Sunday, April 29, 2012

Standing in the Shadows of the Holocaust

I remember watching a documentary about the American Neo-Nazi rally in Skokie, Illinois in the late 1970s being very touched by the reactions of Holocaust survivors who vehemently opposed the march. I could see the shadows of their decades old horror in their eyes as they protested what they said was a familiar echo of the cycle of hatred reconstituting itself unimaginably once again in their lifetime. Even as an insulated eighteen year old, I could feel their pain, recognized the efficacy of their admonitions, could see the foundation of hatred trying to set itself, trying to harden and cure in front of my very eyes. I wasn't pro Palestinian, wasn't pro Israeli, probably wasn't pro anything at that point. But I could sort out the rhetoric of evil, could perceive the mechanisms of hate, could feel the chilling penumbra that would chase away the light.
Thirty years later, I would stand in those very shadows that I had gleaned in the eyes of those survivors all those years before. The fragmented and jagged shadows that ripped across my shirt as I walked up to the gates of the barbed-wired enshrouded refugee camp inside Jerusalem, heading into streets heaped in garbage, and into schools with virtually no resources warning the promise of the classrooms. The darker, humiliating shadows inside the covered street just outside the Mosque of Al-Aqsa, where a young man in a earth toned uniform held an automatic weapon carelessly as he forced me to recite Koran in a language he disdained, knowing no matter what I did, he was going to refuse me entry and insult the woman at my side just because he could. And the shadows that literally dwarfed and engulfed me as I stood at the base of the wall built in Bethlehem, a drab and forbidding structure obscuring the setting sun, marring it profanely in a place that others found holy, foreshadowing the barren and lifeless shell of Hebron that lay on the other side. A city draped in desolate and empty shadows, the scars of hatred and division.
I suppose I can understand how these shadows look to a new generation of Jews, maybe they are the necessities of security and the bleak under girding of a defiant survival in an age where austere strength subjugates virtue. I can understand this. But what about the eyes of their parents, their grandparents? What do they see in these shadows? No familiar ghosts? No portents of a race poised to lose its soul in the death of another? Not one cry, not one protest, not one shudder?
I have stood in the shadows of the Holocaust, but not in Germany or Poland - they have radiated malignantly to a land bereft of clouds, towering trees, or imposing mountains, nothing now but hate to hide the sun.

I have employed this metaphor before, a reference to the Holocaust that gathered some indignant rebuttal. I have been informed, in no uncertain terms, that I hold no claim to this term, that it is owned by others. But when those custodians overlook these shadows, when they can no longer see the brooding evil lingering there, they have bartered away their tenure in a profane and pragmatic bargain.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Balance Shmalance

I did something today I rarely do, I went to a conference session that I wasn't at all intrigued with. It was a presentation about how to balance your life - work, family, and play. I chuckled as I entered the room, knowing I was an interloper, the only one in the room who wasn't searching for more balance, the only one blissfully happy out of balance. Perhaps I went to understand these people, having encountered them lately, mostly to my detriment. Twice in the past three years, I have been in a job interview process when I have been asked what I do to create balance in my life - when I chortled, things went downhill. Evidently people have a strong bias about such things in their lives, and unfortunately, in the lives of others. I would go so far as to say there are quite a few balance fascists out there.
I did enjoy the session, not finding any particular insight into the construct, but having an hour to contemplate things that are important to me, things that I am passionate about.  Not that it is rare that I think about things, but I had the context and license to explore them indulgently was nice. I started contemplating what drove me, what made me want to do the things I do for a living, for my vocation. It was clear to me almost immediately that it came easily down to two simple things: jobs and dreams.
I didn't have the greatest childhood (didn't have the worse), but I have never had a job I hated that I thought was inescapable. I did jobs in college that were not very appealing, but they were transitional situations and I knew that. Everyday here in the US, I see adults stuck in jobs with not much hope for better futures, and it saddens me greatly. That is why I think I work with at-risk students here in my own country, knowing how much I get out of my work, hoping to give that gift to my students - the hope and freedom of a great job.  I take it for granted too often, but when I work with students, I realize how blessed I am, and how important their careers will be for them.  I try to help them develop the habits and skills they will need to chase those positions, to get them, and to keep them. But more importantly, I try to help them develop the cultural capital to appreciate those opportunities.
When I work overseas, I think more about dreams - once again, being and American is wonderful for a dreamer - literally anything is possible here, and conceivable too.  Not so in many other places of the world.  I want those other children to realize a broader set of possibilities, a broader set of freedoms, two things I also take for granted.  Education is the obvious key, and for me, helping their teachers is my best tool.  Jobs and dreams, dreams and jobs, new horizons, expanded possibilities - these are the things I think about daily when I look into the faces of people I work with 12-16 hours a day.  These are the concepts that motivate me, haunt me, and occasionally reward me. To be honest, I can't think of anything else to plug into this equation to balance it.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Remains of this Day

It has been a very busy day, one of many to come. I am wrapping things up at one job, getting ready for the next, preparing a conference presentation for later this week, wrapping up the details for new living arrangements, trying to get back on top of my Academy obligations, waiting for a student to come in later tonight for tutoring, and letting some old memories roll by gently, no longer trying to exorcise or excise them, just letting them warm me for the moment.  I am happy with the body of work behind me and excited about the challenges and tasks in front of me. In a very stressful time, things are settling languidly and I am grateful for my blessings. Alhamdulilah

Barbershop Wars

It struck me today, while waiting for a bit over an hour for a haircut, that I have had a life-long war with barbers. I hadn't thought too much about it in the past, and if I had, I probably would have conceptualized it more like a truce, or a non-aggression pact at the very most. From the moment I walk into the shop until the moment they spin me around and ask me what I just may consider the stupidest question in the history of mankind, "How does it look?", I am perpetually at unease.  I think I rather prefer my ventures to the dentist office to tell you the truth.
Getting a haircut is a no-win proposition from the beginning - there is no way to make my head look good, and this is compounded then by the fact that people know you have just been to the barber and you don't look better. Maybe it is because I have a big head, lots of scars, vacillating cowlicks on either side, and hair that has been graying longer than I care to remember. My best expectation for one of monthly excursions is more of a medical mode - "do no harm."  Lately, it seems that there are two choices available, looking like a 14 year old or an octogenarian when I leave - nothing seems possible in between. Alas, I have long since resigned myself to a poor haircut, but there is more to the experience that I dread, much more. Today was a great example, visiting a local community barbershop in West Virginia. You see it seems to be every barber's mission to talk my ears off why he/she trims the hair around them (and sadly, lately, in them), and it is my fervent desire to be left largely alone.
I walked into this local tonsorial parlor in a good mood. Once inside that buoyancy evaporated immediately as I recognized I was fourth in line, and dialogue was part and parcel of the ambiance. There was a middle aged woman holding court, while cutting hair and pontificating with the senior citizens in the room. Each customer had his own particular palaver, and she went toe to toe with each of them. I listened as they debated the merits of a four-quart versus six-quart pressure cooker, canned green beans versus Kroger beans, Douglas MacArthur and Afghanistan, the proper dosages for various acid reflux medications, various banking vagaries and bounced checks, the time of life when ear hair began to grow faster than head hair, and a few other streams I couldn't quite follow. Somewhere in the middle of my wait, it struck me that when I got to the chair, I would be interrogated and would need to feed a particular parlay with something interesting or appropriately sensible - my mind went blank. I think I even dreaded my moment to rise and mount the chair, contemplating letting the next in line go ahead of me. I shook this off, and bravely stood up, put down my Field and Stream magazine, shuffled across ten feet of scattered hair clippings and sat down unceremoniously.
The previous occupant had not finished his business however, and stood at the door finishing his end of the great heartburn debate for several minutes. This gave me time to rehearse the obligatory directions I would give my hairdresser, and I settled on "just clean it up a little, get it off my ears, and I bring the top straight down." She said ok, and I waited for her first foray into a dialogue. Amazingly though, I was rescued by a regular perhaps sensing my reticence, who started into a story about a local publisher who had just released a new book on beekeeping. Feeling like a man who had just been given a reprieve of another sort from another kind of chair, I smiled, hunkered down a bit, and prayed for the efficacy of apiary anecdotes. The chatted about bees and honey and books right up to the time she spun me around and confronted me with the redundant question, asking for approval well past the point of any return.  I had managed to get through the whole ordeal with those simple initial directions and a few grunts.  I was happy.
She was a nice lady, and so, apparently, was her mother from the few stories she shared. I thought while she was chatting and clipping, about why I did not like to talk while in a chair as someone was hovering over me with scissors and electric clippers. I wasn't afraid of them nipping me, nor am I always taciturn around strangers or in new situations. I guess I figure that these professionals have a nearly impossible job in the first place, and I really don't want to distract them from their work. Oddly though, I also considered that my refusal to engage them in the obligatory banter might even irritate them leading to worse contingencies, but I figured it really didn't matter. I smiled as I responded "just fine" despite not looking up to verify the assertion, and I tipped her two dollars as I left.
The spring returned to my step as I walked out to the my truck to return to work - I had survived a trip to a down-home barbershop with minimal discourse, had explored a few new avenues of human nature, and I knew whatever had happened to my head would be irrelevant for me for awhile, as I planned no visit to any mirror anytime soon.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Reticent Reflection

