Bismillahir Rahmanir Raheem
In the Name of God/Allah, The Compassionate, The Merciful
It's remarkable how much one changes in a relatively short few years. I was looking through some old posts that aren't up on the blog and I noticed this one - it was one of my first posts, and I remember taking it off because some Muslims really got upset about it. One of the first things that has changed since then is that I now chastise myself for doing so. However, and more importantly, what has truly changed is that as I read through this blog, I thought to myself, "How could have I have written that?!"
I've decided to put the same blog up but with comments inserted. I'll be commenting as I am now, on February 6th, 2008, on a blog I had written a few years back. Same body. Different person. It makes me wonder about how much of what I am now will be looked upon a few years from now by the regretful eyes of a changed person. How often will I say, "I can't believe I would have thought such a thing." It also says something about the nature of our knowledge or, perhaps I should say, opinions. Well, as I have learned from one my spiritual teachers, if you're not always growing, something is wrong - anything alive in the world is always in one of two states: growth or decay.
Well I hope this means I'm growing.
Below is the blog. It's called, "On Being Homeless". All my comments are in dark font.
The first thing I would do, is change the title to, "On Finding a Home".
Now for a change of tune in this Blog.
Why do I have a feeling that the U.S. will invade Syria eventually? I had this feeling bubble up inside me today when I heard about the assassination in Lebanon. This entry is really not meant to be political.
I remember writing this with the thought that I wanted to "keep politics out of it" (i.e. my blog) as discussion of politics is a quick route to a lot of things ugly. This still generally holds true about the blog, but at the same time, I have wondered when I hear people say, "keep politics out of it" when discussing an issue. For sure, everything is not political. However, it would be naive to say that politics have nothing to do with most things that are of importance in the world around us. Politics play a big role in the lives of millions of people. And I literally mean lives. Large numbers of people's lives and ways of life rest on a small number of people's political decisions. If we are to be concerned about the welfare of human beings, the politics behind why certain resources are allocated in one place or the other, or whether we go to war or not - to take a couple examples - must be addressed. It's all well and good to sit on a well-stocked dining table and say, "Leave politics out of this," but to the kid that's not getting enough clean water or to the person who has a bomb land on their house, "politics" can't be left out of the picture.
As promised, this is more about the internal workings of an American Muslim's mind and heart. I hope people will stumble across this blog and will have their horizons expanded by looking through this open window - a rare, open window into a Muslim's mind.
How arrogant. Just a gut response.
If the U.S. invades Syria, or any other Muslim country for that matter, it will become harder for me to believe that this War on Ambiguous Noun (Terrorism) is not a war on Islam.
Okay, I understand that I was making a statement about how the word "terrorism" is used nowadays, but the way I did it seems a little childish now.
More specifically, it will be harder for me to believe that it would not be a Christian vs. Muslim issue. I do not want to believe that. I really, really do not want to believe that.
I'm not sure, but I do not think it's a Christian vs. Muslim issue. Some of the most hurtful things have been said to me by "practicing" Christians (obviously, they are not really practicing) about my religion, and I understand that there are certain negative views a good number of Christians tend to hold towards Muslims simply based on age-old propaganda passed down from the time of the Crusades, however is the "War on Terror" a war by Christians on Muslims because of their faith? That is certainly questionable. Whatever the truth is, there certainly need not be animosity between the two faiths. Both faiths intrinsically have more than what it takes to be able to work together for the benefit of all. This is another topic however.
It may be argued that the reason why the U.S. is in the Middle East is because the Middle East is so disturbed, and is producing all sorts of dangerous groups and individuals. The list would go on: Ambiguous Noun festers there, women are oppressed there, narrow-minded religious people reside there, tyranny (not democracy) is the rule there, and consequently it is a dangerous place. Of course it offers its strategic advantages, however I digress.
How could I live here anymore if the U.S. does invade another Muslim country?
Even more of a reason to live here. The invasion of another Muslim country would signify another level of degeneration of the understanding and communication between the U.S. and the Muslim world. If I, or Muslims in general, got up and left from here, there would then be absolutely no hope of creating peace and bridging these two civilizations.
How can I be living here now?
Ha! I am! No problem!
I was born in England in 1981. I moved here to New York when I was eight.
