Paul Lewis, Guardian Unlimited
As supposed miracles go, Oscar the fish is the best that the town of Waterfoot, near Bury, has ever seen.
Locals flocked to the village's pet shop, Water Aquatic, this week after it was noticed that the markings on the scales of the two-year-old albino Oscar fish mimicked the Arabic script for Allah.
That the other side of the fish appeared to be inscribed with the word Muhammad only served to compound the spectacle. Within hours, Oscar - originally from Singapore - found hordes of locals, paparazzi and national television news reporters peering into his tank.
Oscar the fish, whose markings are being compared to the Arabic script for Allah and Muhammad. Photograph: Martin Ricket/PA
Mohammed Riaz-Shahid, 38, the manager of the Oasis Fast Food restaurant across the road was quickly appointed interpreter and led the chorus of claims that this was a message from above.
"There's no doubt about it," he said. "The markings are clear to see. Allah on one side, Muhammad on the other."
"Christians, Jews - they all believe in God," he explained. "So God's showing a sign to everyone, a sign that he's here."
Peter Hurst, 17, concurred. "It's a sign of something - no doubt - probably God," he said. "It's amazing, especially for this time of year."
Perhaps the most flabbergasted visitor of all was a man from "a town nearby" who asked to remain anonymous. Last night, he claimed, he had dreamed about a whale with the words Muhammad and Allah inscribed on its head.
"It's real, it's real," he said in awe, biting his fingers. "As soon as I heard I came running. I didn't think twice about the dream until I saw the fish on the television." Eyeing the patterns a little suspiciously, he added: "I hope that wasn't painted on."
On closer inspection, however, he agreed the markings were naturally occurring, and the fish was indeed sent as evidence of God's existence.
But the manager of the shop, Tony Walker, 27, had an altogether different explanation for the "miracle" fish's appearance on his premises.
"I would hope it came to me because I'm an honest man," he said. "Someone up there sent the fish because of the way I choose to run my business."
The owner, Naz Raja, 29, from Nelson near Blackburn, who purchased the fish two weeks ago for £10, told Guardian Unlimited he was less sure about the divine origin of his new pet.
"I bought it because it was beautiful. It might be a sign, I suppose," he said. But a miracle?
"Kind of, yeah."
06 février 2006