I started reading this book at the worst possible time, and in the worst possible frame of mind to expect anything that that would even resemble an objective review. Which is fine because I don’t particularly relish being objective. (It’s just not something I’m good at.) So I’m going to go ahead and say that Tripping With Allah was fucking amazing. I mean it. This book slapped me right across my face, sat my ass in a chair and forced me to eat my peas in an unexpected way. It was a book I needed to read very badly at this point in my life. I’m not just being dramatic or trying to flatter the author–it’s probably not going to go down in history as one of the most impactful books of the 21st century, and it may not even be Michael Muhammad Knight’s best work. But it was exactly what I needed right now.
Knight has been on the periphery of my consciousness for a while. I read his Vice blog and I’m Facebook friends with him, although we’ve never had a personal conversation. This is the first of his books I’ve read (although it’s the ninth book he’s written). I know him to be a polarizing figure, a convert, and a self-proclaimed asshole. He’s also an ivy league academic and a prolific writer.
So, here’s rundown: Knight decides he’s going to try this hallucinogenic herbal concoction called ayahuasca that has been used in spiritual rituals in the Amazon for centuries, with the hope that it would give him some kind of amazing spiritual visions that he can write an interesting book about. Tripping chronicles him trying the ayahuasca three times over a period of months, and while he tells the story of making connections with folks who administer the drug, he intermittently sprinkles in all kinds of interesting stuff about the history of the global drug trade, the history of drug use in Islamic societies, and his own personal history having a schizophrenic father and converting to Islam at the age of sixteen.
His first two attempts with the ayahuasca concoction fall flat, and for a while I was really worried that the book wasn’t going to have a money shot. But on his third attempt he trips out like a motherfucker and one very heavy chapter is dedicated to graphically detailing the series of potent psycho-religiousexual visions he has on this occasion. I certainly don’t want to ruin it for you with any spoilers but I estimate 9 out of 10 people are going to find something in it that is offensive.
I was not offended in the least.
But for me, reading Tripping became more than just a welcome diversion from a shitty news cycle. It is a reminder of who I am.
I am a Man of Action. (see also: Hunter S. Thompson)
I almost forgot.
After years of on-a-mission excess in my early twenties that left my soul bruised, bloodied and raw, I found shelter in a new faith, a family, and a community that has kept me penned in. It was a deliberate choice. I had gone too far and didn’t trust myself anymore—I needed to be confined and I needed limits.
I still live there in that safe place–a heavier, softer, far less sensual person than I was thirteen years ago. I’ve positioned myself smack-dab in the most sober and stable environment on the face of the earth. Oh sure, I’m healthier (mentally and physically), my relationships are solid, and I’m financially stable. I like to think I’ve evolved. In some ways I’m certain I have.
My circle of friends is now full of other women who have only ever slept with one man in their entire lives, and who have never so much as sipped a drink of alcohol (much less even considered trying any illegal drugs). I’ve spent more than a decade trying to erase any semblance of the fucked up girl that found her way to Austin, Texas after a colossal series of failures and a downward spiral of self-destruction that is the stuff of legends.
But my experiences weren’t all bad. In fact, some of that shit was good. Really good. I saw and did and felt and fucked some amazing things back in the day. And I have a right to those memories. I have a right to make more of them. I’ve never been able to learn vicariously through anyone else, and Michael Muhammad Knight’s book reminded me that that might not actually be a bad thing.
The bad experiences I had—the ones that had sent me running into the safe haven of my new life—were also accompanied by highs. Would I trade my present even keel to go back there and swing wildly between them again? No. But maybe…just maybe…I don’t have to choose between a life of utter mayhem and a life of vanilla-flavored motherhood. I’m almost forty. No one would blame me for giving up and falling gently into suburban decay. But I don’t think that’s what I want to do.
I know it’s not.
Knight’s book did one other thing to me. It made me jealous. I found myself feeling overwhelmed by envy at certain points because of the freedom he has to lay his shit out there and tell the world to take it or leave it. I’ve invested far too much in my family, my kids’ futures, my activism, and my employer to go shooting off my mouth-keyboard with stories that would make people question my sanity/humanity/judgment/ability to operate a motor vehicle. In other words, I’m chickenshit.
Oh, but the stories I could tell.
I keep promising myself… someday. When I’m an old lady and most of the people who would care are dead, I can purge. Get it all out there and lay it out in the bold sunlight and force people to look at it. I can revel in their discomfort and laugh at their awkward reactions to stark, bald-faced, unapologetic honesty about who I am and what I’ve done. Some day, I can do what Michael Muhammad Knight gets to do.
Until then, I’m going to resurrect the Man of Action. The poor fellow has been buried in the back of my closet for far too long. It’s time to take him out, give the sonofabitch a shave and a shower, and let him have a little fun again.
And I’m going to read some more of Knight’s books.
You can’t make a cake without breaking some eggs. Unless, of course, it’s a vegan cake. In which case, FUCK YOU.
You heard from the ladies in Love, InshAllah: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women, now it’s time to hear from the men! Announcing a call for non-fiction, personal stories by American Muslim men on love & loss, sex & intimacy for publication by Beacon Press, February 2014.
This is the 2nd call for stories – for this round, the editors are seeking to increase the number of stories from men of South Asian, East Asian, Arab, Iranian, Afghan & Latino heritages. They are also interested in hearing from more men who identify as orthodox/conservative/traditional and those who identify as GBTQ.
DEADLINE: May 6, 2013
WHY MUSLIM MEN?
For every stereotype about Muslim women, there are as many about Muslim men, lacking nuance, reflection or celebration. The search for romantic love impacts men’s lives deeply and yet there is little space for men to address these issues, share their experiences, or feel less isolated when it comes to affairs of the heart.
In the wake of Love InshAllah’s success, continuing scrutiny of Muslims, and growing recognition in both the American and Muslim communities of the need to address the critical role of love, sex and relationships in men’s lives, it is the right time for Muslim men to share their intimate insights.
Stories must be autobiographical and written by men who identify as both American and Muslim. We are looking for contributors who reflect a broad range of religious practice and perspectives, from orthodox to cultural to secular.
Write about a transformative episode that defined your dating/relationship/marital experience. Did factors such as religion, ethnicity, race, class, family, etc., play a role in your story? We want compelling real-life storytelling with dialogue and self-reflection, not essay-like commentary.
We prefer that authors write under their real names, but recognize that some topics sensitive, so we are accepting a limited number of submissions under pen names.
Contributions are welcome from American Muslim men of all racial, ethnic, sectarian backgrounds, sexual orientation, ages, born and convert Muslims, disabled, single, engaged, married, divorced, or widowed.
Submissions should be between 1,500 – 4,000 words, double-spaced and paginated. Please send your submission as a Microsoft Word document attachment to email@example.com by May 6, 2013
*Your full name & contact information
*Your geographic location
*Whether Muslim by birth or conversion
Stories will be selected for inclusion based on literary merit. You already know what makes good writing: humor, drama, irony, triumph, and focus. Bring your anecdote to life with vivid characterization, plot, and surprising real-life details.
Feel free to email the editors, Ayesha & Nura at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions.
Yesterday, the second ‘teaser’ for unMosqued came out and featured me discussing my initial reaction to being segregated by gender when I first attended the mosque. In the teaser, I discuss how hurt I was because it felt very much like the kind of Jim Crow style racial separation I’d seen pictures of growing up. I’d like to expand on that:
I was lucky enough to have been raised by two very good people. They educated me about our country’s racial history, and although I grew up in the 1980′s, I was made aware of the injustices that were imposed on African-Americans in the form of chattel slavery during the 19th century. But the racial injustices of slavery did not end when the Emancipation Proclamation was signed. My mom, having been born in the 1950′s, often told me about the racial inequalities she saw growing up. She showed me pictures like this, and told me how, even though slaves were ‘freed’, black Americans were still very much oppressed throughout the 20th century:
The oppression felt by blacks in the form of Jim Crow laws were actually as insidious–if not moreso–than outright slavery….because Jim Crow paid lip service to the idea of equality while still keeping a significant portion of the population from participating in our society. The control, governance, and most of the privilege still rested with the white population.
