Walking With Diamonds

My family and I, we don’t have to be subjected to the reactive anti Muslim hatred boiling up.

I could easily take off my scarf and blend right in. My husband could easily shave his beard and go unnoticed.

But we don’t. And, by God’s Mercy, we never will.

We stand tall and walk with confidence. The way you would if you knew you had the earth’s largest diamond, or the next world changing invention, or a bank account with a few billion dollars.

Because, the Islam we’ve been given is better than every last bit of good the world has to offer all together.

It’s why we are here… And this struggle?

People before us went through worse.

When you see us I want you to wonder… Wonder and ask yourself what is so good about Islam that we stand up tall with confidence and a smile, even when the whole world seems to be against us.

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Allahu Akbar. Even in the Grocery Store.

My children are in the habit of saying “Allahu Akbar”.

Yeah, you’ve heard that before right?

“Allahu Akbar!”

Now, imagine being a Muslim woman walking through the busy aisles of a big box store, while your children repeatedly exclaim  “Allahu Akbar!!!”
It makes me mad.

I’m mad that I feel embarrassed and nervous when they gleefully bust out “Allahu Akbar!” In public.

I am upset, because I am aware that this beautiful statement has come to be reminiscent of the brutish, heartless murderers killing with impunity, who stole it.

Who yell these prescious words while committing crimes against the creation and law of the One they are supposed to be venerating with those very words.

Allahu Akbar.

It means “God is the Greatest”.

It means He is Supreme. His power, praiseworthiness are beyond compare.

He is the epitome of Greatness.
We say it throughout our prayers, reminding ourselves that nothing supersedes Him, there is nothing more important, more deserving of our gratitude and praise, and that He is the one to whom everything will ultimately return. The One who we will stand before one day, humbled and powerless.

It helps remove arrogance.

It is a reminder of the fact that we haven’t accomplished anything without His will. Our bodies and sustenance were all His before they were ever ours.

It helps remove despair.

It is a reminder that no matter how difficult a difficulty in life might seem, it is minute in comparison to His Mercy and the comfort of knowing Him. A reminder that obstacles are easy for Him to remove, for He has complete power over all things.

When my children say this, It makes me happy and hopeful.

Happy that the recognition of their Maker has begun to take seat in their little hearts. Hopeful that this thikr – this remembrance will persist throughout their lives. That they will absorb and embody the meaning of this simple, yet powerful statement.

That it will help to guide them to the high road of life’s journey.

I dream of a day where these words will cease to be misused. Where they will no longer arouse suspicion and discomfort in the people around us.

What Would You Do?

You wake up startled and find yourself on an airplane. The rest of the seats are empty.

Leaning over to the window, you see impassive clouds hovering over a sparkling sea miles below.You don’t know how you got into the plane and you have no idea where you are going or why.

What would you do next?

Sit back, relax and enjoy the ride, or search for answers?

In this context, I suspect most would agree that it would be abnormal to just sit back and enjoy the ride, unaware of how you wound up a passenger on an empty plane and where the plane is headed.

If confronted with the above hypothetical situation, most people would probably get up, walk around and look for some sort of message or clue as to how they ended up on the plane and why. Many would not rest until finding some kind of answers.

Yet, how many people don’t ever stop to think about why they are here, living on Earth, and where they are going? How many people reach old age without ever having asked the question, “What is the purpose of life?” and without ever having found the clear, undoubtable answer to that question?

How can we sit back and enjoy the ride when we didn’t put ourselves here? How can we relax, not knowing our final destination?

Virtually everything around us has a purpose. When we see intricate gadgets or lofty buildings we effortlessly understand that those objects did not spontaneously come into being on their own. If we find a watch or a smartphone lying on the ground, we would scoff at the notion that it automatically materialized from nothing.

When we observe the detail and function within our bodies and consider mankind’s inventive abilities, it is natural to conclude that there is a creative force behind our existence.

If we are in fact confident that there is a cause for our existence, the next natural questions are who or what? and why?.

