In my family, I wander the halls like a troubled spirit, 👻 picking up socks, clearing away bits of paper, and lobbing out tasks into the void with little hope of a response: ‘Please put these books away.’ ‘Can you move your underwear from the dining table to your dresser?’
Sometimes I encounter silence. Sometimes I encounter temporary deafness, or headphones, or a bluetooth with an endless podcast loop (ah the world of the intellect, so far above the mundane world of household chores).
Sometimes, the more skilled players silence me with “I’ll do it later” (which really means “I won’t do it, but I won’t say that I won’t do it, which means you can’t get mad”).
I lob my tasks out there, hoping to play Catch.
Instead I find my family perpetually playing Dodgeball with my lobbed tasks. I’m playing one game, they’re playing another.
Ramzan Mubarak. Ramadan Kareem. Have a blessed Ramadan. Hearts are still aching from our grief for Gaza. But we are preparing to be immersed in worshipful hunger and thirst that enlightens the body and heart. For my part, I aspire to a Ramzan of the able-bodied, but I bow my head to the Beloved and am grateful for whatever kind of Ramzan I have.
Much of my Ramzan is a memory of glorious nights under the stars in Islamabad and in London, darting from bodily trial to spiritual high, – with little thought or care (compared to now) for whether I was getting the sleep or rest that I needed. Then, I had no thought about whether I’d prepared a livable day for others, as I now do for the family that depends on me. If I spent the night at taraweeh prayer, I could just sleep the next day. If I was grumpy the next day, I didn’t have to worry that my irritability would affect a child. If I didn’t get enough to eat, I could make up for it the next day.
Those memories color my Ramzan today. It’s a different Ramzan. It’s still beautiful, just as I at 50 am still beautiful, but not the way I was at 22.
May your Ramzan be enriched with blessings. May your Ramzan be showered with Love of the One in ways you never could predict or plan.
When you’re looking for some tacky kitsch, 1990s Bollywood will not disappoint. Rishi’s sweaters in Deewana alone will satisfy your appetite. This dance number, for instance … Lord, my eyes 👁 The outfits, the moves, the facial expressions, Rishi’s fondling of his guitar – are all perfectly attuned to a present-day seeker of kitsch. Also, why are the backup dancers inexplicably waving international flags for a love-song? (Pakistan is among the flags. Was there a political thaw at the time, I wonder?) Shahrukh’s manic facial expressions, electric blue suits, and frantic dancing travel much better to the present day with an ironic cast.
In the 1990s, I didn’t watch any movies: I was spiritually de-toxing because I’d decided that لغو (evil/vain talk/material) encompassed popular entertainment. Well, it does, mostly (have you watched Childish Gambino’s This Is America and considered the role of popular entertainment in blocking serious consideration of life and death issues). I mostly lived a nomadic life in bare, no-TV hostels. So by choice and by circumstance, I had a no-crappy-pop-culture period in the 90s.
I should really bring it back. Instead, I am meeting 1990s Bollywood in the 2010s. This is probably not fair to the 1990s.
I first met my Sufi shaikh in the 1990s. So at that time every Bollywood love song I heard in Islamabad in the bus or the street was about the Beloved. And the songs weren’t bad. But watching the actual song videos really is somewhat upsetting. 🤢🤕
As I wept for the unknown sorrows of the world, I remember my mother looking upon me, strong, calm, rational, afraid: “Don’t be like that.” She was afraid for me, for my heart in this world, where a heart that feels too much is at risk forever.
“Don’t be like that,” they said.
Yes, sometimes my heart bursts for grief I cannot name, for the sorrows of hearts in the universe, for the parting that never ends, for the unknowable sadness in my heart but also in yours.
Sometimes I feel like sensitive radio equipment, picking up frequencies though I don’t know what they are.
And then I am told I feel too much, as if that was bad or wrong.
Look around you.
Or close your eyes and open your hearts.
You feel too little.
You weep too little.
You rage too little.
You shut your eyes and will not see the tears, the horrors, the sorrows.
I open my eyes, I see them, I embrace them, I let them into my heart.
I get every single bit of news about what Trump ate or said, bomb blasts worldwide, celebrity gossip, everything … But somehow I saw no mention in all my very Muslim social media to warn me that the night of the 15th of Sha’ban was coming.
And now it’s gone. Yet another sacred opportunity missed.
This is one more opportunity for me to nostalgically recall how in Pakistan it’d be impossible for me to miss the 15th night of sha’ban, or Shab-e-miraj, or the 12th of Rabiulawwal.
These are the moments when a person wonders about how global forces shape immigration, and how immigration trajectories change our lives, and how I could have been spending my evening and night praying instead of watching L.A. to Vegas.
My kid has an assignment in Social Studies: “Create Your Own Religion.” (This is a similar assignment, so it is clearly a popular one.) I would like to insert an emoji to represent how I feel about this – but I think I would just end up incoherently inserting all the emojis here, and come across as breathless and frantic.
Yesterday, my daughter was required to create a Religion-Belief-Customs chart for Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism. (I was cranky that Sikhism wasn’t included).
Today, she has to come up with her very own Religion, complete with Origins, Beliefs, and Customs.
Much love and solidarity to my teacher colleagues, but it’s assignments like this that make me wonder if people put any thought into the rationale, the purpose, the impact, and the fallout of these exercises.
This also makes me think about the poor representation of minority teachers in many of our schools.
I wonder if teachers who devise such assignments think about their impact on children like my daughter (a half-White, half-desi Muslim). This is a Christian-majority country, where – despite purported secularism – the idea of Christianity as normative has always pervaded society. A “muscular Christianity” that is hostile – to Islam and Judaism in particular – is becoming increasingly popular.
