Monday, April 30, 2012

Colonial Injury

As salaam alaikum,

I've been going through quite the spiritual journey, such that the words above, my standard greeting for every entry, don't mean the same to me anymore. They don't mean the same to me anymore because of one question and one thing I learned from reading Muhammad by Martin Lings. The question is, how much of our vocabulary and, indeed, our very existence as Muslims has to be in Arabic? And the thing I learned from reading Muhammad by Martin Lings is that as salaamu alaikum is in the second person plural form, even when greeting one person, because it also includes one's two guardian angels.

And that point is a good illustration of where I am in my spiritual journey right now, in my regard for my religion. I've got a love-hate dichotomy I'm working through. Yes, hate. It's a strong word that I seldom use, but when people or parties try to or succeed in bringing impurities into my religion or otherwise attempt to disrupt my faith, yes, that is a thing of hate. Not for the people themselves, but for these impurities that, try as you may, you cannot wash off. Like the sensation of blood on Lady Macbeth's hands.


There are so many things I can talk about relating to my spiritual journey, but I've been doing a lot of reading, of scholars and historians, on everything from Qur'an hermeneutics and exegesis to the origins of "shar'ia" as it is popularly known. I just started that book, actually. But it's apparent, over time and in growing in my faith, that by being in possession of what we know as the final revelation in book form that we have, yes, insha'Allah carefully preserved over time, we also assume that the spirit of our religion has been preserved over time, and it has not been. It cannot be, implicit in our nature as human beings. So all we can do is do the best we can to preserve it's spirit and understand God's intention for us more than 1400 years later, which is harder than preserving text and recitation fidelity.

And I may talk about different elements of my journey later.

What I mainly want to talk about is something apparent to me after watching Fela! last Wednesday. First of all, I still want to delve into his life. I only knew him peripherally from my father having his music on audio cassettes that he brought with him from Nigeria...that, and of his gyrating women on stage. There's so much more I want to learn. But it was interesting how he spoke of his grandfather, and his European hymns and how he hated that his grandfather kept him from learning about the traditional Yoruba religions, which resonated more with him.

That made me think of two things. Fela's grandfather was like my Nigerian grandfather, head of his church in Nigeria. My father grew up at his feet every Sunday, learned the Anglican hymns "in the tummy," as he always says, and still has a preference for that style of church music over the "hollering" African American style my mother grew up with as a Southern Baptist. It made me realize how much my father was not a revolutionary in Nigeria post Biafran War (and even then, he was "rescued" from combat) and how he may represent that colonialist spirit that Fela saw in his grandfather...and how much that contrasted with my mother, at the very same time, young black Mos in the Nation of Islam, doing drills, wearing her Nation hijab and uniform to school every day and believing, perhaps more than any of her other siblings, in the word of the Messenger, that there was no "spook god" and "no pie in the sky when you die." Believing in the black man and militantly so. They were so different, and had they met not at the time they did, as they were both relatively distant from organized religion, though my father moving farther away and my mother moving back to it...I wouldn't be here. Subhan'Allah! Heh.

The other thing it made me think of important it is for us to have our own religions, and how much injury was done in the spread of the Abrahamic faiths in the course of conquering and colonization that those of us who unapologetically reject colonialist attitudes may never overcome.

One of the bigger criticisms of the Nation of Islam is that they rejected one "white man's religion" for another. So more contemporarily, Europeans enslaved us and "stripped us of our language and our culture," took away our original religions, condemned them as heathens, and replaced them with Christianity instead, further adding insult to injury by using the Bible to justify our enslavement and to encourage our obedience while being so subjugated. But, what of the Arabs, who were Muslim, and their brutal enslavement of Africans, their conquering of Africans, their spreading of Islam over our original religions? So, why take on that religion over Christianity as if it's any better?

My answer to that question is...the Nation of Islam was a movement out of nowhere, so I don't know! Who was "Master" Fard Muhammad, anyway? Where did he come from, and where did he go? These are all good questions! I wouldn't bring this fact up to my grandfather at his age, because it would resonate with him, but as most of my family who is still Muslim has been Muslim longer than we were in the Nation, our reasons for being Muslim now have a lot to do with other things than avoiding the religion of conquerors and colonizers. And our reasons for being are probably all individual, unique.

Then, I think about other of my friends' attitudes towards the Abrahamic faiths. They view them as "imported religions." African solutions for African problems, they say, and part of the root of the problem is akin to the ubiquitous white Jesus...that Africans benefit more from a religion with their own face. The imported religions are not indigenous and are just part of the problem of Africans looking outside for the answers to their needs.

And I hear them, and I hear this argument. But I thought to myself...I thought, am I possessing a colonial attitude by choosing a religion that does not have an African face? Am I colonialist, buying into cultural imperialism by my acceptance of Islam?


That was an easy answer.

It's all rooted in my beliefs. I believe that every community, every every community, got prophets. Everyone did. They weren't just in the middle east, though the texts and traditions of the Abrahamic faiths focus on that region. And it wasn't only those of the middle east that accepted their prophets (and many of them didn't, as the books tell). But we don't have record of who else did, and who those people were and where they lived. I don't at all believe in the superiority of any ethnic or language group, even of my own beloved people, West Africans and Diasporans. In accepting Islam, I did not accept it because of it's "Arab face." I accepted it because it answered questions that no other religion I'd encountered answered for me. The religion (not those who practice it), stressed the importance of multiculturalism, that we were made different peoples (and different genders) so that we may learn to know one another. So that we can learn from each other. Islam was not meant to be a religion to replace people's cultures but to enhance the good of them and to mute what was not good for our spiritual journey through this life.

When I came into Islam, it did not have an Arab face. Despite the fact that I prayed in Arabic, I didn't really think of Arabs as Muslims until high school. All the Muslims I knew until then were all black Americans, so the religion had an African American face for me until really college, when I really started getting to know non-black Muslims. Islam was removing my shoes in my Grandparents house, greeting them with as salaam alaikum in an unabashed American accent, tying my scarf behind my head with my neck and chin exposed in my aunt's Islamic school down the street while one of the boys in the school led salat. Islam was my mother praying deliberately in English and reading to us select stories in the Qur'an in English and teaching us who God was, what it meant for Him to "beget not, nor is He begotten," and the subtle beauties of creation.

The Islam I grew up with had an African American face, and when I learned of the last sermon of the Prophet (saw) and ayah 49:13, it had a multicultural face. We're all related, I used to say in late high school and college. I knew we humans functioned far from the ideal...but I didn't realize how far from the ideal we actually functioned. I started learning in college, and I continue learning...

So, for me, spiritually, I've never needed a religion with an African face. But just because I don't doesn't mean I decry the want and maybe need of those who do. And as much as I believe in my religion, I know we all find our own path to God, or searching for some type of divine if not God, or denying all divine and contenting ourselves with the material. I don't think it's our place as humans to deny that right of anyone, as long as their practices don't harm you in any way, though we may otherwise offend each other. And honestly, I have not studied the history of Islam in the Continent to understand how it was spread, so I can't really speak to that.

