The Future Of Secularism: Chapter 13


I spent all Thursday sitting in my room like an idiot. From far away, I made out the Azan for Maghrib. Thank God there were no mosques in my neighborhood, or I might have been tempted to pray. I stared at my wall. The radio was playing a song that had suddenly lost all its appeal. In a fit of decisiveness, I shut it off and ran to the phone. I looked up the school directory and found her name.

What would she say? Why was I so insecure? I wished Khattab were here.

I dialed the number and waited. The line got disconnected (thanks to the government’s great infrastructure improvements), and I couldn’t get through for five minutes. Finally, it started to ring. I took a sip of water, I prayed again, and my stomach rumbled in fear. I felt like fainting.


It was her.

"Hi... [my voice was so weak at this point]... it’s me, Hayy."

She was silent for a few seconds. God. Why was she like this? She swallowed -- I could hear it, miraculously -- and she wondered, "Why’d you call?"

"I wanted to talk, that’s all."

"I don’t know if you should call me Hayy."

I didn’t know what to say.

"Why?" I asked, barely able to articulate it.

She was silent again. This was like torture. "Cuz’ I don’t feel right. After what happened."

I was confused. Last I remembered, she only smiled. Why did girls act one way, and then act another way, and assume nobody realized their insecurities? I asked somewhat more coldly: "Are you mad at me for what happened?"

"No," she said, "It’s not that but I don’t know."

She hesitated and then she hung up. Girls were great like that. If they did make sense, it was about something that had no relevance. When they had to talk about anything that I was concerned about, I couldn’t figure out a damn thing of what they wanted to say. I went back to my stereo, threw in Beethoven and listened to Eroica. I wondered if Napoleon understood girls. I wondered why Beethoven had changed the name of the symphony. Maybe Napoleon got a girl and he didn’t.

I couldn’t get a girl either. I felt very close to Beethoven. I’d find them. I’d become obsessed with them. I’d make them like me.

And then I’d run away from them because I couldn’t find what I was looking for.

Her tone changed my mood. I thought that Sophia was not the one. She made me smile, but she could not be the one I’d be happy with over the long-term. She was too insecure about herself. A sudden chill came over me, as I realized I had choked my feelings for her just like that. My prayer to God vanished with my interest in her, and suddenly, I was very alone. 

My mom walked in and looked perplexed. "Your... uh... friend is at the door."

I gazed at her quizzically. I wanted to ask: "I have friends?"

I didn’t want to see Absal or Salman. Nor Muhammad, or Ahmad, or Muhammad, and especially not Ahmad. And God help me if it was Ali. I wanted to cry all night about how there was no such thing as love, how good girls didn’t exist, and how I fell for just beauty and a sweet smile. Sitting here, something like a mullah, I’d say ‘Qala Nietzsche: Ich bin die Einsamkeit als Mensche… I am solitude become man…’ 

But I had to follow my mom because I didn’t want to explain to her that I didn’t want to be seen by anyone. Now embarrassed, alone and angry with myself, I had no urge to be noticed. But I didn’t want this to be noticed. Like the double negative it seems it was, I would then be noticed by acting normally.

I walked behind her and came to the front door, and there in his (admittedly very nice) car was Khattab. He smiled and said, "Hey I’m going out tonight, wanna come?"

I realized he was by himself. I wanted to laugh at him. Who was he going out with? But then I remembered that I had just lost a girl after 15 hours, so it was not my place to laugh at anyone’s evening plans. I smiled and asked Khattab how he was.

My mom asked, "Where are you going?"

Why was she so concerned? She didn’t know Khattab, and she probably realized I had been acting so strange over the past week. She could put two and two together. God, I hope she didn’t think I was bisexual because that was way too secular for anyone in this country.

"Hayy?" my mom asked, annoyed that I had ignored her question.

Remembering that I was in the Dünya, not my mind, I mumbled: "I don’t know."

I looked at Khattab. He shrugged, "Nowhere Be’um. Maybe a movie, maybe just out to eat."

He was very courteous and so my mother smiled. He couldn’t be an Islamist, she must have thought. He was too friendly and polite. Didn’t they always come off rude, arrogant and cold? Not this one, I wanted to tell her, but I couldn’t.

"Shoot, I’m sorry," Khattab apologized, "I came here to your house and I didn’t tell you who I was. My name’s Khattab, me and Hayy are in a few classes together. We met at a poetry reading because we read each other’s stuff."

"Yeah last week," I repeated, as if the police were examining us. But Khattab was damn close to militant Islam (and an arrest), so I figured: May as well practice.

