Tuesday, September 13, 2011
I have no home. In fact, I have been homeless for quite some time now.
I don’t mean a place to sleep or park my car. For that I have a house.
But I have no home.
My bloodline tells me I’m from Pakistan.
My passport says I’m from America.
My current address informs me I’m in Saudi Arabia.
America is too First World.
Pakistan is too Third World.
KSA is too Not-of-my-World.
And so, I remain overwhelmed with a deep sense of homelessness. You may counter that it doesn’t matter, for we are all strangers in this world and we are all travelers in our journey to the afterlife. I agree. But boy do I feel…displaced? Not exactly, for I never felt that I had that *place* to begin with. Maybe rootless, for I remain without any roots, but I think rootless isn’t even a word. Disconnected is probably best – missing that connection to a rooted home.
I have no land that I can call my own. I have no affinity towards any one people. I hold no pride for any one language that I speak. My dress, while often of the American flavor, is intermixed with Pakistani and Arab – and I feel no attachment to any of them. I equally enjoy a good ‘ol-fashioned burger, Chicken Tikka Masala, Palestinian Maqlooba and Saudi Kabsa.
And so I feel not wedded to any one land or people.
My childhood memories are embarrassingly flooded with the self-gratification of the American 80’s. I get nostalgic when I hear any song by the Culture Club or the Knight Rider theme song. Pathetic, I know.
I was raised on prathas and pizza, and while I celebrated the Eids, I inescapably felt the seasonal joy of the Christmas season.
I speak fluent English with my wife and kids, passable Urdu with my parents, and broken Arabic with my Lord.
Living in Riyadh for nearly 10 years, I am still considered by most Saudis as my wife’s driver (especially since she sits in the back seat with the little ones).
And so at the end of the day, I feel no sense of cultural *ownership* in America, Pakistan, or Saudi Arabia.
Although I was born and raised in America, I feel spiritually alienated and am convinced that a US-based future is very dangerous for myself and my progeny.
Pakistan may be my ancestral land where my parents currently reside, yet I find it too ‘foreign’ and unwelcoming for my western sensibilities.
And while I appreciate the Islamic ambiance afforded me in Riyadh and dislike the superficiality of it all, I know that in the end, this can never be home.
So where do I go? I have no reliable link to the past of any one heritage and I have yet to find a cultural soil ideal for the seeds of my future.
When I was young, I would brazenly declare that Islam is the only identity and culture we need. Growing up in America, I was convinced that the unifying powers of Islam mixed with the trans-cultural experience of the US would spring forth a new generation free from the cultural baggage of our forefathers and overseas brethren. I staunchly believed this new generation would be international and free from borders - without need for any one culture.
Nearly thirty years later, I now see the fault in my logic.
Man needs roots. Man needs a home. Man needs to be able to look up the ladder of cultural lineage and see a link to his ancestry and then look down and feel a sense of stability for his progeny. Man needs to know himself, his past and his future.
But if after years of self-evaluation, one sees a medley of traditional mores and a mishmash of social customs and a jumble of cultural affiliations, it will inevitably cause detachment and isolation.
So I’ve come to the conclusion that just as we need a solid spiritual isnad (chain) linking us all the way to the Prophet (saw), we must also maintain our cultural isnad.
Most of us realize that the path of cutting off our religious ancestors and inventing a completely new approach to our deen has been fraught with errors and folly. Similarly, I realize that cutting off our cultural ancestors and creating a hodge-podge of various traditions and customs will result in an inevitable feeling of suspension, discontinuity, and aloofness.
My isnad has been severed, leaving me without a land or a people; and now, having rejected all the established traditions and cultures that I have ever known, I find myself isolated and without any connections of value, like a cultural salafi, hopelessly clinging to my dubious claim of cultural 'purity'.
Oh, and don’t feel pity for me. Save it for my children.
Their mother is a confused Palestinian-American and their father is an even more confused Pakistani-American and they’re being raised in a most confusing Saudi Arabia, interspersed with yearly jaunts back to America and Pakistan.