All I can say that...conquering and colonization caused injury to the people involved that is not easily healed. As Muslims, we believed that no prophets came after Muhammad (saw). So what right do non-prophets, that is, those who do not get revelation directly from God, have to spread their faith as superior to anyone practicing any other religion? What right do they have to come into your home and call you heathens? I personally believe in one God that created us all, and though we may approach Him in different ways, that does not make our God distinct from one another. We just understand Him and approach Him in different ways. I do not believe in spreading religion by force. But does that mean I relinquish my religion because it was spread by force? No. Nor do I think Christians who hold fast to their faiths should relinquish it because it was spread by force and used to subjugate their enslaved ancestors. Nor do I assume that all Christians see the white Jesus, or value Christianity because of any aspects of a European face.

A lot of ugly has been committed in the name of religion. Ugly and evil. In the name of Christianity and Islam, I know. Conquering a people and forcing them to stop practicing their religions and giving them a sense of inferiority in their culture and what is native to them is un-Islamic, even if one's religion is essentially un-Islamic. Even among the converted, that does them no good. Even among the converted in the United States that are told that aspects of their culture and very beings is haram, they go through a process of Arabicizing, if I may make up a word, rejecting their friends and family in search of an essential Islamic culture which does not exist. Stripping one of their language and culture in favor substitute is very injurious and counterproductive to their reception of the message.

And I'm not making this point to facilitate conversion. I'm just saying...I understand my friends who seek a religion with an African face. Muslims may balk at this because it reminds them of the many nations who rejected their prophets in the name of their ancestors...or, the story of Abraham himself, seeking God in objects and recognizing that, in their transient natures, they could not be his Almighty. In destroying his father's idols...and so much of African religions have to do with exactly those things as Muslims that we try to avoid...polytheism and following the way of ancestors.

These Muslims don't realize that most of them are following the way of their ancestors, and not all their ancestors have done in the name of Islam has anything to do with Islam, and some of it is actually harmful...

You know.

But I think an essential part of knowing who you are is knowing where you come from. And it doesn't mean, as a African Diasporan, that I have to know what "tribes" the people on my mother's side came from, as I know I'm Igbo on my father's side. I know more generations back on my mother's side than my father's side, actually, ironically. I'm saying this because essential in even understanding Islam is understanding the context, pre-Islamic Arabia. And I think that the essential colonial injury that makes accepting of the Abrahamic faiths from being easily palatable to many of us is the way it was presented, spread, forced in many ways without validating the strengths of the cultures that it entered.

I didn't suffer this injury, this stripping of a sense of self. A sense of self was injected into me by my formerly black nationalist family and by having a Nigerian father from a young age. So I looked for a religion with a multicultural face, and I found an Islam that is not widely practiced. And I hold fast to that. For those whose sense of self was stripped or whose culture was devalued...the quest continues for a religion with their face.

And no one's sense of faith should be threatened by the spiritual quests of another.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Of Slavery and Polygamy

As salaam alaikum,

"And if you have reason to fear that you might not act equitably towards orphans, then marry from among [other] women such as are lawful to you--[even] two, or three, or four: but if you have reason to fear that you might not be able to treat them with equal fairness, then [only] one--or [from among] those women who you rightfully possess. This will make it more likely that you will not deviate from the right course." (4:3)

"And if any of those whom you rightfully possess desire [to obtain] a deed of freedom, write it out for them if you are aware of any good in them: and give them [their share] of the wealth of God which He has given you. And do not, in order to gain some of the fleeting pleasures of this worly life, coerce your [slave] maidens into whoredom if they happen to be desirous of marriage; and if anyone should coerce them, then, verily, after they have been compelled [to submit in their helplessness], God will be much-forgiving, a dispenser of grace!" (part of 24:33)

I just finished reading Qur'an and Woman (finally) by Dr. Aminah Wadud, after years of avoiding anything written by her, convinced by the mainstream that she was a woman overstepping her bounds. I started reading it, and it was very empirical and understandable, and I wondered what all the fuss was about in what was a pivotal book...then, I got to the ending, when she began making her conclusions. And though I agreed with her in spirit, I really had hoped for some of the same empiricism through the text that had led her arguments earlier in the book. One particularly powerful argument in which I wish there was more textual proof for was her argument about polygamy...and, similarly, slavery.

This paragraph caught my eye:
Although in some instances the Qur'an proposed immediate abolition of certain ill practices, most of the time it advocated gradual reform. Few reforms were completely implemented before the final revelation. 'If all these customs had been entirely abolished by God, several problems would have ensued; not many of His commandments would have been obeyed.' However, the means for completing others were provided for by the flexibility and the intent of the text itself. 'It was considered wise...not to totally abolish some of the reprehensible traditions such as polygamy [or slavery], as there were so many difficulties involved.' - Wadud, Chapter 4, Qur'an and Woman

Quoted within is a references from Nazirah Zein ed-Din and Shaykh Al-Ghalynini as quoted by Nazirah Zeid-ed Din, "Removing the Veil and Veiling." For more extensive citations, please see Dr. Wadud's book...

Why did this catch my eye? The calling of polygamy a reprehensible tradition and Dr. Wadud's assertion that it is one such tradition, like slavery, that was not abolished in the Qur'an but, as she later concludes, was meant to be eventually completely abolished. Dr. Wadud concludes that, given the spirit of the Qur'an, we as believers should understand that these are the so-called "reprehensible traditions" that eventually should have been abolished completely.

Quoted above are two suwar from the Qur'an that speak most directly to the two issues mentioned (Muhammad Asad's translation)...polygamy and slavery. Surveying the text (briefly, and through translations), I recognize that I don't see anything calling for the abolition of slavery or the end of polygamy completely. And as Dr. Wadud notes, not all of the reform enjoined upon us by revelation (or thereafter implied) took place before the final revelation. It would take centuries after revelation for slavery to be abolished in the Muslim world, and a few more centuries for the global community to completely abolish and criminalize slavery (and don't think for a second that there still aren't millions of slaves, and some of them are in this hemisphere, this continent, this country).

Dr. Wadud poses an interesting question. As you can see in the suwar above, polygamy is modified, with the limitation of four wives so long as you can be equitable to all of them. Slaves are allowed emancipation...if you judge them fit. But slavery is more or less universally seen as a reprehensible act that should have been done away, centuries later. What of polygamy? Dr. Wadud and many other Muslims regard polygamy to be as archaic and irrelevant to their lives as slavery. But many others do not.

I'm part of this facebook group of black Muslim women, primarily from Southern Atlantic states. Very interesting articles come up, and not that I'm doing an ethnography on these women or anything, but their reactions to some of the issues are very different from my own. For example, there was an article I didn't read about a woman feeling trapped and cheated on in a polygamous relationship. One of the women in the group responded by stating that she really seeks refuge with God and tries to understand these parts of Islam that are hard for her to understand, such as the allowance of polygamy.

