Monthly Archives: January 2011

You Think Too Much

Cogito, ergo sum.–Descartes

Years ago, when I was still young and idealistic, I remember vividly a conversation I had with my beloved grandmother. We were standing in her kitchen tending something over her stove, and I was engaged in some type of  discussion about the meaning of life, or perhaps I was airing my distrust of the establishment, or the hypocrisy of society, or some equally youthful discourse .

She told me simply, “You think too much.”

Under any other situation, and coming from any other person, I might be highly offended by this observation, but coming from my grandmother it seemed neither accusatory, or in any way anti-intellectual. It simply was. I think back to that statement often, because it really is true!

I do enjoy the flexing of my mental muscle. Nothing excites me more than reading a poem and getting goosebumps because the author was able to manipulate words in such a way as to express the wordless. I love exploring religion and philosophy; I acutally enjoy the elegance of mathmatics and the raw truths held in the scientific fields. Subjects like evolution and quantum mechanics make me giddy with joy as the human mind stretches it’s search for the source and reason for our existence.

And yet, often times, these thoughts often take me to dark places. I search deep into the meaning of our existence, hoping to find answers to the question that have plaqued human kind for millenia. And to what end? Does it make me happier?  Does it improve my life? Lately it seems it hasn’t.

I yearn for a simple existence, to find meaning in the plain doings of daily life. I want to rise in the morning, shuttle my kids off to school, go to work and be satisfied, come home and take my kids to soccer practice, fix something comfortable for dinner, wash my littles in the bathtub, tuck their little pajama feet into bed, make love with my husband, and drift off to sleep. I want to enjoy these things and nothing else.

I don’t want to think too much. I just want to be.

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Identity Crisis

Human beings naturally seek out like-minded individuals to spend their time with. We form religions and societies, clubs and cliques. We are also social creatures; evolutionarily speaking we need each other to survive in this wilderness.  We often form a group mentality and exhibit a profound distrust toward outsiders. Often times, group members bicker amongst themselves. Hierarchies form. Resentments grow. But in the end, its members always have the group to identify with. So what happens when you consciously separate yourself from the group, either physically or ideologically?

One of the things I’ve been grappling with as of late, is the knowledge that as the product of losing my religion, I’ve also lost a good part of my identity. Islam was as much for me an aspect of identity as belief. Early in my exploration, even before conversion, I was fascinated by the idea of a global ummah or identity. I longed to belong to a worldwide group of people who cared about one another and viewed other Muslims as  “brothers and sisters”. One of my favorite hadiths was: ” “The Muslim Ummah is like one body. If the eye is in pain then the whole body is in pain and if the head is in pain then the whole body is in pain”.  I felt a profound connection to strangers who shared no other trait with myself other than a belief in Allah and the Messenger.  Even the hijab for me was out of a sense of identity. I wore it out of a sense of pride and revelled in being recognized as a Muslim, even when that label was looked upon negatively by many.

As  so many converts find, the idea of a collective, unified ummah is a myth. I was soon bitterly disappointed by my local community. Many converts know the feelings of alienation when entering the masjid and being ignored or even shunned. Going into the masjid literally initiated a visceral cascade of  nervousness and gut wrenching anxiety. I often recalled the few times I went to church and the smiles and greeting of the parishioners. I was bewildered as to why the same friendliness wasn’t expressed by this group, especially given the importance of brotherhood within Islam. It didn’t take long for me to avoid the masjid altogether, but it was by the kindness of a few sweet sisters, and the meeting of a couple of other outsider converts that I slowly began to build a loose cluster of friends and acquaintances I felt comfortable with.

Now that I’ve begun to acknowledge my apostasy publicly, I worry about some of these relationships I’ve formed.  I am no longer part of this group. I am now the outsider. In Islam, it seems the apostate is the most hated of persons. Muslims take the rejection of faith personally. Some of my more liberally minded Muslim friends may stick it out and continue to be friendly toward me, at least on a superficial level. Some of them may actually like me for my personality, while some of them may make a conscious effort to show me how open-minded they are with the hopes that I will someday see the light.

Either way, however, I doubt I’ll be invited to many parties.

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Leaving Islam

I don’t like the term “leaving Islam”. It connotes  a complete and permanent separation and I don’t believe this can ever occur in my case. I don’t know if it’s that I can never truly leave Islam, or that Islam just won’t leave me.  Certainly I am not practicing, nor do I ever plan on practicing Islam again.  I don’t believe in the most basic tenets and foundational assumptions required to be a part of the religion. I don’t believe the Quran is the word of God. I don’t believe Mohammad had a special relationship with God, although he did have an understanding of monotheism, as have many.  He must have been a tremendous leader and still continues to lead many today.  I don’t believe he was infallible and I question his morality. For now, I will leave that one alone, chalk it up to relativism and leave my own moral and ethical understandings at the door. I don’t believe in angels and jinn and black magic and fantastical miracles. I don’t believe in hellfire for unbelievers and paradise for Muslims. I don’t believe he would create us and then torture us for eternity.

I will never again succumb to guilt for not following the rules of orthodoxy. I won’t question myself or feel any underlying sense of  begrudging anger when listening to music or viewing a sculpture of the human body. I’ve recently cracked open more than one bottle of merlot and sipped a fine cognac. I will never question my worth as a woman in relation to a man and religion. I will speak up and be heard even when it’s “not my place”. I feel liberated with my hair blowing in the wind, although at times my ears get a bit cold.

And yet, somehow Islam will always be with me and I will always love it even as I must divorce myself from it. Islam is like an autocratic, controlling  parent and I am like a newly independent adult who just isn’t going to take it any longer. I have had my arguments and raved and stormed out of the room slamming the door behind me. I’ve thrown the dishes and tried to reason but we just can’t get along.  I may go years in silence without speaking a word to Islam. I may have dark days brooding over the perceived abuses I suffered under its guide. I may go months without thinking about it at all.

But at the end of the night, after I’ve said my peace and I know our relationship is over, I still love Islam. I am like a child who will always love her mother, even when that mother is not the one of kindness and compassion, but instead, callous and manipulative. As much as I would like, I will never be able to cleave her from my consciousness or erase her from the fiber of my experience. As painful as it is,  I will move forward while shedding my tears over what used to be. I will always love Islam but have to leave it now in my memory and find new avenues of happiness in this life.  I don’t believe I can ever truly leave Islam for  it will remain with me in my memory and heart,  but I will continue to seek truth and God without it.

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Deep Thoughts by Stephanie

I’ve just finished reading the several dozen comments that have been left here the last few days and I just had to chuckle.

Here we are in this vast universe, spinning round and round, debating the nature of God, his very existence, and his relationship with us humans.

And I couldn’t help but think that if God is watching us, he must be quite amused. I’m sure we’ve all got it wrong and that our attempts to even understand an atom of  his nature are utterly futile. That even our language–with it’s adjectives, verbs, nouns, and pronouns– is not worthy of describing her.

But then again, I think she should be flattered. We all love and admire her so much, despite making herself unreachable to us, that we’d spend so much of our time in contemplation of her glory while hoping it will benefit us in some way.

It is laughable really. But oh, how I love it.

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The Impact of Violence

 

 “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”  Martin Luther King Jr. 

Over the Martin Luther King holiday, I found myself in Oklahoma City. My family and I visited the memorial for the 1995 bombing of the Federal Building. Strangely, this is something that I’d been meaning to do for quite some time.  At the time of the bombing I was in my early twenties and I remember it well. My own midwestern city is quite similar and not even 300 miles away from OKC. The bombing has always played heavy on the psyche of the local people here. It was always a little to close for comfort. If it could happen there, it could, after all, happen in our own little quiet city. It could have been us in that building. And in one very real sense, it was.

If you ever find yourself in OKC, you simply must visit the memorial. It was both devastatingly sad and uplifting–a beautiful and somber tribute to the dead and the heros who worked to save the injured. If you’re not familar with the event, you can learn more here. In short, 168 people were killed, including 19 young children.

Please forgive my photographs.  As my family and I walked through the memorial,  I forgot what little I know of photography.  I simply placed the viewfinder up to my eye and dumbly shot with no thought to exposure or composition.

 

 

 

The memorial consists of both an indoor and outdoor exhibit. The indoor component is a museum located in the building directly across the street. The experience walks the viewer through the timeline of what happened that day. It begins in a darkened room and an actual live recording from the building is played. It’s of a hearing on something mundane as water rights. Approximately two minutes into you hear a massive explosion and people screaming. The pictures of the dead then flash upon the walls. A door then opens into the main exhibit. It takes you through debris that was collected. Ordinary things like coffee mugs, watches, shoes, and briefcases. All the while, news and radio clips play over speakers, illustrating the chaos of those early minutes and hours.

 

One section shows clips of the news coverage from that day, as victims families describe what was going through their minds in those early hours. One clip shows a woman wailing, prostrate in grief over her son who was one of the young victims in the daycare. That’s when I lost it.

