“Let him send me to hell” I thought to myself.
“That pompous arrogant tyrant! ….. who expects me to worship him. Since I am going to hell for refusing to obey; I might as well earn a deserving place in there.” I was determined to go to hell in style. But how? What do I have to do in order to go to hell in style? I had no idea.
Shortly after I lost my religion in the Holy Lands of Jerusalem. I faced a dilemma in my newly found religion free life ; one which I had no idea how to tackle. I was certain I was going to hell for my act of disobedience, and I wanted to be sure it was for a worthwhile reason. How do I mark my new identity as a sinner? How do I make sure that I would make my hell bound path count?
The questions dogged me night and day.
I drew comfort from the thought that as I was losing my religion I was planning to move from the Holy lands of Jerusalem into the sin city of Vancouver, Canada. “Surly after the move I will be able to find creative ways to express my new identity”, I told myself. I wasn’t sure how yet, but I was sure that with enough determination I would find a way.
Sin city! ….. here I come ….. this time with open arms.
Vancouver, BC, Canada is frequently called the sin city of North America. Gay marriage is legal, churches sit mostly empty Sunday service after a Sunday service, Downtown Vancouver east side is the proud host of the highest concentration of drug addicts in the world, additionally Vancouver is renowned for marijuana growers, nightclubs and strippers.
Oh! what pleasures awaited me. All those years of religious piousness, surly have deprived me of awesome adventures and delights and now I was free to sample and explore to my hearts desire. As soon as I settled down in Vancouver I sat down pondering my next steps as a sinner.
“What sins I should tackle first?”, I pondered.
Drugs? ….. Anybody who has lived in Vancouver and has walked passed the junkies on East Hastings streets with their twitching arms, skinny figures and bulging eyes, could not be more turned off by the prospect. The thought of joining them one day horrified me. I had never used drug in my life. When I say I never used drugs, I don’t mean “I never inhaled” like when Clinton wasn’t using drugs, I mean I never touched the stuff, didn’t hang out with that crowed and never had anything to do with it. Surly committing sins should be enjoyable and not terrifying, seeing the drug addicts in their pathetic state didn’t appeal to me at all. And so drugs were ruled out.
Fornicating? …. But I was already married to the most handsome man I had ever met. His sight made my heart skip and his touch was pure pleasure. The mere thought of even looking at another man seemed revolting and surly being sinful was supposed to be pleasurable. Had I met him after my religion loosing experience, I might have allowed for our love to be expressed physically before we were married. But, it was too late for that, we were already married both legally, according to Canadian law, and religiously by a Muslim imam على سنة الله ورسوله. “Doing it” before marriage would have been a perfect foray into sin-hood; worthy of going to hell for, but unfortunately I had missed the boat on that one. Now it was too late. Had Islam been one of those puritanical religions that demanded sex between husband and wife take place for procreation only, I would have achieved the most pleasurable opportunity to be a sinner. But my understanding of Islam was that sex for pleasure between husband and wife was perfectly sanctioned ….. damn you Islam! ….. must you make my life hard even when I am trying to rebel against you. I wished I was born a catholic at that point.
Desperate times requires desperate measures. I had no choice but to break the big taboos of Islam: alcohol and pork. Both are not only strictly forbidden, but so ingrained in the culture that even non-religious people feel shame about breaking those taboos. I went to the supermarket and looked at the pork chops laying there in the meat section. I always would pass over the pork section in the meat department in the past. This time I looked at the various kinds of pork cuts and contemplated bringing the pork chops back home and frying them. Just looking at the pork chops with their pinkish color made me want to vomit. While I understand that this is a cultural thing and that many people would look at those pork chops and think yum …. yum, I couldn’t bring myself to cross the boundary of revulsion after years of brain washing that taught me to think of pork as yuck!.
Sigh! This sin committing thing isn’t easy.
I discovered however that now that I no longer cared about religion I could eat in Chinese restaurants without being the one that is a pain in the neck and always asking to ensure that there is no pork in any of the ingredients. I could eat the dumplings and sweet and sour soup and as long as nobody would point out to me that there was pork hidden in the shredded bit of thingies floating in there I was fine. I applied the don’t ask, don’t tell policy at restaurants and I was able to relax and enjoy myself more. I wouldn’t order the pork chops from the menu, but on the other hand I stopped asking questions like “are you sure there is no pork in the Swiss meat balls dish?”.
I still remember the look of joy on my husband’s face after I told him that I was ready to let go of the strict “no alcohol in the house” rule. “You mean I can have a beer?” was his first thought. For 10 years he has respected my religiosity and not bought nor drank alcohol out of respect for my feelings. I sincerely admire my husband for putting up with my prudishness all these years. I also informed my husband that I was ready to try it myself, at which point he looked a bit concerned, but was willing to go along with the idea. I couldn’t stand drinking hard liquor, a single sip made me want to choke and it all tasted like dissolved soap water. Beer tasted fine but bubble for bubble, I still prefer a diet coke to a beer on any day. But then I tasted red wine, and I started to understand why people like alcohol. With a good meal it really is nice. For the first time my husband told me about his favorite kind of wine, turns out he likes white wine …. very very dry. I also finally understood what gave cream mushroom sauce that special taste in French restaurants. At home I tried to make it many times and it never tasted quite right. But add a few drops of white wine and walla! …. like magic …. the right taste. After I sampled a little bit of this and that I was ready to try getting drunk. I told my husband that I wanted to get drunk but he rejected the idea. He would only allow me one drink and with food, each time he would remind me to drink slowly. In restaurants, whenever I wanted to order more or drink fast he would say no and instruct me to “GO SLOW”. So one Friday evening while he was on a business trip I dug up a wine bottle and drank half of it fast and without food trying to see what would happen if I got drunk. In Canada people constantly talk about how they had fun at parties by getting drunk and I wanted to experience that fun. But all I experienced was that I felt dizzy afterwards, so much so that I had to go to bed immediately. The next morning I woke up with a headache and felt icky on the inside. I don’t get what is fun about that but I am not going to do it again.
