GUEST BLOG: Shasha Ali: How to have a conversation about religion without killing each other

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Ever since ISIS came into the picture, I have lost all words. I see blog after blog written by non-Muslims on TheDailyBlog commenting on the hypocrisy of the media, John Key’s maximisation of the situation, US and Russia game plans and the politicisation of Islamic militantism, and to some extent I was impressed by the voices of solidarity through these critiques. My sudden loss for words worsened into complete muteness with the Sydney Siege and most recently the Charlie Hebdo incident. You just can’t win as a Muslim in this world, I thought. To speak or not to speak, there lies my conscience and at the same time my honour, my own jihad to deal with day after day after day.

Talking about the state of Islamist politics amongst politically aware activist allies wasn’t easy either. Palestinian solidarity was an easy rationale; Middle East tribal and inter-country politics with/out the US, is so complicated and beyond my sociological comprehension. Even amongst quiet Muslim feminist circles where we spend internet hours grieving together about the innocent children killed in Peshawar, it was hard to decipher and discern what are the facts and what are the fallacies, quizzing us into complete oblivion about who is fighting who and for what definitions of Islam and justice. The best we could do was say a prayer and cry.

What is certain however, is all that pain compounded with anger only led to further fear of having conversations about religion. I am sure I was not the only one. There were no mass protests or demonstrations held by Muslims in the name of Islam or by non-Muslims in solidarity with Muslims in New Zealand in the last few months. Well, wait, there was that Maori Muslim guy who wanted to set up an Islamic state in New Zealand and a statement was released by FIANZ condemning him, but that was such a predictable beginning and end. But aside from that? Nobody truly knew what to say or do correctly anymore. Everyone I know right now is either polarised, confused or senselessly outraged (on both sides) about what happened in France.

While everyone was buzzing about freedom of speech and expression, it got me thinking whether there is any room at all to have a conversation about religion without killing anyone, or at the very least without anticipating offence and making defence. And so it is amusing that my hope to hold a conversation about religion was finally revived through a Facebook chat with my punk friend Jerry Suave! And knowing how Facebook can lead to verbal wars and troll fights, you’d be surprised at how seamless it is.

Jerry is a punk rock musician based in Wellington who sings for The Dilfs and used to play bass in Badd Energy while I was in Melting Pot Massacre. It is uncanny that people hardly know that he is Mormon and I am Muslim and we are both actively connected in the punk community. We chat sometimes when we can’t sleep or feeling shitty about our day etc. And it just so happens that I was having one of those philosophical moments of “why is it that Christianity, a religion that grew out of the East, was stolen, adopted so vasly and resold through colonization so easily by the West?” status update and comment threaded all over my page and then this happened…

Ladies and gents of all genders, cultures and faiths, here is how we can have a conversation about religion without killing each other (ps.: Jerry is cool with me sharing this… just don’t tell our parents. Pps. Also there may be some acronyms beyond Lol that you might need to ask your younger friends/ family members. Good luck!)

