I love memoirs. There was a time though, when it was hard to find good memoirs by Muslim women. More than ten years ago, the memoirs I read would disappoint me because they would leave their storytelling project to defend Islam. Long paragraphs and pages of exposition would begin with the words “Islam has five pillars”, or “Islam is about peace”, or “my hijab is about being judged for what is inside my heart” and as a reader, this got old fast. It felt like even by Muslim writers, I wasn’t being centered, I wasn’t seen. I wasn’t their imagined reader.
Now, there is more choice, but my reading preferences are the same. I like books that are not striving to explain Islam, to justify it. I avoid books that are about escaping conservative Islam, about domestic violence, or that include strident paragraphs about how Islam isn’t a violent religion. I rejoice when I come across well written books where I can delight in the prose, be surprised by the reflections, and learn how other Muslims are living their lives. I want Islam to be there in the background, quietly. When I read the novel “A Place for Us’ it felt like home for that reason.
So many years later, while there is still lots of work to do in publishing, there are so many more books and memoirs by Muslim women and it is possible to gravitate to stories that call out to you. I am glad for this. Ibtihaj Muhammed’s book “Proud” for example, made me more motivated to move my body and revel in its gifts. Zarqa Nawaz’ book “Laughing all the Way to the Mosque” made me think about the grit and determination required to create television. While before the publication of any book by any Muslim female in the Global North felt like it warranted purchase because we were in a desert of representation, now I don’t feel compelled to like or read every book. I say all this to say that when I read Professor Ayesha Chaudhry’s memoir “The Colour of God” I entered my reading reminding myself that this is one book, one story. It didn’t have to be all things and it was okay to not like it. I am glad to report though, that this book is a gift, and I am glad I took the effort to read it. I read it slowly over the course of a week, savouring it in early mornings and lunchtime reads and reflecting over its contents.
After a long time- a new Seriously Planning podcast! I get my love of reading and writing from both my parents, and this is an interview with my dad about his love of Urdu poetry and writing and words and how the love of art is part of the heritage of our family. My dad grew up in Karachi, Pakistan, I was born elsewhere before we moved to Canada, and this interview is about migration, holding onto language, culture, and how writing can anchor one’s life. The interview is in English, but there are poems in Urdu throughout. This is the first time I’ve done an interview on the channel, and I enjoyed this conversation so much. Do share, comment and let me know if you’d like to hear more interviews!
If you have a library and a garden, you have everything you need. ~Cicero.
To celebrate International Literacy Day this year, I made a trip to Seattle to visit their incredible public library. I instantly fell in love – from the rotary phone with stories of community sourced book reviews, to the incredible gift shop, to the multiple copies of hot new releases available through the Peak Reads program, to the beautiful garden theme and the stunning architecture, there was so much about the space and building that captivated my attention and inspired my heart. The visit felt especially meaningful because I’ve been thinking a lot lately about storytelling, who tells stories, how we recognise that we have stories worth telling, what it means to hear empowering narratives and and how feeling seen and represented impacts us.
More specifically, I’ve been thinking about storytelling because I’ve been thinking about Mark Gonzales new book called “Yo Soy Muslim” which is a letter of a father speaking to his daughter. I haven’t read the book as yet, but from what I can tell, it is a book that is about courage, doing good, recognising who you are, and what it means to be connected to Your Creator and other people.
In particular, the passage below brought me to tears when I read it.
Thoughts on Brene Brown’s amazing new (published in 2015) book, Rising Strong. It will change the way you think about failure and the way you understand and move through conflict. Here are some of my takeaways from the book. (Fact correction: Brene Brown has written more than three books)
It’s South African Library Week from March 11-21st 2016, and I want to celebrate Joburg libraries with you. Here is an audio story about my own library experiences and why I think libraries (and having a library card is so important), and above is a photo of me when I got my library card in Joburg. Do you have a library card? Join our celebration of libraries in Joburg this March and share a photo of you at your local Joburg library branch as part of the Seriously Planning #ilovejoburglibrary campaign. Lets fall in love with Joburg libraries this March!
To get a library card, you need your ID book (if you are not an SA citizen, your passport with visa works) as well as proof of residence. The card is free, and you can take four books out at a time. It takes five working days to process a card.
Unexpected beauties (Graaf-Reinet, South Africa November 2015)
Do you love books, cities and vibrant conversation? The Seriously Planning Bookclub has been meeting in Joburg since September 2015, and thus far, our monthly gathering has been a wonderful way to read more and meet new people at the same time.