A lot of women in this group believe that, as part of Islam, it is a man's (or even their own husband's) right at any time to seek another wife. I...don't. I believe, as I have read and have been taught, that polygamy is discouraged precisely because most men do not have the material or emotional means to care for more than one wife...and personally, I think some men are just greedy. Now, granted a man has the material, emotional and spiritual needs to have more than one wife, and his wife and potential wife and everyone involved are game, then God is Judge. Despite my feeling that polygamy is for the most part unnecessary today (with the high propensity to be dysfunctional), I am actually neutral towards polygamous marriages. Yes, actually. It works well for some couples, and who am I to say anything against them?

I'm very marriage-equitable, though, the topic of another entry...

But anyway...why are there still echoings about polygamy being okay, about it being a husband's "right," while there are no echoings about taking slaves? Like polygamy, slavery is against the law in this country. More than polygamy, slavery is decried and outlawed by the international community. And while I guess some "traditional jurists" called for the reopening of slavery (God!), most all of us agree that slavery is un-Islamic...but somehow, polygamy didn't quite get there. Even though it is modified in the Qur'an as slavery is, with no explicit end called for.

So what can we conclude from that? Dr. Wadud concludes that polygamy, like slavery, is not for our time, was an artifact of 7th century Arabia that had to be gradually modified in order to make the Qur'an more palatable for that community. Based on her proofs, though, I could not really come to that conclusion. And it's not just because I'm neutral to polygamous relationships as I mentioned above...although admittedly, that is part of my bias. But we really do not have proofs besides our interpretation of the spirit of Islam. She argues that Islam calls for so much restraint and modesty from men, that it seems incongruous that polygamy would be a practice that would be continued to be practiced. She uses the same argument to argue against the notion that men would receive a number of partners in Jannah.

She also argues that if such a rigorous level of modesty is expected/demanded and, for the most part, upheld women in our communities, why are standards for men so lax?

And I mean...I think my overall feeling at the end of reading the book is that it's one of those things that the text cannot tell you, even with a rigorous exegesis as she demonstrated. I agree with a lot of her points, all the same, but I realize that there are questions that just reading the Qur'an, even if I had more authority, cannot answer. I believe that yes, slavery should have been eventually completely abolished, and reinstatement of slavery is in no way Islamic. But can we and should we put polygamy in the same place?

...let me clarify. I do not want to be in a polygamous marriage. Haha, this is not something I want for myself, but I'm not sure if polygamy and slavery can be considered similar reprehensible traditions that are completely un-Islamic.

Or is it, as Dr. Wadud asserts, that "God's permissibility only showed man's cruel heart, his inability to submit to truth and justice, and his immoral character, acquired from the worst pre-Islamic customs... Had it not been for the viciousness in his mind, his misguided soul and his cruel heart, God would not have granted him then such allowances that He disliked and which were meant to vanish with time."

Or, were allowances made because men can never practice self-restraint as much as females, and therefore still need to know they have the option to have more than one wife? Just like the emancipation of slaves was conditional on their character, because there are still people who deserve to be enslaved?

Friday, April 27, 2012

[uncensored]: Ode to the Brothers

As salaam alaikum,

Allah (swt) has truly blessed me with a phenomenal farewell to Boston. I've made family and lifelong friends here, I've made connections here that I'll insha'Allah take with me for the rest of my professional life. This last month has been deliciously long, filled with conferences on Islam, concerts and plays (oh my!). I've had get togethers with friends that I won't see in a while, got to watch the Boston Marathon for the first time (first year, I was a nerd and stayed in class...all other years, I was unable to due to boards studying, rotations or public health this was exciting). I've embarked on a weight loss journey that has me more fit and healthy than I think I've ever been, and I'm making connections for my move to Seattle. In all, alhamdulillah, it's been a great thing!

There are so many other things I want to blog about...the Expressions of Islam in Contemporary African American Communities conference, Esperanza Spalding's lovely concert at the Orpheum Theatre, seeing Fela! (finally) at Cutler Theatre after missing the show on Broadway a little over a year ago...

I'll talk about one thing, song. "Black Gold." This is my ode to the brothers...maybe moreso the brother brothers, if you know what I mean, but maybe it applies to more.

I was randomly searching for Esperanza Spalding songs to listen to on youtube when I came across a newly uploaded song from her then, yet unreleased album, Radio Music Society. The song was entitled "Black Gold." I'll put the video below:

As I watched the scene unfold with the two young black boys and their doting, attentive father, I started crying. No joke, I really did. It's such a beautiful video because I realize that it's an image that I rarely see...a black father with his sons.

There was another similar commercial that I think may have been a commercial for fabric softener, toilet tissue, something...showing a black father embracing his son after he came out of the tub.

And the message of this song is truly important. I hate youtube comments, because it's troll city, but some of those folks watching the video...truly don't get it. Probably the same folks that didn't even wonder why the only black kid in class, from the time they were in elementary school, was always getting disciplinary on the board, standing on the wall at recess, put out of the class, detention, expulsion.

They figure that it's just that blacks need to get over being victims. Slavery was a long time ago and should not be blamed for our drug and violence problems, and that 1 in 4 of the black male population ends up in prison at some point in their lives is their own fault.

The problem is that slavery was not over in 1865 for everyone as the Emancipation Proclamation did not mean everything to slave owners at the time, Reconstruction never happened, blacks were never transitioned into free living, and racism remained institutionalized for some time. Oh yeah, and sharecropping? Not that far from slavery.

Slavery may be "far" away, but Jim Crow was not as far away and Redlining happened really recently. Redlining was particularly genius, and if it wasn't thought up by some evil mastermind, I'm sure they would want to assume credit. It's part of the reason that the average wealth (not income, but assets, including home equity) for white Americans is around $12,000 and that for black Americans is, like, $45. I can't remember the exact figure, but yes. Redlining, of all of the institutionalized racist practices of yore, I think has the most impact on us still, because of the impact on our wealth, the property values of the places where we now historically live, the quality of our school systems and the safety of our neighborhoods. And racism is now.

I may be leftist, but I do not remove personal responsibility from the equation. Just to let you know, though, the bootstrap theory is bullshit for the many who were systematically denied the bootstraps to pull up on...

But anyway...I digress...

This is an ode to the brothers. I also thought about this after listening to an Amir Sulaiman poem telling the young men, "We love you." How often do we say that to young black boys and to our young men? Not, "I love you, but you are..." but just an, "I love you?"

So, in her concert, Esperanza talked about how, as a young black girl (mixed girl) in Portland, OR, beautiful young college students used to come to her classroom and tell her how she'd grow to be a strong, black woman. And she appreciated this, but always wondered why there wasn't something for the boys...

And by the boys, she meant the black boys. I like how she didn't feel the need to clarify. Because while females need to be empowered, and black females especially need to be do black men.

I mean, 1 in 4 spend time in prison. Do we turn our backs, or do we recognize our boys need help?

I love you.

There, I don't say this often, not even to my parents, so...yes, I do. I love you all. I love you as the other half of God's creation, sons of Adam, who the angels bow before, knower of the names of all things.

Satan scorns us in envy and keeps trying to keep us down, down from the state God promised us we'd return.

