Ramadan: Cooking, Qur’an, Collaboration

Quran Ramadan: Cooking, Qur’an, Collaboration

School’s out, but there are plenty of opportunities for learning. With Ramadan coinciding with summer break, I have plenty of thoughts toward trying out some new things. After all, life-long learning is what it is all about, and these ideas are not just for kids.

Cooking

Why not begin with expanding culinary skills? The reality of Ramadan is that we do spend a lot of time thinking about food, cooking extra special feasts, and breaking our very long fasts with family and friends. To inspire you, Yvonne Maffei of My Halal Kitchen has published Summer Ramadan Cooking. She hails from a Sicilian and Puerto Rican parentage; and she has such fondness for many cuisines that her cookbook features many traditional and fusion dishes. Yvonne is very much in demand as a blogger, is often interviewed by the media, teaches cooking classes, and is an advocate of a Halal lifestyle. She is also a talented food photographer, and you will enjoy drooling over her pictures even if you don’t lift a spoon!

Quran
In Ramadan, we don’t merely dwell on food, we also seek to improve our knowledge of the Holy Qur’an and the Arabic language. The Qur’an is recited each of the 29-30 days of Ramadan, and hearing a beautiful recitation is one of the best aspects of the month. We usually finish our sunset meal, known as iftar, and quickly clean up the kitchen to ready ourselves for the evening and night prayers, isha and taraweeh. Taraweeh involves reciting 1/30th of the Qur’an each night, and it recharges one’s spirit, commitment, and relationship to Allah. However, I can attest that the benefits of Ramadan are proportional to the efforts one applies to it, and we all could use some supportive reminders to use time well because the holy month features bonuses not received at other times.

The Prophet Mohammad said, “Whoever reads a letter from the Book of Allah will receive a hasanah (good deed) from it, and the hasanah is multiplied by ten. I do not say that Alif Lam Meem is (considered) a letter, rather, Alif is a letter, Laam is a letter, and Meem is a letter.” [At-Tirmidhi, Ad-Darimi]

In Ramadan, good deeds are multiplied by 70 or more. The Prophet said, “Whoever draws near to Allah during it (Ramadan) with a single characteristic from the characteristics of (voluntary) goodness, he is like whoever performs an obligatory act in other times. And whoever performs an obligatory act during it, he is like whoever performed seventy obligatory acts in other times.” [Sahih Ibn Khuzaymah, no. 1877]

While for non-native Arabic speakers, the task of reading the Qur’an in Arabic is a significant challenge, take heart. Aisha, who was the youngest wife and frequent transmitter of testimony about the Prophet’s daily life, quoted him, “Verily the one who recites the Qur’an beautifully, smoothly, and precisely, he will be in the company of the noble and obedient angels. And as for the one who recites with difficulty, stammering or stumbling through its verses, then he will have twice that reward.” [Al-Bukhari and Muslim] –Nice to know that I’ll get a generous recompense for my efforts!

Collaboration

Although the mainstay identifier of Ramadan is the fasting, it should be acknowledged that relationships are a priority to reflect upon and improve. Tahera Ahmad, another wonderful soul I have had the pleasure of knowing, wrote about the importance of Relationships to Ramadan, and I was very pleased when the deeper essence of Ramadan and our understanding of it came up in conversation within my home.

My daughter has a friend who recently took a break from college to complete a ten month program in Texas at Bayyinah Institute, and she gained great insights from the esteemed founder Nouman Ali Khan. The girls’ discussions and subsequent study of online resources produced by him evolved in an initial gathering of moms and their kids to open a number of topics related to being Muslim in America, wearing hijab, studying the Qur’an, nuances of the Arabic language, and we hope to continue these meetings with husbands included. We’ll see how it goes; but it occurred to me that this type of gathering, featuring multiple generations and perspectives, may also provide a venue to transmit oral histories and wisdom to be passed to our progeny. It is said that the Devil is locked away in Ramadan, and I hope topics can be discussed with mutual respect, devoid of discord.

Technology & Arts

With these unstructured days of summer, it is my hope that we can all explore some new applications of technology. Whether we are teachers, students, or just casual dabblers in nascent apps, there could be no loss in acquiring practice in something new. This video presents possibilities and features links to further resources.

On a concluding note, it has been nearly two months since my father fell in his yard, and although he has suffered and continues to convalesce at home with me and my siblings rotating constant supervision, our relationships have greatly improved and I have treasured the fortification of our family bonds.

Thoughts of death, and preparation for the eventual absence of my life, have helped the depth of my worship (ibadah) and connection to Allah. I am reminded of my responsibility to prepare myself and those around me for the inevitable journey, and I greatly appreciate the time, people, and experiences that have been gifted to me. I am optimistic that soon my father and children will be able to be more independent by the end of this summer, and I have many things I wish to pursue with a renewed sense of mission and energy. This time of reflection, course correction, salutations from distant souls, and chance to gain exponential good deeds (barakat) and warm memories with those close to me is precious.

