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Pragmatic Islamic eclecticism: a search for oases

Oásis de Ubari
Sfivat: Ubari Oasis in southwestern Libya

I’ve had a rocky journey across many terrains for my heart and soul. Now, I find myself rooted (that’s not the word though; it’s the opposite of rooted) in a pragmatic Islamic eclecticism. I wander between oases.

I don’t get everything I need in one oasis. Rarely, I find multiple kinds of treasure in one person, one community. I value these precious souls tremendously, but mostly my journey is a perpetually parched quest for sustenance.

I visit the Sufis for gnosis, Love, reverence, deep connection. But often, here, my heart is broken by the male-centric practices of many tariqahs. So I get up, usually quietly, sometimes grumpily, tired, and leave.

I go and find my Muslim feminists, seeking out a just sisterhood, a struggle for finding the heart of Islam that is just for all – an intersectional justice. But sometimes, even here, I find that my heart is not filled, and I am exhausted with struggle. So I stumble back to my Sufi circles for a quick drink of that wine.

But then here, I find a tendency to live in a bubble, to vanish from the everyday struggles of the poor and the dispossessed, and sometimes, worse, a tendency to support the status quo, the authorities, the amir, the powers-that-be.

So, from these Sufi circles, I run in a state of vehshat, terror, alienation, and I find solidarity warriors for political struggle, people who are allied with the poorest, the majority of the people, seeking change for them. And then, after a while, I often find among these a disgust with religion and spirituality, a utilitarianism that uses religion only as a political tool.

So I flee once more. And sometimes I seek the comforting home of meticulous Muslims, to strengthen a diligent correct observance, a religious discipline. But then these often tire me out, because they often do not care how I feel, they tell you to push yourself, no matter your personal circumstances or illness or perspective, and to follow the ghosts of the past, always, never to live in the present.

So I flee again, and I find the comforting laughter of ironic Muslims, the ones who know how to laugh at themselves and to make light of the very serious issues that weigh us down so heavily that we can barely move.

And on and on and on.

My friend Saadia Yacoob reminded me of her inspiration, the Prophet’s words: “Be in this world as if you were a stranger or a traveler.”

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destructive priorities

Universities don’t have money to hire full-time faculty, but they spend millions on expensive talking head presidents, athletics administrators, and staff whose job description is the cutting of jobs and the micro-managing of world-class scholars.

The federal government doesn’t have the money to support healthcare and education but has plenty of firepower to destroy the world.

priorities GIF
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Hello, fellow frozen immigrants

Went to a local Peri-Peri restaurant and, as we do in Chicagoland, found the proprieters to be desi boys. The music was very 1970s-1980s Bollywood. ‘Next time I come, we’ll have a singalong,’ I promised. In my teens and twenties, I didn’t LOOK at boys; now that I am securely middle-aged, I have earned the liberty to have singalongs. Especially with boys who could be my children, had I married at the Normal Desi age.

‘Why do you listen to such old people music?’ I asked them. Mystery solved. They were Karachiites whose families had moved to Malawi, until just 3 years ago. Their parents are basically me frozen in the 1980s.

Literally, in fact. We introduced ourselves. Kid says, ‘Oh, right; my mom’s name is Shabana.’

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find yourself before finding the one

This Soulmate Project is interesting. More communities should launch customized matchmaker programs. I like how this one clarifies its particular Shadhili community and an allegiance to Shaykh Muhammad al-Jamal.

I strongly believe that before engaging in a soulmate search, we should figure out our religious, spiritual socioeconomic, and gender ideological frameworks. You should figure out and explicate your labels, sects, social locations, and so on.

For academics, this is similar to your theoretical framework. You can’t talk about your data without clarifying your perspective. You don’t really know your perspective without knowing what perspectives are out there.

That “I’m just a Muslim” or “I’m just a nice guy who wants to be happy” wastes everybody’s time. Nobody is just a Muslim. Nobody just follows Allah and the Prophet. Everybody has a lens, a preferred path, favorite virtues, deal-breaker vices.

I wasted a lot of time with suitors who were low-key hiding their anti-feminism, anti-Sufism, religious backgrounds, previous relationships, or their future plans.

It’s really important to say who you are so you can find your person. Don’t give someone else a big surprise after signing the marriage contract. What! You won’t travel to Raiwind every other month? You won’t let me travel with my bros every week? We won’t be spending every day with my parents? I can’t go to grad school and ditch my job?

So tell your potential mates who you are. But before you do that, you have to acknowledge to yourself who you are.

I am Moana ( Lyric Video ) - Song of the Ancestors - YouTube
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little big lives

Some days when I am aware of myself, my eyes, my hair, my hands – it hits me that, once upon a time, Cleopatra and Alexander the Great and Emperor Babur were all filled with an even greater sense of their presence, importance, uniqueness, and life. And they are dust and gone.

So many tiny, tiny lives that are so huge unto themselves. So insignificant in the scale of things yet orbiting entirely around ourselves.

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Picky eater

We went to a fancy Italian restaurant. And I really tried to eat y’all’s food. As we concluded, I stated, briefly, to my White-ish family that – now that I have done slobbery chicken wings and really very bland pizza (I’m also taking credit for a grisly, crustacean dinner the other day), we are officially returning to Normal/Good Food. i.e. Desi and Afghan.

No more accommodations to your strange cultural and culinary practices.

Confession: I am a culinary bigot par excellence, with numerous texture issues. And food allergies! After this meal, I concluded, “I shall eat in jannah one day. It will be good, it will taste good, and it will not attack my system as it goes in.” A girl can dream.

I Had The Most Wonderful Dream - Some Like It Hot GIF - MarilynMonroe IHadTheMostWonderfulDream Dream GIFs
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Sleepless questions

Silver Moonlight Painting - Silver Moonlight by John Atkinson Grimshaw
Silver Moonlight, 1880 (oil on canvas) by John Atkinson Grimshaw (1836-93)

When you can’t sleep, the questions that populate the night are big ones. Life. Death. Love. Morality. Reflexivity. Should I be doing something. Something else. What is my path. Why are trials. Can I see truth.

Living would be gentler without the night questions.

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Parenting in America, and a never-ending chain

Today we had a small devotional session to remember my grand-shaikh, Hz Zauqi Shah (RA)’s passing on 9 DhilHajj (during Hajj 1951).

My teen is learning Urdu so I also took a moment to translate for her two lines from our Chishti shajrah. Nice opportunity to introduce some highfalutin Urdu on top of the basic conversational lessons. Some sacred hilarity ensued 🤭


“In the first 13 days of DhilHajj, we should remain مشغول بحق ” =literally, busy with The Truth*; idiomatically=remembering God
(*al-Haqq, The Truth=One of the Divine Names).

So now I ask her “kya tum Mashghool bi-Haqq ho?” and she bursts out laughing, because it’s a far cry from her usual lessons of “the table is clean” and “I am sad.”

Once upon a time, we thought that if we just taught them a simplified religion, namaz and roza, and taught them to insert these things in an entirely American life, that would be enough. But there just isn’t the furniture for a full life. The atmosphere is needed. There are no surfaces for the namaz and roza to rest upon. The zikr has nothing to breathe.

I make a point to have these little ceremonies, because we live on the moon, as it were. So I connect her with my shaikh, and his shaikh, and the spiritual lineage, and their lives.

As we watched Moana today, I repeated to my daughter:

“We tell the stories of our elders
In the never ending chain”

We are trying to create this chain of jasmine flowers, connecting our children here in this land, to a never ending chain.