Ever since my doctoral work started I’ve had to endure a number of setbacks, from grant rejections to failed job interviews. Maybe it’s time to wrap it up, throw in the towel and call it a day. It’s a terribly painful thing to think about, considering how much value I’ve placed in my own work and ideas, and the culture that I’m writing about and love so much. But on getting yet another rejection, I came to the realization that I’ve been thinking about it all wrong, and in doing so, turning my power over to others. I don’t exactly know how I came to the realization…having set my phone down after reading the rejection email, over breakfast with my wife in Leslieville. My emotions quickly shifting from devastation to sadness, to anger and finally to indifference. It might be the anger and indifference speaking and motivating me right now, but I’m finishing this doctorate, regardless of whether it results in a teaching position (the goal), and I’m doing it for myself and the work that I value, and for my supervisor who believed in me from day 1 and for my family, who continue to stand by me, humiliating rejection after humiliating rejection.
In reclaiming my power I had to work through 3 principle realizations, to remind me where I come from, and to never forget that which I truly value. If you find yourself struggling with similar feelings, and you happen to stumble across this post as you traverse the ether, I hope you come to your own realizations and take back your power.
My 3 Realizations:
- @ A Professional Level: Know my value.
- @ A Hip Hop Level: Fuck’em
- @ A Spiritual Level: حَسْبُنَا اللَّهُ وَنِعْمَ الْوَكِيلُ
A MULLAH (I tell you his tale not a bit
With any ambition of airing my wit)
By ascetic deportment had won high repute,
In his praise neither gentle nor simple were mute.
God’s will, he would say, just as meaning is latent
In words, through pure doctrine alone becomes patent.
His heart a full bowl : wine of piety worked there,
Though some dregs of conceit of omniscience lurked there-
He was wont to recount his own miracles, knowing
How this kept his tally of followers growing.
He had long been residing not far from my street,
So sinner and saint were accustomed to meet:
‘This Iqbal’, he once asked an acquaintance of mine,
‘Is the dove of the tree in the literary line,
But how do religion’s stern monishments seem
To agree with this man who at verse beats Kalim?
He thinks a Hindu not a heathen, I’m told,
A most casuistical notion to hold,
And some taints of the Shias’ vile heresy sully
His mind – I have heard him extolling their Ali;
He finds room in our worship for music – which must
Be intended to level true faith with the dust!
As with poets so often, no scruple of duty
Deters him from meeting the vendors-of-beauty;
In the morning, devotions – at evening, the fiddle-
I have never been able to fathom this riddle.
Yet dawn, my disciples assure me, is not
More unsoiled than that youth is by blemish or spot;
No Iqbal, but a heterogeneous creature,
His mind crammed with learning, with impulse his nature,
Familiar with vice, and with Holy Writ more
In divinity , doubtless, as deep as Mansur;
What the fellow is really, I cannot make out-
Is it founding some brand-new Islam he’s about?’
– Thus the great man protracted his reverend chatter,
And in short made a very long tale of the matter.
In our town, all the world hears of every transaction:
I soon got reports from my own little faction,
And when I fell in with His Worship one day
In our talk the same topic came up by the way.
‘If’, said he, ‘I found fault, pure good-will was the cause,
And my duty to point out religion’s strict laws.’
– ‘Not at all’, I responded, ‘I make no complaint,
As a neighbour of mine you need feel no constraint;
In your presence I am, as my bent head declares,
Metamorphosed at once from gay youth to grey hairs,
And if my true nature eludes your analysis,
Your claim to omniscience need fear no paralysis;
For me also my nature remains still enravelled,
The sea of my thoughts is too deep and untravelled:
I too long to know the Iqbal of reality,
And often shed tears at this wall of duality.
To Iqbal of Iqbal little knowledge is given;
I say this not jesting – not jesting, by Heaven!’
“Virtue and Vice” in, Muhammad Allama Iqbal, Poems From Iqbal: Renderings in English Verse With Comparative Urdu Text, trans. by V.G. Kiernan (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004)
“There are people more concerned about where their feet are [in prayer] than where their heart is.” – Sh. Hamza Yusuf
One of the things I’ll miss most about Istanbul, are the duat, zikr and qirat following namaaz, and I’ll especially miss hearing hundreds in the camii recite حسبنا الله ونعم الوكيل together. While only there for a short period of time, Pamuk’s chapter on ‘hüzün’ in “Istanbul”, captures how I’m feeling/mourning or perhaps what I’m longing for.
Reports on Turkey from the western sources that I’ve read are overstating one political narrative. Yes, things became violent and yes there are spontaneous protests throughout the country, including in the neighbourhood where I’m staying in Istanbul. But the protests are not nearly as all consuming as some reports have it and it’s clear that the opposition here is more interested in co-opting legitimate grievances; grievances that they have no interest in pursuing other than to the extent that they bring about circumstances that draw the government into another situation where they overreact and blunder. Tonight, protests worked there way through Istanbul neighbourhoods with the clanging of pots and pans. Both the protestors and the police kept their cool, which unfortunately wasn’t the case in other parts of the country. But, life goes on, and those of us in Istanbul not directly involved in the political life of the city have very little contact or exposure to the protests.
Our first week in Istanbul has been as exhausting as it has
been moving. The program we’re participating in is funded and
organized by a Turkish intellectual movement. Their expectations
are high, and the programming is demanding. Each day consists of a
lecture in consideration of Muslim intellectualism, a re-cap of the
lecture and visits to institutions (education, non-governmental and
others) and historical sites.
We’re exhausted because the days often start early and end late. A series of learned speakers attend to discuss the work of Said Nursi, a 20th century Turkish reformer.
A complex man, Nursi’s work forms the underlying theoretical
foundation for our hosts and the lens through which we discuss
matters of Islamic practice and belief. More on Nursi and his
theory and philosophy when I finish reading his work, “The Words:
The Reconstruction of Islamic Belief and Thought”. [Nursi,
Bediuzzaman Said, Trans: Huseyin Akarsu. The Words: The
Reconstruction of Islamic Belief and Thought (New
Jersey: The Light, 2005)].
The discussions carry over from the classroom to our institutional visits, which are aimed at exposing us to the movement’s organizational capacity, potential and in some
respects and perhaps unintentionally, its bureaucracy. By the end
of the day, we’re spent. Finishing the evening hours with light
hearted discussions, discursive, if not for the subject matter then
for the constantly dislocating glances at laptops and iPads.
We’re moved because of the hospitality and history here. The Turks,
for the most part, have an established tradition of hospitality and
concern, and maybe even curiosity. And notwithstanding Kemal
Ataturk’s ambitions, Turkey can’t run from her history. The city is
a megalopolis (referring to Istanbul as ‘sprawling’ would be
misleading. It’s all encompassing!), joined together by a patchwork
of medieval mosques and structures, neighbourhoods lacking any real
appreciation for zoning, parks, cafes, restaurants, bucolic
cemeteries, modern utilitarian and messy residential architecture,
winding roads, steep hills, businesses and the Bosphorus River.
While a secular republic, Turkey is predominantly Muslim and thus
it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the mosques not only pepper the
skyline with minarets, but also serve as the lifeblood of the
city, teeming with tourists and devotees, exhaling a
cacophony lamentation of love, five times a day as a means to
Remind everyone of the one who Reminds.
It’s surreal at times. When I listen to the adhan (my favourite thing to do here) bellow out
from every corner of the city, I find it hard to believe that I’m
finally here. But it’s not all rose petals and sweet halva. The
language barrier is very real. Most Turks who can’t speak English
(and that’s a lot of them) go down a list of languages they hope
you might speak. It usually goes something like this:
I’m picking up some terms here and there. But it’s never enough to not
rely on the canned phrases and directions I carry with me in my
Moleskin (Sameer and Salika, your gift is finally being put to use.
I’ve only peered through a crack of the figurative walls
that this palace Istanbul has built around its history and culture.
With several more weeks here, a short period of time I know is not
nearly enough to appreciate all that is Istanbul, I still hope to
learn from its people and take away enough of the city that figures
so prominently in the Muslim public imagination. I’d like to take
away enough to draw me back. This, I already know.