NOW SERVING Psychedelic Culture

Robots, Wrestling, and Writing: A Talk with Michael Muhammad Knight

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on linkedin

Religions of the Book and indigenous shamanic traditions have a troubled and violent history, with the violence mostly being visited upon the shamanic practitioners. Even so, ayahuasca shamanism has found at least some common ground with Christianity in the syncretic churches of the Santo Daime and the União do Vegetal.

Could ayahuasca negotiate a similar symbiosis with Islam? If so, who better than Michael Muhammad Knight to cross the divide? Michael discovered Islam through the music of Public Enemy, and his personal mythological pantheon incorporates not only the Prophet Muhammad and his descendants, but also mighty figures from the mythological cannon of professional wrestling, video games and cartoons about shape-shifting robots. Michael's battles with his own masculinity, which he waged via weight-lifting, extreme dieting and sexual conquest, had left him in need of feminine healing.

Enter ayahuasca. In the following interview with KMO, originally recorded for the Psychonautica podcast, Michael recounts his encounter with the sacred vine of the Amazon and how that experience interfaced with his Islamic faith.

KMO: Michael, I have just finished reading your book Tripping with Allah: Islam, Drugs, and Writing. It was the first book of yours that I've read, although I know you have eight before it. It was quite the experience.

Knight: Thanks. It was an experience for me.

The book is about ayahuasca and Islam, but early on we are introduced to, or some of us are reintroduced to, the Transformers, specifically an episode of the animated TV show that involves Dinobot Island. The Transformers keep coming up repeatedly throughout the book. Would you say something about why that framing device was suitable or important to you?

When talking about drugs, or entheogens, I think there's kind of a natural relationship to the Transformers. You know, you're just transforming yourself. Another thing that comes up besides the Transformers is Altered Beast, an old Sega Genesis game. It's this idea that you remake yourself, you change your form, you take a new shape, you become something new. That's kind of what I was looking for. I don't think that I was really going into it with faith that that could happen successfully. I'm kind of a cynical academic type now. I kind of critically pick everything to death. I didn’t buy into the idea that that was going to happen, but that's kind of what I wanted.

The other aspect of Transformers for me is that when it comes to my religious imagination, I draw on what's around me. That's just what human beings do. In the Prophet's own time, you see people becoming Muslim and they had a background in Jewish scriptures, Christian scriptures, or indigenous traditions, and that's how they understood their new Islam. What they were receiving from the Prophet, they understood from the lens of their culture around them, their backstory. And so my backstory is the Transformers. I'm a kid of the '80s, so I dig stories, and I just pull stories that I know. And one of the dudes that I was building with at this time said, "Yeah we can build with comic books. You know, the Bible is the ultimate comic book already.” So there's already a lot of parallels and similarities between those kind of things.

In addition to the pop culture references to the Transformers, you also write a lot about professional wrestling, which came as a bit of a surprise.

That's really the mythological system that's probably touched me the most in my life. As my books have kind of traveled and smart people pick them up and want to say something about them, they compare them to smart things. Like, "Oh this reminds me of Salinger." That kind of thing. I mean this stuff happens. Sometimes it's really cool and I appreciate it, and sometimes I think people are missing the real influence. I was not remotely influenced by Salinger in the way I was influenced by professional wrestling.

The Hunter S. Thompson thing is one that comes up the most. It comes up naturally in this case, because of the drug thing. But really, pro wrestling was the biggest influence on my writing. Like what I try to do with it, and how I approach it and how I feel about it. I don't think that's anything that sophisticated people who read my stuff are usually prepared to see. They see wrestling as some low brow stuff, but I'm a wrestler on the page. That's what I'm trying to do all the time.

In your earlier books you recounted your vagabond youth and your Gonzo adventure stuff, but now you are in graduate school for religious studies in North Carolina. At one point in the book you describe the moment when you noticed how you're talking to somebody and you notice that you're using the gestures and the vocabulary of graduate school and you say, "I realize I have become an asshole." You think that your academic studies have robbed you of your authentic voice from your vagabond youth, but they haven't really fully equipped you with the vocabulary of the professional academic. You are in this sort of in-between stage, and you repeatedly refer to the image of Randy the "Macho Man" Savage to describe that.

Yeah, cause in the fall of '87 Macho Man was in this kind of liminal state between being a bad guy and being a good guy. And eventually he made the transition completely to being a good guy, but for a while he was at this spot that, at that time in wrestling, was really rare. You know, he was a bad guy but he was fighting bad guys. They didn't really do that a whole lot. And you can see that something was changing but it was hard to really place him.

This book takes place, for the most part, in the summer between me finishing a masters program at Harvard in Islamic Studies, Theological Studies, and coming here to go into the doctoral program at UNC. I felt like I was in kind of a liminal state because I'd had two years of a masters program eating up academic type things and having academic type conversations, and that was crippling me from the writing I loved to do, the adventure story writing. I wasn't having those crazy adventures, I wasn't thinking in that kind of language. But at the same time I wasn't yet what I'm trying to be. So I couldn't write the kind of thing that I would have written five years before that, and I couldn't write the thing that I wanted to write five years in the future. So I was in this stuck spot.

I think training yourself as a critical thinker, mastering that kind of language, can kill your creativity. I don't think it necessarily has to. I was trying to navigate between those different ways of reading and writing. It was awkward, you know? I didn't know if I could do it. I think that comes out through the whole book. I was just questioning my ability to even write the book at that time. Because it's a drug book, and you're supposed to kind of be in yourself, be in your gut, and speak what you're experiencing.

First of all, to write a good drug story you have to believe it. You have to suspend your disbelief and suspend your critical analysis of it. That would kill you in a seminar discussion or when you are trying to write an academic article. So I was pretty much fucked. That's how I felt.

I spent time in grad school, and before we started the interview we were talking about our fuel for grad school. My fuel was a cocktail of Diet Mountain Dew and grapefruit juice. This was in the early '90s and Red Bull and Five Hour Energy and that sort of thing hadn't yet hit the market. You also talk about the fuels that you ingested. Like you, in my youth, I was very much into weight lifting and martial arts, and I spent a fair amount of money — more than I could really afford to — at GNC, General Nutrition Center.

I've gotten into weight lifting at strange times in my life. Before I went back to school, I think I got into it as a way of controlling something around me because I was this starving writer dude and didn't really have anything going for me. My writing wasn't paying me yet, and I wasn't in school. I had no real prospects of a career, I didn't have any hope of someone rolling the dice to marry a person like me, so relationship prospects were kind of out. I just drove to Boston and lived in my car and crashed on people's couches. My life was kind of a mess so when I had a few bucks I bought weights and kept them in my trunk and just went crazy with it. And I started really regulating my diet quite a bit, trying to limit myself to a 700-1000 calorie a day range.

What I was trying to do was control something about myself, but it became the opposite. I just completely lost control, and I was enslaving myself to that discipline and really getting out of touch with reality. There were times when I had no fat on my body whatsoever, and I was really skinny and emaciated, but I thought I was ripped because I was lifting and I could see musculature. But my stomach went in, and my face was a skull with skin on it. And that would be countered at times when I thought, "Shit, I'm going to have a box of Lucky Charms for breakfast." That kind of thing. I would just go in the other direction and kind of bounce back and forth. So, yeah, I wasn't healthy. I do work out pretty regularly now because it's really hard in grad school and this kind of academic life to not just be a brain in a jar. So I really need to be conscious of my body. I need to be conscious that I'm living in a material existence. I don't want to lose touch with that, so I go to the gym. That's how I maintain my mental health now, by lifting weights and trying to preserve my body a little bit.

In the book you describe a masculine wound that drove you to punish yourself in the gym and in the wrestling ring. Would you say you still have that wound, or is that something that ayahuasca has helped you with?

