Montgomery County’s strategic plan to vanish Christmas, Yom Kippur, AND Muslims

Shocking news in the land of the free. In order to avoid giving students Eid-al-Adha off, Montgomery County struck Christmas, Easter, Yom Kippur, and Rosh Hashanah from the calendar. Now school will still be closed and students can observe their holidays, but the NAMES of the holidays won’t be there.

In other words, dominant religions now become invisible: yet in their invisibility, they remain dominant and invulnerable and leak into the lives of all. By making them vanish, Montgomery County schools deprive Muslims and others of the argument for equal treatment. Montgomery County: I would have expected better. 

“Board member Michael A. Durso (District 5) was the sole vote against the calendar change. During the board’s discussion, he noted that Montgomery brags about its diversity and its embrace of different cultures.”

Yes, clearly. “Embrace” should mean “containment”.

“Zainab Chaudry, also a co-chair of the coalition, expressed dismay, too, contending the school board’s members were willing to “go so far as to paint themselves as the Grinch who stole Christmas” to avoid granting equal treatment for the Muslim holiday.

“They would remove the Christian holidays and they would remove the Jewish holidays from the calendar before they would consider adding the Muslim holiday to the calendar,” she said.”

Bonus for the haters: the internet is now aflame with Islamophobes who are blaming Muslims for taking away Christmas. Two birds with one stone. Well played, Montgomery County. Why don’t you just throw all the Muslim kids out on the street?

A journey through annual conventions of the Islamic Society of North America

 

imamapaloozaMany years ago (okay, in 1991), when I was not an American, and had never thought I would be an American, I was working at the International Islamic University (IIU) and I heard from a student tell of an event called the Annual Convention of ISNA (the Islamic Society of North America). This dear friend of mine was a religious misfit like myself, and her mother had hoped she would find a nice, educated, liberal, upwardly mobile professional, and religious boy at ISNA. So her mother packed her off to Chicago where she attended talks by Imam Siraj Wahhaj and Jamal Badawi (she got the two of them mixed up, and told me how Jamal Badawi was amazing! Tall and Black and amazing! Okay, in the photo below, Badawi is on the LEFT.) But she met no nice badawisirajboy – probably because she wasn’t really focused on the job. A year or so later, in 1993, I met a couple of Canadian students at the IIU, young women who were on friendly terms with ISNA leaders and who had organized major events such as the protests against the Bosnian genocide. They told me more tales of ISNA. 

It crossed my mind – how completely amazing and insane would it be if I, the niqabi from Kinnaird College, could attend ISNA. Most of the people in my social class did not quite get my religiosity. As for those who did get religion, they criticized my lack of traditional gendered behavior and my love of English literature. I was so lonely as a religious woman. I felt being at ISNA would put me in a cerebral network of love and awareness. All I’d known so far was Jamaat-Islami (whence I was now an exile, because I was no longer an Islamist) where the boys tended to be conservative, macho, and more interested in power politics than religion. Then I’d known my Chishti Sabri silsila where most of the people were – well, women. Radiant, smart, and devoted women, but, mostly, upper class. In case this escaped you, dear reader, I’m not upper class. I’m barely hanging on to middle class. More on that later. 

A few years later, in 1996, as a newly arrived graduate student, I attended ISNA in Columbus. I had no money, and was kindly accommodated in the interns’ hotel room. I felt completely out of place among these very American undergraduate women who were so comfortable with each other and with their very informal cliquishness. When I spoke (in my strongMatrimonial-20141 angular British accent, completely pure of midwestern slang) about the ISNA experience, they stared at me quietly, and then turned back uncomfortably to talking about Stuff. I felt dreadfully Pakistani, so foreign, and so disappointed that I wasn’t in heaven even though I was at ISNA. And no boy had liked me yet. 

Several ISNA’s later, I am off to Detroit for ISNA 2014

It is now 21 years since I first heard of ISNA. I still have no money, but I have friends – friends I can crash with. I did eventually find a man, by the way. I didn’t meet him at ISNA, but I met him at the cousin of ISNA (AMSS, which is now NAAIMS).

isna-hallwayNow when I attend ISNA, I am overwhelmed by the crowds of uncles, aunties, sisters, brothers. I smile indulgently as I pass through the hotel lobby where young Muslims flirt and make eyes at each other. I roll my eyes at the fanfare around the arrival of celebrities – and then I try to shove my way in so I can catch a glimpse of Shaykh Hamza Yusuf. I am excited to see friends I haven’t seen in years. On my way to and from lectures and events, I see friends from all over N. America. I am connected now, and I am home. As home as possible. 

 

Check out my Meet the Author event on SUNDAY AUG 31, SESSION 12M, 11:30 AM – 12:45 PM. Room 311AB. 

The Ramadan moon confusion

This year too there was much confusion over the first day of Ramadan.
PicMonkey-Collage-EidOn Friday, my family went to Turkey Run State Park in Indiana, and on our return, tired, sweaty, and hot, stumbled into the internet where Muslims and Muslim orgs were announcing the beginning of Ramadan on Saturday and Sunday. The moonsighters insisted that there would be no visibility Friday night, so Ramadan fasting would begin on Sunday. The astronomical calculations folks, including Fiqh Council of North America (and ISNA) say that the new moon was THERE, whether you could see it or not, and also, it’s Ramadan in Makkah, so it’s Ramadan NOW.

