Tag Archives: religion

Book Review: Salaam, Love

25 Mar

Two years ago, aboard a Eurostar train to Paris, I spent a two-hour journey reading a collection of essays called Love, Inshallah. The book was a pioneering effort for 2 important reasons: it showcased Islam in America in all its glorious diversity, and it projected a strong female voice, breaking cultural and religious stereotypes of docile, homogenous, powerless women trapped in a world not of their choosing.

When I blogged about Love, Inshallah, I did not know the women behind the book. Turns out Ayesha Mattu, one of its two editors, had read my post and knew who Orange Jammies was when we met as part of a writers’ circle. Why am I telling you this? Because I need to insert a disclaimer that by the time I read Salaam, Love last month, Ayesha was (and is) a friend.

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[Credits: OJ, her MotoX phone, and good old Instagram.]

 Islam. Is there any other word you can think of that conjures up stronger images, reactions, and sentiments across the world? Have any of you been told absolutely nothing, positive or negative, about the religion and its people, whilst growing up? The faith of 1.6 billion people around the globe is the subject of debate, attack, defense, paranoia, curiosity, and wild conjecture. Stereotypes are split sharply by gender, and the men usually get a bad rap. My own experiences with the faith are best reserved for a longer post, but know this: I have formally studied both the religion and its early culture, so I speak from a platform of at least some knowledge.

Salaam, Love is a sort-of sequel to Love, Inshallah. This collection of 22 deeply personal and frequently heartrending narratives by American Muslims smash the supposed monolith that Islam is perceived to be, and are shared by those who are typecast perhaps more than any other group I know: men. Frequently believed to be a conglomerate of beards, skullcaps, and patriarchal tyranny, Muslim men are the mythic bogeyman that women not of the faith are warned about. Looked at askance by even their own gender, it is often thought they have nothing to say, let alone feel or reflect.

Related from their perspectives and experiences as men, as Muslims, and just people, the book shares with us the passion, heartbreak, loss, confusion, imperfection, and intimacy that comes with being human. From within the framework of personal definitions of the faith to far outside it, these men: native-born Americans and immigrants, gay, straight and every orientation in-between, Caucasian, Arabic, South Asian and born into other faiths, tread delicate territory as they navigate their relationship with themselves, loved ones, and their identity, all the while leaving the door wide open for us to follow their journey. From infertility to infidelity, sexual confusion to questioning tradition, the gamut of their experiences leave us enriched, educated, and often plain agape.

The ‘unfeeling male’ stereotype evaporates before our eyes. The ‘benevolent patriarch’ melts into an unrecognizable puddle. And the ‘men don’t talk about their feelings’ notion? Smashed beyond smithereens. Where is the seemingly violent man who forces his will on life and women? And the pious one who holds dear his prayer mat? We meet agnostics, anti-traditionalists, believers, and those crippled with self-doubt. As we lurk, voyeurs in their vulnerable worlds, we soak in their reflected humanity, feel their pain, and exult in their expressions of happiness. Gender lines dissolve, and all that is left is unabashed, universal emotion and a strong sense of being people.

It is to the book’s credit that it allows us to build absolutely no preconceived notions and offers the literary equivalent of open-heart surgery. This is a brave, groundbreaking, and compelling collection that more people need to read, not just in America but around the world.

You can read the Love Inshallah blog here and purchase Salaam, Love from one of the several links on the home page. This is not a promotion or paid post. I only share with you stuff I enjoy myself! 🙂

 

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Lizard’s Tail

25 Feb

It’s fascinating to watch the morphing of an entity that has been severed or disconnected from a larger part. Whether it is a country partitioned from its old composite avatar or a person who forsook their religion because of marriage, they seem to be propelled toward polarization, creating identities more extreme than otherwise necessary. This has happened, I chose this, now I must take a stand and be different, stand up for my act of separation, perhaps even justify it. Ignore the sameness. Ignore the city streets with approximately the same amounts of garbage, because there is a heightened sense of Another Religion in the air. Ignore how nothing has really changed about your food, your clothes, your very colloquial exclamations, because now you are Married Out.

While some are compelled to change, feel an obligation to become The Other, a few dig their heels in and stoutly choose to be driven by factors that prod us to take these steps. Still fewer others fling themselves between identities, but who likes the dissonance that produces? One over the other is easier, safer, infinitely more convenient than duality.

In the rarest of cases, it is a personal blessing for those who never really belonged to one space to begin with. A chance to seize the molding clay of circumstances and fashion from it at will. Those who say I will not be driven, pushed, compelled. Who acknowledge that many factors may change external situations, but we choose to renew our identities-or not. Even as I hear the constant drone of “change is ever-shifting” in the background, I am intrigued by the endless buffet of change, what whets its appetite, what platters we pick from, and the choices that fill our senses and identities, keeping us alive, moving us forward, nurturing stability, dulling our nerve endings into half-burying ourselves into the ground and sticking Velcro-like to the comfort of our original realities.

What do you fashion for yourself? Does your sky take on a different hue? What drives you to be still or shed layers? Do you see it as a necessity, inevitable, or a painful metamorphosis? When you throw off your tail, does your yoke get cast off with it? Or is it warmer to wrap a familiar milieu around your being and rock it close all the live long day?

I thrive between answers. So from the looks of it, I am in no tearing hurry to grab the nearest available one. Let me go arrange a bowl of flowers in the meantime. Nothing like petals and stems to dissipate a whorl of question marks. 🙂