Thursday, November 22, 2007


assalamu alaikum wa rahmatullah wa barakatuh

The upside of not having been all about the blog this month is that I've been living. Downside? I miss all the goings-on, all the fun stuff. It's Thanksgiving Day here, and while giving thanks liberally I also had the time to peruse various blogs. Yay!

I stopped over at DP's spot, which led me to Safiya at Outlines, which led me to Umar Lee, and all of them talked in some way about spouses and husbands and interracial relationships etc. So now, my turn to think a lil bit about all of this. And I've been avoiding the topic for such a time as would lend itself to my being open and vulnerable about it.

Y'all know I'm not married. Most of the people who've read this blog came to notice it because of a post that was basically whining about options for young unmarried Muslimas. Or making valid points on the options for unmarried muslimahs, depending on your paradigm. I'm not actively searching; rather making a lot of dua'a after fruitless searches. My eyes are out there but not much else.

In reading the responses to Umar Lee's posts on the topic I've seen a lot of hateration going around, especially when it comes to American Black Women being marriageable. I've seen it so much that I've had to catch myself; at one point I had absorbed the viewpoint that my being Black made me less desireable to Muslims of other races and cultures. I actively have had to reject that inside my own head. Now, you all know that I am intensely glad that Allah saw fit to make me Black, and thankful that I am an educated professional in this country. wa Astaghfirullah. It was abhor-ably easy for me to detect that 'don't bring one of Them home' attitude through the computer screen as well as through my everyday encounters, the chance remarks, the sideways looks and the non-looks. Audhu biIllah. Shaitan is really sneaky on this one.

As for the looking- I've just stopped looking and started making dua'a instead. It's funny that when I mention that I want to get married to some of the sisters who ask about my marital status in this city (I'm new to a lot of people here), they inevitably ask what kind of brother I'm looking for. To which I reply: A good, educated man. Aisha looked at me askance when I gave her my off-the-cuff answer that I didn't care as long as he was educated and spoke Spanish. "Spanish? " she cocked her head at me, really puzzled. "When I stub my toe or yell that's the language I tend to work in," I answered half seriously.

The truth is that I... almost... I want to say 'I don't care', in that peculiarly American way that I have of using that phrase, but that's not specific enough. I don't care- about the small stuff. Or rather, I don't have a picture all prettily painted in my mind, waiting for Allah to *poof* make Optimal Husband appear and ride me into the sunset. I guess somewhere in here I've grown up, because even the idea doesn't appeal any more. Reality sneaks into my dreams daily.

No picture in my mind, hence, I can no longer reel off a gigundo list of qualities, attributes, characteristics, and assets that my future husband MUST have in order to even have a chance at my hand. Used to be ol' boy would be oh, 6'5 1/2" tall (exactly), have a Ph.D or an M.D. in his field of choice, and have impeccable manners, and love his mama to distraction. Now, though, my criteria have been way simplified after I've lived a while and done some praying and contemplating and had some of those loonnnng discussions with people I trust over cups of na'na' late at night. He has to be able to answer these questions:

1) What is your understanding of God, the Qur'an, Salat, the prophets, and the hereafter?
2) How do you feel about children?
3) Describe your relationship with your family, especially your brothers, sisters, and mother.
4) What are your goals?
5) What do you see as your and my responsibilities as Muslims, spouses, and citizens?
6) How do you handle your financial responsibilities?

And before everyone and their wali jumps all over my case, should a brother actually be serious about his suit, I'm prepared to answer those questions as well as other similar ones.

