Thursday, September 16, 2004

The Neverending Story

Living in Egypt: Stranger in a Strange Land

The longer I blog, the more interesting twists to the practice I find. One twist that I'm sure more experienced bloggers than I have worked out is how to tell where a message has been posted when you get an email to notify you that one has been posted. I've used Haloscan but as yet haven't figured out how to use it for the information that I want, and it may, in fact, be one of those "You can't get there from here" situations. So, when I got a post from the ubiquitous Anonymous discussing the interesting Muslim attitude to religion change, I actually went schlepping through my archives to find where the post was made.

I found the post back on July 17 with a discussion of marriage. It's obvious to me from the number of comments that come to these posts that Islam in general is intriguing a lot of my readers and that the social/family aspects of it are especially interesting. I suppose that I could just post a comment there but that's kind of unsatisfying. So instead I decided to post something referring to a previous post, which adds a bit of weaving to the tapestry.

When I was getting to know my husband, I was not technically a Muslim. To technically be a Muslim there are steps to be taken that vary from source to source. My husband, not being very bound by the more complicated traditions, said that basically I had to repeat the Fattah, the opening lines of the Quran, with belief and conviction. When we moved to Egypt and were faced with the legal system, we discovered that I had to go to Al Azhar, be interviewed by a sheikh to satisfy him that my adoption was not frivolous, and then I would be registered as an "official" Muslim. As Mr/Ms Anonymous noted, Islam does not demand that a non-Muslim wife become Muslim, but being a non-Muslim married to a Muslim is an act of recklessness under Egyptian law if there are children involved.

As well, also as noted by Mr/Ms A., Muslims are discouraged from trying to convert others to Islam. At the very least, this is extremely bad manners on the part of the converter, and in the eyes of the law, it is illegal. Since it is assumed that Muslims will not go around trying to bring the world into the fold of Islam, so the law was probably created to prevent others from converting Muslims to other religions. My husband was very specific in our discussions of Islam that he would never ask me to become a Muslim, and his mother on hearing that I was Muslim immediately demanded of him whether he had applied any duress to me or tried to persuade me. Either would have been unforgivable in her eyes.

Unfortunately, for someone to give up Islam for another religion is both unthinkable and unforgivable. The general rule of thumb is that an apostate is destined for a nasty end. This rather inflexible attitude is not one of the more endearing aspects of Islam, although historically it is somewhat understandable in its logic. Islam places itself firmly in the same lineage as the Judeo-Christian tradition. Readers of the Quran will find familiar Old Testament stories such as Noah and his ark and many New Testament stories of Jesus. As (in Muslim eyes) the natural successor and the ultimate refinement in the development initiated by the Jews and tuned more by Jesus, Islam is the final step in development and to what would a Muslim turn after all? The logic makes sense, really, even if the conclusion is a bit abrupt.

All that lives changes, however, even religions. There have been changes in Judaism, Christianity, and in Islam even, and there are likely to be more as long as they are living religions. Right now there are more mixed Muslim/non-Muslim marriages in which the woman is Muslim than there ever have been. My inlaws would be very upset if my daughter were to marry a technical non-Muslim, but I believe that there is more to Islam than technicalities. One's relationship to God is the most personal thing that exists, and (as always being a bit of a square peg in a round hole) it really isn't ANYONE else's business at all.

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