Monday, September 20, 2010

A Dragon Tale for Michaelmas

Yorick and Sabra set out on their journey on a perfect day in the early autumn. They had been married in the early summer of that year and were now off to visit Sabra’s uncle, Gaspar, who lived in a large town on the other side of the mountains. They were mounted on beautiful white horses and had with them an ox pulling a cart full of fine clothes, jewelry, containers of oil and dried fruit and other fine things to give as gifts. They were deeply in love and excited about their trip.

On the second morning of their journey they followed the road down into a wooded hollow that, though it was on the road they had been told to take, was unfamiliar and dark.
“Are you not sure we should turn back and see if there is another road, Yorick?” Sabra asked as the shadows of the trees fell over them and sent a chill down her spine.
“Father said we should just follow the road and I don’t remember seeing a fork or a crossroads”, Yorick replied.
Just then they heard a terrible noise coming from the woods in front of them. It was the crunching of branches and the thudding and bellowing of something very large coming through the underbrush. The horses reared and both Yorick and Sabra lost their balance and fell to the ground. The horses dashed away and the ox tried to follow them but was too burdened by his cart to get very far. Just then they saw a terrible dragon crawl out of the forest and onto the road. It was larger than a cottage and various shades of brown along it’s lumpy, spiney back with a golden color on it’s belly. It’s ruby red eyes glared through the dark forest light and seemed to sparkle even more as it caught sight of the laden oxcart. It roared so loudly that leaves were shaken from near by trees. It filled the road ahead of the young people on the ground and they were terrified. The dragon lunged forward and grabbed the ox in its mouth the way a cat would carry a rabbit and dragged it, cart and all, back into the dark forest.
Yorick immediately jumped to his feet and yelling at the dragon to come back. Sabra stood up and grabbed his arm, “What are we going to do? Those were our presents for Uncle Gaspar. How are we going to get them back?”
“We’ll just have to go after it. We’ll corner it in its lair and get our cart back. We can find the horses and make them pull it.” He replied.
“Yes, of course” Sabra said, “Dragons are known to live in lairs full of gold. Perhaps we might even find more fine gold or jewels in the dragon’s den.”
Together they set off on foot easily following the tracks of the giant beast. Soon they reached the mouth of a cave littered with the bones of livestock and splintered wooden barrels, carts and even boats. They took each others hands and walked into the cave. Quickly the large cave opening narrowed into a smaller passageway that they had to stoop to go through.
“Odd, how could that giant dragon get through this small passageway?” Sabra asked. “I don’t know, but I can hear it breathing up ahead, we need to keep going,” Yorick replied.
The passage got smaller and smaller with more sharp rock pieces tearing at their clothes. Sabra’s fine scarlet cloak got caught as she slid down a steep section and she was forced to leave it behind. Yorick’s cap with it’s pheasant feathers as well as his short green mantle were both lost in another particularly narrow section. By the time they saw the light of the dragon’s inner den ahead they both thought grimly that they looked like paupers in only their riding trousers and undershirts.
The passageway opened up into a large chamber filled with gold, jewels, embroidered cloth and finely wrought armor of all kinds. On top of the pile lay the dragon, with Yorick and Sabra’s splintered cart at the bottom.
“Look, there’s our chest!” cried Sabra, “and the chain mail tunic you had made just for my cousin.”
At the sound of her voice the dragon awoke and roared loudly. It charged down its treasure mound right at the youth who dashed in opposite directions, grabbing for whatever they could find to hurl at the beast. Yorick’s first weapon, a large candlestick, gouged out one of the dragon’s eyes but was broken in half by the blow. Sabra tossed large gold bricks at the dragon to distract it while Yorick reached for a beautiful sword with a ruby set in the handle. The sword broke as soon as it hit the dragon’s skin, as did the silver and jade scimitar Sabra found.
They were feeling desperate, sure they could hold out no longer when Sabra spied two simple wooden spears propped up against the wall. She tossed one to Yorick,
“This can’t possibly help”, he bellowed, “you saw what the dragon’s skin did to the sword.”
“It’s our only hope!” Sabra cried.
Just then, the dragon reared up, ready to fall on Sabra with its powerful feet and jaws. She spotted a soft spot between two scales on the dragon’s belly and thrust her spear into it. The dragon bellowed, thrashing her with its claws but clearly wounded. Yorick rushed in and jammed his spear into another soft spot, killing the beast.
“Are you alright, Sabra, my love?” Yorick asked as he cradled her head.
“Yes, it only got my arm. It hurts, but I’ll be alright.”
“Let’s get out of here, quickly,” said Yorick.
“What about our treasure?” asked Sabra. “I don’t care about the gold or oil. I can’t carry it and help you and I’d much rather get you out,” he responded.
He ripped up a very fine tapestry to bandage her arm and together they made their way out of the cave. At the mouth of the cave they realized they had come out a different way than they had come in and they didn’t know where they were.
“Look, here’s a deer path through the forest. Let’s follow this until it comes to a field or road.” said Sabra.

