Chatham Literacy’s Spring for Literacy Luncheon
May 6, 2014 at Galloway Ridge
11 a.m. – 2 p.m. (lunch at noon)
When Krista Bremer proposed to title her book, “My Accidental Jihad,’’ her publisher had serious misgivings. After all, many Americans associate the word “jihad” with terrorism. Would people buy a book with that word in the title?
But jihad is an Arabic word for struggle, and, “The prophet Muhammed taught that the greatest struggle, or jihad, of our entire lives is the one that takes place in our own hearts,” the struggle to overcome our baser impulses, such as selfishness, intolerance, pettiness, Bremer said in a talk Tuesday (May 6) before the Chatham County Literacy Council.
She thought “jihad” was an excellent word to describe marriage and family, which is the topic of her book, so she insisted on keeping it in the title.
“I actually find marriage quite difficult,” she told the crowd of 160 people at Galloway Ridge. Bremer came to study journalism at the University of North Carolina from California. Primed in the feminist literature and teachings she studied in college, enjoying her California surfing life and disdaining organized religion, she shocked herself by falling in love with and marrying Ismail Suayah, a devout Muslim man who grew up the son of illiterate parents in an impoverished Libyan fishing village.
As Krista and Ismail got closer, “I found myself thrust into an internal crisis because, on the one hand, this guy made me feel more at home and more at ease than anyone I had ever met in my life. And on the other hand, he was older and darker and poorer and more foreign than the man I had imagined for myself,” she said.
“I was experiencing something so different from all of the images and ideas that I had been fed about romance and love and what that looks like,” she said. “My relationship was nothing at all like that, and yet it was enriching and gratifying.”
She decided to write the book as a way to challenge the standard American images of romance and make sense of her experience. “I’m interested in what love requires of us,” she said. She has found her marriage an immense opportunity for personal growth.
Bremer describes watching Ismail follow the Muslim practice of touching his forehead to the floor as he prayed. It was mystifying and unsettling to her. Why would any God want anyone to assume such a position? she asked herself. But setting aside her biases, she learned that praying in that fashion was “a way to put your heart over your intellect and your mind.” She noted the word “Islam” means “surrender,” and she admired Ismail’s ability to surrender himself to matters beyond his control.
“I realized that feminism, which had taught me so much about so many things, had nothing to teach me about surrender, because the only way that I understood surrender was in terms of passivity and defeat,” she said. And yet it was increasingly clear to her that there was no way get through a marriage or life “without a graceful way to surrender.”
Krista Bremer’s talk raised $20,000 for Chatham Literacy programs to tutor adults, living or working in Chatham County, so they can improve their literacy and educational skills, resulting in long range goals such as: earning a GED, improving their English, getting a job or a promotion, or becoming a citizen.
A heartfelt THANK YOU to those of you who attended the luncheon,
to those of you who made a donation even though you could not attend,
and to those of you who sponsored the luncheon.