The Language of Tears tells Blomfield’s five-year relationship with Shi’a Muslim women in Southern California. Wearing traditional clothing and covering her hair, she details her intimate participation with the women as they practice their religious rituals.
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The Language of Tears details the engaging five-year experience of a gifted American scholar throughout her journey teaching and participating in a Shi’a Muslim community in Southern California. As a teacher in a Muslim school, she participates in the lives of Iranian, Iraqi and Pakistani women as they perform their religious rituals. As she participates in the rituals, joining women in their tearful laments, she gains trust and respect. Initially thought to be an FBI informant, Blomfield builds trust with her authentic curiosity as she participates in every aspect of the lives of these immigrants and refugees, writing the stories that they share with her. She begins to understand gender segregation and how as women, they have authority and agency gained through their religious duties, careers, and as wives and mothers.
Only a few weeks after she starts teaching, the fifth-grade girls invite her to attend a religious ritual after school where she is taught how to wash and pray. They tell her that if she cries for the death of the Prophet Muhammad’s family her tears will be recorded in heaven. Sitting, covered in black, she starts to engage in the ritual and is transported into another world. Hearing the laments of the women, she too starts to weep, building affection between her and the women in the community. She is invited into the women’s homes where they share their hopes, dreams and fears with her as she dances at weddings, baby showers and a Mother’s Day celebration ‘women’s only’ swim party. She is deeply honored when she is invited to ritually wash and bury an old Iranian woman’s body, erupting a love for her own mother and her imminent death. The author grows to love their music, food and customs. Her story culminates as she travels to Iran for a surreal religious pilgrimage where she becomes Shi’a “in her heart,” witnessing their joys and sorrows as well as her own, becoming more fully human. Like the Shi’a women, she vows to stand forever against oppression and to be an activist for justice.
ENDORSEMENTS & REVIEWS
“Blomfield has written a remarkable book. The public discussion of Shi’ism is dominated by Iranian politics, sectarianism, and male Ayatollah. Blomfield takes us inside another world, the world of a mystical, every day encounters of Shi’I women. Recommended to Islamic studies, women’s studies, and Middle Eastern studies audiences.” –Omid Safi, author of Memories of Muhammad
“Honest, engaging, and insightful, The Language of Tears is touching, inspiring, and entertaining. Bridget Blomfield’s captivating account of her journey inside the inner-world of Shi‘ite women, from Iraqi, Iranian, and Indo-Pakistani origin, moved me to both tears and laughter. A must-read for anyone who wishes to understand how Shi‘ism is experienced by women in East and West and those who have formed a bridge between both worlds.” – John Andrew Morrow, author ofThe Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of the World
“A delightful read and gently illuminating memoir of some five years spent with Shi‘i women associated with a Muslim parochial school in southern California, The Language of Tears is a counter to the bad press we too often see about Muslims and Islam. . . . We get to know these Muslim women and girls as believers, devoted to family, and caring community members. We see how emotional intimacy with the Shi‘i saints and community ties with other women foster a sense of belonging and acceptance. The description of differences between the younger American-raised females and their elders is fascinating. The young can be ‘hip and cool, pious and punk,’ self-proclaimed feminists, and planning for both family and career in their futures. The book is an excellent introduction to Shi‘i Islam that is not pedantic or academic. The book also will appeal to the intelligent reader who wants to better understand this religion—so significant in the world today—as regular, religious insiders see and feel it.” – Mary Elaine Hegland, author of Days of Revolution: Political Struggle in an Iranian Village
“In examining women’s rituals in American Shi’ite Muslim communities, Bridget Blomfield has been able to connect what appear to be strictly religious rituals to contemporary politics; with immigrant issues including racism, sexism, and attitudes towards Muslims and Arabs in the post-9/11 context; with generational gap issues between immigrant parents and their children raised in North America; and with gender issues in a highly shari’ah-conscious community. At the same time, she has been able to access the textual and religious and normative understandings these particular communities have of their own theological and ritual discourses. The Language of Tears provides a rare glimpse into the lives, concerns, and world views of migrant communities caught in larger geopolitical currents.” – Zayn Kassam, Professor of Religious Studies, Pomona College
“Today, sadly, there is so much distrust and prejudice in Western societies about Muslims. In her very personal and heartfelt book, Bridget Blomfield takes us on a journey into the lives of Shi‘a women pursuing their faith in Southern California. The author’s unique gift is the depth to which she could set herself aside and allow herself to be guided, challenged, teased, and ultimately embraced by the women she came to study. This is a book about the pride, commitment, and humanity of these women and how the author gained their trust and was initiated into many of their most profound rituals.” – Richard Moss, M.D. author of The Black Butterfly and The Mandala of Being
“Dr. Blomfield provides an insider’s perspective of the symbols enacted and the rituals undertaken by Pakistani Shi’is both in their mosques and homes in America. As such, she is the first scholar to have entered and described the sacred space and mourning rituals of Pakistani Shi’i women in America. It should be mentioned that very few Western scholars have had access to these quarters. I find her discussion and analysis on rituals and their symbolic effects to be incisive and informative.” – Professor Liyakat Takim, McMaster University, Sharjah Chair in Global Islam.