My ayahuasca experience gave me a lot of insights. It gave me a really powerful experience to look from. I'm not a big believer in these kinds of on/off switch-flipping experiences that people say that they experience in their lives because I've been through it plenty of times in different ways. Whether it's religiously or physically or whatever. I've had lots of born-again moments, and sometimes they stick more than others but I'm generally not a believer in that kind of thing.

So ayahuasca did open me up a lot. It had me think about things. I think it had me experiencing emotionally things that I was experiencing intellectually already. I don't think I was prepared for it, but the real work, as they say, is when you come off the mountain and you go back into town.  I don't believe in a magic pill that just fixes everything. And besides, I think if I took ayahuasca as a fucked up dude, I'm a fucked up dude when it wears off. And maybe I just have some different tools with which to think about it.

So for the benefit of the listening audience who have heard several episodes of this podcast and know my usual agenda, I just want to say I did not ask you to say that and that we hadn't agreed beforehand that you would say that.

That's true.

As many authors do, you open many chapters of the book with quotes from other people, and in one of the chapters you open by quoting yourself. In that quote you express your skepticism that a drug experience could inform your spirituality. Why did you quote yourself that way?

I thought it was interesting that I said that and then years later I'm trying to do it. I thought that was kind of funny, if nothing else. But also it was kind of a reminder that I was trying to have an experience. When I made that statement a few years ago, I had already had kind of a mystical drug experience with bhang lassi, which is the lassi drink made with crushed cannabis.

I went to the Sufi shrines in Pakistan on that and tripped out and had an amazing time. But I don't see that as a sustainable path. The people I know who have employed chemicals for their spirituality, they're not dazzling mystical masters to me. I know some good people who rely on their sacraments, whatever those are, and maybe it gets them through something, but I have known a lot of people with varying spiritual insight in my life, and I don't see the drug as making the seeker. You know what I'm saying? I don't see that as being what instantly makes someone wise. Even when I was doing this ayahuasca thing, I wasn't looking for a sustained spiritual practice. I'm not sold on that.

You didn't travel to South America to experience ayahuasca there. I've been there four times and probably participated in about 30 ceremonies, and I can tell you there are people in South America who have a lot of experience with ayahuasca, who are very skillful at navigating the different states that it can help them access, who are very predatory and self-aggrandizing and who are always looking to score, either sex or money off the tourists. It seems that ayahuasca can open a lot of doors that don't seem particularly spiritual or enlightened to me.

Yeah, it's anything, man. It's ayahuasca, it's the Koran, it's anything. Any kind of technology that people have for this stuff, it's what the user does with it.

I think we're just about at the place where I'm going to break to put in the music, so let me ask you about this song, "My  Life in the Knife Trade" by BoySetsFire. It's one that you listened to thousands of times in the writing of this book. Would you say something about what that song says to you?

I have a weird relationship to music when I'm writing in that I can't predict what kind of song is going to move me during the writing. Is it going to be the words, is it going to be the sound, or is there some image associated with it, like the video or whatever? I found this song when I was watching CZW (Combat Zone Wrestling) videos, and I saw this tribute to Necro Butcher. He's this dude who does thumbtack, glass light tube, barbed wire, all that kind of crazy garbage wrestling. You know, where you're just legitimately cutting yourself up for the audience? And wrestling is how I see myself as a writer. Wrestling is the moral ground of who I am as a writer and how I see myself and what I'm trying to do on that page. I'm waiting for someone to engage that, but it hasn't happened yet. Cause they say, "Oh this is like Salinger,” or, “This is like Hunter S. Thompson." No, this isn't like anybody for me. That's what writing is for me.

And so I was watching this Necro Butcher video, and it's just him getting slammed in the light tubes and getting cut up and bleeding all over the place, and just looking like a mess. This guy is not your typical image of a wrestler. He's not juiced up. He's not muscular in any way. He's got a beer gut, he's got scraggly hair, he's balding. He just looks like a mess of life. And he just puts himself out there and suffers publicly. His public performance is suffering. And I dug it. I just got really into that video. It's an emotional kind of song playing to it. I was just thinking of myself as that kind of character and living out that video in my head.

There's a scene in the tribute video where he's in the ring and he's destroyed. He's covered in blood, and it's like the Passion of the Christ, these matches that he's been in. And he's leaning over. He can't stand up straight, and the announcer says, "This guy is one of the best deathmatch wrestlers in the world today." And that just almost made me cry, man. That just moved me. So I think of myself in those terms when I'm writing. Throwing myself into the light tubes. So yeah, that's what that song was for me.

Well, let's hear that now.

—Musical Interlude—

You are listening to the Psychonautica podcast on the Podcast Network. I am your host, KMO, and I am speaking with Michael Muhammad Knight. Michael, you've written a book. It's called Tripping with Allah: Islam, Drugs, and Writing.

Michael, you mentioned the word “entheogen” earlier, so you've been exposed to that notion, and yet you continue to refer to ayahuasca as a “drug.” What do you have to say about the competing labels that people try to place on ayahuasca?

Well, I think that to call something a “drug” comes with a lot of judgment. People are going to hear judgment when you say that. So sometimes, depending on who I'm talking to, I'm hesitant to use the word because I've seen people take offense at it. They say, "You're calling it a drug, and the fact that you call it ‘tripping’ means you don't take it seriously."

And I don't sweat that, man. I don't worry about that too much. I know that people have their preferences, and I try in the book to actually treat the word “drug” as being really relative and socially constructed and not this fixed term with a real concrete meaning where you call it a drug and then all of a sudden you're insulting it. I try to trace that a little bit. But, yeah, that's the word, man. I'm writing this not necessarily just for people who are in that culture and know the lingo. If I called the book Islam, Entheogens, and Writing, or Islam, Sacred Sacraments, and Writing, who's going to relate to that? I mean it's a book title. It's like the book title is how you reach out, and that's what I did. Tripping with Allah — it's sexy.

Let's talk about women. And maybe to get into that topic we'll start by talking about a man. In particular, your father. I think there are some things you could say in a very short period that would tell listeners a lot about you and really give them an insight into where you are coming from.

My dad was pretty much out of my life by the time I was two years old. Well, we were out of his life — my mom had to physically escape. Like, run away with money that she'd stolen from him, with me. He was a very dangerous, violent rapist, white supremacist, biker gang kind of guy. And I met him when I was 15. I saw him less than five times after that. Maybe five times. The last time I saw him he was holding a gun and threatened to shoot me. And that was the end of our relationship. So, I had a rough story with him. And one of the things that kept coming up for me when I was hearing people talk about ayahuasca was the gendered aspect of the healing. And so any kind of gender healing for me is going to deal with him because I got a lot of shitty masculinity daddy issues from that experience.

Listeners to this podcast will be very familiar with the ideas of set and setting. And it seems that you had put some deliberate effort into your set, your mindset going into ayahuasca and you had already decided how you were going to frame any kind of encounter with a divine feminine. Would you talk about that?

That was part of, I don't want to say my skepticism, but I was looking at it very practically. Ayahuasca was compared to an Etch a Sketch to me. You shake up your consciousness like shaking up an Etch a Sketch picture. And for me it's like you're only going to shake up what's already there. So I tried to have some control over what was there when I was going into it. I was mindful of what kind of books I was reading before and what my intention was and that kind of thing.

So when people said to me, "Oh, you encountered the divine as a goddess creature,” I tried to put that in conversation with Islam. And Islam doesn't really have a goddess figure and the Koran is pretty polemically aggressive against the idea of seeing God as a woman, or gods as women, or angels as women, even. But with Islam and the tradition of Islam on the ground, you do see a lot of reverence for Fatima, particularly in some kind of historical context, more than the fathers. But Fatima, the daughter of the Prophet, really can be elevated to that if you need her to be. You can go into the tradition and find people doing that. And that's what I tried to do with her. I tried to put her in that spot.

