Thursday, June 08, 2006

On Being Muslim (This Post is for PR)

Yesterday I had my teeth cleaned. I, as usual, promised the hygienist that I would floss on a regular basis. It’s very difficult for me to floss. It hurts and in the evenings, it takes everything I have not to pass out with my shoes on, let alone floss. I did floss last night, so everyone, wish me luck.

The Dentist, Hygienist and I had an interesting exchange on Afghanistan and Islam. Perhaps I’m just more sensitive to it now, but these days, I am interested in others’ attitudes to Islam and Muslims.

The Hygienist asked me what I was doing and I said I just finished law school and am starting work next week (Yes, next week!). I attempt to avoid telling people what and where I’m going as it entails a much longer conversation – but I also don’t like to lie. So, I told her (don’t ask me what, I’m not posting it on the blog, and no, it’s not the CIA) and she was super, duper excited.

It seems that she has been recently interested in world events and was absolutely fascinated about my trip and new job. She LOUDLY announced to the Dentist.

This is where it became uncomfortable.

The Dentist started talking about Iraq, cutting off hands and heads in Saudi Arabia if I wore T-shirts and going on and on about religious police. Do I speak Arabic? Do I speak Afghanistani?

I just didn’t know where to start and they were also poking in my mouth, checking for cavities (none found!). I was irritated and defensive. The Hygienist didn’t know that much about Afghanistan but she had a completely different approach. She just seemed genuinely curious, while homeboy wanted to spout off his spiel. And I don’t mind people not knowing about Afghanistan. It’d be nice, but I couldn’t tell you too much about East Timor and its politics either.

Even the stuff that was correct got on my nerves (low female illiteracy rate & etc).

Then he said, are you, Islam? I said yes, I am Muslim.

“You don’t veil then, that’s good.”I just didn’t know what to say.

Perhaps he thought that I was what some label as secular Muslims. I’m not, I consider myself a practicing Muslim. The hijab is something that I respect. And I immediately wished I were wearing a head scarf, just to prove that Muslims who veil are okay. My friends who veil are such good people. I know that its not what makes a good Muslim, but they truly represent the best of Islam.

But I’m not ‘Islam’. I’m just part of the ummah (Muslim community), trying to figure out how to best serve Allah. It’s a lot to ask of a person, to speak for the religion and I don’t think the Dentist or the Hygienist realized that is what they expected me to do. Well, not the Dentist, he wasn’t really listening. But we have to let them know that we are Muslims, to break down at least some of the stereotypes (even within our own community).

My friend, H, and I had discussed this about a Belgian friend of hers, who once told her, ‘You’re cool and open-minded, not like the other Muslims.” H is a practicing Muslim, doesn’t veil and truly, is really cool. But she is like other Muslims.

They, and the Dentist, think that we are ‘cool’ in spite of our religion, not because of it.

Whereas if you asked me (or H), I would tell you that my sense of right and wrong, tolerance and my attempts at being kind – are all because of my religion.


coffee_guy said...

While I understand that you didn't want to upset the dentist (since there were sharp objects in your mouth) but after reading your post, it seems to me that it's that kind of complacent and apologetic attitude that gives rise to fanatics in any religion.

"It’s a lot to ask of a person, to speak for the religion"

What's there to say you tell the truth and you denounce those that use your religion to kill in it's name.

homeinkabul said...

"it seems to me that it's that kind of complacent and apologetic attitude that gives rise to fanatics in any religion."

That's a pretty strong statement and one I don't agree with. Can you explain please?

How does not wanting to argue with someone who doesn't want to listen, give rise to fanatics?

For me, interacting with Muslims is completely different. When faced with a Muslim who does think differently, I very rarely have a problem letting them know my opinion.

So, I'd appreciate an explanation please.

coffee_guy said...

I guess it comes down to what I've read on the blogs, and well as seen in the news, and other sources.
Everytime an incident happens where a fanatic commits a horrible act using the muslim religion as a excuse to kill or maim.
The muslim community(not all) does not stand up and denounce this betrayal of their religion. what I do see are Imams and other leaders claiming that the west did this and they are being unfaily targeted. claims that islam is a religion of peace.

a good example would be the 17 terrorst suspects caught in Canada. Where is the muslim community standing up and denouncing these people. Where are the claims that these suspects do not speak for Islam. One Imam in Toronto (Al Hindy) claimed that they were all framed.

Great you have no problem giving your opinion and I hope that those you tell it to listen. My point is the west will always see muslims as terrorists as long as the moderates in your religion do not stand up and say "enough". change must come from within.

a couple of links for you

Frustrated, too, in Texas said...

Coffee Guy: I understand your point that Moderates should speak up - though I do not completely agree with the portrayal. It is perhaps true that Moderates do not speak up enough, but there has always been some voices willing to denounce what is wrong. The struggle to make that voice loud enough to be heard is ongoing.