I love you like the boys I grew up with, from Daryll, my first grade crush whose shoulder I slept on alternately all the way to Greenfield Village on the bus one field trip, to Earnest, the class clown who I laughed with, but only on the inside.

I love you for the potential I've seen in all of the men that I've loved, because a little bit of it is there in all of you.

I love you so much, yeah, I am hard on men sometimes. I'm hard on you all of the time. I know it's because you are the focus of my quest for partnership, but I also know it because...I know how great you can be, if you just faced your fears and tried to be. If you had the role models to show you how to be. If someone would stop taking the tools from your hands and allow you to be. If you just try to be.

You don't know how beautiful you are. From a shy smile when you think no one's looking to the lines, angles and contours of your frame when you lean over, attentively, and the furrow of your brow. You don't know how much more beautiful you would be if you employed your tenor, baritone or bass to speak truth, wisdom, or even the naivete of a student enthralled in learning, trying to know...a student of anything, of philosophy, of medicine, of parenting, of husbanding, of the deen, of loving, of law.

I love you for what you are. I love you for all you can be. I don't know what I can do to change your situation, to ease your ills, as a woman that a male role model, father figure, coach, whatever, couldn't do better. But I guess my love and support is what I can give.

You are appreciated, and this is my ode to you.

Because being a man in this society does not afford the same privilege across racial boundaries, the cursed social construct that race is. Race was a very emasculating force for black men in this country, historically and not too long ago. The last black man lynched may have been officially recorded as 1981, but they continued to be beaten with excessive brutality, dragged behind moving trucks, and shot while unarmed. And even when the violence isn't as overt, a lot of the violence was internalized. Whatever all did a number on the black family unit...I don't know, I feel like I can't even begin to put it all together. It's doctoral thesis worthy.

So yes, we need to empower the boys. We need to especially focus on the boys. No matter the ethnicity of my husband, in this country, my boys will be black boys. I want to make sure that they come into a great support network that includes me and their father to prepare them for what all is raw out there for them as they become men. And I want the same for the little boys they grew up with, and the ones that came before them, and the ones that are already men and have space to change.

And yeah, that's all.

I love Esperanza's male-affirming songs. This is another one I really like:

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Land of Fiction

As salaam alaikum,

Auggghh, times like these, I regret that so much of my livelihood in this world relies on other people's physical and emotional presence. I knew it once as a kid and I've always known it...things would be better off if I didn't need anyone. So in times like this, when I'm sitting in an empty apartment, packing my stuff, wondering what to do next, my mind doesn't wander to the ex who was unsatisfied with me and gladly left without looking back even though I bent myself over backwards to make sure he was comfortable and the friend who I've spent hours over the past year and change trying to help understand her own disaster-waiting-to-happen "friendship" just to be ditched the last week we had together so she can reflect about what it means to be without him now.


Now, I'm just waiting for when I know my mother is going to be available and I will try not to think about her mortality while I do so! She's all I've got.

God can everything, but God will not many times. I submit myself to God, but God will not be the physical agent of my needs. He places people in our lives as one of His choice agents for fulfilling needs that we have in our present state. He can say be and it is, but when something isn't, you don't really ever know why except that He will not. He doesn't will it.

So, what do I do in the meantime? Ooh, that reminds me, I'm doing my last loads of laundry in my apartment... I pack, I jam to my own music, I sing by myself...and I lie here (the bed is my last piece of furniture, not leaning against the wall so the most comfortable position is to lie down, hehe) and travel to my fiction world(s)...

In the land of fiction, I have control. I know what's going to happen in the lives of all of my characters, and the only surprises are my changes of heart. There are always so many stories to live, to write, to create... It gives me something to do instead of grow anxious as I wait for the course of my life to materialize, because I know it's in God's hands and I'm actively doing all I think I can to change my situation. I've gone years and months wondering if I'll marry, and months and years without having any clue, any inkling, any hint, despite praying. It's either something I won't have or something I won't know. I don't know.

But I know exactly what's going to happen to Lena Reynolds in "Brand New Shoes" (see my last entry). Lena is good to her word, and so is Stanley about keeping their relationship professional. Lena has no illusions of any future between them, as she loves the firm and hopes to stay on after she's done with her internship. Stanley, however he tries to temper it, is still in love with her. At the end of the story, though, Lena is introduced to Charles (I think that's his name) Murré, the grandson of the woman who babysits Lena's daughter, Antonia, while Lena is at work.

"Brand New Shoes" was going to be part of a series. In the second part, Lena and Charles get married. She has since completed her internship and continues to work at the firm. In the third part, Lena is pregnant with her third child, her second with Charles.

What happens to Stanley? I haven't decided yet. I know that in part two, he's still single...can't decide what will happen in part three...

And as I was thinking about that and typing it all, my apartment disappeared, and so did time. It didn't matter that I'm alone in an echoing, empty apartment. I was there, imaging that I was looking into the lives of Stanley and Lena, Lena and Charles, Antonia and Rachel (Lena and Stanley's daughters, respectively). I saw Lena as she talked about her wedding preparations as she left for lunch with colleagues while exchanging a knowing but brief glance with Stanley as they crossed each others' paths in the building. I see Stanley hesitate as his phone rings, knowing that it's the woman he went out last night that he's not that into, but that he knew all along was more into him. I see Lena balancing her three-year-old daughter on her hip as she realizes she's got something burning on the stove, and hands the girl over to 16-year-old Antonia so she can attend to the stove. I see Stanley confiding in someone like he's never been able to confide in someone before, perhaps his future...?

Ahh, my former roommate just stopped in. Human contact at last! Well, time to be moderately productive and pack some more...

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Writing Relationships

As salaam alaikum,

Ever since my mother alerted me to the fact that Amazon prime provides free streaming (well, nothing's really free, now, is it?) of certain shows and movies, I've found a whole new way to waste time now that I'm on a Brazilian novela fast. And this is awesome. Well...some of the shows I want to see are not free streaming, but there are others that are.

For example, Daria.

Ever since my novela has been running out, I've been making my way through the seasons. I'm up to season 4, which is one of my personal favorites because it's the season where Daria and her best friend Jane's boyfriend, Tom, start noticing and liking each other. I love that a few of the episodes of the show are so masterfully season 3, I like how Daria gets over Trent and how Trent apologizes for their not being compatible, and...aff, my few line descriptions can't do justice to how artful I think the writing for this show and those moments was.

But I especially love the Daria and Tom tension. I just watched this one episode where it began to unfold, and I forgot it was going to be this episode, and I was...enchanted...

I hate romantic comedies because the sentiment is often vapid and sentimental love is overdone. But I love when relationships are written right.

It's not often and always usually have to find more indie sources for that. Your Hollywood and otherwise mainstream will likely miss it. #hipster

(And I'm so hipster, secretly, I'm boiling on the inside that the famed hashtag has replaced html close tags as a snarky way to classify commentary...because I will never be on Twitter because I cannot be contained to a few characters, nor do I want to follow anyone... That makes me feel better, although I realize I may have lost some of you in the nerdiness...)

So when I can't read the relationships I love...and Lord knows most of the time, I'm not living them...I have to write them, instead.

