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Adjunct Professors | The 'CURE' for your Vocation

Category: Adjunct Professors

Being Transformed through Field Studies

Happy Wednesday McReaders!

Last weekend I had the opportunity to travel to a church in Michigan that has partnered with my field site, Grace Commons. My supervisor was asked to preach as we presented a video our church created about peace. As it was transfiguration Sunday, we spoke about how Grace Commons has transformed the lives of students training to be pastors. I was asked to share my story. It went like this:

Luke 9:28-36

About eight days after Jesus said these things, he took Peter, John, and James, and went up on a mountain to pray. As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed and his clothes flashed white like lightning. Two men, Moses and Elijah, were talking with him. They were clothed with heavenly splendor and spoke about Jesus’ departure, which he would achieve in Jerusalem. Peter and those with him were almost overcome by sleep, but they managed to stay awake and saw his glory as well as the two men with him. As the two men were about to leave Jesus, Peter said to him, “Master, it’s good that we’re here. We should construct three shrines: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”—but he didn’t know what he was saying. Peter was still speaking when a cloud overshadowed them. As they entered the cloud, they were overcome with awe. Then a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, my chosen one. Listen to him!” Even as the voice spoke, Jesus was found alone. They were speechless and at the time told no one what they had seen.

“I connect so much with Peter in this passage. I’ve felt like I have followed my faith sort of blindly, without much real understanding of what has been happening in it. The disciples, you might know, always seem to be a little dim – they never quite followed along with what Jesus was saying or doing. But they meant well, bless their hearts. So when Peter, dimmed even further by his sleepiness, sees Jesus shining bright with Elijah and Moses standing at his side, it’s a little more understandable why his reaction was to build three houses – although it still makes no sense to our modern context if we’re going to be honest. When I first felt called into ministry, I felt like Peter must have when he witnessed Jesus’ transfiguration. The call seemed to make sense to me in the moment, but also felt impractical and, quite frankly, pretty silly – kind of like building houses for dead glowing people appearing out of nowhere. But I answered the call still. I applied to and was accepted to McCormick Seminary. My wife and I moved half-way across the country without any clue of how this impractical call would work out. It was particularly disconcerting because I was entering a master’s program traditionally seen as a degree for pastors, and I didn’t really want to be a traditional pastor. As I completed my first year of seminary, I began to feel tugged towards a more traditional pastoral ministry. It wasn’t a very comfortable tug, either, because I didn’t really see how a traditional church would fit in with who God has created me to be. This isn’t to say I don’t love my traditional church home, but I just didn’t see how it would fit in with my call.

When the opportunity came to interview at Grace Commons for my field site, my call suddenly didn’t seem quite as dim as before, as though the lights were slowly beginning to be turned on. In the nearly six months I’ve had the privilege of serving at Grace Commons, my call has continued to become clearer and no longer seems quite so ridiculous. What has been so transformative for me is the amount of freedom and grace the community has offered me as a student. I was immediately brought in as a full partner in the ministry of Grace Commons and given the opportunity to share my ideas, to create to plan and to even shape the community, while it was simultaneously was shaping me. My experience thus far has taught me a fuller meaning of what it means to be “church,” as well has helped lift the dense fog surrounding my call and give it validation.”

For more information on McCormick’s Field Studies program, click here!

Also, if you’re curious about the video we presented in Michigan, watch below!


Well, McReaders, this is the last blog you’ll get from me. Wes will be taking over soon, and I’ll be done with seminary after 3 glorious years.

Thinking about the past 3 years is a bit overwhelming. As I’m leaving seminary, I’m not one of those prefect Presbyterians who passed all her ordination exams in the first try; I’m not walking out of seminary with a job in hand, ready to become ordained; I’m not in the minority. I am, once again, in the majority. I’m walking out of seminary with debt, no job, very little idea of where I am going to live, and a car that requires prayer each time to drive it down the Dan Ryan (which, given the shape it’s in, I don’t go down the Dan Ryan with it if I can help it). It’s not that I don’t have skills, I have mad skills. It’s just, there really aren’t many jobs out there. Recently, several people have asked me, “So, if you had to do it over, would you do it all again the same?”

