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my grandmother washes her feet in the sink of the bathroom at sears

01/30/14 2 Comments

My Grandmother Washes Her Feet in the Sink of the Bathroom at Sears
by Mohja Kahf

My grandmother puts her feet in the sink
        of the bathroom at Sears

to wash them in the ritual washing for prayer,
because she has to pray in the store or miss
the mandatory prayer time for Muslims
She does it with great poise, balancing
herself with one plump matronly arm
against the automated hot-air hand dryer,
after having removed her support knee-highs
and laid them aside, folded in thirds,
and given me her purse and her packages to hold
so she can accomplish this august ritual
and get back to the ritual of shopping for housewares

Respectable Sears matrons shake their heads and frown
as they notice what my grandmother is doing,
an affront to American porcelain,
a contamination of American Standards
by something foreign and unhygienic
requiring civic action and possible use of disinfectant spray
They fluster about and flutter their hands and I can see
a clash of civilizations brewing in the Sears bathroom

My grandmother, though she speaks no English,
catches their meaning and her look in the mirror says,
I have washed my feet over Iznik tile in Istanbul
with water from the world’s ancient irrigation systems
I have washed my feet in the bathhouses of Damascus
over painted bowls imported from China
among the best families of Aleppo
And if you Americans knew anything
about civilization and cleanliness,
you’d make wider washbins, anyway

My grandmother knows one culture—the right one,

as do these matrons of the Middle West. For them,
my grandmother might as well have been squatting
in the mud over a rusty tin in vaguely tropical squalor,
Mexican or Middle Eastern, it doesn’t matter which,
when she lifts her well-groomed foot and puts it over the edge.
“You can’t do that,” one of the women protests,
turning to me, “Tell her she can’t do that.”
“We wash our feet five times a day,”
my grandmother declares hotly in Arabic.
“My feet are cleaner than their sink.
Worried about their sink, are they? I
should worry about my feet!”
My grandmother nudges me, “Go on, tell them.”

Standing between the door and the mirror, I can see
at multiple angles, my grandmother and the other shoppers,
all of them decent and goodhearted women, diligent
in cleanliness, grooming, and decorum
Even now my grandmother, not to be rushed,
is delicately drying her pumps with tissues from her purse
For my grandmother always wears well-turned pumps
that match her purse, I think in case someone
from one of the best families of Aleppo
should run into her—here, in front of the Kenmore display

I smile at the midwestern women
as if my grandmother has just said something lovely about them
and shrug at my grandmother as if they
had just apologized through me
No one is fooled, but I

hold the door open for everyone
and we all emerge on the sales floor
and lose ourselves in the great common ground
of housewares on markdown.


man writes down the entire king james bible



via the latimes:

Phillip Patterson, a 63-year-old resident of Philmont, N.Y., a town near the Massachusetts border, may be an unlikely scribe for the Bible. He is not especially religious, for one thing, though he does go to church.  A retired interior designer whose battles with anemia and AIDS have often slowed his work, he began the monumental task mostly out of curiosity.

In 2007, Patterson’s longtime partner, Mohammed, told him about the Islamic tradition of writing out the Koran by hand. When Patterson said that the Bible was too long for Christianity to have a similar tradition, Mohammed said, well, he should start it. 

“I hadn’t counted on the fact that it would be so beautiful,” Patterson told the AP. “Or that it would be so exhilarating. And so long.”

this reminded me of a young malcolm x copying an entire dictionary while in prison.  the process of not only reading the book, but actually writing it out gave him a fresh commitment to the words/knowledge it held.  from phillip’s account on the book of proverbs, we can see that he went through a similar experience:

ContentImage-12062-218408-IMG_8486Having never before read the Book of Proverbs, I had a picture in my mind of trite lessons that parents sometimes used to justify their own actions, “spare the rod and spoil the child” leaps to mind. I hadn’t considered the possibility that those particular pages offer a handbook for right living.

Through this entire experience of handwriting the King James Bible, I have come across many ideas that are timeless. Timeless because the problems facing us in this young century have not changed much over these thousands of years. The only thing that seems to have changed is the weapons we’ve invented in order to afflict ourselves – so sad.

Perhaps it is difficult for an individual within the security of his or her home to affect significant change in the world at large. It is possible, however, to begin to begin change within one’s self.

