Thursday, February 01, 2007

What a week!

Alhamdullilah, it is over and for the most part, I'm none the worse for the wear.

My aunt, who has been a surrogate mother to me for the past thirty years, had surgery on Monday to remove a malignant tumor from one of her kidneys. Alhamdulillah, the operation went well. Her oncologist was pleased to report that not only was he able to get remove all of the tumor, but that 99.5% of patients with this particular type of cancer whose tumors are successfully removed never have a repeat occurrence of the cancer. Although my aunt is still in the hospital in a state 1800 miles away from where I live, I have been able to speak with her twice already and feel reassured that she really is doing fairly well considering the seriousness of the surgery.

Worrying about my aunt combined with the stresses of beginning a new semester, trying to be as helpful as possible at our business, and learning that I do, after all, need another surgery on my eye, triggered an especially nasty seizure on Tuesday. Alhamdullilah it came on a day when I didn't have to teach! Seizures are physically draining and absolutely demand sleep when they are finished, so the remainder of the day was wasted as I slept off the residual effects of the errant brain activity. Insh'allah we will find a suitable employee or two soon to help out at the shop because hubby and I could really use a break! We are starting to forget what our home looks like, LOL!

Although I haven't had a chance to post anything to my own blog recently, I've been reading everyone else's quite faithfully. Insh'Allah, life will settle down once again to a comfortable speed that will allow me more time to post soon.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Two Too Tuesday

From last week's list of things to accomplish, I managed to complete my class preps on time and to groom one out of four cats. Not bad!

Two things I'd like to accomplish this week:

1. Perhaps it was a bit too ambitious of me to think that I could get all four kitties groomed in a single week, so this week the plan is to bathe and groom the beauty in the photo on the left. Hiba is, to put it mildly, a tad less "user friendly" than Maggie when it comes to bathing and drying. However, it is hilarious to watch Hiba, a la Don Quixote tilting at windmills, do battle with the grooming dryer!

2. It's time to start preparing all the necessary paperwork to get our taxes done and with all the recent changes at the business, things are a mess. While it is still early enough in the semester (i.e., before I have to start grading papers and writing exams), I need to begin the arduous task of collecting everything that the bookkeeper needs to close out the books for 2006 and file the taxes. I know that getting the entire task completed in a week is not a possibility, but putting it on my list will at least get me started!

One thing that I'm TOO grateful for:

I am incredibly thankful for yesterday, as it was a lesson in gratitude in a multitude of ways. There is a handicapped student in each of my three classes to remind me that I have no reason to feel sorry for my own maladies.

How could I possibly bemoan a temporary problem with double vision in my right eye after meeting a young woman with Bell's Palsy on the right side of her face so severe that her right eye droops lifelessly and her mouth hangs half opened, slurring her speech. I had a bout with Bell's Palsy several years ago but because I was lucky enough to have caught it early and to have gotten treatment immediately, it lasted only a couple of weeks with no residual effects; hers has been going on for two months already with no end in sight.

And feel sorry for myself because of seizures? Please! At the end of one class, a very nice young lady introduced herself to me and explained that she had to wear a couple of electronic devices at all times because she is juvenile diabetic. One device is her insulin pump and the other is an emergency life alert alarm to be used in case something goes wrong with the insulin pump.

Finally, the bravest of them all is a beautiful young woman in a wheelchair who, after I jokingly told the class that I didn't have to worry about parking problems on campus because I had my own personal chauffeur, quipped that she also had a driver, waited with me for our chariots to arrive and take us away. As we talked, she explained that she had had back surgery just 4 weeks ago and was still in a body cast, that's why her mother had to drive her to and from school. I learned that this remarkable individual is confined to a wheelchair permanently but before she could tell me why, her mother arrived. Meeting my student's mom was especially nice because she thought I was her daughter's classmate! And for that, I am TOOOOOOOOO grateful!