Yes. I’d do it all over again and I would not do it differently. Here are a few reasons why:

1. I met Megan, Alex, TC, Sylvia, Tracy, Jon, Joe, Holly, Kim, Jason, Bong, Lilit, Ching Boi, Tyler, Ken, Lora, Matt, Jenny, Hannah, Amber, Molly, Han Kook, Dave, Kristi, Meredith, Kristin, Robyn, Tina, Karl, Michele, Vimary, Abby, Nathy, Nancy, Jeanine, Sergio, Kristin, Deanna, Mo, Stephanie, Melva, Kathi, Wes, Liz, Albert, Mike, Monica, Daniel, Sarah, Sarah, Katie Jo, Kate, Kirk, Jamie, Matt, Allison, Casey, Phil, Jeff, JC, Honna, Jake, Kelly, Megan, Sarah, Melvina, Delores, Kay, Sheila, Chris, Brenda, Peter, Heather, Jamie… the list is endless. This only includes the people that I could think of in 5 minutes and doesn’t include staff, professors, students from other seminaries, people in the community… Need I say more?

2. The friendly folks at the Starbucks at 55th and Woodlawn know my name.

3. I now know that Joel is an actual book in the Bible.

4. Ted Hiebert taught me Hebrew and Sarah Tanzer taught me Greek.

5. Janaan Hashim and Bob Cathey answered all my ridiculous questions and never told me to shut up. Ever.

6. I got to be Lib Caldwell’s EA.

7. If you ask nice enough, Luis will put on his Dracula cape.

8. Christine Vogel lets me cry in her office and Frank Yamada lets me cry in the halls.

9. Dr. Daniels made singing “Welcome Table” my favorite communion tradition.

10. Deb Mullen helped me accept who I was on my first day of classes.

11. Joann Lindstrom has a puppy in her office.

12. Sam Evans talks in a French accent when he’s in the office.

13. David Crawford is my friend and I know how hard he works for the seminary and the people there.

14. My classmates are fabulous dog-sitters, bird watchers, fish sitters, and plant waterers.

15. Melody Knowles taught me how to write a better paper.

16. Ted Hiebert made me re-think how I read the Bible.

17. Jennifer Ayers made me appreciate food and be thankful that I have it.

18. Ken Sawyer.

19. Ken Sawyer’s Mustache.

20. David Esterline’s wife’s cookies.

21. Knowing that Priscilla Rodriguez is always laughing at my facebook posts and understands my existential angst and will always have a hug for me.

22. Christine Vogel has a constant and steady supply of chocolate in her office.

23. No one reads the Psalms quite like Nanette Banks.

24. Dr. Frank Thomas taught me how to preach like I was on fire and then he made us go play in the snow.

25. Joann Lindstrom has my back.

26. Deb Kapp is an awesome cook at Iron Chef.

27. Monica actually smiles, you just have to know how to make her do it.

28. Natasha thinks I’ve already graduated.

29. I sort of have teacher crushes on Bob Cathey, Ted Hiebert, Lib Caldwell, Melody Knowles, and Janaan Hashim.

30. Community meals are always better food than I have in my apartment.

31. David Crawford often confuses me and Abby Mohaupt.

32. Boundaries don’t actually exist at McCormick despite Joann Lindstrom’s attempts at educating us.

33. Kimchi and Chapchae are two of my new favorite foods.

34. After being her EA, Abby Mohaupt and I now know that Lib Caldwell drinks Diet Coke at break and her Starbucks order is a grande unsweetened passion fruit iced tea.

35. I learned more about YAV’s than I ever imagined was possible.

36. I learned that Frank Yamada used to be in a band.

37. Anna Case-Winters lets me call her A.C. Dub.

38. Ken Crews can eat ungodly amounts of fast food in one sitting.

39. Deacon retreats aren’t the same without Christine Vogel present.

And last but not least…

40. The University of Chicago has a library. Thank God, or none of my work would have ever gotten done.

Well, that’s it. There are other things I could have talked about on here, but this is all I had time for, I have to finish a project for Bob Cathey. Go figure. Graduation, here I come!

Peace – Shelley D.

