On Performing Femininity

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When I was a child, I loved makeup. I thought it was an expression of womanhood, of adulthood, of being, as children say, “grown up.” Then, as a teenager, I lost all interest. Oh, don’t get me wrong; I adored femininity and expressions thereof. But makeup seemed fake to me. It struck me as a mask, an attempt to meet other people’s expectations. Always the nonconformist, I didn’t want to bother. Eventually, though, I did try it and liked it. But it still seemed like a lot of work, and so I didn’t wear every day.

Bras, of course, were very important from a certain age. I needed to wear them, because to not do so would’ve been immodest by my own and by society’s standards. It didn’t occur to me to cover my chest’s shape by other means. The playbook for modern women says to either wear a bra and thereby be normal, or wear a bra and modest clothing and thus be modest, frumpy, old-fashioned, or whatever term they’re using these days, or to not wear a bra and thus be edgy and sexy – or maybe even a stereotypical bra burning feminist.

Removing body hair is also a ubiquitous practice for women. To look professional, classy, modern, sexy, or even merely normal, is to be, among many other things, clean-shaven, with the sole exclusion of the eyebrows and scalp hair.

While none of the things mentioned above are inherently bad or oppressive practices, they are all imposed on women. And this imposition is indeed oppressive. To be a woman is a performance, and to deviate from the script is to deviate from womanhood itself. Women have had little say in writing that script, yet by and large we still follow it. We must be beautiful, but not distracting. Sexy, but not slutty. We must wear makeup as a matter of course, but not too much or we’re being dishonest. We must be thin, but also curvy. We must dress nicely, but without making other women jealous of us. Women Of Color have even more rules to follow. They have to look “exotic”, but not too different from the white standard. Hair must be straightened and made flowing, thick eyebrows trimmed, unibrows and body and facial hair shaved, waxed, and plucked into palatable-to-white-people submission.

Sadly, while men, especially white men, overall have been the rule makers, our fellow women too often are the enforcers. For some strange reason, even as we chafe at these impossible standards, we balk when other women don’t follow The Script. Women are the first to step on each other in order to climb the ladder. Heterosexual women brag to men that they’re different, special, real women who follow the rules and yet stand out just enough to catch the right man’s eye. “I’m not like her,” we are quick to clarify when we see a woman stepping out of line. The only room for being special is in being especially dutiful in our performance.

As I have grown into feminism and come to recognize the ways that the rulebooks for men and women are very different, I have simultaneously become more religious and have valued traditional Islamic modesty. I have long viewed the hijab as a way to opt out of society’s rules for women. Makeup has seemed less important. Nobody sees, and therefore no one cares, what I do or don’t do with my body hair, my bras or lack thereof, or my hair.

Sadly, hijab or no hijab, Muslim and other religious women have by no means managed to entirely escape the stage of the performance that is womanhood. Within many religious communities – this goes for pretty much every religion, to be clear – women are often expected to be meek, and men to “lead their families.” Women who want to pursue careers typically reserved for men, be child-free, be single long-term or marry “too early,” or who are (GASP!) queer, are suffocated because there is simply no room for such deviations from The Script.

It is clear that neither religious modesty nor secular dress are the solutions to this mass theatrical performance in which women are born, live, and die on stage, forced to memorize and perform their lines and parts as soon as they exit the womb. While I believe that Islams offers complete liberation to all women, I am admittedly biased. And frankly, a belief is worthless unless put into practice. The first step, I believe, is to throw down our scripts and stop performing. Refuse to conform, and refuse to police other women. Support and celebrate maverick women. Find the stage directors and playwrights, and expel them from your life. Rebel. Cover yourself from head to toe, or go topless. Whichever you choose, uncompromisingly support the women who choose otherwise. Refuse to compromise your soul for the comfort and satisfaction of others. Define your own womanhood, your own femininity, your own self.

 

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Ramadan 2018 Preparations

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Image creator unknown. If this is your work or know whose it is, let me know!

Ramadan of 1439 AH (a.k.a. 2018, on the Gregorian calendar) is predicted to start at maghrib, on May 15 of this year. Of course, this won’t be official until the moon is seen. If you want more info on Ramadan, and on the moonsighting topic, this Vox article is really useful! Being that Ramadan is almost here, I am working on getting ready for it. Frankly, my preparations only really began in earnest on Thursday. Someone graciously sent me the PDF for a free Ramadan planner. I printed it out, put it in a binder, and used it to map out my goals and plans for this month. Inshallah I will be using it daily throughout the month to stay on track, tweak my goals and efforts to reach them as I go along, and reflect on my progress.

