Saturday, May 27, 2006

new and old

Jesus saith unto them, Have ye understood all these things? They say unto him, Yea, Lord.

Then said he unto them, Therefore every scribe which is instructed unto the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which bringeth forth out of his treasure things new and old.

Matthew 13:51-52

The simple rule for understanding the present-day Muslim world begins with listening to women who speak out about it, who have either escaped or are taking great risks from within the societies into which they were born.

Salim Mansur: U.S. is Iran's best hope

A disciple is like a new moon,
in reality no different than
the full moon: its apparent imperfection
is a sign of gradual increase.
Night by night the new moon
gives a lesson in gradualness:
with deliberation it says, "O hasty one,
only step by step can one ascend to the roof."
A skillful cook lets the pot boil slowly;
the stew boiled in a mad hurry is of no use.

Mathnawi VI:1208-1212, version by Camille and Kabir Helminski

Thus, to satisfy Matthew's writing standards, do I bring forth the new of Mansur and the old of Rumi. I know that Matthew means that we should delve into existing literature, preferably the classical stuff that has stood the test of time, as well as adding one's fresh insights. Mansur urges us to focus on the women writers who have been most affected by recent developments in the Muslim world.

Last night I attended a Christian-Muslim interfaith forum with about 100 people attending. There was no hijab worn in that room. What a waste of time and space!

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Understanding Jihad

I've written a longish Book Commentary and Review on the book of this title by David Cook. I'll try to send longish stuff off like this, so I can freely write at length while keeping the blog itself "brief and sweet".

Saturday, May 20, 2006

revolutionary women

Today, now, this is when
we can meet the Friend,
now, as the sun comes up.
Now Shams comes along, a walking fire
beyond anything I can say.

from Ghazal 448, via Coleman Barks & Nevit Ergin

It seems that Ayaan Hirsi Ali has proven to be the Shams of today, setting some on fire but turning others away in fear. James Button for smh writes a fitting farewell for her here:
Too hot for Holland: Islam critic moves on

I've just finished reading Cheryl Benard: Veiled Courage: Inside the Afghan Women's Resistance. I was moved especially by two simple comments from Afghan women interviewed:
But here, the differences that exist between men and women are so enormous. We are the prisoners of men. Against their abuses, we cannot even say a word.

To women in another country who might read your book, I want to say this: Whatever you have heard about Afghanistan is only a fraction of what we go through. Each one of our days is more bitter than you can even imagine. Under the fundamentalists, a woman is less than a bird in a cage. A bird at least is allowed to sing, but according to them, it is a sin for anyone even to hear our voice.

I will be taking a greater interest in RAWA in the days to come. I'm impressed by an impassioned plea from Mehmooda that Defense of Abdul Rahman Misses the Mark! She wants to see more attention paid to the injustice that allows mass murderers to rule in Kabul. She lists local grievances. She doesn't understand the mindset in the West that can so readily focus on the plight of a single individual. I don't have ready answers to all this but I am moved to try to find some.

I've also recently finished reading David Cook: Understanding Jihad. The entire first chapter is provided here: QUR'AN AND CONQUEST. Cook's main conclusion is that violent jihad has strong roots in Islamic tradition, not only in the sacred central text of the Qur'an, as well as in the hadith collections and books of interpretation and law, but also in the history of actual practice of Islam over the last 14 centuries.

I do differ from Cook on the issue of conversion to Islam. I would take a stronger line than he does. Here is a key passage I would take issue with (my emphasis):

In addition to the apocalyptic and messianic goals of the jihad, there are also the goals of spreading Islam. Although Islam was not spread by the sword, as is commonly imagined, conquest and jihad created the preconditions for conversion, and conversion or proclamation was one of the goals of the jihad. An early tradition describes the limits of fighting:

I was ordered to fight people until they say: "There is no god but Allah." When they have said that, then their blood and their property is protected from me, solely by reason [of saying it], and judgment upon them is in the hands of Allah.

It really really beats me how Cook can quote that hadith in the same breath as denying that Islam was spread by the sword. What could be clearer? The only way to obtain any relief from the menace of fighting Muslims, wielding swords in those days, was to affirm the Islamic faith. That affirmation is all it takes to become a Muslim, to convert to the religion. It seems very simple to me. People were offered the choice: convert or die. How is that not spreading Islam by the sword?

I also believe that RAWA is failing to understand that the roots of the violence against women in Afghanistan is Islamic and not merely the fault of the fundamentalist fringe. Until these women understand this, they will not make real progress. They are learning to read and write and that is an important first step. But, in my view, they need to go further.

