Putting a modern twist on an ancient tradition
By Ronelle Grier, Contributing Writer
Detroit Jewish News
Rabbi Marla Hornsten at the Temple Israel mikvah
The age-old custom of mikvah is taking some new turns as modern Jewish women expand the tradition and dispel some of the negative beliefs that have long been associated with the ritual. Use of the mikvah has become more widespread in recent years, with a proliferation of ritual bath facilities throughout the United States and Europe. Many of these are quite spacious and luxurious, even with custom tile work, like Mikvah Israel in Oak Park. While the mikvah once was used primarily by prospective brides and observant wives in accordance with the Jewish laws of family purity, now the mikvah is used for a variety of other life-changing situations, including recovery from illness, becoming a grandparent or surviving a death or divorce. Mikvahs are featured in many articles, websites and books, including The Ritual Bath by Jewish mystery writer Faye Kellerman. Even Oprah has gotten into the act, visiting (but not immersing in) a mikvah during her televised tour of two New York Hassidic neighborhoods.
What Is A Mikvah?
A mikvah is a body of water designed for immersion according to the rules and customs of Jewish law. According to the website www.mikvah.org, the pool, which contains about 200 gallons, must be filled with living waters from a flowing source that has never been dormant, such as fresh spring water, rainwater or even melted snow. The tradition is based on the belief that water, as the primary source of all living things, has the power to purify, restore and replenish. The original purpose of the mikvah was to facilitate the observance of the Jewish laws of family purity, or taharas hamishpachah, which require periods of separation and reunion as part of married life. The separation, a time when the couple refrains from physical intimacy, begins with the onset of the menstrual flow and continues for seven days after it ends. The woman visits the mikvah after sundown on the seventh day, and then they can resume their sexual relationship.
Dispelling The Myths
Some modern Jewish women have eschewed the tradition because they believe it fosters a negative view of women. One woman remembers her mother’s horror stories about the stern mikvah attendants who examined her fingernails and admonished her for being unclean. Itty Shemtov, religious educator and wife of Rabbi Kasriel Shemtov of The Shul in West Bloomfield, says quite the opposite is true; the mikvah provides a symbolic rebirth that enhances the spirituality of the woman and the marital relationship.
“The tradition of mikvah introduces sanctity to marriage,” she said. “It promotes greater intimacy between husband and wife.”
Shemtov explained a pre-wedding visit to the mikvah is part of the spiritual and physical preparation for marital intimacy, which Judaism considers a holy act.
“The ritual is based on the Jewish concept of water as a source that cleanses, refreshes and rejuvenates,” she said. “Each detail relating to the mikvah – its size, the type of water used – has a mystical origin.”
She said the ritual of mikvah brings an element of romance to marriage and provides an opportunity for women to do some private soul searching about themselves and their relationship. A woman’s monthly visit is usually anticipated by both husband and wife.
“It’s considered a special night; some call it their own private monthly honeymoon,” Shemtov said.
This view is shared by Rachel M. (not her real name), who uses the mikvah on a regular basis, according to the laws of family purity.
“I like having my own space within the marriage,” she said. “It’s a spiritual time, and it’s given us a deeper level of respect for one another. It also makes the marriage more romantic.”
She believes that, like the ritual of mikvah, the role of observant women is misunderstood by much of modern society.
“People do not understand the empowerment that women have and how they give that to their families. We’re not walking three steps behind; we’re not turning the necks and heads of men; we’re helping to enrich the souls and minds of our husbands and children.”
Creating New Traditions
At Temple Israel in West Bloomfield, the first Reform congregation in the country to build its own mikvah, Rabbi Marla Hornsten is constantly looking for new and creative ways to use the facility. In addition to the traditional uses, which include conversions, pre-wedding visits and High Holiday preparation, Hornsten has helped women use the mikvah for various kinds of healing ceremonies, both physical and emotional, including dealing with cancer, divorce, death, miscarriage or other life crises.
“Part of healing is moving forward,” Hornsten said. “Some people are carrying baggage or bitterness, and this helps them let go.”
For nontraditional situations, Hornsten often writes a custom service with personalized prayers, poems or readings.