Meet a Professor, Adjunct Jessica DeCou

Good afternoon folks! On this warm winter day I thought it’d be nice to bring you something fun. Over January Term I took this super cool class called “Theology and Pop Culture,” taught by Adjunct Professor Jessica DeCou. Our class was a pretty lively bunch from all different backgrounds (diversity? at McCormick you say?) and it was truly a pleasure learning from Jessica and all those in the class. Because I had so much fun, and I think Theology and Popular Culture is a subject worthy of attention by seminarians, I thought I’d introduce you to Jessica and have her explain why her field of study is such a big deal (plus lots of fun clips for you to watch!)

Wes: Tell us who you are and a little about yourself.

Jessica: I am a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Chicago Divinity School, completing a dissertation on Karl Barth’s theology of culture and its import for the study of popular entertainment.  My hobbies include watching TV and … um…

W: What got you interested in theology/pop culture?

J: Remember Scrooged (Love that movie, by the way – Bill Murray is a rock star), when the Ghost of Christmas Past brings Bill Murray to the realization that most of his childhood memories were actually things that happened to kids on TV?  That’s me.  As a kid, I spent most of my time with TV (“television: teacher, mother, secret lover,” as Homer Simpson so rightly put it).  After school, I’d do homework while watching reruns of Three’s Company and Bosom Buddies, then later I would watch reruns of M*A*S*H or The Rockford Files with my grandpa.  To this day, I still remember the prime-time schedules for certain nights of particular seasons (e.g. 1986 CBS Mondays, 1987 NBC Thursdays, 1988 NBC Saturdays).  And, as an adult, I’ve found that there is a relevant TV theme song for every life lesson (how much better would the world be if we all just embraced the theme to Diff’rent Strokes – God bless you, Alan Thicke).

Being raised by two Pentecostal preachers did not inhibit my love of popular culture.  At church, my grandma would often take popular songs from her youth and adjust the lyrics to turn them into gospel songs.  My mother and aunt would do the same on their sheet music for love songs of the 70s and 80s.

Growing up in this kind of environment meant that I had to think theologically about popular culture from the start.

W: Here’s a three parter – You taught a class this past J-Term entitled “Theology and Pop Culture.” What does theology have to do with pop culture (or vice versa)?

J: We are all consumers of popular entertainment (and those who claim they aren’t are lying).  And so, in today’s media-saturated environment, developing critical tools for engaging pop-culture is essential not only for theologians and clergy, but for all who seek to understand the relationship between their faith commitments and their responsibilities as cultural consumers.

Moreover, I strongly believe that popular culture has unique contributions to make to human flourishing, such as encouraging play and fellowship (but I better not spoil the whole plot of my dissertation just yet).

W: What made you want to teach this class?

J: It is every doctoral student’s dream to teach his/her dissertation.  I’m just grateful McCormick was willing to give me the opportunity.

W: Why at McCormick?

J: An ongoing problem in academic theology is that this kind of work is often not very useful or relevant to clergy or their congregations. Working with the Louisville Institute has really helped me to recognize the need for regular, meaningful conversations between theologians working in the academy and theologians working in ministry (and, yes, I believe every minister is also always a theologian).  The eventual objective of even the most theoretical research is to have some practical import for the “real world” –  all theology must be, in some sense, practical theology.

So, I felt that the best way to make my own work relevant was to try to develop a course on the subject specifically with ministry students in mind.  In other words, I was hoping that the course would be just as much a learning experience for me as for the students.  And that’s exactly what happened.  It was pretty great.

W: So you’re a tv buff – what is your favorite show (or shows) on right now?

J: Too much to choose from.  Let’s see…

Breaking Bad (AMC) – because it’s not only the greatest drama on TV right now, but I also like to think of it as the darkest comedy in TV history (I was going to link to an example, but I thought better of it).

Community (NBC) – because I love me some Troy and Abed (Only YOU can help prevent Community’s cancellation6 Seasons and a Movie!!).

Parks & Rec (NBC) – because Ron Swanson, that’s why.

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (FX) – because of the implication (better not link to this one either…).

Southland (TNT) – because it sometimes gives me nightmares.

Louie (FX) – just because.

Justified (FX) – because it has the best villains on TV.  FACT.

Mad Men (AMC) – because we’re all supposed to say we like it, even when it’s boring (what?).

Cougar Town (ABC) – because penny can is the best game ever.

W: If you could only watch one tv show for the rest of your life, what would it be?