In January we read Carla Power’s book “If the Oceans were Ink”. You can find thoughts about the read in the audio story below.
This month’s selection is “On Being a Muslim: Finding a Religious Path in the World Today” by Farid Esack.
Date: Feb 20th 2015
Time: 10:00 am to 12pm
Where: My bread and butter, 66 Tyrone Avenue, Parkview, 2193, Joburg
To RSVP: Email firstname.lastname@example.org
About the book: “Funny, challenging, controversial, passionate and unforgiving, this is an unprecedented personal account of a Muslim’s life in the modern world. As an Islamic scholar, outspoken social activist and well-known commentator, Farid Esack is in a unique position to tackle the quandaries and challenges facing Muslims today. Whether it be cultivating a meaningful relationship with Allah or striving for gender equality and religious freedom, Esack combines personal insight with incisive analysis. Providing a devout yet practical guide for those seeking to re-engage with their faith in the modern world, this groundbreaking work will help believers and non-believers alike to appreciate the eternal relevance of the Qur’an and its teachings. Dr Farid Esack has an international reputation as a Muslim scholar, speaker and human rights activist.” (via Amazon)
The beauty of (local) cultural production. (The Met, NYC, Oct 2014)
I love discovering cities and places through stories, and I’d like to learn more about places outside North America through my film and reading choices this year. A dear friend gifted me Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s short story collection The Thing Around Your Neck last week, yesterday I watched Riaad Moosa’s film Material (the subject of today’s audio story) set in Joburg, South Africa, and in the months to come, I’m hoping to tackle some of the books on this list by The Guardian of the Ten Best City Books of 2014.
What are your favourite books and films that have helped you discover new (or old) places? I’d love to hear your suggestions.
It was my last day at United Way Toronto this week (proper reflections coming soon, but an audio story of my reflections about building strong personal relationships above) and while my heart has felt warm and overflowing with love over all the goodbyes, it’s been cold and snowy outside. And each time I trudge through the slushy sidewalks/snow I think of people in Toronto who are homeless, and how though shelters exist, nearly 50% of homeless people who use Toronto’s shelters and meal programs have a monthly income of less than $500. On a limited income, often winter necessities are simply beyond the budget! If you are able, I highly recommend checking out the UWT Warmest Wishes gift catalogue. Through the catalogue, you can send a gift of a coat, boots, meals or more, and if you get a gift by December 24th, the P and L Odette Charitable Foundation will match your gift! Definitely something to look at and consider over the holiday season.
Almost a year ago, I visited Toronto to see if the city and I were still in love, and whether it was time to live here again. Seriously Planning had its first in person events at that time. A few months later, I moved from the West Coast, and the months since then have been unexpected, challenging, full, educational and beautiful.
Above all, the most important “settlement agency” that has helped me with the (still ongoing!) transition has been the *very small* (but very exciting!) Seriously Planning bookclub that has met regularly over the past several months to discuss different books. Though the books have been very different from one another, at each session we’ve shared our feelings about what we’ve read, the lessons we’ve learnt from our reading, the questions each book has raised for us, and the way reading each book has altered/impacted the way we are in the world. We’ve tried to pick books that help us reflect and grow, and the experience of actively reflecting both individually and collectively on each book has been transformational. Even more importantly than the amazing books though, the people that have come to each session have become very important people in my life – this is the circle I come to when things seem confusing to me, when I feel homesick, when I’m upset that I’m not doing the transition with as much grace and tranquility as I would hope. Whatever the challenge, the bookclub circle has been generous, wise and patient and I’m very, very grateful for its presence in my life! Would you like to join? We’re holding two events this December (details below), but if there are any additional events, the details will be posted on the Facebook page first.
For readers who aren’t in Toronto/aren’t able to meet in person, please do share! What are the books you’ve read this year that left an imprint on your heart? It’s cold and snowy in Toronto, and I’d love to make a winter reading list.
Dec 15th:Seriously Planning Book Club (December Edition)
Dec 29th: Idea Steep (Celebrating our Favourite Reads of 2014
I read Elizabeth Gaskell’s book North and South this week, and between the richly detailed, sensitive characters, the dry wit, and the beauty of the novel, it was a read that was well worth the investment in time. But the book is also a testament to the social and economic structure of the world in the 1850s. Above, my audio reflections on the read.
Would love to have a broader conversation about the book, and so for those who have read it, please do share your thoughts!