"People actually say that? That they're relieved that you're Swedish?"
"Without a trace of irony."
"Man... Humans suck."
A quick disclaimer: I'm about to account for how I, an atheist, attempted to represent Islam. If there are any muslims reading this, know that I meant no offense and that I would gladly like to know if I said or did anything that misrepresented the faith, or made any outright false claims. I look forward to your comments.
Read Part 1 here.
So there I was, having now professed my faith before this infidel scum. To my surprise, I found myself terrified. It felt as if I had crossed a line, unlike the times I had pretended to be Jewish, or (during the latest American presidential election) Mormon. Those two faiths I could pull off, partially because my more-than-average interest in religious studies (kind of a hobby of mine), and partially because of people's general ignorance. But Islam, ah, there's a faith I didn't know a lot about.
"Uhuh, so you're muslim are you? Well then, tell me. Why do you approve of animal cruelty?"
In an instant, my fear disappeared, replaced with warm, reassuring smugness. While my knowledge of Islam only slightly above that of the average Swede, this guy had just set the bar well below average.
Time to see just how far I could push this.
"Animal cruelty? Of course not."
"But you eat only eat halal meat, yes?"
"That I do."
"So you approve of animal cruelty."
"Are you referring to how the animal is slaughtered? Cut, and bled in ten seconds flat?"
"Exactly. It's cruel."
"Unlike your store-bought meat? Where animals are transported accross europe in filthy, cramped trucks, to be herded through a pen with hundreds of other terrified animals, smelling blood and fear and horror all the way, until a bolt goes through its head? How is that any less cruel, compared to the animal being ritually cut and bled?"
"It takes a long time for halal animals to die."
"The jugulars are cut and the animal is turned upside down. I assure you that it's dead before it fully grasps its situation."
"It's still cruel."
"Perhaps, but if that is cruel, then the entire meat industry is cruel. You're in a glass house. Don't throw rocks."
"But why is that important?"
"Do you want the historical reason-?"
"No, your personal reason."
"Because God commands it."
"To you, maybe. Not to me. in both Judaism and Islam, bloodied meat is considered unfit for human consumption. So is meat from animals who have expired. So, in the act of taking the animal's life, we purify it spiritually and physically by draining it of its blood."
"But why the hell can't you do that after you've slaughtered the animal?"
"Because it would be impure."
"No, it won't."
At this point, I decided to halt my progress, to give him a chance to step back and avoid embarrassing himself further. Also, in part, to give myself a chance to avoid conflict.
"It's obvious that my faith provokes you. We don't have to discuss this."
"Yes, we do!" he snarled. "We do, because what you're saying is absolutely crazy. I want to understand why the hell you believe that shit. So, why the hell is it important? Why do you give a shit about what God thinks of your diet?"
I smiled. Challenge accepted.
"Because them's the rules. If I choose to subscribe to a certain creed and culture, there are certain ways of living my life that I will adopt. Much like a football supporter will root for a certain team, even though there is rarely any objectively logical reason to do so. It's done, because it is how you actively belong to a culture. Same thing with religion."
"Do you like being a slave?"
"A slave, what do you mean?"
"Being forced to live your life a certain way, because some God that might not even exist has told you to."
"There is no force involved. I chose this life. I've studied religions and various faiths, and about five years ago I decided that the faith called Islam was the one that suited my moral principles. So I converted."
"And what principles are that?"
I gave him a cliff's notes version of the five pillars of Islam: "Acknowledging God, self-control and self-betterment, charity, to name a few."
"But how can you believe that God exists!"
"How can you not? Look at the Universe! Look at the complexity, the beauty, the horror, the perfect ticking system that we've only begun to grasp. Look how everything affects everything, look at how it all fits together. For that reason, I can't for the life of me deny the existence of God. Probably the same reason why you can't acknowledge it."
"Aha," he said, grinning smugly. "Then what is God?"
