Muslim Madness: No More

 

save-meriam-ibrahim

Muslim Mayhem: No More

I will sing louder. When I lend my voice, lifting praise of God and Christ, I will sing louder than ever before. Never mind if I sound off-key. The angels will laugh. Holding the red, battered book of treasured hymnals up near my heart, standing in the pews where Christians pray, I will hurl those gospel tunes to the high heavens. Singing for the 27-year-old Sudanese woman sentenced to death for converting from Islam to Christianity. I was raised Muslim in America and converted to Christianity without retribution – because I live in America.

Christianity has soothed my psyche, in many manners saved my soul. I will sing this song loud as I can. I will sing for Meriam Ibrahim and the 20-month-old child who is currently in jail with her as she serves time awaiting execution for her conversion. I will sing for the eight-month-old fetus she is carrying, a baby that will be allowed birth before mother is hanged. This baby may grow up denouncing religion altogether, an unborn soul, a witness to Muslim mayhem and religious rot. I will sing for the baby’s salvation.

Catching up on the news today, I read articles about Meriam, a beautiful woman who also is scheduled to be lashed 100 times for “illegitimate sexual relations” because her husband is non-Muslim. Will she become the female Jesus on the cross – lashed and hung to die?

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Sudan authorities are killing individuals who denounce Islam. Sudan’s penal code criminalizes the conversion of Muslims into other religions, which is punishable by death, according to an article by the Associated Press.

“Religious thinker and politician Mahmoud Mohammed Taha, a critic of (former President Jafaar Nimeiri who incorporated Shariah and its traditional punishments into law)…was sentenced to death after his conviction of apostasy. He was executed in 1985 at the age of 76,” says the AP article. “A number of Sudanese have been convicted of apostasy in recent years, but they all escaped execution by recanting their new faith.”

That’s Muslim madness run amok. It’s one thing for parents to bully/guilt-trip their children into embracing family beliefs and carrying on certain family traditions. We see it often. And we understand that in every country some religious beliefs become law. But when a country will kill its citizens over a disagreement of religious ideas, that’s just crazy.

That is about power and imposition. It’s about controlling what is precious: the human spirit. This is about forcing human beings – their mental and physical energy – to serve a particular doctrine. This. Is. Just. Wrong.

Of course Muslim madness is not contained in Sudan. We read about Muslims bombing Christian churches in Cairo and elsewhere. We read about Nigerian warlords, claiming to be Muslim, kidnapping 300 schoolgirls, believing that Western education is anti-Islamic, threatening to sell the girls into marriage. These mad Muslims over-shadow the millions of sensible Muslims living quiet, productive lives, clinging to Islam because of the personal peace they have found in Islamic practices. Meriam, like me, found her peace/power in Christian customs. But she is called to pay a deadly price.

An article in the U.K.’s Telegraph quotes Sudan Judge Abbas Mohammed Al-Khalifa telling Meriam, “We gave you three days to recant but you insist on not returning to Islam. I sentence you to be hanged.”

The judge should be fried. Meriam was born a Muslim, but after her father left her family, her mother raised her as a Christian, according to news reports. Meriam told the judge, “I am a Christian and I never committed apostasy.”

Amnesty International weighed in saying, “The fact that a woman could be sentenced to death for her religious choice and to flogging for being married to a man of an allegedly different religion is abhorrent and should never be even considered.” In a joint statement, the embassies of Britain, the United States, Canada and the Netherlands expressed “deep concern” over her case. “We call upon the government of Sudan to respect the right to freedom of religion, including one’s right to change one’s faith or beliefs,” they said.

Some will condemn this execution, which, even according to the Shariah law cannot take place until two years after the woman gives birth. Some will call for respect for religious freedom. For my part, I will sing the Christian songs my Muslim-bred heart has embraced. I will sing them loud and clear.

