“…increasingly religious…” and Other Words

Several recent articles describe the Boston bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev as having become, “…a fervent Muslim…” and “…increasingly religious…” I want to scream, “NO! He was NOT becoming a fervent Muslim! He was becoming a fervent KAAFIR (unbeliever) and increasingly IRRELIGIOUS! He took SATAN as a guide instead of ALLAH!”  Those articles were written by non-Muslims, while imams across the nation condemned the tragedy and even dared to say what they should have been saying loud and clear:  These men are not brother Muslims, but heretics. 

Instead of preaching to the choir, imams and Muslim writers need to clean up our language. There is no such thing as “radical” Islam. There is Islam, and there is other than Islam. There is no such thing as “fundamentalism” in the sense that one goes back to the founding (fundamental) principles of Islam to concoct justifications for terrorism.  There is no such thing as “extremism” which condones violence, and “non-extremism”, which does not. Do I need to cite Qur’anic ayahs regarding  malicious killing and all manner of violent behavior that wrecks havoc and brings suffering instead of peace? I think not.

In addition to disowning terrorists, we Muslims really need to change how we describe our religion and its associated perversions. WE know what is meant by “radicalism”, but the non-Muslim rightly thinks that “radicalism” is simply an exaggeration of established guidelines. “Fundamentalism”, with regard to Islam, is not actually fundamental; it does not go to the founding principles, and cannot claim right guidance. “Extremism” is not the outer edge of acceptable practice; it is not the purified, rarified essence of what we ordinary Muslims accept as Islam.

It’s bad enough that groups of Muslims in many countries learn corrupted ideas that subvert Islam, commandeer its theology and hijack its purpose, but even worse that the majority of  Muslims are not finding more effective ways to counter the development.  

One way, one small but important way, is to change how we describe our religion and the people who arose from our religion but who’ve stolen it, used it in service to the most heinous of evil acts. This post is my contribution to that goal. If you agree with me, speak up. Talk about this, especially to imams and Muslim leaders. If nothing else, post something on another blog, an article, a letter to the editor.

Another Friday Khutbah

The musullah I go to on Fridays is just a large room in the basement of a nearby hospital in which approximately three dozen Muslims work. The designated imam doesn’t always attend– it’s a hospital, and staff members are often required to work through prayer times for the welfare of critically ill patients– and therefore men from the community take turns making khutaba, calling azan, and leading prayer. 

Yesterday I arrived late, and missed most of the khutbah. He talked about five things that would be taken away from us prior to death. The fifth thing was wealth. No matter how much or little of it we have, it is but a loan from Allah. We can’t take it with us. Everybody knows that, but most people feel it only intermittently,  after they’ve lost or profited from an investment, for example.  The goal, however, is to feel this fact more often, often enough to inspire the use of wealth more wisely, in service to the well-being of people  as opposed to frivolous and exaggerated desires for entertainment.

He also said that entertainment is necessary, and that we needn’t become overly critical of our need for it, but that a balance must be sought, a balance that will satisfy all legitimate needs. 

He then asked us, “What would you do today if you knew today would be your last?” 

The answer was not necessarily that we should start  praying and reading the Qur’an for the duration, but that we should feel secure in our decisions of habit, the decisions and practices by which we lived and performed daily activities.  Because we never know when our last day will arrive,  we must  live every day mindful of that fact, mindful of our relative brevity of physical existence, and our responsibility to enrich the lives of others.  

Some of you might say, “I did everything for my family; I will spend the last day doing for myself.”  The self has requirements. Those who exaggerate selfless generosity do so to their own deprivation. That is not required nor desired. 

I don’t  always attend Friday jummah prayer because, I, too, work in a hospital and cannot always take the time off, but I am now committed to attending whenever I can, and passing along what I have heard. That is one of the goals of the khutbah– for those who have heard it to share it with those who have not heard it.

  

The Saint Movies

Even before I became a Muslim, I was never Catholic. I knew very little about Catholicism or the lives of the saints, nor was I interested. Now, I am interested.

Several years ago, I stumbled across a movie entitled, “Papa Luciani.” This movie was available on-line via http://www.rai.it/, the Italian network. It was one of a handful of Italian language movies I could watch on-line as an exercise in improving my Italian. This biography of Albino Luciani, who became Pope John Paul I, engaged my heart and mind. The acting and photography was so excellent I watched the movie repeatedly. Not only did I improve my comprehension of Italian, but I learned about a most remarkable man who continued to inspire, years after he died under mysterious circumstances in 1978 the age of sixty-five years.

After digesting this film, I discovered another film biography of a Catholic saint, this one called, “St. Giuseppe Moscati,  Doctor to the Poor”.  Moscati was a physician whose compassion and bravery made an indelible mark upon the subsequent development of medical care. Many people have never heard of this man, who was declared a saint in 1987.                   

After seeing these two films, my motives for watching them expanded. Not only was I interested in improving my Italian, but also now interested in exposing my spirit to the examples of human beings whose lives of love and sacrifice transcended religious constructs. These saints lived using Roman Catholicism as a matrix because that’s what they knew. The ultimate verity of Catholicism, Islam, or even Buddhism, for that matter, does not matter. The messages in these films transcend the incompatibility of theologies. In fact, most of these saints endured harsh criticism and even torture because they did not adhere to the decreed set of contemporary (for their day) Catholic rules.

As a Muslim, I can appreciate these saints and take lessons from them, apart from ideological dogma that drags upon all organized religions. I am not interested in leaving Islam or embracing Catholicism, but I am always interested in the lives of people who exemplify the most simple and universal of religious truths:  Love each other.

I’ve since watched other “saint” films— all extremely well done artistically and philosophically– documenting the lives of the saints. Among my favorites are:

 

Bakhita

From Slave to Saint

 

Padre Pio, Miracle Man, starring Sergio Castellito, one of Italy’s most respected actors.

 

Saint Francis

(of Assisi)

 

Saint Philip Neri, I Prefer Heaven

This one made me cry.

I

 

St. Giuseppe Moscati

Doctor to the Poor

(and one of the most handsome actors!)

 

All are available at http://www.ignatius.com and http://www.amazon.com.

If any reader happens to see one of these movies, please let me know your thoughts about what you saw.

Book Review: Love, Insha Allah

Book Review: Love, Insha Allah

The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women


Though Islam is growing in America, one bumps up constantly against ubiquitous incompatibilities between Islam and Western culture. Nowhere is this incompatibility more prominent than in an American Muslim woman’s search for a mate.


The stories in this book reveal the problematic position of American Muslim women who would like to get married. They must either make compromises, or take a hard line with respect to their religion, further limiting their chances for finding a mate in a society that is still composted of mostly non-Muslim residents. Some of these writers have shaved the edges off Islamic teachings , even to the extent of doing haram behavior, knowingly, deliberately. The instinct to find a mate and establish a family often takes precedence over familial and religious dictates regarding how to do so.


Islamic customs, which relied heavily on community relationships, now operate in an anemic facsimile of their original effectiveness. American customs for dating, sex and marriage, are not officially available to these women.To make matters worse, Muslim communities in the United States are composed of people from varying cultural and linguistic traditions. American Muslim women sit between a rock and a hard place; even men tiptoe across a loose tightrope when courting them.


When the Abrahamic religions were being codified, the human life span was much shorter. Young people did not have to navigate a prolonged period (named adolescence) between childhood and adulthood.  Mating occurred at  physical maturation. These days, physical maturation plays second fiddle to religious mores that were not written for adolescence or homosexuality. Add to that the economic and educational demands of today that also postpone marriage well beyond the best physical stage for it.


At least one of my readers will remind me that Islam is applicable to all peoples for all times, and to that reader I say, “Then it will have to find a way to reconcile human nature with the unnatural frustration arising out of modern  adolescence. It will also have to accommodate an increasing incidence of homosexuality.”


Homosexuality, by the way, does not recede when it manifests in a Muslim, and several of these writers are brave enough to talk about it. One would think that if Allah hated homosexuality enough to forbid it, He would give us better tools for coping with it in a halal manner, but this is not the case. Homosexuality will prove to arise from physiological  and genetic predispositions, and therefore will never be responsive to blame or volition on the part of those who find themselves claimed by it.


I respect the women who’ve told their stories, and I admire their courage in trying to find a third way, a way to live as Muslims and as Americans, partaking in the blessings of both identities and navigating the inherent troubles. Some women have tossed Islamic teachings out the window, while others have have cut themselves off from the benefits for which people choose to live in America.  None, however, have turned their backs on Islam, itself, and most have become stronger in faith as a result of their trials, regardless of whether they succeeded in finding a mate.


