As a mildly ironic counterpoint to the unexpected phone-call from Laura on Wednesday, I had a date scheduled for Thursday. A lunch date, but still ...
One of the more striking smokers in the building at which I work, is a petite and very pretty Muslim woman, who usually spends her smoke-breaks on her cell, obviously talking business while gesturing animatedly with her free hand. I knew - or rather, I presumed with a high degree of confidence - she is a Muslim because she wears a hijab, though otherwise usually dresses in a casual Western style, including, sometimes, blue-jeans.
A couple of weeks back, during the depths of that viscious cold-snap, we got to talking (starting with the weather and how stupid we were proving ourselves to be by being out in it, sucking poison into our lungs - but I digress) and, very quickly, found ourselves sharing quickl and easy laughter.
She is Canadian-born, daughter of immigrants from India. She speaks the way she moves, confidently and with purpose, and I found myself quickly becoming taken by her wit and incisive intelligence. (Though not particularly witty in itself, her description of being witness to Janet Jackson's presumably inadvertent nipple exposure at the Superbowl a few years back was priceless.)
We ran into each other again, and yet again. The third time, on our way back to our mutual offices, I stopped and said, "I never do this, but, er, would you like to have lunch together one of these days?"
And so it was that she dropped by my office on Thursday at around 1:30, from whence we departed for lunch at a vegetarian restaurant just up Spadina (but the name of which escapes me - Sidra? Maybe you know it? It's on the east side, between Queen and Richmond?).
I don't know many people for whom religious faith is of much - if any - importance, let alone Muslims, so the opportunity for some cross-cultural study was almost as exciting as the fact that I had mustered the courage to ask her out in the first place. Too, it was strange for me to socialize without benefit of alcohol as a lubricant.
As it turned out, Saara seemed to find the fact of my atheism - and especially that both sides of my family were the same, going back at least 2 and 3 generations - just as curious as I found her decision to wear a hijab despite not apparently fulfilling any other Muslim stereotypes.
Long story short, it was a very good meeting, one that well over our allotted our.
We exchanged the usual family and personal histories, but politics and religion - sometimes serious, sometimes light-hearted - were the dominant themes.
Saara told me she started wearing the hijab as a direct result of 9/11. She saw - and sees - making herself visibly Muslim as a political act, as a principled refusal to give in to fear of Islam that crime brought to the forefront of our society. In other words, she is a Muslim and she is not kind to pretend to be something else, simply to make non-Muslims around her more comfortable.
(Including, she noted, a lot of feminists. She said she has "often" been lectured by (invariably white) feminists about how the hijab "proves" she is oppressed and clearly not a feminist. And indeed, she said she considers feminism a strictly white, bourgeois phenomenom which does not speak to ethnic women at all. I disagree, but certainly find her position interesting - and depressing.)
And that decision certainly hasn't made her life any easier, particularly when crossing into the United States. Once, when she was refused admission (she made the mistake of telling the truth: she was going to New York to take a course in "activism"), she said the customs officers were litterally screaming at her, "Are you a terrorist? Are you a terrorist?"
"No, I work with troubled youth," apparently was not a good enough answer.
Saara has an admirable sense of humour about her trials and tribulations. She told me of when trip, with two of her sisters (who don't wear a hijab), on a trip to her brother's for a baby-shower.
At the border their car was - as it always is, she said - was selected for a "random" search.
"'Random'?" she asked the guard, while outlining her head-scarf with a dramatic swirl of her hand. "'Random', eh?"
At the interview, when ask, "If you're going to a baby-shower, where are the presents?"
"We sent them ahead," she said simply. "I knew we'd be stopped at the border. I knew we might not be allowed through at all."
Surprisingly, that time, she was.
Anyway, it was a more than enjoyable lunch and I hope we both make the effort to see each other again (although, it turns out she has a partner - story of my life, lately).
Nevertheless, between reading Dawkins' book and meeting a very attractive Muslim woman, I have been pondering religion quite a bit lately.
One thing I have come to realize is that I don't think I could get seriously involved with a woman of faith - any faith (and yes, I know how much that drains my pool of potential partners. Thank god (as it were) I live in Canada and not the States; and a pity I don't live in Europe).
A decade or so ago, I was involved with a woman - Harriet - who was a Christian, United Church style. On Christmas Eve I attented midnight mass with her, an event of great and medieval-feeling pomp and circumstance; censers on chains spewed perfumed smoke into the air, the priests decked out in their white robes. For me it was at once fascinating and tedious, and I was glad indeed when it was finally over and Harriet and I could return to her apartment to crack open a beer and then tumble into bed for some fantastic sex.
"Well," she said after we'd settled down around her kitchen table, "What did you think?"
I was silent for a moment or two, then finally replied, "Harriet, you don't really want me to answer that."
For the truth was, I thought the whole ceremony profoundly silly. Leaving aside the value of community celebrations; leaving aside the unquestionable virtue of cultural historical continuity, I could not escape the fact I held the basic concept behind that ceremony in intellectual contempt. To me, the idea of worshipping a non-existent god is simply, well, silly. It truly baffles me that intelligent people can take it seriously.
What I've realized, is that my contempt for religious beliefs would be a pretty serious handicap to having a serious romantic relationship with a woman of faith. I suppose I could just "agree to disagree" with a partner, but what if children enter the picture? What if she wants to indoctrinate them into her faith?
Major conflict, people!
"I love you and I accept that you don't believe, but I want our children baptised, and raised Catholic."
"And I love you and accept that you do believe, but there's no fucking way my kids are going to be taught to believe a fantasy!"
Shit. Is even 10 percent of the population of this country atheist? Welcome to the wading pool, Young Geoffrey.