Thursday, January 27, 2011

Is Attending the Sick Anti-Islamic?

This is my first blogpost since returning from a month in Kosovo and some short sojourns in civilized Europe. As usual hanging out with my Haxhi (pilgrim to Mecca) father-in-law was barely tolerable. But after all that time in his presence, I’m proud enough of myself to say that he is still breathing and without broken bones. It’s not that I hate the man, honestly I don’t-I make a very conscious effort not to. It’s his very ungodly, but apparently Muslim, disregard for his bedridden wife of fifty-plus years that I find intolerable.
Nënë, my mother-in-law, is blind and in the latter stages of Alzheimer’s. She no longer recognizes my husband, myself, or anyone other than Haxhi. When I hear the word mother-in-law, I picture Marie from Everyone Loves Raymond, a meddlesome tyrant that doesn’t know when to back off. But not so with me and Nënë, to me she is a saint. She is the mother that religion stole from me, my mother’s cult ruled (and still does, even with the cult leader dead) her life and thus mine. My dear mother-in-law is now in diapers and her own daughter (yes, the devout Muslim one with an affinity for breaking and entering) will not clean her. So we hired a caretaker for her, but apparently Haxhi seems to think she belongs to him, as in his own personal slave since Nënë has become too weak to grovel at his every wish.
In Islam, per the Quran, it says you are supposed to take care of the sick, poor and elderly as quoted, “Allah enjoins adl, ihsaan, and giving help to kith and kin (i.e. to give them financial assistance, visiting them and caring for them), and He forbids you from fahshaa and from munkar, and from baghya (oppression of all kinds).
In fact this along with much of the Quran mirrors the Old Testament. The major differences being, wait for it….yep, holy war, jihad, not making friends of Christians or Jews, yada, yada, yada. But I digress.
I take issue with anyone dumping their parents off at a home if they are capable, financially, physically, and emotionally, of taking care of them themselves, regardless of religion. But someone to place themselves above all others, a haxhi, someone who demands respect for his religious devotion, to ignore such a fundamental part of that very religion then I find them to be a hypocrite.
He ridicules her, mocking her as she moans. He pulls her when she shuffles when required to walk a few steps. He leaves her in a filthy diaper for the entire night, if she goes to the bathroom after the caretaker has left. He has her fed milk and bread only. I can’t write anymore of the conditions in which he treats her, but I will say this… I don’t believe in organized religion, but I do believe in my version of Karma, what goes around, comes around. And what do you know, he ain’t getting any younger…

Monday, January 10, 2011

Brave Nuns in the Center of a Muslim World

It has been two years since I last visited Kosovo. It's a Muslim country, part of the former Yugoslavia, situated north of Greece and east of Italy, along with a couple of other countries that you might not recognize the names of. The first time I spent any time here was in 1990, it was still part of Serbia and steeped deep in tradition. Not so anymore.

Today Kosovo is a contradition in ideas, as mini-skirts and free love walk down the same sidewalks with rapidly radicalizing Moslems. The only thing everybody seems to agree on is their united hatred for Serbs. I can't blame them; I have personally seen the horror that many Albanians suffered at Serbian hands. But I've also seen the unjustices that many Kosovo remaining Catholic Orthodox Serbs have suffered by Muslim Albanian hands.

But rather than focus on the open wounds afflicted by both sides, I'd like to praise the most amazing women I've come into contact with in years, quite possibly in my life; the nuns of Gracanica Monastery.

A mere 5 kilometers from Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, sits a 13th century Orthodox Catholic Monastery. The existing monastery was built over the remains of a 6th century monastery and is a tear evoking example of Byzantine architecture. The nuns residing there, lead a simple life, devoid of politics. There ancient doors are open and welcome to peoples of all faiths and their innocent trust shines through their aged eyes. As I walked through the stone nave with its frescoes blackening and crumbling away, my soul was cleansed and my heart was filled with wonder at the sacrifice these women make to uphold their belief in God and ultimately humanity.

I wish I could say that they have remained unscathed by the hatred flowing through this small country, but not so. Gracanica has seen several attacks over the centuries, but apparently you can't keep a good monk down. The monastery housed monks until WWII when the monks fled or were killed and the sisters moved in. In the last Battle of Kosovo 1999 they were once again attacked, but bravely stood their ground, only losing some of their sacred documents.

I am not a person of faith, I'm afraid my childhood in a religious cult, scarred me forever against organized faiths. But these sweet women with their self-denying peaceful existence, gives me a new faith. A faith in the power of forgiveness and hope for the future.