Religion. It's a touchy subject. Instantly, it brings up many subtopics and views when brought upon in conversation.
Islam on the other hand, adds even more controversy to the debate as we live in a world of Islamaphobia.
It's a chilly night in Beijing as I'm weaving my way in and out a very packed aisle on board my flight to Karachi. I get to my seat after some effort. Every time I get my seat assignment, I secretly hope that it's someone nice and intelligent siting next to me; you know, someone I can make conversation with. Ah, 23L, here it is.
I look up to see a middle-aged man in a shalwar kameez, vest and hat. No problem, I point to the window seat saying "idhar" (here). The man, instead of being courteous to me by getting out, puts his feet up on the seat while I squeeze my way in, my buttocks scraping against his knees. Unfortunately my arrogance takes over, and I assume this man is boarding an airplane for the first time and/or has nothing to offer me through conversation. I put my headphones on, with "chammak chalo" blasting through them, drowning out everything around me. To my surprise, he strikes up a question by tapping on my shoulder. "What work do you do?" he asked me in Urdu with his thick accent. I respond in my best and formal Urdu, "I teach English". While our aircraft taxis to the runway, we exchange words for a few minutes, just small talk, nothing important.
"Finally, I'm headed home" I think as the runway is aligned perfectly with our aircraft. The twin Boeing engines start to rev up and a thunderous roar is let out as we begin to gain speed and on our way to the skies. The man next to me starts praying and the next 30 seconds of my life are spent with my heart beating faster than the airplane.
"Shukran Allah, Allah O Akbar, Subhan Allah" he chants multiple times. My Western side immediately comes out screaming "Oh my God, these are the last few moments of my young life." We all know the stereotype, a Muslim on an airplane follows an explosion. I know, I know, it's over exaggerated but that's what we've come to know and think in the post 9/11 era. I've been on numerous flights in, out and within Pakistan but I cannot explain the genuine fear that took control of my body and mind. I felt the blood in my veins begin to ice over as a cold trail of sweat made it's way down my spine. I wanted to cry, I've never felt such a magnitude of terror before. I thought of the hot explosion that was going to follow, blowing the entire aircraft to smithereens.
I'm ashamed, embarrassed and utterly disgusted at myself for even thinking such thoughts. I'm not feeling this remorse because nothing happened, because I knew nothing could happen, right? We live in a time where airport security is tighter than its ever been. How could I let myself think such terrible thoughts? There hasn't been a major hijacking since 9/11, what were the odds that this would be the next big one? The man was simply praying for a safe journey and arrival. I wanted to kick myself for my preceding thoughts.I had never let my paranoia take over me like that, but this was a first time. There had to be a trigger to my feelings. Could it have been the media? Perhaps it's the hundreds of jokes I crack between my friends about this subject. Maybe it's the numerous episodes of Family Guy or South Park that I've watched in the past, joking about just this situation that invoked such feelings.
I'm a Muslim and apparently I am prejudiced against my own religion. It makes me laugh to think if there was an American or European sitting in my place. How would they have felt? I can now see what living in the West for the past decade has done to my thought process about the average Muslim. The point is, we always joke about these situations but never think it through on how we'd react if it happened to us. Maybe I'm the one overreacting here but my five hour flight experience with the man wasn't pleasant regardless. It included pillow-stealing, kicking while sleeping and a lot of awkward staring at each other. If you're reading this, I'm sorry I've bashed you quite a bit and I hope we can let this night go for both of our sake.