A few thoughts on community

community

I’m often humbled by God bringing people into my life who truly care when I least expect it.

Just this morning, when I logged onto Facebook (I’m just as surprised as you all are – sometimes Facebook does accomplish that whole “bringing people together” mantra), I was humbled by the extent of this care and concern.

I suppose it’s no surprise that the place I’ve most often felt a sense of community has been online… or with people I have only known for a short while, relatively speaking.

I suppose it’s the chance to present who I am today and be shed of the past that has been ascribed to me, whether justified or not.

That’s not to say that I don’t feel a sense of community from people I’ve known my entire life. I’m blessed to have these individuals, truly.

But I grew up thinking “family” was all that I ever needed.

Recently, I’ve realized that having known someone your entire life doesn’t necessarily mean that they really understand what you’re going through right now. And that’s okay. I think I’m finally learning to accept this.

But being able to connect in some ways with people that I’ve never met or have only known for a short while makes me feel a) that there’s nothing wrong with me per se and b) the vastness of God’s creation, in this case, human creation.

Breaking out of my bubble has been the most beautiful thing in my life. It’s not been easy, but the people I’ve met have given me a sense of hope and reinforced my commitment to the following Qur’anic verse:

O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things). (49:13)

A great way to start my Friday! :)

A blog post about nothing and yet everything!

It’s been a busy week. I went to Atlanta for the first time last Thursday for The American Muslim Civic Leadership Institute (didn’t have time to pretend to be Scarlett O’Hara as Savannah is a 4 hour drive, but I did pass the Margaret Mitchell house two times! Notwithstanding Mitchell, the film adaptation was a running theme of my childhood due to my older sister’s obsession in the late 90s. SHE WAS OBSESSED, I tell you), I dressed up as a cow on Halloween (just for work; I’ve never been trick-or-treating or have been involved in that process. Since I wasn’t allowed to go as a child, I never wanted to pass out candy later to those spoiled little kids that did. Also, strangers ringing the doorbell is scary), I launched the first issue of the Journal on Muslim Philanthropy and Civil Society that I’ve been working on since August, and the two-day Board meeting where I was scheduled to present (I ended up not saying much) concluded yesterday afternoon.

(BTW, I’m sorry for all the parenthetical notes in the above paragraph and I guess for this one too. I have these little tangents always running in my head and since I have no intention of making my blog post as long as a thesis, I must defer to parenthetical notes. I don’t think WordPress allows the use of footnotes, unfortunately. Thanks for reading my tangents. It means a lot. I find my tangents to be the best part of my blog)

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I have to admit: the udders hanging out like that kinda felt haraaaaam, but hey, I’m fully covered! And if that turns you on, that’s on you, buddy!

And yet, here I am blogging on a Saturday morning, wearing my cow costume/night-suit because a) I can’t sleep after the rooster cockle-doodle-doos (i.e. the alarm for fajr) and b) I need a break from work-type things.

Oh but hey, the countdown to my 31st birthday has officially begun today. Each year, I start counting down 3 months before. Some might say that I’m too old for this, but I say, “Birthdays are fun!” I love when I actually have a valid reason to eat cake (I get it, the food police need to die, but I eat way too much cake for my own good). Also, everyone’s usually much nicer to me, wishing me that I have an amazing day and telling me to eat lots of cake. So, it’s just great!

Honestly, people who think they’re “too old” for birthdays are just being pretentious and illogical. You’re not too old. You’re perfectly the right age as long as you are ALIVE. Birthdays don’t stop after 21! If you’re gonna use that argument, find a better word or phrase! {end angry rant against imaginary people}

Also, I don’t fear getting old. I look forward to it. Of course, I’m at the age where the body is not quite at the point where it really begins the inevitable process of deterioration (I can, however, start to blame my metabolism – and I will). I may feel differently when I’m 40 or 50. But I honestly hope that I can accept whatever changes come with age. I just look at old people and I’m in awe. Not only are y’all way cuter than the rest of us, you’re also so wise and funny and you finally have earned the right to say whatever the heck you want (well, maybe not everything) and we love it. I love it, anyway.

Where was I?

I don’t know. I’ve been up for a while and have yet to eat. BREAKFAST TIME. Catch y’all later.

On the importance of memoirs

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Photo Credit: Amazon

I just finished reading Leila Ahmed’s A Border Passage last night.

For those of you familiar with Leila Ahmed, you’re probably thinking “Oh no!” or “Right on!” For those unfamiliar, Leila Ahmed is a controversial figure within Islamic Studies scholarship. Or maybe just with Muslims. I don’t know. I honestly haven’t really read too much of her work. Maybe I should. I feel her views may have evolved.

In any case, I first encountered her work as a freshman in the midst of writing my very first research paper (we didn’t do that in high school – have things changed since then?). At the time, I didn’t wear the headscarf, but was still interested in the topic of Women in Islam. Leila Ahmed came up as THE scholar in this field and I basically used her arguments to justify my feelings on hijab at the time (i.e. it is not required).

Things obviously have changed since then.

Fast forward almost five years later, I felt regret and almost disgust for having taken the self-righteous and arrogant position I once had (I don’t blame Leila for this, this was all on me). For now, I had begun to don the headscarf.

So, when I came across Leila Ahmed’s memoir at Half Price Books a few months ago, I was at once intrigued and a bit hesitant. Did I want to subject myself to more orientalist drivel (I just love that phrase, btw)? But the synopsis (can it even be called a synopsis if it’s a memoir?) mentioned things like Arab nationalism and identity that I thought to myself, “Hey, it’s only $3.50.” I don’t have to buy into everything she says. So I bought the book.