They spent the night in a hollow stump, covering themselves with pine branches for warmth. The morning sun was a welcome sight and they set off along the path, sure they would find a road to take them home. Before the sun had gotten high in the noon day sky they saw a thinning of the trees ahead of them. Sure it would be a farmer’s field or a clearing along a high road they hurried forward. As they reached the edge of the trees they saw ahead of them not a friendly field but a large clearing with a deep, clear pool in the center. Disappointed, but fascinated at the beauty of the water, they walked forward together.
Yorick stepped to the edge of the pool first, kneeling down and cupping his hands to get a drink. Just as his hands touched the water a giant beast hurled its head out of the pool. It had a long neck and narrow head like a snake, small dark eyes and slimy blue grey scales like a carp. It screamed like a wildcat and as it fell back into the water it threw out a coil of its long body and pulled Yorick under the water with it.
“Nooo!” screamed Sabra as she ran up to the water’s edge. She could see the beast writhing around in the bottom of the crystal clear pool and could see Yorick still as death wrapped in its coils. She ran around the pool, desperately looking for some way to get to him or defeat the beast. She was truly terrified and could think of nothing but how much she loved Yorick and her fear that he was gone forever.
On the far side of the pool she saw a ledge under the water. On the ledge was what appeared to be a large gourd sunk into the pool, the type used to carry water and drink from. She had no idea how it would be useful, but she felt she needed to get it and it would help. She was scared, though. It was Yorick’s touching the pool that had caused the beast to rear up and capture him. Through her fear though, she knew what she had to do. She gathered all her courage and jumped into the pool, diving down to get the gourd.
The water dragon didn’t seem to notice that she was in the pool and as soon as she got back to the surface she started bailing water out of the pool with the gourd. A little voice in her head told her that what she was doing was silly - it was a very large pool and a rather small gourd to use to try to empty it. She didn’t stop though, bailing the water out of the pool with the gourd felt like the right thing to do. After a few moments of hauling water and tossing it behind her into the forest she looked up and noticed that the water level in the pool was visibly lower. She kept bailing and it seemed that each gourd full of water drew the water down significantly in the pool. Soon the dragon was no longer completely submerged and then it was hardly in the water at all. Sabra kept bailing and noticed that the parts of the dragon that were exposed to the air started to dry up like a dead snake that had been killed on the road and left in the sun. Just as she pulled what she thought must be the last gourd full of water out of the mud at the bottom of the pool she heard Yorick gasp.
She set the full gourd down and ran over to him, helping him untangle himself from the desiccated dragon coils. “Are you alright, my love?” she asked, holding him close.
“Yes, yes. I don’t remember anything after the dragon pulled me in, I must have been enchanted until just now when I woke up gasping for breath. How did you save me?”
“I found a gourd and drew water out of the pool, killing the dragon and lifting the enchantment” she explained.
“Thank goodness for that gourd. It is clearly magic and we should keep it with us.” he said.
They climbed the muddy bank of the now dry pool and Sabra picked up her magic gourd. She slung it over her shoulder by its carrying strap and they moved out of the clearing back into the forest. They soon found the high road they had been looking for and traveled along it until night fell. They slept that night in a ditch next to the road, covering themselves with fallen leaves for warmth.