J: The questions keep getting harder!

Only one?!?!?!?!

I suppose I would probably end up choosing Deadwood (since I still watch it all the time and can’t seem to tire of it).  But I’d also have to consider something more silly and fun, like Better Off Ted.  Or maybe even Lost since, unlike the other two short-lived series, it has 120 episodes to choose from, although far too many of them feature Jack and/or Kate (they’re the worst!).

W: In class it was pretty apparent you really like both Louis C.K. and Jimmy Fallon. In a fight between them (we ask the same thing about super heroes, so why not comedians?), who would win?

J: Hmm…  Are we talking UFC, WWE, professional boxing, or just a street fight?

Jimmy Fallon’s got a lot of speed – he’s energetic and nimble.  But it seems very possible that Louis C.K. has a vast emotional caldera that could erupt at any moment.  With that in mind, I guess I’d say:

UFC = Louis C.K.; WWE = Fallon; Boxing = Fallon; Street Fight = Louis C.K.

W: Back to theology - last October you wrote an article on Zombies – what exactly do Zombies have to do with theology or religious life?

J: Zombies are an odd case – they elicit creativity and playfulness in a way unlike any other mythical/literary creature.  You have people enacting make-believe zombie apocalypses, making Amazon lists for surviving the real deal, writing legal codes for the protection of (or abolition of) zombie rights, and so on.  My favorite was the couple who killed a zombie in their wedding photos.

Surely, then, this phenomenon has theological significance, right?

So, I guess the reason I wanted to write about them was because I wanted to understand why they stimulate these very constructive human attributes.  I still haven’t figured it out, though.  My best guess is that, by forcing us to consider questions of enormous existential/ethical/theological/philosophical significance (e.g., what it means to be human, what it means to live and to die), they elicit an appreciation for human life and incite people to (as Barth would put it) “seize our limited time as a unique opportunity.”  Just a theory…

A big thanks is in order to Jessica DeCou! Thanks for having this chat and for coming to McCormick to share your research and your awesome video/game making skills! For those of you who are now craving more from Jessica, read another article from her about Karl Barth and Craig Furgeson.

Have a great weekend!

Happy Wednesday McCormick Community.

So often you all get to meet our professors and students, but there are other aspects to our community, like our adjunct professors that we want to show off as well. They’re pretty awesome, especially today’s interviewee: Janaan Hashim, Esq. Janaan teaches alongside of our favorite Nesting in Beirut Theology Guru, Bob Cathey. Not only is she one of our favorites here, she’s also a lawyer (and one of the founders) of the first law firm founded by 6 Muslim women right here in Chicago, the Amal Law Group. She’s also a maker of homemade baklava, and she has a great sense of humor. Janaan also lectures wherever and whenever she can. She covers a range of topics, and I was lucky enough to go to one of her recent lectures right next door at LSTC.

Janaan plays a really important role in the life of the McCormick community. To state the obvious at this point, she’s a practicing Muslim (trust me, there’s much more to this lady than only that!). Chicago is a place rich for interfaith learning and conversation, and Janaan helps to bring that directly into our classrooms. Personally, I can attest that she has helped me, a white, Christian, Southerner, to connect with someone of another faith and to really learn. Through interaction, we get the information first hand and that’s how people make relationships and come to have a respect for one another. This is how things change and how people learn.

Now it’s time for me to stop rambling on and on about her, you come by the Religious Pluralism class on Friday mornings and meet her as well. You’ll also get another change to meet her and take a class from her and Bob Cathey this coming Spring semester as they teach a new class, Arab Reawakening. Check it out on the McCormick page for more information! Without further ado, here she is!

Please tell us your name, where you are from, and what exactly it is you do at McCormick.

My name is Janaan Hashim, I was born a mile south of the Mason-Dixon line in Cumberland, Maryland but grew up just outside the Capitol in Rockville, MD.  At McCormick, I try to keep students in my class awake Friday mornings by engaging them in thought-provoking analysis of the faith being studied that particular day, and when we go on our site visits to various houses of worship, I do my best to set a good example of being a respectful guest and learner.  And what class would draw students out of their comfortable quarters on a Friday morning?  Religious Pluralism and the Ministry.


Tell us a little bit about your family.