Every dua’a that is good is answered, they say, and I have known it to be true. Ramadan Mubarak!

Hospital, Hope, and Historic Legacy

Hospital, Hope, and Historic Legacy

Perched on the 7th floor of a suburban hospital, I peer at the Chicago skyline in the distance. Here for five days after my father suddenly “lost power” in his legs while feeding the birds in his yard; it was 92 degrees and he was stranded, baking for a few hours before a neighbor miraculously found him. While the event was unpleasant, he feels blessed as his children have risen to the cause as his advocates with numerous staff and specialists, tests, logistics, and he instigated a chain of reunions and collaborations that give him satisfaction, and above all, the feeling of love. We anticipate discharge to a physical rehabilitation within days.
1367685774908 With all the nasty news headlines, political and economic stresses, it distills down to this—we prevail when we have Hope. In Dad’s case, all testing so far was mercifully unspectacular, and an additional benefit, as I ponder it, is that rehab guided by professionals may speed up his recovery from winter doldrums to result in out-performing me in golf! I had better get my own training on track, in spite of numerous overseas relatives who have added to the complexity of my task schedule.

Yet, before spring sprang with its tulips, redolent lilacs and hyacinths, I was prompted to read Tariq Ramadan’s Islam and the Arab Awakening. It was not part of the Muslim Journeys book list, but I wish it was because he has a global following. This review will summarize contents and some of my own perspectives derived from his ideas.

Ramadan analyzes historic, geopolitical, and currently relevant perspectives. In his prescription for Arab and Muslim majority countries, he echoes a call I have heard even from OIC business research circles, that there is need for reform in education to foster innovation, critical thinking, and establishing a mission based stance toward collective responsibility, which may even question leadership if a better solution may be conceived. He recognizes the need in light of economic ripples from globalization, and the necessity of guidance and requirement to utilize young people in work. In particular, the value of women’s education and autonomy is acknowledged, and resolving poverty and corruption, which has undermined societies.

In timely manner, he qualifies that Islamic shariah implies a call for justice, dignity, and freedom. It supports religious, cultural, and political pluralism. Ramadan’s expertise is qualified, as he holds a PhD. in Arabic and Islamic Studies from the University of Geneva (Switzerland), and he contends that shariah is not constitutionally rigid and reductive. He also explains that the often misunderstood term of jihad “resists racism, dictatorships, corruption and oppression.” He states that “only when Muslim societies actively envision and work for nothing less than these values can they achieve liberation.” This is a far different portrayal of these terms—shariah and jihad—than what the American public has been led to believe.

Efforts of a deliberate misinformation campaign have been revealed, as I have learned of several reports in the past year. Truly Machiavellian, there are enough well plotted schemes that convince this to be reality, not a conspiracy theory. Yet, Ramadan does not address these at all. What he does note though are the inequities of powerful nations in their willingness to engage in resolutions within Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia as contrasted with Syria and Yemen. Specific interest was abetted to unrests in petromonarchies of Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. Meanwhile, we also see further power plays and economic polarization in Greece and Cypress, and we question when will the purge end? Who loses and who gains? How can “they” get away with it, and can the juggernaut be halted without a hard landing? The printing of fiat currency is heading toward Jupiter with futile hope of ever meeting debt obligations on every scale. It’s a house of cards, and even my overseas guests—who sport the shopping malls have reported that designer brands are selling out, while middle-America is not even in the mall or they’re just window shopping.

My eldest children have commented that nearly all their classmates from high school and college have no job, and this we see in Arab societies as well. Educated and un or under employed, we have too many PhDs. What benefit was their education for? A better effort is required for guiding students toward employable fields and majors. Ramadan writes that “critical intelligence is mandated to resolve the waste of human capital. Globalization and unemployment needs some turnkey solutions, and although not everyone is an entrepreneur, we must utilize resources in a fulfilling and sustainable manner.” Working to eliminate poverty is a solution; yet, the widening gap of haves and have nots is directly oppositional to the solution required.

Ramadan’s writing expresses hope for Muslim majority societies to take the initiative in building its own alternative order. In my mind I sense powerful potential parallels with the Dark Ages and subsequent rise of the Golden Age of Islam which eventually catalyzed into the Renaissance. However, with the internet and social media’s pan-identity of “we” there is optimism to breach entrenched nationalistic, gender, and religious divisions in exchange for a united, humanistic bond with willingness toward inclusion.

