Disappearing Acts

“The magician seemed to promise that something torn to bits might be mended without a seam, that what had vanished might reappear, that a scattered handful of doves or dust might be reunited by a word, that a paper rose consumed by fire could be made to bloom from a pile of ash. But everyone knew this was only an illusion. The true magic of this broken world lay in the ability of the things it contained to vanish, to become so thoroughly lost, that they might never have existed in the first place.”

-Michael Chabon in The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay


Cliff Notes for Chapter 1 of “What is Islam?” by Shahab Ahmed

Six Questions that make us think about Unity in the face of outright contradiction

  1. What is Islamic about Islamic philosophy? pp 10-19
    1. “”As for Divinely-Prescribed Law (al-shara), one general principle is to be admitted, which is that the Prescribed Law and doctrines (al-milal) that are brought forth upon the tongue of the Prophet are aimed at addressing the masses as a whole. Now, it is obvious that the Realization-of-Truth (al-tahqiq)…cannot be communicated to the multitude…Upon my life, if God the Exalted did charge a Messenger that he should communicate the Real-Truths (al-haqa’iq) of these matters to the masses with their dull natures and with their perceptions tied down to pure sensibilities, and then constrained him to pursue relentlessly and successfully the task of bringing faith and salvation to the multitudes…then He has certainly laid upon him a duty incapable of fulfillment by any man! …Prescribed Laws (al-shara’i) are intended to address the multitude in terms intelligible to them, seeking to bring home to them what transcends their intelligence by means of simile and symbol. Otherwise, Prescribed Laws would be of no use whatever…How can, then, the external form of Prescribed Law (zahir al-shara) be adduced as an argument in these matters?” –Ibn Sina
    2. “It is not so easy and trifling to call me an Unbeliever;

No faith is better founded than my faith.

I am singular in my age; and if I am an Unbeliver-

In that case, there is no single Muslim anywhere!” – Ibn Sina

2. “In other words, a prophet is an uber-philosopher—which in turn implies that all philosophers are, for all conceptual and practical purposes, engaged in the same project as are prophets: that of hikmah, or seeking to know universal truth-as-it-Really-is through the perfection of pure reason…” p 18, “What is Islam” by Shahab Ahmed

  1. When Sufis claim virtuoso ‘friends of God’ are exempt from formal Islamic laws, is this an Islamic or un-Islamic truth-claim? Pp 19-26
    1. “The Law (shari’at) is like a candle that shows the way: Without the candle in hand, there is no setting forth on the road. And when you are on the road, that journey in the Way (tariqat); and when you have reached the destination, that is thre Real-Truth (haqiqat. It is in this regard that they saw “If the Real Truths are manifest, the laws are nullified”, as when copper becomes gold , or was fold originally, it does not need the alchemy that is the law…Or the Law may be compared to learning the science of medicine, the Path to regulating one’s diet in accordance with (the science of) medicine and taking remedies, and the Real-Truth to gaining health everlasting and becoming independent of them both.” -Rumi


3. Are pantheism and relativism Islamic ideas? Pp 26-31

  1. “If they had rejected those (gods/idols), they would have been ignorant of God-the-Truth (al-haqq) in the measure that they rejected them, for in every object of worship there is an aspect of God-the-Truth, which one who knows Him knows, and one who does not know Him does not know. In regard to the Muhammadans, there came (the verse of the Qur’an 17:23) “Your Lord determined that you will not worship other than He” meaning “He established”. The one who possesses knowledge knows who is worshipped and which form He manifests so as to be worshipped….So nothing other than God (Allah) is worshipped in every object of worship”- Ibn Arabi
  2. Are Hafiz poems (ghazals) Islamic? Pp 32-46
    1. example1. “Hafiz: drink wine, live in non-conforming libertinage (rindi), be

Happy, but do not

Like others, make the Qur’an a snare of deception

2. example2. If the jurist admonishes you against love-play

Give him a bowl of wine; tell him to loosen his mind!

3. example3. Ascetic! Since from your prayers nothing is forthcoming:

I shall with nightly drunkenness and secret lover’s talk!

4. example4. Since the wine-bearer was a moon-faced beloved, and a


Hafiz drank from the wine-cup, and so did the shaykh and

the jurist

  1. What is “Islamic art”? pp 46-57
    1. “By these words, Bihzad’s critics unhesitatingly attribute to him a pneumatic power to like to the power witnessed by the Quran as having been granted in apparent monopoly by God to Jesus…Now, no such statement (whether read literally or metaphorically) could be made or understood without an awareness on the part of both the authors of these statemtns and of their audiences of those Hadithe that tell us, not only that the image makers cannot give life to the work of their hands-but that they will be eternally punished for presuming an undertaking similar to God’s”- Shahab Ahmed, “What is iIslam” p 56


6. Is a Muslim wine drinker Islamic? Pp 57-71

  1. “When one enters a wine gathering….in no case may one stay so long as to become drunk…if a man have a ppor head for wine, he should drink little, or he should dilute it, or he should leave the party earlier…Let him not become involved in the conversstion of drunken men or busy himself in mediation between them; however, where matters eventuate in hostility, he should restrain them from (attacking) each other…Should a malaise overcome him, let him fight it off in the midst of the assembly in such a way that his companions do not become aware thereof, or let him go outside without delay; once he has vomited he may return to the party.” – Nasir-u-Din Tusi in “Manners of Wine-Drinking”
  2. Jahangir’s jade wine-cup inscribed with

“God is Most Great (Allahu Akbar!) The King of the Seven Lands! The Emperor of Emperors who spreads Justice! The Knower of the Signs, the Real and Metaphorical! Abu-l-Muzaffar Nur-ud-Din Jahangir, the King, son of Akbar, the King! Righteous Warrior!


Additional comments:

The role of contradiction in the historical and human phenomenon of Islam, example Jahangir’s coin with his likeness and wine cup in hand.

Balkans to Bengal Complex (1350-1850): “constitutes what we might usefully conceive of as a post-formative stage and condition in the history of societies of Muslims- a stage at which earlier foundational elements are brought together in a capacious and productive historical synthesis that, in turn, provides a maniples yet stable ingrediential base for a further striking forth in a dynamic variety of trajectories of being Muslim. By the thirteenth century (seventh century of Islamic history), the major theological points of dispute which had riven the community of Muslims in its first centuries were for the most part settled, with the theological schools….agreeing to disagree over an agreed set of secondary theological questions.” “What is Islam?” pp 75-76

Sufi self-actualization p 79

Arguments against  ‘elite’ culture/norms

  1. Circulation of norms (poetry, song, tombs)
  2. Upward social mobility
  3. Sufis- tariqas and shrine visits
  4. All those sermons by jurists telling commoners to “clean up” their act/behavior

Islam as a noun of action

Islam (as human and historical)

  1. Personal Islam
  2. Negotiating personal Islam with ‘out there’ Islam
  3. Relationship to community
    1. Individual within community
    2. Communities with other communities



Our Mother’s Day Tradition

Elementary school teachers are extremely efficient about getting their students to make Mother’s Day presents for mom. After those formative years, the Mother’s Day present stream runs pretty dry, unless your child happens to get art class as an elective spring quarter.

For the past three Mother’s Days, my children wish me a Happy Mother’s Day followed by glances down at the floor, awkward shuffling of feet, and a mumbled, “I didn’t get you anything.”

“That’s no problem, sweetie. You can clean the garage for me!”

Any other time of year, cleaning the garage would be met with massive teenage-groaned resistance and copious excuses. This is probably why the garage is so dusty, cobwebby and cluttered by May. But the power of Mother’s Day gift shaming pulls them in the garage. The cement floors are swept and MOPPED, spider mansions are dismantled, old frisbees are pitched into the trash and outgrown bicycles are set on the curb with a ‘Free’ sign.

The result- a beautiful garage to last me through the year.

Starting Conversations

My daughter’s Spanish class was talking about immigration. The teacher asked the class how many people were born outside the USA. One child raised his hand. Then the teacher asked the students to raise their hand if one or both of their parents were born outside the USA. Out of a class of 23 students, 16 raised their hands.

