Muslim Voices in Contemporary Literature

"There are yet other heavens before you"

An Introduction and Thank You

Filed under: Uncategorized — jiinkim at 5:30 am on Thursday, December 10, 2015

Nearly four months ago, I came into this class knowing close to nothing about Islam, except for the minimal that I had to know to understand international relations during high school. The seminar has not only been rewarding in the content that I have learned, but the people I have met, and the friends that I have made—I genuinely think what I learned from the people in this class and the perspectives they had to share was something I could not have learned from reading any book.

We started off the year by discussing world views, and Professor explained how he wanted this experience to not just be a chance for us to learn more about Islam and read literature by contemporary Muslim writers, but to understand our own and others’ worldviews in a deeper and more conscious way. Just as the stories that you were told as a child changed your world view, the stories that we tell each other now have the potential to change one one another. I think that is the reason stories are powerful, and why we started off each class by telling stories. As my classmates pointed out to me during one of your discussions, only with more narratives can we overcome bigotry and misunderstanding.

During the first class, we also talked about the elephant metaphor; everyone touches a part of the elephant—in this case comparable to Islam—with a blindfold on, and mistakes the part that they feel for its entirety. Is it a tree? A sofa? Is it violence or peace? Progress or backwardness? As we have discussed since then, one brings to Islam one’s own worldview—a combination of cultures and preconceptions—that make my Islam different than your Islam. Furthermore, Islam is neither peace nor violence; it’s a religion. Predisposed to nothing, the different interpretations that each person brings to the faith determines its manifestation. That is why a nationwide sentiment unfavorable towards Islam does not make sense because it pits a country against a religion; finding a scapegoat to foster nationalism is not only unfair to the minority group that it preys on, but dangerous as to the implications that it has on the morality of human dynamics. Must we always have someone to blame to promote unity?

At the end of the day, to reach the cosmopolitan world that the Aga Khan spoke about here at Harvard, we must do more than merely co-exist with one another. With co-existence comes a responsibility to listen to each other’s stories, understand each other’s differences, and ultimately, grow to love and celebrate diversity. However, I also think this process can be achieved in the other direction, and gives hope to the elimination of the prejudices that are globally salient today. When one forms a relationship with another person on a human level—regardless of differences—and becomes friends, one will inevitably get to know the other. With globalization, it is becoming increasingly easier to talk to people from all over the world, and form relationships with them. However, as the Aga Khan said, there is much communication these days, but no genuine contact. Still, I think as long as one is genuinely open when forming relationships, it is impossible to further the othering of the group s/he belongs to. As it says in the Korean quote that I mentioned in one of my reflections, only when we love will we know, and only when we know will we be able to see with clarity.

On a different note, I particularly enjoyed all the exposure to poetry and songs throughout this seminar. I think there is something beautiful about a people who originate from wars fought in poetry, and likewise, there is a sense of deep-rooted beauty in the poems and hymns that can only come from long tradition. I agree with Professor Asani that art and music are both closely tied to spirituality, which explains why many are exposed to religion through those means. A common basis for most human experiences, art and music allow for a special kind of connection to ones emotion or existence for a fleeting moment, one that cannot be described or recreated in words. I also think the arts are a great way for individuals to be introduced to other communities. Only when one can understand another’s prayers, will one be able to imagine the other complexly.

I know this is really redundant, but I am going to mention it anyways because it is still very important to me: I think the most important thing we can do in life is to imagine every person we encounter as a person. This goes from an individual level to a community level as well. Imagining people or communities complexly does not mean purposefully ignoring flaws and packaging them up in false idealistic labels. Rather, it means that while we consider the grasshoppers, we also remind ourselves of the existence of the jasmine and the stars.

This has come up in a class discussion before—does focusing on the jasmine and the stars mean that we do not give the grasshoppers the attention they deserve? Does it undermine the severity of the grasshoppers and their effects on society? Ideally, I would like to say no. I think both jasmines, stars and grasshoppers are necessary to know Pakistan—actually, you need to know a lot more than those three to know Pakistan, but you know what I mean—and see that even if there are problems, that does not mean there aren’t also living human beings who have the same daily concerns as we do. Humans often have a habit of reducing the people suffering from problems in far-away locations to just problems. The danger is this taking of humanity can be seen in all the inhumane and immoral policies (or lack thereof) that have been implemented globally. Also, this might not be totally on topic, but I would like to quickly share a quote with you by Doctor Paul Farmer: “The idea that some lives matter less is the root of all that is wrong with the world.”