The power of the people was just a glimmer in the Arab Spring, and we wait for its awakening to cure the malaise threatening our existence. To build, Ramadan calls for the following three priorities
• The dignity of the individual and labor
• Defined conditions for fair and equitable trade
• Compassion and efforts to relieve the poor

While Arab and Muslim majority societies seek solutions, it is fair to evaluate weaknesses, in order to recognize their vulnerabilities. Since Ramadan clearly rests the responsibility to ultimately lie with the people, irrespective of corrupt leaders and plots, he diagnoses that many greatly lack Spirituality. Of course, there are deeply spiritual people scattered in every society, he qualifies that the masses are not devoid of “religion,” rather they lack its deeper infused essence. “Adherence to rituals, and even moral concern, fall short of spirituality depicted as having a rock solid base in a meaning to life and peace in one’s heart resulting from an unshakable belief that permeates one’s personality resulting in inner security and serenity.”

He calls out that rhetoric and formality have taken precedence over the spiritual core, and that some people incorporate Sufi practices while maintaining parallel to them secular lifestyles. We’ve seen this in American society where there was a rising interest in Buddhism and yoga. While not all who choose yoga as their form of exercise connect to the spiritual relation to it, the popular rise of it into mainstream was sparked by people seeking to fill a void.

Who could blame them for casting away religion when it seems that all dogmatic religions “take away” and “restrict,” rather that enrich? Moreover, the argument that religion “gives comfort” can easily be dismissed because many other less polyanna-ish pursuits can also give at least a temporary comfort.

Ramadan contends, “What lies at the heart of spirituality is the willingness to not resist against life’s challenges, because at some point exhaustion sets in, if unabated. When the human reaches its limit in its ability to suffer, the only recourse is to reach beyond one’s self to an entity who never fatigues, who creates all, and can deliver ultimate relief. Certainty of this entity’s existence and a personal connection to it defines one as a Believer. The depth of the relationship between Creator and Believer determines the degree of spirituality. Just as muscle improves with effort, spirituality is deepened with effort to connect with one’s Creator. In our often busy lives, this requires an investment of time and consciousness. That justifies why Muslims pray 5 times a day, to maintain that “hand hold” and bond.”

Far from simply hiding and praying, a spiritual person is called upon to actualize virtue in caring for themselves, their fellow humans, plants, creatures, and the environment. The manifold aspects of this can be applied to all realms of life. For me, Ramadan’s clarification reminds that aspects of this should resonate throughout education, social, political, economic, cultural and artistic work. For every type of occupation, I can easily perceive its relevance in serving for a greater good, whether it be through social work, fine arts, math and science, literature and communication, law, health care and fitness, politics, agriculture, animal husbandry, travel, logistics, trade, manufacturing, marketing, finance, and defense. All are acceptable if they serve toward building and preserving a legacy of dignity for all, and respecting the benevolence and wisdom of the Creator. This respect and acceptance of the Creator’s higher authority is what feeds spirituality. Behaving contrary to one’s inherent autonomy, status of trust, honor, and responsibility erodes it.

My vocation in Education—inclusive of the plurality of languages, customs, arts, cuisines, and other facets of culture—can help us discover our own pan-identity. Giving meaning and worth to other cultures gives respect and bonds humans as global partners.

——-Enough heavy analysis; levity also bonds humans. To that extent, I’ve a hankering for reading something by P.G. Wodehouse. After all, balance is a characteristic of Islam, and much time hanging out at the hospital with Dad has me chomping at the bit to get moving outdoors as soon as I can assure he is comfortable in an interim setting to get his legs and lungs ready for golf.

Muslim Journeys Bookshelf

muslim-home-left-art The Bridging Cultures Bookshelf: Muslim Journeys Grant, through the National Endowment for the Humanities, in cooperation with the American Library Association and the Ali Vural Ak Center at George Mason University, has enriched 950 recipients among libraries and state humanities councils.

The winning institutions receive a collection of books covering themes: American Stories, Connected Histories, Literary Reflections, Pathways of Faith, and Points of View. Although I would have wished a few other authors included, I am very pleased to see Ingrid Mattson’s The Story of the Qur’an: Its History and Place in Muslim Life, G. Willow Wilson’s The Butterfly Mosque:  A Young American Woman’s Journey to Love and Islam, and Eboo Patel’s Acts of Faith, the last of which was a required reading assignment for incoming students to Elmhurst College.

In addition, there are 3 DVDs: Prince Among Slaves (2007), Islamic Art: Mirror of the Invisible World (2011), and Koran by Heart (2011). I’ve coaxed my library to rush the processing of the art film, as it is a new acquisition, and have it reserved for me to be the first patron, hopefully to share it with others.

One of the benefits with an expiration date is access to the Oxford Islamic Studies Online Database for a year. This is only for those who have a library account via their local institution for log-in. See the following link to reference if your library is included:  www.programminglibrarian.org/muslimjourneys/mj-bookshelf/mj-selected-libraries.html

Finally, Islamic Art Spots is a DVD of seven video essays which provide an introduction to Islamic art and architecture related to the project themes. The entire Muslim Journeys collection contents can be viewed at http://www.programminglibrarian.org/muslimjourneys/mj-bookshelf/mj-collection.html

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Nearing the end of the dreaded month of March, with its tenuous grip on winter, I’m relieved to be on the homestretch. Two weeks ago, I managed to injure my back while merely brushing my teeth before dawn. Determined to heal quickly, I’d alternated walking 5 mile days with days of rest, and I was glad to make it out and walk/run today about 3 miles with out incident. However, it was not pleasant to be dashing between snow flurries that morphed into tortuous slapping of my face with pins of sleet. Spring indeed! Meanwhile, my niece and nephew in Phoenix are cavorting in their pool with expectations of summer.

The ISNA Education Forum is near and the rest of this week will be devoted to preparations while I monitor my children who are all on Spring (hmph!) Break. I’m looking forward to next week already when I can split my brain only between Halal brainstorming meetings and our export business strategic planning.

Difficult Days and Dua’a

Winter in my backyard. Difficult Days and Dua’a 

Written Friday night, February 22, 2013–Purulent nasal discharge and an internet glitch blocking further productivity, I’m nursing a nasty head cold. Wanting to maintain prolific gains of the week after designing presentations and writing their associated research papers, I cycle working a little, napping a little, to appease the swell of ambition egging me on. With so much I wish to do, and the frustration of not having stamina to sustain effort for long, I’m mindful to be patient and seek some good in it.

Compounded by the travails of winter, and stressors of all kinds, my heart holds an element of gratitude that those closest to me remain whole, basically healthy, and have positive expectations. Yet, I know of two young girls who have debilitating autoimmune diseases that struck hard. One can’t help but feel sad that they and their families suffer; yet, what can help bring relief from such trials?

Referring to an article by Yasmin Mogahed, titled “Dealing With Hardship” in Islamic Horizons, I found a firm inspiration to share. She began by citing the story of Asiyah, the righteous wife of renowned Pharaoh who pursued Moses and succumbed by drowning in the Red Sea. One of the most brave and virtuous women, she is mentioned in the Qur’an, “God sets forth an example for those who believe—the wife of Pharaoh who said: ‘My Lord, build for me with Thee a house in heaven, and save me from the Pharaoh and his doings, and save me from an unjust people.’” (Qur’an 66:11)

Mogahed continues in her article to reveal that she had recently faced a difficult test, and she asked people for their sincere dua’a, their supplications to God for her. She wrote, “And the beauty of having righteous, angel-like souls as your company is something priceless.” Of special strength and significance to her was a text message she received that read, “May you be shown your home in Jannah (heaven) so that any hardship is made easy on you.”

As Asiyah was bound to the most horrific husband, and as Ibrahim (Abraham) was pitched into fire for contesting with his elders that their idols were false gods, it is written that Asiyah smiled when Pharaoh tortured her and the fire was made to feel cool for Ibrahim, who did not burn.

For those skeptics, it must be acknowledged that “With every difficulty, there is relief.” (Qur’an 94:5) I can also attest that when I have come to points whereby I did not have the fortitude to prevail, when all was seemingly hopeless, painful, and gloomy, that when I deeply sought relief, it came. For me, I do believe in the power of prayer; and even if we are not the ones in dire straits, perhaps we have an obligation to others. Maybe we are also meant to help each other, through sincere dua’a. It binds us, keeps our hearts soft, supports us in tough times knowing that people care; and if we choose to believe, that there is hope for recovery, remission, healing.

“Everything for a reason,” I say, not believing in coincidence, but rather in destiny. With that, my dua’a are ways to express what little power I have. Perhaps that is why I’m sick today, because I’ve been heavily making dua’a for a lot of people, as I empathize with their dilemmas. Maybe it is useful for me to feel energy depleted, chapped, and needing a recharge from the One who can provide everything without measure, and once again thrill in the surge and return of creative drive, vigor, and secure relief from strife.

Saturday afternoon, February 23, 2013–After lots of garlic, chicken broth, hot tea, and rest…I felt that surge back to about 80%…”With every difficulty….”

For it is He who sends the winds bearing glad tidings before the rain-showers of His mercy–until when they lift heavy clouds aloft, We drive them to a lifeless land. Then upon it, We send down water, Then We bring forth with it fruits of every kind. Thus do We bring forth the dead, so that you may become mindful of your won resurrection.–(Qur’an 7:57)

The Earth Is A Mosque

The Earth Is A Mosque

Nature can elicit the calm comfort of a mosque, or other holy site of worship, but some may confuse their appreciation of nature for an object of worship, rather than nature’s Creator. Ancient people were noted for idolizing the sun, moon, stars, elements of water and fire, and even some modern day folks choose similarly without the logical conclusion that the Creator is responsible for the genesis of the universe and its contents.

