“Logic, the Universe, and Pigs,” by Ali Kashkouli

Dec 27th, 2017 | By | Category: Nonfiction, Prose

As a child one rarely questions religious beliefs. Your parents tell you what to believe and that’s that. My father was never the religious type, but would occasionally be found to utter a short prayer whenever convenient for him. My mother, however, adhered fairly strictly to the Islamic tradition and made the effort to pray as much as possible. Namaz, she called it. The incongruity between my father’s more lax perspective and my mother’s incessant incantations really made me wonder. Did God want to be constantly bothered with the insignificant events of our daily lives or was He more into the gestalt? What if God really was a micromanager? Would someone like my dad end up getting the cold shoulder because of his inconsistent appeals?

Logic would dictate the creator of the earth and heavens simply wouldn’t care about cosmically meaningless events so one would have to assume He’s more the big picture type. That is, unless we’re talking about the outcome of American sporting events in which case I’m sure He’s waving a foam finger as we speak.

My mother, of course, didn’t really apply logic to this sort of this thing. Prayer was simply an integral part of her life that became a calming routine. She would lay out her prayer rug facing in an easterly direction and begin the ritual. It would start slowly with prayers quickly whispered under her breath. She would thumb through them on her tasbih, the Islamic equivalent of rosary, with sanctified vigor – sometimes getting her count into the thousands. As time passed during the sacrament her tone would build to crescendos of fervor which were tempered with cyclic dénouements when switching from one prayer to the other.

Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim
Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim
Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim
Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim

This is the way they would always start out. In the name of God, the compassionate, the merciful. Always in Arabic. Always east. It was actually quite serene. Almost trancelike. It seemed to make my mother happy, as if she could exert some sort of control over a chaotic and entirely uncontrollable world.

Of course, being the inquisitive tyke that I was, I had a few questions.

Why Arabic? My mother didn’t speak Arabic. Did God not take a foreign language in school?

Why east? I suppose I understood that all Islamic prayer should be directed toward Mecca, but didn’t your position on Earth make a difference? In the case of San Diego it makes sense since the most efficient route to Saudi Arabia would be essentially due east. But what if you lived in Indonesia? There are over two hundred million Muslims living in the island nation whose prayers are probably ending up somewhere in Ecuador. True, the earth is spherical so going east would still eventually get you to Mecca, but wouldn’t west be an entirely more travel-friendly route?  Or even more mind boggling, what if you were a Muslim conducting your prayers in an igloo at the geographic North Pole? Which way do you point then? Wouldn’t every direction actually be south?

My mother never really had answers for these questions. An exegete she was not.  The real utility of religion and prayer in her eyes was the comfort that this direct hotline to God provided.

“Does God ever answer?” I would ask.[1]

“No,” she would say. “But He is always watching and listening.”

Watching and listening. A holy voyeur. I found this terrifying.

I began to view my life as a sort of movie that God was enjoying in His spare time. I would try to keep it as lively and interesting as possible, but when you’re a kid most of your time is spent going to school, eating, and washing yourself. It occurred to me that if I was starring in my very own film with a divine viewer, that viewer must have an odd fondness for the mundane. “Sorry God,” I would think. “Nothing exciting today. Maybe we’ll have better luck tomorrow.”

When good things would happen my mother would thank God and devote a number of prayers to acknowledge our fortune. When our luck would turn, it was rationalized as all being part of God’s plan.

That kind of uncomplicated reasoning seemed very convenient to me. God really got a great deal from the plebeians who worshiped Him.  No blame, all the credit.  I tried to use the same logic for myself with my parents. If I did poorly on a test I would argue that it really wasn’t my fault because it was all part of God’s plan, but this didn’t quite work out as well as I had hoped. It seems that only all-powerful deities can get a deal as sweet as this one.

This belief in a benevolent, omniscient, omnipotent supreme being or beings is something that has been passed down throughout human history. Some have argued that this sort of conviction is hard wired into our brains and is potentially an evolutionarily protective trait. Others have argued that there is simply a God sized hole in all of us and that only God can fill it appropriately.

I really have no concrete opinion on the matter, but I do think our insistence on having a divinity in our lives is a result of our collective fear of oblivion. No one can imagine the idea of not being so we imagine the afterlife to be a garden of earthly delights and pleasures governed by a holy ruler; ideas that we as humans can grasp. However, the only way to reap the reward is to lead a righteous life to prove your worth.

This is what I was taught at home. Do good. Get rewarded.

Now I never really questioned the existence of some deity, but the extent to which that deity cared about the individual person really eluded me. I never wholly bought into organized religion, but at the same time the atheistic perspective didn’t make much sense either. Science can say all they want about the Big Bang and the origin of the universe, but it can’t explain the origin of all that mass and energy. Religion, however, makes it easy with an infinitely complex being creating a complex, yet imperfect, universe.

