Khanversations

Rukhsana’s thoughts on her journey of life, writing and sometimes—when she dares—a bit of politics.
Options:

What an emotional whirlwind!

The last few days have been.

I feel completely and utterly wrung out, like I don’t want to do a single thing even when I’ve got tons of stuff to do.

My nephew was with me last week. He was en route to a new job overseas. What a wonderful time we had together! But that said, it’s exhausting!

Basically since Thursday it’s been non-stop, non-stop, and before that it was really busy too.

And yet things happened that I wanted to share.

The artist residency in the library has been going very well!

One of the ladies in the Your Life as a Picture Book, session said, quite rightly, that six hours was not enough! We’d need more time! So she’s going to be coming on Monday afternoons when I’m in residence and the other lady will retake the workshop when I run it for adults in the evenings in October, insha Allah.

The Get the Bully Off Your Back Workshop on Saturday afternoons has been eye-opening.

I designed an exercise to show the kids that they need to be gentle with themselves.

I got them all, including their parents to sit in a large circle. I gave them index cards and told them to write what they liked/admired most about their best friend, and then to write something that bothered or annoyed them about their best friend.

Then on the back of the card I asked them to write what their friend would say they admired most about them and then what bothered them about them.

They shared this with the group.

Then I asked them, “So how would you tell your best friend to fix what bothers you about them?”

One of the kids said how she’d gently tell her to do this, don’t do that, etc. etc.

I said, “Exactly! You wouldn’t say to your best friend: “You’re so disgusting! You’re like a big piece of dirt! Why do  you do so and so!” And they all started laughing.

Then I asked the kids who was the closest to them, who was the best friend they could ever have? Some said their parents. I said, “No, more than your parents. Who cares about you the very most?” One said, “My brother.” I said, “No, more than your brother or sister.”

And then they said, “Myself.”

That’s right.

“You should be your own best friend. Just like you would be gentle to tell your friend what they needed to change to fix themselves, you should be even more gentle on yourself.”

Be honest, but don’t ever beat yourself up.

And then I talked about how we all tend to do that. And I told them how just last night I had eaten some cookies I really didn’t want to eat, and I tell myself, “You’re so disgusting! You’re so dumb! Why’d you eat those cookies!? etc.”

You should have seen the little lights go on in their eyes.

Afterwards I gave the kids more index cards to write down a question for me that I hadn’t addressed already so I could address it in the third session. And the questions they came up with…Gee, it feels like I’ll need another three weeks to answer them! What they’re really trying to do is *understand* bullying. And isn’t that something society has been trying to do for millennia? To understand why some people choose to be cruel and inhuman to others?

I think this Saturday’s final session will be a long discussion.

And then, lo and behold, yesterday at the Telling Tales Festival, I meet the parents of an old bully of mine. They had been our neighbors. They heard I was going to be there and came up to me to say hello.

It was surreal.

They seemed so nice! And yet, at the end of the conversation the father says, “Oh yeah, we remember that your older sister and … used to get into it sometimes.”

That was the extent of their acknowledgement that their son used to pick on us so that we were scared to even go outside.

Wow!

And when I asked them if they were going to stay for my presentation, a non-committal, “Maybe for a bit”, and then they left.

It was fascinating!

So then I started doing my schtick, read from King for a Day but it was hard because my eyes couldn’t focus properly with the glasses with the progressive lenses I was wearing and I don’t know the story well enough to just ‘tell’ it like I usually do. And afterwards I did my Big Red Lollipop version

Oh what a hit!

Started with a small group! By the time I was done, there were close to eighty or even a hundred people listening! You know how the audience can trickle in! Well they ended up almost selling out of Big Red Lollipop, I think there were two left!

And the volunteer who introduced me told me that I had been fabulous, ‘the best presenter in the whole day’! Wow!

Got to meet a lady from who’d processed my application for a grant program. She told me she was so excited to receive my application. She loved my work!

And I thought wow, I had worked so hard to get that application in on time, diligently providing all the paperwork they asked for. She said it had been a hard decision.

And then later there was one of those schmooze events, where we presenters could hobnob with the sponsors and organizers of the festival and I got to meet two very interesting people who ran a marketing business called Muse Marketing. They had done a wonderful job promoting the festival! I mean the turnout topped 7000 people!

They were SO interesting! I told them about an author I’d met in Wisconsin who’d informed us that she’d paid $10,000 to a publicist to market her and all she’d gotten in return was an interview in a local paper.

And how I’d paid about $150 to an online firm and gotten a professional looking press release that was sent out to all kinds of media, and as a result I’d received a profile on CBC National and a piece in the Toronto Star as well as Arab News, etc.

We talked and I got to pick their brains!

I told them about my experience with hecklers at the L.A. SCBWI conference, and the gentleman told me that I should view the experience positively!

He said it was the ‘balance’. Here I’d received the accolades and the high of doing a wonderful job in my acceptance speech for the Golden Kite award and the negative anonymous email I received was balance.

It was the ‘bitter’ to the ‘sweet’.

And he said I should see it as an accomplishment! “You earned a heckler!”

I couldn’t help laughing! I’d never thought of it in that way before!

And one of the most interesting things the lady said to me was that I should market myself in terms of where I want to be, not where I am currently. And she asked me where I saw myself. I told her I want to be world famous, like J.K. Rowling or Neil Gaiman, and she said then that’s what I needed to focus myself on in terms of marketing.

