Prayer and Spiritualism Within Migration

Within the pages Exit West, Mohsin Hamid captures a larger theme seen through his character’s relationships with religion. Hamid intentionally forewent giving the specific religion followed by Saeed and Nadia’s family. I believe he did this to emphasize his larger message: religion can be more than a spiritual faith — it can be a tie to home, a connection to family, a practice in the memory of ancestral tradition, or all of the above.

Similar to the way Saeed “prayed even more” after the migration from home, my own father deepened his spiritual connection after immigrating to the United States. The passage on page 200 struck a deep chord and inspired me to ask my migrant family members about their connections with religion, home, and otherness.

I learned about the fundamental difference between being a Muslim in an Islamic country and in an Islamophobic country. I learned how faith can endanger you, but also about how spiritual practices connect you to the feeling of your home and of your family left behind similarly to the way Saeed prayed to feel like “a man who stood for community and faith and kindness and decency, a man, in other words, like his father.”

The Stranger and the “Arabs”

Although it is debatable whether Albert Camus intended for his narrator to seem righteous in his murder of the Arab man (addressed only as thus), the way Camus writes the non-European characters is evidence enough of his support of the dominant narrative surrounding people of color. Though the portrayal of Algerians as violent is incredibly harmful to immigrants who already face bias, the stereotyping of the only POC in the novel as exotic, word-less, and identity-less is equally toxic yet talked about in different ways.

When referring to Arab persons, Meursault never fails to attach them to their race. The word “Arab” accompanies every Arab character, all nameless. This phenomenon reflects a larger truth about white society during the time Camus wrote “The Stranger”. It was written in 1942 and at that time large portions of Africa were under the control (and open to exploitation) from the French. It is not a stretch to say that a similar stripping of POC of their personage beyond their race continues to happen across the world in a continuation of attitudes like Meursault’s.

In the novel we see that the Algerian male citizens are described as a “group of Arabs”(40). There is no individuality attached with the Arab population in the novel. Their namelessness leads to their de-humanization. Only in few cases the Arab is called a “man” (96) or a human in most of the instances in the novel they are either “ an Arab” (88) or “ a body” (68). This shows not only the lack of empathy of Meursault or Camus, but also of European society as a whole.

Existentialism & Social Media

Reference this link:

I was scrolling through social media late on a Sunday evening, procrastinating completing my blogging assignment for Mr. Heidkamp’s AP Literature class when I witnessed an event of true absurdity. On the cracked screen of my iPhone, a video displaying a recipe for a bizarre fish and rice entree flashes before my eyes. However, in an even more absurd twist, stitched beside a viral clip of a stranger outlining existentialist theories introduced to me only days earlier.

The speaker lets out a deep breath before outlining that, “in the myth of Sisyphus, Albert Camus outlines what he believes is the central conflict of humankind: that we are looking for order and meaning in a world that is inherently chaotic and meaningless. This conflict is called ‘the absurd’. While some existential philosophers believe we should try to find meaning by transcending absurdity and others believe we should face absurdity and try to live life to the fullest in the face of it. The person who does this is an absurd hero…” She goes on to describe Camus essay on Sisyphus and the happiness he finds in completing his “silly little tasks”.

The top comments on this video include: “One must imagine Sisyphus vibing.”, “Why did this tiktok change me as a person?”, and “Love this! Also it made me feel uncomfortable.”

Reflecting on the complete absurdity of stumbling upon this interpretation of Camus’ take on existentialism makes me question my own belief in the absurd instances like that tiktok find my account among the millions of videos circulating. “#Existentialism” has 51.6 million views and the tag “#camus” has 20.8 million views. I believe this phenomenon is comparable to the wave of popularity in existentialist thought that that struck post-WWI. It is likely the post-Covid-19 generations may prove to be especially vulnerable to the positives and negatives of viewing life as a combination and random and absurd events due to the turmoil of the pandemic.