Monday, January 22, 2007


"A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops."
--Henry B. Adams

I have always loved the first day of a new semester. Like a child awaiting an exciting adventure, I can't sleep the night before from the anticipation. Tossing and turning all night, I wonder what the new semester will bring. Will the students be as eager to learn as I am to instruct? Our university is in the most conservative county in the state, so how will they react to an openly liberal, very vocal, hijab wearing, shisha smoking, Muslim professor?

I know that I shouldn't worry. Alhamdullilah, I'm actually quite popular among the students. Perhaps it's because I refuse to allow them to attach a title to my name, insisting that they call me by my first name alone. I firmly believe that my title does not automatically demand the respect of my students; respect is earned through action, not degrees tacked on a wall. Most of my students work full-time jobs while carrying a full course load; many are single mothers with small children to care for while they try to study. Maybe they like me because I am flexible, compassionate, and understanding of their circumstances. Deadlines are never written in stone with me because life happens when we least expect it.

In a couple of hours, I will march into the first classroom of the day, insh'Allah. And for the next 16 weeks, I will have the opportunity to show a small group of mostly conservative Christians that Muslims can be kind, compassionate, funny, understanding, open-minded, and respectful of others. What a great opportunity for dawah!

Sunday, January 21, 2007

You Men!

In honor of the discussion of male vs. female chastity, I thought that I would post this fabulous poem by Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, a 17th century Mexican nun who happened to be one of the most brilliant women in the Americas and definitely a woman well ahead of her time.

Silly, you men-so very adept
at wrongly faulting womankind,
not seeing you're alone to blame
for faults you plant in woman's mind.

After you've won by urgent plea
the right to tarnish her good name,
you still expect her to behave—
you, that coaxed her into shame.

You batter her resistance down
and then, all righteousness, proclaim
that feminine frivolity,
not your persistence, is to blame.

When it comes to bravely posturing,
your witlessness must take the prize:
you're the child that makes a bogeyman,
and then recoils in fear and cries.

Presumptuous beyond belief,
you'd have the woman you pursue
be Thais when you're courting her,
Lucretia once she falls to you.

For plain default of common sense,
could any action be so queer
as oneself to cloud the mirror,
then complain that it's not clear?

Whether you're favored or disdained,
nothing can leave you satisfied.
You whimper if you're turned away,
you sneer if you've been gratified.

With you, no woman can hope to score;
whichever way, she's bound to lose;
spurning you, she's ungrateful—
succumbing, you call her lewd.

Your folly is always the same:
you apply a single rule
to the one you accuse of looseness
and the one you brand as cruel.

What happy mean could there be
for the woman who catches your eye,
if, unresponsive, she offends,
yet whose complaisance you decry?

Still, whether it's torment or anger—
and both ways you've yourselves to blame—
God bless the woman who won't have you,
no matter how loud you complain.

It's your persistent entreaties
that change her from timid to bold.
Having made her thereby naughty,
you would have her good as gold.

So where does the greater guilt lie
for a passion that should not be:
with the man who pleads out of baseness
or the woman debased by his plea?

Or which is more to be blamed—
though both will have cause for chagrin:
the woman who sins for money
or the man who pays money to sin?

So why are you men all so stunned
at the thought you're all guilty alike?
Either like them for what you've made them
or make of them what you can like.

If you'd give up pursuing them,
you'd discover, without a doubt,
you've a stronger case to make
against those who seek you out.

I well know what powerful arms
you wield in pressing for evil:
your arrogance is allied
with the world, the flesh, and the devil!

Mutaa Marriage Increasing in Iraq

Add one more crack to the already fractured Iraqi society -- a resurgence of temporary marriage. The Washington Post reports that the practice has "regained popularity since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq brought the majority Shiites to power." I had heard about this practice among Shiites before and am aware that it is a sticking point between the Sunni and Shi'a. But that's not where I want to go with this post. I'd rather focus on the utter irresponsibility of the adults engaging in this practice at a time and in a place where their attention should be on providing a more permanent and stable environment for the children that are already suffering!

