Tuesday, February 27, 2007
  International Woman's Day Juma
International Woman's Day is this week, and in honor of the occassion, I have been invited by the Canadian Muslim Union to officiate at another juma in Toronto.

Event Details:
DATE: Friday, March 9, 2007
TIME: 1:20 PM
PLACE: Steelworker’s Hall
25 Cecil Street, Toronto
(1 block south of College between
University and Spadina)

For more information:
Visit muslimunion.ca or iwdtoronto.com
Email secretary@muslimunion.ca

I'm also going to be speaking at the Univeristy of Toronto, Saturday March 10th. I'll be talking about how authoritarian/totalitarian trends intersect with conservative/fundamentalist tought to create a morass for women. More details as they become available.
Monday, February 26, 2007
  Eight Planets
Today my youngest was looking at a diagram of the solar system which included Ceres, Eris, and (now demoted) Pluto.

"Mom," she asked, "Are there eleven planets?"

"No, honey," I replied. "There are....eight planets."

Took me about three seconds to come out with that one. I think it's the first time I've had a practical application of the new count of the planetary system. Of course, nine naturally came to mind first.

Whew. It sure is weird when "facts" you learned are no longer "the facts."
Sunday, February 25, 2007
  Fiction Mirroring Life

In case you were wondering why my stories often have fuzzy, cuddly aliens in them...

Unfortunately, I think typing around a cat is probably a good way to give oneself carpal tunnel syndrome... it certainly puts your wrist at an odd, stressful angle.

However, I've yet to have the heart to make my baby (Narvik) get up and sleep on my feet instead of my lap. Maybe that explains why my heroines are always nice to those fuzzy, cuddly aliens...
Saturday, February 24, 2007
  The Hand of God
I tend to be the sort of person who looks very skeptically on people who claim to see the Hand of God at work in their own lives. It seems only one step from saying, "God wanted me to be a..." (insert profession) to the trucker who believed God wanted him to cut off his right hand, or Andrea Yates who said that God had told her to kill her children.

I tend to think, rather sarcastically, "How do you know that the difficulties you're having at med school means He doesn't want you to be a doctor after all? Maybe it means He wants you to prove your dedication to it." Or that just because an opportunity arises before you that means God wants you to take it? Certainly He provides lots of opportunities for ill-doings as well as good ones.

And yet, in my own life, so many of the coincidental occurrences feel like something more than just coincidence. Like writing for the Religion News Service. A woman who I did not know put up a notice on a yahoogroup we both belong to that she was going to be leaving them and they needed someone to replace her. I jumped at the opportunity, but the chance that she and I would be on the same group (which had been created only a few months before hand) seems incredible.

Similarly writing for Newsweek-The Washington Post. A woman in a yahoogroup I belong to reads the On Faith section, and had complained that no one brought up Eid, and suggested they get a few more Muslim panelists. She recommended me, largely (I think) because I am currently Director of the Islamic Writers Alliance. Again, I jumped at the opportunity, and again was accepted.

My very clear emotional reaction to these coincidences is that God is showering me with blessings and opportunities. Which is not much different than saying, "God's plan for me is to be a writer."

I wonder what it is in the human psyche that doesn't cope well with coincidence. When a novelist puts in too many coincidental occurrences, the reader feels cheated or that things are simply too pat. When other people claim to see purpose in coincidence, it makes at least some of us squirm. And yet, there seems to be something that leads most of us to feel like those coincidences are indeed God blessing us (or cursing us if the coincidence is something like you and a fast moving car happened to occupy the same intersection at the same time), like God is mapping out a plan fo us.

Are we simply so desperate for a shape to our lives, or some greater meaning? I certainly don't feel like I am hungry for a greater meaning to life -- the thought of a hereafter is far more disquieting to me than the thought that we simply die and the worms return our bodies to the cycle of life -- and yet I at times I feel like God is pushing me around on a chessboard. (And lucky me, I get to be a queen rather than a pawn!)