 

 

 

As I said, the indoor museum is located in the building which was directly across the street. The building was damaged and planners left one area untouched. It shows, in no uncertain terms, the extent of the sheer strength of the blast. Amazingly, the man who was in this office at the time survived.

 

 

Modeled after the famous Pullitzer Prize winning photo 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The space outside is hallowed ground. It’s quiet now, and somber. People walk the ground in silence as the sounds of the city continue on around them. It’s hard to believe such an atrocious act happend there. Instead it’s very much like any other innercity park. Except for the rows of empty chairs representing the dead in the very place the building stood. There are also two large black square gates representing the minute before the blast (9:01) and the minute after (9:03). In between lies a quite pool of water. The empty space where time stopped for some and others were forever changed.

 

For me, the building of  this monument represents the best of human kind. It’s an attempt to pull some type of meaning and beauty from the ugliest of acts. A place to remember the innocence that was cruelly taken by hatred.  Although this event had nothing to do with the life of Dr. King, it was quite fitting that I visited the memorial on that day when America was remembering a great man and his message of non-violence.

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First Snow

Yesterday it started to snow for the first time all year. I remember as a kid it seemed that snow was a much more common occurence. And there was more of it. Often times it would come to my waist as I plowed through it, bundled warmly in layers of clothing. Granted I was shorter then, but these days it only seems to drop, at a maximum, a few inches. But I’ll take it.

 Overnight as I worked, carefully tending to the sick and dying, I kept my own silent vigil on the windows, watching  huge frozen flakes form halos around the glowing flourescent lights of the parking lot. There’s something soothing about the still of air after it snows. Everything is padded and sound is stifled. 

 

 

Here’s a little haiku for you all…

 

First snow falls softly

covering faded imprints

 of  footsteps long past

 

 

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Misogyny: Culture or Religion?

A friend recently sent me this article  written by Ida Lichter, author of Muslim Women Reformers: Inspiring Voices Against Oppression.  She presents the argument that the misogyny found in some Muslim communities are the result of culture rather than scripture. Here’s an excerpt:

However, many Muslims say culture, not religion, is the real issue. This is not simply a theoretical concern but relevant to the urgent search for reform within Islam.

In many Muslim societies, Islamic law deems women inferior to men. A woman’s testimony in court is worth half that of a man, and her independence is restricted by seclusion in the home, laws of guardianship by male kin, polygamy and unilateral divorce.

Women are compelled to marry Muslim men and can be beaten by their husbands if they misbehave. Many secular women reformers insist these restrictions, derived from holy texts, are inimically hostile to women’s rights. To effect change, they say, Islam must be transformed rather than reformed and civil law should evolve from the people, not religion. Some such activists have been labeled heretics and agents of the West, incurring death threats from violent Islamists.

However, Muslim women reformers say culture is the problem, and like Zainah Anwar, intrepid Malaysian activist of Sisters in Islam, they add that, “the law might be divine but the interpretation is human.”

These women contend authentic Islam is egalitarian and early Islam ended female infanticide and brought women freedoms such as property rights.

There is little doubt that culture has played a role in the subjugation of women while claiming  religious grounds for patriarchal practices when there are none. However, moderate and liberal Muslim reformers also fail to recognize the existence of contextual proofs for many of the practices that are discriminatory to women.

It is explicit within the Quranic texts that women’s testimony is worth half that of a man’s, that the male has guardianship over her, that the male may engage in polygamy, that he may beat her as a last resort for her disobedience and that she will recieve half of her parents inheritence. While there does exist some engaging, if not convincing apologia regarding the validity and meaning of these verses, the fact remains that the verses exist and are at the core of the problem.

Islam did provide rights to women that were not previously available to women. However, some Muslim feminists and intellectuals are challenging that claim and as an example, Khadija did quite well as a successful and strong woman before the coming of Islam. But no argument can be complete without balancing some of the more problematic verses with the general spirit of  justice inherent in Islam. Our current religious doctrine does not leave any room for honest exegetical criticism of  the Quran. Most Muslims believe the Quran is the unchanging, verbatim word of God and how can one argue with that? It’s not surprising that the scales  lean more heavily toward the literal embodiment of the text, rather than an acceptance of the overall message.  And this will always be problematic for women.

It’s not enough to claim that culture is the sole problem. Those looking to reform Islam and Muslim communities must tackle the verses head on and engage in an honest discussion of their meaning and their place within our modern societies.

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