In the morning they continued along the high road and it soon came out of the forest into a high, rocky land of short grass and gray skies. Ahead, on a high tor they saw a small castle with a tall tower. Many banners and flags flew from the tower and the surrounding walls flapping in the incessant wind.
“Whoever lives in that castle will be able to tell us how to find the road to Uncle Gaspar’s town.
“Quick, let’s hurry, I bet they’ll have warm food and beds to share as well!” Sabra exclaimed.
They hurried to the gate of the castle, only a little worried that they saw no signs of life around the castle except the flapping flags and a few crows on the rocks near the castle. As they got to the entrance to the castle they noticed the drawbridge was down, the portcullis was up with the gate was wide open. Sabra and Yorick took each other’s hands and walked into the castle.
As they entered the courtyard they heard a scream overhead like that of an eagle, only louder. A shadow passed over them and they looked up to see a giant dragon flying through the sky. It was pale yellow and sage green, silver blue and pearl pink with giant bat like wings and enormous spikes around its large head. Its long tail flashed in the sunlight as it circled around the castle. It swooped down and grabbed Sabra in its huge talons lifting her up into the air. It circled again and then landed on top of the castle keep, the large tower high above the courtyard Yorick was left standing in.
He ran into the main hall of the castle, intent on finding a way into the tower. As his eyes adjusted to the dark room he saw in the center of the room a low pedestal with a shaft of light falling down illuminating a creature sitting on it. She had the body of a lion, wings like a falcon and the head of a beautiful, dark skinned woman. Her eyes were closed, a deep purr came from her chest and her tail flicked around her body. Under her front paws lay a thin golden sword. Yorick approached the sphinx and she opened her eyes and looked at him. Her tail flicked again and she spoke, her voice warm, thick and deep, “What do you seek?”
“My wife,” Yorick replied. “The air dragon stole her away and took her to the top of the tower. I seek to save her and kill the dragon.”
“That will require great cunning and courage. Are you up to the task?”
“Yes, anything to get Sabra back.” said Yorick, feeling his chest fill with determination.
“Then I will help you,” purred the sphinx. “If you can answer my riddle then I will give to you this sword of discernment. It will help you cut away that which is unnecessary and find that which is true. If you fail this you will never succeed. Do you accept?”
“Yes”, Yorick repeated. “Anything to get Sabra back.”
“Then here is your riddle; what can fit in the pocket of your vest, costs pennies to buy or sell but when used can fill this whole hall.” She closed her eyes and purred a deep purr.
Yorick thought on this riddle. The earth dragon’s treasure filled a whole room, but it couldn’t fit in a pocket and certainly didn’t cost pennies. The leaves they slept under the night before fit in his pocket, in fact one was in there now, and it cost nothing at all but a single leaf couldn’t fill a whole room. Yorick looked around the hall, noticing the tapestries on the wall, his eyes following their geometric patterns up and down the wall. He watched the dust float in the shaft of light from a stained glass window and all of a sudden he knew the answer to the riddle.
“A match!” he cried. “A match is small enough to fit in my pocket, a whole box of them costs pennies but if I were to light a match in the dark it would fill the whole room with light. The answer is a match!”
“You are a clever young man. Use your wit well and you will defeat the air dragon. Here is the sword of discernment. The stairs to your left lead to the tower where you will find your wife and her captor.” The sphinx sat up and allowed Yorick to take the sword. She continued purring as Yorick ran for the door and up the stairs.
At the top of the tower he found a door that led out onto the platform roof of the tower. The wind buffeted him as he saw Sabra, perched on high part of the wall. As Yorick ran towards her the air dragon swooped down, knocking him back with its long tail. Yorick stood and slashed at the dragon as it came at him again. On the third pass Yorick’s sword made contact with the dragon and he severed one of the dragon’s talons. Yorick watched in awe as the limb vanished in a cloud of dust the moment it was separated from the dragon’s body. He lunged again as the dragon came back, confident in his ability now. He slashed again and took off the dragon’s other leg, then again taking off part of the tail. Each time the dragon screamed as a part of its body vanished into dust and was blown away by the wind. Again Yorick slashed and again part of the dragon’s wing, then its other wing, then the rest of its tail was severed. Finally Yorick severed the dragon’s head with one last might blow and the dragon’s body turned to golden dust, immediately swept away by the wind. All that was left was the jewel like head of the defeated dragon.
Sabra leapt down off the ramparts and into Yorick’s arms. “What brilliant sword work! You knew exactly what to do! Thank goodness for that sword and your skill in handling it.” They held each other for a moment and then looked around at the land below them.
“Look over there” cried Yorick, “that town on the river, that must be Uncle Gaspar’s town. See the three bridges crossing the river?”
“Oh yes!” agreed Sabra. “And look that road just a few miles off leads right over that mountain pass to the town. We just have to follow that road.”

The two set off at once for the main road and the town with three bridges crossing the river. The way was harder than it seemed from up on the tower, though, and the sun was setting before they reached the mountain pass they had seen. They continued walking for another few hours but when they saw snow on the ground around them along the road they found a small cave to huddle into until morning.
In the early hours of the morning, when the sky and ground were the same shade of flat grey Sabra woke from her cramped, cold sleep. She shook Yorick awake though he was so tired that he was in a very bad mood at being woken.
“Yorick, we should get up and start walking. We could be at Uncle Gaspar’s in time for lunch.” She whined.
“Leave me alone,” he mumbled, “I can sleep until the sun is up.”
At that Sabra got quite angry and insisted that he get up. He got angry in turn and soon they were yelling at each other. They had had a few very hard days and their tempers were short. After just a few minutes their argument was cut short by a very loud noise that started with a trumpet, had a squeal in the middle and ended with a hiss. Then the sky outside their small cave lit up and they smelled burning sulfur and smoking grass.
Their argument finished they jumped up to see what had made that terrible sound; a giant dragon that looked like it was all aflame. Its head and neck were fringed with orange scales and its body scales were red and black, like burning coals. It was larger than any of the dragons they had yet seen and it blew fire from its mouth with each trumpeting squeal. Its footprints melted the snow and singed the grass as the dragon came closer to Yorick and Sabra. It screamed at them one more time, shooting flames right at them. They quickly dove behind a large rock and watched the flames ricochet around them. The sleeve of Yorick’s tunic caught fire and without even thinking Sabra dumped some of the water from the magic water gourd she carried onto him. It immediately doused the flames, but her gourd was still full.
As the dragon moved around the rock toward them she threw water right into it’s face. The dragon threw its head up, hissing and smoking but could not seem to make more flames come out of its mouth. It lunged at them again and they ran back out into the road. The dragon followed them and Yorick turned, the sword he got from the sphinx in his hand. He slashed at the dragon and made contact with one of the fiery horns on its head. The horn was sliced off and disintegrated, just like the pieces of the air dragon, but immediately grew back. Yorick and Sabra were able to duck behind a large rock.
“What are we going to do?” Sabra asked as the dragon paced around the rock getting closer and closer.
“I don’t know,” replied Yorick. “The rock saved us, and the water from your magic gourd doused its flames. It backed off away from my sword for a bit but it’s coming closer. I don’t know if there is anything more we can do.”

Just then the morning sun burst above the horizon with blazes of gold and red. It illuminated the sky and the snow around them in shades of pink, rust and lemon yellow. Sabra and Yorick stared at it in awe and as the disk of the sun reached above the horizon they saw an amazing sight. Seeming to come out of the sun itself was a man, or an angel, or a warrior demon. He flew on giant golden eagle wings, his scarlet tunic and mantle flapping around him in the wind of his own making. In his right hand a flaming sword and in his left a shield with a red and gold cross on a white background. Around him, also seeming to come out of the sun itself flew flaming comets.
The comets hit first, one landing square in the dragon’s side causing it to stagger and bellow. As the angel got closer it engaged in a mighty battle with the dragon, flying around, slicing at it with his sword as the dragon ducked, lunged and snapped with its huge teeth. After what seemed like ages but also just a moment the angel thrust it’s sword into the dragon’s throat and the dragon fell heavily to the ground, pelted by the meteorites that continued to fall from the sky.
For a moment the angel stood atop the defeated dragon and smiled at Yorick and Sabra. He handed them each small bits of metal, the inner core of two comets that had burned out after hitting the dragon.
“You have fought well, my children, and you have won this battle. Take these pieces of heavenly iron as reminders of the dangers you have overcome. The memory of your battles and of my love for you will give you the courage to face whatever dangers the future holds. You are good, brave and strong. You will persevere and help others learn what you had to fight dragons to know.”
With that the angel flapped his wings and disappeared into the rising sun. Yorick and Sabra turned, their heavenly iron meteorites in one hand, their others around each others waists, and set off towards their Uncle’s home.