Some of my Ramadan goals include consuming less secular entertainment and more khutbahs and Quran recitations, as well as studying more about the Deen in general. I also want to work on exercising kindness and patience. Notably, I plan to work on some other more private spiritual challenges. Personally, I find that I am more productive and focused if I plan ahead and stay organized. Or maybe doing that makes me think I’m more productive; I don’t know, and am not so sure that I want to find out! In any case, now that I have finished that, I am already taking some steps to put my plans into action. I’ve already removed most of the secular videos from my Youtube “watch later” playlist, so that by Tuesday evening, inshallah I will be ready to watch only really useful videos. I still plan to listen to and watch secular things that I find therapeutic, as I don’t believe I need to become so focused on spiritual matters that I forget to laugh. But Islamic content will be my top priority.

I am also trying to think of things that I can read to enrich me spiritually; the Quran is an obvious choice, but reading the Quran without understanding it isn’t as enriching as reading it once you understand the point of a given passage.  So, I’d like to find a book or two to guide me in my Quran reading. Speaking of Quran reading, I plan, inshallah, to read the whole Quran by following the thirty Juz. Click here to learn about the way the Quran is divided into sections. Note that I cannot vouch for any part of the above site other than the page I linked

Another thing that I plan to do to help me stay focused is to deactivate my social media accounts for the duration of the month. The exceptions will be Whatsapp and Youtube, as I need the former to stay in touch with loved ones around the world, and the latter to access Islamic content, as well as educational resources both secular and spiritual. As those who have read my last post already know, I have been on a quest for some time to distance myself from (anti)social media, to instead connect with people one-on-one – even if online! – and to be more productive in several areas of my life. Being that Ramadan is so important, it feels fitting to step away from the bombardment of distractions that are Facebook and Instagram, and to instead use my time to build a closer relationship with Allah and meaningful relationships with people.

My greatest hope this year is to recalibrate my spiritual compass after a year of tailspins. Crushing mental and physical health problems, combined with sudden lifestyle shifts and other emotional shocks, left me reeling and disconnected from the Source, right when I need Him the most. Ramadan seems to be the perfect opportunity to make this right. I am genuinely looking forward to it.

To all those observing this holy month, Ramadan Mubarak!

 

In Need of a Hug? You’re Not the Only One

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The US South is supposedly known for its hospitality and warmth. My husband and I haven’t found it to be that way. Maybe that’s due to our minority identities. Maybe it is due to our lack of resources. Maybe it is because of our personalities – perhaps we put people off without meaning to, because we have mannerisms that don’t fit in well with those of most US people. It is, I suppose, one of those things that aren’t easily explained. Probably each person who has crossed our path would have a different explanation for why we never clicked. I guess it’s “just one of those things.”

But this whole experience of being socially cut off for numerous reasons has made me think a lot about the way we Americans* interact with each other, form relationships, and define a friendship (*note: I don’t like using that term to refer only to people from the US because it erases people from other parts of the Americas, but in English it is pretty much my only option. So, please bear with me!). You see, I have always been an outgoing person. I am introverted, but I still love people! I was reprimanded as a child for hugging people too much. To this day I will chatter away at any captive audience: people in elevators, nurses in doctors’ offices, Lyft drivers, people in line… I am talkative and will generally open myself up easily. I have learned to filter how much personal information I share with people, but still. I talk a lot! My husband is from Brazil, a.k.a. Outgoing People Central! He is just like me in this regard.

Much to our disappointment, we’ve found people in the US to be far more reserved and inhibited. Oh sure, people will talk about the weather or pop culture. But it is difficult to get someone, including people that you’ve known for a while, to open up about their lives. It isn’t just us; other people we meet agree that it is possible to know someone for years and yet not ever discuss one’s feelings, sorrows, pasts, or other similarly personal topics. Hugging is offensive to many people here, and a kiss on the cheek is considered highly flirtatious. Crying with someone is an embarassment, only excusable if you’re drunk, and to be pointedly “forgotten” the day after. If someone asks, “how are you?” the only acceptable response is, “I’m fine, thank you. And you?” The other person promptly confirms that their life is also free from any difficulties, and then one moves on to a drawn out discussion about the weather. To deviate from that script is to over share, to burden the other person, and to – you guessed it! – embarrass yourself and the other party. Such an outcome is to be avoided at all costs.

