Tuesday, February 21, 2006
  Back from Toronto...
...and with so many thoughts -- from the trivial, God I love kilometers, when you're driving they pass by so quickly, to the excitement about the potential significance of the weekend's events, to amazement at the speech the mufti gave, to distress over news that journalists are being arrested in various Muslim countries for "insulting" Islam, etc, etc, etc.

To start -- the prayers were awesome. A crowd of about 50 people turned out (I was pleased that so many came out for the event given the short notice, the fact that they were held in a restaurant rather than a masjid, the fact that they were combined with a press conference, the concurrent demonstration against the cartoons, and the incredibly cold weather.)

The press conference was first (more on this later). Then one of my daughters, Saara, gave the adhan. I cannot begin to tell you how I felt at that --the pride in the strength of her sweet, young voice; the joy that she's able to do this as a young woman and that she was able to experience it as completely natural, not some rebellious, sinful act, the empowerment of that act! and at such a young age; the sadness of knowing that so many other girls must surely know the adhan as Saara and Ameera do, but most likely will never have the opportunity to call their community to prayer; the surety that God could not possibly see anything wrong with one of his believers calling the rest of his believers to prayer; the sheer joy at seeing a young woman able to live up to the notion that a woman can do anything she puts her mind to.

As for the prayers themselves... I was much less nervous and distracted than I was the first time around. The mufti was directly behind me, but he was such a down to earth person I didn't feel nervous at all. The energy in the room was spectacular again -- so many different sorts of people coming together to pray together -- comrades of spirit. I recited the same surah (Surah Tin) I did in the first prayers, and did not mess it up. And also one of my favorites, Surah Nas -- which asks for protection from the evil ones who whisper in our hearts. I love this surah because it has so many different meanings -- ones who whisper temptations into our hearts, or doubts, or fears, or vain desires. Every time I recite it, it means something a bit different to me. I hope that it holds such a richness of meaning for an entire congregation -- that it can reach out and touch each individual in its own way, while still uniting us all in seeking the embrace of our Lord.

I was asked to make a du'a at the end, and explained to those gathered that some people considered it sunnah for group supplication to be made, and we would do that. I swear, I don't know whether I'm a total imbecil at offerring spontaneous public dua, or absolutely brilliant. My friend, El-Farouk seems to think the latter, but somehow I feel the former. I certainly can understand why so many imam's seek refuge in stock dua's -- it's far safer than allowing your brain to take off in its own direction.

At any rate, parts of the dua I made were very much near and dear to my soul -- I asked for God's blessing on the people in the congregation and those who couldn't be with us, for His protection for the cartoonists from the extremists who threatened their lives, for His blessings on the Danes -- muslim and non-muslim -- whose livelihood's had suffered although they had nothing to do with the cartoons or their publication, for His blessing on those in Nigeria and Pakistan who had lost their loved ones to this madness, for the young, and the old, for men and women and the transgendered, for all humanity.

That last bit is what I mean about letting one's brain go of on its own tangets... Now, I do pray for God's blessing on transgendered folks -- they are as much God's creation as anyone, and a part of creation that has to suffer far greater trial than many of us. But it was definately a bit odd to have put it in the dua in this manner. I just suddenly thought of Michaela who I met at WisCon (a feminist science fiction conference) a couple years ago, and how she might feel excluded by a dua asking for blessings on men and women, and decided to include transgenered people in my prayers. So there it was. Last time around, things went a bit off the deep-end in a similar way. But as the duas were both well received, with strong "ameens" throughout, so I suppose I should look upon it as God guiding my tongue in unorthodox directions.

Indeed, the amazing thing is that no one batted an eye, the "ameens" were just as strong for that one as for the other parts of the supplication. What an incredible congregation, eh!

As for the mufti, he gave a truly inspiring speech during the press conference. Some of the most salient points... the violence over the cartoons stem from an ignorance of Islam and of freedom of speech. Violence over drawings is just not according to the precepts of Islam, and the Prophet's way was lenient and forgiving. Nothing groundbreaking there, but something that bears repeating time and time again.

One of the points that I found most exciting was the idea of sunnah. Is it, he asked, sunnah to do precisely what the Prophet did -- or is it sunnah to follow the way of the Prophet in a deeper, more methodological manner? So, for instance, does the fact that the Prophet wore a beard and a turban mean people today should? No. The Prophet's companions wore turbans and beards. And the Prophet's enemies wore turbans and beards. That's what men did in that society. The Prophet followed the traditions of his people -- he wore what they wore, kept his hair as they did, not distinguishing or marginalizing himself by making himself look different from his peers. So, if we want to follow the sunnah, we should, in fact, keep to the conventions of the culture we are in - not separate ourselves out and marginalize ourselves. This is, of course, what I've believed for a long time -- that we should follow the methodology of the Prophet, not the details of his culture.

