Halal Love

There is nothing more painful than being rejected by your family.  especially when they’re rejecting you for finding love.

halal love, 2019. acrylic and gold on paper.

This is a soul portrait I made for my patron who has been facing a lot of struggle with his family as an out gay Muslim who has moved in with his male partner.  

This painting is called “halal love”, I made the heart and wings out of scraps of rainbow-colored paint that had dried onto my paint palette.  And added some arabic calligraffi in the back –the words are “halal habb” which translates into love that is halal, or accepted by Islamic communities.  Because that is our vision with MPV — building Muslim communities that are truly inclusive, loving and accepting. Here, “there”, and everywhere.

The winged heart is a common image in Islam, especially in Sufism — the meaning is the soul rising to God, and seeking an infinite love relationship with the Oneness that underlies all existence.

Could we really love eachother in a way where we don’t see “the other”?

On climate, and accountability

What kind of world do we want our children to inherit?

Chemical Weaponry, 2003. Colored Pencil on Paper.

“It is the One who has appointed you vicegerent on the earth…” (Quran 6:165). 

“Preserve the Earth, because it is like your mother”  – Prophet Muhammad in Nahj-al-Fasahah, No. 1130.

Khalifa fil’-al-ardh or stewardship of the earth, is the principle that humans are the custodian of nature, and must work in harmony with all living things.  In Islam, nature is seen as a pure creation of Allah which is a reflection of God’s beauty and unity, or Tawhid.   As stewards, we have been entrusted to respect, nurture, and care for the environment as part of our love for God. The Arabic word for Paradise, Jannat, also translates as garden, and the Quran has many verdant descriptions of paradise, which is seen as a place where our souls live in harmony with nature: 
“Paradise, which the righteous are promised, wherein are rivers of water unaltered, rivers of milk the taste of which never changes, rivers of wine delicious to those who drink, and rivers of purified honey, in which they will have from all [kinds of] fruits and forgiveness from their Lord….” [Quran, 47: 15]

At the same time, we have to see the reality of today.  Which is that human actions on the face of the earth are taking us in the opposite direction of this ideal.  Our desires to do more and gain more without thinking about the consequences is destructive and harmful

As a Muslim, I believe we will be taken to account for all that we do in this life. Both for all we do to harm the health of our planet, and for every harm that we abstain from doing, and enjoin others to abstain from as well.

Art-by-Mail

I’m trying out a new thing….selling custom artwork via a subscription service on Patreon.

my goals are modest: i’m looking for 7 patrons who will support my art on a monthly basis, and my patrons get physical/spiritual artwork in return. This month’s theme is “soul portraits” and they’ve been inspiring and satisfying to create.
would you like to join my patreon?

a soul portrait flying out to meet its owner.

The Prophet’s Minbar

Last month, I had the opportunity to see a talk given by Dr. Chekhab-Abudaya at the Harvard Museums. what fascinated me the most was her history of the Prophet Muhammad’s minbar, which is a part of this larger calligraphic panel:

Calligraphic panel showing stylized views of Mecca and Medina and Sandals of the Prophet Muhammad. Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, The Edwin Binney, 3rd Collection of Turkish Art at the Harvard Art Museums

The minbar is on the bottom center right panel, under the name of Allah, and represents the Prophet’s minbar (the platform from which he gave sermons and speeches) at Medina. Our traditions say it was made of wood and had only three steps, and the Prophet climbed the first two and sat on the third to speak. In Arabic, the word minbar is derived from the Semitic root N-B-R, which means “to raise or elevate”.

the prophet’s minbar at Medina

The design of the Prophet’s minbar, with its three steps, has been replicated in mosques around the world. As the Muslim world grew more powerful, caliphs started to build taller and fancier minbars to address their congregation, but traditionalists have kept to the minimalist three steps. As a member and organizer of my own communities, I’ve been asking myself: why only three steps?

Three steps are enough for the voice of the speaker to carry to everyone in the room, and for the speaker to actually see everyone around them. Which works for say, maybe around 100-150 people. The cognitive limit for maintaining cohesive community has been observed to be about 150 people, after which community stability tends to break down. Traditionally, this was the size of a clan or a village; i.e. a group where we can actually function on a human scale. The level where you can still look deep into the eyes of everyone and register their emotional responses.

What happens to the world when we start organizing on ever-expanding platforms? One of the immediate consequences is that we can no longer see the impacts of our words on the people who are listening . Not deep down, inside their hearts.

I think this is one of the biggest risks that digital organizing and mass media pose to society. They are appealing and can be engaging. Yet in the long run they can also become isolating and alienating. Ultimately, we have to live our lives in community, in communion and empathy. This is best done in the real world, where we naturally keep our circles small and livable, and by keeping our online communities at similar sizes.

On Fatimah

So I never really thought much about my views on abortion, other than I would never personally have one.  Until one day at my mother’s mosque, where the Imam talked about our Beloved Prophet’s daughter, Fatimah. It was the first sermon I’d ever heard that was specifically focused on her.  He talked about her virtues and how she was called Umm Abeehah, the “Mother of her Father” because of the love and care she gave to her father.  He also said that the work of nurturing society was very important, just as important as becoming a doctor or and engineer.  And that we needed to value it a lot more.

Then he quoted the Quran (Surah al-Isra, 17:31): “Do not kill your children for fear of poverty”

I don’t know what the Imam was referring to (most likely gendercide), and there was nothing to indicate that he was encouraging taking a political stand on abortion.

But that statement had a profound effect on me. I had to go back and consider my opinions on abortion and choice.  And realized that while I didn’t explicitly oppose women’s rights to bodily autonomy, I also did not want to stand up for them in the case of abortion rights.  That there may be times and places when it is appropriate to take a human life, but there should also be strong limits on doing so.

So when a friend called me a year or two later to inform me that she was pregnant, and that she wanted my advice on keeping the baby or getting an abortion, I did not know what to say.

She pressed me for my moral views on the matter.  And asked me something along the lines of “what would you do?”

What was I going to tell her?

I didn’t tell her that her partner wanted her to get an abortion.  She already knew that.

I didn’t tell her that my mother’s partner also wanted her to have an abortion.  But that she chose to have my brother anyway, and to raise him as a single working mother. It wasn’t my story to share.

I wanted to tell her “I would keep my baby.  And I would be supportive of you if you wanted to do that, too”,

In the end, I just told her it was her own decision to make, and that she needed to make it on her own terms.  And she decided to do that.

I hope that was her own decision, and that she wasn’t pressured into doing something she didn’t want to do due to lack of support.

I still wish I had shared my opinion when she asked for it.

not see

I attempted to give up beef for Lent this year, and I think it backfired because I instead got into a giant beef over Holy Thursday with @amandapalmer on twitter (more of a rant tbh). And then I woke up on the day of her show and decided to launch a protest, which was another terrible idea.

Who even does this stuff? apparently me, never afraid to play the idiot…..I whipped up this sign and posted it on Twitter with an ALL CAPS INVITATION TO A PROTEST OF #WHITESUPREMACY IN BOSTON:

“not-see” is a lyrics reference. what does it mean to you?

Which incited concern from Amanda, confusion and a bit of outrage from her followers (i guess people don’t like it when you call someone they look up to a Nazi) and made me realize what a jerk i was being.

Then I decided what I really needed to do was revise my whole idea, because if I saw Amanda as a white supremacist, how could I not see myself as one too ? So I decided to panhandle outside the show instead. I had a change jar that I rattled and I did my best to smile at people and make eye contact with every person that came my way as they walked into her show at the Orpheum.

It was really interesting, because I had to face what I know is my own behavior towards homeless people 90% of the time.

Nobody gave me any change.

Half the people I looked at actively avoided looking back.

About a third of the people I looked at saw me.

A handful of people came up to apologize that they couldn’t give me anything, and to actually say “i see you”. I had brought some sweet-smelling flowers from my garden, and I gave them to the people who approached me. And showed them my other sign:

The word in Arabic is Rahmah (mercy/compassion/love), which is one of the feminine names for God.

After attending the show and coming back to my own comfortable home, I had a lot to reflect on. I still do.

My brother Ishmael was schizophrenic, and spent most of his adult life in the Massachusetts mental hospital system. It’s not as intense as prison….but there are still locks and bars. Every once in awhile he’d escape and go wandering around the state for days at a time. We’d have to alert the police in different towns and go out looking for him. We never knew what shape he’d be in when we found him. He was a big guy, and he was pretty obviously crazy, so our biggest fear WAS THAT HE WOULD BE SHOT BY THE POLICE.

We called him Ishy. I can’t find my pictures of him as an adult.

Thanks to God and his unusually kind personality, my brother always came back safely.

Anyhow, when I was younger and poorer, I was a LOT nicer to the mentally ill and homeless people I met in the streets. I’d try give to change if I had it, and smiles and conversation if I didn’t. Because I saw my brother in the panhandlers.

I felt like if I looked after them, kind strangers might look after him.

But he died 7 years ago…..and I don’t do that so much anymore.