Nothing Compares 2U
Date: May 31, 2021 06:01AM
Last time we met, 11 years ago, O’Connor was a Catholic priest (she had been ordained by a breakaway church in 1999) who had just been vindicated. In 1992, she had torn up a picture of Pope John Paul II on Saturday Night Live as a protest at child sex abuse in the Catholic church. At the time many people dismissed her as a loopy self-publicist. Two weeks later she was booed off stage at a Bob Dylan tribute concert, and her records were publicly smashed. But in 2010 Pope Benedict XVI issued an apology to the victims of decades of sex abuse by Catholic priests in Ireland, expressing his “shame and remorse” for their “sinful and criminal acts”. (She viewed the apology as wholly inadequate, calling the Vatican “a nest of devils and a haven for criminals”.)...
She’s at home in Wicklow when we speak, decked out in grey – grey jumper, grey hijab (she changed her off-stage name to Shuhada Sadaqat when she became a Muslim in 2018), grey cropped skinhead and grey fag [cigarette!] ash. She’s 54 now, her cheeks more rounded but her eyes still bright. For three hours, she talks and talks – eloquent, indiscreet, potty-mouthed, poignant, conspiratorial....
O’Connor’s worldview has always been one of gods and devils – perhaps not surprisingly for somebody who was brought up to believe the incontestable truth of the scriptures. Of her 20-odd tattoos, all but one are scriptural. On the back of her hand is printed “The lion of Judah shall break every chain” (“My Rastafari fist”), on the other “Lumen Christi” (light of Christ), and on her chest is a huge Jesus tattoo. On her neck is “All things must pass”, another biblical quote. The exception is a tattoo saying “Vampire slayer” – which is what some friends called her after the Saturday Night Live incident...
Despite everything that has happened to her – the abuse, the breakdowns, the betrayals and fallouts – she has never lost her faith. Yes, she has been hypercritical of formalised religion, particularly the Catholicism she was born into, but that’s different. Religions are simply platforms for faith, she says, and she decided Catholicism was a lousy platform, so she chose Islam. “I guess I was born with a huge faith and it never left and nothing would shake it,” she says.
Why did she become a Muslim? “What I like about Islam is that it is anti-religious. In the same way that Jesus was a militantly anti-religious figure, Allah is saying that people are not to worship anything but God. The worst thing that happened to God is religion.” She means we’ve spent too long worshipping priests rather than God. “Islam is the most maligned religion on Earth because it has the truths that would make you not worship money, make you not steal, make you be good to your brothers and sisters, make you gentle.”