Discover more from Sunday Schooled
What American Islam Does Right
An interview on Al Jazeera, an op-ed on CNN, why my 27th night was a failure for the books--and more book readings!
You’ve probably noticed there haven’t been many posts these last few weeks. Stepparenting, like everything else in life, is adjustment on the fly, with ample justifications provided in the aftermath. But it makes sense. My wife told me a few days ago that, as we’re getting older, it seems Ramadan is less an exercise in intentional minor famine and more the imposition of extreme fatigue.
And with the 29th night almost upon us, we’re nearly broken. Isn’t everyone? To their immense credit, the kids have been trying to make the most of many of the last ten nights, and we’d like to encourage them, in the belief that while Muslim identity is beautiful, and Muslim community is vital, Muslim piety is essential—the most important part to our health and welfare, in this life and beyond.
And we want to encourage that and not penalize that. So we’ve paused on the halaqas until after Eid. This is also a selfish decision: I’d like to make the most of these last nights—stay tuned for a great story about how life goes awry, featuring the 27th night, below—and so I’ve held off on halaqas too. Let worship be its own lesson. The unparalleled enthusiasm of Cincinnati Ramadan nights their own reward.
Not to mention: I’m on the book tour! So for this post, I’d like to just share the latest news on Two Billion Caliphs—buy a copy if you haven’t already (it’s available as an ebook, hardcover, or audiobook including on Audible): That includes a full episode of Al Jazeera’s The Stream, a new op-ed on Eid and Islam’s fundamental egalitarianism for CNN, and a few more appearances on the book touring calendar.
I hope to be back in the swing of Sunday Schooling after the holiday, inshallah. Speaking of which, have a wonderful and blessed one, whenever you’re celebrating.
On Al Jazeera: Writing The Next Chapter of Islam
This turned out to be an absolutely lovely conversation. With guest appearances by Mustafa Akyol, Umar Lee, and Asad Hussain, host Femi Oke guided a great discussion, where I got to talk about—in no particular order—what I mean by Two Billion Caliphs, why my 27th night didn’t turn out the way I planned, the best thing my parents gave me growing up, what my next book might be about, and why Anakin Skywalker deserves to be studied more closely in Sunday schools.
Give it a watch!
On CNN: I Don’t Know When Eid Is… and I Want To Keep It That Way
Now, probably many American Muslims think the moonlighting debate is silly, irrelevant, belongs in the past, or is on the whole much more negative than positive. But in my latest for CNN, timed to tee up with Eid, I ask that we take another look—is the messiness, chaos, and confusion so common to so much of American Islam less a glaring weakness and more an undeniable strength?
What if it’s actually a harbinger of a better and brighter Muslim future? Admittedly not a take you hear often, or maybe even expect to hear at all, but just like I redefine the Sunni - Shia divide in Two Billion Caliphs, here I do a similar thing all over again: Look at a phenomenon widely described as unfortunate and wonder if we’re not actually getting things backwards.
It gives us a new way to find meaning in history—and a new way to find a direction forward for the future. As I write:
American Islam doesn't just present a provocative contrast with rigidly hierarchical interpretations of Islam, but actually also -- dare I say -- more closely approximates the founding Islamic spirit. And we'll desperately need that egalitarianism, flexibility and nuance if we're going to thrive in the future that accelerates toward us.
From climate change to cultural secularization, from rapidly growing populations to the turbulence introduced by disruptive new technologies, we face too many challenges and too much uncertainty not to invest in autonomy. A dynamic, flexible ummah -- a web of overlapping sentiments -- would be much more likely to prepare us for a fast-changing future.
Read the rest at CNN.
And I hope my new ICGC family appreciates the shout-out! Thank you for all your hard work in making this a fantastic Ramadan and maybe my best one ever.
On Tour: More Stops!
Earlier this week, I was at Amherst and Mount Holyoke Colleges for two beautiful back-to-back Iftar dinner programs; it was a joy to be a small part of these wonderful communities for a few hours—and reassuring to see the brightness and radiance of young Muslim life post-pandemic. And one thing I’ve noticed between here (Cincy) and there (Pioneer Valley), though it’s more anecdotal than statistical.
Seems like more and more people from outside our community are interested in joining our community. I hope and pray we can make the resources available they’ll need and deserve, but it’s an interesting phenomenon—though I wonder if it’s just a brief blip on a random geographic radar, with no deeper substantive trends behind it, or if something bigger, something more serious, is going on.
What do you think?
That’s a roundabout way of bringing up some upcoming gigs.
On Saturday, May 28th, I’ll be at Cincinnati’s own Joseph-Beth, a massive, wonderful independent bookstore, for a reading and discussion. More details to come—but if you’re in the area, please reserve that evening! (Way back in August 2017, I presented at Joseph-Beth for my last book, How to be a Muslim: An American Story.)
I’m working on programs in West Hartford, CT, and Chicago, IL. And I’d love to come to your community—drop me a line, or fill out this form, and we’ll take it from there.
If My 27th Night Was Odd, I Don’t Want To Be Even
I’ve been totally wrecked this Ramadan—just exhausted, struggling to balance my faith, work, book, and family (and not entirely in that order, just in case you’re wondering). But I knew that Ramadan at the Islamic Center of Greater Cincinnati was special, and the last ten nights even more so, including the tea tents and the suhur tents, featuring food, snacks, drinks, and outdoor space all the way until fajr time.
