Reading Qur’an with my teen

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School vacation is time for me to share my Qur’an journey with my teen, and who knows where her journey will take her?

We completed Surah al-Nazi’at today. We read the Arabic first, then worked through the translation and a little commentary from me, and some discussion. We spent some time on 79:40. What does it mean to ‘restrain your nafs from hawa?’ What is reasonable desire and what makes it unhealthy?

We talked about the steed-rider analogy for the nafs and the soul; how the impulses of the nafs are essential for survival, but need to be tamed. You ride the steed; the beast does not master you.

We talked about asceticism, historical examples of early ascetics, extremes and balance. I reminisced about a youthful time when I yearned for swift spiritual progress, so I made wudu with cold water, and denied myself pudding (!) because I wanted so badly to be with God. But my shaikh reminded me that if I made progress in a single day, I would lose it in a single day likewise; the work is to be done slowly, carefully, without trauma.

So we remembered the Prophet’s hadith, reminders to both fast and eat, to sleep and wake, to attend to your family and your body’s rights, but not to become a slave to your desires.


dear brain

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‘Breathing Space,’ by John Waterhouse.

Dear creative and academic mind,

I miss you and your vitality.

Are you dying, or just asleep? Sad, or just old?

Pandemic-stricken, or delayed-chemo-brain?

Should I wait for you?

Let me know. I’m so confused, I don’t know what to expect and how to bring you back.


Academic solidarity

Mieczysław Wątorski, The Arrest of the Professors
On the 6th of November 1939, the Germans arrested more than 180 people, mainly scientists of the Jagiellonian University

I dreamed last night that, now in lower status employment, I was faced with previous colleagues who had never stuck their necks out for me. Feelings of bitterness and grief overflowed into my dream.

In the politics of academia, recently we’ve seen a growth of much-needed solidarity among academics that transcends institutions and subject-areas. It’s beautiful to see.

Selfishly, it brings to my mind my almost total isolation in my struggle with previous employers/institutions.

I can’t remember any substantive solidarity from fellow academics during those struggles.

Sure, a few people sympathized with me.

If I knew that they were not hostile to me, I would share my struggle with them. I never demanded solidarity. Why is that? Cultural shame and embarrassment? The Pakistani strictures to never extend a hand of pleading toward someone? Or the knowledge that to do so would result in such shame for the other person that I would lose them as acquaintance or friend?

But the few people who sympathized, even the people who would lose nothing by speaking up for me, never did anything for me.

As soon as the letter of termination came at Millikin University, it was as if all the colleagues I worked with heaved a sigh of relief there but for the grace of God go I and settled back in, stealing their eyes away from my grief. The only persons who ever put themselves out for me were some students.

There was no basis for either of the employers to a) not reappoint me or b) terminate me. There had been no signals that anything was wrong. My teaching, my research, my service, everything was either excellent or good. In fact my research and teaching were probably above average, which created some discomfort among the senior faculty who didn’t even show up for class. Or the senior evangelical faculty who simmered in discomfort as I discussed my research with Muslim Americans. My “case” was an easy one each time. And each time, I had no recourse. When I used a lawyer the first time, mysteriously, the lawyer started negotiating with me for the university. I dumped her and negotiated on my own, and the firm agreed that I owed them nothing because they’d done nothing for me. The university is the big employer in the area; it is hard to beat.

I’m deeply glad and relieved that there is a semblance of academic solidarity today. It’s not perfect, but it is high profile. It doesn’t always work, but it’s a balm at the very least. Still, I must grieve for its absence in the past.

Is the new growth of solidarity movements possible due to the development and the new uses of social media? The medium is the message? Or is there actually a real development of political solidarity among academics, paralleling the Occupy Wall Street, the 99% movement, the leftist surge right now?

Perhaps the true solidarity is growing because of a ripple of terror that we are indeed all at risk. That we cannot afford to steal our eyes away from our contingent and unemployed colleagues. And that no one is shadowed by the grace of God from the blade of academic capitalism.