To mark the beginning of Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, we present poems and features that examine Muslim faith and Islamic culture. Refugees, tourists, immigrants, and itinerant citizens of the world address a range of spiritual, literary, and political concerns from the 6th century to the present day. Some poets’ voices emerge from the East (Mahmoud Darwish and Saadi Youssef), others from the West (June Jordan and Thomas Merton). Most turn to poetry as the ideal forum to complicate simplistic East-West divisions—learning, questioning, sparking cultural conversation, and speaking from what Nomi Stone calls “[t]his quiet voice that is borrowed or my own.”
“Prayer Rug” by Agha Shahid Ali: Ali, both a Kashmiri Muslim and U.S. National Book Award finalist, depicts ordinary activities in the intervals between salāh, the five-times-daily ritual prayer central to both Sunni and Shi’a Islam.
“In Jerusalem” by Mahmoud Darwish: Palestinian exile Darwish’s speaker willingly loses his sense of individuality, time, and even gravity within the ancient walls of Jerusalem as he experiences the power of the city, one of the holiest for Muslims, Jews, and Christians.
“Ex-Embassy” by Carol Muske-Dukes: Sparked by the imagined sound of the muezzin, the person who calls the community to salāh at dawn, Muske-Dukes’ traveler tries to make sense of cultural and religious phantasms, the people and rituals banished by the effects of war.
“Mu’allaqa” by Imru’ al-Qays: Translator Seidel describes his take on this 6th-century poem as a “cross-species salute”: less straight translation than a borrowing of Imru’ al-Qays’ “monorhymes” and “magnificence,” “Mu’allaqa” demonstrates the formal influence of canonical Arabic literature on an American author.
“Apologies to All the People in Lebanon” by June Jordan: Jordan, who called her engagement with Middle Eastern unrest “the moral litmus test of [her] life,” both voices and critiques a typical Westerner’s frustration with media reports from the Islamic world as she strives to create an alternative discourse through poetry.
“East with Ibn Battuta” by Thomas James Merton: Catholic monk Merton embarks on a poetic and spiritual voyage with 14th-century Muslim scholar Ibn Battuta’s Rihla, an account of 30 years of travel throughout the Islamic world.
“Different Ways to Pray” by Naomi Shihab Nye: Nye, who grew up in San Antonio and Jerusalem, sketches vignettes of the praying methods of Muslim shepherds, embroiderers, and pilgrims in the title poem from her first book.
“Many Scientists Convert to Islam” by Nomi Stone: In a meditation on faith and communication, Stone gives an account of a non-Muslim’s attempt to observe Ramadan while living within a traditional Jewish community in Tunisia.
from “America, America” by Saadi Youssef: Iraq-born poet Youssef’s speaker’s strident address to America highlights the ways in which religion and conflict become bound up in one another in concepts such as “God’s soldiers.”
Five Muslim American Poets, Part I and Part II: Literary discussion featuring readings by poets Raza Ali Hasan, Ibtisam Barakat, Fady Joudah, Kazim Ali, and Khaled Mattawa.
Let Your Mirrored Convexities Multiply: Kazim Ali discusses Agha Shahid Ali’s ghazal “Tonight.”
“A Rumi of One’s Own” by Rachel Aviv
“Writing War, Writing Memory” by Jane Creighton
“Letter from Beirut” by Ange Mlinko
“Four Legs and One Smacking Mouth: Six Contemporary Arab Poets” by Linh Dinh and Tahseen al-Khateeb
“An Evening with Forugh: Iranian Poetry Night” by Annie Finch
“Questions for Fady Joudah” by Daisy Fried
“Suheir Hammad, ‘breaking poems’ (Cypher Books, 2008)” by Barbara Jane Reyes
“Iraqi Poetry Today” and other entries by Brian Turner