To begin this story, I would like to touch on something that has been in the news as of late… The Chick-fil-A controversy. You see my friends, I never had experienced Chick-fil-A until a couple of months ago, when out of boredom with my usual lunch spots, I went to the location over by Danada and had some chicken nuggets. I had seen it before, but as I typically loathe eating chicken and have to force myself to have it to temper my usual diet of red meat, I wasn’t very interested. What happened next? I discovered Chick-fil-A sauce.
But I am getting ahead of myself. The title of this post refers to my first love, a Muslim boy I went to school with back in the day. To protect the innocent, I shall call him Jefferson, after Thomas Jefferson because this guy was smart. Uber-smart and as I was the only Muslim girl in the school and he was the only Muslim boy, I had eyes only for him. Because at roughly a dozen years of age, I couldn’t fathom that I could like anyone else or should. I had to stick to my kind right? Muslims only married Muslims, Christians only loved Christians, so on and so forth. Besides the whole Muslim thing, he was sooooo smart. From the very beginning, intelligence is the number one selling point for me and he was one of the most intelligent people I have ever known, in fact. I followed him around like a little lamb, hanging on his every intellectual word.
One day in 1989, near the middle of the school year something controversial happened! A book was published and condemned. Salman Rushdie wrote The Satanic Verses and Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa against him. Big news at my house. Rushdie’s name was mud! I, like a little parrot, went up to Jefferson in an attempt to impress him with my knowledge of current affairs, my worldly sense of literature and my self-assured piety and announced that I would love to be the one to turn him in. Jefferson turned his dreamy brown gaze upon me and said, “Why? Have you read the book?”
I was stunned. Did I understand him correctly? “But he is wrong! He insulted Islam! He deserves whatever punishment he gets!” My outrage was overwhelming. Here was the love of my life, saying that a criminal should be allowed to go unpunished! Shocking!
But my fury turned to confusion when Jefferson continued, “If you haven’t read the book, how can you say it’s bad?” Oh Jefferson, if you only knew what turmoil you threw me into that day. I became silent and I thought about what he said for a long time after that. He was the smartest person I knew. Smarter than me. Maybe even smarter than my parents. Little did I know but Jefferson shook the foundation of Farheen that day. The first of many tremors and earthquakes to come.
Shortly after that Jefferson was admitted to a school for gifted kids and he and I were parted. My love for him remains, to this day, unrequited. But time passes and people move on. I became a different person after knowing him. I began to question things. I began to wonder why I was supposed to do some things while others got to choose other paths.
A few years later, when I was at Illinois State University, majoring in Godlessness and Self Destruction, I finally read The Satanic Verses. After I finished it, I thought about it. And read it again. And then once more for good measure. The first line of the book is “‘To be born again,’ sang Gibreel Farishta tumbling from the heavens, ‘first you have to die'” (Rushdie). This was during one of the most difficult times in my life. I was away at school with no idea how to function without the instruction of my parents and my beloved grandfather had just passed away. I died and was reborn during that time, a different Farheen from the one who mindlessly followed. Or had tried to anyway. There was a part of me who never followed mindlessly after Jefferson had questioned me. Dead Farheen just usually kept her mouth shut. I won’t tell you what I think of things now. There was a teacher of Muslim origin who discussed the book with me afterwards and he never divulged what his beliefs were. I see the wisdom in that and choose to keep my own counsel on what I think of religion and God personally. Live and let live, I say.
So what does this really long, boring story have to do with Chick-fil-A and the controversy currently raging on?
- Freedom of speech is our right. Everyone has that right as far as I am concerned. However, because this world is filled with crazy people, religious zealots and generally speaking, ignorant jack-holes, there are consequences to speaking one’s mind. Salman Rushdie wrote something that made me think. Probably made lots of people think. But he paid a price for it, having to spend a good portion of his life in hiding. He still is not safe today, which is unfortunate, but a harsh reality of his life. Chick-fil-A will not get my business anymore because they have the right to say what they want, spend their money the way they want, but I have the right to eat at KFC instead.
- Sometimes, people should question what is happening around them. I am not going to just mindlessly show up at some restaurant because my religion demands I show my disrespect for people who choose to live their lives as they see fit. I may show up because I am slavishly addicted to a really, really, really tasty condiment, but not because my pastor, or imam, or inspirational speaker demands it. I am not by any means saying people should believe what I do, but whatever you believe, know why you believe it.
- I am going to miss Chick-fil-A sauce. But I missed Jefferson for a long time and got over it, kind of. I still hope that someday our paths will cross and he will see what I saw at the age of 12. Just as I hope that someday, Chick-fil-A will adopt a more tolerant view on things and on that glorious day, I will drown my chicken nuggets in the most glorious and delicious of condiments, Chick-fil-A sauce… AMEN… er… AMEEN!