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You’re not overwhelming, you’re merely a chauvinist

Muslim communities in America often discuss/whine/complain about wanting to have a seat at the table and yet their own tables lack diversity. Three groups often missing from discussions are women, youth and African Americans. Sometimes they’re invited but they’re rarely truly welcomed.

Let me tell you why I don’t think the mosque has a place for me. This is one of many experiences.

At a recent focus group/strategy meeting at a mosque I was one of 3 women in a group of 30. During the course of the meeting an individual, (let’s call him Uncle X), told the facilitator to sit down and he would write down the issues on the whiteboard that were being raised by the youth instead. Except Uncle X didn’t write down anything and said “I can’t facilitate and write at the same time.” Fair enough, I offered to write down the points as they were being stated because walking and chewing gum at the same time is something most women can do.

One of the young people was raising several issues and this self-appointed facilitator told him to stop because we were running behind schedule. I said “Let him finish his points” as the youth had exactly raised the issue that the older generation does not listen to their concerns. Uncle X then turns to me, pats me on my arm and tell me “I don’t need you to speak, I need you to write things down.” No, I didn’t punch him but I definitely stepped back because I don’t need a random stranger at a mosque touching me.

By now, half the room was yelling at Uncle X to let the youth speak because this is WHY the meeting was happening in the first place. I resumed writing and we all proceeded to ignore Uncle X and he sat back down at his seat. At the completion of the exercise, as I am returning to my seat, he says to me “Sister, I did not mean to overwhelm you.”

No, I did not punch him at this stage either. What I was thinking was “You’re not overwhelming, you’re merely a chauvinist and how dare you touch me.”  What I said was simply “You didn’t overwhelm me. Believe me, I was definitely not overwhelmed by you.”

This casual misogyny and chauvinism, the condescending attitude and assumption that a woman’s view is only valid if the men in the room agree with her is why professional women like me don’t feel that mosques are worth investing our time.

Willing to be an Ansar?

We argue if they should be called migrants or refugees; should we let them into our countries or is it enough to give money to resettle them elsewhere. kurdioil.jpg

Perhaps it is time for Muslims to acknowledge that the thousands of Syrians who are fleeing for safer shores are muhajireen, driven from their homes, persecuted by their own.

Instead of fixating on the Sunnah of beard length, niqabs and joining the fighting perhaps it is time to reclaim the practice of the Ansar of Yathrib who were made brothers with the Muhajiroon by the Prophet (pbuh). The original Hijrah, which we remember every time we use a hijri date, marked a time when each resident household accepted a refugee family into their own. Madinat al Munawarra was a city of refugees and natives, living as one, bonded in brotherhood.

How many of us are willing to open our doors to invite in a Syrian family into our homes and to share everything we own with them? Are we willing to help them set up their lives in a new home, safe from war?

An American Eid

Disclaimer: This might or might not be typical of functionally single American Muslims (those who do not have family, close relatives, spouses, kids around during Eid).

Eid al Fitr is a 3 day holiday that marks the end of Ramadan, the month of fasting. The first day is especially significant and is marked by an extra Eid prayer in the morning & all sorts of individual family traditions after.

But Eid celebrations actually start right after sunset on the last day of Ramadan. As you shove that last moist medjool date in your mouth  you’re happy that the month of fasting is over & regretful that you did not make the best of your time.  But who’s got time to dwell on that when Eid is starting?

For those of you who have not experienced Eid yourself, let me take you through a typical Eid day.

It starts the day before with flowers arriving from your Boo. Yep, you’re smiling cause he remembered. It’s gonna be a good Eid tomorrow after all 🙂 IMAG1156-1.jpg
Next comes preparations for the following day. Some families have food traditions, others have decorations, shopping and the like. Henna is one such tradition that crosses many cultures. Once you have henna on your hands you will have an excuse for the next few hours to sit back and do nothing.BTW, driving with wet hennaed hands is not recommended… henna
You want to sleep early cause you want to go to the early morning Eid prayer. If I sleep early, I’ll wake up early.Darn it, why am I still awake? clock
3AM I’m going to have dark circles under my eyes tomorrow. No wait, it’s today. Remind me to wear concealer tomorrow. Sighhhhh…. IMAG1163
5:30AM huh?It’s time to wake up for fajr prayer already?

Why am I so hungry at 5:30AM? Oh I know, because my body is used to having breakfast at 4am. Just go back to sleep, you’ll have time for breakfast before prayer when you get up.

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7:00AM Snooze
7:07AM Snooze
7:14AM Snooze
7:21AM Snooze
7:28AM Snooze
7:35AM Snooze
7:42AM Snooze
7:49AM Snooze
7:56AM Snooze
8:03AM Snooze
8:10AM Snooze
8:17AM Snooze
8:24AM Snooze
8:31AM Snooze
8:38AM Snooze
8:45AM OMG, I’m lateeee
Hurry hurry, shower, iron your clothes IMAG1165
Ok, I’ve missed the 7AM, 8AM and 9AM prayers. 10:30AM prayer, here I come- if I can get out of the house in time…So much for having time for breakfast before prayer IMAG1162
9:55AM
Make-up – check
Henna- check
New bracelet- check
New clothes- checkGet in the car and drive. Don’t forget to recite the takbirs while driving to the prayer location.Wait, did I remember to brush my teeth?
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10:20AM You’re at the location, along with 600 other people looking for parking
10:29AM You’re in the prayer hall
10:30AM You’ve made it in time! Allahu akbar, Allahu akbar, Allahu Akbar, Allahu akbar, Allahu Akbar, Allahu akbar, Allahu AkbarPrayer done, sermon done.EID MUBARAK everyone!!As you nudge your way out of the hall you meet lots of community members whom you haven’t seen since the last Eid prayer. Looking great Aunty…
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Now collect your hijabi crew and let’s head to the next destination.When you catch the 10:30Am prayer you end up not ending until 11:30AM. What that really means is that it’s too late to have breakfast.Early lunch sounds good! IMAG1178
Uh huh, yes. This is exactly where you go after lunch. Make sure you’re in time for your Red Door Spa appointments!Ahhh, pedicure. The hot wax treatment is excellent. Of course your feet will slip and slide in your sandals for the rest of the day but still so worth it Smile

Iridescent blue nails? Well, why not- it is Eid after all and even the nail technician thinks it’s a happy color.

(For the non-functionally single folk out there, this is when they go to Eid open houses for more food)

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Next up, girly shopping.To complete the pampering, your girlfriends and you need to get new facial products and make up.

Hurry hurry, the movie is going to start soon.

(For the non-functionally single folk out there, this is when the Eid afternoon siesta is calling your name. Actually screaming it from rooftops)

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What could be more girly than watching Wolverine at the cinema?Too bad Elysium doesn’t play until 10pm tonight.

Got your popcorn, soda and Iciee?

Movie done, time to switch the phone back on. 15 text messages in the past 2 hours and only one from a known number? WHO ARE YOU PEOPLE and why are your texting me Eid greetings?

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To continue with the Eid tradition of overeating, it’s now time for dinner with friends. How does New Orleans Hot Boiled Crawfish sound? Om nom nom nomYou *might* have dinner companions who are grossed out watching you eat bright red sea cockroaches (more specifically sucking the goo out of the crawfish heads) but don’t let that stop you from enjoying yourself. IMAG1182
Beignets for dessert- need I say more?Accept that your clothes will need dry cleaning because your shirt loves crawfish juice and powdered sugar too. IMAG1184
10PM Home again home again jiggity jig.Time to make lots of phone calls around the globe congratulating everyone on Eid.

Happy Eid Everyone!

When Facebook Employed My Friends at My Company

Most people don’t use Facebook lists because they’re unwieldy & cumbersome to set up. If you have more than 100 friends you might as well forget it.

I am one of those chumps who uses Facebook lists to manage wall & photo access because my 770 friends include friends, family & work colleagues (yes, these are all people who I know in person. And yes, I am the person who is still in touch with people from elementary school through graduate schools & the decades beyond).

While I do not mind sharing my foodie & travel pics with everyone, even *I* recognize that my mother & 3 close friends are the only ones who care about pictures of a new rug in the dining area.

Most days these lists work well for me. Today was not one of those days.

I decided to do some spring cleaning up & update my work colleagues list. One of the wonderful thing in the PAST about FB lists was that people do not know what list you might have them on. Being the chump, I assumed this was still valid even though good sense should have warned me to check;  after all Facebook seems to change it’s privacy settings every 7 seconds.

Turns out, when you use the Facebook “co-worker” smartlist it assumes that all those people are your current co-workers, not just work colleagues over the past 15 years. It also posts on each of THEIR timelines that they work for your company.

Facebook Help claims that the list will give you a notice about this “feature” when you add the first person. What they DON’T tell you is if you had people on the list BEFORE they added this new timeline update it will not give you a warning.

What does this really mean? Today some 75 people were informed by Facebook that they are employed by my company. I do not know how I’m going to make payroll this month.

An Inspired Story

Let me tell you a story and you tell me what comes to mind:

A small armed rebel militia launches near-daily attacks against a State it considers to be a foreign invader. The State needs the natural resources from the land and uses technologically advanced predator drones to monitor the insurgents and protect its supply lines. They also use local actors to manage and maintain the drones. After more than a half century of occupation the only possibility for success for the insurgent militia to take back ‘their’ land is by suicide bombers. And so the insurgents sends a team of two to blow up the State’s infrastructure using IEDs. The widow and young daughter of the suicide bomber end up connecting with the now-victorious insurgents.