She's similar to the Virgin Mary in that way, in that the Catholic church has tried for centuries to suppress the adoration of Mary and insist that she's not a divine character at all, and the people aren't having it.

Yeah, and in Islamic traditions, you see people really propping up Fatima. Not necessarily with resistance from established authority, but obviously not everyone is going to agree with it. But the question for Fatima with me was less a matter of, “Is this a resistance to something?” but  more, “What do the people do with her?”

Even when she gets elevated to a certain kind of status, is that in itself feminist? It's just like with Mary up till now. When people prop up a goddess figure, that goddess might reflect the ideal image of femininity from the men who are worshipping her. If a bunch of dudes in a patriarchal society decide to elevate Fatima to a certain cosmic level, they make her the perfect image of what they think a woman is supposed to be. So she gets defined in terms of her relationships to the men in her life. Her father, her husband, her sons, and that kind of thing. Her love and patience and obedience and compliance and that kind of stuff. So there are always problems.

I don't want to romanticize the idea of goddess worship because you could be a real sexist misogynistic asshole and still have a statue of a woman in a bathtub in your front yard, and that's not going to change it. She's either going to be a reflection of your idea of women or you're going to use her to degrade earthly women. So for example, with Mary, if women derived status from either being virgins or being mothers, and she's a virgin and a mother, she creates this impossible standard. Something that women on Earth can't attain. And in the case of Fatima, Muslims weren't saying that she was a virgin but they gave her this symbolic virginity claiming that she didn't menstruate. Fatima never had a period. And what the fuck is going on in your mind that that's what elevates this woman to a goddess level? There are always problems with it, but I was trying to make Fatima my encounter with the divine. That's where I was going with it.

I want to talk about your encounter with Fatima, but before that I want to touch on something that is certainly very familiar to me and many other people who have sought out an ayahuasca experience. And that is the experience of drinking it and not getting anything. When you first tried to make contact with ayahuasca it was in the context of the Santo Daime church here on the East coast. Say something about your first experience with the Santo Daime.

The people were really nice. Everybody was really cool to me. I felt really comfortable in terms of the people, but the delivery system for the ayahuasca itself wasn't something that I could translate into my own world because the whole point of me is I'm a Muslim. Whatever I do, it's as a Muslim. Whether it's a good Muslim or a bad Muslim, those are just the spiritual terms I think in. I have to think in Muslim terms. That's just the language that I know. And so this was a very explicitly Christian context in which I drank it for the first time. And I'm singing hymns in Portuguese, and I don't understand Portuguese. I've never heard these before, I can't sing them. Sometimes there are translations there, I guess, but that wasn't resonating with me. And the Jesus on the wall wasn't resonating with me.

It wasn't even just Jesus. It’s that my first encounter with Islam was through Malcolm X. So how Jesus looks on that wall matters a lot to me. And so I spent my whole teen years rejecting that European-looking Jesus on the wall that Malcolm found so destructive on black people in this hemisphere. That white Jesus. That blue-eyed, blond hair Jesus. And that was the Jesus they had on the wall. And so even that was alienating for me where I was coming from, as a Muslim in America. With this American-Muslim history that really does place a symbolic value on that kind of representation. What you do with Jesus. So I just couldn't get past any of that.

One of the things that also hurt my experience was that we have these times when we're left to our own devices, when we're just laying on the couches by ourselves. Just completely in our own head. And I was starting to dig that. I could get into that. And they were nice to me — someone just put a blanket on me, and I was in my own head. But then I got pulled out of it so I could come back to the table and sing these Portuguese hymns, praying to Jesus. I wasn't given enough space to crawl into myself. It took some time for that to happen.

As I was reading your description of that, I was also just thinking, you know, sometimes ayahuasca just doesn't work. Or sometimes your stomach is really strong and it breaks down that DMT even though it's had the MAO inhibitor introduced first.

It was also my first time. Maybe they changed how much they would have given me. Whatever they told me to eat or not eat in the time leading up to it, I was faithful to that. But it just didn't happen.

