بِسْــــــــــــــــــمِ اﷲِالرَّحْمَنِ اارَّحِيم
Think on this for a bit because ‘identity’ is a very complex, fully-loaded term that can take you, twirl you around a few times over, make you feel like there are infinite possibilities in this ever-growing ball of yarn, get you all tangled up and feeling like you know almost as little as you did going in. Lost, utterly lost. I can throw names out and say so-and-so ‘got’ identity… it is identification with… it is assimilation to… it is located at… it is similarities with… it is historical continuity… it is universal… it is the self… it is composed of… it is the external and the internal… it is constructed/produced/re-produced… it is how we make sense of our environment through language… it is everything. Freud talks about it, Mead talks about it, Goffman talks about it, Saussure talks about it… Foucault talks about it… you and I talk about it. It is in moments (like birth, birthdays and death), in literature, in song, in poetry – it is in everything we do.
We’ve managed to complicate identity and I have no intention of untangling that ball of yarn here.
Okay, now contextualize identity and it shifts form into whatever it is you are, or are doing or thinking at a given time. Now take one end of that yarn and call it the ‘context of the reader’ and go ahead and start threading it in and out of the tangled ball, making it as tight as possible and ensuring we never get it untangled to see that it really is: just one piece of yarn – yea long – with a beginning and an end. We just can’t see it the way it presently sits – wound up so tight. It isn’t enough that I have a context, you also have a context and each is constantly shifting as the seemingly infinite components that make up ‘identity’ shift beneath our feet. Just imagine yourself: in a space, alone, with shapeless colours shifting all around you, where you are desperately trying to keep your footing on something that is not clear to you, all the while you are clawing away at your single ball of yarn – desperately searching for the two ends. How frustrating! But doesn’t that really sum up what humans have been doing for ages? We get the sense that there is more to life, we constantly contemplate where we came from and where we might be going and some of us just give up and say “the heck! No thanks, I’m through trying to figure this one out. I’m just going to live and not worry about where from and where to!” In one way or another isn’t that beginning, end and the space in between (life), all identity?
Sorry for such a frustrating precursory to what I hope to explore here: simply Islamic identity. Simply stated and perhaps easier to appreciate (since we all can identify with ‘identity’ but we might not all identify with ‘Islam’) is that identity is a way of life – identity is Islam.
So, I invite you into this room but please, drop all your bags by the door – إن شاء الل you can choose to forget about them and stay as long as you like or pick them up on your way out – kick off your shoes, get comfortable on the couch and listen to the narratives that will flow in the coming posts and perhaps you will see a little of yourself in them and find the task of untangling your own ball of yarn easier than you expected – perhaps you will get what identity is after all.