Another excellent point was about evolution and staticism within Islam. A lot of folks would like to see a return to an Islamic ideal based upon the Prophet's life back in the early 600s. But, the mufti said, the Qur'an shows evidence of evolution even during the Prophet's lifetime -- the legislation changed, the focus changed, etc. Can we then say that Islam is never supposed to evolve as society evolves? No, the precedent set is that religion continues to evolve along with society. A profound and empowering concept if ever there were one, especially given the current climate where so many Muslims seem to believe that the highest expression of piety is to follow the Prophet in the minutest way. This position has been accepted with regards to slavery; the Qur'an clearly works towards ending slavery, but it does not outright outlaw it, and yet most people would agree that slavery is totally un-Islamic. One can hope that it gains popularity with regards to women's issues -- the Qur'an clearly points to strict egalitarianism, while still being pragmatic about the cultural background of the Prophet's society.

He also pointed out that the Prophet didn't exclude anyone - the preached to the poor, the slave, the outcast, to women and children, to prostitutes and wealthy merchants alike. In many mosques, people are not welcome if they don't fit a certain mold -- but the mufti said he wanted to be the imam for those people -- the outcast, the homosexuals, the women who were pushed into back rooms and balconies elsewhere, drinkers and drug addicts, and so on -- the people who others shunned -- he wanted to encourage them all to seek the face of their Lord.

Anyway, the event was a great success. It was wonderful to see my new/old friends again. Hopefully we will be able to leverage the statement the mufti made by praying behind a woman, and the status that he can wield as a male, arab, scholar educated at Al-Azhar, to move the gender jihad a few more miles down the road.
I think I need the surah you recited, Pamela! Is it allowed to post it?
The Surah is the final one of the Qur'an -- Surah Nas. I give you my own translation as the existing ones seem to have a variety of problems...

1) Say: I seek refuge with the Sustainer of mankind,

2) The Sovereign of mankind,

3) The God of mankind,

4) From the evil of the sneaking whisperer

5) Who whispers into the hearts of mankind --

6) the jinn and mankind
Surah Tin, again my own off the cuff translation...

1) By the Fig and the Olive
2) By Mount Sinai
3) By this land of safety
4) Surely We have created mankind in the best mold
5) And then We reduced him to the lowest of low
6) Except for those who have faith and do good, and for them will be unstinting reward
7) What part of this faith would you deny?
8) Is not God the most wise of judges?

I always take comfort in these verses too -- surely mankind is indeed capable of the most sublime acts of altruism and beauty, and the most degraded acts of cruelty and injustice, but it is the sublime that has been created first (and foremost) as humankind's nature. Whenever I feel hopeless in the face of the countless evils we are dealing with in the world today, I come back to this verse and remember that good is always its own reward.
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Location: Cincinnati, Ohio, United States

Progressive Muslim, feminist, mom, writer, mystic, lover of the universe and Doug Schmidt, cellist, theologian and imam.

What I'm reading now

Cane River
An interesting exploration of the gradual whiting of a family through slavery to modern days.

To see an archive of all the books I've read (well the ones I've read and review since I started the blog) with comments, please click here

Causes Worth Supporting

This is just a short list -- a few of my favorites.

English Language Islamic Fiction. We need more of it. Lots more.
Pay a Teacher's Salary in Afghanistan. The Hunger site actually has a lot of worthwhile programs. You can find them all here .
Muslims for Progressive Values. My organization. We can always use donations, of time or money!
Human Rights Campaign for the glbt community
National Religious Campaign Against Torture
The ACLU I'm a card carrying member. Hope you'll become one too.
MoveOn.org. The organization that has done the most, as far as I can tell, to pull the countries progressive side together.
Network of Spiritual Progressives. Working to reclaim religion and morality for the religious left.

Blogs Worth Reading

Wanda Campbell also known as Nochipa A very gifted poet and a gentle, compassionate soul. Nochipa and I are on the same page on sooooo many things
Writeous Sister Aminah Hernandez, she's got some excellent latino pieces and always has good writing info on her blog.
Sister Scorpion aka Leila Montour - Leila is a fount of energy, quirky humor, and bad attitude. She's also a talented poet.
Muhajabah Very interesting commentary here. I don't always agree with her, but her pieces are always thought-provoking.
Georgie Dowdell Georgie is a great writer and a good friend.
Louise Marley Another great writer. I think Louise is one of the best sf writers exploring faith themes.
Ink in My Coffee Devon Ellington (who has numerous aliases) who is also the editor of Circadian Poems. A truly inspiring woman with a seemingly endless supply of energy.
Ethnically Incorrect With a name like that, isn't a given I'm going to enjoy this writer?
Freedom from the Mundane Colin Galbraith, another excellent writer, from Scotland.
The Scruffy Dog Review This is a new e-zine with an ecclectic mix of fiction, poetry, and non-fic, some really enjoyable pieces here.
Ramblings of a Suburban Soccer Mom Lara, another gentle soul, very thoughtful.
Circadian Poems A journal of poetry, new stuff up all the time.
Ye Olde Inkwell Michelle writes romance and is one of my writing buddies.
Muhammad Michael Knight The original punk Muslim writer. Like him or love him, Mike is always coming up with the unexpected.

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