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‘Me’ Versus ‘Muslim Me’: An Irish Festival Reveals My Inner Cultural Jihad

‘Me’ Versus ‘Muslim Me’: An Irish Festival Reveals My Inner Cultural Jihad

Hanging with the Other

After eight years as a closeted Muslim, tucked away in the back of Nando’s or cosseted in the embrace of Muslim-only events, I honestly felt I was ready and strong enough to hang out with artists again, without the risk of being affected.

As the weekend progressed I could hear the ‘on the deen of his friends’ hadith in the back of my mind.

On the day of the literary festival, Frank Ormsby thrilled the charming Irish audience with ditties, poems, and haikus. I wrote my own in response:

I never thought I’d hear

As much swearing in a haiku

As I did here

After an hour or so, I noticed that I was no longer uncomfortable with the casual swearing which is part of Irish artists pattern of speech. I began to giggle at them instead.

Yet, I knew that as I stood up to present sections of my journey to Islam, many, perhaps most in that room would not meet a Muslim in their daily life, much less seek out a mosque in Belfast to find out what our faith is about.

The questions afterward were honest and forthright and most happened during private chats.

One of my heroes of folk music had brought his fiddle with him. John Sheahan is the last surviving member of the Dubliners.

In 2013, he was awarded an honorary doctorate in music from Trinity College, Dublin. He reminded me of Santa Claus, and his affable manner brought back memories of my Dad. Like many, he feels ‘uncomfortable’ about the niqab, the burqa. I explained what was mainstream in Islamic dress and what was a minority opinion.

We chatted for some time. I accepted his hug at the end, from an uncle to a niece – and so as not to offend him.

‘You put is so sensibly’ he told me ‘your faith makes sense when you speak it about it. You’ve made me think.’

But shaytan was not done with me. As I packed my books away, I was asked to the evening music festivities, in the ‘Inn’ down the road. Part of me wanted to go so badly. I imagined myself laughing, clapping my hands, enlivened with live music by a folk legend.

Culturally, the call of the wild is always with western converts. It’s not an alien way of being, the music mixed with alcohol. It’s a memory of times gone by, a bittersweet nostalgia.

I spent that evening instead at the wooden kitchen table of my hosts Catrin and Tommy Sands, playing scrabble.

A lesson was learned.

The straight path is not guaranteed for any of us. It is an honor, gifted to the one who strives to avoid bad things.

It is reported that the Messenger (PBUH) was asked what is the straight path. He SAWS drew a line marking the route to paradise. To its left and right are roads there are men who invite those who pass by them, saying, ‘Come this way! Come this way!’ Whoever is lured by them to those paths will end up in Hellfire and whoever remains steadfast upon the great path will end up in Paradise.”

It is too easy to start with a good intention, say for dawa, then to put ourselves in situations which deaden our hearts to the harm of them, the risks to our behavior, manners and finally our seeking the pleasure of Allah ta’allah rather than the pleasure of human beings.

Pray for me brothers and sisters and let’s pray for all Muslims to convey the best message – in the best way. Ameen.


About Lauren Booth

Lauren Booth is a TV and radio presenter dedicated to creating narrative spaces for Muslims in the arts and online.

She presents talks and lectures on the media, faith and politics at institutions around the world.

Buy tickets HERE to watch Lauren perform her solo play ‘Accidentally Muslim’ at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe every day August 2019

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