Genesis 11:5

The Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which mortals had built. Genesis 11:5

Uncomfortable : At Home

Tonight I felt one joy of being home in Pennsylvania. I took my Dubai mug full of hot Lemsip outside on the front porch with me, and sat down to enjoy. The sky was dark, but the residue of dusk still lit up the outline of dark clouds near the horizon. A quarter moon hung brightly overhead, and extraordinarily bright stars twinkled across the sky. I held my warm mug in my hand, and sensed the warmth of the coming summer's air, and the coolness of the spring breeze. I sat on the front porch and felt at home, recalling memories of the past - oh God - seventeen years that I've belonged to this house, or that this house has belonged to my family. I waited for my mom to pull up in her car - this place is home because she is still here, because she has held our family together since my dad passed. The whole house has a new peace about it, a fresh resolve to not just remain intact, but to improve with time. My mom has tirelessly striven to make repairs on her home, improvements that my dad just never got around to. I looked over our newly remodeled bathroom, the product of my kind brother-in-law's hard labour, and asked aloud, "Where's dad?" Quickly, I tried to cover my mistake in front of my mom and added, "What would he think about this?" It was almost like he should have been here to comment on it. 

I feel to some extent that I have a duty to my home, an obligation to 'give back' in one way or another. But I like adventure, and learning, and traveling, and stretching my wings. I like staying in an unfamiliar place long enough to make it familiar, and storing memories of how it feels to be in a particular place at a particular time. I like to feel that I'm not confined, I'm not stuck, I'm not going to let myself be trapped in a mundane, monotonous life ruled by slave masters, such as debt. 

These days, I'm afraid at home. I don't feel safe praying at home. Yesterday when I visited New York I visited the Park 51 Mosque to pray Asr, and then waited to pray Magrib. I prayed for the mosque, peace and understanding in and around the Muslim community, my future, and so on. I don't feel hated by the public; generally, I feel the hijab draws more positive attention than negative. Riding in the bus yesterday morning, a young couple passed me their one year old little girl, who started to smile at and interact with me while I was reading Gandhi's biography. I found it surprising that a couple would hand over their baby to a stranger, along with her bottle so that I could feed her. And even more, why to me? And then at the train station a truck driver from North Carolina struck up a conversation about traveling throughout the US, problems in his small town back home, and his thoughts about travelling outside of the US. I would not expect a man from the deep south to start chatting with a woman draped in hijab. Ironically, the conversation winded down when he started suggesting I try my beer hot, like the Germans drink it. He may not have been aware that Muslims do not drink alcohol, but at least he did not treat me like an alien or harass me.

I attended the Greek Orthodox church with my mother last Sunday, and felt incredibly uncomfortable. I attend with her out of respect for her wishes and beliefs. Of course, the people attending assume that I am Orthodox, although I never make the sign of the cross or kiss the icons. My mom wants them to assume that I am Orthodox, and she wants me to join the Orthodox faith. I am not angry with her for feeling this way, but she does not recognise that I was not raised Orthodox. My mother only returned to the Greek Orthodox church after my father passed away, thus I had been raised among Protestants. When I drifted towards the Anabaptist/Mennonite Christian tradition in college, she was angry. This Christian tradition was not sufficient, because it was not Orthodox. In the end, I could not embrace the theology and practice of either Protestantism or Orthodoxy. And now she's even more angry.

When I attend Christian churches, I am now prone to notice how much more often Jesus is worshiped as the son of God, rather than God as the Father. Personally, I believe that Jesus (alayhi salaam) taught that there is one God worthy of worship. I do not believe that God (Allah) has parents or children. In Surah Al-Maryam, ayat 35-36, the interpretation of Al-Quran teaches that
It is not [befitting] for Allah to take a son; exalted is He! When he decrees an affair, He only says to it, "Be," and it is. [Jesus said] "And indeed, Allah is my Lord and your Lord, so worship Him. That is a straight path."
 Clearly, in Islam Allah's power and might are evident in the reality that Allah has no counterpart, and alone is able to forgive sins.