However, I do not understand how the issue of Moderates speaking up relates to the incident Home in Kabul shared with us.

I can shere your frustration at horrible happenings in the name of Islam, but I can not direct that frustration at Home in Kabul, because she hasn't given me reason to do so.

In fact, if I were to talk with her further on this subject, I might find that she shares my frustration, or she might not. But I can't judge that until I've tried to know her opinion. If I do judge first, ask later, I might just alienate her and will have lost a great opportunity to actually learn something.

Frustrated, too, in Texas said...

Home in Kabul: Thanks for sharing. It's interesting how lack of knowledge can manifest itself in distinctly different behavior - the assistant's excitement to learn about what she did not know vs. the dentist's assumption of information.

Unfortunately, I've experienced the latter all too often on a racial basis.

As a teenager, I would often speak up to defend certain races, but the years have mellowed me and taught me to other ways to help dispel stereotypes.

Were I Islam ;) and in your situation - I wonder what I would do. And Coffee Guy - what would you do?

And what if we weren't talking about religion, but about race? What if the patient were Hispanic and the town I lived in was suffering from a severe Hispanic gang problem? If I were the Dentist, what response would I expect from the Hispanic patient? If I were Hispanic, would I feel the need to respond to the racial element of the gang problem?

pushy former roommate said...

coffee_guy, what would you have said in her place? What do you think is the best approach for addressing such a complicated issue in such a setting with what I'm guessing was about 30 minutes top face time? I've struggled with how to speak up for the things that I believe in in similar settings. I also have found it difficult to speak on behalf of a group in everyday encounters, i.e. driving down the street, at the grocery store, dentist offices. I've finally settled on picking my battles however, your suggestions would be appreciated. Maybe we can see a little sample dialogue?

homeinkabul said...

Coffe_guy: I think you and I are discussing different things. My point, which I believe you have completely missed, is that as a Muslim, some consider me acceptable because they see that I have positive attributes. They believe that I try to be a good person in spite of being Muslim, not because of it. Whereas, I try to be a good person as part of my religion.

Your point (correct me if I'm wrong), is that I do not speak out enough against hate and intolerance within the Muslim community.

But this is an assumption on your part. You don't know me, nor have I written about my interactions within the Muslim community (yet) on this blog.

For the record, I am a staunch suppporter of human rights, both outside and within the Muslim community. Just because I don't write about it in this blog - does not mean that I do not.

There are plenty of problems within the community. However, what many people refuse to recognize is that there are many working hard to address these problems.

I've seen all of your links, but I'm confused - they don't support your point. They are part of the Muslim community and are trying to address the problems that they see.

You make the point that the West will always see Muslims as terrorists if Muslims don't stand up and speak against the wrongdoing. That's what they're doing.

Frankly, I think that you saw that I am Muslim, was addressing a 'Muslim' topic - and even though it had nothing to do with what I had to say in my entry, you still decided to make your point.

Point taken, you think that we, as Muslims, don't speak out enough against wrongdoing in the Muslim world.

I disagree.

My final point is that progressive Muslims have a hard time in the U.S. because of people like you. We are expected to 'make a change' within the Muslim community, but get very little positive support by the outside.

homeinkabul said...

A good link:

Lone Star said...

R there dentists in Kabul? You mentioned earlier there may not be water or electricity, so I wonder what a dentist check up is like there.

I once knocked my two front teeth out when I was in Karachi. I jumped from a guava tree and landed on my face. It happened to be Friday prayer time and everything was closed. Eventually, my Nana came home and took me across the street to his retired old friend (I don't know if he was even anything in the medical field) who looked at me and said I'd be okay. My teeth grew back. I stopped climbing the Guava in my Nana's Veranda and started jumping rooftops, instead.

homeinkabul said...

lone star: rooftops?! Oh dear, no wonder your mom is worried about you.

homeinkabul said...

We do have dentists there. But it's kinda scary. I went with a friend once and it was as clean as it could be (not having water and all) but that's another entry.

Harlem Mama said...

damn, I'm late, causin controversy? lol. JUST reading this. Beautiful entry, by the way. Muslim 2006 = Black American 1969. Okay, well maybe that's a bit DRAMATIC but you know what I'm saying. How much harder it must be to just BE because loving your religion, your family, your life, who YOU are...comes under speculation, open debate and criticism. That has to suck. Pride in onself and one's community is judged by others not of that community or religion.
How is it that you being Muslim and me being Catholic fail to get in the way of friendship. Cuz we KNOW better. We know that lovingkindess, peace and a profound respect for a higher power go much farther and are much deeper in the crevices of humanity than bickering over religion or focusing on the differences between us. Our books are different, but our message has always been the same. I love my God/Allah, I love my family, I love my friends, I love my community and most of all, I love myself.