Not all the essays are marked by conflict or frustration. Several of the women met their husbands in the traditional Islamic way, through the help of parents and relatives, without having to date and sift through a succession of boyfriends. These women are the lucky minority. Several others met their husbands by means unconventional in either American or Islamic cultures; their stories prove that finding a mate need not conform to a strict prescription.


The women represented in this book are pioneers, and through them, especially with respect to how they raise their children, a stable American Islam will develop.  Oh, I know. There’s no such thing as “American Islam” or “Saudi Islam” or, or… Well, yes there is. How do you suppose Islam, or any other religion, survives over the centuries, migrates to different continents, and serves populations that have never have heard of one another? An Islam that thrives in the West is still evolving.  This book forms a link in the process, and will eventually be regarded as an historical document. I hope the children of this book’s authors will read their mothers’ stories with a sense of relief because they will not have to blast through the moral and social difficulties endured by their parents.





Pronounce Your Name Correctly, Please

The Muslim families in my community want to build a mosque. They are tired of driving thirty minutes to the central mosque downtown; they want a mosque in their neighborhood. They convened and bought a piece of land, drew plans and submitted the project to the city for a conditional use permit. Naturally, some of the surrounding non-Muslim families objected.

Tonight I attended a City Hall meeting regarding whether the project should be granted its permit. Several hundred people attended, many of whom stood at the podium for as long as three minutes each, voicing their support or objection. For two hours, the people took turns speaking their minds. Three local television stations swung their cameras around to catch the action.

I sat in the middle of the room and listened. I was pleased to hear nearly ninety percent of speakers urge for approval of the permit. Most speakers were Muslims, but of the non-Muslims, most of them, too, voiced approval and even welcome of the addition of a mosque to the neighborhood.

Two people gave strong objections. Those two were featured on the television news broadcasts later.

Watching TV, one would think that a mosque on the magnitude of the Grand Mosque in Mecca was being considered. In reality, the mosque will be small, with only 114 prayer spaces (including the women’s section). Our community has 100 Muslim families that would use the facility. Many of those families were in attendance tonight. Each person who spoke introduced him or herself.

I was appalled to hear some of them mispronounce their own names. Men named Ahmed called themselves Amed. One named Hassan called himself Hassahn (accent on the last syllable.) A woman named Suhair became Sue Hair. Khalid became Kalid, Iman became Eye Man, and Quraishi became Kereshi. My poor ears nearly curled up and folded over!

Several years ago, I met the wife of one of the Ahmeds, and even she pronounced her husband’s name, “Amed.” I asked her why, and she gave me the predictable answer, “Americans cannot pronounce Ahmed.”  I wanted to say, “But you can pronounce it!” I wanted to tell her not to cave in to poor pronunciation simply because the majority of people in this country cannot pronounce the names. I wanted to tell her that many people here can, indeed, pronounce the names correctly, especially if they want to do so. They need a little tutoring, and then they’ll pronounce just fine! As a native-born American who did not pronounce my first Arabic word til the age of thirty-six, I disagree that most Americans cannot pronounce Muslim names, or  any names in a language other than English. A name is just a short sound that can be learned in a matter of minutes.

Well, I didn’t tell her all of this; that would have been impolite. I’m telling it to you now, you who read this and might have a name you think,  “Americans can’t pronounce.” You may be right. Some non-Muslims, non-Arabic speakers may never be able to pronounce your name, but you must make them try. They’ll respect you for it, and you’ll respect them because they will try. Some of them will actually learn their first non-English word– your name!

Learning names is a first step in forming relationship. Muslims are missing out on an important step in building relationship when, in their eagerness for acceptance, they do not teach their names, but instead pick up the incorrect pronunciation of native English speakers. I wonder whether the people who objected to the mosque in question had ever met a Muslim person, let alone been taught a Muslim name.

Book Review– The Butterfly Mosque

Book Review
The Butterfly Mosque
by G. Willow Wilson

To say that this book was written by an American woman who went to Egypt, explored Islam, became Muslim, married an Egyptian, and spent a year assimilating into Egyptian society, would be like saying that a human body is composed of a skeleton holding organs and covered by skin. The inner workings of both processes are wonderful, complex, and beyond easy description.

By now, anyone interested in the topic can find numerous accounts of Western women who fell in love Arab men, married, moved to the Middle-East, and brought back stories of assimilation and/or abandonment. This story is different.  Willow went to Egypt with nothing more than a niggling urge to explore Islam and the people who live it. She was raised an atheist, and therefore did not wrestle with the usual conundrum of whether or not Jesus was the son of God, a savior (and all that is borne of that belief). She decided (without the help of a Muslim boyfriend) that the evidence for the existence of God not only held water, but held water within Islam.