The Islamic answer goes right back to the fitrah, to the essential human condition which includes the recognition of God. Humanity, according to this concept, is tuned to God, tuned to be receptive to Him. Seeing His hand in coincidence is part of our essential nature, and the reason we don't buy it in a novel is the author ain't God. I guess that's part of why I'm Muslim, cause it sure seems to be part of the human condition, based on my observations.
Friday, February 23, 2007
  Can you critique Israel without being Anti-Semitic
That's the theme for the week at Newsweek-The Washington Post.

As one friend said, "First sex, then Israel! What's next, homosexuality?"

Ah well, it certainly has made my first two weeks on the On Faith Panel... interesting. I suspect, as another friend said, I could simply put up, "hello" and the comments would be more or less in the same tenor.

Anyway, the obvious answer to the question is, "of course." But, there's obviously a lot of room for anti-semitism to creep into critiques of Israel. My full thoughts on the matter are here:
Thursday, February 22, 2007
  Rhysling Awards
I just got notification that my poem, Foreign Thoughts, has been nominated for the 2007 Rhysling Awards in the long poem category.

For those who may not be familiar with the Rhyslings, they are an annual award given by the Science Fiction Poetry Association (www.sfpoetry.com) for the best speculative poetry published in the prior year. The way the competition works is that members of the SFPA are each allowed to nominate one poem in the short category and long category (and you can't nominate a poem you wrote). The poems are published in the Rhysling anthology (so members can have easy access to the poems rather than having to search high and low for all the different publications) and then the membership votes for the best of the best. The winning entries are typically published in the Nebula awards anthology as well.

Needless to say, I'm feeling very honored.
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
  Another effort to thwart radicalism
Eteraz.org Launches Anti-Fundamentalist Fundraiser

NEW YORK, NY 02/18/2007—In an effort to counter the influence of radical Islamic doctrine in the US & UK, Muslim activist organization and think tank Eteraz.org has launched a fundraiser to provide modernist translations of the Quran to Western mosques, Muslim chaplaincies, and student associations.

"Today, the translation of the Quran most commonly found in Muslim institutions in the US is 'The Noble Quran', a Saudi-sponsored text that interprets the Quran according to a very conservative doctrine. That's problematic," says Eteraz.org founder Ali Eteraz. "We want to provide Muslims with a more modernist translation so that people can make up their own minds about controversial verses. The Saudi interpretation shouldn't be the only interpretation available to modern Muslims. That interpretation inserts hateful references to Jews and Christians and does nothing to clarify Quranic verses regarding women's rights."

With this fundraising effort, Eteraz.org hopes to raise $30,000 to donate 1,000 copies of the Muhammad Asad translation of the Quran to US mosques and Islamic education programs free of charge. The translation typically retails for $55, making it prohibitively expensive for many institutions.

"The Muhammad Asad translation is considered the most authoritative English translation to date," says Eteraz. "It interprets the Quran based on primary sources and a thorough knowledge of classical Arabic, instead of the agenda of a certain sect."

While CAIR (the Council for American Islamic Relations) has been providing copies of the Asad translation of the Quran to non-Muslims at no charge for some time, this is the first effort to make it freely available to Muslims themselves who are the engine of Islamic Thought.

"The Saudi interpretation of the Quran is really the only interpretation a Muslim can get for free in the US," claims Eteraz, "This means that Islamic education programs stressed for resources have no choice but to promote the state doctrine of Saudi Arabia. We'd like to change that."

To donate, visit http://www.eteraz.org/
Monday, February 19, 2007
  Thick skin
Yes, you have to learn to grow one if you are going to post in very public forums.

I've often wondered how people like Hilary Clinton or George Bush deal with the absolutely rabid attacks against them. I suppose at some point you start ignoring your detratctors. Which, if you think about it, isn't very healthy for the American political system. Maybe it's time we start offerring debate in our high schools again, or at least start teaching basic principles like attack the ideas, not the individual.

The other thing that amazes me is that people seem to believe that others are going to be swayed by the vitriol and hatred they spew. My mom used to say, "you catch more bees with honey than vinegar." (Obviously this makes more sense to a farmer who needs bees to pollinate his/her fields, than to a city dweller who's disinclined to be stung.) I think that motto ought to be posted on all online discussion forums!
Sunday, February 18, 2007
  God Made Me Do It...

