A child of the millennium’s mirror is their smart phone. Through the lens of social media, without the light or the tunnel, your entire life can flash before your very eyes. If you’re a bit embarrassed by yourself in 2008, then you might be on the right path. Life is made of specific movements that give way to who we are – that define us in some fashion. I have many, but a lone Facebook tab on Mozilla Firefox is the first place I reach to piece together this story. I am “as bad as the Taliban,” and no, the quotations aren’t misplaced. This is one insult that sums up my career as a rookie Social Justice Rogue on the high Internet seas and it didn’t come from an Islamophobe, but rather, a fellow Muslim. God forgive them, Muslim guilt is a powerful thing. We’re not a guilty people by choice, but by disposition.
“We are plagued by identity crisis, fueled by diaspora and mainstream collectivist thought that requires us to be perfect and antithetical to imperialism that bombs our homelands and our hearts.”
Whatever perfect is, we can rarely celebrate Eid on the same day, break fast at the same time during Ramadan, or decide which is really the correct way to place our hands when we pray. Instead, we instill this illusion that our crafted social mores and norms – ones that are ever-changing – are not only what Muslims do, but are the epitome of Islam. The center. And everything outside or in contrast, is ‘Western,’ ‘American,’ ‘Secular,’ or my favorite “Not what we do.”
My “kafir“ (disbeliever) crime? Supporting LGBT rights in America, wait for it, based on Quranic principles of common humanity and a just society free of tyrants and oppression. It’s a strange thing to champion the rights of your brother in humanity and to be met with contempt from your own corpus of minority who calls you “kafir” and then much worse. I am as bad as the Taliban, a group borne of imperialism by imperialists who use their politic of Islam to shoot girls who are much like me: outspoken, book hungry, and believe they are equal, in the head. I’ve been a bad Muslim for a very long time, I suppose. And the ironic part is that it started with reading the Quran.
I first read the Quran in the 11th grade because it never occurred to me beforehand that I could read and know what being a Muslim was all about for myself. It was always what “they” said without question, without doubt. Why would “they” lie? The Ummah that I grew out of instills a gentleness within the Muslim psyche; it creates the illusion and lulling aura that societal norms and superficial ideals governing our daily lives are the epitome of Islam and what make us Muslim, what makes us right, and what makes us safe. My naïve worldview vanished as my eyes peered over the words of God for the first time, as I embraced his first commandment of “read.” Every verse since, I have deeply contemplated how it applies to and what it means in my life.
Before Islamophobes aired the dirty laundry of verse 4:34 online, simply known as the wife beating verse, I sat in psychological agony for years trying to reconcile the fact that my Creator, who assured me as a young woman that I was equal in every way under his omnipotent reach, could be OK with me being “beaten.” Instead of making excuses like many around me, or the strange benevolent sexist supplement of Hadith who quote marks, sticks, and fables, I ignored it. It made me feel uneasy. So, being young and afraid and looking for answers, I hit more books about Islamic history, the Arabic language, countless Quran commentaries, and learned that interpretation isn’t fixed, and is by much a human invention. That the gates of interpretation, ihtijad closed long before I was born and there wasn’t much more that I could do then let people know about it. The term ‘daraba‘ in the verse, can mean multiple things, but there is so much patriarchy plaguing all walks of institutional life that the easiest power dynamics stick, even though the other grammatically correct translation of ‘separate‘ aligns more closely with overarching Quranic themes. Most Sunnah-thumpers and Islamophobes cry kafir when I deduce on my own free volition. They call me as bad as the Taliban for thinking people matter first and foremost, outside of their status in the folds of quo.
“Kafir” is an interesting pejorative. The origin story of the word doesn’t reflect its unbelief connotation today. Before fundamentalism overtook most religious authenticity in America and elsewhere, via the rise of colonialist suppression, the term kafir and infidel didn’t mean “unbeliever.” It meant ungrateful. In jahilliyah, the polytheism of the Quraysh was self-serving, violent, and arrogant. They used their traditions for worldly gain and not bettering of the self. I reject the notion that I am a kafir and laugh at accusations that I am twisting Islam for my own gain, because it’s not about me. Justice requires us to look outside ourselves and see things for what they are despite our feelings. It requires us to desire for others what we desire for ourselves despite what it could lose us, despite what privileges we can no longer enjoy. Self-preservation is normal, but when does it become selfish? Simple – when it starts to hurt others.
The Muslim vision of perfection or worthlessness is polarizing. It is putting Muslims at the center and is not the uplifting Islam that saved me more times than I want to admit. The “west,” in contrast to “east,” just strengthens their orientalist history and pictures of us. We are first to say, “What we do,” but not in sheer opposition for opposition sake. Guilt and fear shouldn’t unite the Ummah, nor should the pejorative of ‘kafir‘ but the love and success of humanity: good for goodness sake.
God forgive me, I am “as bad as the Taliban” in my love for social justice, inspired by my religious upbringing and study. The me of 2008 fit in way more with current cosmological order than me in 2017. With my black mirror, I sing, “Mirror, mirror on the wall,” and know who the baddest Muslims are – those who reflect before the light floods the end of the tunnel and get the hard conversations going.