Unified Veranda Theory

It’s my Saturday today. I’ve been out on the terrace, watching the fig tree away with the breeze. There are more insects buzzing, snails crawling up the stone walls, and birds darting between the electrical and phone lines that surround our house. I’m also playing around with the vintage camera app Vooravo for some retro-looking photos around the house. I’m bored of photographing the same trees from the well-worn paths of the monte.

This is one of those weekend mornings that reminds me of my years in Sierra Leone; the unhurried day, the privilege of watching time and life of the village pass by from a veranda, the warm sun on my body, the ability to read as much as I want to.

Grateful and guilty, which has been a recurring tension during the lockdown. Grateful to have had the privileges and opportunities to organize my life in this manner, and guilty knowing that not everyone is so lucky. But I know I’m in my head a lot, and that guilt will lead to paralysis or unnecessary suffering.

I misread a quote from some article a few weeks ago. In my head in went something like;

The best safeguard to life under late capitalism is withdrawing from it.

But it actually wasn’t that, at all. It was a critique, that the privileged ones, the ones with an inessential, work-from-home job are the ones who can safeguard themselves from coronavirus.

I recently talked to a friend, a madrileño musician from West Africa with a similar practical philosophy. He mentioned the protests in barrio de Salamanca and the incessant material desires that nag certain classes of people in the capital. It feels foreign, otherworldly. That wasn’t always the case, but a product of half of my life, maybe started after they extubated me. Who’s to say. But I think it’s possible that most can come to the conclusion that infinite growth on a finite planet is illogical.

We can thread the needle, withdraw from the capitalist mentality without completely withdrawing from society like Christopher McCandless; plant a garden, reduce costs and discourage consumption habits, prioritize immaterial experiences, read books, go for walks, re-valorize the countryside, or enjoy voluntary frugality in the city. Flatten the curve of coronavirus and of climate change by socially distancing and driving less, flying less, removing animal products from my diet, eating seasonally and locally. Prefigure a better world by thinking, talking, and planning other ways of organizing life and social relations. Want less, need less, and perhaps work less because of those priorities and that organized withdrawal.

For now, I’ll “do praxis” by non-participation, as much as I can, and theorize by writing into the void, ruining conversations with family and friends by talking climate, and reading Bookchin in my hammock. And I’ll never forget to enjoy the conference of the birds on the phone lines.

2019 Recap Video, Weekday Weekends

Patricia put together a great video of video clips from our Latin America trip and a couple days ago did the same with everything we’ve filmed from 2019. It features building the inside of our van with a family friend, a three-week trip through Andalusia, moving to Germany, moving to Galicia, a tuktuk ride in Porto, and the last few months of the year here. iMovie crashed a repeatedly while trying to export on her small MacBook Air. We were finally able to get it into a movie format by importing it into iTunes first. It was nice to reminisce, even though we felt like the whole year we were a bit lost as to what we needed or wanted to do. The photo is one of our first mornings on the way to Andalusia.

This year, a global pandemic and approaching financial crisis aside, I feel much more steady about our family’s priorities. We’re ensconced in Galicia and while we still want to hop in the van for a road trip soon, we both want to return and make a home here.

Tuesdays and Wednesdays are our weekends now. I took off both days for classes the last few weeks and it’s been super relaxing to have two days without thinking of teaching instead of my usual one. Patricia is also stepping away from her business those days to enjoy the early spring with me. We were able to get a few bureaucratic errands and house cleaning done one day, and had a nice walk halfway to Penamá.

2 Ramadan 1441: True Piety, Neither East nor West, and An Economic System

One of my favorite ayat comes in the second juz’. It is a description of piety according to the Qur’an. Many wrestle with the tension between what we say we are and what we do. For instance, theoretician David Graeber defines anarchism is something one does, rather than how one self-identifies in the world. This is the same with the individual and collective system the Qur’an proposes. It synthesizes the monotheistic headspace, or openness to the possibilities of the unseen, with right actions needed to bring more justice into the world:

Piety is not to turn your faces towards the east and the west, but pious is the one who believes in God and the Last Day, and the angels, and the Books, and the prophets, and he gives money out of love to the relatives, and the orphans, and the needy, and the wayfarer, and those who ask, and to free the slaves; and he carries out the communion, and contributes towards purification; and those who keep their pledges when they make a pledge, and those who are patient in the face of adversity and hardship and when in despair. These are the ones who have been truthful, and these are the righteous. [2:177]