I’m definitely working on it.

And she also said that I’d done well by changing my pitch to focus on the newsworthiness of the announcement. To the Canadian media I pitched it as I was the only Canadian woman on the New York Public Library list of 100 greatest children’s books in the last 100 years.

To South Asian media I pitched I was the only author of Pakistani origin, and to the Arab News I pitched I was the only Muslim on it.

All in all it was a fabulous experience!

It’s so lovely meeting new and interesting people!!!

Calgary on October 9-11

I can’t believe how busy I am!

My schedule as artist in library at Fairview is chugging along! Sometimes I feel like I barely have time to catch my breath before I need to begin a new program/project/presentation.

But it’s fun!

And the people I’m meeting might very well be teaching me more than I’m teaching them!

I’ve had to re-jig a bunch of things.

The ‘Get the Bully Off Your Back’ presentation that I normally do for teenagers, I’ve had to re-jig for 5-12 year olds and their parents.

It’s been quite the learning experience!

And the program I developed for seniors called Your Life as a Picture Book, where we work on distilling the life experiences of senior citizens into about a thousand poetic words… has been such a success that the participants are saying that the 6 hrs that’s been allotted to the program isn’t going to be enough.

They’re doing some remarkable writing! And I’m not sure if we’re going to be able to stick to a thousand word limit, but hey, nobody said we had to be rigid in that regard!

I just submitted a blog for the Toronto Public Library for that program and I’ll post a link as soon as it’s up!

But on to Calgary.

I’m coming in early morning on Thursday October 9th, so if any schools in Calgary are interested in hosting me for presentations…I’m available!

I’ll be doing presentations at two libraries in Calgary, so hey, if you’re in the area, feel free to join me!

Haven’t been out west for a while! It’ll be fun insha Allah.

Tomorrow morning I’m going down to Rockton, Ontario for the Telling Tales festival that looks like a great deal of fun! I’ll be reading from King for a Day.

Saddletowne Library

Friday, October 10

10:00 -11:00 am

Shaganappi Library

Friday, October 10

1:30-2:30 pm

When Praise overwhelms…

What do you do when you get such a nice compliment that it kind of floors you?

I spend a lot of time reminding myself to not take myself so darn seriously! And I am really fortunate that I have a family who keeps me grounded. I don’t want to ever become one of those ‘la dee da’ types!

But when something you’ve been working and working towards actually happens…what do you do?

For years I wanted to basically get to the point where I developed an audience. Where by word of mouth people would come to see me, and this seems to be exactly what happened in India last November, when I was fortunate enough to tour for my Indian publisher Duckbill, who’d bought the rights to Wanting Mor.

The interesting thing about that Indian tour of Delhi, Bangalore, Amritsar and Pune, was that I could not do my normal Wanting Mor presentation. I’d developed a powerpoint! And then the presentations were taking place in parks, with trees and grass!

But that’s where being a storyteller really comes in handy! I improvised, changed the whole presentation so it was me storytelling how I’d come to write Wanting Mor and funny thing is it worked out to be better, WAY better, than the powerpoint, and I’ve changed the presentation ever since.

Well… this is what Duckbill said about me recently:

We had never quite believed the Julius Caesar came-saw-conquered thing until we saw Rukhsana Khan in action. Julius Caesar, of course, had the support of a rather large army, while Rukhsana was armed only with her warmth, her charm and her stories.

At her first event in India, in Bookaroo last year, a substantial crowd gathered. People event hopping stopped to look and stayed till the end. At the second event, the same people were back and they came with their friends, families and neighbours. By the third event, the buzz had started long before the event did.

Rukhsana tells her stories with such conviction and such passion that to listen to her is to love her, and to feel that we too can take on whatever the world throws our way and come out stronger and happier.

Wow! Just wow!

It’s a bit overwhelming.

Kind of makes me wonder how I’m going to live up to such kind words!

On another note, today I started my first workshop at Fairview Public library for my residency. It was a workshop I called Seniors: Your Life As a Picture Book. And I was very dejected to find out that only one person had signed up for it.

One person!

I wasn’t sure how to proceed, so I contacted the librarians and she said we’d go ahead with the first session and see how it went, perhaps merge it into another workshop I was doing along the same lines for Adults in the evenings.

Well, two people showed up! Two very very dedicated people and I thought the two hours would drag, but not at all!

It was lovely!

And the funny thing was, while I was conducting the workshop, getting them to write out their thoughts about their births and their lives so far, looking for themes and meaning, I couldn’t help thinking “Gee, if I were them, I’d LOVE this!” and the older lady said to me, “We’re so fortunate, we get such individual attention!” And I have to agree.

They loved it and are firmly committed to coming for the other two sessions on Thursdays!

So up and down, these things happen.

But still, I feel fortunate.

Apologies for the infrequency of my blog posts.

This summer has been beyond hectic! And with all the work I’ve been doing, both writing, updating websites, preparing for conferences/workshops and preparing for Artist in Library residency that started today, well…things have been crazy. And blogging has not been a priority.

I’m doing a workshop at Fairview Public Library for Senior citizens on September 4th, 11th and 18th from 2-4 pm called Your Life As a Picture Book. I’m planning on helping people to distill the essence of their life story into a 32 page picture book text that they can illustrate and leave as a sort of legacy for their families.

