Friday, March 30, 2007

Bleachy water

Every year, in March, the people in charge of the water plant stop putting ammonia into the water. That should make the water healthier? Cleaner? Well, the ammonia used to mask the smell of the chlorine which was also used as a disinfectant. Removing the ammonia to use only the chlorine leaves the water smelling... like bleach.Now as Muslims, we pray five times a day and make wudhu before--which involves washing our faces as well. The month is almost over alhamdulillah but it's still irritating to smell the bleach as I wash out my mouth, nose, and put water onto my face. I can't bear to drink it... so I've been paying my dues to Dasani lately.

I've been busy the last two weeks, since I last posted. To start with, I took an Arabic class. An intensive Arabic class. The format was 10 days, 3 hours each night, in grammar. The class aimed to teach the fundamentals of Arabic grammar in order to help in reading Qur'an. The idea is that once we've learned grammar we can aquire vocabulary more easily, and understand how words and sentences are constructed, to observe the linguistic effect of the Arabic in the Qur'an. And that was really amazing. Looking at some verses constructed one way, and others in a different way. In English we really tend to brush over them, but it's easier to tell directly from the Arabic when something is supposed to be emphasized. The course was offered by Br. Nouman Ali Khan from the Bayyinah Institute ( I've already registered for the follow-up seminars; he requires a minimum number of students to sign up, though, to send an instructor, so I'm hoping enough will actually sign up to ensure that this program continues here.
The reason for learning Arabic is ultimately to learn the Qur'an--how to read it, and comprehend it, but also how to listen and comprehend. Naturally, listening is more difficult than reading; it takes more practice anyway. Reading can be self-paced, with the ability to look slowly and carefully at the words. When listening to someone recite, you're at the mercy of his speed and pronunciation. But I'm really happy to say that I have noticed an improvement in my concentration during salah. Just yesterday I went to the masjid for the fajr salat and to my own astonishment was able to understand small bits of what he was saying. Before now there have been some words I could understand but usually I would miss them because they ran together. Now I'm seeing that I can deconstruct it just enough to recognize even more words--enough to even determine from where the imam was reciting (surat al-Iman, btw.) That was a really nice experience.

I have been asked to be interviewed for a local monthly Islamic newspaper, by someone who saw my speech last Saturday... that's new. This Wednesday (and possibly next Wednesday as well inshaAllah) I spoke to the campus police... tough crowd. The issue was "Muslim affairs" and advise for them on interacting with Muslims in their professional capacity. I don't really think they needed it, but apparently someone had suggested to "the chief" some such training. As soon as I arrived I got a little "chat" about not talking politics. Of course, it's standard policy whenever presenting through ING to not discuss politics anyway, and I assured him of that. The problem was that the previous week another speaker had been there, and said something that maybe he shouldn't have. Basically, that when the Soviet Union fell, the USA began to look for another enemy and the Muslims got to be it.

Now, regardless of the validity of that statement (dunno of any of you agree with it or not) it's not a thing to say to such a group as that. A tremendous amount of evidence is required to prove that claim, but in one fell swoop the person to suggest it has insulted the government and Americans. Many police officers are ex-military, in general they are very patriotic and to say something like that without proof (and the proof is not to be found in common circles, trust me, if it even exists) is going to immediately undermine your credibility as a speaker. Unfortunately, that happened. One man listening had said that no matter what the speaker said after that, he wouldn't care, or pay attention. Very dangerous. I guess it was a reminder to be especially careful about what we say in crowds like that. I don't consider this presentation to be one of my strongest at all--it was too short to be very effective and informative so I tried to cover what I thought would help them most. On the other hand, I think I managed to avoid any kind of political judgments or suggestions.

I guess that's enough for now. I've found a few neat sites that inshaAllah I'll be adding to the side part of the page that I hope you can enjoy. :-)

Oh, and about the t-shirt. They were made by the MSA at my school and I don't think they are available for general distribution. Best bet would be to contact them through their website:


Monday, March 19, 2007

The Anti-War Protest

I went. I was there.

I went to Washington DC on March 17 to protest the war at the Pentagon. This photograph really doesn't even begin to do it justice--there were thousands and thousands of people there, marching. We were kind of near the front I think, early to get to the platform. We had gone with a sister who was going to be speaking at the event, early on. So we did the march, listened for a little while, after her speech we hung around but left shortly after--it was a long walk back. And it was cold... and windy. Cold is one thing, the wind is another, and especially over the bridges the wind was frigid.

I never really got into the protest--I think some people just live to do these things, protest the government. Some people were doing a dance around a tree. There were a lot of "hippies." There were some kids in our group (high schoolers) who really got into it. While we were passing some pro-war protesters (they were protesting us... hehe) one of these kids yells out, "Hey look, they're all white!" And well, they were. I went because I love my country and I love what it stands for. People there were pretty radical, or extreme, I guess you could say--they wanted to impeach Bush for war crimes, called Cheney pure evil. I just want the government to start acting responsible in its foreign policy, and to remain accountable to the people of this country. What warmed my heart though, was Sunday morning reading about the protesters around the rest of the world, protesting the war, and another 5-6000 just in California to do the same thing. I hope it made a difference.

They gave me a T-Shirt

On Thursday the MSA asked me one more time to give a speech about my conversion to Islam. They'd asked me twice while planning the event and I declined, feeling my story would be out of place. But when another group cancelled I decided to agree to speak this Sunday, 4 days later.

I mulled over what to say, how to say it. It would be the first time I would present my story to a large audience. I've told it before, definitely, but never in such a public venue. There's so much to say, I wondered what they would appreciate and enjoy. I avoided more personal issues like my family, the fights I got into over hijab (though I did mention both briefly). But I think I did okay. Several people came up afterwards telling me they enjoyed it, that it was good, that it made them cry (WHOOOPS! on my part, that's not the reactions I was going for!) But when I heard that from a few people I was confused at why and it was actually telling them about converting, the actual saying of shahadah.

Because I cried. Everyone I've seen cried. It's hard to be present and not cry, because it's such a moving experience for the person, what is happening at that moment and it just can't be denied. Even though I've acknowledged numerous times I wasn't ready to be Muslim when I converted, I can't ignore the experience that I had when I did.

I also tried at one point to relate the speech to the theme of the evening which was according to this t-shirt "This is your life on Islam." The idea that life can be hectic, confused, misguided, but with Islam it's straight. So I brought that up--everything fell into place when I started praying, when I started practicing my faith. I finally "got it." I said. My troubles didn't disappear but they are balanced with increased faith, increasing faith because I know that God will not leave me with something I cannot handle.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Deceitful information

This post is, I suppose, in a similar vein to the one called 'the danger of know.' Some of you might have watched a show that's just come on the tube called 'Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader?' Basically, it's a trivia show with supposedly grade school questions, and the contestant (an adult) has to answer them. There is also a team of 5th-graders on set answering the questions as well, one right beside the contestant. He has the option of peeking and cheating off the 5th-grader's answers. The questions aren't too hard, but the host (Jeff Foxworthy) plays mind games to confuse people I think--that's more or less why I think so many of them do so poorly.

Today I was wondering about that show and I visited their website, which happened to have a forum; so, naturally, I perused some of the threads. Apparently on one of the shows the question had been asked, in what year was president Lincoln elected? So off-hand I thought this wasn't too tough of a question, he is one of the more famous presidents, but I wouldn't have expected grade schoolers to know the answer. But the really scary thing that I found in those forums... was how people don't even understand information anymore!!

So first of all, he was elected in 1860. Elections are always in leap years, for one thing (I wonder if these peeps even knew what a leap year was, hm.) There were many users on that forum who had written in "THEY GOT THE ANSWER WRONG!" Their claim was that the show said he was elected in 1860, but they (the forum poster) looked it up (and gave the website too, be shocked) and found he was "elected" in 1861!!!

Did you just chuckle? I laughed the first time, but the more I saw so many people saying this exact same thing the more disturbed I became. Of course Lincoln was sworn in and began his presidency in 1861--in fact, it was in March. But was the election in March?

Have you ever heard of a presidential election in March? Of course not. It's sad really, that people looked it up, saw "1861-1865" and made that foolish assumption--some even insisted that the actual election was in fact in March of 1861!

But we can take comfort in one fact at least--we shouldn't have to worry about these fools voting come election day (which is always in November, and leap years like I said for presidential elections) because they're too mixed up to actually find it on a calendar.

But this brings me to the real issue I wanted to discuss here--the people were consulting "raw" information. They looked in Encyclopedias even (I guess they looked to find the answer in the first place...) but they still came up with the wrong answer. The misunderstanding demonstrates more than one failing of this society I think. But namely, in this case, the inability to research or understand their research.

The average Joe watching TV (watching this show for example, with his laptop handily tuned into is not equipped to find the answer to even such a basic question as the election of Lincoln. How can we expect him to find answers to more complicated questions like, why is there violence in Iraq? Why can't the Arabs and Israelis get along? Why is Chavez stalking Bush? The people now require filters for their information--they can no longer turn to encyclopedias and dictionaries, or journals. They need it summarized, quick, like they get from the news (TV news like CNN, etc.) They need someone explaining 3 or 4 times what it actually means using very simple language.

Because if they look up the answer, they totally misinterpret it.

As Muslims, do we have this problem? That we look up Qur'an and hadith directly without bothering to examine the commentary? Are we familiar enough with the basics to be able to do that? I think most of us actually aren't. And if we (like me) are pulling it up in Arabic then we have a huge problem.

I'd like to think that average Americans would have the basic prerequisite understanding of presidential elections and processes to know why it was 1860 and not 1861, and why 1861 was listed as the first of year of Lincoln's presidency. But apparently that's not the case.

It'd also be nice to think that the average Muslim has a well-founded understanding of 'aqeedah and Arabic and basic Islamic sciences to but a context around the information they dig up. But I don't think that's the case... at least I know it's not my case.

So the way I see it, we have at present two obligations. The first is to learn our deen, at least the basics, so when we are presented with information from scholars or even as a question by a non-Muslim or a child, we have the resources (prerequisite knowledge) to find an answer. The second is to always check with the people who have more knowledge and training--the scholars. That way we don't go barging into a deep discussion claiming that a sheikh is wrong because of something we found on the internet. How incredibly embarassing.

Monday, March 12, 2007

How bizarre!!

I wrote a post over the weekend... but it never showed up and has completely disappeared as far as I can tell.

Why? :-(