Monday, August 30, 2010

What is Sharia Law?

Ooo...this is going to be a difficult blog post to write. There is just so much information and I’m against super long rambling blog posts, it goes:

Sharia Law comes from the Qur’an (Muslim’s holy book), Hadith (sayings from the prophet Mohammad - peace be upon him), and fatwas (rulings by Islamic scholars).

Sharia Law governs all aspects of Muslim’s life. The Qur’an says there is only one path and that path is Sharia.

Explanation done! Well that was easy...

Actually, not quite so. Speaking for myself, I gave Sharia Law a pretty bad rap. My only real exposure to Sharia was hearing about stonings and amputations. I really had no idea what Sharia meant other than it seemed pretty darn harsh.

Of course, as with most things I have heard about Islam, that ain’t true. Sharia can be (and is) a beautiful thing. Similar to the 10 Commandments, Sharia provides the blueprint to how a Muslim should live their life. Unlike the 10 Commandments, Sharia also includes what could possibly happen to you if you stray from the path.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not all about stoning people who commit adultery, but Sharia does not exactly say “start throwing the rocks” at first accusation. It provides a detailed account of how to prove someone has done something wrong, has built in leniency, and strives to be just in punishment.

And, with all things, it’s not just the West that has the wrong idea of Sharia. Similar to how US Senators (and a former US Governor) tout the US was built on Judea-Christian principles (an eye for an eye anyone?), it’s all open to interpretation and enactment.

Anyway, this blog post is going to be a two parter because, well, there is just more to say.

(I wrote this while under siege from a very large green bug that I thought I had sent to the next life).

Along with my previous sited resources, check out ICNYU's Khutbah Podcast [link]

Friday, August 27, 2010

I'm Lame

It's not everyday you will hear me say those words, but it is true. I am lame.

Two days ago, I stopped fasting.

I know, I know. I made this bright-eyed and bushy-tailed plan to fast for the full 29 days of Ramadan and now I am a quitter, but let me explain why:

Fasting is freaking hard.

I thought it would get easier after the first couple days, but in fact, it got harder. Your mind slows down, your body gets tired more quickly, and your energy reserves fall to all time lows. For me, an already thin person, I was starting to drop weight like Sarah Palin "drops" endorsements (as in, she is endorsing a lot of people).

Plus, it's hard fasting by yourself. Of course, locals were impressed and interested in my fast, but none of them opted to do it with me. Take that and the fact that I wasn't sleeping well, the weather was unbearably hot, and my normal work day went from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. everyday, this fast just was not in the cards.

Of course, this morning I was listening to Inside Islam [link] and found out that many people in Muslim countries augment their daily schedules during Ramadan to make fasting more manageable. After Iftar, they often eat two more small meals at 10 p.m. and 4 a.m. and then wake up around 1 p.m. to start the process all over again. Unfortunately, I couldn't do that.

So, my fast is broken. I am so lame.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

What's Up With the Head Scarf?

So, I’ve just spent the last two days reading about hijab.

And I am confused.

I mean, it probably would have been a better idea to start with a history lesson of Mohammad (peace be upon him) because much of the commentary surrounding hijab is from Mohammad’s (peace be upon him) youngest wife Aisha.

Anyway, what I gathered, thus far, is this:

Hijab doesn’t mean head covering (or burqa or Persian veil or the no shorts “rule”). It is the modesty in clothing and behavior expressed by Muslims.

That surprised me.

In Arabic, hijab means barrier or cover and in the Qur’an, well, to be honest, there is a lot of discussion about what is hijab and how should it be portrayed. According to Wikipedia, exactly what hijab requires is open to interpretation. In most Islamic areas, it is believed that hijab requires women to cover everything but their hands and face and for men to show nada from their naval to their knees.

It is important to note that some countries require women to fully veil themselves in public (e.g. Iran and Saudi Arabia) and in other countries, veiling oneself in schools is banned (e.g. Frances and Turkey).

Personally, I find hijab especially interesting as societies continue their struggle with the meaning of religious freedom. I get that in some areas, the idea that everyone is equal and there should be no outward display that allows another person to discriminate; however, I am not a big fan of conformist societies. Not to mention, we aren’t all the same, so why should we try to pretend we are?

Okay, enough soap boxing here. Moving on...

Oh! Before I forget, the head scarf is called the khimaar.

