Posts from November 2015

No more Muslim identity: Being a personal Muslim

November 30, 2015

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I’ve been finding it very hard of late to be Muslim and even harder to be Sufi. Not Muslim in a political or ostentatious way, living in Jordan my visible Muslim identity is no concern of mine. Being here in Jordan I don’t worry about being a visible Muslim. I don’t worry about how I should present myself to the world. I don’t worry about, in any concrete way, the relationship between Muslims and non Muslims. All of those, in many ways, superficial ideas are stripped away and the only kind of Muslim identity I have to deal with is the only one that counts, a faith based one.

There is no concern about how to present myself as a Muslim woman because that has been decided for me, there is no concern about relating to non Muslims or Islamophobia because we are almost 100% muslims and we are the ones in power. So what is left? What’s left, all that’s left, is the kind of person I am when I’m in my apartment behind closed doors -what do I do on the internet? What do I eat? How much? Am I praying? Making dhikr? Asking forgiveness? With out the superficial personal PR campaign of my Muslim identity how much of a Muslim am I anyway? With only a personal relationship to God to show my faith, do I? Will I? And how am I doing?

Obviously I won’t answer those questions here. And that is a part of the point anyway. Being Muslim is not about how I represent myself to you on this blog or else where on line. It not about anyone or anything but me and God. The saying that has become so common, often among ostantatious wrong doers is “God knows what’s in my heart”. I’ve never understood how anyone could be relieved in that assertion. What a frightening thing to know how little our public persona counts and how much our private deeds, thoughts, and hearts count.

Work like a horse

November 25, 2015

tumblr_nki32t4yat1s781yyo1_1280Once I heard that horses keep going until they literally cannot, i.e. they work until they collapse and die. If you’ve read Animal Farm you may remember Boxer, he was the horse who adopted the motto “I will work harder”. There are so many lessons in that book and so many warnings. But despite his hard work not ostensibly leading to any good I still found myself admiring the character of Boxer, maybe there is value in hard work itself? An athlete, on making his final attempt at climbing a mountain he’d fail to climb many times before, was given this advice by his wife “climb it like the horses”, he finally succeeded to reach the top. Horses don’t quit unless they no longer have the capacity -not fear, not anxiety, but the biological capacity, to keep going. As we go through life can we ask ourselves to keep going? To work for the sake of hard work? To not let our imagination and the limits we set for ourselves keep us from moving forward?

I remember being in grade school and it sometimes shocks me to recall how little we valued hard work, slacking off  always presented itself as the better choice. The cool kids did as little as they could get away with. I regret the attitude I and my fellow classmates had. Maybe if we bothered to work hard in Algebra despite seeing its unimportance maybe we would have at least felt pride in working hard and doing our best.

Boxer may not be the best example because his hard work in the end was betrayed by those who he dedicated his life to. Yet I don’t think hard work is always about the end goal sometimes there is joy in reaching your full potential. But one can only hope in the end we will have something to show for it.

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If you’re interested in picking up this classic: Animal Farm, 50th Anniversary Edition

Let it go

November 24, 2015

tumblr_nw4dwwgRT71rs67bxo1_1280Let what go? All of it. All of the dreams you thought you’d accomplish by now. All of the hope you put in this or that thing, let it go. Sometimes we reach a point in our adult life, look around and ask: What in God’s name happened? And often we don’t have answers for ourselves. How did I end up in Amman, Jordan instead beginning my first year of a doctoral program as I’d planned to do so many years ago? I don’t know, sure, decisions were made but once you hit a certain point in life and take a pause and realize that who you are isn’t who you thought you’d be, what a strange feeling. Reassessments must be made and life goals must be altered. But this is a point in which life crises are very possible, because we don’t know how to let it go. Or maybe because we won’t give ourselves permission to do so. We think the dreams of our younger self should be held on to, tight, and we find it hard to disappoint them. As if in our mind, there she is, standing there hoping you’ll make her proud. But you can’t be bound to that past self forever even if you’ve made mistakes that would disappoint, they are your mistakes, your life, renewing itself again and again each second. We must give ourselves permission to let go, discover new dreams and create new goals.

Living without the “white gaze”

November 23, 2015

My parents never told me I had to “work twice as hard as white people to be half as successful” and I’m glad they didn’t. We grew up in a black working class neighborhood yet my siblings and I have gone all around the world and back not because we had a ton of money rather because our parents never said we couldn’t. They didn’t make our blackness or our working class background or our faith a limit. They didn’t push us away from our dreams nor tell us to be practical.

“Do something you enjoy and make money” that was their most straightforward advice. But their love and there willingness to dream with us, support us with kindness and finance our dreams when possible. Not because they were or are wealthy but because they believed in our ability. Racism is a real societal reality but do your children a favor and raise them without privileging the “white gaze” as Toni Morrison so brilliantly put it. Support your children’s dreams in preference for practicality. Give them balance but support them in every way possible. People have sometimes asked me how my sisters and I are so “successful” and I can say my parents supporting even our most impractical dreams is a huge part of it. And which of the blessing of your Lord would you deny?