There’s not much to be said.  My father is from Iraq, my mom is from Ohio, so I’m a Scotts-Irish Arab…reality is, if I were a horse, I’d be valuable.

As for the boring stuff, I have two older brothers and when I was young, our family included two guinea pigs, Spicey and Cutie-Pie, two rabbits, Bunny and Fredrick, and several tanks of fresh water fish.  I went to public school (thus, my weak geography skills), played the piano for nine years and trumpet for four, enjoyed photography tremendously in high school, was a member of 4-H and spent parts of my summer on the shores of the Atlantic at Ocean City, MD.  Oh, and I was a runner doing cross-country, indoor track and spring track in middle school and high school with my mom at too many meets to count, cheering me on every step of the way… no pun intended.

You are a McCormick adjunct professor, and (besides the rumor that you make some stellar baklava), we hear you are also a lawyer. What’s that all about?

Good question.  Hmmmmm, well, I had just finished meeting my goals at the high school at which I taught (journalism and desktop publishing) and was trying to determine whether I should set new goals or do something different.  My husband reminded me of my interest in continuing my higher education and suggested law.  Since my kids were in upper elementary school, I figured why not?

I was intrigued by the analytical thinking and reasoning skills that many lawyers carry, and thought that this was something I’d like to polish.  With that, my skills as an oralist also improved, thanks to both the Socratic Method and the moot court team I was on.  Through these experiences, I came to realize that when I find myself put on the spot, whether it’s the professor or a judge wanting an answer, it was either shrivel away or step-up to the challenge.  Early on, I decided I would always try the latter and not worry about being wrong, looking silly, or anything like that.  It was an incredible learning experience to say the least and one that has made me into a better person and thinker.

How did you come to teach at McCormick? What do you teach/will you be teaching?

God really works in strange ways…at least, strange to us.  It took a trip to Barcelona, Spain to get me to McCormick – talk about taking the scenic route!  I was a panelist at the 2004 Conference of the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions.  Among other speaking engagements, I participated in a panel discussion entitled, “The Headscarf Debate and Ultra-Secularism in Democratic Societies” in which two others and I talked about our head covering experiences.  Of course, with the other two democracies being France and Turkey, it was easy to make the US shine above the others in terms of religious freedom and expression while also expressing caution with the growth of Islamophobia.  Afterward, Professor Cathey’s daughter approached me, with Professor Cathey and his wife by her side, we talked and exchanged contact info.  That fall, Professor Cathey invited me to speak to his class that attended the Parliament, then the following year he approached me to tweak his Parliamment class so that McCormick could provide a course relating to the interfaith movement between Parliament events given the pluralistic city we live it.

Bob and I met, we discussed a few avenues for the course, and then came up with the current model that was based on a course I took in law school.  The course, Religious Pluralism and the Ministry was born, approved by the administration and has earned a steady spot in the fall as an elective.

The other course that I will also team-teach with Professor Cathey is Arab Reawakening which will be offered for the first time this spring.  It will be really interesting because we will look at Arab Christian and Arab Muslim immigrants who moved to Chicago from six specific Middle Eastern countries over the past 100 or so years, the impact they have had on the community and its impact on them, and then what kind of impact that may have had on current life in the Middle East all within the context of diaspora in the Bible and Quran.  Cool, eh?

Personally, I think it’s pretty important that we have you as a professor. You’re a practicing Muslim, and that’s something really great that you bring to the table for students to learn from and to engage with. Why do you think it is important that you are part of the McCormick community? What role do you see yourself playing (besides the obvious professor role)?

This is a great question.  Without a doubt, if I were to learn about, say, Judaism, I would be smart to go to an observing Jew or even a Rabbi, ask my questions and learn from them.  Similarly, a smart school would do the same if it chooses to offer a course that involves Islam: it would pull in someone who not only knows the faith, but feels it, breaths it, lives it.  That makes all the difference in teaching students because it brings in passion and brightens an otherwise dry topic.

The events of 9/11 propelled me into the interfaith world and, through it, I’ve realized that the only way we can undermine the nay-sayers out there who are convincing the world that faith is part of the world’s problem, is to step up to the plate and say, “No, faith is part of the solution.”  The basis of this is simple. I’ve found through my interfaith work, especially with the CPWR, that no faith calls for the annihilation of the other, no faith calls for starving the other, no faith calls for hate and violence toward the other.  I hope to bring that into my classroom and help my students see the beautiful world beyond the circle of their own faith.

