Friday, January 11, 2013

Phil and Darius

Asalamu Alaykom,

There is no such thing as "coincidence."  We lose contact with people when we don't need them in our lives and we get them back again when we can benefit from each other.  Case in point:  Phil.

Phil was someone I knew back in 1985 when we both were theatre students performing shows together.  He was the big black guy with starring roles.  I was a white chick acting as a supporting player.  We didn't hang out together.  We didn't even have a strong enough connection to say, "Keep in touch."

Yet, I remembered him because he was a very talented person.  Every now and then I'd wonder what ever happened to the stars of that summer.  When I was searching for videos of Frederick Douglass speeches, I found out what happened to Phil.  There he was!  

Because I am who I am, I emailed him and wished him well.  I also told him what had happened to me (that I was here in Egypt as a Muslim).

From the way Phil responded, I felt the need to ask him if he would be interested in finding out more about Islam.  Turns out that his father is Muslim!  I never knew!  He had a Muslim father and a Christian mother which means I really wanted to ask him some more questions.

He agreed to this interview.  

Yosra:  Asalamu Alaykom.  Peace

Peace to you Sister Yosra

Thank you so much for finding me online. 

Yosra:  Wallahi, I had never tried to find you before.  The funny thing is that you were incredibly easy to find.  You were literally three clicks away.  Of course, to God everything is very easy.  I found you when I was supposed to.

I am Honored to be with your community of readers. I would like to greet your community with Love Truth Peace Freedom and Justice!

Yosra:  That's a really nice greeting!  I have an awesome group of readers who are always interested to widen their understanding.  Ready to begin?

Yes.  In the Name of God The One Worthy of All Praise!

Yosra:  What is your earliest memory of knowing what a Muslim is?

My earliest memory was  in the 1970`s I would wake up to find my father who already had been praying reading the Quran,while the coffee was brewing. My Kung Fu teacher Hamin Rasool would in beautiful Muslim dress come to our home,greet my father with peace,pick me up and take me to the Masjid  and after prayer teach me Wing Chung. After class he would always leave me with words of wisdom from the Quran.I practice Tai Chi to this day exhaling The names of God as I execute each posture.

Yosra:  While you were growing up, which times did you feel the pull between a Muslim dad and a Christian mom?

When I was little my mother would come in to my bed room at night and ask if I wanted to be a Christian. Later in the night my Father would come in and ask if I wanted to be a Muslim. This went on in different ways through the years. I read both Bible and Quran as well as other books.

Yosra:  That's kind of a funny bedtime ritual!  I wonder what kinds of interesting dreams it provoked in you.  It's nice that they agreed enough to have you learn from all the wisdoms.  The Universal Truth can be found as a common thread through all faiths.  

For me, as a Muslim mom who shared parenting with a non-practicing Christian dad (albeit in two different households), I had to come to terms with that interfaith issue.  "What would my two oldest children choose?" was a question that was really bothering me until I found some peace.

I spoke with a local sheik, who advised me to stop teaching a specific dogma and simply give my children the tools which would be helpful in any religion.  Everyone needs to learn those golden rules of cleanliness, mutual respect, tolerance, patience, helping others, charity, and so on.

Yet, I still needed to stick a label on them so I decided they were bridges.  As I've often stated on this blog, the world doesn't need more Muslims and it doesn't need more Christians; it needs more bridges between the two.  In many ways, Phil....Darius, you are also a bridge.

From your experience, it sounds like your mom and dad had a successful marriage.  Is that accurate?

They did indeed. There were the normal marital conflicts as well as religious conflicts from time to time. There is something about the power of love that leaves our differences silently in awe. I saw that power manifest in the most magnificent way when my mother was dying of breast cancer. My father and mother continued there romance and admiration of one another. The night before my mother died her last words to my father was, There is no God but God.

Yosra:  Mashahallah.  That's the moment we all hope for.  One of the posts I've written on this blog was about chosing friends who you could count on as you died to remind you to say this.  If you don't have friends like this, I wrote, then you need to get them.  Alhumdulillah, your mother had your father.   

Your name was "Darius" but you were known as "Phil".  That's how I knew you at Interlochen.  Who made that choice?  At the time that choice was made, what was the rationale?  You're thinking of going back to "Darius".  What would that change signify for you?

I chose Phil because even to this day people miss pronounce my name. Most people put the inflection on DArius. I put it on daRIus. Darius Jariel Ali would mean a spiritual stamp on my life as a performer and poet. We are living in a different age. I sense a need to mirror this new time we live in with my life and art.

Yosra:  You seem really open to Islam.  Which parts call to you?  Which parts are feeling too foreign?

I have always felt open to Islam because of the universal truth it reveals.  

I believe  that  Islam is mathematics and mathematics is Islam. I believe that Allah created the universe in truth. I love all religions and that the word of God is written in nature,the universe and our bodies.

The 99 Names of Allah is something I think about everyday. These principles are truly the pathway to success. The greatest Name However is Allah the All In All. A-arm L-leg L-leg A-arm H-head. We are made in His image and likeness. Dogma is foreign to me because we fight and kill each other for that. We have given dogma the power to create hatred between us and believe lies. The truth in all religion is our best friend. The dogma in all religion is our foreign enemy. Ma- God not dog- ma is the best of Knowledge.

Yosra:  Agreed that most people want spirituality but not organized religion.  I would say that Muslims have a bad habit of practicing Islam as a disorganized religion.  

We were performing Shakespeare's, "Love Labor's Lost" together way back when.  

I'm performing in Hamlet this Spring.  

Yosra:  Really!  Which role?

Hamlet's Father (the Ghost), one player and the gravedigger.

Yosra:  I was in Hamlet back in 1986.  I had planned my highschool credits very carefully and graduated the January of my senior year.  I then had my time free to work a little job in the day and do the show at night.

I was only a lady-in-waiting.  I didn't care what part I had.  Really, if ever someone has the chance to be in a Shakespeare they should jump at the chance.  I learned so much.  It was a great show. 

I'll be teaching Richard III with my 12th graders this term.  I just finished re-reading it.  So we never really got away from Shakespeare!

I see a correlation between The Bard and The Quran:  the heightened language, the layers of meaning, the timelessness of thoughts, and how it is meant to be spoken.  Do you see that too?  

And of course, I'm not suggesting that words created by a man are exactly the same as words from Our Creator.  I only think that those who love Shakespeare would find reading the Quran and hearing it recited a familiar experience.  I've mentioned to you how breath is life and how breath control in both Shakespeare and Quran help calm us.

I do.  The Quran commands us to recite.

Yosra:  "Iqra"

The Quran follows the beat of the human heart and is on the breath which is the life.  Later, Shakespeare wrote his words to be spoken to the beat of  the human heart and it is performed from the heart----also on the breath which is the life.

Yosra:  If you were to explore Islam further, what steps can you imagine taking?  Would you involve your father?  Did your father ever express to you his need for you to accept Islam?

I would love to learn the language so that I can get the original and deeper meaning of the Word. Yes my father is always asking me in different ways to accept Islam.

Yosra:  Just to let readers know, I did ask AbuDarius (Phil's dad) if he'd like to be part of this interview but he declined.

My father is honored that you would take interest in me as well in his thoughts. He told me to tell you all praise is due to Allah. He is not comfortable going through with the interview because he is a very private man. He hopes you understand. 

Yosra:  I do.  He doesn't know me (yet) and I can respect any man wanting to keep his faith private.  My rationale in being "out there" with my faith is that I feel it's dawaah; the spread of Islam----and in particular the spread of moderate Islam.  If your father ever changes his mind, or wants to comment, then he's always welcome. 

You've spent some time performing one-man shows as historical figures.  I liked what you did with the Fredrick Douglass speech.  

Did you know that Frederick Douglass traveled to Egypt and climbed the Pyramids? I'm going to include that event in my new version.

Yosra:  I didn't know that!  How cool is that?!  I've got to remember to tell my 8th graders that.

His son, by the way, was Lewis Douglass, one of the first black soldiers ever to enlist in the Army.  I just learned that.  He fought with the Massachusetts' 54th during the Civil War.  These were the same men featured in the Denzel Washington movie, "Glory".  I'll be teaching about them in a historical fiction book at my new school.  

Are there any Muslims from history who peak your interest?  You know the history of the first Muslim call to prayer, right?  It was Bilal, the freed slave.  Blacker than black and low in status YET he was honored by the Prophet (peace be upon him) to climb above the rest to summon everyone.  May God be pleased with him.  You could truly do that job proud.  Could you envision performing a show about a Muslim historical figure like Bilal? 

I like your idea of Bilal.

Yosra:  Although...come to think of it...we can't portray any of the Sahabi; Companions of the Prophet (blessings on them).  Maybe you could do it as more of a storyteller than an actor

My first show was on the life of Malcolm X(El Hajj Melek El Shabazz). This show covered his childhood as a criminal to his conversion to the Nation of Islam here in America to his conversion to Al-Islam and his revelation of the Religion when he came to Mecca.

Yosra:  I love that you did a show on that!  So many people don't understand the huge transformation which kept happening inside Malcolm X after he came to Nation of Islam.  When we went to Mecca, he sat beside Muslims of all colors and understood what it means to be following God and not a worldly leader.  When he died, he did not really die as Malcolm X.  If he had stayed in that divisive role, he might have lived.  He died as Hajj Melek El Shabazz, a martyr, and may Allah reward him for that.

As an aside, I once tweeted some love from the Pyramids to his daughter @ilyasahShabazz and she replied.  I was over the moon!  I really respect the hardships her family have been through.  God bless her for perservering and becoming a new generations' leader.

We're nearing the end of the interview so here's a tough question:  What is your highest hope with your faith?  What is your deepest fear?

My highest hope for my faith is to be one with my Creator. If we could breathe the name Allah into our hearts, we could exhale the name Allah into the hearts of the world.

My highest fear is to misrepresent The Creator.

Yosra:  Any last words of wisdom for those searching for increased spirituality?

For those searching I will say this, Look into the black starry night and tell yourself what you see. Then close your eyes and tell yourself what you see. When you open your eyes look at the earth beneath your feet and tell yourself what you see. Know this that God is The Author of what is in the heavens, what is in you and what is in the earth. This is the Original Word of God only the mistakes have been ours.

Peace and Inspiration to you, Egypt, and your readers around the world!
God is the Greatest!!!

Yosra:  Allahu Akbar!  May Allah grant you peace and blessings.  Thank you so much for the past and the present.  Inshahallah, we'll be hearing good things of your future.  I know that everyone wishes you the best in your health, family life, career and iman; faith.

Readers, I'm going to open it up to you now.  Are there any questions you wish you could have asked?  You can!  Leave them in the comments section along with any other thoughts.


UmmTimo said...

Salam Yosra, Not commenting on the new post. Just wanted to make sure you and your family are ok...I just read about the train crash in Giza. InshAllah everyone is safe.

Yosra said...

Wa Alaykom Asalam,

Thank you for thinking of us. Ahumdulillah we are all fine.

It's sad that this nation's train travel has become so dangerous. To have 17 recruited soldiers die this morning in Giza was so needless. Inna lillahi wa inna ilaihi raji'un.