Ramadan Day 6

I dedicate this post and especially the poem at the end to Don Eletreby’s Iftar in which I met a Shams who also happens to be a non-Muslim fasting and an ex-Catholic who is on the road to fasting and a wonderful artistic spirit who still uses the term “Historic Filipino Town” and to the Don for nourishing my spirit during Ramadan.

Someone Untied Your Camel

By Hafiz trans. by Daniel Ladinsky


I cannot sit still with my countrymen in chains.

I cannot act mute

Hearing the world’s loneliness

Crying near the Beloved’s heart.


My love for God is such

That I could dance with Him tonight without you,

But I would rather have you there.


Is your caravan lost?


It is,

If you no longer weep from gratitude or happiness,

Or weep

From being cut deep with the awareness

Of the extraordinary beauty

That emanates from the most simple act

And common object.


My dear, is your caravan lost?


It is if you can no longer be kind to yourself

And loving to those who must live

With the sometimes difficult task of loving you.


At least come to know

That someone untied your camel last night

For I hear its gentle voice

Calling for God in the desert.


At least come to know

That Hafiz will always hold a lantern

With galaxies blooming inside

And that


I will always guide your soul to

The divine warmth and exhilaration

Of our Beloved’s



The other day I found myself walking underground for about ten minutes extra.  The rain outside had made the day refreshing to me.  I wanted to be above ground.  Unfortunately, the MTA had failed to notify any of the people who were trying to take the 4,5 at Fulton Street that no trains would be stopping at the station.

An MTA worker in long dreds peppered with white, an orange vest, and a smile wider than sunshine, was posted at the end of a long walkway.  When I arrived, a crowd of twenty people were bunched around him in a small pack, listening to him say that the train would not be coming, muttering tight fists of obscenities.  He pointed toward the sign that, silly enough, had been posted right next to him.  A lot of people could have been saved a lot of trouble, I thought.

One man, tall and dressed in loafers, his skin so dark it dressed the intensity of his black eyes, yelled at the worker repeatedly:  I hope you never get a raise.  None of you.  You all are just terrible!

The worker laughed and said, It’s not me, man.  It’s not me.  His accent was thick and Carribbean, soft counter-melody playing against the Yankee mob.  I wondered how he could laugh.  It was so hot.  The crowd grumbled, weighing the injustices that had been meted out to them – whether to protest the unfairness of the statements directed at this individual, or to further denounce the MTA for which they had walked down a long humid tunnel, unnecessarily.  I instinctively put my body between the crowd and the worker, but I just stood there.  If there was gonna be a screaming match, or worse, I intended to defend him.

Minutes later, in a delayed reaction, I heard myself say out loud:  It’s not his fault.  It’s the MTA’s.  I felt ridiculous.  Only the worker heard me, and he smiled at me, not gratefully, but because he thought that my statement was amusing.  He had the situation under control.  The man in loafers had already drifted away yelling his message to a new audience of soon-to-be-surprised passengers.

  The principle question seemed to me:  to whom shall I address my comments?

I don’t know.  However, if there was ever a caravan of the petty acts of justice and the unclassified weird-nesses of life, I could be its leader/drum major.  I imagined the band behind me, a series of short and tall oddballs, made up of many races, religions, and cultures, swaying behind me, no batons, just poetry and laughter – our instruments wouldn’t have much gravity — mocking the importance of saying words at all.

During Ramadan, it is shocking to me and somewhat disappointing, that I am filled with so many of my usual anxieties.  I keep thinking – rise, rise above.  But I don’t.  My thoughts are like minnows.  There are so many of them.  Anxieties.  Small and terrible.  Glimmering in the lake of my mind.  Jumping.

Do I do this nice thing for this person?  Should I sleep longer?  Shouldn’t I be writing?  Should I say this thing, this just or fair thing (my opinion, sadly), to someone who probably needs to hear it but will become angry at me for saying anything?  Should I call out white privilege?  Shall I correct the use of an incorrect gender pronoun?  Why am I not more gentle?  Why don’t I just stand my ground and stop apologizing?

  Occasionally – will I go to hell?


            Every anger seems magnified.

I had the opportunity to confide in a stranger who asked me if I was Muslim and if I felt connected to other Muslims through fasting — (a question I often get during Ramadan, and was asked twice yesterday) – and I explained to him that I choose this period of Ramadan to fast.  I actually don’t feel connected to other Muslims in the larger, worldwide sense.  I do feel connected to those who are Friends, and who share Iftar with me, either now or in the past.

May I ask why you don’t convert?

I don’t really want to answer this question. 

It feels endless.

What I cannot do is be made to feel ashamed of myself by religion when I grew up feeling shame because of my culture and because of religion.  Chinese, Taiwanese, Christian, Daoism, Buddhism.  Once, I was deconstructed in these ways.

Every time I enter a Masjid, I must choose whether I am a man or a woman.  I am a woman.  I must choose to stand behind the long rows of men.  I must cover my bare legs.  I must cover most of my arms.  I think about the condemnation of my sexuality, not necessarily by the religion, but by those who feel closer to it and who control the state of Islam in most countries.

How does privilege operate?  It operates within the confines of those who do not understand their existence as a series of choices.  Choices are exhausting.  They imply responsibility.  I have problems choosing which brand of toothpaste, so how do I figure out who I am?  Can’t I just relax and let God choose for me?  Usually, to the extent you fit the project image of supposed belonging (in a specific context), for example – you are heterosexual, white, American, and born male and masculine-conforming without any vast physical or mental variation from the average – then you could convert to Islam and not worry that you will be told you are less.

