Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Tonight's Prayer

Reverend Leslie Takahashi Morris, Co-Minister at Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church Unitarian Univeralist in Charlottesville, VA conducted an evening healing service which included a freshman at VCU along with family and a number of others directly affected. She states, "It is hard to hold the space and also to remind our selves of what we have to offer."

To Leslie and others, I am grateful for all my colleagues that have reached out to comfort those in distress and to just stand vigil in this time of great need.
Blessed Be

Reverend Leslie Takahashi Morris'Prayer:
Spirit of life, be with us today as we seek to grapple with questions that have no answer. Be with us as we struggle to comprehend a tragedy that is beyond comprehension, to seek reason in what is by its very nature unreasonable. We do not understand why random lives, full of promise should be ended or why such destructive rage should be given this expression.

Spirit of love, we come to you this evening as people who care -as students, as parents, as fellow teachers, as seekers of knowledge, as those who have experiencd our own losses which are relived through the great common cry of this loss.We come together as those who would affirm the promse of humanity and don't know how to do it in the face of these shocking,wrenching events.

Spirit of hope let us be reminded that while some questions have no answers, while some individual acts fly in the face of humanity's promise, we need one another and the act of holding our questions together is an act of hope. Let us never forget that these tragic acts grow out of the destructive power of loneliness and isolation. Let our witnessing these events renew our commitment our common endeavor--to build a world with more peace, less violence and more hope for all.
So may it be.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Heaven is a State of Mind

This picture is proof that heaven is a state of mind. Simply looking at it puts me in a wonderous, delicious and tranquil - heavenly state of mind. Now add a small to mid sized cabin stocked with good food, an excellent computer system and television and stereo and plop me down for one month so that I can write up a curriculum on the "theology of power and love" and get my application ready for Fulbright and my Ministeral Fellowship Packet for my interview in September and my ministerial packet for the South African Congregation and I would be good to go. Perhaps I should add another month given all that I have to do. LOL

Anybody out there have a time share that you would be willing to donate to me for one to three months?

Here is hoping you find your heaven on earth and that you don't have to wait until you die!
Blessed Be! Qiyamah

Let Us Draw Close to Us All That is Good and Claim the Power of the Sacred and Holy in Times Like These

My heart goes out to the families and loved ones of the victims of Virginia Tech. My heart goes out to the family and loved ones of the perpetrator(s). Let us take this time to know in our hearts that what is needed is not more alienation and violence, but love and compassion so that the sadness can begin to heal and the memories of those killed can be mourned and acknowledged. Let us remember the kind of world we wish to live in and let us begin anew to dedicate our lives to creating such a world.

May we bind ourselves to all that is good and holy in the world and come together to comfort the families and individuals suffering not only in this tragedy but in war torn countries, as well as those suffering from lack of food, shelter, and those lacking the means to provide for their families and loved ones. May our collective wisdom powerfully align in the Universe and grant clarity, peace and solace in the midst of the ignorance of violence. May we allow the Truth that we know to stand as our armor against anything to the contrary - known and unknown. May we keep our hearts open to one another. Divine order is established and maintained to lead us onto the path of good and righteousness.

I am thankful for the goodness of Spirit and I am eternally grateful for the good that God has bestowed upon us in the midst of that seeks to prevail.

I am blessed and grateful knowing that our God consciousness prevails.

I accept the good that unfolds and we stand ready to receive an outpouring of blessings so immense that it runneth over in our hearts and hands and minds. And so it is! Amen