I am a child of the West. I have had a Western education, my mind has been molded by Western philosophical thought.
Child of the West, check. Western education, check. Mind molded by Western philosophical thought, check - but a lot more molding has happened since then. Now, I am happy to say, I think I'm a pretty good synthesis (always in progress though). To some people, I'm a walking contradiction. But I think I'm just like a lot of other Muslims my age here in the U.S. - the new Pythagorases! The place where East and West meet, I think, by God's grace, people who find themselves in a position where they can act as bridges between two sides normally considered irreconcilable have a lot to offer. We just have to work real, real hard.
Where would I go if I leave here?
Again, I wouldn't leave.
Why do I still not say "we invaded Iraq" or "we fought in World War II?" or "our history shows such and such"?
This is interesting. I still do not feel a sense of ownership of American history. It's history has not become my own yet. However when I think about other potential countries like Pakistan or Britain I also don't personally identify with either of their histories. If I am honest with myself, and I try to look inward with as much clarity as I can, I don't think I belong to any particular country's history. I just don't feel it. I do however feel that I belong to Islam's history. And since Islam is a religion of all different kinds of people around the world, I feel, in a certain sense a part of all of their histories - simply because our bond is so strong. It's the bond of the spirit, unified across all cultural and political boundaries. This is why I can go to a completely foreign land, say Malaysia, and know that I will be able to find the same feeling of inner comfort and home there in a mosque, as I pray the same way as its people do, read the same exact Book, and share the same universal values. I belong to the history of the people who accept Islam as their way of life, wherever those people may be - including in the United States.
At the same time, I do feel a certain pride when I look at what the Founding Fathers established, what they created. I think this is because I believe strongly that much of what the United States is established on are the very same principles that Islam is established on. This is because all universal principles are objective realities placed into the world as patterns by the same One God we all worship, and while I believe Islam is the best way to access and implement those principles, they are out there for all human beings - each with a human nature (known in Islam as the fitra) that is in inclined to seeing those principles and reaping benefit from them. They are God's principles, and He has created us to be attracted to them in as much as we do not distance ourselves from our true natures. I believe many of those universal principles -principles that are elucidated in the Qur'an and the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and are available in other sources as well- were implemented to an extent and formed in the foundation of this country by the Founding Fathers themselves. Oh but is that not an entirely different essay?
I am Pakistani by heritage, but when I go to Pakistan it is clear that I am not Pakistani. When I go to Saudi Arabia, it is clear that I am not Arab. When I go to Britain, it is clear that I am not British.
I am American.
Yes. Still not sure what that means exactly though.
I think to be American means that you don't belong anywhere else. It is a land of refugees. Some people feel more at home here than others, because they've been here for such a long time.
Interesting proposition, but it doesn't really settle well with me now.
The real question is, for me - where can I be the best Muslim? Which place on the face of God's Earth will have an environment suitable for drawing closer to God. I must say, thus far, in my experience, and from what I have heard, ironically; the U.S. is the best place for me to be able to practice and live my religion freely.
"Ironically" only if we consider how most people view Islam and the U.S. Not ironically by my own measure, at least not anymore. And yes, the U.S. is the best place for me to practice my faith.
I remember I went into spiritual depression in Pakistan:
Everyone is Muslim there, yet if you talk of religion amongst the middle/upper class, people look at you like you're a monster. You cannot practice your religion there without being ridiculed, mocked, looked down upon and mistreated.This is a little harsh. I would remove the word mistreated. I think I was being overly dramatic. The rest is, I believe, generally true. The reason for the spiritual depression was probably because I expected Pakistan to be a haven for the practice of my faith and for spiritual growth, and because of the aforementioned environment, it turned out to be the opposite. In addition, part of what helps me grow spiritually is to be constantly involved in some kind of good work. Since I visit Pakistan for a few weeks at a time as a guest, and since I myself did not take the initiative while there to engage in meaningful work (outside the meaningful time spent with family of course), I believe I suffered.