Bemused, this was another day he mused that his only purpose was to somehow manage his way to his own death. It wasn't a pathetic ponderance, nor was it a melancholy mood. Simply the conclusion of a lifetime of catching up to the rest of the world, the abandonment of any desire for a semblance of normality. It would be a long night of speculation, but a new sort, the kind not designed to produce answers or direction. It would be an honest recollection of where he had been, not where he was to go. He didn't care about that anymore, long ago realizing that there was no destination, no place to be.
It would be a night to decide how much longer he would challenge God to delay his death, how much longer he would fight each twilight without a compelling purpose or significant reward. He would leave the sleep aids alone tonight, the first time in several years. Sleep was no longer a diversion, escape, or relief - maybe just another sort of delay, another sort of wasted enterprise. It wouldn't be a desperate debate, this reckoning with himself, just a long over due audit and the balancing of life and what was to be left of it.
There comes a time when mortality loses its luster, and relegated to a long list of things tolerated as there is nothing better to do. Not a prelude to suicide or anything that dramatic, ironically, that would require a reserve of purpose now nowhere in sight. No longer of question of finding meaning or realizing the potential of one's worth, merely the promise of entering the third act of a particularly poor play, too expensive to leave early, too fragmented and clumsy to end gracefully. And no, not a reaction or revelation from reading Camus or Sartre for the first time, that brand of epiphany long abandoned for a more pragmatic erosion. Existential angst is best served to the effete, not really enough to chew on for a man determined to end the anonymity of his life.
Philosophy though, might be a good place to start. He had always understood philosophy, could write papers that got As, could explain and teach it to others, but had never really thought philosophically. It amused him that he was quoted often, many times wondering if the attributed aphorism had ever even crossed his lips. True, he could label things, had a quick wit, and could put concepts together in glib bursts, but he was no philosopher. Philosophic questions held no enduring interest for him, his professors were too lazy hold him to the task, and the subsequent people he encountered outside of college never knew him long enough to realize the lack of depth in the attenuated gestalt of his life. If he had been a philosopher, he would have been more concerned with things, would have battled his circumstances more coherently and consistently - no, he was no philosopher, more like a mnemonic meme, moving across a universe unspeculated upon, connecting others with trinkets and party favors, destined for a benevolent, misplaced romanticism.
Back to existentialism though, and the inevitable search for meaning in his life. Like most things, he had this backwards too, this discovery of the relative meaninglessness of life. Most earn it honestly, working and plodding through life under a false guideline, a errant errand, only to discover much later that it was all a false scheme, an artificial emulsifier that can no longer bind the meaningful elements of their life in a culminating sequence. A cruel and catty cut, often terminal and insuperable. This was not his issue however, as he never owned such a compass, such a personal organizer or mantra. He knew the mores and levers that manipulated his early life were false, but he resisted the acknowledgement valiantly enough to emerge into manhood sufficiently stunted to avoid the issue for a few more decades as he sorted out the debris belying the efficacy of his relationships and his plans.
The first full challenge to this subtle diversion of any fundamental analysis of his life came innocently enough, certainly not in the pages of Nietzsche, Habermas, or Marx, rather on the Discovery Channel, or some other lesser-traveled cable choice. He had watched, probably out of boredom and procrastination, as a pack of wolves chased down an elk, deer, or reindeer (he wasn't paying that much attention). Not partial to carnage, he almost turned away as the wolves closed in on their prey, but he watched anyway, sensing something strange. And on cue, the cervine prize literally stopped in its tracks completely disorienting the schema of the wolves. They skidded to a halt, circled frantically, even snapping and biting at each other. This continued for a dozen seconds or so until the deer, or whatever it was, lost its nerve and bolted. The wolves recovered instantly and overtook it and ripped it to pieces. He recognized himself in this drama, not the victim, not the killer, but the pursuer. The biologic mass of muscle and intent, motive and movement, guilelessness and pursuit.
Challenge and transition had been the hallmarks of his life, the remedy for any harbinger poised to thrust speculation or dissonance in his path. He was not fleeing from, not fleeing too - not fleeing at all, that would necessitate a specific goal, a specific adversary (other than himself); no he was not fleeing, just avoiding the collection and coalescence of witnesses that would eventually manifest itself as a mirror, forcing the unbearable consequence of respite and reflection.
To be continued...

