academic, Uncategorized

Academic concubinage

For several years, before they get access to tenure and those coveted lazy summers, academics are unpaid concubines.

First, the academic spends years in the limbo of graduate student life. Depending on her area, she could easily spend up to a decade in a PhD. During most of that period, s/he will usually be discouraged from working full-time–a factor which has very real consequences for marriages, families, health, children, and overall life chances.

Still, worldwide, a PhD remains the Holy Grail for the educated classes. A PhD is a long haul. It is a frighteningly long haul. Don’t romanticize it before you jump into it. In some ways (though not all), higher education is a strategy to delay the entry of people into the job market. It’s a good way to keep people spending money while NOT getting paid. It stretches your resources to the ultimate.

Once the Holy Grail of the PhD has been reached, the process of lowering expectations begins. So, from expecting a tenure-track faculty position in the same metropolitan city where your spouse is employed, you whittle prospects down to a contractual or post-doctoral position in a small semi-rural town three hours away from one’s spouse/family. In a state that offers depressingly poor assistance for children of low-income families.

Unless you’re a) an academic star b) with ALL the potential teaching/research/service experience AND c) lucky, your application may fade into the dozens of PhD applications on the search committee’s desks.

In the graduate student community (an exploited underclass if ever there was one), you fight each other for scraps of unpaid labour. Before and after you land your dream job, you continue to work and produce like a demon if you have any plans of getting a steady income.

Much of this work is unpaid.

Endless hours and hours of top-quality intellectual work in the academic profession go unpaid and unrecognized, – and often don’t even see the light of day. You spend endless hours of working on article and book manuscripts – that “build” your career so you can land a good job.

Sometimes you keep building and building and building and one day you get the feeling that you are building castles in the air. Castles of words, that remain just that, in an ‘intellectual’ profession, where – well, did you expect to be paid for brain-work? When you don’t produce a single brick, a single latte, a single hamburger, why should you expect to be paid? From being a member of a supposedly elite profession, you feel like the most useless professional who expected to hold down a job, the person with the most *imaginary* skills possible.

You are ever the concubine, for the longest time – never a bride. Journals, professors, colleagues, projects, contractual jobs, – you are available for everything and never rewarded. Like a lady of the night, you wait by the bus stop, flashing your cerebral personality, your sparkling words, your deep ideas, waiting for a university, a community college, – hell, a broke nonprofit, – to come pick you up, use your amazing skill at crafting words and ideas, and leave a note on the table. – Not cash, but just a note that recognizes your quality as a scholar, just a line in your curriculum vitae.

Some day, you dream, after being used again and again in this way, some day, they will leave a check on the table. You beg them to use you. I’ll work without insurance, you plead. Sometimes I’ll work without a salary or even a wage, just so I can remain “current” because my credentials depend upon affiliation with names of prestigious – no, ANY institutions and colleagues.

Once you are (shudder) an Independent Scholar (insert name of cheap town), you’d better start worrying.

You put your family on hold, you protect and nurture this relationship you have with an exploitative fantasy. And you ask for more time so you can do more and more to “build the career.”


Cranky Eid outside the blogosphere

Note: I started this poem on Eid day when I found myself sitting on the deck alone in the afternoon (we live in a small community and it’s hard getting a group together). If you don’t find your name mentioned in this poem, don’t be surprised. It was probably for the lack of a rhyme.
I could’ve spent Eid sharing Spanish-
Urdu jokes with my Gulnar.
She could’ve taught me to embroider
a cozy for my car.

If only I’d been able to
get Baraka, Shaz, Muse, Leila here,
we’d talk religion all day long
and not let Lawrence grab a beer.

Nothing could beat an Eid if filled
with Samosa-tales of spiced surprise –
except if we add Irving‘s wisdom
Punctuated by Ya Haqq cries.

If only I could’ve had my Eid
liberated from time and space,
I’d get the entire blogosphere –
well, the parts I like – face to face.

