For a six-year-old Muslim boy in Canada, the search for a halal hot dog can be quite the life-changing experience...
In a past life, I was a very religious six-year-old boy living in a tiny county called Essex, Canada. Very little has ever come out of Essex County so as a young child, I found myself constantly stressed with the pressures of making sure I stayed out of the hell fire that had been programmed into my nightmares.
Grasping Islam as child is tough, but grasping Islam as a child in a Christian community is nearly impossible. From the womb until my teens, I was programmed to feel superior for knowing the right truths about who brought us here. I was told that everyone around me, including my friends and teachers, were all going to hell for not believing that there is no God but Allah and that Muhammed (PBUH) is his Messenger.
The day my young world ended, I was on field day trip with my First Grade class. From my young, religious eyes, our trip was to take place in a scary sprawling Islamic Hell trap, but in retrospect it was a simple small county fair. The class was split off into different groups of five, with one parental supervisor to each group. Then we were told to leave our lunches in the tent, and encouraged to explore the fair, followed by a regrouping for lunch.
The terribly irresponsible excuse for a parent I was assigned to was totally not prepared to take care of one child, let alone five. I can't remember having any fun at the fair as the young mother (who probably should have used a contraceptives), had issues controlling her own problem child. Most of the day was spent chasing the teacher who was constantly losing a foot race with her son. We ran so much that we grew hungry fast. As the day wore on, it started getting alarmingly obvious that we were late rejoining the group for lunch.
With every passing hour, the supposed-carer slowly slipped into madness, culminating in a total mental breakdown. Admitting we were lost, the tearful, broken, supervisor gave us some money and told us to find something to eat from the food trucks. The food trucks triggered a flashback of my parents warning me not to eat khanzeer and that if I did eat a hot dog made with said khanzeer, I would spend an eternity in hell fire being punished. I hated being punished, and to my naive eyes, eternity seemed as large as the dizzying fair at the time. Scared, I asked the supervisor to come with me and ask the food truck vendor if they had “khanzeer-free” hot dogs. Confused, the supervisor kept having me repeat "khanzeer" and every time I did, it would cause her to shed further tears; lost in translation.
Alone and hungry, this small 6-year-old boy decided to take on the crowded and intimidating food trucks painted with mammoth snow cones and hot dogs. Shimmying through the long legs of the crowd, I finally reached the window. “Excuse me sir, do you know if your hot dogs have khanzeer in them?” Confused, the vendor asked me to repeat myself and every time I did a tear would cascade down my own chubby cheeks. Unclear and defeated, I made my way to every food truck, and every time my questions were left unanswered.
Teary-eyed and hungry, I found myself finally looking down at a hot dog of unknown origins. With every bite I could feel my soul being condemned to hell. There wasn't enough ketchup or mustard to hide the fact that I was compromising each bite for a lash of a burning whip of fire. Eventually, with the help of authorities, we found our way back to the group in time to catch the bus back home.
I was too ashamed to admit to my parents what happened that day, but I remember trying to make sure I prayed five times a day to make up for the fact I may have eaten a hot dog filled with the dreaded, sinfully evil khanzeer. There was nothing I wouldn't do to make it up to Allah..., that was until my family packed up and moved our family to Saudi Arabia.
Six years had passed and I was starting to feel comfortable that all my prayers and my parents sheep offerings to Allah, and a Omra would make up for that hot dog. But alas, Allah's will had me worshipping him in a desolate and decrepit desert compound called KFUPM, in the country that is the birth place of Islam. At first, part of me thought God was rewarding me and didn't want me to ever struggle finding a hot dog; in Saudi Arabia you would never have to ask about khanzeer, it is simply never an option.
Despite the ability of eating hot dogs anytime, anywhere, my time in Saudi Arabia was definitely the worst years of my life. In a country where I believed I would find a stronger relationship with God, I was in fact doing the opposite. Observing Saudis, who I thought would be wonderful ambassadors of Islam, proved to be a gross misjudgement as many were religiously strict assholes who couldn't take a joke and treated everyone that wasn't Saudi like they were infidel trash.
The first night I ever questioned my faith was in a mosque paying respect to Allah and his magnificent sunset, when I was swiftly approached by evil bearded sheikhs, who had just lead the prayer. They quickly surrounded me and instantly began questioning my faith. The tone of anger in their voice and the unmistakenly creepy blood-thirsty looks they were giving me had me feeling as afraid as a 6-year-old in search of a hot dog. Their fury was mostly directed to my Nike T-shirt that had a referee proclaiming it was game over. Unable to answer their questions, I found myself once again lost in translation. With every question unanswered another tear would trickle its way down my prepubescents cheeks. Their anger reached its peak when they decided that Allah's will would be to rip the shirt off my back, and as three grown men forcibly undressed me, I realised that Allah's supposed preachers were scarier than any hot dog. In the ensuing struggle over my shirt, I managed to wriggle my way free, and ran home shirtless, but still wearing pants from China.
That night I reexamined my relationship with Allah. It felt like someone had hacked my programming and, in robotic fashion, I began to feel like I was developing artificial intelligence. My eyes were as open as my relationship with God, and through high school I started seeing other entities. In the end, I would come to understand God as unknown energy, and just as cultures have different languages, one can assume that they have different names for this energy, and thus who was I to hate? Religion is a personal relationship and no one should judge or be judged for it. It is a shame that religion leads to so many deaths when many of their core instructions are the same. Who cares who can or cannot eat khanzeer, it is certainly not worth dying over or feeling eternally damned. I reject the concept of a heaven and hell in the afterlife, and instead take pleasure in reincarnating in space and time attempting to be a good person currently living in Egypt, which any resident will tell you is both heaven and hell.