My daughter lives in an increasingly intolerant America, where it is okay for the Commander-in-Chief to express his hatred of our religion. The political and military record of this country is horribly Islamophobic, and grows more so. The cultural representation of Muslims is abysmal.
In this cultural and historical moment, for a White Christian teacher to facilitate a “Create Your Own Religion” assignment for the Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Sikh, non-religious, and other students in Grade 6 is simply 🤬😳😱😵🤮😂😒😭. There. Now I’m breathless and frantic.
As my friend and colleague Sally Galman says, “most teachers are not equipped to handle the outcomes of such an assignment well.”
What’s most 😂 about the situation is that somebody is probably congratulating themselves on checking off the “diversity” box by requiring this assignment.
Teachers: not everything that relates to diversity is a respectful, appropriate, non-indoctrinating, egalitarian, useful exercise.
For a religious person like myself, raising a Muslim child in the United States, the last thing I want is a “box of chocolates” approach to religion. Religion isn’t an IKEA table that you put together with a set of components. It is life. It is an entire orientation to life.
In fact, if you wanted to school children in the irrationality and the human-invented approach to religion, you’d require them to … create a religion.
“Mama,” my daughter says, mid-assignment, “should I make it one god or many?”
Imagine how much I am cringing inwardly. If there’s one thing we Muslims take extremely seriously, it’s the Oneness of God. A teacher is asking my kid to try on polytheism or whatever like a Halloween-costume. To me, this sounds like borderline indoctrination.
Minority children, in particular, deal with stigma and ignorance everyday, and struggle with the effort of being different. When she told her class-mates about Eid-al-Adha, my daughter had to explain that the sacrifice entailed was not akin to tossing a person into a volcano to appease an angry god. The very experience of religious thought, choice, and agency, for religious minority children and adolescents, is different from what it is for dominant majority group children.
Exercises that ask children and adolescents (and, I’d add, college students) to “try on” different identities are not experienced the same way by all. Youth who experience symbolic violence against their identities on a regular basis may find such assignments and diversity exercises to be painful and unsettling. I have written about the college narrative of being open to “exploring” other identities is capable of being harmful to minority college students. Universities ask new students to “mix” with students different from themselves and explore new ideas, for example. Yet many non-White students have scarcely had sufficient opportunity to comfortably “nest” within their home communities, while many White Christian students have scarcely ever had non-White, non-Christian friends before – or during – college.
My friend and colleague Saadia Yacoob adds, “The problem is that people don’t see religion as a diversity issue.” This is indeed a problem in the American context, where religion – in comparison to race and ethnicity – is unacknowledged in many diversity circles, and is only beginning to be recognized, and that too not very well. I’ve written about how, in American employment, society, and academia, religion is frequently invisible and therefore neglected and/or handled with profound clumsiness.
Teaching about religion in the schools is not only legal but extremely important. Teaching about religion in such a trivializing manner, however, is 🤬😳😱😵🤮😂😒😭.
This statement “Islam is a great country“ was made by Solicitor General Noel Francisco, the attorney for the U.S. government, right after he made an argument for a Muslim Travel Ban.
This utterly clueless statement, and the hateful ignorance within which it is bathed and contextualized, has amused many observers. But to be honest, this comment epitomizes a lot of conversations about Islam I’ve had – in academia as well as in lay discussions.
These discussions about Islam and Muslims are framed by laughable definitions, stunningly essentializing assumptions, and utterly ridiculous starting points. The questions that guide these discussions are generated by persons of such acumen as the U.S. government’s attorney in the Muslim Ban case.
And then we, Muslim respondents, are expected to come in and represent Islam to to every person who slept through their General Education college courses.
We must not only clear all the rubbish blocking the cognitive pathways, but we must make every single aspect of Islam, Muslims, global cultures, and world politics crystal clear. And we are expected to do all of this in a soundbyte.
One of the challenges for critical scholars in the US is to remember that analytic frameworks developed in this specific economic, political, religious, & racial context can’t be automatically applied to issues in the rest of the world. Yes, even the theoretical frameworks emerging from the oppressed in the U.S. margins.
The encompassing privilege of America-centric media, publishing, and research can sometimes make us forget the enormous privilege of operating in this context. And this privilege and its accompanying egoism can sometimes make us think our applicability is wider than it is.
When I look at Pakistan- or South Asia-related issues, for instance, I’m stumped by just how difficult it is for brilliant American scholars to get a handle on those issues. And yet how difficult it is for many of them to realize their limitations, because they’re so brilliant on issues related to North America.
At times when I practice introspection, I feel as if my experiences in health, academic employment, and America have me frozen in place. Beached like a whale. It’s like I have something permanently stuck in my throat. I keep thinking I need to rise above the torpor; change my direction; jump upstream; let it go, jump on a boat, run away, go on vacation, find my head space … something.
But the day to day mundane keeps me on the hamster wheel of inertia, generating everyday inaction. Maybe all this everyday continuity will shake something loose. Then I look around, and realize this is a pervasive reality.
Is it like this for you?
A cousin once stopped praying namaz because, as she said, she wasn’t feeling anything. Her brother told her: “Just get marked present in class. Sometimes that’s all you can do.” And then, when the presence returns, you’ll at least be there. Lazzat or enjoyment,as my Sufi order members tell me, is not the goal. Allah is the goal.
So I keep showing up, right on time, for all my duties. But most activities blend into each other without differentiation. Grey. Most are 3 stars out of 5. It could be worse.
Some people throw up their hands, jump, try to find themselves. I’m not sure what there is to be found.