I Cheated Present-Day Me

This is a guest post by Kheir. You can follow him on Twitter @schwanncells.

Every time I see this photo up above, I tear up. The elephant was killed in a train crash. The level of respect this person has for the creature is simply beautiful. Words cannot begin to describe the emotions I feel. This photo helped me cope with death and showed me how beautiful the end can be. I want my life celebrated by friends and family when my time ends. Regardless of how I die, half of the amount of ceremony the elephant is receiving would be enough for me.

Photography taps into your humanity and soul. Not only do you feel more alive and human, you feel connected to something greater than yourself.

That is probably why Islam banned it.

When I was in my teens, my family and I shred our photos. All of them. My baby photos, my graduation photos, that time we went on a road trip through the US. We threw them in the garbage. Everything. We purified ourselves. Our home. We rid ourselves of the devil. You see, angels can’t enter the house if pictures (or dogs) reside in your home. At first, we kept them in the washroom, because angels don’t follow you in there anyways! Smart move, eh?! We cheated the system! We thought we were safe. Then, we started to question it. When I was around 15, I read a book that said (and this is a rough translation), “The photographer and the one photographed are immoral and hell-bound.” We realized we had, in fact, not really cheated the system, but had cheated ourselves. And we feared hell. We decided, as a family, to rid ourselves of this evil.

For a long time, I agreed with my family’s conclusions. I took part in the decisions. I pushed them towards fundamental Islam. I practically shoved it down their throats. I showed the book I’d read to my mother, and when she ignored it, I pushed. I pushed until she gave in. I thought I was freeing my family from their hellish shackles, but in reality, I was just tightening them. The devil was not chaining them, I was; I chained my family to Islam. To Wahhabism. To Salafiyyah. At age 12, we threw aside our cultural music. At 14, I convinced her to wear dresses instead of pants. At age 15, we shunned our cultural artwork. At age 17, we destroyed our family photos. The chains grew tighter and tighter. The same chains that forced my grandmother to undergo female genital mutilation. The same chains that made my aunts wear the niqab, and made my uncles grow beards. The same chains that separated my family from me. I locked them in those chains, and I threw away the key.

My teenage self cheated present-day me. I don’t have childhood photos. I don’t have a photo of my dad taking us to the petting zoo for the first time. I don’t remember the cave we went to go see when I was little. My mother’s childhood photos are gone. My great-grandmother’s black and white photos are gone. It is as if a huge part of my family history simply never happened. I think my family unconsciously wanted to forget their years of ignorance, the days when they were jahils. The days when the sun touched their skin. The days when they were clean-shaven. When they danced to Elvis Presley, when they loved sitcoms, when they decorated Christmas trees with their neighbours.

The days when my mother laughed and smiled with her non-Muslim friends

The days when my family felt a bit more.

I wish they can feel again like I can. They have become numb to everything. They lost part of their humanity. And it’s my fault. I took away their humanity and sacrificed it to God. To Allah. They only feel through Him. Now, they see the world through a darkened lens. They can’t enjoy the freedom of their bodies swaying to the beat. To my family, the elephant means nothing. They can’t feel the beauty of life in this photo because they can’t understand it. It is against Islam. God forbid it, so it must be wrong. My mother used to dance to Elvis Presley in our family restaurant, her long hair swaying to and fro. Now, she is confined. She is chained. And I fucking wish I could find that key.

Follow Kheir on Twitter @schwanncells

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