Proverbs speaks greatly of vanity on the cellular level of the soul. It conversely offers remedies that open windows out to the fresh air of personal salvation. For me it’s a place to start. My own question revolves around how far I’m willing to go.

phillip is scheduled to write the final verses from revelation today at his church, st. peter’s presbyterian in spencertown, ny.  below, you can find some photos taken by laura glazer throughout the process.  for more info, check out this website.  first spotted at the paris review.

champion requiem: does religion & hip hop ever work well together?

08/30/12 1 Comment

one of the better articles that i’ve read this year was about yasiin bey (fka mos def).  it showed how the rapper’s religious faith influenced not only his name change but also some of his music (read it here).  you can hear the spiritual presence on this song from his mos def days, “champion requiem”:

yasiin starts the track with “Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim” (arabic for “In the name of God, most Gracious, most Compassionate”).  he goes on to credit any goodness in him to “the Creator” and later says “Listen God did not make me a fearful person/The only fear I have, Is my fear to adhere his path.”  the emcee could have preached these things at many houses of worship.

that said, spiritual rap is like an abandoned child.  one parent (mainstream religion) shuns it for not being godly enough for holy praise, regardless of the lyrics.  the other parent (mainstream hip hop) shuns it for being too godly (or corny) to entertain or make a profit.  moreover, the music often just sounds bad to both.  sometimes that’s the fault of the artists, but also at play is a resistance to change that closes people’s ears.

while holy hip hop might never find the acceptance it yearns for, it can still have a place in both worlds if done right.  with “champion,” you see the potential on the spiritual end to deliver a message to places and minds that pastors, imams or priests might not reach (yasiin even wishes to hear his words “in the ghetto streets where y’all at…In the parties where it be so packed and the atmosphere be so black”).  for the hip hop heads, it’s another opportunity to edify people using the same medium that they love.

how do you feel about spiritual hip hop?  what would it have to do to be successful in both religious and hip hop settings?  if you know of any good songs that might fit the bill, share in the comments.

related: a documentary that address the issue

a muslim christmas


Sahira Traband, here with her sons Teo, 10, left, and Mikail, 6, is a Muslim who decorates her house for Christmas, hangs stockings and puts gifts under the tree. She views the holiday as a happy time that doesn't conflict with her faith in Islam.

by raja abdulrahim, la times:

With Christmas comes tradition in the Traband household: A plate of cookies for Santa and carrots for his reindeer. A stocking full of treats for Omar, the family dog. A noble fir decorated with golden garland and keepsake ornaments.

But there is no angel atop the tree.

Sahira Traband feels that would conflict with her family’s faith.

They are Muslims.

“The magic of Christmas is the part we celebrate,” said Traband, 45. “We didn’t get into the whole religious thing.”

At a time when the holiday is being pulled in different directions — some people replace “Merry Christmas” with “Happy Holidays” so as not to offend, while others campaign to “Keep the Christ in Christmas” — it’s not uncommon for Muslims to use the occasion as an entry into American culture, no different from signing up their children for Little League.

Just how many Muslims do observe the holiday is unclear, since it is a personal choice fellow faithful might criticize. But if they were to ask, Muslims might discover they know a family or two who put up trees or send letters to Santa.

That fact may come as an even bigger shock to those outside the community who regard Muslims and their faith as being at odds with Western lifestyles.

“To me, Christmas, unless you’re going to go to church, is a pop culture holiday,” said Maha Awad, a producer and media consultant who is working with the TLC reality show “All-American Muslim.”

Though Jesus is regarded as a prophet in Islam, celebrating Christmas “is not a religious practice,” Awad said.

In her San Fernando Valley home, much of the holiday revolves around her 4-year-old daughter, Sarah, who attends an Islamic school on Sundays and is memorizing parts of the Koran. Awad takes her to visit Santa; they put up a tree and decorate the house with lights and stockings.

“Islam is our religion and Christmas is just a fun holiday we partake in,” said Awad, whose father is Palestinian and mother Egyptian. Growing up in Los Angeles, “it was absolutely part of assimilating,” she said.

Most clerics, however, will argue that followers of Islam should not participate in the Christian holiday, despite its commercialization. A small number of Muslims even go so far as to say that wishing someone a “Merry Christmas” is tantamount to blasphemy.


