An honest man

Many moons ago, Love InshAllah co-editor Ayesha Mattu asked me to be an advance reader for the anthology. I used the word “honest,” and structured my thoughts around that idea.

Ayesha engaged me as to why I thought being “honest” was so important. It’s because honesty is hard, and no matter how much we practice it – and it is something we practice, because it’s not natural for us – it’s still a radical thing.

We never want to present ourselves in a way that makes us seem less than we think we are. That means we obfuscate, divert, and weave tales of who want to be, both to ourselves and to others. We craft these narratives, and in the telling, there are omissions and commissions. We are not lying or being dishonest, but we are not being honest. We want to be well-thought of by other people.

Love is a hard topic. Along with money, it’s probably the one place no one likes to think of themselves as being less than successful. To talk about sex in a way that intersects with religious sensibilities adds another layer of complexity. Unless these women were all malamati, seeking opprobrium to detach themselves from this world, their stories were radical because they were honest.

When Ayesha came to me and asked me to contribute to the blog, I readily agreed.

Then, I panicked.

I realized that I wasn’t sure that I wanted to be that honest.

I tell my story, or a story of myself, a thousand times a day. The story is true. I’m not sure it is honest. I don’t know if I can peel back the layers like the women of Love InshAllah.

I also have to wonder if, as a man, I have that many layers. My gender makes me relatively privileged. I even get semi-regular massages by the TSA gratis. There are things I do not have to hide. There are things that are understood about me. All by virtue of being a man.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t be more honest.

Yusef Ramelize wrote a great piece for this blog on who he needs to be for his partner. Privilege means we are immune from questioning ourselves. That’s not honest.

To be honest takes courage.

I am a coward.

I live in fear. I don’t mean of the NYPD [insert an NWA lyric here]. I live in fear of all the things that are expected of me that I may not be able to live up to. The privilege I have is a fancy prison. Like an elephant chained by a string, I am contained.

I must provide. But I’m an adjunct faculty member in the Study of Religion. Overeducated, underpaid, and no prospects for any other employment.

I must protect and serve. I’m an itinerant preacher. I travel the country talking to Muslim kids (high school and college), and I am brave for them but I fear what happens when I leave.

I see the disintegration of our communities and ourselves. People flailing to stay afloat economically, socially, spiritually, looking for God to answer their prayers.

And I struggle daily with the question of how can a Good God allow suffering. I believe God is there, but I also want to shout “why hast thou forsaken us,” knowing that God is asking the same of us.

I must be big and strong. But I’m small and weak.

There is a crushing sense that the things we turn to to save us will ultimately destroy us. People build and kill in the name of God. Capitalism offers a chance for worldly success, and tears down so many others in the process.

For every good story, there are hundreds and thousands that will not taste that victory.

I can’t be honest. If I am, the weight of the world that I have convinced myself I can carry (you may call me Atlas), will crush me. Right now I am Clark Kent.

So, I’m going back to the pedestal I’ve crafted for myself. I’m going to assume the pose of the world savior. At some point, when the exhaustion and the awe have overwhelmed me, you might see the shadow of a little boy sucking his thumb.

“One who has authority is like someone riding on a lion; he is
envied for his position, but he knows his situation better.”

— Imam Ali

Hussein Rashid is an academic, activist, and lecturer. He is deeply committed to community engagement and community building. A native New Yorker and proud Muslim, he believes his faith demands that he leave the world a better place for the next generation. He is a contributor to the newly-released anthology All-American: 45 American Men on Being Muslim.


5 Comments on “An honest man”

  1. Chinyere says:

    Excellent piece! It makes me realize how much I hunger for male introspection in writing…

    Honesty is indeed challenging. What an interesting perspective into privilege…love it!

    And I look forward to reading the All-American anthology!

  2. Isla says:

    Do you beleive your story is one that is more universal or do you feel alone in your view, in your honesty?

  3. Fez Meghani says:

    Enlighteningly brilliant! Many of the points made by Dr. Rashid hit straight to the heart.

  4. Isla, I think there are lots of men who would agree with the sentiments I express. Fez has already chimed in.

    Chinyere, please let us know what you think.

  5. Beautiful essay. Thank you for your honesty.