My mom laughed, as if all her fears were ridiculous. Around me, Khattab had been dominating and direct. Now he was endearing and a bit goofy. I was impressed.  

He had some American music playing in the car. At that, I was surprised.

"I don’t feel like music," I told him. He shut it off.

Why did he show up? It was nice of him. I didn’t want to be alone. I didn’t want to be with my parents. I wanted to let it all out to someone.

"So," he said, "how is she?"

He said ‘she’ in a weird way. I didn’t know what he was trying to get at. Absal and Salman hadn’t called me... I had abandoned them at the game... why didn’t they care to say anything? Maybe they saw me with Sophia and thought they’d leave me alone with my crush. Who knew?

"I don’t know. I don’t know what to make of her."

"Want to go anywhere, or should we just drive?"

I shrugged and he didn’t ask me to elaborate.

"Well," he continued, "It’s like this. At first you meet the girl... and you know, you are instantly confused. Sometimes it’s attraction, straight on. It’s almost magical. You might even hate yourself for it."

"Yeah." How did he know? He must be some primitive super-conservative Islamist, married off when he was 12 and completely familiarized by now with how girls work. So I let him talk.

"I think that’s what happened with you," he explained, "You saw her and you were just intrigued. You had to have her. But then you stopped, didn’t you? You were afraid. Because it was nice to stare, to admire, to talk even, but when it came down to doing it... I don’t mean sex but getting with her, you probably got all insecure."

"Well," I said, suddenly very open to criticism. "Yeah, I am so afraid. If she rejects me, I’d be crushed. I barely know her. But I don’t know if we fit together."

"That girl is for you, man."

And how the hell did he know?

So he answered my question, hanging un-asked in the air. "Because I see the way you talk about her. Because you’re more concerned. You talk about her with gravity, like you never did before."

"How do you know how I acted with girls before?"


Suddenly there was silence. I thought for a few seconds. Then I burst out laughing, and poor Khattab, he didn’t know why. I felt a sudden surge of superiority, and was beaming with my victory. Then I felt bad for him, and cursed myself for letting myself feel that. I looked down. "I’m talking about Sophia."

He had been talking, all along, about Islam. But what bothered me most was that - till that last question of mine - he had been on the money. Both with her and Islam.

"Yeah," Khattab sheepishly admitted, "Her. I thought you meant... you know... the other girl."

"Yeah her," I said. "But you know I’d prefer to talk about Sophia. You know what I mean. It’s just interesting because you were right. You know you explained it all to me and that’s kinda weird. Like how do you know?"

So we were going to talk about religion.

How did I tell him I found prayer boring, but I prayed for Sophia?

"Girls are weird man," Khattab said, and then he laughed. "And people change. Just like families change, right? But you’re never gonna be like ‘I don’t need a girl.’"

"Well," I said, rather pissed I was limited to his conversation. "Don’t you think someday you are like... like when I am more mature, Insha Allah soon, I’m gonna be talking about being myself and just having a woman complementing me. But we’d respect each other. And that’s that. I’m not going to give myself up to her completely."

I couldn’t say that this was a bad example, because normally he never spoke this guarded, so he must have some reason to be cautious. I hated when discourse was within annoyingly narrow limits. Anyway, his response:

"Hayy if you’re 85 years old, you will be like ‘I don’t want a girl.’ Well maybe not you, but most eighty-five year olds. [He laughed a bit, but not in a condescending way. So I laughed too]. So if you don’t want a girl, and I mean a person like in a general way, then it’s because you’re dying. Or impotent."

"Or just gay."

We laughed hard, because we had no idea what that meant in terms of religion.

"Look man," I tried to explain, "I saw Sophia and I’m like damn she has a nice body. She’s cute. But it’s such an artificial attraction, you know... in that sense. Sometimes I force myself to forget about her. Because I just don’t know what to make of it. I don’t know how to make it real."

"Some people," Khattab thought aloud, "Fall in love at first sight. I for one don’t believe it. But it can happen. Well maybe... maybe I do believe it, in a way. It’s not love, it’s like jezbe. You can’t explain it. Maybe that’s how you fell for Sophia. But everyone has second thoughts. People hear things, think things, they realize the ramifications of the path they’re on, and it’s scary. Because you know at the end of the day, this means marriage."

I didn’t know if we were talking about her or faith, or politics, or some combination of the three.

I stared out the window. It was another beautiful night. "I’m afraid of telling this girl I like her, because I don’t know what that would lead to."


"Yeah, hopefully. But there are times in between sex. There’s like the rest of life. All of life isn’t sex."