I’m also conducting workshops for teens from 2-3 pm, on Saturdays September 6th, 13th and 20th called Get the Bully Off Your Back. If you know anyone interested in these programs urge them to sign up!

And I’ll be doing some Storytelling for Children at Fairview Public Library, Saturdays from 11 am – 12 pm.

Oh! And I’ll be ‘resident‘ in Fairview Public Library on most Mondays from 4 – 5 pm from September to December, so if you have a project you want to consult me about, do come and see me!!!

I’ve been thinking a lot about things I’ve wanted to post, composing the blog entries in my mind to the point where I actually thought I had posted them, and then realized nope, I haven’t. They’re stuck in my head.

I’ve had some pretty interesting experiences too over the summer.

The trip to Wisconsin was quite intense! I’m still digesting it.

When I meet people there’s always the original impression of them, and then later, it’s like I start to pick apart more subtle observations and cues. Things they said and did at the time that didn’t strike me as odd, but with the passage of time, really stand out to me.

It’s part of the instinct I’ve developed.

A self-preservation instinct, where I definitely give people the benefit of the doubt, but I also pay close attention to the cues they send out.

Way back I attended a play in Stratford by George Bernard Shaw called Caesar and Cleopatra. I had thought it was Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar but no, it was a completely different play and it was infused with Shaw’s particular brand of wit.

I love George Bernard Shaw! I consider him to be brilliant.

He’s probably most famous for his play Pygmalion that was later turned into the fabulous My Fair Lady with Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison playing professor Higgins.

But there’s a line in Caesar and Cleopatra that is very telling! It sticks out to me even now as I type this. It’s where Julius Caesar, an elderly highly successful general, is sitting contemplating something or another and he says how  you should allow people to talk, as they talk they will reveal themselves.

And it’s so true.

I know it’s true of myself as I talk a lot! Often too much!

And I’ve learned to be quiet and let people talk and reveal themselves.

Thing is, this business is so prone to what might appear to be ‘luck’. Who knows why one person’s story gets big and another person’s (who’s just as good) languishes?

Personally I don’t think luck has anything to do with it. I think it’s all a part of one’s fate, but that’s another story.

So when some people’s careers take off in a meteoric rise, I’ve gotten to the point where I can be happy for them. Rarely do I ever feel jealousy, and when I do I tell myself firmly to ‘knock it off, Rukhsana’ and get back to work. God gives to whom He pleases, and keep working towards what I want.

But one thing I’ve learned over the years is that there are many people who haven’t reached that point and are intensely jealous.

The greater your profile, the more you’re prone to envy and malice. So you do have to be careful out there. You have to watch your back before someone sticks a proverbial knife between your shoulder blades.

And I’m acutely aware of the fact that I seem to have gotten to a point where some people are taking note of me.

I don’t ever want to get bitter or paranoid.

And I don’t ever want to stop helping others in realizing their dreams as well!

But I’m a LOT more guarded than I used to be, and yes, I do watch and listen closely to what people are saying, and how they’re saying it.

It’s only good sense.

While I was in Wisconsin, I took my ereader with me. It’s a clunky thing, already obsolete but it has a bunch of free books on there and I found Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw and I read it.

There’s a black and white version of the movie that is a precursor to My Fair Lady that is quite interesting too. I’ve seen it and quite enjoyed it. It doesn’t have the songs of course! But nonetheless the dialogue sparkles!

Well this is the version that I read, and it was excellent.

And it had a foreward that was fascinating, written by Shaw himself, and it said that his contemporaries vowed that art and theater should never be didactic and he, Shaw, was of the opinion that theater should never be anything else!

And interestingly enough, it’s the didacticism of Pygmalion that is probably the most fascinating aspect of the story!

I know didacticism has garnered a bad rep over the years but really didactic just means ‘educational’. It basically teaches you something. It’s intended to convey instruction as well as entertainment.

And the aspects of language in Pygmalion are fascinating, and they hold up extremely well over time! Mind you, Shaw also created some wonderful characters in Professor Higgins and Liza Doolittle!

Reading it on the page is an extremely interesting experience!

He wrote the movie of course, and won an Oscar along the way.

But…this I didn’t know! At the end of Pygmalion, he says what happens to Liza and Professor Higgins, and the ending Shaw had in mind was horrendous!

It actually reminded me of the ‘extra’ chapter that is included in The Princess Bride by William Goldman at the end. Goldman was right not to finish the sequel of what happened to Buttercup and Westley.

The movie ending was superb! Exactly right!

These two characters are locked in a battle that neither will ever win. And it will never end satisfyingly for the viewer. It just can’t. So yes, the best ending is just Liza in the doorway with the slippers.

I’m thinking that Shaw got stuck with what he knew of human nature in making the ending in Pygmalion too true to reality. Thank heavens he had the sense to discard all his philosophizing for the movie.

And same with Goldman!

Last Saturday I was presenting at a one day workshop at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, called Muslim Journeys.

It was a great opportunity and I had a wonderful time!

It was well attended by educators from all over Wisconsin and even other states nearby! And one of the ladies exclaimed to me afterwards that she could have listened to me all day! “It could have been the Rukhsana show!” And then when I told her that I’d be presenting at the NCTE conference in Washington D.C. this fall, and I asked her if she was going to be there, she replied, “I hadn’t planned on going, but now I think I will.”

And while I was there, I purchased a number of books I’d heard of through the book vendor.

