I am a Muslim. I do not pray. I do not fast during Ramadan. I drink alcohol and eat pork. I do not believe in God. But I identify as a Muslim. Islam is a large part of the world I grew up in; it is inseparable from home.
The world in which I grew up in Lebanon included practicing and nonpracticing Muslims. It also included many Christians. But my family is Muslim; so is our culture. Extended family celebrations often revolved around the Eids, for which we would buy new clothes and meet for elaborate lunches, the children excitedly hoping for money, the Eidiyya, from the grown-ups. During Ramadan, we met our cousins, many of whom fasted the whole month, for iftar, breaking the fast with them as soon as the muezzin finished his prayer.
When I think back on my grandmothers, I often remember them praying in a calm, naturally lit room in the back of the house. I would catch a glimpse of them through an open door, white translucent veils running down their shoulders, kneeling down on the prayer mat, murmuring words that intrigued me and that I longed to learn.
I never learned the prayers, but I listened to many stories from Islamic history told by my father, often refracted through the great Muslim historian Ibn Khaldun, whom my father liked to read and quote: deeds of the prophet, his relationship to his companions, the passing of political authority to the caliphs, the struggles that ensued. But I also learned the stories of the caliphs, and especially of the Shiite Imams Hassan and Hussein, at funerals, in which professional readers would recount them in a tearful voice, slowly rising up in pitch, until it turned into cries, sending the mourners into uncontrollable sobs.
FULL ARTICLE FROM THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE