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!

“Why her?” A pseudo-philosophical ontology

Two days ago, a young student at the school I work at was fatally struck by a school bus. She was someone from the Muslim community, though I didn’t know her and had never seen her before. But I know people who knew the girl and her family.

The fact that it happened right in front of the building I work at and that she was a hijabi made me think about her death more than any other everyday death would have. I couldn’t help but think, “what if that were me?”

First of all, I don’t at all think this poor young lady was targeted because of her faith. I think the driver was just distracted. But I am a bit shocked, because bus drivers are supposed to be safe drivers. From preliminary reports, it seems the girl had the right of way when the bus driver hit her while she was crossing the street.

I don’t know the full details, but whatever facts do eventually surface, it doesn’t change the fact that a young girl died.

One of my friends texted me asking if I had heard what happened. I hadn’t until I came home later that day. She later told me that she went to visit the girl’s family to give condolences and mentioned that the look on the mother’s face seemed unbearable.

I can’t imagine the pain her family is going through. I am not a parent, but I would assume that no parent wishes to see the day where they outlive their child. It seems to go against the natural order of things. It’s tough when you lose someone you love, no matter how old they are. I still to this day think of my maternal grandmother and my uncle Baba from time to time, even though they were in their 70s and were suffering from illness when they died. I have such vivid memories of both. With the former, I still feel so much guilt for not having had the kind of relationship a granddaughter ought to have had with her grandmother and with the latter, gratefulness to have had the love of a “second father” in a world where blood is thicker than water.

This young girl however was so young (18 or 19 years old), presumably healthy. It’s particularly sad to hear about someone this age dying and so unexpectedly at that. She’d been on this earth long enough to have affected people, made experiences, but not quite long enough to experience the full life cycle. She won’t get to graduate from college, get married, or have kids one day. For some of us, that will never be our reality. But this girl won’t even have that opportunity.

As a Muslim, death is not something to fear or avoid talking about. Actually, our scholars tell us to think of it often. YOLO is not an acronym any practicing Muslim should live by (although when it comes to cake, it seems that I subconsciously do). Death should be a reminder for us all that the life we live in this world, our actions, our intentions, do matter.

In some ways, this girl is being saved from the ugliness of this world. She was young and more pure than many of us still living. That’s what a eulogy written by a friend of hers on Facebook seemed to suggest. And while I do believe it’s true… I think it’s also natural to want to have a good long life in this world, too.

Why did God decide to take her and leave me and the rest of us still living on this planet? We won’t ever know. And if you don’t believe in God, I don’t think your answers are any more rational than mine. In fact, I find the very fact of death to be faith-affirming. I’m sure there are some that would argue that believers cling to God in the uncertainties of life because it makes us feel better, but I say to them…. *Googles for 10 minutes* Man, I remember reading a great defense of this failed logic for a class! I did, I know I did! Was it Descartes’s ontological argument? I can’t remember! DARN IT! I know it wasn’t Anselm’s. UGH. THIS IS VERY FRUSTRATING.

Okay, I’m alright.

What was I saying?

If anything, death reminds me to be grateful for all the things I do have, two loving parents and siblings, a husband whom I love even if he is messier than I would have preferred, my friends, even if I met most of them within the past 5 years, etc. I have a lot to be grateful for. We all do.

I can spend hours ruminating over why God chose to keep me and everyone else still alive. Maybe it’s because we all have more things to achieve in this world. Maybe it’s because God wants to give us more time to come back to Him. Maybe it’s both… I don’t know. But in the midst of trying to rationalize the why, I’m reaffirming my faith in God and that there are some things we human beings can never know. That doesn’t mean we stop asking, just that we learn to accept our limitations and the limitlessness of God when we find no answers.