Years ago, thirty to be precise, I was buddy-buddy with all the “religious” girls in university. Eventually, not only was I buddy-buddy with them, I was among their “leaders”. I couldn’t be buddy-buddy with the religious guys, mind you. Mixing between the sexes wasn’t allowed. That did not mean in any way, shape or form that we weren’t always eyeing each other up for a potential future spouse.
At the time, I was living in a new country (and loving it) without my parents and most of my siblings. For years before, I had listened to my father’s adventurous stories about revolutions and Islamic movements from when he was a school and university student. My father was a fabulous oral storyteller. He loved telling his stories and I loved listening to them. He loved telling his stories so much that he’d tell us the same story over and over along the years. I loved hearing his stories so much that I never bored of hearing the same story multiple times. The result was that I couldn’t wait to go to university in Egypt so I could go “underground”. I wasn’t sure what that meant or what I should be looking for, but by golly, if I was going to go to university in Egypt then I would be going underground. My father’s final words before he left me alone in the country were along the lines of, “Surround yourself with religious friends.” I didn’t need him to tell me that. I was going to seek them out anyways because I was pretty sure they were the key to my long-sought-after underground.
I found the underground, of course. They weren’t very good at keeping themselves secret. Actually, they were lousy at it. Not that they really meant to be totally underground anyways; otherwise how else would they recruit new members to the “righteous path”?
They were good days. I have a million fond memories from the times. I had a family away from my family. I had sisters, the numbers of whom I could not count. I belonged. I was appreciated. I was even, in a way, adored. I was listened to. All I had to do was read a couple of books and suddenly sisters and “those who like the sisters” were coming to me for words of wisdom or for rulings on whether this or that behaviour was “halal” (allowed) or “haram” (prohibited) in Islam. This thing you’ve seen in me where I spout out eternal wisdoms all the time started all the way back then.
But gradually I became disillusioned. In the beginning, I became disillusioned with various Islamic movements, choosing to affiliate myself with only one. Eventually, I became disillusioned with “the one” Islamic movement as well. As I grew, as I read, as I listened, as I learned, as I gained more experience and met more people, I began to believe there could be no such thing as “a one”. Rather, there were “many”. I began to believe that what might be right for me doesn’t necessarily have to be right for others. I started to think that just because other people’s choices are different does not make them wrong.
So I un-affiliated myself completely from the movements (as opposed to the religion). And instead, over time, I gained friends from all over the world, each of whom was different from the next. The one thing that might connect them all would be their acceptance of others despite differences. Lots of differences. Not the I’m right and you’re lost acceptance but let us be brothers anyways because by associating with me you will learn how great my path is and you will want to join me (unless you’re a lost cause, that is). But the kind that just lets people be the way they want to be. The kind that celebrates difference and embraces it.
Gradually, instead of my life seeming to focus on bringing sisters into “the light”, it became more focused on trying to be a better inhabitant of planet Earth. Instead of proselytizing and directing people to the one and only path of righteousness, I looked inward. It turned out, there was a lot that needed to be dealt with. (more…)