What infuriates and disturbs me is that this whole practice and permissiveness of turning down potential mates based on their skin hue and nationality and other cultural stereotypes is on a real jahiliyah tip, one that Allah and his Prophet alayi salatu wa salaam warned us about... some people need to go read surat al Asr, for real! One of our halaqa leaders always (always) ends dua'a with that- and the reasons are evident. I guess because I've done my share of crushing on various people (and that's all I need to say about that, ain't it?) I know that men of all hues can be mentally and physically attractive. How dare ANYONE lump all of that spark potential into the thin little layers of epidermis and throw away what Allah has given us? It's just taking the easy way out to separate and categorize and stigmatize on skin and culture. It's a lot harder to say, hey, this brother has good adab, appears to all who know him to be trying to get some taqwa, let's look at him a little more, oh, and he's of a brighter/darker hue. No, that's getting too deep into this selection thing. Audhu billah.

Also, it annoys me that the colorstruck members of the American Black ummah, especially brothers, are the ones who are being pointed out in all of this. What is that supposed to mean? Is it supposed to bother me that men of my own hue will search outside of their native country for women with features unlike mine? Or perhaps I'm meant to feel (even more) inferior based on the choices of those who assign no value to me? I love Black men. I was raised by and with Black men. I am thus beloved of Black men. And that's all that means. It takes little away from me to have a Black man love a non-Black woman unless I make it so. I get to choose whether or not to drink the cup of haterade. If Allah has willed an African wife for an African American man, then great for him, and if He hasn't, then great, too. Our trials are assigned, designed, and tailored just for the individual. Don't let me stand in your way.

And too, it annoys me that people automatically assume that I will only accept a Black man for a husband. Sisters come back with, "Well, I don't know of any African American brothers who are single...", I guess immediately discounting other brothers. Why would that be? Anyone who knows even a little about me realizes that I'm very open-minded in my preferences. I am positively Black for myself, that's something that radiates in the air around me, but I can't say that it means everything around me must be Black! Come on, now. It comes back to being put into boxes again on a scale so grand it boggles the mind. If Allah has decided that the best mate for me is not of my hue, then I'd be an outlandishly crazy fool to turn Him down and hunt for what my dunyawi mind and nafs tells me I ought to want. Beyond that, I've been GIVEN criteria to search for what I SHOULD want, so why not let Him lead me to what will make everyone involved happy? Plus be pleasing to Allah? I don't understand how people don't get this.

Or, to put it into a simpler metaphor: I wanted a car. I Asked (made istikara) for a car (and a computer and a husband but let's stick to the car...). And then when people asked, I said I wanted a foreign, youngish, manual trans, dark colored car with just enough leg room. And as I was about to buy that style of car (using riba'a no less, may Allah forgive me) with about 110K miles on it, the deal fell through. And I was led instead to a light colored, domestic, 20 year old, huge car that I paid for cash.

It is impossible for me to be any happier with what I have. I am exstatic. I have a car! It's distinctive and it runs well and I avoided something I KNOW causes the displeasure of the One who loves me most. Good thing I wasn't blinded by all the hues of trouble I could've gotten into.


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Agitator: On Leaving the Deen, Part II


This is the second part of a conversation begun here.

I was watching the agitator this morning; I'd added the soap, the clothes, let the steamy water run in... and then I let the agitator hypnotize me. I have a lot to ponder, these days.

Yesterday I attended a very small part of a training meant to certify me to be a counselor at a muslim youth camp. And I loved what I saw of the training; but the jury is still out and a decision not made about whether or not I'll actually go. Part of that is just the fact of the timing; the camp would cover a very important week in the life of my family and friends. But some of that is because I'm a convert, and still learning some of the things my kids may already know.

So in the first part of these discussions we discussed that the first part of any action should be listening, really actually listening and knowing where this sister or brother is coming from, born or convert.

I think the next step will be then tailoring what we have to say to that person's mindset. The Prophet, alayhi salatu wa salaam, used to do this. And to do that, we have to check ourselves at the door.

Listen, you asked for suggestions, you never said they had to be easy!! This is something that we've all failed at once or twice.