It is impossible to describe the progression of my understanding of Islam in this class without mentioning Iqbal. I know that emphasizing my revelation when we learned about him only sheds light on my prejudice towards religion up to that point, but nonetheless, it is true so that’s alright. For me, the idea that Islam stands for progress was mind blowing. Since I was younger—perhaps 14 years old—I had decided that religion at its best can be a comforting factor and moral inspiration for some individuals, but that usually, it is the underlying cause of stagnation in social and societal development, and that it only supports archaic beliefs and practices. This might have had to do with my lifelong schooling in the Catholic education system. Although when I came into this class I thought I had removed such preconceptions from my head—evidently so because I wanted to take a freshman seminar about religion—I guess I had failed to do so completely because when Iqbal’s interpretation of Islam being a faith of self-growth, and ultimately societal development and co-creation with God clicked in my head, I felt like I had reached some kind of epiphany. (Also, I think we might have to take into consideration that I was probably emotionally charged from a. an amazing class as per usual and b. Iqbal’s beautiful poetry.)

In case you don’t read my other posts, here are the lines of poetry that caused such an uproar by me at the end of and after class that one Tuesday night:

“Beyond the stars are other worlds
There are still more tests of love

You are an eagle, flying is your occupation

There are yet other heavens before you.” (This is also the subtitle of my blog…)

There were many other things I learned in this class that challenged my (shameful but true) preconceptions of Islam from before. For example, the variation of women’s rights and freedom depending on interpretation was fascinating. In fact, I think some of the authors that we read books by had fairly progressive lives, and I remember that one of them was pushed by her husband to study more. Furthermore, the last background reading that we had to do for the concluding lecture was interesting in its defense of homosexuality in the Qu’ran. Since the Qu’ran makes no direct reference to the categorization of homosexuals nor any specification that women must wear hijabs, these interpretations all hold valid points. This still confuses me because I do not yet know the main interpretations that are widely accepted of the Qu’ran. I still have much, much more to learn about Islam, and I am glad I was introduced to its studies through this seminar.

Finally, I would like to say that I honestly thought it was some kind of sign that I had the honor of taking this class this semester in particular. Firstly, many topics that arose in this seminar overlapped with concepts that I learned about in my History of American Democracy class—perhaps not blatantly or directly, but enough that I could make connections, and feel as though the universe cared about my education. Secondly, with controversies about the Republican primaries, the Paris terrorist attacks, the Syrian refugee crisis, and the overall tension concerning Anti-Islamic sentiment that came to its zenith a couple of weeks ago, I was beyond appreciative to have this class to go back to for feed back and reassurance every week. Without this seminar, I don’t think I would have had the vocabulary to articulate my frustration with what was going on, and the moral support I received from just listening to similar feelings from my classmates and as always, the calming and helpful explanations from Professor Asani, gave me the courage that I needed to maintain my hope for humanity. All of these things fit together so perfectly for me, and for the first time in a very long time, I felt taken care of and not alone in my worldview to a point that I honestly think applying for this seminar, meeting Professor Asani, and taking it with my eleven other brilliant classmates was a gift and a sign.

I am not particularly religious anymore (or at least, not for this moment in time), but I do think I am a spiritual person. I don’t necessarily think things happen for a reason, but I do believe it is important appreciate the beauty of coincidence, and to be grateful for the universe’s grace when it grants me such beauties. If you are still reading this, thank you for being a part of FRSEM37, and thank you for making every Tuesday of my first semester of Harvard a day to look forward to. Best wishes for you in everything that you do, and as the Korean saying goes, may you and your loved ones only walk paths of flowers and blessings.

The Journey of Ibn Fattouma

Filed under: Uncategorized — jiinkim at 3:03 am on Thursday, December 10, 2015

12351305_549753381853671_1431610098_n

This unrealistic map depicts the journey of Quindil from his homeland, Dal al Islam, to the Lang of Gebel. I tried to put little drawings next to each ‘land’ that he visits with characteristics of their government or society. Also, there is a sunset at the bottom of the map which fades into the ocean because in class we talked about how the names of each of the places allude to the sun rising and setting. Finally, if you could please notice that a compass at the right hand corner points to ‘G,’ which stands for ‘Gebel,’ I would really appreciate it because if you couldn’t tell, I’m pretty proud of this map. (It took the longest time out of all of them…)

Anyways, I learned in class that the story was modeled after the real story of Ibn Batutta, who also traveled and settled in many lands as Quindil did. I didn’t really like the narrator because I thought he was irresponsible for not sticking to his (ultimately honorable) motives of traveling to gather ideas to improve his homeland, and instead, settling in every single place he visited to make a family. He seemed pretty undecided over whether he wanted security and family ties or to travel and reach the Land of Gebel—I felt bad for the children that he left behind.

