“…increasingly religious…” and Other Words

Several recent articles describe the Boston bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev as having become, “…a fervent Muslim…” and “…increasingly religious…” I want to scream, “NO! He was NOT becoming a fervent Muslim! He was becoming a fervent KAAFIR (unbeliever) and increasingly IRRELIGIOUS! He took SATAN as a guide instead of ALLAH!”  Those articles were written by non-Muslims, while imams across the nation condemned the tragedy and even dared to say what they should have been saying loud and clear:  These men are not brother Muslims, but heretics. 

Instead of preaching to the choir, imams and Muslim writers need to clean up our language. There is no such thing as “radical” Islam. There is Islam, and there is other than Islam. There is no such thing as “fundamentalism” in the sense that one goes back to the founding (fundamental) principles of Islam to concoct justifications for terrorism.  There is no such thing as “extremism” which condones violence, and “non-extremism”, which does not. Do I need to cite Qur’anic ayahs regarding  malicious killing and all manner of violent behavior that wrecks havoc and brings suffering instead of peace? I think not.

In addition to disowning terrorists, we Muslims really need to change how we describe our religion and its associated perversions. WE know what is meant by “radicalism”, but the non-Muslim rightly thinks that “radicalism” is simply an exaggeration of established guidelines. “Fundamentalism”, with regard to Islam, is not actually fundamental; it does not go to the founding principles, and cannot claim right guidance. “Extremism” is not the outer edge of acceptable practice; it is not the purified, rarified essence of what we ordinary Muslims accept as Islam.

It’s bad enough that groups of Muslims in many countries learn corrupted ideas that subvert Islam, commandeer its theology and hijack its purpose, but even worse that the majority of  Muslims are not finding more effective ways to counter the development.  

One way, one small but important way, is to change how we describe our religion and the people who arose from our religion but who’ve stolen it, used it in service to the most heinous of evil acts. This post is my contribution to that goal. If you agree with me, speak up. Talk about this, especially to imams and Muslim leaders. If nothing else, post something on another blog, an article, a letter to the editor.

Further Adventures in Anatomy (For a Five-Year-Old)

Hasan came to spend the night with me again. He said,”Grandma, will you please tell me more about the body? I’m not confused anymore.”

“No, I think we’ll not study tonight,” I replied, remembering his emotional upset after we’d “studied” last week.

“Where’s the book?” he asked, ran to my room and found the illustrated atlas of anatomy. “Tell me about breathing,” he demanded.

I opened the pages illustrating respiratory anatomy, and told him about how the air goes into the lungs from the nose and/or mouth. I wanted to tell him about oxygen/carbon dioxide exchange in the capillaries, but he interrupted me.

“That’s creepy!” he said.

“Why?” I asked. “I don’t think it’s creepy, I think it’s beautiful.”

“Why is everything red?” he asked.

“The lung is a vascular organ, full of blood vessels.”

“EEWWWEE! That’s soooooo creepy. I don’t want to learn anything more about breathing.”

“OK,” I said, and closed the book.

“Wait!” he said. “If air goes into the throat, how does the body know the difference between air and food?”

That kid amazes me. 

“Well,” I said,”there are two pipes in your neck, one for air and one for food. There’s a door between them, and the body knows when to shut the door, according to whether food or air is coming down.” 

He bent his leg at the knee, and pressed on the joint from the sides. Then he extended the leg and pressed his kneecap. 

“Why does this top part pop up when my leg is straight, but disappears when my leg is bent?”

I showed him the cross-section of the knee joint, and  how the kneecap  appears to slide between the leg bones as the leg is moved. He found that picture fascinating– not too vascular. 

He then said, “Grandma, I need a folder, and some paper. I’m going to learn you how to read and write Arabic.”  

Physiology for a Five-Year-Old

My grandson Hasan wanted to spend the night with me, so I picked him up on my way home from work. We played on the computer,  constructed a model car together, watched a little television,  brushed our teeth and put on our pajamas. Then he asked me, “What color is our brain?”

“Pink,” I said.

“What color is a very young brain?”

“Pink.”

“What color is a very old brain?”

“Pink,” I said, “I’ll show you.” I dug out my beautifully illustrated atlas of anatomy and flipped to the section on the nervous system. I showed him the pink brain, with its packed convolutions, and I showed him where the spinal cord enters the lower part of the brain. Then I ran my fingers down his spinal cord. He stared.

