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We Have But One Direction

My daughter’s favorite Muslim is not the Prophet. Malcolm X? Nope. Rumi? Not quite. Muhammad Ali? Alas.

It is… it was… Zayn Malik. Formerly from One Direction. Or 1D, as the cool kids call it.

This posed a somewhat serious problem for an anti-consumerist soul like me. I am a huge musical fan, but tend to be a little bit picky. Mozart. Beethoven. Great Qawwali of Sabri Brothers and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Coltrane. Marley. Early Bob Dylan. Zeppelin. Marvin Gaye. Sam Cooke. Alison Krauss. Tracy Chapman. Nina Simone. Shahram Nazeri. Oruc Guvenc. Umm Kulthum.

Boy bands? Not so much. 
Until my daughter, the love of my life, she-who’s-never-impressed-by-anything-I’m-into-including-my-taste-in-music-and-spirituality fell in crush (love is too sublime of a word) with 1D, and specifically with Zayn Malik — he of the lovely brown skin and the impossibly long eyelashes.

For the first time in my life, she thought something Muslim was cool. Beautiful. Crush-worthy. Dad was pleased. Dad was very pleased.

Former member of British boy band One Direction, Zayn Malik, at the Asian awards in central London. Image by Adrian Dennis/Agence France-Presse / Getty Images..

So I did what any Muslim father trying to impress his teenager daughter would do. Every. Single. Time that a 1D song would come on the radio, whenever they would get to the part that Zayn would sing, I would say at the very top of my lungs: “As-salamu alaykum my Muslim brotha!” I mean, who wouldn’t, right?

My daughter rolls her eyes, giggling in that amazing way that says, “I can’t believe this idiot is my father, he’s so embarrassing, and… so dorky it’s kinda cute.” And surprisingly, I am all good with that.

Which brings me back to the news of Zayn, my handsome Pakistani-British Muslim heartthrob leaving 1D. Crushing the hearts of millions of screaming teenager girls. And at least one Muslim father.

You see, Zayn, you were one of the very few positive images of Muslims that my kid sees in the world that she navigates. I expose her to Linda Sarsour and Wajahat Ali and Rumi and hundreds of other amazing women and men, past and present, who are doing beautiful work on the ground. But none of her friends know about these figures. They all know about Zayn. Zayn is real to them, and thus, to my love.

Omid Safi and his daughter.

So Zayn leaving 1D left me without my most famous cool factor in my daughter’s eyes.

And then I read about Stephen Hawking, on everyone’s short list of the smartest human beings on the planet.

It turns out that a little girl was devastated that Zayn was leaving 1D. Stephen Hawking noticed her sadness, and offered this brilliant comment:

“My advice to any heartbroken young girl is to pay close attention to the study of theoretical physics. Because one day there may well be proof of multiple universes. It would not be beyond the realms of possibility that somewhere outside of our own universe lies another different universe. And in that universe, Zayn is still in One Direction.”

I’m told the girl stopped crying.

That story has meant a lot to me. I even shared it with my daughter.

The metaphysical plurality is touching: there must be a world out there, somewhere, where the humans do not engage in war, where children go to bed at night with food in their stomach, where human beings are not oppressed simply because of their race, belief, wealth, or whom they love.

It is gratifying to know that such a world might exist. That it does exist. That it could exist. That it must exist.

And it is… irrelevant.

It’s irrelevant because we live in this world. This one world. For all of our technological advancement, we have not yet found any other inhabited worlds, or the means of getting to such worlds.

This is it. The one home. If/when we destroy this one home, we will have no more home, no more place in this almost infinite cosmos to call home.

Which has left an impression on me.

The metaphysical plurality is comforting. The vastness of the universe reminds me of the awesomeness of God — not the God of one tribe, one religion, or one nation but the awesome God of all the universes. There is a God who is beyond the imagination of any one path. This is why the Qur’an begins not with the “God of the Arabs” (a phrase never used in the Qur’an) but rather with, “Praise be to the God of all the universes (in the plural).” God of the cosmoses.

And yet the fact that, here and now, is our one inhabited reality makes me have a different relationship of seriousness to it.

Arthur C. Clarke was right:

“Two possibilities exist: 
Either we are alone in the Universe or we are not. 
Both are equally terrifying.”

We are left with one choice. Either we go up together, or we go down together. Either we learn to live together like friends and neighbors, or we go down in the destruction of the only home we have. Which means the destruction of us all.

Metaphysical plurality, imagining other worlds and other possibilities is comforting. But there is this mother, this home, this soil, this air, these waters, this human community, this natural cosmos that is our only livable reality here and now. And to survive, to co-exist, to seek peace, peace, and only peace, is our only hope. To get there, to arrive at peace, peace has to be both the goal and the path. To get to that promised land of peace and justice, we have but One Direction.

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