We, having some of the attributes of that Divine Being, also have responsibility to honor our unique status among those created. We can differentiate ourselves from haughtily claiming ourselves to be the Divine because we cannot only revel in the wonders of nature, we can also fear and be overwhelmed by it. Recent reminders are the effects of hurricane Sandy, our frustrated feeling of helplessness when we are ill, or when we wish well for someone struggling but lack the power to help them. In all these situations though, it can assuage the soul to know that the Earth is a mosque, any place is amenable to worshiping and connecting to one’s Creator.

As nasty, cold weather has curtailed my golf, biking, and general activities in exchange for lifting weights, running indoors, and getting belly laughs when my husband and I attempt yoga, I miss “playing outside,” and have taken to reading a backlog of books about the environment and Green careers. There was even two seasons on DVD of “Living With Ed,” featuring Ed Begley, Jr., an actor who is a zealous environmental activist. The show featured several other celebrities, including Larry Hagman, Jay Leno, and Bill Nye the Science Guy, who share his passion for taking strides toward a “Greener” lifestyle. I wish my kids watched the programs, but they managed to disappear when their nerdy mom tried to ambush them into watching for some cool ideas.

Now I have a ton of websites collected in my notebook that I intend to check out from “Green Careers for Dummies.” With the Obama administration in the saddle for the next term, I hope to see more Green Job growth, and am considering what opportunities we may explore for high school aged children and ourselves for the next few decades. One must always be ready to adapt; that is how survivors manage.

How did all this Green reading start? Well, it’s a little embarrassing because it was over a month ago that I saw Ibrahim Abdul-Matin, author of “Green Deen: What Islam Teaches about Protecting the Planet” when he presented to students at Elmhurst College. I’ve been intending to blog about his message since that time, but felt that I was not informed enough to do justice to the wider scope of it. That is what prompted my inquiry and extended reading in subjects related. It is from him that I cite the concept that “The Earth is a Mosque.” He writes, threading references from the Qur’an, to help the reader fathom that we are intimately connected with nature; and he substantiates Islam’s compatibility with science through several references, among them are oceans meeting and not mixing (Holy Qur’an 25:53 and 55:19-20), and development of a fetus (Holy Qur’an 23:12-14). He describes Light (Noor), which has repeated references in many religions. Looking at subatomic particles, with the strongest magnification, they look like small flashes of light. On the opposite side of the spectrum, zooming from our moon to the limits of the universe, we see Light. Abdul-Matin expresses that light is an expression of the Oneness of Allah and His creation (Tawhid), “the universe is aglow with continuity.”

As humans, we are created from clay, water, and a divine spirit. The Prophet Mohammad, peace be upon him, helped us realize “The world is beautiful and verdant, and verily Allah, be He exalted, has made you his stewards in it, as He sees how you acquit yourselves,” from Sahih Muslim, book 10, hadith 10. This gift of life also has a trust (amana) associated with it for us to freely make decisions, decisions that we will be accountable for about this sacred creation and how we chose to interact with it. Abdul-Matin puts it beautifully, “Our mandate from God dictates that we must praise the Creator, take care of the planet, and take care of one another.”

Sharing deeper enlightenment at our Elmhurst College presentation, he brilliantly sized up colonialism’s subjugation of people who lacked political and economic power by those who did not view the Earth like a mosque. They exploited the people and resources for their own greedy gain, without regard to Justice (adl), and humans became defined as “units of production.” Taking natural resources and raw goods, they manufactured and marketed to create hunger for materialism. The contagion of this artificially induced addiction to “stuff” has had a detrimental effect on the planet. We buy, throw, and buy some more. Manufacturers deliberately design products now with intent that one day the consumer will need to replace items again. Meanwhile, we are not living in harmony with the Earth. This pattern simply cannot be sustained.

The way to find balance (mizan) is found through the rite of prayer. Through it, we find ourselves in synch with the rest of Creation and the Creator. The author writes of his recollections praying in many awesome natural settings. It brought back to my mind memories of praying the sunset (maghrib) prayer beside a lonely strip of highway about 20 years ago in Saudi Arabia, praying close to the Grand Canyon, by a mountain in Colorado, and in Glacier National Park in Montana. All of these were so peaceful, deep, and fulfilling, like an ideal mosque.

Then, in a wonderful connection, he binds prayer as the means to heal our hearts. Our hearts mirror how we treat ourselves and the planet. We need Allah to mend our injuries and open our hearts to live in accordance to a just and balanced relationship within Creation. The culmination of this is to take action to advance a Green Deen Movement. Deen refers to a way of living with reference to the holistic teachings of Islam.

Four points summarize the contents of the book which target Waste, Energy, Water, and Food.
• Sharing stories to inspire and illustrate
• Getting educated about environmental issues and solutions
• Connecting with people of other faiths as we live together and work to serve
• Taking responsibility to make the world better, and not succumb to fear of failure

One such story was related about Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, who was speaking in 2008 at the Anacostia Green Jobs Now rally around Washington, DC. He said, “We need to get our energy from Heaven–wind, solar, and waves, instead of from Hell—the stuff in the ground like coal, oil, and gas.”