Saturday, April 21, 2012

A Letter to My Teachers

Please excuse me today, I am not feeling well. I won't participate, won't support anything you try to do that exposes my vulnerability. I am tired - I spent a good part of my night being slapped, hugged, punched, cursed, and humiliated in front of the only people I have learned to love. I spent the evening not bravely, but necessarily. Honestly not knowing if I would survive the chaos that never seemed to replicate itself consistently. Not knowing if the first outburst, the first onslaught would be the end of it, or if the alcohol would buoy or belay the extent of the violence. I threw myself into last evening's hell knowing no matter what would happen, I would lose something in the bargain. I am sore and I am tired. So please just leave me be today, and if you choose not to, understand that whatever reaction emerges from me is not directed at you as a human being, merely the festering frustration of having no peace, no place to retire to safely. Resisting you will break no bones, will shed no blood, will be a war halfway on my own terms, what passes for the semblance of power in my world. I will forget what ever happens when you call me out, won't think of you any differently tomorrow than I did today. You will suffer if you invite yourself into my world today, it will haunt you for years to come I suspect. I will disrupt your consistency, your sense of purpose, your concept of a good person, your lesson plan. Nothing personal is what I have always been told, but the triumvirate of alcoholism, mental illness, and abuse needs to assert itself efficaciously, never bearing any residual malice for its fodder. You will share, even if briefly, that senseless sort of malevolence that cannot be ignored, cannot be shrugged off. For your sake, I pray you just leave me be today, just leave me be.

Thursday, April 19, 2012


I am not sure they are ghosts, it may be that they were never even real.  I carry them around though, and they visit me periodically, mostly in dreams, sometimes at random moments throughout the day. Some carry pain, some regret, and some just remind me of the vast emptiness inside me. Often, I can stay ahead of them, working hard and pressing forward into new challenges.  It is only when I stop and rest that they catch up.
I don't want to tote these images around anymore. I want to leave them here next month when I move on to the next segment of my life.  I need to leave them here. Images from my distant and recent past, reminders of failures and pain that reconstitute themselves perfectly with each apparition. Time doesn't seem to weaken them, and sometimes I am not sure what is worse, suffering from a visit, or secretly missing them. I imagine it is like a drug habit - wanting to remember, to either fix or repair the damage, or just to languish in the few good moments associated with them, knowing that afterward I will feel worse, either way.
Perhaps if they weren't here, I would have no more excuses to focus on and I would be free to forge my future. I have never felt I have been at such a threshold before, not like I do now. I always felt I was just moving forward in a aimless fugue, aware of only what was directly in front of me. Perhaps I don't have the courage to face a future independent of the damage and excuses of my past.  I do sense this is my last good chance to do so, and I need to jettison some things once and for all - ghosts and excuses.

