The other night at our Jewschool meetup, Mobius snapped a photo of me with my purse, which I bought at Brooklyn Industries. He’s just the latest person to be shocked or intrigued by the bag since I bought it last September. Because I’m a Jewish girl walking around town carrying a purse with Arabic words on it, I thought it would be smart to get a bona fide Arabic speaker to tell me what the symbols meant. I consulted three separate people who didn’t know each other, and each translated it about the same way, boiling it down to “Allah helps Muhammad to triump over his enemies.” There was some disagreement about whether it meant “his” enemies as in Muhammad’s personal enemies, or those of Islam in general, but I was satisfied with the translation nonetheless.
My bag, in addition to being the perfect size for a couple of books and a granola bar, has led me to conversations I might never have had otherwise. Different Muslim people have come up to me on the street and in the grocery store to ask if I understood the Arabic script, and every single one of them was kind, cool, and excited that I had some idea what I was talking about. I’ve even begun an email correspondence with one woman who personally knew the bag’s designer. So far, no one said anything about the tricky ethics of printing Arabic on the skin of a dead cow.
I often worry about posting on this site because I’m a cultural critic, not a political writer. There’s so much intelligent discussion on this site that I’m afraid of looking frivolous. But the last few months of toting my bag around the city with me have made me realize that it’s more than “just a purse.” There are many ways to have intelligent interfaith conversation, and they don’t always have to take place in a boardroom or office. Sometimes they’re with people you run into on the sidwalk and interact with for five minutes. And if I can lug around all my stuff with me in the meantime, bonus.