He didn’t answer. I started laughing. "Okay right now it might seem like it, but that’s because we’re like hyper-sexualized. That’s not even a word."

"Just say horny," he urged me. "Don’t try to make yourself sound better than you really are."

Okay, so we weren’t talking about Islam anymore. And me talking sex mania and lust with a pseudo-Salafi possible Party philosopher was not only not dangerous, but laughable and rather ridiculous. Just like the sentence I just typed.

"So," Khattab said, "You have to give it time."

"What if she’s the one?"

"There’s only one," Khattab clarified.

"That sounded stupid man."

"Yeah, but you sound stupider. What if she’s not the one? What if I die a virgin? What if I never find a girl? What if me and her have nothing in common?"

I didn’t say anything. I resented him. I tended to do that to people a lot, because I felt too weak to say anything to his face. But I tried.

"The thing is, I have all these thoughts rolling around in my head, I’m just crazy. There’s so much I want to do with my life. You know what she wants? She wants to be a wife."

"So?" he shrugged. Then he added: "That’s so sweet. She can raise your kids as good, moral and responsible kids. You can be off finding satisfaction in whatever it is that gives you satisfaction."

"It’s probably Haram."(1)


"All my satisfaction."

He looked in my direction briefly, "You know at this moment I have no idea where this conversation is headed."

It sucks when someone misses your joke. So I dropped it and got back to more serious conversation: "If she likes me, and if I like her... Then what? Marriage? I mean it is what’s facing me I guess, if I look at this... more responsibly... Should I marry her, Khattab?"(2)

He was quiet for a second, as he thought deeply.

"Don’t think about it like sex. Because that’s what your mind wants to think of, because of your other head. Think about it ... like family. Because in the end it has to be something between both your families. Your parents are still conservative, in some ways, aren’t they? I remember you saying that once, briefly."

They were. They expected a good family match. I think they wanted her to be a virgin too, though I doubt they cared if I was one or not. This was making me so mad, I stopped talking about it. I hated Sophia.  

But I knew the next time I saw her, I’d melt and say all these things which made it seem like I liked her. 

"Want to eat Arab?" Khattab asked.

"We’re not talking about her, are we?"

"Um, I’m not even gonna go there. Unless you meant it in the other way. I don’t know what the hell is going on right now."

In Iran, they banned pop music for quite some time after the Revolution, except for ‘Sufi’ and traditional music. To get around it, and still talk about girls they were obsessed with, singers wrote of God, and love, and faith. I wondered if anyone in the government of Iran honestly thought those guys were really singing about God...

We stopped at a falafel restaurant. Arabic music blared through in the restaurant.

As we got out of the car, Khattab said: "Don’t sell yourself short. Marriage isn’t about sex, or romance, or the girl.. It’s about all of that and then some. You have to keep that in the picture. Someone sweet may be someone to lean on. That’s all you need to know. Don’t take the shallow way out and think about sex."

He slammed his car door shut and we walked in.

"After all, you wouldn’t want to be like Nietzsche’s Last Man."

He winked. I hadn’t properly started a study of 19th century philosophy, so I just stared at him. He looked at me, shocked that I didn’t know what he was referring to, so I looked away - embarrassed - and blinked. 


PHilosophical fUNDamntalist reflECTIONS

Everyone is so afraid of death/ Yet the real Sufis laugh:/

nothing tyrannizes their hearts./ What strikes the oyster shell

doesn’t damage the pearl [qala rumi]

hizb fazilat. Ha! Made you think. 


1. Something that is Haram is something forbidden by God and His Law. Hence, for the Muslim, gambling, murder, and premarital sex all qualify as acts that are Haram. I gave three distinct examples so the unfamiliar reader would get a better idea of where Islam stands on these issues.

2. I'm sure my Western readers are greatly amused. Perhaps my secular Muslim friends ("mentally-colonized" - for the purposes of Frontier Islam, let's call them "sedentary") are surprised but, any real Muslim understands... they understand that when a Muslim guy meets a Muslim girl, marriage is a seriously considered possibility within 10 to 12 seconds of initial contact. For the really religious, it's something that happens in five to six seconds, and for the Firdaws-bound, all it takes is eye contact. I too share this quality of rapid-marriage consideration (and you wonder how our birthrate rockets ahead of the West?). Then, there are those of you wondering what "Firdaws" is. Firdaws is the highest level of Paradise, though the word itself comes from the Persian word for Paradise, which found its way into Arabic to designate a certain type of Paradise - the highest level. Which I said before.

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