I am now a resident of Chicago!! There are so many things that come along with this new city that I hardly know where to start. Let me just make a list for you of all the things that have completely taken me aback over the past week.
1. I flipped through the pages of a 300 year old illuminated Qur’an.
The Special Collections department at the U of C library has this magnificent old illuminated Qur’an. When we came to do our library tour (and yes, we also toured the big bubble that is a robot library) they pulled lots of interesting rare books for us to look at. One of them was this absolutely astounding Qur’an… it was covered in gold leaf and with phenomenal ink designs. I’ve been telling everyone.
2. Within two days of being here I met both of my Islamic Studies “heroes.” One of them is my adviser.
There are really not many Islamic Studies scholars in the United States. Even less are Islamic Studies alone, and typically books that are published are people who have drifted in an Islamic direction for a little while. There are two professors here at U of C whose work I have used in the past–and frequently–who are now really, truly my teachers. The foremost scholar on Sufism in this country is my adviser, and I went to a talk (in my place of residence, I’ll get to that in a minute) that was presented by another Islamic scholar who wrote the book that basically convinced the world that Islamic texts could be seen as historical. (Not to divulge too much into historiography, but in the 70s some scholars came out and said “This is all bunk.” This gentleman proved them wrong.)
3. I actually live here. Yes, here. In International House. In this crazy beautiful gothic campus.
iHouse so far is proving to be a really amazing place to live. There is always something happening here. I run into a lot of people, and there is always someone to talk to. Some are pretty young, but it’s still an enjoyable group of people, and a really high-quality group of people. These are just enthusiastic, excited people, and they are really ready to make a difference and learn. Yesterday I went to a presentation on 9/11 ten years later. One of the professors (also famous, I think–but I’m not sure) described this as the 9/11 decade, essentially beginning with 9/11 and ending with the Arab Spring. I hadn’t heard that before, which was an interesting way to narrate this–especially with a hopeful outlook, since in America we are swinging farther and farther towards fear and hate, rather than revolution and hope. Today there will be the Hyde Park Jazz Festival, in which I intend to party, and rock out to what everyone brags is the “best local jazz festival in Chicago.” And it’s happening IN the place where I live.
A lot of my original fears and anxieties have melted away. I miss everyone from home, and I am always talking about how much I love Minneapolis, and Minneapolis’ unique problems and values. But, I am so excited and already dedicated to doing the best I can here for as long as I needed to. My worries are all still here, but it looks easier to address them now, because now that I am here I feel comfortable and ready to leap off this cliff.