Sunday, April 15, 2012


Ok, I know it's a sexist word, at least to some, and for me to begin a post about what it means to be a man is probably not very wise. But I am a man, I cannot help it, nor am I comfortable with anyone else defining who I am.  I am also very aware that if I don't take the time to do this, someone else will.  So here goes, what being a man means to me:
First and foremost, I need to acknowledge God, and to acknowledge the strengths he has give me.  Those strengths include concern for the welfare of others and the ability to express myself.  Lately, I have witnessed others victimizing those they felt were less powerful than themselves, and in the last several incidents, those perpetrators were women. In the past, I was willing and able to engage these people in defense of those they hurt - this was not a strength by the way, just a convenient exercise to indulge something that was not a strength, my proclivity for conflict. This is the hallmark of rationalization, that occasional intersection of motive and opportunity that launder a sinful act in the wake of an injustice. I had read Kant's concepts of duty, lectured on it, and missed the point completely. I have risked whatever I have at times to engage these skirmishes, not because I am honorable, but merely because I probably don't value myself very much, and any loss was not really a loss, or worse yet, most likely inevitable eventually anyway. I have heard that many heroes (not calling myself one) have given themselves for similar reasons. 
As a man, I need to learn to advocate for others (not just women) in a different way, and if I am ever honest with myself, my courage will have to be forged a new way. I have a few of these tests in front of me at this very moment, and no, there will be no frontal assault this time. After all, any damage to be would be minimal and selfishly inflicted while the collateral damage done to others would be far more serious.  I do imagine it will call for some sort of sacrifice on my part, but the kind I don't want to indulge. As I am writing this, a very uncomfortable realization is forming as I begin to formulate a new kind of response to one of these issues. More like dread actually, a good indicator I am now thinking correctly.
So chivalry will be redefined from this moment, at least for me anyway. 

Thursday, April 12, 2012


The Prophet said, "Faith (Belief) consists of more than sixty branches (i.e. parts). And Haya (This term "Haya" covers a large number of concepts which are to be taken together; amongst them are self respect, modesty, bashfulness, and scruple, etc.) is a part of faith."

This particular hadith is very important to me, as "haya" is something I don't think I have ever understood, before or after my conversion to Islam. Of the four terms listed above (self respect, modesty, bashfulness, scruples), I probably only feel partially comfortable with my scruples, though they can be bent fairly easily when convenience beckons. Perhaps this is why I admire so many Muslim men I have known (Dr. K., many of the men in the Academy, men in the refugee camp I lived in, the Pakistani doctor and legislators who are bravely battling the horrors of acid attacks, etc.) over the years, I see this concept in their behaviors, in the way they treat people, in the way they carry themselves. I have so much to learn, so much to repair I fear.
My strength, or what I confuse for it, has been an opposite reaction to the insecurities I was raised with.  I am quite sure I have never really respected myself, and I have learned later in life this is not an uncommon malady. I was shocked when I heard a favorite author tell his audience that we all know deep down we are just impostors. Although I feel confident in my work, I know there is so much more to learn, so much more to improve. But I have also learned that in order to lead people, you need to project confidence - that is my issue, keeping things confident and not letting them slide to the arrogant.
I do like the occasional bouts of modesty that overtake me from time to time. It feels good and natural. Perhaps one day I will wear that mantle more comfortably, without losing my passion. I have a lot to do. 