Youth and nature being what it is, Willow did fall in love with an Egyptian and got married. Her story, however, does not focus upon this process, or upon the religious conversion. Hers is a story that pulls together the disparate elements of her life into a whole that makes sense. Hers is a multi-layered story that not only reveals who she is as an American, but who the Egyptians are, and how the enormous, but sometimes subtle differences between American and Egyptian culture really do clash in ways we cannot even predict.

She writes authentically, honestly. I know this because I, too, married an Egyptian, and I spent a little time in Egypt. No American can write about living in Egypt without addressing the difficulties of daily life there, or the discomfort of trying to stay healthy in a polluted environment. At the same time, no one can deny the spirit of generosity and optimism  that percolates through the national character of Egyptians.  Egyptians themselves are what make Egypt livable and actually loveable.

This book is well-written from several perspectives. Stylistically, it flows well, without the inconsistencies that sometimes pervade first memoirs.  Willow is a good writer, and she knows how to weave objective reality with her own inner reality to present a narrative that carries the reader in and out seamlessly.

I admit to suffering from a sort of jealousy. Willow had the blessing of marrying a man she could talk to, a man whose world view expanded beyond the boundaries of Egypt. Her husband encouraged her to learn colloquial Arabic. Many Arab husbands do not. Willow also drew upon enough intestinal fortitude to stick with Egypt for an extended period of time, long enough to accomplish a decent assimilation.

I married an Egyptian who had what we euphemistically call “issues.” Also, though I loved visiting Egypt, I could never stay in Cairo for more than five days before becoming sick and stressed to the point that I’d have to leave.  I’d dreamed of attending school there to learn Arabic, but a dream is what remains after all these years. I miss Egypt. I miss the Middle-East. Willow’s book reminded me why, and renewed my sense of who I am as a result of where I’ve lived.

This book is a gift to those who would venture into the waters of an intercultural life. It is especially good reading for those who have an interest in Egypt– not from an academic point of view but from the view at street level.

Confession– Envious of Evangelicals

My mother worships at an evangelical mega-church, one of those “born-again” organizations that have sprung up across the United States in recent years. Her church, like others of its kind, has attracted thousands of members and their dollars, keeps growing year after year, adding programs and services, expanding and developing its capacity for Christian outreach, with single-minded focus, dedication, and effectiveness.

This particular church dedicates itself to global ministry. It now trains and supports full-time missionaries to dozens of countries around the world. The missionary families go to “third world” countries ostensibly to teach, administer medical care, or develop cottage industries for women and children. They return to the States from time to time to give presentations on their progress.  They sometimes bring back human proof of their success.

Recently, my mom came back from church energized by one of these presentations.  A pair of Romanian girls gave a heartfelt speech about they had been rescued from prostitution by the missionaries, and how thankful they felt for their new faith in Jesus. My mom wanted me to be interested in the story, and I pretended, for her sake, to be interested, but inside, my heart cringed.

While Christian mega-churches organize, proselytize, work together, and rejoice in their success, Muslims are still trying to separate Islam from political terrorism. While Christian evangelicals bury their real goal in the delivery of desperately needed social and economic services that should be available to all people in all places, without an underlying religious impetus, Muslims are still fussing about head-scarves and the rights of women to drive cars and work outside the home. 

The Christian evangelicals, like the Tea Party to which most of them belong, are doing something right in America, right in terms of achieving their goals. I don’t like evangelicals, with their back-door approach, and I despise the Tea Party, with its contempt for the rest of us. I recognize that my negative attitude towards these groups masks a sort of jealousy. I want to see Muslim mega-mosques– here,  in the United States—- doing the rescuing, the teaching, the doctoring, and the ministering to populations that need these services. 

Oh, I know, we are making progress. My community’s Islamic Center continues to grow in size and influence. An additional mosque is planned for my end of town, but maybe I’m still “homesick” for the Muslim majority environment in which I cultivated my Islam. Maybe I still miss hearing the azan from a dozen nearby mosques. Maybe I wish daily activities could be planned around prayer times rather than business hours. Maybe I wish restaurants could close during the days of Ramadan.

Evangelicals are certainly supported by the culture of the masses. American culture has evolved around the daily practices of Christians, not Muslims, and therein lies an impediment to the further integration of the Muslim lifestyle into the American mainstream. Muslims must insert themselves into this pre-existing culture, rather than build one from scratch. My community offers instruction on Sundays and calls it, “Sunday School.”

The evidence does show that Muslim communities are growing is size and influence, right here in my community. I must give thanks for this, rather than let my heart sink because of the superiority of evangelical efforts. Islam has not matured in America, and will not mature in the near future. In some ways, living here as a Muslim is more difficult for me than for a Muslim who was either raised in a Muslim society or converted to Islam without having lived in a Muslim country. I was raised as a member of the majority, and converted to Islam while living in a Muslim majority. I don’t like being a member of the minority with respect to religion.

This is my personal struggle. I accept it.

No Pooping on My Property!

Yesterday morning, I noticed a man lingering at the end of my driveway. I went to the door for a better look, and saw that he held a leash, at the end of which a little dog was poking its nose in the grass. “Not again,” I thought to myself. I come upon this scene regularly, with different men, women, and dogs, but the scenario remains the same. The dog wants to poop, and the owners think nothing of letting it poop on my property.

When seeing this, I always go outside and say, “Good morning,” or, “Good afternoon,” or whatever, and quickly proceed before it’s too late, “Please do not let your dog poop on my lawn.”

Invariably, the adult holds up the little plastic bag, the glove and the spoon, and says, “I pick up,” as though that should reassure me, but they misunderstand.

“Yes, I know you pick up, but I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t let your dog poop on my grass.”

At this point, I might get a dirty look, but you’d be surprised how many dog-walkers repeat the bit about picking up the poop. They actually think I should be OK with dogs pooping on my lawn simply because they pick it up. What they don’t realize is that they can never pick it up entirely.  Traces remain, and other dogs smell it and think they’ve found the toilet.  Also, I have to walk on that lawn when I cut it, and my grandkids run on it when the weather is nice.

Yesterday, after the man shook his little plastic bag at me, and repeated, “I pick up,” and I repeated, “Yes, I know, but I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t let your dog poop on my grass,” he replied, “Don’t worry, she won’t do anything.”

I stood there for a moment, watching the dog root around for a likely spot. “You can let your dog poop over there,” I suggested, gesturing to the neighbor’s lawn, “or over there,” I added, gesturing to the lawn across the street.

“Don’t worry, she won’t do anything,” he repeated.

I started walking toward him, not wanting to become rude, but feeling my heart-rate accelerate.

“I’m asking you nicely not to let your dog poop on my grass,” I said, and he finally pulled the dog along. I stood there until they meandered across the street, where the dog immediately dropped its nose and then its haunches.

***************************

During my twelve years in Riyadh, the only dog I ever saw was a big brindle Boxer running loose in the city. I felt sorry for the dog, who had obviously escaped from his Western expat compound, and was now lost. He would come to a bad end in Riyadh, where no one loved dogs, and no one kept them.

Most Arabs dislike dogs, and will avoid them. Their abhorrence originates from a religious belief in the ritual impurity of dogs, a belief that is controversial, and sometimes exaggerated.

Before living in Riyadh, I loved dogs, but after twelve years during which not a single dog crossed my path, except that poor loose Boxer, I was used to living without them. In fact, I grew to appreciate an atmosphere free of dog hair, dog breath, and other leavings. I started to wonder why anyone in his/her right mind would keep a dog in the house, and have to feed it, clean up after it, walk it, and treat it somewhat like a member of the family.

Upon repatriation, I noticed that most American households— most, I am not kidding— had dogs. Some people kept more than one. Strangely, all these dogs sat home in empty houses every day because everyone worked.

When I was a youngster in the 1950s, only married couples with children kept dogs. Single people did not keep dogs or even cats, out of a consideration for the emotional well-being of the animal. We believed that pets should not stay alone all day while adults  worked. We believed that domesticated animals belonged with families where women stayed home and took care of the household matters, including dogs, and children came home from school early enough to take dogs for walks before dinner.

Anyway, today’s pet owners think nothing of leaving their dogs and cats home alone all day, sometimes in crates. These people are clearly in the majority, but I remain in the minority. I still don’t believe pets belong in empty houses while the human occupants run off to work or school all day, and sometimes into the evening.

