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! :)

My first iftar!

Okay, so obviously I did not have my first iftar last night. I’ve been fasting for close to two decades – and I have attended plenty of iftars in my lifetime.

FYI: For my non-Muslim readers, “iftar” is the name of the meal Muslims eat after breaking their fast.

But last night was the first iftar I attended where my sole priority was not to just eat all the delicious food prepared by someone else and make sure I keep my wudu throughout the evening (mah Muslim peeps know what I’m talkin’ aboot ;)

For last night, I organized my very first iftar – and it just so happened to be for my interfaith group, the Muslim Jewish Women’s Alliance.

To be fair, I didn’t do it all on my own. It was wisely suggested to me to form a sub-committee to help organize it. And boy, if I did not have their help, I don’t think I’d be in a state to write this post. So thank you, all, if you’re reading!

I was nervous for plenty of reasons.

Nervous for my planned 20-30 minute “monologue” about Ramadan. This was an interfaith iftar, so there was bound to be a speech or two. Regular iftars need no introduction: we all know what to do – wait until it’s time, eat, eat, eat, pray, regret all that eating, pray, and start dreaming of food again. Results not typical.

But for interfaith iftars, someone has to speak and explain why all us Muslims who are fasting aren’t eating until after 9 PM this year. As the Muslim Co-Chair of MJWA, the task naturally went to me. There’s a reason why I love to write, but I realize with the kind of professional goals I have, I will have to take on more and more public speaking “opportunities.” I took on this role and many others with the knowledge that I would be expected to speak in front of crowds not entirely consisting of my stuffed Mickey Mouse and cow, Mufia. Still, it’s always a bit nerve-wrecking a few days weeks before.

In the end, I spoke for about 10 minutes. Ramadan cannot be condensed into 10 minutes, but hopefully everyone got the gist. We got a chance to hear from a couple of the Muslim members, so the conversation was organic – and perhaps even better than planned.

But I was nervous also because I started freaking out a week before that the catered food would not be enough (In retrospect, it was – this ALWAYS happens). I decided last-minute that I should prepare something for iftar. Cooking is still a work in progress for me, and to have to cook for over 20 women who may not be inclined to pour hot sauce over everything they’re eating, and I’m fasting, and can’t taste whatever it is I’m making – YIKES!

Good thing that half of the women were fasting and would have eaten anything given to them at that point. To my pleasant surprise, however, I ended up getting some good (unprompted!) comments, which for a self-described “fusion” cholay, I’ll take as a success!

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That’s my “fusion” cholay on the right! Looks edible, eh?

In the end, although there were a few hitches that are inevitable when planning any event (Note to future self: When you’re working with fellow Desis and you *think* you’ll have plenty of time, factor in an additional 2 hours), I think it went well.

The staff at the mosque we held it at, Masjid Al-Mumineen, was incredibly supportive and helpful, staying close to midnight to help clean-up after. I was, to put it simply, amazed. This mosque also operates one of two Muslim-operated food pantries in Indianapolis, offering temporary food assistance to Muslim and non-Muslim families. I mean, this is what Islam is all about and this mosque is totally doing it. You can learn more about and support Lut’s Pantry here. Ramadan is meant to be a month of giving and with all the amazing work this mosque does for the community, I don’t think there was a better place we we could have held yesterday’s iftar. Thank you, Al-Mumineen!

I also must say that I’m quite proud of the decor and the colour-coordinating. We took a modest space and turned it into a really nice set-up. Never doubt the power of colour coordination, folks! It’s one skill-set I’ve absorbed from my artist sister and it served us well last night, I think.

Taken by Lauren 4
It may take talent to draw (i.e. my sister), but it takes REAL talent to colour in the lines (i.e. me) ;)

If all else fails, make goodie bags for your guests and fill them up with chocolate. Can’t go wrong there ;) Happy Friday, everyone!

Photos courtesy of Nayab Ahmed and Lauren Morgan

It has begun… or will begin very soon! i.e. some pre-Ramadan thoughts.

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Ramadan Moo-barak from me, Mr. Rafia and our little baby, Mufia! :)

Ramadan will begin this evening and thus, tomorrow will be the first fast of this lunar year for many Muslims living in North America. I now live in the land of calculations (i.e. ISNA), so I know for a fact my first fast will be tomorrow. But whether one follows the moon- sighting or not, Ramadan begins this weekend for Muslims all over the world.

For the past couple of days, a lot of what I’ve been seeing in my inbox and Facebook feed are “How to prepare for Ramadan” articles. I’ve seen a few on how people who are fasting 17-hour days can still manage to fit in exercise. Normally I’d be like, “You people just need to SHUT.” But I kinda want to continue my yoga routine. I don’t want to lose all the momentum I’ve gained in the past month or so since I started doing yoga. But who knows?

(Yes, I started doing yoga, albeit at home in a relatively judgement-free zone… although sometimes Mr. Rafia will come home earlier than usual and I’ll have to hear him fake-mock me. No, I have not seen the benefits either in flexibility, balance, strength, mental stillness, not to mention my perennial goal of losing those “stubborn few pounds,” but I know I must continue to plow on).

Am I physically and mentally prepared for Ramadan? I guess – it’s inevitable.

Did I prepare? Do I ever?