Quite simply, Jim Crow was based on an idea that human beings can be SEPARATE, BUT EQUAL.
This idea of separate but equal was based in ‘law’, and often backed up with ‘scripture’, which made it really hard to challenge. But eventually, it was challenged by both whites and blacks because the fact is, separate but equal does not work. It was tried, and tested in a free and open society, where we saw that it was actually just an excuse to keep one group of people ‘in their place’.
Jim Crow is not just part of the American Black Narrative. It’s also part of the American White Narrative. And it’s part of the Greater American Narrative. It’s a lesson we all (should have) learned about the importance of integrated, pluralistic communities that allow an equal space and and equal voice for everyone.
Separate But Equal is alive and well at the local masjid. And it’s still not working. My friend Hind Makki has developed an entire blog to document the disparities between mens’ and womens’ prayer spaces at mosques: Side Entrance.
If the correlation between Jim Crow Laws and the Gender Segregation imposed at the majority of mosques offends you, I’d recommend that you think about WHY it’s so upsetting.
My comment in the teaser was many things–controversial, critical, and truthful. But it was not based in ignorance. I’m not trying to appropriate anyone else’s struggle, but when I showed up at the mosque and saw a sign pointing to the back entrance for me, that’s exactly I saw in my mind. Aside from public bathrooms and Jim Crow signs, I am not quite sure I’ve ever seen any other signs that designate a separate space for people based in their innate characteristics. The director asked for honesty, and I was honest.
I’m very honored to be part of this upcoming documentary film project that explores the state of American Mosques and how these institutions are impacting the spirituality of American Muslims:
Every once in a while, I agree to do something that makes even ME question MY OWN sanity.
A couple weeks ago, my friend David J. Neff was trolling Facebook, looking for people who might be considered buffoons to participate in his annual Dillo Dirt Comedy Jam–a stand up comedy show featuring five non-professional comedians who have never done stand up before. I said yes.
So. Here’s the deal. You buy a ticket for $10. You show up at the New Movement Theater on May 11. If you’re a drinker you get free booze to help convince you I’m funny…and if you’re not, you still have to promise to laugh, ok?
This is my Official Wrap Up post of SXSWi for this year, and as it is virtually impossible for me to capture all of what I saw and experienced at Geekstock, I’m just going to lay down a few of the highlights.
Keep in mind that SXSW is comprised of four portions: Education (SXSWedu), SXSWi (Interactive), SXSW Film, and SXSW Music. I generally only attend Interactive. Partially because it’s where my main interests lie, and partially because I’m not willing to pay to suffer through the stuffy academics and self-absorbed hipsters at the other events. (I freely admit that I’m far more at home with kindred Geeklitest assholes at the interactive portion and I’m ok with that).
This year was special because I did have a Gold Badge (giving me access to both interactive and film events). I got the badge as a prize package that I won for being a Dewey Winburne Honoree. (I also got a nifty trophy and some cash to throw at my favorite non-profit organizations which I used to support Mobile Loaves & Fishes and iACT).
Anyway, in no particular order, here are my highlights for the week of SXSWi:
1. The Dewey Winburne Awards were very special for me. My mom, husband, my good friend Yasmin and her husband, and two other people I look up to–Monica Williams of GivingCity and David Neff of Lights. Camera. Help!–were there along with a whole room full of technology do-gooders to celebrate innovative ways of helping people. They gave me an award. I took a picture holding a huge check that I got to donate to my favorite charities. Also, a righteous band named Mother Falcon played. I felt really, truly honored.
