|Woman in red by Zombiey|
Scholarship demonstrates that identity is fluid. Identity as a Muslim, even as a jihadi, is no less fluid than any other. Anjem Choudary is currently the poster boy for Muslim extremism in England. Earlier in his life, he was "Andy," and he liked to drink beer and chase girls. Mosab Hassan Yousef is the son of a founder of Hamas. Missionaries converted Yousef to Christianity, and Shin Bet recruited him to spy for Israel. Hamza Yusuf, called "the West's most influential Islamic scholar," grew up as Mark Hanson, an American Christian. Nabeel Qureshi, a Christian minister and author, was raised as a devout Muslim, son of Pakistani immigrants. Evangelist David Wood, Qureshi's school friend, played a key role in his conversion.
In New Jersey, I recently saw a girl wearing a long black jilbab, that is, an ankle-length coat, and hijab, or head covering. At the same time, she was carrying a handbag emblazoned with an image of Betty Boop, the cleavage-baring, miniskirt-wearing cartoon apotheosis of flirty femininity.
I am Catholic and I a fan of Western Civilization. I believe in free speech, free inquiry, and freedom of conscience. I want these values to triumph primarily through dialogue, not violence. Living in Passaic County, home of America's second largest Muslim population, I understand the border Muslims straddle between warring worlds.
In this interview, readers will encounter Emmie, a young lady who in many respects is very much like many American Muslims I know. Emmie is a twenty-something writer. Her immigrant parents are Sunni Muslim. They are devout, pray five times daily, and performed a pilgrimage to Mecca. Emmie is currently dating Rob, a non-Muslim, American man.
Before our interview, I meticulously planned questions on Islamic doctrine. Emmie showed little interest in doctrinal questions. Emmie wanted to talk about food, love, family, fashion, and sex. During the course of our interview, Emmie sometimes identified as a Muslim, and sometimes not.
"When I say 'I'm Muslim,'" Emmie said. "I'm not the same Muslim as the hijabi walking down Main Street in Paterson. I'm not the villains that terrorize nations. I'm not the Muslim that I used to be. I'm Muslim because I come from the culture, but I'm not Muslim because I no longer believe in the ideology. Maybe I'm my own kind of Muslim. Maybe I'm not. I like to think of myself as just Emmie."
Emmie described her religious upbringing. "When I was a child, I asked my mom, 'What's sin? How do you define haram? Like, if I pick my nose, or not listen to tete (grandmother), is that haram? Haram and sin mean the same thing. Then there's halal." Mention of halal, the Arabic word for "permissible," took Emmie to her favorite subject, food. "We also use halal to talk about food. We will say, 'Can we go get some halal tonight in New York City? I'm really in the mood for halal.'"
I asked, "What did your mom tell you about sin?"
"'Number one, you know in your gut when something is bad. You know you feel good when you do something good. You feel good after you pick your nose, but you should use a tissue.'"
I asked Emmie if her mother's words struck her as true.
"No," Emmie said. "I know now it's complete bullshit. We are socialized. People accept religion unquestioningly. Because God says it is. We are taught religion just like we are taught racism, 'Oh, those people look a certain way.' I just don't want to be fed information any more. I'm done with learning by listening and by taking notes. I want to learn by doing. I'm ready to make my own mistakes."
"Religion is a double-edged sword," Emmie said. "It makes sense of what doesn't make sense. It answers big questions. Yes, we have science, but is it possible that a higher being made everything? Religion gives us hope, safety, security, and warmth. Religion assures us that there is life after death. Religion lets us look forward to heaven, or 'Jannah' – paradise in Arabic. It makes us not afraid. But that's what makes religion a weapon.
"Most Muslims, even those who claim to be religious, have not studied the Koran. I've looked at the Koran in English. I can't read Arabic too well. There are three types of Arabic, colloquial, which is what I speak, what most Arabic speakers speak, formal Arabic, which is spoken by news anchors, and Koran Arabic. They are so different. The Koran is so complex. There are people who have been studying it for years."
Emmie insists that Muslims should take a more text-critical view of the Koran. "When educated people read literature, we analyze it. I would like to ask Muslims, 'Do you really think there is a God and do you really think he would not want us to take his book with a grain of salt? Do you really think that when you read 'Let's make war blah blah blah and wreak havoc,' do you think that is acceptable?"
I asked Emmie why she is no longer sure she is a Muslim. She immediately began to talk, with great passion, about food.