The Future Of Secularism: Chapter 14


The problem with our country is just what Khattab said.

Islam is a drug. It just won’t die. Sometimes, I wished we could use it something like a prop for resistance and revolution and then discard it. But it’s not just a language of resistance because even some of the richest people in society are part of the movement. So what’s up? I sat Friday morning thinking about it. 

In Christian countries, the Protestant movement sparked a Revolution towards secularism. Was it deliberate? I was afraid. I was afraid because I didn’t know. Did a reformation in religion lead to secularism? Perhaps the Protestant reformation was too flawed. Or maybe, I thought, it had so damaged the unity of the Church that it was like a poison in the guise of a cure. Those events centuries ago in Europe were always on my mind, because it seemed like the Muslim world was facing a similar crossroads.

But clearly Islam and secularism were concepts alien to each other. I was bothered by the idea of trying to have to reconcile the two, but I realized that at the end of the day, our society would have to balance - perhaps have an active Islamic identity, as cultural (not too religious) as possible - but then this didn’t work in Egypt, or Iran or Turkey. Perhaps because Islam and secularism were at loggerheads, and in the end, one of the two had to win out.

Ever since the collapse of the United Nations (those blue helmets must’ve been great for target practice), political Islam was strong in many key nation-states in the Muslim world, and was fighting a war it would win, I feared. I thought that it might just be because there’s no other language for resistance. At the end of the day it will become a prop for a more democratic, humane and ethical society, and then slowly slide away, and produce a unique, culturally Muslim, secular and democratic system.

Maybe it was arrogance, nationalism or pride, but we couldn’t just Westernize. We weren’t them. Nor did I want to be them. We had better values in some places, but they had better values in others. We had to combine then. Maybe Islam would be part of the combination.

It scared me because I couldn’t find an answer. I hated being the insecure one, caught between two totally different systems. This just meant I’d get killed in the cross-fire. I was desperate for compromise. I couldn’t understand why the Islamists wouldn’t just let go. Wouldn’t they flourish more under a somewhat secular system, since they would be always the voice of opposition?

They had something to give but no more theocratic states. The ones set up so far were international pariahs, facing economic sanctions and a host of other problems. All this and for what? To say: "I have power." "I rule."

To be noticed. 

My mom walked into my room and sat down next to me. By the look on her face I suddenly feared her. She asked, "What’s wrong?"

She was worried. I looked at her, trying to be objective. "Nothing is wrong."

"Your friend," my mom said to me, as if trying to justify this to herself as well as me, "He just seemed weird. Not weird really, but very reserved. He’s not..."

"Not what?"

I knew what she wanted to ask, but she came in my room to ask, so she’d have to spit it out, and I’d let the moment stay awkward.

"Mom he likes girls, if that’s what you mean."

She smiled but she didn’t appreciate the humor. I looked at her: "He’s a new friend of mine, if you’re worried that he came out of nowhere. Nice kid. I think of partly Arab descent because his name is very rare, you know."

I smiled but she didn’t seem satisfied.

"Hayy, you’ve been acting differently."

So I had.

"Maybe it’s this girl. You’re kind of old now and maybe you’re thinking about her seriously, but have fun. You can wait till you finish the Academy. Go out to the clubs, have some fun, you’re still young. The rest of your life is waiting for you."

I wanted to bite back: Let life wait. Instead: "Look she’s a nice girl that I like a lot, that’s all. Nobody said marriage."

"Well there’s a party tomorrow night, at Amadez. All the families from your father’s club are going. You should go. You’ll meet some nice girls."

Didn’t I just say I was thinking about a certain special girl? Well okay I didn’t, but she should’ve known.

"I don’t want to go to a stupid party." 


I said one of the stupidest things I could have: "Someone’ll probably bomb it."

She glared at me. She wanted to scream but didn’t because she was my mother. I looked at her and tried to explain, "I’m worried with all the violence in the South. What if it comes up here?" 

The threat was there, but nothing had ever happened in our neighborhoods, so why bring it up? My mom sensed something amiss about Khattab, and probably realized I had deeper feelings for Sophia. Or maybe she thought I was going to be confused and perplexed over her till it destroyed me, which at the moment seemed a possibility.

"Hayy don’t talk nonsense. You have nothing to fear from some backwards villagers who get rowdy. The violence is in their villages because they’re poor and un-educated, and they don’t understand how to be modern and civilized. Trust me, nothing will happen. The Islamists are living in a dream world, so stop talking about it and stop worrying about it. Before you know it they’ll be wiped out."

"You really think so?" I asked, as if I was really afraid, as if I wanted so desperately to be saved by the government’s ignorance and corruption.

"Yes, Hayy. Is this what gets you worried? You’ve always been a free thinker. You know the Islamists are close-minded and simple. They’re from the village and they don’t know what they’re talking about. They think we’re still in the 1500s and the world is flat. So forget them. Our country will become modern and progressive."

She said her last sentence like she was a machine, and I revolted. Dammit, did everyone want to be Western? What was this obsession, this disease, this darkness? Why did everyone imagine the West to be the only model for progress? My own mother was ashamed of her past! She feared it! She loathed herself. And so, I loathed her.

I got up and walked to my closet.

"I have to change my clothes," I announced in a rush. I was floating, as the rebel inside me lifted me up off the ground. Fire burned inside of me. I wanted no part of her machine, her blasphemy, her un-thinking, stupid acceptance of all those words nobody even understood. She was a secular parrot, caged, and she had nowhere to fly to. I, on the other hand, was going to free myself.

"Where are you going?" she asked, unnerved by the tone of my voice.

I said nothing, so she asked, "Hayy, are you going to see her?" She put a smile into her voice, as if Sophia was going to make the whole world right.  

 "No," I said, turning around for a pair of nicer jeans. I stared at her for a second and then looked away, savoring the sourness that I knew would spread over her face.

"It’s Friday, I’m going to the Mosque(1) by Azadeh Street." 


1. Government-approved, of course.

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