Anyways, Quindil seems to ask the same questions that Iqbal does in his poem, concerning frustrations with the hierarchy and existing authorities and questions what kind of government—he wants it to be Islamic, but many place he visits are not—is the most effective and least likely to become corrupt, while eliminating poverty, protecting freedom, and fostering development?

The answer is not clear as each society seems to have given up something in exchange for its first priority, whether it be freedom in Halba or justice in Aman.

I liked the symbolism of each place Quindil visited as well; Mashriq as primitive, Haira as a monarchy, Halba as America or democracy, and Aman as communism. Although they were obvious, criticism in the form of a story made me think of the values of different nations in a refreshing way.

The Rainbow Sign/ My Son, the Fanatic/ The Reluctant Fundamentalist

Filed under: Uncategorized — jiinkim at 3:03 am on Thursday, December 10, 2015

12358066_549753395187003_1697931964_n

I attempted to make the piece abstract, which doesn’t help translate that it is a depiction of two hands holding onto each other. It was inspired from a quote from my notes that said something like, “We have much communication these days, but not contact.” (I think it was from the Aga Khan’s speech).

The hands are made up of fragments of different colored skin, because I wanted to show the unity of different people, ethnicities and identities. The background is a French flag because I made it around the time the Paris terrorist attacks happened, but it could be the flag of any country to be honest, because the message that I am trying to convey is a global one.

It is the same one the the Aga Khan talked about during his speech at Harvard.
A nation contains the narratives of countless identities and peoples. No one group—majority or not—has the authority to dictate what is the main narrative of a nation, or which individuals have more standing as citizens than others.

In the immediacy of terror and violence, it is difficult to stop scapegoating, or the blaming of a certain group in order to feel like one is attaining security. However, this will ultimately prove counteractive to the peaceful and cosmopolitan society that we are striving to create.

In the Rainbow Sign, the author describes the surprising sense of belonging that he felt for the first time upon returning to Pakistan from a lifetime in France. Even though he never felt quite like a national in Pakistan, he never felt—or was never allowed to feel—like he was French in France either.

In My Son, the Fanatic, the son of the narrator decides to turn to orthodox practices when he feels that his Westernization is giving in the the discrimination and injustices that he experiences for his ethnicity.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist likewise shows the dichotomy in identities that the narrator experiences during his college experience and beyond in America, and how no matter how much he succeeds, he never feels fully home there.

In all these stories, a common theme emerges: Europe seems pluralist in its makeup, but not in its spirit. This might have various social factors—such as the difference of the process citizenship is granted to immigrants—but nonetheless, it indicates that a more inclusive, new definition of a national identity is imperative to create true peace in Europe.

 

 

In the Name of God

Filed under: Uncategorized — jiinkim at 3:01 am on Thursday, December 10, 2015

12367081_549753405187002_1680275160_n

Throughout human history, a redundant theme lies prevalent in the wake of the most violent and cruel occurrences: those who want power justify their inherent claim to it by alluding to their blessings from God. These nominally religious acts are rarely fought because of a devotion to the faith, but is rather rooted in human greed. Also, sometimes religious individuals delude themselves that they have the right to power because they have remained faithful to God.

What I found most scary about this novel, however, apart from the intensely graphic horrors that occurred within the village, was that the author skillfully showed that extremist infiltration is almost always rooted in already-widespread discontent. A minority population that feels wronged by its government or the people around them are vulnerable to be swayed by extremist ideologies, which not only guarantees revenge, but security and belonging. This is similar to what has been happening with ISIS and Muslim populations all over the world, and the reason why we must not respond to terrorism with a backlash of oppression for related groups, but rather acknowledgment of past mistakes, and promises to welcome all narratives into a national identity.

Finally, I was impressed my Khadra’s portrayal of the almost muted personalities of the perpetrators of violence. The terrorists seem neither crazy nor fanatic. Moreoever, when bystanders are possessed to participate in stonings and other violent happenings, the reader comes to understand that in tense and terrifying atmospheres as these, one could be carried away by the dynamics of the group to go along with a deed, no matter how immoral it is. I think the word for this in psychology is called groupthink.

