Tuesday, July 31, 2007
  Time off
Two weeks without a computer has left this blog sadly neglected. However, my baby is back from the geek squad with a new keyboard which seems to have solved the problem I was having. Yay!

I suppose it is natural for a writer to be pretty dependent upon their keyboard, but it's a bit frightening how dependent one can actually get. My main news source was gone; connections with many of my friends became tenuous; my ability to do my work was severely impaired;
even some of the games I like to play were not accessible. All in all, I felt a bit lost.

I'm sure I'm not the only one to feel the same way and to lose productivity in this manner when their computer has to go into the shop. Seems like it's time for places like Best Buy to have a loaner program, or even a rent a computer while your is in the shop. I bet they could make a lot of money that way.
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
  The Red Mosque
The situation in Pakistan with the government storming the Red Mosque and killing or arresting various militants based there raises a ton of issues for me.

On the one hand, I am relieved that the government has finally done something to reign in this group, which was carrying out vigilante style "justice" in the neighboring street and advocating for the overthrow of the government with the implementation of a Taliban style regime in its place. The government's inaction in the face of these people implementing their own laws, and advocating for the Talibanization of Pakistan was very troublesome. Something clearly needed to be done.

On the other, I worry that the manner in which it was done -- storming the mosque, and killing scores of people, will only create fodder for the cannon. The militants will no doubt make great use of the "martydom" of their fighters. And there will no doubt be a group of people who see such military action against a mosque as a validation that these people had it right -- the government does need to be replaced. Either way, it seems like the attack will serve as fertile ground for militant recruiters. In fact, Al Qaeda's second in charge has already issued a call for a holy war against the Pakistani government.

I compare this storming to the infamous Waco debacle here in the US. Clearly there are differences -- the Waco people weren't carrying out their own policing on their neighbors. Nor were they actively stirring up sedition against the government.

But there are also similarities. The outrage caused by the seige of Waco can only be even greater in the case of the Red Mosque as the latter is a historical mosque, a recognized sacred space, which has now been violated. While Koresh and his followers may have seen his compound as sacred space, most Americans did not. Most Pakistanis, however, will relate to the Red Mosque as first and foremost a religious institution.

More importantly, both cases raise the issue if military action is the appropriate response to radicalism and even to seditious propagandizing? Clearly the Red Mosque militants had broken a variety of laws (taking justice in to their own hands, taking hostages/prisoners, killing police officers who were sent to restrain their activities). It would seem that the appropriate response would be to arrest them and throw them in jail.

At what point does military action become justified? Clearly these folks were training themselves as warriors, the Pakistani military is now clearing the area of grenades and mines which speaks of intention to violence not just fiery rhetoric, but I still wonder if it wouldn't have been better to arrest the lot of them.

Of course, that probably would have resulted in a firefight that pretty much resembled the one that actually occurred...

I'm sure that this battle was just the opening salvo in a war that is going to be fought over the character of Pakistan -- will it become a Taliban style state as some elements wish? If the left, if moderates are not willing to fight fire with fire are we then doomed to lose to radicals? Can we win a battle for people's faith, for their beliefs with military action? Seems like it has to go hand in hand -- police action or if necessary military action coupled with an intensive campaign to convince people that militarism and radicalism have no place in Islam.
Tuesday, July 10, 2007
  Offensive Liturgy

The conversation about the reintroduction of the Latin mass certain sections of which are anti-semitic, brings to mind an issue I’ve been having over some of the Islamic liturgy.

For instance, the prayer (dua) that is said during sermons (khutbahs), during the Eid prayers, and quite often after daily prayers includes the line, “help us against the people of disbelief.” The sentiment is bad enough in English, but in Arabic, the use of the preposition “’ala” -- which implies not only help us triumph over the people of disbelief, but also put us over them as well -- is particularly egregious.

That line a priori sets up a hostile relationship between Muslims and non-Muslims. It instills the notion that we are naturally at conflict, and that one or the other has to come out on top.

The dua has a very obvious historical context (the battles between the Meccans and their allies and the Muslim community in Media and their allies) and in that context it is a natural prayer. I don’t find it nearly as objectionable in the historical context, as the Muslims were at war for the survival of the community against those who did not believe in Muhammad and/or his message.

However, this is NOT a reflection of the final state of relationships between the Muslim and non-Muslim communities during Muhammad's life time. The final state, as defined by the Qur'an, is one of fellowship (their food is permissible for you and yours for them) and of interconnectedness (you may marry them and they may marry you).(see Qur'an 5:5). Obviously, the hostility between the Meccans and the Medinans was resolved and the two communities moved beyond hostility into respectful, friendly, harmonious relationships.

