Chills go down my spine as I read about the Sudanese woman sentenced to death for converting from Islam to Christianity and marrying a Christian man. Her marriage was not recognized by the state and she was also sentenced for living in adultery. Muslim women can only marry Muslim men otherwise be judged for committing promiscuous and immoral acts (like .. as in .. dating in western cultures).
Chills went down my spine earlier when he told me his mother wants me to convert if we decide to marry. I asked myself what’s the big deal, you don’t practice religion at all and even wonder if there’s anything out there sometimes. I didn’t alert him to the screeching “no!” going off in my head. It’s not that I am religious but religion is part of me. The “me” I am losing gradually as I integrate into an American culture which I find refuge in; refuge from my own bigot culture. Yesterday a 15 year old boy was being sentenced in Erbil for telling his father he did not believe in religion. It was his father who reported him to the police who in turn tortured the boy. For what you say, for exactly that - saying he did not believe in religion. This apparently is illegal, so is homosexuality, so is a straight intimate relation between a man and woman who are not married, so is a Muslim converting. Other religions converting to Islam is not a crime, only the other way around. Is this a culture I want to hold on to? Oddly I feel homesick and lost without it, or at least aspects of it.
I’d like to keep the cool stuff, the literature, the art, music, food, fashion and family rituals I grew up with. I’d like to keep my favorite neighborhoods in Baghdad, my four hour solo walks, my book-reading rituals on the roof, my weekly wandering into the Mutanabi book bazaar, my family albums, my grandmother’s slang jargon that only Baghdad people can understand. I’d like to keep the superstitions that got Muslim women going to churches and lighting candles to statues of the Virgin Mary so they can conceive children and Christians visiting traditional Muslim healers. I like the Jewish architecture of old houses, and the Ottoman relics and the bright red British Post Office sign near the Sarie market. I wholeheartedly love Iraq, want to fight for it, fix it, live in it and speak a strong Baghdadi Arabic accent.
When he asked me if I were open to converting I felt like I was being forced to give it all up and faking becoming someone I am not. I felt exactly the same way when someone pointed a gun at me and my family in 2005 and told us to leave Iraq. He wasn’t shoving me into anything so why do I feel shoved, lost, nostalgic and homesick when he asks?
I think about these things as I hang out with my American friends lounging on their couch with a cold beer. They talk about the US, about people and places I have no knowledge of and sports I have no interest in. I’m relaxed and I feel safe. I feel safe until their Iraqi gardener comes in eyeing me, judging me, giving me the creeps, because he’s Iraqi, like me. Suddenly I want to know more about baseball, the Tea Party and Jay Leno.