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On Being with Krista Tippett is a public radio project delving into the human side of news stories + issues. Curated + edited by senior editor Trent Gilliss.

We publish guest contributions. We edit long; we scrapbook. We do big ideas + deep meaning. We answer questions.

We've even won a couple of Webbys + a Peabody Award.
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The Pursuit and Practice of Happiness Is an Awareness of the Suffering and Pleasure of Others

by Krista Tippett, host

A basketball court transformed by flowers and incandescent light. Four thousand people in attendance. Four global religious leaders. I have never concentrated as hard as I did in the two hours I spent on that stage. But it was, in the end, a delight. And it was fascinating as an encounter as much as a conversation. The Dalai Lama embodied joy, his radiant and playful presence, was as defining as the words he spoke.

The biggest challenge with discussing “happiness” in this culture might be finding our way back to the substance of the word itself — a substance that has been hollowed out by its uses in culture. I found myself planted in the definition of happiness that the French-born, Tibetan Buddhist scientist and monk Matthieu Ricard offered on this program. He defines happiness as “genuine flourishing” — not a pleasurable sensation or mood but a way of being in the world that can encompass the fullness of human experience, joy and pleasure as well as suffering and loss.

Muslim scholar Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori of the Episcopal Church, and Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks of the United Kingdom all added to that definition as they laid out the virtues and habits, the spiritual technologies, that their traditions have carried forward in time. They all described corollaries, in a sense, to the Dalai Lama’s joyful yet disciplined teachings on cultivating compassion and calmness in the mind as way of flourishing in and amidst all of life’s experiences. But the most exciting part of interreligious encounter, for me, is not rushing to hear similarities but savoring particularities — the distinctive vocabularies of thought and practice, the beautiful and intriguing differences that come to light even as we may seem to be circling towards the same goal.

And so among my favorite moments are Professor Nasr’s explication of beauty as inextricably linked to virtue and happiness in Muslim tradition. Beauty, he says, makes the soul happy. Bishop Jefferts Schori talked about the long tradition in Christianity of practicing gratitude and “the presence of God” in the midst of ordinary activities of life. Rabbi Sacks evoked sabbath as a space to focus on the things in life that are “important but not urgent.” He described the extraordinary power of pausing to let life’s “blessings” — an awareness of the deepest sources of our happiness — “catch up with us.” Such reflections unsettle notions of happiness as a “right” and as something to be “pursued.”

A discussion of happiness is intrinsically serious, too. As we were also reminded in the course of this discussion, spiritual happiness is never merely personal in nature. It is linked to an awareness of the suffering and pleasure of others. And at the same time, it is something we cultivate in our bodies as well as our minds. It communicates itself in our very presence.

There was, fittingly, a great deal of laughter on this stage of religious dignitaries seated center court at Emory. There was a festive atmosphere in the room altogether. Listen, and watch, for yourself. Ponder, and enjoy.

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So, what does this story have to do with modern-day Iran and Iranians? Everything. For the vast majority of Iranians who identify as Shi’a and even for many who don’t, the story of Karbala lies at the heart of all struggles against oppression and tyranny — personal and political.
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Melody Moezzi writes this smart, informative piece about the relevance of the one-thousand-year old story behind Ashura and modern-day politics in The Washington Post.

~Trent Gilliss, senior editor

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Is There an “All-American Muslim”?

by Marwa Helal, guest contributor

All-American-Muslim

The Learning Channel (TLC) recently aired the new reality television program, All-American Muslim, amid a great deal of buzz both within and outside the Muslim American community. Set in Dearborn, Michigan, a city that is well-known for its large Muslim and Arab populations, the series focuses on American-born Muslims and aims to answer the question: “What is it like to be Muslim in America?”

America’s Muslim population is diverse in ethnicity, class and religious expression. Attending a Friday prayer or better yet, an Eid celebration showcases this diversity at its best — Turkish Americans next to Bosnian Americans, next to Bangladeshi, Malaysian, Indonesian, Indian, Pakistani, Palestinian and African Americans — the list goes on. There are those who attend mosque regularly and others who show up to socialize during the holidays.

