Bedtime Reading or Not–the Hazara


A lifelong habit that helps me settle down to sleep remains reading.  However, occasionally I delve into a book that turns out not to be so wonderful to read just before going to bed.  The topic turns to the disturbing and then, suddenly, my mind churns.  By that time, it is too late to go back.  Or, like the book I am reading now, parts of it consist of stories inspiring, amusing, enlightening, parables for life.  Then there are the other parts:  the abuse of an entire people by the other ethnicities surrounding them, genocide, turmoil, invasion.  I remain a lifelong lover of libraries.  Recently, while browsing through new books, I found this one:  The Honey Thief  by Najaf Mazari and Robert Hillman.  Mazari grew up in a Hazara village in the northern part of Afghanistan, the area known as Hazarajat, became a master rug maker and fled from the Taliban to Australia in 2000 where he met his now close friend and coauthor.  For several days now, it has been my bedtime reading.

The Hazara people speak a dialect of Farci, the language of Iran.  Data varies, but they number approximately seven million in Afghanistan and remain one of the largest ethnic groups there.  Nevertheless, in spite of this, other groups discriminate against them for various reasons, including the fact that most Hazara are Shia Muslims surrounded by Sunnis.  Until 1893, they were the majority when half were massacred and many fled to live in Iran, Pakistan, and India.  Some believe the Hazara are the descendants of Genghis Khan’s warriors.  Many resemble the people who live in Mongolia today and in many ways parts of their culture resemble that of Mongolia, e.g. their tents look like yurts; no one knows for sure.  They have lived in what is now known as Afghanistan for hundreds of years.  They are people of the mountains who have learned to cultivate beauty and farm in high, inaccessible places.  They are famous for poetry and story telling.  Unlike other women in Afghanistan, they shunned burkas, fought along side men as soldiers, and believed in education for women.  These attributes fueled discrimination by other groups there.

Now back to bedtime reading.  Several stories in particular contain what I consider the necessary qualities for bedtime perusal:  entertaining and instructive without gore, controversy.  They also hold an unusual quality of something you cannot quite quantify, a hint of the mystery of life, of a particular kind of not quite describable beauty.  Hoping that at least some of you will find the book and actually read it, I will first list the stories to read without dread or worry if you want to read at bedtime:  “The Wolf Is the Most Intelligent of Creatures”, “The Music School”, and the “Snow Leopard”.  Under no circumstances read “The Life of Abdul Khaliq” and “The Death of Abdul Khaliq”.  You will, indeed, learn a considerable amount of Afghan history, but unless you are quite heartless and insensitive, you probably will not be able to drift off to a pleasant dreamland for hours.

If all this stokes your curiosity, here are two websites to learn more about the Hazara:  www.joshuaproject.net and http://www.hazarapeople.com.

For All the Lonely, Lost Young Men


At first, I planned to simply post a poem by this title, a response to the bombing in Boston and the young men who orchestrated it.  Then I decided that a few comments seemed more appropriate.  These comments come from a realization and conversations with a couple of colleagues at work noticing that all the perpetrators of the bombings and mass killings have been young males.  These young men cite various causes from the anger of being disenfranchised and bullied to religious fervor of a certain type to insanity.  All acknowledged anger over something, a rage so profound they felt driven to act, at least for those to whom authorities could talk.  Most appeared to be alienated from their culture, friends, or family, young men who failed to fit in.  Although we must condemn their horrific acts, perhaps it would also prove more productive to ask, “Why?” Unless we know why and address the causes, these events will be repeated somewhere at some totally unforeseen time.  And many innocents will die again and again.  Perhaps equally disturbing is the fact that we are not alone.  These types of events repeat themselves in one way or another in many other countries in the world.  Additionally, I realize that many people feel the solution lies in revenge, punishment, justice as they see it.  For those, many of the sentiments I express in this poem may seem too simplistic, too kind, too naive.  I teach high school.  I work with all types of young men daily.  I see their fear, anger, loneliness even if fleeting and only momentarily.  We can make a difference; we can reach out.

Look at yourselves

filled with

fear,

anger,

hatred.

This world may not embody

the perfect place

of which you dream;

do not despair.

We care.

Do not shoot me.

I care.

Do not throw bombs at the innocent;

They care.

Do not hate the different.

They care.

Do not despair.

Faith, Lies, and the War on Terror


This blog began as a vehicle to “make” me write more and share my writings, e.g. poetry, flash memoir, essays, with others and to learn from reader responses.  Along the way, it morphed into my recipes—starting with friends requesting them, my travels and adventures, inspirations, and thoughts.  This post will morph me into something I fear may be far more controversial, but also feel I must explore. Several years ago, a couple of friends and I enrolled as continuing education students in a course about Islamic thought and literature.  Our hope was to learn more about exactly what the title indicated.  Although I had already read quite a lot of Middle Eastern literature, especially Iranian, and also some Turkish novels as well as memoirs and nonfiction books, I had no one with whom to discuss my readings and thoughts.  This presented an ideal opportunity.  After a couple of weeks, it became quite clear that the teacher had a definite agenda.  Although she never overtly discussed her own religious beliefs, she generally chose parts of readings to discuss to promote a certain, anti-Islamic bias.  We read the Quran (in translation because none of us spoke or read Arabic—mine was a Pakistani translation), Ayaan Hirsi Ali—various works including Infidel, Benazir Bhutto’s autobiography, and short stories by Iranian, Palestinian, and other Middle Eastern authors.  None were from Southeast Asia where the majority of the world’s Muslims live.  None were from India.  When we discussed the Quran, she chose very specific passages that zeroed in on what she perceived to be Islam’s oppression of women and promotion of violence and war.  When the rest of us tried to also discuss passages about ones duty to the oppressed, the orphans, the poor, she would channel the discussion back to her chosen agenda.  Some dropped out.  The rest of us decided to stay because we wanted to read and discuss the writings in spite of the situation.  Over time, our insistence on a broader based view seemed to affect her strong bias slightly.  In the end, she even showed the Iranian movie, “Children of Heaven”, which presents the plight of a poor Iranian family in a very sympathetic light.  The father overtly loves his wife and struggles valiantly to help her and his family in any way he can. This class has led me to further pursue my readings of literature from Iran, Egypt, Turkey, Pakistan, India, etc., both fiction and non-fiction and to learn as much as I can about the past and present as it relates to issues in these parts of the world.  Since then, I have also experienced the privilege of hosting exchange students from Thailand, Brazil, and Argentina.  One of my closest friends grew up Muslim in Indonesia.  I also have Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Pagan and atheist friends from many parts of the world, and some who have little interest in religion. Recently, the librarian where I teach asked me to read Wanted Women, Faith, Lies, and the War on Terror:  The Lives of Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Aafia Siddiqui.  I finished it recently and highly recommend reading this book.  The author, Deborah Scroggins, spent six years following the lives of these two women, including interviewing their colleagues, family members, self proclaimed jihadists, and government officials from several countries.  She delineates an incredible amount of information and data.  If you care about the political and spiritual future of this planet and the ongoing controversies surrounding Islam, Christianity, and Judaism, this book provides an excellent opportunity to explore history and the events of the last 20-30 years, and then to develop your own insights.  My hope is that this post will encourage others to explore new avenues of knowledge and open wider venues of thought that encourage a better, kinder world in which we respect and value each others’ differences.

Recommended additional readings:   This is one of my favorite magazines.  It is free and covers art, cuisine, nature, history, literature, geography, just about everything imaginable.  For teachers, they have suggested uses and additional materials at the back.  It comes out six times per year.

If you are unfamiliar with literature from the Arab world, this is a good place to start.  Mahfouz won the Nobel prize for literature.  Although his novels take place in Egypt, the themes are universal.

In spite of the word jihad in the title, this is more of a “fun” read.  The Iranian American author, a journalist, decided to go to the Iran of her roots and work and live there for a while.  This book describes her adventures as a journalist in Iran.

Other books I recommend are Moonlight on the Avenue of Faith by Gina B. Nahai                   (this is one of my all time favorite books), No God but God by Reza Aslan, another Iranian journalist, The Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak (this book is a novel about Rumi, whose beliefs Islamists do not find acceptable), and Shattering the Stereotypes:  Muslim Women Speak Out edited by Afzal-Khan.

Another source of information about events, literature, art, etc. in the Middle East is a blog entitled “Sugar Street Review”.  One of their latest blog posts, Top Five Female Arab Writers provides a list of these women with photos, brief bios, and some critique.