With the Arab proprensity to exaggerate and the American need to hide the truth, I doubt the figures from both sides regarding the civilian casualties in Iraq. That they are staggeringly high, I have no doubt. That countless numbers of children are left without at least one parent, I am certain. That these children are suffering under the weight of both occupation and poverty is a given. Why then would a sheikh, a supposedly pious man, enter into 15 temporary marriages so that he could have 15 virgins rather than marry 1,2,3, or 4 widows with children? Think about it from a financial perspective. If he paid a mahr, which he had to have done 15 times over, he could have easily supported at least 2 wives in relative comfort for a few years! Now that his "permanent" wife is pregnant and unable to have sex with him, he goes and enters into yet another "temporary" marriage. Why not take a second wife -- again, a widow with children who need support? Or better yet, why not fast, pray, take a few cold showers, and use the money that he would have given to a "temporary" wife to a widow so that she could feed, clothe, and provide shelter to her children?

If marriage completes half of our religion, is it wise to classify it as "temporary" and toss it away so easily?

Two to Tango

PM's recent post about a special "virginity" soap available in the Middle East has sparked quite an interesting discussion of female chastity. The double-standard applied to men and women when it comes to chastity is yet another example of cultural and religious hypocrisy at work. Islam demands chastity irrespective of gender, yet Muslims cling to a cultural paradigm that places the greater burden of remaining chaste upon women because female chastity is inextricably tied to male honor. While men can conveniently hide their sexual behavior behind a zipper or flowing white robe (and often do), women carry the evidence of their sexuality around with them for all the world to see, thus bringing shame to their families.

All too often we see parents placing entirely too much emphasis on controlling the behavior of their daughters while neglecting to recognize that without placing the same type of controls on their sons, they place the daughters of others in the same danger from which they seek to protect their own girls! What is that cliche about needing two to tango?

Thursday, January 18, 2007

One of those days. . .

It's nearly one in the morning, and I should be asleep because I've got a long day ahead of me. But I haven't recovered yet from one of "those" days. You know the kind I mean -- the ones when you get out of bed with a smile on your face, ready to conquer every task thrown your way, only to discover that the whole world is laughing at some great cosmic joke in which you are the punch line.

We've had nothing but trouble with the internet service at our business for the past three years. Despite numerous phone calls and visits by repairmen, the problem has never ever been fixed. It's extremely difficult to operate the online portion of a business when one's "online" is more off than on, so Wednesday I called AT&T just one more time to complain about the lack of reliability of the their "service." A very polite young man in India did his level best to help me but try as he might, the poor fellow just didn't get it. For starters, he kept insisting that our service was residential. No matter how many times I corrected his mistake, he kept referring to our business as our "home." Patronizing irate customers isn't a good thing to do, yet this young man tried to reassure me that he fully understood my frustration. Excuse me? The guy has been trained by the company that for three years hasn't fixed the problem, he doesn't realize that I don't live in my warehouse, and he wants me believe that he understands why I am upset?

I don't think so!!

When I could stand his platitudes no longer, I shouted at him, "Young man, stop patronizing me! You are halfway around the world, working for and trained by the company whose service is compromising my BUSINESS not my HOME! You do not understand how I feel because you are employed by a company that pays the salary that feeds your family. And where does that salary come from? It comes from people like me who pay that company for a service that is supposed to work! And guess what? When that service doesn't work, people like me can't conduct our businesses to make the money we need to feed our families. So don't even try to tell me that you understand how I feel, just find a solution to the problem that has been going on for three damn years!"

He quickly set up a trouble ticket and arranged for a repairman to come and examine the wiring -- for the umpteenth time -- on Thursday.

