Sunday, 14 September 2014

Back to School: How Children React to Hijab

 

For most of us, Autumn means crawling out from under the duvet at silly o'clock and heading out to catch a bus to school, work or uni in the damp chill of the morning. For me, this season also means getting to know a new crop of young students at the school where I work. They shuffle in, clinging to their parents' legs and, when they eventually peer out, I catch their gaze and introduce myself:



“Hello! I'm Sarah. I'm your new English teacher. What's your name?”



Their little faces usually scrunch up in confusion. This is hardly surprising since my appearance doesn't really fit on the standard scale of Britishness that Italian children have come to expect. I've got the cheery Mary Poppins voice but, if common misconceptions are to be believed, it doesn't match the scarf on my head.



Thankfully, normalizing the hijab is a piece of cake with most children. It only takes a few minutes of friendly chatter for them to see that I'm just a regular girl in my twenties. Tackling important questions like, 'who would win in a water balloon fight – The Hulk or Ironman?' tends to render the hijab practically invisible.



I'm always happy when a child takes the bold step to ask why I'm wearing a scarf though. Afterall, education is all about nurturing inquiring young minds. These questions are always predictably unpredictable. In fact, my typical day involves a mixture of blunt honesty (“your tummy is round, are you pregnant?”), unfiltered curiosity (“Are you bald?”) and wild imagination (“Are you Medusa?”). Then there's my personal favourite which came after a girl's close up inspection of my hijab. She noticed a straight pin sticking out and let out the horrified cry, “Urgh! You staplegun that to your head every day??”



Children's reactions to the hijab aren't always so adorable though. You can be faced with negative assumptions from all ages whether it's a seven year old telling another student, 'Mum says the teacher has to wear it because she married a Muslim,' or a bold twelve year old asking me, 'if I said something bad about Islam, would you have to kill me?'



Although these comments are upsetting to hear, they are great opportunities for us to correct misinformation and present the Islam that most Muslims try to live by rather than allowing negative or false media representations to be the only contact people have with Islam. It's not surprising that someone might harbour a negative view of Muslims if these representations are all they encounter on a regular basis.



We can easily feel disheartened by the real life challenges of interfaith but research and experience has shown that sometimes all it takes to dispel these ideas is simply spending time with someone of another faith or cultural background. In fact, it's surprising how many barriers you can break just by being yourself. One example from my own experience was when a 15-year-old student in my class declared that he didn't like 'muscle men.' Although for a split second I thought he meant bodybuilders, I soon realized he meant Muslims (musulmano in Italian) when he added, 'they are always killing people.' I was unsure how to respond and so I asked, 'well, do you know that I'm a Muslim?' to which he replied, 'yes, and that's what confuses me because you are so nice.'



What struck me most about this incident was that it was simply coming into contact with a Muslim in a real life context which led this teenager to question the negative image he had held of Islam. After we chatted for a while he smiled and said, 'I'm happy we spoke about it. I feel much better now. Thank you.'



Being open to the questions and the concerns of children helps to pave the path for a society which celebrates difference rather than fearing it. We can challenge pre-conceived ideas through our actions so that we are not defined solely by the stereotypes that hover over us like rainclouds, but by how we live and share our lives with others. 


 

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Suraiya Jafari: An American President - An Interview with Author Cindy Moy




In celebration of the publication of Suraiya Jafari: An American President, I'm delighted to share an interview with author Cindy Moy. I was among the lucky few who were able to read advance copies of Moy's brilliant debut novel and offer my own endorsement on the dust-jacket,


"Moy places an American Muslim woman at the heart of a novel in which themes of nationality, gender and politics collide in providential ways. Worn out stereotypes and age-old predudices unravel as gutsy protagonist Suraiya weaves her own rich tapestry of identity, faith, and culture."

I'll be sharing a more detailed review later in the month but for now you can hear from the author herself as she speaks about the origins of the novel, the process of writing, as well as the inspirations behind her lively characters. 

Suraiya Jafari: An American President is available for purchase on Amazon. You can also have a sneak peek and find out more by reading both the prologue and first chapter of Suraiya Jafari on Cindy's blog


Author Cindy Moy


What led you to write Suraiya Jafari: An American President?