*** *** ***

The story is original and copyrighted, Alyss Broderick.

The images are from the Druid Animal Oracle by Stephanie and Philip Carr-Gomm. Please click on the images, or this link for more information.

Harvest Moon

The new moon that occurred on Sept 8 is called the Harvest Moon in Annette Hinshaw's calendar. It is the time when all that you have worked for since the start of the cycle with the Death and Birth moons last winter are coming ready to harvest. It is a time of ripening apples and pumpkins to be stored over the winter, of putting up preserves and drying fruit as well as a time of assessing what other resources and accomplishments you have to stockpile against the upcoming dark season. It might even be a time to think about the lessons learned from longer cycles of planting and growth like seasons of a life or the lives of past generations.

This month has been a magical one all around. It started with the festival of Eid al-Fitr, the end of the holy month of Ramadan. Eid is the biggest festival in most Muslim communities and the convention center near my work was the site of a large prayer meeting. It was neat to see people from so many different backgrounds dressed in their Friday Finest walking to and from the morning prayers. The full moon this month coincided with the Autumn Equinox, a conjunction that hasn't happened in 19 years. It was a little cloudy the night of the full moon but both nights before and after I saw the enormous yellow moon rising above the trees. Jupiter also showed up, looking quite large because it is at the closest point in it's orbit to the Earth. Jupiter tends to bring wisdom, tolerance and plenty as well as a jovial, cheerful spirit - all trademarks of a good harvest season.

Photo by Paladin27.

This month was also a big month for me on a more personal level. My 30th birthday was just before the new moon and I have been celebrating for the entire month. I figure thirty days to celebrate thirty years is appropriate, right? I also had the wonderful opportunity to travel to the East Coast to visit two of my sisters. I spent a couple days with my little sister who is my best friend in the world, and a couple more days with my older sister and her family. It was great to see everyone and our conversations were deep and meaningful, when they weren't silly and lighthearted.

I have been thinking a lot lately about the harvests we can gather in from the seeds planted not only by our own selves, but by our family and ancestors before us. Its interesting to think that we can benefit, or be hindered, by things we didn't have any control over the beginning of. My aunt once reminded me of the ancient wisdom of the seventh generation. Every action reverberates through at least that many generations of a family and healing takes at leas that long as well. She brought it up in the context of how proud she is of the children of my generation in our family, how much healthier and happier we are than the previous generations she knew. Sometimes we forget that, lost in the overwhelming harvest of brokenness and hardship we have to deal with today. In Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Sea of Monsters, Hermes tell Percy, the half human son of Poseidon "Families are messy. Immortal families are eternally messy. Sometimes the best we can do is to remind each other that we're related, for better or worse... and try to keep the killing and maiming to to a minimum."

Harvests, like families, are often messy. But they are exactly and only what we make of them - 15 pounds of plums can be a fruit fly party ground, or the best ketchup you've ever tasted.

Plum Ketchup
based on The Cottage Smallholder's recipe, but made my own

3 - 4 pounds of plums, preferably the small Italian plums, but a mix of whatever you can find
1 or 2 tart apples
1 onion
3-4 cloves of garlic
1 - 2 inch knob of ginger
2 cups vinegar, cider or wine
1/2 cup mixed dried fruit - raisins, cranberries, apricots, etc.
2 tbs dehydrated onion
1 tbs balsamic vinegar
1 tbs garlic powder
1 tbs honey
2 tsp mild new mexico chile powder
2 tsp ground mustard
2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cayenne
1/2 tsp cloves
a dash of Worcestershire sauce

Remove the pits from the plums, chop the onion and apples fine, mince the garlic and slice the ginger into big slabs. Throw the fruit, vinegar and seasonings in a big pot and raise the heat slowly, stirring regularly to keep things from burning.