I love writing relationships! Since I was a kid, they were always the favorite part of each of my stories...the evolving relationships. It's funny--one may argue that, as a 10-year-old, I would have little notion of relationship dynamics...but that didn't stop me from writing them!

I don't know, relationships written right and the relationships I write...give me that bubbly spring feeling in my gut. It excites me! It's like the feeling of someone about to complete a circuit. I like to observe relationships evolve in real life, too, don't get me well as I like to be in them...only if they work out. If not, each living moment is a waste of my time, unless it's the inspiration for another pair of characters. I'm so the writer who sometimes escapes to live in a world of her own creation and not the one outside, because the one outside...not giving me a break in the relationship department right now. Allah (swt) knows best.

I was baking chicken earlier this afternoon, speaking out dialogue for "The Misadventures of Nisa," the opening scene where 12-year-old Bobby comes over to 12-year-old Nisa's house (who he calls "Nisa, na-na-na-na-nisa" to taunt her) to tell her that he's moving with his family to the City where he's going to go to a performing arts school, and Nisa admits to him for the first time that she likes him, thus setting the backdrop for the entire piece, as Nisa dedicates her life to moving to New York in her 20s to be with Bobby again...only to forget why she was in such a rush to get to the City when she moves there 10 years later after graduating from college...

Love it!

Not all the relationships I write work out. In a story that I wrote and never finished in high school, "Brand New Shoes," Stanley Sanford, CEO at a major architectural firm in the City (always generic, unnamed cities) is attracted to Lena Reynolds, an intern at this firm...but he just met her on the street with her daughter, so he doesn't know that she's an architecture intern at the firm. He spends much of the story trying to discover the identity of this woman who crossed his path, and he finally is able to catch up with her. The while knowing that she's an intern at his company, he remains a secret admirer until he sets up a date with her. She is flattered, but recognizes how unethical their relationship would be and makes it clear that she wants no favors from him...and they mutually agree to keep professional distance for as long as she is working at the firm.

...which breaks Stanley's heart, awww...but he has enough to worry about. The hit-man who killed his ex-wife as ordered by his ex-wife's second husband is not on the lookout for his daughter (both he and Lena have 7-year-old daughters who are frenemies in dance class together).

And can you believe, I wasn't watching telenovelas then!

The relationships I write are rarely light. I think Nisa and Bobby are the lightest one I've written. Like Lena and Stanley, they sometimes don't end up together, like Andreia Graça and Gloria from my short story, "Garota." Gloria never tells Graça that she's in love with her, and contents herself, painfully, to just be her friend.

And saying anything about my characters in RMD, Desirée, Mo and Nisreen, would be giving away spoilers!

There was Azalea and Leonard in "Sisters: Body and Soul," where Leonard backed out of his relationship with Azalea when she was dealing with the stress of being the charge over her younger sisters while her mother received cancer treatments out of state and her father was away for work. Three years later, though, AZ would meet the man she would marry, who fell in love with her exactly because of the maturity and insight she gained from essentially raising her sisters, and etc.

So some of the relationships do work out! ...I haven't named this guy yet, haha. Once again, another story I started as a teenager that I never finished...shame.

I finished RMD, though...

And I also like complicated, problematic relationships. One story idea I had back at the beginning of high school, entitled, "Damn, Boy," focused on the social evolution of three friends as they transitioned from middle school to high school. Thinking they had survived the worst that middle school social hierarchy could dish out, they were wrought apart in high school, where one of the three (the subject of the damning, haha) tries out for and makes varsity football as a freshman. His best friend, another member of the three, makes the freshman team. While the new varsity team member is bummed because he knows that could mean plenty of bench time, he is suddenly overtaken by the popular clique and leaves his friends behind.

The third of the party is his other best friend (I don't remember the names of these characters), who is at first indignant at her friends' change in social status and then devastated when he meets and begins dating a girlfriend from among his new clique. What his dude friend doesn't know is that his female friend and him hooked up at smoe point during middle school--they were each other's firsts--and they swore not to tell anyone and that was something between them that they wouldn't let disrupt their friendship. Except his friend just expected that they'd be friends forever and then, eventually, when they graduated high school and grew up, they'd end up together. And this thwarted that...

The title is from her cursing her friend, haha, at the advise of her mother, to blow off steam.

Meanwhile, the varsity dude continues to do well and he is still a nice person (totally "don't hate the player, hate the game" type deal) and he's dismayed that his friendships have dissolved...

So yes, I could go on, but I love writing relationships. I like writing tension, I like writing awkward, I like writing evolution and when things don't work out. I like writing problems...

One day, Allah (swt) will bless me with the experience and the motivation to write things when they are good.


Wednesday, April 18, 2012

All in Love is Fair

As salaam alaikum,

"All is fair in's a crazy game..."

It is, Stevie, it is.

I was just thinking about this yesterday. There are a few times in your life when you really do feel like you're at the mercy of God's grace. Embarking on a relationship is one of them.

Whether one is of the opinion that romantic love is a frivolous Western invention or not, no one can deny that it is hard to relate to another person. There's an air of mystery in the fact that you cannot exist in the other person's head and cannot know what they are thinking. Compound that with a person whose communication skills are less than ideal, and ba-da-bing! Crisis state results.

I used to want a long-lasting marriage. I wanted to get married and have assurance from God that it would work out, that we'd never get divorced, that we had a happy and healthy relationship...but, as life goes on, I realize that this may not be possible or probable. Maybe God doesn't want that for me. Maybe it's not for me.

And then what?

I can only guarantee that I will be faithful, that I won't cheat, that I'll do everything within my power and within reason to make the relationship work. I have no idea about the other person. Who can you trust? Someone who claims to be God-fearing, who has members of the community vouch for him? No one really knows what he does behind closed doors, and who can speak to his ideas about women?

The quest for marriage is more than looking for an attractive man who meets a checklist of traits. It's also about trust. Even the man who seems very trustworthy, full of character and righteousness, could have a sudden change of heart and leave you in the lurch. You have to go prayerfully forward and trust that, therefore, God won't allow someone in your life who is not worth your time...

But at some point, you do have to somewhat trust the other person, to let them into your life, to share half of your deen with, to let them into your body and into your family.

I'm surprised it ever works. It's just by the grace of God. And if it weren't for God and His presence as I make decisions for my life, it would be a journey I wouldn't embark on at all.

Because it's too crazy and too risky and it's yet to be worth it for me. All that I've gotten is a lot of pain and self-doubt in return.

"A writer takes his pen, to write the words again...all in love is fair."

Monday, April 16, 2012

[uncensored]: I'm on the radio!

As salaam alaikum,

Yesterday was my brother's 25th birthday. I called to wish Big Head happy birthday, and he answered the phone with, "Today is my birthday."

D'oh! No surprises there.

But anyway, woohoo, Nura and I were on Muslim Street Radio last night for an interview about Love, InshAllah. It was awesome to be able to participate, and awesome to be on the radio for the first time, though nerve wracking, too, because...they asked tough questions!