A great many of those who come to Islam leave because after they met Islam, they fell into company with The Muslims. Y'all know what I'm talking about. Part of trying to actually have some taqwa should be denying ourselves and the nafs anyway, but especially when dealing with those newly arrived to submission. It's a form of submission itself. I mean, we all take precautions when dealing with newborn babies; leaving our boisterousness and dirty hands for where they belong. We need to do this with newly-born Muslims as well. They're just as damageable, impressionable, just as tender on the inside. If we take our own preconceptions of what taking Shahada means, and what has to be done first, our attitudes toward how and where and why one should live, well, we'll certainly overwhelm another person. I'm halfway overcome myself just thinking of all of that myself. I'm not saying don't be the genuine you; more that we need to be as careful around new muslims as we are around FBI agents- more because inshaAllah new Muslims will automatically be on 'our side'. If that makes sense.

Then we have to address both the academic and the social thirst that a new Muslim has. I've actually been invited to take part in an initiative here in my new community that addresses this, by making up new Muslim packets to be presented to people when they suddenly (for us anyway) walk into the masjid and take shahada. I think that'd've been big for me, and so that's one way to go with others. Nothing major; just a friendly letter from a fellow muslima to say, hey, welcome! We join you in Islam. Here's a list of resources and things you might want to know. Please come to these people if you have questions. And our weekly event blahblah happens every such and so day at this time and we want to invite you! Here are the basics of islam (of course someone actually goes over this with the person, too). Congratulations, mabrook!

And then would start the listening.

I know this is mad idealistic, but at the same time, it's an actual start... that's just what came out of the wash. Anything else you have in mind, shoot. It's been an excellent conversation so far.


Saturday, November 10, 2007

NaBloPoMo, HA!

Assalamu alaikum wa raHmatullah wa barakatuh

Yeah, so I thought I was going to do NaBloPoMo. Looks like I blew my blopos instead. I'm here though. Going shortly to take a glucose challenge test. Those of you who know what that's about... yeah. Apparently doc thinks I've got some insulin resistance going on. Since my father is diabetic, that's something I'm taking pretty seriously... before I saw her, I went and got my gym membership and started working out again.

Yes, the ol' gym membership. I signed up at a nationally known gym that decided to change its name to Urban Active. I was ticked. Urban Active?! I ask you! That sounds like I'm coming to run around my ghetto block or something. But the amenities are the same, and I think the general manager (that's who I got to speak to, yay me) took off like $200 in initial fees simply because I was up front about the fact that I think the name change stinks. Huh.

They do have an all-women's, screened-off weight and cardio station, which is why I'm paying the big bucks. That, and it's easier to get there than to get home after work, always a plus. Especially when gasoline for my '87 bigole huge car is at $3.25 a gallon for REGULAR. What a fine time I picked to begin driving. I was thinking when I took up my tutoring positions that they'd be money I could use for, I dunno, retirement savings or house savings or school, but no, it's gas money. I've started hypermiling just because of the hit to my pocket- it actually works well around here. City of the Seven Hills and all.

Anyway, I got the gym membership in part because I'm training to run the Flying Pig on May 4th inshaAllah. Mark that date down! I don't know if I'll do the half or the full marathon but I'm determined to cross the finish line. Training and cross-training is 6 days per week.

After my glucose challenge inshaAllah I'm headed to training to be a counselor for a Muslim youth group. Can you believe that the training is from 9A to 8P on a Saturday? I didn't find out about it until 11 this morning, but I really really love kids and would like to work with them, so inshaAllah I haven't missed anything I can't read up on or make up. We'll see. And one of my halaqas is holding a movie night, which I'm looking forward to, so wow, finally a busy Saturday! Hope yours is going well, too.


Saturday, November 03, 2007

The voice of Samina S.

Assalamu Alaikum,

I walked into the kitchen last night and told my mother, "I just realized again that I'm the only black woman teacher at the school." She laughed and asked was this new? That's a joke between us because my mother teaches at a well-known university and has for over 20 years. She's been the only black woman teacher in her department the entire time she's been there. She probably understands the ins and outs of that feeling more than anyone else.

