guest post


My recent post on creating a child-like Ramadan generated a lot of attention on Twitter and Facebook — with many commenting about the frustrating balance between motherhood and the sometimes unfair expectations placed upon mothers during Ramadan — usually at the expense of their spirituality. I thought it might be productive to create spaces where people could share stories, commiserate, debate or come up with plans of action to address the issue. Especially now that we’ve entered the last 10 days of Ramadan.

I’ve teamed up with the amazing Asiah Kelley, to explore some of the problems in the discourse on motherhood and Ramadan — which we’ll look at over the next two postsAsiah Kelley is a fantastic person and mother and I am honoured to share her work with all of you. Please join me in welcoming her as she shares her thoughts and reflections on the importance of recognizing motherhood spirituality.


khatm

Ramadan is supposed to be the month of mercy. But for many mothers and wives, it can feel merciless. The work is unrelenting — food preparation, child care, house work, and all the while trying to fit in any act of worship possible.

Muslims start mentally and physically preparing for Ramadan at least a month ahead of time. The excitement builds as people think of all the food they will eat, and all the events they will go to. Young girls shop and prepare their outfits for the different parties they will attend. Boys think of the fun they will have staying up late nights with their friends, while sleeping it off the next day. But mothers? They just might tell you that Ramadan is met with a sense of dread. All the expectations — their family’s and their own, are hard to live up to.

Something has to give, and that something is usually the mother.

Ramadan crept up on me this year. My husband came home from the store with $45 worth of Gatorade, and I was more than confused until he said “For Ramadan? It starts next week.” I guess I knew on some level that it was coming, but had been ignoring it. In fact, I was dreading it. Since having my daughter two years prior I had slowly sunk into an iman hole. My faith was shot.

Ramadan wasn’t a welcome friend, it was a reminder of how bad of a Muslim I considered myself to be.

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Last year I wrote a post detailing what my ideal mosque would look like. This mosque was painted with inclusivity, a shared prayer space for women and men, a soup kitchen, and with a dream that one day Eryn would have the opportunity to write the Friday sermon and call the faithful to prayer. Since many are largely excluded from participation at the mosque in general, I love the idea of women writing or giving the jumu’ah sermon, and wish more mosques would take the opportunity to consult and showcase their female scholars.

So I was absolutely thrilled to learn that frequent guest writer Rawiya presented the following khutbah on broken-heartedness and patience at the Masjid el-Tawhid in Toronto while we were away in Kuwait. She’s allowed me the honour of sharing exerts from it with all with you.

Enjoy and happy jumu’ah!


Have We not opened up your heart
And lifted from you the burden
That had weighed so heavily on your back?
And, behold, with every hardship comes ease.
Verily, with every hardship comes ease!
So, when you are free from distress, remain steadfast.
And unto your Sustainer turn with love.
(Surah 94, The Opening Up: 1-8)

hard-hearts This year, I have found myself increasingly interested in the topic of the heart in Islam. What can be said about the heart, in any definitive way? There is the literal muscle, sitting here somewhere in each of our chests, pumping blood throughout our bodies and giving us life. But of course, the “spiritual heart” represents so much more. We have been raised to consider the heart as one of the centers of our humanity. In some ways, it is a complete mystery, and for this reason, we can’t really say anything about it. But, the tradition of Islam offers a surprising amount of information about the heart to humankind, from the Qur’an, sunnah, scholarly, and mystical traditions.

I have been curious about how the tradition of Islam views the heart and human emotion, partially because of something said by the Sufi mystic and philosopher, Ibn ‘Arabi: “He who knows himself knows his Lord.” And again, “When we know our souls we know our Lord.” I believe that delving into the mysteries of the self helps us in our eternal journey towards God, Glorified and Exalted — as we were endowed from the moment of our creation with a trace of divinity.

As Allah gave life to the Prophet Adam, peace be upon him, He infused him with an-nafas ar-Rahman, “the breath of the Merciful One,” and we carry this fragment of divinity with us to this day. So, it makes sense to me that these human mysteries, these human conditions, have something to say about our Lord, as He relates to His creation, and in His essence.

And here I return to the heart.

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I’m with Ivy on a quick jaunt to Montreal this week — so for your reading pleasure (and mine), here’s one more guest post by the amazing Rawiya. A beautiful little poem that struck me on so many levels. Enjoy!

(new posts coming soon!)



