07 January 2009

Closer to clean

I saw a ten-minute film at the Boulder International Film Fest a couple of winters ago called "My Name is Ahmed Ahmed (and I Can't Fly Anywhere)." Ahmed Ahmed in his short film spoke of the ups and downs of being a Muslim-American comedian after 9/11, and had some really funny bits, as the film's title infers. I was delighted to see his name recently when we saw Iron Man. But what stuck with me long after I had seen his short film wasn't his gags or cheerful-if-a-bit-resigned attitude (see his sporty traveling outfit -- jeans, Nike sneakers, American football jersey, baseball cap -- he does everything short of carry an American flag and do the wave to ease the running of the TSA gauntlet): it was the prayer. There was something about seeing him wash himself when entering a mosque, and I have been thinking about that detail ever since.

I once heard someone demand how Middle Easterners who wear so much white cloth keep it clean all day, and I think of all those prayers they make -- all five. (Incidentally, an IFS film coming up this spring, Times and Winds, is organized around the five prayers.) In this post-9/11 world, I wonder whether the people who have heretofore interpreted "swarthy" as "sinister," "dark," or "suspect," as the Nancy Drew books once suggested, could first think of Muslims' devout cleanliness, instead of those rare extremists who long to be united in paradise with their 72 virgins (or golden raisins, depending on the translation). I am not religious, but I do have spiritual yearnings, so I understand the impulse to let nothing, not even a thin layer of grime, get between the individual and the object of his or her spiritual devotion. Me, when I think of Muslims, I think of a nice, funny, and really clean guy who is trying to make his living like the rest of us.

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