Like, about my using alternative names for "Sadiq" and "James," and the fact I've told neither about the telling of the story. Nope...I barely told all of my classmates who "James" really is...I'll wait until I move away.

Like I told "Sadiq" only after I was sure I was leaving Ann Arbor that I liked him...yep! Too bad he's now in Boston...and with any luck, I'll never see him! It's easy to do in Boston.

Anyway, if you're interested in hearing, the podcast for the April 15 show is here. The interview is in the second half.

And, if you're interested in the show, as you can see, there are other podcasts available as well! I now have a new radio show to listen to!

Today is Patriots' Day, also known as Boston Marathon Day! I get to watch the marathon for the first time. I think I'm going to park my tukhus at Beacon St, I think, so I can see the runners as they make their way to the finish. I'm too lazy to go to Reservoir or any other such place. This is the first time I don't have class or a rotation, so I'm excited to watch!

It's supposed to be 87F today, so ay ay...hope everyone stays hydrated. But, if anyone passes out...I am ACLS certified! I can help in resuscitation efforts!

...or, keep my happy tail on the sidelines, because undoubtedly they have other people there to help.

Monday, April 9, 2012

[uncensored]: My First Car

As salaam alaikum,

I was supposed to be watching the Daily Show and twisting my hair, but I got distracted and made this:

My First Car.

I do miss Vergil!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

A Net of Birds

As salaam alaikum,

I just attended yet another great conference, this one that I liked even more than the last: Expression of Islam in Contemporary African American Communities. I'll reflect on this later. There's a series of other things that I need to reflect on first, however.

The first one was a dream I had last night.

I had a dream that I saved a baby sparrow from its most certain demise. The sparrow was not yet mature, but I believed it to be loyal to me. It had been injured and was now healing, but had a little, black rubber tag, cylindrical, around its little stick leg as an identification.

For some reason, my parents were collecting birds to include in some master recipe. This meal would be prepared consecutively, so many birds would have to be sacrificed.

And for some reason, we had a house full of birds. Most of them were sparrows, but some were pigeons, mourning doves and blue jays. Those were the ones that I remembered.

Anyway, in order to collect the birds for the sacrificial stew, so to speak, my parents, but I mainly remember my mother, held up a basket-woven net connected to a large trash bag. This way, the birds would fly through the round openings in this basket net and not be able to fly out, thereby being captured.

I really didn't think this scheme was going to work, so I was at first unconcerned...until my mother held up this odd net contraption and birds from everywhere in my old house (because this was all taking place on the steps to the upstairs in my childhood house) flew in to the net obediently, effectively capturing themselves for the kill.

Nor did they protest or flap around at all once they were trapped. They just complied, silently.

And then, I remembered my young sparrow. He or she (it was too young for me to tell the difference) was perching on my finger. I figured that it was loyal to me and would not be tricked into flying into the trap like all the other birds so dutifully did. But I was deceived. Though it did so later, my baby sparrow flew into the top of the net and disappeared amongst the numerous other sparrows, only distinguishable by the black tag on its leg that I could no longer see.

And I was crestfallen, but I didn't let it show and I was also in denial. I knew that was it for my baby bird that I nursed to health that wasn't even done healing yet. I wonder if it knew that it was flying to its own death, or was it just a cheerful little bird just trying to go where the other beings like him or her were going. The birds chirped happily, as some of them perched on the net.

So many thoughts went through my mind. I thought, well, the death will be quick, and my baby bird won't suffer and he or she will get to be with its own kind soon in the Hereafter. I also tried to see if I could see my birdie in the translucent bag so I could rescue her or him and sneak away with it, not looking back.

But I also felt a sense of resignation. I knew that, since my bird flew into the trap, it was destined for this odd, ritual sacrifice that I somehow did not question that much. I felt like it was something I just had to do. My only hope was that, since there were now easily over a hundred birds in the net, that maybe my bird would not be of those selected for the day's sacrificial stew, though, for the sake of my own suffering, I hoped that the stew was all cooked in one day so I would not have to suffer the agony of thinking of my baby bird.

And this is a stew that I would have to partake of, mind you. I also feared eating my baby bird. I'd have to eat the stew.

My mother was moderately surprised that so many birds had flown into the trap, and was contemplating what to do with them all as she made her way to the kitchen of my childhood home.

And then I either woke up shortly after or I switched dreams.

I tell you, I've had odd dreams in my day, but this dream was odd in content and emotion. I felt ambivalence as my beloved baby bird that I had nursed to health chose his or her own kind over me, and then flew to its certain demise, and I was helpless in determining its fate. Ambivalence and sadness, helplessness, resignation...

My dreams are so complicated these days, I can't begin to tell you what they mean.

Friday, April 6, 2012


As salaam alaikum,

Sometimes, I think that life gets hard to remind us that it's God who's in control, and if we were the ones in control, well, we'd certainly be lost.

Because I certainly feel lost now.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Remind Me of Love

As salaam alaikum,

"I've got myself to remind me of love..."

This song started going through my mind just a little bit ago. I read an entry from December 2010, when B and I were just coming to be, and I recalled it in sadness. I recalled how friends said I was the happiest they'd ever seen me, and how I was the happiest I'd ever been, hoping for big things out of the two of us...and we all know how it ended.

And then I texted a friend who, for whatever reason, is utterly unavailable. My other friend is on her way to a conference, and I just bought my tickets to leave Boston for the foreseeable future.

The early spring sun shines through my window like it hasn't since I moved in, warming my room though there is still a chill outside. And I felt desolate suddenly.

Time to eat, I resolved. Time to eat, watch some of my favorite shows, and maybe write a little bit. I got the idea to start writing the "Black Widow" idea I mentioned earlier, as well as reworking RMD a little. But time to eat, first.

I scooped my rice and chicken onto a plate, a little dismayed at the portion sizes, but I'm on a diet. My friend came by unexpectedly and enjoyed the food a lot, but that means I have one serving less. One piece of chicken for me, or else none tomorrow. All for a better cause, I thought, as I took my salad out of the fridge. The blueberries I put in my salad make me happy.

And then I heard this song in my head, started humming it...and I had to listen to it.

And with this, I'm reminded of my mission of reframing loneliness. This time is perfect for me to do what God knows I do best. My happiness is coolly muted like this song playing at low volumes on repeat in the background. Slow tempo, tiptoeing in the recesses of my mind. With this and by God's grace, I successfully flipped my desolation into hopefulness and inspiration for my newest story idea...

"These happy feelings...I spread them all over the world..."

From deep in my soul...I hold fast because God's got something better for me.

What is Man, If Woman

As salaam alaikum,

After attending the conference this weekend and as I continue my spiritual quest to be enough for God myself and evade traditional loneliness, I've started to contemplate gender roles. I think of all of the ways and in all the contexts I believe we very much should have gender roles, and all of the unfortunate ways that reasonable gender roles have been tainted by misogyny.

And it's a lot to think about.

But I thought about women who feel the need to be spiritual leaders, imamas. I thought about how much people decry this and opine that these women are transgressing bounds, if we use Muslim vocabulary. And I think about how I held this to be self-evident, though now I see the very real spaces in society where Muslim women leading at least other Muslim women in prayer is something very essential.

