Is There Such a Thing as “The Muslim World”?
Trent Gilliss, online editor
We’ve begun a new First Person initiative asking Muslims to share their perspectives for a project we’ll be working on during the coming months. We pay a lot of attention to the wording and phrasing of invitations like this because we want it to be generous and open-ended but maintain a focus. We also want to do something special, something inherent to the sensibilities of Speaking of Faith.
For this call-out, the phrase “the Muslim world” came up in initial drafts — which made me uneasy because of the broad brush implications. This article from Foreign Policy reminded me of why I became uncomfortable when the phrase was suggested:
To see the trouble with the term “Muslim world,” one needs only to try and define it. Who is included in the Muslim world? What countries — or individuals — make the cut, and who defines it?
“Muslim world” unfairly and singularly assigns adherents of Islam into a figurative ghetto. And particularly in the post-September 11, this relegation carries a real moral hazard: By lumping together extremists, secularists, and everyone in between, the term “Muslim world” legitimizes the idea that all of the group’s members are locked in deadly conflict with the non-Islamic world.
If you are Muslim, we’d like to understand more about the complexity and diversity of your personal and cultural expression of Muslim identity. What does being Muslim mean to you? What do you find beautiful about Islam and how does this find expression in your daily life? What hopes questions and fears are on your mind as you ponder the future of your tradition? Share your stories and images with us.
Giving Voice to These Acts of Remembering
Trent Gilliss, Online Editor
A few days ago, I was an emotional mess. I was touched
at by the compassion and heart-wrenching stories I was reading. I’m the better for reading them. These are the shared stories about Alzheimer’s experiences from our radio and online audiences. But, then I’m faced with the question: What do we do with this repository of knowledge, with all these magnificent life stories?
Our first step was to create an interface that provides more context — in this case a dynamic map showcasing these acts of remembering. For this “mash-up” we used Google maps, Flickr images, an internally developed application (thanks Dickens!), and our Web site. We gain a greater sense of these authors and their relation to others geographically, including pull quotes and images and age and religious affiliation. And then you can delve deeper by reading each individual essay and viewing larger images.
But the danger is that one can feel lost, even overwhelmed by all these stories, and not no where to begin. We moderate and copy edit most of comments, reflections, and stories online; we like to maintain a safe space where people can feel a sense of trust and share things they wouldn’t in other online forums. The other advantage is that we read everything that comes our way. So, I had to ask myself, “Why not use that curatorial role to highlight particularly moving stories?” So I started tweeting and posting quotes to our Facebook page. For those of you who only read SOF Observed, I thought I’d share them with you:
Madeline Miller: “I hold that advice dear and try to have lots of picnics or just live in a picnic-like way…”
Diana Carson: On a moment between her grandfather — who had Alzheimer’s — and her grandmother: “I don’t know who you are, but … I have loved you for a long time.”
Deborah Jaeger: On working with her father who has Alzheimer’s, “The most difficult aspect of taking care of my father is that we are invisible to others.”
Lea Mathieu: Reflecting on the change in her mother who died of Alzheimer’s, “I do not hope for grace and forgiveness in the future — everyone I meet knows I love them now,”
And from this call-out, we found an unexpected voice in Alan Dienstag, who submitted his own suggestions.
A few years earlier, Krista had interviewed two people for a potential show on Alzheimer’s. The interviews went really well, but we wanted our first foray into this topic to speak to something larger, more personal, more universal — and we needed a voice that could create that space.
Alan Dienstag wasn’t on our radar. We hadn’t heard of him, but Krista asked one of our producers to follow up and ask if he had any recommendations (a scenario similar to our encounter with Patrick Bellegarde-Smith). In talking to him, we realized he was our voice. The result: “Alzheimer’s, Memory, and Being.”
We take great pride in being open to possibilities and sources that aren’t part of our Rolodex, so to speak. And, we hope to discover more stories that give greater meaning to all these topics we cover over the years. In the meanwhile, we’re ready to include more.
Hard Times, Hard Times (Come Again No More)
Kate Moos, Managing Producer
In 1934, on August 16th my mother, Marva Maxwell, turned 18. She had graduated at the top of her class at Sacred Heart High School. That was the public high school in Sacred Heart, Minnesota, in the western, sugar beet-growing part of the state, where her father grew crops for feed and raised beef cattle.
My mom had saved money up in order to attend college a hundred miles north and east of her home town at the Normal School for teacher training at St. Cloud, a little burg on the side of the Mississippi River. She had made money over the years candling and selling eggs and walking beans. If my memory preserves her story accurately, in August of 1934, with her whole life in front of her, she had 200 dollars in the bank, and a scholarship to college. Then the bank closed. It had already been hard times. Now times had gotten worse.
I heard her tell this cautionary tale hundreds, if not thousands, of times over the course of my childhood: when it was time for school to start her father drove her to St. Cloud, dropped her off at the residence hall, Schumacher (which she would later get kicked out of for smoking), and handed her a $20 bill: “I hope everything works out for you here,” he told her, “because we don’t have anything much for you back home on the farm.”
Years later, during World War II, my mother took the train to San Diego and Camp Pendleton where my father was assigned as a Navy dentist, with her first child in tow. They sucked on malt tablets (not the candy but a nutritional supplement) to keep their hunger pangs at bay. From this era of her life came the stories of butter and sugar and gas rationing, and of living off-base in a house where precious avocados and oranges grew on trees in the backyard where she could gather the windfall for lunch.
These stories explain things about my mom — and others of her generation. Like why she always had 6 cans of 12 varieties of Campbell’s soup in the basement pantry at any given moment, and if the supply fell lower than that it was immediately replenished. This was the generation that came home from the world’s greatest war and never threw away another piece of string or aluminum foil so long as they lived.
We want to believe that hardship will ennoble us and teach us virtue, without robbing us of the aptitude for joy, or making us mean and peevish. In reality, sainthood is a by-product of adversity only for a few. The rest of us struggle through, managing a little generosity here with a large dose of self-interest there.
I think often of my parents’ generation as the uncertainty of the global economy continues to roil and brew. I am not worried so much about our generation’s ability to survive hardship in the sense of giving stuff up and doing without. But I worry quite a lot about our ability to live with uncertainty.
What my mother really gave up as she stepped away from her father’s car as he left her at college, or rode the train pell mell to a California she had never even dreamed of, was her sense of control over the future: that she knew what was coming next — and could count on it.
I’m pretty sure I don’t know what will happen next, and it makes me jumpy. I take comfort in my usual sources of sanity: work, yoga, my family and friends. At SOF we’re starting to dig hard into some of the questions that come up for us personally. We’d love your help:
For starters, in what way(s) do you consider this a moral or spiritual crisis? Of your own? Of our culture’s?
What moral and spiritual resources, what virtues, do you bring to approaching it — in your own life, with colleagues at work, in your family, in your religious or other community settings? What are you doing now that is different? How is it different, and why?
What kind of wisdom and leadership are you looking for at this time, close to your life? Where are you finding it?
In addition to posting and collating your responses, we’ll be reflecting on these questions in our production process and our blog and posing them to wise thinkers in the realms of business, education, philosophy, science, and religion.
(photo courtesy of the Boston Public Library)