The repairman who came had been at our place twice before and knew the problem. He felt sorry for us and really tried to find a solution. After a thorough check, he determined that the line was fine. He thought perhaps switching our service to another router might solve the problem and made an order for that to happen over the weekend. No go. AT&T would not give him a specific time frame; the best they could do was to tell him the ticket would be processed within 24-48 hours and that the switch would take 3 hours to complete. Ok, that's not bad -- we would be without online access on Saturday or Sunday and could live with that. By the time he left, it was 10 a.m. and time to get started processing UPS shipping labels which require internet access, and here's where the great cosmic joke starts. . .

With close to 100 orders to finish processing, the lights on our wireless modem started doing the hoochie-koochie, flashing red, green, red, green, red, RED, DEAD! But wait -- the repairman specifically said that we'd have internet access to finish our work! When the promised three hours turned into four and the internet still wasn't working, I called AT&T, only to be routed through India again to hear more platitudes about understanding my dilemma before being transferred to someone in my state who tells me that they have begun the switch to another router and that they have until 6 PM to complete it. We left the business at 7 to meet some friends for dinner and do you think we had internet service? Heck no! Who knows what we'll find in a few hours when we return. . .

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Two Too Tuesday

Because I don't want to be serious all the time, I'd like to start something fun with my blog. Beginning today and each Tuesday hereafter, insh'Allah, I will blog about TWO things that I'd like to accomplish during the week and one thing that I'm TOO grateful for that I might otherwise not pay TOO much attention to.

Two Too Tuesday

Two things I'd like to accomplish this week:

1. Class preps! With the spring semester beginning in just six days, I really need to finish my syllabi ASAP. In an ideal world, I would also prepare all the quizzes, exams, and paper prompts well in advance. Since realism is the name of my game, though, I will gladly settle for three completed syllabi.

2. Bathe and groom my kitties. Persian cats are absolutely gorgeous, but keeping them runway beautiful requires a lot of time. And since time is something that I haven't had much of lately, my girls (that's one of my Champions in the photo) are beginning to look a lot more like alley cats than the pampered queens they know they are. They give me so much affection and attention that it's about time they got some in return.

One thing that I'm TOO grateful for:

When my neurologist gave me the news that she would have to "turn me in" to the Department of Motor Vehicles and I would lose my driving privileges, it felt as though the last of my freedoms had been yanked away. Suffering from seizures was bad enough but add to that the tremendous guilt of becoming a burden to my family, and I felt that I was a walking recipe for disaster. Rather than allow me to wallow in self-inflicted misery, my husband has become my personal chauffeur without a single complaint. His attitude toward the whole situation has made an otherwise frightening and frustrating situation rather bearable, alhamdulillah, and I am TOO grateful for that.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Muslims and the Arts

Even with no understanding of the Arabic language, I could hear the rhythm, meter, and rhyme scheme of the poetry in the Qur'an quite easily. I didn't have to know the meaning of the words to follow the hypnotic rhythms of the ayat, to discern the patterns in the structure, to catch the internal and end rhymes within each line, to hear assonance and alliteration. Because I lacked familiarity with the language, the poetic form itself spoke to me. It crossed the barriers of time, language, culture, and geography, reaching out to me in a way that only a truly universal art form can.

I had often heard stories of people who, without understanding a single word, were moved to tears from hearing a recitation of the Qur'an. These people weren't always Muslims and weren't always moved to embrace Islam by the message contained within the ayat they had heard because they didn't understand the words. Still, something moved the listener to tears, and I would argue that it was not the voice of the reciter, especially if the individual was an American. (Generally speaking, Americans have a very low threshold of tolerance for nasal sounds. Rude as it is, we poke fun at people from certain areas in the East [Brooklyn, Philadelphia, Boston, etc.] for their "stuffy nosed" accents.) If the voice is not what moved these individuals to tears, then what did? The poetry, pure and simple.