Loving Islam on My Christian Walk

Muslim-women-prayingI’m back. After a hiatus to settle in to a new job and complete my first ghost-writing assignment, here I am. To ease back into blogging I will begin with my most familiar subject matter – growing up Muslim in America. Of course, much has changed since I began learning the doctrines of The Nation of Islam in the 1960s, then found myself immersed in learning Orthodox Islam in the 70s.

These days, when I’m invited to speak to students and teachers about this subject, they inevitably want to know, “what do you believe now?” Last week a teacher asked me, “why didn’t you turn away from religion altogether after experiencing so much heart ache from it?” I told the teacher that for a few years as a young woman I had sworn off all organized religion and considered myself, instead a mystic, tuning into nature and divine inspiration more than religious traditions and customs. I returned to religion during a particularly challenging episode in my life because religion, and its uplifting philosophies were what I found comforting when all else failed.

A high school student last month asked what religion I practice currently and I explained that I find myself loving my old Islam on my new Christian journey.

“I was on my way to church one Sunday morning when it dawned on me that I was about to join hundreds of millions of individuals around the world who would set aside this certain time on this certain day to collectively acknowledge and praise what we all consider a ‘higher power’. It was a worldwide get-together. I was thrilled,” I explained. “Then it occurred to me that hundreds of millions of Muslims around the world get together five times a day, at pre-set times every day, to reverence what they consider a higher power. Suddenly, I wasn’t resenting salat the way I had growing up. Growing up I hated – HATED – having to stop whatever I was doing to go pray at a certain time. Now, I was appreciating this ritual as an opportunity not an obligation.”

The students seemed interested – quiet and attentive, hanging on every word. So, I kept going.

“Now, I can appreciate that millions of Muslims all use a standard daily prayer schedule so that at 6:43 or 6:52 or whatever time is posted for the morning prayer, they’re all bowing down at that particular time, and all speaking in one language, saying the same prayer. That seems powerful to me now,” I explained. “Growing up I resented having to recite prayers in Arabic. I argued with my mother about it, saying it was Arab imperialism and we should reject it as much as our Muslim leaders wanted us to reject American imperialism.”

Ok, “imperialism” was too big a concept for high school students who really were not interested in world affairs, and even less rhetoric left over from the 1970s. Imperialism? Does anyone use that word anymore? Besides, who has time for world affairs when Candy Crush and all kinds of other fun games are in hand? They were interested, however, in how I adjusted to life outside the Nation of Islam, since in the book I described growing up in a very closed and close-knit religious organization. They wanted to know what, if anything, I missed about the NOI.

“I do miss the camaraderie,” I explained. “There was a certain comfort in being surrounded by a whole group of people all with the same beliefs and mission. It’s similar to church community, but it was different, a more engaging, completely involved experience. It was true what they said about Islam not being just a religion, but a way of life. Think of a woman wearing a dainty, cute little crucifix on a necklace compared to a woman dressed from head-to-toe in a Muslim outfit. The whole experience is like that.”

And, speaking of women, I love-love-love tuning in to Christian women preachers these days. OMG! As a Muslim girl I was taught that women should be “modest,” although the interpretation of “modest,” has evolved – thank God at least in westernized Muslim communities. As a Muslim girl I learned that a mother could not lead her own sons in prayer. A Muslim woman could never lead males in prayer. In fact, I vowed never to return to the Islamic Center in my native hometown, Washington, D.C., because when I was dragged there as a child for Muslim holidays, women and girls were relegated to a room in the basement. At best, when the Mosque was not crowded, we were allowed only to sit in the rear of the main prayer hall – behind the men. So, you can imagine my delight the first time I tuned into a Joyce Meyer sermon on-line. To see a woman passionately yelling and screaming scripture and her interpretation felt like heaven on earth.

Ok, this entry is getting too long for a blog. So, I will end it hear with plans to return to this space once or twice a week getting back in the blogging groove.

Send me a note. Let me know what you think. And if you’ve got questions about my Muslim-Christian experience, I promise to take time and answer them.