But the case of the imama left alone, what of other problems in the world of gender relations in Islam. The oft nebulous female prayer space in masajid across the country and worldwide. The relegation to the female to her own home to pray, the silencing of females because our voices are apparently awrah, the partitioning of females away from males in worship with physical barriers makes me a husband ever able to say salat with his wife without him just wanting to do her at all times?

But on a grander scale, what is this all about? I understand the pull and the anxiety, the feeling of intense necessity to uphold certain mores in the name of Islam, in the name of near perfect submission to our Creator. But I wonder what would happen if you would separate the parts of these attitudes and convictions that result from fear of women, contempt for women, or maybe just plain misunderstanding of women, and what the whole thing would look like. Would there be partitions? Would there be closet-sized musalla for the sisters, would we be so encouraged to just stay home?

And why is there so much interest in what we shouldn't do, shouldn't say, shouldn't be. So much interest in the position of our bodies in prayer, the space where we say prayer, the volume of our voice in daily speak?

One of the women in the conference stated that the reason she felt so many religious women in academia were feminist was because there's such a contrast between the lecture hall, where they sit side by side with men, often Muslim men, who are colleagues and sometimes lecture them to the mosque, where they sit behind curtains, ask questions by writing them on pieces of paper and passing it to the brothers, and are not allowed to give khutbahs. And they look into gender relations in Islam and wonder if this is the way it's supposed to be.

And I wonder if it's the way things are supposed to be.

Why do we have these email chain letters floating around telling sisters to remember that they are not men, they are women, though not at all defining these roles as if it is self-evident. Should I not wear pants? Or should I not be a physician? Even though female physicians are needed to preserve the modesty and ensure the comfort of those female patients, Muslim women included, who require or prefer a female practioner.

So if seeking a profession such as medicine isn't inherently manly, and being desirous of being a wife and a mother is certainly not manly...what is left in this description of "women trying to be like men."

I guess the masjid is the last bastion for so many men of that man's world of yore. And for some of them, Islam is a place where patriarchy is supported by Qur'an and Sunnah. It must be affirming to them to have their roles clearly spelled out like that, and give them something to aspire to.

But is that so threatened by a woman trying to be an imama, let alone the presence of women in the masjid?

It begs the question, what is man, if woman also is?

And this has been a question I've had bubbling up inside of me that goes beyond the context of women in Islam. I'm talking about women in society in general. What is man if woman is also a professional? We are physicians, lawyers and businesswoman. Even in professions that had been traditionally a boys-only club, women are making their way in. For example, my friend who is 5'2" is getting ready to be an orthopedic surgery resident, a field once reserved for ex-jock-like tall and brawny men. Women outnumber men in universities and we tie them in such professional schools as medical schools. While some of my male classmates can definitely slave at work all day and have a doting wife to come home to, half of us are women and have no doting wife to come home to.

What is man if woman is also a leader or ruler of countries? Of queens and presidents and prime ministers, women have been assuming the ranks for some time. While we have not yet had a female president in the US and will not have one in the upcoming election, we've flirted with the idea. We certainly do have female governors, justices and congresswomen. There's no objective measure of who's prowess is greater as a leader. And, once again, as more females than males enter universities increasingly in the United States, one has to wonder at what point the power will shift and more females assume leadership roles not only in government, but in organizations and companies as well.

What is man if woman is a breadwinner in her household? It can certainly happen nowadays that the woman makes more and is in a better position to support the family than her husband.

What is man if woman is independent? We have to wait longer for marriage these days, and often we've traveled the world, lived on our own, supported ourselves with our own income or at the very least been used to living with ourselves only before marriage comes into play. Sharing that with someone else may take some getting used to.

What is man if woman is assertive, opinionated, boisterous, stubborn, determined, hardworking, intelligent, educated, accomplished, ambitious, untiring, strong?

Man is a man. Man should be a man, regardless.

I'm not saying it's all men but I do know some men who are carried away by their insecurities about women doing these things that are supposed to be just for men, I guess, with no textual evidence in our scriptures of this being true. With fewer secular notions as to why this should be true. A woman doing things that once only men did, a woman being any or all of those things I stated above should not be intimidating to the famed "real man."

Man is a man regardless of whether women are professionals, leaders and rules, breadwinners, independent, assertive, opinionated or any of those other things. Just because we women can be all of these things and bear and birth children doesn't render men...sperm donors.

Man, I may be down on you, really and sometimes unnecessarily hard on you, disappointed and dismissive, but I do it out of love. That's right, I love you, and I know you can do so much better. I know, because I have men in my life who have done so much better. I hope and pray every night for the man who will be the head of my household, who will share with me the responsibilities of family life, who will lead me in prayer and pray together with me, that we may help guide each other in spirituality. I pray for a man who I can look up to, someone I feel like I want to be, as I hope I inspire admiration of me in him. And so many other things that I know can exist in a man, in very many men...if they just let it.

If they just let it be. If they just let silly little things be, like circumscribed gender roles that limit the beauty that God enjoins us to find in each other.

So what is man, if woman is the bearer, birther and nurturer of future generations? All of this in addition to being able to assume a full complement of roles outside of the home?

Man is still, insha'Allah, the head of my household, my partner for life, my support, my inspiration, my love, my well as he is his own, independent being, just like me. Just as we were always meant to be.

God created us both. The being of one of us does not negate the being of the other. We were created male and female so that we could learn from each other (49:13).

So let's learn to know one another.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Muslim Women and the Challenge of Authority Conference

As salaam alaikum,

This weekend, I attended this conference. What can I say,! What an awesome conference! It definitely helped exercise the humanities side of my brain that I haven't used in a while (except, to blog, heh), but it brought up key issues about what it means to be a woman in Islam domestically and internationally and some of the things that are holding us back. I would probably write more about it if I hadn't reflected extensively with two of my friends the day of the conference, but suffice it to say, I really enjoyed it.

Plus, I got to meet one of the contributors to the anthology. We totally missed our photo opportunity because I had to run out of the conference for a previous engagement...

But this was the third sign I got this week that my next spiritual endeavor will be exploring my role as a woman in Islam. The first sign was the finale of Big Love, which pertained to Barb's quest throughout the season (if not also the season before) to be a priesthood holder. The second sign was one of my best friends asking me if I ever considered becoming an imama, and how loaded of a question that was for me that brought questions into my own mind about Muslim woman leadership and my...being too intimidated to talk to most imams about anything...

And then this conference brought it all together for me.

And I'm not talking...I want to go out, attain some scholarship and become an imama right now. No. Alhamdulillah, I accept that medicine is my field and a worthy career and I'm sticking to it. I'm just talking about ways in which I think, consciously and subconsciously, my own religious pursuits were curtailed because I learned that there are certain things that women aren't required to the sense that we are "spared." Oh, well, you don't have to go to Jummah like men do, and it's a mercy for you. This article in Altmuslimah on Islam and menstruation also gave me pause, and the fact that some men consider our spirituality inferior because we have to break salat and fasting for something that enables us to, oh, I don't know, carry children, the most important part of carrying on the human race as God intends?

