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! :)

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.

“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.

9/11 is the day I lost my grandmother

I haven’t written in a while. I didn’t even get a chance to share this yesterday! But, this is a piece I wrote one year ago about my naanami (maternal grandmother) who passed away on 9/11/01. It’s probably one of the most emotional pieces I have ever written.

Cake & Cows

Fifteen years ago today, our world was changed forever. Though I had no personal connection to the victims or the perpetrators of that tragedy, as a Muslim woman living in America, I did not come out of the ordeal unscathed.

Thankfully, this country has made some progress – Muslim Americans finally feel empowered and safe enough to share their stories – but we have not come far enough.

The 9/11 story that I will be sharing with you today, however, won’t be adding to this narrative, at least not in the way you might think. Because despite everything that has happened – Muslim men facing surveillance simply because their beards don’t look like the one displayed on a box of “Just for Men,” or women’s headscarves being pulled off because some outsider feels the need to “liberate” them, and countless other horror stories – 9/11 doesn’t bring to my mind…

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