Monday, April 24, 2006

Some reflections on religion

I cut out a newspaper clip from an Interview with Karen Armstrong in the Seattle Times of April 8th. Armstrong is a former nun and a religious historian who writes beautifully about religions, including Islam. At the time she was in Seattle promoting her new book "The Great Transformation: The Beginning of Religious Traditions". I wanted to quote a specific section from the interview:

Interviewer: Where do you think the world is Today in terms of spiritual development?

Armstrong: There's a lot of bad religion around. It's like art. Religion is very difficult to do well. Not everyone who has piano lessons ends up sounding like Vladimir Ashkenazy. A kind of bellicose religiosity has become a factor in most religious traditions.

But there is also, in some parts of the world, a real hunger for something different. There is definitely a desire for, and interest in, greater pluralism.

I really liked this answer. I am particularly tired and annoyed with all 3 Abrahamic religions' obsession with the end of days and armageddon. Its the same story for all three: there's going to be a huge, all-encompassing fight right here in the Middle East with immense and unthinkable suffering, afterwhich a figure will appear that will save the day and bring victory for the one true religion (the true Messiah for the Jews, The second coming of Christ for Christians, and the guided one, or "Mahdi" for Muslims).

This would not be so bad if fundamentalists (especially Christian fundamentalists) didn't think they actually have to do something to bring this scenario about. If they are so comfortable in their belief that this will happen, why not just kick back and relax and let God do his bidding when he is good and ready? Why support Bush's war? Why support an intransigent Israel? The answer: to create a situation where the whole world is annoyed at and at war with Israel (?) Excuse me? I mean come on!!

And whatever happened to doing what is moral? i.e. not supporting Israel in its continued military occupation of another nation and its taking away their freedom of self determination. It wouldn't be half as bad if these people didn't channel their stupidity on my home and my back yard, the Middle East. Why do they imagine war and destruction? Why not imagine a peaceful and prosperous Middle East instead where all religions co-exist in JUSTICE and harmony. Incidentally, that's all we Muslims really want -- Justice. Which, ironically is the main theme of both Judaism and Islam (while "love" is the main theme of Christianity).

If this were to happen, the coming messiah might come down, find that his services are not needed, and go back to his life of bliss in heaven.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Back in Amman

We've been in Amman for four days now, and it brings me a lot of joy to see that both Amanda and Issy are so happy to be here. Amanda is quite enjoying working in development again and re-visiting all the cool places that she used to like when we lived here... but I think she particularly likes that everyone is so enamored with Issy and picking him up and kissing on him, playing with him, and, importantly, speaking Arabic with him.

I've put together a list of things that I want to do here before I get back to the states on May 15th, as follows:

1- Arab League Cafe: I went with my friend Hani to the Arab League Cafe in downtown Amman to sketch and smoke Argheeleh, as we always used to do before I moved to the states. It was really wonderful. A Danish filmmaker was making a documentary about Hani (he is an amazing artist) and was filming us at the cafe, which was an interesting experience. I am hoping to make it to another downtown Amman cafe, The Rashid Courts (also inexplicably known as Eco-tourism cafe) before going back.

2- Fakhriddin Restaurant: this is one of my favorite restaurants in the world; amazing Lebanese cuisine tastefully set in a renovated 50's Amman villa. We were there two nights ago with a number of friends and had a truly wonderful time. I often think about how well a restaurant like Fakhriddin would fare in Seattle. Apparently all of Amman's restaurants are full these days every day of the week, or so my cousin Mo says, a reflection of an economic boom that has apparently materialized since we were living here, and a significant influx of people and money into Jordan.

3- Visited my colleagues at my previous workplace. It was nice to see my old coworkers again. I must have been kissed some 100 times. I am not going to say much about this here though, save to say that I was somewhat disappointed that what my team and I spent years building, a results-oriented workplace where people would actually want to work, seems to be "under pressure".

4- Checked out my favorite software vendor on Gardens street: found some interesting titles for really cheap; the latest and greatest. Next I will go downtown to peruse the cheap DVD offerings.

5- Shawerma: on our first day here we got chicken shawerma sandwiches from "Fares" in Suweifieh, one of our favorite shawerma places in Amman. Before we go back to Seattle we're going to get chicken shawerma from Daia' in Abdoun circle and lamb shawerma from Reem in second circle (at least I will, Amanda doesn't care much for Reem).

Amman seems to have many more noteworty shawerma places since we lived here, including a 24-hour shawerma place in Abdoun that somebody recommended we try.

6- Mansaf: I had this traditional Jordanian dish twice already within the five days we were here (I like it with freekeh if possible rather than rice). For those who don't know it, Mansaf is a dish that consists of a yummy yoghurt sauce, rice, and lamb (or sometimes chicken, but I much prefer lamb). I noticed that it may be a bit of an acquired taste for foreigners, though.

** I haven't gotten round to the items below, but they are on the agenda: ==================================================

7- Knafe from Habiba: knafe is probably our favorite Arabic sweet, right up there with katayef. In my opinion there is no better knafe than that which is obtained from Habiba in downtown Amman (the branch in the alley right next to the Arab bank). Their knafe is always piping hot and fresh and their high turnover means that it has not been sitting there for hours waiting and getting stale.

8- Catch Hani's latest show of paintings at Gallery Zara (see below). I've heard great things about this show, except apparently Hani's expressive faces and figures are a bit too haunting for Amman's elite society and their refined sensibilities.

I also want to go to see the new National Museum in Jabal Weibdeh, which I heard is quite nice.

9- Buy some novels in Arabic. Our friend Khadija, a Moroccan restauranteur in Seattle, asked me for some novels in Arabic. I realized yesterday that I have absolutely NO IDEA as to what is being published in the Arab world and that, though I am an avid reader, the last time I read a book in Arabic was more than 5 years ago (it was Hisham Sharabi's wonderful autobiography "Suwar il-Madi"). Somehow I don't think that I am an anomaly in this regard, and it is probably worth writing at length about why so many educated Jordanians read mostly English materials in another blog posting.

I've always wanted to buy Abdilrahman Munif's novel about Amman's early years, so I'll do that today, but otherwise I have no idea what's worth buying. Any recommendations?

10- Amman's Friday Flea Market. This, apparently, is a "gentrified" flea market that is actually advertised on the radio (?). This thing started happening since we left for Seattle and I'll have to check it out tomorrow. Another flea market of note is the so-called "thieves market" deep downtown in a place called the "jora" (the pit). Does this still take place? I vaguely remember that it may have been stopped by the authorities.

11- "Zuwwadeh" restaurant in Fuheis. Definitely on the agenda. Or I could settle for going to "Haret Jdudna" in Madaba instead. Maybe we'll do both heheh.

12- Showing at Makan. Amanda has been talking to people about doing a screening of her film "In the land of the free?" at Makan, a small "alternative" arts center. I am really looking forward to that.

13- Make up with my sister. My sister and I don't speak, haven't for a number of years now. It started as a disagreement about her management of the family business, but the main sticking items in terms of getting this thing behind us are (a) deciding that we want to make up, which in this situation is still not necessarily the case, and (b) letting go of negative emotions that are still running strong.

14- Dentist. I will get my teeth polished at some point for less than $50, compared to the bajillions that I would have to pay in the states.