Poetry as dhikr.
- Warsan Shire
This past Ramadan I threw myself head over heels into poetry.
I struggled this Ramadan, with my health, with my temper, with my solitude. But the one thing that kept me grounded as I moved forward with the month was words. Writing isn’t just a form of expression – writing is how I process my spirituality, it is how I calm my chaotic thoughts, it is my way of connecting not just with other people, but with myself.
I challenged myself to writing a poem a day during Ramadan, and invited friends to join me. I created a secret online group where the only rules were that you had to introduce yourself and you had to create something daily, though sharing wasn’t compulsory. Though most people identified as Muslim, it wasn’t mandatory. Within a couple of days my group of five had turned into fifty, as friends invited friends and the connections spread. I was amazed. What had been intended as a small project for a few friends had turned into an online community space of Ramadan connection and poetic love.
When Ramadan began, the poems flowed easily, simply. They were short pieces about hunger or cravings. But as the assault on Gaza began in the first week of Ramadan, the poems began to take a turn. They became emotive and intense. People who had been hesitant to share poems out of shyness began sharing poems because they couldn’t keep silent when atrocities in the world were happening. How can you stay silent when kids are dying?
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I was on a conference call one evening last week when my call waiting beeped at me. It took me a few seconds to recognize the number since I only see that area code a couple times a year. It was my dad. I let it go to voicemail.
I waited until the next day to check the message. His voice came amicably through the receiver and he chided me jokingly about turning 40 a few weeks earlier. My dad doesn’t celebrate birthdays, so I thought it was odd that he was calling me about it until I realized the real reason for his call: an annual religious celebration that is part of his church is coming up soon. He wanted to remind me about that.
I left my dad’s church for good in my early twenties, after a long struggle between the teachings I grew up with and my own personal beliefs that had gradually evolved from age, experience and study. My father’s church instructs that members should not associate with people who leave the faith, and that includes family. When I left, I did so with the knowledge that my dad would no longer be an active part of my life.
Having been through the process of losing the religion of my youth and choosing a new path (Islam), I firmly believe that there is no more fundamental or sacred right that each human being has than to explore their spirituality on their own terms. And yet, as I have experienced, it is often the people closest to us that want to control that sacred right and who feel justified in punishing us if our seeking leads us in a direction different from their own.
I am not always strong.
There are times that I experience steep slopes of sadness. This doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, the sorrow arrives as crude, impolite explosions.
I don’t have everything together, no matter what type of confidence seeps out of my writing. I spend most of my time struggling from paycheck-to-paycheck, too poor to actually date should anyone ever ask me out. I’m always in a suspended state of fear that this is all my life is going to be: a lonely existence with a salary that is barely livable. I feel like I’m stuck, and inertia is a type of sin in my world.
Sometimes, I feel like I should just give up and claim my rural White heritage. I will move to some small Southern town and live in a trailer park. Forget my complicated identity. Screw my vast life experience. I am nothing special.
There are days I feel like low hanging fruit.
I write this not because I want sympathy, but because I know everyone else feels powerless and hopeless at times. I need you to know that you are not alone.
Love, Inshallah presents an author interview podcast with The Faith Club author, Ranya Tabari Idliby, as she discusses her memoir, Burqas, Baseball, and Apple Pie: Being Muslim in America.
Deonna Kelli Sayed (DKS): This is Deonna Kelli Sayed for Loveinshallah.com. Ranya Tabari Idliby is an American-Muslim writer. You’ve probably heard of her first book, the celebrated The Faith Club: A Muslim, a Christian, a Jew: Three Women Search for Understanding, which featured an interfaith group of female friends promoting common ground after the September 11th attacks. Ranya is an American-Muslim and a New Yorker who has raised her children in the city.
Ranya’s second book reveals more of her personal journey. In Burqas, Baseball, and Apple Pie: Being Muslim in America, she focuses on her story as a Palestinian, a Muslim, and a mother negotiating her family’s Islamic identity in celebration of America. The memoir interweaves the stories of three generations: her father came to America as a Palestinian refugee when he was sixteen years old; the details of her own global childhood as a Palestinian raised in the Gulf states, and the experiences of her two American-born children.
Burqas, Baseball, and Apple Pie echoes the sentiments of Loveinshallah – that Muslims in America – and anywhere, for that matter — can own and celebrate personal truths.
I spoke with Ranya over Skype, where she revealed that her journey started on September 11, 2001, and why these events became a turning point for Muslims all over the world.
A huge thank you to our San Francisco readers who ventured out in the rain last night to our SOLD OUT launch party for Salaam, Love! We’re incredibly grateful for your love, support, and wonderful discussion. A special thank you to our MC for the evening, Zahra Noorbaksh, and to the California Institute of Integral Studies for hosting the event.
Check out more pictures from our event on our Facebook page, here.
Next up – Los Angeles! View our full book tour schedule, here.
Our new book, Salaam, Love: American Muslim Men on Love, Sex & Intimacy, will be released on February 4th. In the lead up to the release, meet our 22 contributors.
Today, meet Stephen Leeper!
An excerpt from Stephen’s story, “On Guard”:
It was the second year after I’d moved from North Carolina to California. I had moved to escape boredom and childhood memories, leaving Ashley, my beautiful non-Muslim girlfriend, behind. We had been a couple for a few months, but had known each other for two years. She said she would leave with me “just like that”—she didn’t have to see a five-year plan or a five-digit number in my bank account. My promise was all she needed. I left North Carolina in September 2009 and started making plans for our future. By January, she had left me for her white ex-boyfriend, a blow to the Original Blackman’s ego, a carryover sentiment from my Stephen X days.
The next year was one of grief and sorrow filled with bitter, desperate crying when I got up in the morning, in my car between meetings, and in bed at night. Unlike with the Prophet, neither my uncle nor my wife had died, but my hope had, and I grieved. When I met Aliyah the following autumn, I had healed a great deal but was fucking terrified of opening up again.
To read more, order Salaam, Love today!
Q&A with Stephen
Novelist and screenwriter Kamran Pasha on being a Muslim in Hollywood and having the courage to follow your dreams, whatever your spiritual path.