And to make plans? Any occasion must be put on the calender at least two weeks in advance. If it is something meaningful, such as a birthday or anniversary celebration, it must be set up a month in advance. Spontaneity is reserved for close relatives, and sometimes a very old and trusted friend. People always say, “Let’s keep in touch! Let’s get together sometime!” but they never do. If a friend moves away, that’s the last you’ll see of them. If you meet someone new in a public place, the best you can hope for is to add them on Facebook and then proceed to never speak again.

The sad truth is, I’m not the only American overwhelmed with loneliness. More and more Americans are feeling lonely and cut off. There is an epidemic of touch starvation, a phenomenom in which a person experiences skin to skin contact very rarely. This has numerous negative effects on said individual, including mental health problems and even heart disease! People who are rarely touched, and even more rarely touched with a purposeful, affectionate intent, feel lonelier, and suffer profoundly for it. Personally, I only regularly receive intentional affectionate touch from my husband, and once a week my therapist always gives me a hug. Before getting married, I was unimaginably touch deprived. I had become so accostumed to this that I either recoiled or cried when people touched me. You see, everyone needs to be touched a lot. One person giving you affection isn’t enough. Caring physical contact is a basic human necessity! Sadly, however, Americans have demonized touch. Doctors and other health practioners don’t touch their patients unless absolutely necessary, and even then will often apologize. Teachers aren’t supposed to hug their students. And hugs between colleagues are scandalous! Friends don’t touch, and no one can seem to articulate why. Many families never or only rarely show physical or even verbal affection.

Meanwhile, in many parts of Europe, in a lot of Arab cultures, and in most Latin American cultures, touch is ubiquitous. To not touch is insulting. People hug and kiss upon greeting and when parting, often multiple times. People will spontaneously hug, touch one’s arm, or throw an arm around their companion. People are more spontaneous when making plans to go out. They’re verbally affectionate, too! Case in point: I’ve known people here for years, people who used to be close to me. My friends here, whether I have known them for years or not, whether in person or online, have never told me that they love me. It simply doesn’t happen. And if I were to initiate such a demonstration of fraternal or sororal affection, the other person would find it awkward at best. Meanwhile, my friends abroad – excluding those from the UK, as it seems that they have the same problem there as we do here – show affection liberally. Besides the aforementioned physical touch, they also say “I love you” far more often, and it is normal for me to say the same. When people care, they show it. Caring isn’t shameful or weird. Love is beautiful, and meant to be expressed.

Back here stateside, we have a long way to go to stop starving each other of love and affection. (TRIGGER WARNING: suicide discussion between the asteriks!) **People literally kill themselves because they feel alone. Frankly, telling each other that people do, in fact, care, and expecting deeply depressed people to believe that, despite that no one is showing it, is ludicrous. The truth is, far too many of us either don’t care about each other, or else do care but find such feelings too embarrassing to mention and therefore never express our feelings.**  If we want ourselves and others to stop suffering profoundly because we find feelings of love and friendship to be awkward or difficult to express, we must step out of our comfort zones.

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Photo: Antonio Guillem – Shutterstock

To that end, I propose some changes! Don’t read bad or romantic intentions into simple hugs. If someone asks you, “What’s on your mind?” open up a bit. And if someone else looks down or sad, ask them the same thing. If someone looks lonely on a bus, ask them if the seat next to them is taken and try to strike up a conversation about the weather (or not – everybody talks about the weather!), their adorable shoes, or the book in their hand. They may not want to talk, and that’s their right. But try! Maybe they need a kind interaction. And when it comes to people you’ve known for a while, try to arrange to spend time together. Stop feeling like you need an excuse to be around each other. Go to a park or invite someone to your home, and avoid using an activity to intentionally distract yourselves from connecting in a meaningful way. People here feel the need to go to an occassion to be able to be together. God forbid a long silence or an unchecked emotion should occur! Try this: talk about your day. Talk about politics, religion, and football. Talk about food, and yoga, and books. Have an awkward silence. Get comfortable with truly connecting, not merely sharing space and frivilous conversation that does nothing to enrich either of you.

Touch someone on the arm. Say, “I’m a hugger, not a handshaker,” when saying hello and goodbye to friends and family. If they express that they’re not comfortable with that, you must respect that of course. But they might actually find it refreshing, and both of you will benefit. And when someone you know asks, “how are you?” tell them the honest truth. And when you ask them the same, and they say that they’re fine, ask, “Are you really? You know, I’m here for you if you want to talk!” Sure, it’s “weird” at first. But that makes it all the more important.