“If you can dream it, we can do it,” she said. “We want to be as creative and innovative as we can. I like taking something old and making it new again.”
The Temple Israel Mikvah is widely used by members of the Reform and Conservative movements; it is available to the community regardless of synagogue affiliation.
In addition to accompanying brides, often with their mothers or close girlfriends, Rabbi Rachel Shere of Adat Shalom Synagogue in Farmington Hills has taken women who are recovering from illness, going through divorce or trying to start a family to the mikvah.
“The word mikvah comes from the same Hebrew root as tikvah (hope). When using the mikvah, for whatever reason, we immerse ourselves in a pool of hope,” she said.
Although primary patrons for the mikvah are women, Hornsten said some men do come to commemorate the holidays as well as other occasions.
Rick Larson, and his wife, Mary Jane, each participated in the ritual when they converted to Judaism.
“I was ready to take on my Jewish identity, and the mikvah experience was very enlightening and spiritual,” he said.
Those doing the ritual as part of conversion are given a “mikvah bag” provided by Temple Israel’s Sisterhood and community donations. The bag contains a Kiddush cup, towels embroidered with the words “Mazel Tov,” a Tzedakah box, Shabbat candles and a cookbook.
Kari Provizer, director of the Family Life Center at Temple Israel, visited the mikvah with a group of women studying Kabbalah with Hornsten.
“It was a two-and-a-half-hour ceremony, very emotional,” she said. “Many of the women connected with their Judaism in ways they never thought they would.”
In her role as a social worker, Provizer recommends the mikvah experience after any kind of loss, such as death, divorce or miscarriage. She also encourages people to use the mikvah for good occasions, too, such as becoming a parent or grandparent, or celebrating a bar or bat mitzvah.
“It’s a way to shed the old and come into the new,” Provizer said.
More Modern Uses
Many women are choosing to include family and close friends in what used to be a private ritual.
Pam Salba of Farmington Hills and her daughter, Leslie Salba Garthwaite of Chicago, visited the mikvah prior to Garthwaite’s wedding several years ago.
“It was a beautiful experience,” Salba said. “We both did the mikvah; it was very moving and emotional. My sister was there, too.”
Linda Roberts of West Bloomfield visits the mikvah at Temple Israel every year before the High Holidays with her friend, Mary Jane Larson of Livonia.
“It really gets you ready for the holidays,” said Roberts, who also observed the ritual after recovering from ovarian cancer. “It helped me get better spiritually in addition to physically.”
Larson’s first visit to the mikvah was a requisite part of the process when she became a Jew by choice 12 years ago. Although she tried to prepare herself by reading extensively about the tradition, she found the actual experience to be different than she imagined.
“I was a blank slate,” she said. “Rabbi Marla talked me through it. I remember stepping into the water and looking around. It was very exciting. I passed a mother and daughter on my way in; their hair was wet and they had the most beautiful smiles.”
(Women’s Interfaith Solutions for
Dialogue and Outreach in MetroDetroit)
The InterFaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit
are sponsoring a house of worship visit to
the Sikh Gurdwara Sahib, Hidden Falls
40600 Schoolcraft Rd, Plymouth Township, MI 48170
on Wednesday, June 20, 2012
6:30 – 7:30 PM Religious Service
7:30 – 8:15 PM Langar Dinner
To sign up for this visit, please email Gail Katz
at email@example.com call her at 248-978-6664.
(While there is no charge, free will donations
are appreciated by the Gurdwara!)
(Women’s Interfaith Solutions for Dialogue and Outreach in MetroDetroit)
WARMLY INVITES YOU TO
A BAHA’I INTERFAITH GATHERING
SUNDAY, JULY 8 AT 5:00 PM
At the home of Azar Alizadeh
1416 Inwoods Circle (off of Kirkway Dr.)
Bloomfield Field Hills, MI 48302
Bring your favorite prayer or quotations
and come join us to learn about the Baha’i Faith!!
Food, Music, and Conversation after the Devotions
RSVP to Azar at firstname.lastname@example.org
Questions? Call Paula Drewek at 586-419-6811
(Women’s Interfaith Solutions for Dialogue and
Outreach in MetroDetroit)
Invites you to a House of Worship Visit
on Friday June 22nd
at Temple Israel
5725 Walnut Lake Road
5:30 PM Meet in the small chapel for discussion about Judaism
6:30 PM Picnic dinner (must order from Sandi Stocker, email@example.com or brown bag it)
7:30 PM Outdoor Shabbat Service (weather permitting)
For more information contact Gail Katz, 248-978-6664, firstname.lastname@example.org
| Sharing Sacred Spaces
This year, religious and spiritual communities came together in partnership with the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions (CPWR) to visit one another’s Sacred Spaces, a program designed to engage religious diversity and widen participation in interreligious activity across the Chicago metropolitan area.
Overview: Beginning in October 2011 and continuing through May 2012, eight places of worship and practice in downtown Chicago opened their doors to extend hospitality to visitors from the general public. Through these visits to spaces where people pray, worship, engage in religious practices and celebrate life’s events, visitors were invited to listen, learn and connect with one another. This was more than a tour; it was an experience. Each community had members available to talk about their tradition during the Sharing Sacred Spaces events. Visiting a variety of Sacred Spaces in this way was designed to deepen understanding of one another and lay groundwork for building a greater sense of community together.
At the end of the project, those who had visited and those who had hosted gathered in celebration of this time shared together. We invited each community to consider, from their own tradition, what it would mean to be in solidarity with one another. Each participating community was invited to sign a solidarity pledge. The pledge was intended to build bridges and strengthen bonds across traditions when a community is faced with religiously-motivated defamation or hatred. Standing in support of one another may bring these communities closer together as they move into the future.
It is envisioned that the Sharing Sacred Spaces initiative in Chicago will become a model program for other cities. Engagement with sacred spaces can be used as a vehicle to inspire individuals to build more diverse and vibrant communities.
Click here to view the schedule for Sharing Sacred Spaces in Chicago, 2011-2012.
To view the schedule for Sharing Sacred Spaces in Chicago click here.
First Baptist Church of Birmingham, Michigan invites the public to a
lecture by local writer David Crumm. The event will be held on Thursday,
June 7 from 7 to 8:30PM. The event is free and open to the public.
The topic of Mr. Crumm’s talk will be:
Learning to Swim in the Seas of Change:
How Our Spiritual Gifts Are a Sign of Hope in Global Culture
Every day, David Crumm helps Americans connect with the most important spiritual voices of our era. He is the founding Editor of
www.ReadTheSpirit.com . David Crumm is best known in Michigan for his decades as the state’s leading writer on religion, based at the Detroit Free Press. He returned to the pages of the Free Press in 2010 for a month-long, 10,000-mile series reporting daily from communities coast to coast in a widely read series called, American Journey. Since co-founding ReadTheSpirit in 2007, he also has conducted more than 250 in-depth interviews with influential figures in spiritual life, including former President Jimmy Carter, Bible scholar N.T. Wright, theologian Barbara Brown Taylor, Celtic Christian teacher John Philip Newell and many more.
The church is located at 300 Willits Street (at the corner of Willits and
Bates) in downtown Birmingham (one block north of Maple Rd, west
of Old Woodward Avenue).
To contact the church:
ReadtheSpirit.com Publisher and Writer, David Crumm
To Talk In Our Community
Mental Health Issues and Challenges Facing Metro Detroit’s Diverse Faith Traditions
Article by Karla Joy Huber
WISDOM Mental Health Challenges Panel from Left to Right:
Judy Lipson, moderator; Sameera Ahmed, Nacha Leaf,
Rev. Sandra K. Gordon, and Mona Belsare
The panel presentation “Mental Health Issues and Challenges Facing Metro Detroit’s Diverse Faith Traditions” was held Wednesday evening on May 16 at the Community House in Birmingham. Educators and counselors representing the Hindu, African-American Christian, Jewish, and Muslim faiths spoke about the differences and similarities in how their unique faith communities deal with the issues of mental illness and the stigma often attached to it.