Cousin, Nermeen and Aaluchat
could all sing us a ghazzaly song.
We’d get them all here instead of adding
Facebook updates all day long.

But here we sit in cafes sniffing
indifferent strangers and coffee beans,
seeking out our distant friends
through keyboards and laptop screens.

Islam, USA

Um. Eid mubarak

It appears to be Eid today in the Atlanta and Athens area. We found out late this morning (as the Eid congregational prayers at the Athens mosque were ending), since we’d been following both ISNA announcements and Now, I don’t know what reasons led to Eid in the Atlanta area, and I don’t know (yet) if other areas in N. America are taking that route as well–(update: I’ve looked up Chicago, DC and Toronto, and Atlanta seems to be alone in its decision so far) and my not knowing all of this is most irritating to me. The whole notion of fasting Ramadan in unity is shattered as Eid rolls along, and suddenly the last day of Ramzan and the day of Eid are clouded over in uncertainty. I usually don’t express frustration with the process, believing as I do in pluralism within the community, but a pluralism that leaves so many of its members out in the cold is not true pluralism.

So. Why do I have arguments with Eid today? Well, first, because of astronomical calculations (based on the moon which is not a secular object but created by the Divine), and then because as far as goes, the moon has not been sighted in the US. Yes, it has been sighted in Saudi Arabia – Saudi Arabia is in a different geographical and time zone, by the way and there’s no reason to follow its lead in terms of the moon. The moon is sighted/calculated differently in different places. In this dimension of earthly existence, we operate under the assumption that time and space are a “reality.” So what happens at Eid?

Anyway, suddenly, we have to scurry in different directions, wondering where we can go to breathe in an Eid environment. Raihana is 18 months old and I do not want her 2nd Eid to be spent in daycare. Soon Christmas will be here and she’ll be surrounded in malls and at daycare with trees and nativity scenes, and possibly nothing on Eid.

Any ideas on where we can go in Atlanta to mill around aimlessly amid a bunch of muslim strangers and eat “Muslim” foods?

Islam, political, USA

Because Muslims must condemn terror

Read Etaraz’s piece The Myth of Muslim Condemnation at the Huffington Post.


“Second, heaping an expectation on Muslims – to call out “their” criminals – is absurd when no similar expectation is placed on any other religious, ethnic, or ideological group. Is it appropriate for a white man to tell “the hispanics” to make proclamations against the drug trade? Why should a hispanic who has never even touched drugs speak out against drug lords? His abstention from engaging in the drug trade is condemnation enough. The same goes for Muslims and terrorism. If you want a Muslim to condemn terrorism, realize that he has done so by not engaging in it. Life becomes quite insufferable for Muslims if before speaking about any subject a Muslim is required to first “demonstrate” that he is not “on the side of the enemy.”

cultural, race, USA

The nice white hero/ine

This is hilarious: almost helps make up for the many many times I’ve had to sit through Hollywood depictions of the wonderful, white person who helps rescue the Blacks, the Latino/as and the funny looking people all over the world. His heroic Whiteness absorbs all their colour, her pretty Anglo-ness provides an always superior backdrop to their chaos, their struggles, their poverty, their vices, their misery.

Please, no more nice white ladies. How about us helping *ourselves* without the White “hook” for the plot?

Hat-tip to Atif Iqbal for this youtube video “nice white lady.”


I am a walking religion

Everything I do is based on text.

Everything I do is religious.

Everything I am is Qur’anic.
I am nothing except an embodied religion.
Non-Muslims are “people.” Whole, complicated, ethnic, contextual, diverse, multidimensional.
Christians are human beings. Muslims, however, are solid religion. There are no spaces in a Muslim for humanity, for anything but religion.
Everything in Muslims/Muslim communities/Muslim societies/Muslim countries can be tracked by a footnote that says Qur’an X:X.

Jews and Christians, however, are people. They change. They grow. They are new and modern today.

Muslims are ancient – replicas of their 7th century original.

Hindus are people. Like music, they flow in and out of, and around, the Gita and the Vedas.