While TLC does not claim to represent all Muslim Americans, by focusing only on American Shia Muslims of Lebanese descent living in Detroit, and with a title that claims to speak on behalf of the “All-American Muslim,” the series certainly raises the question of whether it represents the experience of Muslim Americans in general.

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Prayer on a Post
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Sherine Tados, a correspondent for Al Jazeera English, tweeted this incredible photo of a man praying atop a lamp post in Tahrir Square today — along with this image of a mass of people prostrating while performing salah:
Prayer on a Post
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Sherine Tados, a correspondent for Al Jazeera English, tweeted this incredible photo of a man praying atop a lamp post in Tahrir Square today — along with this image of a mass of people prostrating while performing salah:

Prayer on a Post

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Sherine Tados, a correspondent for Al Jazeera English, tweeted this incredible photo of a man praying atop a lamp post in Tahrir Square today — along with this image of a mass of people prostrating while performing salah:

Performing salah in Tahrir Square, Egypt

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Unforeseen Beauty and Possibility: A Decade of Discovering Islam

by Krista Tippett, host

Ash of murdered thousands.The Brooklyn sun on September 11, 2001. (photo: by Joshua Treviño/Flickr, cc by-nc-nd 2.0)

In a perfect world, or at least a perfectly informed one, most Americans would have known something about Islam as the 21st century opened. They would have been aware that over one billion of the world’s people belong to this faith that emerged from the monotheistic soil of Christianity and Judaism. They might also have known that Muslims would soon be the second largest religious group in the U.S., after Christians. And that statistic might have come alive in American imaginations in the form of the doctors and teachers, parents and citizens it represents.

But we don’t live in a perfect world. September 11, 2001, was many Americans’ catastrophic introduction to Islam. Certainly, up to then, there were Islamic images that populated the American sense of the world out there — threatening images, many of them, associated with bombed embassies or the first failed World Trade Center attack. Islamic terrorists were default suspects, too, we recall, in the immediate hours after the Oklahoma City bombing.

But September 11 was the day, as someone said, when the Middle East came to America. That Tuesday we woke up as post-Cold War people — citizens of the prosperous remaining superpower. By Wednesday we had become post-9/11 people, with newly fearful eyes on the world. And our new enemies declared themselves agents of Islam.

I was in Washington, DC, on that day seeking funding for the wild idea of a weekly public radio program on religion. I had been piloting programs for about a year, getting an enthusiastic response from listeners and a tepid one from programmers. Talk of religion, many argued, was necessarily proselytizing and divisive. Moreover, faith wasn’t an appropriate focus for a weekly hour of public radio — not a reasonable, weighty subject for public life like politics or economics or the arts — best left as a private matter.

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Brother Ali and A Day of Dignity in North Minneapolis

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Twin Cities Day of Dignity posterThe hip-hop artist Brother Ali's lyrics are infused with notions of community, family, and serving one another. And, today in the blocks surrounding his mosque in North Minneapolis, Masjid An-Nur, he is putting on this cool community get-together and outreach effort, which they're calling the Twin Cities Day of Dignity: A Celebration of Neighbors Helping Neighbors.

The north side, one of the poorest and most crime-ridden areas of the city, was devastated by a tornado in May of this year. The natural disaster left the neighborhood in tatters, but the community also united in the clean-up effort. To celebrate, they’ll be closing down the streets and offering free health care services and medical supplies, haircuts, winter clothing, food, and school supplies to people and families in need. And, to round out the day’s celebration, a free performance by Freeway and Brother Ali:

"But this event has a particularly special place in my heart because it’s in my particular space in the community, but then it’s also such a service to humanity. It’s not just a show. All different parts of the Twin Cities community get to come together to actually help people, help people in need, and to be a part of that, to be able to have this music here to celebrate the cultural side of it as well. It’s a beautiful thing."
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Islam’s Role in the Political Marketplace of Ideas: Three Questions for Islamists

by Mustafa Husayn Abu Rumman, special contributor

More than 80 participants attended the second northern women’s security shura on Monday in Mazar-e Sharif at Camp Marmal in Balk province, Afghanistan to discuss women’s roles in governance transition. (photo: DEU Capt. Jennifer Ruge)

As an imam at a mosque in the Jordanian capital Amman, I have been following the dramatic developments across North Africa and the Middle East with a combination of high hopes and grave concern. The phenomenon of young people organizing peacefully to demand political reform, economic opportunity, and human rights is a source of pride for me; numerous worshippers in my mosque are among them. On the other hand, the mounting lethality of conflict between state and society in so many Arab countries is terrible to behold. So is the tragedy of burgeoning crime, economic struggles, and insecurity in countries such as Egypt that are undergoing dramatic transformations.

In these riveting times, the role of Islam is essential and Arab societies seem to know it. I can tell just from the growing number of worshippers in my mosque, which overflows every Friday during weekly prayers. Young people draw comfort and inspiration from Islam as they face an uncertain future.

At the same time, political analysts — both within Arab societies and in the world at large — are raising concerns about the role of so-called “Islamist” groups in the on-going political transitions. Members of my own congregation often ask me for counsel on this issue. In response, through sermons every Friday as well as more intimate conversations, I have been trying to articulate the distinctions that will be necessary to ensure that the tenets of Islam are properly applied — and that the language of Islam is not co-opted by opportunistic political movements.

In the present state of flux in North Africa and the Middle East, there is robust competition for political popularity in a new marketplace of ideas. When assessing any political figure or movement claiming to draw legitimacy from Islam, one should pose several questions and demand unambiguous answers.

The first question is: do you support equal political, social, and economic rights for all citizens of your country, regardless of ethnicity, gender, or sect?

The answer should be yes. The Qur’an and prophetic traditions present a vision of social justice in all its forms — not only for men but also for women; not only for Arabs but also for other ethnic groups; and not only for Muslims but for all humankind. This is my conviction as a lifelong student of Islam. The texts that prove this are many, but suffice it to say that the Qur’an’s vision of equity and justice is addressed not to any subset of humankind but to all “Children of Adam” (7:26).

Over the centuries, interpretations of Qur’an and prophetic tradition have varied, and some of these interpretations have been incompatible with essential Qur’anic values. The most accurate interpretation would never differ with the principle of universal equity and justice — nor deny political or economic opportunity to anyone. Such an interpretation can and should be achieved by the principal of ijtihad, the practical application of the human mind to the world’s ever-changing circumstances.

The second question is: do you believe that Islam is compatible with a definition of the rule of law that transcends a particular religion’s jurisprudential precepts?

The answer should be yes. From a contemporary Islamic perspective, sharia is not a document that supplants the legal system of a given country. To the contrary, it is a set of principles that demand of believing Muslims that they respect the laws of the country in which they live, provided that the laws are compatible with the universal values of social equity and human rights. Moreover, in the event that a given law is inequitable or unjust, sharia demands that believing Muslims work within a legal and democratic framework to amend the law. Islam stresses the principle of shura, or consultation, as a means of reaching decisions that affect the body politic. Those “whose affairs are a matter of counsel” (42:38) are considered to be worthy of a divine reward.

Finally, the third question is: do you maintain that your political platform is a flawless rendering of the precepts of Islam?

The answer should be no. The Qur’an attests to the fact that humankind, granted worldly power, is prone to error and corruption: “[Humankind is liable to] break the covenant of God after ratifying it, and sever that which God ordered to be joined, and make mischief in the earth” (2:27). Islam, for its part, is innocent of the errors of those who presume to interpret or apply it. Because it is hubristic and suspect to suggest that someone is without flaw, it is equally hubristic and suspect to claim to speak in the name of Islam.

Moreover, to claim to speak in the name of Islam is to assert superiority over other political platforms — a position that leads to totalitarianism.

Islam, as I understand it, demands that humankind negotiate over difference and govern consensually. There are no modern-day prophets or rightly-guided caliphs. We must endeavour to collaborate in healing our region and the world as best we can.


Mustafa Husayn Abu Rumman is the imam of the Ibn Sinan mosque in Amman, Jordan.

A version of this article was published by the Common Ground News Service on September 20, 2011. Copyright permission is granted for publication.

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Sari Nusseibeh Discovers God in Cambodia

by Nancy Rosenbaum, producer

巴戎寺 / Bayon TempleBayon Temple in Angkor Thom, Cambodia (photo: Ran Phang/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Palestinian philosopher Sari Nusseibeh comes from one of the oldest families on record in Jerusalem. His Muslim ancestors have been in the Holy Land since at least the seventh century. Earlier this year, Nusseibeh traveled to Cambodia where he glimpsed inside another ancient civilization. And it was there, as he tells it in the audio link above, that he had an epiphany about God:

"One thing that struck me was the four faces in many of the gates that were on those temples of Buddha. I was asking the guide what they stood for. He said, "Care, compassion, charity, and equality are the four faces of Buddha in those temples. And as he said them I just felt, to me, this is God. And I’m not a Buddhist."

Listen to more of our interview with Sari Nusseibeh in this week’s show, "The Evolution of Change."

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Eid Mubarak, But When?
by Nancy Rosenbaum, producer
Celebratory preparations are underway for Eid ul-Fitr, a multi-day festival that marks the end of Ramadan. Eid ul-Fitr (also known as Eid al-Fitr) officially begins with the sighting of the new crescent moon. There’s been controversy and confusion leading up to this year’s Eid festivities about when the holiday starts. Some countries like India and Pakistan won’t see a new moon until Wednesday, August 31st while stargazers in North and South America, Europe, and the Middle East will be able to see the sliver of a crescent moon on Tuesday, August 30th. The Saudi Supreme Court made a late-breaking decision that Eid will begin on Tuesday. According to The Washington Post, it’s customary for many countries to follow Saudi Arabia’s example as it’s home to Mecca, Islam’s holiest city. 
Are you celebrating Eid ul-Fitr this year? What do you have planned for your Eid celebration?
About the image: a Thai Muslim man uses binoculars to spot the moon on the eve of the end of the fasting month of Ramadan in Thailand’s southern province of Yala on August 29, 2011. (photo: Muhammad Sabri/AFP/Getty Images)
Eid Mubarak, But When?
by Nancy Rosenbaum, producer
Celebratory preparations are underway for Eid ul-Fitr, a multi-day festival that marks the end of Ramadan. Eid ul-Fitr (also known as Eid al-Fitr) officially begins with the sighting of the new crescent moon. There’s been controversy and confusion leading up to this year’s Eid festivities about when the holiday starts. Some countries like India and Pakistan won’t see a new moon until Wednesday, August 31st while stargazers in North and South America, Europe, and the Middle East will be able to see the sliver of a crescent moon on Tuesday, August 30th. The Saudi Supreme Court made a late-breaking decision that Eid will begin on Tuesday. According to The Washington Post, it’s customary for many countries to follow Saudi Arabia’s example as it’s home to Mecca, Islam’s holiest city. 
Are you celebrating Eid ul-Fitr this year? What do you have planned for your Eid celebration?
About the image: a Thai Muslim man uses binoculars to spot the moon on the eve of the end of the fasting month of Ramadan in Thailand’s southern province of Yala on August 29, 2011. (photo: Muhammad Sabri/AFP/Getty Images)

Eid Mubarak, But When?

by Nancy Rosenbaum, producer

Celebratory preparations are underway for Eid ul-Fitr, a multi-day festival that marks the end of Ramadan. Eid ul-Fitr (also known as Eid al-Fitr) officially begins with the sighting of the new crescent moon. There’s been controversy and confusion leading up to this year’s Eid festivities about when the holiday starts. Some countries like India and Pakistan won’t see a new moon until Wednesday, August 31st while stargazers in North and South America, Europe, and the Middle East will be able to see the sliver of a crescent moon on Tuesday, August 30th. The Saudi Supreme Court made a late-breaking decision that Eid will begin on Tuesday. According to The Washington Post, it’s customary for many countries to follow Saudi Arabia’s example as it’s home to Mecca, Islam’s holiest city. 

Are you celebrating Eid ul-Fitr this year? What do you have planned for your Eid celebration?

About the image: a Thai Muslim man uses binoculars to spot the moon on the eve of the end of the fasting month of Ramadan in Thailand’s southern province of Yala on August 29, 2011. (photo: Muhammad Sabri/AFP/Getty Images)

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A Poster Appropriate for Ramadan Learning
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
This poster for the course ”Exploring the Treasures of Ramadhan” from the Cambridge Islamic Science Seminars is beautifully constructed, don’t you think? I love the way the colors and calligraphy are fused with contemporary typography and layout. They eye wants to meander about for awhile.
Oh, and by the slim chance that any one of you who’s reading this post actually attended this seminar, would you mind sharing your experience of Dr. Nadwi’s presentation? Leave a comment here if you feel comfortable, or feel free to email me at tgilliss@onbeing.org.
Image courtesy of the Cambridge Islamic Sciences Seminars.
A Poster Appropriate for Ramadan Learning
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
This poster for the course ”Exploring the Treasures of Ramadhan” from the Cambridge Islamic Science Seminars is beautifully constructed, don’t you think? I love the way the colors and calligraphy are fused with contemporary typography and layout. They eye wants to meander about for awhile.
Oh, and by the slim chance that any one of you who’s reading this post actually attended this seminar, would you mind sharing your experience of Dr. Nadwi’s presentation? Leave a comment here if you feel comfortable, or feel free to email me at tgilliss@onbeing.org.
Image courtesy of the Cambridge Islamic Sciences Seminars.

A Poster Appropriate for Ramadan Learning

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

This poster for the course ”Exploring the Treasures of Ramadhan” from the Cambridge Islamic Science Seminars is beautifully constructed, don’t you think? I love the way the colors and calligraphy are fused with contemporary typography and layout. They eye wants to meander about for awhile.

Oh, and by the slim chance that any one of you who’s reading this post actually attended this seminar, would you mind sharing your experience of Dr. Nadwi’s presentation? Leave a comment here if you feel comfortable, or feel free to email me at tgilliss@onbeing.org.

Image courtesy of the Cambridge Islamic Sciences Seminars.

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I have lived and worked in Dearborn, Michigan for 14 years. We have one of the largest Muslim populations outside of the Middle East. Come to my city and meet my friends. You will find yourself surrounded by peaceful, loving, and tolerant people, many of whom also happen to be Muslim. I wouldn’t want to raise my kids anywhere else.
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Janet HughesJanet Hughes left this poignant comment on our Facebook page in response to our recent post on the varied voices of Muslims.