Other interesting initiatives were how Chicago-based IMAN has connected training energy auditors to help people in poor neighborhoods get energy saving improvements that can help them spend less money on utility bills, and the Ecuadorian Amazon Pachamama people who linked up with American environmentalists to effectively spare their homeland from oil companies threatening to encroach and change their habitat. They have improved their economy and initiated ecotourism successfully.

Abdul-Matin introduced readers to sources of Halal, humanely raised foods from ethical purveyors Whole Earth Meats, who also brought fresh organic produce to a farmer’s market they initiated in the urban desert of Chicago’s inner-city, and Green Zabiha, from which consumers can purchase Halal, grass-fed, and organic products online. These companies were started by entrepreneurs who sought a better way to feed their families in line with their values. It seems to have been a struggle, but they found like-minded people who will pay more and make do with less to live in congruence with their conscience.

Many of our students are wasteful with water, but the ADAMS Center in Virginia has checked the meter to calculate how they can achieve the goal of reducing water consumption by 10 percent. Reminding people that their ablutions (wudu) need not be like a shower, a Malaysian company has invented machines to ration water for it. Waste-free Ramadan dinners (iftars) have been initiated in several mosques whereby people bring their own plates and eating utensils from home instead of using disposables. Food scraps are then composted. Many examples of novel ideas coming from humble people with genuine concern for the Earth are illustrated.

I truly recommend reading this book, and would consider its benefit for students who can reference many Islamic vocabulary terms defined in its glossary, numerous websites cited, as well as it is indexed. The examples cited offer guidance to all who hope to realize the power of even a single person that can make significant strides to better lives for many.

Prompting my curiosity further on the subject, I delved into another interesting read, “The World is Blue: How Our Fate and the Ocean’s are One” by Sylvia A. Earle. It was not as dense as the previous books mentioned, but it did raise consciousness as Earle has had many diverse experiences over a lifetime with the National Geographic Society. She has traveled distant places of the globe, above and below into the deep, and has even started two companies to help resource efforts to learn more and explore the wonderous oceans. What resonates from her writing is, “The big question is what can we do to take care of the blue world that takes care of us?” (p. 14). She documents man’s wasteful presence in the most remote areas, and shares stories of mishaps that give us concern. She serves to warn as did Rachel Carson in Silent Spring, that our lives are intricately balanced with the ocean, and we are vulnerable if we continue to pollute.

From the macro to the micro, I’d read “The Wild Life of Our Bodies: Predators, Parasites, and Partners That Shape Who We Are Today, by Rob Dunn. This was different from everything else in that the writer analyzed many angles of how we have changed our internal as well as external habitats over time, and ironically our changes have perhaps been more detrimental than we realize with ultimately unbalancing our existence. One of the most bizarre, yet seemingly cathartic remedies for Celiac disease may be to actually inoculate patients with hookworms, parasites, to relieve their symptoms. It was a strange symbiotic proposition that was suggested after realization that Celiac disease only happens in cultures that have used antibiotics and have a modern world (i.e. clean) existence. On another note, the eradication of native mammal species to the western United States over the past one hundred years or so has tipped the balance of predator-prey in nature, and even the history of shaving body areas has been tracked as thwarting the spread of disease historically, particularly due to the avoidance of lice and venereal crabs. One never knows what tidbits reading can gain for trivia freaks!

However, the best part of Dunn’s book was toward its conclusion, “We do not always dream or decide consciously, many days we are rather like the ants pushed this way and that by our urges and conditions. Collectively though, we have the ability to learn and extend beyond our individual limits. We have the ability to develop a plan and on the basis of that plan to enact change that affects not just our own lives, or even those of our own species, but instead all of our lives and all species. We have the ability to pick up the drawing pad on which the future will be laid out and sketch the streets, the houses, and the people, our descendants, moving back and forth, and to decide whether they walk or drive, but also how they interact with each other and the rest of life (p. 236).

News came today that the Israelis have started another incursion into Gaza, and I’ve seen on Twitter posts of four children under the age of five who have been killed within the first hours. On one hand, I take Dunn’s message of empowerment to heart, and Abdul-Matin’s vision to personally connect my raised consciousness into action, but what impact can even a group of environmentally conscious individuals have to thwart the carbon footprint of a nation inciting incendiary violence? What justice can we hope for? President Obama: Please stop this insanity.

I long for Shangri-La.

Rout Out Islamophobia!