I'm not. NOT NOOOOTTTT going into racial politics here. Just pointing out a nuance of the environment where I work. It's interesting working in an Islamic school, especially in an area where there just aren't as many Muslims. I was spoiled in DC; there are Muslims of every stripe, color, belief... here people ask which masjid you go to and from that know everyone you've met at that center. It's a different world.
Class has more to do with my feeling off-kilter than race, I think, but both are involved. The majority of my students have affluent families. During Ramadhan I was invited to some of the most amazing places for iftar; what was comforting was the fact that despite the cushy surroundings I managed to fall into comfortable, grounded, real company, the few sisters whose invitations and interactions have put me at ease.

Samina S. is one of those. She doesn't have a blog, but late on the night of October 31st she wrote something that hit home and told more about the atmosphere at the masjid and the center than I could describe in my little post. She said I could feel free to post if I wished (thanks, Samina!) so I'm doing so... let me know what you think.


Many first generation kids can relate to my story: I was born in pre-Disney Orlando, Florida a year after my professional parents immigrated to the United States from Pakistan. They worked their way up the career ladder, sacrificing much to send us to the best private schools, carpooling to Sunday schools so we could learn Islam, trying to learn enough of the American culture to understand us, yet fervently praying inside that we would not assimilate too much. This mish mash of experiences provided a breeding ground for a variety of incidents that ultimately shaped my generation’s identity. Yep, we were the brown kids in kindergarten who had the only smelly tuna sandwich as an alternative to the lunchroom hot dogs. We were the second graders with the braids who wore the long dresses and pants in Florida’s 95 plus degree summers. When Thanksgiving came around, our moms would bake a chicken (because they did not know where to find the halal turkeys) with all the side items so we wouldn’t miss out. We didn’t get the Christmas presents even though we sang “Rudolph the red nosed reindeer” and “Jingle Bells” at the top of our lungs from October to March, and our Eid holiday was in the summer! Middle school was another world altogether. The excuses we made for not attending homecoming dances and football games were pretty ridiculous. I wonder if anyone really believed we had to be out of town coincidentally every weekend such events occurred. When high school came, all bets were off. We had the dads whose one look would scare us away from lip gloss altogether, forget the “real” makeup. Dating, ha-ha, God forbid if a guy from class called about a homework assignment and the conversation lasted beyond five minutes… And I had the cool parents, not all my friends were so lucky.
So did I have an unhappy childhood? No way! Despite the inferiority complex my generation has collectively inherited, most of us survived intact and recall happy youths. When I look back I know there are a few key things that allowed this to happen. First and foremost, Allah blessed me with parents who loved me unconditionally and did the best they knew. I cannot even imagine the culture shock they experienced coming to this country leaving behind their families, culture, religions, and ultimately their whole identity and trying to adapt to this “whole new world.” (That would be a completely different essay someone else would have to write, but remember that the next time you meet that new doctor from Pakistan who’s driving the Mercedes SUV and his ‘hoity toity’ wife is carrying the aqua Gucci bag with the matching sandals on the perfectly manicured feet). Anyways, getting back to the point, my parents also socialized with people of similar backgrounds and luckily for me they had kids my age that often attended my schools. So we went to the desi parties, the one place we actually fit in, and ran around, giggled, sang, ate the same food as everyone else, begged our parents for sleepovers, and basically had fun. Looking back, I realize those get-togethers and the lifetime friendships they formed were essential to maintaining our (and I suspect our parents’) sanity. So when we went back to school on Monday morning and had as I would later call it, a “low self esteem” moment, we had our friends and weekends to fall back on.
Sunday school was our other saving grace. We were blessed with a teacher who was an African American convert. She taught us Islam the way it should be taught- in a clear, straightforward way with “normal” English and lots of patience. Her lessons began in her own modest home over vanilla wafers and fruit punch. Only later did our community have a masjid (a large result of her commitment) with a full time Sunday school. She taught us the basic pillars of Islam, what they really meant, how to pray, how to fast, stories of the prophets, and what it meant to be a Muslim. I honestly believe her commitment to us learning our religion was one of the greatest blessings in my life because she instilled pride in the religion. I do not know how Islam is taught to kids in Muslim countries, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Even though I do not follow my Islam perfectly, the foundation of knowledge is there, Alhamdulillah. I also regret that our community as a whole did not give her the respect and worth she deserved (and I think this is a common flaw in the Muslim communities), but Allah will reward her inshaAllah.
High school and college were probably the toughest times for my friends and I. We had the usual identity crises, magnified by where we came from, rebellions, etc, etc. The details are better left alone, but as a whole we came out on the other end all right. Most of us followed “the mold” of college, marriage, careers, and kids. And here I am in my thirties, married, having the career, and trying to figure out how to do it right with my kids….inshaAllah.
It’s funny people are frequently interested in my perspective. Is it because I am an ABCD, because I married one, or because I have the outward appearance of worldly success? Here’s a secret or two, I don’t have any more answers than the next person, my whole generation has an inferiority complex that we try to mask with professional careers and guess what, we find that hoity toity Pakistani lady I mentioned above quite intimidating.
