THIRTY KILOMETERS UP the coastline from Dubai’s glistening skyscrapers, man-made islands, and celebrity party villas lies the city of Sharjah—the ultraconservative Islamic cultural capital of the United Arab Emirates.
With more than six hundred mosques and the region’s finest universities, Sharjah stands as a pinnacle of spirituality and learning—a position fueled by massive oil reserves and a ruler who places the education of his people above all else.
Tonight, the family of Sharjah’s beloved allamah, Syed al-Fadl, had gathered in private to hold a vigil. Instead of praying the traditional tahajjud, the night vigil prayer, they prayed for the return of their cherished father, uncle, and husband, who had mysteriously disappeared yesterday without a trace.
The local press had just announced that one of Syed’s colleagues was claiming that the normally composed allamah had seemed “strangely agitated” upon his return from the Parliament of the World’s Religions two days ago. In addition, the colleague said he had overheard Syed engaged in a rare heated phone argument shortly after his return. The dispute was in English, and therefore indecipherable to him, but the colleague swore he had heard Syed repeatedly mention a single name.