Right Upon Left

I was taught to pray with my hands folded on my chest, Though I missed out on the ‘why.’
I got why we bowed, I got why we bent,
A physical display of what submission meant.
But I never gave much thought to my right and my left,
Resting gently on my curves of my breasts.

Sometimes I’d watch brothers in lines and rows,
Hands on their bellies, wrists grasped, or sometimes slack,
Or even sometimes clasped like mine smack dab
In the middle of their chest.
But you’d never see a lady
with her hands across her belly.
And I guess I started to believe, unconsciously,
That this posture must be
A posture based on modesty.

There must be something about my chest,
The undulation of my breasts
That offends, upsets the Greatest.

And so I hid myself.
(Just as much as some brothers did),
Out of sight, out of mind.
Let’s keep my temptations out of everyone’s
line of sight.

But good gracious, I got it wrong.
Those folded hands
Aren’t meant to hide my shame
From The Shaper, Al-Musawwir.

He knows All
about my curves, after All.

That folded right-upon-left,
Resting on my shapely breasts
(I’m pretty sure) is meant
to keep my heart from flying out of my chest
In Ecstasy!
In direct communion with
The Beginningless,
The Endless.

I cannot express how much I ardently admire the work of Nahida from the Fatal Feminist. So I was overjoyed when she agreed to write for our month of guest posts. Not only is she an amazing and feisty author:

Nahida is an American Muslim feminist who frequently disagrees with the positions of male scholars, including but not limited to the rightful and valid dynamics of feminism in Islam, the certification of halaal meat requiring actual well-treatment of animals and not just ritual slaughter, and the permissibility of eating mermaids. She writes about sound Quranic exegesis as well as spectacular women in Islamic history, criticizes logical fallacies evident in male interpretations, and engages in other such scary feminist activities. She returns the salaams of parrots.

So please join me in welcoming the fantastic Nahida as she shares her thoughts on the erosion of “the feminine” in Islamic discourse and women’s religious right to reclaim their space.


Friday before last, I attended jummah prayer at the mosque, and I wore curlers underneath my hi’jab, because I had just raced there after finals and had barely had enough time to apply my red lipstick (a personal employment of verse 7:31), and why not save some time? Needless to say, it was very obvious I was attending the khutbah while simultaneously curling my hair, and I looked badass, like a malformed dinosaur. Because I have lots and lots of hair, the hi’jab did wonders forcing it to hold together the way I had “arranged” when usually there isn’t enough surface area on my head for curlers wrapped with piles and piles of hair. Before we started one of my friends took one glance at my ginormous, lumpy hi’jab and burst into laughter. “WORST case of hi’jab stuffing EVER!”

I propped myself up against the wall and sat there smugly with a sideways smile. Soon I would be transformed into some sort of elevated reverie of reflection—that usual awed, heart-struck jummah feeling—but for the moment, in a different way, I felt strangely feminine, and peculiarly close to God. And it was not just because my blasphemously high hi’jab was closer to heaven.

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Second up in our month of guest posts is long-time reader and astute commenter, Dandelion. I asked Dandelion to write for the blog not only to inspire him to start writing full time and share his enthusiasm for feminism but also because the dandelion is part of the natural diet of a wood turtle:

I am a white male who is atheist. I am also a feminist, university student and an avid traveler. I am a university student based out of Vancouver, and I love love love to cook. Particularly if things get stressful, a nicely prepared homecooked meal calms me down nicely. I also love eating, the inevitable result of cooking.

Please join me in welcoming Dandelion as he shares an analysis on positive prejudice, privilege and religiously-coded bodies in the Canadian citizenship landscape.


I am a local Vancouverite, where all my stories originate. For those of you who haven’t glanced at my bio, I am neither Muslim nor female.

A couple of months ago I was giving a guest lecture to a local high school on architecture, describing the different styles that can be found in Seville’s Cathedral. The cathedral is an excellent example of gothic and renaissance architecture, and in the 15th century, was built on top of a grand mosque that existed there earlier (which in turn replaced an even older cathedral). Examples of Islamic architecture remains throughout the cathedral, as portions of the outer courtyard and foundations haven’t changed.

As I was explaining this to the students, one put up his hand and asked, “What’s Islam?” I was a little taken aback, but I responded with “The religion of Muslims.” I continued my lecture, but another hand went up, and this student asked, “What’s a Muslim?” I didn’t have an immediate response for the question, because it was so unexpected.