I was watching the election returns the night of the 2012 presidential election, when Barack Obama was seeking reelection and Mitt Romney was trying to get elected on the Republican ticket. As soon as Obama was declared the winner, the political commentators started debating who would be viable candidates for the 2016 presidential election. Could a woman, say Hillary Clinton, get elected? Was a Hispanic congressman such as Marco Rubio a viable candidate? 

Nobody was asking the question that I considered the most relevant: Who is the most qualified to lead the country?


I mentally created a character that would never be a viable candidate in America in 2016, and then figured out a way to get her into the White House. At that point, I hadn’t planned on writing a novel. It was purely an academic question for my own amusement. That character turned into Suraiya.


What were the most challenging aspects of writing your first novel?

When the idea of Suraiya first came to me, I pushed it away, thinking that there was no way that a white, Christian woman could ever realistically portray an American Muslim woman of Indian descent. Finally I realized that Suraiya is as much about the mindset of the mainstream American voter as it is about Suraiya.

I reached out to dozens of Muslim writers, artists, and leaders, but only a few chose to talk to me. I found a collection of essays written by American Muslim women, and those were very informative. I grew up in a conservative Christian environment. While reading those essays, I realized that many of the values regarding marriage, the role of women, and homosexuality was the same, although the religious basis for those views was different. Most people I know, regardless of religion, struggle to find the balance within their belief system. I had an Indian-American Muslim woman read the final draft, and she suggested a few tweaks, but she assured me that I had represented Suraiya well. 


Who or what inspired the main character Suraiya?

Suraiya is inspired by several people. Her personality and integrity are based on an Indian-American friend of mine from law school, Savita. Savita is one of the smartest, funniest, and kindest women I know. At first I was going to name the main character after her, but she told me that Savita is an Indian Hindi name, and that I needed an Indian Muslim name. That was my first inkling that my learning curve in creating the Jafaris was going to be very steep. It was Savita that came up with the name Suraiya Jafari. 

Suraiya’s family background in Africa is influenced by another Indian-American friend, Chux. He was born in Mozambique, and his first memory as a child is being in the internment camps there. Chux is also known for his avocado ice cream and masala chai recipes. Suraiya’s military career and initial political campaign is based on the 2008 campaign of J. Ashwin Madia, a Marine Corps lawyer who ran on the Democratic ticket. Many of the political attacks on Suraiya, including the darkening of her skin in her opponent’s campaign ads, really happened to Madia.


Are any of the storylines in the novel based on events or people in your own life?


My husband’s grandparents emigrated from China, my children were adopted from China, and my background is German and Scandinavian. Some of the questions that Suraiya gets about where she’s from or her native tongue are questions that my husband and kids have faced. The conversation about whether Suraiya should go to a college that offers free tuition to students of color is a conversation that we had in our own household.


The majority of the events that take in the book are based on real-life events from history. My background is in journalism and law, and my college minor was Political Science, so I had a solid foundation on which to begin my research. Suraiya’s political rise to the White House is directly based on the rise of former President Gerald Ford. Ford was a congressman from Michigan serving as the House Minority Leader when he was tapped to take over the vice presidency from Spiro Agnew, who was indicted on bribery charges in 1973. Before Ford moved into the vice president’s residence, President Richard Nixon resigned and Ford was sworn in as President. Suraiya’s service in Afghanistan, and the Christmas Day incident that cements her friendship with the younger soldiers, is a conglomeration of events that happened in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Vietnam.

The attempted coup is based on what is known in American history as the Business Plot, although historians disagree on how close the plan actually was to success. It was foiled by the most decorated Marine of that time, Major General Smedley Darlington Butler, who the industrialists tried to recruit to lead the coup. Butler gathered evidence against the conspirators, then alerted the Franklin Roosevelt administration of the plan. 

Have initial reactions to your novel surprised you?

I’m always surprised when people mention a scene from the book, and tell me that it’s too far-fetched to ever happen in real-life. The more preposterous the scenario, the more likely it is to be based on a real event.

Which character did you most enjoy bringing to life?

Cala Jafari, Suraiya’s mother, is the most wonderful character, because she embodies the maternal relationship we all strive to escape and emulate. Her temperament is based a bit on Madhuri Kumar, from The Kumars at No. 42, but the interactions come from my relationship with my own mom, who passed away while I was writing Suraiya.

Indian women always ask me how I managed to describe their relationships with their mothers so accurately, and I always get a chuckle out of that. The mother/daughter relationship is universally difficult.

What message/s would you like people to take from your work?

As voters, we like to put people in boxes. Democrat or Republican. Christian or Non-Christian. Pro-life or pro-choice. That creates an us versus them mentality, and no one wins in that situation. We are human beings, and humans are not so easily defined. We need to look beyond a few boxes to really get to know our family members, our neighbors, and our leaders. Only then will our ballot decisions be truly informed.

Alternate answer: You don’t have to be a white Christian male to be a hero!

What are your expectations for the book?

My hope is that people will get to know Suraiya and reconsider how they view people who are different from themselves. Readers who are Caucasian tell me that for the first time, they are aware of their use of the hyphen to describe people who are not white. Readers who are Muslim or Indian are happy that someone like them is portrayed as a leader and champion, rather than a terrorist or a victim.

Which authors or writers have inspired you in your writing?

I read mostly nonfiction, and am partial to historical biographies, which probably explains the shape of Suraiya’s story. As part of my research for Suraiya, I read Soldier Dead by Michael Sledge, about the recovery of soldiers’ remains. It was a difficult read, emotionally and mentally, and I thought Sledge gave the subject the respect and objectivity it deserved. When it comes to fiction, I like to get lost in detective novels that delve into why people behave the way that they do. P.D. James is especially brilliant at crawling around in the minds of her characters.

What are your current projects?

Before Suraiya, I was working on another novel, a screenplay, and a modern philosophy blog (www.thesocraticproject.com) Then Suraiya rather consumed me, along with helping to take care of my mom during her illness. I managed to keep the blog going until the end of 2013. It’s still live, but I’m no longer adding posts.

Now I am back to the original novel, a farce about two badly behaved women searching for meaning in their families and careers. It is far more irreverent and profane than Suraiya. All the confines placed on women, by society and ourselves, get acerbically skewered. The main characters get to say all those things we think to ourselves but never say aloud for fear of offending others.


★ ★ ★


You can buy Cindy Moy's novel Suraiya Jafari: An American President via Amazon and you can get a flavour for the novel by reading both the prologue and first chapter of Suraiya Jafari on Cindy's blog

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Looking Back on Interfaith Ramadan 2014




The response to Interfaith Ramadan has been phenomenal this year. The positive comments, encouragement, and support that I, and the Interfaith Ramadan contributors, have received has been overwhelming. Thank you so much for reading, sharing, and commenting on the series. It's been such a pleasure to get to know new faces and observe new friendships being made as the series progressed. I was touched by the sheer number of private comments and emails I received from people wanting to share their stories and experience of interfaith and their happiness that there are others out there who share their passion. These heartfelt messages were a real blessing for me this Ramadan.

I'm incredibly thankful to the Interfaith Ramadan writers who were willing to put aside precious time from their busy schedules to produce beautiful and inspiring works for others to enjoy. This series was such a source of inspiration for me this Ramadan, they encouraged me, lifted my spirits when I felt down, and motivated me to keep going throughout the month.

Several writers wrote inspiring pieces about interfaith as a lifestyle and described how it had influenced them and their beliefs from childhood into adulthood. Carmen Ibrahim explored the spaces in between our comfortable faith bubble and the world beyond it. Sister Lucy offered her global experiences of interfaith in Monasticism Meets Islam. Others explained how their involvement in interfaith strengthened their personal faith with their own tradition, including Salvation Army officer Nick Coke's piece Interfaith Engagement is a Lifestyle and Charlotte Dando's Are you Open to New Light? which looked at interfaith from a Quaker perspective.

It was wonderful to hear stories from members of Interfaith families, including Susan Katz Miller's vibrant experience of interfaith in Senegal, Solsikke's experience of Being a Christian married to an Atheist, and Stephanie Meade intensely personal journey as she finds her way in Ramadan as a non-Muslim.   

There were several articles which focused specifically on the act of fasting. Samra Hussain, as the mother of four young children, shared her expectations and concerns as a mom before Ramadan began and, when we caught up with her afterwards, she thanked all the Interfaith Ramadan readers who had given encouragement and kept her in their thoughts and prayers over the month. 

It was fascinating to hear stories of fasting in other traditions, from Leanna's First Fast as a Baha'i when she was a teen to Crystal S. Lewis's exploration of fasting and reflection within the Christian tradition through her discussion of Isaiah 58. 

This month was also a time when people joined in fasting as an act of solidarity with Muslims around the world. Among the new faces I encountered this Ramadan, I was delighted to discover Rose Virginia Butler and share her inspiring story and her solidarity fast in One day of Pagan RamadanThis Ramadan was also noteworthy because it was the first time in decades that the fast of Tammuz 17 coincided with Ramadan. Many Jews and Muslims used this opportunity to come together in solidarity to support communities and individuals currently facing oppression or suffering persecution. Many found Rabbi Rachel Barenblat's heartfelt message The Walls Begin to Fall on her blog The Velveteen Rabbi particularly helpful during this time of reflection. 

In the spirit of greater community cohesion, there were a large number of informal interfaith iftars this year as well as brilliant events organised by The Big Iftar and Ramadan Tent Project. Dr Andrew Smith shared his experience of an intimate interfaith meal with friends and Julian Bond spoke of a Ramadan of Firsts where Lambeth Palace hosted its first iftar with speakers including Archbishop Justin Welby and Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra.

Alongside these beautiful personal stories, there were challenging articles by Jeremy Rodell (Why the faithful need secularism) and Jim Steele (Religious Labels: Constructive or Constrictive? written in response to Should we label children according to their parents' beliefs?), which explored the problems of interfaith when it collides with the raising of children and state education. Similarly, Dr Karl E. H. Seigfried tackled the practicalities of interfaith when it comes finance and the inclusion of 'minority' faiths in Do you believe in Interfaith? 

Several writers offered detailed insights into Islamic terms and concepts. Author Qasim Rashid adapted a chapter of his best-selling book Extremist as a critique against the awful actions of ISIS in Iraq and the surrounding region in A Ramadan Message to ISIS: You Don't Speak For Islam. Farouk A. Peru explored the word islam itself in Other Faiths or Other Paths?  Zaaynab-Le’Von presented various ways in which people of faith can deepen their imaan in Believing is Seeing. Nusrat AbdurRahman looked at the beauty of fajr in Making a case for 'Ramadan Muslims'. And, in her second article for Interfaith Ramadan, Crystal S. Lewis offered insightful commentary on Women's Rights in Christianity and IslamAnd finally, Maryam Din offered a powerful piece on LGBTQ Muslims and the importance of visibility in The Balancing Act of Being A Queer Muslim.

It was a privilege to be approached and interviewed by newspapers, magazines and blogs who wanted to promote positive interfaith stories this Ramadan, including The Guardian's What is it like to be a Muslim in Britain today? and Pinksky magazine's kind words in What's the Future of Interfaith Ramadan?  The warm and friendly interviews with Lucinda Borkett-Jones of Christian Today and Vicki Garlock of Faith Seeker Kids were particularly fun. It was an unexpected surprise to be featured in the Pearl Daisy blogChesterfield Pagans Interfaith: Is There Anybody Out There? and the Christian Muslim Forum Give Peace A Chance, who kindly asked me to write their Eid Greeting this year. The support of brilliant interfaith activists and organisations like Hind Makki, OneHumanist, the Abrahamic Forum, Interfaith Families DC, and the Woolf Institute, was greatly appreciated throughout the month.

My heartfelt thanks to family and friends with special thanks to Peter, Johnny, Julian, Joseph, and Estelle for their constant support and sage wisdom. To Colin and Tauseef who were prepared to drop what they were doing at a moment's notice to proof read at an unearthly hour in the morning! Thank you to Mariam and Esha for their adorable loveliness. And my sincere thanks to Jami, Kristina, Maryam, Sarah, Brenda, and Emilia for their encouragement throughout the month. And a special thank you to all the readers who shared Interfaith Ramadan on social media and helped to promote it this year. 

I would love to hear your ideas and suggestions for Interfaith pieces throughout the year and for Interfaith Ramadan next year. If you'd like to be involved, please get in touch. 

Wishing you all a lovely, peaceful Summer,

Sarah 


Saturday, 2 August 2014

How Was Ramadan? | Catching Up with Samra Hussain



Ramadan is all done for 2014. As it approached, I felt happy, I felt excited, but I also felt nervous and and scared. I worried about losing my temper with my children and about how hungry and thirsty I would feel during the long summer fasts.

I wrote in detail about my challenges and fears in an earlier post before Ramadan: Concerns of a Mom As Ramadan Approaches. Some of the readers got back to me through comments on Sarah Ager’s blog, while others on my own Facebook and Twitter account. Every one of those people, regardless of their faith or beliefs wished me well and hoped for a smooth and blessed fasting experience.


Samra Hussain



And tonight, as I sit here reflecting about my Ramadan experience, I am first of all filled with love and gratefulness towards all those people who both openly and in their hearts wished me well during Ramadan, because I truly believe that it was because of your kind thoughts and prayers that Allah Most Merciful indeed blessed my Ramadan.

My previous Ramadan was a much more difficult experience than this time. Last year, I had many moments of feeling light headed and feeling jittery and hypoglycemic. But this year, I felt barely any of that. In fact, I remember going through the first day of fasting wondering how it was possible that I was feeling so healthy. I did have a few moments of feeling hungry or thirsty but they were mostly fleeting and not even close to being unbearable. It was as if God radiated special love and attention on me. I felt unworthy and sometimes wondered if it was even okay to feel alert and active while fasting.

As Ramadan carried on, each and every day, I marveled and gave thanks to God for making me feel healthy and bright enough to fast and take care of my family. And each and every day I remembered to pray for the people who prayed for me and my family.




I am still amazed at how much I was able to accomplish while fasting. My husband and I had placed our four young children at a summer camp from Mondays to Fridays. My husband also mostly worked from home during Ramadan which was another HUGE blessing for our family. We were able to rest a bit after dropping them, then we completed errands and I prepared the meals for breaking the fast.

For the first two weeks of Ramadan, I had also enrolled two of my sons in daily swimming lessons after camp. It was really hectic after camp, when we brought the children home, fed them light snacks and then I drove the two boys for their lessons. I bathed them at the recreation centre showers then fed them at a bench outside, finally taking them home for bed time. Meanwhile, my husband cared for the other two children, bathing and feeding them so that by the time I got home with the boys all the kids were bathed, fed and ready for bed. Once the kids went to bed we would crash on the couch for a bit. Sitting there as I paid attention to my body, I realized that I was not as exhausted as I should have been, which was a miracle. It was really nice to break our fasts in peace and then perform our prayers and engage in extra acts of worship such as reciting Quran, calling on God’s names (known as ‘dhikr’), extra ritual prayers (salat), or watching/reading religious material.




It was an interesting and eventful Ramadan, because during the first week, my mother in law went through a knee replacement surgery, and then during the second week, first one of my sons caught a throat infection and had to go on antibiotics, and then at the end of that week another one of my sons had an accident at his camp. He was climbing up the steps of a slide, when he fell forward and hit his mouth really hard on the metal steps. When I got to camp to pick him up, I saw his swollen lip and his front two teeth were bent inwards. Terribly worried, I called our dentist, who told me to first take him to the hospital emergency room to get examined. 

Thankfully my husband was able to pick up the other children from camp on time, take them home and care for them. I was also grateful when the doctor determined that he had no internal injuries and just needed to see the dentist about his bent teeth. The next morning, I took him with a heavy heart to the dentist and paced the waiting room while the dentist removed the fractured portion of his teeth. My family was blessed a million times in that the roots of his teeth were still intact, which is why there was minimal pain as the dentist removed the snapped portion of his teeth.




In addition to visiting my mother in law who was in extreme pain from her surgery (and still is in a lot of pain) and picking up and dropping off the children and dealing with the injuries and sickness, I had to deal with my temper around the children. Although I was able to clamp down on my desire to get angry when they did outrageous and dangerous things better than usual, there were still many moments when I had my outbursts. 

At times I felt so crushed and overwhelmed by my children’s dependence on me that I would forget that they are still newbies at life on Earth. But every time I did lose my cool, I would feel immediate regret along with despair over my inability to stay calm and composed at all times. After all, fating is not just about refraining from food drink. It is also refraining from giving in to our ego and mood swings. Sometimes I wonder if any of my fasts are even accepted by God. I hope God forgives me for the times I lost control over my temper around the children.

My every moment of regret and plea for God’s forgiveness was met with the realization that we are all interconnected and that everything good, including raising children to be healthy adults, is achieved through dedication, kindness, cooperation, and self-sacrifice.

So thank you to everyone who prayed for me and my family this Ramadan. I wish and pray for all of you to feel God’s peace in your lives. I wish and pray for all humanity to feel God’s peace in their lives. Ameen! 


★ ★ ★


Samra Hussain is a stay at home mom. Her passions include reading and writing. In her free time she likes to write for her interfaith blog while also working on her teen fiction novel for girls. She can be found at her blog For the Love of God and you can follow her on TwitterMake sure you keep an eye out for Samra's debrief once Ramadan is over to see how she got on.


Previous Post: Eid Mubarak! (Written for Christian Muslim Forum) 

Monday, 28 July 2014

Eid Mubarak! (Written For Christian Muslim Forum)





This year, I was thrilled and honoured to be asked by the Christian Muslim Forum to write their annual Eid message. I'm incredibly grateful to this organisation, not only for the work they do throughout the year but also for the phenomenal support and encouragement they have given me since I began this blog two years ago.  

Below is just a short fragment. Head on over the Christian Muslim Forum to read the full version

"While there is much to be thankful for this Eid, we are also united by a shared sense of sadness as we remember the ongoing suffering which many endure around the world, which has been particularly intense this Ramadan. 
At a time when Christians, Ahmadiyya, and Rohingya Muslims face persecution in Iraq, Pakistan, and Myanmar respectively, and scores of civilians are dying in Syria and Gaza, it is all too easy for us to fall into despair at the current state of the world.  
Many of us have felt helpless in the face of so much suffering. It is in these moments that we have to step up, speak out, and join together as people of faith and work alongside each other to be the change in the world - to show that faith can be one of the most powerful forces for good."


Wishing you and your loved ones a blessed Eid full of love, light, and laughter!

Sarah 
Curator of Interfaith Ramadan


                        One Day of Pagan Ramadan | Rose Virginia Butler 


The Balancing Act of Being a Queer Muslim | Maryam Din


When people learn of two particular aspects of my identity usually they’re left a little perplexed and you really can’t miss the look of confusion on their faces as they try and figure out how it makes sense. I identify as a queer Muslim and it is these two parts of my identity that not only causes a lot of confusion, and result in a million and one questions (sometimes even really inappropriate ones), but it is also these aspects in which I face the most intolerance and abuse.

Being a queer Muslim, I tread an interesting line, a balancing act if you will. I face queer-phobia from some sections of the Muslim community and Islamophobia coupled with racism from some sections of the LGBTQ community. This means that I literally have to downplay the importance of my religion in some LGBTQ spaces and also having to downplay my sexuality in some religious spaces. The reason why myself and many people like me who identify both within the LGBTQ community and religious communities feel compelled to do this boils down to safety, physical and mental safety.

But you know what though? It isn’t all doom and gloom. It is also because I identify as queer and Muslim that I feel like I have a completely different outlook on life. You know the saying you can only know what someone’s going through if you walk a mile in their shoes? Well, I find that having such marginalized identities (I tick all of the boxes on the equal opportunities monitoring form - ethnicity, religion, sexuality and disability) allows me to be able to empathise with people’s struggles. This brings me perfectly onto the next bit. It’s because of my sexuality that I am able to be a better Muslim. That sounds so bizarre right? Let me explain. Islam deals with a lot of human rights and social justice issues and it is these aspects along with the socialism that I resonate with the most.

The most recent example I have of this is when a now friend, reached out to me. Let me set the scene a little first. I find that because I am so visible as a queer Muslim a lot of people are quick to criticize me and my ‘life choices’ and particularly question why I am so open. It the idea of not airing your dirty laundry in public. The day I came out to myself, I made a promise that I would never hide myself again. Clearly I took this to an unintended whole new level and now I’m visible from workshops to conferences to national radio.

Coming back to my new friend… She came out to me a few months ago and our later messages articulate perfectly why I am so open and unashamed about who I am. Here’s part of our interaction:


Me: I see my visibility as a duty for others who are not able to be visible to whatever reasons. 
Her: I don't know how many strangers have messaged you before like i did, probably lots, but now you have proof of it. You being "visible" gave me hope and courage and factored in me feeling less alone. So i will always appreciate that.

Reading that interaction still moves me even now. Visibility in a world which oppresses and marginalizes people is a political act. It is an act which unequivocally says that we are proud to be who we are and more than that, we love ourselves and will be unapologetic in who we are and what we stand for. Visibility says that we will not conform and we will challenge you and the status quo. Visibility, perhaps most importantly, saves lives.




Maryam Din is a social activist and graduate in International Relations and Politics who identifies as a Black queer feminist Muslim. She has a passion for visibility and activism within the intersections of gender, sexuality, culture and religion. She blogs at [ 5pillarsand6colours ] 


Sunday, 27 July 2014

One Day of Pagan Ramadan | Rose V. Butler


I’ve always been interested in religion and the way different people express their faiths, even when I was a fundamentalist Christian and believed many of these people were going to Hell. When I began delving into ancient history and studying more of the Old Testament, I decided Christianity wasn’t for me and started searching for something else. Exploring the faiths of the world was an amazing experience, one I wouldn’t trade for the world; to this day, I think everyone should take a world religions class and explore spirituality in their own way. In the end, I settled on Wicca, but the traditions and spiritual expressions of the other Abrahamic faiths—Islam and Judaism—are still beautiful and fascinating to me, so much so that I love following some of their online communities on
Patheos, YouTube, and Instagram.

It was these communities that sparked my interest in Ramadan and made me sorry that Wicca didn’t have its own month-long period of devotion. Sure, Wicca is very flexible—especially as a solitary practitioner—so I could have come up with one of my own, but it just wouldn’t have been the same doing it by myself. During Ramadan, millions, if not billions, of people all over the world take part in the fast at the same time; there is a sense of community and kinship between fasters. It’s the same for many Christians during Lent.

As Ramadan began this year, I toyed with the idea of fasting, if only for one day. When I found out a local mosque was holding an interfaith iftar on July 19th, I thought that would be the perfect day, but as the day approached, I wondered why I was doing it. Again, I looked into the theology of Islam, but it appealed to me very little. I admired the cultures and the traditions, but could not reconcile it with my personal theological beliefs.

Then the conflict in Gaza flared. It was then that I realized I wanted to fast to show my support for religious freedom all over the world. More and more injustices came to mind, from prejudice in the workplace to the fight over hijab in France and elsewhere. It is my sincerely held belief that people should be able to practice whatever peaceful religion they want to practice without being harassed or singled out. I also believe that people should be able to cover or uncover as much of their body as they’re comfortable with. Fasting would be my way of saying, “I support religious freedom.”

