Friday, August 26, 2011

all of the things

When I blink it looks like taking pictures with an old camera where the shutter closes each time, or what it looked like when I had my pupils dilated. It must be the light from the month of Ramadan. I can't remember feeling it before because I wasn't paying attention. Purging distractions should be mandatory.

I have been going to a new mosque for Taraweh prayers this year, down near the airport. It used to be a church and then that church converted to Islam a few years ago. It happened to already be facing the Kibla so the rugs did not have to be placed diagonally, and face the wall directly.

 I have always been distracted by the designs on prayer rugs, which generally look like magic carpets. I collected some wild ones while I was in Brooklyn- most of them have a picture of the Kaaba. Even on the ones with random geometrical designs, I manage to find some sort of image that distracts me. The one I have at home has a screaming man. The one in the masjid has a waffle. My brother found an eagle. It is not recommended to close your eyes when you pray and if you do, you should open them every once in a while. So my eyelids flutter and I take a stream of photographs in my head of Mecca and waffles and eagles and a screaming man.

At home I have three prayer rugs layered over a blanket. Women receive the same award for praying at home, (in the "masjid of their home") as men do for going to the masjid, and for staying there overnight for a spiritual retreat. Mine will be in my own room, which I have deemed Dar-ul-Shifa, the house of healing, complete with a sewing machine, typewriters, tea light candles and a ship lamp. I had to inspect every corner and get rid of all of the pictures of faces, so the room is full with thrift store picture frames turned upside down as though I got into a fight with someone and don't want to have to look at pictures of the two of us together smiling next to a waterfall.

When we go down in sajda (prostration), if I keep my eyes open, my hands next to my head make the floor look like a butterfly. So I keep them closed, then remember to open, then closed. So I have one picture of a butterfly. Twenty raqas of Taraweh prayer means forty butterflies. Identical ones with different shutter speeds. And for every extra prayer I pray I get to make four more.

There are only ten or twelve women that come to the night prayer and they bring colorful sheets to cover the rugs so our foreheads can touch something soft. They are mostly pink and have flowers in them. I found a small man in the flowers.

There is always at least one small girl wearing a tiny djelleba and headscarf, or wearing a t-shirt and capri pants and a tiny headscarf, and they go back and forth between praying and running around the empty space because ten women don't take up too much space. Long black djellebas and abayas overlap from the fan blowing on them and when we sit down the woman next to me sits on mine so I can't get up until she does, and since the Imam is on the other side of a partition, most of the women take their time before they get up.

Dhikr is remembrance of God and we repeat short prayers in phrases as a way of keeping our thoughts away from worldly things or from getting distracted by the eagle in the carpet. If you have a Sheikh, he may give you instructions for what to recite daily and you do this every day for the rest of your life. I like the idea of this and so I wanted to construct my own wird, the same way I came up with a special major in college. Except I soon realized that there is a reason ordinary people do not come up with their own wirds and we need to respect and seek knowledge, and so I'm adopting the one that the rest of my family does and hoping that if I do this I will be more like them and that I will do this every day for the rest of my life.
These are big promises. But these are holy days and holy nights and sometimes I am not even sure what to do with myself, so we read the Qur'an and recite our prayers while baking bread and embroiding dinosaurs, and always making the intention for Allah. Because Allah likes bread, and I think He loves dinosaurs.

As a sidenote, the month of Ramadan is also Stegosaurus month in Dar-ul-Shifa.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

To Come, to go.

Almost mid-Ramadan 2011, it is a time for reflection. Computers and sarcastic writing seems inappropriate for this blessed month. But to come, I will travel back in time and write about my incredible trip to Kashmir this summer to conduct an oral history project for a forthcoming Kashmir Public Library. We are blessed that someone has taken this initiative and I personally am blessed to be a part of it.
A time for prayer, devotion and repentance,
Ramadan Mubarak w nshoufk mn b'3ad.

Saturday, August 6, 2011


I received a comment on my post about the Chasewood block party that my words were extremely offensive to my neighbors, and I am writing this as an apology. A lot of what I write is meant to be a joke, and I know I tend to present the world in an ugly way, and the comment made me really think about how I sometimes go overboard in being cynical, overly critical and rude.
Writing about the block party was not meant to criticize the effort to have a block party, but the only reason I posted anything about it is because our family felt really bad and embarrassed that we had to interrupt the entire party with our stream of cars and everyone had to move the tables and chairs, especially since we had been notified in advance that there would be a block party. My mother wanted to say hello, especially to our newer neighbors who, since the block party, she has specifically told me have been particularly friendly. She is shy and didn't go, but we don't think anyone would have had a problem with her or her hijab, and they never have in the thirty four years that we have been living here.

And as an American, I have nothing against the posting of the American flag on the lamppost, and I'm sorry that my tone insinuated that I did. When I was on Fulbright, I did my best to represent America with pride.

Chasewood Lane is very close to my heart, and was an amazing place to grow up. I remember running down the street in a towel because I was invited to one of the houses in the double-digits to go swimming, and how the couple next door used to hang Easter eggs filled with candy on the tree in front of our house because their children were already grown. And how our neighbors helped us when the tree in our backyard was struck by lightning and set our pool on fire. I remember how countless families on the street bought girl scout cookies from me even though they probably had to buy them from tons of other girls. And I remember eating popsicles and collecting caterpillars a few houses down because we didn't have a willowtree, swinging on other people's swingsets, and playing in the treehouses down the block. And these are just my random memories of how other families have been hospitable, friendly and thoughtful, I know the other members of my family have their own.

So I am offering this apology, it has been a year since I wrote about the block party but I hope that anyone who was offended will have an opportunity to read this. I agree that I was being extremely facetious, and I hope it doesn't reflect on anyone's opinion of the rest of my family. Neither my parents nor any of my siblings would ever say anything disrespectful about anyone in our community. I hope that my neighbors can accept my apology, and that I can have the opportunity to thank them in person for actually making the effort to bring our neighborhood together for the first time I can remember since the Fox Hunt Farms phonebook, from which this map is taken, from 1984, the year I was born.