I used to read G.A. Parwez a bit. His book Islam: A Challenge to Religion became a necessary catalyst for me to feel free to explore the intersections of history, hagiography, and Islamic orthodoxy in a way I never felt comfortable doing in Mauritania. Highly influential in Pakistan as well with the Islamic socialist bloc and Qur’an-centric movement, Parwez elucidated upon this verse in his Exposition of the Holy Qur’an:

According to the divine law, the essential purpose of deen (way of life) is not fulfilled by a mechanical performance of rituals e.g., turning eastwards or westwards during salat (ritual prayer), but requires:

  1. Eiman (conviction) (belief) in Allah; in the Law of Mukafat (retribution); in the life hereafter; in malaika; in anbiya (prophets) and in the books revealed through the anbiya (2:4), and
  2. Following from the above the establishment of a system in which resources are made available to help those who: are left without protection or support in society; lose their means of livelihood or are incapacitated to work; and cannot earn enough to meet their needs. This system will also provide assistance to those outsiders who, while passing through its territory, become indigent, and arrange for the liberation of slaves from bondage.

In brief then, you should establish a system wherein members of the society adhere to the divine laws voluntarily and means of development are provided to all who need them. You should honor your promises and commitments. If hostile forces confront you, then face them with steadfastness and fortitude, and do not let fear and despair weaken you.

Those who follow this party unswervingly vindicate their claim to be true believers and they can rightfully claim to be upholders of divine laws (rather than those who claim to inherit heaven by observing certain rites which they claim is deen (religion; way of life).

When people think of Islam, many automatically think of the rituals, the things we “can’t” do such as eat pork or drink alcohol.

Very little is said about the prescription of social unity, of solidarity amongst all people, of uplifting the most oppressed in societies. Many factors are responsible for this. The nominal Muslim states, mostly theocracies which have no basis in Islam, do not preach these values strongly enough, especially ones who allow stoning or other un-Qur’anic practices; Muslim communities themselves, in the Muslim world or abroad, focus much more social importance, and pressure, on the rituals and advocate a political quietism; and the the swing of anti-colonial resistance that currently manifests with “Islamic” justification in the form of terrorism fuels fear and nonstop media coverage.

When one approaches the Qur’an with false preconceptions of what Islam is, in the light of a post-9/11 global geopolitics, they will find plenty to validate their claims. But approach it with a curiosity and open mind and heart, and one will see something different entirely. When I allowed others to color my theology, I walked around with contradictions that I could not hold up. Perhaps we all need to drop the intermediaries, where ever we encounter them, and head back to the Source.

Most of them only follow conjecture. While conjecture does not avail against truth in anything… [10:35]

1 Ramadan 1441: Back, Turning Toward the Opening

It is You alone… [1:5]

The morning fog burned off quickly and the sun was already high when I stepped outside. The bugs hovered, dancing on the yard where Alqo naps in our small yard. The light hit the grass in an ethereal way, hidden for a few days behind storm clouds that never unleashed themselves over us. This will be a different day.

I’ve been away from the fasting feeling; my stomach hasn’t known hunger pangs for awhile. To tell the truth, it didn’t experience them the last time this auspicious month came around in Germany. I was at the tail-end of a theological detox, though spiritually and experientially quite satirized and inflated, without any of the underpinnings of organized faith.

More sure of myself and my surroundings, I approached this month with the hope of a restart. Being disconnected from society by both choice and and now circumstances, I’ve become so grateful in our household’s rhythms; the morning bread, after-work lunch watching re-runs of Friends, the walks in the woods, reading time in my hammock, watching my partner tend her small garden, eating almost vegan save for a few of the neighbors’ eggs.

Surely, in the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the differences between the night and the day, and the ships that sail in the sea for the benefit of the people, and what God has sent down of water from the sky so He brings the earth back to life after it had died, and He sent forth from it every creature, and the dispatching of the winds and the clouds that have been commissioned between the earth and the sky are signs for a people who comprehend. [2:164]

The signs that lead us around this earth, that point the way to this or that action, the coincidences that occur all throughout, the current, constrained environment, this first day of Ramadan is a reminder of whence they originated. Now, Providence has given us the opportunity to test out Pascal’s diagnosis of humanity’s problems, turn inwards, probe our assumptions about how the world is to be structured, rethink our relationship to the Earth, to each other, and in doing so, to the One who brought all of this about.

So I’ll turn inward. Ramadan mubarak to all.