Back in 1998,  after careful exploration, consideration and introspection, I abruptly arrived at the conclusion that there must be some force – some originator of the astonishing wonders of the Earth – of humanity and human ingenuity.  I also suddenly felt an innate inclination to communicate with that force as I sat staring out at the deep night sky. So, I spoke, silently and from my heart.  I asked to know. I asked to understand. I was admitting my complete vulnerability and need in that moment. I was also willing to surrender to whatever it was, knowing its greatness, knowledge and abilities must be, by necessity, beyond compare.

After listening to countless stories related by people who’ve found and accepted Islam as their way of life, it has become apparent to me that almost all of our unexpected journeys to Islam began with an instance where we implored the Originator, sincerely wanting to know and understand.

Collectively, we are riding the vehicle of time; moving forward whether or not we like it. We have virtually no control over time’s passing, over our growth and our eventual deterioration, or whether or not our lives are cut short before we reach old age. Our journeys’ lengths are unknown to us.

By acknowledging this, it is similar to the parable I presented at the outset, and the most rational course of action is to pursue knowledge of the inherent purpose for which we have been made, and then to strive to fulfill it successfully.

It’s the difference between leaving our vehicle on autopilot, or taking control of our direction and safe arrival at our ultimate destination.

Why My Halloween is Different.

My goal is to present the familiarity of Islam to my fellow Americans, but some instances require highlighting differences.

In Islam, we are taught to think and to research. We are told to make our decisions based on careful consideration, and to always seek the best path in all matters.

The people we should aspire to be are the ones mentioned in the Quran:

“Those who remember God, standing, sitting, and lying down on their sides, and think deeply about the creation of the heavens and the earth…..” (Quran 3:191)

And when we act it should be with knowledge:

“And do not follow that of which you have no knowledge. Indeed, the hearing, the sight and the heart – about all those [one] will be questioned.” (Quran 17:36)

So, when we are presented with a recurring celebration,  such as Halloween, it is a good idea to take a deeper look at it before jumping on the bandwagon.

What I find when I research the origins and history of Halloween*, is that its foundations are not in line with what I am striving for in this life. I don’t see how it will help me get any closer to my Maker, or fulfill the purpose for which we were created.

While one may argue, “it’s just for fun”, “it’s not really based on any meaning anymore, “there’s no harm in it” – For me, those are not strong enough arguments. I could argue back, saying that I am not doing any harm by not celebrating it or partaking in it, either.

Although it may not be practiced with the intentions and meanings it once held, there are still practices which do not fit well with my way of life, such as begging (trick or treat) and making fun of the dead and death (think mummies and ghouls – lawns “adorned” with bloody heads and skeletons).

My children are free to play dress up and eat candy now and then, but they don’t need to on a day that is based on a conglomeration of pagan rituals and superstitions.

In my very sincere opinion, I am deeply saddened for the Muslims in our day, who have departed from the path of thinking and learning and who have embarked upon the path of blindly following others by celebrating Halloween and in many other matters. We have been urged to be careful of whose footsteps we walk in:

“…do not exceed limits in your religion beyond the truth and do not follow the inclinations of a people who had gone astray before; who misled many and have strayed from the sound path.” (Quran 5:77)

Islam provides me a sweetness sweeter than a million nights of candy: The sweetness of faith, the sweetness of knowing where we come from, where we are going – The sweetness of following the generous guidance of the Owner of all things and His help. I’m so  grateful for that and I seek God’s protection from ever passing it up for a momentary thrill or to “fit in”.

*You can learn more here: http://www.history.com/topics/halloween/history-of-halloween

World History, Re-Written

Some people are getting very upset over a chapter in a Florida world history book, dedicated to the history of Muslim civilization. Within the chapter, the religion that altered the landscape during that time period, fundamentally changing the social structures, is described in detail.

Some of these people claim they are upset merely because the book does not also teach other religions in such detail, but I suspect the vast majority of them are really upset because, in their minds they have an embedded bias against Islam. 

If you take a look at the contents you will see that there is in fact a section dedicated to the rise of Christianity and also many civilizations that were Christian, such as Byzantium. Below, I highlighted two chapters:

world history textbook contents

I want to allow everyone to test whether or not they have a bias, so I have taken the text from the workbook associated with the textbook, and translated all the Arabic words. I’m not defending the book itself, I actually found certain claims to be incorrect. I have edited those as well. Let me know if you still find this offensive:

The religion of “Surrender to God”, whose followers are called “Those Who Surrender to God”, emerged in a desert central to many continental trade routes. There, in A.D. 570, A man was born, whose name means “praised”. He was born in a trading and religious center. The prevailing religion of that region at the time was the worship of more than 300 idols carved from stone and wood, housed in his city.  

This man worked among nomadic herders. Later, he became a successful merchant and accepted the marriage proposal of the owner of his trade company, a 40 year old, well respected and beautiful woman, when he was 25. He was known for his honesty in business and devotion to his wife and their four daughters. He often meditated on the moral ills of his society, including greed. According to tradition, he became a prophet at 40 when he was asked by an angel to become God’s messenger. When he began teaching, a few listened, but others opposed him with threats and persecution. In 622, he and his followers fled their home for another town who welcomed them, on a journey called the migration. In this new city, thousands adopted “Surrender to God” as their way of life and formed strong, peaceful communities. When the leaders they had fled from, grew more hostile and came to their peaceful city militarily equipped for war, the young city of “Those Who Surrender to God” defeated them in battle. The prophet returned to his home town in 630, and declared forgiveness and freedom for the people who had previously oppressed, tortured him and killed many of his followers. He died in 632. The sacred text of “Surrender to God” is called “the Recitation”, believed to be the direct word of God as told to the prophet. All people who Surrender to God and believe in this prophet study it to learn about God’s will and living a good life.

They believe that priests are not necessary to mediate between people and God. They pray in congregation five times every day. They follow the Five Pillars of Surrender to God, which are the following duties: 1. declaring faith (That there is nothing worthy of worship except God and belief in all God’s prophets such as Noah, Abraham, Jesus and the last one, whose name means “Praised”, 2. praying five times daily, 3. giving charity to the poor, 4. fasting during their holy month, and 5. making the pilgrimage to the prophet’s city where the first house of worship to God was built by Abraham, if a person is able.

Because Jews and Christians worship the same God and study what are considered God’s earlier revelations, “Those Who Surrender to God” call them “People of the Book.” In most cases, they have been allowed religious freedom in societies ruled by “Those Who Surrender to God”.

The “Path to Water” is a body of laws that interprets the Recitation and applies religious principles to legal situations. According to the Recitation, women are spiritually equal to men. Infanticide, which the people previously committed, killing female babies out of shame, was treated as a heinous crime and the prophet taught his followers that the best of them were the ones who treated women best with kindness.

That is the actual text I have edited to reflect the meanings of the Arabic words originally included. Do you think if all the words had been translated in the textbook, or if it had been a different religion that changed the fabric of a region so dramatically, that so many people would be outraged and protesting as they have been when they see the words Islam and Muslims? Let me know what you think.

Take a look at the book for yourself, here: http://www.phschool.com/webcodes10/index.cfm?wcprefix=nak&wcsuffix=9995&area=view

What the Hate Rallies Against Islam Mean To Me

“Mom!” My kids were bursting at the seams, impatient to tell me the news when I picked them up yesterday. “School’s closed tomorrow because people might be coming with guns! The teachers said they only want to scare us, but it’s because they don’t like Islam or something!” Their faces incredulous, eyes bulging. I had to stop the flurry of curious questions and worries flying through the car, with the assurance that I would explain everything.

I felt a tinge of sadness at the idea that my children have to experience this – their fellow Americans coming to our beloved sanctuaries,  in order to display a livid, venomous kind of hatred for us. I knew at the same time, that opportunities for much good often lie in ominous looking situations.

The concept of people opposing, hating and actively working to destroy Islam, is not new, nor is it shocking. Throughout the Quran we are told of people who opposed Islam, from the people of Noah, to the People of Abraham and Lot, the people of Pharaoh in the time of Moses, and also Jesus was hated such that his people wanted to Murder him and torture him in the most humiliating method of the times. At the time of Muhammad, he and his followers were persecuted in nearly every way possible for many years.

What really doesn’t sit right with me now though, is that these people, this so called “Global Rally for Humanity” doesn’t even seem to know what they are protesting against. Their shirts say F*#@K Islam, yet when they speak, they don’t even seem to know what Islam is…

Their contradictions are too plentiful to list but to highlight the most apparent:

  1. The rallies are said to be a response to a march by Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam which is not related to mainstream Islam and defies too many of the texts of Islam to be taken seriously as an Islamic movement (why associate the rest of the American Muslims with Farrakhan, when most don’t even consider the nation of Islam to be within the parameters of Islam?)
  2. The fact that they claim patriotism and the exercising of “constitutional rights” while freedom of religion is part and parcel of our constitutional rights.
  3. The name of their group, claims they are rallying for “humanity” while more than 1.5 billion humans are Muslim and that number is only growing. How can rallying for humanity involve hating nearly a quarter of that humanity?
  4. They cite acts of violence as reasons to oppose Islam and Muslims, yet openly advocate that their supporters bring their weapons as a display of hostility and hopeful provocation. ‘We oppose violence by appearing violent..’ Someone didn’t think that one over too well.

These contradictions are apparent enough to anyone with a will to see objectively. Their ignorance so plentiful, that even my little children feel pity for them. So how are we to deal with these people and the potential harm they present?

My husband wrote an excellent piece directing all Muslims to refer to Islam, as we should in all matters, to learn how to react internally and externally to these rallies of hate. Please check out his advice to the Muslims for some insight on what the shariah says, here: http://www.shakielhumayun.com/rallies-of-hate-at-your-mosque/

So, knowing that we are facing no more than ignorance and bigotry, more than sorrow for myself, or my children, or the rest of the American Muslims, I feel pity for all the hateful people, who hate before knowing. And yet, I feel hopeful for them, because these rallies may bring the protesters closer than they ever have been to actual Muslims, and some of their hearts may be softened at being faced with the humanity and kindness of living, breathing Muslims.

One of Islam’s greatest historical leaders and highly regarded companions of the prophet Muhammad, Umar ibn al-Khattab was similarly intent to rid his land of the “Muslim problem”, yet upon actually interacting intimately with Muslims (his sister had become one) and hearing the Quran, he himself became one of the most devout followers of Muhammad. So, as Muslims we know that potential lies within every human being for change and goodness. As humans we cannot judge what is within anyone’s heart. We can only hope and pray to God to open their eyes and ears and hearts,  even if via events and actions that are apparently malicious.

There are indeed many problems and confusions in our world, but hate is  never the right answer. It’s no solution. These incidents show us the importance of education, both for ourselves and our neighbors.

As American Muslims I know we must do more to express the reality of what Islam is to those around us. This can be an awakening that  strengthens and solidifies our faith and commitment to our communities, and also an awakening for the millions of Americans who truly do not know what Islam is, to find out from the people who study, practice and teach it.

My Husband’s Standard for the Treatment of Women

The owner of the company was a man, maybe in his fifties; white hair, but still youthful. He came over to give us an estimate for some work we need done. He seemed nice enough. He smiled, greeted our children, and appeared to have our best interests in mind.

While we were walking him through the job, his cell phone began ringing.

“Probably my wife.” He said, slightly shaking his head as he silenced the phone.

Within several minutes the phone rang twice more. We assured him we didn’t mind if he answered the call.

“Hello? I’m still on a job estimate.” He paused and listened.

His lips tightened and his voice hardened. “I told you, they’re in the back.” he said, somewhat exasperated.

He wrapped up the call. To me, he had not done anything out of the ordinary. He completed the rest of the estimate kindly and left.

But, as I would learn later, my husband was disturbed by what he witnessed.

In fact, my husband chose another company, in spite of getting the lowest estimate from this man, simply because he didn’t like the way he had spoken to his wife.

My husband grew up in a Muslim family. When he reached college, his interest in Islam and religions intensified. He began studying Islam as well as Christianity and comparative religion. After completing his bachelor’s, he travelled overseas to study Islam and the Arabic language. While away, he benefitted from many scholars of Islam. Upon returning, he has been dedicated to teaching Islam to Muslims, founding several institutions to that end.