My first post over at NewsWeek/The Washington Post, God Made Me Do It..., is up. (http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/pamela_k_taylor/ for those who haven't seen it yet.)

I'm posting here some references for the hadith and Qur'anic passages cited in the entry there.

On sex as an act of worship:

Muslim Book 005, Number 2198:

Abu Dharr reported: (...) The Prophet said: Enjoining good is a charity, forbidding evil is a charity, and in sexual intercourse there is charity.” The companions, surprised, asked: “O Messenger of God! When one of us satisfies his desire, does he also get a reward?” Muhammad replied: “Do you not see that if he were to do it in a unlawful manner, he would be punished for that? So if he does it in a lawful manner, he will be rewarded.”

On the desirability of foreplay:

Aisha reports that the Prophet used to indulge in French kissing...A'isha narrates that the Messenger of Allah would kiss her while he was fasting and he would suck her tongue." (Sunan Abu Dawud, no. 2378)

Anas ibn Malik reported that the Messenger of Allah said: "None of you should fall upon his wife like an animal; but let there first be a messenger between you." "And what is that messenger?" His companions asked, and he replied: "Kisses and words." (Musnad al-Firdaws Of al-Daylami, 2/55)

Imam Ibn al-Qayyim reports in the "Tibb al-Nabawi" that the Messenger
of Allah forbade engaging in sexual intercourse before foreplay. (See: al-Tibb al-Nabawi, 183, related by Jabir ibn Abd Allah)

On Creation in Pairs/Mates (Zauj)

Qur'an, 78:8: And We have created you in pairs

Qur'an 36:36: Glory be to God who created in pairs everything from that which the earth produces, and from yourselves, and from that which you know not.

Qur'an 51:49: And all things We have created by pairs, that haply you may reflect.

Qur'an 26:7 Do they not look at the earth and how We have produced therein everything in noble pairs?

Qur'an 4:1 O mankind! reverence your Guardian-Lord, who created you from a single soul, created, of like nature, its pair/mate, and from them twain scattered (like seeds) countless men and women;- reverence Allah, through whom you demand your mutual (rights), and (reverence) the wombs (That bore you): for Allah ever watches over you.

On Humanity's Inborn Nature (The Fitrah)

30:30 So set thou thy face steadily and truly to the Faith: (establish) Allah's handiwork according to the pattern on which He has made mankind: no change (let there be) in the work (wrought) by Allah; that is the standard Religion, but most among mankind understand not.

This pattern, or inborn nature, can be gleaned from the pages of the Qur'an and hadith.
Among its characteristics are:

Saturday, February 17, 2007
  More on Iran
Back in when Commnist China was considered a major threat to the US (not economically, but politically and militarily), there was a great deal of debate on how the US should deal with Communist China.

Some said we should isolate China and deal with it aggressively, cutting it off politically and economically and threatening military action if and as we might deem necessary.

Nixon, on the other hand, argued that we should instead engage with China constructively -- encouraging business contacts, student exchanges, while applying diplomatic pressure for change away from totalitarian communism and towards human rights.

Nixon won the day, and the US implemented a campaign of engagement with the goal to encourage friendly relations with China, and a gradual coaxing of their government in directions we wanted to see them go.

This proved to be a winning strategy. China is not our best ally, but it is far from our worst enemy. In the late eighties, when I spent a year living in Beijing, the attitude of your average Chinese citizen towards America was overwhelmingly positive. More recently, they have moved away from a strict Communist economy.

We are faced with the same choices when it comes to dealing with Iran, and other hot spots around the world. Do we isolate them, poltically, ecomically, and threaten them with force? Or do we engage with them, hoping that interaction and diplomatic pressure will moderate their more extreme tendencies?

In Iran we have taken the former path. And it hasn't gotten us very far. Perhaps it is time to try the methodology we applied in China. I can't help but think it would be more effective than the angry, beligerent, threatening pose we have adopted today.
Friday, February 16, 2007
  An attack on Iran would not serve Americans Interests
It seems like Bush is trying to soften up the country for an attack on Iran -- taking an aggressive tone in the issue over nuclear development (contrast that to his almost total lack of initiative regards North Korea, especially where Korea has actually tested nuclear weapons, and Iran insists they are only trying to develop nuclear power, whether you believe them or not). Then there is the US government report of weapons from Iran being used against US troops in Iraq.