The problem with this logic is that the following question occurs to every child: If God created the universe, then who created God? This type of infinite regress just made my head hurt. And on a similar note, why was it that God created the universe and then waited fourteen billion years before He came across a Sumerian named Abram to make His mark? What took Him so long? Did He not take an interest in dinosaurs or June bugs?

My mother would try to explain things to me, but the various divinely established rules just appeared arbitrary. Clearly there were a number of religious oddities worthy of discussion, but the one that really got the bulk of my attention were the assortment of policies involving pigs. Obviously I only focused on the important things. 

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Never mind the whole “meaning of life” thing. Tell me more about this pork issue.

Growing up I was never fed pork based mainly on cultural grounds. It wasn’t that my mother was a member of the Islamic orthodoxy. She had just never really pursued the consumption of pork given its theologically unclean nature and cultural stigma. Islam did not originate this particular idea since many of the stories and laws in the Koran are iterations of Biblical tales and edicts, but as is often the case, Muslims just tend to take things more seriously. As a result, I never experienced the joy of a ham sandwich, or the sheer wonder of baby back ribs. In some parts of the world, this sort of deprivation is akin to child abuse. Fortunately though, my childhood did not go entirely without the wonder of porcine flavor.


Being the frugal trio that we were, my parents and I would frequent the local movie theater every Tuesday for $1 movie night. Our next stop following the film was normally the Round Table Pizza adjacent to the theater’s parking lot. We weren’t exciting people so the order was a standard one: large pepperoni, extra cheese.  Those fifteen minutes before a child gets a pizza are predictably interminable so when the meal arrived I would tear into the cheesy disk like a hyena in ill-fitted overalls. I had no idea that pepperoni was actually made from pigs. None of us did. My excuse was that I was still wearing Velcro shoes and working on perfecting my cursive. My mother and father should have known better.

I brought this up with my mother years later. When I mentioned to her that he favorite cured meat was actually haram[2] she was dumbfounded. She couldn’t believe that something so delicious could possibly be made divinely illegal.

Of course, the violation was rationalized by reasoning that since we didn’t know, we were therefore not liable for the breach. It seemed like an appropriate response. After all, the intent to commit crime is as important, if not more important than the crime itself. But was eating pork really a crime?  Now, some of these religious decrees made sense. Don’t commit murder? Sure. Got it. Don’t steal? No problem. I’ll get right on top of that.  Don’t eat pork?

I can only imagine what was going on in the Creator’s mind at the origin of time.

I shall start with intricate matter and antimatter reactions which will burst forth from the nothingness and chaos of precreation. This expanse will ultimately yield matter, space, and time. All objects in this universe shall be governed by consistent physical, chemical, and mathematical principles that I shall set in motion. I will subsequently create complex intelligent life and allow them to discover these principles as their collective intellect grows. Oh, and no one can eat pork. Definitely no pork.

It just seemed a little out of place.


The bottom line is that as time passes people tend to learn from past behavior as our communal knowledge improves. These celestial rules and regulations are often a practical method by which to protect people. They are merely repackaged into a religious context to help ensure compliance. Salvation, if there is such a thing, more than likely has very little to do with one’s diet.

Despite the occasional illogic that is inherent to most religious belief, my mother continued her usual routines. The prayer, the almsgiving, the undying and unalienable love for her benevolent God. None of it changed.

Now, did she stop eating pepperoni? Of course not. It’s delicious.



[1] Please note that I am technically what is referred to as a Qashqai Turk, a traditionally nomadic people based in southwest Iran. My native tongue is therefore a regional dialect of Turkish, but we speak Farsi from time to time with other Iranians. All my conversations with parents and family, however, occurred in Turkish. For the ease writing, I have translated all conversation into the corresponding English. Being that our particular brand of Turkish is deficient in certain areas, the translations are occasionally paraphrased to the closest intended meaning. For example, with Qashqai Turkish, there is no concept of platonic love between a parent and child when translated into English. The nearest estimations would be the two following terms: belang-nan khosh-em galir and belangy-e chockh say-ram, which convert respectively to you, I like and you, I want a lot. So basically, if your goal is to express love for a child, you can either like them, or want to have sex with them. There is no in-between.

[2] The Arabic and Farsi word for forbidden.


defenestration-ali-kashkouliAli was raised in suburban San Diego and, over time, realized that he had no discernible skills outside of memorizing lists and thumb wrestling so clearly the pursuit of medicine was the obvious choice. He currently lives in Atlanta, Georgia, and is a physician by day and a 90’s alt rock connoisseur by night (he’s never met a Weezer song he didn’t like). He writes in his spare time would like to thank his parents since, without them, he would be far too well adjusted to write anything remotely interesting. He currently lives with an undersized cat named Stevens and a fish named Sugar who live together in an increasingly shaky truce.


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