His days and nights are usually spent studying, teaching or working for Islam.

He’s also gentle and even tempered.

I often insist on asking him, “Are you mad?” and he always responds, “Do I ever get mad?”

The truth is, my husband implements the teachings of Islam and follows the prophet Muhammad who was asked repeatedly by a man for advice and responded each time simply, “Do not get angry.” (Narrated in Sahih Bukhari)

This is the power of Islam, to overcome even strong emotions such as anger. In fact, as indicated in the advice of the prophet Muhammad above, Islam has the power to prevent those emotions from boiling up in the first place. When it is the guidance for everyday life, the results are beautiful.

I’m so fortunate and grateful to have a companion who is concerned with living in a way pleasing to his Maker, and that my Creator has guided His creation to “Be kind to women.” as explained and emphasised by His last messenger, Muhammad.

For My Dad. My Quiet Hero

I have three sisters. My house was usually overflowing with girlish giggles, chit chat about hair, shoes and even sensitive topics that would make any man writhe in his seat. Our girlfriends would often come to visit, adding to the weight on the feminine side of the scale in our home.

But my father, although often quiet and reserved, didn’t fade into the shadows. His example and support shaped each one of our lives. From the honest integrity with which he ran his business, to his passion for cars, he provided an independent, brave example that was unwilling to compromise on ethics to get ahead.

Some of my fondest memories are the exciting swap meets I enjoyed with him as a child, and watching him restore regal, but dated cars to their original glory in our garage on weekends. I grew to love all the smells of oil and polish, grease, and metal. I loved when he would take me with him on an errand, like a trip to a special parts supplier far away, or to job sites for his business.

In Highschool I wound up the only girl in car care class, where I learned how to change the oil and brakes on my ’87 Monte Carlo. I was proud to hear its small block 305 engine rumbling as I drove it into the high school shop. My Dad’s influence is clear in many of my own passions and aspirations.

He taught me about how to handle turns on a race track and I think of him everytime I take curves on the parkways (even in my minivan). But more than love of cars, hard work and getting dirty, he provided numerous other examples and a special kind of support. My Dad never pushed me to go in any particular direction. Instead he listened, and payed attention to what mattered to me. What I was passionate about. What made me happy. Then, with his quiet demeanor he stepped in to make it happen. He never announced his favors, or reminded me about them. They were always just there. Just right.

Like many fathers, my Dad worked hard (and still does!) for his family. Successfully running his own business, the stress of which I recognize more keenly now. Even with the ups and downs and uncertainty of that difficult endeavor, we were his primary concern, before himself.

He invested so much in my family – in me.

I’m sure when I announced my decision, that I had become Muslim, it couldn’t have been easy for him. But he put my happiness first. He affirmed that I could believe whatever I wanted to.

The stage following my decision to enter Islam was tough for me and my family at times. When I moved back to my parent’s house after a year or so developing as a Muslim away from home, there was inevitably some tension.

I knew my mom felt uncomfortable about me covering my head. It must have been hard, seeing her daughter looking so unlike the girl she had raised.

I was torn between not hurting my mom and wearing a piece of cloth – an identity that had become beloved to me. So, When I would go off to work in the morning, I’d wear the hood on my jacket from the house to the car. Once in my car I would awkwardly struggle to fix my hijab in the rearview mirror. Upon returning home, I would remove my scarf and replace it with my hood once again.

I thought no one knew.

But, my Dad was so aware. He always seemed to somehow know what was going on. One day he approached me and informed me, he had seen what I had been doing.

“You don’t have to do that.” He gently told me.

He assured me I didn’t have to hide my hijab. I saw the compassion in his eyes.

Though all my family has gradually become somewhat more comfortable with my Muslim identity and my choice  to cover more of my body, my Dad has perhaps shown the most support. Warning me when a Man is coming over or at the door and making sure I am dressed before he allows them in.

When he met my then to-be husband, he asked “How are you going to take care of my daughter?”

He held my hand at my marriage. kneeling on the floor in a mosque, he facilitated yet another happiness for me.

That is real love. The kind of love to ponder – that boggles the mind and fills the heart.

I pray I will grow to be a better daughter, to express that same kind of love to my father. To give back a little, even a fraction of what he’s provided me. To make him know that he’s my hero.

dadwedding

My Dad and I, on my wedding day

Father’s Day: The Elephant in the Room

It’s always awkward for me when holidays like Father’s Day roll around.

A special day to celebrate our fathers and let them know how much we care? Sheesh! In Islam, we’re supposed to do that every day!

But…  I don’t. Not adequately at least. In fact, by the standard of Islam, I should be doing a lot more for both my parents.

So, when Father’s Day comes, it’s like an elephant in the room for me.

I want to avoid making something of it because we just don’t participate in extra ritualized “holy” days. At the same time, that huge elephant is crowding my space, reminding me that I don’t show my appreciation for my Dad enough. I suddenly feel so small, so pathetic – and I want to call, but at the same time I want to ignore it. I should have called yesterday, or the day before!  So I put it off and put it off, rehearsing my words each time, until, it becomes late in the evening. I’ll call tomorrow. Rationalizing my hesitation to myself.

So here I am, a day late, or 364 days early depending how you look at it.

The truth is, Islam affords parents very high status. Treating them right, showing them gratitude and mercy is a fundamental part of showing gratefulness to God. In the Quran this is emphasized to the extent that kindness to parents is put directly following the most important pillar of Islam, worshipping God:

“Your Lord has decreed that you worship none but Him, and that you be kind to parents. Whether one or both of them attain old age in your life, say not to them a word of contempt, nor repel them, but address them graciously.” (Quran 17:23)

If nothing else, Father’s day and Mother’s day serve to show me the glaring deficiency in my treatment of my parents. The fact that I know they will feel neglected by me that day only highlights the neglect on every other day, because in fact, every day should serve to honor them, and every day they should feel my love, my appreciation for them – whether by presence, words, actions, or some small token.

These holidays are probably like elephants in the room for my family as well; my absence must be painfully obvious. A heightened awareness of my silence or apparent lack of appreciation may linger in the backs of their minds, unspoken, all day.

The only way to overcome this would be: to be the kind of daughter I should be, the kind God has instructed me to be, on a daily, or at least regular basis, such that when holidays roll around, my family will still know how much they are loved and appreciated – whether I’m there to party with them or not. Even if I happen not to call that day.

Kindness and Forgiveness are Better Than Charity….

I read this verse today and I felt compelled to share it with you. It’s a small example of the way Islam cultivates the individual.

We are told that it is better to speak kind words and to forgive others than it is to “help” them with charity, financial or otherwise, if we are then going to follow it up with reminders of our “favor”, or otherwise harm the person we supposedly “helped”.

In this beautiful verse, God says:

“Kind speech and forgiveness are better than charity followed by injury. And God is Free of need and Forbearing.” (Quran 2:263)

Do you know of anyone who has helped someone out, then after that, never let them forget it?

We as Muslims must be genuine in our actions and we do good, for God’s sake alone. So if we are to help anyone, it should be for the pleasure of God, knowing that He never allows the reward for good to be lost, nor does He allow our sincere deeds go to waste.

In that case, we would never expect even appreciation from those we help, but only appreciation from God Himself. And He has told us here that He is free of need, and lenient and patient. Indicating that it is ridiculous to think He needs us to do acts of charity, rather we do them for the good of our own souls.

We’ve also been instructed in the Quran:

“We feed you for the sake of God alone: no reward do we desire from you, nor thanks.” (Quran 76:9)

This is selfish selflessness. We are doing good, treating others well, spreading kindness and charity with the hope that our Maker will be pleased with us.

That’s what I call a win win situation.

If you read the Quran you will find all kinds of beautiful instructions, the intricacy of which are astounding. Our character is cultivated through these injunctions, especially when coupled with the stories and examples of the prophets present within its pages.

What a blessing.

More Familiar Than You Think

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