fun, Pakistan, spiritual

Pakistani ghost story

800px-Basement_of_Lawang_Sewu_2011 This blog has become too serious. How about an authentic little ghost story?

One of my cherished memories from Pakistan is the scary story-tellings at night. “Jinnon ki kahaniyan.” Friends, relatives, family, – we’d be sitting together and chilling out, and suddenly someone would start telling a scary story. That would remind the other person of another scary story, and they just kept pouring out. Eventually, everyone was so terrified out of their wits that they didn’t even want to go pee by themselves. And each of these scary stories bore the mark of undeniable authenticity because ‘my uncle’ or ‘my mother-in-law’ or ‘my Qur’an teacher’ told me.

My mother reassured me that jinns lived in remote, desolate areas. And then she reminisced about the jinn who pestered her father, my maternal grandfather, a hakim (a doctor of Unani medicine). This jinn was mischievous, and had a tendency to pour out big sacks of cardamom and clove in long, neat lines. But that’s another story.

We were always being warned not to wear perfume at night or the jinns “stick to you” or fall in love with you. “When I grew up,” my Urdu teacher Mrs. Wasti said with a chuckle, “I discovered who those jinns were.” Also, don’t walk under a tree with your hair loose at night: jinns will definitely attach themselves to you. Years later, I met a Bosnian woman in London: her son’s eye was damaged by jinns, she claimed, because he urinated under a tree where this jinn happened to reside.
There was the tale of the maulvi saheb who used to teach in a madrassah. and one day, he asked his student to bring him a glass of water — and the student stretched out his hand — aaaaaaaaall the waaaay to the kitchen. So it turns out he was a jinn.
Abbu told us a story like that once. But this was not a jinn story. It was a ghost story.

Abbu was the eldest boy of his brothers and sisters. His father was a high-ranking civil servant, a gold medallist in Engineering in the days when Muslim boys did not get gold medals very often. He was a lover of literature and culture.

Then, suddenly, my grandfather took a second wife. She was a beautiful and smart woman. From my dad’s stories, I gathered that the elder wife (my grandmother) died soon after that.

My father still hates polygamy. It’s not that he’s a feminist or anything like that. Not by a long shot. He just hated the way his mother ached when another woman came along and took her place. He doesn’t want to see another woman hurt like that.

His mother died. It was probably a home abortion gone terribly wrong, because she did not want to bear any more children for her bigamist husband.

Later, one thing led to another, and abbu ended up in a domestic quarrel, and his father told him to get out of the house.

Abbu loved his father. He adores him to this day. I think some people who never quite attain to their parents – because of soured relations – always love them like children, and cannot transcend that aspiration. They struggle through their parents’ injustices, still trying, like children, to make mummy or daddy love them best.

So abbu left the big house in Mayo Gardens where my grandfather’s large family lived. He spent some nights in the park called Lawrence Garden (or Bagh-e-Jinnah, as it was renamed). “There were snakes this long in Lawrence Gardens in those days,” he’d brag. I don’t know how he eventually got off the streets and back in business, but I know there are sad tales of abandonment in there.

Abbu put himself through medical school. Every summer, Pakistani students go on vacation because the summer is just too hot to do anything. And this was before the days of air-conditioning. So every summer, when abbu could not stay at the Nishtar Medical College hostel anymore, he left to seek shelter. He’d try to crash at a relation’s house, or a friend’s. Sometimes people were kind; other times, they were not.

One summer, with no options, abbu’s only choice was to stay at an abandoned house that belonged to a relation. Abbu tells some tales, so I never quite know for sure. He claims that the house was built on a cemetery. Every night, he says, spirits or jinns appeared to disturb him, and terrified him out of his wits. I will never know whether they were actually jinns or anything other than his fears and loneliness. All I know is that my big abbu, who terrifies a lot of people, does not enjoy being alone at home.

One night, he said, he was sitting, terrified, in the house. Suddenly, he saw his mother. His dead mother.

Only, she was a torso. Head to waist.

She looked at him, and she smiled upon him. It was as if she was saying, “Don’t worry; I’ll take care of you.”
From that day on, there were no more hauntings.

Was it really a ghost? We shall never know. But my abbu, the skeptic, who doesn’t buy superstition, was convinced that his mother had come to drive away the spirits from her son. And it strengthened his heart. That’s all we need to know.

religion, spiritual

Checking on my heart on Palm Sunday

palm sundayPeace and blessings to Christian friends worldwide celebrating Palm Sunday today.

