On adoption, Islam, and faith.

When I was approached concerning a possible article about my adoption, return, and new-found faith I was a bit reticent. The “hook” as it were was based on my previous life in New York City (over two decades ago), as revealed in my writing at that time. For a rematriated [link to definition] adoptee, this anchor, this albatross of the past around our necks is desperately depressing. It is a painful reminder that adoption is often very much about preserving that snapshot of us before we “go bad”; before we “revert to form”; before we “go back to our roots”; before we “devolve”. It is about what others need us to be culturally, socially, and psychologically speaking.

I had been more or less successful with many friends and my family in explaining this transition, and in establishing for myself a sense of life as a spectrum, with extra dimensions of time and place. I had been much less successful with other encounters with the media along these lines. What I’ve learned is that the static binaries we are categorized by only hold up as much as we let them. By this I mean to say that the racist sentiment we suffered and our claims to identity are flip sides of the same coin, and we don’t do ourselves any favors by attempting to force one “side” over the other. Furthermore, the dominant mode depends on such reductive binaries, and the media do their part in perpetuating them.

But I’ve explained this at length in my writing here and at Transracial Eyes [link to site]. And so throwing caution to the wind, I met up with Mark Oppenheimer, author of the “Beliefs” column at the New York Times, and we talked at length about adoption, the politics and economics of it, my past in New York, my life in Beirut. We discussed my past work within the mediated realm of the New York radio and literary scene, and it was at this point that I realized the lingering damage of adoption in terms of our foreign acculturation.

By this I mean to say that for many of us, the best we can manage to do within the dominant culture that is defined by the foreign place of our adoption is an endless attempt to “fit in” and “be” what is expected of us. This is, by its very nature, not “whole” or “holistic” psychologically speaking. The only recourse is often a literal annihilation of self. In my refutation of the book I wrote at the time, I put it this way:

The person who wrote that book no longer exists. It reflects more expected affectations of a particular person from a particular class catering to those likewise of such a mindset. Minorities as well as adoptees spend much time trying to “fit in”, and in categorizing themselves, and in writing a book that attempted to make people laugh about rather serious issues, I worry now that I was simply performing some strange minstrelsy; acting as court jester. I regret this very much.

Along these lines, returning to Lebanon—and then rejecting what is “class-similar” here compared to how I grew up—has been eye-opening and mind-expanding in many ways, not least of which concerns my own sense of self, and coming into my own. Which is still very much a work in progress.

I greatly appreciate Mark’s patience concerning my doubts and misgivings, as well as in terms of his listening to the condensed version of the anti-adoption (“pro-justice”) writing that is found here. Given that the Times would often not publish my comments in reply to their quite pro-adoption articles, I’m rather proud to have gotten the word “anti-adoption” into the newspaper of record, and I’m grateful for his “getting it”.

It was also a privilege to work with the photographer Ozier Muhammad [link to his web site]. We met in Jersey City; in the portrait that he took you can see the Colgate Clock behind me [link to info on clock]. I can remember the days when it was possible to walk down to the water here, with the river bank littered with random dumpings from the construction trade. Although that “perfect picture” down by the water is impossible now, I think we came quite close. As I often say, I still proudly refer to myself as a “Jersey Boy”….so some things do linger.

One final caveat: I am not in the practice of wearing my faith on my sleeve, and I do not wish this to be seen as anything along those lines. I do, however, think it is important for adoptees, especially those who might wish to return to their places of origin, to understand the complexity of the cultures we come from, the navigation of that culture once we arrive, and the persistence of the baggage of our previous acculturation. Beyond this is the fact that sometimes, if we dig far down below the surface level of the culture we come “home” to, is something incredibly resonant. Somewhere within all of this is hopefully something that might be useful to those who regularly read here.

The original article can be found at the Times web site [link to article]. What follows are some questions that Mark asked me which I thought might be of interest spelled out in their entirety; a kind of addendum to the article. Thanks for reading.

In what religion were you raised, and how seriously?

My adoption required that I be raised in a Catholic home. So I went to Catholic school for 10 years, and my mother (the daughter of a Methodist minister) was further bound by a signed statement (for her marriage to my father to be seen as valid by the Catholic Church) to not advocate her own faith in the household. This was too bad, because the church she belonged to when I was growing up (which was Presbyterian) was much more communal, non-hierarchical, and “Christian” in this way to me than what I remember of my Catholic “community”, which seemed much more to focus on those whose economic and class standing made them pillars of the Church.

If my father was not active in the Church, it was likely due to those he disparagingly referred to as “holy rollers”, and I can recall being made to likewise feel quite unwelcome in this realm, despite my efforts to be a part of it, such as helping during school masses, or joining folk group later on. I often remark that I spent 10 years in Catholic school and “10 years getting over it”.

Can you give me a chronology—when moved to Middle East, when first interested in Islam, when become a Muslim?

I moved to Lebanon in 2004, but my interest in Islam preceded that by many years. For a long time I described myself as agnostic or even athiest—skeptical and scientific—but this always seemed to ring hollow, and in retrospect sounded of the arrogance of those we know today as advocates of secular democracy, for whom their non-belief becomes just as much a sledgehammer to enforce on others as the religions they demonize (like the insufferable Bill Maher).

I felt something “missing” philosophically if not existentially, and so I sought out alternatives to my Catholic education, and thus studied on my own a variety of Eastern beliefs—Buddhism, Taoism, etc. Looking back, I can see that most of my interests in terms of culture at the time were based in an effort to literally break out of an American acculturation.

Of course, these alternatives had ridiculous “Americanized” manifestations such as The Tao of Pooh as well as guru-esque representatives such as Alan Watts. This passing over to “Western” understanding was allowed because they were rather superficial and could be separated from cultural roots. All the same, many equally sought refuge in spiritual retreats to India and the like; much of this was a kind of religious “slumming it”.

The version of Islam that achieved such dominance in the States was Sufism, with a focus on Rumi, and similar teachings, despite it not existing outside of particular African, Arab, and Asian domains in much different manifestations. I looked into this borrowed version as well. You might say I was surfing the end of the hippie-era opening up of such beliefs in American culture and society—all outward form with little framework or actually relevant content.

Once in Lebanon, I was faced with a quite different reality regarding religion, and our taken-for-granted “choice” of whether to be religious or not. First was the official list of 18 sects which are allowed to govern all aspects of personal status here, as ordained by French colonial powers bent on dividing the country. Not included at all is any notion of secularism, although a Communist party, other secular political parties, as well as secular political philosophers (Mahdi Amel, for one example) historically exist.

Second was the realization that in order to re-establish my nationality I would have to choose one of these sects. My lawyer, who was instrumental in the passage of the recent law that allows citizens to remove all reference to sect from their government documents advised me to not do so (as she herself had done) since this would leave me in a legal void concerning my personal status in the country—the other realms of the law have not caught up with this ruling.

But in any case it’s a moot point since by virtue of knowing someone’s given name, family name, and town of origin, a person’s sect can be guessed. And so the “secular” option doesn’t bring an end to any discrimination suffered, especially when in all other aspects of governance and partition of power, sectarianism plays a supreme role, as it was designed to do by so-called secular and democratic colonial powers. Most disturbing perhaps is the fact that I was advised to “choose” almost as a kind of business decision—certain sects have more political/cultural clout than others—as opposed to thinking in terms of actual faith or belief. This rubbed me the wrong way.

In 2005 I moved to a mixed though primarily Muslim neighborhood, and my day-to-day acculturation took on an Islamic inflection. I sometimes jokingly refer to “speaking in the Islamic form of the verb” in terms of my colloquial responses which tend to invoke God; for example, saying “thanks to God” as opposed to “fine” when asked how I am doing. This ironically marked me in a negative way (class-wise) among my colleagues in the supposedly secular American University I was teaching at.

This class marker in terms of faith also separated me from the community of my orphanage, which gave me flashbacks to the “holy rollers” I grew up with. Quite on the contrary, I found the communal nature of my neighborhood life to be quite compelling, and my interest in Islam was revived. At the same time, I remained rather skeptical, due to the rather Islamophobic acculturation that comes from this same “secular West”. I started asking friends and students questions about their faith and practice, and finally a student recommended that I speak with a sheikh. She and her mother brought me to the big hussaynieh in the southern suburbs of Beirut for that express purpose.

While waiting for our meeting, I made a promise to myself that if anything didn’t “ring true” for me in our discussion, that I would forget the whole thing; that I would walk away and be done with it. The sheikh had some questions for me, and I had a lot more for him. We ended up speaking for an hour and a half, at which point he said to me I could come back and talk with him whenever I wanted, and if and when I was ready, I would need only say the shahada should I want to convert.

I felt at that moment a great ease and a realization that this was the next logical step for me on many levels, and so I “converted”, or as I prefer to say, “stepped into” Islam, since it seemed like Islam was the footprint already awaiting my next step not just spiritually, but intellectually, philosophically, and culturally speaking as well. Beyond this is the fact that many of us who passed through the orphanage are from Muslim families originally, and my sense is that this is likely my case; and thus another level of “return”.

What is your Muslim practice like?

I with met this sheikh just before Ramadan, and he said to me that my practice was not to be governed by a list of rules, but should reflect my evolving understanding of the path that I was now proceeding along. He suggested that Ramadan was upon us, and that I should perhaps attempt to fast for the month, which I did. My initial understanding was clumsy and oafish, and informed by the class of Lebanese I previously found myself among, and so Ramadan became like a dance card to fill with iftars, like a month of Thanksgiving dinners, each one outdoing the next—an exercise in gluttony and avarice.

Since then I have realized the error of my ways, and now during Ramadan I avoid such invitations, and have taken to cooking dinner in my kitchen and bringing it to the corner shop where I hang out with neighborhood friends. We have a modest iftar on the floor of their shop, and passersby are welcome to join us. I’ve developed a reputation for my cooking, drawing among others friends who drive taxi cabs for example. the communal/spiritual aspect of it makes me extremely happy, and this remains my favorite time of year.

Apart from that I read Qur’an; the Qur’an is broken down into 30 parts, and so I read one section each day, completing a full reading in a lunar month. I’m still reading in translation (I prefer those of Muhammad Asad [link to site] and Tarif Khalidi [link to site]), and am finally attempting to read and study more in Arabic, following my learning curve in the language.

Prayer is a bit more difficult. I’ve clumsily taught myself, despite offers of friends to help me or to bring me to masjid. As an adoptee returned I have a real block here, in terms of what I should know, and what was “taken” from me, in terms of faith, but also in terms of language. You might call it embarrassment, or else the extremely painful realization that in many ways I have reverted to a kind of “boy-like” status compared to others in my community.

It isn’t rational, but I feel a disconnect between my apparent age and my “spiritual” age and I am loathe for this to be known outside a circle of friends within contexts of faith. This is distressing, because in general I do try to not separate practice of faith from life; to me they are the same thing. I need to work a lot more on overcoming this, God willing.

Do you identify as Sunni, Shi‘a, something else?

This is an intensely loaded question. My sheikh/advisor said to me: “You have not converted Shi‘a, but Muslim. You should not follow a list of dos and don’ts, but should employ your own reason.” And yet…every political incentive in Lebanon and the region for that matter forces one’s hand. It’s rather ironic in a way, since my attempted re-entry into Lebanon demanded I felt that I give up the categorizations and identity markers that I used to abide by and define myself by.

Along these lines, I refuse, for example, to call myself “Lebanese”, or even “Arab”, since my acculturation was completely different. I’d rather be judged by actions and not labels. In this light, I will refer to myself as “Muslim”, since this is a valid “taking on” of such identity. To claim to “be” Sunni or Shi‘a to me then is to fall back into such traps, and I try to refuse that at every turn, especially since those who do so identify this way often do so pridefully or arrogantly even.

Having said that, I did, one time in anger, say: “ana Shi‘i” (“I’m Shi‘a”) when I found myself listening to a particularly sectarian anti-Shi‘a conversation. I wasn’t proud of that though; it seems to be a kind of falling prey to the poisons we otherwise try to avoid. I have friends from both of these particular realms of Islam, and within those realms from the further internal divisions thereof, and the discussion of such differences can be infuriating as well as enlightening. Nonetheless I see them as crucial at this point in acknowledging the vast amount of derivations and manifestations of Islam globally speaking.

