Entirely unscientifically, and heavily skewed towards recently, I share end-of-year moments from American Islam, hints and fragments, clichés and overused tropes, reflections of the undersides of a diverse, polyglot, growing community. These come from my time trying to (a) improve the quality of conversations about Islam and Muslims, (b) get Muslims into conversations about Islam, or just Muslims and (c) make Muslims talk about things that are important, while abandoning topics that aren’t. Like end-of-year lists too cowardly to ascribe blame or reward wit.
Somewhere in America
This fall, a well-produced video—one that I first confused with some sort of advertisement for life in North Teheran—introduced American Muslims to “mipsterz,” self-described Muslim (women) who belong to a contentious aesthetic persuasion. The ferocious response to the video underscored how American American Muslims really are, insofar as many don’t like hipsters much and many reserve for momentary fashion, style, or appearance the vehemence once restricted to dynastic conflicts. Alas, dynasties.
The only one we cheer is the one we defeated. Thus tamed, we consume you.
More topically: Two of the more critical responses to the Jay-Z soundtracked video in question, ‘SomewhereinAmerica,’ came from Sana Saeed at Islamic Monthly (I swear this isn’t cross-fertilization) and Su’ad Abdul-Khabeer’s blog. I’m sharing two these responses only. There were also the day-to-day conversations that animated how Muslims receive, process, respond to, and relate to pop culture.
My favorite was this shall we say overheard exchange:
“Did you see this Muslim hipsters video, it’s called #Mipsterz?”*
“Yeah man, what did you think?”
“Well, that’s the thing…”
“It was really controversial.”
“No man I have a crush on one of them now. I can’t stop watching.”
“I think the video’s haram then.”
“You mean their hijab isn’t valid?”
“No I just mean you’re a sinner.”
* When speaking, certain folks are able to include subtle but nonetheless audible hashtags in our statements.
Later that very day, I heard this:
“How am I supposed to get married if I lower my gaze?”
“How are you supposed to stay married if you don’t?”
“Well what if I want a second wife?”
“Says the guy with none.”
What To Talk About When All You Do Is Talk
One of the challenges to being a public speaker is finding things to talk about. It’s exhausting.
This exchange took place in a hotel lobby, where several well-regarded Muslim figures—heavyweights, but intellectually, since most of them and/or us have not only gone on diets, but past them—talked about what to talk about. Say you share the stage with said heavyweights on a Thursday night but then Friday you’re sent, pinball machine like, to different mosques to give sermons (Khutbahs). The bigger you are—speaking in terms of infamy—the bigger the congregation you’re assigned.
In pop culture, we call this a (godly) Godsmack.
“What should I talk about?”
“Give a motivational sermon. You know: Islam is fitrah. Your primordial state. So: Be yourself!”
“This is deep man, keep going—”
“No, wait. It’s like, be yourself! Unless you’re a kafir.”
How I Learned To Stop Living and Start Thinking
I remember when a prominent scholar, with tens of thousands of Twitter followers, asked me: “Do you know what the
most common subject for fatwas is?” I was going to say “sex,” but thought I should preserve whatever respect he had for me, so I said, “no, I don’t,” and he said, “Wudu.” Ablution.
Ritual purity for among other things prayer.
Before you judge me, what was your guess? Yeah I freaking thought so.
In his honor:
“Do you have your wudu?”
“Man I was born with wudu.”
“Actually that’s a fascinating thought experiment. Like, when you are born, you are morally innocent, but are you—“
“This is why we’re not married.”
Just Your Average Abdullah, With 1,001 Questions
Then there is the fact that, when you spend so much time around people nitpicking the faith, you kind of, sort of go crazy.
“These MSA meetings give me such a head-ache. Muslims are so annoying.”
“Umm, you do know that I’m—”
“Yeah I don’t think of you as Muslim.”
Also Just Because These Things Happened
“Is there any event from Mughal history or the story of Batman that would be relevant?”
“You can’t afford the mahr.”
“I am the mahr.”
“Isn’t it ‘The Sudan’? In that case, shouldn’t it be South The Sudan?”
This year, I learned “oma,” which is Muslim-talk for “omg,” which is acronyming an Islamized “oh my God.” As you may have translated, the “a” stands for “Allah,” which is Arabic for God, Who is the same Deity at the center of Jewish, Christian, Sikh and other devotions. Totally not looking at you Malaysia. Way to governmentally embody the cultural insecurity that has left Muslims mostly reducers, occasionally consumers, and almost never producers.
Footnote: Allahsmack. I’m just saying.
You Overthink, That’s Why You’re Underpaid
And then there’s the need to categorize, to force folks into premade boxes, or just to ask questions that can’t possibly be answered given that I have to eat sleep use the bathroom pay rent relax make friends have dreams do wudu find parking do my laundry charge my iphone. When I get questions whose assumptions I reject, I can only answer one way.
“I have a question, Sidi. Are you a Sufi or a Salafi?”
“Are you American or Muslim?”
“Why are so many Muslim men jerks?”
“Is Eid Tuesday or Wednesday?”
“Who is more responsible for Pakistan’s problems, the extremists or the government?”
“Do you think I should marry Amina or Fatima?”
“I don’t understand how intelligent people can believe in God.”
“Your fly’s unzipped.”
“We can only interpret the book of God as God intended.”
“How do we know what God intended?”
“Well we can read the book of God.”
“So reading is interpretation?”
“So is God reading His book and then telling us what it says?”
“Is that the same book, or does He do that somewhere else?”
Nephew: “Are we celebrating Christmas?”
Me: “Ask yourself why you’re asking that.”
Me: “Our ancestors failed us.”
“Are you celebrating New Year’s Day?”
“But, Haroon, she doesn’t wear hijab.”
“Neither do I.”
Thus ended 2013. Hereafter 2014.
There is no room in my lunar calendar for hating on your solar calendar.
May God bless you on this day, and the many more I hope you have; may He fill the coming circuit of our planet around our sun with enlightenment, joy, and great things, and many more, and so on and so forth.
I’m looking forward to the blockbuster movies supposed to blow us all away, including the third of the four Hunger Games (Catching Fire was surprisingly good), the conclusion to The Hobbit, and still later the revival of Star Wars, never mind the likelihood of another Star Trek, this one maybe less Anwar Awlaki-inflected and more, I don’t know, The Voyage Home.
What’ll be 2014’s Thor 2, which surprised even me, at that random theater that was the best I’ve ever enjoyed Americanside? There are big questions that haunt us, grand causes for which we sacrifice, and then these former, the little things through which we keep on keeping on, because there are so many epic causes before we collapse, deflate, or just weary.
Featured image courtesy of Jeff Golden/Flickr.