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.

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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

My ‘Duh’ Epiphany of the Day: Making Decisions is Hard for An Indecisive Planner

You know, when you start a project, you want it to go well. (Um, why would you start one hoping to fail, Rafia?)

I know failure’s a fact of life, but no one ever starts a project with the intention of failing.

When things, however, don’t go according to plan – and you’re answerable to more than just yourself – you can’t help but feel it’s all your fault.

You know it’s not your fault, but when you’re the one leading the project, especially if you’re a highly sensitive person, you will take it personally regardless. Because in the end, it’s YOUR name on the line.

I think I learned a lesson in resilience today, folks. Sure, I spent the past few hours in panic mode, scrambling to make sure that everyone was on board with the decision no one wanted to make but couldn’t really escape.

If I were anyone else, I would say “It is what it is.” But I am not anyone else (I hate dislike that phrase very strongly), so I will not say it… but yeah, pretty much.

Unfortunately, it’s not possible to make everyone happy. Sometimes, a decision just has to be made.

Ah, event management. Is it not but a compacted metaphor for life itself?

Swept from Indy to Jersey and who knows where else

As I mentioned in my last post, I attended the 3rd Annual Muslim-Jewish Women’s Leadership Conference hosted by the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom this past weekend in New Jersey.

Since it was my first time in the tri-state area, I had to make a short detour to New York City (my brother being in the area facilitated this). Everything takes FOREVER in New York though, as you can imagine, so I didn’t get to do much. But I did eat some NY-style pizza in the middle of Times Square – and honestly, I feel fulfilled.

There was a dessert social the night before the actual conference; and though I was nervous, it ended up going pretty well. Since I naturally gravitate toward the food table(s) at social gatherings (it may or may not be conscious on my part), I was spared the nightmare of having to go up to people; they came to me! I exchanged contact information and ate way too much sugar. I certainly lived up to the name “dessert social.”

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The conference started bright and early on Sunday morning. After eating two breakfasts (one at the hotel and one in the gymnasium of Drew University where the conference was being held), we heard some pretty good speeches from the likes of NJ Senator Cory Booker (the ladies at my table were fawning over him. I liked what he had to say – he reminded me of an early Barack Obama -but I’m always skeptical of politicians’ speeches), the girl from the AT&T commercials who started her own non-profit, and others.

The highlight of the conference for me was my morning workshop on “Storytelling” presented by writer and blogger (you can guess why) Salma Hasan Ali. Since I’m now a full-fledged writer (my definition of a writer is simply a person who writes), my next goal is to take my writing to another level: story-telling.

I’ve been thinking of submitting my story to The Moth podcast. I’ve always loved watching interviews and as a child I’d sometimes pretend to give myself one. You know how journalists say they’ve always loved asking questions? Well, I’ve always loved answering them! Writing will always be my safe space, if you will. There’s a level of anonymity that comes with the act, even if your writing is public, because the sad truth is: the majority of people DO NOT READ. That can be a good thing sometimes. But being the closet drama queen that I am, sometimes it’s not.

Salma shared her story of how one simple act of wanting to record her family history eventually led her to becoming a professional storyteller, which has got to be the coolest title ever. I was inspired by her story, because I was reminded of my own trajectory since writing that little piece for The Tempest. At the end of her talk, she opened the floor to us, the attendees. While normally I’d shy away from speaking, I was in carpe diem mode this weekend and shared my story of my life-long struggles with weight. It was cathartic and I came away from the session feeling renewed.

Of course, I can’t forget all the amazing women I met and got a chance to talk to. By happenstance, I made some new friendships because I needed a ride back to the hotel. I ended up going to a dinner later that evening with these new friends and was reminded by one woman who shall remain unnamed that we weren’t invited, so that was fun. I think my favorite post-conference moment however was when one of my new friends, an older Jewish lady from Pittsburgh, who also happens to be anti-Zionist, shared with me that we have to be willing to call out our own, after she put that lady from the night before in her place.

I think that’s an unintended consequence, but still an important one, of doing interfaith work: you not only deepen your understanding of people who have different faith systems than you, you also end up shattering your own assumptions that your coreligionists believe and act exactly as you do. In my experience, I’ve found that I have more in common with some Modern Orthodox Jewish women than I do with some Muslims!

I also conquered my fear of traveling alone, although I must say the fear of Uber still remains. All in all, a wonderful weekend and I’m in an even better state to launch the Muslim Jewish Women’s Alliance, a joint-partnership between the Indianapolis Jewish Community Relations Council and the Muslim Alliance of Indiana, whose application went live just as I returned from my trip. Perfect timing, eh?

As I told Mr. Rafia on our way back home from the airport, I kinda feel like Bilbo Baggins. He didn’t want to go on an adventure at first, but as he tells Frodo later, “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

For me, it all started when I approached the Spiritual Life table at UChicago three years ago, and I’m still walking.

The elephants in many rooms

If you haven’t heard by now (please take me to wherever your dwelling place may be), Donald J. Trump was elected as the 45th President of the United States of America.

This week has been disheartening, frightening, and saddening to say the least.

But am I shocked? No.

Despite what everyone in the media was saying, I am not at all shocked. I can’t don’t want to read my Facebook feed anymore. It’s just a vacuum of discontent that’s not helping me in any practical way.

Trump becoming president was an almost-unconscious fear of mine coming true, like the chickens coming home to roost. Anyone surprised by this either does not have a basic understanding of American demographics and history, or they’ve wishfully ignored it. But for what it’s worth: those who take issue with this reality can no longer remain complacent. If this is the jolt we need, then so be it. I might be in the minority here, but even though many of us wanted Clinton (as opposed to Trump), I don’t think her winning would have changed anything practically. Just like Barack Obama becoming President clearly did not signal the end of racism, Hilary Clinton becoming President most likely was not going to shatter any ceilings. If the past few years are an indication, an extra layer of glass would be installed.

That’s not to say that misogyny, racism, and xenophobia alone are the reasons why Trump won, but neither can they be completely ignored or discarded. The reasons for the election results turning out the way they did are layered. It’s a muddled mess that I can’t even fully make sense of myself at the moment.

BUT – I am not pessimistic like many of my friends and family members are. That’s not to say that I am not hesitant or fearful. But I am NOT going to let that fear and discontent affect the way I live my life.

The very next day after the election, I had two very important things take place. One, in the morning, was the first official planning meeting with all the key players for the Jewish-Muslim women’s leadership project I initiated. We all agreed that this meeting couldn’t have come at a better time. For anyone who thinks interfaith work is a bunch of baloney, all I have to say is TRUMP. Then, in the evening, we had a very informal but much-needed round table discussion on the current political climate. While the original focus was Muslim Hoosiers, it ended up being a place for all of us to share our concerns and hope for the future.

What will actually happen remains to be seen. But as I’ve been saying, the work doesn’t end after the election, regardless of the result. A mirror is being held up to society right now and if we don’t like what we see, it’s up to us to do something about it.