers and his lights on his chest all blinked orange. He explained to Zubaida that he was seeing if the computers worked right.
"Can you still listen when I read?" she asked.
So Zubaida read him some more. By the afternoon, they were almost halfway done with the entire Quran. She was getting sleepy so she decided to stop.
"What do you think of Islam, Sakr al-Djinni?" she asked.
The robot took some time answering. "Once the initial presupposition is accepted, it makes almost perfect sense."
Now Zubaida took her time responding. "What does that mean?" she finally said.
"I had difficulty accepting Islam at first," said the robot. "It did not make logical sense to me. But now I see that once you have faith that it is true, it makes complete sense. Every problem is accounted for in the Quran. And if there are problems that are not accounted for, one only needs to have faith that God has the answers. So once I programmed myself to have faith, I have had no problems. I am ... very happy that I have become a Muslim."
"That's wonderful!" said Zubaida. "I'm so happy too. When Mohammed comes home, we will have to celebrate."
"Does this mean I can show him to my friends now?" said Hasan.
"Don't be stupid, brother. Sakr al-Djinni is not some toy you show to your friends."
"Do you think he'll get to make the hajj with us?"
"That's a good question. I don't know. People might not understand, they might not let him into the Kabbah. And who knows if djinni are expected to make the hajj. We should tell Mohammed to ask the ulema about that."
"What is the hajj?" asked the robot.
"Everyone knows what the hajj is," Hasan said.
Zubaida smacked him. "How would he know? He only just became a Muslim. Sakr al-Djinni, the hajj is the pilgrimage to Mecca that all Muslims are commanded to take. Well, all human Muslims at least."
"I could dress up in old cloth again," said the robot. "That way people would think I was an ordinary Muslim."
"No!" said Zubaida. "You shouldn't have to hide! If God truly wants you to make the hajj, you shouldn't have to be ashamed of what you are."
"Okay," said the robot.
Zubaida's headscarf had become loose so she retied it roughly. She was worked up now. The more she thought about the robot's situation, the more angry she became. Why should he have to hide from Sayed? Why should he have to travel in disguise? If the robot had a soul, then every Muslim should treat him with the respect he deserved.
"Sakr al-Djinni, do you remember yesterday when we first met at the factory? You told us that you were hiding because you were ashamed, because you were incomplete."
"You don't still feel that way, do you?"
The robot's lights blinked. He was sometimes a slow thinker, Zubaida thought.
"No, I do not think so."
"But what did you mean when you said you were incomplete? Were you talking about your arm?"
"No," said the robot.
"What did you mean, then?"
Again, the robot had to pause and blink his lights.