Public school ‘holiday’ celebrations

1-Riverview High choirs holiday concert 2011 WEBMy 8 year old asks me if I will attend the Holiday Celebration at her public school. “Of course I will.”

She asks me nervously, “You’re not mad that I’ll be singing about Christmas?”
This is the struggle of working toward becoming part of the discourse, of indigenizing minority faiths into Pluribus. The holiday celebration at her school which is, of course, in December, features a good deal of Christmasy elements, some Hanukkah, and some Kwanzaa as well. They have been rehearsing songs about Hanukkah, Santa, and Kwanzaa this year. She has begun to notice the curricular and extracurricular silence on Eid, Ramadan, and Hajj. What about Diwali and Holi? Nope, not them either. The school is living in demographics of the past, when the city, located in a college town, has large numbers of East Asian, South Asian, Middle Eastern, and other populations. The school library, she tells me, is displaying books about the holidays, and nothing about Muslim holidays.
inclusionUncertainly, she says such things as “I want to be reflected in the school,” and “It makes it hard for kids to believe in their own things.” She is too young, at times, to distinguish between various layers of identity, and mixes up “faith” and “country.” But she knows something is missing. Sometimes she’s just excited about singing about Santa in front of the whole school.

She also knows she doesn’t want to complain about the absence too loudly. She doesn’t want to be a misfit. I ask her if she’d like to perform a song about Eid. She seems embarrassed at the idea. My East coast American husband is uncomfortable with the idea of being too strident vis-a-vis the issue. He doesn’t like talking about his religion or his feelings in public. He doesn’t like the idea of coming across as demanding and entitled – because we are a minority, of course. And I am an immigrant from a Muslim-majority nation and sometimes, it is hard for me to wait for crumbs. Also, I immigrated to a country where the legal framework does include me, so why should I self-silence? My husband says we need to come up with a perfectly secular suggestion – a secular song about Eid or giving or Ramadan? Ideas, anyone? – that would be acceptable to the school, and in the absence of such a suggestion, perhaps we should just wait.

Waiting is hard. My 8-year old is growing up and I don’t want her to think of herself as always on the sidelines of the collective, 1387540681001-DFP-Santa-Claus-DearJPGnever ‘reflected’ as she puts it. I want her to think of herself as a part of the collectivenot apart from it. I want her to sing songs about Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Chinese New Year, Diwali, and Eid with her friends. I want this to be something that grows out of the school, not something that we raise as an Issue, a Problem. If/when Eid is incorporated into the Holiday Celebration – well, I cringe also at the prospect of the Islamophobia.

We Muslim Americans are a youngish minority demographic. We are still working on American cultural products that grow out of our communities. Even our mosques and Sunday Schools are struggling with the issue of indigenization. This will shift enormously, of course, over the next ten to twenty years, as US-raised Muslims will take on the tasks of Muslim community programming.

Christmas has had long enough – apart from being a majority celebration – to become cultural. I hear some of my White non-religious friends say they celebrate Christmas as a cultural holiday. What is lost in that rationalization is that many of these non-Christians were raised within Christian families and heritage, and over time, the religious associations with Christmas faded into culture. Muslims are still seen as a purely religious group, people who have religiosity in their DNA. Due to Huntingtonian notions of civilizational clash, both Muslims and non-Muslims fall prey to this essentializing of Muslims as a religious-and-not-cultural group. Christians and Jews are seen as having the capacity of secularity. As an immigrant from a Muslim-majority nation, I know we have secularity enow in our heritage, but we are always too busy playing Representatives of Islam.

47487296_first_amendment_1_26_12_xlargeNot to mention, we need secular-Muslim cultural products that will, like Santa’s on his way, Burn Little CandlesOh Kwanzaa, easily slide through the church-state separation grille without clogging things up.

Also, I ask our district representatives the question, must the holidays in the Holiday Celebration be limited to December holidays? How about making it a truly inclusive Holiday Celebration?

The civil rights discourse I am using makes my kid a little nervous. She wonders if it’s about hostility, competitiveness, enmity. The discourse of inclusion can have that effect sometimes. So what do you do – overlook it all, swallow itvonnegut meekly because you should be a loving and humble person of faith? What about the invisibility of your children in public discourse? It’s not healthy. Silence breeds the germs of hostility. I want to practice advocacy and inclusive discourse that is gracious, warm, and pluralistic to all.

