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Archive for November, 2009|Monthly archive page

Thoughts About Islam

In Charity, Culture, Religion on November 20, 2009 at 12:23 pm

It’s been two months since I said my Shahada at the masjid on the last day of Ramadan. It was a pretty special, if hectic, day. I was so nervous. I’d never even been to a mosque before and everything except for my friends was strange. We were almost late for prayers and I ended up saying Shahada in the mosque office in front of my friends, the secretary and a man whose name I forget now. (He gave me a slip of paper with his name and phone number on it, but I don’t know where I put it!) Then we rushed upstairs while prayers were starting.

I’m not exactly unfamiliar with the experience of arriving late to church, but it’s a lot different from arriving late to prayers. Especially in the women’s room, I think. We just kind of joined right in. I didn’t know how to do my prayers at all at that point so I just followed my friends’ lead. Now I know the Fatihah and I’m working on the Tashahud. It’s a little hard right now to say my prayers because I broke my foot two weeks ago and I have to do them sitting down. I don’t like that much–it doesn’t feel right. But I’m trying to be patient.

I’m having trouble being patient about any of this, though. Now we’re in the holy days before the day of Arafat and this is all new to me, too. I don’t intend to slaughter a sheep but I will fast the day before. I don’t even know how to celebrate the Eid. I wish I could fix a meal and invite my kids to it. None of them has asked me anything about my new faith, not even if I can celebrate Christmas. (They do all know that I’m getting them presents.)

I just checked out a couple of sources about whether or not Muslims can celebrate Christmas. The general consensus seems to be that while we can’t celebrate it ourselves, we can be present for non-Muslim celebrations and even give gifts. Of course we’re to abstain from pork and alcohol. I find it convenient this year that Eid Al-Adha is on Thanksgiving (or the day after, I’m not sure which). It wouldn’t be if the kids and we were celebrating Thanksgiving on the actual holiday but we’re not, so I can fast that day.

I just donated $50 to the Mid-Ohio Foodbank in Connie’s name. I was prompted to do so because of the holy days we’re in right now. Hopefully my donation will bear great fruit (no pun intended). The web site said that each dollar donated is worth $8 of groceries. Good to know that I might be helping to buy $400 worth.

And that’s one thing that I like about Islam. There are all these reminders of what you should be doing for others. That’s not to say that Christians or Jews aren’t also urged to give, but they don’t have as many specific goals. And human beings need goals. That’s just the way we are. And besides, when you do give or do something for others, it’s okay if you tell other people about it if you’re saying that you do it because Allah tells us to; it’s one of the pillars of Islam.

I don’t know why Christianity didn’t awaken my philanthropic impulses the way Islam has. Why it’s easier for me to set goals for myself as a Muslim than it was when I was a Christian. There isn’t a huge difference in the way that Muslims and Christians look at many things (or Jews either), but for some reason, the way Islam puts things speaks to me more clearly.

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2009 Book List Progress Report

In Book Reviews, Opinion, Reading, Religion, Self Improvement, Writers on November 11, 2009 at 10:54 am

These are the books I have left on my 2009 Book List (out of 30):

  1. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz
  2. The Gathering, Anne Enright
  3. The Night Watch, Sara Waters
  4. Waiting, Ha Jin
  5. Against Interpretation, and other essays, Susan Sontag (nonfiction)
  6. The Given Day, Dennis Lehane
  7. A Beautiful Place to Die, Malla Nunn
  8. Fever 1793, Laurie Halse Anderson (Young Adult)
  9. Water For Elephants, Sara Gruen
  10. The Hour I First Believed, Wally Lamb
  11. Eclipse, Richard North Patterson
  12. House of Leaves, Mark Z. Danielewski
  13. The Secret Life of Bees, Sue Monk Kidd
  14. The Book Thief, Markus Zusak (Young Adult)
  15. The Road, Cormac McCarthy
  16. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Jonathan Safran Foer

I made it about half-way through my reading list and then got bogged down. I didn’t slack off, though: I read a whole lot of books besides these. I just can’t believe that it’s been a year since I made this list. (See my original post.) Right now I have #1 and #6 in my possession. I started #6, but it’s not a typical Dennis Lehane book (it’s a historical novel) and I had trouble getting into it, even though I normally like historical novels.

What have I been reading instead? For one thing I got off on a tangent about Islam (and if you’ve been reading this blog, you know that I recently became a convert, which takes care of one of the items on my 2009 Project List as well). But I’ve also been reading anything and everything that comes to my attention that sounds interesting. I’ve been keeping track of them in Goodreads, so if you want to see what I’ve read, check there.

These are the books I read on my original list:

  1. Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader, Ann Fadiman (nonfiction)
  2. Rereadings, edited by Ann Fadiman (nonfiction)
  3. Never Let Me Go, Katzuo Ishiguro
  4. The Crooked Inheritance, Marge Piercy (poems)
  5. Summit Avenue, Mary Sharratt
  6. The Terror, Dan Simmons
  7. In the Land of Invisible Women, Qanta Ahmed (nonfiction)
  8. A Life of One’s Own: A Guide to Better Living Through the Work and Wisdom of Virginia Woolf, Ilana Simons (nonfiction)
  9. An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination, Elizabeth McCracken  (literary nonfiction)
  10. The Paper Anniversary, Joan Wickersham
  11. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, David Wroblewski
  12. The Tin Roof Blowdown, James Lee Burke
  13. Sloppy Firsts, Megan McCafferty
  14. Paris Trout, Pete Dexter

I really liked 1, 2, 3, 6, and 9.  I’m glad I read 12 and 14. I didn’t finish 4, 10 and 13. 7 is part of what encouraged me to look more into Islam. I would have liked 8 if I had been more familiar with Virginia Woolf’s work.

