Thursday, February 25, 2010

THE BOOK: prologue

from the sacred Qu'ran of my faith:

We have made lawful to you your wives whom you have given their due compensation and those your right hand possesses from what Allah has returned to you [slaves and captives]... in order that there be upon you no difficulty. And ever is Allah Forgiving and Merciful.

Surah an-Nur 24:58

This is the story of a slave. A willful slave. A woman who believed in the right to choose whomsoever she willed to love, and to believe and act as she deemed best and true.

The human soul cannot be owned. Bought and sold as the body and mind may be, no man can own another man's soul, or tell a heart what to feel. Not even one's own. He can be a great lawmaker, 'Lord of all the land', call him 'King' or 'Sultan'... but... he cannot do that.

This is the story of a young woman who chose her fate with the conviction that on the day when souls are weighed and measured for their good and evil, she would not be able to attribute any of her sins to another master. She did what she thought was lawful, the only way that she could under the laws that existed at the time, and when you judge her (as you will), judge her knowing that she did so in a manner she felt she would be able to explain to her Creator, who she believes gives all men free will, and a soul with the purpose of living a life that is pleasing to God in equal parts, fullness and honesty.

Everyone is a slave to something. People of my nation have a false sense of freedom. They think freedom for me means driving a car in Saudi Arabia, and dressing up to please other people, wearing 'whatever I want' so long as it isn't a veil or a headscarf or loose fitting clothing. People are slaves to their jobs, slaves to media images, slaves to an idea of freedom-that if you choose other than that, you are suppressed.

I have left my country to have the freedom to live my life. If you believe freedom is being able to do what you want, I'm afraid to disappoint you, but no man is ever entirely free. In my country I had the freedom to change the law, to marry regardless my race, social position, religion, and family, and to choose to give that country in favor of another and still possess those same old freedoms upon returning. Here, I have the freedom to walk down the street-without everyone stopping and staring, no one needing the hours of my day for a life story dispelling their stereotypes. Here, I can get any job that I apply for based simply on my capabilities. Can I do the job? Yes. Do they need a person? Yes. So I've got it.

Now,mI might get paid by passport. Meaning, I make more money than someone of the same position and skill level from another country deemed lesser than my own by what I blame, some great social injustice, but I can get the job I deserve without having to fight for it. Yes, you can undoubtably argue, I could still get the same job back in the country of my passport cover with, albeit, a little effort on my part, but why should I have to prove myself based on anything, when another accomplishes the same, sans struggle, sans approval period? Is that not too, injustice?

The price of your high ideals, my father once told me. The only thing he and my mother agreed upon regarding the raising up of me was that the inclination of my temperament towards the fixed mark/mirage of 'fairness' would lead to trouble, and be the cause of great unhappiness and discontent in my life.

Life is not fair. I wish it were, but it isn't, so more often than not (and more often, I'll admit, than other people) I find myself fighting for something or fighting with someone; but I am torn no longer. It is immature to say that freedom is being able to do what you want, even if there is no harm in that for others. I know you can never gather up everything that you want and hold it all in one place. Go to every bounded border of the globe, and you will never find all of the freedoms you require in order to do everything that you want to do. If you are extraordinarily lucky, as I have been (you may laugh at this, it is your prerogative), than you may just find enough of those small but substantially integral freedoms, to do just what you need to do.

I needed to be with the one I loved, I needed to do so in good conscience, I needed to have a life of ordinary happinesses where I could support myself... I wanted to feel safe and happy and understood like every human being does, whose mind is not stricken with some depraved sickness...

I know the eventual expat audience will wonder: How could she be made a slave? In this modern day and age, who keeps a slave anyways? Only a tyrant would write such an indecent law that would drive men and women to even consider such an outmoded and barbaric practice as slavery is, even if the practice is partially condoned by-way-of-mention in 'some Muslim holy book'...

You can never gather up everything that you want and hold it all in one place. The best thing you can do is just find a place where most of your happiness exists, and try to live there.

For me, that place is Oman. Oman is a little Sultanate (that means, it is ruled by a Sultan) in the Persian Gulf. Most people have never heard of it, I find. It is not Amman, Jordan. Usually people just stare at me blankly until I say "it's close to Dubai." Most people, where I am from, think 'Dubai' is an actual country.