Thursday, April 5, 2012


I was very excited last night when I noticed the documentary Saving Face was on a dubious website where I could watch it now for free (another ethical discussion for another time). It is a documentary about one Pakistani plastic surgeon living in London who returns to Pakistan to help repair the faces of women who have had acid thrown upon them by husbands and spurned suitors. I can't begin to discuss the emotions I feel when I watch this film - not like the brief adrenaline rushes I have felt occasionally in the past after watching 90 minutes of something that felt inspirational and generated some very vacant life-changing resolutions, what I feel now is very different.  Perhaps because this issue gets at some core concepts for me as a human - abuse, disfigurement, degradation, and the fundamental silence that afflicts apparently decent human beings as they watch these horrors happen to other people.
I muse often about my scars, those on my head and face, my arms, both hips, both knees, my back, and my ankle ( I am sure I have forgotten some as I have long since abandoned my full-length mirror), the stories behind them (even the true ones), and how I have come to live with them. Don't get me wrong, I am not trying to compare my scars to the terrible carnage done to these women, nor am I trying to compare my experience to theirs, I am only asserting that I can extrapolate enough to make a human connection to their misery that just won't let me forget their suffering. My scars are minor, and as a male, have even become part of a rugged persona of sorts, but I wasn't always comfortable with them, far from it.
My first significant scar came when I was very young when I pulled a skillet of grease down upon myself from the stove. It left a permanent bald spot on the top of my head, and two half-dollars sized scars on my left arm.  I learned to grow my bangs long to cover the scar, but when the wind blew it was always noticeable.  Although I never took to wearing hats as a result, I was constantly aware of the scar, and was always pulling at my hair to make sure it was covered.  I didn't like playing basketball or the running events in track as I couldn't control my hair, and I really didn't care for headbands. It took a very long time before I overcame this self-consciousness.  I was not teased too much growing up about it, but it affected my self-esteem to a great extent I think.
The rest of my scars have been fairly won in combat of some sort - sports or battles with my step-father. Consequently they come with a weird sense of pride or begrudging nod to my manhood.  But there are other scars here too, the invisible ones. I carry a hidden scar for each time I did not intervene when my step-father terrorized my mother and my sister, every time I did not help someone in need, every time I overlooked an injustice at work or school, every time I failed to act on my conscience. These have disfigured me the most I think.
So now, I watch the courage of these women who have existed in terribly abuse relationships, only to be sprayed with acid or gasoline by family members (incredibly, sometimes by a sister in-law or mother in-law), with complete incredulity not knowing how they persevere.  Some are even forced to return to the homes to reconcile as they have nowhere to go or need to remain with their children.  What pains me most is the Muslim community that by-in-large ignores this phenomenon, particularly the male segment of that population. Men whose vanity pollutes and degrades the name of my faith, men who should stop this vile practice with their own hands, men who instead turn their heads and head to the mosque to lecture others on their behaviors. No, not men, not Muslims.
There is nothing in my faith that suggests I treat women as inferior beings, subjugated property, or anything less than full partners in my human walk with God. I cry as I watch these women deal with their scars, and I lament a good part of that nation of men weaker than they, scared by their own cowardice.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012


The Prophet added, "The angel caught me (forcefully) and pressed me so hard that I could not bear it any more. He then released me and again asked me to read and I replied, 'I do not know how to read.' Thereupon he caught me again and pressed me a second time till I could not bear it any more. He then released me and again asked me to read but again I replied, 'I do not know how to read (or what shall I read)?' Thereupon he caught me for the third time and pressed me, and then released me and said, 'Read in the name of your Lord, who has created (all that exists) has created man from a clot. Read! And your Lord is the Most Generous." (96.1, 96.2, 96.3)

