Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The meaning of 'madrase'


19 June 2010
PALESTINE REFLECTION: The meaning of “Madrase”

by Sam Nichols

Returning to the U.S. from my stint in Palestine this time, I was pulled aside to a small room, where I was initially the only white person. There was a group of Arab men, a group of people from Southeast Asia, and later on some Eastern European women came in. After a while a Lt. Spiekerman told me I was going to be asked some questions.

I was asked where I had been and what I was doing. “Israel and the Palestinian territories doing volunteer work and Egypt for tourism, blah blah blah.” Pretty standard questions, which I have become accustomed to because of Israeli security officials, but he asked me six to eight times if I attended any madrassas during my travels. Follow up questions consisted of, "did you receive any additional training or education, did you learn how to use arms, receive any...uh know what I mean, did you attend any madrassas."

I asked a clarifying question. “By madrassas, do you mean madrase, which is the Arabic word for school? Are you asking if I attended a school or enrolled in an institute or higher education? If that's the question then the answer is no, I did not.”

Unfortunately, the guy didn't clarify his terms, but just kept asking about flipping madrassas.

A small linguistic lesson: There is really only one all-inclusive word for school or learning institute in Arabic, and it's madrase, or the plural, madaares. It's the word written on the exterior of elementary schools, secondary schools, etc. Madrassa is just a bad English transliteration of madrase. The word has been utterly co-opted by Western politicians, media, and neoconservatives to mean a radical Islamic, anti-western, pro-terrorism institute of Islamic indoctrination and Islamic brainwashing. That's clearly what this guy was asking me about. I don't think he was asking me if I took a course in cooking at the American University in Cairo, or if I took a Hebrew language course at Jerusalem University.

Wikipedia in its description of the word it transliterates, “Madrasah,” gives a more elaborate description, which contains the following section, “Possible misuse of the word,”

The Yale Center for the Study of Globalization examined bias in United States newspaper coverage of Pakistan since the September 11, 2001 attacks, and found the term has come to contain a loaded political meaning: “When articles mentioned 'madrassas,' readers were led to infer that all schools so-named are anti-American, anti-Western, pro-terrorist centers having less to do with teaching basic literacy and more to do with political indoctrination.”

Take that U.S Customs. Take that U.S. media. Take that U.S. public. Take that Lt. Spiekerman.

Please, STOP using an ordinary word and twisting it around to paint all educational institutions in the Middle East (i.e. the part of the world you don't like) as bastions of violent and hateful Islamic teaching. And Spiekerman, I have attended a madrase when I was learning Arabic, in order to do my human rights work at a more professional level. But lucky for you Lieutenant, I didn't attend a madrase on this trip.

American crows, Northwest crows, and ravens

On my recent trip to Seabeck, WA, at low tide on Seabeck Bay, I spent some time in Meeting for Worship with Attention to Shore Birds. More on that wonder later, with pictures, I hope.

Some of those birds were crows; and I commented on an email list recently about how much more gregarious crows are in the Pacific Northwest of the US than they are in the Mid-Atlantic. Someone asked, Might they have been ravens?

I was pretty sure they weren't -- they didn't look enough different from crows, for one -- but this did prompt me to go do some research, especially at U Mich's Animal Diversity Web. Which, among other things, often has great recordings of bird calls.

Yes, there's a difference between the American crows I grew up with in the East, and the Northwest crows I became friends with in Seattle and visited with there and on the Kitsap Peninsula this trip. And neither of them are ravens.

Here's what I found. Enjoy!

Northwest crow:

Here's how they sound, which caused me to say, "Yep! That's them!":

American crow:

Common raven:

The Epistle from the Pacific NW Quaker Women's Theology Conference

Here is the epistle from the 8th Pacific Northwest Quaker Women's Theology Conference. Our epistle committee included Iris, Aimee , and Erin, whom we thank for their faithful work.
To our Quaker family,

Surrounded by the waters and wildlife of Hood Canal and the snowy peaks of the Olympic Mountains, sixty women gathered in Seabeck, Washington from June 16-20, 2010 for the eighth Pacific Northwest Quaker Women’s Theology Conference. Begun fifteen years ago to promote dialogue and build relationships among different Quaker traditions, this conference continues to be deeply Spirit led and enriches the lives of women who attend.

