A Jew and a Muslim Walk into a Bar…

8:00 a.m. It’s been 7 hours since last night ended — and 3 hours since I woke up — and I’m still shaking.

I set up a reading with Michael Muhammad Knight, the author of the Muslim punk novel The Taqwacores — mostly, I confessed on stage, so that I had an excuse to meet him. My old religion teacher, S.H. Nasr, always used to say how different religions were just parallel paths to the same destination, but before I read Taqwacores, I was never convinced that anyone was taking a path remotely in the same direction as mine.

When I showed up, Mike and his friend were already there. He was apologetic — “I don’t think I’m going to read from Taqwacores tonight,” he said. “Not sure if that throws off the theme of the evening, or not.” Instead, he said he was going to read from Blue-Eyed Devil, his travelogue of Muslims in America. “There’s this ritual I’ve been thinking about,” he told us. “When Shi’a Muslims pray, you remember the battle of Karbala and remember the suffering of the third Imam, Imam Hussein, and you hit your chest.”

Sometimes, he said, the beating can get intense. People praying themselves into a frenzy have been injured, and sometimes killed. “There’s this part in Blue-Eyed Devil about the bed of nails,” he finished. “I think I’m going to read that while I administer the blows to myself.”

I nodded. I’m only a dozen pages into the book, but I knew what he was talking about. It’s just like the Jewish al chet prayers on Yom Kippur, slamming our fists into our hearts. Easy stuff. Divergent religions, comparable practices. Yay, Nasr.

And anyway, it wouldn’t be my first time with radical performance art. I mean, I spent five years living in San Francisco. Having a conversation with someone who was self-flagellating or immolating was practically coffee-table talk.

losersI went first. I read out of the sequel to my novel Losers, where Jupiter forgets it’s Rosh Hashana and then runs into God. It started out being about forgiveness and repentance, but somehow he ended up talking about having crushes on girls and checking out girls through the mechitza in synagogue. I can’t really explain it. That’s just Jupiter.

Posted on July 9, 2009

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