And so what becomes interesting to me along these lines are the ways in which religions jibe with other existing systems, cultural, political, and economic. I see now that certain religions (or belief systems) tend to avail themselves of or dovetail with capitalism in a very particular way, or lend themselves to a foreign individualistic, colonialist, and capitalistic/neo-liberal outlook. Such outlooks tend to be reductive and extremely literal in their reading of the Holy Writs, stultifying, static, and domineering in terms of belief. In this light, certain alliances of the United States make absolute perfect sense, in a globally destructive way.

The “hippie” surfing of religion alluded to earlier likewise makes sense, as it focuses completely on the individual in a “consumerist” shopping for religion. The similarities are striking in terms of a focus on a purely individualistic salvation, with this based in a rootless and superficial appearance and practice as opposed to abiding by what I see as more deeply rooted communal and collective tenets of faith.

Furthermore, these reductive manifestations of faith share a blaming of the poor for their condition, a hypocritical focus on absolute rules, the view of wealth as a marker of Godliness (or polis, in secular terms), etc. And so I might say that I am drawn to teachings which focus on the opposite of this, more liberationist theologies, which advocate for equality; social justice; an esoteric understanding of our reality; a collective over an individual existence; a focus on reason, knowledge, and education; an acknowledgment of the validity of resistance to dominant norms; etc.

But beyond this, there is so much for me to learn historically and philosophically that I refuse to reductively describe myself, nor to limit myself in terms of what feeds into this education. It’s an evolving process [link to further reading].

What else do you want to say about Islam that I haven’t asked?

It has been an interesting experience as a returned adoptee to attempt to glean an understanding of that adoption from the faiths local to the place of my origin. At first I “read” the Qur’anic invocations concerning the orphan—”your ‘adopted’ children are not the same as your biological children”—to be rather harsh. It depressed me. But this was in fact me projecting my American acculturation concerning adoption mythology.

I’ve since learned that culturally speaking there are two terms in the Qur’an that are translated as “adopted” [link to Islamophobia and Adoption: Who Are the Civilized?]. The first implies in a positive way an acknowledged belonging, as a townsperson “belongs” to a town. The second implies in a negative way a kind of “taking in” or “indenturing” of a servant, and it is this latter that rather readily describes Anglo-Saxon adoption in terms of legal practice, the “purchase” of property, as well as historical precedent.

It was startling to me that the community of our orphanage be the least welcoming of us (as returned “orphans”, and as a former social problem to be gotten rid of), whereas the Islamic context provided much more in the way of access and welcome; of belonging; of understanding. I’ve had taxi drivers refuse to take my money after hearing my story, for one example; women in my neighborhood go out of their way to refer to me as their son, for another. And so whereas Lebanese society is vertical and patrilineal, it does have this horizontal and communal impetus that I find grounded culturally speaking in Islam as it is lived and practiced.

The other thing that I find fascinating is informed by all of the differences and contradictions of religion and faith I experienced growing up. I’m talking about the fine-line differences but also overlaps; the places where belief systems diverge or else converge. I find that I tend to look for similarities between what are often seen as “different” faiths or even ideologies—I especially enjoy talking with my mom about religion, or, say, using Qur’anic terms to discuss socialism with friends in my neighborhood—and I find comfort in the spaces that allow for such discussion, and for such “breakthroughs” of understanding.

I sense that revolution will come of this, as opposed to demanding of the majority of the planet an elitist secularism that is only allowed to those with the luxury and privilege to remove themselves from street realities. In the same vein, I am endlessly intrigued by the historical bases for belief systems, as well as their place within our acculturation, whether we acknowledge them or not.

I find Islam to be particularly rich in this regard, and the various manifestations of faith along obviously theological but also economic and political, and beyond that cultural lines informs my own work as well as teaching and activism. It permeates life in a particularly logical, beautiful, and sustaining way, and if I come away with nothing else for having returned to Lebanon, for this I am endlessly grateful.


About Daniel Drennan ElAwar

Adoptee, rematriated.
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28 Responses to On adoption, Islam, and faith.

  1. Very interesting. Concerned only about the “politics,” the “economics” and some silly, cruel religion invented by a recorded pedophile and mass-murderer, you threw out your humanity and that modicum of gratitude you owed to the poor folks who foolishly gave you bread, milk, and a roof over your head.

    Look on the bright side, the “prophet” wouldn’t have adopted a child, he was in the habit of raping them.

    • I won’t grace this with a reply. You condemn yourself with your own words.

      The Prophet (ﷺ) did in fact take in a child and acknowledged him as a son; his name was Zayd—hence my pen name.

      I don’t “owe” anyone any gratitude. What a disgusting worldview, in which you “account for” what should simply be “of” us as human beings.

      I thank God every day for my life and my parents—all of them.

      And my humanity is quite intact; it allows me to suffer the ignorance of your ilk.

  2. eagoodlife says:

    Reblogged this on The Life Of Von and commented:
    “Flipsides to the same coin”

  3. eagoodlife says:

    Thank you Daniel for this understanding. I am thinking around the idea of not acting or being able to act our age. We are so often patronised, usually by adopters of young adoptees and there is some kernel here about the loss of our mother removing experiences and our validity/acceptability to others.

    • Yes, that endless infantalizing of adoptees says much more about adoptive parents and “AP society” than about as as adoptees. I do think too the notion of “class traitor” gives us a lot of what we experience when we are accused of ingratitude, for example. The notion of the “Bad Seed” still persists.

  4. maryanne says:

    Thanks for a lovely article and look into your soul, Daniel. I met you once at an adoption conference, and while I do not agree with you on everything, I have great respect for you as a bright, honest, and gentle man. I hope you find your family someday.

  5. utahagen says:

    Daniel, do you still have a relationship with your adoptive parents?