You, as this archetype, will cling to any hardship that defines you in life.  Poverty, for example.  But that will be situational – it will tend not to be about your identity, but about why you could or could not get out of that situation, especially given that you may not believe that poverty is your birthright.

But is it?  When we don’t have money, don’t we feel as if somehow we are responsible?  We didn’t work hard enough, so it had to happen that way.  So much for the Lazy Billionaire’s Club, we say!  We internalize.

If you convert and you are the archetype I have mentioned, will you really feel legitimate at all?  Islam and culture are intertwined.  It will likely not be your culture.  You will have to fight for acceptance in other ways.  It will become a gift giving your life a hardship that you chose.  (If you chose it at all).  But, ultimately, you will still be privileged.  You will not necessarily feel different about your identity.  You will not have to choose to stand in the back.  You will stand in the front.  You will not see that every time you have done so, you have made a choice to put me in the back.  Your privilege is not that you don’t make choices.  It is that it will be easier for you not to be confronted by those choices and their implications.

I am here to confront you.

I will not ask you to choose differently.

May God give me the strength to be that sort of person – to not be so attached to the external world.  These choices can be an illusion.  But instead, may God liberate me and allow me not to be tied to the skin and body I am wearing.  May God get me drunk.

This is part of why I love Ramadan.  From the first moment I fasted, I felt that I had been chosen.  I thought it was so ironic that God would choose to give me the gift of fasting.  Who, me?

It seemed to almost be in spite of bigotry, in spite of prejudice, in spite of hate, that God gave us Ramadan.  Because you can shame a person into feeling like they are not doing things right, or that they themselves are somehow so wrong that they are not truly Muslim, but you cannot prevent them from fasting, from having this relationship with God which you must respect on some level if you’ve ever even attempted Ramadan.  Here is God showing you that this person (and it can be any person), like you, is starving and thirsty for the presence of Allah.

It is why old an old Pakistani woman whose eyes narrowed when she saw me on the street, morphed into a great rose in my heart when she hugged and welcome me for fasting on an Eid I went with the O’Husain’s to morning prayer.  I saw it in her eyes:  thank you for fasting.  It was as if the act of my fasting, especially in this hostile country, was the extension of my hand across the bridge.  As if the thing that mattered to her was my appreciation of her.  Does one beget the other?

Actually, I cannot compare the internal choices of any person.  I cannot know what another is truly experiencing.  Whenever I set up a hypothetical on the basis of identity labels, I feel like I’ve built a house of cards – one that begs to be knocked down.  If I’m trying to make a morality lesson, it seems laughable that I would use categories that have always hurt me, to make it.

Maybe I’m not here to wake up others. 

Maybe I can let that go.

Ramadan reminds me not to be so angry.  Ironically, this makes me angry because my anger keeps my head high in the mornings.  Anger reminds me to be self-righteous.  It reminds me to know that I see things — true things — that somebody else does not.  These things I see – they make it unacceptable and wrong when people hurt me, when people hurt the communities I love.

Ramadan reminds me to take a break from seeing the world and being of it.

I’ve gone out

to play with Hafiz’ and his rowdy prisoners.

Please don’t leave a voicemail.

Just come by.

Trayvon Martin’s killer should have been found not guilty according to the process of our judicial system.  The prosecution did not prove he was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.  That doesn’t mean he didn’t do it.  So I still understand why folks are angry.  Go ahead.  Justice was technically done…

Or was it?  Did the prosecution throw in the towel?  Would they have gone harder at the defendant if he was a Black man?  What if Zimmerman had been a gang member — would he deserve a lesser defense?  Was it a fair jury pool?  Was the jury instructed correctly?  What about the entire system of racial inequity the criminal injustice system is built on?  I want to tell people not to be angry when there’s a “not guilty” verdict because I was a defense attorney who fought tooth and nail for every person to be given a fair trail — for two words — not guilty.  Beyond a reasonable doubt should be one of the highest legal standards.  Even for Zimmerman who I believe killed Martin, and who did so without justification.

I think about Mumia.  I think about the Scottsboro Boys.  I think about the countless boys and girls, men and women, my people, whose lives are endangered, who are shown the door to a jail cell instead of a schoolroom.  So don’t be too angry about the verdict in one case.

But be very angry because if he had been put away, it could not change all the juries, many of them majority white, that have convicted people of color (especially men) on much less evidence.  But be very angry because if George Zimmerman had gone to prison, it would not change the fact that there are more black men in prison today than there were enslaved in this country.  But be very angry because prosecutorial misconduct is alive and well, and policing is anything but race-neutral.

It will not change the fact that putting men and women in prison often ensures that they will experience sexual assault.  It will reinforce sexism and the systemic control of women of color and men of color.  It will reinforce the control of white women in that same system.  It will reinforce theft, and it will increase poverty.  Be very angry because there are so many things wrong, and yet.

And let us cry out in pain and grieve for Trayvon Martin’s beautiful life which is lost to us.

This is the secret perfume of Ramadan.  That all these things do matter – they are real.  These injustices are so close to my heart, but I don’t have to say them.  I can surrender to my hunger and thirst.  I can stop choosing at every moment whether to bark, to yell, to scream.  I can sing.  I can be here in this place (how I love this place!) so close to God.  In my silence and discomfort, I am trying to change myself, and to forgive myself for not being able to always make the right choice, for not always being able to rise, for all the times I have not chosen who I am consciously.

           The air of Ramadan is freedom.

            It multiplies who I am into every particle.

            Allah and I walk a long time on the grass



By Hafiz, trans. by Daniel Ladinsky



Do sad people have in



It seems

They have all built a shrine

To the past


And often go there

And do a strange wail and



What is the beginning of



It is to stop being

So religious






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