Keep stirring and mashing and simmering over as high a heat as it will take and not burn for, oh, three or four or five hours. You can put a lid on the pot, turn the heat off and leave it overnight if you need to. In the morning just bring it back up to a good boil for a minute or two, stirring to keep it from sticking.

Simmer until it gets to the consistency of a thin applesauce, not watery. Run everything through a food mill and then put back on the heat.

Check for seasoning at this point - or at any point. The seasoning above is approximately what I did this time but should just serve as a guide for you. Add more sweetner if you need, more salt, more garlic, etc. Keep simmering until it has a consistency just a little thinner than ketchup.

Pour into clean jars - my batch made about 2 1/2 pints - and either process in a water bath to seal or just let cool and store in the refrigerator. This ketchup is phenomenal with eggs, on a cheese sandwich or hamburger and makes the best barbecue sauce west of the Mississippi.

What are you harvesting this month and what are you doing with that harvest? Did you see the big full moon or celebrate the appearance of the new crescent moon? What's your favorite thing to do with Too Much Fruit?

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The End of Ramadan

Eid Mubārak! We have just reached the end of the holy month of Ramadan and are now in the festive season of Eid ul-Fitr, the conclusion of the fast. Muslims all over the world have spend the last 30 days refraining from eating, drinking during the daylight hours and spending extra time praying in order to be closer to Allah. Early in the month I wrote about my feeling of needing to learn more about Islam and Muslims and of sharing what I learn with people around me. Below is a collection of my Facebook posts from the month aiming to share my interest in Islam. I hope you enjoy them as much as my Facebook friends did!

* I saw the new crescent moon last night - the new moon of the month of Ramadan, in fact. It is the most holy month in the Islamic calendar and Muslims aim to spend it in fasting and prayer. The holiday at the end of the month, Eid ul-Fitr, is a joyous festival of family and hospitality. Let us spend this month getting to know a little more about this ancient and amazing religion and the 1.5 billion people who follow it.

* Ramadan is a special month because it is when the Angel Gabriel (Jibril) taught the Prophet Muhammad the verses of the Koran. Observant Muslims spend this time working to be close to God/Allah by studying the Koran, fasting, and praying. Pregnant and nursing women, children, people who are sick or are traveling are not required to fast but most will make up the fast days when they can.

* During Ramadan people who have fasted during the day break their fast with an evening meal called iftar. It is traditionally begun by eating a date because the Prophet Muhammad broke his fast with that fruit. Thomas Jefferson attended an iftar dinner, according to Wikipedia!

* President Obama is hosting an iftar tonight (August 13)! The tradition was started by Bill Clinton and continued by GW Bush. Here is the text of his Iftar Remarks.

*Pakistan is the country with the world's second largest Islamic population in the world (after Indonesia) and is currently suffering massive loss of life and property due to flooding of the Indus river. Today is the 63rd anniversary of their independence from India and the first weekend of Ramadan... celebrations have been canceled all over the country. CNN Article; U.S. helicopters arrive in Pakistan to assist relief efforts

*At-Tuwani, a Muslim village in the Palestinian West Bank, is utilizing non violence resistance to block and call attention to the harassment they suffer at the hands of Israeli settlers. Orchards are cut down, homes ransacked and children kept from getting to school. During this holy month of Ramadan let’s remember that all people deserve a safe life and livelihood. For more of what is going on at At-Tuwani check out the Christian Peacemakers Team website.

*A high school football team in Dearborn, MI has moved its practices to 11pm to accommodate the fasting students during Ramadan. Dearborn MI is a city of 100,000 with close to 30,000 Arab Muslims. It is also home to North America's largest mosque. Cool! ESPN's story; Mich. school practices 11 p.m. to 4 a.m. story; Michigan Football Team Observes Ramadan, Puts NYC to Shame.

* Though I heard about it on the Daily Show, this isn't really funny. Tashima Crudup seems to have been denied approval as a foster parent because she, as a practicing Muslim, does not allow pork in her house. During this month of Ramadan let us examine our fears of the unknown people and groups and look for ways to practice the tolerance we expect "them" to show. Here's the Daily Show segment... Pork or Parents. And here is the Baltimore Sun article on the situation; ACLU: Foster mother rejected for not serving pork.

