Literature

New Program Explores The Role Of Poetry In The Muslim Community

From poignant to comedic, a Syrian-American woman’s poetry is aimed at dismantling stereotypes of Islam.

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Picture of Mohja Kahf
Kahf, a professor of comparative studies at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville,was in Houston to read from her collection of poems.

Some of the topics of Mohja Kahf's writings may surprise you.

"We just won't spell it out, but there's another fast that happens in Ramadan that no one ever talks about," she says during a recent reading at the Houston Public Library's downtown location. Kahf is referring to Muslim couples who practice celibacy during the holy month. The poem is titled, Ramadan Granny Panties.

She came to read her poetry for a small crowd as part of the program, Bridging Cultures: Poetic Voices of the Muslim World.

In a religion known to be very conservative, the Syrian-American pushes the envelope on issues some consider edgy and provocative. She says she's anything but "old school" and represents the progressive end of her religion. She'd like to see more acceptance of female prayer leaders, or imams. "And of clearing the field for having LGBTQ-friendly communities and mosques and spaces," she adds.

But not all of her writing is comedic. Many of Kahf's works are centered around poignant issues such as the Syrian Revolution.

Picture of Mohja Kahf
Mohja Kahf reading at Houston Public Library for their program, Bridging Cultures: Poetic Voices of the Muslim World

With a sober expression, she begins her poem, My People are Rising: An Unfinished Poem for an Unfinished Revolution:

"My people are rising. With olive branches and song, they are waking. The earth underneath their marching is shaking. My people are rising!"

Another piece called The Fallen Protester's Song was written in memory of a 26-year-old Syrian man who was tortured to death by police.

The library's Jennifer Schwartz manages the Bridging Cultures programming. Over the next couple of months, they'll host about a dozen events.

"The exhibit examines the central role of poetry and the everyday lives of Muslim men and women around the globe through a series of programs and a panel exhibit," Schwartz says.

The next installment is coming up November 5th and delves into the teachings of the Persian scholar Rumi.

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