 Because really, when I'm menstruating during the year, what comes of that week? We're given little guidance about what we can do to not wreck our spiritual continuity during time of menses. I guess it's up to us to come up with that on our own, but I feel like on this and many other issues, we Muslim women are left to fend for ourselves in ways that seem incongruous to the amount of guidance other aspects of our daily lives is afforded in practice.

One woman in the audience talked about making Hajj and being in a women's tent where they were left alone to perform prayers. As you know, according to one's madhab, some women opine that a woman should not lead a congregational prayer, even of other women. So eventually, the most learned woman among them took over the leading of prayer. However, she had several rules for herself...that her voice should not be raised beyond a certain decibel because of her consideration of the female's voice as awrah, thus making it impractical for her to lead prayers because no one could hear her. Another woman was a hafiza and did not want to lead prayer because she believed she could not recite the Qur'an out loud as a woman. I guess they eventually figured something out...

"...although they had almost left it undone!" (2:71)

That story was heartbreaking. Here are women on Hajj who could not accomplish something as simple as salat because we have been so limited in our practice...we are to avert our eyes, not raise our voices, be unassuming and sit behind curtains in the masjid so men cannot see us...or better yet, stay in our homes! What do we do when we are alone?

When I learned that there were women of some madhab who don't subscribe to women praying together, I was heartbroken. Really? So I can be in a house of sisters and we all pray separately. What happened to the blessings of praying in jama'ah? Is that, too, only for men?

Yes, I remember hearing this, when I was coming into Islam and I was sweating about the fact that I hadn't attended Jummah since I was 11 years old, and I didn't know how to go about it...what it entailed, proper Jummah etiquette, etc. I looked it up on the internet to learn before I went to the first campus Jummah to find an article that said that Jummah was only obligatory for men and optional for a woman. They believed this to be so to not be a burden on women who had children at home to tend to. It went as far as saying that a woman perhaps attained greater blessing if she stayed home.

And me, confused, but too embarrassed or intimidated to ask anyone, gave in, and the time for Jummah came and went and I didn't go to campus Jummah.

And in my learning about Islam, which was very much online much of the time because I am not a convert and I was embarrassed to ask the very basic things that I felt like I should know...I read a lot of things like this that yes, curtailed my practice. Though me not making Jummah these days is more about my not being able to leave my hospital or rotation to get to a place...what if I were a practicing male Muslim student? I would have felt a greater obligation to talk to my course directors to make allowances for my religious beliefs, right? And this would probably make me more comfortable about piecing out at opportune times to pray in the hospital's chapel...

In the end, I'm not really blaming my own deficiencies in practice on the complex (and corrupt) gender politics of Muslims. More, I'm recognizing how they influenced me and I will shape my future practice being mindful of the fact that this particular gender politic is not absolute and not necessarily condoned by Allah (swt).

The conference was excellent. It began with the story of Khawla bint Tha'labah, her questioning of the Prophet (saw) and what that should mean we as Muslims should do in the face of contemporary problems in our society. The first panel was on Qur'an hermeneutics, a word that I have never used and will never use again, probably. Panelists spoke about ayah 4:34, what it means to be a Muslim feminist, if that is the correct term to use at all, and of feminist interpretations of the Qur'an, leading me to have to read Dr. Amina Wudud's book, Qur'an and Woman. My favorite paper in the panel was by Dr. Aysha Hidayatullah and her piece "Women's Experience as a Source of Scriptural Authority." There, she set up an argument that we as Muslim women, and indeed, we as Muslims period, are well within our right to question, discuss and challenge interpretations of the Qur'an because the Qur'an, though our ultimate textual authority, is not to be equated with the Word of God inasmuch as we recognize that the Qur'an is, in fact, limited as we humans are limited. It's limited by the language and is also limited by the time and context in which it was revealed, whereas the Word of God is Greater and is beyond all of the wisdom in the Qur'an. A powerful concept, but a difficult one to swallow and one I would most certainly not offer in mixed Muslim company, haha!

Next was an excellent keynote address by Dr. Amina Wudud. Just a word here...I haven't yet read any of Dr. Wudud's work because, coming into Islam, I immediately understood her to be controversial and one overstepping the bounds. Why was she pushing so hard to be an imama? I believed that God laid out the gender roles clear in Qur'an and Sunnah, and if we follow these sources so closely in determining how we pray, why should we then disregard them when it comes to female's role. I just understood that my role as a Muslimah was not to be one of leadership in the Muslim community, and that Dr. Wudud was creating fitna at the very least.

Having now lived as a practicing Muslimah for almost 9 years and feeling my practice curtailed by other things I'm supposed to do or not do, supposedly in the name of God...I have been questioning things as late. This is, after all, the religion of those who think...

The next panel was on Prayer and Authority. This panel may have been the most relevant to me. Dr. Aisha Geissinger discussed the history of texts about how woman should pray, something that I've always wondered about. I've seen so many different sources discuss how women's salat is different than men, and in relearning salat from the way my mother did it, I learned to keep my fingers closer together and bear my body closer to the ground than my mother did, because I thought this is what women were supposed to do. Dr. Geissinger discussed this, the separation of men and women in prayer spaces over time since the time of the Prophet (saw) to the periods after, and traced the gradual increased separation of the sexes more. At the end, she offered that she was a historian and not a theologian to be able to speak about "what was right," but just hearing this history makes me wonder if these were not differences that weren't just arbitrarily chosen over time in an act of relegating the female body...

"...although they had almost left it undone!" (2:71)

Chaplain Bilal Ansari's work for helping to enable worship for practicing Muslim female inmates really brought out why the prevailing Muslim gender politic is is impractical, if not dysfunctional.

On a side note...arrrrgghh! I know Muslim men shouldn't wear gold, but can you wear silver instead? I feel like it's wrong for brothers to not wear some sort of wedding band...anyway, hehe, digression...

The next panel...yeah...the next panel was the Pious Movements Panel, which was a very interesting look into Muslim female leadership into various religious movements overseas. The last panel was on Sufi women and leadership. Both panels brought up the interesting question of whether these women, in denying at all being feminist organizations, had a sort of agency and what this agency took the shape of. One of the presenters, Dr. Joseph Hill, posited that the women, in assuming what could be construed as "traditional," deferent roles in the community and their own homes (ex. woman as homemaker) were actually, covertly, expressing their if they were pretending to go along with the gender-role program while, within these confines, being somewhat revolutionary.

The whole while, I was thinking about a story idea that's been brewing for a while whose working title is "Black Widow," which will likely morph into something else. It's precisely about a woman who assumes a very deferent role in her marriage but in fact each of her actions, decisions and attitudes toward her husband are coolly calculated...or, at least the way her daughter sees it. ...anyway...digression again. This is why it's hard for me to read books. I get my own ideas and then I want to run off and write...

And those two panels concluded an excellent conference!

I'm still processing what all of this meant for me and will mean for me. It will probably be a topic in this blog for days to come. Stay tuned!