  6. Anonymous says:

    It strikes me not a little bit ironic that much of the disadvantage you decry–being stripped of your heritage, your sense of belonging–has turned into the privilege of being able to walk latently into a culture where most of us are bound and choiceless and having been able to construct and choose whatever you like from it. You decry class privilege, but your freedom of mobility and level of education has allowed you to travel internationally and explore your roots and the faiths in your homeland while your fellow Lebanese–especially women–have had nothing resembling a full repertoire of human rights or capacity to choose where they go and what they choose to believe. Oh, you must choose a sect? And you have been given the capacity to weight choices in your adulthood and choose what is most politically and personally resonant with your sense of self? What a supreme privilege that is in the Arab Levant. You were able to choose an Islam without feeling bound to a set of rules and that you can process at your own pace? So many of of us have been born with those rules dictating our mobility and freedom like shackles, We don’t get to choose not to fast, not to pray, not to hijab up, not to marry only Muslim men, not to have relationships outside the confines of religious law, not to have our mobility, finances, prospects, physical safety taken hostage as soon as we are born, especially as girls. As much as you regret never having grown up in Lebanon, you were able to come back to this land without having to live its difficulties and with a rather developed capacity to avoid much of them. You can choose who you interact with, where you eat, what, and where. You can choose where to live, where to go. As a man, your body and conduct are not deemed public property on the the streets. You can choose to pick the nice, shiny, glowing parts of faith while setting aside all the flagrant inequalities and oppressive features of it, because you have the privilege of ignoring them. And instead of coming in and choosing the best and most authentic parts of our culture…you choose instead to identify with an institutional power that continually degrades and dehumanizes women?

    You read the Qur’an every month? You read what it enjoins to women, to children? You read through inequalities you must not suffer through as a man, through condemnations to people who-are-not-you, to condemnations of eternal hellfire to people like me, women born into Islam and who left it in secret and shame because we genuinely find it to be spiritually untenable, because it has been nothing but coercion, dehumanization, and misogyny from the gender roles we were socialized into as infants to the repressive control over our sexuality and mobility as adults-treated-as-property…you read that every month and are not shaken by it? Because you can afford not to be, because it doesn’t affect you.

    Talk about the oppressed becoming oppressors.

    • Are you able to read and understand what you read?

      It is really rather facile to sling these accusations, and whereas the tone of your reply points to something unspoken on your part—the very arrogance you would accuse me of—I have to ask you at the outset: What is the true purpose of your coming here and saying this? What is your intention, and how far are you willing to go to see that through?

      I’ve written at length on my class privilege as an adoptee, on our “leapfrogging” the class-advance line as it were for having been brought into a class structure without having to go through the “trial by fire” that is the life, say, of migrant workers or immigrants.

      I’ve also written at length about my privilege as a male adoptee, and the difference (and ease) of my life compared to the women I know who have returned. I am acutely, painfully aware of this.

      I’ve written about the attempts to leave this class privilege behind, and the difficulty of doing so; the persistence of our acculturation and how we are perceived in society.

      I’ve discussed at length how it is my very class privilege as a “foreigner” returned that allows me my nationality here, as opposed to most of my friends (migrant workers from Syria) who do not have this privilege.

      I’ve written on the subject of liberation theology, and the “luxury and privilege” of those who get to live outside of this in a “secular” private realm.

      If what you say is remotely true, then please explain why I might “choose” one of the sects lowest on the class totem pole here?

      You are implying that I could not handle life in a much stricter environment, when this is more and more how I’m living my life.

      All the same, I am endlessly reminded of the “straitjacket” that is sect and sectarianism here, and I have dealt with it in ways that allow me to see how destructive a force it is.

      I have written about the fact that I define my own “realm” by the least common denominator of public space of those most underprivileged here.

      My turning my back on my class privilege has cost me my former job and livelihood, my contacts with the orphanage, any notion of “status” or “privilege” that I used to “enjoy” as a foreigner. I no longer can stand being among foreigners for this very reason.

      I explained how I read the Qur’an, and how that expands out and among the community I now find myself in; the practice beyond just theory.

      I have explained this, written about it, discussed it at great length. And yet you feel the need to kneecap me with a lead pipe. Pray tell, why is that?

      Because none of your points is valid.

      The piece in the Times was puffery; this is what we expect from the mainstream media. The article makes very clear the life I’ve left behind in order to come here. It doesn’t mention the activist stance I take toward it.

      For one example, I won’t enter a masjid that doesn’t allow women to pray; I actively work with women to change this. Do you bother to find this out? No. Why?

      You don’t get to lecture me about any of this. Especially when you are comparing life here to some “ideal” you have that comes from the very realm that destroyed this country from its very inception.

      Furthermore, the people I have come to know outside of your class stratum evoke their agency and will in ways that you do not account for for not considering them human beings to begin with.

      Finally, the fact that you are hiding behind an anonymous account says more about who is availing themselves of “class and privilege”. If you deign to reply, please don’t be so cowardly next time.

      And between now and then, do me the favor of reading what I’ve written over the past 10 years, both here and at Transracial Eyes. The person you are referring to doesn’t exist; he is a straw man for you to project upon.

      All of the issues that you bring up within Islam also exist within other religions, so you need to be clear about this particular bone of contention of yours.

      And so I ask again: What is your purpose here? What is your goal? How far are you willing to go to accomplish it? That you come here and post this, what does this say about you?

    • Anonymous says:

      Oh are we going with the condescension and rhetorical questions? Okay, let’s do that. Yes, having to be anonymous in fear for my own safety and because of the supreme stigma of apostasy is certainly a marker of privilege. Not. Is it really lost on you that women who dissent to religion are often in very real danger because of it? And if we’re going to talk about facile accusations, perhaps with all your self-examination you still find it to be matter-of-fact that you can present your ideas, your face, your voice to the world while knowing you won’t be putting your life and freedom at risk. How many ex-Muslim women from Lebanon are able to freely speak in an interview in mainstream media, to show their faces, let their histories be known? Or perhaps your background is such that the only reason you can imagine someone hiding is out of cowardice, that you can’t even fathom a reason for hiding to be a *need*. But maybe you have confused visiting with the lower sect strata with somehow adopting their struggles–but it doesn’t seem to be the case, if it’s so far beyond your imagination that a young ex-Shia woman might be hiding her name to protect herself.