Illiteracy has been a major part of my life since the summer of 1985 - nearly 27 years now. I stumbled over it as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Jamaica, after my primary post as an instructor at a teacher's college fell through.  I have written about this many times before, and to make a long story short, ended up working for JAMAL (The Jamaican Movement for the Advancement of Literacy) for two years, teaching reading classes and eventually establishing and supporting classes across the western side of the island. This changed my life forever, and when I returned to the United States, I changed my coursework and studied reading, cognition, and education. Since that summer, I have been involved with literacy education of some sorts constantly, and the non-literate have been a large part of my life.
These experiences have drastically changed my notion of ignorance - I must confess I probably once held that non-literate people were ignorant by definition, but my parameters were all wrong. People aren't illiterate by choice, and they certainly aren't limited in other cognitive functions. As a matter of fact, some of the most dignified people I have ever met couldn't spell the word dignified! They live very difficult and complicated lives, often close to the earth, far from the convoluted machinations of more learned folks. And I never taught them to improve their character, far from it, I hoped the advent of literacy did not erode it! The fact that Allah chose such a person to reveal His word is perfectly logical for me, especially when I think about my varied religious experiences. A pure heart is a perfect vessel, whether the owner of that heart can decipher scribbles on paper or not.
Sometimes I think about those early Muslims, and the changes they had to make to fulfill their faith - the ancient superstitions of their forefathers, the barbaric practices they deemed pragmatic, and the destructive but convenient diversions from their brutal realities. They made these changes in the presence of the word of God, delivered by a simple, honest man.  This humbles me when I think about my short-comings in my faith.  I really cannot grasp the magnitude of the changes the Prophet heralded, and those early converts who gave their lives to Allah.
This notion of illiteracy also brings me to one of the strengths of Islam, in my opinion anyway, that of our personal responsibility to read and consider the Holy Koran. And although I may go to the Mosque and listen to a learned Imam on occasion, it is incumbent upon me to live a correct life and to know how to comport myself with God and in this world.  This is so different than my previous experiences with churches where God's word was sometimes hoarded and parsed out sparingly by men who had closed themselves from my world in cloistered and secret clutches. I do understand the benefit of others' wisdom, but the lessons I have read in the Koran and hadith are simple enough for me. So simple as a matter of fact, that my human side is tempted to manipulate and pervert them. At the end of the day though, my conscience knows the difference, and I try to listen openly to my conscience especially during isha'a prayer.
Finally, the notion that correlates illiteracy and life close to the earth resonates very strongly with me - my faith is not grounded (no pun intended) in some high, esoteric rhetoric, rather it is forged with simple daily routines that reinforce the basic goodness around me, not the distractions of the masses scrambling to produce convenient, self-serving realities. Working from the simple to the complex is honest work - manipulating the complex to change the simple is the devil's duty.
So, to finish these thoughts with something potentially heretical, I don't find much of a miracle in God's choice of our Prophet; it makes perfect, beautiful sense to me.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012


I really enjoyed my spiritual journey last Ramadan when I went through the Holy Koran and read and commented on each sura.  I have kept much of the progress I made, but I have slipped on things too.  I thought it would be nice to read and reflect on some Hadith now as I begin to prepare for another change in my life.

 "The reward of deeds depends upon the intentions and every person will get the reward according to what he has intended. So whoever emigrated for worldly benefits or for a woman to marry, his emigration was for what he emigrated for."

This is a very relevant reference for me on so many levels. First, I have worked very hard on my intentions, making sure they were correct, not self-serving, and worthy of Muslim who loves God. I am comfortable that I do most things for the right reason, and if there is personal benefit that follows, then it is a natural consequence. My intentions aren't always pure, and lately they have been tested by a particularly noxious person, but all in all, I have resisted changing my nature to meet the challenge.  I am a very ambitious person, and I spend a great deal of time reflecting on the motivation behind those ambitions.  To me, this hadith speaks to motivation and reward, two things that have been on my mind lately.
I realize now that at my age and station, to accomplish things I must be out a head of them leading the way (for awhile anyway).  When you do this with good people, they are grateful and willing to show that gratitude in a million ways.  This often flatters me but makes me increasingly more uncomfortable. I really do look at the projects I work on now as sustainable programs designed to do good for a great number of people - I have realized late in life that these entities need to be free standing and unattached to a personality in order to reach meaningful fruition.  It is a delicate dance, creating an initial dependence then transitioning to full autonomy. Luckily, I have chosen wonderful people to work with lately, and I see this all unfolding before me. It really is far more wonderful to see these teachers recognize their own worth and excellence than to hear them praise me. Twenty years ago, I would not have understood this kind of reward I think. Feeling this new kind of satisfaction only drives me harder towards other ventures now.
The second part of this hadith is very pertinent for me, as I continue to try to understand the role of love in my religion.  I have been selfish in love and I have been almost completely selfless in love, but I am not sure either motive was correct. Most likely, I simply committed the sin of placing myself before God, then placing someone else there.  I am still not sure how this is meant to work, how this partnership with another human being enhances my relationship with God.  I have some work left to do here I guess.
I plan to keep reflecting on things during this next month as I prepare to move to my new job. Although I will be very busy, I think it is an appropriate time to take measure of myself and my relationship with God.