(an additional reference - please see previous posts for other information sources:

Note: Pictures is from my first Iftar.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Count 'Em! 1 2 3 4 5

So, do you know the Five Pillars of Islam? Have any idea what they are? I mean, they ain’t the support of some sort of religions building.

Nope. “The Five Pillars of Islam are the five obligations that every Muslim must satisfy in order to live a good and responsible life according to Islam...Carrying out the Five Pillars demonstrates that the Muslim is putting their faith first, and not just trying to fit it inaround their secular lives.”*

They are (and I quote because I do not know Arabic):

  1. Shahadah or the act of “sincerely reciting the Muslim profession of faith;”*
  2. Salat or “performing ritual prayers in the proper way five times each day;”*
  3. Zakat or “paying an alms (or charity) tax to benefit the poor and the needy;”*
  4. Sawm or “fasting during the month of Ramadan;”* 
  5. and, Hajj or a “pilgrimage to Mecca.”*

So, now you know - the Five Pillars of Islam.

*BBC - Religion:Islam [link]
*The Religion of Islam (MSNU) [link]

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Week One: A Few Mistakes

All right guys. Week 1 of Ramazan 2010: The Epic Experimentation of Löki's Self Control is D O N E.

How did I fair?

Well, Days One through Four were the hardest. Now, I compare every day to Day 2 and usually end up repeating to myself, "This ain't half as bad as Day 2."

And, unfortunately, on Day 5, I just couldn't do it anymore. I spent the day sipping water and holding my tummy.

For all intent and purposes, Day 6 and Day 7 went okay. I have been entertaining house guests all week and fasting while making breakfast and preparing for group dinners was definitely a trial of my self control. It's weird not being able to test seasonings and make sure things are turning out okay.

Anyway, this is not an easy thing, but, I guess that is the point, right? If it was easy, it would not be a testament of faith. If it was easy, the saying would not go, "May God Accept Your Sacrifice."

Ramazan is a struggle. It is also beautiful. I have never felt tune before. I feel like I can really focus. I feel pretty at peace.

I also feel like I am learning two years' worth of information about Islam. Along with the two Islamic-focused podcasts I have been listening to, I also have been gobbling up "All Things Muslim" off the internets. I am flabbergasted at some of the things I thought I "knew" about Islam and how wrong I was. Geez. I consider myself pretty darn knowledgeable and progressive, but I was edging scary line of misinformation there.

I do have a lot to learn and hopefully, I can spend Ramazan doing just that.

Pictures are from the Oguz Summer Camp where I lead a dance workshop - hardest thing I have had to do yet while fasting.

Monday, August 16, 2010


Okay kids, we are go for Ramazan! I’ve been wanting to do a contest for awhile (to increase reader comments and make sure everyone is still perusing my blog, Buddy),’s gonna go something like this:

Over the next 4 weeks, new blog posts about Islam (and my Ramazan fast) will pop up on this here blog. On week 5 (around September 15), a fun and insightful Islam-themed test will offer you the opportunity to win a locally made silk scarf (straight from Sheki, Azerbaijan). All questions will come directly from my blog posts, so don’t be afraid to comment me when you have a question.

All 92% correct quizzes will then join the pool and a winner will be selected at random! After an undetermined (undetermined because who knows when my post office actually sends my America packages to America) amount of time, you will receive a locally-made silk scarf (Azerbaijan was on silk road after all).

Good luck and may the Force be with you.

Note: This contest is in no way sponsored by Peace Corps. All blog posts and test questions are written by Löki Gale Tobin and any mistakes made are hers alone.

What is Ramazan?

Yup. That is right. Azerbaijanis call it Ramazan and not Ramadan. Why exactly, I am not sure.

Anyway, Ramazan is the ninth month of the Islam calendar which the Qur'an was claimed to have been revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. It is also the time when the gates of Heaven are open and the gates of hell are closed. During this month, the Prophet fasted and told his followers to do the same. Each day he broke his fast with a date. I recently was told I can replace the date with clean water as dates are expensive in Az.

Okay, back to the point. During the fasting period (sunrise to sunset), observers do not drink, eat, smoke, or engage in sexual relations. You are also not supposed to swear, lie, or treat others unkindly. It is believed that it is easier to resist temptations during Ramadan because the devils are chained in hell. I am not sure about this, but so far, I have found myself a lot less negative while fasting.

There is also the viewpoint that fasting is an opportunity to practice patience, modest, and spirituality. Many believe this is a time to offer more prayers to God and focus on worship and contemplation.

The exact days of Ramazan vary from place to place as it depends on when the new moon is seen. The month then continues for the following 29 to 30 days. Observers are allowed to eat and drink when the sun is not in the sky, with the first meal of the day beginning with a prayer. After this, the fast is broken at sunset with a feast called the Iftar, which usually involves hosting family and friends.

The fasting requirement does make exceptions for young children, the sick, pregnant or traveling; however, it is one of the Five Pillars of Islam and observed as such.

For more info, check out the link below.

Resources: Peace Corps Az August Staff Stuff & BBC Religions - Islam: Ramandan [link]

Friday, August 13, 2010

Az8 - An Interesting Emotion

Last night, I started writing a post about Az8 and any questions they may have. I mean, when I was preparing for Peace Corps, I researched the heck out of what to expect. Of course, I kind of expect a few Az8s (the next group of PCVs) to do the same, so, what better way than to ask an extending Az6.Then I realized that by now they should have found my blog and if they had any questions, they probably would have already asked me.

So, instead, I wrote this:

I am scared of the Az8 group.

Well, that’s not true. I am more scared of what Az8 represents. As they prepare to begin their service, my group will be leaving. I am scared of losing friends - I mean, I am not supposed to say that right? Az6 will be my besties forever and yada, yada, yada. We all know how this is going to work. From the get-go, I will lose contact with at least half the group and after awhile, I will lose contact with even more. It is inevitable. Life happens.

I do not like change. Everyone I know can attest to this. I remember when a university volunteer group I was deeply invested in hired a new program manager. I was so scared he was going to change everything up. As much as I wanted things to stay the same, they changed. Everything changes.

So, why am I so scared of this change? Because I feel like I am not [changing]. I feel like I am standing still while everyone goes off to become famous actresses or pursue awesome graduate degrees. Instead, I am still here in the ‘Baijan, doing what I’ve been doing.

And even more, I am supposed to make new besties. [New besties? Is that even possible?] I am scared I can’t do that. I am scared that people already think they know me and I will be left all alone in the wilds of the north.

I wish I could say I have some sort of epiphany right now, but I don’t got one. I just know that I am scared.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Rack It

My first attempt at racking my homemade cherry wine [link] ended up with me covered in wine pulp. Yuck.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Summer Camps

My first summer day-camp experience in greater 'Baijan was spending a week at Jane's Lankeran marathon-like two month long day camp series [link]. I remember the 14 hour bus ride, battle the mosquitos, and learning that several PCVs had changed their names to things like Mario and Luigi.

A year later (and after my own day-camp attempt), I had the wonderful opportunity to head down to Bilasuavar to help a friend during his two week long day-camp. Only my second time "down south", I quickly learned two very important things: 1. Down south is ridiculously hot; and, 2. Zaqatalalilar (the people of Zaqatala) have a very different accent than the rest of the country.

Even with all the frustrating miscommunications (and flat out non-communication), I had a great time, both with Jon H. and the kids. Day-camps are awesome in so many ways...

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Why would anyone extend?

Okay. I have been meaning to write this blog post for awhile now. I mean, I did promise to tell you all my extension reasons. Of course, I could just copy and paste the entirety of my extension request letter, but that seems lame. So, what to do, what to do?

Well, I guess I can only really talk about myself. From personal experience, extension reasons are not clearly cut or easily defined. Anyone can give you the standard set (i.e. "I feel like I just hit my stride," "My work just took off," and/ or, "I'm just not done, yet.").  For most cases, those standard responses are a serious part of the extension decision. I do feel like my work just took off and I know I still have a lot left to give.

Yet, if it was just that, I would be heading home in December.

No. There is so much to an extension it cannot be blogged about or written in an email. Extension involves talking with family, considering friends' opinions, thinking about the overall life "game plan".

Extension means preparing to watch all your [PC] friends leave and start the next phase of the Volunteer life cycle and knowing that for you, a couple really dark days lay ahead.

Extension means considering the meaningful impact you could be making at home versus the hopeful impact you may make where you currently are living.

Extension means commitment and continued bouts of hand washing clothing, missing major theater blockbusters, and learning about celebrity jail times months after the fact.

Yeah. Extension decisions are definitely not as clear cut as anyone would want you to believe.

But, in the end, it all works out. Or at least I have to believe it will because...I am in for one more year. Extension approved.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Zaqatala Summer Art Program - the Conclusion

And then we all went to the park and flash mobbed some Thriller - MJ style!