A personal quest into the intersection of Islam and mind-altering drugs.
“I am a Muslim with plans with tripping with Allah, if Allah so wills, making me simultaneously a participant in two religions of high discomfort in our present America.” A sentence like that, which comes early in the pages of Knight’s (Osama Van Halen, 2009, etc.) memoir, isn’t going to win its author points with Homeland Security or the Salafi mullahs. It is thoroughly revealing of Knight’s program, however, which started off as a scholarly inquiry: He wanted to consider the effects of drug use on a modern Islamic practitioner—a “chemically enhanced Sufism,” as a friend puts it—in much the same way an anthropologist might look at a drug-induced spirit journey among an Amazonian people. The author is cautiously academic in some respects; he worries, for example, that his discipline is painting with too wide a brush by applying the rubric “shamanism”—once specific to the peoples of northern Siberia—to such spirit journeys around the world. But Knight is also exuberant, sometimes to the point of channeling, directly or indirectly, the menacing drug dealer in the movie Withnail & I (1987): “I’ve put substances into my body that are so fuckin’ condemned by society that I wouldn’t even name them to you. So, from that experience, I’d say to go for it.” Does Knight succeed in melding ayahuasca and Islam? It’s most certainly worth reading this intelligent book to find out, for it has, beg pardon, a higher purpose than its surface gonzoism might suggest at first, with its smart meditations on consciousness and the passage of time.
William James, suffice it to say, would probably be appalled at first, and then fascinated.