Before Tripping with Allah went to print, I graded my previous books for their treatment of gender and ended up with maybe a C+ average. Some were better, and some were worse. The intentions were always good, but I’ve known plenty of men who self-identified as feminists, yet still coughed up nasty masculinist shit from deep inside themselves. So my average was a C+. I tended to grant higher scores to my more recent projects, which means either that I’ve grown or that I just haven’t grown enough to smell my current pigshit.
A few books scored an A-. I wrote Impossible Man as a tribute to my mom. People who read it tell me that she’s their hero, so I think that the story did its job, but I still can’t give any of my stuff a full A. Blue-Eyed Devil identifies some of the problems, but doesn’t always see its own privilege. Even if it’s immature, I want to give that book a high B. Osama Van Halen was supposed to have a point at the end about white boys who convert to Islam and then chase after brown virgin girls, but to set up the point, I wrote myself kind of scuzzy. There were some readers who couldn’t read through the scuzz to get to the end, so OVH scores a D. I’m afraid to touch The Taqwacores because people love the burqa-wearing riot grrrl, Rabeya, as a mythic icon type, but writing an icon and writing a complex human being are two different projects. And some people love the fact that she spat semen in the faces of Wahhabi dudes, but some don’t. For this and other reasons, I couldn’t bring The Taqwacores up to a full B. Perhaps it could pull a C+ or B-. William S. Burroughs vs. the Qur’an might be one of my better books in terms of discussing gender, even though it has no female characters whatsoever. If I consider it as a book about maleness and father-son homosociality, it gets an A-. Overall, I think that I excel at writing about dicks and some of the ways that people who have dicks can get weird and complicated about them. However, if I write fucked-up maleness well, it’s only because I can find the fucked-up maleness in my own wounded self. At various times in my younger years, I’ve allowed the poison of patriarchal religiosity into my gut, but also the poison of frat-boy sexuality. They actually agree with each other more than one might expect.
I have a new book which places my Muslim identity in conversation with ayahuasca, a psychoactive tea that has made its way from the Amazon into New Age circles. But underneath the religion/drugs issue, Tripping with Allah is a book about gender. One of the things about ayahuasca that seemed to set it apart from other hallucinogens was the element of gender healing that its advocates promised. Over and over again, I heard stories of men drinking ayahuasca and finding themselves working through all kinds of evil masculinist shit that was inside them. They believed that the sacrament was a means of locating the poison and drawing it out.
Many ayahuasca drinkers report experiencing the divine in female form. They choose to interpret this in different ways, depending on the backgrounds that they bring to the tea. As a Muslim, I decided that I would drink with the intention of having a visionary encounter with Fatima, daughter of the Prophet Muhammad. Even if my vision of Fatima was entirely a product of the chemicals interacting with my brain, rather than an encounter with a supernatural being outside myself, I imagined that it could have some value.
Hopefully, this isn’t much of a spoiler, but yes, I do get to see Fatima, and yes, she gives me something that I need. “See” might not be the right word for the experience. The “vision” wasn’t necessarily by “sight.” It’s a difficult thing to communicate unless you’ve had the medicine. Anyway, the shit’s real. Fatima shows and proves.
Another minor spoiler: My ayahuasca experience actually brought me a bit closer to what people like to call “normative” or “mainstream” Islam—if not in meeting every point on the doctrinal checklist, at least in the value that I can find in pursuing the sunna, the sublime example of Muhammad, as a way of being in the world, and also the love that I feel for my Muslim communities. Now I just want to read hadith all day. It might be strange that I found this through a drug-induced vision, which many of my sisters and brothers would denounce as unlawful. What’s stranger is the actual content of the vision. It’s off any map that reasonable Muslims know. For some, it will be more offensive than anything I’ve ever written. All I can say in my defense is that it ends at a good place.
I’m still not sold on the idea of magical potions offering the cure to inner psychic torment, because every trip must have an end. Ayahuasca drinkers sometimes call their sacrament “the work,” but the real work might be what happens after the sacrament wears off and you’re returned to your old world. The experience of drinking ayahuasca might have set me on a different path, but the tea isn’t the path itself. I personally read that through the sunna. After the Prophet got on the buraq and flew through to heaven, talking to angels and dead prophets and the Mystery God, he came back to Earth and returned to his work with regular human beings.
I haven’t yet graded Tripping with Allah, and I’m not sure what grade I’d give it. I write myself as a bit of a strange guy, which helps to demonstrate the need for what ayahuasca promises. If you like reading about dicks, there’s a small amount of talking about dicks. The book might even be an intro to a future book, called either Finding Islam’s Goddess or Why I am a Salafi. It could go either way.