“Of course I’m not angry,” I explain gently. “I do want them to reflect Eid too. I don’t want you to feel like you’re not reflected at school. But that doesn’t mean I’ll be mad about Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa. They’re all our friends and we will sing songs about Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa. Some day, at school, they’ll sing songs that include all of us, and you.”

She seems relieved. I’m glad we got that out in the open. I’m waiting to hear from the school district. I’m really hoping I hear back from them. We need to get moving with this business.

Peshawar Attack

I had strange dreams last night. I know I was traveling to Pakistan, and I can’t recall anything else. This morning, when I opened my laptop, I was slammed by the news from Peshawar. My heart fell like a rock and I could not bear to think anymore.

peshawarAs I went through my day, sluggish, irritable, always perilously close to tears, I thought, why is everything continuing to chug along as usual? Doesn’t anyone know that one hundred and thirty two children were killed in cold blood today, face to face, shot to death as they stood in their school uniforms, far away from their parents’ embrace? Images are clogged in my mind, the toadstools on this little girl’s black tights, the numb crazed look on a mother’s face as she screams near a coffin, stacked coffins in the hospital, a small body covered in rose petals as old men pray the funeral prayer over it, confused little faces of children being led away by soldiers, the anguished eyes of the mother who narrated how her son told her on his cellphone about the ongoing attack as she listened in horror to the sound of teenagers crying –.

This is the world we live in. Friends who are sending Pakistan prayers are a reminder of the continuing horror of slaughter for which we are raising lambs. I hear words of consolation from Palestinian, Iraqi, Malaysian, friends, who have their own wounds. I am ashamed, angry, grieving. We are united in our grief and our inability to be consoled.

But we’re not really consoled. We just move on to the next day and the next set of horrors.

American media, the surveillance state, and police power

As with “24” and torture, most US crime shows & movies serve the purpose of supporting and justifying the surveillance state & police brutality. Who hasn’t watched ‘Law & Order’ and gnashed their teeth at the sleazy defense lawyer, and cheered for the White cop who just loses it and beats up the foreign/POC criminal? The popularity of the police/crime thriller genre is a triumph of state power over our minds. This is why I love such foreign programming as “Wallander.” Watching ‘Single-Handed’ and Inspector Lewis, for instance, you find yourself wondering wondering why you’re enjoying this show that doesn’t have as much violence as our usual fare. Reading Jo Nesbo’s novels, you find yourself thinking, ‘Harry, where’s your GUN??’ It doesn’t hurt, as far as I’m concerned, that Inspector Harry Hole’s favorite neighbor is a Pakistani shopkeeper, and he frequently snaps at racist police colleagues. The plot in Scandinavian shows such as ‘Wallander’ often follows the dangers of stereotyping the Other (Muslim, immigrant, etc.) American programming has a long way to go in not pandering to the fascination with an unbridled use of power.

Consuming Otherness – until it’s not fun anymore

Recently, I had some interesting discussions with some unhappy White friends about the consumption and commodification of Black or Middle Eastern cultures/bodies/practices. The silence of ‘Black’ non-Black entertainers over Ferguson-and-more responds to the ‘But I love their culture’ better than any theoretical piece on appropriation ever could. When the rubber hits the road, when pain or struggle is involved, when the reality of Other people makes an appearance, these consumers of Blackness are nowhere to be found. That tells you everything you need to know about their ‘love’. It is an abusive, selfish, grasping love. It is about minting money and status out of subordinated and oppressed experience. Because they have so much, but they must have it ALL.

Home-Making Education for ALL

Remember Home Economics?

How about Home Economics education for *everyone*? Maybe this will give our daughters’ generation a chance at equal opportunity? As of now domestic chores still fall overwhelmingly to the lot of girls/women, no matter what their professional or other caregiving responsibilities may be – and we can discuss caregiving as well, because why does Mother have to be laundry person, the trash person, the meals person, the nurse, the educator, the soccer-transportation, and so on?

No matter how many feel-good feminist videos and memes we consume, at the end of the day, when home-making – the creation of hospitable, habitable, welcoming spaces, healthy meals, etc. – falls overwhelmingly to females, this of course amounts inexorably to unequal opportunity, unequal work opportunity, unequal promotion (and tenure) opportunity, unequal leisure opportunity.

Khutbahs for Dummies

Back in the early 2000s, this satirical article made an inordinately huge splash in the Muslim American community. Many were up in arms against the writer (myself) for shaming and blaming Muslims, while many appreciated the explicitly gendered framing of Friday sermons.

By 2014, much has changed, but in many mosques, not much has changed. I leave you to decide how much.

Khutbahs for Dummies
By Shabana Mir

khutbasfordummies300Note: The guidelines below, though most appropriate for brother Pimply, are applicable to all brothers including those with clear skin and full beards, imams, community leaders, sheikhs and MSA speakers. At our last GLBTMA (Great Locally Big Time Muslim Association) conference we agreed on these guidelines in order to preserve the jum‘a proceedings from innovations introduced by excitable “progressive” Muslims who create mischief in the earth.

Dear Big Time Local Imam,
I am in a mosque where most of the guys are either dumb, or just really bad Muslims. The ones who are religious and knowledgeable are studying medicine/engineering/law and are too busy getting ready to make big money. Unfortunately there are some learned, religious sisters who make us look even worse. The guys in charge of Khutbas, who wear dark glasses and hide in corners watching everyone else, have asked me to deliver the Khutba next Friday. They say that they must take “preemptive action” against the “imminent danger” that the sisters will be asked to write or deliver Khutbas. I’m just a freshman and I don’t know much about this religious stuff. Heck, I started going to jum‘a because one of the girls told me to. What should I do?
Brother Pimply Freshman

Dear Brother Pimply,
First of all, don’t feel intimidated by those “religious” sisters. You have something extremely important that they don’t. On top of that, you never get a period.

They seem cool just because they have to make up for being girls. Be a man: look down on them. The Khutba-mafia are pious brothers and you should do what they say.

Here are eleven guidelines for your Khutba:

1. If you feel intimidated about being too young, too dumb and too green, just look straight at the jum‘a attendees who have skipped their classes, delayed lunch, absented themselves from the social scene and made sundry sacrifices to be there at jum‘a.

Look straight at their faces, and tell them they are worthless, sinful people who will never amount to anything. Tell them you know they’re not doing any good these days. If they’re doing any good, tell them it’s not enough by far. Make snide comments about how they love the world too much and don’t care about God, the hereafter and piety. Drop remarks about how they are excessively concerned about their classes and their term papers and their professors, and that shows they don’t care about salat, Ramadan, and Allah (SWT). The shock of this mental abuse that you are performing on them will daze and confuse them. They will feel like they are back in the high school playground and their instincts of fear will kick in. This is excellent because it will inspire them with the fear of Hellfire.

2. By the way, say Subhanuhu wa ta’alaa every time you say Allah; that’s His last name, and you have to preserve a degree of formality in speaking of Him. That way people don’t get too fresh with Him in supplications, and keep it reverential and slightly distant. Then they don’t bring up absolutely every piece of frivolous rubbish in their supplications. It also makes you look smart.

3. It is recommended to drop nasty comments about how you know they must be spacing out right this very moment because they were up late partying (they probably are spacing out because of your Khutba, but be quick to blame it on them so they feel guilty instead of mad at you). At some point accuse people of not focusing on the Khutba, so they will still feel guilty for not focusing. Make sure to draw sarcastic attention to the brother/sister who was fasting and so tired that s/he fell asleep. Don’t acknowledge the ones among them who were up praying last night, or reading Qur’an a little while ago, or struggling against their nafs, or whatever else these Sufi-influenced people do. They don’t count.

4. At various points in the Khutba, in the middle of a sentence, raise your voice suddenly and yell at the audience. When they start and jump in shock, you’ll get a big kick out of their reaction. You will feel immensely better about yourself and your Khutba. This will cause you to yell more frequently, which is good. This is the way our forefathers in our native lands deliver Khutbas, and you must follow that example. It wakes people up occasionally and makes them upset, and sadness is recommended.

5. Remember to drop random phrases in Arabic at frequent intervals. The fact that you are dumb doesn’t help, but don’t worry about it too much. Look away from the desis and white and black folks who stare at you blankly wondering what you just said. The implied contempt will destroy their concentration, and they won’t notice how bad the Khutba was, so you get away scot-free.

When you drop Arabic phrases, the knowledgeable attendees who know you’re pronouncing the Arabic incorrectly will be too pious to correct you or laugh at you. After jum‘a, they will quietly fade away, and say “Brother Pimply mashaallah he is an excellent brother,” and that will mean nothing whatsoever, but that’s ok, because it doesn’t matter if they say nice things even if it’s a lie. They know that the Khutba is their opportunity for a masochistic episode, and where else are pious brothers and sisters going to get THAT?

6. In any case, boy, it’s a Khutba: they can’t TALK! They’re stuck in that room, they HAVE to be silent because the hadith tells them to be. It’s perfect. You can yell. You can abuse them, bully them, be rude to them, and insult them. It’s good for them because it ruins their self-esteem. That’s your job. Work it.

7. In the course of the Khutba, make unreasonable and unrealistic religious demands on your attendees. Say something about how it’s haram for the guys to look at their female professors, the girls in their class or in their study group, or the store clerk. Tell them that when they look at these women, they will then start to talk to them, then they will want to go to dinner with them, and then they will surely commit the big Z.

If you tell them this, you will confuse them effectively, and they will feel like they cannot be religious and live in this world. This is not bad. If they feel disempowered and helpless before religion, this enhances their humility. They will also feel profoundly guilty. This will establish a common link between them and their Catholic friends, and will contribute to interfaith dialogue.

Our Biggest Time Imams use this strategy all the time, and it gets the simple-minded and the pious-minded to become their disciples.

8. If there are sisters in the musalla (may God protect us from such a situation), make sure to never acknowledge them during the Khutba. Always address the audience as “brothers.”

There is only one way that you are permitted to acknowledge their presence. Drop remarks about their lack of hijab. Drop some remark about how it is better for sisters to pray in the inner room of their house. Even better, drop some sleazy remarks about women’s clothing. Say how “these people” claim that wearing hijab is not obligatory, and they only have to cover their bosoms, but then the neckline starts plunging slowly and even the bosom shows; or that the tops become shorter and shorter, and their navels show, etc etc. The women will become full of embarrassment and shock as they hear a strange man drawing attention to their bodies in front of a bunch of Muslim men. They will start pulling their sleeves down over their wrists, or their skirts over their ankles, and they will feel lowly and shameful. As for the Muslim men, they will become slightly flustered at the mention of the girls’ bosoms and navels, and will start thinking seriously about marriage. This is good because marriage is a recommended sunna.

9. Don’t look at the sisters because it is haram to look at them especially during jum‘a. Try to be as mean to them as possible. This is important. During jum‘a it is essential for the khateeb to be mean to sisters. This will encourage on-looking brothers to be mean to the sisters. Everyone knows that brothers will behave differently toward the sisters when other brothers are watching them. Therefore they will refrain from trying to make the Muslim women’s acquaintance, at least in the mosque parking lot. This is very important because our wives pass through the parking lots, and we don’t wish them to witness such goings-on.

10. Make no reference to the brothers speaking to non-Muslim women, because this is not as bad as pious brothers speaking to pious sisters. The combination of piety is deadly. It leads to moderation in gender relations, which we all know is a great innovation. We must keep the brothers and sisters oscillating between the ideal (not looking at or talking to any woman at all, except their mothers, unless the woman happens to be really hot) and the real (private conversations with Stacey and Melissa and Jennifer). This will preserve the true Islaam in their minds, and the true nature of men (boys will be boys, eh!) in their lives. This is a mystery, so try not to think too much about it or you will stray from the right paath.

Some people think it is okay for sisters to be present during religious gatherings, since we are all so religious in them. This is rubbish. Some brothers get really turned on during religious gatherings. The combination of salat and a masjid and a woman gets them worked up. Not that I would know anything about it, but I’ve heard of it. And since jum‘a is really only for men, we must work towards getting the women to abandon jum‘a.

So provide a strong role model to the brothers by being crabby to the women. Only irritable behavior will protect their chastity from those women who are just out to get the men. I tell you, Pimply, many a time has a sister approached me, on the pretext of asking a religious opinion about zabiha or something, when her real intention is to tempt me with her beauty. After taking the first glance at the reckless brown locks peeping from her scarf, at her doe eyes and at all the rest, I just know she’s taken extra care to prettify herself for me. So after that first glance, I take another first glance, just to make sure I don’t err, and after the final first glance, I give her an earful. Pretty soon she stops dabbling in religious stuff, and jum‘a gathering is purified.

11. If you possibly can, Pimply, put the sisters in a separate room. “Forget” the microphone so they can’t hear anything. They will get the hint and stop coming our way to lead us astray. Meanwhile, we won’t be blamed because we never told them not to come, right?

If you follow the above instructions, Pimply, you will develop a career out of jum‘a Khutbas. Pretty soon, you will find yourself invited as a guest speaker to community events, and people will start calling you Imam Pimply.