For years, I struggled with what it meant to be both Muslim and myself. Then sometime between 28 and 30, I thought, fuck it.
Full disclosure: I'm on the agnostic end of the spectrum and I suppose the sociologist in me has always thought religion was largely a matter of family, upbringing, and your birth spot on the planet. But, even at a young age, I had interest in theology. First, it was the Ancient Egyptians and Greeks who piqued my interest with their numerous gods and fantastical underworlds. Who doesn’t love Pegasus?! Later, it was the Druids and Pagans. I was drawn to their expressions of nature worship—it seemed more hardcore than the basic Jewish/Christian/Muslim principle of stewardship that I grew up with. I ended up going to a Catholic high school and learned a lot there. Then in college, it was Buddhism that sparked my curiosity. But in every case, my interest was on the intellectual plane. Islam was the only faith that felt like home. It is so entwined with my identity as part Pakistani that it doesn’t feel right to have one without the other.
There are also a number aspects of my faith that I truly connect with. Like most sane humans, I think religious texts aren’t meant to be taken verbatim, but are intended to teach more general life lessons. Subtext for the win, ya’ll. I love that Islam was truly a religion ahead of its time, particularly concerning the treatment of women and the poor. Its focus on inclusivity and diversity also stikes a chord with me. Go to any mosque (masjid) in the world and you will see every race represented. It’s beautiful and feels extremely welcoming. When I was really little, I remember not grasping the concept of a Korean or Black church—our masjid just had everyone.
I also like that Islam kind of keeps to itself. It is not a proselytizing faith, so there hasn’t been a history of missionaries bulldozing the local culture of far off lands. Island culture in Hawaii and Polynesia, for example, changed substantially to acclimate to Christian life. (Side note: Fiji didn’t go that route and many of the unfortunate souls who ventured there to change the locals were simply eaten. Point taken.) And let's not get into the contemporary extremists, because true Muslims denounce their radical actions and resent being lumped in with what amounts to a handful of crazies. If you're going to hold over a billion and a half Muslims accountable for abhorrent actions of a select few, then I guess you can be held accountable for the atrocities of the Crusades, Spanish Inquisition, and Holocaust. Cool?
Having been born and raised in California and having attended UC Berkeley, you might surmise that I have more liberal leanings. But even by Pakistani standards, my family is pretty progressive. Most of the women folk don’t wear a headscarf (hijab), no one’s had an arranged marriage, and in many respects, I was given a fair amount of autonomy growing up. I didn’t have a curfew. I could wear shorts and tank tops. I went to prom. I had male friends. Though, many turned out to be gay. (I did a lot of theatre.)
So, I will try to be Muslim enough for you. But I am not speaking on behalf of all Muslims, which is as silly as it is narcissistic. And really, I’m like any other Pacific Northwesterner. I drink a lot of coffee, burst into flames if it gets to be over 75°, and love hiking, star gazing, layers, flannel, and yes, microbrews.
Keep on keeping on,