26 April 2012

Conversion

Evangelists have always been fascinating to me.  I remember standing on the stairwell as a child, peeking through the bannister at the Jehovah's Witnesses who had come to our door.  I remember staring out the window on the T in Boston, five stops before my stop, and when I saw Mormon missionaries walk by, in their white, short-sleeved, collared shits and thin dark ties, and I got off and walked back to talk to them.  I even went out of my way on a pep band trip to Salt Lake City to go visit the Mormon brothers and sisters working at the temple.

And I remember the scores of friends, neighbors, coworkers, and, above all, taxi drivers who would tell me that I should "slm" (convert, literally, submit) or "dkhli Islam" (enter Islam).  Because why not?  I already spoke and read Arabic, my name was already Zineb, and didn't you know that Jesus is a Muslim?

I don't mean to sound irreverent here.  It strikes me as interesting, more than amusing, that there are so many people who are so convinced that their religion is the true path to salvation.  When people close to me, and even people I don't know very well, try to convince me to convert so that I can be with them in Heaven, I feel at once very honored, and uncomfortable.  Uncomfortable because...  Because I can feel unaccepted, or looked down upon.  Not good enough for this person.  It's clearly my own insecurities, but still, I wonder.  Why am I attracted to all evangelistic conversations and why do I even seek them out sometimes?

I think it was because I wanted to feel something.  It reminds me of the beginning of Dogma, one of my favorite irreverent-but-poignant movies, where a character says:

"He said that faith is like a glass of water. When you're young, the glass is small, and it's easy to fill up. But the older you get, the bigger the glass gets, and the same amount of liquid doesn't fill it anymore. Periodically, the glass has to be refilled."

I think that, in talking to evangelists, I want my glass of faith to be refilled, but yet, the older I get, and the less childlike in my belief, trust, and acceptance I get, the harder it is to fill the glass.  But it's not that I don't want the glass to be full, it's more like the glass is cracked (How did that happen? I used to go to church twice a week!) and I don't know how to patch it up anymore.

Why do I bring this up on the-blog-formerly-known-as-Moroccan-Musings-now-reflections-on-Oman?  Shouldn't I just focus on the news from Oman and my travels there?  Well, I'm wondering now what will happen to me this summer.  Who will try to convert me?  Will I find something to fix my glass?  Will I find "better water" to fill my glass?

Many people tell me that the Islam in Arabia (the Arabian Peninsula) is more pure, that the Foosha (Modern Standard Arabic) is better there, that the accent is purer too, because they speak the Arabic and they live in the place where it all started.  And I have talked to many Westerners, heard many stories of people traveling to Arabia, traveling to the Middle East, and converting.  They are taken in, something reaches up, grabs their soul, and won't let go.

I have a love of all things incomplete, different, complicated, misunderstood, and that is what I want to see in Oman.  What are the minorities, numerically and effectually?  Who are the people who are different?  Who are the outliers?  What languages and cultures there exist besides Arabic and Arabs?

We shall see, we shall see.

2 comments:

Oum Abdul-Aziz said...

Convert “because why not?” That’s not a very good reason to convert to a religion, though it is probably the reason that most people associate themselves with the religion that they do, as most people conform to the religion that is acceptable to their community (though others instead do the opposite and become part of the community of their chosen religion).

I am a ‘convert’. In my case, I made that decision from reading about the original teachings of Islam before I actually met any really devout Muslims or visited any ‘Muslim country’. As I learned about the fundamental beliefs of Islam, it was eye-opening for me and yet fit so perfectly with what I felt had to be true: that there is a God, that this life was created with intelligent design and that there is purpose to it, that nothing and no one should be worshipped or given religious devotion except God, that not even the smallest bit of good we do is wasted and we were meant to live good, clean lives with integrity.

Over the years, I have met hundreds of Muslim converts in person and through the internet. Most of us would say that through our conversion, we felt we purified our religious beliefs and became more true Christians, Jews, or Hindus by becoming Muslims, as all of those religions started with that solid belief in One God…

You don’t have to worry about seeing a great deal of variety here in Oman. Religious teachings in Oman are closer to the original teachings of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, than you will find in some other places. The spoken Arabic is a bit closer to Foosha that what you hear in Morocco. Oman was really only ‘opened’ in the 1970s – before that, most people never even left their home villages. That wasn’t so long ago, so there are still many unique things to each place, even things unique to each tribe or family. You’ll find some Omani families that speak languages other than Arabic in their homes: Balushi, Zangabari (i.e. Swahili), Jebali (in the mountains around Salalah).

I still encourage you to travel a bit around Oman while you are here, even if it is just for a few days. I can help you out a bit with that if you want. Keep in touch.

Colleen Daley said...

Thanks for commenting!