~Trent Gilliss, senior editor

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The Triumph of Ramadan: The Many Stories and Many Faces of Muslim Identity
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Two years ago I had the privilege of interviewing three dozen people for an online project we were calling “Expressions of Muslim Identity.” It was a single phrase that sparked this initiative: "the Muslim world." This three-word bit of shorthand was — and still is — being used by television reporters and newspaper columnists, bloggers and foreign correspondents, and it was even creeping into drafts of our production scripts.
But how could this phrase possibly be applied to more than a billion Muslims living in all cultures and segments of society — from Indonesia to Saudi Arabia, from Turkey to the United States and Canada? When we journalists repeatedly employ this phrase into our scripts and our copy, how do we homogenize this diverse group of people and create a monolithic bloc with erased faces? 
So we aimed to change the conversation — for ourselves and for our audiences — by directly appealing to Muslims. We asked them to respond to these questions:
What does “being Muslim” mean to you?
What do you find beautiful about Islam?
How does it find expression in your daily life?
What hopes, questions, and concerns are on your mind as you ponder the future of your tradition?
We received hundreds of eloquent responses and selected more than 30 people to interview. What was meant to be an online-only project quickly morphed into a radio an podcast production. Our intent was to craft one hour of radio to be called "Living Islam," but, once we started listening to all these voices, we realized that almost every Muslim offered an unsolicited story about Ramadan.
With all these wonderful memories of fasting and prayer and family, we decided to create a second hour of radio featuring the voices of 14 Muslims. Even then, we were still discarding more than double that number of poignant stories about Ramadan, so we created a special podcast that was promoted by iTunes: 30 voices in 30 days, one voice for each day of Ramadan. “Revealing Ramadan” was the result, and I couldn’t be prouder.
Give it a listen and share with your friends. Whether you know a little or a lot about this holiest month, you’ll be moved and reminded of the distinct character of the many Muslims who observe Ramadan. They will delight and surprise you, and paint a self-portrait of what it means to be Muslim in their own words.
About the image: Mushda Ali, a young Bangladeshi Muslim artist, posted this self portrait on Flickr with this line from Flavia Weedn: “If one dream should fall and break into a thousand pieces, never be afraid to pick one of those pieces up and begin again.”
The Triumph of Ramadan: The Many Stories and Many Faces of Muslim Identity
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Two years ago I had the privilege of interviewing three dozen people for an online project we were calling “Expressions of Muslim Identity.” It was a single phrase that sparked this initiative: "the Muslim world." This three-word bit of shorthand was — and still is — being used by television reporters and newspaper columnists, bloggers and foreign correspondents, and it was even creeping into drafts of our production scripts.
But how could this phrase possibly be applied to more than a billion Muslims living in all cultures and segments of society — from Indonesia to Saudi Arabia, from Turkey to the United States and Canada? When we journalists repeatedly employ this phrase into our scripts and our copy, how do we homogenize this diverse group of people and create a monolithic bloc with erased faces? 
So we aimed to change the conversation — for ourselves and for our audiences — by directly appealing to Muslims. We asked them to respond to these questions:
What does “being Muslim” mean to you?
What do you find beautiful about Islam?
How does it find expression in your daily life?
What hopes, questions, and concerns are on your mind as you ponder the future of your tradition?
We received hundreds of eloquent responses and selected more than 30 people to interview. What was meant to be an online-only project quickly morphed into a radio an podcast production. Our intent was to craft one hour of radio to be called "Living Islam," but, once we started listening to all these voices, we realized that almost every Muslim offered an unsolicited story about Ramadan.
With all these wonderful memories of fasting and prayer and family, we decided to create a second hour of radio featuring the voices of 14 Muslims. Even then, we were still discarding more than double that number of poignant stories about Ramadan, so we created a special podcast that was promoted by iTunes: 30 voices in 30 days, one voice for each day of Ramadan. “Revealing Ramadan” was the result, and I couldn’t be prouder.
Give it a listen and share with your friends. Whether you know a little or a lot about this holiest month, you’ll be moved and reminded of the distinct character of the many Muslims who observe Ramadan. They will delight and surprise you, and paint a self-portrait of what it means to be Muslim in their own words.
About the image: Mushda Ali, a young Bangladeshi Muslim artist, posted this self portrait on Flickr with this line from Flavia Weedn: “If one dream should fall and break into a thousand pieces, never be afraid to pick one of those pieces up and begin again.”

The Triumph of Ramadan: The Many Stories and Many Faces of Muslim Identity

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Two years ago I had the privilege of interviewing three dozen people for an online project we were calling “Expressions of Muslim Identity.” It was a single phrase that sparked this initiative: "the Muslim world." This three-word bit of shorthand was — and still is — being used by television reporters and newspaper columnists, bloggers and foreign correspondents, and it was even creeping into drafts of our production scripts.

But how could this phrase possibly be applied to more than a billion Muslims living in all cultures and segments of society — from Indonesia to Saudi Arabia, from Turkey to the United States and Canada? When we journalists repeatedly employ this phrase into our scripts and our copy, how do we homogenize this diverse group of people and create a monolithic bloc with erased faces? 

So we aimed to change the conversation — for ourselves and for our audiences — by directly appealing to Muslims. We asked them to respond to these questions:

  • What does “being Muslim” mean to you?
  • What do you find beautiful about Islam?
  • How does it find expression in your daily life?
  • What hopes, questions, and concerns are on your mind as you ponder the future of your tradition?

We received hundreds of eloquent responses and selected more than 30 people to interview. What was meant to be an online-only project quickly morphed into a radio an podcast production. Our intent was to craft one hour of radio to be called "Living Islam," but, once we started listening to all these voices, we realized that almost every Muslim offered an unsolicited story about Ramadan.