If the numbers of people experiencing the epedimics of depression, feelings of isolation and loneliness, and touch deprivation were instead numbers of people with influenza, malnutrition, diabetes, or any other physical illness, major health organizations and even world governments would be in tailspins. But because society hasn’t yet learned to take mental and emotional well-being as seriously as it does matters of physical survival, few people are aware that they’re not alone in feeling like nobody cares, in longing for a hug or kind word, and in wishing more people would have real, meaningful conversations. It’s time we changed this!

 

Minimalism’s Effect on My Social Media Usage

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My long-time readers will remember that after I returned from what for me was a landmark trip to Portugal in 2014, I had an epiphany regarding consumption, usage, and the difference between a socially programmed want, and a true need. To make a long story short, I spent three months in a small village called Santa Cruz da Trapa in the Portuguese countryside. Because I didn’t have enough money to pay for extra checked bags, I took only two average sized suitcases; one for toiletries and medications, and one for clothing. I also didn’t have money to buy a lot of souvenirs, or the luggage space to bring them home with me. So I took little with me, brought little home, and lived simply due to the nature of where I was.

When I came home, I was confronted with so much STUFF: a collection of dozens of CDs, a walk-in closet so overflowing with clothing that the floor was even covered with it, and an absurd amount of accessories and shoes. Having become accustomed to living simply, the absurdity and extravagance of my consumerism finally became apparent to me. So, I spent the following months purging my belongings and redefining what I valued and wanted to make room for in my life.

 

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Image credit: bemorewithless.com

It’s easy enough to recognize the way that the concept of living with less should affect one’s buying habits. But what about our internet habits? What about who and what we connect with, and how? Shouldn’t we scrutinize and filter the online content that we consume with the same thoughtfulness and reflection that we should filter the material objects that we let into our lives? I think so! As of 2015, the average American checks their phone about 46 times per day! That number goes up for 18 – 24 year olds. That means that we are consuming digital content almost non-stop. Even disregarding the debate about whether or not our attachment to our phones constitutes a clinical addiction (I do believe that it does), surely we can all agree that spending that much time on our phones opens us up to a barrage of images, sounds, and connections. Our time is precious, as is our emotional energy. We shouldn’t be spending it immersed in a world that doesn’t really exist.

Social media is designed to keep you coming back for more, more, more! It does this by exploiting humans’ need for attention, and the brain’s chemical response to the pleasure of an extrinisc reward. We can’t help it; the more we use it, the more likes we get, the more we feel that our peers approve of us, the more our brains will oblige us to go back for more dopamine. It may not be a chemical dependency, but it is an addiction in the informal sense of the term. Whatever you call it, this habit can and does consume us. How many times have you taken multiple selfies, sifted through the snapshots looking for the one that will portray you in the best light and garner the most positive reactions, edited and posted it, and anxiously awaited the likes, loves, and comments? You’ve certainly done it more than once. That doesn’t make you egotistical or narcissistic; it makes you human, and therefore vulnerable to exploitative programming.

I personally live a fairly socially isolated life. I don’t have a car, my husband and I have a very low income, and I am disabled. I don’t have any close friends near me, and I don’t really have opportunities to go out and make friends. My social life has mostly consisted of online interactions. My husband and I got together because of Facebook and Skype! I’ve spent years fearing complete isolation if I were to step offline. But over the past couple of years, I’ve desired ever more strongly to make sure that the people in whom I was investing my time and energy online, cared as deeply about me as I have about them.

I’ve also been trying to make sure that my time spent online isn’t interfering with real life opportunities for connection, reflection, and creativity. I’ve frequently abstained from social media for a day or two at a time. At first, it seemed daunting, a real test of my willpower. But as it has become easier, every time I’ve gone offline, or “unplugged,” as it were, I have been rewarded with something much richer than likes, comments, or superficial interactions: tranquility. The contrast between being present online, and being present only for people, is clear. When I am on social media I am bombarded every time I scroll or swipe through my feed and notifications. Mentally, it is as if I am being shouted at by dozens of voices at once; likes, comments, shares, tags, advertisements, status updates, posts from pages, and photos all join together in a cacophony of insistent demands on my time and attention..

But what do those things really add to my life, besides a momentary dopamine rush from split second expressions of approval, often given mostly just in hopes that I’ll return the favor? They drain my time, dragging me away from precious time with my husband, to pray and read Quran, or for doing homework, learning about things that interest me, free thinking, leisurely reading, writing, art, singing, and other forms of creativity and growth. It has only enriched my social life in a few rare cases. Even then, nurturing those friendships won’t be done with likes and comments. It will be accomplished by talking and spending time together, even if only in a video chat or via text messages. Staying online in hopes that out of hundreds of interactions, I’ll stumble across one lifelong friendship, instead of investing in pre-existing friendships that are in their infancy, isn’t a smart idea. It’s like throwing your gambling winnings into even more games – it’s usually wiser to just stop while you’re ahead!