I got Traveling Man: The Journey of Ibn Battuta by James Rumsford, which was pretty good. I had actually seen a documentary at the Omnimax at the Ontario Science Centre so I already knew a fair amount about the famous Muslim traveler.

And I picked up Ayat Jamilah and I’m really enjoying that! It’s quite a nice hefty book, with a LOT of resources in it!

And I picked up The Genius of Islam by Brn Barnard, even though the title made me cringe.

And I immediately asked myself, “Why should such a title make me cringe?” “Don’t I think Islam is genius???”

And the answer is of course! I wouldn’t be Muslim if I didn’t!

But hearing a non-Muslim say that feels weird. And I thought, they shouldn’t have called the book that!

I thought a lot of non-Muslims would find the title too confrontational, too intimidating. I mean would I be inclined to pick up a book called “The Genius of Christianity”?

Wouldn’t I assume the book would be proselytizing in nature?

No one wants to be converted for goodness sakes!

It looked like an interesting book, so I went ahead and bought it, thinking I should add it to my Muslim Booklist.

And then as I was reading it, I thought, uh huh, this Bryn Barnard has made the classic mistake! The same mistake that Irshad Manji made when she wrote The Trouble with Islam.

She’s equated Islam with Muslims.

Don’t people get it? Islam is a religion, it is an ideology filled with principles and doctrines to live your life by. In and of itself, it cannot DO anything!

The basic belief lies in the creed: There is no god but God and Muhammad is His messenger.

It’s Muslims that do things, both good and bad.

So this book The Genius of Islam isn’t really about Islam at all, but rather about how Muslims were able to launch a lot of the scientific and basic things we take for granted today.

The book isn’t about ‘the genius of Islam’ at all! It’s about the genius of Muslims! And it should have been called that! There is a slight, very slight reference to the fact that Islam led to the Arabian people and the Muslims searching for knowledge because the Prophet (peace be upon him) urged his followers to pursue knowledge even if it meant going all the way to China, but for the most part, it’s about what Muslims have done.

The funny thing is though, when I was searching for the accuracy of the title, I came across the subtitle of The Genius of Islam, and it reads: How Muslims Made the Modern World and isn’t it funny but I didn’t even notice the subtitle until writing this blog post even though I bought the book and it is right there!

I’m convinced that it should just have been called How Muslims Made the Modern World, because that’s what it’s about! And by making the title less ‘controversial’ maybe more people would pick it up.

Thing is I already knew all this stuff. And the last section where he talks about how the West has tried to forget the contributions of Muslims, I think should have been at the beginning of the book!

Oh well. It’s definitely a worthwhile book and it’s great to see that the contributions of Muslims to modern civilization is finally being acknowledged, even in some small way.

I’ll definitely be adding this book to my Muslim booklist.

Here’s Bryn Barnard talking about it:

There are apparently a number of other videos you can watch.

 

 

The art of giving gifts…

Just warning  you, this will be a rambling post.

One of my nieces (actually she’s my husband’s cousin’s daughter) just called me this afternoon, out of the blue, and excitedly thanked me for the Eid gift. She said she almost had tears in her eyes she was so happy with what I’d given her!

This is kind of unusual.

I saw her on Eid day, two weeks ago, and I handed her gift bag full of books, and she kissed my cheek like she usually does and said thanks and that’s usually more than enough.

She’s a college girl, but I’ve always felt very close to her since I used to babysit her, and she’d be embarrassed to hear me say I even helped toilet train her!!! Her and her cousin, although I quit babysitting by the time her little sister was born. (Actually not so little any more! They both tower over me!)

But she felt the need to actually call me and thank me, and it was because I had somehow, intuitively, given her EXACTLY what she wanted!

She was yearning to read To Kill a Mockingbird and yup, there was a copy of that as well as Maya Angelou’s I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings.

Ever since they were young I would give them books for Eid.

But one year when they were still little, the blank look on their faces discouraged me so the next year I got them something else. But it was their parents who told me, “No, please. Give them the books.”

I said, “But they look so disappointed on Eid day when they open it.”

But my husband’s cousin said, “But when they take a look at them later, they love them!”

So I continued to give them books. And especially this niece, she’s a huge reader! She has fallen in love with many of my choices!

I was the one who got her Mara, Daughter of the Nile. After that she fell in love with ancient Egypt.

Sometimes I wonder if she and the others would even read very much at all if it weren’t for the thought I’d taken into choosing the exact right book to give them.

They were always books I had read, and kind of like when I think of the personality of a character in my novels, I’d think of their personalities and choose the books accordingly, and apparently, Allahu alim, but it seems I hit the mark many times!

Mind you, she has yet to read the copies of No Great Mischief by Alistair Macleod, and Watership Down  I gave her. I’m almost to the point of nagging her to reassure her they’re worth her time!

I only just got my son to finally read Watership Down. Can’t wait till he finishes it so we can talk about it!

The thing about No Great Mischief is that it’s actually signed by the author! I met him in Vancouver, bought the book because it was supposed to be his best, had won some huge Dublin award, and I absolutely loved it, even though it’s not my typical cup of tea!

It’s one of those books that is just so beautifully written, it’s like every word has a taste that lingers on your tongue, and makes you savor! And it’s even more special because it’s signed, and Alistair Macleod died not long ago.

As soon as I gave it to her, I thought, oh geez, now I need to buy another copy! I need another one for my own bookshelf!