Their parents had been born in Lithuania, Serbia, Croatia, Syria, Jordan, Pakistan, India, China, Vietnam, the Philippines and Mexico.

Keep in mind, this is an American public school.

Mother Courage

Many thanks to Julie Ganey, Dorothy Milne, Mary Bowers, Sandra McCollum and Cyn Vargas for their help with this story. Also, big thanks to the 2nd Story staff who helped me tell my story at the Teal Room in Pub 626 this past weekend. Our theme was “Mother Courage: tales of taking a stand.”

I am hoping to publish a longer version of my story somewhere “real” i.e. not just this blog that no one reads (and yes, I have the statistics to prove that. Ok, most of this is my fault. I haven’t been posting regularly.). Anyhow, if no one will take my story, then I’ll publish it here.


Spouse Prospectus

Dearest Child,

Choosing the right partner or spouse is one of the most challenging decisions you will face in life. To make it a bit easier for you, we have decided to provide you with some guidance.

First of all, choose someone who belongs to an enemy clan. You might be surprised at this advice but it is grounded in solid science. By choosing a partner from a family that we consider to be our sworn enemies, there is very little chance that any of your ancestors will have consorted with this person’s ancestors. Hence, your offspring will benefit from maximal genetic diversity.

In terms of her physical appearance, we suggest that she should

A) look like a winged messenger of the heavens,

B) appear like the sun who kills the envious moon and

C) have eyes like the stars in the heavens.

We recommend that you create a Venn diagram of potential partners who belong to A, B) and C). There will be very few who represent an intersection of all three so this will really help you narrow down your choices.

However, genetic lineage and physical appearance are not as important as her character and behavior. We believe that it would be ideal if your partner were somebody who loved you so much that she would undertake extraordinary efforts in order to secure a happy life for you. For example, she would be willing imbibe potions that would induce a comatose state and feign death, just to escape peer pressures in order to be with you. A true sign of her love would be that she would undergo this risky procedure without any clear backup plan, merely banking on the ability of a clergyman to verbally convey a message to you without considering the need for a second route of communication in matters of life and death.

But perhaps the most important proof that you have found the right mate is that you will be so madly in love with her that you would liberate yourself from the chains of reason and science. Upon hearing that she might have passed away in her youth, your love for her and grief over her purported demise would cloud your judgment so severely that you would commit suicide without checking her pulse or respiration or demanding an autopsy to understand the cause of her premature death.

We hope that this advice will provide you with the happiness you deserve.

Abu and Amma

Chicago Science March 2017

My daughter and I participated in the science march on Saturday with three of our friends. There were a lot of people, mostly young and white, quite a few baby strollers and a few dogs. Everyone was pretty quiet- scientists aren’t chanters? At one point someone even chanted “Somebody start a chant!”

So we tried, “Who speaks for the trees? WE SPEAK FOR THE TREES!”

and  “Who speaks for the bees? WE SPEAK FOR THE BEES!”

and “Any thing you do SCIENCE AFFECTS YOU!”


and “TURTLE! TURTLE! TURTLE!” which was in response to a “Yertle the Turtle” sign with the heads of the turtles as Trump and his advisers, with “GRAVITY” written on the back.

There were a lot of signs, but many I expect will be recycled to next week’s “People for Climate” march next week, examples “There is no Planet B”, and a picture of the earth with an arrow pointing to the planet saying, “I’m with her!”

I couldn’t get an idea of how many people there were because where we were marching (along Columbus Ave) was flat. There were a few helicopters overhead. Afterwards, when I tried to find footage from the Chicago march, all they would show was the helicopter footage of the  marchers for Chicago. There were marches all over the world, but since we were walking through a big park (three city blocks long) and they could get the helicopters in to film us, that was all that was shown for Chicago. I am one of those blips down there. The police estimated there were 40,000 who marched. I don’t think anyone was arrested. We were described as “cheerful”.

These are some pictures from the march at the STREET level:

Some additional signage that didn’t take good pictures:

“So bad even the introverts are here.”

“There is no vaccine for stupidity.”

“If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the precipitate”

“I’m just here to study the effects of clever signs on the science community.”

And our sign: