An Apple store in Manhattan

Aziz Akhmad May 01, 2010

I do not know who Iftikhar Siddiqi of Tufail Road in Lahore is or what he does for a living, but I do know that he can use a computer to start a chain email. I am telling you this because a few weeks ago I received an email drafted by Mr Siddiqi and forwarded to me by one of the dozens of the first, second or the third-generation recipients, which said that a bar in New York had opened, that it was named after a holy place of Islam and that I should raise my voice against this “racist act.”

Attached with the message was a news report from an Urdu paper, datelined Karachi, which read (translated): “The extremists and evildoers in the US don’t let go of any opportunity to malign and insult Muslims and Islam, and often indulge in activities that provoke Muslims and hurt their sentiments. To this end, only recently they have constructed a building in midtown New York which resembles a holy place in Islam.

The building is a bar (sharab-khana) where alcohol will be served round the clock. American Muslims, taking notice of the building that looks like a holy place of worship and serves as a bar, have petitioned the US government to immediately close it down.” Accompanying the news report were pictures of a cubic structure, covered in black, sitting in the midst of tall Manhattan buildings. This was not all.

There was also a link to an online petition to the US government, which the readers were asked to sign. The petition read: “In the business area of Manhattan a new bar has been opened whose form and structure resembles that of one of Islam’s holiest sites. This is an attempt to humiliate the beliefs of Muslims across the world and we Muslims demand that the US government not let this bar open.”

There were already 14,221 signatures when I read the petition. Living in Manhattan, how come I didn’t know about this in the neighborhood? I was intrigued. So, I decided to check out the place for myself. Yes, there is a large Apple store on Fifth Avenue and 58th Street. Built underground, beneath an empty lot, it is accessed by a winding staircase and an elevator, both of which are covered by a glass structure, shaped like a cube. The glass cube protects the underground store from rain and also allows daylight in.

(One has to be really imaginative to see any resemblance between the glass cube and one of Islam’s holiest places of worship in Makkah). Inside, among products display and other stuff, there is a long, sleek service counter called “Genius Bar” where customers are served. All large Apple stores have a “Genius bar.” The store, I found out, opened more than a year ago. During its construction, the glass cube was covered with black plastic tiles for protection and possibly to keep the design a surprise.

This is probably when the pictures in the newspaper report were taken. So, the cubic glass structure became the holy place of worship as mentioned in the news story and the “Genius bar” became the sharab-khana where alcohol was served 24/7. Surprisingly, neither the news reporter nor his editor bothered to ascertain the facts before publishing the story, nor did the man who sent me this chain email, or any of the 14,221 petitioners before signing the petition.

All they had to do was to Google Apple stores in Manhattan. I checked the list of petitioners again just now when I am about to finish writing this article. The number of signatures has climbed to 14,234. Wasn’t it Iqbal who said: Khas hai tarkeeb main qom-e-rasool-e-Hashmi.