Saturday, June 2, 2007

Even for the love of the umma, Lewis, I'm not sure...

Lewis Atiyat Allah has in some way seduced me. This has neither been his avowed nor actual intention; Lewis is not his real name and he does not know me. If he did he would throw me in the trash with all the other fast and loose European and American women. Would I let it go, this time, for the sake of his intellect?
Lewis Atiyat Allah is a smart man, an educated Saudi intellectual, and he makes me feel a little ashamed, just as he might hope, and sort of numb. But I am in the way of his story. So this is Atiyat Allah's story as told by Madawi al-Rasheed in Contesting the Saudi State:

"Lewis is a committed Jihadi Salafi. He is also a hybrid in the sense that he successfully combines his religious identity and commitment to Islam with a rather deep immersion in Western discourse and languages. [...] According to his testimony, he is the real Salafi, the one who has not been domesticated by 'Al-Saud', pejoratively referred to in his articles as al-Sulul, a mock name which has been commonly used by the Islamist opposition in Saudi Arabia to refer to the ruling family, thanks to Lewis. [...] Lewis is a real conversationalist [in Internet chat rooms and online debates]. He engages his opponents in intense debate, answers their queries, responds to their provocation and defends his point of view. A substantial part of his discourse is primarily directed towards his fellow Salafis, mainly those who, in his opinion, not only betrayed the Salafi movement by ta'til faridhat al-jihad (suspending the obligation of jihad), but also condemned his brand of Salafism.[...]
According to Lewis, his life can be seen as a series of conversions. He had a traditional religious upbringing. His father was a Salafi and he grew up in a Salafi environment. He learnt the Quran from his father, who later sent him to Madina, where he studied in the Hadith College.
[...] Lewis says that after this brief experience if Islamism 'things happened to him', but without specifying the nature and impact of these 'things'. As a result he admitted that he lost his Islamic identity. Three years passed after he graduated from university without being able to define the meaning of 'belonging to the umma'. It seems that this was his first personal and intellectual crisis in life.
He abandoned his Islamic awakening and became a liberal. At this stage he began reading philosophical texts, for example the Encyclopedia of Abdulrahman Badawi, the story of Hayy ibn Yaqthan, Descartes, Spinoza and Kant, in addition to the history and causes of the European enlightenment and the French Revolution. He was impressed and began to condemn Islamic thought [...] At this stage Lewis went to America.
Lewis returned to Saudi Arabia fully immersed in liberalism. [...] He began to defend democracy, human rights and the rights of women, as defined by the West.
Lewis believes that in a previous time Satan occasionally tempted him. [...] Lewis refers here to morality and corruption as an escape from 'loss of Arab identity and faith in religion.'
Following this loss, Lewis lived ayam al-dhalal (the days of obscurity). On one occasion, he endeavoured to use all his skills and charm to mislead a young American woman, a representative of 'the civilised world', using Internet chat rooms. After several virtual encounters, the woman fell in love with him and the flowers he used to send her. She told him that she used to show the flowers to her friends and tell them that they were from her 'Arab boyfriend' who owned an oil well. She later asked him to marry her, but he declined. She then told him that she frequented an Islamic centre and had converted to Islam, hoping that he would change his mind and marry her. He declined the offer again, and began to question how he contributed in his own sinful ways to creating a bad impression about Islam and Muslims. At this juncture, Lewis wished for death.
Lewis's 'illicit encounters with women seem to have been a foundation for his return to Islamism."
Al-Rasheed goes on to narrate the rest of these encounters as told by Lewis himself on the Internet, and his subsequent conversion back to Sahwa. But I stop here because it is this encounter with the American woman that intrigues me. It has in brief all the most explosive narrative ingredients: sexual longing, guilt, religious doubt and conversion, rejection and the desire for death. I understand Lewis now and I pity the foolish girl; I admire Lewis for his profound crisis and hate him for his familiar disgust and cowardice, while I'm embarrassed for the girl and want to chastise her for her naivety.
Lewis has developed a purpose out of this crisis - he has identified a clear direction to go in, while she has made a perhaps irreversible fool of herself and is left out in the heat, roasting like a stupid hen that has lost its head. Lewis will now disappear inside a sacred, cool space and everything he does and says will, if he plays his cards right, carry the weight of centuries of Islamic philosophical discourse. Everything she says about the episode will make her pathetic.
I doubt she has anywhere equivalent to the mosque, as the righteously disgusted and disenchanted male has to disappear into. Our flesh and desire make us humans pathetic, and rejection and repulsion of the flesh has long been considered a noble pursuit. I suppose. I want to say, "Bravo aleyk Lewis, you are a smart and desirable man, and all this... well, it's a clever ruse, but a cowardly one."

No comments: