Monday, January 23, 2012

being "religious" in context

I've been in Egypt for a little over 6 months now. The experiences have been strange, enjoyable, lonely, and maddening all at once. Soon after I was married I learned how to use micro-buses - before I figured out their haphazard yet somewhat systematic methods of operation, it seemed it would be really difficult to get a hang of riding them. But now I can flag them down, look for a seat that hopefully doesn't involve a man's body pressed up against mine, bring out a pound to pay the driver, and yell at the top of my lungs when I want to get off.

I know the best places to buy fruits and vegetables in our neighbourhood. I now know the kinds of food that I like - it took a little discovering, but now I know never to let herring (and other icky Egyptian foods) touch my lips again. I've mostly figured out how to cook, and I've generally got a routine going in my life. So I'm slowly getting used to it here, and not to say that I wouldn't jump at the opportunity to leave, but it doesn't seem as hopeless as it once did.

And now, the problem; I haven't yet learned how to be 'religious' in Egypt. Don't get me wrong, I do all the same acts of worship I used to at home. The essentials haven't changed. And yet I don't feel as though I'm at the same level of religiosity as I once was.

Being raised as a Muslim in the western world gave me a certain attitude towards religion. It was something precious that needed to be constantly maintained, and this meant you needed to be a struggling soul swimming against the current. If you didn't hold on to religion with every ounce of energy you had, you could lose it in an instant.

Everyone thinks it's easier to be religious in majority-Muslim countries, and perhaps that is correct in some senses - i.e. close proximity to mosques, more opportunities for learning, being surrounded by people who don't misunderstand you and therefore having more freedom to explore religious issues within your own community, etc. But for me, I feel that it's harder to be religious in a majority-Muslim country because there is less of a drive for me to struggle.

Perhaps I have always been a bit of a rebel ready to swim upstream, always ready to snap back at racist comments made to me, always holding on with my teeth to my identity as a Muslim woman. Many of those things defined my very existence as a Muslim. And now suddenly I don't have to exert the same kind of effort anymore. Most Egyptians are 'religious' at least in a basic way. When I walk down the street, I'm like every other woman - nothing distinguishes me from her.

And so that external struggle has gone. I know in my heart of hearts that the struggle should never end - rather it should be inverted into an internal struggle instead. I do know that just letting yourself swim along with the current makes your muscles weaken. The last thing I'd want is the atrophy of my ability to hold on to my identity as a Muslim. I'm very slowly re-learning how to be religious in a different context. It's hard, but I refuse to give up. After all, what would my sad rebel soul do if it wasn't struggling against something, even if that something is myself?


sara said...

I am just commenting to tell you that I like when you write things.

Asmaa said...

:) I like it, too.

Little Auntie said...

Asalamu aliaakum,
OK, so I just landed on your blog. It says you're living in Alexandria. Like, if I don't already know you, we have to meet, haha :P

I'm like the world's fakest Egyptian out there. No joke. I lived abroad all my life and just came back here the past July. I still don't know how to flag a micro bus down or the best places to shop.

But anyways, I can understand where you're coming from in your post. I think the struggle is TO do more than what you used to do....You said that you continue to do the same 'worship' but if you can challenge yourself to do more (read more Quran, memorize more hadiths, attend more duroos, etc.), then you're still progressing. It's like "don't settle for the standards around you or the people on the street". Keep challenging yourself to be BETTER.

'course, I speak to myself, first of all :)

your Fake Alexandrian Sis,
Little Auntie

p.s. Your banner is awesome, ma'shaAllah ta'baraka Allah.

Asmaa said...

Walaikum assalaam "Little Auntie" :D

Thanks for the comment & I'm totally stalking your blog right now. If I don't sound too much like a creep, we should be friends. I think it's fate. Email me and we'll figure it out: I tried to find your email address on your blog but alas I could not.

-Your stalker sis :)

Amina said...

Ooo! I emailed you :D (Just telling you so I don't land in your junky :P)

Teacher S. said...

hey babe,

felt the same way too when I landed in the Sandlands. It was a relief to walk down on the streets and feel normal, yet it kind of threw me back that I didn't have to be "on guard" the moment I stepped out of my house.

One more thing though: believe it or not, here is when you will discover the REAL you. Seriously. When you are in a non-Muslim counry, you are constantly asserting the tough, "I'm-a-strong-smart-interesting-educated-witty-Muslim" you to those around. Guess what. Beneath that, is a very drab normal you. And that's cool.

Losing "religiosity" also has something to do with getting married, and having to be responisble, and having less time than you did. Oh, and I must say: just wait till you have kids ;).

So to the single ladies: get your deen on, as much as you can, NOW. You seriously have waaay too much time on your hands. Such a pity to blow it off on facebook, when you could be learning or reading the Qur'an. Trust me, there will come a time have vey little time.

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