Monthly Archives: November 2015

Preparing for Thanksgiving

The following chapter is excerpted from the first volume in the Quranic Odyssey series, ‘A Quranic Odyssey: towards Juz Amma,’ drafted in 2010 and published in 2012. The text is presently under revision and will be re-released in March 2016 insha’Allah. Ibrahim and Amna were 5 and 2 at the time and had recently moved to Houston, and were preparing to visit extended family, including non-Muslim relatives, over Thanksgiving. The chapter raises questions about our interfaith gatherings and key messages when we meet and touches on lessons from Surah Al Kafirun.

Chapter 9: Getting Ready for Thanksgiving

Setting: November, 2010, on the sidewalk, walking back from a public park, Houston, late afternoon, a week-day
Characters: Ibrahim, Khadija, Amna

“Ammi, what is stuffing?” asks Ibrahim.

“What?” I respond.

“I heard Papa talking to Uncle Geo about stuffing last night on the telephone. Papa asked him what kind of stuffing he was going to make, and then I think he said something about being extra careful about it being halal and having no wine, and then Papa seemed a little upset or Uncle Geo sounded mad or… I don’t quite know.”[1]

“Upset stuffing?” I say, smiling and pausing for a moment, then continue. “Hmm baita, I may be the wrong person to ask, but let me give it a try. As far as I know stuffing is what they put in the turkey or the chicken. And it’s different from what we talked about with The Velveteen Rabbit. Normally it’s made out of bread crumbs.”

“Like in Hansel and Gretel?”

“Yes, if you wish, breadcrumbs like the ones Hansel and Gretel used, but mixed in with other spices and sometimes other things. If I remember correctly, your father once told me that Uncle Geo used kumquats in his stuffing.”

“Robots?” Ibrahim asks, turning back to me.

He’s been walking up ahead just calling out his questions, but here he finally stops and turns back to Amna and me (or me carrying Amna and all our other paraphernalia). We’re on our way back from the public tennis courts where we went for our first impromptu game with our new rackets, which Ibrahim chose for his Eid gift instead of a set of water guns. The water guns somehow lost their appeal in the last couple of weeks; but then again, the weather is also colder these days.

“No, kumquats. They’re a smallish orange-ish type of fruit. You know your Uncle Geo, he’s a gourmet cook. As for anyone being upset, I wouldn’t worry about it. They’re brothers, and most of the time they get along like you and Amna, but they also have some differences. I think what’s hard for the two of them is that certain things have changed, like, for instance, your father…”

“Converting to Islam,” Ibrahim is quicker than me and more direct.

“Well yes, Abdurrahman’s reversion. For Uncle Geo, Papa is ‘Nico’, his kid brother, and I don’t think he always appreciates being instructed on how and what to cook.”

“Cook. Cook. Cook,” Amna intones. Her mouth is pursed and her eyes are focusing on my mouth as if to ascertain the correction formation and pronunciation.

“But Uncle Geo invited us for Thanksgiving,” says Ibrahim.

Bicul, baita. Uncle Geo invited all of us masha’Allah, and of course he wants us to share a wonderful meal with us to commemorate the pilgrims’ Thanksgiving meal with the Native Americans, but there are still certain differences and ironing them out takes time and effort. Just think, Uncle Geo has never had to prepare a halal meal before, and he is going out of his way to ensure that we may all eat together. I think he is really looking forward to hosting us, but it takes some time and effort, and I don’t think he likes receiving cooking instructions from his younger brother.”

“I would listen to Amna,” Ibrahim affirms.

“Would you? I’ve seen the two of you argue making brownies before,” I say.

“That’s because she makes a mess. Maybe it might be a little difficult if she wanted me to make a turkey and stuffing in a certain way,” Ibrahim admits.

“You see, and you’re both Muslim. Imagine if you had to learn a different religious recipe?” I ask.

“Well, if we were all vegetarians, there wouldn’t be any issue,” Ibrahim says smiling. It would appear he’s getting the point.

“By the way, did you have a chance to speak to David or Alexandra last night or was it just Papa and Uncle Geo who spoke?” I follow up.

“Yup, I spoke to Alex. She’s going to make an apple pie, and she wants me to cut up all the apples,” explains Ibrahim.

“Cut them?” I repeat, somewhat concerned.

“Yes, she said I could. I told her that Nonna taught me how to use a knife.”

“Ok, well let’s see about that, and David?” I probe.

“He just wants to play cricket with us,” responds Ibrahim.

“Cricket? On Thanksgiving?”[2] I say, not grasping the connection.

Ibrahim nods his head ‘yes.’ “You remember when they visited us in South Africa, and he saw me and Sabir play, and he really liked it. Well, he said that we can play cricket together, after the turkey and the stuffing,” Ibrahim clarifies.

“Does he have a bat?” I ask.

“I don’t know. Maybe we can just make it up?” suggests Ibrahim.

Amna has been unusually quiet, but her eyes light up with the words ‘cricket’ and she so starts her characteristic chorus of “cricket, cricket, cricket.”

Ibrahim seems to ignore his sister and continues, “Ammi, what do you think about Thanksgiving?” He sits down on the sidewalk as if preparing for a longer discussion. I sit too. Amna is starting to get a little heavy, and I’m also feeling the weight of her (not so baby) baby bag and the tennis rackets. I wonder about us just encamping on the sidewalk and so move off toward a small piece of grass.

“Well, it’s new to me,” I respond. “But I’m glad to be sharing a meal with different family members and friends. I also think that it’s nice that it falls so close to Eid this year when we share the sacrifice as well. And, it’s a good reminder of so many of the suwar we’ve been learning lately, including Surah Al Kafirun, which is all about respecting and also accepting differences.”[3]

“Do you think Nani would also agree?” he continues.

“I do,” I affirm. “I think that Nani and Nonna would both agree.”

“But Ammi, I think Surah Al Kafirun is hard,” says Ibrahim, bending over, his head resting on his knees.

“I do too, and do you know that until I met Hafidha Rabia and you, I couldn’t say it correctly? I always used to invert the different ayaat.”

“Ammi, you didn’t meet me. I’m your son, and I’m also your part-time Quran coach and that’s what we’re supposed to do: help each other. So will you help me?”

“Only if you promise me you’ll let Alexandra do most of the cutting and you won’t worry about your uncle and father.”

“Ok, it’s a deal. Now, let’s get Kafirun down before Thanksgiving and then… Amna, stop it.” I have to hold Ibrahim’s arm as he is ready to strike his sister who is now beginning to irritate him with her incessant chorus of ‘cricket’.

“Ibrahim, please don’t hurt your sister. Remember we’re getting ready for Thanksgiving. I suppose in a certain way we’re all taking out our old stuffing and putting new stuffing in and making sure that it is all good and wholesome.”

“Like during Hajj,” Ibrahim offers.

“Yes, sort of, like on Hajj. Your father may be able to help us connect all these dots, but it’s starting to make sense to me. Ok, I’m ready to listen to you. Give me the third ayah of Surah Al Kafirun and then the fifth one and let’s see just how hard it really is. I know you can do this,” I say, encouraging.[4]

“You think so, Ammi?” says Ibrahim, now tentatively, as though he’s temporarily lost his confidence. He looks around and then settles his gaze on me. There is no one else on the sidewalk and the cars seem distant.

“I do,” I reaffirm, patting him gently on the back. “And you could probably even do it right here and now,” I say.

“Here?” asks Ibrahim, pointing at the side walk.

“Here,” says Amna, gesturing to all of us.

As if taking up the challenge, Ibrahim inhales deeply, then in a light voice he says. “Ok, here, I go, A’uthu billahi minash shaytanir rajeem, Bismillah…”

[1] In Arabic, the word halal means permitted or lawful. Halal food excludes the following: pork or pork by-products, animals that were dead prior to butchering, animals not slaughtered properly or not slaughtered in the name of Allah (God), blood and blood by-products and alcohol. The recent debate over the quality of meat and poultry in the United States, including coverage in the documentary film Food Inc. (2009) as well as in The Omnivore’s Dilemma (Pollan 2006), raises critical questions about the integrity of food and whether it is truly ‘tayyib’, (good) which could have implications for how/what Muslims consume as well.

[2] Although no longer known for cricket, the United States was involved in the first international cricket match, which was played against Canada in 1844.

[3] As summarized by Abdullah Yusuf Ali, Surah 109, Al Kafirun (The Unbelievers), “…defines the right attitude to those who reject Faith; in matters of Truth we can make no compromise, but there is no need to persecute or abuse anyone for his faith or belief,” (2011: 1707). Unal provides a similar rendering, “they [the Muslims] should not compel the unbelievers to accept faith,” (2013:1254). This surah was revealed in direct response to a deal that the leaders of the Quraysh tried to strike with Prophet Muhemmed SAW, namely “if he worshipped their gods for a year, then they would worship his One God for a year. After that, they would talk about whose religion was better,” (Emerick 2010: 810). The principles of non-coercion, behind the surah, remain equally relevant to today.

[4] The 3rd and 5th ayaat are identical in terms of the Arabic language. There are, however, nuances related to the context which allow for the apparent repetition to actually carry different meaning, and thus they are generally translated somewhat differently, namely: 3) Nor are you those who ever worship what I worship; and 5) And nor are you those who do and will ever worship what I ever worship (Unal 2013: 1254). Emerick provides a similar distinction in his translation (2011: 810).

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