With all these wonderful memories of fasting and prayer and family, we decided to create a second hour of radio featuring the voices of 14 Muslims. Even then, we were still discarding more than double that number of poignant stories about Ramadan, so we created a special podcast that was promoted by iTunes: 30 voices in 30 days, one voice for each day of Ramadan. “Revealing Ramadan” was the result, and I couldn’t be prouder.

Give it a listen and share with your friends. Whether you know a little or a lot about this holiest month, you’ll be moved and reminded of the distinct character of the many Muslims who observe Ramadan. They will delight and surprise you, and paint a self-portrait of what it means to be Muslim in their own words.

About the image: Mushda Ali, a young Bangladeshi Muslim artist, posted this self portrait on Flickr with this line from Flavia Weedn: “If one dream should fall and break into a thousand pieces, never be afraid to pick one of those pieces up and begin again.”

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Ramadan 2011: The Blessings of a 16-Hour Fast and Mahmoud Darwish’s Poetry

by Ayman Amer, guest contributor

Happy Ramadan(photo: Mohammad Khedmati/Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Ramadan this year starts Monday, August 1st. Every year it comes 11 days earlier because Muslims follow a lunar calendar. A lunar year is only 355 days long. So my Ramadan comes sometimes in super freezing Iowa winters and sometimes in hyper sizzling hot and humid summers.

When Ramadan comes in winter. It is easy to fast. Sunrise to sunset is a very short day. When it comes in summer, like this year, oh God helps us. Dawn is about 4:30 a.m. and sundown in Cedar Rapids is about 8:30 p.m. A sixteen-hour fasting day.

But I gladly fast. I am used to it. As Jane Gross said, “We became who we are when we were ten years old.” I started fasting when I was ten. Fasting makes me feel close to Allah. I really feel closest to Allah just as the call for maghrib, or sunset prayers, is heard — just before I take a sip of water and eat one or two dates, as is the tradition.

When I am not working late in a Ramadan afternoon, I read Qur’an in the last hour before maghrib. I feel so light, so alive, astonishingly spiritually energized. A day of fasting washes me inside and out. I make a deliberate tough choice, and I stick with it. I feel blessed with food and drink when I eat a simple meal because there are so many in the world who have no food and or are in a drought. I feel blessed that God taught me how to feel like them and live like them, but I do so by choice. Millions do not have that choice.

At the end of the month of Ramadan, our fasting is not acceptable if we do not offer the obligatory zakat, food for the poor. I remember the words of Mahmoud Darwish, the Palestinian poet:

As you prepare your breakfast — think of others. 
Don’t forget to feed the pigeons. 
As you conduct your wars — think of others.
Don’t forget those who want peace.
As you pay your water bill — think of others. 
Think of those who have only the clouds to drink from. 
As you go home, your own home — think of others — don’t forget those who live in tents.
As you sleep and count the stars, think of others — there are people who have no place to sleep.
As you liberate yourself with metaphors think of others — those who have lost their right to speak.
And as you think of distant others — think of yourself and say “I wish I were a candle in the darkness.”


Ayman Amer

Ayman Amer is an associate professor of Economics at Mount Mercy University in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

We welcome your original reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on the Being Blog. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.

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How Aida Refugee Camp Got Its Name

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Kholoud Al Ajarma(photo: Trent Gilliss)

We met Kholoud Al Ajarma, a Palestinian woman who coordinates the arts and media activities for the Lajee Center, while conducting interviews within Aida refugee camp in the West Bank city of Bethlehem this past March. What a gift to meet her and take her photo, along with many others while working there.

Members of our staff all had different ideas about where she acquired her marvelous English accent; we were all wrong. But now we know. Maybe you’d like to guess? Listen to the audio clip above from this week’s show in which Kholoud tells a charming story about how Aida camp got its name. Submit a comment here, and I’ll post the answer shortly.

