Today is Eid, the celebration of the Prophet Ibrahim's (alayhi salaam) ultimate demonstration of obedience to Allah. Allah tells Ibrahim, the Father of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, to sacrifice his son dear son on the altar. In Christianity, the son is Isaac, born of Sarah. To most Muslims, the son is believed to be Abraham's first son Ismail, born of Hagar. In Al-Quran, the story is not told with very much detail or description. Nevertheless, the relentless obedience of Ibrahim to Allah is completely clear. And even more, in the Quranic version of the story, Ibrahim tells his son directly that he has been told in a dream to offer his son as a sacrifice. Ibrahim asks his son "What do you think about it?" (As-Saffat 37:102). This way, the readers see the complete submission and obedience of the son to be sacrificed, as well. He replies: "O my father, do as you are commanded. You will find me, if Allah wills, of the steadfast." It was "when they had both submitted" (103) that they had fulfilled the commandment of God.
Yesterday was also the final day of Hajj. During Hajj the desperation of Hagar to care for her baby Ismail, when left alone in the desert without food and water is reenacted, as all of the pilgrims walk briskly back and forth between two mountains, just as she is believed to have done, searching for water. Now that many of my friends have had their own babies, and I've been able to peer into the world of motherhood, I can better imagine the pain that pierced Hagar's heart, as she longed to find the means to care for her child.
My Eid will be quiet, unlike that of many Muslims, who will celebrate by feasting with their families and friends. I'll most likely be working on job applications, and continue reading The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr., whose life has been of keen interest to me recently. I'm amazed that the comments and criticisms, which he offered about the United States government during the War in Vietnam, are still criticisms that Americans who love peace can still make today. In March of 1967 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave a lengthy speech about the war, saying:
America is a great nation,... [b]ut honesty impels me to admit that our power has often made us arrogant. We feel that our money can do anything. We arrogantly feel that we have some divine, messianic mission to police the whole world. We are arrogant in not allowing young nations to go through the same growing pains, turbulence and revolution that characterizes our history...
Sadly, this aspect of the American government has not changed since the time of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Recently my Aunt, whose emails that were based on lies about and misunderstandings of Islam inspired me to write this blog, accused me of "hating" my own country in response to my Facebook posts opposing war (in Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq) and American and British Imperialism. I have not replied to her, but felt grieved in my heart for being so drastically misunderstood. How can I articulate the difference between "hating" my own country and despising the activities of my government? How can I so adamantly disdain the conduct of my country's leadership, but still be a proud American, still love the land where I was born and raised? I found this week that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. conveyed this complexity most eloquently the same speech of 1967:
I oppose the war in Viet Nam because I love America. I speak out against it not in anger but with anxiety and sorrow in my heart, and above all with a passionate desire to see our beloved country stand as the moral example of the world. I speak out against this war because I am disappointed with America. There can be no great disappointment where there is no great love.
This week I also had the privilege of watching The Help in the cinema, seated beside my black manager from work. The story is of racism in Jackson, Mississippi, and is set in the 1960's. She encouraged me to read the novel The Help by Kathryn Stockett, so that we could see the film together. (I highly recommend reading the novel first.) Ironically, I found myself weeping in my seat after the film, and my manager was trying to console me. Of course I'm ashamed of the history and prevalence of racism in the United States, but at that moment I was mostly mourning my upbringing. I was mourning the way that my father, who was raised himself by parents who considered themselves superior to black people, used to teach me to be racist as a young child. He criticised black people when they appeared on television, in shows or commercials, saying they should not be there. He told me plainly to trust white people and not black people. Worst of all, my father insisted that we move from Maryland and Pennsylvania in order to distance ourselves from the black members of my mother's side of the family. I was weeping for being deprived of close relationships with my nieces and nephews, because of racism.
How grateful I am that I've had the opportunity to reject racism in my own life, and that my father's was the last generation in our family to promote racist ideology.
When I was home in September of this year, I attended my grandmother's burial. Most interesting to me, was that two exceptionally kind and sensitive black men buried my grandmother at the cemetery. I found it incredibly profound that a woman who probably had some good relationships with black people, but still considered herself and her white family superior to blacks, was laid to rest by the most respectful of black hands. These two men tried to comfort our family in our grief. They were sensitive to our mourning process, and most encouragingly grieved with us saying: "God is good, all the time. And all the time, God is good."
Yesterday I found myself seated to the right of a heavyset white woman on the train. Her approximately 12-13 year old son was seated across from me, drawing in his sketch book. He had short, straight blonde hair, and was drinking a Fanta Orange soda before 10:00am. The woman told her son in a soft voice that he would have to close his book in a couple of stops, as they would have to leave the train soon. He lifted his head, furrowed his eyebrows and grunted that he can keep his book open for as long as he wants to. She said nothing. A few minutes later she tried to engage the boy in conversation, and chuckled out loud, having looked out of her window to observe a Subway, McDonalds and Burger King all on the same street. Again, the boy barked at her. Another minute later she asked him calmly to walk down to end of the train car to find whether there is a toilet there for her to use. Angry that she interrupted his sketching, he lifted his head again, looked her in the eye, and gruffly replied: "NO!" He seemed surprised that his mother would even think to inconvenience him so greatly. The child appeared quite thin, pale, and full of rage. Judging by the Fanta, I assumed that he is never told what to eat, and probably has not eaten a raw vegetable in years.
I was grieved for this woman, and the abuse that her son was giving her. Children who are not controlled by their parents or raised with a sense of respect for elders can be extremely abusive and violent. I have seen young teenagers hit their elderly parents in the grocery stores here, let alone shouting at them. After this boy refused to find the toilet for his mother, I looked at her, trying to acknowledge that I recognised the disrespect, and that she deserved much better. This is one of those situations in which you want to tell the parent that they do not and perhaps should not remain in this abusive relationship. The woman made eye contact with me and scoffed herself, as if she felt the pain of his behaviour, but was not surprised.
I put down my book, and looked her in the eyes. "I heard a story about a man who carried his mother on his back." "Oh my," she replied. "He carried his own mother on his back on a journey for hours and hours." Truly, this story was about a man who carried his elderly mother on his back during Hajj - he carried her for hours, taking her 7 times around the Ka'aba in Mecca. "At the end, he asked a wise man, 'Have I fulfilled her right? Have I repaid her now for everything that she has done for me?' The answer was: 'You have not fulfilled even one contraction of her labor.'" In truth, the man who carried his mother asked a companion of the Prophet Muhammad ( صـلى الله علـيه و سـلم ) the question, and it was his response to say that carrying his mother on his back for hours through crowds of thousands of people and in the desert heat did not equate to the effort of one contraction of labor. I left the woman with that story, which profoundly illustrates how much our parents, particularly our mothers, deserve our utmost respect, for our entire lives and beyond.