And this is where I get back to Ayaan Hirsi Ali. She is clearly and adamantly anti-Islam, anti-Koran, and anti-Mohammad. That view is heartily embraced by conservatives but not yet clear to the liberals or "lefties". I'm normally pretty left in my politics but, on this issue, I've crossed the floor and am with the right.

Theologically, I'm with Shams and his lover Rumi. God is a Friend that is close to us and present in every moment of every day. God is not some transcendent being accessible only to holy prophets or popes. God was accessible to ordinary people through an ordinary man when Jesus saw the light and expressed it in His own life. I'm convinced that Rumi saw this clearly, that Shams saw it too. Both also saw an important spiritual message in the Qur'an but it was overlaid by a lot of garbage as well. Rumi tried, through his poetry, to bring forth a clearer cleaner spring of living water. It is still tainted here and there by Islamic mud but it usually does run clear and bright.

From Rumi also I will take the idea of working through poetry but as a partner to prose not as my sole medium. May prose and poetry together allow me to grow as a revolutionary woman.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

camel humps

I've been researching the hijab and found a strange reference to camel humps in an article at the University of Southern California. The following hadith from the Sahih Muslim was mentioned (my added emphasis):

Translation of Sahih Muslim, Book 24:
The Book Pertaining to Clothes and Decoration (Kitab Al-Libas wa'l-Zinah)


Book 024, Number 5310:

Abu Huraira reported Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) having said this: Two are the types of the denizens of Hell whom I did not see: people having flogs like the tails of the ox with them and they would be beating people, and the women who would be dressed but appear to be naked, who would be inclined (to evil) and make their husbands incline towards it. Their heads would be like the humps of the bukht camel inclined to one side. They will not enter Paradise and they would not smell its odour whereas its odour would be smelt from such and such distance.


This hadith also seems to be referred to here:

The prophet (pbuh) is quoted as saying: "In the latest part of my Ummah (nation of Muslims) there shall be women who would be naked in spite of being dressed, they have their hair high like the humps of the Bukht camel, curse them, for they are cursed. They will not enter Al-Jannah and would not even perceive its odour, although it's fragrance can be perceived from a distance of 500 years travelling by camel."


Muslim 024:5310 is the only reference to "bukht" in the entire hadith collection covered at the MSA-USC Hadith Database, so the above two versions must be referring to the same hadith. It astonishes me that the first version seems to refer to an imaginary visit to Hell while the second seems to be a prophecy of the future. Muslims seem to me to take quite a few liberties with these hadith translations.

Anyway ... I was intrigued as to what kind of headdress would look like a camel hump, something that might be known to 7th century Arabs. In my research I came across this charming terracotta figurine of a woman (perhaps a goddess or priestess) with a domed hat. It is 6th century BC and from an area to the north of the Arabian peninsular, but Mohammad might have seen a figurine like this in his caravan travels. I like the figure very much, whether it is relevant or not.

terracotta figurine

Boeotian figurine, 560-510 B.C. @ HellenicMuseumsShop


Wednesday, May 17, 2006

letter published

The body is like a letter:
look into it and see whether it's worthy to be read by the King.
Go into a corner, open the letter, and read what is in it,
see whether its words are suitable for royalty.
If it isn't suitable, tear it to pieces,
write another letter, and remedy the fault.
But don't think it's easy to open the letter of the body;
otherwise everyone would readily discover the secret of the heart.
How difficult it is to open that letter!
It's only for the strong, not for those playing games.

Mathnawi, IV:1564-1568, version by Camille and Kabir Helminski

My poem was published today! This Rumi excerpt (which also arrived today) fits it well since it was published in the Letters to the Editor. It's a small local newspaper and this was a small local issue, but it still feels good to see my name and my writing in the regular print media.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

earth orbit

You imprisoned in air nine spheres of emerald
till you brought into orbit a form of earth.
Water, what are you washing? Wind, what are you seeking?
Thunder, why are you roaring? Sphere, why are you turning?

Ghazal 2589, trans A.J. Arberry

I've captured this small excerpt from a Rumi ghazal because it seems to me to suggest that Rumi was aware that the earth was orbiting around the sun as well as turning on its own axis.

See also:

Gang leader @

The above image seems to fit well with these further lines from the same ghazal:

What place is there for the head on the road of fidelity?
What worth has life itself in the religion of manliness?
That man is perfect in quality who is the quarry of annihilation;
there is room for not one hair in the circle of uniqueness.


Wednesday, May 10, 2006


It seems I can only keep this blog up if I keep adding to it or modifying it, so I've decided to return.

Update: I've realized this doesn't apply after all (at least not yet) but the deed is done. I've returned so I'll keep it that way.

Today I'm anxious about whether a poem of mine will be published in a local newspaper. Here's keeping my fingers crossed.