The people are generally dishonest and will swindle you the first chance they can get.I think I should be physically punished for such a grotesque generalization. Although there is a problem in Pakistan (and I think in most developing countries) with ethical behavior when it comes to business, the reasons for this are complicated and nuanced. A lot people are just trying to feed themselves and get through the day. Yes, it is still morally reprehensible to steal, cheat or swindle. However, it is the government's job - in my opinion - to ensure that its citizens have basic needs met, like food, shelter and healthcare. The fact that a lot of people in Pakistan do not have that is due to historical, social and political reasons and is a systemic problem. In the face of such a systemic problem, desperate people will behave as desperate people. The principles of religion are supposed to prevent these kinds of problems, and are supposed to help people curb their behavior in times of difficulty. But I can make no judgments on a poor man, or on anyone else for that matter, and besides, the practice of religion is up to people themselves.
The young are more morally decadent than American youth, and people blindly imitate the negative aspects of Western civilization, caring for nothing, nothing other than their own little lives. Mosques line the streets, the call to prayers echo through the cities, yet where are the blessed people? Where is the spirituality? Why do I feel miserable whenever I go there?Again a terrible generalization. How about no Starbucks for two years? That should straighten me out good. There are of course, many young middle/upper class Pakistanis who certainly are more morally decadent than American youth, and people do blindly imitate the negative aspects of Western society, and there are people care for nothing other than their own little lives. But there are also many who are constantly out there caring for others. And these problems, moral decadence, blind imitation of negative aspects of any society, and selfishness to the point of disregard of others are human diseases, present in all sorts of people around the world. And everyone has their own diseases.
My Egyptian friends tell me of oppression
as a reward for regular prayer in a Mosque in Egypt.
I hear Egyptians talk about it all the time: "you can't go to the same Masjid for Friday prayer too many weeks in a row or else the police will get suspicious and throw you in jail, never to be seen by family again".While the manner in which I wrote this may be overly dramatic, I have heard this said clearly by a number of Egyptians. How is Egypt today? I don't know.
Of course I see, feel, taste the blessed nature of the Sacred Mosques of Mecca and Madina (although Saudi Arabia itself is nothing to write home about) - those two places are blessed, and, God Willing, will always be so.Ameen.
In parts of the Muslim world, specifically South Asia and perhaps the Arab countries as well, to get things done (or to get things done in a timely fashion) you have to bribe people.Again, see the comment above on people's situation. Besides, it happens here too - just at a different level. What do you think "lobbyists" and politicians are engaging in all the time? The only difference is, the poor working man who refuses to finish his job or do it properly unless he's paid a little extra off the books just wants to feed his family, politicians just want to keep their position of power and privilege, and then in turn don't actually do their job the way they're supposed to because they're too busy creating policies that benefit the large corporations that "helped them out". Oh and the poor working class Pakistani does it in a dirty shalwar kameez, while the other guys do them in six hundred dollar suits.
There is comparatively little order, and religious people are often ignorant of the contemporary times.I'd say this is true, but there are multiple other reasons for the "comparatively" little order, some of which have to do with the fact that the country is much younger than some of the more "well-ordered" Western states, and has a recent history of having been colonized. Two totally different histories, different situations.
Also, from what I have seen and heard, religious people are often -but not always of course- ignorant, not as much of contemporary times, but of contemporary realities. Is this is a result of their being religious? Or is it is the result of something else; socioeconomic status, level of education, etc?
There is tremendous ignorance of religion itself, resulting in people espousing narrow-minded, divisive views, and also in a new kind of religiously fueled despair and animalism (which I thought were a contradiction in terms) which manifests itself as crowds of raging people burning effigies and flags, not to mention (albeit on a much smaller scale) attaching bombs to chests and destroying non-combatant lives. Beauty and serenity crumble under the barrage of "more practical issues", and just plain ugliness.Again, perhaps my saying that there is "tremendous ignorance of the religion itself" is a function of the broken hope that by going to an Muslim country, I would find it easier to be Muslim. Instead I found different challenges, and ones with which I was not familiar. The world is full of challenges, is my current conclusion. If you're in the U.S., they're different. If you're in Pakistan or Egypt, they're different. I seem to be much better equipped to handle the challenges here.
The rest of the paragraph ("narrow-minded, divisive views...") is just too much grotesque simplification of a complicated issue. We in the West, both Muslims and otherwise, implant a vision of "Islam" on Muslim countries, and ascribe Islam as the dominant motivation for everything we see from them (relayed to us by our various news media), when in reality, people's motivation for doing things in those countries are as complex as any other place. They involve history, political allegiances, levels of education, religion, socioeconomic status, tribal affiliations, personal vendettas, and just plain human and group psychology. There are too many factors to attribute what we see to "religion". Taking such a stance says more about the person doing so than it does about the place or people in question.