“How do the five senses work?” he asked.

I flipped to the eye picture and told him about how light enters the pupil and how the optic nerve is connected to the brain.

“How do we hear?” he asked.

I flipped to the ear pictures, and showed him the inner anatomy of the ear, which conveniently looks like musical instruments (if you apply a little imagination).

“How does burping work?”

To the digestive system…

“How does the pee pee get made?”

To the kidneys, ureters and bladder pages…

“The poopies?” Back to the digestive system…

“How does our hair get white when we get old?”

To the section on aging…He stared at the drawings of people at various ages,  their hair becoming white and their flesh becoming  loose. He wanted to know where each of his family members stood in the lineup.

We sat with that book for nearly an hour, he asking questions and  me flipping the pages to show him pictorial answers.

Finally I saw his eyelids droop, so we went to bed. I was relieved he hadn’t asked me about death.

He turned from side to side, unable to fall asleep in spite that he was tired and it was nearly midnight.

“I can’t fall asleep,” he said. “I want my mommy!” He became agitated and I wasn’t able to help him recover his usual good mood. I  had to phone his mommy, waking her,  and ask her to unlock the door for us. I took him home, feeling sorry that he had suddenly felt so unhappy.

Next morning, he phoned me early and said, “Grandma! Don’t tell me anything more about the body at night time. I just get so confused! I get sooooo confused!”

Another Friday Khutbah

The musullah I go to on Fridays is just a large room in the basement of a nearby hospital in which approximately three dozen Muslims work. The designated imam doesn’t always attend– it’s a hospital, and staff members are often required to work through prayer times for the welfare of critically ill patients– and therefore men from the community take turns making khutaba, calling azan, and leading prayer. 

Yesterday I arrived late, and missed most of the khutbah. He talked about five things that would be taken away from us prior to death. The fifth thing was wealth. No matter how much or little of it we have, it is but a loan from Allah. We can’t take it with us. Everybody knows that, but most people feel it only intermittently,  after they’ve lost or profited from an investment, for example.  The goal, however, is to feel this fact more often, often enough to inspire the use of wealth more wisely, in service to the well-being of people  as opposed to frivolous and exaggerated desires for entertainment.

He also said that entertainment is necessary, and that we needn’t become overly critical of our need for it, but that a balance must be sought, a balance that will satisfy all legitimate needs. 

He then asked us, “What would you do today if you knew today would be your last?” 

The answer was not necessarily that we should start  praying and reading the Qur’an for the duration, but that we should feel secure in our decisions of habit, the decisions and practices by which we lived and performed daily activities.  Because we never know when our last day will arrive,  we must  live every day mindful of that fact, mindful of our relative brevity of physical existence, and our responsibility to enrich the lives of others.  

Some of you might say, “I did everything for my family; I will spend the last day doing for myself.”  The self has requirements. Those who exaggerate selfless generosity do so to their own deprivation. That is not required nor desired. 

I don’t  always attend Friday jummah prayer because, I, too, work in a hospital and cannot always take the time off, but I am now committed to attending whenever I can, and passing along what I have heard. That is one of the goals of the khutbah– for those who have heard it to share it with those who have not heard it.

  

Accomplishments by Saudi Women

(Susie published a lovely post on her blog, Susie’s Big Adventure:  susie’s big adventure: Saudi Women: Changing Reality, Making History. I tried to post a comment, but had trouble getting recognized, as usual, so I’ve decided to post my comment here.)

I was happy to read about so many accomplishments by Saudi women– genuine accomplishments, not acts of defiant behavior leading to the jail. I know I am in a minority by believing that Manal Al-Sharif’s day of driving did not help the cause.

It’s interesting that women have been permitted to do the things you’ve mentioned, yet not drive cars. I was in the Kingdom when the first driving episode occurred, resulting in severe censure for the women drivers as well as their husbands.

Driving is still a frontier for Saudi women, maybe because of these episodes and not in spite of them.

 

A Disturbing Khutbah

Last Friday, the imam gave a  twenty-minute khutbah that can be reduced to just one sentence: “Those who use their brains will know that Islam is the true religion.”

Well, I am surprised he doesn’t know that millions of intelligent people have used their brains, and have decided that religions other than Islam are “true.”  He doesn’t know that Christians have constructed a complex and convincing theory for their trinitarian god. Hindus and Buddhists have used texts more ancient than the Bible for informing their concepts about ultimate reality. All religions provide an intellectual framework  through which followers can navigate, contemplate and reaffirm basic tenets.

