"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Friday, December 31, 2010

Last day of 2010

Wow, another year is nearly over! I still remember asking my Facebook friends earlier this year whether they were saying "twenty ten" or "two thousand ten."  (What did you end up saying?  I think I got used to "twenty ten" finally!)  And here we are almost at 1-1-11 in a matter of hours.  (About 8.25 for me.)

I wanted to share two photos.  (click photo to enlarge)

Since I often discuss books on my blog, I thought this picture was fitting enough.  I saw it back in November when we were at Martha Washington Inn (formerly college) in Abingdon, Virginia.  It caught my eye because the one lady stopped her friend to show her an interesting section of a book.  I feel I often stop my friends (that'd be you) in order to share parts of books that I find worthy of discussing.  And I'm thankful you take time to listen ... even if you find the book of little interest.  You're the best!

"See this?  Fascinating, isn't it?"

Samer went to Paris over Christmas weekend.  He told me he thought of me many times especially when he was in the Louvre and saw this:

Photo by Samer, December 27, 2010

Thanks for being part of my life in 2010! I am very thankful for the number of interesting people I have met through blogs.  I have learned so much from you and wanted to thank you for being my teachers and friends.  I hope 2011 is a bright and blessed year for you and your loved ones.

For the record, I read 81 books and watched 3 movies, two movies just this week if you can believe it. They were Up, The Blind Side and Toy Story 3.  Tomorrow I am looking forward to reading one of my new books!   

Questions for you:  (answer all, some or none) What are your goals/resolutions for 2011? Do you have big plans for ringing in the new year?  For visiting family or friends on the first day of the year?  Do you eat any special foods or have any first-of-the-year traditions unique to your family or culture?

~*~*~HAPPY NEW YEAR!~*~*~


Thursday, December 30, 2010

December Books

Nine Parts of Desire by Geraldine Brooks -- Australian native and journalist speaks of the "hidden world of Islamic women." I enjoyed her firsthand accounts of times she spent getting to know women in Saudi Arabia, Gaza, Iran, Lebanon and so forth.  Nothing spectacularly new to me, but I enjoyed learning about cultural and religious tales from these Muslim women .. especially as they are filtered through a westerner's eyes.  For the record, she converted to Judaism to be Jewish like her husband.  Cute story: when she told one Saudi woman that her husband had quit his job due to her job (the author was bragging), she expected the woman to express her pleasant surprised. Instead Basilah had such a look of dismay as if "my husband had committed mass murder" and the lady cleared her throat, messed with her tea and changed the subject.  

I don't think I'll ever get used to the fact that some men actually defend their right to beat their wives as if God told them this was permissible nor will I ever understand why a widowed grandmother would have to get her grandson's permission to leave the country and do things women in the world do every single day.

I enjoyed the sections on Islamic women in sporting events - even their own Olympic-style games and the chapter discussing belly dancing in Egypt.  Quite an interesting book.

Veiled Courage: Inside the Afghan Women's Resistance by Cheryl Benard  -- see previous posts

The Bread of Angels by Stephanie Saldana -- This is the biography of a late 20s American woman who went to Damascus to study the life of prophet Jesus on a Fulbright scholarship in 2004. I particularly enjoyed her descriptions of life in the Bab Touma area, the Christian quarter where we lived during our twelve days in Syria.  She spoke of meeting people - her neighbors, the Armenian landlord who took her under his wings and referred to her, oddly enough, as Grandfather.  I loved her stories of Arabic language class and the peculiar people who were her fellow students.  It was enjoyable "meeting" shopkeepers as she interacted with them. Much of the book deals with her spiritual journey and her time at a desert monastery during the Spiritual Exercises and what came after that.  See this short video for a bit more about this book.

The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf by Mohja Kahf -- see previous posts

In the Name of Honor by Mukhtar Mai -- a Pakistani woman fights for justice after being raped by four men in order to pay for a crime allegedly committed by her twelve year old brother against one in the other tribe; see previous post for a quote from this book


While attending a conference on violence against women, Mukhtar notes, "For every woman who resists violence and survives, how many are buried beneath the sand, without dignity, without even a grave?"

"Because the real question my country must ask itself is, if the honor of men lies in women, why do men want to rape or kill that honor?"

The Jewish Cultural Tapestry: International Jewish Folk Traditions by Steven M. Lowenstein  -- A book I found at the library that covered such things as Jewish music, languages, appearance (physical looks and costumes) and even the Jewish question concerning ancestry and/or religion which I talked about in my 12/26 post.  I enjoyed the author's accounting of his people's traditions.

Beyond Fundamentalism: Confronting Religious Extremism in the Age of Globalization by Reza Aslan  -- see previous posts

I Dared To Call Him Father by Bilquis Sheikh  -- reviewed here by someone else  -- I'd actually seen this book recommended on Amazon.com for a couple of years now. It always seemed mildly interesting, but conversion stories were a dime a dozen and I was a bit burnt out on them. Too many of them seemed to create people who were so anti-Islam that they seemed off putting a bit.  However as I was looking at books on Amazon during December, this one was recommended by Amazon again and I put it on my wishlist thinking maybe one day I'd read it.  Then Christmas came, the family was looking for ideas on what to get me so I told my sister I had some books on Amazon and she could choose from the list and surprise me.  I only knew one of the books I'd get since I ordered for myself "from Andrew."  So Christmas came and I opened the books and got these.  I was mildly disappointed that this book was one of the chosen since there were others I liked better, but figured I'd read it anyway.

I didn't want to start another 'heavy' book before the new year so the other night when I finished Reza Aslan's book, I chose this one.  Fewer than 200 pages, bigger print, more of a story than weightier theological stuff...I could easily finish this one prior to the end of 2010.  And I did. What surprised me was how well I liked this book! Yes, it's a story of a Pakistani Muslim woman's encounter with God. Yes, she came to see God as her Father and was lead to follow Jesus.  But it wasn't a harsh book.   Not a harsh story or a tirade against Islam.  She was honest in telling how much of her family boycotted her and how many in her community became hostile.  After all joining Christianity brought this high-bred, important community woman down to the street-sweeper class since mostly poor people were Christians where she lived.  Yes, her decision affected her family and this most of all brought her much grief.  However she was convinced God wanted her to choose Him over her family no matter how difficult this was especially in the East (which tends to be so community minded that one person's action could influence the marriageability of nieces, for instance). 

This book challenged me in many ways. Bilquis listened to God, was sensitive to His Spirit in allowing Him to lead her.  I love that!  Far too often I do what I want and don't allow Him to guide me.  Her testimony was a challenge to me and I felt drawn to this gentle, compassionate woman. She wasn't perfect over night. In fact she admitted how often she would follow God and feel His Presence only to later do something totally against what He wanted her to do.  For a book I was reluctant to buy...and, in fact,never bought for myself, this turned out to be more encouraging and challenging and wonderful that I ever imagined.  You might read it and think I'm crazy.  No two people are the same, but I just felt God used her words to speak to me -- challenging me about living by fear, dwelling on negative things instead of Him, spending time with Him, listening and obeying His voice.  I found this an excellent book on which to end the year.  God used Mrs. Sheikh to challenge me even though this gentle lady died some 13 years ago at age 84.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Cultural Experience As Told In An Old Letter

I've mentioned before that my mom grew up in West Africa, right? She attended a boarding school in Miango, Nigeria called Kent Academy. The other day I was reading through some letters she wrote her parents. (My grandmother found them as she was sorting through boxes of old memories.) They varied in type of information and detail, but provided a nice view of how school life was for her so many miles from her parents.  I couldn't help but laugh a little as I read this and imagined how a traditional African ceremony would appear to a young American teenager.  I also thought how wonderful it would be to experience a different culture this closely!  And to be part of the ceremony too... pretty cool!

A few days ago on Thursday to be exact the cheif of Miango was promoted.  So we took part in the program.  We marched beside ECWA school all the way to the village.  Tim and John P. carried the flags.  There was a big circle right in the middle of the village.  The chief sat on one side and we marched in the circles to "Onward Christian Soldiers."  Whenever we were right in front of the cheif we had to turn our eyes to the right.  After a while we sat down on some benches and watched the rest of the program.  The pagans did a dance with rattles and dried beans etc.  Then this guy came on, body painted white with a blue painted face. He was the wierdest thing. He wiggled and swayed and everything else.  -- Sharon, Nov. 5,1965

I'm really glad my grandmother saved these letters so we can go back and read about life for them back then.  Have you ever read old letters from your family and also found interesting tidbits from their lives?

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas Snow!

Yes, I know it's December 26, but this snow started last night so technically it is a Christmas Snow, right? It was perfect really!  We had places we needed to go yesterday and Southerners aren't known for their getting-around-in-the-snow capabilities because we get much much less than our Northern and Midwestern counterparts. So, it worked out fabulously that yesterday was mostly clear and then it started snowing late in the day when all our festivities were over.  As I said on Facebook it was like icing on the proverbial cake!  Today we woke up to an absolutely gorgeous view. Lovely fluffy snow making the trees so beautiful!  Andrew and I enjoyed a fun walk this afternoon in the neighborhood. We tossed snowballs back and forth as we walked and then got back home and shook crape myrtle branches over our heads so it was like a mild blizzard!  (OK, "we" nothing. I did that.)   Here are some pictures for your enjoyment.  (click on each picture for a better view)

Usually this crape myrtle is green with nice pink blooms in July,
but now it seems I have a cotton tree!

My brother in law, Will, Bagel and Michael - so cute!

Are they not adorable?

Bagel modeling the latest from the Sponge Bob line
Michael and Will made a big snowman
Andrew made this one and brought it home in the back of his truck!
Happy Winter!  :)

Christian Jews?

The Role of Ancestry in Traditional Judaism  -- pg. 198 of The Jewish Cultural Tapestry: International Jewish Folk Traditions by Steven M. Lowenstein

Judaism has traditionally been much more than just a religious faith. It has been a national or ethnic religion; the concepts of religion and peoplehood are so intertwined in traditional Judaism that one cannot tell where one ends and the other begins. Jews conceived of themselves as the descendants of the biblical patriarchs.  Their prayers constantly repeat phrases like "our God and God of our fathers,"  "who has done miracles for our ancestors," and "who has taken us out of Egypt" -- all of them implying physical descent from the ancient Israelites. Even when early Christianity rejected Judaism and claimed to have superseded it, it still referred to the Jews and "Israel of the flesh" (and to itself as "Israel of the spirit").

Modern Zionism, too, is based in part on the assumption that modern Jewry is the physical descendant of ancient Jewry.  The establishment of the State of Israel is therefore a reestablishment. The Jews are not "settling"; they are "returning" to their ancient homeland. For the religious among them, Israel is the land that God promised to their ancestors and is now giving to them.

Yet traditional Jewish views have never totally relied on physical ancestry.  The legal definition of a Jew, according to tradition, was the child of a Jewish mother or a convert to Judaism.  Either background would entitle one to be considered fully Jewish. The consensus of the rabbis was that a convert had the right to refer to God's having "done miracles for our ancestors."  A convert was considered the descendant of Abraham and Sarah, the first Israelites.  Descent could be symbolic as well as physical.

My Thoughts:

I've been thinking of the implications of these words off and on since I read them the other day.  In the past I have heard of "Jews for Jesus" or "Messianic Jews"...basically those who are Jewish by birth yet, unlike the majority, accepted Jesus as their Messiah.   Some Jewish groups say there is no such thing. Jewishness is so attached to the religion of Judaism that if you follow Jesus or convert to Islam, I get the impression that you are no longer considered a Jew to them.  Yet I read the Bible and for me a Jew is one who is a descendant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

So is Jewishness a physical line which one cannot break no matter which religion he follows?  Or does one have to follow Judaism and your ancestry is null and void if you don't?  Following the religion-over-physical-descent argument -- what about the thousands of Jews who aren't religious at all? A number of Israelis consider themselves atheists and in fact many of the Zionist leaders of the 1900s mocked the Old Testament "fables"!  To them it was only useful in rallying the Jewish populations under the cry of "Didn't God promise us this land? Well, let's go claim it!" (Apparently, it mattered little to them that God also told them to treat the strangers living in their land as brothers as they remembered they, too, were once strangers in Egypt.)  If you are not religious, is your Jewishness then suspect along with those Jews who follow Jesus or Muhammad?

Can one be like Peter, Paul and John and consider themselves Jewish, physical descendants of Abraham, and followers of Jesus Christ?  According to the traditional definition of Jewishness, you can!  As long as your mother was a Jew, you are Jewish no matter the religion you follow.  Still I know of some who consider "Jewish Christian" to be wrong.  To them it's two faiths (like a Muslim Christian or Hindu Muslim) and can one person have two faiths? But if we consider Jewishness as an ethnicity or nationality like Arabs or Chinese or Germans or British then yes, Jewish Christian makes perfect sense.

Also how different is it for Jewishness to be passed by mothers instead of fathers?  I am curious now what other nationalities are this way. I hear way too much of the "I am X because my father is." Doesn't matter if the mother is something else entirely, but what the father is seems to dominate. I hear of Saudi Arabian women for example who are not able to pass along citizenship to their own children while Saudi men's offspring are automatically Saudi. I know they are not the only ones.

The part about descent being symbolic as well as physical and then the talk of Christianity before that made me wonder: if you grew up Christian or are one now - what do you understand concerning the promises of God to Abraham and this being physical, symbolic, spiritual or what (if anything)?

Do you think a strong case can be made for the Jews merely coming back to their ancient homeland in regard to the Israeli state today or do you argue that they had no right to this land because God took it away from them and dispersed them into foreign lands because of their sinful ways? Or maybe you have other thoughts to share about this topic.  Please do.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on anything mentioned in this post.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Some Favorite Gifts

Looking festive in a scarf I received earlier in the week
One of the two fantastic calendars my sister made for me

Amazon Wishlists are great!  I was thrilled to get all of these from mine!

I had such a wonderful time today especially this evening when I was with most of my family at my grandparents' house.  After we ate and gave my grandparents their presents, we played Apples to Apples which provided a number of laughs!  I'm thankful for a great Christmas, and as a song I heard reminded me as we drove home: "the best gift of all is Jesus...all through the year!"

Hope your Christmas was merry! 

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas!

May your day be filled with joyous greetings and hugs from loved ones!

"For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him." (John 3:17)

"Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!"  (II Cor. 9:15)


Thursday, December 23, 2010

Year End Questions for Reflection

I read these the other day and thought they were worth considering as 2010 draws to an end. I've heard people say that if you aren't growing, you're dying.  With that in mind, these questions address spiritual growth.

So what did the Father teach you in the last 12 months?  How did you grow in your relationship with Him? Are there verses of Scripture you've come to treasure?  What trials or difficulties did He carry you through or is He currently helping you overcome?

Happy Christmas Eve eve! :)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Crusader Spirit & God as 'an active soldier'

A couple of quotes from Beyond Fundamentalism: Confronting Religious Extremism in the Age of Globalization by Reza Aslan which I introduced yesterday.

How true does this seem to you?

"'The Crusader spirit runs in the blood of all Westerners.'" -- quoting Sayyid Qutb, "the twentieth century's most influential Islamist thinker" (pg. 63)

What are the implications of thinking of God this way? Do you imagine God this way as well?

"God, as conceived of in the ancient mind, was not a passive force in war but an active soldier. Central to biblical ideas about cosmic war was the belief that it is not human beings who fight on behalf of God, but rather God who fights on behalf of human beings. Sometimes God is the only warrior on the battlefield.  When the Babylonians conquered Mesopotamia, they did so not in the name of their king but in the name of their god,Marduk, who was believed to have sanctioned, initiated, and commanded each battle.  The same holds true for the Egyptians and their god Amun-Re; the Assyrians and their god, Ashur; the Canaanites and their god, Baal; and most especially, the Israelites and their god, Yahweh."  (pg. 67)

Other thoughts, questions or observations?  Any lessons to be learned? Morals to the stories? 

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Reza Aslan on Cosmic War, Globalization & Religion

"A cosmic war is a religious war. It is a conflict in which God is believed to be directly engaged on one side over the other. Unlike a holy war - an earthly battle between rival religious groups - a cosmic war is like a ritual drama in which participants act out on earth a battle they believe is actually taking place in the heavens. ... We humans are merely actors in a divine script written by God."
~ Reza Aslan in the introduction of Beyond Fundamentalism: Confronting Religious Extremism in the Age of Globalization.

A few things I wanted to note and then I have questions for you below. I'd love to read your thoughts so please share!

In cosmic wars such as the 9/11 events, the battle is, as the terrorists noted, for the sake of God. "A cosmic war transforms those who should be considered butchers and thugs into soldiers sanctioned by God." (pg.5)

"It is easy to blame religion for acts of violence carried out in religion's name, easier still to comb through scripture for bits of savagery and assume a simple causality between the text and the deed. But no religion is inherently violent or peaceful: people are violent or peaceful."  (pg.4)

Aslan claims that "religion is a stronger, more global force today than it has been in generations."  He discusses whether secular nationalism and its failure "to live up to its promises of global peace and prosperity" along with the atrocities committed by "unabashedly secularist ideologies"  are reasons for this while stating that "globalization has radically altered the way people define themselves, both individually and as a collective.  Across the globe, secular nationalism is beginning to give way to new forms of nationalism based on ethnicity, tribe, and above all religion.  ... Indeed, in many parts of the world religion is fast becoming the supreme identity, encompassing and even superseding ethnicity, culture, and nationality."  (pg. 10,11)

Aslan claims that we need to "strip the conflicts of our world of their religious connotations; we must reject the religiously polarizing rhetoric of our leaders [think "us vs. them" or "if you're not with us, you're against us" and seeing things purely in black and white, good and evil with no middle ground] and of our enemies; we must focus on the material matters at stake; and we must seek to address the earthly issues that always lie behind the cosmic impulse."  We must "bring their cosmic war back down to earth, where it can be confronted more constructively. Because in the end, there is only one way to win a cosmic war: refuse to fight it." (pg. 11,12)

While the term "globalization" may be somewhat new and mean something different (e.g. "interconnectedness of national interests," and the rise of global media and technologies so people know more about one another), the practice has been going on since the first people left Africa in search of more food and resources for survival.  The ages of empires and colonialism allowed countries to "cross-pollinate their trade, communication, and cultures across vast distances with fluidity and ease." But the greatest "single force" that has moved globalization forward is religion, "which has always sought to spread its message across the boundaries of borders, clans, and ethnicities."  (pg. 18)

QUESTIONS -- answer them all or pick and choose

1. How concerned are you with the threat of a cosmic war?  Do you think the author's views concerning cosmic war are over-the-top (exaggerated), too little too late, not even the tip of the iceberg or what? 

2.  Have you been concerned with the polarizing efforts of political and/or religious leaders or individuals? Or is this something you've never heard of until now?  How seriously do you take such people?

3. Do you live in fear of terrorist attacks? Do you think the government and media (and maybe others) perpetuate this fear mentality too much or do they not realize the enormity of the threat and, therefore, not give us enough warning?

4. On a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 being I'm not fearful at all and 10 being it consumes my mind nearly every day:  how fearful are you about a terrorist threat?  Why?

5. What do you think of globalization?  Do you agree with the author about empire building, colonialism and religion being examples of globalization that have gone on since the earliest of times?  How do you think those things differ from the current understanding of globalization?

6.  Do you agree with Aslan's statements about people, not religion, being violent or peaceful?  Why or why not?

7. Besides the terrorism of 9/11 what are other examples of people who claim to do things "for the sake of God" when in reality they probably should be labeled butchers and thugs?

8.  Aslan writes:  "Indeed, in many parts of the world religion is fast becoming the supreme identity, encompassing and even superseding ethnicity, culture, and nationality."  -- How alarming is this to you?  Do you tend to identify yourself in a similar way? Do you notice this as a growing trend? Is this a bad thing?

9.  Do you agree that secular nationalism has failed and people are once again becoming more religious? Does this seem true where you live?  

10. Aslan states that we need to strip things from religious talk and bring issues back down to earth where they should and need to be addressed.   What issues do you think are important to confront in this down-to-earth way?

Any other thoughts or comments?

Monday, December 20, 2010

Does God Still Call?

 1 The boy Samuel ministered before the LORD under Eli. In those days the word of the LORD was rare; there were not many visions.
 2 One night Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place. 3 The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the house of the LORD, where the ark of God was. 4 Then the LORD called Samuel.
   Samuel answered, “Here I am.” 5 And he ran to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”
   But Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” So he went and lay down.
 6 Again the LORD called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”
   “My son,” Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.”
 7 Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD: The word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him.
 8 A third time the LORD called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”
   Then Eli realized that the LORD was calling the boy. 9 So Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.
 10 The LORD came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!”
   Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”  (I Samuel 1)

Samuel thought Eli was calling him, but it was God's call he heard.

I was reading a small publication recently and it was talking of people answering God's call to serve in various fields.  Mostly these individuals and couples felt God leading them to other parts of the United States or to foreign fields so they could tell others about Him.  We all know of Abraham's call by God to leave his father and native land to settle in a new place. Moses was called to a leadership role while conversing with God in a burning bush.  Some such as Samuel (mentioned above), Joseph and David were called as youth while still others like Samson, John the Baptist and Jesus were chosen prior to their births with instructions given to their parents. Jonah knew he was called yet went the other way.  He didn't want the call.  Isaiah volunteered when the question was posed. 

8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”    And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” (Isaiah 6)

Noah built the ark.  Nehemiah rebuilt the wall. Deborah lead the nation as judge. David lead the nation as king.  Isaac and Jacob fathered "the chosen people." Elisabeth and Mary mothered the one who "prepared the way of the Lord" (John) and the one who declared himself the Way to the Father (Jesus), respectively.

Men and women.   Visions, dreams, a burning bush, angelic visits.  All felt called by God and the Bible records each of them doing something in the plan of God.

But does God still call people today? Does God still have a plan for humanity where He chooses to use people today?  Ever wonder about His criteria for selecting this person for this task and that person for another?  Does He still use dreams and visions? Any angels visiting?  Or does He use that still small voice that speaks to our hearts?

Listening for the call of God

Maybe God is no longer calling people. All the "big tasks" from the past are over. We need no more prophets, judges, warriors, kings and saviors and we are to be content in this phase of world history with ordinary accounting, doctoring, teaching and factory jobs among scores of others. But then again maybe He still does call people to action.  Even accountants can do something for God.  A teacher can offer her services to women who have been kept illiterate by a society that wants to control them.  One gifted in speaking can raise funds for people in rural Afghanistan who need schools or hospitals.  Doctors, nurses and dentists can go overseas or even stay right here at home and offer their services to those who can least afford medical treatment.  Those motivated to right wrongs can work for changing societal problems from within.  Actually there are quite a number of "big tasks" still left to do!

What do you think concerning the call of God?  Do you ever feel He has called you? To do what? And how did you know?

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Injustice: Women Paying the Price for Men's Honor

Whatever the pretext -- divorce, supposed adultery, or a settling of accounts among men -- women pay the heaviest price.  They may be given as compensation for an offense or raped as a form of reprisal by their husbands' enemies.  Sometimes, all it takes is for two men to quarrel about something, and one of them will take revenge on the other's wife. The common practice in our villages is for men to take justice into their own hands, invoking the principle of 'an eye for an eye.' It is always a question of honor, and they may do as they please: cut off a woman's nose, burn a sister, rape a neighbor's wife.

And even if the assailants are arrested before they manage to kill their victims, the instinct for vengeance doesn't stop there, because other members of their family are always ready to champion the honor of a brother or cousin. ...

I don't condone 'crimes of honor'; far from it, but when foreigners hound me with questions, I try to explain to them how society works here in the Punjab, a province where such crimes are unfortunately widespread. I was born in this country, subject to its laws, and I know that I am like all other women who belong to the men of their families: we are objects, and they have the right to do whatever they want with us. Submission is compulsory.

Mukhtar Mai, In the Name of Honor

How things might be different if these men followed Jesus' command to not return evil for evil, not to seek vengeance and to be quick to forgive.  This thirst for vengeance and upholding a man's honor demands a steep price for the innocent!  Why must women hurt for the sake of men's pride?

Despite her humiliation, Mukhtar decided to fight the injustice instead of killing herself as expected

From Wikipedia about the author:

Mukhtaran Bibi (Punjabi, Urdu: مختاراں بی بی, born circa 1972,[1] now known as Mukhtār Mā'ī,[2] مختار مائی) is a Pakistani woman from the village of Meerwala, in the rural tehsil (county) of Jatoi of the Muzaffargarh District of Pakistan. Mukhtār Mā'ī was the victim of a gang rape as a form of honour revenge, on the orders of a panchayat (tribal council) of the local Mastoi Baloch clan that was richer and more powerful as opposed to her Gujjar clan.[3] By custom, rural women are expected to commit suicide after such an event.[4][5][6] Instead, she spoke up, and pursued the case, which was picked up by the international media, creating pressure on the Pakistani government and the police to address the rape. The case eventually went to trial, and her rapists were arrested, charged and convicted, until an appeals court overturned the convictions. The case is still pending with the Supreme Court of Pakistan. Mukhtar has been waging a legal battle in Pakistan in the years since, and, as a direct result, her safety has been constantly in jeopardy. Despite this, she started the Mukhtar Mai Women's Welfare Organization to help support and educate Pakistani women and girls, and is an outspoken advocate for women's rights.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Is belief all there is to believing?

 25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. 27 The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!” 

 29 The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16)

How often do we make being a "good Muslim" or "good Christian" or "good believer" or attaining salvation into something more than belief? How often does it come down to you must believe X, but also do Y, Z, and A, B, C?  Paul told the Philippian jailer "believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved."

Is belief all that is needed?

Yesterday I introduced The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf by Mohja Kahf in this post.   I promised to tell you about a conversation ...

and while you read it, think about this question:  what makes one a believer?  Believing or is there more?  Are there "saved" believers and then those who believe, but, well, they don't do all the rest of the required stuff?  Read on.

Khadra and her cultural Muslim friend Chrif from Tunisia were talking about religion. He was studying Buddhism which he adamantly declared was a philosophy and not a religion.  Khadra countered that it was both "like any other religion...like Islam."

Chrif replied:

"No way like Islam.  If you believe in Islam you have to believe in cutting off hands and stoning and ..."

"No you don't. Surrender to the oneness of Reality, that's all that makes you a Muslim."  ...

"Read the fine print before you sign, woman. It's a bait and switch.  Believe in One God, or 'Divine Reality' as you put it so fancy?  Fine, now you have to believe in the Prophet."

"Peace and blessings be upon him," Khadra interjected, on purpose, just to annoy him.

Chrif went on as if she'd said nothing.  "Believe in the Prophet?  Now you have to sign up for hadith and ulema and shariah and all that shit, on some level."  Khadra winced when he called shariah and hadith "shit." But she knew what he meant.  "It's all one package, baby.  That's how the scam works. The Islam Scam."  It had a catchy ring.

Part of her agreed with him. The part that didn't pressed on, "But shariah law is elastic.  It changes. It evolved slowly, like Talmudic law." 

"Well, I'm not up for Talmudic law either. Same bullshit," he said.

"There's Sufism."

Chrif was too cynical for Sufism.  He called them snake charmers...

"Okay, there's progressive Islam," Khadra tried.

"Oh, please.There's no such thing as progressive Islam.  That is such a crock. What is that, some sheikhs who'll only flog you twenty lashes instead of eighty?"

Khadra sighed. She just wanted to make him admit that being Muslim wasn't such a straitjacket.It was the same argument she had with her mother.She didn't expect Chrif to be arguing for the same thing as her mother, that Islam was rigid and homogenous.  It's like, they both wanted Islam to be this monolith, only for her mother it was good,for him bad. She knew it wasn't that simple.

(pgs. 343,344)

I've heard people say in order to be Muslim you simply must submit to God, say the shahada and perform the five pillars of Islam. Some say only the shahada is required, but to be a good Muslim, you will do all the other stuff.  Still others say anyone who submits to God is muslim (small m...meaning one who submits to God).  No belief in Muhammad as prophet required.

Yet Chrif believes there's a whole lot more to Islam and one is wise to consider it all before leaping.  Do you agree?  I read a blog post recently of a young woman who was wishing she'd learned more about the religion before becoming a Muslim.  I got the impression she felt she could not get out or at the very least she could no longer ask questions about Islam like she could have prior to her conversion.   Why is that? Must one fully consider a religion and all possible questions before converting (to any religion...I don't mean only Islam) because there is no going back?

What makes one a believer?  Saying something? Praying something? Doing something?  All of the above?  What is special about belief if it really boils down to all these other things?


Thursday, December 16, 2010

Life for Observant Muslims in the United States

Have any of you read The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf by Mohja Kahf a Syrian who grew up in the United States? This is a rather cute book especially as it talked about life in the United States from the perspective of observant Muslims Khadra Shamy and her family who moved to Indiana after the family left Damascus, Syria.

It was at times funny and at times maddening to hear American culture discussed (at one point I thought if we are that dirty, why come here to live?!), however, I gradually got used to the style of this book and enjoyed much of it.  The reviewer at Muslim Matters liked the first half, but not the last when Khadra started enjoying Western culture and finding fault with the hypocrisy of her Muslim community. What hypocrisy, you ask?  I recall when Eyad, her older brother, wanted to marry the beautiful Maha and his father's first reaction was she's as "black as coal."  Yet all their lives they were taught Islam saw no color...they were not racists.  Uh huh.  Other issues as well.

When Khadra married a Kuwaiti studying in the US, their marriage quickly turned sour.  First he had a problem with her riding her bicycle even though she was Islamically attired. When his "why does my wife have to ride a bike?" didn't work, he finally pulled the husband rank card and told her she could not ride it.  So she put it in storage, but felt more and more that she had to give up being herself while being married to him.  He was always concerned about what other Arabs might think way more than she was concerned with this.

Later in the book she meets someone in her photography class in Philadelphia -- Blu "short for Bluma - Yiddish."  The young women "discovered they were both emerging from the shell of a highly observant, orthodox religious upbringing.

'Yeah, yeah, yeah, a thousand rules for everything, that's halakha, too,'  Blu said, recognizing Islamic fiqh as a parallel structure to Judaic law. 'I get it.'

Christians in Indiana never, ever got it.  Protestants found it so foreign and bizarre to have a religious law, the sort with rituals and specific rules and all. If they knew anything at all about shariah, they equated it with stoning.  Death, that's all shariah was to them. Yet it wasn't that way at all.  Just like American constitutional law, shariah expanded and evolved, and was meant to protect life, and relationships, and all that was good.

So it was a relief not to have to explain every little thing about that to a friend who was an American. Cool to find an American who was not even a Muslim but got it."  

This reminded me of how I often think that Jews and Muslims do have a very detailed Law to follow!  You may recall my post on our lack of rules in Christianity addressing this topic a bit.

Later I'll share an interesting conversation Khadra had with a guy from Tunisia who declared himself culturally Muslim, but not religiously one.

Do you agree that shariah expands and evolves or do most people hold it rigidly in one way...like maybe how they did things in 7th century Arabia or perhaps there is a mixture of both?

If you are familiar with this book, do you have any thoughts about it?

Oh, when Khadra went to visit her great aunt in Syria, she was given some valuable coins. Her aunt said that there were strict inheritance laws in Islam and the way to get around them was to gift people so her aunt wanted Khadra to have the wealth these rare coins would bring her.  I thought that was nice and wondered how often family members get around the seemingly unfair inheritance laws by giving beloved daughters "gifts" rather than inheritance.


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

My Oddities

A few days ago Wafa' tagged me in a post where I'm supposed to share some weird facts about myself. Wafa' asked her mom and sister to shed light on her oddities.  I asked my Facebook friends!  Using a few things from their list and things I came up with on my own, here goes.

To my California friend, I sound like a pothole.

She's a friend I met online about 7 years ago and we talked briefly on the phone a time or two. So now when she hears this commercial she thinks of me.  She said she even reads my posts hearing me talking like this!

I am married, but have no children.  Purposefully. I like children. I adore my nephew. But I'm just not mother material.  So ... :)

I rarely wear jeans.  I like the look of them, but not the feel. I just can't stand to wear something that feels stiff like cardboard and life is too short to wear uncomfortable clothes.

I will go out of my way on a sidewalk or neighborhood street so I can crunch leaves. Yes, even at my age.

A pile of great crunchy fun!

I rarely watch movies.  One movie watched this year (can anyone remember which one? It made blogging news.)  compared to reading 76 books.

I'm a name nerd.  It was through names that I met the California lady mentioned above.

I love talking accents.  When I was in high school I always enjoyed the Yankees who moved here because their accents were different.  Plus I liked hearing about life in the North and what we did or said that was peculiar to them. (Yes, I liked hearing our oddities from their points of view!)

I have a number of friends who live in my computer -- like all you reading this post.

I'll sometimes buy new shoes or clothes yet not wear them until my old clothes or shoes are really worn out. 

I like talking about religion/spiritual beliefs and I don't mind at all if people care enough about my soul that they want to share their faiths.  Just know I'll probably share mine in return because Jesus is worth sharing, in my opinion!

I don't really care for plain milk chocolate.  Give me the Hershey's Special Dark and York Peppermint Patties, please!

There are probably more, but I need to conclude this post. Lastly, I'll say I am weird because I actually enjoyed collecting and thinking of my oddities!

Can you think of any other weird traits that should have made the list?  :)

And I tag whoever enjoys such things!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Fall pictures because it's still technically autumn even though we are experiencing record-breaking cold now!

I know this time of year people are ready for snowy pictures and Christmas scenes.  Well, too bad. I still have pictures from last month when we visited Damascus.

The Virginia one.

A whole month has already come and gone. Here are a few pictures from that wonderful weekend. (click to enlarge)

Who is that coming 'round yonder bend?

Oh,'tis the girl in black with the weird hat.

Although the creeper trail was devoid of most foliage, we did see some colorful leaves around downtown Damascus and nearby Abingdon.

Nice trees and a pretty house

Fiery leaves in downtown Damascus

I love how the locals used stones from the river on their houses
I love this tree although it looks like someone took a bite out of it

A gorgeous tree at Martha Washington Inn, Abingdon
Do you see that goofy girl trying to hide?  She's a mess!

Happy end of fall!  :-)

Friday, December 10, 2010

Fighting Terrorism with Television!

So today I want to hear your thoughts on something.Well, that is nothing new as I always welcome your feedback. However, cultural issues interest me and I really am curious about this topic.

Yesterday I posted a WikiLeaks story on Facebook that stated,

"Satellite broadcasts of the US TV shows Desperate Housewives and Late Show With David Letterman are doing more to persuade Saudi youth to reject violent jihad than hundreds of millions of dollars of US government propaganda, informants have told the American embassy in Jeddah."
Fighting terrorism better than the US government
In fun I also put this on Twitter:

"Good to read how TV shows have influenced youth to not resort to violent jihad! Way to go, Hollywood! I don't give you enough credit!"

I'm not much of a Twitter-er. I mostly read others' tweets and occasionally reply to them.  Anyway, I wrote that and soon after a friend replied with this:

"yet, according to Superfreakonomics, TV is the major cause of violence in america"

(Ironically enough a female friend on Facebook replied to the WikiLeaks link about Desperate Housewives by writing: "who'd have thought!? Desperate Housewives makes me WANT to commit violence......")

I replied to my Twitter friend:

"so it seems each culture reacts to Hollywood differently. Seems like an interesting study. Any thoughts about the differences?"

Then read this reply from him upon waking today:

"it would make for a good blog post :) I also read that tv is doing something similar in India empowering women."

I replied that he needs to write about this as I enjoy discussing these cultural differences. WikiLeaks is hardly a scientific study.  Not sure about Superfreakonomics, but any title with "freak" doesn't scream "scientific study" to me.  Of course I may be wrong.

In the spirit of this-is-not-scientific-but-interesting-to-discuss, I want to hear YOUR thoughts.  I am actually formulating some of my own, but am also interested in what you have to say on this topic.

Accurate portrayals of the United States?

So please share. Why would watching Desperate Housewives and other TV shows reduce violent jihad in the Middle East, yet these same shows influence American youth to be more violent? And how is that also different in India where TV of some sort is empowering women? What do you believe is your society's reaction to watching television shows especially those from the West or another culture?  Do you think Western movies and television shows have had a positive or negative influence or no influence at all?  What have Western shows taught you about the West?  What things did you learn from TV/movies that you found inaccurate when you met ordinary people from the West? What things were quite accurate of those you met?  For those living in the US, what do you think our TV/movies teach others about us? Do you like what they teach? What would you change? What would you keep the same?

And, Wafa', I am working on my list of weird facts for you!  In the meantime, if you want to know some weird traits about Wafa', check out her cute post.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Feminism/Cultural issues: When does their fight become our fight also?

"A lot of young men are impressed by our girls," Tameena admits with a smile.  "They'll say, 'We had totally another understanding of women.  We thought they couldn't do the same things that men can.  We feel embarrassed for the way we thought before.'"  (pg. 155)

(see this post for more information on this book)

In many ways Veiled Courage is a nearly three-hundred page advertisement for RAWA -- Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan.  Among other topics, author Cheryl Benard interviews women involved in the organization and shares how this group is able to recruit members.

Meena - the martyred founder of RAWA continues to inspire

Unlike some feminist groups who seem to have little use for men, RAWA has embraced the help of men. It recognizes that men's thinking needs changing in order for society to change in favor of women's equality. In fact RAWA influences the next generation of Afghani men by providing free education for boys as well as girls!   I really like their approach because the people seem genuinely inclusive of all. When men showed up for a literacy class offered for their wives, RAWA graciously found funding and teachers for a men's class. If the men wanted to learn to read, they were OK with this. 

RAWA's male supporters include young men who grew up in both jihadi and RAWA-run schools and orphanages.  I was heartened to read interviews with three young men who supported the organization and lent their assistance for the cause by sometimes pretending to be mahrams for women who needed to travel for the group or by smuggling videos and pictures of Taliban abuse to Pakistan where this information could be spread to the West. 

Actually I was pleasantly surprised because a number of Afghani men were supportive of this group and furthering women's rights.  The RAWA ladies often married supportive men who took care of children and the house so their wives could be involved in their political causes. The women referred to these husbands as their "beautiful companions."  Indeed it was encouraging to read of such men!

When does their fight become our fight also?

