Posted by: nimbu | March 11, 2007

Deprogramming a Friend (part 1)

A friend came over for dinner the other night and reluctantly I got caught up in a religious debate. I see this friend about once every couple of months, so we’re not the closest of friends; however we have known each other for about 20 years.

He’s a Muslim, but a liberal one. He drinks alcohol on occasion and has a progressive outlook. Both of us have a mutual friend who went off to Pakistan shortly after high school here in the US. His dad was hell bent on him becoming a doctor and figured if he paid enough dollars, a Pakistani med school would grant him admission and boom, a doctor! Now the problem here is that this mutual friend was born and raised in the US. Although he had visited Pakistan a few times on family trips, he was 100% American. He loved skateboarding, Depeche Mode, New Order, had long hair, loved computer games, just like me.

While we were sad to see him go, we were happy that he was becoming a doctor; the Holy Grail for any Pakistani parent. A few years passed and when he returned, he looked like a Taliban Mulla. He had a beard and was dressed like a sheep herder. We were shocked! Our skateboarding, Depeche Mode loving friend had been converted from being a progressive, American Muslim to a freaking extremist Taliban style Wahabi.

We were shocked and heartbroken. He was no longer our friend that we grew up with. His view on life had taken a tragic turn. No longer did he like being in the same room with women; he felt that women and men shouldn’t intermingle – it was un-Islamic. When he would visit from Pakistan and we’d see him at family gatherings, he would raise a fuss regarding women and men in the same room. It became uncomfortable to be around him. He had become so extreme.

After spending about 7 years in Pakistan, he finally returned to the US to live. He had been back for over a decade when I finally ran into him again. It was a planned visit. I figured 10+ years of being back in the US, he would have returned back to his old self; but I was in for a shock. When I saw him, he was dressed like an old man from Afghanistan. He was wearing traditional garb with a turban. He looked like somebody you’d see on CNN these days, except he’s here in the US.

I confronted him: I said “Do you have a deathwish?” He lives in the mid-west, not exactly New York City, where wearing freaky gear goes unnoticed. You can’t dress like the Taliban in rural US. He just smiled and shrugged it off – as if I where joking. I didn’t engage him in any controversial dialog; I hadn’t seen him in years. I just wanted to have a pleasant 2-3 hours with an old friend.

We had dinner and parted ways. I was sooo sad.

So the other night, my friend and I got into a religious debate because we started talking about the fine line between being devout and being a fanatic. It was an entertaining discussion – for another post.



  1. Tragic, indeed. Why didn’t the parents send him to Carribean, St. Lucia for instance? Too late, I guess. Is he a practicing physician in the US?

  2. Why not the Carribean? Probably because his dad thought it better that he be around other Pakistani, Muslim kids; rather than on a Carribean island with much temptation. Another reason was probably that his dad had relatives in Pakistan that could look after him. It appears that his relatives did a poor job of looking after him. As far as I know, they all share the same sense of loss and grief that I do.

    He has yet to pass a single exam in the U.S.

  3. “He has yet to pass a single exam in the U.S.”

    Thank Goodness for that, I was getting worry about going to a doctor next time and knowing that s/he might bought his way through med school.

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