Each person’s experience is different, and mine is only a fraction of the composite – though I do recognize that many Muslims never reach a point where they question their faith, an act which I feel is a testimony to God and a welcome treason to culture, tradition, and dogma which are forced upon us at birth.
In taking a step back and observing my faith and my environment, I have been fortunate enough to be more acutely sensitive to issues and truths that, however unpleasant, are necessary for us to be aware of if we are to move forward as a society, both American and Muslim.
To start with the basics, I was born in Karachi (to a Pakistani mother and an Afghan father), lived there for 5 years, Iran for a year, Germany for 2 years, then finally settling in Orange County. My parents were never overtly religious. In fact, in Germany my mom would take my brother and I to church so we could see how other people lived/worshiped.
Religion was never forced – not until we moved to Orange County, California , where there was a strong Pakistani demographic, first and second generation immigrants who were here for the American dream, but who were also desperate to cling to the ‘old country’. This was done through a strong community network, Islamic schools, Friday prayers, Sunday schools and the lot. Luckily, I was only occasionally pressured to pray or take Arabic classes. Offers and my subsequent refusal to join an Islamic School were followed by neither force nor threats. The only threat I’d receive is the warning that I’m going to go to Hell or that there’s no hope for me. Considering most Muslim children aren’t even given a choice, or that some Muslim girls are forced into much more horrid arrangements, I’ll gladly take the warnings of eternal damnation.
Fast forward fifteen years, I graduated from UCI and headed to San Diego for law school. It was the summer between graduation and the start of law school that I started taking a heavier interest in religion, but on a very minute level – almost as a child does when they’re carrying out the simplest of experiments.
A year into law school, funding gaps forced me out – which was probably for the best as I spent the next two years heavily studying Islam with some light comparative religion studies. It was still a relatively fresh post 9/11 world and my new found freedom allowed me to poke and prod this issue, beginning with what Muslims were at my disposal – namely, family and family friends.
Quite surprisingly, I found that when the issues of race, ethnicity, religion, nationality, politics…when all that was brought out of the protective sphere of polite talk, the Muslims that I encountered were not as moderate as believed – even though I had known some of them for near decades. When issues were raised, the language Muslims used was self-divisive. Lines were drawn and people fell on either side of the fence, whereas before it was safely straddled.
Answers to once unasked questions quickly fell before us. “Is Islam at fault?” “Are terrorists to blame?” “Is it America’s fault?” The answers: No. No. Yes. 9/11 was an undeniable harbinger that forced us to take a strong look at who and what we are. Unfortunately, and quite perversely, a great number of people (Muslims and non-Muslims alike) have shielded themselves from this.
For Muslims, an introspective look into current events, and religion itself, cast doubt on the resolute authenticity of Islam. To question was to disbelieve. To question was to grip and shake at the roots of their own perceived identity. As for the rest of the world, they hurried to offer apologies.
Strong traditions that have proven to be effective, that have given rise to nations that explore, create, and evolve – those traditions were (and continue to be) shed in order to showcase “tolerance”. As the world twists and bends to accommodate Islam, as leading nations mutate into distorted versions of the ideal, the Islamic world (infested with the darkest elements of its own origins) continues to gain momentum.
Save a few exceptions and the small number of people who I see slowly beginning to shift to a more truthful perspective, Muslims on the whole are dangerously defensive of Islam – to the extent where acts done by those who only echo God’s name as the empty vessels they themselves are, are protected by the greater majority of Muslims, who end of the day, may not directly engage in Islamic terrorism, but are equally to blame for it.
An Islamic culture that negates self-criticism, of the individual or the collective, has created a global society of followers that do not see their world for what it is. And so what began as a curious interest, has developed into a passion. But I must confess I’m not a scholar, nor do I know everything there is to know about Islam. But what I do understand is the Muslim psyche created by the Quran – psyche that makes detecting patterns very easy. One that helps predict what the next course of action will be – which efforts by leaders will fail, which won’t, and which are necessary.
Ultimately what we need is dialogue. Dialogue among Muslims, non-Muslims, and an exchange between the two. Dialogue that is respectful yet not stifled by political correctness. Dialogue that is guided by determination to break through stereotypes on both sides, to arrive at solutions, and ultimately exercise and secure our first Amendment right to free speech.
I encourage all of you to take the necessary efforts to inform yourselves on the global assault on free speech, and to do your part to voice your dissent in whatever form you are able to.
> Shireen Qudosi, Bio