2. I had the chance to sit down to breakfast with a couple progressive Israeli activists – Libby Lenkinski of the New Israel Fund and Noam Sheizaf of +972 Magazine - along with my friend and co-worker Martin and my local friend, Rabbi Susan Lippe. We talked about religion. We talked about politics. We talked about why it is so hard to talk about Israel and Palestine. And we all parted with a hugs and smiles. Chalk one up for Team Peace.
3. In the Maker Tent, I saw a new camera that I feel I must own. It’s called Lytro and it allows you to take pictures that the viewer can manipulate interactively. I am not quite sure I can explain this technology correctly, so please go to their gallery HERE, select one of the photos and then click it in a couple places and see how it works. This puppy is going on my Wish List.
4. The Mobile Loaves & Fishes Street Treats carts launched on Sunday of SXSWi in front of the State Capitol. Four carts, manned by homeless vendors selling coffee, pie, snacks, and ice cream were released out into the city. The homeless vendors earned 100% of the profits plus tips, averaging around $30 an hour during the festival. A huge group of staff and supporters were there for the send-off. Check out the photo album on the Mobile Loaves & Fishes Facebook Page.
5. SXSWi was Chock Full o’ SPACE this year. Among the radass space stuff that I got to experience: I got to MEET LeVar “Geordi” Burton at a panel with Dr. Mae Jemison and Dr. Jill Tarter discussing the 100 Year Starship project; I met astronaut Ron Garam at a panel discussing NASA’s social media presence; I met Mike Menzel, the lead engineer on the James Wood Space Telescope project, and got to see a full size replica of the telescope. Now, more than ever, I am convinced that I need to go into space.
6. I MSNBC-Geeked-Out by seeing Rachel Maddow speak live and in person about her book Drift–she did a short talk and then sat down for a Q&A with a moderator who fed her questions from Twitter. As I expected, she was amazing and beautiful and brilliant. I did not, however, get to meet her in person and get my book signed, which was a total bummer. However, I DID get to meet Chris Hayes and have him sign my copy of HIS book, Twilight of the Elites. He complimented me on my new purple glasses, which I found immensely flattering.
7. I finally got to meet two of my favorite online people – Julie Pippert and Kami Huyse — we went to lunch at The Driskill hotel which was very fancy, and Kami surprised me by buying my lunch in honor of my birthday. For dessert I had a spectacular mango sorbet with fresh fruit, and we laughed. A lot.
8. At the Trade Show, I discovered my new favorite app: TOUT. You can use it to create and publish short video snippets, and then compile them into a widget or full-screen viewer. It’s super rad and I can think of a ton of ways to use it. Download it and follow me!
9. The Big Takeaway for me from SXSWi was the strong emphasis on the art of storytelling as an essential element for successful new media engagement. I went to a social story-telling meetup where this was the topic of discussion, and then founder of the wildly successful Buzzfeed spoke about this topic in his keynote, too. We already know that new media can’t just be focused on media tools – clearly, there has to be authentic social interaction if you want any kind of quality engagement. But taking it a step further, if you hope to persuade or influence using new media, you must have a deliberate, conscious plan for telling your story–and not just as a ‘campaign’–but in a holistic manner. Your brand doesn’t *have* a story–it *is* a story that individuals who interact with you can adopt as part of *their own* story. See, we’re all storytellers now. The days of brands/orgs imposing a narrative on an audience are over. We are partners in storytelling with other storytellers. This requires finesse…it requires nuance. It requires human connections even in a digital space. I’ve been really thinking about how to apply this at Mobile Loaves & Fishes, and I’m brainstorming on ideas. Keep an eye open this year for some experimental ways that we’ll be incorporating storytelling into our online messaging.
10. I. MET. THE. GRUMPY. CAT. Thanks to my friend Amy Vernon (who knows someone at Mashable), I was able to get past the two hour line in the rain and get in first thing on Friday morning to see Tard, who I consider my feline doppelganger. It was MAGICAL.
So, that’s all I’m going to squeeze into this recap… except, I’d be crazy not to post a bunch of photos for you, too. So here you go (click to enlarge):