(Scene: On 11th January 2015, past 11pm. Over Facebook.)
Jerry: did u know dat i was raised mormon? lolz
Shasha: yea yea i think u told me eh… yea do u still practise/believe
Jerry: sum1 recently didnt know dat bout me!! i was like… really?? lol
Jerry: mmm kiinda
Shasha: yea guess hard to knw eh
Jerry: i dont pray
Jerry: yeah true! i guess coz most my earliest punx friends in welly n my m8s i made in hamilton knew lol
Shasha: like when i was working in a call centre there were heaps of samoan mates, and like 90% were all mormons
Jerry: loll yep
Jerry: i rly wna learn da transcendental meditation technique!
Shasha: and then I know someone who is dating this samoan girl and i asked is she mormon? and hes like nah, just christian. i was like, REALLY!?
Jerry: lol
Jerry: i think dat meditation is prayer basically! i fuckd round a bit wit meditation last year but i wanna get deeper wit it
Shasha: oh true, wat kind
Jerry: just like random selftaught tutorial types on da youtube lol but i went to dis class thing bout TM i rly wanna learn it! but its so xpensive lol
Shasha: wats TM
Jerry: transcendental meditation
Shasha: woah sounds high
Shasha: i mean
Shasha: deep
Shasha: i mean
Shasha: u knw wat i mean
Jerry: haha yup!! iknow!
Jerry: its 840 to learn it tho lol but..when i getta job its what im gonna save up 4 1st lol
Shasha: YIKES
Shasha: nah man
Jerry: david lynch practises it. hahah, dats wat sold me/sparked my interest tbh haha
Shasha: dont do it
Shasha: i mean like if its so inaccessible then it must be for rich people only
Shasha: and rich people worship money
Jerry: yeah thats true
Shasha: and do things to make themselves feel better about their money. dont do it man
Jerry: but, its still cheaper than being a mormon TBH
Shasha: truly?
Jerry: is how i see it lol
Shasha: how much does it cost
Jerry: yep. 10% tithing on yr income
Shasha: i am so happy we’re chatting about this btw, why cant the world chat like us about religion eh
Jerry: haha tooootally!!
Jerry: sames
Shasha: hahahah
Shasha: 10% ? wow
Jerry: yo, if u dont pay dat u cant go 2 da temple!! n like, yr not an ‘actual’ mormon if u dont go 2 da temple
Shasha: cant u negotiate
Jerry: ya ikr.
Jerry: na lol
Jerry: my nan h8888s dat bout mormons
Shasha: like, individual circumstances vary?
Jerry: shits compulsary as
Jerry: well, if u dont have income u dont gotta pay
Shasha: even if ur on the benefit
Jerry Suave: not sure. probs not in dat situation!
Shasha: oh tru
Jerry: coz,
Shasha: does it increase every few yrs etc
Jerry: some of dat money goes towards helping local church members in need etc
Jerry: but most of it it goes back to utah tbh lol
Shasha: yea yea tru
Jerry: da 10% nah it stays da same
Shasha: noone questioned why 10 percent eh
Jerry: haha it was 1 of joseph smiths revelations from god yo haha
Shasha: true true
Jerry: n it says
Jerry: “he who is tithed shall not be burned as his coming” da 2nd coming of christ
Jerry: so like, u literally burn in hell if u dont pay up haha
Shasha: shit thst some serious consequences
Jerry: haha ikrrr
Shasha: yea like in islam, we have this thing called zakat
Jerry: mormon hell! hoooooly shit. fuk dat haha
Jerry: uh huh
Shasha: but we pay it like once a yr for eid u knw
Shasha: and only working adults pay it duh
Jerry: wats eid?
Shasha: to the mosque so its like annual charity etc
Jerry: cool
Shasha: oh we have 2 major fests – Eid means festival
Jerry: o yup
Shasha: one for finishing fasting an entire mth (ramadhan) and then another one for sacrifice (aka DEADLY KILLING OF GOATS fest)- gory eh
Jerry: hah whoa
Shasha: anyways u pay this zakat to help the poor in the community
Jerry: truu
Shasha: so my mum wld be like when i was living on my own OI OI HAVE U PAYED YR ZAKAT YET U HAVE 1 WEEK LEFT
Shasha: i was like yea tmrw
Shasha: tmrw
Shasha: tmrw
Shasha: and then
Shasha: OH SHIT
Shasha: final day!
Jerry: haha sheeei
Shasha: im like MUM HOW MUCH.
Shasha: she goes, 10 bucks is enough
Shasha: i was like
Shasha: 10 bucks?
Shasha: i said, i’ll give 20
Shasha: then i go to the mosque (any one will do cos i hardly go anyway and its not a sin if girls dont go lol)
Jerry: lol tru
Shasha: this old man comes to me and said, its only 10 bucks
Shasha: i said, thts ok, keep the change
Shasha: he goes, i dont have change
Shasha: i said, thts ok, donate it forward
Shasha: he goes, but how do we break this 20 now
Shasha: omg, 3 to 4 men came round me, “hang on let me check” they all go scouring their wallets
Shasha: HAHAHAHAHA
Jerry: hahaha
Shasha: WAT a ruckus
Shasha: shldve just listened to mum
Shasha: 10 bucks.
Jerry: hahahah!!
Jerry: well, i still would like 2 learn da transcendental meditation technique tbh lol
Shasha: yr choice of course
Shasha: but i think like a lot of religions have meditation sorta things no?
Jerry: hahah i just wna get on dat david lynch levelll
Shasha: like buddhism thingy hinduism thingy
Jerry: yup
Shasha: i think islam also has yea sufism thingy
Jerry: im [not] so much interested in da organised religions tho
Jerry: i just wna meditate at home or wherever
Shasha: i hear it helps… yea i tried, twice, different places, different ppl
Shasha: GOT BOred and failed
Jerry: lol

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The end!

Shasha Ali is an activist and writer, as well as vocalist of defunct all-Asian punk band Melting Pot Massacre. She used to write about challenging racism, homo/transphobia and the non-benefits of such contributions in Aotearoa New Zealand. These days she is focused more on reading and writing on decolonisation and Islam.