Then another student in the class answered with, “They’re the terrorists.”

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First in our series of guest posts is the ineffable Rawiya. A brilliant on-again, off-again blogger who really should be writing full time, Rawiya spends most of her days as an academic and moonlights as an artist. Please join me in welcoming her as she shares her thoughts on finding faith and recognising serendipity in the most unlikely places.

You can read more by Rawiya here.


And We have created mankind and We know what his soul whispers to him, and We are nearer to him than his jugular vein. (Qur’an 50:16)

I opened the fridge door, on the hunt for some breakfast. I felt a little bit like an intruder in an unfamiliar apartment, having driven the previous day from the States to Canada, where I was about to start some research. My gracious hosts had gone to work. I had slept in after my ten-hour drive, and was ravenous. I padded my way to the kitchen, pulled on the handle of the fridge, and locked my eyes onto a sight I hadn’t seen in years.

Oh yeah. They have milk in a bag here!” I laughed and said aloud to myself, recalling the six years I had lived in Canada during my university education. But in that moment, my hunger dissipated and I closed the fridge door, my eyes filling with tears.

How silly I felt, to have this familiar foreign thing, this stupid Canadian milk-in-a-bag, provoke me so much. Why was I crying? What the hell was going on?

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A few weeks ago, the very bubbly and intelligent Kate at Imperfectkate introduced herself to me and told me about a really interesting post series happening on her blog. Called Modesty Monday, this series aims to explore different perspectives about modesty from all kinds of women. Naturally, I was honoured when she asked me to write a piece.

So if you’re looking for me, I’m over at Kate’s place (I’m not cheating on you, I swear. I’ll be updating shortly!)


“Oh I love your scarf! It looks so delicate and feminine. Where are you from?” The woman fingered the lace dripping from my hijab before absentmindedly feeling the fabric by rubbing my shoulder. Wide-eyed, I plastered a smile to my face and thanked her – suppressing the urge to shudder at her unwanted touch.

A week later I took a shortcut through an alleyway between some apartments and as he passed me, a man greedily looked me up and down and muttered, “beautiful.” This time I did shudder.

I was completely covered according to one standard of Islamic dress – exposing only my face and my hands. The rest of me was hidden behind a modest black hijab, an ankle length, flowing skirt and a baggy, long-sleeved tunic. Not one curve or strand of hair was exposed.

Regardless, I had drawn unwanted gazes. I was exotified and objectified.

Prior to converting to Islam, I likely would have welcomed the attention – drawing sexual empowerment from people desiring or praising my body. I loved dressing provocatively, with tight and flattering clothing. The attention was thrilling and I often based my self-worth on how others viewed me and not how I felt about myself.

Eventually, Islam filled this emptiness (though my reasons for converting are certainly more complex than just dealing with a fragile self-esteem and body image), and I found solace in the religion’s moral guidance regarding modesty.

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Recently, prolific commenter Erin, sent me an email expressing her thoughts about the German poster campaign featured in a previous muslim roundup. She was so impassioned that I asked her to organize her thoughts into a guest post for her blogging debut. An extensive world-traveller and visual artist currently hailing from Calgary, please join me in welcoming Erin to the blog.


"Oppressed women are easily overlooked. Please support us in the fight for their rights."

At first glance, she does not immediately jump out at you. She is wearing a burka the same colour as trash bags.

There is something very disturbing and inappropriate about this poster by the German NGO, Internationale Gesellschaft für Menschenrechte (IGFM), and the way it presents the point that it’s trying to make. The way it views women, particularly Muslim women as “other,” and particularly how it proposes that they need “saving.” Although my opinions are based on someone who is female, Muslim, and a feminist, I do not think you need to be all, or any, of these identities to have the same reaction.

To the West, Afghanistan is a representative of all that is negative and backward about Islam, a country clearly in need of “assistance.” The Taliban, and now the government, use the religion of Islam to justify oppressive cultural practices against women and to reduce: their status, freedom, ability to work, opportunity for proper education, opportunity for healthcare, and ability to exercise political rights. As a woman and as Muslim, I abhor this.

There are many other cultures, governments, religious leaders, and dictators in the world who use their religions, patriarchal belief systems, or politic power to justify oppressive practices against women. Regardless of whatever religion you are, this is wrong and it should never be an issue of Muslims only helping Muslims, or Christians only helping Christians.

