Krista's Journal: The "Multiplicity in Singularity" That Is Islam

August 12, 2010

We're back in full-swing production, after a break this summer. I had a real vacation for the first time since we launched Speaking of Faith weekly six years ago — turns out I'm not as good at taking my wonderful guests' advice as I might be, but maybe I'm learning. It did feel like what Esther Sternberg would call a full-body "reboot," and I needed it badly.

We replayed some of our favorite shows from the past year and found that many of you were happy to hear them again, or to hear some of them for the first time. And this freed us up, not only to take vacations but to let our creative process run a little wilder than it can when we're chasing deadlines. This week's program is a result of that respite — not something we planned, exactly, but a kind of adventure in radio and the ever-expanding frontier of online interactivity.

At the beginning of the summer, as you may have read in this newsletter or heard in the program, we extended an invitation to Muslims to reflect on their lived experience of Islam, of what it means — in a daily, particular way — to be part of what is often referred to in the abstract as "the Muslim world." Responses were slow at first but began to pick up in number and intensity as our query was circulated in networks far beyond the public radio universe. And, even now, essays continue to flow in from people all over the world who range in age from their teens to their 70s.

They are Iraqi-American growing up in Monterey, California, but also Mexican-American and Russian-American converts living in robust Muslim communities in places like Seattle and Dallas. They are artists, stay-at-home moms, lawyers, college students. They've written from Indonesia and Turkey, England and Canada, Saudi Arabia and Oman. We began to call some of them up to hear their voices. And Trent Gilliss — our online editor who conducted most of these interviews — created an interactive map that blends personal photos, audio, and essays.

We've been moved, surprised, and challenged by what people have shared. In a few weeks, we'll be releasing another program drawn from these submissions on the many expressions of Muslim identity — across geography, cultures, and the intimacies of human life. And we were immediately struck by the vividness of the stories nearly everyone had to tell about the holy month of Ramadan, which began this year on August 22 for most Muslims in North America. We didn't want these stories to get lost. So on August 20th, we decided to launch a daily podcast — a new voice for each day of Ramadan — which has hit the iTunes top 30 list. And we pulled together this first program with 14 of their stories across a spectrum of life and spiritual sensibility.

A bit of background: Ramadan commemorates the month when the first verses of the Qur'an were revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. It is marked by recitation of the Qur'an, prayer, and fasting — sun up to sun down. The Ramadan fast is a spiritual discipline of commitment and reflection; but it is also meant to align Muslims with the larger experience of need and hunger in the world. And Ramadan is a period of intimacy, and of parties; of getting up when the world is quiet, before the sun rises, for breakfast and prayers with one's family; of ending or breaking the fast every day after nightfall in celebration and prayers with friends and strangers.

It's been a delight getting a glimpse inside all of this. Of the many links on our site, none intrigues me more than our Flickr page, where you can see the faces behind the stories and voices. Taken together, the people who have become part of this project embody and illustrate the "multiplicity in singularity" that is Islam, as one of them put it. And stay tuned for more.

Voices on the Radio

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