The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is no less convincing than Mohammed’s journey through the heavens. Both religions maintain belief in the virgin birth of Jesus, and who can reaffirm that by using their brains?

My brain tells me that babies don’t get started without sexual intercourse, and that the live body does not levitate through the sky except by way of an airplane. My brain tells me that the body stays dead after death.  To believe otherwise requires a leap of faith which inactivates  the brain rather than uses it. Indeed, believers who wonder about religious  “facts”, or dare to question them, are taught that their faith needs strengthening.

That is absolutely true. One’s faith, not one’s brain, must take the lead in deciding which religion is “true”.  Once you are there, your brain must remain inert. Faith and Intellect are mutually exclusive, at least with regard to the daily lives of ordinary people.

One reads nowadays that certain scientists are finding ways to meld — not merely reconcile– their intellectual development with  faith. Quantum physics shows us that  matter and non-material reality exist as a continuum, not an absolute, and that previously illogical concepts can actually become logical, under certain conditions.

This is where using one’s brain will reaffirm religion. Until science can establish the possibility that religious “facts” could have indeed occurred as taught by religion, my brain will not be in use with regard to faith. My brain and my faith live in different realities. I daresay I speak for the majority of “believers”. The imam would do well to address his next khutbah on the necessity of suspending intellectual function, rather than using it, as a means to decide which religion is “true.”

A Sacred Trust

 

Yesterday was Friday, and I went to jummah prayer with my grandson. The khutbah was about children as trusts from Allah. My heart squeezed a little when the imam said that children are Allah’s trust to us, but that they can be taken from us at any time. In fact, they are supposed to leave our care when they get old enough to start  their vocations and new families.  My five year old grandson was cuddled in my lap as I listened. I hated to imagine that he could ever be separated from me, but I also knew my relationship with him was nothing if not a sacred trust. My actions today and every day will put their mark upon him.

The imam continued. The point is that we must love our children and be active in their lives as they grow, and give them our wisdom, especially about matters of Islam.  This advice is nothing new.  Suddenly I was very thankful I’d come to jummah prayer.  I nearly stayed home. In going to jummah, and bringing my grandson, I showed him what I believe, and showed him what is expected of him.

When the khutbah ended, and we rose for prayer, I nudged my grandson to join his grandfather in the men’s rows, and he balked. He  knows he’s supposed to pray with the men, but I could not force him. Maybe the other sisters found fault with me; maybe they didn’t. My grandson jumped on my back as I made sujuud, and I nearly laughed, astaghfirullah, but I continued my prayer and ignored his antics. He’ll grow up soon enough , and face difficult choices as he carves his path. I need to give him the best of myself to take with him. I need to teach him many more things, including our religion.  Some people would say especially our religion. 

 

What Happened to “Ocean Mist”?

I was perusing the new WordPress themes, wondering whether I wanted to change my theme. Ocean Mist has always been a favorite theme; I’ve returned to it regularly. Tonight, however, I accidentily gave it up, probably forever. 

I didn’t intend to give it up, but my finger brushed the wrong key as I was loading  “live preview” on one of the  themes. Suddenly, Ocean Mist vanished. I decided I didn’t really want to change my theme after all, so I looked for Ocean Mist but couldn’t find it in any of the lists of themes on the WordPress site. I “googled” it and found it as a download, so I downloaded it– the new, improved version!– but then I couldn’t figure out how to upload the theme into the blog, so now it’s really gone, and I feel a sense of loss.

 

Poking around the WordPress site, I realized that themes are going the way of other consumer goods—  more numerous but of poorer quality and higher price. Custom color options that used to be free on certain themes are now included in the Custom Design option that costs $30 per year.  “Custom header” now means (on some themes)  that you can choose from several pre-loaded headers but not upload your own. Free custom fonts went away years ago; I’m surprised I can still choose font color. Font size can be changes, sort of, but the limited choices don’t always work. I cannot figure out why this paragraph cannot be shrunk to fit its surrounding paragraphs.

I finally landed on Coraline, a theme I have used and liked, which still offers custom color backgrounds and fully custom headers–  free. I have since activated Fruit Shake, with the same custom header and (limited) custom background, my necessary minimum requirements. I’ll miss Ocean Mist, as I don’t think I’ll have the gumption to learn new computer maneuvers for awhile.  I’ll keep the downloaded file, just in case I run into a computer guru who would simply love to upload it for me. 

If I were knowledgeable about designing themes, I’d craft a Middle-Eastern  theme. Maybe someone will do it for me, and if it were gorgeous, and  infinitely customizable, I might even pay for it. 

The Saint Movies

Even before I became a Muslim, I was never Catholic. I knew very little about Catholicism or the lives of the saints, nor was I interested. Now, I am interested.

Several years ago, I stumbled across a movie entitled, “Papa Luciani.” This movie was available on-line via http://www.rai.it/, the Italian network. It was one of a handful of Italian language movies I could watch on-line as an exercise in improving my Italian. This biography of Albino Luciani, who became Pope John Paul I, engaged my heart and mind. The acting and photography was so excellent I watched the movie repeatedly. Not only did I improve my comprehension of Italian, but I learned about a most remarkable man who continued to inspire, years after he died under mysterious circumstances in 1978 the age of sixty-five years.

After digesting this film, I discovered another film biography of a Catholic saint, this one called, “St. Giuseppe Moscati,  Doctor to the Poor”.  Moscati was a physician whose compassion and bravery made an indelible mark upon the subsequent development of medical care. Many people have never heard of this man, who was declared a saint in 1987.                   

After seeing these two films, my motives for watching them expanded. Not only was I interested in improving my Italian, but also now interested in exposing my spirit to the examples of human beings whose lives of love and sacrifice transcended religious constructs. These saints lived using Roman Catholicism as a matrix because that’s what they knew. The ultimate verity of Catholicism, Islam, or even Buddhism, for that matter, does not matter. The messages in these films transcend the incompatibility of theologies. In fact, most of these saints endured harsh criticism and even torture because they did not adhere to the decreed set of contemporary (for their day) Catholic rules.

As a Muslim, I can appreciate these saints and take lessons from them, apart from ideological dogma that drags upon all organized religions. I am not interested in leaving Islam or embracing Catholicism, but I am always interested in the lives of people who exemplify the most simple and universal of religious truths:  Love each other.

I’ve since watched other “saint” films— all extremely well done artistically and philosophically– documenting the lives of the saints. Among my favorites are:

 

Bakhita

From Slave to Saint

 

Padre Pio, Miracle Man, starring Sergio Castellito, one of Italy’s most respected actors.

 

Saint Francis

(of Assisi)

 

Saint Philip Neri, I Prefer Heaven

This one made me cry.

I

 

St. Giuseppe Moscati

Doctor to the Poor

(and one of the most handsome actors!)

 

All are available at http://www.ignatius.com and http://www.amazon.com.

If any reader happens to see one of these movies, please let me know your thoughts about what you saw.

Progress in Photography

Well, six months have passed since my last post. I guess I’m in hibernation from blogging, but only because I delved more deeply into other interests, among them photography.

Following my last post– in which I related my discomfort with the local photography group– I studied their images of that railroad station, and I gained a decent respect for their knowledge and talent. I learned from them, without having to speak a word. Just studying their images taught me so much that I decided to walk with them again.

I not only walked with them again, I actually volunteered to organize one of the walks, which attracted quite a few people and yielded a wonderful variety of images. I met many new people, as each walk attracts people that did not attend the previous walk, and they accepted me as part of the group.

I still learn from them by studying their images, and my own work has improved as a result. I haven’t formed any new friendships, however– perhaps that’s asking too much– but I am eager to continue the activity.

Photography is a passion I couldn’t indulge when I lived in Riyadh. Back in the eighties, photography was considered “haraam”– forbidden!– and may still be considered forbidden by many Muslims. I didn’t dare take pictures of buildings or even landscapes, much less people, and I miss those photos I never took. We didn’t even have cell phones that could take the surreptitious image, and no Interenet on which to post the nonexistent pictures.

Bloggers, however, have taken up the slack, and have enhanced their blogs with lovely images of the places and people of the Middle East. I can only surmise that photography is somewhat allowed these days. Even Flickr offers quite a few groups dedicated to Middle Eastern and Muslim photography. I adore perusing these sights, and I send a silent, “Thank you,” to all people who are now allowed to photograph the scenes I was not allowed to photograph when I lived there.

My bucket list includes another trip to the Middle East, next time with my camera.