The moderator, licensed professional counselor and educator Judy Lipson, asked each panelist how mental health affects faith, and how faith affects mental health. The panelists described how their communities deal with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and other mental illnesses which arise from assimilation pressures, culture clash, economic disparity, and gender inequity within the family, trying to maintain two seemingly irreconcilable identities at once, and/or the lack of education about the true nature of mental illness.
Mona Belsare, vice President of MAI (Michigan Asian Indian) Family Services and a psychiatric social worker at Beaumont Hospital, described how traditional, especially less-educated, Hindus, living in America, often have difficulty overcoming their culture’s strong stigma about mental illness, a stigma which tends to connect supernatural or evil forces with the presence of mental illness. Little distinction is made in Hinduism between the mind and body, so many Hindu families do not acknowledge mental illness as such, but instead go to doctors complaining of physical symptoms and refuse to comply with psychiatric care recommendations.
Reverend Sandra Kay Gordon, Assistant Pastor at Greater New Mount Moriah Missionary Baptist Church and advocate of child suicide prevention, explained that many African-Americans have a deep distrust of the mental health system, especially if they’ve gone to “white” counselors who misinterpreted their faith’s sense of direct communication with God, of faith healing, and of concern about demonic influences as manifestations of their mental illness, rather than part of their faith and culture. Issues of particular prevalence include rage, anger, drug and alcohol abuse, breakdown of the family, hopelessness, and lack of resources to access and afford adequate health and mental health care.
Nacha Sara Leaf, clinical social worker and therapist at the Kadima mental health agency in Southfield, described that the largely-assimilated Jewish community in America doesn’t face nearly as many unique mental health issues as the other groups represented, with a few exceptions. These exceptions include the post-traumatic stress of holocaust survivors, the identity issues of Orthodox teens who feel split between the strict customs of their parents and the temptation to forbidden mainstream American social and entertainment activities, and the assimilation stresses of recent Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union.
Dr. Sameera Ahmed, mental health scholar, director of the Family and Youth Institute, and clinical assistant professor at Wayne State University, said many of the mental health issues facing the American Muslim population arise from the media-promoted terrorist stereotype and popular misunderstanding of their religion. Also, the misconception that most or all Muslims in the U.S. are Arabs causes the needs and experiences of African-American Muslims to be ignored. Muslim children in mainstream schools face embarrassment due to a lack of religious accommodations, such as dress requirements for sports and having to go to school on their holy days. Since many of their problems are a result of current events and popular opinion, Muslims are often underserved by mental health professionals, who are trained not to acknowledge or discuss current events in the context of treatment.
The ways parents react to mental illness in their children seems to be the biggest “point of similarity” among the various faiths’ handling of mental illness, one of the panelists pointed out. Many parents will deny the severity of their children’s illness by dismissing it as a phase, unless and until it becomes completely unmanageable without some kind of outside help. Other parents react with the disappointment, especially if their children until that point had been high achievers. Some families end up “walking on eggshells” as a way to manage or prevent symptoms or erratic behavior of the mentally ill child. Siblings of mentally ill children may become resentful of the extra attention and “coddling” the mentally ill child receives.
When asked how the faith groups themselves and the wider society can help address mental health issues in these communities, panelists emphasized the need for increased education, awareness, early intervention, empathy, and interaction with people of these communities. Mona Belsare also relayed her daughter’s recommendation of having peer mentors for recent immigrant children, who are of the same faith and thus can help with the challenges of assimilation and discrimination. There needs to be more transparency, more people who come forward saying they sought treatment, within communities that associate mental illness with shame. Dr. Ahmed stated the importance of teaching people critical thinking skills, helping them self-assess their own stereotypes, break them down, expose their own biases. Reverend Gordon emphasized the need for advocacy for equality of care, not just contributing funds.
This panel discussion was co-sponsored by WISDOM, the InterFaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit, Kadima, the Race Relations and Diversity Task Force, and the Family and Youth Institute.
This Prom Has Everything, Except for Boys
By PATRICIA LEIGH BROWN
HAMTRAMCK, Mich. – The prom countdown was nearly complete, the do-it-yourself Greek columns, pink and white tulle bows and plastic flutes with the “Once Upon a Dream” logo awaiting the evening of evenings. But as she looked at her reflection in the mirror, her one-shoulder lavender gown matching the elaborate hijab that framed her face in a cascade of flowers – a style learned on YouTube – Tharima Ahmed knew that what lay ahead was more than simply a prom. As organizer of Hamtramck High School’s first all-girl prom, which conforms to religious beliefs forbidding dating, dancing with boys or appearing without a head scarf in front of males, Tharima, 17, was forging a new rite of passage for every teenage Muslim girl who had ever spent prom night at home, wistfully watching the limousines roll by.
“Hi, guys – I mean girls!” Tharima, a Bangladeshi-American, exuded into the microphone as 100 girls – Yemeni-American, Polish-American, Palestinian-American, Bosnian-American and African-American – began pouring into the hall on Bangladesh Avenue.
This was prom, Hamtramck-style: the dense scrappy working-class city of 22,500 encircled by Detroit, once predominantly German and Polish, has become one of the most diverse small cities in America. Its new soul lay in the music playlist embedded in Rukeih Malik’s iPhone: Lady Gaga, Cobra Starship, the Belgrade-born singer Ana Kokic and The Bilz, a Canadian-South Asian band, singing “2 Step Bhangra.”
In this season of wobbly heels and cleavage, the bittersweet transformation of teenagers in jeans and T-shirts into elegant adults barely recognizable to their friends is an anticipated tradition. But at the all-girl prom, there were double double-takes, as some of Tharima’s classmates, normally concealed in a chrysalis of hijab and abaya, the traditional Muslim cloak, literally let their hair down in public for the first time. Eman Ashabi, a Yemeni-American who helped organize the event, arrived in a ruffled pink gown, her black hair falling in perfect waves, thanks to a curling iron. Like many here, she stunned her friends. “It’s ‘Oh my god!’ ” said Simone Alhagri, a Yemeni-American junior who was wearing a tight shirred dress. “This is how you look underneath!” The dance was the denouement of seven months of feverish planning in which a committee raised $2,500, mostly through bake sales. Ignoring the naysayers who could not imagine anyone coming to a prom without boys, Tharima and her friends approached their task systematically, taking a survey of all the girls at Hamtramck High. They found that 65 percent were not able to attend the coed prom because of cultural and religious beliefs. After discussion, the school supported the student-driven alternative.
In addition to Muslim girls (and alumnae who never got the opportunity), non-Muslim students wanted to go, too. “I want to support all my girls,” said Sylwia Stanko, who was born in Poland and whose friends are mostly Bengali-American or Arab-American. “I know how important it is to them.”
The prom promised “music all night, except during dinner and five minutes for prayer.” A former Knights of Columbus hall was transformed into princess-pink perfection. Tharima placed a huge order for decorations with PromNite.com, including a light-up fountain to which the girls added pink food coloring.
Tharima had dreamed of prom night since her freshman year, squirreling away photographs of ballrooms and ads for tiaras. As Tharima prepared for her big night, her mother, Roushanara Ahmed, recalled the fancy pink sari she wore to an all-girls party in what is now Bangladesh. “I was in high school,” she said, her voice low, eyes softening. “I know her feelings.”
Like the prom, the city of Hamtramck is a mixer of a different kind. Along Joseph Campau Street, a monumental statue of Pope John Paul II presides over Pope Park, with its festive mural of Krakow. A poster for the television program “Bosnian Idol” is displayed in the Albanian Euro Mini Mart, known for homemade yogurt and burek, traditional spinach and meat pies. During her English class, Tharima can hear the call to prayer over loudspeakers from the Islah Islamic Center a few blocks from school. Diversity was hard-won: The mosque, one of five in the city, was the subject of controversy in 2004, when some people strenuously objected to the city’s decision to allow it to broadcast prayers five times a day; the city ultimately prevailed, regulating the hours when the call may be sounded.
In sharp contrast to earlier immigrants, drawn by the once-thriving auto industry, a quarter of the residents now live below the federal poverty level.
“People here have to work out their difficulties,” said Mayor Karen Majewski, an ethnic historian and Hungarian folk dancer. “There’s no opportunity to hide in your cul-de-sac.” At Hamtramck High, which has 900 students, many non-Muslims respectfully tuck away their food and water bottles during Ramadan. The prom reflects a broad cultural shift. “Twenty years ago, parents used to pull fifth-grade girls out of school for arranged marriages,” said Chris Bindas, a library aide who brought chocolate-dipped cream puffs to the prom. “Now these same girls are going to college” – albeit a college close to home, where the girls will continue to live with their parents. Tharima, who plans to work while attending Wayne State University in Detroit, has applied for 27 scholarships, saving all the rejection letters.
“These are my weaknesses,” she said of her financial struggles. “But they are also my strengths.” On Saturday night, when the strobe lights started, throwing jewels of light around the room, the shy comments of “Oh, you look gorgeous!” and “Ooh, I love your shoes!” gave way to the sheer joy of music, the girls fist-pumping in unison, some discarding their heels and some hugging one another in disbelief.
Shortly before 8, it was time for prayer, the spaghetti straps and empire waists disappearing under hijabs and abayas, a prayer rug taking its place on the dance floor. Afterward, when the prom royalty was announced, it was no surprise – except to her – that Tharima was pronounced the senior queen, a tiara ceremoniously placed atop her hijab. Amid whoops and shrieks, she struggled to maintain her composure. Her mascara was not so lucky.
Then the hall erupted with a song by the band 3alawah, and the girls performed a debka, a Middle Eastern circle dance. Everyone held hands, snaking around the dessert buffet and columns decorated with artificial wisteria.
The jubilant energy of 100 young women feeling victorious and beautiful filled the room.
by Rabbi Sarah Bassin
Inspired. Energized. Confused. Naïve. I had asked a Jewish audience to share a single word to capture their thoughts of my presentation on Muslim-Jewish relations. I had spent the last hour painting a picture of the broken communication between Jews and Muslims over the last 20 years – the public spats, the failed dialogues and the wounded relationships. I devoted the last portion of the session to envisioning a more positive paradigm and cultivating the tools to get us there.
Some people entered the session eager to acquire the skills needed to strengthen relationships with the Muslims who share their city. They had witnessed the breakdowns but refused to think of “Muslim-Jewish” as synonymous with “conflict.” They walked away from the session recharged. Inspired. Energized.
Others entered as skeptics, poised to dismiss interfaith work as a charming but ineffective effort to bridge an unbridgeable chasm of differences. The cycle of conflict exists for a reason and those who champion engagement with the other don’t understand the threat to their own community. Openness and vulnerability lead to exploitation. Interfaith activists are unrooted. Confused. Naïve.
To read the rest of this article, please go to the following website!
JEWS AND CATHOLICS: DIALOGUE, RECONCILIATION
Vatican City, 10 May 2012 (VIS) – This morning in the Vatican Benedict XVI welcomed a delegation from the Latin American Jewish Congress, “the first group representing Jewish organizations and communities in Latin America which I have met here in the Vatican”, the Pope said. He went on to recall that “dynamic Jewish communities exist throughout Latin America, especially in Argentina and Brazil, living alongside a large Catholic majority. Beginning with the years of Vatican Council II relations between Jews and Catholics have become stronger, also in your own region, and various initiatives are afoot to make our mutual friendship deeper”.
The Holy Father reaffirmed that the Vatican Council II Declaration “Nostra aetate” continues “to be the basis and the guide for our efforts towards promoting greater understanding, respect and cooperation between our communities. The Declaration not only took up a clear position against all forms anti-Semitism, but also laid the foundations for a new theological evaluation of the Church’s relationship with Judaism, expressing the confidence that an appreciation of the spiritual heritage that Jews and Christians share will lead to increasing understanding and esteem”.
“In considering the progress made in the last fifty years of Jewish-Catholic relations throughout the world, we cannot but give thanks to the Almighty for this evident sign of His goodness and providence. Thanks to the increase of trust, respect and goodwill, groups whose relations were originally characterized by a certain lack of trust, have little by little become faithful partners and friends, even good friends, capable of facing crises together and overcoming conflicts in a positive manner. Of course there is still a great deal to be done to shake off the burdens of the past, to foment better relations between our communities and to respond to the increasing challenges believers have to face in the modern world. Nonetheless, the fact that we are jointly committed to a path of dialogue, reconciliation and cooperation is a reason for thanksgiving”.
“In a world increasingly threatened by the loss of spiritual and moral values – the values that can guarantee respect for human dignity and lasting peace – sincere and respectful dialogue among religions and cultures is crucial for the future of our human family. I hope that your visit today will be a source of encouragement and renewed trust when we come to face the challenge of forming stronger ties of friendship and collaboration, and of bearing prophetic witness to the power of God’s truth, justice and love, for the good of all humanity”, the Holy Father concluded.
submitted by Michael W. Hovey
Coordinator, Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations
Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit
An Interfaith Poem
By Hugh Beckman M.D. 2007
Jesus, Moses, Mohammed his name
And far and wide was known the fame,
Of this frail man, who lay half dead
Some say with a halo ’round his head.
A holy man among holies was he
The very essence of piety
And every day you would always see
Him standing with a Shofar to his lips
Blowing the Angelus from the Minaret tips.
Chanting: Wa Mohammed, al Allah il Allah, Sh’ma Yisrael, Ave Maria
To him these Words were all the same
For He loved a God who had no name
Not the same He thought for many around
As hatred, greed and war abound
Chanting: Wa Mohammed, al Allah il Allah, Sh’ma Yisrael, Ave Maria
Those fervent Words of righteous Piety
That act to tear apart society
He thought, I’ll change them if I can
To bond man to God, and man to man
Chanting: Wa Mohammed, al Allah il Allah, Sh’ma Yisrael, Ave Maria
As his eyes last beheld the setting sun
An inner voice said he was the one
To change the words, that all may say
At last they’d seen the light of day
And so, with Shafar to his lips
He climbed at the Angelus to the Minaret tips
The Words came to his mind inspired,
As his failing breath expired
Shalom, Saalam, and Peace be with you
I leave you the Words I believe are true:
The culmination of One’s life
The full measure of One’s worth
Is not making One’s way to Heaven
But helping make Heaven on Earth
LOOKING DIFFERENT AND DIFFERENTLY LOOKING
As far as I can remember, I’ve always looked different.
In elementary school, my classmates called me a girl, a genie, and Aladdin.
In middle school, I was a raghead, a diaperhead, and Sadam Hussein.
And in high school, some kids were convinced that I was Osama bin Laden.
These sorts of challenges come with looking different.
On the other hand, looking different has its advantages.
People pay attention when I walk into a room. I’m noticeable and memorable. In fact, people don’t forget meeting me. This is a huge benefit that comes with having a distinctive appearance.
And in my experiences, the benefits of looking different outweigh the challenges.
For example, “looking different” has led me to “look differently.” My Sikh identity has been linked to major moments in my life, and these unique experiences have shaped the way in which I view the world.
Like too many others, I’ve been discriminated against because of my unique appearance. While I wouldn’t wish it on anyone else, being the target of discrimination has helped open my eyes to various types of inequalities in our world.
These experiences have taught me to identify with the struggles faced by others from diverse backgrounds and worldviews, and the resulting empathy keeps me from drawing assumptions or judgments about others.
Discrimination has also helped me build character and discipline. It’s always tough to stay cool while others shout obscenities and racial slurs. But at the same time, accounting for ignorance and reacting with compassion and love have come to feature prominently in my interactions with society.
At the same time, the benefits of “looking different” do not only emerge from alienation; in fact, I’ve received far more support and encouragement from strangers than hate and animosity, and these interactions constantly inspire me to view the world more positively.
While it’s easy to focus on the negative, I can’t help but be constantly amazed by the bombardment of love and support I receive from people who appreciate the values represented by my Sikh identity.
It’s this sort of optimism that makes me believe that “looking different” has played a significant role in my way of “looking differently.”
Simran Jeet Singh is a doctoral student in the Department of Religion at Columbia University. His research focuses on South Asian Religions, particularly the Sikh tradition and the life of its founder, Guru Nanak.