Thursday, May 23, 2013

A couple of things, one of which is Book: Standing Alone in Mecca - Asra Q. Nomani (there's kind of sort of a theme...)

I kind of hate writing book reviews because I have a real problem walking the line between not telling people enough about the book and telling them too much. Also I tend to just talk about whatever comes to mind about the book, rather than doing it in some sort of actually helpful manner. You have been warned.

Also, I've been trying to write this post for a couple of days. The universe does not want this post written apparently.

AS A RANDOM (or maybe not so random) ASIDE:

I am thoroughly convinced that there is some sort of magical/mystical download that happens into the brains of women who convert to Islam and become hijabis. It's the only explanation for how they can all do it and make it look natural and perfect and I can't, no matter how many tutorials I watch. (Heather denies this, but I suspect that she's been sworn to secrecy vis a vis this process)

Lemme show you a thing:

This is the face of a woman who really wants her hijab to look good but knows that it doesn't. It is also the face of a woman whose one eye is red and swollen because Allergies and Florida, not because she has some horrible disease.
Admittedly I didn't bother pining it or anything, but still. This is a symptom of my disease. I love hijab, but it doesn't love me.

Also, glasses! Because my allergies are so bad right now that I can't wear my contacts. People tell me I look cute, but I think they're lying because they can see the seething hate behind my eyes.

Basically, I think I look like Bruce Banner when I wear glasses.

Which is fine, you know, if you're a guy. Which I am not.

GLASSES!!!! *shakes fist at sky*

Moving. On.

I picked up this book about four years ago and I'm sure there were a couple of reasons that I chose it, but mainly I recall picking it up because it was a description of someone going on Hajj. Why, you may ask? Because I REALLY would like to go to Mecca. Really a lot.

I will not, because non-Muslims aren't allowed, and I respect that even as I wish it wasn't so. Thusly, I have resigned myself to not ever going to see Mecca and have determined to get my fix vicariously. (As much as I ever resign myself to anything, which is not a whole lot, to be honest.) Still, you know, if they changed that rule (I know this won't happen) I would be there in a hot minute (assuming I could afford it) in spite of the fact that I hate crowds (it's very crowded) and dirt (from what everyone says there is a trash problem) and hotels and travel and....still. Mecca was the reason I picked this book up.

It is about Mecca, and the hajj, to a certain degree. But it's more about how the authors' experience in Mecca changed her and what she did with that change when she returned home. I should say that I've read nothing else by this author and while I'm aware that she's something of a polarizing figure in the American Muslim community I'm not up on any or all of the precise issues surrounding her. All I can talk about here is this particular book and my impressions from it.

Ms. Nomani was a newspaper reporter and it shows in the style of the book. The chapters are broken into sections that resemble newspaper articles more than anything else. They're concise episodes within the larger framework of the book and that makes it an easy book to pick up and read a bit, then set down and come back to later or to read through in longer chunks when you have the time.

I enjoyed the descriptions of Hajj, but I have to admit to being oddly dismayed to be told that the mosque has grown to include the path that Hagar took between Safa and Marwah. Why dismayed? Good question. I'm not entirely sure why this bothers me. Maybe it's because I, in my remove from the emotions of the event, am looking at it and thinking that they've sanitized this remembrance somehow. Does it take away from the impact of what they're doing for the people performing hajj? Probably not, or at least I hope not.

I was also maybe a little more than a bit freaked out by the crushing crowds that are described once or twice. Especially with the author having brought her infant son with her. I'm not claustrophobic, generally, but I think that would have been too much for me. Of course I also should like to think that I wouldn't bring an infant to a place like Mecca with all the possible diseases (not like ewwwwwwwwww *foreign* people, but whenever you travel there are strains of bacteria that you can encounter that are not native to your system, thus they hit you harder than the ones you're used to and with a baby...well. It's not the choice I would have made is all.) and the knowledge that people have died on Hajj due to fires and being crushed by the crowds (some people died during the Stoning of the Pillars on Ms. Nomani's Hajj).

Some of the depictions of Mecca itself made me sad, mostly the commercialization of the place with KFC's and other fast food type restaurants seemingly all over the place. I understand that it is a city and that there are millions of pilgrims, but in my head it's a holy city. KFC seems so out of place.