Anyways, here’s a few things regarding raising my kids that are important to me. After having been that only brown kid in the class trying to hide the fact that no Santa came to my house, I want things to be different for my sons. Yes I had a happy childhood, but my Muslim friends made a huge difference. Feeling like you belong to a community is very important to childhood development. Of all the valid reasons to send kids to an Islamic School, this is my number one. My 4 year old “fits in.” It may sound funny, but being able to eat what everyone else is eating is pretty cool. He is singing, “Ramadan, Ramadan” and “We are Muslims” instead of the Christmas carols I learned. He is learning stories of the prophets instead of stories of old St. Nick. Islam is our identity and being in this environment allows him to be proud to be a Muslim. I hope this builds his confidence inshaAllah, so his generation does not have to hide its identity.
Now here’s a whole other potential essay: the pros and cons of an Islamic school. Can’t do that justice here, but a few things I have to address. Some of my friends think our school is not Islamic enough. Maybe so, but the intention is there, and there’s only one way to go. Trust me it’s still better than the alternative. If you still don’t agree please do me a favor and don’t bad mouth the school in public, it discourages others and that hurts us. And one more thing, politics are everywhere. I went to the best private high school in Orlando and the politics were disgusting. Same thing for the teachers, even the best schools have a few bad teachers, and believe it or not sometimes you learn more from them. Other peers think sending your kids to an Islamic school shelters them and makes them ill prepared for the “real world.” I believe there is no better preparation for facing the “real world” than having confidence and knowing who you are. And trust me, even though my kid goes to an Islamic school, he knows about Diego and Pizza Hut and of course, Disney world. I don’t worry about him being out of touch with the ‘pop culture’. As far as academics goes, certain basic standards are necessary, but remember each kid has strengths and weaknesses. I have a friend who graduated from my high school class, went to Dartmouth and is now a drummer in a rock band (not to knock his career choice). Once again, If you still don’t agree please do me a favor and don’t bad mouth the school in public, it discourages others and that hurts us. Strength comes in numbers and if we want improvements we need our numbers.
So getting back to the point, and I’m beginning to forget why I am writing this myself, someone from our Masjid administration recently asked my husband to meet with us to discuss our outlook as an “open minded” representation of what our generation was thinking. That along with an interesting book I am currently reading (Eboo Patel’s Acts of Faith) inspired me to write this.
The masjid in our community is probably one of the most beautiful masjids in the country. Tours are given here to the public and MashaAllah, people walk away truly impressed. I remember the feeling I had when I first saw this masjid, I could not believe something so elaborate existed in this country. May Allah bless the generosity of the people who built the masjid. This institution is well respected in the city and the inter-faith efforts on behalf of the administration are truly remarkable.
Now what would people of my generation want out of a masjid? To put it simply in one word, Inspiration. After all the ultimate goal of every Muslim is to serve Allah and improve our faith. How do we do this in a culture where we are so busy with the fast life of work and kids? If only we could come to the masjid and each time we walked away be inspired to become better Muslims, inshaAllah. Or imagine when the public tours are given, the spirit of inspiration is so strong that the desire to learn what Islam really is about is piqued. Recalling the success of my long ago Sunday school teacher, I think a few simple elements are essential. To begin with knowledgeable teachers with command of the English language is essential. With all due respect to our elders, my generation has a tendency to “tune out” if the lecturer has an accent or does not speak clearly. And I can only imagine what our kids (or visitors) will do. I don’t ever want them to be bored by the masjid, especially one as beautiful as ours. Also knowledge is a cornerstone of our religion. So ideally an imam with such qualities would be great. In the meanwhile, if we have members of the community blessed with knowledge and a commitment to teach, I would hope politics would be pushed aside and such teachers would be given the opportunity to teach us how to practice our religion and improve our iman. These are the jewels of our community who should be given the utmost respect and encouragement. We should also invite as many scholars as we can on a regular basis. Yes in post 911 we have to be careful of who we give the platform to, but let’s not make it reach a level of paranoia. Any teacher of Islam with true knowledge will relay the message of peace that is the cornerstone of our religion.
In a nutshell, we would like to see the inner beauty of our masjid match, if not exceed, the exterior beauty of the facility. To do this, the ugly head of politics, egos, and arrogance needs to be removed. Instead we need an open platform where people can express their concerns with a certain level of administrative accountability and transparency inshaAllah. There really is no choice here because the alternative of not doing so includes dividing the community, having ego wars, boring (and losing) our youth, wasting the beautiful facility, and looking bad to the non-Muslims. This would truly be a loss; one that our generation is not wiling to pay.
Well, here’s the viewpoint of one ABCD trying to figure it out. By the way, I wonder what they’ll call the next generation of ours: any ideas? One last thing, no offence if you drive a Mercedes, own a Gucci bag, or match your shoes to your purse.

