“What is a friend? A single soul dwelling in two bodies.”
Weed smoke always gives me the headache from Hell. The haze could come from the expensive brands, the kinds which take great care to grow, the sorts of which require special connections with special people to get or it could come from the cheap stuff that the dime-bag sellers posted on the corner sell. It doesn’t matter. Should my lungs inhale the by products of cannabis lit ablaze in cigarette paper, the throbbing in between my temples soon follows suit. Always. Action and reaction, the ubiquitous law of the universe.
Full well knowing the effects of the haze and even knowing the injunction against mind-altering intoxicants in Islam, of which weed certainly qualifies, I still sit here in a circle with some childhood friends as they pass a glass pipe packed with the good stuff – Mango, I think it is this time – from one to the other in an almost ceremonial act of selfless generosity. Mango, after all, is the premium stuff and you don’t share your premium stuff with just anybody: the high quality weed is reserved for your closest dawgs or your tightest homies – your sahabah, your companions – and for special occasions. I figure I must either be a masochist or a bad Muslim or potentially both for being here. In any case, I don’t give a damn since these bygone hoodlums are the Friends of My Youth, the few people left in this world who can look at me not see me as I currently am since they aren’t the slightest bit concerned with calculating their interest or my virtue. They don’t give a damn, for the moment, about Getting Ahead or Needs Must Admiring the Best, the two official criteria in adult friendships, and when that boring stranger I’ve become appears before them out of the blue, they put our their hands and smile, not seeing my real face, and speak to me in those all too familiar idioms, saying, “What up, motherfucker?!”*
You might say I’m a second-hand pothead, a pothead by association, because of the environment I was raised in and because of the company I choose to keep. I’ve never smoked the stuff, but I’ve been around it so much that I may as well be a connoisseur of cannabis. My mom used to say, in serious jest, that I’m a “weed baby,” having survived gestation in her womb while she smoked. The health and religious nuts can castigate her all they wish, but I won’t blame her. Not one bit. A Black single parent woman raising three kids on a fixed income should be entitled to smoke weed every once in a while. I’m sure without it my mother would have killed us. She even said so herself.
I neither blame myself for my choice in friends nor my friends for some of their choices. When you grow up in squalor, chances are, you’ll be exposed to marijuana in some form or another and to a slew of other things which might rub up against religious or social or whatever sensibilities. Poverty can author the most godless of vices. Material realities constrain and hamper, and free will becomes less and less free the poorer you become. A man can will God off His Throne all he wants, but that doesn’t mean it’ll happen. Good choices aren’t always known or available in such an atmosphere where the darkest specters of ignominy waltz the streets with a incarceration-felony “justice” system just waiting to lock your ass up, especially if you’re Black or Latino. The weed (well, weed isn’t really that bad) or the heroine or the crack or the speed or the ecstasy or the alcohol or the loose girl or the “stud” is there, it’s in your face, someone asks you if you wanna try, and, if you don’t know any better or if you so happen to heed the yearnings of your lower self, you do it. I’m told the escape is bliss, a mere profane fragment of a dirty, distant heaven wrapped in Zig-Zag, inoculated with a dirty syringe, swirling at the bottom of a beer bottle, or found in between the arms and legs of a stranger. In those moments, I’m told you forget yourself because you don’t like yourself, and you feel, deep down inside, that the world doesn’t like you. The dark speck which afflicts every human heart, Satan’s little prick, the enduring mark of his heavenly folly, metastasizes and spreads like wild brush fire throughout the soul. Darkness upon darkness, until everything is consumed, and eventually, you consume yourself. I’ve seen it enough times to know how it happens. The same story, eternally retold it seems. So it goes.
“I drink not from mere joy in wine nor to scoff at faith – no, only to forget myself for a moment, that only do I want of intoxication, that alone.”**
And other times, it’s not bad choices or the environment, but circumstances and personal accountability. There are strong-willed and weak-willed people. Don’t be so quick to pass judgment because it’s all here and there, the whole gamut, convoluted, like a maze. Reserve your judgment, even if it is a matter of infinite hope. Leave judgment to Allah as to the quality of being of a soul. He’ll do a better job of it than you ever could. I assure you of this.
Besides, nobody asked for your opinion anyway. “Opinions,” my mother used to say, “are like assholes: everybody’s got one.” So do us all a favor and keep yours to yourself, at least for the time being.
Wait? I’m a Muslim, aren’t I? So why am I saying all this stuff anyway, this talk of weed, profanity, and all things haram – forbidden? Because I’m with the Friends of My Youth, and I haven’t forgotten the environment to which I owe my genesis, were I came from. I’ve been struggling for quite sometime since becoming Muslim to make a sensible narrative in order to explain this existence, to put it in a larger, more nuanced context. I’ve been blessed to see such stories transpire before my very eyes: their histories and their stories, complex lessons in their own right, contorting to become the present and casting shadows of the future, as if Father Time is divulging the secrets which his Lord, the One who create him in the first place, forbade him from telling. And while some hold their noses aloft at such people, I embrace them because, in my mind, I am not so distance from them. We’re no longer teenagers; we’re all grown men with lives of our own. But when I look at them, as when they look at me through the miasma of the marijuana smoke, I see the faces of my teenage friends.
You may indeed be better than someone, occupy a higher station, but you don’t have be condescending, you don’t have to act like.
“Behold, God does not disdain to propound a parable of a gnat, or of something [even] less than that. Now, as for those who have attained to faith, they know that it is the truth from their Sustainer – whereas those who are bent on denying the truth say, “What could God mean by this parable?” In this way does He cause many a one to go astray, just as He guides many a one aright: but none does He cause thereby
to go astray save the iniquitous...” [2:26]
All creation is a parable for a higher, inner truth. Even the least among us serves this purpose, so take heed.
*A quote from Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men that I altered a bit for this entry.
**A verse from the poet Omar Khayyam. I found it in Ernest Becker’s The Denial of Death.