      You seem to be claiming that because you’ve already talked about these things, and because of the manner in which you utilize your privileges and opportunities…that this somehow make you exempt from criticism because you have chosen to identify with the lowest class? No, you see, you still do not get it: Whether or not you decry your own class privilege and grapple with it, and attempt to live in a manner that reduces its effects, you still reap the benefits that come with it: agency and mobility. You have clearly chosen to identify according to what your conscience speaks and sense of self bids you, and the fact that you’ve chosen to identify with the class-based underdogs still does not erase your agency. You still have agency. You have not lost that privilege. And with that comes responsibility regarding what you are endorsing, what values you are propagating. You can pretend that Muslim women in the Arab world bear the same plights as women under other patriarchal religious systems–which is patently untrue and a slap in the face for you to even suggest–but even then, ‘there are other bad things’ is not an argument that suddenly makes your involvement in this one okay. You are responsible for your choice to identify with an *institutionalized* oppressive force–even if you think you are doing it in subversive ways–that consistently defines a woman’s body, voice, presence, sexuality, abilities, and intelligence as patently inferior and operates on that premise at the levels of social norm and law.

      But no, if I challenge your conscious choice to identify with a faith that oppresses me, then it is I who is speaking out of arrogance, it is I who am denying the humanity of others by dissenting to their transgressions. Heaven forbid you can dissent without dehumanizing (especially because the bigotries are cyclical…anti-Muslim bigotry is a pervasive problem plaguing all of us with even vaguely Muslim presentation…that we are dehumanized doesn’t exempt us from dehumanizing others ourselves, nor does it mean we cannot dissent to the oppressive practices and beliefs of others without erasing their humanity).

      But perhaps you don’t consider the implications of public political identification (and even if you shy away from sectarian identification, your identification is still very much public-political). One very relevant difference between the plights of Muslim women and those of women of several other faiths is that in most Muslim-majority countries there is no secular buffer protecting the institutionalization of religious norm–it is definitely not the same circumstance if the Bible and the Qur’an both give dehumanizing misogynistic edicts but only one of them is coded into norm and law that women are actually forced to abide by. You are responsible for your choice to cherry-pick what you like from your new religion, conveniently pretending that there are not systemic, pervasive inequalities propagated by your faith just because you happen to disagree with them and personally choose not to frequent places where they happen. How does that absolve you? Does your refusal to attend a mosque that doesn’t gender segregate somehow erase that segregation? How does that change the fact that you have decided to identify with an institutionally oppressive power? Are you heading mass boycott movements at a level which might lead to some institutional change, or are you just continuing to transmit the values of an institutionally oppressive religion? Or because you have decided to identify with the class underdogs that suddenly makes your hipster Islam alright? You’ve chosen to refuse to identify with the most racist, classist parts of Lebanese society and yet you don’t feel qualms about identifying with the most misogynistic part of it?

      You asked why I am here. In short: I am here because it concerns me whenever people (especially people who have done good things for my family and who I admire in a myriad of ways, and perhaps then who I have very high expectations of) nonetheless choose to support or identify with powers that oppress me.

      As for the ‘ideal’ that I aspire to that you scoff at, I can only assume (if we’re making assumptions about each other), out of some post-colonial disdain…yes, agency and the power to choose your own path of self-determination are certainly so-called enlightenment values, but the fact that you can afford to scoff at them due to their source rather than examining their merit shows that you have never had to live without them. But no, continue to denigrate those who dare object to being trapped in a system of patriarchal control and dehumanization…how dare we ask for better, demand better…because those are Western values (hint: they’re not. Political self-determination and autonomy have a habit of being highly valued by imperialistic forces, of which the Islamic empire definitely counts…extending them to the individual level is not a Western invention either…we give the West too much credit when we try to make this attribution), And why decry them? Because the West has done horrible things to our country? And it’s not as if our transgressions aren’t themselves some of the greatest human rights violations historically and in the world today– from the imperialism that has forced our culture and religion deep into Asia, to this day forcing other peoples to submit to, identify with, praise, and adopt various aspects of our culture and language (I think every Arab should listen to a Pakistani talk about the unimaginable imperialistic damage we’ve done to South Asia), to the xenophobic treatment of Palestinian and Syrian refugees as second-class citizens denying them rights to education, housing, healthcare, and jobs (treatment which I know quite well, having only been naturalized as Lebanese in the mid-90’s myself and having never stopped visiting the camps since), to the slave trade we have the audacity to call a migrant worker system, from our various militancies and bigotries and obsession with virginity and honor and tribal control. But somehow if my ‘ideals’ of autonomy and the right to self-determination come from the West that has transgressed our country time and again then that must mean I have no right to value them…but you are not subject to the same responsibility regarding your Islamic ideals, when we have been guilty of destroying other people and cultures and continue to be? Because I am not propagating imperialism by demanding personal autonomy–I am demanding what should be basic human rights. But are you not identifying with an institutionalized form of oppression by choosing Islam?

      This isn’t about the fact that you had class privilege once upon a time and now you’ve made choices so you mostly don’t reap its benefits (though I suspect there’s nothing stopping you from travelling and starting a new life elsewhere. Funny thing about underprivilege: if you really have it, you can’t escape it). I make no assumptions regarding whether you can handle a more difficult life–that is supremely beside the point. People choose arduous and ascetic lifestyles for all sorts of personal reasons, and that has very little to do with privilege. The difficulty of the life you lead is relevant only insofar as it is still the best and most fulfilling path for you–yet for those who have not been able to choose it or escape it, it is a life of constant dehumanization and control. Perhaps you believe you have grappled with your privilege sufficiently by examining the. Perhaps your conscience is clear. In that case, carry on.

    • You’ll perhaps forgive my accusation of cowardice, in light of other recent attempts at “character assassination” that I posted about here earlier. I would like to make a few things clear, in terms of me putting “my face, my voice to the world while knowing I won’t be putting my life and freedom at risk”.

      I grappled with proceeding with this article’s appearance right up to the point of its publication. I did not agree to this article due to any desire for any kind of self-aggrandizement; this I eschew completely, and this I gave up a long time ago. I felt it important that if someone, anyone, adoptee or otherwise, typed into an Internet search engine “Lebanese adoptee”, they would find something useful for them to look into, perhaps some answers to vital questions, especially now that we have started an organization here to support them. So this article I don’t see as being about “me”, as much as it is about “us”. I rarely discuss personal aspects of my story, because I don’t think they are important in terms of this greater goal.