Not bad for a list of 14.

I won’t get 16 read by the end of the year. Particularly because I already have a stack of books on my shelf that I want to read first. They are:

  1. Shop Class as Soulcraft, Matthew B. Crawford (nonfiction)
  2. A Gate at the Stairs, Lorrie Moore
  3. Crow Planet, Lyanda Lynn Haupt (nonfiction)
  4. Big Machine, Victor LaValle
  5. Homer & Langley, E. L. Doctorow
  6. The Great Theft: Wrestling Islam From the Extremists, Khaled Abou El Fadl (nonfiction)

And those are just the ones I can see from the couch! I chose 1 and 4 because they’re on Publisher’s Weekly list of the ten best books of 2009. I intend to read as many of those ten books as I can and also focus more on contemporary female authors because there was such much controversy about the fact that there were none on the ten best list. I don’t read that many contemporary books–I have a tendency to not think of reading a book until it’s been around for a couple of years at least.

One thing I’m looking forward to is seeing the movie they made out of The Time Traveler’s Wife which I read last year. I heard it wasn’t that good, so I’ll probably wait until I can get it from the library. But I still want to see how well they transferred the book to the screen. It’s a complicated book; they had their work cut out for them. What made them pick this book to make a movie out of? I suspect it had something to do with the success of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, which I didn’t really care for (the movie, not the book/story).

I feel that I accomplished my goal of reading more intentionally and not reading as much “junk.” I want to continue to work on that by finding out more about the authors I read and their other work, if any. I want to work on remembering what I read. What good is it to read if you don’t remember it? That’s like eating with no sense of taste. I’d like to put my reading in perspective with my life.

Broken Foot Redux

In Health, Home, Time, Writing on November 6, 2009 at 12:46 pm

I’m having trouble believing it myself: I’ve broken my foot, not only for the second time, but at the same time of year–right before the holidays. And it’s the same foot. This time I sprained my ankle pretty badly, too, but the bottom line is, I’m back in a boot cast and my foot HURTS! Thank goodness it’s not snowy and icy outside the way it was last year–not yet anyway.

This time they gave me crutches and they’re letting me walk on the heel of my foot a little. Last time I couldn’t put any weight on my foot at all for the first couple of weeks. But it was a different doctor this time, so that may account for the different instructions. Whatever the reason, I’m grateful that I can get around to some extent.

I’m taking this a lot better than I did last time, I guess because I know what to expect. I’m going to enjoy not having to go to work at all, even though it will hurt our budget. And it’s kind of nice to have an excuse for not doing anything around the house for a while. One of the things that was stressing me out was the feeling that I have to get my act together about cleaning and inviting people over. Now I can put that off for awhile.

It’s funny how quickly we forget the lessons we learn! Last time I was so happy to be out of the cast and off the walker that I swore I was never going to take being able to do things for granted again. But it didn’t take me long to fall into the same pattern of wasting my time. Acting like I have all the time in the world. You’d think at my age I’d know better!

Anyway, one thing I have a lot more time for is writing so I’ll probably be posting here more often. That’s assuming that I have anything to say. What am I going to write about: sitting on the couch all day?  Taking a lot of naps? I can do a lot of reading, so maybe I can write book reports. Wouldn’t that be fun?

A New Muslim’s Baby Steps

In Religion, Self Improvement on November 2, 2009 at 2:57 pm

It’s easy to convert to Islam. All you have to do is say the statement of belief (the Shahada) in front of witnesses. It can be in  your own home, it can be only one witness. The only hard and fast requirement is that you bear witness that Allah is the one and only God and that Muhammad is His Messenger.

The hard part is what happens after that moment of conversion. At least it’s been hard for me. First of all, I had to start learning how to pray the five daily prayers. There is a definite ritual, both in word and action, and I’m only about halfway through the process. Because the prayers are traditionally in Arabic (the language of the Holy Qur’an), it’s a two-fold process for non-Arabic speakers. You have to learn how to pronounce the Arabic words and you have to learn what those words mean in your own language. It took me about a month to learn the Fatiheh, which is the first part of every prayer (and is also the first Surah, or chapter, of the Qur’an). But I still have to concentrate to recall the English meaning while I’m saying the Arabic words.

Because this isn’t exactly a smooth process, I’m trusting that I’m benefiting from the prayers even when I don’t understand every word I’m saying. God knows what I’m saying even if I don’t. And so does my soul. I believe that.

Two themes that come up a lot in the Qur’an, I’ve noticed, are patience and perseverance. I think it’s interesting that God mentions them so much because those are two characteristics that I badly need to develop. They are also interrelated; I’ve never been good at sticking to something because I get impatient and want to see results right away. Obviously I can’t do that with my prayers and my Arabic. That has wreaked havoc with my self-confidence. I’ve asked myself many times if I did the right thing. Is this just too hard? Is it too alien?

I’m lucky to have many friends who are eager to teach me the things I need to know. But that can be a curse as well as a blessing. These are life-long Muslims. The language, the customs, the beliefs, the scriptures are all second-nature to them. They’ve been very patient with me, but I feel so ignorant next to them, sometimes I want to give up.

But something keeps me going. And that something is the knowledge deep inside that I made the right decision when I decided to convert to Islam. I still feel the sense of peace and closeness to God that I felt when I first said Shahada.