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.

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!

Thoughts on the recent U.S. immigration ban by a Canadian-born American Muslim woman

What is going on in this country? My U.S. citizenship could very well mean nothing soon enough. Perhaps I’m being overly pessimistic. I read an article today on how fascism develops and it always begins with denial. I don’t want to be in denial. Of course, I would hope that the two other branches of government do something to halt the erratic behaviour of the man who is currently serving as President in the country I live in. Sure, a temporary stay has been issued. But Trump, I’m sure, will have his staff do something on Monday (weekends are for relaxing, of course).

I’m not really thinking about what will happen to me. Right now, I’m furious at what’s going on in this country since Friday evening. Green card-holders (!) being denied entry, just because they happen to originally be from 1 of 7 Muslim-majority nations? I’m pretty sure that’s illegal. National security my a- donkey (I forgot that I don’t swear ;). If national security were really a concern, Saudi Arabia would be on that list. But hey, it’s not. Hmmm.

When I think about the U.S.’s not-so-secret alliance with Saudi Arabia, it turns me into a darned conspiracy theorist. In these moments, I like to tell myself I’m Canadian. It makes me feel better. It’s never been a better time to be a Canadian. But the fact of the matter is, I live in this country. And it’s distressing that the President of the country I choose to live in and his team are yet again using my religion this time to deny people their right to life. Because if you discriminate against another Muslim simply because of his or her faith, you ARE discriminating against me. And I take it personally.

Not only will this move, regardless of the legal battle and its results, embolden those who might actually threaten “national security,” it’s damned hypocritical. Don’t tell me this is the land of the free if you bomb every other country to death. Okay, that’s an exaggeration, but my anger is not. You don’t get to sit on your high horse while you beat others with your polo stick. That was a horrible analogy, I know. But I hope my point is clear.

I attended an interfaith gathering today which, as you can imagine, addressed the fear surrounding today’s America. One of the questions that I felt passionate about was, “Are there any barriers facing you?” And I was like, “Yes, as a visible Muslim woman, I’m only useful if my opinion follows the carefully orchestrated narrative of what a Muslim ought to sound like. I have to prove my patriotism. I shouldn’t have to do that. Being able to criticize my government is the most fundamental right of an American.” Well, I was not as as eloquent when I said it. But that was my point.

As an American citizen, I have every right to express my opinions and call out whomever it may be on their discrimination and, which especially riles me, their hypocrisy. As a Canadian-born, I’ve never felt more American than I have today writing this.

Encounters with strangers

I have received a hug from 5 different people I’ve never met before in just 2 days. It’s amazing what a tiny little gesture can do.

I’m not one to be overtly friendly with strangers. There’s always the fear that people might be suspicious of me. When you’re a visibly Muslim woman living in a post-9/11 world, you learn to be especially cautious about everything you say or do in public. I can’t blame 9/11 entirely though. I’ve always been shy. But 9/11 sure kept me in my place.

I think I’ve gotten to the point in my life however where I just don’t care (as much) anymore about what people might say.

It dawned on me yesterday that that might be exactly the reason why I’ve struggled with self-confidence my entire life. I’ve never given myself the time or space to truly own my opinions or viewpoints, because I was always thinking about other people’s opinions and viewpoints. But why are theirs more valid than mine? By silencing myself, I was implicitly acknowledging that people who don’t give a crap about me are more important than I am. I am all for respecting people, but I need to respect myself as well.

Like I told Mr. Rafia today, while recounting the story of just moments before when the manager of a boutique I had visited prayed for me and gave me a much-needed hug, I am done with being apologetic.

I know it’s easier said than done, but I am going to start.

Sometimes, a hug from a perfect stranger is just what you needed.