by Zadie Smith
White Teeth Religion Quotes
How we cite our quotes: (Chapter.Paragraph)
The youth group of the Lambeth Kingdom Hall had been sent doorstepping on a Sunday morning, Separating the sheep from the goats (Matthew 25: 31-46), and Clara, detesting the young Witness men with their bad ties and softly spoken voices, had set off alone with her own suitcase to ring bells along Creighton Road. The first few doors she received the usual pained faces: nice women shooing her away as politely as possible, making sure they didn't get too close, scared they might catch religion like an infection. As she got into the poorer end of the street, the reaction became more aggressive; shouts came from windows or behind closed doors.
How does Clara experience religion as a child? And how might these experiences have shaped her attitude toward religion as an adult?
"Mr. Iqbal, we have been through the matter of religious festivals quite thoroughly in the autumn review. As I am sure you are aware, the school already recognizes a great variety of religious and secular events: among them, Christmas, Ramadan, Chinese New Year, Diwali, Yom Kippur, Hanukkah, the birthday of Haile Selassie, and the death of Martin Luther King. The Harvest Festival is part of the school's ongoing commitment to religious diversity, Mr. Iqbal."
"I see. And are there many pagans, Mrs. Owens, at Manor School?"
"Pagan—I'm afraid I don't under—"
"It is very simple. The Christian calendar has thirty-seven religious events. Thirty-seven. The Muslim calendar has nine. Only nine. And they are squeezed out by this incredible rash of Christian festivals. Now, my motion is simple. If we removed all the pagan festivals from the Christian calendar, there would be an average of—" Samad paused to look at his clipboard—" of twenty days freed up in which the children could celebrate Lailat-ul-Qadr in December, Eid-ul-Fitr in January, and Eid-ul-Adha in April, for example. And the first festival that must go, in my opinion, is this Harvest Festival business." (6.49-52)
Samad is both rational and ridiculous in this scene. He embarrasses his wife and continues to argue motion after motion during a school meeting, but he does have a logical point. Perhaps what he doesn't consider is people's emotional attachment to traditions. And seriously, we would expect Samad, of all people, to know something about emotional attachments to tradition.
The deal was this: on January 1, 1980, like a New Year dieter who gives up cheese on the condition that he can have chocolate, Samad gave up masturbation so that he might drink. It was a deal, a business proposition, that he had made with God: Samad being the party of the first part, God being the sleeping partner. And since that day Samad had enjoyed relative spiritual peace and many a frothy Guinness with Archibald Jones; he had even developed the habit of taking his last gulp looking up at the sky like a Christian, thinking: I'm basically a good man. (6.156)
No wonder this man is always worried about the state of his Muslim faith. First, he makes deals with God. Then, he starts talking like a Christian. Perhaps he shouldn't be so indignant that his sons feel they can make their own choices about religion.