Emir Abd el-Kader’s seal

Once again the media broadcast another alarming headline about an American community protesting the construction of a mosque based on a fear of “creeping shariah.” With many people not even believing in God, one would think it more productive to work on the large percentage of people that do not even believe in God Almighty. …ditto for the guy who passed me a scrappy note from a Bible institute about “What Every Muslim Should Know” while shopping for window treatments in JCPenney! Dude, I already know about Jesus and the miracle of the virgin birth. That is Islam too.

Over the years I have witnessed episodes that really did not register consternation over Islamophobia, but I suppose the cumulative effect IS stirring up my concern because of the uptick in incidents leading toward the presidential election. In fact, according to a presentation made at the ISNA Education Forum last Spring by Purdue University students Amina Shareef and Adrien Chauvet, titled Disrupting Islamophobia, it is specifically political situations that have historically and consistently been correlated to the fear or discrimination that characterizes Islamophobia. Furthermore, it is perpetrated by mis-education and historical amnesia. There are organizations who benefit from casting Muslims as “the other,” and they are heavily backed with finance and influential connections.  Even the mainstream Republican party is served by fortifying the “us versus them” stance, in spite of the fact that ideologically many business minded Muslims identify with being Republican (click on the hyperlinks for some interesting perspectives).

Yet, Muslims have an obligation to stand up and not be complacent. That is why I’m writing this, because we have to let people know the truth and stand up for what is right. Shareef and Chauvet quoted that 44% of Americans polled would support government curtailment of Muslim civil liberties, according to research quoted by CAIR and Cornell University (2011), but that may be because 60% of Americans have never met a Muslim (Care2Causes Editors). In this vacuum of experience, people tend to buy in to what authoritative figures and organizations purport, and it is exactly those well financed, highly organized entities who have been so deviously deceptive and influential that anti-shariah laws exist in 23 states. This is laughable, as shariah has never posed any threat to civil law, and even in Islamic societies, it is civil law that prevails.

To counter the supposed threat and hopefully put to rest the allegation that “to be a good Muslim, you have to hate,” I encourage foremost that critics actually read and study the Holy Qur’an. Be mindful that the original is in Arabic, a language still extant and very rich in meaning; but since most Americans are not versed in any foreign language, they need to rely on translations. Not all translations are necessarily true too, as there are those with malevolent intentions. My best advice is to use several, and preferably ones who have translated and given some interpretive footnotes (tafseer) by a Muslim. There have been several Islamophobes who take verses out of context and fail to relate the relevant circumstances which transpired at the time of some of the revelations.

To clarify, the Holy Qur’an is originally a series, not chronologically arranged, of recitations that were transmuted into a corpus. The verses often came to address specific events that gave guidance to the recipients at that time, around 1400 years ago. However, much of the guidance is still relevant today to those seeking and choosing to follow, and anyone who believes can be considered a Muslim. It is not based on race, nationality, just acceptance that God is god, and that Mohammad is a prophet of God, as was Jesus, Moses, Abraham, Noah, Lot, and many others, including Adam.

Muslims have, like most groups, some virtuous members and some who give a bad image due to misdeeds and variances in interpretations. That can be said for many other religious, political, and ethnic members, but Islam purports noble values that are in alignment with the upbringing I always had as an American. These held the importance of respect for parents and authority, honesty, cleanliness, hard work, charity, scholarship, family obligations and neighborliness, as well as honor and humility before God and man. Sadly, our country is losing the preservation and recognition of the importance of these attributes, but there is still hope. I’m pleased to note that my sons’ high school advocates the motto: Respect, Responsibility, and Engagement. This overarching theme encourages them to make the best of the education and opportunities for growth offered. Traditionally, Muslims have held values in high esteem, similar to values we in America have assimilated from democracy and the concept of a republic. The lack of democracy in Muslim lands today is derived from colonialism, but as we see from the Arab Spring, times are changing.

John W. Kiser immortalized and shared the rich history of Emir Abd el-Kader, who has a town named in Iowa in respect for him http://www.truejihad.com/. I just love what one student wrote after reading Kiser’s book, “Abdelkader’s life embodied the words of the Qur’an 5:7, ‘Let not your hatred of other men turn you away from Justice. Be just…that is closer to piety.’ — Madi Johansen, Decorah Iowa.” There are many families in Iowa who have long standing roots in America, and they are Muslim of Arab descent. There is also evidence that some African Americans who were brought to this land as slaves were Muslim and forcibly made to adopt Christianity in order to live.

The current issue of Islamic Horizons features “What Happened to Islamophobia” by Meha Ahmad that cites that Muslims want just what every other American wants. What was interesting was what was NOT chosen as high priorities for Muslim Americans, namely Islamophobia. It wasn’t even on the list, but Foreign policy was #6 and Religious freedom was #9. Immigration reform, economy, and the environment were priorities, and these are similar areas of concern for Latinos and other ethnic groups as well. Americans stand united on many issues, but these do nothing for the agenda of the Islamophobes. Their power comes from divisiveness, the trumping up of a fabricated threat. It serves a purpose to help close ranks and give status to those who want to keep Muslims from becoming enfranchised, trusted, and becoming a force to influence just regard for those everyday folks.

