Thursday, December 20, 2007

Little Big Eid '07

This is a busy month for us, always busy from beginning to end.

December 1st is one anniversary of our wedding, the official part called al-Fatiha. December 10th is the party anniversary, called Laylet ad-Dukhla (The Night of Entrance)--let's not get into that. lol lol lol! This December we marked our ninth anniversary with our friends Tawfik and Magda, who were in town for a couple days. That was really nice, as always with those guys, but it was also nice because we were both too busy to plan anything. The kids noticed, too, they were wondering who was coming to watch them when "Mom and Dad go out for anniversary dinner." We did go, as it turned out, but they came along this time! Happy nines, Hannu: one 9, 99, ...

The Annual Rigney Party

December 14th was earlier than usual for the Rigney Carol Party. That might explain the smaller attendance. But that also meant, most members of the 12-days-of-Christmas crew were absent. Enter: Mr. Moody and Ms. Tala of Goofballs-R-Us, Inc. Of course they were more than willing to get up and clown around. It was like watching a movie with subtitles, always just a step or two behind. lol lol

Running into all the wrong places!

It's hard to say when it all started, our close public encounters with God. Maybe it was in Moody's preschool days, when he started to bring home classroom works of art representing certain holidays. Christian holidays mainly, with a couple token Jewish holidays thrown in to ward off the evil eye (that'd be mine). After some green-tea conversations, we decided to have a talk with the teachers. We explained that public schools are the wrong place to learn about religion, any religion. They explained that it does not make educational sense to ignore the things happening in the surrounding culture. We accepted the argument but pointed to a practical bias, which did not square with the diversity of American culture and even the local culture that includes (in principle) over 35,000 Somalis, who predominantly have an Islamic heritage. Our point was and still is that it would be best to keep all religion out of school, but if it has to be included, then variety is a matter of necessity in order to avoid a de facto promotion of a particular religion by the state. It turned out, ignorance was the main adversary, and we met our obligation by informing the teachers about other holidays, which they did their best to acknowledge in the classroom. Moody read a book about Eid and Ramadan, and once he took moon-shaped cookies, etc.

There were other encounters, outside school, but still in settings where one would expect some sensitivity to the issue. Once it was at an end-of-season party for one of Moody's soccer teams. One of the parents got some discount at Pizza Hut, so we went there. Moody and I got there just about the time the pizza was ready. The coach, who was a perfectly reasonable person said, "If you don't mind, we'd like to say a little prayer before eating." I said, "Actually, I do. But Moody and I will go over to the other side and join you guys after prayer." We did, unnoticed by Moody and uncomfortable for me. Just to add flavor to the story, the adults had ordered the pizza, and it so happened that there was pork on every single one except one plain cheese pizza. Interestingly enough, most kids that age prefer plain cheese pizza! Moody got one slice. Soon some of the other kids were peeling off the pepperoni so they could enjoy the pizza as they liked it. We paid a full share. I tried to keep Moody quiet, but not silent. I also wanted to ask the coach rhetorically whether he knew why soccer teams wore the same uniform. Later, by sheer coincidence the coach ran into a work colleague of mine, whom I'd told the whole story. The coach sent me a pizza coupon. I said a secular prayer for him. It goes like this: "Best wishes for mental health."

Another outdoor experience with God was on a visit to evaluate a summer camp where we were thinking about sending Moody. Hana had made the arrangements and specifically asked on the phone, "Do you have any religious activities or affiliation." The lady said they didn't. When we got there, we saw it was a beautiful camp. They seated us in the big dining hall with nice wood beams in the high ceiling. My eyes swept down to the posters and artworks hung on the walls, and there it was: The G-word! Then the L-word! Then out of me, the word "Hannuuuuuuu?" We basically told them we were not interested, thank you very much, but they really should tell people up front about the religious content of the program. They did not quite get it because they thought of "religious" as meaning "denominational," but they refunded our advance payment. That was the best possible outcome because they were a private organization and they could run their business however they liked.

This year, it was the Whittier Holiday Performance. Mr. Moody started speaking of 1st and 2nd graders practicing for a "Christmas concert." My reaction was, huh, Christmas? So we asked for copies of the songs they were practicing and got them. There were about a dozen Christmas related songs and a couple of token Hanukkah songs. The well-known Silent Night was one of the songs. It is a beautiful piece of music, and it is just as beautiful when done a cappella, just vocals. But the words? It says in one verse, "Round yon virgin mother and child," and then, "Holy infant so tender and mild."