The question of the disconnect between the mixing of the genders at Mecca and the strict lines that can be encountered in other mosques all over the world stuck out to me too. Why is it okay for women and men to pray side my side in Mecca and not elsewhere?

I have to admit that I kept being surprised by how many things Ms. Nomani didn't seem to know about her own religion until she started looking into it due to the murder of her friend Daniel Pearl and the conception/birth of her son out of wedlock (and being abandoned by her son's father). It seems odd to me, but then I remember how many born Christians believe that the Bible was written in English originally.

My biggest problem, I guess, comes when Ms. Nomani returns home. She has, up until this point, not been involved in the local Muslim community. Due, it seems, to it not being a particularly inviting one to women. But I have to wonder if part of her perception, as a child, of it being uninviting is her mothers' aversion to the mosque. Her mother and father came from India and her mother came from a (according to the authors' book) very traditional area and family. She was never allowed or invited to participate in the community life of the mosque and never felt welcome. So I do wonder if that attitude trickled down to her daughter to a certain degree.

Ms. Nomani, on her return, goes to her local mosque and finds it wanting. Rather than become a part of the community and try and change things from the inside, she seems to appear and immediately begin demanding that things change and change right away to her way.

She refuses to use the women's section of the mosque but rather settles in the back of the men's section, refusing to leave when asked, ordered or threatened. While I can appreciate the point that there is no real reason for the women to be forced to pray in a room that leaves them feeling disconnected from the community, a room that is not equal in cleanliness or access, this felt so harsh to me, coming from someone who is basically a new comer to the community she is demanding change.

I was especially struck when Ms. Nomani describes a young woman who comes to the mosque to convert. She is not permitted to convert in the nice men's (main) hall, in front of the whole community, or even to have a microphone in the women's section so that the community can hear her take her shahadah. Instead she converts with only the other women present, and according to Ms. Nomani, laments that "This isn't the Islam I was promised." as she leaves. And I can relate, not to the specific circumstance, but to finding a religion not as promised.

I think we can all relate to that, to one degree or another.

*looks over 'review'*

I told you I was bad at this.

Anyway. Generally, I enjoyed the book. I'm not sure that I would like Ms. Nomani in person, but I found her writing to be easy to digest, informative, and it certainly kept my interest. Not so useful as an introduction to Islam (I have no impression that it was meant to be), it's definitely a memoir that gives you one point of view on the religion.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

I love copying other peoples' post ideas...

But at least I give them credit for it. Malik did a post over here where he showcased the suggested searches for Google. It's based on, as I'm sure we all know, the most run searches with those words. Google is trying to read our minds, basically. 

I do find it funny that you can get different answers not just in different areas but on different devices. I originally did the search on my iPad because I couldn't believe that there were no suggestions to Malik's question of 'Christian women are' and I did get some suggestions on the iPad (which, of course, I can't recall what they were at this point. Because that was yesterday and I'm getting old. So nyah.) but when I ran the search to make these caps, 'Christian women are' on my computer it came up with nothing. 

Weird. *plays Twilight Zone music*

Anyway. In no particular order....


Well I feel loved. I wonder what we're most likely to support though...

Damn straight. *fistbumps universe*

I don't even know what to say to this one. How many of you people are searching 'Catholic women are hot', and WHY?

LOL. Yes. I have all the things going for me. Short and curvy! So I'm prettier and more feminine and smarter and make smarter babies (no lie, that was one of the links that popped up under 'curvy women'. We make smarter babies according to Science! Go team hips!). So why the hell am I still single? Oh...that's right. Men think they all want stick figures that're 11 feet tall. Men.

That one's a bit of a mixed bag, but I am God's gift so I'll take it. ;)

I think I need Tony Stark's help to respond to this.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

In Which I Have An Opinion That Will Not Make Me Friends

I've been trying to decide whether I should say this 'out loud' or not, because I suspect that it's not just an unpopular opinion but a *very* unpopular opinion. But it keeps bothering me (especially since it keeps popping up on my Facebook feed) so I'm just going to say it.

There's been a lot of talk about how the dead Boston bomber shouldn't be buried on American soil. For the most part no one has been citing concerns of his grave turning into some sort of shrine/point of interest for others within the country who share his and his brothers radicalized views or the (very real) possibility that his grave would likely be vandalized within .02 seconds, thus inviting vandalization of the other graves in the cemetery. I believe (or at least I sincerely hope) that that last is why they've been unable to find a cemetery willing to take his body and I can understand that. A cemetery is a business, if one of a rather unique kind. They want people to feel comfortable with burying their loved ones there. They need to have the people feel comfortable with that or they'll find some other cemetery to use.

My impression, though, of why most people, most individuals, don't want him buried in the US is because they want to extract some sort of post-death revenge. And they somehow think that they'll be able to do this by disrespecting his body.

I can't help but wonder if they think that his corpse will taint the ground somehow, like in old vampire myths. Nothing will grow on his grave because he's so evil...etc. etc. Or if they think that America is so awesome that our very dirt is too good for such a person.

I've seen the pictures of protesters holding up signs saying that if Tsarnaev is buried in American soil that they'll dig him back up. 'American justice!' I don't understand what this 'justice' is that they're referring to. He was a murderer. If he had lived, he would be tried and convicted and sentenced to life in prison or death. But he didn't live. He died. That's all the justice anyone is ever going to get out of this man. There's nothing else that we, the people living right this moment, can get. Maybe his brother will be able to give the authorities information, clues that will lead to others like themselves (because I have no doubt that they exist - this isn't anti-Muslim paranoia, I just believe that there are always weak minded people out there who will be lead to doing horrific things - it's the cult mentality that these people look for). And when he is punished for his part, then that will be the justice that we get from him.

But his brother is gone. He's beyond our reach. It doesn't matter, to his ultimate fate, what we do with him now. Do these people understand that? Or do they somehow think that they can hurt him on the other side of the grave? Is there some impulse that makes them think that without a proper burial according to his faith that he can be kept from heaven? Of course that implies to me that they believe that there is a 'Muslim' heaven (separate from the Christian or any other faith version) and that what Tsarnaev did was laudable in the Muslim Gods eyes.

Tsarnaev is gone. His soul, his animating spirit, his consciousness, is gone. Gone. What is sitting in a funeral home right now is just meat. The only importance that it has is that it used to house Tsarnaev. He's not stuck in there, begging for a proper burial so he can bug on out to the next life. He's already met his fate. Assuming that there is a God, and that He is just, I don't believe that what he found on the other side was what he was expecting. But it's certain to be what he deserved.

How we treat his body reflects nothing on him.

It reflects on us.

Bury him somewhere secret, no marker, nothing to give people a target. Bury him and move on to people and events that we can change.

'But he's a murderer!'


'But he's evil!'

He did evil, no question.

He murdered three people. He wounded and maimed more than a hundred others. He and his brother intended to do more, to do worse.

I'm not disputing any of that, believe me.

Adam Lanza murdered 26 people. The majority of them were children. He's buried in American soil, somewhere.

Timothy McVeigh murdered 168 and wounded 800 more. Where do you think he's buried? (Okay, I admit this is a trick question. He was cremated and his ashes were scattered in an undisclosed location. But his remains, such as they were, were disposed of on American soil.)

Klebold and Harris were both cremated as well, and their remains final disposition is unknown. Scattered? Maybe. Buried? Maybe. Either way, their remains are somewhere in or on American soil.

Every American serial killer that has ever been caught, executed or killed in prison is buried (or disposed of) on American soil. These are people who have committed unspeakable acts of evil. Why is it okay (or at least unremarkable) that they be buried in American soil but not this one killer?

When Kaczynski dies, where do you think his body will go?

Go to a grave yard. Any grave yard. Look around. Do you think that you're surrounded only by the good? The virtuous? No. Think about how many of the people buried beside your loved ones were rapists, were abusers. How many of them beat their wives or their children or stole from their neighbors? How many killed someone, someone who will never be found, never know justice? How many went to their graves with their crimes unknown to any but themselves and God?

Does it make the grave of your loved one less sacred? Do the unknown, untold crimes of these others taint the ground you're walking over?
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