      Nothing in my life so far has been a “plateau”, or “period”, or resting point. The article seems to set up an idea that there is no evolution beyond this point; I’ve arrived at some “inkling” of Islam that “fits” or “works” for me, and that’s it. Nothing is further from the truth. I remain skeptical and critical, as I was at the beginning, as I am with everything. The historical negatives that you bring up are countervailed by historical positives, especially as concerns women and Islam, and in particular, Shi‘a Islam. Perhaps I need to go through this learning curve to arrive at a point where I will agree with you; perhaps I need to go through this learning curve to arrive at a point that neither of us can conceive of right now. In any event, I feel compelled to go through this learning curve, and this requires I identify in a particular way.

      My point about women in terms of other religions and especially in terms of supposed secular Enlightenment is valid. If it has been formalized and institutionalized differently, this does not mean it is not there. I don’t see any point in comparative “who’s worse off” discussions, or dismissing one while pointing out the other in a “mote in my eye and a beam in thine” kind of way. I will say that the ignorance of one for the focus on the other is a basic premise of Islamophobia among other ignoble “isms”, and so is not without resonance in this regard. I will also say that I see within Islam, to a greater extent than within the religious education I received—and I am not the only one (male or female) to have written about this—more in the way of potential equality between the sexes, empowerment of women, and liberation in general. This in no way excuses the systemic inculcation of patriarchy, and the resulting oppression that it gives rise to.

      I do think that this has a lot more to do with pervasive economic and political systems that religions dovetail with, as I stated in this post. And that liberation along these lines will go far to bring revolutionary change in this regard (and even obviation of institutional religion as such). But again, I don’t think that what we are referring to as an imposed secular notion of “democracy” is the answer, and which, as you have successfully gleaned from my references, stems from the absolute worst aspects of Orientalism, colonialism, and imperialism, and which has, as a foregone logical conclusion it seems, a devolution into a fascism that will rival if not surpass that which you suffered from.

      For just one of dozens of examples, I could talk endlessly about what I observed at my job at the supposedly “enlightened” university here in Beirut, regarding its treatment of those of (particular) faith(s), its marginalization, its discrimination, and its targeted dismissal of those it deems “unworthy” of working, teaching, or studying there, but I feel, too, that such an “opening up” comes with more risks than benefits, and so I have avoided this all these years, to my own physical/psychological detriment.

      It is interesting to me that you bring up Pakistan, because I am deeply interested in what are viewed as “peripheral” practices of Islam in the world today, which remains Arab- and Arabic-focused. As I stated in my post, I “dabbled” in the kind of “cherry-picking” you allude to in the past, and so I don’t want to do this now, and I don’t think I am doing it. I also want it to be clear that I see now how this article, with all of its trappings of “celebrity”, might be read as a kind of “hipster Islam”, but really? I think you know me better than that. And you also know what it means for an American to even be perceived as or accused of affiliating with certain sects or groups, speaking of risk. So I would just caution you concerning this picture you are painting of me as infinitely enabled, empowered, and oblivious to those on the other side of that spectrum.

      The fact is, one of the driving factors of my “stepping into” Islam was the fact that I was now acculturating as it were in a more-or-less Muslim neighborhood, where people don’t have the escape you make reference to; for exactly the reasons you describe. Here, what was I to do? Live like the ex-pats, above and outside the quotidien of my neighborhood? Tell everyone they need to drop their religious affiliation? Or attempt to integrate (again, not without risk) and see what this gives me, given the resonance I found in Islam without the taint of where it has arrived, reduced (among other things) to a list of rules/dictates which, again, I feel reflect more pressures, incentives, and political/economic stringencies rather than those of the religion itself. In this light, I believe my self-identification in terms of faith cannot be conflated with oppression imposed in that faith’s name. You’ll forgive me, but this is very old-school American post-modern identity politics. It smacks of a narcissism that derives from the very religious underpinnings of American culture which are as poisonous as anything we might blame on Islam, and which I likewise reject.

      So for someone to identify with this is as “offensive”, if you will, to me, and in a more powerful way, given its dominance on the planet as a political/economic ideology. The fact of the matter is, there is no “gain”, economic, personal, or otherwise, no “celebrity”, to be found in what I said in this article. Those who “leave” Islam, on the other hand, are given an economic, academic, personal, and political “leg up” for having done so, a very particular (and particularly powerful) celebrity status, by the very powers that be which continue to lay waste to Muslim lives (among many other perceived-as Others). Whose offense is more valid? Who has the right to be more self-righteously indignant?

      Having said all this, my conscious is not clear, no. It likely never will be, as long as oppression exists on the planet, and anything I do might be connected to it in any way. I understand where you are coming from, and I apologize for my insensitivity. But I do not think it is worthwhile to discuss “dueling” privileges, reduced to binaries that are not so easily reducible. Gender privilege does not trump class privilege, or vice versa. My privilege as an (American) “male” is reduced the longer I stay here. I’m pretty sure you are not subject to the same questioning/profiling as I am upon entering the U.S. or traveling therein, despite a lifetime there and an American passport.

      There are risks, and there are risks; my position, class status, privilege have evolved over time, and not in anything that we can define as ascendent. I do not say this to diminish what you have experienced, or are going through. I do not say it to martyr-ize myself in any way. I say it to express the idea that this notion of privilege is not something I “cherry pick” around; it is something that drives every decision I make at every second of every day. And I say it to ask: How to get past such an impasse? Are we to truly believe that there is absolutely no hope, historically, culturally, practically, or otherwise, to be found in any faith of any kind? Is your “pendulum swing” away more or less valid than my “pendulum swing” toward? Are we to consider that the current “path of least resistance” is our only hope? If so, what does this say about our humanity?

    • Anonymous says:

      I apologize for the ‘hipster Islam’ comment. It was bitter and unfair, and I regretted it as soon as I had ‘published’ and wished to go back and edit. From what I know of you, I have absolutely no reason to doubt that your religious identification is sincere, thoughtful, and part of an ongoing learning curve. It must be painful to be accused of being appropriative when your heritage was stripped from you against your will and you have taken every genuine step to reclaim it. I am sorry. I was in poor taste and I should not have said it. I am especially ashamed at having said it because I’m treated in the same way, with people equating my public activism for freedom of religious practice with a desire for publicity.