In the light of recent events in Paris, I think it is important to remember that the goal of these terrorist is to not only gain public tension, but turn public sentiment against the minority groups that they want to absorb as part of their masses. Alienating and furthering oppressing Muslim populations is doing exactly what the terrorists aimed to do—degrade the morality and sense of unity in the nation of target.

 

 

The Beggar’s Strike

Filed under: Uncategorized — jiinkim at 3:01 am on Thursday, December 10, 2015

12358245_549753411853668_1147434958_n

To start off, let me explain the drawing and what I was trying to portray.

A wealthier man—with a halo which symbolizes his supposed “faithfulness”—gives alms to a poor man; however, the wealthy man is actually pushing on a handle at the back of him, which activates the machine that is taking away the alms that the poor man has collected.

It would have been a better analogy if the handle activated a machine that put holes in the alms basket because it would show that the wealthy man is not only giving alms, but perpetuating the poverty of the poor, but I did not have the drawing abilities for that.

Basically, I was trying to illustrate the inconsistent morality of giving alms to the poor to remain faithful to one’s faith, while not addressing the real structural suffering that brought about the poverty in the first place, simply because the wealthy need the poor to give alms, and thus, be faithful.

I don’t know if anyone remembers, but Inaara and I had a misunderstanding during class when he discussed this story, and we ended up talking about it after class in the Yard for like two hours afterwards, trying to understand each other’s point of view.

It worked. So, the gist of it was that we were not in disagreement at all, but talking about different things. Inaara was trying to explain to me the brilliance of the story in that it gives power, which is usually in the hands of those who almsgive, to those on the receiving end, effectively demonstrating that the wealthy are at the mercy of the poor when it comes to religion and faith life. She also explained to me that almsgiving, being one of the pillars of Islam, was extremely important to the faith, and by changing the direction of the exchange, the author allowed the poor to have the main voice in the story, which rarely happens in literature overall.

However, I did not understand this mandate of almsgiving when it comes to Islam, so throughout the story, I just found myself disgusted in the ways that the wealthy spoke of the poor. The governor, for example, saying that the beggars must be returned to the streets so that he could almsgive and gain power. I did not understand why no one thought it was wrong that the structure of society had not changed; the only reason the beggars had power in this story was because they were at the receiving end of almsgiving and could refuse to accept those alms. They did not gain true power through structural societal change.

It turns out that’s not what people were saying at all. Eventually, I understood that almsgiving is a factor of a Muslim’s daily life and since it is so, switching the dynamic around and giving the beggars a voice was refreshing  and poignant.

I am glad that this discussion was never settled upon during class though, because it allowed me to both learn from and have a heart-to-heart with Inaara, and I am grateful to now have her as a friend.

 

 

The Complaint and the Answer (More like Iqbal blew my mind away)

Filed under: Uncategorized — jiinkim at 3:00 am on Thursday, December 10, 2015

12351149_549753421853667_292437022_n

As much as I had appreciated this poem as I wrote my response before coming to class, Iqbal’s overall message of Islam as explained to me by Professor Asani was what really blew my mind away.

It all started with this quote/part of a song that Iqbal wrote, which goes:

“Beyond the stars are other worlds

There are still more tests of love

You are an eagle, flying is your occupation

There are yet other heavens before you.”

First of all, wow. That’s beautiful. Secondly, I think it really took me aback to finally wrap my head around the concept in this class that Islam. Is. Progress.

I had finally gotten it! The fact that I had to actualize realize this shows what an ignorant stupor I had been in, not only concerning Islam, but my prejudice of religion in general.

After nearly 13 years of strict Catholic schooling, I had trained my self to believe that all religions were backgrounds, and although they could be comforting at best, the were never the motivators for development, progress or technology.

However, Iqbal turned this thought upside down in my head when he explained that true Islam was not archaic practices oppressing individuals and society, but rather growing within oneself to become closer to oneness with God. Through this individual and ultimately, societal development, one would be able to lose one’s ego, and show the beauty and power of God with process and leadership of civilization. (“God asks you what is your desire” –Prof. Asani, I think).

Furthermore, not only is God concerned for you to fulfill your desires, but as a muslim, one has the responsibility to utilize one’s God-given potential, and develop it to the extent that one is a co-creator with God.

This relates to the Complaint and the Answer in that power, in the end, does not lie with the nation or state or even authority figures, but from individuals. This power from every person is what allows civilizations to empower themselves. After coming from France, Iqbal had been frustrated with the people complaining about their lack of power compared to the West, thinking that God should “reward” them for their faithfulness, when in reality, they were being less muslim than Christians or Hindus or atheists, by not practicing Islam (Islam, as Iqbal says, is progress.)

A quote that captures this from the poem:

“Infidels who live like Muslims surely merit faith’s reward”

Anyways, Iqbal totally changed the way I thought about Islam and religion in general. Although I chose to take this class because evidently, I find religion important and a vital aspect of the worldviews of many individuals, but I had always dismissed it as associated with backwardness and the antonym to progress.

I was proven otherwise.
(In a very refreshing way as well because the song that was played in class was great!)

The Wedding of Zein

Filed under: Uncategorized — jiinkim at 2:59 am on Thursday, December 10, 2015

12355234_549753435186999_2124491531_n

I drew this candle in honor of Zein because I remembered his character as such when I read the sotry at the beginning of the semester. At this time, I was totally unfamiliar with Islam or any themes associated with it, so I did not realize how the story was depicting authorities within Islam in this particular Egyptian village, putting the gangs, Haneen, and the Imam in juxtaposition to show who really had the power or respect in the village. I enjoyed the story though, because it reminded me a lot of the parables of the Bible that I read as a child.

In my reflection that week, I wrote that Zein reminded me of a quote by a Korean historian that goes somewhere along the lines of:

“When you love will know, and when you know you will see— thus, what you see in the moment will never be as it was before.”

The quote explains the profound nature of love in its ability to pushes one to learn more about something, and once one learns more about something, one naturally sees the true value and worth in it.

Likewise, I really found the idea of Zein’s love profound: his love—which readers likely deemed silly at first because of Zein’s silly characterization—is a light that shows the village how lovely its girls are. Despite the condescension when speaking of Zein and his constant being in love, the families of the village want Zein to serenade their daughters because Zein’s love inadvertently shed light on their daughters’ availability and loveliness. Although how Islam was practiced in the village played a large part in why the girls were invisible from the public most of the time, Zein being in love with them allowed people to truly see them. This was why I drew a candle that shed light on the word “beauty”—hopefully, the word I used was the correct translation in Arabic.

However, the story still rendered women subject to the expectations of her society, and many times in this specific one, the expectations were contradicting and abusive. For example, while the men of the village wanted their women to be chaste and pure, many participated in immoral activities with women who were at the outskirts of the city. These women, who were highly stigmatized, did not have the same expectations as women who were worthy to be their wives, a perverted inconsistent value system indeed.

Also, I liked that Zein—similar to the Good Samaritan of the Bible—surrounded himself with the outcasts of the village, from lepers to the disabled. I think this purity and untainted compassion in Zein was what made Haneen become friends with him.

Speaking of Haneen, it was clear that this spiritual man had the respect and awe of the village as one close to God, although the Imam was who supposedly held legal authority and power. I think the story showed that power within Islam or Islamic government, can easily become corrupt depending on each community’s interpretation of the faith, just as how each cultural interpretation of Islam is vastly different from others.

Jasmine and Stars & Persepolis

Filed under: Uncategorized — jiinkim at 5:21 am on Monday, November 9, 2015

12212457_540673689428307_2081475195_n

I tried to use motifs from Jasmine in the Stars and depict it in the style that Persepolis was drawn in, but I don’t know if that carried through the piece very well.

 

What we talked about in class really stayed with me— about how even though it was important to recognize that there are other parts of a culture than the devastating grasshoppers, such as the jasmine and the stars, sometimes only focusing on the jasmine or stars could effectively dismiss the grasshoppers, when they are very real and scary things. However, I do not think Keshavarz is trying to say that we should solely focus on either the positive or negative, but rather that both aspects are what make up the whole picture. Without understanding that there are jasmine and stars in Pakistan, one might never see beyond the horrors of grasshoppers (or whatever else is solely portrayed in the media). Just because one recognizes that there is beauty and tradition in Pakistan does not mean one underestimates the severity or presence of other problems that need to be attended to.

 

I think reading about childhoods that are different than our own allows us to understand that the “other” are also human beings. This held true for both Jasmine and Stars and Persepolis. Through knowing more about each other, we can eventually triumph over the many dangerous and even degrading generalizations that facilitate “othering” today. However, as Keshavarz mentions in the beginning regarding Reading Lolita in Tehran, it is equally important to make certain that this does not lead us to assume a new Orientalist perspective. Appreciating shared human experiences (such as reading and appreciating literature) is important, but we have to mindful that one type of literature is not superior to another; in fact, recognition that another culture has literature—along with various other quirky traditions—that is just as legitimate and beautiful as yours is a vital step in genuine human dialogue between populations.