Further, the dua does not reflect the kind of theological conflict that seems to be implied by the use of "people of disbelief." The battles between the Meccans (in particular the Qur'aish) and the initial Muslim community were not about religious issues. In particular, the Muslims weren't fighting to convert the Meccans, but rather to be able to live in peace and to have their own freedom of religion. Yes, the people they were fighting were all “kafirin” but, again, it wasn’t a battle over theology, but basic human rights.

This conflation of religion and politics in the language of the early Muslim community presents a challenge for present day Muslims, as it is easy to assume that "help us against/over the people of disbelief" stripped of its historical context is, in fact, a theological plea.

The idea of changing this dua to something like, "help us against those who are oppressing others," which is a fair representation of the sentiment in the original context, is very appealing to me. It would capture the spirit and the intent of the original dua and do so in a way that is less likely to be misunderstood.

Not only is it an accurate reflection of the sentiment Muhammad was expressing, but "Help us against the oppressors" is also a good prayer for modern people to pray as the oppressors today may come from any religion, ethnic background, nationality, etc, and certainly we have a surfeit of oppression going on.

I can't help but think that if Prophet Muhammad were alive today he would be struggling against many of the so-called "Muslim" regimes we have, and that he would be horrified over the way the shari'ah has been expanded and used as a blunt weapon against the populace.

Of course, I recognize that suggesting we change a line in the liturgy would be considered heretical -- and not just mildly heretical but wildly so -- in the eyes of many Muslims. The prospect of widespread acceptance of a proposal to revise it is precisely nil at this point in time. Perhaps in a few hundred years, but not now. There would be instant rejection by most mosque going Muslims of the idea that we might change the wording of something that is well documented as a dua that the Prophet used to say. Indeed, that he said regularly.

I mean, people are still saying duas thanking God for taming this animal to be useful when they get in their cars, rather than being willing to say, thank you God for the blessing of an automobile, keep me safe as I drive. And that one seems like a no-brainer. Just shows how stuck on a very literal implementation our community is.

The dua about taming animals is largely harmless, and if people want to recite it verbatim as the Prophet did, then that is their prerogative. But this line about helping us against/over the people of disbelief is not harmless. The fact that it is recited in every khutbah and after many, many prayers, and during our most festive celebrations is very troublesome for me. It seeps into the subconscious, and informs our perceptions and relations with others. However,with the chances of getting it changed being approximately nil at this juncture in time., there seems to be little to do, other than work on an individual level, slowly, slowly trying to change people's mindsets.

I know people say that change is incremental, but God I wish it came in huge fits and leaps at a time.

  Real hope for peace in the Holy Land

I saw this article today and wanted to share it. At the MPV conference we heard a presentation about a interfaith peace trip to Israel/Palestine.  During the presentation it became clear that there are hundreds of local efforts to bring young jews and young arabs (of various religious backgrounds) together so that the cycle of fear and hatred can be broken.

These efforts represent to me one of the more hopeful developments I've heard coming out of that region. Children who have played together will have a much harder time shooting one another when they grow up. It will be harder for them to accept propaganda and hate speech about people who had been friends.

Of course, these efforts are long term. They are buildling for a future of peace. Hopefully, there will be a negotiated solution long before they are adults, in which case these friendships will be important as Israel goes through it's own Truth and Reconciliation process.

As someone who always feels a need to do something to make the situation in that part of the world better, it seems to me that supporting these kinds of efforts is a place where people from abroad can make a huge difference.   My letters to my congressmen obviously make little dent in their positions, but supporting a youth soccer league or art classes or drama productions, can make a difference in the lives of young people. And while my donations are a pittance in the face of the incredible humanitarian needs of the Palestinian people, it may make a difference in the viability of a small program like this.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007
  Happy Fourth
Having lived in a totalitarian communist state for a year, there are few days that go by without my being grateful for living in a country which not only respects but enshrines individual liberty. Today I missed the fireworks, as I was traveling home from vacation in Florida, but the very fact that I could go to Florida, and travel home, on my own volition, at whatever time I chose, is something to appreciate. My Chinese friends were not able to do such a thing... if they wanted to take a vacation it had to be approved, their travel plans had to be approved, by a variety of officials. Even foreigners living in China had to have travel plans approved at a central office. So even though I missed the fireworks, I'm grateful that I was able to choose to miss them. That I was able to choose in agreement with my husband to move to Cincinnati. That he could choose to take a job that pleased him. And that I could choose to take jobs that pleased me , and to work from home to be able to be with my kids as pleased our family.

Such things as we take for granted were denied to my Chinese friends. I only lived under that system for a year, many years ago, but the lesson is one I remember -- and thank God for -- nearly every day.

Happy Fourth of July! No matter what criticisms I have of my government's foreign policy, the Patriot Act, and the eroding of civil rights and liberties, it is still an incredible country, and today is still a day to celebrate.

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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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