In terms of role, I guess there’s a bit of helping the student realize his/her own stereotypes or prejudices of a person who doesn’t dress like them and helping the student overcome these preconceptions through my role as an educator.  It’s pretty fair to say that most of my students have had little contact with Islam, Muslim women, or an American Muslim woman.  I’ve noticed that over the course of the semester, the student shifts from seeing me as “the professor who wears the hijab” to “the prof who teaches the Religious Pluralism class.”  In essence, they, themselves, move beyond defining my scope or essence, in their view, by what they see on the exterior toward defining my scope or essence with what is deeper through what they see in class, experience on the road, learn from in debriefings after site visits, etc.

To me, the reality is that it’s a pluralistic world out there, especially in the US, and more so in Chicago.  The sooner seminarians can enlarge their comfort zone such that it includes “the other,” the better equipped they will be as religious leaders in their community.   I hope that my presence as a member of the MTS community helps with that process and that students years from now will say, “I had this professor who was Muslim, and I learned that when you go to a mosque, expect to see the wall lined with shelves filled with Qurans in the prayer area, or when a Sikh greets you with his hands clasped together, the best response is to reciprocate with the same gesture, or when you go to meditation at a Buddhist temple, expect to sit for a long time.”  So long as I’m making this a part of my students’ learning curve, then I can sleep well at night knowing that our future is a bright one.

You mentioned your involvement with the Parliament of the World’s Religions. Can you speak to that a bit?

I was first exposed to the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions (CPWR) in 2004 when I was invited to speak on a couple of panels at the Barcelona Parliament event.  I then stayed connected by helping with the programming of the 2009 Parliament event in the context of finding highly qualified Muslim speakers to talk on a variety of relevant and interesting issues.  In 2010, I was privileged to join their Board of Trustees.  I currently sit on the HR committee and I also served on the Site Selection Task Force Committee to determine which bid city would host the next Parliament Event in 2014.  Working with the CPWR staff, Dirk Ficca, the Executive Director (and a MTS grad!) and other trustees has been a tremendous experience and wonderful gift.

At the beginning of our reading week, you gave a lecture on the shariah at LSTC, and I hear you get a lot of requests for speaking engagements. What kinds of things do you get asked to speak about? Which one was your favorite to give?

Most of my talks involve Islam one way or the other.  Typically they address Islamophobia, eg. religious freedom in the US, the hijab, rising hate toward Muslims both at the personal level and within a legal context; women’s issues ranging from my work as a criminal defense attorney to Muslim women’s involvement in society and women’s rights in Islam; my work with Radio Islam and religion in the media; and now, as you mentioned, Shariah since it is becoming a political issue and it seems that politicians and their constituencies, including many Muslims, do not know what Shariah really is.  I really love talking about issues relating to Islam, it really lights the fire in my belly! I love informing and educating folks and seeing the light above their heads turn on as well as exploring issues with scholars and seeing my own light shine a bit brighter.

I know you’ve traveled to study Arabic. Where all have you gone and how’s that going?

I have studied classical Arabic for the past three summers in Amman, Jordan at Qasid Institute.  It’s a fabulous program and I hope to ultimately complete its five levels.  Until I found this program, learning Arabic was a great challenge and I became increasingly frustrated with the fact that, to know my faith, I have to rely on someone else’s translations, their proficiency (or lack thereof) in Arabic and English, and whatever social and personal influences they may carry when determining what English word properly translates the corresponding Arabic word.  With this handicap, libraries upon libraries filled with thousands of classical works by brilliant minds – both men and women – are closed to me; but once I learn the language, imagine, not only will those library doors be open, but I won’t need a library card to read the works!  So, with great patience, I plow forward, finding myself closer to my faith as I hear and better understand what I’m saying and reading.

Honestly, you work with Bob Cathey. How great is it to get to work with him?

I couldn’t have a better teacher to be by my side.  He has terrific patience with me, introducing me to various aspects of life in academia and the pace with which it operates.  In class, he gives me full freedom as an equal when it comes down to everything from grading to in-class analyses and discussion of students’ writings.  He has been very supportive of my interest in entering academia and provided many great ideas.  MTS is blessed to have him on board.