Though we represent different backgrounds and branches of Quakerism, the lines between these seemed very thin and blurred. No one avoided talking about her home meeting or church, but our membership didn’t have as much weight as our personal experiences shared in love. Even as we attempted to be open and accepting, at times we misstepped and unintentionally hurt each other. Many of us felt broken open and left this conference changed.

Through reflection papers we wrote, plenary sessions, home groups and discussion, we each connected personally with the theme, “Walk With Me: Mentors, Elders, and Friends.” Each plenary brought us back again and again to the awareness of the need for support and mentorship in our lives. We identified places in which we are being accompanied and are accompanying others and places where we feel the absence of that loving presence. Many of us made commitments to seek those relationships in our meetings, churches and beyond.

Despite colds, more serious illnesses and concerns for the health of loved ones, we drew strength, support, and encouragement from one another. Many think of the Women’s Conference as a reunion and newcomers found they were welcomed into the family with open arms.

In keeping with the testimony of community, we opened ourselves to another group, Interplay, also staying at the conference center. We described the kind of work that we each came to do, invited them to join us in worship, and likewise were invited to experience their ministry and we shared grace together before meals.

We celebrated the gifts of many through plenaries, workshops, singing and readings by several published authors. During one plenary session, several young adults shared personal experiences of their ministries in relation to the theme of the conference. We were thrilled to hear stories of women being supported and held sacredly in their ministry. However, we were deeply saddened to learn that some are not empowered or recognized in their ministries. We were thus reminded of the reality of sexism in the Society of Friends. Encircling the young adult women, we joined together in heartfelt prayer and were moved by its healing and supportive power. This experience deepened our worship and fellowship together. We challenged ourselves to be aware of internalized sexism, as well as the sexism in our churches and meetings, and to work toward true equality.

During business meeting on Saturday, we reaffirmed the work of this body of women and our leading to continue meeting together as an intra-faith group. We look forward to the next opportunity to join in fellowship.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Thinking about Summer Solstice: Shame, Pride, Strength, and Power

I was on a long train commute recently, trying to use the time to get some work done. I ended up writing in my Book of Shadows (spiritual journal) about Litha, or Summer Solstice.

Because I find That-Which-Is-Sacred in nature and the seasons, I like it when my spiritual work is in tune with the rhythm of the seasons. The Wheel of the Year is useful for this. The Sabbats -- the Solstices, when either day or night is longest; the Equinoxes, when dark and light are equal; and the cross-quarter days in between -- are convenient times for me to stop and check in with myself with respect to the seasons, and are also a convenient time to check in with the Goddess / the Gods in a more mindful, take-stock kind of way than I do most First Days.

Some of the Sabbats speak to me deeply, and were part of my life before I ever identified as a Pagan. Some of them just make a lot of sense to me emotionally and spiritually. And some make sense mentally, but not on that instinctive level. Summer Solstice, or Litha, is one of these.

Oh, Summer Solstice makes mental sense to me. It's opposite Winter Solstice, which does speak to me on a gut level. As I've lived in different parts of the country, Summer Solstice and Winter Solstice are times when I've really had an especial sense of place about where I've been living: sunrise and sunset on the longest and shortest days of the year are very different in different parts of the US. The longest day is much longer in Seattle than Philadelphia; sunset on Summer Solstice is later in Ann Arbor or at Camp Grayling than in the Mid-Atlantic; the shortest day is shorter in Seattle than in Ann Arbor than in Philadelphia.

Last year in Seattle, we threw a Summer Solstice cookout where it wasn't dark til nearly 10 pm, but it was chilly enough we were all wearing fleece and long pants in the backyard, gathered around the grill.

You get the picture.

But while Summer Solstice makes mental sense and place-sense, it has never spoken to me in my gut the way some of the other Sabbats do.

On the train, I was trying to plan this year's Summer Solstice Celebration, and not getting far. So I started writing instead.


- What do I actually want to do for Summer Solstice?
- What would be faithful to my leading?
- What is my leading?
- What about my MFW notion that came to me in MFW?
- What is my leading with respect to Roses, Too! Tradition?

