The Only Muslim I Agree With

The only Muslim I agree with 100% (well, more like 90% of the time) is me.  Sometimes I question by dusk religious thoughts that at dawn seemed prophetic. But mostly I agree with myself about God, Mohammed, Jesus, the five pillars of Islam–and yes, the Muslim cliché the hijab, and all other things attributed to Muslims but not really about Muslims, like women driving in Saudi Arabia.

I have a lot of Muslim friends that agree and disagree with me on all of the above.  Most of the Muslims I know have no idea what I think about my religion, although some have tried to tell me what I think (“You don’t drink because you’re trying to be a good Muslim” someone once told me, and I didn’t bother to explain that I wouldn’t drink no matter what my religion was and I don’t actually think Islam categorically forbids alcohol).

Just as few Christians, Jews and others know what I think about my religion, although some of them have also tried to tell me. (“You’re one of those white Muslims, so we know you’re not like the others,” was the comfort I got from a co-worker on 9/11, as apparently I didn’t appear brown enough to be bad.)

No one ever asked me, not even other Muslims, until after 9/11, what I thought about Islam.  I’d venture to say many of my American friends could barely recall I was a Muslim.  For a while after 9/11, I felt it was something that like Mona Eltahawy said in a recent op ed piece for the Guardian (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2011/sep/09/muslim-post-9-11-america) I had to mention early on in a conversation.  In my case, so no one would say anything bad in front of me and feel like crap later when I then I told them I was a Muslim.

I don’t look like a Muslim not because of the color of my skin but because I don’t wear a hijab.  That’s the giveaway in the post-9/11 US and Europe, but not in much of the Middle East, where many choose not to wear the hijab.  (Actually, more correctly is that many women choose to wear it).

As a non-wearer, I’ve really come to appreciate the hijab because it gives me a chance to always be the undercover Muslim:  In crowded rooms, classrooms, and parties, I get to hear what other people really think about Islam because they don’t think I’m one one of them.  And mostly what I hear shocks me, almost as shocking as the dangerous radicalization of Islam in disenfranchised parts of the Muslim world that led to 9/11.  Horrific as the terrorism is, it comes from ignorance, from people deprived of education and hope.  That’s not something you expect in the West, and yet most of what I hear about Islam is pretty ignorant, mostly boogey man like.

Maybe one day, Muslims will be transformed like the Russians, who under communism could only produce women in our social studies class textbooks were sullen peasant wrapped in fur skin hats, to their general acceptance in all media as hot babes, for better or worse, in a variety of professions.

That’s not necessarily something to aspire to, but until then, here is some Pew polling on American Muslims that might be a little more enlightening.  Muslim seem to be more upbeat about being American than others, not that I disagree or agree with any of  them. (http://people-press.org/2011/08/30/muslim-americans-no-signs-of-growth-in-alienation-or-support-for-extremism/)

For further readings on Arab Americans 10 years later, I recommend the following:

Alia Malek in Granta:  http://www.granta.com/Online-Only/Of-Moustaches-and-Megalomaniacs

Moustafa Bayoumi in the Nation  http://www.thenation.com/blog/163284/rites-and-rights-citizenship

Carmel Alyaa Delshad  http://bustedhalo.com/features/being-the-%E2%80%9Cother%E2%80%9D-on-september-11-2001

Muslims in 2030

Ever wondered what will be the birth rate of Muslims in 2030?  The largest Muslim country in Africa in 15 years?  Or the Muslim majority country with the lowest number of people living below the poverty line?  Neither have I.

Muslims in 2030

At first they may seem like trivia questions, but on further thought, the answers can be used to fuel paranoia or promote progress.

The other day I was invited to a swanky gathering to reveal the results of the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life study on “The Future of the Global Muslim Population.”

I went because a colleague was going to speak afterwards about what the projections of the study mean to him, and I like to support colleagues.  But the part of me that probably would have excelled at statistics if I hadn’t thought math wasn’t for girls loved the all the pie charts and graphs.

Average birth rate in Muslim countries in 2030?  Down from 4.3 per woman in the 1990s to 2.9 today and 2.1 in 2030.  Largest Muslim country in Africa in 2030?  Move aside Egypt.  It will be Nigeria.   Muslim majority country with the lowest number of people living below poverty line?  Even before the revolution, viva Tunisia.  The Gulf countries were not included in this study, perhaps because they don’t have a poverty line, or at least not one that anyone sees.   EuroArabia fears in western Europe?  Fear not—the largest expected Muslim population will be France, and it will not exceed 10 percent.

As for the speakers who came on to explain the implications of this study, my friend, Amir Al Islam talked about Islam in America not being an immigrant religion anymore than Christianity or any other religion because one of its largest cohorts in the US is converts. The other speaker, also an American, attributed the US’s woes to its massive  consumerism and praised the Muslim world for not having gone down that path.  He said this with a straight face as we sat under crystal chandeliers at the Shangri La Hotel while valets outside parked Bentleys and Porches. You don’t have that consumerism in Bemidji, Minnesota, USA, and you don’t have it in Khandar, Afghanistan, Muslim World.

My pontification? There are no universal pontifications that can be made about Muslim world, anymore than I can compare Beverly Hills to Bemidji.  Sure there are commonalities, but it is a world as diverse as its reach.