What is the one thing you hope your students get to walk away with when they are done with your class?

Other than my baklava?  Wow, hard to beat that.  Seriously, though, I hope they feel that their horizons have broadened, as cheesy as that sounds.  I really want my students to leave the semester saying, “I feel that I not only learned a lot, but I’m a better person now because 1) of what I learned, and 2) how I’m going to use that knowledge-base and gift that I’ve been given.”

What’s on your playlist right now?

Nothing.  Sorry, I can’t concentrate and listen to music at the same time.  You?  What’s on your playlist? (Um, I’m still listening to the Yusaf Islam CD you gave me!)

The food you hate the most?

Ugh, my mom’s split pea soup.  It’s the worst thing I ever tasted!  (and Mom knows this reality…) Thank GOD she hasn’t made this during my adult life – the memory from 35 years ago is still that painful!

If you could meet anyone, dead or alive, right now, who would it be and why (and you can’t say the Prophet!)?

Khawla bint Tha’laba.

Here’s the context:  Back in the day, one way in which divorce was possible in Arab culture was through zihar, a specific expression that reduced the wife to the status the the husband’s mother’s backside, meaning the wife was completely devoid of sensual attraction.  Under Arab custom, zihar was irrevocable and thus, it became prohibited for the husband to touch his wife, and yet she was not free of the marital bond.  It’s unknown what made Khawla’s husband, Aws ibn Samit, reject Khawla with this vulgar expression, but when it happened, she was stuck without any ability to override such norms and customs.  So she decided to take her concerns to a higher power – to God.

When Khawla approached the Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) to complain of the injustice fallen upon her, she left dissatisfied because, as the Prophet explained, unless God revealed a new ruling, he was without authority to change existing custom; the change had to be through devine revelation, not the Prophet’s own decision.  The Prophet received no revelation on the issue, and thus, Khawla left disappointed, but not without hope.

Convinced that the custom was unjust, she continued to complain to God, and waited near His messenger.  The answer came in the first two verses of chapter 58:

“God has heard the words of she who disputes with you regarding her husband and made her complaint to God.  God hears your conversation.  Verily, God is all-Hearing, all-Seeing.

“Those of you who shun their wives by zihar – they are not their mothers.  Their mothers are only those women who gave birth to them.  Indeed they utter words that are unjust and false; but God is absolving of sins, all-Forgiving.”

With these verses, God openly confirmed what Khawla knew all along: that what her husband had done to her was unjust and needed to be prohibited by law.

Although she was an average person, like her contemporaries, she was involved in society and shaping its direction.  She fought in two significant battles and by the Prophet’s side.

Many years later after the Prophet died, she stopped the Caliph Umar while he was walking with another and started advising him.  She was an old woman, and as she was talking, the companion interrupted her, saying she was talking for too long, asking whether she knew with whom she is talking, and then saying that she was talking to the caliph. Then Umar said to his companion, “Let her talk.  Do you know her?  This is Khawla to whom God listened from above the seven heavens, and so Umar has to listen, too.”

I’d like to meet her because of this strong character and to see what life was like in the time of the Prophet and thereafter.  She had the distinction of having her complaint heard and answered by God, fought by the Prophet’s side, and honored when she was old and almost forgotten by the younger generation.  I think I’d like to see her thoughts on the current state of Muslims – seeing this week an expected five million pilgrims gathering peacefully in her hometown to worship and reflect, while at the same time looking at the nation-states that claim to be based on Islamic jurisprudence.  I doubt there would be enough tea for such a conversation!

What are you reading right now?

I’m reading short stories in Arabic, حكايات كليلة و دمية لطلاب اللغة العربية ,Tales from Kalila wa Dimna for Students of Arabic , To Kill A Mockingbird (it’s been about 25 years, what a great book!) and some of the books for class next semester.

What’s the most annoying sound you’ve ever heard?

A child’s cry that is not comforted …I’m not annoyed at the child, but at the caretaker for not comforting the child.

Wow, thanks for that Janaan! Well, there you have it my faithful readers. Just one more reason for McCormick to be proud of our adjunct professors!

Until Friday!

Peace ~ Shelley D.

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