The Journey – Part 2 (fiction exploring Muslim identity)

Posted on March 9, 2011 by

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The Journey – Part 2

By Michelle Yeung

The same day. 1:30pm, Chicago, USA
Two young men are sitting together in a coffee house, just discussing life.

D: “I’m surprised we could even get a table at this time so quickly, this place is usually pretty packed on Friday afternoons. Alhamdulillah.”

A: “Yeah, because people come in here to use the Internet; they buy one coffee and make it last for like five hours while they catch up with every single one of their friends on Facebook or whatever. If this place is too busy, I sometimes go over to the Panera Bread in the mall instead.”

D: “The khutbah was really good today, I think the khatib was from Canada. I think he might be part of the group going for Umrah in the new year and the masjid wanted to introduce him”.

A: “Yeah, I think you’re right. He had a cool thobe, Yemeni I think, or maybe it was one of Zenhom’s, they have some decent stuff. So, did you get the cash together to join this Umrah group?”

D: “Nah, not this time. I’m kinda disappointed because I feel this really strong urge now, to spend some time in a Muslim country. I dunno, like, to really find my roots. Does that sound strange?”

A:“ Well, yeah, kind of bro. Ya’ni, your roots are here right, you’re white, you’re even more American than me in a way! Where do you think you’re going to find your roots, out in the desert 6,000 miles away? Okay, I can understand a drive to go to Mecca and Medina, but you said just any Muslim country. ”

D: “I dunno. I feel like I’m missing out on something. I’ve been feeling this new sense of detachment to America, to the society I grew up in. I don’t know how to explain it, I guess it’s different for you, being an Arab”

A: “No. It’s no different. I’m Arab by ethnicity but I was born and raised here just like you. We’re both Muslim, I feel totally at home in the US, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. Just don’t feel that you have to get all Arabized or something, just because you’re a Muslim, what’s the point. It’s cool that you’re learning the language, but just remember to be American; Islam and being American can mix”

D: “Actually, one of the teachers at the zawiya said yesterday that Arabic is our first language, it’s the language of all of the Muslims. It says so in the Qur’an. Aren’t you glad you already speak Arabic?”

A: “I don’t know if I’d be so concerned with learning it if I didn’t already know it. Speaking a particular language doesn’t make you any more or any less of a Muslim. You can get by in most Arab countries with English, people speak English in hotels and stuff nowadays. I mean, just be comfortable with who you are, your background, your lineage, why stress about it bro?”

D: “I’m not stressing, and I am comfortable with who I am, but you gotta understand, my lineage isn’t Islamic, and now I have all these different beliefs and practices that my ancestors, as far as I know, never had. I am different to them, that connection, that sense of belonging, it’s not really there anymore. I’m finding it hard to deal with, that’s what’s uncomfortable, that feeling of not really belonging, not really knowing who I am”

A: “ I guess, but I’m not sure I really get it. Like, what are you trying to say exactly?”

D: “I’m trying to say that I don’t know if I feel at home here like I did five years ago, before I was Muslim. Before I had everything in common with everyone around me, the guys at school, neighbours, family. Then in one instant, my new faith changed all of that, the most important thing in my life was completely different from everyone else’s. My reason for getting up in the morning, going to work, eating, everything I did was different from their reason for doing it. I felt so… so, different, so alone I suppose. Yeah, I felt totally alone, like my closest friends and family no longer understood me”.

A: “Hmm, yeah, I think I get it a bit more now. I guess all of my family are pretty much like me, we do the same things, we pray, most of the time, we go to the mosque. I can’t imagine what it would be like for my own parents and siblings to have totally different ideas about life than what I have. Yeah, I guess that’s gotta be tough.”

D: “And I think that’s why I feel a strong desire to go and seek out Muslims, to be somewhere where there are Muslims all around me, with Islam surrounding me. So maybe it’s not about finding my roots, more about finding a taste of the future I’m aiming for. In Jannah everyone will be Muslim. But I guess there’s no such thing as Jannah on Earth. Am I just clutching at straws?”

A: “Maybe. You won’t know though until you try. If you’re feeling this, then go for it. Don’t let me hold you back. Maybe as an Arab I’m just cynical about it all, I’m not sure what you think you’re going to find there that you can’t find here. America is home after all”

D: “But who says so? The Muhajireen, may Allah be pleased with them, may have thought that Mecca was their home once. But do you think they didn’t settle in Al-Medina Al-Munawara anyways? So that goes to show, possibly, that home is not just where a person is born, but where they find all the things they want and need”

A: “Sah. That’s true. For me this is America, for you, who knows, it could be elsewhere. It’s strange hearing someone from the West sounding so desperate to leave it for the East that’s all. I’ve only ever really heard about people wanting to come here. I know people who would give anything to have what you have, they love America and the idea of being American, but they might not admit it to your face.”

D: “Why not?”

A: “Jealous. Some of my relatives complain that I’m too Westernized when we visit, they try to warn me of the perils of the West, when really they’d do anything to trade places with me. It’s funny really, I just ignore them, pity them a bit because they never got here themselves”

D: “But why pity them? Who knows who’s really better off, you or them?”

A: “I know, I don’t judge anyone, ya’ni, if they never had the means, then who can blame them. My parents went out and found the means, and they made a success of things, but then it’s all from God, so as I said I won’t judge. Anyway, you’re American first, right?”

D: “Hmm. I really don’t know, am I? What is being American anyway? I’m not sure I really stand for all of America’s values and practices. I know this country inside out, and yet I don’t know it at all. Sometimes I don’t even want to know it, but I want to know about Mecca, Baghdad, Cairo, Istanbul. There’s like a void, I don’t know how else to put it. There’s a void in my life.”

A: “You need to get married bro! Khalas!”

D: “Hmm, we’ll see. Ha ha, that’d be nice at some point, but I’m not really sure that’s it. I need to find something, find myself maybe, find God, my past, my future, my present… I dunno, I’m confused. I want to find somewhere I can feel, well, at home.”

A: “Good luck bro, good luck. I’ll keep looking for a a nice sister for you in the meantime. In fact, I know this sister in England – London, hijabi, works in the City.”

D: “My coffee’s cold. You want another?”

Posted in: Poetry & Fiction