      I very much understand and empathize with the double-bind of media representation because you happen to be one of the few of your ‘kind’ who does/can write and speak about your issue. Your observation that those who leave Islam have the capacity to be welcomed and celebrated (if even as tools) by destructive Western powers is perhaps not off-base, but the ex-Muslim voices you don’t hear–precisely because they refuse that mainstream elevation with the bigotries that come with it–are those of us who continue to be othered despite having left Islam, those of use who are marginalized, poor, sick, and struggling, punished more than we are lauded for talking about these things outside the bounds of what would be publicly praised, because we talk about race and imperialism and anti-Muslim bigotry, and have just as harsh things to say about Western imperialism as we do about patriarchal power structures, and that doesn’t buy us many friends. It is of course a duty to work towards compassionate, empathetic critique of the power structures that have shaped our lives and to advertise safe places for apostates without enabling or giving fuel to xenophobes and anti-Muslim bigots who would love to make ex-Muslims poster children of their bigotry. And it’s not just out of duty that we refuse to be made into propaganda tools; it’s the least we can do for ourselves, because we are *so through* with others dictating who we are and what we can be. Make no mistake that leaving Islam does not suddenly make us not-Other to the West. Especially as anti-Muslim bigotry is so often due to reductive, racialized tropes that every person with brown skin or named Mohammad or Fatima is going to be subject to no matter who they actually are, how they actually live, what they actually believe.

      But perhaps I am just as naive in thinking that you cannot publicly identify with an institutionally powerful faith without also identifying with its political/economic power. Perhaps what I have just asked you to consider: that one can identify as ex-Muslim with compassion and empathy without enabling anti-Muslim bigotry…is something I need to give you the benefit of the doubt about too: that you can identify as Muslim without enabling the oppressive power structures of Islam. I am still skeptical, because unlike you I root the (particularly political and economical, yes) problems of Islam in the doctrine, interpretation, spirit, and practice of the faith itself, and I have come to that conclusion after much study and devoutness of my own. I do not believe it is possible to view the ‘rules’ and ‘codes’ as extricated (as opposed to extricable…I do believe that with reform, time, and popular movement the Islam I know will evolve to be another, gentler animal) from the spirit of the faith…I find them to be quite consistent extensions of it. The very things I first saw as having great potential for equality I later saw to be insidious forms of control and suppression–I realized that every opportunity presented to me as a right in Islam was actually a cloaked form of subjugation. Many who leave Islam do it not because they wish to reject the performative trappings of it, but because they find it untenable at its very core.

      I of course expect you to disagree, since you have found resonance in Islam. It is admittedly a rather cynical and perhaps hopeless way to view the faith. But even if I find it patently obvious that the practices of this faith are greatly influenced by the essence of its philosophy and ideology (rather than being malignments, misinterpretations, corruptions in the hands of the socioeconomically powerful), there was a time when I thought otherwise, so I cannot fault you for finding your truth where it lies–I suppose my issue is only with your public presentation of it, because I would hope that public presentation of your faith would also come with public engagement with its problems, just as my community and I publicly engage with the problems of anti-Muslim bigotry even while we talk about religious oppression. Not that you haven’t done this: I think your refusal to identify with a particular sect is a very measured, politically-sound decision. And I know how much cutting and scrimping is done with these articles, how limited your space to say what you will is, and how you have to make choices as to what is most important.

      And of course whether or not the ideology of the faith itself contributes to the human rights violations in its name still does not speak to whether publicly identifying with it will help perpetrate those violations…as skeptical as you may be of my presentation of this argument, I think you are implicitly in favor of its structure. We know that seemingly drop-in-the-bucket contributions to social and political attitudes are not negligible…you know this because you are keenly aware of the colonialist attitudes that dehumanize Muslims and PoC in general, and you know this because you see the power and relevance of the BDS movement. I see this in other places…I see it in various Islamic cultural attitudes towards women and minority groups that are the driving engines of the dehumanization both groups suffer because oppressive norms rest most keenly in a public acceptance of them. It is cultural attitude that contributes to the racism we receive when we fly, especially for me in my years as a hijabi. But even given that, conflating your public endorsement of the Muslim faith with propagating all of its harmful cultural attitudes towards women is, I think, off base on my part. If the values you call Islamic that you strive to live and speak by are other than what I have lived and encountered in Lebanon…then forgive me, I have wronged you.

      But labels have power and meaning beyond what we choose them to be for ourselves. All this is said with the knowledge that despite popular protest there is not one unified, objective ‘Islam’, with everything else claiming the name being some sort of bastardization or invalid form, as each sect likes to claim about the other. There are the Islams of all the Muslims in the world who believe, practice, and interpret their faith. Is there some objective spirit of a faith independent of the manner in which it is interpreted, practiced, and believed? Whichever Islam we are talking about is simply the practice of whichever culture of Muslims we look to. I think there is no other meaningful (read: non-deflective) way to discuss it. I am wary of attempts to absolve some idealized Islamic core that has no real-world manifestation of responsibility for the bigotries of Muslims when both the idealized core and Muslim practices bear the same name, Islam. And with a name (any name: atheist, Muslim, Christian) as an identity label comes the responsibility of grappling with its connotations and the practices under its umbrella. Do you think so? I do.

      And to be clear, my suggested alternative is not ever to advocate for people to leave spirituality behind–what use is valuing autonomy if we end up slicing at the core of human capacity for our most precious identifications? But rather to de-institutionalize religious power, so that matters of religious practice are no longer coded in law and stringent social norm. I feel like so much of my speech comes from a place of viewing *the capacity to choose* as paramount while yours doesn’t really have that focus–I am not at all concerned with Islam and what it purports itself to stand for as long as those who follow it do it only and ever by choice–not only in terms of law and norm, but with account to how economic and class pressure may force people to conform. Maybe our lenses (worldviews?) are not commensurate in this manner. And obviously we’re both still struggling and learning and growing, so my accusation that you are complacent with the political and socioeconomical implications of your public identity was hasty and overgeneralized. I apologize.

      Also, I studied/taught at the same university you referenced, as Shia-presenting hijabi no less, for a combined 7 years and quite agree with your assessment and disillusionment with that institution (though some departments are on our side). I wanted to say that I’m sorry for the bullshit way in which you lost your job.

