Invasion of the baby-snatchers

I know the title is needlessly sensationalistic, but last week, due to an intellectual growth spurt, I felt like Raihana had undergone the experience in the title. Suddenly my docile, sweet-natured, cooperative, gentle little baby girl had turned into a little girl with an ego, a possessive streak, an awareness of what she wanted, and a spark of really quite irresistible determination.

I miss the days when I could bark “No!” from a distance, and she would withdraw her hand from the knives in the dishwasher, the peaches on the table, or the laptop. If she wandered off to the kitchen, and I was in my study, I could call her by name if I got worried that she had been quiet too long, and within seconds she would come pattering along with a question-mark on her face. When she put a coin in her mouth, she did it slowly, with guilt painted large on her face, staring at me the while; as soon as I did “thhoo” (the Urdu version of ptooey), she would immediately spit out the coin on my palm.

No more. She sucks the coin for a good few seconds, with relish, before I stick my finger into her mouth and force her to surrender it. She focuses more closely on the offending task/object at hand than on my “no” and my disapproval.

This also means her eye is brighter, her posture is more erect somehow, she is more of an intrepid explorer, and she is more of an extrovert as well. She is also more sociable with other children – and with Bhalu (her teddy bear) with whom she holds long loving conversations lying in the crib.

I’m still not sure if this is merely a developmental stage, and if it’s a coincidence that it happened in the same week that she started daycare.

Her hugs are still sweet, and she runs to hug me still, but the hugs are just a tiny bit less frequent, and she is less inclined to be lovey-dovey with me if she is preoccupied with a toy or a book.

academic, children

Life is work and work is life

These days I’m reading “Concentric Circles: Nurturing Awe and Wonder in Early Learning” by Elma Harder (published by Al-Qalam). Dr Ansari at the Islamic Research Institute gave it to me to review for the journal “Islamic Studies.” I’ve only read one chapter so far, but I enjoy it. Without providing a full review – basically because I haven’t written one – I recommend it to educated parents and to teachers of young learners.

Now that I’ve read a chapter of this book and a few pages of Goffman’s “Stigma,” and responded to 6 emails, I need to return home to take over the baby shift. I love the baby but I do miss having an entire day to work with. Granted, before the baby I used to spend a certain number of hours playing at ebay, craigslist, a couple of mailing lists, and even browsing (without shopping much) malls. After the baby one must be far more economical in the choice of activities, so that one can get work done.

I do declare that the word work has taken over my entire life. Since I moved to the US, I swear this must be the word I have heard/spoken the most. Work is all. Work is the soul, the mind, the body. Work is direction. Work is meaning. Work is life. Work is me. Work is you. Work is everything.

Work is our means of connection. Work is our way to avoiding connection.

Work is what we use to eliminate all non-work. Work is the empty space we create. Work is what we use to fill the empty space with.

I’d better get back to work. This blog is only partially non-work.  

children, Urdu

Bilingual baby

Today at last the hot and humid heat of Northern Georgia bore fruit, and we had a rainstorm. It was quite delightful, except items of patio furniture and branches were flying outside.

As I cuddled Raihana during her nap (she started daycare this week, and is still adjusting, so I am cuddling her more than usual to compensate for my guilt) – as I cuddled her, I heard rattling against the window. It was hail. Hail in August.

I had to go out to check. I almost felt like bringing the baby outside to show her hail. According to the rules of OPOL (one person, one language), I speak Urdu with her (except sometimes when I am upset, which is counter-intuitive), and Svend speaks English with her. If nothing else, this would have been the perfect opportunity to introduce her to the Urdu word “zhala-baaree” (hailstorm). 

“Zhala-baaree” is one of those words that you rarely ever use in conversation. Still, you need it in the primer because the letter “zh” rarely occurs in the beginning of words. In fact it rarely occurs in words in general, except for polite poetic words like “mizhgaan” (eye-lash).

“Zoy” is another one of those letters that the primer deals with awkwardly. It usually features the word “Zuroof” (containers), and features pictures of dishes, bowls, pitchers, and so on, so it is not terribly self-explanatory to a young child. “Zwaad” is also an embarrassment: it always features the picture of an old man, with the word that usually works as an *adjective* (upsetting the noun-centric world of primers) “Za’eef” (frail and elderly).

I chose a few minutes of quiet relaxation over introducing “zhala-baaree,” of course. She can do without “zh” in general, I think, though we’ll be working on that soon enough.

This week, I have wondered about the possibility of handicapping her in the immediate short term at daycare: she doesn’t have much intimate familiarity with the English words food, eat, drink, water, milk, out, come, play, read, and so on. Does this make her daycare experience worse than that of the other children who come prepared with those words?

I don’t think that the problem will continue for very long, even if it does. Even 3-4 hours a day with peers and Montessori teachers, immersed in English, will suffice to bring her up to date with those language skills.

In a world that does not favour Other languages, Urdu will probably have to start competing for attention very soon indeed. And not just the “zh” words.

academic, blogging

“Personal” and “professional” blogging

At one point in time, I decided that this blog was going to morph into an academic, public blog that could be perused by colleagues (and – shudder – students) without giving my entire personal profile away.

Since then, every time the desire to blog seizes me, I have decisions to make. This topic is too emotional; that one is too “maternal” and “unprofessional.” This is too “personal” to be public.

My own research and writing focuses on the reality that is hybridity: how we are, e.g. Muslim and American and academic and religious and music-lovers and Pakistanis and pasta-lovers, all at the same time. To produce this performance for the public eye, however, I feel like I cast upon my own thoughts an Othering gaze, judging my own thoughts by masculinist criteria.  

We immigrants learn to privatize our thoughts and feelings, responding to “how are you” with a jolly “Great!” soon after we cross the Atlantic. Especially in the public space of the virtual world, which has many crossover spaces occupied by colleagues, we cannot afford to perform “personal” lives – the messy lives involving parenting, marriage, family, finances, etc. unless they square with some academic “purpose” – cultural critique/ analysis or theory.

Still, in the dangerous world of blogging, there is much peace of mind involved in not blogging about sadness, frustration, untidiness, confrontations, and other markedly unprofessional things. You are rewarded with peace of mind by your closing down shop as a person. Unfortunately it closes down a community too – one that is a rewarding exercise for all participants. The community has to be a secret trusted one, because the public gaze cannot be trusted to be benign in intent at all times.

Pakistan, Uncategorized

Pakistan zindabad!

14 August 1947.

As Pakistanis wonder where the superpower’s military adventures will take it next, they take time to celebrate their 60th anniversary of independence. Here are a few photos from the motherland to celebrate. Excuse the quality and the poor skill level: they’re all my personal digital photos from my trip this summer.

1. Lahore’s busy roads as the sun sets over a mosque minaret:


2. A sticker on a car proclaims “We are protected in the blood of Jesus!” – please read Jinnah’s vision of Pakistan.


3. Policemen, half-smiling at the photographer (me), seeking refuge from the afternoon June sun in the shade of a lovely, fragrant, and not very manly champa tree (frangipani?).


gender, religion

A new book on domestic violence in Muslim communities

Below is the description of this new book (description provided by the authors/publisher). Anyone who has read it or will read it is invited to comment on it here.

It appears from the ToC that the authors have dispensed with the old idealistic, otherw-worldly “Islam is good and that’s the end of the story” approach, and have chosen to actually engage with the realities of domestic violence. This is particularly evident from the fact that they include survivors’ stories.

It’s the narrative of the woman who emerges from this struggle that serves as the perfect corrective to attempts at idealizing religious communities and romanticizing patriarchy (in another context, think the recent Bollywood movie “Baghban”). The voice of the woman who engages with the brute reality of violence (whether physical, financial, emotional or psychological) in effect *silences* hyper-theoretical approaches to gender. Victims of abuse rip the easy-pamphlet-“Status of Women” issue approach to pieces and force us to confront the messy, complex, grey truth that is domestic violence. Women’s voices are living proof that gender is the Achilles’ heel of almost all communities of thought and practice today. 

I would hope that, to complement “The Quranic Model” chapter, the book also complexifies the issue of “The Quranic Model” – because it is clear as day that Muslims are not a homogeneous group with a single Quranic model in their minds – er, especially on gender. And then depending on the writer’s perspective, this may be a moment to problematize particular models that are putatively Quran-derived, but clash head-on with the most fundamental principles and goals of the religion. One would hope that those  [shudder] reformists are not left alone to address this task.

Though some will treat this book as a laundering of dirty laundry in public, the stark and public reality of domestic violence has long ago demolished nostalgic platitudes and theories about religion as a panacea for the human condition . Religion is religion. It is neither a cure-all nor (per Christopher Hutchins’ latest book) responsible for  evil.

There is no cure for the human condition, though human beings have no choice but to keep doing their best – with all the power of spirit, soul, ethics and reason at their disposal – to do good by humanity. There is no triumphant Dora the Explorer “We did it! We did it! We did it! Hooray!” conclusion to this struggle. This, in my humble view, is the reality and the tragedy of the human condition: It is a process, and not a slogan ready-made for any groups’ triumphalist ideology. We are trying. We must keep trying. And it *might* get somewhat better. This is why we must try alongside allies, instead of trying to beat them and proving how much worse THEY are in, say, the sphere of domestic violence.

Which is a good segue to abandon bombast, get to the point and introduce the book:

CHANGE FROM WITHIN: Diverse Perspectives on Domestic Violence in Muslim Communities edited by Maha B. Alkhateeb and Salma Elkadi Abugideiri. Published by the Peaceful Families Project. 259 pages. 2007. Visit to purchase ($39.95).
OVERVIEW [by publisher]
To date, domestic violence in Muslim communities has received little attention. This book is one of the first edited volumes to focus on domestic violence in Muslim families. Bringing the experiences of diverse domestic violence advocates to the table, voices in this text include religious leaders, service providers, and researchers from multiple disciplines. Four survivors also share their stories, illustrating some of the challenges they faced, as well as their paths to healing. This volume illuminates unique domestic violence issues
that Muslims face, and emphasizes Islam’s intolerance to abuse.


Maha B. Alkhateeb and Salma Elkadi Abugideiri

Part I: The Islamic Paradigm
The Qur’anic Model for Harmony in Family Relations – Zainab Alwani
Part II: The Reality of Domestic Violence
A Peaceful Ideal, Violent Realities: A Study on Muslim Female Domestic
Violence Survivors – Keilani Abdullah

Domestic Violence Among Muslims Seeking Mental Health Counseling- Salma Elkadi Abugideiri

Freedom is Only Won from the Inside: Domestic Violence in Post-Conflict Afghanistan
– Lina Abirafeh

Domestic Violence in the Sudan: Opening Pandora’s Box – Awad Mohamed Ahmed
Part III: Survivor Stories

My Story- Siraha Kalam

Toasted Cheese Sandwiches – Suzan Williams

Broken Wings No More – Merjanne Hope

A Survivor’s Story – Jennifer Mohamed
Part IV: Solutions and Strategies

Affecting Change as an Imam – Imam Mohamed Magid

A Legal Guide to Marriage and Divorce for the American Muslim Woman – Marwa Zeini

Development Communications Strategies and Domestic Violence in
Afghanistan – Sarah Kamal

A Preliminary Model for Providing a Domestic Violence Program in the Muslim Community – Maryam Funches
Appendix: Resources