Sleep well

November 18, 2015

One thing I’ve never done quite well is sleep. Not that I don’t sleep, I probably sleep too much, but not well. I’ve been told that the best sleep is sleep before 11pm. So it doesn’t exactly surprise me that my habit to sleep around 1am doesn’t exactly work. I wake up late or sometimes early depending on the tasks of the day but I’m never well rested. Maybe this is something I ought to work on, is it too cliche to say I’ll start on Monday?

Commentary on work vs home

November 17, 2015

tumblr_m9fi3fUZ4H1r7v8w6o1_540“I would argue that, if anything, the fact that she raised five children and devoted her life to providing them with a safe, secure, balanced family life is a tribute to her.  She has contributed greatly to society by creating self-sufficient, independent children who are self-reliant and, hopefully, good and decent folk.” Link

This argument has been my battle cry since I was a kid though it’s more of a whimper now -women should “stay” at home. In Islam women are not obligated to work to financially maintain themselves or anyone else -no it doesn’t matter if she’s a widow, unmarried, young or old, she is always under the care of the men in society. Of course we know this is not always followed but this is a part of the Islamic tradition. When women dare desire to be a stay at home wife we’re often met with retorts of how impractical that is these days. Polygamy in the west is just as impractical but you’ll find few Muslim men berate the institution. In my former blog I wrote quite a bit about this topic and was always very clear about my views on women working which have been negative for some time. But the truth is that the argument is unnecessarily polarized.

There’s no way I’d finish my degree in psychology at my current masters level or at the doctorate level then proceed to get married have kids and never use those skills I worked so hard to obtain. The question is not really and either or but a how, when and what. In no uncertain terms I believe as per my faith and my personal conviction a women should never be forced to work to provide income to her family that is her husbands’ responsibility. To think otherwise is to degrade the institution of marriage, family and femininity. To say that the women should work also is to imply that if she stays at home she’s not working, lazy and needs to be an adult get a job and contribute. But women in the home do contribute, they are responsible for the running of a household, for looking after others, and creating an environment of solace and peace for their spouse and children. Would anyone think a women running a small business is lazy? Yet a stay at home mom does equal if not more than a CEO of a small business so how is her work devalued? She not only runs the household management but cooks, cleans, decorates, plays conflict resolution and ensures the well being of those in her household, yet somehow this deserves no credit?

So women work, women will always work no matter the setting and whether or not there is monetary gain. But I think it’s important to note that not working a 9-5 does not mean not working in any way to for monetary gain. Though I desire to primarily stay at home when/if I get married and have children I also plan to work in some way all my life. In the beginning of a marriage I imagine having a job as a part time professor, writing, teaching various Islamic studies, and continuing to explore the world of online business. If there are young children I’d stop working outside the home to primarily be at home with them, teaching would stop but maybe I’d have some online classes, I’d still be writing, online business would hopefully keep going. To keep within the psychology field I probably attend monthly lectures to be in the loop and maybe do a speaking engagement here and there. When the kids got older if they were in school I could resume some teaching outside the home assuming they may have there own classes to attend or could sit down and be still while I taught. When they’re much older I’d be free to work outside the home if I choose though flexible time would remain important, etc., etc. The point is working or staying at home aren’t really at complete odds. Women with degrees shouldn’t throw it all away if they can avoid it but they also shouldn’t feel pressure to dive in an ignore the call of domesticity, wifehood and motherhood.

In reality I think we should all work more flexible hours both men and women. There is so much life to live, so much to explore, and when you have little people around why resist the urge to give them the best you can, they’re only young once. Though I promote, support and believe in men as bread winners and women primarily as domestic engineers in reality it is both women and men who have forgotten the importance and primacy of the family. We’ve all left the home to financially support it but who is supporting the spirit of the home? If both men and women are working 9-5, watching 3 hours of TV a day while Jimbob’s (naturally your kid’s name) is on the computer, the answer is simply ‘no one’ how is that a decent trade off for a few more bucks?

Eating Meat

November 16, 2015

Hens_and_Rooster-2There’s no denying that in Islam meat eating is permissible there are in fact occasions when eating meat is highly encouraged and others where killing animals is a necessity. In short we have the undeniable right to kill some animals and eat them.

This does not mean that the purpose of animals is to be slaughtered and cooked for dinner. Animals, when alive, have rights and lives similar in dignity to our own. In Islam it is strictly forbidden to hunt for sport. You cannot terrorize an animal for your own enjoyment. When the prophet, peace to him, was alive he encouraged people not to overburden their working animals, even in killing an animal for food their was dignity -you don’t show them the knife, you cut the throat which is least painful, you give them a last drink of water, you sharpen your blade and you make it as quick and as swift as possible.

Why do we have animals locked in caged all their lives? Isn’t it enough of a priveledge that we eat them why must we make their lives akin to slavery from birth to death? Animals have a right to a dignified life, they have the right to live and enjoy themselves they were not created to be our slaves. And when the time comes that we are to slaughter them for food we treat them with dignity until the very end. The right and priveledge to use animals for good and as our helpers does not make us their masters God is their master and harming them will not go unnoticed.

Slowing down fast fashion

November 11, 2015

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This coat is 56% cotton, 44% virgin wool and made in the USA. Classic, chic and timeless and presumably long-lasting, it’s the kind of coat I’d buy, it costs $3,950. The sticker shock took me back for a moment, $3,950… so if I had a full-time job -which I don’t, paying $12 an hour (though I have a Master’s degree so here’s hoping I’d be making a bit more when I do get a job) and saved half of each weekly paycheck towards getting this coat I would be able to buy said coat in 4 1/2 months, interesting. As cringe worthy as such a feat would’ve seemed to me in the past I now look at that figure and think, not bad. Four months after all is a bit more than a season and do we really need to buy new clothes more than seasonally? In reality I would probably look for a similar less expensive coat -this coat is also name brand from The Row, maybe a place like Everlane would have a less expensive version.

But in potentially buying a coat like this I’d be buying in to one system and turning my back on another. What this coat or a coat from Everlane or Hackwith Design House and a myriad of new emerging brands have in common is ethics and quality. They’re not making high volumes of throw away clothes, they’re being transparent about their factories and they’re making clothing out of natural long-lasting materials.

When we buy cheap inexpensive clothes what are we actually buying and supporting? One of our teachers told us there is a certain degree of zuhud (minimalism) we need to have a liberated heart. So how liberated can our hearts be when the average American buys 67 items of clothing per year that’s an average of one new item of clothing every single day and on some days two? We shop whenever we want, we shop for enjoyment, we shop for fun, we shop to fill a void, we shop because we’re bored. And we pay for it slowly (detriment to our environment of over consumption) but others pay immediately. Your cheap clothes -our cheap clothes, are made by near- slave labourers. People -including children, are paid pennies for a days work, perform their labour in unimaginable circumstances and give their life to a company that wouldn’t dream of giving them the things we as Americans take for granted -like sick leave and health care. And the clothes themselves aren’t in reality cheap, if it takes $.01 to make and they’re selling it for $15 we’re in reality we’re being ripped off. And let’s be honest with ourselves -we don’t need 67 new clothing items a year!

There’s Hadith (saying of the Prophet Muhammad, peace to him) that haunts me because it seems almost unescapable without great effort in our times to not fall in to this damned state:

“God the Almighty is good and accepts only that which is good. And verily God has commanded the believers to do that which He has commanded the Messengers. So the Almighty has said: “O (you) Messengers! Eat of the tayyibat (good things), and perform righteous deeds” [23:51] and the Almighty has said: “O you who believe! Eat of the lawful things that We have provided you” [2:172]. Then he (peace be upon him) mentioned a man who, having journeyed far, is dishevelled and dusty, and who spreads out his hands to the sky saying, “O Lord! O Lord!” while his food is indecent (haram, lit. impermissible in Islamic law), his drink is indecent, his clothing is indecent, and he has been nourished with an indecent nourishment, so how can [his supplication] be answered?”

It is incredibly difficult in our times to not be in the state of this man, the animals we eat are abused and drugged, the workers are underpaid and taken advantage of by big companies, the same is true for our clothes. But as we gain more insight in to the clothing and food industry (Food Inc and Forks Over Knives are two good docs about food) we can’t continue to pretend we don’t know. When we buy an OMG! $15 shirt we are buying in to an unjust system. May God help us.

 

Ode to ‘students of knowledge

November 10, 2015

12191797_10153355975618577_4962266200334282277_nNote: The term ‘student of knowledge’ in the Islamic tradition means someone who studies Islamic knowledge specifically in a traditional manner of studying from teachers who have a senate back to the prophet, peace to him, so independent study -though valuable, wouldn’t count and is not including in this ode. I wrote this “off the cuff”, the words just came to me though the sentiment has been with me for a long time. Students of knowledge are extremely valuable to our ummah (Muslim community), the advent of google can’t ever replace that and it’s important for us to value and encourage anyone on the path of knowledge but especially those who take great stride -through travel, finance, time, and personal comfort, to preserve our tradition.

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AN ODE TO THE STUDENT OF KNOWLEDGE:

Oh how I praise the student of knowledge
Weak knees and cramped legs
Sitting at his teachers’ feet
Writing every word possible to preserve those gems
Kissing the hands of those who gave him
A light by which to see
Air by which to breathe

Oh how I praise the student of knowledge
His pace is fast
His stomach is light
His hours at night
Are too few to count

He’ll catch the red eye
And spend his last bits of money
For bits of knowledge
He knows that google and books -not even recordings
Can replace those living with our tradition in their souls

Oh how I praise the student of knowledge
So far away from home
So overwhelmed
And under-appreciated
All the fools who will argue with you
Overlooking the pain that you went through
To preserve a light that is passed from heart to heart

Oh how I praise the student of knowledge
Huddled up in cramped homes
Attempting to speak with the locals
Eating strange food
And hiding the tears of home sickness

They are the unsung heroes of our ummah
They are deserving of our praise

The End of Fast Fashion

November 9, 2015

Watch this and make an effort to live more consciously.

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