Monday, April 9, 2007

The Sufi Way

Islam In India – The Sufi Way

Some of the materials that I am studying in my class, Islam in India have shed truth on the egregious distortions that many scholars have perpetuated about Hindu and Muslim culture in India. These distortions have resulted in a split between Hindu, Muslim and Indian culture as if they are actually separate and distinct. Furthermore, the religious turmoil that is so prevalent appears to add credence to the belief that Hindus and Muslims are separate faith traditions. Some of these scholars go so far as to contend that Indian Muslim culture is not “Indian.” An examination of Amir Khusrau Dehlav, one of the first recorded Indians, reflects a multicultural or pluralistic identity. Introduction to Khusrau reveals a genre he popularized called ghazal. Khusrau’s ghazal became popular and achieved great popularity in Delhi or South Asia and spread to Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Turkemanaristan. Khusrau’s paheli’s or riddles which were actually short pieces of verse with usually two or four lines in rhyme using an array of similies, analogues and other symbols in a clever tongue in cheek play of words that concealed their meaning or answers were widely disseminated in India. Parents would even use them as bedtime stories according to one source. Khusrau invented qawwali, a type of music that is popular in India to this day. Khusrau blended Persian, the language of the court with Bojpuri, the language of the people and wrote his poetry, songs, riddles in Hind, the precursor to modern Hindi and Urdu. Khusrau’s music became very popular among Muslims and Hindus. His disciples and their descendants sang his music in the court of every Delhi ruler.

Additionally, religious celebrations also reflected a similar sharing of culture between Muslims and Hindus. The Celebration of Basant was observed by as many Muslims as Hindus, was started by Chihti Sufis and has lasted over 800 hundred years. The false dichotomy between Islam and Hinduism is refuted by such celebrations as Basant and Eid with Muslims celebrating Basant, primarily a Hindu holy day and Hindus taking part in Eid, primarily a Muslim holy day. At least this was once the way according to one source. Now what apparently exists is “communities are being forced to be polarized into their puritanical identities.”

However, it was the Sufi readings on peace that most depicted the beliefs of religious tolerance and harmony that stands in contradiction to the alleged split between Hindu and Muslim, thus depicting it as an artificial divide. In the essay, The Contribution of Indian Sufis to Peace and Amity by K. A. Nizami, the author states that Sufis appreciated the multi-racial, multi religious and multilingual patterns of Indian society. Racial and ecumenical approach is evident in the Sufi belief that there are multiple ways to God. However, it is believed that the quickest and most effective way is bringing happiness to the hearts of others. Sufi’s believe that all people are the children of God. Furthermore, they believe that God extends bounties to all – the pious and the sinner, the believer and the non-believer, the high and the low. Thus, Sufis identify service of God with service to humanity. Khwaja M’in-u’d-di Chrishti, the founder of the Chrishti silsiah in India, advised his followers to develop, “river-like generosity, sun-like affection and earth like hospitality.” For Sufis, toleration was an expression of confidence in their faith and any social discrimination was a negation of the true spirit of faith. Sa’di the famous Persian poet said: “Higher spiritual life is nothing but service of humanity. It is not (chanting) the rosary, (remaining on the) prayer carpet or (wearing) coarse garments.”

The Sufis lived in the midst of the poor and identified themselves with the problems and perplexities of the people. Peace and goodwill between human beings was the essence of Sufi endeavors. One example is Shaikh Hamid-ud-din who lived in Suwal, a small village of Nagaur. Like the Rajasthani peasants that he lived among, he mixed with people of all castes and creeds and adopted their vegetarian habits. Another example of the Sufi way is Shah Waliullah who advocated the peaceful integration of al the components of society and their harmonious functioning to achieve the well-being of all. The Sufi Way is to return hatred with love, violence with affection, sympathy with the weak and downtrodden and consciousness of a divine mission to bring happiness to the hearts of all humanity. Sufis do not indulge in criticism of other customs and practices. They helped in the development of regional languages such as Bengali, Punjabi, Marathi, etc. Their approach towards human relationships is expressed in the imagery of the eyes: Learn from the eyes the way to develop unity and oneness. The two eyes appear different but their vision is one.

Perhaps it is helpful to think of Indian culture as one scholar from the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA) in New Delhi perceives it. He purports that, “India makes a blend of both giving up and not giving up the identity.. .Giving up so that one becomes an empty vessel to absorb new things. Not giving up, in retaining the essential you.” Thus, just as those on the path of life seek to discern that which portrays Indian Muslim cultures and what Indian culture really is, Indians themselves are also undertaking a diasporic quest for identity. This search for ancestral lineage in the Indian Diaspora has parallels similar to the African diaspora which was the result of Africans forced and voluntary migration around the world. Similarly, Indians were taken by their colonial masters to countries ranging from Sri Lanka in South Asia to Suriname in South America where many struggle to retain their Indian cultural values and identity. The Ancestral Search Programme at the Indira Gandhi Natural Centre for the Arts has secured documents such as ship registers, immigration records and estate registers that will help Indians locate their place of origins for many Indian ancestors that were taken by colonial rulers to distant lands to work as indentured labourers.

One final contemporary example of collaboration between India and the Jewish community around issues of religious tolerance is an exhibit from the Simon Wiesenthal Centre Museum of Tolerance located at the Palais Palfty in Vienna which opened in 1988. The exhibit is titled, The Courage to Remember. It was inaugurated by Shri Shri Ravi Shankar in the presence of Israeli Ambassador in India, David Danieli. On November 7, 2004, Dr. L. M. Singhvi, President of the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts in New Delhi presided over the event as it was convened. The exhibition centers on the period between 1933 and 1945 when Nazi Germany embarked on a campaign to annihilate the Jewish community in Europe. The atrocities against Jews as the world now knows were in the form of hate campaigns, legislation, and mass killings. The exhibition was publicized as a reminder about the ills of intolerance and a wake up call to people not to forget that tolerance, mutual understanding and love are critical to the worlds continued existence. Rabbi Abraham Cooper, Dean of the Simon Wisenthal Centre Museum of Tolerance in his address at the opening of the exhibition in India made these poignant remarks, “In remembrance is the roots of redemption. In forgetting is the reinitiating.”

Let us all strive for respect for all religions. May we live to see the day when we truly are one family of human kind. May it be so!

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Troublin' the Waters of Discourse in Gender and Religious Diversity

Only when we are lost can we abide in the One

The above quote was our closing gift from Professor Ibrahim,instructor for the Islam and India course, as we concluded our first conference call on the morning of April 3, 2007. The marvel of technology allowed us for the first time to hear one anothers voices, the different dialects, syncopated nuances and emotions that wafted across the distance of time and space. Even with the visual deprivations my sense is that we advanced our individual and collective discourses and reflections through this brief but rich interrogation. The focus was primarily on gender diversity and religious diversity that we have encountered in the course of this class. Today, perhaps, due in part to the dialogic nature of our format I heard and felt the range of knowledge and insights more profoundly, or perhaps I am simply an auditory learner. But I heard and sensed something more profound than a regurgitation of the readings. Professor Ibrahim referred to aspects of it as the "destabilizing nature of mystical growth." Today, represented, at least for me, a rare opportunity to share and exchange ideas,to listen to what others were saying and thinking and feeling. And this is a different experience from regurgitating the readings. I realize that my previous "discussions" have really been monologues making no pretense to dialogue but to put forth my ideas as generated from the readings. Sometimes I had the benefit of truly engaging the information and so I could synthesize the information and actually produce some unique attempts at analysis based on my engagement of the information. Without making that kind of learning experience the standard, it is certainly highly valued in the institutions of higher learning that we all currently are enrolled. So while my "discussions" have had their benefits I discovered that it is not as rich as the opportunities for dialogue which the online format does not allow opportunities for. Again, perhaps it may have more to do with my learning style. Perhaps, I have not been utilizing the "talk back" format sufficiently. Nevertheless, today was a powerful affirmation and reminder of several concepts that I think I knew but needed to be reminded about to maximize my learning experience. While I wish to share my insights I also want to regurgitate some of my humble insights gleaned from the readings. So if some of you do not appreciate where I am coming from you will also know that I am not trying to fluff or bluff my way through. Furthermore, that I have not only read the materials but that I have sat with them in deep moments of silence and have pondered them in the darkest nights, wrestling with the implications for my soul and for my life. So, I am going to take the risk to try to integrate the readings and the experience I had as a result of our conference call today. First off, I realize that I have invited this experience into my life. I am embarking upon a teaching ministry as well as community ministry. And so I could not have asked for a better laboratory. So if I stumble in my efforts and my first tentative steps to evoke the Sufi tradition of writing, then I know there is a community of individuals that will catch me and deliver me to the shores that I am seeking to reach on my journey.

Recently I scribbled down the following, "Love of life is the replenishment in healing the wounds of grief, and personal sorrow."

In our journey's to return to God we are healing and replenishing as we strive to be seekers on the Path. Sometimes, there is a moment in history that if we do not pay attention, it will pass us by like the twinkling of an eye. And for all our regrets we will not be able to reclaim that instance in which we could advance our conscienceness and draw closer to God. The movement of the hijras, khusra, mukhannath/muhanas bissu, waria, and enuchs represents such a movement and moment. The gender apartheid that Professor Ibrahim spoke about is both the confluence of faiths and the intersection of gender that shatters all of our preconceived notions. If we can bear the dissidence and fall out then we can attempt what others before us have done, some successfully and many more others unsuccessfully, and that is to grow our souls and return to God. Some of this task requires challenging and unlearning the oppressions that we have internalized and sullied the mirrors of our souls. Each layer of those assumptions of normative experiences is a spot on the mirror of our souls. In Islam there is the notion that unlike the concept of original sin that we come here unburdened but are pure and without "spot nor wrinkle." Unlike the Christian notion that we are born into sin and iniquity passed down from our parents and those of Adam and Eve, Muslim theology does not include this burden. That is one of the appreciations I have for Islam. There is no "creation story" that locks us into a life long struggle to purge ourselves. So neither is there the need to invent a Jesus that dies for our sins nor to grant God a Son who would have to be Holy it and Divine in order todie and live again and to be able to wipe clean the slate of humanity. Jesus existed as a Prophet and a man of God, but not as the son of God. So what does all this have to do with our conference call, our readings and this class? Professor Ibrahim has given us the benefit of his learning experiences in academia. His story about his treatment and the oppressive silence was a powerful "formative story" that transformed who he was in the world once he was able to heal from it. There is a minister, Reverend Jacqueline Lewis, Senior Minister of Vision, Worship and the Arts at Middle Collegiate Church in NYC. She talks about formative stories that shape our lives, good, bad or indifferent. They are positive when they teach us lessons of courage, compassion and strength, etc. They are negative when they cause us to internalize the oppressive images and experiences of others. And if we don't recognize the experience and take measures to heal, we might easily be stuck for the rest of our lives. We are receiving benefit of some of Professor Ibrahim's formative stories. The formative story, of which I have many, that is relevant to this course and my personal ongoing healing is the story of a little black girl growing up in a world where I was told I was not good enough. I was not good enough because of my gender. I was not good enough because of my color and race. I was not good enough because of my class background. I was damaged because of the physical, emotional, psychological, and sexual damage from the violence.I became what I experienced. Others no longer had to reinforce the oppressive myth that I was not good enough. I unconsciously sought out what had become familiar, those that violated me and affirmed my message that I was not good enough. I nurtured those wounds not realizing what I was doing. So why am I telling you this story? Because the places where we do not even recall the woundedness show up in our lives unless we are working to heal them. While there are many ways to approach the personal and collective (societal) healing that we are in need of the Sufi's, the mystics of all faith traditions knew better than anyone and approached it with the kind of transformative and powerful love that truly is the greatest love stories that have ever been told.

Above my mirror I have these words, "Chanting or singing fo 20-30 minutes as a a love song to God has the power to uplift, transform ad heal. Chanting opens the inner eyes and ears to see and hear God."

I believe there are many forms of chanting. I believe this class is a chant. It is a love song to God. It is a love song for my soul. This essay is a love song that is healing my soul as each letter appears on this monitor. I am so glad that I do not have to understand for it to be true and for it to work its power. This class is a participation in the life rituals of unlearning oppressions, oppressions that draw us away from God. In our present state of unawareness we can do great damage to ourselves and others. I write because it is my healing testimonial to those places of oppression that I am saying to myself and others - pay attention. This is a soul killer. It is all mixed up as Professor Ibrahim stated today. How did we deteriorate from times with Sufi women like Karaikkal Ameiyar who was one of the few women amongst the 63 Nayanmars and the most famous Indian female poet and revered despite her gender, to these times when it is life threatening for Muslim women to lead prayer in downtown New York City. This real life scenario resulted in a fatwa (Muslim contract) being placed on at least one of the women. One Islamic scholar's University was required to hire security because of the threats on her life. In still another situation Hina Jilani, a Muslim Pakistani lawyer who formed the first all female law firm in Pakistan had the unfortunate experience on April 6, 1999 of watching as her client, Samia Sarwar, was shot down in her office in a hale of bullets, one barely missing her own head as it whizzed by. Samia's mother, a medical doctor, had arranged for an "honor killing" and personally accompanied the killer to Jilani's office and watced the killer "unload a pistol into Samia's head." The mother calmly walked away leaving her dying daughter. Samia's offense, she had fled an abusive marriage and she trusted her parents final words which tricked her into seeing them one last time before she intended to leave to start a new life. Somebody decided, according to Professor Ibrahim that there was a norm, unspoken assumptions. That it is alright to impose the honor of the entire family on the woman and that she has no right to agency or to want a non-violent life for herself. Or that women can dare to reclaim their status in Islam and challenge the assumptions about where we sit, who leads prayer, what space is available to women and men. So in this class we are interrogating some of those assumptions, and unlearning oppressions, and shifting to the margins where women, children, the disabled, the elderly, the different and other live their lives everyday in silence. We are taking our privilege of voice and pen and using them o challenge these assumptions. We are looking at ways of worshipping the sacred that the ancient mystics used.We are turning it all on its head/upside down so that we can fill our hearts in loving expansion and growth to look out through new eyes so that love unfolds as astounding new possibilities in our lives and the lives of those we might not have come to know.

*I am learning not to approach our learning in this extraordinary class as a linear process. Thus, I have stopped trying to discern how each unit is related. Each lesson can just as easily be a course unto itself. Perhaps there is no one central thread directing the creation of this experience other than we are all here together with a commitment to form a community of learners within the loosely defined boundaries of India and Islam. Or perhaps it is only until I complete the learning cycle will any connecting truths become evident;

*We are learners on the borders. Were we at the center of life and society's notion of what it means to be successful , that alone would place us in the status of the upwardly mobile with all the perks available. That comes with a world view and a lens that reinforces the "normative experiences" that Professor Ibrahim spoke about. If we were pursuing the dominant discourse in India we might be having a different conversation, a different syllabus and probably a different instructor. Today, I got it. I get that we are challenging the unspoken assumptions and we are leaving the center, the normative experiences to examine "what is the real deal?" Hence, a door opened, I walked through and these reflections are my gift to myself and each of you;

As boundary persons, and some of us get to choose that status, others it is assigned. We have to leave our assumptions about normative experiences behind because borders are relegated to those who have been marginalized due to numerous -isms like racism, sexism, classism, anti-semitism and heterosexism (just to name a few). I am slowly remembering this because I have been a border person all my life as an African-American female single parent born in racist America with all the baggage. And while I have achieved a degree of education along the way I am still reminded of my marginal status in various ways which I am still interrogating and resisting.

Thank you all for this powerful lesson and this rich journey.

The Mind we use is the Mind of God. Mind is the God in us knocking at the door of our souls. I am ready to invite the Presence of God into my life and all that I do. And so it is! Blessed Be! Qiyamah A. Rahman

Sunday, April 1, 2007


A movie currently making its rounds in the theatres that is worth your time if you like plots that provide insights into cultures other than the dominant culture, then you will want to see Namesake. Namesake, is based on Jhumpa Lahiri's novel and directed by Mira Nair. I believe she is also the director that directed Mississippi Masala with Denzel Washington. That was another incredible foray into Indian culture. Namesake tells the story of a newly wed Bengali couple from Kolkata, India that come to the United States to make a life for themselves and their future children. America is the place where anyone can be anything says the father to his wife and son throughout the movie. The plot is strong and rich. The acting is excellent and the cinematography is exceptional. The plot takes the audience into the cultural landscape of the Bengalis. It depicts slices of life that reflect the values of extended family, strong national and cultural ties, and introduces the audience to rituals attached to birth, death and marriage. Namesake, according to one reviewer, "takes us from the quiet streets of New York to the picture-post card bustle of Kolkata, creating in the journey a passage into a world where hands reach out across colours and continents to caress the soul." This is a movie you owe to yourself to see.