A Dutiful Boy by Mohsin Zaidi

A Dutiful Boy is an important book for me – it’s importance measured by the fact that one of my beautiful, dutiful sons singled this book out as my Christmas present. The book charts the pain of a gay Pakistani Muslim’s journey to acceptance, love and flourishing.

The book’s inner sleeve explains that Mohsin Zaidi grew up in a poor pocket of east London in a devout Shia Muslim community. His family were close knit and conservative. He became the first person from his school to attend Oxford University, and it was there that he found the space to become the man he was born to be.

Zaidi talks frankly about his own self-hatred and his prayers to be “different” and “cured”. The tensions and the love of Pakistani family life are well told. Throughout Zaidi is committed to his parents, brothers and his extended family of aunts and uncles and this is one of the most moving aspects of this story. The book is as much a memoir of their journey to acceptance as it is of Mohsin’s.

Counselling helped. I will treasure the exchange with his counsellor, Maureen Zaidi reports. Responding to Maureen’s questions Zaidi admits that he had thought of suicide. Maureen asked: “do you think your parents would rather a gay son or a dead son?” Zaidi didn’t know the answer. “ A dead son they could explain. It would be a moment in time and then they might move forward. They’d live with the shame of a gay son for as long as I was alive.” Then Maureen invites Zaidi to imagine a future in which he has a son.

“Now imagine your son in exactly the situation you are in now – the same history, the same conflicts, the same desires and the same fears. What do you do?”

Zaidi replied: “I grab him. I hold him tightly and tell him that he’s OK. That he is loved and that I don’t give a fuck about religion. That any God who loves me must love him as much.”

Then Maureen asks: “Now think about his sadness, what does that make you feel?”

“It makes me angry … really, really angry.”

“Digging deep into this pit of anger, I felt something shift inside me. My sense of justice kicked in. The anger felt good, powerful. Like rocket fuel. I wouldn’t be stalled by the obstacles put in my path. I would knock them down. I was surer than ever before that I would not marry a woman. I would live my life as a gay man, and, one way or another, there would come a time when I would face my family and force them to face the truth.”

Throughout this journey Mohsin remains the “dutiful boy”. There is secrecy about his gay life and there are enormous tensions along the way but there is integrity in the way Mohsin and his family will not let go of one another in spite of the pain and shame they all suffer and in spite of the distance they put between themselves.

This is a story in which all find their cure and it is a delight to read how Mohsin finds love and the freedom in which he can grow his work. Other people aren’t so fortunate and continue to struggle in cultures which hate homosexuality and seek to change, cure and deny those who are gay. Mohsin and his parents set up a support group for the families of LGBT Muslims.

In the first session his Mum said to the group: “My brother was sick and it … he has taught me a lot. We have so little time with our loved ones. Why waste it? God created my son this way and it is me who had the problem, not him.” His Dad joined in: “Children are not ours to disown, my son is not hurting anyone. He is a good person. I don’t care what anybody says. I know that Allah loves him like I do.”

A Dutiful Boy by Mohsin Zaidi was published by Square Peg on August 20th 2020

It’s not just common sense

Horse sense is the thing a horse has which keeps it from betting on people. W C Fields

The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness. Vladimir Nabokov

Ivonprefontaine has a nice phrase from his wife Kathy in a comment on my last post about telling the time when the clocks change. He refers to “uncommon common sense”, a phrase from Kathy’s farming culture. “Common sense” was a phrase I woke up with this morning. Such telepathy across the world. This stream of consciousness comes from my having to justify the value of the common sense of a group of highly intelligent people (and the knowledge and understanding that their common sensing has developed over a period of time)  against inflexible bureaucratic procedures.

I grew up in a house of common sense. My questions were often answered with “it’s just common sense”. That is a frustrating answer for someone too young to understand how common sense is developed and who wants to question cultural forms.

Common sense approaches are developed from evidence that reaches beyond proscribed data bases, that are pre-conscious, sub-conscious and conscious; from our gut, our core, our thinking; from all our senses and sensing; from our relationships and our timing.

Common sense may often defy logic and challenge reason because it draws on deepest seated learning. It grows through communities of practice and cultural interactions which sometimes transform common sense out of all recognition.

I suggest that there is a common sense about common sense.

  • it makes sense
  • it frustrates the young
  • it builds intelligence
  • it represents a practical wisdom
  • it networks
  • it represents more than words can ever tell
  • it has its own ethic which is to be always open to learning (that is what senses do: they learn and sense)
  • its capacity for learning is infinite – each and every sense has mind blowing intelligence gathering capacity
  • it is the culture of community and home
  • it makes community wonderful.

The image is via Gail Bottomley

>Diversity Training

>Kirsty Young began a four-part history of the British Family from the end of WW2 to the present day last night. It’s a sign of old age when you see your own childhood as history. But that’s what it was and it was a fascinating insight into how families have changed and how my own family changed. The programme highlighted how the family was in crisis as a result of WW2 and how marriage came to be understood relationally rather than institutionally. The programme reminded me of the angst of the 50s and 60s as we discussed and argued (not very calmly because of the issues at stake). Shocking statistics revealed the amount of sexual ignorance and repression. There’s more to look forward as the series continues next week.

Running through my own mind at the same time were thoughts about how to facilitate “diversity training” – that’s part of my job. I had already read Donald Clark’s post about narrow minded (and patronising, frustrating and annoying) diversity training and was wondering what it is all about. Then, putting two and two together I realise how diversity training has developed in family life. The politics of home life has seen the emergence and emancipation of women, the development of companiable relationships between adults and a transformation in relationship with children – (or is that all still aspirational?)

And what has been the training programme? Has it been that through the developments in the media we have been able to be part of a very public debate about relationships and the family? Through the soap operas we have seen all sorts of relationships and sufferings modelled and entertained ideas about where we fit in our own behaviours. And doesn’t the training continue through “homework” and “exercises” – in which we exercise and practise love for others, including listening for their best interest and their frustrations.

Is this a clue for facilitating diversity training? What else is there?

There is also listening. Are there voices we can hear protesting their exclusion and their hurt? Hearing their cries prompts us to ask questions about how much they count as people and to challenge the systems that oppress and marginalise them. We do have a hearing problem though – because the voices of suffering are hard to hear. Their cries are muffled and smothered in so many cases. Careful listening becomes a requirement – listening that is full of care will prise off respectability’s veneer to investigate what is really happening and what people are really feeling. This is diversity training which is moved by compassion to diversify practice and thinking so that there is room for people. People suffer the world over because of their gender, their sexuality, their ethnicity, their nationality, their age, their class etc etc. They suffer personally in the details of their daily life (and often within their own living space/home) – and they suffer because of our narrow minded thinking.

But why do we need “diversity training” in the church? That’s my exercise – “to review continuing ministerial development in the area of diversity issues” – within the monochrome Diocese of Chester. For one thing we could refer to the experience of those who complain about being excluded (women clergy some of the time), or to the absence in our congregations of youngsters (and other groups) because our thinking and practice is not diverse enough to embrace them. Or we could refer to our scripture and Jesus’ ministry which has “diversity training” so much at its heart. Jesus’ life was with the marginalised. He taught us (Matthew 25) to recognise him in the prisoner, the naked, the asylum seeker, the scavenger and the homeless. He invited his followers to diversify their thinking to embrace a saviour who could be crucified as a common criminal. Those who accepted the invitation became a diverse family in which “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female”. (Galatians 3:28)

As an enabled, white, English, straight, educated, male priest in the “established” Church of England in this skewed world I should have enough power to do something to diversify our world. I know it must start from where I am. I’m just off to the Post Office. Who knows – it could just start there.

from Dee Hock

Without an abundance of nonmaterial values and an equal abundance of nonmonetary exchange of material value, no true community ever existed or ever will. … When we attempt to monetise all value, we methodically disconnect people and destroy community.

True community requires proximity; continual, direct contact and interaction between the people, place, and things of which it is composed. Throughout history, the fundamental building block, the quintessential community, has always been the family. It is there that the greatest nonmonetary exchange of value takes place. It is there that the most powerful nonmaterial values are created and exchanged. It is from that community, for better or worse, that all others are formed. The nonmonetary exchange of value is the vary heart and soul of community, and community is the inescapable, essential element of civil society.

Birth of the Chaordic Order – page 43