The wool has been pulled over the eyes of many people, and they have no way of knowing anything different until more Americans and Muslim Americans become better educated, more willing to open up to participate and work together within our society, and to simply give more effort to correct misconceptions gently, patiently, and consistently.

Shareef and Chauvet offered the following resources which you may find useful:

A. History of Muslim-Christian Encounters.

1. Geaves, R., Gabriel, T., Haddad, Y. and Smith, J. (eds.) Islam and the West Post 9/11. : Ashgate, 2004.
2. Haddad, Y., Smith, J. I., and Moore, K. (eds.) Muslim Women in America, Gender, Islam, and Society. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.
3. Haddad, Y. and Haddad, W. Z. (eds.) Christian-Muslim Encounters. Gainsville, FL: University Press of Florida, 1995.
4. Watt, W. M. Muslim-Christian Encounters: Perceptions and Misperceptions. London: Routledge, 1991.
5. Watt, W. M. The Majesty That Was Islam: The Islamic World, 661-1100. New York: Praeger, 1974.
6. Esposito, J. L. The Islamic World: Past and Present. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

B. Understanding Islamophobia.

1. Abrahamian, E. (2003). The US media, Huntington and September 11. Third World Quarterly, Vol. 24, (3), 529-544.
2. Esposito, J. & Kalin, I. (2011), Islamophobia: The challenge of pluralism in the 21st Century. New York: Oxford University Press.
3. Al-Saji, A. (2010). The radicalization of Muslim veils: A philosophical analysis. Philosophy of Social Criticism, 36 (8) 875-902.
4. Cole, M. Maisuria, A. (2007). ‘Shut the f***up’, ‘you have no rights here’: Critical race theory and racialisation in post-7/7 racist Britain. Journal for Critical Education Policy Studies. 5 (1).
5. Dossa, S. (2008). Lethal Muslims: White-trashing Islam and the Arabs. Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs. 28(2), 225-236.
6. Elgamri, E. (2008) Islam in the British broadsheets: How historically-conditioned Orientalist discourses inform representations of Islam as a militant monolithic entity. Reading, UK: Ithaca Press.
7. Fernandez, S. (2009). The crusade over the bodies of women. Patterns of Prejudice, 4(3) 269-286.
8. Ho, C. (2007). Muslim women’s new defenders: Women’s rights, nationalism and Islamophobia in contemporary Australia. Women’s Studies International Forum, 30, 290-298.
9. Razack, S. (2005). Geopolitics, culture clash, and gender after September 11. Social Justice, 32 (4). 11-31.
10. Brinson, M. E. (2010). Muslims in the media: Social and identity consequences for Muslims in America. (Dissertation). Retrieved from ProQuest Doctoral Dissertations and Theses. (3427827).
11. Council for American Islamic Relation (CAIR): http://www.cair.com/AmericanMuslims/ReportsandSurveys.aspx

C. Interventions Against Islamophobia.

1. Jackson, E. J. (2009). Teaching about controversial groups in public schools: Critical multiculturalism and the case of Muslims since September 11. Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertation and Theses. (3392076).
2. Jackson, L. (2010). “Images of Islam in US media and their educational implications” Educational Studies, 46, 3-24.
3. Phelps, S. (2010) Critical literacy: Using nonfiction to learn about Islam. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 54(3), 190-198.
4. Niyozov, S. (2010). Teachers and teaching Islam and Muslims in pluralistic societies: Claims, misunderstandings, and responses. Int. Migration & Integration, 11, 23-40.

D. General Interest.

1. Shaheen, J. G., and Greider, W. Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People. New York: Olive Branch Press, 2001.
2. Gottschalk, P., and Greenberg, G. Islamophobia: Making Muslims the Enemy. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2008.
3. Herman, E. S., and Chomsky, N. Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media. New York: Pantheon Books, 2002.
4. Kincheloe, J. L., Steinberg, S. R., and Stonebanks, C. D. Teaching against Islamophobia. New York: Peter Lang, 2010.
5. Esposito, J. L., and Mogahed, D. Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think. New York, NY: Gallup Press, 2007.

Some additional titles (that are on my “to read” list), which you may wish to check out are:

1. Shryock, A. Islamophobia/Islamophilia: Beyond the politics of enemy and friend. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2010.

2. Lean, N. The Islamophobia Industry: How the right manufactures fear of Muslims. London, UK: Pluto Press, 2012.

3. Sheikh, Z. U. Islam: Silencing the Critics: A candid analysis of the most discussed faith in today’s world. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2012.

As Education is the key to understanding, it is also the means to thwart ignorance and hatred. Please visit my website at Genius School to learn more about how I may serve your needs. Your comments, sharing, and feedback are always welcome.