Oman is often called a Muslim country. I am a Muslim, so I know that means simply, that the population of citizens of said country is a majority, Muslim, and that a few of the principles of Shariah Law are enacted by the government there as a means of government. Once I was one of those so naive as to think an 'Islamic Country' would spell bliss. Now, I know there is no such thing as a 'Muslim Country' only a place with lots of Muslims. Neither is there such a thing as a 'Free Country'.

I left my country to have the freedom to live my ordinary life honestly in Oman, but have had to come to terms with the universal truth, that an honest life is not a freedom universally accessible to all. Human lives inevitably overlap in a dance of differing desires and imperatives, and some must sacrifice their personal freedoms for the sake of others.

Oman is a country ruled by a benevolent Sultan beloved by his people. Slavery is illegal in Oman, and has been since 1970 when an edict was passed by said Sultan freeing all slaves. Still, this story takes place in the Oman of today, and concerns the confused children of the Gulf as they deal with the complexities of a changing landscape revolving around nationalism, Islam, cultural familial obligations, and the eternal, and sometimes disturbing question of what freedom really is, and what it entails. It could easily be set in any other Gulf state, or even as far away from "The Girls of Riyadh" mindset as Australia. I have an Australian friend, who is actually quite famous via the blogging set, who can relate.

I am writing this because it is an important issue affecting my generation of Muslims, and because I love Oman as if I were Omani, and want to see the best for the Omani people. I admit to choosing the title and cover art to manipulate an Orientalist mindset into buying the book. I want the Western expat woman at the Saabco grocery in Qu'rum or Al Fair in Al Kuwair to be enticed by the veiled blue eyes of the woman on the cover, so that she chooses what began as a travel diary, over the Jean Sasoon "Princess" books in the stores' English-language section. My mother only having the movie "Not Without My Daughter" as a social reference for the region never benefitted me, or anybody else.

Everyone is a slave to something. As in the West, slavery as a state, is a result, not the actual issue in need of address. In Oman, personal freedom is often thought of as immature and non-descriptive. One's family comes first. Even the Sultan, who has the power to alter the course of his culture with the draft of a law and the revision of an edict, is a slave to his people. So maybe he can understand, better than anyone else, the reasonings of a willful slave.

I hope so-selfishly- and it is my very prayer. Pity, for all my philosophizing prologue, most of what you are about to read is most mundane to me, compared to the promise of intrigue and injustice conjured by the very first breaths of this story, when uttered by the syllable: 'slave'.

This story is about a slave. A willful slave. Emphasis being on the convictions of the woman, not her slavehood. Do I want pity for her? Not really. Do I personally condone the practice of slavery, that being the sale of human beings in exchange for money or goods? Of course not! But then, I do not think worldly goods is what Allah subhanhu wa ta'ala meant for us mere mortals in the provisions made for slavery in the Holy Qu'ran.

People in my country feel that freedom means being able to do what you want, or at least being able to vote for people who might be able to get you what you want. Some in the Middleeast agree, though I've never heard an Omani say he wasn't proud of his/her Sultan. Whether out of censorship or patriotism, this remains a fact. Like most Omanis, I disregard this view (or definition) of freedom as irrational, due to its frank implausibility for reasons aforementioned.

Muslims believe that God instilled in every human being the ability to choose good or evil, and called it free will.

It is my personal belief that freedom is the choice to do the right thing, nothing more, nothing less.

Sometimes it seems we have no choices and our paths are determined for us, and circumstance dictates where we are able to go.

I never wanted to come to Oman in the first place, and I had never intended to return when I left. When I bought my airline ticket five years later, for a return tour of the Gulf, my destination sure as hell wasn't Muscat, but that is where I ended up.

Muslims believe that God gave us free will, but that all our choices are preordained, with God knowing the outcome of those choices. If that is so (and I'm Muslim, so I believe it is) there had to be a reason He, subhanhu wa'ta'ala kept dragging me back here, to Oman, and to a certain Omani.

This started out as my travel diary, chronicling the adventures and misadventures of my friends and I for the amusement of our relations who begged us "make a book of it!". I require that is remain such (unless you personally want to undertake to task of editing my work free of charge) being that I am no great writer. The events themselves will make every intended point. One last point:

In my religion, there is no greater state to aspire to, that to be a slave to the will of Allah. I will never fully understand that will, but here in the following pages will be my best attempt to relate it.

Bismillahi Rahamnir Raheem...

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