Sometimes on blogs I read comments along the lines of: why do you Westerners speak out about this traditional thing in our society that you happen to not like? Usually this is in the context of giving women more rights. Occasionally it is the women telling us to mind our own business.  Yet there are others in these same countries speaking out for their rights and desiring change.  The author posed a question on a website about how women from around the world got to know about RAWA and how they supported the organization. I didn't copy their replies in full, but took only a sampling of that which spoke the most to me. 

"It's interesting that countries don't think they are interfering in other cultures when they engage in trade, or push their products and hence their lifestyle. They only start worrying about culture when it comes to treatment of women. The world is becoming more and more interdependent, and basic human rights should be implemented in the whole world."

~ Vijayashree, India

"Interventionism?  If there happened to be a cannibalistic society on earth and they started eating their neighbors, would we say it's just their culture and it's okay?  The Taliban were devouring Afghan women. It would be cruel and unjust for anyone to stay silent about an oppressive culture."  

~  Parvin, Iranian-American

"I consider nonviolent fighting for human rights, including women's rights and democracy, to be beyond cultural differences. These are global rights for global citizens.  For a long time, a lot of Danes have been suffering from mysophobia when it came to interfering with other cultures.  We have been too lazy and too afraid of being disrespectful. ... The generation before me fought for women's rights here in Denmark. Now it's our turn and the scene is set outside Denmark, that's all." 

~ Marianne, Denmark

"When women cry out for help, because they have been robbed of all their human rights, then it is our human duty to try our best to be of help for them!"  

~ Nina, Germany

What do you think about getting involved in other countries?  Do you agree with Nina, Marianne, Vijayashree, and Parvin? When it is OK to speak out against things we perceive as injustices and when should we allow cultures to do what they have always done and not mess with "tradition"? Where do we draw the line?

What about religious groups (as opposed to cultural/national ones)?  What about when, say, Muslim Feminists want to speak out on behalf of Muslim women around the world who aren't getting the rights from men/society/culture that Islam gave them?  Is it OK for Jewish or Hindu ladies to work on behalf of this cause or should this task be left with Muslim women since it is their religion and thus their battle to fight within their own faith?

Was it surprising to learn that many Afghan men support women's rights?  What did you think of the quote from Teema at the very top concerning young men who are impressed with the fact women can learn? Do you think RAWA's approach to educating boys is a good idea?  Or should all their funding go to help girls and women?

If you live in a society/religion where you feel oppressed or many around you feel they are, what do you think we should do?  How best can we outsiders help? Should we leave things alone because you believe true change comes from within society only? Suggestions?

Any other thoughts?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Hijabi Susie

Dear sweet Amber likes to joke that I look like a little girl playing dress up when I'm wearing this ...this cape supplied to me by the folks at the Umayyad Mosque. I think it's my fitting that thing over 

my t-shirt, 
a lined coat,
and a hat 
that makes it looks a little, well, haphazard.

Playing dress up?

Perhaps I look a bit more mature in the black cape I wore at a neighborhood mosque.   By this time in my travels I was a bit more sophisticated getting the hang of wearing capes over all my clothes!

Samer called me Hajjeh Susie

Amber had a post about her wearing hijab because it was so cold in Florida this week.  Well, I wore my own version of it yesterday as well. And I took a picture to show you.

No big smile because I am not amused by these frigid temps! Brrrrr!

Monday, December 6, 2010

"Come and visit and see our lives from close range..."

"What’s so hard about waiting? For me, it’s finding purpose and contentment where I am at every moment, even when I have a better time and place in mind." 
A friend shared this on Facebook and she got it from the blog of a father who has been telling about his little son's heart problem.  I could relate to the quote as I've struggled with the same feelings of finding purpose and contentment. Of seemingly sitting here desiring something more to do when my mind dreams of bigger things.  Last year was especially rough after I came home from Syria.
Then I read books such as the one I'm currently reading on women's resistance movements in Afghanistan and I see how most of these women have lost numerous family members, have often only known war, have been terrorized by both foreigners and their own people, have been told they are inferior to men and thus deprived schooling (as of this book's writing only 7% of Afghani women were literate).
And I remember how blessed I am. 
Just this morning I read an account of a lady who attended a literacy class and how excited she was to see a map of the world. Many had no idea about the history of their own country and had never seen how their land fit into the world.  I read of one woman's humiliation -- in order to know what something said, she had to ask a literate family member or friend.  Many of them want to read and learn and improve themselves despite being told good women stay home and work and have no need of schooling.  It is exciting to them when they realize there is more than one opinion, they can read the lot of them and even formulate their own!
I'm reading Veiled Courage: Inside the Afghan Women's Resistance by Cheryl Benard.  It's about ten years old so I'm left wondering now if and how things have changed.  A couple parts have made my eyes teary and one part made me wince:
From Shakria:
Our American sisters, my request is that some of you come and visit and see our lives from close range. In these days after the bombing from America, lots of people have become refugees in Quetta. I feel sorry for them. I can't do anything for them. They are in a camp in the desert and nobody is helping them.  Nobody really likes us or worries about us; everyone just throws their rocks at us.  We haven't yet forgotten the Russian bombardment, and the bombardment by the fundamentalists and the bombardment by the Talibs, and now it's America's turn.  (pg.147)

Soon after Samer and I became close friends, he requested that Andrew and I travel to his city.  He wanted to show us that his people were not evil such as Bush's placement of Syria in the Axis of Evil might imply.  He wanted me to meet normal Muslims and Arabs who are just going about their daily lives. And we went.  And loved the precious people we met.

So when I saw Shakria's request, it touched my heart.  She, too, wants people to know the life of the ordinary Afghanis who are struggling in this world.

And I have the gall to complain about being chilly as I sit in my heated house?  Reading such things really puts life issues into better perspective for me.
I am spoiled.