    • At this point I think we are agreeing more than disagreeing, and I think your analysis of the problematics involved is spot on. It might help to think of audience and context. For a Times audience, it is probably enough to just mention “Islam” to get a negative reaction; beyond this, getting the word “anti-adoption activist” in front of a class of people coddled by the “Paper of Record” on this topic is no small feat.

      Reactions to the article were interesting to me in this regard. I was most happy to hear from former friends and acquaintances I had lost touch with. I was likewise much humbled by the outpouring of support from former students; if anything has kept me going and has given me hope over the years it is them. Most annoying were the “mash’allah” Muslims who saw in the surface presentation of the article an affirmation of whatever sense they might have of their own Muslim identity, in a purely individualistic way.

      I imagine, should they get to know my sense of Islam and the critiques I might have of it, their “mash’allah” might in fact turn to something much harsher. I imagine, similarly, that many will project onto this declaration a whole range of Islamophobic rantings that dismiss, for them, anything I might say about adoption. Nonetheless I do see a “common cause” with others critiquing adoption via a faith-based lens (Kathryn Joyce and David Smolin come to mind) and so hope that this critique can continue.

      I guess what I am saying is that this article does not in any way represent the be-all-and-end-all of my discussion of the subject, nor my trajectory in terms of my faith, my community, or my life. As you are describing, a harsher “critique” here in terms of the medium, context, and audience would have instead been easily co-opted. It was one piece, quite belabored at that, which hopefully will lead to a lot more discussion and action on behalf of many who are finding their faith or else who are estranged therefrom. Stay tuned.

  7. utahagen says:

    DIZ, I ask because how you now feel about your adoptive parents and what kind of relaitonship you have with them now will because I don’t know how to understand your views about adoption without knowing what the people who raised you mean to you today.

    • I still don’t see what the two have to do with each other. My pro-justice stance concerning adoption has nothing to do with the personal aspect of my particular adoption and has everything to do with the inequality and injustice found within any kind of economic or political displacement, dispossession, or disinheritance. Perhaps you wish I would say, “I hated my life and my adoptive parents”; then you could say, “oh, so this is just him.” And even if I say, “I wouldn’t have been able to jump off this cliff sight-unseen and return to Lebanon without the complete and total love and support of my family*” you still might not believe that this isn’t somehow psychologically of me. So you have to ask yourself: Why this question? What does it mean to even ask this question?

      *My reply to the author of the article who asked a similar question.

  8. utahagen says:

    I already think that you are nuts for having left the USA and Christianity to be a Muslim in Lebanon, so my view of your psychological state won’t change depending on the state of your relaitonship to your adoptive parents. What will change is this: if you are still in close contact with your parents, you are a good nut, whereas, if you’ve cut off your adoptive parents because they are not genetically related to you, you are a bad nut.

  9. utahagen says:

    I apologize. My post was mean, when I really meant it in a teasing way. Please forgive me. But I am serious when I write this: I feel sorry for the people who adopted you because now you live in Lebananon and i am sure they miss you. I hope you stay in touch with them.

  10. Worse than the Islamophobia found in some of the comments I’ve received here (mostly anonymous and which I will not post) is what they reveal in terms of the hypocritical no-less-religious “salvation” that undergirds the adoption industry. I’ve posted a reply here: [link to “Adoption: Abide or Die.”]

  11. Jess says:

    Your relationship with your adoptive parents is your business. I wonder how many people would think to say these things to adult biological children.

    This is one of the best discussions of adoption and faith ever to occur on the blogosphere. Thank you for having it, and for letting it continue.

    • Thank you, I appreciate that. I’m still trying to understand the need to see or should I say the default assumption made that I am estranged from my adoptive parents. It’s frightening to me in terms of what it represents psychologically speaking; it is the threat adoptees grow up with—that we will be rejected again, separated again—made reality. It reflects a Darwinian Lord of the Flies mentality that then gets projected onto the faith being discussed. It paints us into a corner. It makes me wonder: Were my adoptive parents to all of a sudden start writing a blog about us as a family, would they be attacked as well? Why the need to separate out, to cull the adoptee who speaks up and speaks out?

      How far are these people willing to go with their rabid moralizing and personal vendetta?

  12. Jess says:

    A lot of people can’t seem to distinguish a critique of the institution from negative attitudes towards adoptive family members. In fairness, it gets confusing when the two things do co-exist, which they do for some bloggers and commenters. But the idea that you need to prove something or share details of these personal relationships online in order to subdue another person’s moral outrage is very disturbing.

    Like Maryanne, I just really hope you can find your family one day, Daniel.

  13. just a mom... says:

    Perhaps there is a kind of “logic” to the attacks… Let me play ‘devil’s advocate’ (against my will!) :
    Listen pal, you can’t eat your cake and have it too. Grow up! If you insist on being against adoption, take the consequences. All the way! (In fact, if you were serious, that’s exactly what you would do, instead of acting like a spoiled child.) After all, “if you don’t hate your family” and even your very life, then “you can’t possibly be worthy of me”. Want to be taken seriously? Really? Pay the price!

    Ouch! It’s not even me saying it and I am still sorry…
    But actually, I could think of much more… In this role, that is. Not going to though, don’t worry.
    Note: No arguments pro or against adoption are needed. This is ‘higher logic’.

    I too hope you find your family! Good luck!

  14. FarahFakih says:

    Could’t agree more!
    Lebanon regained a lost son and a great leader! All your students hold a great respect for you! I hope those ignorant reread your words and understand rather than just attack and hate! They remind me of Imam Ali’s perfect quote to label such ignorants.

    ما ناقشت جاهلا إلا وغلبني ، وما ناقشت عالما إلا وغلبته . الإمام علي ع

    We love you!

    • I appreciate this more than you can know. My students past and present, and their support, are my blessing and my rock. They keep me going. Imam ‘Ali (as) also said: “The moment you start arguing with one who is ignorant, you have already lost.” One of the benefits of having all of these posts here is that I no longer have to argue each one—it becomes obvious when someone is willfully ignoring the arguments and discussions, which are premised in a dialectic; a back and forth. To understand is that their words are designed to cull; to single out. To remove and do away with. So to have supportive voices is all I can ask for and more. You are the leaders; I follow your lead.

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