My Farmville2 Philosophies

I am my mother’s child. My mother, who never went to college, schooled us – ten children of her own, nieces, nephews and neighbors’ kids – in the analysis of our actions.  We should not be content to celebrate holidays simply because everyone else did, she taught.  At home, my siblings and I were assigned – yes, year in and year out – to research the history of Christmas to understand why we, as a black nationalist-oriented Muslim family, did not celebrate it. Each year, back before the advent of the Internet, we also searched through encyclopedias and other scholarly books to understand why our Christian relatives and friends shouldn’t celebrate Easter either.

It’s no wonder, I now find myself analyzing why for more than a year I’ve enjoyed not a mere ten minutes a day, but three, four – some weekends SIX! – hours a day “playing” Farmville2.

Just a few weeks into this new hobby, I realized it was an addiction – not yet as widely understood or acceptable as, say, playing golf all weekend or playing in a bowling or tennis league in your community. I happened upon online gaming through recommendations from facebook friends, and was instantly hooked on the instant gratification. I so loved the sound of cartoon characters cheering for me, yes, for me. I think it was the game Scramble with Friends, where I first heard the intoxicating “Hooraaaaaay!” and “Iiiiiin-cre-di-ble!” each time I scored big words. In Farmville2, I loved that I could complete tasks and “level up.” I loved watching the gold coins accumulate in a bar atop the game, and loved the virtual fireworks display you get when you complete one level.

When I was unemployed, I considered the time I spent in Farmville2 practicing setting goals, planning, executing the plan, and reaping the rewards was time well-spent – between completing applications and re-writing resumes and networking and reading newspapers and harassing potential employers (I mean lobbying for positions), of course. It had not occurred to me that a potential employer might see on my facebook page that I was spending hours at play and that potential employer might consider me too playful to employ.

It was brain-training. Plan-plant-produce-sell-repeat. I think this process is sufficiently cemented in my gray matter now.

Also, I was discovering (ok re-discovering), my strengths and weaknesses in Farmville2. I found myself scribbling notes about what to plant, when to plant – in order to maximize harvesting between my real-life daily to-do tasks. I calculated how I could accumulate that first $1 million in gold coins needed to expand my land. I planned, plotted, and produced to accumulate the second $2 million to purchase more land. I repeated the process and bought more land, a mansion, decorations and furnishing. I sold off old stuff, traded favors with friends. I was reminded that some tasks I could complete alone, others I could complete faster working with friends. I was reminded that sometimes to get four people to show up at an event – like building a Farmville2 ice cream stand – I’d need to invite 300.

I discovered that I could be goal-oriented and results-driven even while at play. I liked that. (Of course, the game designers knew this about me before I did. They built the game to attract and keep players using the thrill of results and cheering. More on this later.)

In January, I made a New Year’s Resolution to play less because now was not a good time to make up for playtime denied in my childhood. (Poor, poor little me. I was forced to learn the value of disciplined action and intelligence sooner rather than later. Poor, poor me – NOT!)

As a child I was not allowed to “play” for hours at a time. We had educational games and puzzles. I was allowed to make arts and crafts to share and use as gifts. I was allowed to enjoy hours reading a book or piecing together a puzzle, but four or six whole hours of running and yelling in mindless play with friends was out of the question. We could go swimming for a couple hours, go to the library a couple hours, watch an hour or so of TV, but that was about it. I envied my friends who played all day. Even a treat to the movies meant we’d end up discussing the character values in the movie, determining whether they fit our beliefs or not.

Yes, I needed Farmville!

Besides, Farmville2 helped me grieve my aging grandparents. At 93-years-old their health began declining rapidly, they grew weak and I realized they may not live another ten years. How could I keep their memory alive? They were gardeners! They loved planting and growing real food. I learned life lessons spending time with them in their gardens. Farmville2 seemed like a fun way to keep their love of gardening alive.

Farmville2 is fiction farming, and I love it. In Farmville everything I plant grows, every seed I plant grows exactly one or two veggies. That doesn’t happen in real life, of course. In real life – whether producing in soil or an office setting not everything we plant and nurture grows. Fiction farming is a welcome relief from reality. In Farmville I can water the land predictably and get free fertilizer and farming help from friends.

According to a website Gamasutra (http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/177090/Does_Zynga_really_need_a_FarmVille_2_You_bet.php) a lot of effort went into designing and marketing Farmville2. The company should be happy to know at least one gamer has gotten a lot out of it. (Oh, it’s worth noting that although I spent a lot of time in Farmville, I did not spend one real dime.)

Grandma’s Hair: Back to Baby Soft

Grandma’s Hair: Back to Baby Soft

Aint weekends grand? Love and inspiration I get on the weekends charge me up!

We were on our way to church, about 6:45 a.m. – in time for breakfast , when Grandma realized she had forgotten her hat.

“Look at my hair. It’s a mess!” she said, looking at herself in the visor on her side.

“I guess I hadn’t noticed because you’re usually wearing a hat,” I said, mostly keeping my eyes on the road, but glancing to my right to notice that her hair was, in fact, undone.

She changed the subject .

“I hope I didn’t hurt your feelings yesterday,” she said. “I know you’ve got to live your own life, and you will wear what you want to wear.”

“Didn’t bother me,” I said.

She had criticized my dress as too short, and said my husband might react to such inappropriate dress.

“No man wants to see his wife leaving the house that way,” she had said. But I felt that I had defended myself by explaining that her sensibilities were “from another generation.”

In the fellowship hall at her church we enjoyed breakfast together and talked about her recently deceased best friend whose husband had been insensitive during her season of sickness. I listened as Grandma shared her opinions as if they were rock-solid “gospel.” Her friend’s husband surely would suffer for mis-treating his wife in her time of need, Grandma said.

“That kind of stuff comes back on you. You can’t turn your back on the sick. His conscious will eat away at him,” she said. I nodded, indicating agreement just to keep the peace. “She asked him to hand her a magazine, and he told her to get up and get it herself,” she had told me. “I was over there with her one day, and she told me he hadn’t even come home the night before. The last thing you need when you’re sick is for your husband not to come home.”

Seemed so sad.

I enjoyed my pancakes while she ate her grits although her face looked painfully sunken in without teeth to hold up her jaws. She’d lost her last two pairs of dentures and Granddad, who fusses profusely, finally agreed to pay for a pair of custom-fit dentures. I looked at her, and, thinking about her relentless criticism, thought of an old joke: “How’s your mom gonna take a bite outta crime when she ain’t got no teeth?” Grandma’s opinions could be biting even when she’s literally toothless.

A few moments later, in the mirror in the bathroom, she lamented the lifeless look of her hair. It was un-styled, flat.

“My hair’s a mess!” she said.

“Let me see what I can do,” I said reaching for the blue plastic comb she retrieved from her purse.

I combed it all straight back at first, and marveled at how soft it was. It was soft and manageable like baby’s hair. I quickly realized it had a natural soft curl that could be easily shaped around my fingers.

“Grandma you got curls! Naturally!” I said, clearly delighted.

I combed all her hair straight and curled the ends at the nape of her neck. Looking at her in the mirror, I admired my handi-work, then decided I could do better. I parted her hair on the side and styled it the way I wore my own hair just a couple years ago.

“I liked it better the way it was,” she said.

I thought she looked younger, more stylish in my style, so I was not inclined to change it for her. She accepted the style and we proceeded to the sanctuary. A young man stopped her and complimented her on her hair.

“Thanks. My Granddaughter did it,” she said with a smile.

I felt vindicated.  She had persuaded me to wear a long dress, which I considered old fashioned. Now, I had her in a new-fangled hair-do. Even! She looked cute. I was happy and so was she.

Later that day, I remembered pictures I had seen of her as a young woman wearing the most stylish wigs. I remembered her pressing her hair. She had taught my mother to press hair and later taught me. When I was a young woman wearing perms, Grandma was in her 50s and 60s wearing a short, natural fro. Her hair was growing long in her 70s and when she began chemo-therapy, we feared she would lose it all. I took her to the beauty parlor a few times on my dime since her husband considered that an unnecessary luxury she couldn’t afford.  She began washing it and setting it on old-fashioned rollers, the pink sponge kind. Now it had become soft and naturally curly again.

These days she wears her hats she’s collected over the years, but this particular Sunday she’d left home without a hat. I was happy to comb her tresses. In doing so, I was reminded of memories with her I’d treasured.

Honey Suckle Anyhow

Honey Suckle Anyhow

I was leaving home, heading into the city to pick-up my grandparents to take them to church, one Sunday morning when I decided to grab a hand full of fresh honey suckle from the nearby forestry to sweeten my ride.

Honey suckle grows wild in my neighborhood. But I hadn’t thought to pick some to freshen my home and car until I saw a neighbor picking it.

I had loved honey suckle since I first noticed it’s sweet fragrance as a little girl. It grew in the front yard of my biological grandmother, the woman who had given my mother away as a toddler and later rejected my mother’s attempts to reconnect. I hated visiting her because she was so mean. But I was forced to spend time with her, and, to make the most of it, I delighted in whatever I could. When my cousins and I discovered the honey suckle bush in her front yard, we delighted in pulling the stem from the flower and dipping it on our tongue to savor its sweet juice. Honey scent of honey suckle always reminded me of this grandmother I loved to loath.

This grandmother had been contrary when not down right mean. Unlike the woman who adopted my mother and became affectionately known to me as “my real Grandmother,” my biological grandmother had mocked religion and church folk, calling it all “some foolishness,” and “non-sense.” This grandmother, who had conceived 11 babies by a married man and given all but three up for adoption, had gone to church only on Bingo nights as far as I knew. She had left her three young children at home to fend for them selves. She had used the child support money their father gave her to gamble. She had died a withering death, first losing her ability to maintain her own health and hygiene, then she succumbed to heart disease. But honey suckle always reminded me of her because I had discovered it first in her front yard.

As I picked a couple fists full of honey suckle to scent my car for my ride to church this particular morning, I delighted in realizing that God had blessed this grandmother with abundant honey suckle in her own yard despite her often spoken disdain for our notions of God and for organized religion. God had blessed her with honey suckle anyhow.

I was reminded that the sun shines on sinner and saint and the rain nourishes us regardless of our beliefs.

 

 

In the Garden I Grow

In the Garden I Grow

When I told my husband I planned to spend Saturday morning picking strawberries, he teased.

“You’ll be the only little chocolate drop out there,” he said. “Black people ain’t picking NOTHING – no more!”

I burst out laughing and explained that I like to get my hands in the dirt. It’s a way of connecting to the earth. Also, I have fond memories of gardening with my paternal grandparents. Every year, since I was a young girl and they were retired, I watched them delight in their harvest of corn, okra, green beans, lettuce, potatoes, cucumbers, tomatoes, radish, kale, collards, and other veggies. Grandma, even more than Granddad, eagerly anticipated the spring, waiting for the first break in the frost so they could till their plots. I had watched them pickle and “can” enough produce to last them through the winter and afford them significant savings in their grocery bills. My mother and her mother-in-law, my maternal Grandma, had welcomed me to their garden, where I learned to plant, weed, and harvest beets, carrots, yams, and other veggies right in the heart of “the urban jungle” where we lived.

I’d live in a row house in the inner city of the Nation’s Capitol. My Grandparents had gardens in the rear and on the side of their brick house and also manned a plot in a nearby community garden. Y mother and paternal grandmother had a plot in community garden in another area of the city. Gardening, to me, meant ensuring your own food in case any major calamity hit and the grocery stores and its supplies ever shut down. Gardening meant working your connection to the earth to secure your and your family’s survival.

Although I have neither the time, energy, or inclination to create and maintain my own garden these days, I enjoy novelty gardening.

“Why don’t you do this: save up your little money, buy the strawberry farm, and spare the whole race the embarrassment of you going out there picking the white man’s strawberries,” my husband teased.