Yeah, so I’m kind of the book aunt. And every year I’ve been giving the kids in the family books. And the funny thing is, even the ones who are not great readers, have of their own volition, come up to me and thanked me for the books!

That surprised me!

At least five of them have! Wow! And I could tell they really meant it because of the surprised looks on their parents’ faces. They were definitely not set up to do that!

Makes me feel really really good!

Like the time I went to visit a friend in Saudi Arabia, and I happened to take a package of peanut M&M’s along as a gift (can’t go empty-handed) and the friend’s husband’s face just lit up in a HUGE grin! And she turned to me and said, “How did you know that these are my husband’s favorite candy???”

I didn’t. But oh, the pleasure I felt in giving him something he’d savor with every sip of his tea (he’d crunch peanut M&M’s with a cup of tea) was probably way more than the pleasure he’d get in enjoying them.

It just feels so good to give someone a gift like that!!!

And doubly so when it comes to books and young people!

And there’s even a bit of fate involved, as in that kid was meant to receive that book at that moment!

On another completely unrelated note, I finally finished my book talk/tutorial for King for a Day

Ta Da! Here it is:

They’re getting a LOT easier!

 

Have to laugh at myself here.

I should be working on the teacher guide for King for a Day, but instead, I’m writing about how I’m procrastinating on it.

Got me to thinking of that hadith that I love so much. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “Make use of five things before five things overtake  you: Your youth before you become old, your leisure before you become busy, your health before you become sick, your wealth before you become poor and your life before you die.” (I’m paraphrasing.)

Whenever I procrastinate I think of this hadith.

And yet, I’m still feeling so tired.

After Eid I had an incredible let down of energy.

Just wanted to stay in bed and sleep and sleep and sleep.

Part of it was because I couldn’t face all the news in Gaza. There’s nothing like seeing the torn up bodies of little children and babies being bombed to make you want to hide your head and cry.

Tears come to my eyes just thinking of it.

And I can’t seem to get out of my head this article I read by this journalist at the Guardian or something, who said to stop with the graphic pictures of dead children already, that we didn’t need to see them, and yet, I heartily disagree.

I think we DO need to see them!

Otherwise it’s human nature to just continue on with our lives like everything is hunky dory.

I feel like we’re in some kind of dystopian fantasy, only it’s reality, and we live in a land of privilege and the have nots are knocking at the door!

And I kind of feel that sort of helpless sadness I felt when my sister died.

Like I’m just too emotional to write anything!

I have time!

I have leisure right now. Well sort of, in that I’m not as busy as I usually am, despite this teacher guide I have to get finished.

So why can’t I get more writing done???

*sigh*

And to top it all off, I’ve been sharing a lot of the information I’ve been gleaning on Gaza, on Facebook, and it’s made me wonder if I’m not making enemies, and then I’m thinking, but wait a minute! Who the heck am I kidding?

Wouldn’t it be disingenuous NOT to share that information? Not to at least speak out about it when it bothers me so much?

And yet it makes good business sense not to express outrage.

But I’m beyond all that. I’ve already expressed it, and I figure let the chips fall where they will. I think a lot of people feel the same way about Gaza.

 

They’re just smarter and better at keeping their mouths shut.

And I do need to remember the bigger picture, the role that I’m trying to play in this world.

First and foremost I’m trying to write really good stories! The kind I’d have curled up with and loved as a kid.

But more, I’m trying to DO something with my stories.

Remember that for countries to participate in the wholesale slaughter of other people, they have to engage in a propaganda war to dehumanize them. To consider them ‘other’.

We don’t slaughter people we ‘like’ and ‘understand’. We talk to them and we negotiate.

I’ve always stated my aim from the start. It’s to tell stories that build bridges of understanding between cultures.

Basically to humanize Muslims in the hopes that it will be harder for entities to slaughter us.

But really it just comes down to wanting to tell some really good stories.

But anyways, getting back to the teacher guide… I will finish it today insha Allah.

I’ve been invited to a big event at the University of Wisconsin-Madison on August 16th called Muslim Journeys and the Co-operative Children’s Book Centre has a listserve of about 2000 librarians and educators who will be discussing my book King for a Day, so I’m getting the teacher guide ready for that too.

Recently read an article in the UK’s Guardian that said that most writers have had their incomes slashed and are struggling. Then saw a piece saying it was just as bad in North America.

And I realized how really fortunate I am that I’m not in that situation. I have so much work that I’m feeling bogged down by it!

For the last several days I’ve been having a hard time remembering what season we’re in!

Usually summer is a lull for me, but this year that hasn’t been the case at all! What with Muslimfest (which was HUGE by the way) and this Wisconsin trip and another Muslim festival the week after…it’s been a VERY busy summer!

Well you know what they say? You either have money or you have time.

Let’s just say that right now, alhamdu lillah, there’s little time!

Now, really, to get back to that teacher guide!

Gaza under fire, Eid, and Muslimfest…

What a time it’s been!

Part of me just wants to curl up into a ball and cry over what’s happening in Gaza!

And yet with the end of Ramadan, and the beginning of Eid, and the big party I had planned, and all the presents and the food and the celebrating, that just wasn’t possible.

Just doing something simple, like when I was filling up the gas tank, and the thought occurred to me about how simple a task this is, how easy, and although, yes, gas is expensive, I don’t have to worry about being bombed while I’m doing such a simple task!

