The Future of Secularism: Chapter 21


On Thursday, the start of the weekend no less, I called up Absal. His voice was the same — I expected it to be different. He mocked me; little did he know how much that hurt.

"So finally you call me?"

I tried to smile, but I couldn’t.

"Want to go do something today?"

"Sure," he said, "Come over."

"Yeah," I said, as if everyone was listening in my house and in case they didn’t hear Absal, I said, "I’ll come over and we’ll go out. We’ll figure out where later."

We said salam and that was it.

My mom walked into the room and saw me getting dressed. She smiled, "Are we going out today?" She knew it wasn’t Friday; she was happy because of that. She could tell I was struggling with something, but like a mother, she knew I didn’t want to talk about it. But still she tried, and I loved her for it because right now I was alone. I felt like the only friend I had was Khattab and he certainly wasn’t going to help me out here.

"Who are you going with?"


She was quiet. She looked down and nodded; if my vision was right, I thought I saw her bite her lip a bit.

"You haven’t been spending much time with him, but I see now you are again. That’s good. I should call his parents, they haven’t come over for dinner in a while."

I wanted my mother to be happy. I was sad that I disrespected her. She loved me. Did I love anyone? I looked at her and said, "That would be nice. I haven’t seen his parents in a while."

She nodded her head as if it was a good plan, and everything would go back to normal, and we’d have families in our living rooms again and all would be well. But it wouldn’t. Everything had gone wrong and nothing was going to fix it. Except maybe shaykh Erfan.  

I jumped into my car and drove down to the Mosque. I saw the same agents and they saw me. They looked at each other -- suddenly I had showed up at their Mosque on a new day. Clearly something was up.

I walked towards Erfan. "Salam ‘alaykum, shaykh. May I join in?"

He looked me over carefully. He saw the necklaces and the bracelet, the earring and the European clothes. He knew I was out of place, but perhaps only with my clothes — not with my heart. I saw anger in Erfan’s eyes. I knew he hated the Government Mosque. I knew he wished he wasn’t there.

Erfan stood up and shook my hand firmly. I turned my head away to stop myself from bursting into tears. I felt trapped on this path towards God, and I didn’t know if I wanted to be on it. It was like being dragged, kicking and screaming, into slavery to Him and away from slavery to all else. I guess I had never realized how hard this path would be. I was so scared, at that moment, that Erfan’s warmth went more to me than he could have ever known.

Maybe he knew that I needed someone.

Erfan moved to the side, and said — surprisingly — "come sit next to me, Hayy" and so I did. He produced a Qur’an and handed it to me.

"This," he told the adults in the circle, "is a good friend of my family’s."

Had Shaykh Erfan had a family, I wouldn’t have known. I didn’t even know where he lived.

I said, "Salam ‘alaykum. My name is Hayy."

They all said salam and introduced themselves to me. The hatred and distance between us began to melt a bit; just with Shaykh Erfan’s words. We read Qur’an for an hour. I think deliberately he only read short verses; he knew my Arabic sucked. So to compensate, he kept it to the level of tafsir (1). The whole time I was hiding tears.

When we were done, I kept the Qur’an. Yeah, I stole it. I think Erfan knew, but he didn’t mind. As I shook his hand, he stared deeply into my eyes and asked me how my family was. I said that all was well, and then he asked me how my studies were going. I told him they were tough, and I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I basically told him life was bad, for me and (implicitly) all our people.

He remarked, "Hundreds of thousands of Muslims pray for unity in the ummah. Yet do you see much of a change? Either God isn’t listening... or something’s wrong with the prayers."

He hugged me and walked away without any other words between us. I stood in the center of the Prayer Space -- it was now empty... it was just me, the Qur’an, and a government agent who took a keen interest in me. I didn’t like the way he was looking at me. It quickly dawned on me how precarious my position was.

I got up and walked out to my car, and casually put the Qur’an on my seat. It sat next to a dance CD, and inside me something burst. I wanted to run as fast as I could, without looking back, into the arms of the secularism I had left behind. But then I wanted to defect and find myself a small mosque, hold a Qur’an, and finally be satisfied with God.

I could not be satisfied with what I had been, but I was not happy with where I was. Something had to give, but I wouldn’t decide. Not yet, at least. A war had been declared in my soul.  

Wherever I sought to belong, I would always find something wrong with that place. I rejected contentment, and then complained about how I could never find it. Erfan was right. Reform started within.


1. Commentary on the Quran.

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