My latest “Life in Between Plane Rides” post on “Islam on My Mind”

It took some courage for me to admit these feelings and share this post, so I hope you will take time to read this and tell me what you think:

Islam on My Mind

(An excerpt from

I have always been fascinated with Islam, this richly colorful and grossly misunderstood religion and culture that has formed a large part of our history, and identity as a nation.

Growing up, I often found myself wondering about the veiled women that I would see on TV and in the streets, and our yayas’ and neighbors’ derogatory remarks about “the Muslims”, wondering what was so bad about this group of people that they (and “the Bombays”) were often used to scare us into obedience. When I would see images of mosques and Islamic architecture on TV and in the encyclopedias that kept me company as a child (yes, kids—we had those at home), I would stare at them in awe, thinking about the kind of work that went into them and the architectural genius that it took to create such intricate details. Shifting my attention between Islam and Buddhism, I would ask my mom why kids couldn’t choose their religions and had even asked, ever so innocently, if it were possible to choose my own religion once I was grown up. (In fairness to my mother’s open-mindedness, she didn’t panic when I asked that question and even said “yes” in response.)

I didn’t end up converting to Islam, but the fascination continued on to adulthood. In university, where I had minored in Hispanic Studies, I often found myself daydreaming about Granada, Andalusia, and the Alhambra, telling myself that I would someday visit these enchanting places. To this day, I am enamored of the rhythm and the seemingly rich textures of the Arabic language, enjoying Persian and Arabic music as much as I enjoy flamenco (which was also rooted in the Moorish and gypsy cultures), and wanting, in all earnestness, to learn more about this culture that we in urban Philippines (and many parts of the Westernized world) know so little about.

The Alhambra in Granada, Spain | Image by jamesdale10 (', under the Creative Commons 2.0 License
The Alhambra in Granada, Spain | Image by jamesdale10 (', under the Creative Commons 2.0 License

I have even told my husband this: when we have kids, I would want them to grow up alongside Muslim children and live in a more tolerant, understanding world. I am grateful that he agrees, and that he loves their music and culture as much as, or even more than, I do.

* * *

It was timely, then, that I caught TIME Magazine’s issue entitled “Travels through Islam,” their annual “summer journey issue” that delved into the life and travels of Ibn Battuta, the 14th-century Islamic scholar and wanderer whom the legendary travel writer Pico Iyer calls “the father of travel writing.” Battuta left his hometown of Tangier (which, incidentally, was the street I grew up in) in Morocco for Mecca in 1325, when he was only 21 years old, but he didn’t stop journeying after Mecca and traveled on to Constantinople, Delhi, and even all the way to China and back, covering as much as he could of what was then known as Dar al-Islam, “the abode of Islam”. Battuta’s travels took him 28 more years, and as Iyer writes in “A Voyager for the Ages”, “he seems to have begun by taking a journey—and then found that the journey had taken him over.”

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