I enjoyed a hearty laugh with him, but proceeded to the strawberry patch.

With my sleeves rolled up, kneeling down with my flat box in hand, I suddenly remembered one more thing I loved about gardening: my great grandparents had kept a strawberry patch in their backyard, located in the heart of Washington, D.C., for me and my cousins. Kneeling and picking strawberries now – in my 40s – I was reminded of days in my youth when I first learned to pick strawberries in my great-grandparents’ back yard. I remembered eating as many as I “saved for later.” My great grandparents and grandparents had experienced The Great Depression and believed in “saving for hard times.”

I recalled other lessons I had learned through gardening – and from my grandparents and great grandparents who gardened.

I was helping my grandparents prep their soil for seeds one year and Grandddad told me why I had to chop and pull up some old weeds that had branched out from a tall tree in their yard.

“The old roots will choke out roots from your new plants. You’ve got to cut those old roots out,” Granddad said. I thought about that one comment for weeks, and applied it to other areas of my life: cut out the old or it will choke the life out of what’s new.

Weeds – which are “unintended plants” – will drain nutrients from the soil and destroy your “intended plants,” Grand Dad believed. But I delighted in unintended red tulips that showed up in my yard.  I allowed them to live until they died a natural death.

In the garden, I realized I must root out some of my grandparents’ beliefs and traditions in order for my own to grow.

 

Basically Resourceful Sisters

Resourceful Sisters

 

As my best friend from high school dressed her daughter for the prom, we reminisced about our own high school days. We laughed about playing hooky once or twice, and fell out recalling antics in the hallways before and after school.

 

“I got banned from the band room forever!” my friend said. We laughed like waters gushing from a damn. Days later, we were laughing again remembering other high school treasures. I recalled her older sister proudly making her own prom dress, and that stirred memories of when all of us sewed.

 

“Remember that polka-dot outfit you made!” my friend, Chee-Chee said, howling with laughter. “Damn polka-dot culottes!

 

“Girl yeah! I made a light blue set just like it. Those were the pieces for my first professional wardrobe! Remember? I had an internship and had to dress up. Chile please, I put on my white buckle-up sandals, one of those outfits and you couldn’t tell me nothing!”

 

“And that green dress you made!” she continued.

 

“Oh girl! Remember I had to make the pattern outta newspaper!”

 

“Hey. You had to do what you had to do!” she said, laughing.

 

“We was some resourceful sisters!” I said laughing.

 

“Remember that time we saw that outfit at the store but I couldn’t afford it? Then a couple weeks later you was like, ‘You got it!” And I told you I made it!”

 

We had taken “Home Economics” classes in junior high school and high school. There, we had learned to cook and sew. My grandmother had given me a sewing machine. Chee-Chee had used her big sister’s sewing machine. Chee-Chee was a plus-size and found it easier to make the clothes she wanted than to shop for them. I was – uh – economically challenged and found it was cheaper to make clothes than to spend all my summer job earnings on them. But then you could buy a yard of fabric for $1.49 and I could make a skit and top with two yards, some thread, my time and creativity.

 

“You know how old we sound?” I told my friend as we reminisced about our good old days, declaring them better than these days.

 

“Embrace it Honey,” she said.

 

In our 40s, we’re accepting the inevitability of “middle-age” picking off our youth. We agreed on the value of our out-dated home economic classes.

 

“They don’t even teach home economics anymore,” she said. “Kids don’t learn how to cook!”

 

“Who needs to cook these days?” I said. “Po something in the microwave and call it a day!”

 

“That stuff’s no good for you. That’s why everybody’s so fat!” she said.

 

“I know. Those quick meals don’t really satisfy our taste buds and don’t really nourish our bodies – that’s why we keep eating,” I said.

 

“That stuff’s got all them hormones,” she said.

 

“I know. I try to get back to basics as much as I can.”

 

“You got to,” she said.

 

“We know what to do, we just gotta do it,” I said.

 

She agreed.