dotCommonweal: “Mercy-ing: A Starting Point for Dialogue”

In the Qur’an, God’s mercy is referenced most often in Sura Maryam, which recounts the stories of Mary, Jesus, and other Biblical characters familiar to Christians. This painting, completed by the author, features an image of Mary with the word “al-Rahman” written upon her womb. The painting is intended to spread awareness and spark conversation about the place of Mary, and the importance of mercy, in both Christianity and Islam.

In the Qur’an, God’s mercy is referenced most often in Sura Maryam, which recounts the stories of Mary, Jesus, and other Biblical characters familiar to Christians. This painting, completed by the author, features an image of Mary with the word “al-Rahman” written upon her womb. The painting is intended to spread awareness and spark conversation about the place of Mary, and the importance of mercy, in both Christianity and Islam.

My newest blog post on dotCommonweal. Start reading here and then continue by clicking “Read more.”

Amid all the excitement from the unprecedented interview with Pope Francis published by Jesuit journals worldwide, many Catholics may have missed one of the Pontiff’s more subtle communiqués: a letter sent to the head of al-Azhar University, a highly respected institution for Sunni Islamic scholarship. Unsurprisingly, and in line with the humble style of Francis’s papacy, the Vatican did not widely announce that he had sent the letter; the press only learned of the message—which was delivered by the Vatican ambassador to Egypt and expressed his hope for “mutual understanding between the world’s Christians and Muslims in order to build peace and justice”—when Ahmed al-Tayyeb, al-Azhar’s Grand Imam, made the sentiment of the letter known to the world.

While the letter’s content (only some of which was shared with the media) is not groundbreaking, Francis’ gesture has been perceived by some, like Father Hani Bakhoum, secretary of the Alexandria Patriarchate of the Catholic Copts, to signal a desire for resumption of dialogue between the Vatican and al-Azhar. The two institutions engaged in bi-annual talks until 2011 when al-Azhar officials cited comments made by Pope Benedict as justification to discontinue the dialogue. (Read more about the freezing of the talks here.) Upon Francis’ election to the papacy, Imam al-Tayyeb sent a message to the pope, congratulating him and indicating al-Azhar’s renewed desire to restart talks.

Read more.

dotCommonweal: “What an Islam expert isn’t”

For the next few months, I’ll be blogging for Commonweal, a lay Catholic magazine produced in the States. Though most of my pieces will likely focus on events in my new home, Amman, my first post is about how Islam is taught and written about by Catholics in America. 

An excerpt can be found below, in addition to a link to the remainder of the piece on Commonweal’s blog, dotCommonweal.

What an Islam expert isn’t
Jordan Denari, September 14, 2013

Most Catholics will remember the hysterical opposition to the so-called Ground Zero Mosque back in 2010. But what any may not realize is that one of the opposition’s principal organizers is considered by some influential Catholics to be the church’s chief expert on Islam. Not Peace but a Sword

Since the September 11 attacks, Robert Spencer has capitalized on the curiosity—and fear—that many Americans have about Muslims. While most of his sixteen books, including two New York Times bestsellers, attempt to convince all Americans that Islam is an inherently violent religion, Spencer has also authored books aimed at Catholics.

Continue reading…

Signs of joy: “Peeling Oranges” series

Signs of joy hang in the windows
of the house up the street,
and bounce like yellow light off the shiny sides of parked cars.

Farah soars and plummets on a flimsy swing
under twists of wire and grape vines,
and little boys’ sandals flip and flap and echo
off the dusty sidewalk.

An old man, whose bald head peeks
through holes of his white knit hat,
lets his prayer beads dangle from his hand.
Orange butterflies float over white buds about to burst.

Men press their heads to ornate rugs outside the vegetable stand
while I plod through the foam tubs of tomatoes and cucumbers.
Little Sundus, with big, shy eyes, waits with me
as the shopkeeper greets the angels on his shoulders.

I must remember these moments,
these signs of joy that point me toward home.
I must learn to gather them like precious figs into my plastic bag,
and string them like beads into my own prayer.

One of several identical signs on a building in my neighborhood. It reads, "al-farah," which means "joy" in English.

One of several identical signs on a building in my neighborhood. It reads, “al-farah,” which means “joy” in English.

A moment at maghrib: “Peeling Oranges” series

In the spring of 2012, when I first lived in Amman, I started a series on my blog called “Peeling Oranges.” It was a place where I hoped to publish short vignettes or poem-like reflections on moments throughout my days where I experience “Divine-human mingling,” as spiritual writer Fr. Anthony Oelrich calls it.  Now, as I begin my nine-month experience living again in the country which bears my name, I plan to continue this series. The following is my first entry in this new phase of “Peeling Oranges.” I’ve decided that this short piece—instead of a Q&A piece explaining why I’m here and what I’m doing—is more appropriate for my first blog post back in Jordan. I hope starting from a place of prayer can not only set the tone for my blog this time around, but also help my readers understand the way in which I’m trying to view my experience here.

You can access previous posts in the series by searching “peeling oranges” or by reading the initial entry, which explains the series’ title.

August 29, 2013

I sit on the balcony of my new, second-story apartment, swirling pita bread in a slimy, gritty mixture of olive oil and za’atar. It’s my favorite time of day here, right before maghrib, and my neighborhood in Jabal al-Hussein echoes with the shrieks and laughs of children. In the pink night of evening, boys scuffle in the street playing soccer, an old man in a gray robe shuffles down the street with his cane, and women in long dresses walk home with groceries.

Just below my flat, a young mother walks slowly, her fingers squeezed tight around the hand of her young daughter, who stumbles along in a purple dress, learning to walk. Back and forth they go in front of my building, which I soon discover I share with them. I shout down a quick introduction to my new neighbors, and little Amira smiles up at me from Zainab’s arms. Continuing their stroll, Zeyneb whispers and repeats new words like “sky” and “building” as Amira points to them.

After days of worry, exhaustion, and doubt that Amman could ever again feel like home, this fleeting moment—one I didn’t expect—brought me calm and peace. It made me remember two passages from my prayer book that I had read shortly before:

“Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You too must be patient.” James 5: 7-9

“At an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.” (Antiphon)

There, at my favorite time of day, was my Friend. Not only sitting next to me on the empty balcony, but laughing in the street and pointing a chubby finger toward the heavens.