The oldest texts known to mankind were written in the form of poetry; it has been around since humanity began to record its existence on earth. Poetry is timeless, universal, and familiar. We don't have to speak a language to hear a rhyme, recognize a cadence, feel a rhythm, mark out a meter (a poetic unit of measure based on the number of syllables in a word). We may not know the technical names for the poetic forms or be able to distinguish a sonnet from a ghazal, an iamb from a spondee, or a heroic couplet from blank verse, but the point is that knowledge of these things is not necessary to feel the beauty of the poetry!

Why is it that Muslims have such a difficult time using the arts as tools of examining some of the same ideas that the Qur'an teaches? Justice, goodness, poverty, kindness, evil, rebellion, punishment, reward, ties of kinship, relationships, and hope, themes that run throughout the Qur'an, are universal themes meaning that people the world over, in all times and places have an interest in them. They appear in the visual arts and literature, yet many Muslims refuse to acknowledge them. And should an artist or author express him or herself in a way that a cleric or sheikh disapproves of, he or she will soon find a price upon his or her head with any number of impoverished radicals more than willing to do the deed required to win his place in Jannah. Do these clerics even bother to read the texts they so readily condemn? Are they trained to understand the nuances of the language, the meaning of symbols, syntax, word order, allegory, metaphor, allusion, or any of the other intricacies that master writers use in their craft? If they haven't read the text from beginning to end, and if they do not have the same training in literary theory and analysis that they require for interpreting the meanings of Qur'an and Hadith, then who are they to decide what a text does or does not mean and to issue a fatwa demanding the death of the author?

"I was the first in our alley to make a career out of writing, though it has brought me much contempt and mockery."(from Children of the Alley by Naguib Mahfouz)

Despite much Tarzan-like chest beating displays of pan-Arab pride when Naguib Mahfouz received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1988, just mention the title of the novel noted at the end of the quotation above and watch what happens. Immediately the joy turns to anger as people who never bothered to read the book begin to castigate it and the author, citing blasphemy as the charge. With no understanding of allegory or reading a text on a deeper more meaningful level, these people take Mahfouz's novel at face value alone. An intricate and complex novel, Awlad Haretna (Children of the Alley in English) operates on three different allegorical levels simultaneously while telling the story of an Egyptian family that lives in an old Cairo neighborhood. Regardless of the allegory (political, religious, or social) at work, however, there is a constant rejoinder from the author about humanity's inability to learn from the past:

"Good examples would not be wasted on our alley were it not afflicted with forgetfulness. But forgetfulness is the plague of our alley." (Mahfouz, 171)

Forgetfulness dooms us to repeat our mistakes, and the Qur'an teaches us this invaluable lesson, too!

"But because of their breach of their covenant, We cursed them, and made their hearts grow hard; they change the words from their (right) places and forget a good part of the message that was sent them, nor wilt thou cease to find them- barring a few - ever bent on (new) deceits: but forgive them, and overlook (their misdeeds): for Allah loveth those who are kind."(5:13)

"From those, too, who call themselves Christians, We did take a covenant, but they forgot a good part of the message that was sent them: so we estranged them, with enmity and hatred between the one and the other, to the day of judgment. And soon will Allah show them what it is they have done." (5:14)

So why did the now infamous Sheik Omar Abdul Rahman claim that if Naguib Mahfouz had been killed back in 1959 when Awlad Haretna was first written then Salman Rushdie would never have had the nerve to write The Satanic Verses? Because he, and countless of other Muslims who reduce the world to their monochromatic understanding of it, simply cannot fathom how allegory or parable or storytelling works.

In a few days, when the Spring semester commences at the university where I teach, the students in my Comparative Literature class will begin their reading assignments with Mahfouz's "controversial" novel. I suppose that I should be concerned that an anonymous fatwa might be issued against me for daring to encourage such free thinking among my students. Instead of worrying about knife-wielding fanatics, however, I will be reminding my students about how prone humanity is to forgetfulness and how, when we don't learn from the mistakes of the past, we will surely repeat them. And then I will open the floor for a discussion about Bush's recent announcement of his plan to send an additional 22,000 troops to Iraq.