It’s not fun being a Muslim anymore, either at home or in the Islamic world
ADNAN R. KHAN
FROM NOW ON, I’ve decided to wear a sign slung from my neck that reads: “Adnan R. Khan, non-Muslim.” At the risk of sounding trite, it’s not fun being a Muslim anymore, either at home in Canada or abroad in the Islamic world. I did fleetingly consider using “infidel” on my sign instead of “nonMuslim,” but I felt the word was misleading. After all, “fidelity” is an integral part of who I am; Islam is not, at least not the Islam paraded across television screens, and definitely not the Islam screaming for retribution against the “evil invaders” of Iraq.
My parents are probably cringing after reading that. So for their sake, and for the record, I must stress that I am not anti-Islam. I’m proud of my Islamic heritage. Really. I regularly read works by the 13th-century Muslim visionary, Rumi, and travel back to Pakistan whenever I can. I’ve even started to appreciate the immense musical value of Koranic recitations. It’s the stereotypes that gall me. There’s no escaping them these days, even in Islamic countries like Turkey where I am now, and had hoped to blend into the background. Especially in Islamic nations, actually, where being a Muslim in these trying times automatically aligns you with the spiralling communal hatred sweeping across the Arab world against the West. The logic is straightforward: you’re brown and you have an Arabic name, therefore you must hate the West.
“Adnan? Ah, a Muslim! Down with Bush!” The refrain has become a bad song haunting my sleepless nights. Worse still, it’s not even confined to my head. (If it were only so simple.) I hear it everywhere I go, from Malaysia to Turkey: grizzly old Muslim men chafing my tender cheeks with a flurry of kisses; university students embracing me as a brother, for no other reason than an appellation over which I had no control. And since the onset of war in Iraq, the dilemma has intensified.
Paradoxically, the growing sense of unity rising from the ashes of divisiveness is the most unsettling consequence of the current
conflict in Iraq. As the chasm between the West and Islam continues to widen, the internal divisions that have plagued Muslims shrink proportionally. Shias and Sunnis have never been so agreeable with each other, Kurdish factions in northern Iraq fight side by side after nearly a decade of internecine warfare, and for erstwhile Muslims like myself, simply looking the part is as good as a pass-go card. Welcome to the club.
At this rate, whirling dervishes and peaceful Sufi mystics, some of whom live in the hollowed-out trunks of trees in Pakistan, will soon be heading to Iraq for a piece of the action. Already, according to reports, Arabs from other countries have slipped into Iraq, many of them suicide bombers determined to blast themselves and anyone else nearby to smithereens.
The call to jihad against the West echoes throughout the Muslim world, travelling as far as Indonesia, where more than 20,000 men have reportedly lined up to volunteer for a chance at martyrdom in Iraq. Mullahs everywhere demand all Muslims fulfill their duty to Islam. “Kill the infidels where they
stand,” they often shout in their sermons to an audience increasingly receptive to that angry message.
Sadly, these so-called Islamic leaders have failed to recognize that alliances based on mutual hatred are always tenuous at best. Western culture is nowhere near its nadir, and one has to wonder whether Muslim unity can endure the calm after the storm. Will the stereotype of the “evil” West carry any currency once the clouds of war have cleared? The hearts and minds of Muslims are in a state of flux, easily swayed by impassioned pleas and distressing images coming from the brutal war in Iraq. For the moment, any non-Muslim is suspect, but suspicion has a tendency to evaporate in a climate of peace.
As a Canadian, I feel one step removed from the fray. But there are times when I feel saddled by the responsibilities imposed on me by my Muslim heritage. On the one hand, there’s the pressure of correcting the misconceptions circulating about Islam in the Western consciousness. On the other, I’ve become increasingly disheartened by the myths perpetuated about Western culture in the Islamic world.
I’ve fallen victim to racial profiling since Sept. 11 in Canada, but I’ve also witnessed first-hand the same sort of profiling of Westerners by Muslims. Am I expected to join the chorus of anti-American sentiment, to despise this war for its hostility toward Islam? All because I have an Arabic name? The reality is I view the conflict in its political and economic dimensions. Does that make me anti-Islam?
It’s all a bit confusing, really. I’d like to think I can play a role bridging the gap between the West and the Muslim world, but I find myself frustrated by the complete lack of openness to the Western perspective in Islamic culture—just as frustrated as I am with the inaccurate pictures being painted by the West of Muslims. There are times I wish I really could disappear into the background, become a non-entity, but the battle lines have been drawn and I’m told I must pick a side. “No real Muslim will abandon his brothers in this time of need,” Newroz, a Kurdish Muslim in Turkey, told me. Real or not, I think I’ll get to work on that sign.
Adnan R. Khan is a Toronto writer who is currently on assignment for Maclean’s. firstname.lastname@example.org
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