I’m not making this up—well over 600 people are there on the odd nights. The place is like a minor hajj with all the joys and chaos that that can bring.
I didn’t attend any Massachusetts masjid services on the 25th and 26th nights, while traveling for the book tour (see above), because I was so fatigued that I needed to recuperate and also because I wanted to save myself for the 27th, to have the full ICGC experience—with family.
It did not go as expected.
Wednesday morning, I drove two hours to Boston’s Logan airport and got there very early, hoping I could catch a sooner flight. It was not meant to be. So I sat there for three hours with very little energy to do anything.
But our flight landed early, and I managed to make it home with time to change, freshen up, and of course, because all these things are timed perfectly by forces outside our control, finish edits on my CNN piece (as above).
We got to the masjid with time and secured good parking, attended the fundraising dinner, and then I found myself a solid spot for isha at the back of the main prayer hall. At which point I realized I wasn’t feeling very well and needed to use a bathroom.
As someone with an autoimmune disorder with GI complications, this happens from time to time, and is ordinarily not a problem, unless you are trying to take advantage of the 27th night and it’s T-minus 10 minutes till the main prayer of the night.
Not to mention, with hundreds of people there, what were the chances I would even get to use a bathroom? I’ve tried in the past and it took upwards of 15 minutes to even get a stall. It’s not that they’re not clean—they are—it’s just a lot of time.
Time that in more ways than one I did not have.
But if I left, there would be no easy return: The parking lot was full, and closed, and shuttles were now running—big, proper coach buses, mind you—between the 24-hr Meijer’s grocery store’s parking lot and the mosque.
I could miss most of the main prayers of the evening. I was also my wife’s ride home—and F, Z, and R had come in our car, too. (Their grandparents had driven separately.) This was not an easy call to make and I was not happy having to make it.
I got up and left. I went home, dejected, tired, and in pain.
At least I got to use a bathroom without any lines. And then I flopped over on the bed, trying to gather my energy. By the time I was ready to stop feeling sorry for myself, get up and head back to the masjid, nearly half the taraweeh were done.
I know this because I had the live YouTube feed playing on my iPhone.
But I thought I’d try. After all, God rewards intentions, not outcomes, as we learned here previously.
But my outcome was a futile attempt to enter the ICGC parking lot, followed by a mad dash to Meijer’s, a sprint to a coach bus that was just leaving, and being informed by a friendly volunteer when I finally got there that the main hall was decidedly closed.
I prayed in a nearby annex building, the Mirror Hall, but at least I made it for the final two taraweeh and the epic witr du’a—and, oh, did I mention, I got to be standing in prayer while the recitation of the Qur’an was finished?
I was feeling grateful I’d at least made it that far when suddenly the audio feed in the room went out, and we found ourselves, mid-supplication, bereft of any sound, standing in prayer, unplugged from our Imam.
Fortunately, someone had the good idea to produce their phone and blast the YouTube livestream, so we could follow along, except suddenly twenty more people did just that, and then we had twenty-one echoing Imam Musas beseeching God.
Still, it mostly worked, except at that very moment a terrifying thought occurred to me: Did I even refresh my ablutions—my wudu, the ritual wash Muslims must perform before saying prayer, before coming to the masjid?
And then I thought if I leave now, I’ll miss the du’a, but the du’a doesn’t count anyway, but maybe if I just step to the side, I’ll get some reward for hearing and joining the du’a, albeit not as a part of prayer, but then I won’t be refreshing my wudu, which means I won’t be rejoining the prayer, which means I don’t get any rewards… and my mind went into a doom spiral, like a World War II fighter jet taking fire.
Finally I just threw up my hands and trudged to the bathroom, refreshed my wudu, and did my isha, my taraweeh, and my witr in a lonely corner of the Mirror Hall, all by myself, and while I might’ve thought we’d stay the rest of the night, we didn’t. The kids were tired, the adults were tired, and the last bus to Meijer’s was around 12:30am. Which we got on and drove home. I tried to stay up another hour, and mostly did, alternating between prayer and sleep.
An interesting take on the fajr adhan, if you ask me.
And that, my dear brothers and sisters, was my 27th night.
If you ask me why I’m sharing that, it’s because at Mount Holyoke I heard from a young woman who said her Ramadan wasn’t turning out the way it was supposed to, and this left her feeling worried about her faith.
I told her that every phase of life has its challenges—school, work, family, health, society, culture, what have you. When you’re young, you might have the energy, but maybe not the maturity to dedicate the time to worship it deserves.
Or there’s no community.
Or there’s a school schedule that leaves no time for worship.
And when you’re old, you might have the desire, but lack the time—or the energy. Whatever it is. But God is Merciful. The test is not to see if we got everything right. The test is to see if we do the best we can—and keep trying.
A good reminder for me to keep this in mind, too: I was really frustrated on the 27th night, and that made it hard to get and stay in the right frame of mind, but my wife urged me to keep life in perspective and find the humor in the chaos.
After all, it could be far worse. And she was right and I am wrong, but it took me longer than I would’ve liked to admit that.
Still, I’m glad I can finally smile at my ridiculousness. I hope you can, too. I pray you take that joy and let it course through these last hours of Ramadan, that your sacrifices are accepted, that all of us can carry what we’ve done this month into the year to come, and that we see many more blessed and uplifting Ramadans.
Eid Mubarak! Have a wonderful holiday. Remember to eat, hydrate, and be merry.