My friend (and accomplished writer) G. Willow Wilson spent several years living in Cairo after converting to Islam. In her Journal at Talk Islam she relates her observations about the differences in how Islam is lived in breathed in Cairo versus in the convert community in Seattle where she presently resides. It’s a great piece about identity, which is pretty much the central tension in any muslim-American’s life. Here’s a teaser excerpt:
In Egypt Islam is like a natural extension of the body. It permeates
and is permeated by everyday life. People may be dishonest, angry,
ugly, crude, vicious, but all these things are artificial, like the
industrial waste spewed into the Nile and the sky until it warps babies
in the womb. They are all the result of a society squeezed until it
broke and bled. When God enters a conversation, the ugliness vanishes,
and the disgusting sinner who leers at girls on the subway becomes a
poet. The absurdity of that-the horror of it; the wonder of it; the
capacity of the divine to wheedle Its way into the grotesque-shaped my
relationship with God. For good or ill. I never lost sight of the fact
that when I prayed, it was not only to Al Rahman, but to Al Khafid. The
Debaser. I could look at His terrible Names without flinching or
rationalizing. He created beauty and filth side by side, like a hammer
and an anvil, and it is for us to break or bend.
That was Cairo.
When I came back to my own country, I had a naive idea that I could
go on being an American and a Muslim, and avoid learning to be an
American Muslim. That lasted about six months. What miserable and
You simply have to read the whole thing.
Related – my review of Mullahs on the Mainframe, an ethnography about my own community and how we have adapted the demands of tradition with the realities of modernity. Again, it boils down to identity, and reconciliation.