Clearly, there is a long history of tension between the US and Iran. Not to mention Iran's involvement in Lebanon, etc. It would not be surprising if they are arming Shi'as in Iraq, not so much because they are anti-American, but because they would much prefer a Shi'ite regime next door (for obvious reasons, since Iran is itsef a Shi'ite theology.)

Whether Iran is arming Shi'ite militia in Iraq or not (and frankly after the weapons of mass destruction lies/debacle, I take anything the US government claims when trying to justify an attack on another country with a huge grain of salt), an attack on Iran would really not be in the US's best interests. Even Bush's belligerance is not helpful.

Ahmedinejad's party just suffered a defeat at the polls, but with the country under attack, those reversals have been ebbing, and support for his regime has risen again. An attack, even the mildest of bombings, will galvanize that support. (You can imagine how support for Bush would jump if, say, Venezuela sent planes across the ocean to bomb one of our nuclear facilities out west). An all out attack would only make that support stronger, but it would make anti-American sentiment grow, not only in Iran, but across the world, exponentially.

And you can imagine the mess if we invaded Iran and toppled the government. You think Iraq is a morass, Iran would be no better. Indeed, it would likely be worse. Clearly, that would not serve our interests in the region. And increased hostility towards the US will ease the tasks of terrorist groups, both in recruiting and in their ability to evade authorities as more people sympathize with their sentiment, if not their methods.

Down at the bottom of the list has to go the impact such a move would have on the US economy. We are already way over spent. We have already had to cut back our own social programs. Our educational system, medicaire, social security -- all those programs that are struggling -- could have benefitted from the monies spent in Iraq, and will only suffer if we invest in attacking Iran. Imagine the impact we could have if instead of spending billions of dollars killing people and creating mayhem, we had invested billions of dollars in making the world a better place -- helping to build infrastructure in countries that have none. So too, we should take the money we would spend attacking Iran and use it for better ends.
Thursday, February 15, 2007
  More and More Snow!
Today marked the third snow day in a row for my oldest daughter. Because of President's day, my kids have Friday and Monday off... By the time they go back, it'll have been a whole week off.

Wreaks havoc with the work ethic...

But it sure is a delight to have them home!

The ice on the trees is a delight as well:

Thursday, February 08, 2007
  The Al-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz (Malcolm X) Khutbah Competition
This is what I've been up to lately... the group Ani Zonneveld and I are pulling together is sponsoring this competition:

Muslims for Progressive Values announces
The Al-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz (Malcolm X) Khutbah Competition

For Immediate Release

Feb 8, 2007 Los Angeles, California

Vie with one another in doing good works. Wherever you may be, God will gather you all unto Himself: for, verily, God has the power to do anything." [The Qur’an, 2:148]

Invite (all) to the Way of your Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious: for your Lord knows best, who have strayed from His Path, and who receive guidance. [The Qur’an, 16:125]

In light of these Qur’anic verses, Muslims for Progressive Values announces the establishment of the al-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz (Malcolm X) Khutbah Competition, an annual competition and award for excellence in sermon writing for North American Muslims. Al-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz, one of the best known and best loved American Muslims, was a brilliant orator. His speeches and sermons combined exhortation to justice, dignity, and righteousness, with extraordinary eloquence. MPV hopes this competition named in honor of Al-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz will encourage other American Muslims to follow in his footsteps, to consider seriously the task of preparing sermons that not only teach, but also uplift and inspire. We hope to promote excellence in writing and delivering khutbahs throughout the American Muslim community, and to foster an environment where excellence in preaching is valued as greatly as the erudition and education of the preacher.

For 2007, two prizes will be awarded:

Additionally, the winners will be invited to deliver their sermons during the first conference of Muslims for Progressive Values, to be held at Sarah Lawrence College June 15-17, 2007. MPV also intends to publish the winning essays in a booklet which will be available to the public.

The judges for the first year include:

Wednesday, February 07, 2007
  Snow Day! Hooray!
I suppose I am the odd woman out because I still love snow days.

