Confessions of a Non-Threatening Muslim

The thing about being Muslim in 2010 is that most people take it a lot more seriously than you do.

I’m Muslim. I’m so Muslim, in fact, that my name is Arafat and I have a cousin six months older than I am whose name is Yasir. And clearly, I’m American too. I’m fat, slow, loud, and I believe with all my heart that the solution to the world’s problems is open trade channels.

But whenever I meet someone new, there’s always that split second registration in that person’s mind:

Coexist, you say?

Step 1: Oh, Muslim.

Step 2: …Wait, that’s ok.

I don’t mind. I believe that it’s an important step for an immigrant culture’s naturalization process. At first, you’re a rainbow-feathered alien. Then, you’re treated with suspicion. Then, ‘you took our jobbbbzzz!’ Then it’s that split-second registration, and finally, ‘Arafat’ becomes ‘Joe.’

In my experience living in a few countries, I think that Americans are the kindest, friendliest people I’ve ever met. So much so that even after 9/11, the one question my American friends asked me was, “Are you all right?” Never, “Let’s lynch the motherfucker!!!” which is what would have happened in my native Bangladesh.

Still, you might say that the split-second registration is an act of hypocrisy. We’re supposed to accept people regardless (or, as we say on the internet, irregardless) of whatever their ethnic, cultural, religious, sexual etc. makeup might be. I think that’s a bit flawed, since that negates the rich variety that makes America what it is.

But this hypocrisy is not a uniquely hetero-normative white Christian American thingie. We Muslims have it too, and I’ll bet you a dollar or maybe even three dollars, that everybody has it. So much so, that whenever someone asks me how it feels to be a Muslim immigrant, I refer them to Philip Roth’s hilariously filthy Portnoy’s Complaint, which is about growing up Jewish in the 1960s.

It’s kind of the same deal. Like Alex Portnoy, Muslim men are all horndogs who are torn between paying lip-service to tradition, making their parents happy, and overachieving for overachievements’ sake. I guess there are some differences. I think American Muslims probably listen to more rap music. And… well, I’ll be honest. I’ve been sitting here for the last fifteen minutes, trying to think of a serious difference between Alex Portnoy and your average American Muslim, and I can’t. Except we don’t violate pieces of liver.

From an anthropological point of view, that’s pretty interesting. Especially since popular opinion defines Muslims by their opposition to the Jewish people. But in the 1950s, the American Jewish population shared some similarities with American Muslims today. They were cultural other figures, they were smart, they were torn between their own unique heritage and wanting to integrate into the greater norm of American society, and they didn’t eat no pork except for Chinese restaurants and prosciutto.

Within a decade though, the Jews that Don Draper sneers about in the first season of Mad Men had started to produce such towering figures as Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Woody Allen, Saul Bellow, and so on. A list which culminates in Larry David, the greatest comedian alive.

So what I’m saying is, we Muslims might seem to be different now, but watch out. In 2020 you’ll see a sitcom about Arif Abdullah, the guy who flosses too much.

Arafat Kazi is a copywriter and non-threatening Muslim. He rambles at arafatkazi.com.

Arafat Kazi I dropped out of college, almost died of typhoid, and now I'm back in school. I play drums and read detective novels. Twitter: @arafatkazi

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6 Responses to “Confessions of a Non-Threatening Muslim”

  1. shombit

    Very good insight Arafat! However referring to your opinion of Americans as the friendliest people on earth; I think it was a bit too far stretched. You have had to live in at least 25 major cultures of the world to make that statement.

    I got a good kick out of how you as an American muslim do not “violate pieces of liver”–I remember your adolescent fascination with artists, musicians and writers and their socially unacceptable behavior. Didn’t Ozzy bite off a pigeon’s head live on stage? or something?

    Lastly why did you have to use the image of Pakistani nationalism on your article? That image doesn’t tell people about Islamic/Muslim etc. It screams Pakistan.

    So dosto correct me if I am wrong.

    pakis tani flag, vilolate pieces of liver, americans are the friendliest people.

    Reply
  2. Jen Kalaidis

    Great article, Arafat! I bet you get asked “where are you from?” all the time…and after you reply, they then ask, “but where are you REALLY from?” I’ve gotten that too. A lot of people have asked if my parents were from Greece because of my last name (it’s not even Greek but Lithuanian), which makes me laugh. I agree with you though that within a generation Muslim-Americans will be much more ‘assimilated’ into the American mindset. Not all of us can be Smiths or Johnsons! (Thank God/Allah for that!)

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  3. Zach M

    Such a pleasure to hear from a, “non threatening Muslim” and thank you so much for not waiting to have visited twenty-five countries to be willing to use hyperbole to expand my mind. I found your piece a pleasure to read with its insights. questions, affirmations and your metaphor of the rainbow-feathered alien exquisite. The beauty of the peacock dancing with the fear of the unknown. But do you really want to give up your cultural uniqueness to assimilate to full American vetting? In this age when people are falling all over themselves to homogenize us (in their own image?) all into a boringly safe Ritz cracker, isn’t it also a goal to preserve inherent cultural uniqueness? Such a dichotomy where we want to be like everyone else, fit in, yet also be valued as different. I do so admire your goal of swapping a satchel charge of c4 for one chock-a block with openness and good will. You assault the distrust and blindness found in fear which plagues us. I honor you and hope you find the resonance you seek. Do warm our melting pot with friendliness as it is a timeless recipe for success. I bask in your reassurance.

    Other comments, some of dubious worth:
    I too place higher value on organs of similar texture and value in situ. Warmer. He captures America like no other- Oh oh, I haven’t read every book in the Library of Congress.
    I continue to be struck by how important it is to me to sense the friendliness and openness of the Muslim persona you offer. Despite having been to that part of the world and experiencing first hand the unparalleled level of charm, grace and generosity, the 911 era has clouded my mind so I am more at ease now that you have reawakened my past historical perspective.
    I too place friendliness as a worthy purpose and goal and so comrade….. cheers!
    No, I’m not a communist.

    Reply
  4. Eve

    Wonderful article Arafat! I’ll be looking out for that sitcom in 2020! ^_^

    Reply

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