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Will Muslim Women Feel at Home in Their Home Country of France?

by Anna Mansson McGinty, special contributor

Muslim Women Stroll Down the Champs ElyseesMuslim men and women stroll down the Champs-Élysées in Paris. (photo: Archibald Ballantine/Flickr, cc by 2.0)

"Of course, I’m at home (laughter). Who else’s (country) am I in? I feel at home. I have my family here, we live, we eat, we cry, we laugh, we suffer, we don’t suffer. Some people are pleasant, some insult us. But truthfully, the day the law will be (implemented), I’ll no longer feel at home."
—Camile, Paris

Camile is one of the Muslim women interviewed in "Unveiling the Truth: Why 32 Muslim Women Wear the Full-face Veil in France," a report written as part of the “At Home in Europe Project” of the Open Society Foundations. The report was released in April, as the ban on the covering of the face, such as with the niqab or burqa, went into effect on April 11.

The law has been fiercely debated since the French National Assembly voted in favor of it (336-1) in July 2010, six years after the banning of conspicuous religious symbols in French public schools. The ban makes it illegal to wear any face covering in public spaces in France, and thus, from the perspectives of the opponents of the law, a religious act and symbol has been criminalized. France, with an estimated 6-7 million Muslims, is the first European country to make it illegal. Belgium and the Netherlands may soon follow suit.

The “burqa ban” and its current popularity in Europe raise several questions pertaining to religious expressions in public, freedom of expression, the future of Islam, and the growing Muslim population in Europe, but also, as the quote of Camile points to, national identity and citizenship. The ban rests on the salient notion of French secularism, laïcité, the separation of church and state and the division between private life and public sphere.

Laïcité requires that in order for the state to secure the equality of all citizens, these individuals have to present themselves as free from religion. Consequently, the notion of laïcité, together with a prevalent public discourse of Islam and Muslims as the ultimate “other” incompatible with “French values,” has made Muslims, who publicly display their religious affiliation, the target and object of scrutiny. In effect, a woman who does not abide by the law could be fined up to €150, and in some cases be required to take citizenship classes.

But why this urgent and intense focus on Muslim women’s garments? The relationship of the West to the veil and Islamic dress code is a complex political and social phenomenon, with a long history, suggesting several interrelated factors at play. Considering the very small number of women in France who wear the full-face veil (estimates range from 400-2000), one wonders if this is, as the proponents argue, an effective means to combat Islamic extremism and enhance integration. In which ways can policies prohibiting certain attire promote the preservation of “French culture” as well as the assimilation of Muslim immigrants into the French mainstream?

This kind of state regulation and control over certain gendered and religious (as well as political) bodies demonstrates the symbolic meaning and weight a national community can place on women’s dress and conduct in public, as women represent, in Cynthia Enloe’s words, “nationalist wombs;” they are not only bearers of the future generation, but also the ones transmitting the nation’s culture and values from one generation to the next.

Furthermore, it is hard not to make historical parallels to colonial times in places such as Egypt and Algeria where the “veil” and “the Muslim woman” became the battlefield between the anti-veil colonialists and the native, national liberation movement. Similar to the colonial politics of the veil and the discourse of “saving the Muslim woman” from her oppressive and traditional man and religion, French president Nicolas Sarkozy uses “feminist” rhetoric arguing for Muslim women’s dignity and equality in the French Republic. Interestingly, 10 of the 32 women interviewed in the report indicated that they had started to wear the niqab as a protest to the ban.

In response to the ban, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, which makes recommendations on human rights issues, passed a resolution that emphasizes “freedom of thought, conscience and religion while combating religious intolerance and discrimination,” urging EU countries to protect women’s “free choice to wear religious or special clothing.” While perhaps not representative, the many personal experiences and testimonies of Muslim women featured in the report “Unveiling the Truth” resonate with this declaration.

To the proponents of the ban, the face veil symbolizes the most extreme version of Islam and poses a threat to national culture and secularism, but the women who claim to have chosen to wear the face veil, speak of the niqab as part of a spiritual journey, as reflecting a deepened relationship with God and the desire to follow the actions of the prophet Mohammad’s wives for guidance. The question now is how and to what extent the ban is going to be implemented, the social and political implications of it, and whether some of these women, such as Camile, will ever feel at home in their own home country.

References in This Article


Anna Mansson McGintyAnna Mansson McGinty is Assistant Professor of Geography and Women’s Studies at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She is the author of Becoming Muslim: Western Women’s Conversions to Islam.

This article is reprinted with permission of Sightings from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.

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