Besides Chinese sweet and sour soup which may or may not include pork and that wonderful French cream of mushroom sauce, which I absolutely adore, I haven’t discovered anything worth going to hell for. It seems that gluttony is my favorite mortal sin, however I have to admit, it is an area I indulged in even in the pre losing religion era.
In desperation I went to my husband explaining to him my dilemma hoping he would give me good advice. I explained to him how I wanted to do something big, something monumental to mark my new reality as a non religious person, yet so far I haven’t found anything that felt right or that felt so enjoyable as to merit losing religion over. Surely there must be something out there, some pleasure, some sin, that I can commit that is worth the whole exercise. I live in a liberal society that gives me the freedom to do whatever I want. I don’t have to worry about what people will say about me or what the neighbors think of me. What do I do with all this freedom? …. nothing. I must be the most boring person on earth. What is wrong with me? Am I just a pathetic person?
My husband listened carefully while I detailed my dilemma and then he gave me the answer I was looking for. He said: “You are going about this the wrong way, you are trying to do the things that you think are bad or frowned upon by religion and really non of it is in your nature. What you should be doing is thinking of something you deeply desired or deeply wished for in the past but were prevented from doing because of religion. Surely there must be something that you fantasized about but not allowed your self in the past. Think back, think of something you deeply desire”
That is when it hit me. I should go buy my first pair of pants.
Up to this point I had always dressed modestly with skirt below the knees, long sleeves and baggy shirts. While I never covered my hair in proper hijab as is common to Muslim women I made sure to observe strict modestly rules which I imposed on myself since the age of 12. Deep down I wished I could wear a pair of jeans but in the past I always denied those thoughts even to myself. I still remember that first pair of jeans I wore as a grownup, they must be the baggiest pair of jeans in the world. They had so many pleads around the waist I might as well had been wearing a skirt. But I felt radical whenever I wore them. The thing with wearing pants is that it freed me in so many ways. Now that I allowed myself to wear pants I could skip, run, ride a bike, go to the gym and even go for a hike in nature. All these activities I didn’t allow myself in the past because you can’t do them wearing a skirt. At least you can’t do them wearing a skirt and not look silly. Oh the fun I had in those pants. The many many joys, I can’t describe them in words. To be able to move and feel your body, to be able to throw away the demure feminine walk. But the most enjoyable of these activities was discovering nature. And if there is one thing Vancouver has plenty of it is nature. The sea from one side and mountain on the other side and now that I was a pant wearing member of the public I could discover it all. They don’t call Vancouver lotusland for nothing you know.
Odysseus (in greek mythology) and his men discover a magical land of lotus eaters. Some of the sailors eat the delicious lotus and forget about their homeland, pleading to stay forever in this lotusland. (It is likely that the lotus in question was a real plant, the jujube, whose sweet juice is used in candy making and which has given its name to a popular fruity candy.) The label “lotusland” is now applied to any place resembling such an ideal of perfection, but it also carries connotations of indolence and self-indulgence, possibly derived from the way the sailors refused to work once they reached the original lotusland.
I definitely had reached my own lotusland once I discovered hiking and kayaking around Vancouver. Having lived in a city all my live, nothing prepared me for the sensation of being in nature. I would go on for several days where I never saw another human being, I was surrounded with trees, the sounds of branches swaying and birds chirping. The joys of week long hiking and camping trips in complete solitude is that you stop caring about what other people think because there are no other people around. There is just nature, the mountain, the river, the sound of my breathing and heaving, the smell of moss ….. and that is when it happened. I can’t describe it in words.
Oh how cruel this cosmic joker is. He sends me to the holy lands to lose my religion and then back to lotus land to experience spirituality. He must have watched too many monty python episodes or something.
Few weeks ago, my daughter was learning about world religions in her social studies class. She asked that I give her some things from our Muslim heritage for show and tell for her class. I dig up my old prayer rug from the closet, find a copy of the Qura’an in the library with the beautifully decorated test, I find a piece of dirt from holy city of Najaf that all shea’a seem to carry. Suddenly I find tears in my eyes. I wipe them off and dismiss them as fake sentimentality.
My husband predicts that I will go back to religion. I keep telling him “no way”. I refuse to give up my pants wearing freedom. He also wants to go back to our old “no alcohol in the house” rule. While he enjoys the occasional beer, he thinks that we should set a good example for our kids ….. hmmmm! is my husband turning religious on me?
Two weeks ago I had a parent teachers meeting with my daughter’s grade four teacher and one of her suggestions for me was to buy my daughter more books about Islam, because she is very interested in the subject and has already devoured all the books on the subject available in the school library. Now that has to be the ultimate sin, when the infidel Canadian heathen who has nothing to do with Islam tells me that I should buy more books on Islam for my daughter. I am certainly going to hell for that.
I think I have achieved my objective.