* There is a long historical association between African-Americans and Islam. It is estimated that about 10% of the slaves brought to America in the 17th and 18th centuries were Muslim. Today approximately 25% of the 6-8 million Muslims in America are African-American. During this month of Ramadan let us remember that Muslim does not equal Arab, nor is it equal for foreigner.

* According to a Pew Research Center poll 18% of Americans think Barack Obama is a Muslim. Most like those people think Obama is a poor leader and that being Muslim is a bad thing. Just for the record, he is a Christian (remember that scandal about his pastor?). During this month of Ramadan let us work to dispel untruths about Muslims and aim to keep "Muslim" and "people we don't like" from becoming synonymous. NPR story; Pew Survey: Growing Number Of Americans Say President Obama Is Muslim

* The Islamic civilization that dominated western Asia, North Africa and parts of Europe & India from the 9th to 16th centuries was a hotbed of mathematical thinking. The religious requirements of worship and inheritance set up the scientists of the day for massive advances in computation, geometry and algebra. In fact, our words algebra and algorithm (and alcohol!) are derived from Arabic words. Here is a great article that spells out some more of the advances. Arabic translations of many Greek works were the only copies to survive the European dark ages. Kevin Devlin's column on the Mathematical Association of America site; The Mathematical Legacy of Islam

* Rumi:

Birdsong brings relief to my longing, I'm just as ecstatic as they are, but with nothing to say! Please universal soul, practice some song or something through me!

Jalal ad-Dīn Muhammad Rumi was a Sufi Muslim poet who lived and wrote in Persia in the late 1200s. His poetry is loved all over the world for its transcendental and ecstatic emotions but he was a firm believer in the truth of Islam. For more Rumi poems check this out this wonderful site.

* I just read about how a Swedish city joined with an Islamic student group to disseminate information about Ramadan to the Swedish public. "Ramadan is part of Swedish culture and we want to tell everybody about it. It is ignorance which breeds fear. By talking about Muslims and our customs and traditions, we counteract xenophobia and racism". Read more on the Islam in Europe blog's post Sweden: Municipality subsidizes Ramadan campaign

* Two great articles about how absurd the debate over the “Ground Zero Mosque” really is.
Charlie Brooker's column in the Guardian.
'Ground Zero mosque'? The reality is less provocative.

"The planned "ultra-mosque" will be a staggering 5,600ft tall – more than five times higher than the tallest building on Earth – and will be capped with an immense dome of highly-polished solid gold, carefully positioned to bounce sunlight directly toward the pavement, where it will blind pedestrians and fry small dogs. The main structure will be delimited by 600 minarets, each shaped like an upraised middle finger, and housing a powerful amplifier: when synchronised, their combined sonic might will be capable of relaying the muezzin's call to prayer at such deafening volume, it will be clearly audible in the Afghan mountains, where thousands of terrorists are poised to celebrate by running around with scarves over their faces, firing AK-47s into the sky and yelling whatever the foreign word for "victory" is. I'm exaggerating."

And another very funny article on; 3 Reasons the "Ground Zero Mosque" Debate Makes No Sense

* Muslim women are encouraged (but not required by the Koran) to wear a hijab, a head scarf that covers their hair to outwardly mirror their inner modesty. The potent mix of religious based intolerance and fear along with women's rights make the hijab a point of controversy all over the western world. During this month of Ramadan please examine your own feelings about women's head coverings. What are we so afraid of?

* Zakāt or "alms giving" is one of the Five Pillars of Islam. There are complicated rules about who needs to give what and who can receive what, but in general most Muslims give 1/40th, or 2.5% of their wealth to the poor. It is required the same way praying and fasting during Ramadan is required. During this holy month ...let us think about how we share our wealth with the needy.

* The Onion, America’s finest news source. Man Already Knows Everything He Needs To Know About Muslims

* Happy Eid ul-Fitr! Muslims all over the world are celebrating the end of the fasting month of Ramadan today by feasting, praying and giving small gifts to loved ones. Muslims are encouraged to forgive and forget any past animosities or difficulties. What are you celebrating and forgiving on this blessed day of Eid?