I also found myself beyond shocked at the dress code, or the lack thereof, in the church. I respect the Orthodox Christian tradition because I find it to be the most reverent Christian practice of all. And I understand that culture pollutes the Christian practice, leading to what I consider to be completely illogical and appalling conduct. I observed young and middle aged women attending the service, kissing the icons of Jesus (alayhi salaam), Mary the mother of Jesus, the apostles, and worshiping with the lowest of tops and the shortest of skirts. Honestly, for several of the women, it would have been just as well if they were going to visit a bar or nightclub immediately after the service. I stood against the wall observing, and trying to imagine how this young girl in a tight mini skirt with bare skin from her shoes to her bum on display, could kneel to kiss the face of Mary the mother of Jesus, without noticing Mary's long sleeves, long dress, and veil? This is not for me to answer, but such observations make me appreciative of the modesty and therefore, reverence of Islam. 

Why a Christian would frown upon concealing the shape of one's body during worship, I do not know. It seems completely logical to me that for men and women to be most reverent in the presence of the Almighty, it is only appropriate to cover any possible distraction. This inappropriate dress at church indicates to me that some people attend a worship service in order to attract attention to themselves.

Lastly, I found myself cringing at the sight of babies and children taking the Eucharist. For someone who does not believe that the wine transforms into the literal blood of Jesus, that wine is just wine. Does anyone question why many babies and children cry and resist the entry of the alcohol into their mouths? Even on the level of drinking alcohol, perhaps the Orthodox could allow the children to choose whether or not to partake at an age of accountability. This sounds better to me, but if infant baptism and partaking of the Eucharist were not part of the children's lives, then it would no longer be Orthodoxy.

What's in a Name?

Thanks to the gentlemen running the Halal food cart around the corner from St. John's University in NYC, I was directed to the infamous Park 51 / Cordoba House Mosque.
Although the community centre received much negative publicity, and the American public made the community centre a matter of great controversy, the community centre and prayer space is in a discreet location, next door to an Amish Market, and is not dramatically positioned as the media led people to believe.
I was very honoured to pray in the Park 51 prayer space, and express my support for the community centre project. What a beautiful recitation of Quran during the Maghrib prayer that I attended!
 I felt fairly comfortable adjusting back to life in the US during my initial stay in New York City. I think that studying in New York for one month allowed me to trick myself into believing that I haven't really left England for good. But now I'm back at home near Harrisburg, and I am struggling to adjust. Only recently I left what has been my home for the past three years. I am estranged from the friends who have been central to my life for several extremely formative years. To my surprise, several of those who I hold close to my heart have already fallen out of touch. Muslims are much more discreet in the US, due to the anti-Islamic sentiment, so it's much harder to recognise the community than in London. Now I'm working hard at my part-time job in the book warehouse, as I wait for long-term employment to fall into place. My relationship with my mother, who is quite distressed and disturbed by my commitment to Islam, is an intense challenge. All in all, I'm in major transition.

In some ways, I've come full circle. I remember when I was working in the book warehouse around this time four years ago. I was preparing to leave for the University of Essex in Colchester, England. I felt a great deal of anxiety about whether or not to complete a Masters abroad. I also felt quite lonely, and wanted to find a life companion. I imagined that I would be more likely to meet someone 'my type' abroad than in the US. At this time four years ago, I had little faith and I was depressed.

I encountered a book today at the warehouse entitled 'Paul the Convert,' which caught my attention. I began to reflect on the significance of Paul the apostle being a convert from Judaism to Christianity. How interesting that Paul's name is within my own. Paul was known for persecuting Christians, until his Damascus Road experience, which inspired him to convert to Christianity. This leads me to reflect on how staunchly I practiced Christianity previously, even attending events through my church that included Islam in a list of "false religions" as opposed to "world religions." And now here I am, where I absolutely never would have expected to be. 

Life has not unfolded as I expected. While some aspects of my life have changed for the better, other feelings have returned to me. I did not expect that I'd feel lonely as I do now, four years down the road. But I'm convinced that there's a reason for it all. I believe that our prayers are heard, but most times are not answered as we would expect. As they say, Allah knows best. For Allah, you can and I can't. You have power and I do not. You know and I don't know. You know everything that is hidden and secret. These days, I take great comfort in prayer, and whatever positive responses to my conversion I receive. Also, I feel nourished by the profound recitation and meaning of Surah Ta-Ha from Al-Quran: