Sunday, April 8, 2012

Faith meets Hospitality

Akhtar, Ayad. American Dervish. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2012.

Here's the plot background for what I want to address: Nathan is a Jew who hopes to marry Mina who is a Muslim. Intending to convert to being a Muslim, Nathan tells his father, who has lost most of his family in the Holocaust, about his plans. His father warns, “No one will ever see you as anything other than a Jew” (178). But Mina's sister irenically assures Nathan, “It's what's different about us—once you're a Muslim, that's who you are. And it doesn't matter what you were or where you come from—it's a true democracy. Where everyone gets to vote” (178-179).

Hurray for hospitality!

Then, Nathan attends the Islamic Center where Souhef is speaking. We already know that our protagonist's father judges Souhef as contumely and, more pervasively, rejects the faith and practices of the Muslim religion. Nonetheless, Father agrees to accompany his friend and colleague Nathan to the Islamic prayer ritual. Before long, Souhef's speech recalls the transgressions of the Jews, according to the Muslim story, repeating in ex cathedra fashion, “Of Me alone stand in awe!/Of Me alone be aware!” He continues, accusing Jews of self-love and constant dissatisfaction with their lives. The crowd becomes agitated, Nathan flees, and Father and his son Hyat are quickly behind. Souhef is smiling smugly and the crowd, profiling Nathan as a Jew, becomes minatory.

Is it faith that has prohibited hospitality? Or is it bigotry? It's tough for those raised in PC cultures, to appreciate that someone's faith draws a line in the sand, which outlaws contact with and approval of those on the other side. Those of us who live in such cultures may ask ourselves if we stand for anything that rejects anyone. For example, you're gay. So are you supposed to host homophobes in your home just to be hospitable? Or you're a Midwesterner. Are you obligated to treat Yankee-bashers hospitably? Maybe you're a Muslim, a Jew, a Catholic, or a Hindu and view those against your faith as non-believers who should be if not eliminated, at least rejected. In such cases, what's your hospitality obligation? Is standing for, and therefore, against something/body, more integral to your integrity than being hospitable? Or must we all exhibit adiaphorism no matter how unethical that makes us.

What's the difference in being a bigot and being a believer? If I stand for gay rights, I'm not inviting gay-bashers to my house. Does that make me a bigot? Or does that make me a self-actualizer who associates with only those who contribute to my ethical health and my world's ethics? (But that's a different blog:

In the classroom, I don't have the luxury of exclusion. I must (and do) insist on abiding by rules of decorum for everyone. However, I don't allow any “bashing.” Essentially, I'm stifling those views and voices. Does privileging political correctness contradict hospitality?  More and more, I'm wondering if hospitality disallows authentic conversations. I'm wondering if there's something more honest, although not hospitable, about declaring “Here I stand. I can do no other”--Luther's alleged declaration before the Diet of Worms?

More and more, I have become intrigued with the limitations of hospitality. Although American Dervish deplores Souhef's diatribe, I'm not sure that it's so clear-cut.

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"One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well." - from A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf