Penomee (Dr. Kari Ann Owen, Ph.D.)
A salaam aleikum, beloved family.
is no god but Allah, and Muhammed is his messenger."
are the words of the Shahadah oath, I believe.
is known by many names. His wisdom is always recognizable,
and his presence made manifest in the love, tolerance and
compassion present in our community.
profound ability to guide us from a war-like individualism
so rampant in American society to a belief in the glory
and dignity of the Creator's human family, and our obligations
to and membership within that family. This describes the
maturation of a spiritual personality, and perhaps the most
desirable maturation of the psychological self, also.
to Shahadah began when an admired director, Tony Richardson,
died of AIDS. Mr. Richardson was already a brilliant and
internationally recognized professional when I almost met
him backstage at the play Luther at age 14.
for me has always been a way of finding degrees of spiritual
and emotional reconciliation both within myself and between
myself and a world I found rather brutal due to childhood
circumstances. Instead of fighting with the world, I let
my conflicts fight it out in my plays. Amazingly, some of
us have even grown up together!
I began accumulating stage credits (productions and staged
readings), beginning at age 17, I always retained the hope
that I would someday fulfill my childhood dream of studying
and working with Mr. Richardson. When he followed his homosexuality
to America (from England) and a promiscuous community, AIDS
killed him, and with him went another portion of my sense
of belonging to and within American society.
to look outside American and Western society to Islamic culture
for moral guidance.
Islam and not somewhere else?
ancestors were Spanish Jews who lived among Muslims until
the Inquisition expelled the Jewish community in 1492. In
my historical memory, which I feel at a deep level, the
call of the muezzin is as deep as the lull of the ocean
and the swaying of ships, the pounding of horses' hooves
across the desert, the assertion of love in the face of
the birth of a story within me, and the drama took form
as I began to learn of an Ottoman caliph's humanity toward
Jewish refugees at the time of my ancestors' expulsions.
Allah guided my learning, and I was taught about Islam by
figures as diverse as Imam Siddiqi of the South Bay Islamic
Association; Sister Hussein of Rahima; and my beloved adopted
Sister, Maria Abdin, who is Native American and Muslim and
a writer for the SBIA magazine, IQRA. My first research
interview was in a halal butcher shop in San Francisco's
Mission District, where my understanding of living Islam
was profoundly affected by the first Muslim lady I had ever
met: a customer who was in hijab, behaved with a sweet kindness
and grace and also read, wrote and spoke four languages.
brilliance, coupled with her amazing (to me) freedom from
arrogance, had a profound effect on the beginnings of my
knowledge of how Islam can affect human behavior.
did I know then that not only would a play be born, but
a new Muslim.
course of my research introduced me to much more about Islam
than a set of facts, for Islam is a living religion. I learned
how Muslims conduct themselves with a dignity and kindness
which lifts them above the American slave market of sexual
competition and violence. I learned that Muslim men and
women can actually be in each others' presence without tearing
each other to pieces, verbally and physically. And I learned
that modest dress, perceived as a spiritual state,can uplift
human behavior and grant to both men and women a sense of
their own spiritual worth.
did this seem so astonishing, and so astonishingly new?
most American females, I grew up in a slave market, comprised
not only of the sexual sicknesses of my family, but the
constant negative judging of my appearance by peers beginning
at ages younger than seven. I was taught from a very early
age by American society that my human worth consisted solely
of my attractiveness (or, in my case, lack of it) to others.
Needless to say, in this atmosphere, boys and girls, men
and women, often grew to resent each other very deeply,
given the desperate desire for peer acceptance, which seemed
almost if not totally dependent not on one's kindness or
compassion or even intelligence, but on looks and the perception
of those looks by others.
I do not expect or look for human perfection among Muslims,
the social differences are profound, and almost unbelievable
to someone like myself.
not pretend to have any answers to the conflicts of the
Middle East, except what the prophets, beloved in Islam,
have already expressed. My disabilities prevent me from
fasting, and from praying in the same prayer postures as
most of you.
I love and respect the Islam I have come to know through
the behavior and words of the men and women I have come
to know in AMILA (American Muslims Intent on Learning
and Activism) and elsewhere, where I find a freedom
from cruel emotional conflicts and a sense of imminent spirituality.
else do I feel and believe about Islam?
and deeply admire Islam's respect for same sex education;
for the rights of women as well as men in society; for modest
dress; and above all for sobriety and marriage, the two
most profound foundations of my life, for I am 21 1/2 years
sober and happily married. How wonderful to feel that one
and half billion Muslims share my faith in the character
development marriage allows us, and also in my decision
to remain drug- and alcohol-free.
then, is Islam's greatest gift in a larger sense?
society which presents us with constant pressure to immolate
ourselves on the altars of unbridled instinct without respect
for consequences, Islam asks us to regard ourselves as human
persons created by Allah with the capacity for responsibility
in our relations with others. Through prayer and charity
and a committment to sobriety and education, if we follow
the path of Islam, we stand a good chance of raising children
who will be free from the violence and exploitation which
is robbing parents and children of safe schools and neighborhoods,
and often of their lives.
support of the AMILA community and other friends, particularly
at a time of some strife on the AMILA Net, causes me to
affirm my original responses to Islam and declare that this
is a marvelous community, for in its affirmation of Allah's
gifts of marriage, sobriety and other forms of responsiblity,
Islam shows us the way out of hell.
Silas, and I are grateful for your presence and your friendship.
And as we prepare to lay the groundwork for adoption, we
hope that we will continue to be blessed with your warm
acceptance, for we want our child to feel the spiritual
presence of Allah in the behavior of surrounding adults
and children. We hope that as other AMILA'ers consider becoming
new parents, and become new parents, a progressive Islamic
school might emerge... progressive meaning supportive and
loving as well as superior in academics, arts and sports.
our computer whizzes will teach science and math while I
teach creative writing and horseback riding!
consider us companions on the journey toward heaven, and
please continue to look for us at your gatherings, on the
AMILA net and in the colors and dreams of the sunset.
there is no god but Allah, the Creator, and Muhammed, whose
caring for the victims of war and violence still brings
tears from me, is his Prophet.