Salaam, Dan I. OversawPosted: January 29, 2014
Our new book, Salaam, Love: American Muslim Men on Love, Sex & Intimacy, will be released on February 4th. In the lead up to the release, meet our 22 contributors.
Today, meet Dan I. Oversaw!
An excerpt from Dan’s story, “Our Way Lies Together”:
Until Muna, I had been in retreat. I had been thinking of leaving grad school, of going home to Boston. Life outside of my college cocoon had rubbed me raw. It was all the usual stuff, I suppose: working for an income, living on my own, and having no social safety net. What made it especially hard for me was the well-hidden, very shameful anxiety disorder that I had been combatting since adolescence—a crippling panic that would sometimes grab me, the frenzied loss of control that plagued me. Over the years, I immersed myself in film, books, television, and popular culture as a method of casually combating it, but it was too big and too daunting to maintain so far from home. It left me safe nowhere and comfortable with no one. With such a primal fear always ready to erupt, it was difficult to feel fully human.
To read more, order Salaam, Love today!
Q&A with Dan
Tell us about yourself
I’m not just a late-comer to Islam — I’m pretty much a Johnny-come-lately to religion whatsoever. That is, I was fairly unenamored with it as it was taught in my childhood community, the New England suburbs. Maybe it’s because our lives were so comfortable or it was such a “given” or none of my clergy seemed interested in taking me up on the challenging questions I had. It was only later in college and my advanced degree work that I found my love of stories and narrative found their nucleus, for me, in sacred myths and religious lore. So, it’s only through storytelling that I had any awakening to religion and, though I remain a rather secular guy, found my theological comfort zone with Islam.
Why were you drawn to this project?
Love InshAllah was such a great book and great project that I was almost jealous my XY chromosomes prohibited me from being part of it. Actually, I basically felt that I had something to say, something that I had learned from falling in love with my girlfriend-turned-wife that orbited our respective (and growing) religious views, that would fit rather adroitly. Since we’re both rather private about our personal and spiritual lives in my household, this project was the best and most safe, embracing spot in which to engage those ideas.
What was the most challenging part of sharing your story?
Ha — coming up with fake names for my wife and me. “Names have been changed to protect the innocent…”
If you’re writing under a pen name, why?
Well, remember that “childhood community” I mentioned before? It had taught me that religion was a necessarily public exercise; that is, I went through much of my young life feeling that I was compelled to be part of a group spiritually and that my personal feelings had to be public compulsorily. Now, I’m not claiming that religious communities aren’t excellent support and social systems nor am I being disrespectful to the ummah, but I found that I sought a slightly more solitary, more insular spiritual life. And, in my experience, Islam offers that, too, to the believer who chooses to worship that way.
So, in a similar fashion, I felt likewise about my story: I am happy (delighted, actually) to share my experience and my romance, as it were, but I didn’t want to invite absolutely everyone who read it “beyond the page,” in a sense. So much of my professional life requires me to be public that I preferred to offer this story detached from my everyday identity so that I could return to it (and my family) without obligation or accumulation.
If there’s one thing you hope that readers will take away from your story, what is it?
Perhaps I’m a product of my time or my environment, but I’ve come to understand Islam, love, and family as being quite congruous with fun, entertainment, and fantasy. That is, a lot of the models I see in the media, whether fictional or non-fictional, are devout and pious people but sometimes without humor or maybe without dimension. I prefer to offer myself, the love I found with my wife, and even the character I’m drawn to as examples of what I feel are truer experiences of religion: people finding God or faith or just something special in everyday activities. Institutionalized religion has its place and its importance, no question, but I also want to hear about the rabbi who loves Jazz or the chaplain who collects Garbage Pail Kids from his youth. (I happen to be — or have become — the Muslim who loves pop culture. No reason those shouldn’t fit, right?)