Monday, March 23, 2009


Thanks for reading my blog. I would like to briefly introduce myself to you. At least for now, I would like to be anonymous, but I do not want to be a complete stranger. This blog is, after all, something of a diary, so I have to include some details about my life.

I am 26 years old. I currently live in a mid-sized metropolitan area in the United States of America. I have lived in other cities and towns in the United States and Europe, but I have never traveled anywhere else in the world. My politics tend towards the social-democratic and the left-liberal, the non-violent, feminist and queer. I graduated from a well-known university in the U.S. and have pursued postgraduate study in the humanities. I consider myself to be a thoughtful and critical person. I like to ask questions, learn new ideas and skills, and interact with a wide variety of people. Above all else, I consider myself to be a student. My attitude towards the people I love, towards my friends and allies, is that I want to learn everything they know and teach them everything I know—an impossible and never-ending project, but a goal that drives friendships and mutually benefits the people involved.

I was raised Jewish (in the Reform movement). I had the privilege of a basic Jewish education in Biblical Hebrew, Torah and Haftarah reading, and Jewish traditions. I've never considered myself to be a very religious person. I do not strictly follow Jewish law (nor to most people in the Reform Jewish movement) and I lead a rather secularized life. I value many aspects of Jewish tradition, particularly the traditions of debate of ethical questions and critical analysis of texts. I attend synagogue on major holidays and read the parsha (weekly Torah portion) most weeks. I find modern Jewish thought to be fascinating and an invaluable part of modern European and North American intellectual history. I have long dis-identified from “identity politics”-based Jewish groups as well as from Zionist pro-occupation politics. When I was in middle school, I got into an argument with fellow members of a Jewish youth group because I took the position that it was more important that Israel be a true democracy than it be a Jewish State. Now I am a member of Jewish Voices for Peace and other such anti-occupation activist groups. What I find most meaningful and valuable for me in Judaism are the texts, the community, and the community of letters that is the history of Jewish thought. Though I think there is great value in continuing the Jewish tradition of reading and thinking about the Torah, I don’t believe that the Torah was authored directly by God or that its value is dependent on its being Divinely authored.

When I was 14 years old, I told my friends and my parents that I was queer. Since then, I have been actively involved in queer politics, queer theory, and queer communities. B y queer politics, I mean efforts to clear linguistic and material space for non-normative sexualities and genders.

My first personal interest in Islam began only a few months ago. I was at a colleague's office to work on a project with a new colleague and he excused himself to go pray. I asked him about his praying and his religion we got into a fascinating discussion about the nature of God, the formation of belief, ways of approaching religious texts, etc. I enjoyed discussing such ideas with him, perhaps mainly because he was so passionately pious as well as politically progressive (at least on some issues). I learned a lot from him and heard constellations of views that I had not heard before and that often surprised me. Frequently , when he and I were discussing a particular topic, such as a news item or the way a person had reacted in a given situation, he would say “the Islamic perspective on that is…” At times, that phrasing sounded strange to me—I was used to people stating opinions as their own and not as that of their religion. I felt that in order to understand where this person was coming from, I should learn more about Islam. I also thought that any educated person should know at least some basic information about Islam, a major world religion. I had learned in a high school social studies class that there were the 5 pillars and the Prophet Mohammed, but I had never taken any interest in learning about the complexity, diversity, and meaning of Islam as a lived and practiced religion. I knew enough to dismiss the Fox News or Samuel Huntington-style portrayal of Islam or Muslims as something extra-civilizational or enemy. However, I had never before had any observant Muslim friends or close colleagues. Despite being a history buff, I knew nothing of early Islamic history or the life of the Prophet Mohammed and his companions and followers. Despite being a voracious reader of social theory and European philosophy, I had never read a work of Islamic philosophy.

I asked for recommendations of books about Islam, and read Ali Rafea’s book _The Book of Essential Islam_. I was surprised at how similar Islam seemed to Judaism (especially in contrast to Christianity). I was deeply moved by and even more curious about the spiritual aspects of Islam and the practice of the daily prayers. I eventually got up the courage to ask my one Muslim friend if I could pray with him, and he showed me how to make wudu and how to pray.

A couple months ago, I read an English version of the Quran, and I was completely fascinated. I stayed up late reading and then read it first thing in the morning. I took copious notes and wrote down many questions as well as resonant passages that I wanted to remember. I searched eagerly for places online and in my local area where I might get my questions answered. Last month, I joined a women-only “Islam 101” class at the local masjid. I met some local Muslim sisters who have been generous enough to talk with me about Islam and answer some of my questions. I am still eagerly learning about Islam and thinking about converting.

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