For all of us, whether Christian or not, this is a good time to – as Pope Francis said today –  look into our own hearts. It is a reminder to return to the “examined life” and to break with the somnolent continuity of apathy. I ask myself, along with Pope Francis, “has my life fallen asleep?” and whether I, like Pontius Pilate, faced with a complicated situation, wash my hands and turn away.

“Where is my heart?” I often ask myself – especially these days, when the survival of academics and scholars appears to rely on constantly endeavoring to generate likes, clicks, citations, and retweets. It is a struggle to foster and to enjoy the fruits of aloneness. And the Prophet Muhammad reminds me to look for my heart when I am alone. If I cannot find my heart in solitude, then – the Prophet urges me to “ask Allah to bless you with a heart, for indeed you have no heart.”  

death, emotional, social science, spiritual

Meat, slaughter, and death

My abbu (father) loves meat and absolutely hates the slaughter on Eid-al-Adha. In Pakistan, we would buy a goat a few days in advance of Eid, care for it and feed it until that day, and hear it bleating the day before slaughter. My father loved those goats. I remember his face, darkened into a miserable scowl, on the day the butcher came by to slaughter the goat. My mother insisted that fondness for the goat was a good thing; after all, you sacrificed what you loved, not what you didn’t care tuppence about. She demanded that my father pat the goat’s head before it was slaughtered, and he stalked around the house trying to hunker down someplace while the ghastly deed was being done.

I never had the stomach to watch the slaughter. I still like my meat packaged and washed clean, food, but not animal, entirely dead. Back in 1995, when I was cooking some meat in a shared London house – our landlord was Yusuf Islam – I shivered in disgust when I saw blood in the cooking pot. “Why is there so much blood in this meat? Isn’t there something wrong with it?” My saucy roommate, Sanella, a Bosnian refugee, sneered at my hypersensitivity and countered, “It’s made of blood!”

It is, I know. I just don’t want to know. I don’t want to know, in the front of my mind, about death, killing, cutting, knives, terrified bleating, blood spurting, and a cow that was calmly grazing now lying dead upon a blood-drenched floor. I’d like to keep the grazing cattle image separate from the image of meat, sort of like a fast forward.

We scream in excitement when we watch slasher movies, we wage our wars like video games, and we buy our meat packaged and plastic and covered in transparent wrap. We shudder and squirm when we speak of cutting an animal’s throat and letting the blood flow, as if the animal was any less dead when a hammer is used, or the animal is stunned by a machine rather than held and cut by a fellow living being. If the animal must die, surely we owe the courtesy of contact to the animal whose life is to flow into ours.

Lives must not be taken lightly. Like Ned Stark in ‘Game of Thrones,’ if we kill, surely we must experience a shudder in our souls for the lives we take. There should be some realization of the horror of death. Maybe the butcher should cry, as in this report of an organic halal slaughterhouse.

Years ago, Riaz picked him up from college and asked what he wanted for dinner. “Chicken curry,” Imran replied, without a second thought. Father and son went to the poultry market where Riaz nudged him to choose a chicken. At home, in the kitchen, he handed him a sharp knife. “Here son,” he said, “if you want to eat chicken tonight, you have to take its life.” “I was very young, just seventeen or eighteen,” Imran swallowed hard. “I still get really emotional talking about that. I didn’t eat the chicken that day but the memory’s always stuck in my head.” –
Humera Afridi, “When the Butcher Cries”

immigrant, religion, social science, spiritual, USA

Representing Muslims: ‘All-American Muslim’

After the first day, the new TLC show ‘All-American Muslim’ raised quite a few Muslim hackles in my social circle. Among other things, some were offended by its focus on liberal Arab Muslims. ‘What about the rest of us?’ some religious Muslims asked. ‘Why do we have to be assimilated, almost-Whites for us to be on TV? Why can’t our exemplary Muslim lives [er] be represented so we can show how we can be normal AND religious?’

Many Muslims’ desire to have good Muslims (not in Mahmood Mamdani’s sense of moderate, palatable, liberal Westerners who eat falafel) represented on TV was frustrated. Many like myself simply desired a diversity of images; in the case of minority groups, images are few and far between, and most such images are politicized.

Representation is fraught with complexity. Who represents? The bellydancer or the hijabi physician? The Pakistani college student or the Somali taxi-driver? The beer-drinking football fan or the mosque imam? And who is the audience? Liberal secular America, with its fears of all forms of religiosity? For such, their fears might be assuaged by Muslims who behave almost entirely like them.

Perhaps the audience is the right-wing person who donates to Church missions to Muslim lands, fervently believing that the presence of Muslims in America (rather than among the audience of international missions) is a cancer, an offense to the Christian character of the American nation. For such, neither positive nor neutral form of representation or visibility will be either acceptable or palatable. Representation of religious Muslims (whatever that is) will be infuriating, and representation of irreligious Muslims (whatever that is) will be perceived as an insidious attempt at normalizing Muslims.

Then the Facebook page calling for a boycott of TLC was born. And now, under pressure of such organizations as the Florida Family Association, Lowes has pulled its advertising from the show. “All-American Muslim is propaganda that riskily hides the Islamic agenda’s clear and present danger to American liberties and traditional values,” the Florida Family Association claimed, also saying “The show profiles only Muslims that appear to be ordinary folks while excluding many Islamic believers whose agenda poses a clear and present danger to liberties and traditional values that the majority of Americans cherish.”

Essentializing, it appears, is a desire shared by both Islamophobes who want bad Muslims in the show and some religious Muslims who want only good, observant Muslims represented. Both sides wish to represent Muslims in a specific way. Since there is no such thing as ‘reality’ in Reality TV, the choices are important. The Florida Family Association would prefer TLC to feature Muslim hijackers in training, or Muslims on death row for rape and murder (preferably for honor killing) – extraordinary rather than ‘ordinary folks,’ Muslims who threaten American values of liberty. Perhaps the opposition of ‘All-American Muslim’ would like to feature a dark, bearded Muslim father with a strong accent, who mandates black veils for his wife (wives?) and daughters, and will not permit his family to drink or to date.

But I wonder where the right-wing Christian organizations would ally themselves on the issue of sexual freedom. Perhaps a Muslim father who forbade his wife from getting an abortion on her seventh pregnancy? Would that help or hinder the cause of representing really bad Muslims? Or would it unnecessarily complicate the picture and cause confusion?

Images are inherently confusing. They never really do what we want them to do.

The ubiquity of visual technologies and our ability to share images globally has rendered the gaze central to our religious and political lives and identities. How people are represented in entertainment media galvanizes individuals, organizations, churches, mosques, corporations, and large quantities of monies. At the heart of most religion, however, is the Divine – the human being alone with God. This aloneness is an uneasy bedfellow, embroiled in an unwilling orgy with our anxieties – indeed, our obsessions – with showing, representing, seeing, preventing-from-showing, adamantly-not-seeing or preventing-from-seeing in the media.

poetry, spiritual

Love poetry

Some days, you have to let go of everything and give in. For me, if I allow myself to listen to Pathana Khan’s rendition of Hazrat Khwaja Ghulam Farid’s Meda ishq vee tun, it will happen by itself. The passion-drenched soft Saraiki lyrics in the elderly folk-singer’s powerful voice wield a force irresistible. Enjoy it, with lyrics and translation here. I’ve copied the English translation below: please let me know if you find out who to credit. Or the love-insanity of the shaikh’s Yaar daadhi ishq aatish in the voice of Muhammad Jumman.

And soak in the faizan of Hazrat Khwaja Ghulam Farid, in the pages of Maqabees-al-Majalis translated by my beloved shaikh, Hazrat Wahid Baksh Sial Rabbani.

You Are My Ardour
You are my ardour, my friend, faith, creed.
You are my body, you are my spirit, heart, soul.
You’re the direction towards which I pray.
You are my Mecca, my mosque, my pulpit.
You are my holy books and my Quran.
You are my religious obligations,
My Hajj, charity, fasting, call to prayer.
You are my asceticism, worship,
My obedience and my piety.
You are my knowledge and you’re my gnosis .
You’re my remembrance, my contemplation
You are my tasting and my ecstasy.
You are my love, my sweet, my darling, my honey
You are my favourite, and my soulmate!
You’re my spiritual preceptor, my guide ,
You are my Shaykh and my Enlightened One
You are my hope, my wish, my gains, losses.
You’re all I see, my pride, my deliv’rance.
You’re my faith, my honour, modesty, glory
You’re my pain, sorrow, my crying, playing
You are my illness and my remedy.
You are what lulls me to a peaceful sleep.
You are my beauty and my fate, fortune, fame.
You are my looking, enquiring, seeking
You are my understanding, my knowing
You are my henna, my collyrium,
My rouge, my tobacco, my betel-leaf!
You are my terror, my passion, madness
You’re my crying and my lamentation.
You are my Alpha and my Omega,
My Inner, Outer, Hidden, Manifest.
If, O Belovéd, you accept Farid
You are my Sovereign and my Sultan.

cultural, spiritual, Uncategorized

A loss of perspective

These days, I am an infrequent blogger, so when I do blog, you know it’s because I really want to. We just returned from a 10-day road-trip vacation to Chicago and Missouri, and I am fairly brimming o’er with inspiration. The primary purpose of travel was attending the ISNA Convention. Before you roll your eyes at “another academic event,” note that I attended not a single session or panel at the Convention, and my three goals there were a) seeing friends b) shopping in the bazar c) sneaking off to Tahoora on Devon Street. Still, I find that the Qur’anic verse above strikes a chord with me right now, referring as it does, at least on the surface, to travel and sightseeing:

Do they not travel through the land, so that their hearts (and minds) may thus learn wisdom and their ears may thus learn to hear? Truly it is not their eyes that are blind, but their hearts which are in their breasts.

My first awakening was on the first day of driving, when we took an exit to get a quick dinner. Finding ourselves quite unexpectedly amidst an apocalyptic scene of blocks upon blocks of collapsed homes and businesses, with furniture crushed underneath, we realized we were in Joplin, MO – the scene of the tornado on May 22, 2011. Struck quite dumb, we drove between leveled buildings. In that area, bare knobbly trees stuck out at odd angles in the horizontal landscape, as if civilization had lost its hold on the city, and the elements had resumed their hold on the land. We were trying, also, to track a Chinese restaurant, fearful that we would eventually find it amidst the rubble. It turned out to be completely intact, next door to a building, housing a technology business, that had fallen apart.

The news and images from Joplin, MO had shaken our confidence in the predictability of life, but our physical presence amidst the scenes of disaster changed our hearts. I watched stragglers around Joplin and wondered how many had been rendered homeless, how many uninsured families had lost everything, and how they would fare henceforth. I wondered how that one day in May had changed Joplin. Even Raihana, my 5-year old (when we explained the scene in simple terms), prayed for the citizens of Joplin to find their feet and to resume normal lives.

The skyscrapers and lights of Chicago wiped this remembrance from our minds entirely, and now we rejoiced in the beauty and the majesty of the human endeavor. Museums and theaters of all kinds dotted the landscape, so many that you would need weeks to enjoy them all. And nicely hemming the city with blue, Lake Michigan spread its skirts out for families and individuals to enjoy. On an architectural cruise on the lake and the river (overpriced, like almost everything else) I learned to look at buildings with new eyes for both utility and beauty, and also heard about the Dave Matthews incident and the great fire that destroyed Chicago in 1871. We frugally sampled some of the delights of Chicago, and experienced all over again the headaches of parking in a big city.

On our way back from Chicago to Oklahoma, we stopped in St Louis. I was reminded all over again of how parenthood changes our lives. Here we were, in a big city at night, and fairly dazzled by the beauty of the city, in a way that – thanks to early bedtimes – we have rarely been since Raihana’s birth in 2006. She was a trooper over the vacation, despite  late bedtimes and long hours of occupying a carseat, but these late bedtimes, though delightful for her, led to several inevitable meltdowns and total exhaustion (not to mention parental guilt).

Svend suggested we stop for Meramec Caverns, so after a surprisingly affordable night in the local Marriott (thanks to a slow week-day), we drove over to Meramec. The caverns are privately owned, but the land and Meramec River adjoins state-owned park land and water. The sight of people zip-lining over the river greeted our eyes as we drove in, and we had to contain our excitement and forego the pleasure: Raihana was too young to zip-line, and the price was too steep for us, after a week-long vacation. A gentle green river rippled near the campgrounds, and families with babies and toddlers camped and fished nearby.

If you visit Meramec Caverns in Stanton, MO, remember to take a layer of clothing along with you. Despite the heat of the day, we found ourselves cold inside the dark depths under the mountain. I wondered at just how cold it must be in the winter, but the guide reminded me that the temperature remained stable here at about 60 degrees. Native Americans used it as a summer shelter though (according to the informational display in the caverns) there were few “major” tribes in the region, and whites and Indians co-existed relatively peacefully until Indians left “voluntarily” to “avoid” white migration.

In the 1890s, people used it as a summer resort, almost, and square-danced in one huge room inside the cave. Saltpeter, or potassium nitrate was discovered in the cave, and used for gunpowder. The caves are famed as hideout for Jesse James, as the outlaws Jesse and Frank James may have hidden out in the cave: the cave owner Lester Dill discovered, to his great good fortune, a set of artifacts belonging to Jesse James, in the cave. It’s a good story anyway and lends itself well to the sale of outlaw artifacts in the tourist shop.

But the natural limestone rock formations in the caverns are its most prized features. Stalactites, stalagmites and pillars (which is what is born when stalactites meet stalagmites) in amazing formations follow your trail in the dark depths of the cave, and a river of mirror-like clarity (Mirror River) lies on either side, reflecting the rocks above.

Naturally, part of the charm of a cave experience is the fear and awe inspired by the utter darkness. I walked ahead a little, before the guide turned on the lights, just to plunge myself into that total darkness. Most of our lives, we urban folk never truly experience darkness uncontaminated by light, and a good deal of a nature trip is molded and dented by human commercialism, into just the right shape to earn your dollars. My few seconds of darkness helped me get a tiny glimpse of why seekers throughout the ages, such as our Prophet Muhammad (peace on him), occupied cave spaces far away from human settlements in search of ultimate answers.

In a large room (named the ‘theater’) there is a 70-foot high, 60 feet wide and 35 feet thick ‘curtain’ or ‘frozen waterfall’ of mineral deposit, about 70 millions years old, possibly the largest cave formation in the world. The ‘wine-table’ is a rare  formation in a room of popcorn mineral formations, and “onyx mountain” – a mountain of onyx, literally – is about 500 feet around, 200 feet thick and 33 feet high, and still growing on one side.

It was my utter inability to imagine 70 million years, but my extreme awe before this ages-old natural formation that jolted me from my mundane sense of the everyday. This onyx mountain and this curtain of rock had been here, under the earth, undisturbed for the most part, for longer than I can even imagine. As my little five-year old sprinted and danced in an attempt to stay warm, and a baby shrieked like a bat in the darkness, I was struck fairly dumb by amazement by the sight and smell of millions of years around me.

When on earth as opposed to under it, I am usually preoccupied by the quest for my little victories – personal and professional – that bring me enjoyment, profit, and security. I am engrossed in my challenges as I ascend the stairways that my fellow humans have created around me. I think in terms of me, my claims on my environment, my family, my child, my parents, my relatives, my friends, my career, my home, my country. Very often, in fact, I struggle with how little empathy I really can squeeze out for the suffering of those not connected with me, and how quickly I forget the earthquake in Azad Kashmir and the tornado in Joplin, as I relax on the beach in Chicago and stare at the fish flitting in the water. A prisoner of my own perspective, I cannot get out of my point of view. Eons may as well not have happened, as far as my own forty years are concerned. Compared to the birth of Raihana in 2006, 70 million years are naught. Below the surface of the earth, onyx mountain and the curtain of rock have been happening, untouched by my disasters and my tragedies. It is both profoundly disturbing and immensely reassuring to know that Being and the universe are so unimaginably greater than myself that my own views and perspective do not even graze the surface of it all.

For a few seconds, and a few millimeters deep into my heart, I lost my sense of perspective. I lost my sense of being at the center of everything, and knew that I could never in this lifetime know Reality truly and properly. In being entirely shaken in my confidence, I was comforted.

Tired as he climbed the stairs to the ‘theater,’ Svend carried a shivering Raihana in his arms. In love, we lose perspective. At least a little bit, in parenting, we lose our sense of self, and are able to open ourselves to a fraction of the eons and the enormous events and the Being that lie beyond our smallness. In traveling, too, we lose a bit of that perspective, and educate our eyes to take in more than they usually do.

As a Sufi fable goes, during a terrible famine, a seeker, on listening in to a couple of vultures, heard them blessing the days that brought them abundance of food. Experiencing a multiplicity of perspectives, what we imagine to be good or bad events lose their certain colors and become definable in a multitude of ways. What is good for the beef-eater is not good for the cow; what is good for the sheep may be bad for the shepherd; what is great fun for Raihana is usually an hour of cleaning for me.

I lament the events that bring me loss and rejoice in profit, unable to imagine a perspective that is inclusive of all. Not being God, I will never be able to have a God’s eye view, but in my questions about why bad things happen, I can know, for a split second at least, this one truth: I do not know what is bad and what is good. Knowledge is power: but to acknowledge one’s ignorance in the face of awe – is freedom.

cultural, social science, spiritual, USA

What, indeed, is/was the problem with Michael Jackson?

I was a girl of fifteen in 1983 when “Thriller” came out. That event was somewhat eclipsed by my graduation from school, and my new-found very teenaged-emotional religiosity. I was determined to avoid the materialistic, the faddish, the glitzy, the – well, anything too entertaining that might draw me away from spirituality and religion. So “Thriller,” the number one selling album of all time, passed me by. But not unnoticed. Even for someone like me, determined to avert my gaze, “Thriller” still encapsulates much of the era, though my own 80’s era is obviously a mix of the Afghan war, the General Zia regime, and things like “Thriller.” The childhood and very White world of Jaws, the Six Million Dollar Man, and Star Wars I was behind us. And now, with “Thriller,” “What a feeling” and “Maniac,” here was a much more complicated world, a mixed up one, heavier in many ways.

“What is the problem with Michael Jackson?” the Iraqi soldier in the movie “Three Kings” asks Mark Wahlberg. “Your country make him chop up his face!”

Michael Jackson’s many problems, psychological, physical, physiological, personal, have sold thousands and thousands of magazines and news broadcasts. I do not intend to speak of them here. Perhaps because now it’s too late to ask “What is the problem with Michael Jackson?” for it to benefit Michael Jackson himself.

But the question poignantly sums up a whole litany of questions. Why is humanity so fragile? Why do the twisted and the angelic lie so close to each other? Why is the world so hard to make sense of?

What is the problem with fame and fortune? Why is talent so often a ticket to disaster?

Why do we cannibalize others’ humanity? Why does our emptiness so greedily feast on Michael Jacksons and Farrah Fawcetts? Why are the MJs even considered irrelevant in terms of the consequences of our cannibalism to them? They are our meals and this is why we buy them, like so many packaged goods off the supermarket shelves.

In 1982, one of my teachers was once speaking critically of the Pakistani diva Noor Jehan – her behavior, her daring artistic style, her flamboyant clothing, her mannerisms. Noor Jehan’s daughter was in my class, and her inward reaction – never made public – made us all uncomfortable. But it’s okay, my teacher said gently, for us to speak of Noor Jehan, since she is after all a public persona.

What are the consequences of our consumption of these public personalities? How do celebrities pay for our appetites? And then, when we are done, we spit in their faces in disgust – weird, twisted, psychotic as they are. Why are they so out of reach and yet so tantalizingly close to us via the big screens inside our living rooms? Why do we know them and yet know nothing of them? They are like the unattainable beloved of Urdu ghazals.

Ishq mujh ko nahin, vehshet hi sahii
Meri vehshet, teri shuhrat hi sahii

(If you will not permit that I am in love, then, fine, I am crazy. But if nothing else, let my craziness  serve to become your fame.)

Our admiration and our horror struggle with each other: Why are they so obscenely wealthy? The answer lies in our own consumption of these idols. We consume them, and we pay for our consumption. It is a business exchange and it is based in our own appetites. Like prostitutes in a rough neighborhood, many of these celebrities eventually end up in the gutter, victims of our appetites. Then, of course, we are free to malign them, since – used, abused, and twisted – they are so disgustingly useless to us now.


Savoring well-being

It’s a hot day. June 1st in Oklahoma – what do you expect? I just got home after picking up my daughter from preschool. I felt sweaty and hot even in a lightweight outfit. She wanted to drink her milk right away, and then she dozed off.  I’d turned on the air-conditioning (we are careful because our old rental house here is a monster for utilities), and it was still hot so I turned on the fan. I lay there by her side in a cool room, knowing it was hot outside. She nuzzled into my body, threw her limbs over me for safekeeping, and fell to a gentle snoring.

I lay there, cool, in my pajamas, comforted by the tranquil sound and feel of toddler sleep, with the knowledge that I was part of the toddler’s tranquility.

I was flooded with a sense that said I was well and at peace. I reminded myself, in body, soul and mind, that I was full of well-being. I was at peace. I was happy in the deepest sense in this moment. This is a moment to treasure and concentrate that sense of well-being. My mother tells me, “Khushi dhoonda karo” (Search for happiness). She means that it doesn’t just happen. You can’t wait around, wondering when it will appear and gather you up in its arms like a fairytale prince. You have to search for it, recognize it, find it, savor it, roll your tongue around it, and capture the flavor.

Then, like Wordsworth, you can recollect that emotion – except not in moments of tranquility but in moments of non-well-being. The life of this world is not an endless series of moments of happiness. You have to find those moments, and hold on to them. And then make your way through the other moments of not-happiness, accompanied by the warm comforting sense of well-being, like the taste of a delicious meal lingering on your palate.

children, gender, Islam, spiritual

Prayer of a feminist

God, grant me the strength to live in a world that does not acknowledge me as a full human being and yet to know, with fullest unshakeable conviction, that I am.

Beloved, protect me from grasping hands that seek to draw themselves upon my canvas.

12308578_925649800815371_9090960282421319286_nCherisher, grant me the strength to make it through puberty. Let me escape becoming an object in my own sight as soon as my breasts appear.

Friend, enable me not to be erased by the desire to be desired. Let me not build myself on foundations of water. Help me not fill myself with the emptiness of men’s desire.

Sustainer, as I grow to maturity, give me the courage to see beyond the imperfect world of injustice that human beings have created, and give me the vision to see the dream of beauty and justice that saints and visionaries have dreamed.

Omnipotent over tyrants, enable me to sustain my spirituality as I traverse the spaces of a world that tramples on my dreams – tramples them like a crazed elephant that knows not what it does.

Compassionate One, come to my aid when I meet love and injustice together. For in my world love rarely comes unaccompanied by the other. And if I want love from a man, it usually means encountering rejection of part of me.

Creator, grant me the strength to channel Your Attribute of Creation when I give birth. Support me through nine months of creation, and through hours of labor that rip my body apart.

Sustain me when a helpless infant is placed into my hands before I am even recovered from labor and blood loss.

Keep me from coming apart when an infant’s unending needs become my responsibility alone, and the father is responsible for playtime. Support me through nights of lost sleep and days of endless work. Help me be patient and eloquent when I’m told “This is what all mothers do, day in and day out. Mothers enjoy it. What’s wrong with you? Why are you depressed?”

Strengthen my heart when I am obliged to hand over my baby to strangers for care so I can go to work. And Creator, create a world where childcare does not have to mean abuse, neglect, and bottles propped on pillows.

Give me many times the focus and strength of a mere man so I can make a home habitable and a child happy and healthy, while I also work fulltime.
Give me the creativity to excel in sales, academia, cleaning, engineering, … even while my supervisors do not acknowledge when I excel.

Give me the strength to complete a day of work, before I hurry home to plunge into preparing a meal. And then give me the fortitude not to collapse inwardly upon myself when I deal with the man who buries himself in a TV show while I feed the children and tidy the house.

Originator, give me the fortitude to not smack them when they sneer and call me the weaker sex.

And Beloved, let the eyes of others see my dream. Let the minds of others see the possibilities of equality. Let men and women see full humanity shared by both, without either losing any part of it.

Compassionate and Just One, let my daughters see the world I dream of – in reality.

gender, political, race, religion, social science, spiritual

And aint I a woman?

Muse inspired me to remember Sojourner Truth today. Other events – such as being a woman in this world – also moved me, of course. So here is her speech converted to poetic format by Erlene Stetson (here is the complete speech in prose).

That man over there say
a woman needs to be helped into carriages
and lifted over ditches
and to have the best place everywhere.
Nobody ever helped me into carriages
or over mud puddles
or gives me a best place. . .

And ain’t I a woman?
Look at me
Look at my arm!
I have plowed and planted
and gathered into barns
and no man could head me. . .
And ain’t I a woman?
I could work as much
and eat as much as a man–
when I could get to it–
and bear the lash as well
and ain’t I a woman?
I have born 13 children
and seen most all sold into slavery
and when I cried out a mother’s grief
none but Jesus heard me. . .
and ain’t I a woman?
that little man in black there say
a woman can’t have as much rights as a man
cause Christ wasn’t a woman
Where did your Christ come from?
From God and a woman!
Man had nothing to do with him!
If the first woman God ever made
was strong enough to turn the world
upside down, all alone
together women ought to be able to turn it
rightside up again.