Guess Who?

Having spent the first nine years of my life in Pakistan, a predominantly Muslim country, I’ve never felt completely American, yet I can’t claim to feel any particular allegiance for Pakistan either. To make matters worse, I’ve now migrated to CANADA (no offense, Canadians!).

I’ve always felt like an outsider and while in Junior High I did my best to fit in, but then there came a time in my life when I said ENOUGH! And this is when I finally began to really appreciate my roots, my upbringing, and in essence, my self.

(Anytime I’ve felt a pinch of Nationalism/Tribalism in my heart, Gods uprooted me and plopped me in another spot; perhaps gently reminding me to know my limits. Well, I say Thank You GOD, I love you too!)

Back to my alien status! At every step in my life, I’ve found agents in my life that have tired to convince me that I don't belong. That depite of me, I’m not really an American, or on the flip side that I’m too Westernized to fit the role of your average Pakistani. For some reason, I’m always too liberal for the conservatives and too conservative for the liberals. Go figure.

I’ll admit sometimes I do feel like im not authentic enough -- with most things in my life actually. But for some odd reason I’ve never been intimidated when questioned about the status of my Muslim-ness.

Now, imagine my surprise, when I first entered an official gathering of a very artificial imitation of what a Muslim gathering would be like in a place we shall call the MSA. Now sometimes this can be a place where suddenly (quicker than a blink of an eye) people you don’t really know will come up to you and tell you how wrong you are in the way you pray, sit, stand, sleep, speak, and blink. I’m sorry; Mother, is that you?

Here we go an outsider again. :dramatic sigh: I have a lot of favorite bloopers so ill just mention one of my favorites: A senior, very Muslim, lady suddenly went into a seizure and started screaming at a very young Msa freshman for picking up two dates, instead of three. She went on for a good five minutes until the poor girl was in tears. (Yes, this is when Salafism was all the rage) (and no I dont take any part in promoting or bashing the Salafi group) (and yes the Sunni groups are just as guilty of this ‘me vs. you’ mentality.)

Now this is what gets me, no one, not a single person stood up for this innocent Girl. Except Moi! :cough: So I very gently (perhaps a bit sarcastically) asked Ms.Hulk to be more gentle when imparting instantaneous fatwas. She came back with, “ But aren’t you taking a Bible class?” (Implying I wasn’t Muslim enough to open my trap.)(and yes i was, teehee).

I should’ve been offended but heres the thing, I grew up in Muslim family, in a Muslim community, in a Muslim country, for the first nine years of my life. Perhaps being guilty of being backward in Westernization, still American Muslims can not compete with any given Muslim Country (or China) when it comes to Islamic Culture (Albeit, of many different fruity flavors, one sees a common trend of cooperation and unity across the line) .Yes, governments are corrupt but the family structure is very strong and very Muslim, and has hundreds of years of history.

Allow me to illustrate with this example: In the year 1999, I visited my relatives in Pakistan. Since I was a guest (a freshman so to speak) people ignored a lot of my 'bad manners,' and instead of slapping me repeatedly, chose to bite their lips, and welcomed me into their homes. I remember being in the house of a very cranky grandma type who wanted me to bring a pitcher of cool water from the kitchen, but luck was not my friend that day, and I slipped breaking a very ancient and pricy pitcher. I could just see her knocking me to the ground but instead she managed a weird frown that was her rendition of a smile. While the housekeeper cleaned my mess, I was asked to help myself to the delicious food. I reached for the spoon with my left hand but at the last moment switched to my right hand. That was it. Suddenly, everyone just went crazy, each singing their own songs, in my honor. I felt redeemed. And taller!

Notice how I didn’t have to use words. I didn’t have to say, I FOLLOW THE SUNNAH. “Lookatme, I know what tasuwwuf is!” Weee. People could read me; they knew I was nervous and they wanted to honor me.(Their slaps of gentleness were quite sweet.)

Sadly, this very simple exercise in observation is missing in our current discourse on Islam in America. We use words, a lot of them, yet we can’t read each other. We follow trends and labels- Salafi today, Sufi tomorrow- yet don’t focus on the most important task in our lives, self – transformation. People spend all their energies on attacking and defending views that should really be discussed by a very few and perhaps less retarded people, namely the Scholars. There were hundreds of sects in the past yet people treated each other with respect because they were part of a culture that encouraged unity not alienation.

And because of understanding Islam through a culture of cooperation, gentleness, and dignity, I find myself recognizing God in every Noble thing. I use quotes from every source possible because I’m the filter (and this filter is very much Muslim) and this filter is not insecure in the least. (Well, im not secure either but that’s a different discussion)

I’m not about to convert to – insert your favorite ‘--- ism’ here – just because I liked the quote or showed respect to another sect/religion/person/utterance. I’m a Sunni and a Hanafi not because I’ve studied these disciplines on a scholarly level, but because this is how I was raised and im comfortable with it. The ideals I hold in my heart are compatible with the interpretation of Sunni Islam. and yes, I like people who make my heart melt, even if they call themselves Sufi or Hindu.

Yes, labels again, see I can easily drop the accepted lingo of say a particular traditional group, but I choose otherwise, because I’m not in Junior High anymore. And I like being me.