Where then do I feel like I am most free to practice my religion as understood by traditional Muslim scholarship dating back to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)? Right here in the U.S.True.
Yet at the same time I feel torn. I detest the sexual decadence and other moral weaknesses that run rampant in this country, being furthered by "intellectuals" in Universities.Not sure what I meant by the "intellectuals in Universities" part!
Moral weaknesses are everywhere.
I hate what it does to my people, my brothers and sisters in their own countries. Whatever they are, they are still my brothers and sisters, this I must always remember - and I hate, hate, to see the U.S., for its transparently selfish reasons, spill their blood and put them through more and more suffering. I detest the hypocrisy and arrogance of the government of this country, and I hate the fact that that arrogance seeps down through the grotesqueries of the solely profit-driven media and mixes with the ignorance of the American masses. The people of this country, I believe, are at heart a good people. Yet they are so ignorant of the world around them, of their position in the world. Ignorance when mixed with arrogance is a horrible combination.As much as I have changed, I still believe most of what I have written here. I would remove "Whatever they are"in reference to Muslims in Muslim countries since it is horribly derogatory, inaccurate and inappropriate. I would reduce the number of times I wrote "hate". I still can't stand the immorality, greed and lust for power of our current administration, which does indeed couple with arrogance to create an immense amount of suffering in various parts of the Muslim world. That arrogance does seep down through a solely profit-drive media, and it does mix with a lot of ignorance. Of course there are many Americans who are well educated and do not assume what they don't know about other peoples. But in general, and to my dismay, I have discovered, repeatedly, even amongst the educated, a general superiority complex to non-Western foreigners. To learn more about this, I would suggest reading, "Barbarian Virtues" by Matthew Frye Jacobson, associate professor of American Studies at Yale. In his own words he describes his book,
Ultimately, though, it is a book about the temper of American nationalism between Reconstruction and World War I, and about the peculiar dependence of the nation's trumpeted greatness upon the dollars, the labor, and, not least, the very image of the many peoples with whom Americans increasingly came in contact and whom they blithely identified as inferiors.
Such an attitude, seems to run in even those who are not directly hostile to foreigners and specifically Muslims. It is an undercurrent that runs in the most well-meaning American. For this reason though, I also stand by my statement that the people of this country are in general good people at heart. They want to, and try to, stick to high ideals. While ignorance mixed with arrogance is indeed a horrible combination, I do not believe that it will necessarily overpower the good in Americans.
Yet, here, I can live an honest life. Here there is law and order. Here, I don't have to bribe someone to fill my oil tank properly.
I've already addressed this above. Different societies, different histories, different contexts.
Here, if I explain my religion to people, they will at least respect me for what I am and what I value, and even take a genuine interest. Here, I see good people - good people who just don't know what the world is. The Muslim world too is filled with good people - but the way their countries are currently set up results in those people being drowned by a sea of selfishness and immorality; they are taken down by their lesser brethren.
Drowned in a sea of selfishness and immorality? Good grief. Again, the "Muslim disenchanted by what he thought was the perfect Islamic land" fallacy rears its ugly head
In conclusion, I have no idea what I will do if the U.S. invades another Muslim country.
I do now. I'll stay right here and work harder.
I have grown up here. I am made in the West, yet my heart is of Islam. If there is one thing for certain, it is that I am homeless. Of course I live, by the grace of God (and may He help me live up to the blessing) in very comfortable accommodations. However, I do not feel truly at home here, and at the same time, I do not feel at home in Pakistan or in any other Muslim country. Perhaps this is a good thing, for the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said that the true believer is like a traveler in this world. Perhaps there is no real home here, and the real home is not to be found in this life at all, but rather in the Next - in the Home of Eternity with The Companion on High.
Nah, this is my home, as much as I am treated as foreign due to the way I look and my faith, it is my home. I don't mind feeling foreign in my home, because the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) did say that the believer is like a traveler in this world. The real Home is indeed, not in this existence at all.
May God forgive me for my grievances. Ameen/Amen.
>Saleem - February, 2008