You talk about the history of the creation of the Santo Daime church in Brazil, and its founder. For me, that tied in a lot with your description of your father as being a psychotic white supremacist, because throughout the book you talk about the depredations that white men have just perpetrated on the world. In fact, at one point you said, "Whatever cures the world of white power will be a miracle."

A lot of my experience with religion was trying to find myself. And my dad was always kind of in the back corner of that. I think I'm always responding to him on some level.

I think that a lot of people are looking to ayahuasca as a way to heal psychic wounds, not just in individual people, but at the societal level. While some people might object to the problem being framed as white power, certainly the language of the dominator and this domination mentality is something that ayahuasca can help us move away from. Is that an idea that you have any sympathy with?

My experience with ayahuasca was awesome, and I think people could do all kinds of things with it — the gender healing, the aspect of learning from other cultural traditions. Trying to de-center whiteness in a way that people might see it. I think there's all kinds of things people can do with ayahuasca, or anything. But I see it as a parallel to the Koran or any other kind of spiritual technology kind of thing.

If I look historically at white people in America embracing other traditions they can either do that in a really politically cool way that puts them on the side of the people that they're learning from, or it just becomes another way of mastering them. I've seen white converts to Islam say, "You brown people don't know anything about Islam. You don't know what real Islam is. You're so ignorant about your own tradition. Watch me teach you." There could be a lot of white privileged white supremacy ugliness. You're a white person trying to learn from this culture, this tradition, and there's all kinds of things outside of you. It's not like you're just a brain getting this new information. You're a person with a history and a context, and these people aren't always mindful of that.

And there's even more potential for problems in the case of ayahuasca in that if it's something you want to do as a sustained practice, it's not free. There's an economic privilege component to it. My last experience that was awesome and everything I was looking for was like $250. And I'm not necessarily willing to part with that every month to be healed of my luxury pain. So there's an economic component, certainly, and a white privilege component, like the spiritual tourism industry that you alluded to. Like white people going down — and it's mostly a white New Age thing — going down to South America and buying healing. Buying spiritual enlightenment or whatever it is that you want down there. And that's already changing the tradition.

Maybe you’ve seen something like this. People in South America who are giving these rich New Agers what they want to hear and bringing all kinds of elements into it. And this idea that it's purely an indigenous thing is no longer the case because it's transformed by the people who are embracing it. And this is something that I've experienced within the American Muslim context, traditions and communities and cultures that I've embraced, is that I might poison what I love. I might actually destroy what I embrace by touching it. So people have to be mindful of that too.

That is a topic that I have devoted quite a bit of discussion to in the past. My position on it really is that there is oil, there is natural gas, and there is timber in and around Iquitos. And the industrialized North is there to extract those resources, and they have been doing that since long before privileged New Age seekers took an interest in ayahuasca. That wholesale resource extraction is having a really devastating impact, and the fact that the spiritual tourists have shown up looking for some self-validation or self-discovery via ayahuasca shamanism has really saved ayahuasca shamanism from the rubbish bin of history. Because prior to this development, no kids in the Peruvian Amazon wanted anything to do with that tradition which was seen as the tradition of the old people, the tradition of powerless people, the tradition of people who are completely unplugged from the industrialized system which brings in all this glorious cargo.

Money matters, and we can't pretend that it doesn't. But in the process of saving this tradition and preserving it, I think there's also going to be a transformation. Like it's not going to be necessarily what was preserved, or what you were seeking to preserve.

I agree completely. There is a difference between the belief system of the Nation of Islam and Islam globally that you talk about in the book. Your discussion of it centers around this character, who is, I think, an analog of the biblical character Jacob, and his name is spelled various ways, but it looks like Yakub?


Say a little bit about Yakub and what role he plays in that narrative and then why you included him in the book.