I know it’s not the “right” thing to say, but I ain’t gonna lie. I had a conversation with a friend recently about our approach to food and as I was reminded again, my entire day is structured around meal time. Up until not too long ago – and I am not exaggerating – I used to go to bed with the thought of breakfast the next day… thus explaining why I was 100+ pounds overweight as a teenager.

Though I am no longer technically even overweight, food still dominates my life and so fasting is difficult for me. I think it’s safe to say that it is difficult for most people. But in addition to the void in rewards I receive in the form of food, Ramadan forces me to change the way I structure my day. And as my life is a testament to, physical changes are much easier to make than mental ones.

Sure, I intend to read more Qur’an, cut down on all forms of entertainment (pictures of cows are not entertainment, BTW, they are like breathing for me), read books that are Islamic in nature… I know there will be an element that is missing this year, like last year. Despite the difficulty in abstaining from food and drink from dawn to sunset, what Muslims look forward to is the communal spirit of this month. I’m going to miss my family even more than I normally do.

No more of trying multiple times to wake up my lion of a father to get him to eat the pre-dawn meal. No more thinking I’ve awaken earlier than others to only find my mother already in the kitchen going on with her day. No more of later reading Qur’an with her until mid-morning. No more of hearing my brother asking “Is it time? Is it time?” right before we break our fast. No more of praying all our salat together as a family. No more of being forced encouraged to attend taraweeh prayers in the mosque with the family.

I mean, I didn’t love it then. But nostalgia, you know?

I am not sure what Ramadan will look like this year for me or for Mr. Rafia. It’s only our second Ramadan together, but I hope it’s one in which our faith in God becomes stronger, that we both worry less (me, especially), and put all our hopes in God alone.

For all of you who are fasting this Ramadan – and even those who aren’t – I pray and hope for the same for you all.

You know what? I think I am ready.

Note to self: It will be okay

For the past week or so, I’ve been feeling super overwhelmed and inundated, as my previous post should have made rather clear.

I go through these cycles in my life when all the demands seem too much for me to handle. It could be my perfectionism, my fear of failure…

With respect to failure: What does that even mean, though? And is failure really such a bad thing? I’ve actually received an F in high school as a final grade! Though it was the worst part of my adolescence for a time – because I was convinced that that F in AP Chemistry would forever doom me – by the time I applied to grad school years later, it had no impact whatsoever. Luckily, I did well in undergrad and that’s all that really mattered.

My point is: I’m not so great with dealing with stress. I don’t know many people who would claim they are. The only person that I know who deals with stress well, I think, is my mom. But sometimes I think my mom is not even human – she’s like the closest thing to angel-human I know.

But now, a week later, I have a much better perspective.

When all those demands seem too much, Rafia, what you gotta do is just take it day by day. You hear that phrase all the time, but what does that mean? It means: Do what you can each day – and eventually it will all come together. God has a way of giving you an inspiration or idea when you least expect it and then you realize, “Oh, wow, it’s gonna be okay.”

But even if it’s not your definition of “okay,” you’ll be fine. Just think back to those AP Chemistry days and see how far you’ve come along since then. I revel in failing AP Chemistry now. It’s like a badge of honour!

I’m not not nervous about next week – or next month for that mater – but I feel I’m in a better position to handle it all now. God will help me, I must believe, as God always does.

If nothing else, take copious notes. There’s just something about having things in writing.

Visiting the Past/Waiting on the Edge

Four and a half months to the day. Almost exactly.

I had assumed it was going to be a one-time thing.

Once is more than plenty; but to have this happen twice in my life?

I don’t believe in coincidences. But I do believe we get the messages we need in forms that are best suited to our nature.

Do you ever wonder, when you have sudden jolts in your own life, that it is God desperately trying to tell you something? God does not have to be desperate. But we human beings can be so blind.

I, for one, am not very good at picking up on subtle hints.

I know God was trying to tell me something the first time.

I needed that first time. That first time saved my life. It was what allowed me to finally leave a job that had messed with my head and sense of well-being. It was what gave me the gall to finally apply to my dream school for graduate studies, thus ushering the phase of my life that I now am most fond and proud of.

Many factors went into making June 13, 2015, Commencement Day, a reality – most obviously, the financial and physical support from my immediate family.

But I know what set it all in motion was that jolt from God (and of course, God’s consistent and constant reinforcement – but that’s not what this post is about)

This week I believe I received my second jolt.

But what is God telling me this time?

Is it really just “don’t stress” like my family has been telling me my entire life? Really? It’s gotta be something more than that!

I know I can’t force a meaning out of this (or anything for that matter). I will only find meaning in whatever happens in retrospect, like with all things in life. But I definitely do want to be more intentional about the things I do and am responsible for. Am I unknowingly drinking haterade? Do I really need to suffix that compliment with a “but”? Is refusing to acknowledge a Facebook friend’s birthday because she didn’t acknowledge mine really a beef worth having? I’m obviously having a lot of fun with this list.

What are you going to do differently now?

It’s a question Mr. Rafia posed to me a few days ago; and it’s worth repeating. As much as I hate to admit, that boy sure has a way of bringing me down to earth, reminding me that there always is a spiritual provenance.

There surely was the first time.

I might not get all the answers this time when I want them. Or even if I do, I might not like what I hear. But I have a feeling that I will be getting something.

I just have to be willing to listen.