Chicago with the girls was fun. It’s been about ten years since I’ve been to an ISNA conference. We decided to go just for the fun of it – no expectations at all. We stayed at a hotel right across the street which was pretty handy, even though the service left a lot to be desired. Actually it was the housekeeping service. I don’t know what they had against changing trash cans and replenishing towels, but there it is.
The bazaar had a bit of everything thrown in – books, CDs, every kind of advert for every kind of organization you could possibly think of…and lots and lots of clothing. Unfortunately most of it was of the shiny,shiny variety. Glitter, sequins all over everything. One lady complained “you can’t find a hijab that doesn’t make you look like a disco ball!” True enough – and the abayas were just as bad. Who needs to have sequins covering the back of an abaya in some strange pattern?
It was also very crowded all the time. There was a frenzied air, a weird kind of mass consumer-ismic energy about the place. You had to be careful not to make too much eye contact with anyone in the booths because they would grab you and start trying to sell you everything but the kitchen sink.
I had to get used to the amount of lectures going on at the same time. One of the things I like about the RIS down here is they only have one lecture going on at the same time. It saves you from having to make hard decisions about which lecture to go to, and as I cannot make a decision to save my life, I suffered this weekend. I think I made some pretty good decisions in the end though.
I listened to Hakim Archuletta who told us that we need to be healers for ourselves and for others. He said that one of the biggest problems today is disassociation. We avoid facing the state we are in because of our inability to be present with ourselves and others. He also talked about how we are presented with opportunities for purification in everything we do – we are constantly re-purifying ourselves. His lecture made me think deeply about how I go about my day and the need to incorporate more dhikr in my life. I’ve been doing it since I heard him speak and I find it has a big impact on your heart.
I attended a panel discussion on domestic violence that left me annoyed. I took offence to a couple of things said by one of the speakers. This guy does good work and I’m sure his intention was in the right place, but I didn’t like his implication that the work women do to stop DV is not as useful as the work he does because he is a man (and we live in male dominated society). Another issue is the one lengthy example he gave us depicting abuse was of a punjabi man who was emotionally abused by his wife…I was like “you must be joking!” The panel also they focused heavily on immigrant women who are uneducated, don’t speak the language and are hidden away at home. I would have like them to touch on the women who are educated and are working and the struggles those women go through to walk away from abuse.
I heard Dr. Umar Faruq Abd-Allah for the first time and he blew me away. He talked about the unchangeable soul and its yearning for God. He discussed dhikr as recalling what you already know, and as being the ghusl of the heart. It was a beautiful talk and it was way too short – I could have listened to him for hours.
One of the most interesting presentations was from Heather Laird-Jackson who presented on her hijab survey. I got there a little late and the room was jam-packed with people who I think thought it was some sort of singles thing because there was also a presentation on matrimonial sites. One of the things that caught my attention about her survey was the fact that a high percentage of men related the wearing of hijab to the supposed ‘purity’ of the woman. They assumed that if a woman wears hijab she must be pure and untouched. I found that disturbing to say the least. It’s no wonder we have a 40% divorce rate with that kind of stuff going on. I got a chance to talk to Sister Heather about it and she said it caught her eye too. This assumption of purity placed on women is dangerous given the high price many have paid for not living up to that assumption. She also presented some findings on the relationship between the wearing of hijab and the woman’s perception of her sexuality. I need to email her and see if a can get a copy of the survey.
Dr.Sherman Jackson gave an amazing lecture on the fact that Islam in North America will suffer if it does not utilize the already indigenized Muslim population- namely the African American Muslims. He talked about the need for investment in the African American Muslim population and did not pull any punches getting his points across. It was brilliant and I think people may have gone away calling him not only an assimilationist but a black radical nationalist. I think people need to invest in a big, big dictionary.
There were also wonderful talks by Imam Zaid, Shaykh Hamza, Abdullah Idris, Imam Siraj…I took notes but it would take me hours to get it all down.
The MANA conference in November was being promoted and my friends want to go – I may be broke at that time but we’ll see. I can look up my Great Uncle Rudy while I’m there. I haven’t seen him since I was a kid and he is so old now – I would love to get one last chance to see him.
Oh yeah, I also snuck out to the mall, spent too much money shopping, got into an argument with some cab driver who wasn’t a cab driver but a car service driver (I officially understand nothing about cabs in the States….), and tried to explain to our waiter that no it was not against our religion to tip and I don’t know why Muslims are so cheap and please dont hate us all, here is ten bucks for your silence and your love.
And one last thing…Muslims have yet to learn the art of shutting the hell up when there is a lecture going on. And that cell phones have a silence button, or at the very least a vibrate button. But that is for another post….