And just washing the dishes, and having the hot water running, and knowing it’s so clean and I could drink it straight from the tap without worry of being poisoned, and knowing that the people in Gaza don’t even have access to clean water! And there are so many of them and they’re suffering so badly!!!!

Oh…the things we take for granted!

May God have mercy on them! And may He have mercy on all those being oppressed in Gaza, in Israel and the West Bank, in Egypt and Syria and Iraq and Myanmar and China! And may He punish all the horrible oppressors! Including the Syrian government of Assad, including the Egyptian government of Sisi, and including the group ISIS who are doing their own oppression in the name of Islam in Iraq!!!

Oh it breaks my heart!

And as if that were the only oppression in the world!!!

No, my prayers go out to all those who are being oppressed!

And a curse on all the oppressors and aggressors!!!

We hosted our big Eid party just this last Saturday and I had all my kids and all their kids and my niece and my parents over, and there was LOTS of food!

And LOTS of presents!

And my niece made these loot bags that totally upstaged the presents we had bought for the kids!

Oh it was fun!

And then yesterday was Muslimfest, a big festival held at Mississauga City Hall, where I was invited to do some storytelling.

I was on one of those BIG stages! And it’s a little daunting, I must say.

And Muslim audiences are notoriously undemonstrative!

It is so hard to tell stories to a group that gives you little to no feedback.

I knew I hadn’t offended them. They didn’t leave or anything, but they give very little feedback and as a result you have to expend more and more energy…

It’s hard.

I was absolutely exhausted by the end of it.

And now today, I can focus on laundry and cleaning up. I can wash all the toddler finger prints off the patio door.

It feels good to be getting back to normal.

Alhamdu lillah, I feel settled.

The storytelling went very well, despite the lack of reaction.

And I will keep on praying for the victims of Gaza, Syria, Myanmar, etc.

 

So this year I went back to my favourite version of the Quran–the A. Yusuf Ali translation. It’s the translation I grew up with, with the Arabic Quran (the actual Quran is in Arabic–the English is always a translation!) on the right side of the page and the English translation with its attempts at Olde English, on the left.

Between the ages of I don’t know, six or seven and about twelve, my father, myself and my older sister went through the entire translation about three times.

Imagine a squirmy little kid, who’d rather being doing ANYTHING else, suffering through the ‘thee’s and thou’s, the couldn’sts and wouldn’sts of very bad Shakespearean English! Just imagine how hard that would be!

And yet we did it. We endured, and I even ended up listening to a lot of it because if I didn’t, if my Dad caught us not listening, if we couldn’t answer his sudden, “What did I just read?” ambush question, then we’d get a good hard slap.

Oh sure, my sister and I played wrestling footsies under the table where we thought he couldn’t see us (turned out he did see us, he just overlooked it), but we actually benefited from the reading of the scripture.

It left a mark on both of us.

Wrote on the slate of who we were, so to speak, and so I did the same with my own children as they were growing up. But not to the same degree.

And every year I try to read the whole Quran in Ramadan and it reboots me.

The negative influences of mainstream culture kind of get sloughed off, like dead skin cells with a loofah sponge, and I return to my roots. Recharge my soul, replenish my faith, that sort of thing.

But a funny thing happened when I began reading it this Ramadan.

I kept hearing parody as I was reading the verses.

Now the thing about Ramadan is that the devils are supposed to be locked up. Everyone really does have a devil assigned to them to tempt them, but during Ramadan, they’re chained up. Can’t say a word.

Imagine trying to fast with the whispers of temptations abounding??? It would be a LOT harder!

But the fact that the devil’s chained is both a good and bad thing. Good because it makes it easier to worship God, in fact you’ll even find some Muslims who only practice Islam during Ramadan, but it’s bad because you can no longer blame any distractions during the prayer, or in this case, any comedic whisperings on any sort of devil.

It’s all you.

It was really quite disturbing!

Here I was reading the translation of the words of God Himself, and yet there was a priggish little voice at the back of my mind making stupid comments about the melodrama of the Olde English.

Yes, now that I think of it, I was really reacting to the melodrama of the unfortunate translation. How it was trying too hard to sound scripturely!

But then A. Yusuf Ali was originally from India, living in Britain at the time that he wrote his translation, and he probably suffered from a supersized colonial inferiority complex.

Honestly the best reason I’d read his translation over others was because of the index. Most of the others didn’t have indexes where you could find particular verses that easily.

Anyway, after being repeatedly disturbed by the phenomenon, of this parody going on inside my head, I realized where it was coming from. Too much comedy.

And I started to contemplate how our society has changed a LOT over the years, and how comedy and farce has infected almost every aspect of our life to the point that even our newscasts vie with Stephen Colbert to toss out one-liners and dwell on frivolous news stories.

We’ve lost our sense of gravitas.

This Ramadan I re-acquired my sense of gravitas.

I ignored the little parody quips, and eventually they faded away, and I was able to immerse myself in the beauty of the words of the Quran.

I remember hearing from some people who read the Quran that they found it very confusing.

And I thought, ‘really?’

I don’t think it’s confusing at all. I mean sure there are parts that are symbolic and you can’t quite figure them out, but most of the Quran is very plain and basic verses.

There’s a LOT of warning of hell fire as a punishment!

I can’t count the number of verses I’ve read where God says, “If you could only see the unbelievers, when they see the punishment and that which they were wont to deny…”

shudder

And there are as many beautiful descriptions of heaven.