 

Ultimately though, I think that knowing about the jasmine and stars of another helps us imagine each other complexly—as individuals rather than ideas or preconceptions. The picture must show jasmines, stars, and the grasshopper to be truly helpful.

 

 

We Sinful Women

Filed under: Uncategorized — jiinkim at 10:25 pm on Tuesday, October 27, 2015

12179180_537356816426661_1418883014_n

 

“Deep in the recesses of my heart

hangs a picture of myself.”

– Famida Riaz

I loved the pieces written by the feminist poets; some lines struck me so much that I wrote them down on pieces of paper and taped it onto my dorm room wall. Some of these quotes included, “The Sun has chosen me for company,” and “Deep in the recesses of my heart hangs a picture of myself.” I based this charcoal piece on the latter quote.

Until I took this class, I had no idea that traditions of the Middle East were so deeply rooted in the art of poetry, and that the poetry from these regions were crafted so beautifully. As translated poems as these are this lovely in English, I cannot imagine how skillfully woven they are in the original Urdu— it makes me understand why ancient wars used to be fought in the form of poems. (By the way, I think there is something beautiful about a people who come from wars fought with lines of poetry.)

This has come up in more recent readings, but I think in order to understand Muslims and stop the “othering” of people from the Middle East, we must recognize that the other has their own forms of art and expression, and that they are just as beautiful as ours, in familiar and unfamiliar ways. I think the arts and words (or artistic expressions of words) could be a way that people start to understand and imagine each other complexly, by first appreciating each other’s artworks and what the other finds beautiful. Once you start seeing the beauty in another’s prayer, you will hopefully start to see the other as a whole and individual person.

 

Adding to the beauty of the poems, I thought it was eery how much I could connect to the poems as a female reader. Although I could never fathom what it is like to live in such oppression, sadness and fear as the poets express, I could empathize with certain aspects of their laments or wistful sighs. For example, in the lines “Late at night, this eerie silence/ In this dimly dark pathway,/ with hurriedly advancing footsteps,/ I am a lone woman” I could recognize a familiar fear that I too have felt alone in dark streets late at night, a fear that many women have probably felt around the world. Although the feelings were much more intense than I have ever experienced or could imagine, I understood what it was like to feel scared because you know that you are a lone woman.

Other lines that I loved from the readings included:

“If a bead of sweat sparkles on earth’s blow

it is my diligence…

I am the companion of the new Adam

Who has earned my self-assured love.”

“There she goes, her hair billowing in the wind.

The daughter of the wind.

There she goes, singing with the wind.”

“…a beautiful gait

a false smile chiseled on your lips

you haven’t wept for years”

Children of the Alley

Filed under: Uncategorized — jiinkim at 10:23 pm on Tuesday, October 27, 2015

12179627_537356813093328_18009192_n

 

I remember the Garden of Eden, depicted as the garden in the house of Gebelawi, as the the most memorable part of the novel. In both the Bible and this novel, access to the warmth and peace of the garden symbolizes whether one still has the love of God on one’s side. This touches on what confused me most about this work, which was how Gebelawi was not portrayed as the all-loving and compassionate God of the Bible, but rather as a strict and unforgiving, mean grandfather/father.

This took me especially hard because for me—when I was religious—the most important part of my faith was that an all-knowing and all-powerful God loved me more than I could ever fathom, and that this love was so consuming and powerful that no matter what I did, I could never sever or lose it. Whatever atrocious mistake I made, God would be all-merciful, and as long as I genuinely wanted to come back and embrace him, he would welcome me with unchanging warmth and compassion. This belief was further accentuated during by middle school years, when I found comfort in the fact that a Heavenly Father would make-up for all that happened to me during my earthly life, and I for many years I took rest in his mercy and grace.

Although this modern take on biblical stories made me realize just how devastating and “unmerciful” God’s punishments seem when the stories are d-mythologized and stripped of holiness, I also do not think this changes the fact the Garden of Eden (whether biblical, as it is in the novel, imaginary, or even as an abstract concept in some minds) functions as a sanctuary for those who seek security in God’s embrace. Just as Gebelawi’s garden was a safe haven for his children, so does the Garden of Eden provide comfort to those who need refuge to this day.

Next Page »