We decided, for about an hour, that we would be going with the moonsighters. Tradition! What is more rational than going with the moon? Also, why follow the Makkah Ramadan?! Crescentwatch, Chicago Hilal, and the Toronto Hilal folks all agreed with us. ISNA, FCNA, and our local Islamic Center, however, said, no, Ramadan was now, because the moonphases thingummy showed a new moon right now.

Reluctantly, though, I raised the question to Svend: are we going with the moonsighters because we believe they are right, or because we’re being lazy? Islamic law gurus say that it is okay to go with any valid opinion among the diverse opinions, but opportunistic hopping around is not cool. Since Svend and I normally go with the local community, and believe strongly in doing so, it would be opportunistic on our part to switch loyalties just in order to possibly skip one of the fasting days, or to delay the beginning of fasting, as tempting as it seemed.

I prayed two cycles of istikhara prayer, and asked for guidance. I also realized, as I was praying the istikhara, that I wanted God to tell me Sunday, not Saturday. So I asked protection from such weakness, and requested the strength to do the right thing, whatever it was.

I recalled, also, the words of Tehzeeb Auntie, who is my Sufi guide in many matters, and who says, “I make my decision and I ask God to bless it.”

Personally, I am extremely disinclined to take responsibility for my religious actions. (My shaikh even chuckled about this, and told me to just do a single istikhara prayer about ALL my twenty questions). I would really like someone to just tell me what to do at every step. A bright light could shine over the correct outfit to buy; the right baby name could appear in a dream — and so on. This is my preference, because I am chronically indecisive.

But this, as you know, doesn’t happen. At least not for me. My shaikh told me: “We guide people upwards with their eyes closed.” In other words, the tasty treats of visions, dreams, reassuring miracles, blinding signs, etc. are not handed out. We must abstain from the gluttony of such spiritual treats and move on upward simply because.

So, after the istikhara prayer, I was still feverishly checking my friends’ Facebook posts and a variety of organizational websites, and wishing someone would tell me what to do. I still kept coming up against the confusing barrage of a diversity of viewpoints. Why, why, why, I asked, why is our community so disorganized and so chaotic?

Ultimately, Svend and I made the (ethical?) decision to stick with our usual practice and to avoid what seemed to us to be sneaky opportunism, in our circumstances. It’s not what I’d tell anyone else to do, but it made sense to us.

As I was going to bed, setting my alarm (for freaking 3:12am), I realized that this several-times-a-year chaos of Muslims running around asking “What do we do? What will YOU do? What shall I do?” is actually a positive thing.

Despite my reluctance to do so, and despite the diversity of community opinions on this Issue, I eventually made my own private decision, in prayer and reflection, in consultation with God.

A new legacy on campus

Please check out my new article at the Ask Big Questions blog!

“Recent comments by Donald Sterling and Cliven Bundy force us to acknowledge that America has a long, long way to go in embracing its diversity. On campuses, blackface andnoose incidents, the Phyllis Wise Twitter affair, and numerous other news-of-the-week stories demand we take a good hard look at campuses. It is clear that campuses, which are mirrors of American public life, are not what they should be. …” 

 

 

Checking on my heart on Palm Sunday

palm sundayPeace and blessings to Christian friends worldwide celebrating Palm Sunday today.

For all of us, whether Christian or not, this is a good time to – as Pope Francis said today -  look into our own hearts. It is a reminder to return to the “examined life” and to break with the somnolent continuity of apathy. I ask myself, along with Pope Francis, “has my life fallen asleep?” and whether I, like Pontius Pilate, faced with a complicated situation, wash my hands and turn away.

“Where is my heart?” I often ask myself – especially these days, when the survival of academics and scholars appears to rely on constantly endeavoring to generate likes, clicks, citations, and retweets. It is a struggle to foster and to enjoy the fruits of aloneness. And the Prophet Muhammad reminds me to look for my heart when I am alone. If I cannot find my heart in solitude, then – the Prophet urges me to “ask Allah to bless you with a heart, for indeed you have no heart.”  

Grief and hope: on bad news from the homeland

Today, I am grieving. I am exhausted with the flow of bad news from home.

Sometimes it feels like things are going from bad to worse. But today, just today, I refuse to let my heart be clogged with despair. Instead, I share with you a song from Junaid Jamshed’s solo career.

Yes, I’m familiar with Junaid Jamshed’s career. This is the land where a rock star can also be a global fashion entrepreneur and a religious leader. We want a land of many colors and possible futures. We refuse the monochromatic colors of small minded people who close their eyes to reality. We embrace today and we dance to the music of yesterday all the way into the future. We will submit to the embracing passion of the Merciful, to the Unity of Being, and the unity of creation – not to divisions, disunity, hatred, hierarchies. We open doors and welcome today. We will change the future, no matter how dark the present may seem. Prepare yourselves for change, because change is inevitable. We will make it so.  

Remember the dream that your gaze brought to mine
see that that dream is never shattered
And the traveler who returns after so many years
take care that he is not turned back sorrowful

The color in your cheeks today
is new to your face this spring
The wine in your voice
is new to your song this spring

Let our hearts come together for just a spell
and we will find a way somehow
The dust of sorrowful memories will be washed by the rain
And the miles between us will shrink and fall away

Remember the dream that your gaze brought to mine
see that that dream is never shattered
And the traveler who returns after so many years
take care that he is not turned back sorrowful