"God," I said, looking thoughtful (only half-feigned). "God is the collective name we give to the forces that created, maintain and drive the Universe. God is not some angry father figure sitting on a cloud judging us, nor is God some mystical being. God is what pulls the strings behind everything. God is everything. I acknowledge the same science you do, the same realities. The only difference is that I believe that that those realities have agency. That there is a Will and a Purpose behind it. And that is what I call God. Islam is merely the way I choose to approach God. It suits me, it is true to me. I don't expect, or demand that others feel the same."
This sent him into an absolute rage, which suited me quite well. Because in his rage, he never asked a single question related to Islam itself, but rather the general, vague, leading questions asked by atheist bullies whose goal is not to understand a faith, but to ridicule it. And those questions I have a lot of experience with. When I was younger, I used to ask them myself. As I matured and developed a respect, even love, for the concept of religion, I also developed an understanding for why people believe. So those questions were easily answered. After all, I've heard the answers a million times before.
We were approaching Landwood. And Mr. Baggins was by now almost frothing at the mouth.
"Islam is without a doubt the most violent religion in human history!"
"Is it? Why do you say that?"
"If it isn't, how do you explain that there's always war in the middle east?"
"One, there isn't always war in the middle east. There is now, because these are turbulent times. Human beings are violent things, and will do violent things in the name of anything, especially religion. We live in Europe, one of the most war-torn places in human history. You don't know it, because you've known nothing but peace. But up until the Second World War, not a decade went by without war in Europe. And Christianity has a long, intimate history with war. Hell, only recently has the latest major conflict between Catholics and Protestants subsided, what with the IRA laying down their arms."
"Bullshit. All kinds of horrible shit happens all the time in the middle east. It's obviously something to do with the culture."
"That's pretty racist, man."
"No it isn't."
We arrived at the destination. It was time to bring this game to a close. As he was about to open the door and step out, I reached out and touched his arm.
"It's been almost half an hour since you climbed into my car. In that time, you have said some horribly offensive things. You have judged me, and you have judged others, without any kind of real knowledge. I have been nothing but courteous to you, while you have done nothing but mock and disrespect a faith shared by millions accross the world. Yet not for even a second did I ever question or disrespect your lack of faith. It saddens me."
"Oh yeah?" he grinned.
"Yes. Not because you don't have faith, but because you couldn't see me as a human being, just a Muslim. Somebody who had to be corrected. Instead of treating me with the same courtesy I treated you, you clung to your ignorance, threw it in my face, and did everything you could to offend and hurt me. I hope one day you'll realize your mistake, and try to learn something about the world before passing judgment."
He stared at me, tried to sneer. "I'm not ignorant."
I smiled and shrugged. "It is not for me to question your beliefs."
After he left the car, I took Lisa and her boyfriend to their home. They were mortified, apologizing and assuring me again and again that Mr. Baggins was not a close friend, only a guy who happened to play on the same hockey team as the boyfriend. To all this, I simply raised my hand and told them they had nothing to apologize for, that I wasn't offended or angry, and that I most certainly would not be blowing myself up. We all have our flaws, and we all have our shortcomings. It was not my place to judge him, because in the end, we were both only human. Glass houses and all that.
I will admit freely that I am a judgmental person. I will make snap decisions on a person's worthiness, many of which you've already seen in my writing. It is not one of my virtues. It is something born out of my own bigotry, and my own instincts. But I am in the business of forcing my mind open. I can't help how I feel, but I can help how I act upon those feelings. And if my knowledge goes against my beliefs, I will make an effort to make my beliefs conform to that knowledge. Sometimes I succeed. Other times, I don't.
For that reason, whatever misgivings I might have against an ethnicity, faith, or political colour, I do my outmost to treat people as individuals. I try to treat people based on the content of their character. I might hate your politics, I might disdain your beliefs, and I might disagree with your morals, but I will not disrespect you, until you show that you have no respect of your own. I will not argue with you, unless I understand your point. There are few things in this world as loathsome (and dangerous) as a person who has decided that anyone who disagrees with a particular belief is an idiot.
Finally, we reached the final destination. By now, the meter showed 570 sek, and I knew I was only a fare or two from being able to go home. Lisa paid and before she left the car she said:
"Thank you for being so cool about all this."
"Don't mention it."
"You have a great night, all right?"
I smiled. "As-salam alaykum."