With this in mind, I had a surprisingly easy day fasting. To be honest, I think it was because I spent nearly the entire day out of the house, so I wasn’t tempted to snack or sip while I was watching TV or anything. I even did my best to be kind in all I did, and I don’t think I even snapped at anyone. I did wake up at four o’clock in the morning to eat my overnight oats, chug a quart of water, and pray to my God and Goddess—and promptly went back to bed. Then I went to the farmer’s market (where I was tempted many times with, “Are you sure you don’t want a sample???” and forced to trust my partner’s judgment when it came to fruit selection). Then, in the evening, I went to work (I had to skip the interfaith iftar because of it) … Did I mention I work in a restaurant? This was when I may or may not have gone a little crazy. It was unusually slow that night—or was it?—so there was little to do but focus on my growling stomach. I kept praying and looking at the clock and praying some more, and finally, at 8:30, I munched on a couple of dates I brought for the occasion and downed a bunch of water.

I think what surprised me the most was the amount of support I received, from Muslims and non-Muslims alike. My coworkers—none of whom are Muslim—were awesome, cheering me on the last few minutes of my fast. Everyone online, including the wonderful people surrounding Interfaith Ramadan, was very supportive. A few days later, I bonded with the man opening my new bank account after my partner, spotting the man’s Middle Eastern name, very casually (*coughnotcasuallyatallcough*) asked me, “Is Ramadan still going on?” to which the man replied, “You know about Ramadan??”

Did fasting bring me closer to the divine? Perhaps. I was acutely aware of my actions throughout the entire day, so I was very careful not to snap at anyone or get upset about the little things. I had also downloaded a prayer app that made my phone vibrate at the prayer times. Originally, I downloaded it so I would know when I could eat and drink, but I found myself pausing when it went off at other times, just to say a little prayer and remind myself why I was going without food or water for sixteen hours. Fasting definitely made me aware of the people who go without food or water because they have to, and if remembering and feeling compassion for them doesn’t bring you closer to God, I don’t know what will.





Rose Virginia Butler is a lifelong writer who has a variety of interests, including religion, books, social justice, ecology, food, and fitness. She is a solitary Wiccan and a member of her local Unitarian Universalist church. Rose is currently an English student at an online university with the goal of supporting herself through her writing. You can find her on her blog (rosevbutler.blogspot.com), which has links to other social networking profiles.


Previous Post: Interview with Christian Today

Interview with Christian Today


I was incredibly fortunate to be approached by one of the editors of Christian Today and asked to share my story of conversion and speak about why interfaith is so important to me personally, and why it's crucial for society at large. There were also some refreshingly tough questions about Salvation, the Trinity, and violence in the Muslim world.

Although the article was met with rather a hefty dollop of criticism (to put it mildly), it also received praise from Christians and Muslims alike who appreciated that such a popular Christian magazine had reached out and been bold enough to present a positive story about Christian-Muslim dialogue, in the knowledge that there would probably be considerable backlash for doing so. 

I'd like to say a special thank you to Lucinda Borkett-Jones, who was an absolute delight to chat with and incredibly generous in her write up of our conversation. I'm also very grateful to the readers of Christian Today who sent me public or private messages of support and appreciation. At times such as this, when tension so often derives from the cracks we have allowed to form between religions, those who take risks to challenge others on matters of principle and strengthen ties between people of different faiths (even if it means readers may press the dreaded 'unlike' button) deserve to be highly commended for their actions. 

And I hope that the readers who liked and shared the article found themselves challenged in a positive way and were given hope that there are innumerable Muslims out there working for peace and that it's possible work together to counter-act the terrible things done in the name of both our religions. 

Below is a short extract from the article which, if it tickles your fancy, you can find in full here



"At university, Sarah Ager was known for her Christian faith. Her parents are Salvation Army ministers. She grew up going to church and being in the church choir. Belief in God and being a Christian were a fundamental part of her identity, until she converted to Islam when she was studying English in Leicester. 
She wasn't peeved with the Church, didn't know much about Islam, and she didn't convert in order to marry a Muslim. 
So what led her on this journey? She decided to look into Islam when she met some Turkish Muslims at university. "The main reason I started studying [Islam] was because I was embarrassed," she says. 
"I knew nothing about Turkey or Islam, I didn't know what they believed; I was intimidated. I thought 'I have to at least Google this religion'." 
But Sarah didn't stop at a quick Google search..."


Previous Post: My First Fast: A Baha'i Perspective

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