When my turn comes to step up to the podium for the archangels to question my reasons for entering this land of dreams, this heaven on earth, I get asked a question that will trouble me for a long time after the interview is over: "Sir, are you religious?" Now, I am the type of Muslim who would tell you that even if there was an Allah hovering up there, he should be punished by collective disobedience because he has been doing a miserable job. So the answer to Mr Immigration Officer would be a hearty: "Oh, no. I dropped that potato a long time ago." But instead I keep looking at the little cross hanging from his neck and feel like telling him that this is none of his business. But I don't. We all know why he is asking me this question and what my answer should be: "No, sir, I am not religious and I do not know how to prove that to you." I feel ashamed that I have just said these words.
And that is another thing that seemed to be incomprehensible to one of my new Washington friends: when we were talking about the popularity of the clerical militia chief Moqtada al-Sadr I was asked how anyone could be fooled by someone who so obviously used religion to boost his own popularity and went for the lowest common denominator for popular appeal? I was saved by another guest who asked if we were talking about Bush or Sadr here.