~Samina S.

I'll probably be commenting further tomorrow. Sis. Umm Zaid reminded me that it's NaPoBloMo so I'll do my best to post every day (!). InshaALlah.

Twenny Two

Friday, November 02, 2007

Still light

assalamu alaikum,

I think that's the biggest change yet. I've gotten so used to saying Assalamu Alaikum that I forget the greeting is for Muslims and wanna go say it to everyone. AlhamdulIllah.

I've been popping in over at Shabana's and Dictator Princess's and UmIbrahim's and Umm Zaid's and Izzy Mo's spots but wanted to let y'all know that not only am I still alive but kickin' and being blessed by Allah subhana wa ta'ala. The months of adjustment have passed. I wanted to blog. I let exhaustion and a promise I made to myself not to complain get in my way.

Case in point: The other day I was up in arms b/c the director of the school told me I can't go to Juma'a at the masjid (RIGHT. ACROSS. THE LOT. not complain'in but dag how close can I be and not go?) because of my responsibility to the kids... even if I got a substitute. I pointed out that no, it's not obligatory on women but at the same time... girls have to miss certain weeks anyway; and as preschool teacher I don't get opportunities to prayin jama'at much anyway (the rest of the school prays dhuhr together daily), and I really benefited from the khutba the day I did go. Then resisted the urge to come up in the twennytwo spot and complain.

SO alhamdulillah today the director copied the khutbah and put it in my box. Every little blessing I can get. Glad I didn't complain.

By the way TAKBIR I have a car! It's huge and white and qualifies for historical plates and alhamdulillah it starts. It drinks gas, but I'm working a 2nd job for that (y'all didn't really think I'd stop working multiple jobs, did you?). I'm hanging out with my sister on a regular, I'm getting to work on time. I won't put the complaints out yet. Y'all will hear them but now it's all about the praise...

Welcome to those in my new community I've invited here. This is me, the real unadulterated deep down thing; inshaAllah we'll talk. To my old friends in the computer, I miss you and iA will be popping in soon.