Last week, I took the initiative and deactivated my Facebook account for a week. Instead of scrolling a newsfeed, I exchanged phone numbers with those select people on there who cared. I spent some of my newfound free time to chat with those people, respond to a backlog of messages, and reach out to some people who I hadn’t really talked to in far too long. I didn’t see or focus on the people who claimed to care but never reached out. I didn’t think about all of the events I wasn’t getting to participate in, or the people who’ve forgotten about me because I’m not out in society enough to be remembered. Instead, I was focused on my faith, on writing (I’m finally back to writing here – that should tell you something!), having enriching conversations, and studying. I was more productive and less depressed and anxious.

When I finally came back online on Monday, the shock of the flood of content and noise – I can’t put in any other way, mentally Facebook is just loud to me – felt overwhelming. I also realized that I hadn’t missed anything. Truly, there wasn’t much of value there to be missed. I’m still working on connecting via Whatsapp with a few more people from Facebook and Instagram, and then when Ramadan begins around May 15, I plan to, inshallah, deactivate both of those acounts (Facebook and Instagram are my only social media accounts now) for the entire month. In the meantime, I won’t be online much, inshallah. After Ramadan, who knows? I’m not eager to lose myself to base instincts in a desperate search for happiness that, contrary to my evolutionary programming, is best found far beyond quick dopamine hits.

For me personally, my minimalism journey started out with learning that God didn’t create humans to be Pavlov’s dogs, doing as we were trained, hoarding posessions in hopes of finding the abundance that we actually should be seeking on a spiritual level, not a material one. And now, it is teaching me that part of not losing my mental autonomy is minimizing what my mind consumes, in much that same way that I strive to minimize my material posessions. Instead of stuffing my life full of things, digital content, and superficial interactions, my hope is to fill it with enriching spiritual practices, relationships, creative outlets, and increased productivity in my pursuit of an academic career.

Wish me luck ✌

Hamsas and Spiritual Heritage

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Hamsas have enchanted me for years now. I’m wearing one around my neck now, in fact. I find meaning in the hamsa for a multitude of reasons.

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Artistic rendering of a hamsa. Google download. Image credit unknown. If this is your work, comment below!

Hamsas are typically meant to be used as protection against the evil eye, a concept which is often foreign to Westerners but which has been around in some variation for millenia. Likewise, the hamsa as an amulet has been in use just as long. It, along with the concept of the evil eye and a couple of other evil eye amulets, has been widely accepted in Judaism, early Christianity, and Islam, as well as other non Abrahamic faiths. It is present in almost every culture, especially Eastern ones. The ancient nature of this symbol to me represents a connection to my ancestors and to my adopted Islamic faith. It reminds me of how much Jews, Christians, and Muslims have in common with each other and with other humans.

I personally do believe in the power of the evil eye. The idea that the way that humans regard each other, and the intentions that we have, can and do affect each other’s lives, is a belief inherent to humanity, and one which instinctively resonates with me. The hamsa, therefore, serves as a conduit for Allah’s protection and blessing. I believe in the idea of such a conduit.

Because this symbol is indigenous to a plethora of cultures, races, and faiths, it doesn’t seem right to me to say that Westerners or members of any other given group shouldn’t use the hamsa. However, it is notably offensive to those of us who treasure it for those ignorant of its meaning to use it as a fashion statement or to seem “exotic” or cultured in the eyes of their white, Western peers. The hamsa is a symbol of faith and tradition. It isn’t just one more accessory. By all means, read up on the meaning and use it reverently. But don’t buy an overpriced cell phone case with it, or a $130 microscopic hamsa as a statement of wealth and fetishization of “Eastern religions.” For many of us, the hamsa connects us to those who have gone before, and protects us from the gaze of those who  would wish us harm. Please don’t cheapen it.

