Thursday, January 16, 2014

Toward an American Diwan

In the eastern Muslim world, a collection of poetry is called a diwan.

Qasida Monday has been about bringing the majesty of these diwans to the attention of the men in our local community. We can read this poetry, sing it, and reflect on what it means to invest and ground ourselves in deep, deep tradition.

If we know Arabic.

Drumming is a big part of our gatherings, and that can help many of us lock in even if we don't know the language. We can still be a part of the experience, and there is serious merit in that.

There is something else to consider, though.

Much, if not all, of the sacred poetry that we read is set to traditional Arabic folk melodies, tunes that were and are very familiar and much beloved by the people of that region.

We're not from that region.

If we are going to get serious about building community, then we need to think very seriously about what we are trying to accomplish by doing so. Are our attempts at fostering community really about memorializing a tradition so that a select group of initiated individuals can feel good about coming together around a common interest?

Nothing wrong with that. There are clubs for people who collect stamps and look out for birds. Those are communal activities, for sure.

It's not a model that I want to perpetuate, though. And the reason, quite simply, is because I am Muslim.

And Muslims have an unfortunate tradition of social isolation that has played nicely into the hands of those with a vested interest in tagging us as alien. And here, Muslims have this crazy idea that Islam is some timeless, universal phenomenon. Then how long will we continue to import values and traditions from far off times and places that have little relevance in our current cultural context?

And our current cultural context, by the way, sucks in a lot of big ways. This is no argument for mainstream alignment. We need a revolution, prime.

The entertainment industry is keeping us down. It's tearing us apart, and we'll talk a lot about that as we go. But it's the absolute truth and we need to confront this.

But not by running to the deserts of Arabia.

Rather, we draw on the deep roots of our homeland to show our people a better way. The throbbing, ancient drum, the shrieks and howls of our indigenous people, the bluesy moan of a black prisoner at work, the syncopated rhythms of the urban poet . . . it's all there waiting to be pulled together, reified and dropped like a sonic bomb- the American Diwan.

So no more Qasida Monday.

It's primal music from here on out and you are totally invited, whoever you are.

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