If orthogonality be defined...
We objected to Silent Night on the grounds that its verses expressed a specific religious doctrine, not a secular, cultural representation of Christmas like Rudolf or Frosty the Snowman, etc. We sent multiple e-mails to the teachers, the principal, and the district superintendent. We got nothing! I mean nothing, no reply no confirmation, NOTHING! So, I got on the phone. They said they had not received any of our e-mails. Three e-mails times four recipients all went somewhere in space? Never mind. I repeated everything on the phone, stressing to them that we objected to inclusion of any religious doctrine, regardless of its origin. As a matter of fact, the statements "virgin mother and child," and "holy infant," are entirely compatible with Islamic doctrine, but that did not matter. For the general good of everyone, we said, there should be no doctrine of any sort. Recalling the experience with the soccer coach, I said that we also would not accept for Moody to be excluded from any activity because that would be alienating him, and they needed to ensure that every curricular activity was fit for every student. I also told them that a 'fixed variety' is no variety, and that if they really wanted to do something about that, it might be well and timely for them to acknowledge Eid, which happens to fall in the "Holiday season" this year and happens to be celebrated by a significant number of students and families in the community.

Our interaction with the school staff was very friendly and very fruitful. They completely understood our concerns. They took Silent Night out of the program. They included classroom discussions about Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Ramadan and Eid. Moody's teacher asked us for materials she could use on Eid. That put the ball in our court. Ouch! It is very difficult to find any suitable material, let alone find it in English. The teacher also made a good suggestion. Knowing Moody's reading skills, not to mention his being a complete ham, she suggested that Moody read a poem in the concert, something related to Eid. We looked hard to find something suitable. I finally found a poem by Jalaluddin Rumi, which is not about Eid per se but it reminded me of my conversation with Moody in last year's Eid. The poem was simply a little conversation between a mentor and an apprentice, in the Sufi context, but it could easily be a father-son conversation. So we printed it and Moody started practicing.

Show Time!

The concert was on Tuesday, December 18. We showed up early and got front-row seats. Moody was backstage with his two sheets of paper, with a brief Eid intro on one and the poem on the other. They held the show at the gym--standing room only! There must have been well over 200 people in the audience. Not one Somali family was there, as far as we could tell. Our Jordanian neighbors we meet at the school bus stop every morning? Not there. Oh, well...

I noticed, they had a microphone... Hmm, I thought of the potential and quickly dismissed the thought.

After a couple of numbers, a young man came to the microphone, two loose sheets of paper in hand. He said, "Hello, welcome, you are all here now." I looked over at his teacher, and I could read her thought: "Oh, no, Moody's mouth and a microphone...somebody call the fire department..." Moody did an excellent job! Of course he went off script and was actually doing a little improvised shtick! lol lol He turned around and was interacting with his mates, who were all just having a blast. The amazing thing is, he actually did his shtick to manage the pressure, and then he got right back on track, asking the audience, "Is the volume high enough?" Then he read a little intro about Eid and the poem that follows.

Moody introducing Eid-ul-Adha and reading a poem by Jalaluddin Rumi.
Holiday Performance, Whittier Elementary School, December 2007.

This is the week of Big Eid, a Muslim holiday in memory of Prophet Abraham and his son. In my family, Eid is about parent-child relations.

I am going to read a poem about a father and son conversation. It was written by the famous Muslim poet named Rumi.

Happy holidays to all of you.

["Now I am going to read the poem."]

I asked my mentor
In our happy hours
The ins and outs of this life
And far beyond
He said
Your salvation is on the way
When you try to take
People's pain away

Unknown existence
Undiscovered beauty
That's how you are
So far
One dawn
Just like a sun
Right from within
You will arise

All the precious words
You and I have exchanged
Have found their way
Into the heart of the universe
One day they'll pour on us
Like whispering rain
Helping us arise
From our roots again

[Jalaluddin Rumi, translated by Nader Khalili.]

When Ahmed was finished, there was a little silence, maybe contemplation and awe, or maybe wondering whether he was finished. He broke it by saying, "Where's the applaaaaaaaaaause?" lol lol He was the only solo act, and quite entertaining!

After the show, a couple of parents came over and complimented Moody, telling him what he'd done was really nice. "Work on his self confidence," the teacher joked. "We are," I replied. I told Moody, what he'd done was hard to do even for some adults. Maybe more important than the parents who were or weren't there, Moody's mates were full of joy and appreciation. Brandon, our neighbor, thought Moody was really funny. One girl, Libby, saw us leaving, and she ran back down the corridor, got real close to Moody and whispered, "I loved your performance!" Little Libby, too, did what some adults could not do. I am happy to let that moment of innocence usher in my Eid this year. Later today, the flag goes up over the garage door. No "ghiddeed" this year, might be a little tough to dry it. Life is not easy anywhere. But whether hard or easy, big or small, life would be tasteless without reason. That is the joy of our little Big Eid this year in buckeye land. Reason wins. How sweet it is! Happy Eid to all.

She thinks the world of her big brother! And she is still not too shy to kiss him.


  1. Eid Mubarak to you and the kids and I hope you have a fun holiday.


  2. again best wishes to all of you and well done to Moody :o)

  3. Thanks, PH. I always tell Sol that I could pass as one of the kids. I'm glad you think so too... Got it ;)

    Happy Eid to you too!

    Anglo, hope you and the family are having a wonderful one too, and thanks for the wishes.

  4. Hey, thanks guys, and I hope your Eid is going well. PH: Don't listen to Hannu, she doesn't look THAT much younger than me!

  5. "PH: Don't listen to Hannu, she doesn't look THAT much younger than me!"

    Ohhh she's your wife ..... didn't know that :P * teasing* ....

    "Got it ;)"

    I didn't quite get that; but since you replied to my best wishes thats enough for me :P.

    salaam and happy holidays

  6. A belated Eid Mabrouk - to the four of you !

  7. Thank you, Highlander, from the four of us! I hope yours was a good one, too. And happy new year to you and yours.

  8. I have mixed feeling about the church-state affair because I've grown up in a time and place where "God" and "party" were written as "god" and "the Party", respectively.
    I remember e.g. a literature lesson in 9th grade.
    Teacher: Tell us what is known about the personality of the medieval Bulgarian writer.
    Me: The medieval Bulgarian writer was very modest, in many cases opting to remain anonymous. He was religious...
    Teacher (interrupting): No, don't say he was religious! He had a religious view of life...
    Get it? If not, it's not your fault and not because of my bad English. I guess, the writers in question would be very much surprised to hear that they were "with religious view of life" but not religious. Like other writers of that time, they had written the G word all across their texts.
    Because I was an atheist, and not the first atheistic generation in the family, you could think that my too-secular education didn't do any harm to me. Eh well, it did. One must know the foundations of his culture even if he is to renounce them. And all cultures known to me in their foundations blend with religion. At age 10, I read Kestners's "Flying Classroom" and wondered, what a song is "Silent Night" mentioned there? I've later taken care to have it on a CD for my children.
    The needed knowledge about religion was partly acquired on my own too late with undue waste of time and efforts, partly not acquired up to this day.
    The forcibly imposed atheism also had another side-effect - instead of creating a very scientific view of life in the general public, it resulted in a society plagued by weird beliefs of the most primitive shaman type. Just another example that things, when brought to an extreme, tend to transgress into their exact antipodes.

  9. Hello, Maya, and happy new year!

    Forcing any ideology on people is bad, whether religious, political, or whatever. And yes, learning about religion is useful, even if for mere pathological purposes. I don't have any problem with state institutions teaching ABOUT religions (plural), but I have big problems with the state teaching religion and promoting/or demoting any particular faith. There is a big difference. The state has no role in teaching religion; that should be left to the private/personal sector within an impartial legal system. That means, for example, the state should interfere if a certain religious practice clashes with the secular laws (e.g. human sacrifice, polygamy, slavery, etc.)

    It seems that your development has been in a direction opposite to mine, at least opposite to the direction of my recent development. Far back, I too lived under an oppressive system that forced beliefs down people's throats, both religiously and politically. Libya, in fact, might be unique among its neighbors for its outward religious homogeneity, which of course made it quite uniquely prone to other monopolar dictatorships. "We are all X" is a common phrase that Libyans use to suppress voices of dissent, where X could be Arabs, Muslims, Sunna, Soldiers of The Revolution, you name it. I did not even learn about the Shi'a sect until I left Libya. And I knew very little about the Ibadite sect, which does have some subscribers in Libya, primarily among Libyan Berbers. Incidentally, Berbers in Libya are taught in school that they are "ancient Arabs," but they are not allowed to name their children with Berber names because those names are not "Arab." I suppose the logic is "Ancient Arab" is not "Arab," unless it is a Phoenician name used by Gaddafi for one of his children. You see, communist Bulgaria did not have the sole-distributor right of bullshit.

    As recently as the French Hijab issue, I thought the US model of state secularism was better than the French version because it allowed people more latitude. Now I am moving toward the opposite view. I don't think the state should be fighting religion as a personal or private enterprise, but it should do its utmost to remain neutral, impartial, and that I believe can only be achieved by forcing color-blindness on state institutions: not promoting and not alienating or disenfranchising any particular religion. The state also has an obligation to protect its minorities against hegemony of the majority, particulary young children. Rights in the modern civilized world are not left to mere vote counts and statistics. They are granted to all through the constitution, not through a wavering political process.

    By all means, teach your kids Silent Night or Sufi arts, on whatever level, be it pure art, cultural and historical heritage, or even faith and doctrine. The state should give you the right, but it must never enjoy the same latitude.