So! Now, to elaborate on one of my least favorite things about Morocco: people trying to covert me. Because I am a friendly person, I’m always willing to talk and entertain new ideas, so a lot of people try to convert me. Even here in the US. I tend to cut the Muslims a little more slack when they try to get me to convert than I would if it were an American Christian trying to get me to convert. Generally, when Muslims want me to covert me they do it with a subtext of “oh come on man, we have a good thing going here! Sign up!” and when Christians try to get me to convert it always has a subtext of “You’re an idiot, and you’re going to fucking hell, you bag of shit. Also, I am smarter than you.” Plus, as an American, I’m exposed to a lot of the hysterical midwest Islamophobia that automatically makes me think someone trying to covert me to Christianity is a… how to say it? A Rick Perry. Whereas very few Muslims I’ve met ever mention the golbal Christian conspiracy to undermine their laws and subjugate their women.
In the past, I just told Moroccans that I was a Christian and didn’t elaborate. Just say enough, not too much, and pretend there isn’t any more, as the convicts say. Although, I was (and am) about as Christian as a telephone pole. One of my favorite stories involves a cab driver, who, after I told him I was a Christian, asked “but if God told you to become a Muslim, you’d do it, right?” And I told him that if God told me to do something, of course I would do whatever it was. And he said, more or less, “Okay, that sounds fair” and we were cool. Anyway, as far as religion goes, a few months ago I started going to Quaker meetings, and I really like it, but not for Jesus-related reasons. For people being quiet, against war, and not telling me what to do -related reasons. Quakerism has what I’m really looking for in a religion: a total lack of structure, ritual, and ideology coupled with a history of vaguely leftist utopian idealism. But anyway.
So! There were two stories related to conversion. First, I ate lunch every day with a group of 7 other people, and we called ourselves The Conference Debris. Because we didn’t have our own groups to sit with. One of the men was an Algerian, and when he found out I wasn’t a Muslim, it became his mission to a) convert me, or b) convince me to return to America and tell everyone how awesome Islam is. It was sort of endearing, except that he insisted on telling me his plan to make me an evangelist from a position 200 nanometers away from my face. He spoke very little English but managed to tell me he wanted me to go back to America as a prophet. “Oh shit.” I said, “Don’t call it that.” At one point, a Moroccan got so fed up with this guy that she snapped “Leave him alone, he’s not going to change his religion” during lunch. This was the first time, ever, that something like this happened, and I was startled, in a good way. But later, he said, in English, “All you need to do is recite the profession of faith, and you will be perfect” and I felt an incredible revulsion. I think it was the word “perfect”. I wanted to reach out and punch him.
Trying to be polite, I said “well, if it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be.” The Qatari sitting next to me sat up like she’d been hit by a lightning bolt. “What are your feelings on free will?” She demanded. This must be a hot topic in Qatari theology or something. I told her I was trying to be polite, and she looked at me as though I’d just admitted to eating a rotten egg to be polite.
At lunch, the Algerian asked me if I was a Catholic, an Orthodox, an Evangelist, or a Protestant. To him, these were the only caetgories of Christianity, and I’d have no idea where Quakers fit in. I certainly wouldn’t be able to tell them that I wasn’t raised religious, but had started attending meetings and was thinknig about perhaps joining one, some day, at age 30. I told him that, just like in Islam, with it’s Sufis and Alawites and Rachidis and Salafis, there were a number of very small sects in Christianty, and the entire group looked at me as though I had decided to take a very slow shit across the table. I wish my linguistic skills were better and I could have found out why. But I decided to press the issue, and asked if they had every heard of the Religious Society of Friends.
One of the other members of the Conference Debris table was a stocky man from the Ivory Coast. He was dressed in a navy blue suit, giant flowered shirt, gold rings, giant gold watch, and gold rimmed sunglasses, and he looked so much like the ubiquitous corrupt west African cop that every time he spoke I instinctively reached for my wallet, or as they would call it, the “bribe container”. When I said the word Quaker, he stopped chewing, looked up, and spit the words “LES TREMBLEURS” onto the table as though they had turned incredibly sour in his mouth. He said it the way I say “Republican”: with the understanding that if my child ever claimed to be one, I would punch it in the mouth.
The other conversion attempt ocurred on the train to Taza. I sat in a compartment with an old man, a young girl, and a couple. The man of the couple reminded me of my buddy Scott: he had the same general… face shape, expressions, and hand movements as he spoke. After being on the train for like and hour and a half, the old man frowned at me and asked if I understood what they’d been talking about. I told him I understood some of it; Libya is a goddamn mess, but also, apartments in Fes are getting sort of expensive. So we shoot the breeze for a while, and of course, it turns to religion. The man asks if I’m a Muslim, and I just say no, I’m a Christian. At one point, he turns to the old lady next to him and starts chatting rapidly, and a young lady in the compartment translates. She worked at the Marraksh airport and spoke decent English, and was going home to her shit-farming rural ass village. “He says that old people can tell. The things we have done are written on our faces, and you are a good man.” I played it humble and blushing, as though I was flattered, but the first thought that went through my head was “you poor stupid asshole.”
Later, when I declined to convert, he said “It’s okay, when you die, you’ll find out if Islam is better or not.”
“I absolutely agree. You are totally correct” I said. But he didn’t understand it the way I meant it.