 

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We Are What We Eat

Sometimes I get too caught up in secular entertainment. Even though the secular stuff I consume isn’t vulgar, it still isn’t usually reflective of what my highest priority is (or at least, should be.) You know that saying, “we are what we eat,”? Well, that applies spiritually too! We are what we consume; spiritually, mentally, and physically. If all we ever consume is secular media, we’ll end up letting our Deen fall down on our priority list. At least, that’s been my experience. Dhikr is an essential part of a Muslim’s life. It’s more than the tasbeeh and saying bismillah before we eat. It’s about remembering Allah in every moment. Even when we’re looking for entertainment, we’re well served if we bring remember of Allah into those moments too. So, today I’ve turned on my Islamic playlist. That doesn’t mean I’m giving up samba, chorinho, and classical music. But, I also need to make an effort to listen to more nasheeds, more Quran, and more khutbahs, inshallah. // Às vezes eu me apego demais em entretenimento secular. Mesmo que o entretenimento secular que eu consumo não seja vulgar, ainda não reflete a minha prioridade da vida (ou pelo menos, a prioridade que eu deveria ter.) Você conhece aquele ditado, “somos o que comemos,”? Bem, isso é espiritualmente aplicável também! Somos o que consumimos; espiritualmente, mentalmente, e fisicamente. Se tudo o que consumimos for somente mídia secular, acabaremos deixando a nossa Din cair na nossa lista de prioridades. Pelo menos, essa tem sido a minha experiência. O dhikr é uma parte essencial da vida de um muçulmano. É mais do que o tasbeeh e dizer bismillah antes de comer. O dhikr é lembrar de Allah em todo momento. Mesmo quando estamos à procura de um entretenimento, faz bem trazer a lembrança de Allah a esses momentos também. Então, hoje eu coloquei a minha playlist Islâmica pra tocar. Isso não significa que eu vá deixar o samba, chorinho, e as músicas clássicas de lado. Mas, eu tenho que criar tempo para ouvir mais masheeds, recitações do Alcorão, e khutbahs, inshallah.

Doctor King Was a Radical

It would serve us all well to remember that in his day, the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King was labeled a radical and an extremist. He was an “agitator,” a “negro” who didn’t know his place. He broke unjust laws and stared down injustice and evil. He was stubborn. He was hated. Everyone around him told him to be more patient, more calm, to work with less urgency. And because he wisely refused, he went to jail 29 times! Twenty nine! He was a criminal in his day. Today is when we white people post our nice little tributes with out of context palatable excerpts to soothe our consciences and make us feel less responsible. Instead, we should reflect on his radical love. A love that didn’t sit quietly and pat the millions of suffering Black People on their arms and urge patience. It was a love that took to the streets. That prayed. That organized and marched and went to jail and forwent its own peace for the future peace of others. And guess what? Doctor King was murdered precisely because of his insistence in cold blood at 39 years of age. He left behind a wife and children. He died because, at the end of the day, he was merely another black man who had to be made an example to intimidate others into complacent and fearful silence. He did not live to a ripe old age. He did not spend his final years in a rocking chair marveling at the post racial paradise we too often pretend we lived in. He died in the heat of a spiritual battle for the heart and soul of a nation. This was Doctor King. He had a dream, yes. But he didn’t awake from the dream and pretend that all was well. He fought and died for that dream. He opened a festering wound in our national body that had to be lanced. It seems that we have yet to finish that unpleasant but vital task.

Silencing Society’s “Others”

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Today I sat down with my husband and recorded a simple YouTube video (for those who don’t know, we regularly make YouTube videos for thousands of viewers) about prejudice against minorities in the United States. It was a respectful video, with no vulgarities, nationalism, or unkindness – more than we can say for what comes out of some politicians’ mouths these days. And guess what? As we were uploading the video tonight, YouTube told us that this video is “inappropriate” for advertisers – meaning, we’re not going to be allowed to have commercials on the video and our only income will be reduced because we won’t be allowed to earn money from our hard work.

Not only that – because a monetized video (i.e. a video in which there are commercials) are a partnership between YouTube and the content creator, when a video is monetized both the creator and YouTube itself make money. So when a video can’t be or isn’t monetized, YouTube doesn’t make money… and therefore has no motivation to suggest the video to viewers. In other words, because advertisers don’t want to be associated with Muslims, our video that is a very important discussion about exactly this sort of prejudice won’t be delivered to people who want to watch it – or for that matter, to those who don’t care enough to want to.

This isn’t the first time though. Every time we post a video in which we mention Islam, Muslim identity, or prejudice, this happens. Consistently. It even happens on other videos that we post – and this is truly a problem unique to Muslims and a few other minority groups who are vocal about owning their uniqueness. This is unacceptable. I’m telling you this to say that society disdains Muslim-ness and other forms of “different-ness” to such an extent that advertisers have made clear to a supposedly inclusive platform like YouTube that they do not want to be associated with us at all – and what’s worse is that YouTube bent to their wishes. Because, money.

When we collectively silence minority voices, especially minority voices that stand out and don’t act like they’re not minorities, we are collectively allowing minorities to be “other-ized”; that is, turned into something that seems so foreign to the majority that we become entirely dehumanized. And when we are dehumanized, we become devoid of the right to live the same life that majorities live. We stop being one of the collective “us”, and instead are perceived as the ever-distant yet somehow simultaneously ever-creeping-closer “them”. We are perceived as a menace and undeserving of the simple benefit of the doubt afforded to majorities.

This in turn can and often does lead to external weaponization of minority identities. For example, young black men are generally (and I must say, wrongly) perceived as inherently more violent, dangerous, and criminal than their white counterparts. This, because black skin is weaponized by popular culture; that is to say, people see it as a danger in and of itself. So it follows that those inhabiting such skin are dangerous too. And of course, dangers must be… eliminated. Which is exactly what society is doing by killing off or failing to nurture black children. The same logic can be applied to every minority. And how does this whole grotesque process begin? By putting proverbial duct tape over our proverbial mouths.

Advice for Those in a Crisis of Faith

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Peace be upon you all ✌🏻

This week someone asked me for advice about how to find their spiritual path, knowing that I had struggled greatly to find mine. I’d like to offer this advice to all of you. It will be based on my personal experiences, and therefore I cannot promise that my advice will be perfect.

When my doubts first began, I shoved them down out of sheer terror of not knowing. What if everything I believed was… wrong? What if the things on which I was basing my eternal destination were… irrelevant? These “what ifs” were scary, so I ran away and buried myself in every possible occupation. Why am I telling you this? Because I want you to know what not to do. Don’t ignore your feelings! Begin a journal and write down what you wonder about. Then pray. Pray and ask whatever Higher Power there is – and yes you can phrase it that way – to show you what’re the answers to your questions.

The other thing I did at first was not research. This was part of ignoring my feelings. I thought if I immersed myself in the doctrine that I thought was the only safe one, I’d one day wake up without doubts and it would all would finally click in my soul. Of course that didn’t work. So what I finally did – and this is what you should consider doing if you want to avoid a lot of heartache – is research. Read the scriptures of numerous religions. Try out different ways of praying. Decide what, if anything, in different religions, resonates with you deep down inside. When you read the Bible or Quran, for example, does sow,thing you read feel like Truth with a capital T to you? Do some things just feel wrong? When you find these things, write them down in your journal. As time goes on, refer back. As you read more religious texts and books about religion, you’ll eventually come across something that matches what you’ve written down that resonates with you and that doesn’t have aspects that feel inherently and deeply wrong to you.

I also recommend that you visit different houses of worship and attend services therein. Along with that, talk with members of different faiths. Let them show you what is beautiful about their traditions. As you do this you may see that in your eyes a certain faith makes its followers kinder, more spiritual, and better people in general. They may also be able to show you doctrines carried out in real life that, when you read about them, didn’t seem that important but which in real life hold great meaning.

Don’t forget to pray. A lot. Simply speak to God in whatever way feels comfortable to you. Tell him your thoughts, your fears, your beliefs, your doubts. Be honest and open. I personally had a lot of anger towards God. When I finally opened up to Him, I was transformed. God is infinitely big enough to handle your finite feelings. He can take it. So don’t be afraid to say just what you think and feel. Tell Him you’re angry! Tell Him you’re confused! Tell Him you don’t have a clue, or that you’re proud, or that you’re afraid! Tell Him everything. Trust me, doing so consistently changes everything.

You also must be patient. With yourself, with God, with the process, and with those around you. Patience was something I needed to learn and and area in which I improved due to my crisis of faith. Patience will sustain. You’ll go bonkers without it! Really. Be patient with yourself because you’ll have moments in which you’ll feel like you’re a jerk and an idiot, and like you’re the slowest person to ever try to find faith. Be patient with God because He has His own perfect timing for revealing Himself. So don’t rush Him. He knows best. Be patient with the process, because it may well be long and arduous. If you’re patient, you’ll learn to actually enjoy the journey! “Happiness is a journey, not a destination.” Cliche but very true.

Finally, be patient with those around you, especially those closest to you. They will feel bewildered, left out, and frightened by your changes. That’s their right. Be patient with them as they learn to accept you. That’s good advice for a lot of things really! They may become angry. As long as they’re not abusing you in some way, allow them healthy anger. The anger will pass. Be supportive of them, but also insist on following through on your journey. Don’t let them discourage you.

As you come into faith and knowledge, whatever you do, don’t become arrogant. A sheikh I know once coined the term convertitis. By that he, meant that terrible sense of I-am-oh-so-wise-and-you-aren’t arrogance that often comes over the newly religious. Avoid that. If you succumb, check yourself, repent to God and those around you, and be more humble than ever. True faith should make you more humble and loving, not an unbearable know-it-all jerk! You’ll drive dear, good people away from you if you become arrogant. Remember, any wisdom we have comes from the Source of all True Wisdom. So be confident, but not proud. The Prophet Mohammed taught us that “He who doesn’t have kindness, doesn’t have faith,” (paraphrasing.)

Finally, never ever lose sight of God’s infinite love and forgiveness. If we the finite are capable of deep love – and we are indeed – imagine how much more infinitely loving and kind God must be! The Quran says that God says, “My Mercy encompasses all things,” (7:153). When you are overwhelmed by your shortcomings and doubts, fall back on His love. God. Loves. You. Really!

And with that, I close. Thank you for reading. If you liked this post, do share! Don’t forget, you can reach me in the comments below or on my Facebook page. Salaam ✌🏻

What Non-Minorities Can Do to Help Minorities

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Peace everyone ✌🏻

Well, the dust from Charlottesville hasn’t completely settled. Charlottesville shocked the nation and the world. It left minorities reeling. I personally spent about three or four days basically in mourning. I cried a lot, that’s for sure. I worried a fair bit too. But now I just want to fight Nazis haha. I imagine many of you feel the same way, and some of you have a lot of privilege and can really make quite a difference. So here are some tips as to how to support us – us being, Muslims, Jews, other non Christians, People of Color, immigrants (especially non white and non English speaking ones), the LGBT community, and the disabled.

  1. Educate yourself. We minorities – this especially goes for POCs, Jews, and Muslims – are often very misunderstood and end up spending a lot of our time educating white native born US Christians about our faith, race, or culture. We’re constantly having to explain something. Now, this is usually fine with us when the questioner is sincere and actually listens to our answers. But too often the questions are more accusations than inquiries and no matter how we answer, we’ll always be guilty until proven innocent. Cue you! As a person of privilege who looks, talks, and dresses like our accusers you can educated yourself about our communities so that you can be equipped to educate others who won’t listen to us but who may well listen to you. And that brings me to my next point.
  2. Educate others. Like I said we’re often forced to be in full self-defense mode. This is emotionally, mentally, and spiritually draining. But if people don’t know us and if we aren’t defended, people like the Charlottesville Nazis can and often will physically or otherwise harm us. So try to take some of the burden off of us. Once you know the basics of who Muslims are, for example, or a bit about the suffering of POCs, you can pass this knowledge along to your privileged friends who act deaf and dumb around us. This may at least plant seeds of knowledge, respect, and humanity in otherwise closed minds.
  3. Have uncomfortable conversations. This is closely tied to #2. Educating others is never easy or comfortable if those being educated are blinded, intentionally or not, by racism, xenophobia, or something similar. With some people there simply won’t be a moment wherein they say, “Hey can you educate me on minorities’ struggles for liberation?”. It isn’t going to happen! So you need to initiate such conversations by calling people out on their prejudice whenever it surfaces.
  4. Use your voice and platforms. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard white Christian people say to me that they don’t like to make political or social statements on their social media profiles. So they post baby and dinner photos and gym selfies, but they never once say “Nazism isn’t ok.” Guess what? If you’re not willing to speak up, Nazis and other racists will win. You will be complicit in violence against us. Your silence tells us that we’re alone, and tells racists that nobody minds what they do or say. “But I only have one hundred Facebook friends,” you say. That’s one hundred people in who’s minds you can plant seeds of love and compassion. If everyone spoke out and up to one hundred people, the world would be entirely different. You can make a difference. But you won’t if you don’t try.
  • Take care of yourself. Don’t let yourself burn out. Take social media breaks. Take a hot bubble bath. Have a good cup of coffee. Don’t wear yourself out. But once you’ve recharged your batteries, don’t throw in the towel. Pick yourself up and continue fighting the good fight. This is something I’ve had to learn. Self care is important. This is especially true for members of a minority who are trying to be allies to members of other minorities. We’re already coping with thousands of people wanting to carry out a genocide against us. This situation is like being in a crashing airplane. We have to put on our own oxygen masks before we can help those around us.

These are my top tips for helping us. Let me know what you’re doing to defend those in the line of fire at the moment. You can reach me in the comments below or on my Facebook page. Thank you!

Peace ✌🏻