Still, many Muslims — as well as Jews, Buddhists and other non-Christians — celebrate the day. The act of putting up some tinsel, said Emil Ali, a Muslim, doesn’t conflict with their religious beliefs.

The lawyer, who works at the Department of Labor in Washington, D.C., remembers having to defend himself when he was 12 years old and another Muslim boy told him that celebrating Christmas was forbidden. He responded that the Koran doesn’t forbid having a tree.

Now some of his more conservative friends jokingly say he’s becoming Christian.

“I don’t think Christmas is very religious,” said Ali, 26, whose mother is from Pakistan and father from Tanzania. “When you’re in an American country, you want to blend in and assimilate.”

For Ali, sending out holiday cards and decorating his house with lights is just part of being a good neighbor. Not doing it, he said, would be akin to keeping his empty trash cans by the curb.

Andrew Walther — a spokesman for the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic charitable group that regularly sponsors “Keep the Christ in Christmas” campaigns — is much more concerned with Christians who have lost sight of the holiday’s religious origins. He sees no harm in people of other faiths taking part in the holiday.

“The message of Christmas, of having peace on Earth and goodwill, is a very broad message … that resonates with many people,” he said.


Shanaz Khan, a mother of two in West Los Angeles, said she tries to put a Muslim spin on what she sees as the Christian-holiday-gone-secular.

On the “holiday tree” in their home, along with Christmas ornaments, hang decorations wishing everyone a “Happy Eid” — a Muslim holiday that comes twice a year, most recently in early November. On Christmas Day, Khan prepares a traditional holiday meal, making sure the turkey ishalal, or slaughtered according to Islamic law.

The Christmas celebration “is what makes a community,” she said. “It doesn’t deter me away from being a good Muslim or following my faith.”

As a child growing up in England, Traband said, her family celebrated Christmas. When they moved to the United States when she was 9, her parents started to become more religious.

“One year, we just didn’t get any Christmas gifts and we never spoke about it. It was like this shameful thing,” she said.

When Traband left home at 18, she re-embraced Christmas. She and a roommate got a small tree and decorated it with jewelry because they had no ornaments.

One recent evening, Traband was sitting on a comfortable sofa in her South Los Angeles home. Behind her was a framed calligraphy that read: “There is no victor but Allah.”

She asked her two sons, “You know that a lot of Muslims don’t celebrate Christmas, right?”

“I don’t get it,” said 10-year-old Teo. “Is it because Jesus was born that day?”

“It’s not a Muslim holiday,” Traband explained.

“That’s messed up,” Teo said, looking at his mother for affirmation. “People should be able to celebrate whatever they want.”


When she became a mother, Traband said, she started filling the space beneath the tree with gifts. Now she too struggles to keep the holiday from becoming overly commercial.

When Teo told her that he thought Jesus was only a Christian figure, Traband saw it as an opportunity to educate her children. She said that because there is so much emphasis on the prophet Muhammad in Islam — almost to the exclusion of other prophets — Muslims can feel as though they have less of a claim on Jesus.

“I think Jesus has been a bit co-opted by Christians,” she said.

This year, the family attended a Christmas party held by the group Muslims for Progressive Values. The adults spoke about Jesus’ role in Islam: as a messenger, a healer and the son of the Virgin Mary. Most of the children, however, were too focused on the sugary holiday treats to pay attention.

A few days later, Traband asked Teo whom he would have dinner with if he could choose anyone, dead or alive.

Inspired by the recent lessons on the importance of Jesus in Islam, Teo was torn between the prophet and his favorite rapper.

“I don’t think I would have much to talk about with Jesus, because of my age,” he said. “So I picked Eminem.”

step into a church/synagogue/masjid and you will come across people whose words & actions seem in tune with god.  however, regardless of appearances, these same people’s hearts & minds could tell a different story.  a group of singers from the first baptist church in orlando took a satirical look at such worship in the video above.  in their words:

Sometimes when we worship, we don’t really mean it. This is what it would look like if we were to sing what we really meant.

wrong worship


today, i am a muslim, too


today at 2pm, over 75 interfaith, nonprofit, governmental and civil liberties groups will take over times square for the “today, i am a muslim, too” rally.  the event, which serves as a response to upcoming congressional hearings, seeks to promote equitable civil rights and religious tolerance while taking a stand against bigotry and ignorance.  visit globalgrind for more details.

update:  photo slideshow from the event.

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