The poem I posted yesterday, “At the Masjid,” has a story behind it. Most of my poems don’t; they’re just something I saw and wrote down, or an idea that I think can be recorded in an image.
But this time, there is an actual sequence of events that I experienced.
A couple of weeks ago Caitie and I went to a talk at a local masjid (mosque). During the talk, the Imam explained how it is ok to ignore stories that discredit the prophets. As one example of this, he told the story of David seeing Bathsheba naked and sending her husband off to die in battle. Since this story is not confirmed in the Quran, we can assume it did not happen. Though there is, I think, a possible reference to it in the Quran.
We just didn’t agree with the basic philosophy of ignoring stories that show the flaws, the humanity, of the prophets. I think we’re supposed to learn from these figures and their actions, including their mistakes. Also, ignoring textual evidence flies in the face of the scholarly side to Islam, which is a huge part of what makes it so compelling to me.
What really made an impression on me was how the Imam communicated with the audience. Before he told the story about David and Bathsheba, he apologized more than once for bringing up something that was potentially awkward. He even seemed to be embarrassed himself, though maybe I misunderstood what was happening.
The next day, the khutbah (sermon) at jummah (Friday prayer) talked about hayaa, the Islamic concept of modesty or not performing actions that makes one blameworthy of doing something wrong. In the khutbah, the speaker talked about how hayaa doesn’t really have a place in the pursuit of knowledge. You’re supposed to go after knowledge and understanding hard. In my short time as a Muslim, that pursuit of understanding seems to be a cornerstone of the religion.
I think the Imam did not have to be embarrassed talking about that story, even though it involved nudity. It was a night for learning, and the audience was made up of adults. The modesty felt excessive and unnecessary.
As we left the masjid, we watched a girl chasing after a boy right out of the parking lot and down the street. They were laughing, obviously enjoying themselves. They were around their early twenties so it seemed romantic. The scene was at once both reminiscent of the story of David and Bathsheba (or any story of a prophet and his wife) and at odds with the Imam’s presentation of it. So I wrote a poem about it.
I don’t think the poem gets me any closer to an understanding of the complexities involved, but it does make the tenuous connection between the story of David and the two people running more direct. My point with the whole thing being, of course, that people will be people. The prophets were, and we are now. There is something comforting in that.