In any event, I do not want dogs pooping on my lawn. I’m ready to put up a few NO POOPING signs. I’ve seen these little signs in stores, but my mom (with whom I live) thinks they look tacky, so I have to keep an eye on the lawn through the front window. I’m on the poop-patrol, and I chalk up one more way in which my Riyadh years changed my life in a fundamental way, taking me further away from mainstream America than I could have imagined.

A Difference of Degree, not Substance?

With the approach of the tenth anniversary of 9/11, we are seeing many programs on TV, on the Internet, and in print media, programs that honor the lost lives as well as try to heal the residual emotional trauma felt as a nation and as individuals. We see programs outlining the museum and park that has been built on ground zero,and also programs that underscore the continued tension between Muslims and non-Muslim America.

This last focus– upon the continued tension between Muslims and non-Muslim America, concerns me.

I was laying on an acupuncture table when the planes hit the towers. The partitioner did not know I was Muslim– I do not cover. My gut reaction was that “Muslims” did it, and that I did not want to be associated with those who had caused the catastrophe. I did not want to belong to same religion they belonged to, especially after they’d used that religion to justify their heinous, megalomaniac cruelty.  From that day forward, I stopped efforts to practice Islam here in America, where the practice of Islam is a challenge, to say the least. This was not an active decision on my part. I merely stopped. If I had not embraced Islam years before 9/11, I would not have done so afterwards.

As the chain of events leading to the catastrophe unfolded, two words were heard repeatedly: extremists and fundamentalists. I cringed, as I still cringe, every time I hear these words. They imply that those who fit the definitions are indeed Muslims, just like the rest of the Muslim community, with the exception that their ideology had taken on an “extreme” character. Their ideology is one of degree, not substance.

That means that the entire Muslim community holds similar views, but stop short of committing murder. First-hand accounts from Middle Eastern countries support this idea. Muslims were seen celebrating, smiling, cheering, as the images of the falling towers dominated the screens and headlines. Those Muslims, surely, endorsed the ideology of the terrorists, and were maybe too cowardly to act upon those convictions, therefore cheered the handful of brave souls who gave their lives for their ideals.  Books have been written to prove that Islam is a religion of force, misogyny, and oppression of all.

Over the years, Muslims groups have denounced the terrorists and tried to convince the greater society that Islam does not condone terrorism and murder in the name of Allah. Qur’anic ayahs have been dug up to testify to Islam’s peaceful nature. Why has that message not prevailed? Why, for instance, does the opposition to the New York Mosque project still chug along?

Well, Muslims themselves have not eradicated these two words: extremism and fundamentalism.

They have never said, “There is not such thing as extremism. There is no such thing as fundamentalism. The majority Muslims practice Islam using the customs and rituals into which they have been born, and much diversity flourishes. Men and women who murder in the name of Allah are not Muslims. The constellation of ideals and acts that are commonly referred to as extremism and fundamentalism do not embody the spirit of Islam, nor illustrate its teachings. People who subscribe to them are not Muslims. They may have been born into Muslim families, or they may have embraced ideals of terror and murder as a result of mental illness or severe political oppression that have nothing to do with Islam, but they are not Muslims.”

As long as the Muslim community cannot say the above, it implies that extremism and fundamentalism are indeed, part of Islam, and that the difference between peaceful Muslims and terrorist Muslims is one of degree, not substance.

Are You Fasting?

“Are you fasting?”

I hate that question. My friends in Riyadh used to ask each other that question all the time. The appropriate answer was, “Yes.”  An answer of, “No,” meant that the woman was menstruating or that she was sinning by not fasting. No one wanted to admit either of those two conditions.

Nevertheless, “Are you fasting?” was asked repeatedly, and I always said, “Yes.”

Many years ago in Riyadh, one of my close friends invited me to go with her to an iftar at a Saudi home. Both of us qualified to say, “No,” to The Question, and I asked her, “What shall we do? What shall we say? How can we go to an iftar when we are not fasting?”

“Pretend,” she said.

“Well, what about the prayer? Everyone prays Maghrib after breaking fast, so what shall we do?”

“Pretend,” she said again. “Just go through the motions without really praying.”

“Are you kidding? Isn’t that a sin?”

“I don’t know,” she said, “but what can we do? We are excused from fasting today, and we want to attend this gathering, but we don’t want the other ladies to look down their noses at us. Allah will forgive us.”

So we pretended, and I felt like a fraud, but I also thoroughly enjoyed the food and friendship of that rare night out on the town. I still say, “Yes,” to The Question, regardless of the correct answer, but I never again pretended anything beyond that.