Did it remind you of Iraq? Afghanistan? Pakistan? Yemen? Somalia? Palestine? Perhaps an Al-Qaeda recruiting video?

Actually, this is the storyline of ‘Oblivion‘, the new Tom Cruise sci-fi flick. The protagonist who saves the day through an IED- based suicide mission is an American, former NASA employee. The movie has received mixed reviews with high marks for visual bling and plenty of criticism for not having an internally consistent storyline.

Perhaps visiting extremist web-sites is not the only way to “Inspire” deadly violence. Perhaps planting seeds in impressionable minds through visually striking, seemingly banal & derivative sci-fi movies can also play a role in changing value systems. Perhaps we need to ask what else we are oblivious to in our lives.

The American Muslim Thanksgiving

In recognition of turkey day, I am re-posting this blog post from the last few years.

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Thanksgiving is that wonderful yearly holiday when American families bond over food and enjoy the typical dysfunction and drama that invariably happens when people related by blood come together.

For immigrants, Thanksgiving is the day when everything is shut down except for Chinese takeout and all their non-immigrant friends are hanging out with family to eat a big bird that they had never seen before they came to these shores. Often coming from cultures where holidays are either celebrations (religious or otherwise) or days of remembrance (e.g. birth or death anniversaries of national heroes) shared with everyone around them, they’ve mostly never come across a national holiday dedicated solely to staying home with family, eating and watching TV.

Over the past few decades American Muslims have evolved their own unique Thanksgiving culture, replete with tandoori turkey, pumpkin pie, baklava, friends, open houses and Thanksgiving-hopping.

A simple fact in life is that if you don’t have family around you, you simply create your own “family” through networks of friends. They help you, take care of you, join you at moments of joy and sorrow, and come over for turkey in November. Since everyone wants to play host it means there are LOTS of invitations and as you cannot offend anyone, you accept them all. And thus is borne the tradition of Thanksgiving-hopping.

Similar to the way Eid is celebrated where families spend the day visiting elders and friends and eating dessert at every home, Thanksgiving is when you go to several homes sampling turkey and pie before you depart to your next destination.

At the end of the day you have eaten more food than you thought it was humanly possible to consume, spent time with people whom you love even though they irritate the heck out of you and you fall asleep clutching your bottle of Tums. Only to wake up early the next morning for prayers, and because at least one woman in your life wants to make it for the early-bird sales special at the mall.

Who’s Malala?

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American Muslims: Caricature or Reality? (I)

The Language of Love and Hate

Not too long ago during one of my travels I was asked which languages I use to express anger, frustration and love. Being fluent in 2 languages and at an intermediate level in 2 others, it was an intriguing question.

The bi-lingual questioner mentioned how she enjoys cursing and expressing anger much more in Punjabi or Urdu than in English. A tri-lingual acquaintance always uses Italian for love. Everyone has their theories about the "real" mother tongue being the language one uses for strong emotion but it’s perhaps not the only factor at work.

Ask a typical Urdu/Hindi speaking desi living in America how they express love and they’re quick to point out all the endearments they use (jano, janoo, jani, even habibi/habibti) but ask them how they say "I love you" and most will admit that they use English.

Ever wonder why?

Typical desi culture is extremely inhibited in the explicit expression of love (outside of movies). Love and affection are conveyed through actions (especially related to food) but rarely through words.

Think of how much emphasis parents, aunties, uncles and elders place on eating and food. "Have more beta" "Your plate is empty" "Take some more" " I made this especially for you" "I spent hours in the kitchen making this for you" "This is your favorite food" It goes on and on, you cannot refuse without causing offense.

The other typical expression is through gifts and sacrifice. The sheer effort and the level of hardship people endure on your behalf is considered an indicator of their affection.

In terms of physical expression, children are smothered with hugs, kisses, pinches, pats and tickles but these decrease with age. Parents will only express very chaste hugs and kisses in front of their own families and kids. And yet everyone knows there is genuine, unconditional love, and sometimes suffocating possessiveness.

In a culture where it is not the norm to use language to express love, it is perhaps no wonder that when articulated, the words "I love you" slip off the tongue in English instead, a cultural ambassador for open relationships.

On the other hand, ask the same person what language they use to curse in and the answer might be very different.

To all you bi-lingual and tri-lingual readers out there, what languages do you use for anger and love? Is there a difference in your usage of Romance languages compared to Germanic languages? How much is the culture of the language a factor in your expressions?