I have a strong leading and commitment to Feminist Witchcraft

I have a leading to teach it to other people, especially women

So what do I have to teach, and what do I have to learn, about Summer Solstice?

The Sabbats that follow this are all about harvest -- at Lammas, we ask, "What have you harvested so far this year? What do you hope to harvest yet?"

At Litha, we've often talked about fruits, pride, and first fruits.

Gay pride, queer pride, Pagan pride; Pagan pride is more associated with Mabon.

The flip side of pride for both of those is perhaps shame.

So how can Litha, with its bright, purifying (burning?) sun, chase away (burn?) shame, transform shame, into pride?

What things have we been ashamed of that are actually sources of strength, power-from-within, and pride?
  • femaleness; female gender; being women
  • our bodies
  • femininity -- characteristics stereotypical of female gender
  • being femme or being perceived as femme in a queer culture where that may be suspect or not as honored as being androgynous or soft-butch or gender-bending
  • feminism
  • being Pagan; being too, or too obviously, Pagan; being not Pagan enough
  • being spiritual/religious
  • doing "ritual"
  • doing ritual that is too plain, too down-to-earth
  • health, body, physical issues
  • cognitive and energy deficits
  • education -- high school and seminary especially
So: how to take this stuff about shame, that provokes or produces shame, and transform it into pride?

(One key is feminist analysis of shame based on oppression and powerlessness...)

Transforming shame and powerlessness into pride, strength, and power-from-within.

Burning things? Eating rainbow fruit salad? [ <--- Rainbow fruit salad has appeared at past Roses, Too! Litha potlucks where the theme was "Take pride in your fruits (all puns intended)"]

Writing them down, putting them into a cauldron [the Cauldron of Cerridwen], stirring them around, pulling them back out, reading them - ? ie, "I have been ashamed of/when ---," then, "X is a source of pride / strength / power-from-within" - ?

(What do we do with them afterwards?)

What about things like violent or destructive behavior, illness / injury / disease, addiction, etc?

Transform the statement.

"Recovery is a source of pride, strength, and power-from-within."

"The ability and willingness to take responsibility for my actions is a source of strength and power-from-within."

"My body is a source of pride, strength, and power-from-within."

"My body's ability to heal is a source of pride, strength, and power-from-within."

"Not taking crap from inferior doctors is a source of pride, strength, and power-from-within."

Etc, and more.

I was done writing then, but all this has been bubbling away in the stewpot in the back of my brain. And I'm curious to see how things will cook up for Litha.

And although I might not have consciously realized it until now, that little bit of work has borne some fruit already: I bought jeans (on sale for cheap!) yesterday that show off my belly fat.

Not something I ever would have done before.

I need your help to travel in the ministry

I am really terrible at asking for financial help for ministry. But the truth is that, as with most of us, whether we're Quakers, Pagans, or both, my ministry is not self-supporting, and that right now, I'm in a bind.

My ministry oversight committee from my Meeting encouraged me to register for the Pacific Northwest Quaker Women's Theology Conference. The Conference at that time had not received any donations toward its scholarship fund; my committee and I agreed that I would fund-raise for registration and housing ($250), and request travel assistance from the Meeting. I went ahead and booked my ticket ($423), and then found out the Meeting is out of travel assistance monies for the rest of this fiscal year! So now I need to raise all of that money -- $673 -- myself. And I have no income right now. Eeep!

(Update: The Conference now has some scholarship monies, but I do not know yet how much I might receive from them.)

So I am asking for gifts towards my travel in the ministry. I've created a separate page on this blog -- click here for full information, or see the link at the upper right-hand side of the page. If you need to give through an organization, I have details there as well.

Truly, any amount is helpful.

Another thing that will help a great deal is holding me, and the Conference, in your spiritual care.

Thank you, friends.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Interest Group at FGC Gathering

I received word that my interest group proposal for FGC Gathering this summer has been approved. Here's the blurb (50-word limit!):

Many Theaologies, One Religion – the Gift of “Listening in Tongues”

Stasa Morgan-Appel

Unprogrammed Friends share Quaker worship and practice - and theaological diversity. How does That-Which-Is-Sacred speak to you? To the person sitting next to you in worship? (Does it?) And how do we talk about it with each other? We’ll practice “listening in tongues” and speaking tenderly and faithfully.