Hey! That's My Hummus!

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{{LISTEN}} Clemency for Troy Davis? And Is Jew or Not A Jew Okay or Not Okay?

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You ever wonder whether someone is a Jew or not a Jew?  There’s an app for that.  Or was in France for a while, anyway.

In this episode of HTMH:

” ‘Jew or Not Jew’ app riles anti-racism group”

PARIS – A French anti-racism group has threatened to sue Apple over an iPhone application called “A Jew or Not a Jew?” that allows users to consult a database of celebrities and public figures to determine whether they are Jewish or not.

SOS Racisme said the application, sold for 0.79 euro cents ($1.07) on the Apple Store France, violates France’s strict laws banning the compiling of people’s personal details without their consent.

(From CBS NewsWorld, September 14, 2011)

 

And on a more local (and slightly more morbid) note, we discuss the movement for clemency regarding Troy Davis, a man convicted of murdering a Savannah police officer in 1989 and sentenced to the death penalty. 

(UPDATE: As of our recording, the clemency hearing was scheduled, but this morning’s news’ reports indicate that clemency was denied to Mr. Davis by the state of Georgia and that the execution is scheduled for tomorrow.)

 

We’re Kinda Hungry: Ramadan and Tisha B’Av {LISTEN} HTMH #21

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It’s no secret that Ramadan is this month and that Faiqa’s fasting, but did you know that Shiny also fasted this week?

Relax, he’s not converting, it was actually a Jewish observance called Tisha B’Av.  Learn all about our similarities and differences in this super special “going hungry” episode where we discuss the hows, whats and whys of fasting in our traditions.

Have you liked us on Facebook, yet?  If so, why not?  We like you.

 

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  • Published: Apr 12th, 2011
  • Category: Identity
  • Comments: 7

Ritual and Religion

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** Have you listened to Episode 4: Conflicted, Slaughtering and Prince William’s Wedding, yet?  Download on iTunes or listen here **

 

Pakistani weddingsGrounded and crushed to a fine powder and then mixed with water, Mendhi, or henna, is an elaborate part of an Indian or Pakistani wedding.  The bride’s henna is often a focal point in a marriage.  There are various interpretations as to why henna is used in a wedding: luck, beauty, or good wishes.

Most of all, I think it’s just that it looks pretty.

One of the interesting assumptions on the part of a resource we mentioned in our last episode was that Mendhi is an “Islamic ritual.”  Not true.  Mendhi, or henna as it’s called in English and Arabic, is used throughout the world by various people as a form of decorative body art.  In fact, some resources suggest that its use was first documented back in the Bronze Age.  A famous henna ritual, for example, takes place among Yemenite Jews, in which the application of henna to a bride’s body takes several days.

It’s important, as I have mentioned in previous episodes, to remember that Islam, as it stands alone, is a spiritual way and a philosophy based upon strict monotheism, social justice and submission to the will of God.  Its prolific dispersion throughout the various parts of world, however, creates situations where indigenous cultures have stamped their unique marks upon the practice of the faith itself.

This is not a bad thing, in my opinion, but a testament to the simplicity of the faith.  It furthermore creates an opportunity for all Muslims to experience the richness of the global experience as they build communities in places such as the United States.  By virtue of being Muslim, I have been able to attend weddings of the Syrian, Kuwaiti, Saudi, Moroccan, Albanian and Bangladeshi variety to name a few.  Each of these weddings had a distinctiveness as well as basic similarities.

To further elaborate, I once read that Bosnian Muslims only get married on Saturdays.  Does that mean that being married on a Saturday is Islamic practice?  Not at all.  And, of course, a traditional Pakistani Muslim wedding occurs over the course of four to five days (at least), but that doesn’t mean a Muslim wedding is five days long.

These examples simply illustrate that there are all kinds of different ways that Muslims get married as well as live and even practice their religion.  At the heart of our marriage is the Nikah, or contract, most of the other practice is cultural and traditional choice.

Muslim, as I have said many times, is not a nationality or even a culture… it is a religion.  And, like all religions, Islam has proven malleable and it possesses the wonderful ability to be inserted into existing traditions and practices.  Finally, I suspect that the inability to make this distinction lies at the heart of most Islamaphobic rhetoric, therefore it’s pretty critical to make this leap in understanding.

I’m curious, how much of your wedding was religious and how much of it was cultural?  Does your faith have the same dynamic as mine or is every practice grounded in revelation?

 

Sort Of Asian.

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Have you listened to Episode 2: “Purim Explained, Conservative Women, and UCLA girl”?

*****

I mentioned back in Episode 0 that I sometimes tell people I’m “Indian” because it’s “just easier.”

Given that I’m actually of Pakistani origin, I know undoubtedly that some people would be horrified by that.  I also know that there are a larger number of people who don’t understand the significance of it.

It’s hard to explain, but I’ll try.

Growing up in a culturally homogeneous place (read: white American) as I did, I interacted with a great deal of people who had never heard of Pakistan.  I still live in a place where most people’s experience of Pakistan boils down to a five minute snippet from CNN or FOXNews.

Some people have assumptions about the place, others have questions.

Sometimes, I feel like answering questions and addressing assumptions and sometimes I don’t.  My choice to identify as Indian is actually directly proportional to how many questions I feel like answering about my identity.  It’s been my experience that assumptions about Indians are far more accurate than ones being made about Pakistanis.

It also depends on who I am talking to.  A sort of intellectual or social relativism occurs, if you will. I don’t hesitate to identify myself as being of Pakistani origin to those who display an awareness of the fact that similar does not equate to the same.

I do realize that’s not exactly noble, and that I’m taking away learning opportunities from people by doing that.  But, you know what?  It’s not always my responsibility to be anybody’s token.

I don’t have to if I don’t wanna.

Is it this sentiment that may lie at the heart of the reason for the prevalent use of the term “Asian” in various discourses in this country?

I suppose it was hypocritical of me in this past week’s episode to be irate over Alexandra Wallace’s repeated use of the word “Asian” when I so carelessly navigate the waters of being Indian or Pakistani.  And, yet, I am angry.

I’m disgusted not just by the racism in the video, but also the casual grouping of a continent as one people.

A few hundred years ago, Asia was known as the Orient.

The Orient… stretching over the vastness of Central Asia, China, India, Japan, and even into some areas of the Middle East.

For the English and French, the Orient was more than a word.  It was an instrument, you see, aimed at diminishing the individuality and sovereignty of that region.  It was a way to transform real people and places into a vast, uncharted Other.  A group of “Others,” actually, which weren’t as important or capable as the people who had coined general terms to describe them.

Of course, I know that there are Chinese, Korean, Japanese and other folks from the continent that will call themselves “Asian Americans” and that those same people wouldn’t even consider me to be among their ranks.  Barring the fact that Pakistan and India both occupy Asia as well, it’s incredible to me that anyone would willingly shed a unique culture, language and identity for one that is a giant blob of high math grades, technical mindedness and dutiful children.

But, then, of course, I remember all the times that I’ve said I was Indian.

Because it was easier.

Because I didn’t care enough to correct people.

Because, if I’m completely honest, I tend to think most people don’t care to be corrected and even if they are corrected, it may not change much, anyway.

All that said, on the subject of Alexandra Wallace and her Asian rant video, of which I care never to speak of or write about ever again, I will admit here that perhaps my co-host may have been right.

Perhaps the reactions to her were stronger than they should have been.

Then again, there’s a lot of history of not wanting to make waves, of keeping our heads down, keeping to ourselves, working hard and not bothering to correct erroneous assumptions that we’re just sort of fine with being othered by the word “Asian.”

And maybe all that not caring and not being bothered crashed down on the head of a thoughtless young woman with extraordinarily bad judgment.

On a completely unrelated note, if you have time and aren’t suffering from UCLA video burnout, please watch this incredibly brilliant and thoughtful response to Wallace’s rant.  I have to say, I became a slightly different human being afterward.

 

Special thanks to my friend Kailyn for e-mailing me this video!

Black Boxes and Leather…

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On this past week’s episode of Hey! That’s My Hummus! you may have heard me mention a recent news story about an Alaska Airlines flight from Mexico City to L.A. which went into panic mode. The cause for this?  Three Jewish passengers, in mid-flight, took out and started putting on tefillin, which are ritual prayer accoutrements.  The flight attendants observed these passengers doing something out of the ordinary (standing up soon after takeoff) with something out of the ordinary (the aforementioned tefillin) in a language with was out of the ordinary (Hebrew with a bit of Aramaic thrown in).  The plane landed safely at LAX, greeted by US Customs, Border Patrol and FBI agents. The passengers explained themselves and were allowed to go along their merry way. Alaska Airlines has since apologized for the whole incident.

This is not the first time that this has happened, and it certainly won’t be the last.

Some people blame the airline for their ignorance of Jewish tradition. Some blame the specific passengers in question for engaging in behavior which went against the grain of what was considered normal. Some hold the heightened fear of air terror as the culprit here. Although I would agree that changes on the part of each of these three components may have prompted a very different experience which would not have ended in a security alert, I choose to point my finger at something else entirely:

This would have never happened if the airlines were still serving free meals on short flights.

Think about it: our children are growing up in an environment where exposure to the term “kosher airline meal” is foreign to them. Since free meals aren’t served on most domestic flights (and since the ones they offer for a premium are not specifically kosher), we’re no longer sensitized to the differences between many of our fellow passengers. And with that,  we automatically cut off the notion that people who look, talk or act different are just like us. And we have many things in common. Such as the fact that the airline food in front of us, whether kosher or not, will probably suck.

Okay. It’s a bit of a stretch.  But I think the environment for flying post-9/11 has put people in a frenzy to point out anything and anyone that appears to be out of place. For some, out-of-place could be anything unexperienced, such as a Jew putting on tefilin. Or a Muslim engaged in Salat (traditional prayer). Or two adults of the same sex holding hands as a couple. A diabetic injecting herself with insulin. A family dressed differently speaking in a foreign language. The list goes on and on. We’re asked to report anything suspicious, and we do.  But we need to distinguish between “suspicious” and “different.” I don’t have any great solutions to this — aside from learning and asking questions.

When I fly with my wife, we have our own ritual of reciting Tefilat HaDerech, a short, Hebrew prayer which focuses on a pleasant journey free from challenges. In recent years, I’ve noticed that we’ve instinctively been less conspicuous about this ritual. We don’t huddle together to read the words, hunched over as if we’re planning something. We don’t say the words in Hebrew out loud lest we garner attention from that rare individual who might think the worst.  It doesn’t bother me, though, nor would the thought of me explaining myself with a smile.

There are those in the Jewish community who have specified that if these travelers wanted to put on tefilin, they could have done so before or after the 4-hour flight rather than do so on the plane. Obviously these passengers disagreed. But I do feel that a great deal of the fears could have been calmed by a “heads up” explanation.  I’m just engaging in my ritual prayer. These are just black boxes with parchment inside, and I’ll wrap them on my arm with these leather straps. I may stand up and sit down, but I’ll be as respectful as I possibly can. After I’m done, I’m happy to answer any questions while we both enjoy our delicious airline meals…

Well, I suppose I can dream about that last part, can’t I?

To conclude, I’d like to share a video. It’s of stand-up comedian and author Joel Chasnoff with a short bit about airport security and tefilin. Go ahead and watch; I’ll footnote the references after the video:


(iPhone? Click here.)

(1) Many traditional Jews with attempt to engage in prayer with a quorum of ten adults (some specify ten men).

(2) The age of a Jewish adult bound by the Jewish commandments is 13. (Some hold that Jewish women come of age at 12.)

 

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