No other people can be traced back to their texts as Muslims can.

No one but Muslims can be easily predicted by a quick reference to a medieval volume.

Nietzche inspires rather than dictates to secular humanists.

Muslims can be literally translated from Qur’an and Bukhari.

If I yell at my baby, you glower at me and say it’s because Islam teaches me to be harsh to my children.

If I smile at my husband, you sneer at me and say it’s because Islam teaches me submission to a man.

If I cover my breasts, you call upon me to liberate myself from my religious restrictions.

If I am a feminist, you snidely accuse me of cunningly outmanoeuvring my religion.
If I am an academic, you congratulate me on keeping my religiosity at bay just long enough to nab one of your jobs.
If I become depressed, you exhort me to lose the darkness of my religiosity.

If I am happy, you say I am deluded.

I cannot win. I cannot simply be. I must be defined and packed up in a small green box marked ISLAM.
Any flaws I have must be traced back to Islam. Any disadvantages I have must be marked up to my religion.

Any strengths I have must be explained away. I am, you say, too Western to be truly a Muslim woman. You say I am too Americanized to be a truly Muslim woman. I am too critical to be a real believer.
When my immigrant imam tells me to pray behind a wall, you say it is because of Islam.

When my father tells me to stay at home, you say it is because of Islam. When my mother commands me to wear pink, you say it is because of Islam.
When my teacher molests me, you say it is because of Islam. When my brother tells me to cook his lunch, you say it is because of Islam. When my husband tells me it’s not his job to feed the children, you say it is because of Islam. When my mother-in-law says my husband must pay her rent, you say it is because of Islam.
You say it is because of islam – and you make the case for my father, my teacher, my brother, and my husband – the case that everything they do is indeed justified by Islam.

You join hands with oppressors and trap me in cages of words. You are with them.
When I say it is not Islam, you laugh at me, and pour lead into the walls that surround me.
You have created a blow-up godzilla in the image of your own nightmares. And you have thrown in your lot with my oppressors.

You say I am too stupid, too deluded, too biased, too blind to REALLY know what Islam is, because YOU know what it is.
And if I dare say a word to disagree with your castigation of my faith, you turn around and roar at my audacity to talk back. Bend down and take it, you say. It’s for your own good, you say. Always complaining, always defending yourself, you say.
You protect the men who oppress me for the sake of land, money, power, jobs, sex, psychoses, neuroses – and you say IT IS ISLAM.

And they keep their feudal lands and their top jobs and their presidencies and their mistresses – and they say “yes, it is truly Islam.”

You protect White supremacist society and White patriarchy by saying Islam is the main cause of the world’s ills.
You protect Orientalism, facism, racism, sexism, capitalism, global exploitation, by saying FORGET ALL THAT. It can’t be as bad as the Qur’an.
You call upon me to castigate my people, my faith, my community.

Don’t worry. I’m all set. I already criticize them. Not for you, but for them. What do you do for YOUR people?


This was also posted at United Press International’s Religion & Spirituality page.

children, Urdu

The toddler’s education in Urdu (more)

I showed Raihana a spider yesterday and called it “makree” (in Urdu). Because I was trying to occupy her and keep her in the high chair for a meal, I had a brief conversation with her about the makree. In part this was because the makree gave me the heebie-jeebies something awful: this was no beloved daddylonglegs. This had the crab-like appearance of the bad ones, and the very solid torso and the defined legs, as it sat in the middle of its web – which was clearly outlined in the middle of the glass door. We had abbu kill the spider, because after all, in Georgia we have heard of some local spiders being so venomous that they have caused someone’s mother’s face to become partially paralyzed for life.

Anyway, today I was keeping her occupied at breakfast (an unsuccessful attempt: she docilely accepted food but kept it accumulated like nuts in a squirrel’s mouth). So the makree came up again as a topic of conversation in my sleepy mind. Raihana immediately turned to look at the glass door.