Yakub is Arabic for Jacob. In the Nation of Islam tradition, Yakub is this megalomaniacal mad scientist who basically engineers the white race to be a race of devils, and I get into Yakub in different ways. So my encounter with the Nation of Islam tradition made that mythic history very useful to me. I don't believe in race as a biological reality. I believe it's a socially created reality, not something that's scientifically grounded, but a human interpretation of science that is subject to power strategies and oppression and equality and all that. So, at the same time I think that to look at myself as a white person inheriting that culture — inheriting whiteness not as something genetic but as a social category and all the privilege that comes along with it — to me that's being devils. So I could look at the Yakub story and be like, “That's absolutely true.” It may not be factual history. I don't believe that's actually what happened, but the story gives me something.

What does it give you?

Just a way of thinking about the world in which I was born. And the privilege I inherited, the inequality that I benefit from and then how that affects my thought, more than anything. How that determines the way that I see the world, potentially.

Besides, being a critique of white supremacy, there's this other thing to the Yakub story that I keep going back to in my engagement with Islamic tradition at large, which is that Yakub created the devil by withdrawing from society. He had some dissatisfied people who followed him. He was locked up, and the king was like, "If you can just accept exile onto this remote island in the Aegean Sea, then you can do your own thing with the people there. But don't disturb our society." So Yakub retreats to this island. He accepts exile and that's where he creates devils, who were his people. And so for me, having a relationship to the community that's very often conflicted and troubled and difficult, there's always that choice of going to the island or not. And then that's where the going to the Dinobot Island thing, the Transformers kind of thing, comes into it. Do I remove myself from my community, my family, my people and all that, and just sit by myself on an island and really create a devil?

When I was in Mecca I used to think about that a lot. When I was going on pilgrimage, I thought about Yakub and what he represented to me. And what he represented to me was this arrogant withdrawal. It wasn't just going on the island by yourself, it was this act of arrogance that you saw yourself as so much more advanced and elevated than everybody. So in my life as a Muslim, even when I go to these kind of crazy off the chart adventures, and say lots of crazy things, I always try to swim off the island and come back. It's always important to me that I come back.

Is being an active, engaged member of your community part of what you consider "the work"?

It's the work for me. There was recently a master’s thesis written about me that was complete shit. And this is where they missed the point, to me. The thesis argument was that I advocate an Islam where you can do whatever you want, where you're not beholden to anybody for anything, more or less and that you just make it up yourself, and falalala, and that kind of thing. Punk rock, woohoo. So the problem with the thesis is not only that they just cherry picked things from my books, it ignored the parts of my books where I talk about being married into a Muslim family, having a Surya marriage. Going into places where I don't have the power to resist what's going on or even the inclination. I just go into a mosque and pray with my brothers and sisters and go along with it. It didn't engage any of that. It just made it look like I was running around with a spiked jacket and throwing my fist in the air and saying, "Fuck everybody." And my reality is a little more complicated than that.

Sometimes I say very controversial and challenging things in my books, but I also live as a Muslim in Muslim communities. I'm really trying to not be Yakub. I'm trying not to be on my island. I don't think I actually manifest a do-whatever-you-want mentality where you're not subject to any kind of community expectations. Anyone who's been to a Friday prayer with me knows that I'm not screaming at people during the sermon. I take people seriously. I take my community seriously.

Well, Michael, I just read your book, so I could continue asking you questions for hours on end, but we've reached the end of the time available for this conversation. I thank you very much for writing the book and for talking with me about it.

Well, thank you for giving it this. I appreciate it.


KMO is the host of the weekly C-Realm Podcast, a blogger, an aficionado
of zombie media and the author of Conversations on Collapse. This August
he will hit the road with his Psychonautica and Z-Realm co-host the
Lovely Olga K for a 7,000+ mile, couch-surfing odyssey that will
include presentations in Pittsburgh, PA, Santa Fe, NM, Arcata, CA and a
dialog in the San Francisco Bay area with fellow podcaster Tom Barbalet. 


Transcribed by David Wilder.

Image courtesy of


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

RS Newsletter

Related Posts

Reality Sandwich uses cookies to
ensure you get the best experience
on our website. View our Privacy
Policy for more information.