Even better than a plain old snow day is a snow day they announce by seven o'clock the night before so you don't have to get up early and check the tv or the internet!

Here's to sleeping in on a Wednesday morning!
To sledding and snowmen!
To hot chocolate stirred with a candy cane!
And marshmallows roasted over a fire in the fireplace!
Tuesday, February 06, 2007
  Republican Presidents
A friend was doing some research on Lincoln and came up with these following items:

Lincoln was perhaps one of the most hated presidents in history. During his presidency, Lincoln appropriated himself unparalleled power. He suspended the writ of habeas corpus, spent money without congressional authorization, imprisoned thousands of suspected Confederate sympathizers without trial and routinely ignored the will of the people. One of the best examples of this was during 1861 when he knew he needed to keep the border state of Maryland in the union. Maryland's legislature was getting ready to vote for secession, so he ordered the entire legislature arrested and imprisoned to avoid the vote and keep Maryland in the Union. He knew he was ignoring the Constitution, but stood by his decisions, claiming, “ I felt that measures, otherwise unconstitutional, might become lawful by becoming indispensable to preserve the Constitution through the preservation of the nation. Right or wrong, I assumed this ground and now avow it.”

Deja vu, anyone?

What is it with these Republican Presidents and suspending basic civil rights and liberties?

I tend to think it was a good thing that the country remained united, but surely it could have been accomplished without such drastic measures.

I tend to think the war on terror is something we need to win (ie terror tactics need to be disavowed by all groups.) But I think our current way of going about that is creating a ground swell of support for terror tactics, not to mention that we're killing far more people than the terrorists ever did.

This is largely because we've misdefined the targets of the war on terror as being a group of people rather than a moral precept (it's a lot easier to kill people than to convince them their thinking is wrong headed...). To win the war on terror, we need to see a triumph of humanist thinking (ie every human life is precious and equally valuable), and a restoration of good will towards all. Starting with us. Our foriegn policy since WWII has spread death, poverty and corruption far more often than it has spread justice, prosperity, and improved living conditions. Until we realize that national security is attained by moral superiority, generosity, and negotiation rather than domination, military, political, or economic, we are going to continue losing the war on terror.
Monday, February 05, 2007
  Nitpicking Grammar
This afternoon I had the opportunity to see an agent reacting to a query letter. The first sentence in the letter was missing a comma. The comma was clearly needed, but it was easy to miss it as there were several adjectival phrases set off in commas so the one that was missed wasn't as obvious as it might have been. Even so, the agent remarked that if he were feeling overwhelmed with submissions (rather a normal state of being for most agents) or even just grumpy, that missed comma would be enough to make him stop reading.

Moral of the story... make darn sure you've dotted your Is and crossed your Ts in your query letter.

The other comment he had was about how the description of the book was rather passive sounding. It's so hard to condense a novel into a paragraph or two. Figuring out which bits of information absolutely must be included and which can be left for later discovery when every word seems vital is, simply put, gut-wrenching.

At least forewarned is forearmed. Your query better not have any grammar errors or typos -- and if the sentence you find yourself writing is one of those where the punctuation isn't obvious, maybe you need to rewrite it. Probably the same could be said for the first few pages of a manuscript. Obviously, you want the entire manuscript to be the best it can be, but those first few pages really make or break it. You'd hate to lose a contract because you hadn't quite figured out the rules for commas, or what a dangling modifier was.
Friday, February 02, 2007
I need a good photo for the WPNI site, so today my daughters and I tried to take some photos.

This was the best we could come up with (all the photos on WPNI have parts of the head cropped off).

Guess I'm going to be hiring a photographer...
Thursday, February 01, 2007
  Newsweek-Washington Post On Faith Panel
The big news today is that I got official word that I'm going to be added to the Newsweek-Washington Post On Faith panel.


It'll be a couple weeks to finish up paperwork and webwork before I'll be online.

Needless to say, I'm thrilled.

I recently heard an interview on NPR with Norah Jones where she talked about recording a song with Ray Charles. She described going into the studio, thinking, "Get Out! Who am I? This is Ray Charles!" I feel much the same way. Humbled to be in the company of some really amazing thinkers and writers.

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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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