This week in my neighborhood book club we read My Name Used To Be Muhammad. My friend dropped off her copy one night around 8pm and by midnight I had devoured the 288 pages. I was fascinated by this man’s perspective on life as a youth in a remote Nigerian village, his schooling, his Muslim view on family and women and ultimately the journey that led him to question his upbringing and the more violent and stringent tenants of his faith.
One favorite part from the book was when Tito was in college, studying Islam, and almost against his will goes out with some fellows Muslims to a party. Muslims, according to Tito, do not drink, smoke, dress immodestly or associate with anything that is “western” in thought or practice – music, plays, dancing, dress, etc. But Tito goes to this party and hears a Michael Jackson song for the first time…and he can’t get it out of his head. He was amazed in this small apartment that all these people from different races and cultures were dancing….together….to western music. They were having a good time together. After the party, he eventually buys some Michael Jackson music and little by little starts working through some of his own prejudices and ideas.
I love that section of the book! First, because I love that one song from one man could end up making a monumental difference in someone’s life. Second, I love that it opened up Tito to explore more and more of Western ideas. As he puts it in the book, western people he met at college and in clubs were not the kind of monsters he had grown up being taught they were.
In sociology, there is a term called the face of the other. Basically all people are different from one another. We separate each other into groups, categories and subcategories so we can judge, manage expectations and categorize our lives. However, sometimes, we can see “the face of the other” in people – their spark of beauty, creativity, of unlimited potential. We realize that though we are wildly different in thought or deed, we are all the same. We are connected somehow and reflect each other in our best moments. And in these moments we find compassion, respect and honor for one another, individually and collectively. I think for most of us, once we see the humanity in others, it can be harder to continue our stereotypes about them.
So if you have a couple hours and want to learn about the practices of a small Nigerian village, the corrupt ways of an Egyptian prison and the influence of Michael Jackson – this might be a good story for you! If you have read the book, I would love to hear what you thought about it as well.