At first glance, (or second glance in my case since I did not initially realize that there was a woman in the photograph, which, I think, is the intent) there is a very powerful and obvious statement being made — a statement about the way Afghan women are viewed in their society, how they are treated, and their particular role.

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My brilliant colleague Uruzurum Heer recently posted a fiery note on Facebook and I’ve asked her to join us here with her thoughts as a guest. Urz is an amazing activist for human rights, the environment, women, youth, and social justice. This woman is all over the map, attending every Islamic event, rubbing elbows with international scholars, city councilors and mayors, and serving on many local boards in Ontario including The Care Factor, Shalom-Salaam Toronto and Concerned Citizens of Brampton. So please take the time to welcome Urz — hope you enjoy this post as much as I do.


I am a little tired of this discussion and feel mentally exhausted when I have to argue with men who appear as reasonable over the topic of hijab.

First off, what I choose to wear (and not wear) has nothing to do with you.

It has everything to do with me and my Lord.

Whether I choose to parade around topless, or wear my hijab pinned under my chin, or whether I wish to wear my Turkish bonnet, a bandanna, whether I tie it back or up, whether I want to wear a blue one or a pink and purple polka dot one, a hat, beret, have a few hairs showing or wear no hijab at all, YOU (Mr Critical-Lacking-wisdom-and- rationale- Muslim man) have nothing to do with it.

I wear my hijab because it was MY choice to wear it. It was MY personal choice to wear, and my way of taking my inward practice to a higher level to please my Lord (not you).

The Quran has ordained faith, prayer, fasting, zakat and hajj as priority first. You cannot even call yourself a Muslim if you disregard these basic requirements. So if you are flawless and perfect in that, THEN I would understand you pointing your fingers to others. If you are not, then perhaps you should really work on yourself first and foremost before you start preaching to others on HOW to practice their outward ‘properly’.

Scholars and Imams (who have knowledge and wisdom) know that everyone is at a different place in their journey towards perfection and EVEN they will think twice before criticizing.

Some may have just begun, others have begun longer but are taking things at their own pace.

Some have worked on their practice of being a better Mu’min.

And others have reached the level of Ihsaan.

Wherever we are, YOU should be using wisdom in how you try to encourage others to practice their faith (if you really feel it necessary to preach to others).

Men who are critical of their sisters need to stop.

Wearing hijab falls much lower on the priority scale when it comes to pillars and belief, and it is our inward that is more important than our outward anyways.

No hijab will help if we are despicable, lying, cheating, jealous, envious people inside.

So please, enough with picking on the sisters. Go perfect yourself first (including your beard, showing your ankles and whatever else you need to do) and leave us women alone.

My friend msleetobe started a series on teaching strategies in the Korean classroom, and wrote to me about her student’s reactions to her lessons regarding the hijab. So I asked her to tailor her brilliant work for the WoodTurtle community. We are often bombarded with very North American reactions to the hijab and religious veiling, and I find her experience teaching in Seoul to be quite eye-opening. Please take the time to read her account and welcome msleetobe!


Hello wood turtle readers!  I’m honoured to guest blog here today and to write to an audience quite different from my own blog’s readers.  I usually write about living as an expat in Korea, or about being in an ‘international marriage’ as a white woman married to a Korean man.  However, I also share what is going on in my classroom as I teach at a Korean university in Seoul.

Five years ago, just a few months after finishing up my MA in South Asian religions, I came to Korea and almost immediately began teaching an advanced reading/writing class which was also supposed to deal with critical thinking. My students were very good at answering content questions based on the readings, and could write basic, if problematic essays, but they didn’t have the faintest idea of what to do with anything remotely critical or analytical, mostly because Korean education is focused on route learning in order to prepare students for the massive college entrance exam.  I wasn’t really sure how to approach teaching critical thinking and analysis as a newcomer to Korea, and I had absolutely no idea how to teach it in a skill based class instead of a content based class.  Thus, I decided to bring content into the class and introduce my students, who were already studying cultural logic and intercultural communication in their textbook, to an issue I had had a lot of experience with.  I’ve been using it on and off with students from various ages and backgrounds, and in different kinds of classes, and in general, it works pretty well.  I hope you’ll enjoy reading the thoughts of Korean students on an issue in Islam which wood turtle often covers, and I hope this lesson plan might help you to think about how to approach other controversial issues which you encounter.

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