Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Cat Stevens: Folk Friend or Foe?

This week our town generator went from working four hours a night, to zero hours a night. So Ive spent most nights listening to BBC and reading by candle light. Which has put me in closer and calmer touch with life than any Ramadan fasting (more about this later). They say we will have a new generator in 4 or 5 days, but Im not really in much of a rush right now. Its a pretty slow peaceful night, a romantic time of just me and the desert.

I stayed awake today after my early meal to watch the sunrise. Wonderful, and it made me wonder what I was doing sleeping so much over the last 26 years.

I have been having some discussions with people about faith and religion. Which does not have to be bad, it can be good. I did not know a lot about Islam before I came, and I know something more now. Maybe my aquired knowledge is not exactly in agreement with Imams everywhere, but at the same time, it gives me (and now you) some insight on how the faith works in a small town. Its more than clear that a lot of people here have no experience with another beliefe system. I would say that most people are not hostile to it, but more perplexed. The idea that I do not want to convert is not itself a threat but as I was told by one very nice elderly lady "you have to go to prayer to go to heaven". I suppose there is nothing wrong with trying to save another soul. I'm from Kansas, I should be used to this type of thing :)

One person who has not helped me in my discussions is Cat Stevens. This folk trubador made a bit of a splash in 1977 when he converted to Islam, and took up the name Yusuf Islam. People here know him as "Sammie Yusuf". I am asked if I am familur with his music at least a few times a week. This might happen when I am sitting with a family having tea, talking to young children, or recently when trying to buy an oven. Mr. Islam has been embrassed with a certain zeal, but its a little unclear how many people are really familure with his music either before or after conversion. Regardess of knowing his music, it is well known that he made the switch and there is always the question (sometimes spoken, sometimes implied) that I can follow in his footsteps. I have declined. Interestingly, Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr, does not have the same name cache. His conversion in 1975 is not any more far distant in time. I am not sure why the Sportsman of the Century is not held as a similar role model.

It is a fair thing to say that I am the only non-Muslim in my town, and if there is anyone else who does not pray they are certainly keeping it to themselves. I have noticed that young children seem particularly keen about conforming to the religous norm of the town, but people of all ages, gender, and background will initiate a discussion about prayer very openly and willingly. Something that would only very caususly in our society, is often one of the first topics to come up. This honestly catches me by suprise sometimes, and can be a little intimidating. Also, young children can have a hard time grasping difference (as they often do in many subjects). It keeps life interesting.

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