Photo © Kenza Saadi

Be yourself, my sister

Multiculturalism – that great integrator that people strive to define as they keep calling for integration. As politicians try and define what a German or an American or a Dane is supposed to be, sometimes in unsubtle ways, there are millions, like me, who do not understand what it is all about. And you know what, there is no answer. Integration implies the elimination of who you are. There is no need to eliminate; just blend and mix and be what makes you free.

Let me give you an example I am familiar with – myself. Of Arab and Muslim heritage, I like Victor Hugo and believe in the principles of democracy and fraternity just as Jean-Jacques Rousseau and John Locke explained them. I am a staunch defender of secularism and scientific inquiry, just like Ibn Sina and Karl Popper. I am a native speaker of many languages, and Shakespeare and Hafez both bring me to tears. Nothing in my appearance betrays where I am from or my cultural background, except perhaps my eyes, but then again, if I quote Baudelaire, confusion ensues. And when I insist on putting Chile Chipotle on pizza, even more so.

Getting integrated is not a ‘solution’ for the millions of refugees and immigrants that settle in latitudes north of their origins; or west or south for that matter.

To the ones who struggle in trying to define their identity and fit into a box with a neat label, I tell them: ‘Do not! No need my dear sister, no need.’

You are ‘you’ in your entirety with your dark hair, with your accent, with that preference for enthralling rhythms, with your love for large scarves in which you can wrap your body, and with that pinch of turmeric you add to almost everything, even pasta.

Do not try to integrate, my sister. You will only disappear. The ‘you’, that very ‘you’ which conveys so many sunsets and colours, will wane and blend into the monotony of greys.

Be yourself, my sister. Be what you are within you – that mix of Byron and Rumi. The one that enchants your senses and the one that helps you pray at night.

Be yourself, my sister. Invoke the intangible that is infinite, just like beauty. Invoke it in whatever language you prefer: kneeling or dancing, it does not matter. Do as your heart tells you to.

Be yourself, my dear. Yes, ‘you’ intrinsically rather than as a negative of the other. You need not wear your religion on your sleeve (or your head for that matter), and if you do, do not turn it into an affront. Do it as a natural expression of yourself, and your heart will be at peace. People feel the difference.

Believe me, you will have no weight on your shoulder and you will ‘walk with a light step’ as Hafez has entreatied us to do, and if I may add, with a smile.

And I smiled today. As I drove with my seven year old in the car through the countryside near San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, Nusrat Fatah Ali Khan was singing to us with his entrancing voice: ‘These trees and stones have never heard Nusrat Fatah Ali Khan,’ I told him. ‘Look mama! The trees and flowers are dancing. They like it!’ he answered.

Indeed, as the great Ghazal* sung by Nusrat Fatah Ali Khan tells us,

‘Muhabbat ki raahon mein aakar toh dekho.’

‘Come walk on the path of true love and see.’

*Tumhein dillagi bhool jani pare gi (You will have to forget all about infatuation)