And then read it (well, I read two books in between, because like I said, I was hesitant). But I have to say: since perhaps A Suitable Boy, I haven’t read a book that has caused me to ponder on so many topics on such a visceral level: manufactured nationalism (because it always is), women, feeling “home,” the “liberating” West, interfaith relations in a more pristine time, etc. I didn’t agree with everything Leila wrote, but I do appreciate her telling of history.

Whatever you think of Nasser (he’s the most prominent political figure in this memoir, Leila having grown up in Egypt in the middle of the 20th century – but you can substitute him for almost anyone), depending on what side you are on, the history book you are reading only tells you one side. We like to think of history as objective, factual, empirical in a way. But Leila’s recalling reminded me that there are many more perspectives than we are privy to. I particularly appreciated how Leila herself added many times throughout that her own memory might not have captured all that was going on. And that too reminded me of the importance of memoirs.

As someone who writes about her life with one-time plans to write a memoir, I realized that even if I don’t live an extraordinary life in the sense that I will never be recorded in “history,” that does not mean that my personal experiences don’t have something unique and needed to offer to those interested in the entirety of the human experience. As my last post almost abruptly touched on: What is it like to be a young woman who loses all that weight after the “entire world”* essentially made her feel that her weight was all that mattered? That story, as I’ve lived with for the past 8 years, does not come with a nicely packaged conclusion after that “after” shot.

But that’s not all. What is it like to be a young woman observing hijab in a world (or country) where some people feel that shariah law is going to take over the entire world? What is it like to be a Muslim from India and to be proud of this fact and yet also be concerned about what the right-wing hateful political establishment is doing to your Muslim brothers and sisters still living in the desh?

These are but some of the narratives constantly playing in my mind — and only I can weave them together in the way that I would.

In a world where individuals increasingly feel that there’s nothing we can do, that there are forces more powerful (and sinister, in many cases!) than we moving and shaping the trajectory of our lives, memoirs reminds us that our thoughts and our feelings are still within our control, and that they still matter… to at least someone.

*Remember that my telling will be subjective. But that’s fine.

“Weight loss” will never fully be a thing of my past

Various times during the day, I hate my body.

Not because it doesn’t do what it’s meant to. But because my stomach is not quite as thin as it ought to be, my thighs clap together when I walk, my underarms jiggle when I don’t want them to. My skin is not acne-free or even-toned. My hair is too thin; it’s lacks bounce or that nice symmetrical flip…

It’s easy to look at the meticulously planned images of the women I see everyday and assume that I too must look like this.

But I don’t… and never will.

I’d really like to lose those 10-15 pounds I’ve gained since getting married. But I am not willing to go on a diet like I did in the past to be the weight that I once was. I’m not quite comfortable with accepting the way I currently look, but I also don’t want to significantly change the way I live my life either. Is 35 minutes of cardio 4 x a week enough? Should I be doing more? Should I eat less? Why do I let weekend eating (mentally) derail me during the weekday? Should I stop eating real desserts like I did that one year?

I don’t know. I keep coming back to this same topic, year after year (only because it’s in my thoughts, day after day). I don’t think I will ever truly stop obsessing about my weight. Maybe it’s a good thing to have it on my radar, so that I don’t let myself get back to where I once was. But why can’t I just have neutral thoughts about my body? To be able to use a mirror like a normal person (if such a thing exists).

Sometimes I think I’m being ungrateful for thinking this way. Other times I think I’ve already taken a ride down that slippery slope.

No matter what I do, “Fat Rafia” seems to follow me everywhere, haunting me wherever I go. Others may not see it, but she’s never left me. And perhaps never will.

Confirming what I already kinda knew

After what seems has been an entire year of dealing with non-emergency but nonetheless irritating health issues, perioral dermatitis (Vaseline is my BFF nowadays), persistent allergies, etc. (these etcetera I do not wish to share on a public blog), I finally have some answers!

I made a FB post about this earlier this evening somewhat in jest, but I suppose it’s kind of a sad thing…

I had the infamous allergy test done today and learned: I have a lot of allergies. And they’re not just “Back to School” allergies, as I once called them either.

I am allergic to the following:

  • Cats (already knew that, but now it’s official)
  • Dogs (more on this later)
  • Dust mites
  • Many types of trees (but not pine or willow. I can still talk to Grandmother Willow about John Smith)
  • Weed pollens (did you know that “Plaintain, English” is the name of a weed pollen?)
  • Grass Pollens
  • Molds

I did not have a food allergy test done. But I will tell you that I am allergic to raspberry-flavoured desserts, elaichi in my biryani, and green fings (i.e. cooked coriander).

With the exception of dogs, I could have guessed most of these. I’m a bit surprised that I’m allergic to trees though. Does that mean I will never meet Treebeard?

The biggest takeaway is that the Hanafi-Muslim fear I have of dogs is not just a Hanafi-Muslim fear! I’m actually allergic to dogs! So now when I see dogs (living in America, they are EVERYWHERE), I can just say that I’m allergic rather than try to justify the look of terror fear on my face.

Non-Muslim dog owner: But Rocky is so friendly! Ahhh, you’re a good boy, aren’t you?

Me: Oh, I know. He really likes me. He’s already licked me on three separate occasions. But it’s not that. So, like, I have to pray 5 times a day and need to keep my ablution for the day, because I am OCD when it comes to public restrooms. And according to my school of jurisprudence – but not all Muslims are this way – just South Asians and some Arabs, but also because I am super OCD, it’s mostly that, your dog’s saliva will break my ablution and I will be out all day and won’t be able to go home to do another ablution. You understand, right? 

I imagine that most people who read this post will be like, “Huh?” but that is okay. I happen to think this post might actually be one of my funniest.

And like all my jokes, I’m the only one who’s laughing :) But again, that is okay. This is a blog titled Cake & Cows. You signed up for this!