Having grown up in the ’60′s and ’70′s I still remember the Bible stories that the teachers would read to us in school.

This was back when they still infused public school with religious references.

I remember hearing the story of the tower of Babel, and how apparently God got ‘nervous’, asthaghfirullah! That mankind was getting higher so He created the languages so that they couldn’t understand one another when they asked for a hammer or a nail, so they couldn’t build the tower higher.

And I remember even as a kid thinking, ‘Wait a minute! If God is All powerful, why is He ‘scared’?” asthaghfirullah!

And as I grew, and I read bits and pieces here and there, and heard references from preachers talking, they always spoke of the devil as a powerful being who’d ‘gotten away’ from God.

As if God was always trying hard to contain the devil. Again, asthaghfirullah!

You just get such a different feel of God in the Bible.

For those who find the Quran confusing, it’s because it doesn’t follow any sort of chronology. Pretty much all the same prophets that are mentioned in the Bible are mentioned in the Quran. There are twenty-five prophets of God mentioned in the Quran and as Muslims we have to believe in all of them.

The five greatest prophets of God are considered: Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad (peace be upon them).

But I think the biggest difference between the Quran and the Bible is perspective!

The Quran is written from God’s perspective.

It doesn’t contain the ‘salacious details’ that the Bible contains.

Not till I was full grown and watching a youtube video had I even heard the story of King David (one of the prophets of God) coveting another man’s wife and sending the man into the front line of battle so he could be killed. What a despicable thing to do.

I actually heard the story from a former Christian youth minister here: (the King David segment of the story go to around 16:30 in the video)

He’s got an amazing story! I particularly found it fascinating his explanation of why it was so important that the messiah could not be killed/crucified.

Anyway, I was thinking of Joshua Evans when I came across a particular verse in the Quran that had always puzzled me. It was a reference to David. He was in his private chambers and all of a sudden two men breached the walls and King David became very scared.

So the men approached him to settle a difference between them and he said to King David, here’s my brother he has 99 ewes and I only have one, but he says I should give him mine too.

And King David started espousing on injustice and how wrong it was to take someone else’s property and right before his eyes, the two men vanished and he realized his error, and he appealed to God to forgive him his transgressions.

Maybe A. Yusuf Ali didn’t know about this incident in the Bible. Because when I finished reading it this time, having seen Joshua Evans’ video I suspect (I’m no scholar) but I strongly suspect that the ewe story was a reference to that very incident with David and Bathsheba.

Oh it was a moment when I realized that!

Anyway, you’ll find that the Quran does contain stories of the prophets, but it’s very different from the Bible.

I’m almost done reading the Quran.

There’s only about four days left of Ramadan, yup, it flew right by! Just like I knew it would.

But this year my enjoyment of it was marred by all the turmoil going on in the world.

I was washing the pots from supper and thinking how fortunate we are even to have running water! How fortunate to have peace, and a functioning country…

My heart breaks for the people of Myanmar, Syria, Egypt and of course Gaza! May God have mercy on all of them!

And yet, one of the things that has really comforted in this Ramadan’s reading of the Quran is the ‘confidence’. That God will hold to account all those who commit injustice.

It comforts me even as it scares me.

I think if I didn’t believe so strongly that one day God will hold us all to account for everything we’ve done, how on the day of Judgment He will reward the good and punish the evil-doers, I think I’d go insane.

And yet the punishments described…horrendous!

And yet repeatedly God says that on that day no injustice will He do to any one.

I pray that God saves me, my family, and all those I love, from such penalties!

Peace to you all.

Looking forward to Eid.

 

 

 

Into the stretch…

We’re well into the last ten days of Ramadan, more like the last week of it in fact, and yup, I’m wondering where the month went!

It flew right by!

And now the work in earnest begins.

Nobody knows the importance of tradition and celebrating your festivals as much as a kid growing up poor without Christmas.

I hated coming back from the Christmas holidays because I’d get regaled with a list of all the toys the other kids got for Christmas, and inevitably they’d ask me, “What did you get?” And I’d reply in a monotone, “We don’t celebrate Christmas.”

And then when Eid came around, and I finally did get a gift (we didn’t really do birthdays) it was ever only ‘one’ gift. Growing up I never had the experience of being deluged with gifts!

Never even had the experience of unwrapping a ‘pretty’ gift. My parents wrapped the one gift we received in newspaper. “What does it matter? You’re going to rip it anyway.”

And I could hardly brag about one gift to the kids at school.

I think any kid does need to have bragging rights, or else, the parents need to be proactive and speak to the kids fervently about how material possessions don’t indicate the worth of a person.

My father’s motto growing up was, “Poverty is my pride.” He claimed he was quoting the Prophet (peace be upon him) but I have, to this day, never found such a quote.

Instead of showering stuff on us, my parents spent a LOT of time with us, telling us stories of their growing up, and morality tales that would be considered ‘old fashioned’ these days, but they softened our hearts and yes, they taught us morals.

And every day my father would read us a section of Quran. He forced us to sit there as he painstakingly read it in English, and my mother taught us to read it in Arabic.

I was always a clunky Arabic reader. Still am.

Always got frustrated when you were supposed to join a letter (actually it was a shamsi letter–long story, it’s about the rules of reading the Quran)  to the next one on the next line, but you didn’t figure that out till you got to the next line.