One mention of the spider, a new word, and she had retained it. (Good Lord, I’d better stop using the bad words when she drives me out of my mind.) She really is a sponge right now (as her Montessori teacher mentioned today). Her teacher at school told me that Raihana said “lunch is ready” (in garbled toddler style) on seeing the lunch-lady.

Until now I’ve been focusing on babytalk and providing a limited number of essential small words: milk, food, come, etc. Now I’ve changed my strategy and am having sentence-long conversations with her (all in Urdu) because I do believe she’s gone beyond (in terms of reception) babytalk. She may not be producing much language right now, but she’s processing it. This is an exciting time.

And as I said in my last post, there is so much lost potential in terms of educational materials – I mean for URDU. She can watch Little Bear on DVD (in English), she can play with foam letters (in English), she can read an array of books (in English), she can hear songs (in English – except when she hears my old Indian and Pakistani songs). Where is all the material we need in Urdu? The British and American immigrants from Pakistan (of the 60s) are already having grandchildren, and we are still so far behind. Arabic, of course, there is some more of.

But somebody point me in the direction of Urdu foam letters, blocks with Urdu letters, Urdu board books–and not the bilingual board books which have English in bold script and Urdu below in smaller script; even these (the “Elmer” books, for instance) often feature indifferent translations, as I complained to one publisher (Milet) recently.

As for the materials produced in Pakistan, to date all I have are the alphabet qaa’idas. Most of them are not board books, and bound to be ripped apart by a moderately determined toddler. The storybooks I’ve seen so far are not great, and are also made of flimsy material, though I hope to see better stuff soon.

I brought home a tape of “tot-batot” songs (poems for children by the poet Sufi Tabassum), but sadly the production value is not really great. The music and rhythm are not attractive or catchy for a child – in fact they seem more grownup-like than anything else.

If anyone has anything better, please let me know.

children, Uncategorized

18 months

Raihana has started to look very much like a big kid, as in, toddler not baby. As she should, because today she turned 18 months old. I’ve tried not to compare her and yet have compared her to other kids her age, and I believe she’s started to look a little bigger than she is because she is quite tall mashaallah. Yesterday someone looked at her and said that she was going to grow taller soon – why? because, she said, she had a big tummy, and toddlers have this bigtummy-stretchout-bigtummy-stretchout cycle. I have no idea if this is true but it would be strange to have a child in middle school who was taller than me.

She still has that rounded look that babies have, that delicious roundness to her all over that is so adorable in children. And she now has a new impish mischievous streak that is maddening and sweet at the same time.
She loves her lego blocks, her musical toys (she dances to anything, including the fan) and slide and seek books. But most of all she loves cellphones, laptops, the dishwasher, remotes and anything shut securely inside the TV cabinet. (Do we have an engineer?)

She plays musical armpits spontaneously – as soon as you take her shirt off, she runs off making funny noises with her armpits like a frat boy. She babbles a great deal now, and concludes her “sentences” with a serious, “and now I shut my mouth” look that makes me feel like I should really respond.

Most of all she loves “baahir” (outside). Mention that, and off she goes to the door. Anyone who steps out had better take her too, or she will raise hell.
These days I’m not sure why, but she has developed a clingy streak. She wakes up during the night and will not be content until I hold her. Even during the daytime sometimes she begs to be picked up oftener than before. I don’t mind the latter so much: little arms around my neck are sweet. Sometimes I think she does it because she thinks I need comforting.

I often wish I had cartoons and more storybooks (board books) in Urdu. (Here I’m building a list of some. ) She’s surrounded by English and I feel upset that Urdu doesn’t have a great chance unless I really push it. Still, she mostly understands Urdu – today the daycare teachers were asking me how to say “Sit” and “food” in Urdu!

She’s been relatively slow in the table foods department. Part of this is because she has not made many teeth: she only has 7. On occasion I’ve noticed that she doesn’t always chew her food – what is a body to do without molars? So she may be the only 18 month old that’s still eating stage 2 baby food once or twice a day – apart from some table foods.