But ever since I took a few preliminary courses on Arabic as a language and learned some of the basics of Arabic grammar (like the pronouns are attached to the subject! So cool!) I find that when I’m reading Quranic Arabic now I can actually pick out references and words and figure out what’s being referred to even before I access the translation.

I can even do this while listening to the recitation! Which is also cool! And gives you a totally different feel for the poetry of the Quran.

I’m trying to finish reading the entire Quran by the end of Ramadan, and I have a long way to go.

Plus I’m starting to make preparations for Eid.

Imagine cooking up a storm while you can’t taste or eat anything and that pretty much sums up the preparations for Eid.

I’ve already bought most of the gifts. I’m still in the process of assessing some of the things I bought and I need to wrap them, although most of it is done.

But now comes the baking!

Chocolate cake with mocha icing, pineapple tarts, LOADS AND LOADS of pineapple tarts! Pecan bars (my mother in law’s favourites!) lemon squares, chocolate chip cookies (to send to my nephew who’s stranded in Minneapolis).

And then to put a lot of these goodies into packages for our neighbors and some close family members.

The funny thing is I’ve learned that some mothers just don’t bother.

And I can’t imagine.

How do you not cook and bake up a storm for Eid?

Without the work involved, I think festivals just wouldn’t be that special.

It’s like with a newborn baby, I’m sure part of the bonding process involves how very difficult it is to take care of a newborn!

When you have to work so hard that first smile, the first baby giggle, is just such a HUGE payoff!

And same when the kids come downstairs sniffing the air because it’s filled with the aroma of pineapple jam bubbling on the stove!

So that my daughters say that it’s the SMELL of Eid!

And even as I’m rolling the pastry for every single pineapple tart, and dobbing the teaspoon of jam in the middle, I’m thinking of how happy the people who I’ll be giving them to, will be.

How it’s a neighborly thing to do, share some of our festivities with them.

And I also think of God, whom I’m trying to please with this bit of culinary good will, and the baking becomes a form of worship, believe it or not.

But tonight I got a sort of gift of my own.

It came in the form of an email from a student who apparently saw my presentation over ten years ago.

This was at Nelson Mandela Park Public School.

For those who are not familiar with this school, it’s in Regent Park, and if the name of that notorious area of Toronto doesn’t ring a bell, just think of one of the poorest schools in one of the biggest public housing projects in North America.

When I first started out I’d often go mostly to the poor schools because these schools had large Muslim populations. By the way, Regent Park has turned around as a community.

A lot of the biggest slum highrises have been torn down and there’s been so much investment into the community that it’s become one of the most vibrant communities in Toronto.

There is still a LOT of crime and drugs, though, and when I went there, it was way before it turned around into a sort of yuppie haven.

I remember the presentation to the grade eight class at Nelson Mandela Park very well!

I went in and did my Dahling if You Luv Me Would You Please Please Smile presentation.

Which contains kind of early versions of my Wanting Mor presentation and includes themes of suicide and racism.

Some of the kids who came in were huge and scary! These were black gangster type of boys with doo-rags on their heads and their jeans swung low back in the style of the day.

They dipped in a strange sort of stride as they walked in and sat down, and I thought how I wouldn’t want to meet them in a dark alley.

But I started talking about my experiences and by the end of it, they were pumping their fists in the air, ‘whooping’ for me, and some of the biggest scariest of them even came up to me afterwards and asked me to sign the jerseys they were wearing. (I’d never heard of that till then.)

I met some of the teachers who’d been there in the presentation at other schools later and they remembered me. One of them even told me that I’d been VERY good! I told her thanks. And then she looked at me like I didn’t get it and said as much. “No, you don’t get it. Those same kids had made other presenters cry!”

And then I went cold.

I thought wow!

Well, last night I received this email from a Muslim girl named Namarig who’d been in the audience. She gave me permission to share it publicly:

Assalama laikum,

 I remember I was in grade 8 when you came to my class at Nelson Mandela Park Public Schol. I was so proud and so inspired to see a muslim woman sitting there, reading us a book. I looked around and felt that I can be something one day.

 Years later (I cannot believe how long it’s been) I am a registered nurse working with the homeless population.

 JazakeAllahu khair! I don’t think you will ever realize how significant it is to meet you as a child.

 

Subhan Allah!

You can’t imagine what it feels like to receive such an email! Especially when you’ve always wanted to work with the homeless and needy and you do give charity but always felt that your talents were better served as a writer–and yet you always felt guilty not doing more hands on work with the vulnerable.

To think that I inspired this girl to go and do this kind of work!!!

Just wow! Subhan Allah!

Because I just know that the way God tallies things, I’m going to get rewarded, even just a little, for any good that I inspired her to do!

So yup! I’m hearing ‘kaching, kaching’ in my cash register of good deeds for the hereafter!

And what with all the Quran I’m reading and all the goodies I’m baking and all the duas I’m making for those unfortunate in Gaza and Egypt and Syria and Myanmar and Ukraine, and everywhere else in the world where there is turmoil, bloodshed and strife (I have to keep my duas open that way for fear of leaving anyone out!) my heart is feeling pretty full!

Like the joy is swelling up like a tide or something!

The bad people cannot thwart the plan of God!

They keep trying but they just can’t.

God is all powerful! And justice will be served in this world or in the next.

God did not create us for amusement, but to serve Him and we will all, whether we like it or not, whether we even believe in Him or not, we will all be accountable on the day of Judgment!

And this Ramadan has helped, insha Allah, bring me closer than ever to Him.