Thursday, May 31, 2007

An Impulse Decision

This morning in my communications class we were talking about the impulse function, and its Fourier Transform (another impulse) and impulse trains, and convolving an impulse train... which is of course my favorite thing to do. Really. No, I'm not joking.

But impulse is also something else in physics, instantaneous change in momentum, or a force over some interval of time causing (and equal to) a change in momentum. Momentum, by the way, is the quantity describing the speed, direction, and mass of a particular object. That would be, how big an object is, how fast it's going and which direction. Momentum. So let's move out of this domain of math and physics and talk about life.

You can think of momentum as being your life: where you're going with it, how fast you're going there, and all that it contains (be that experiences, acquaintances, so forth.) And then an impulse... change: something which pushes you in another direction, or maybe the same direction.

Sometimes I consider myself to be spontaneous. In the above analogy, it would translate to a large force and a small amount of time. Some people, to change, perhaps take less force but more time to see the same change. But I didn't really bring this up to talk about forces and time... but that sometimes I make decisions very quickly, and they tend to be the ones that I appreciate most in the end. Some people might call that "trusting your gut" or "following your instincts."

Let me give an example. A few years ago, I saw a pink corduroy jacket at a store I would shop at occassionally. Pink corduroy. It was either very trendy or very dorky--but it was on sale. And it was pink. Ok, imagine my eyes just lit up. So I try it on, it fits, it's cute, and I buy it. I wasn't looking for a jacket, I didn't really need one I suppose, I didn't consider the pros and cons of buying the jacket. Just saw that I liked it and it was very affordable and I wanted it. And I wore it out. I wore it for days, weeks, until it got a little more snug than I liked and I started to wear looser clothes anyway. It was a "fall" jacket, I loved it. I loved the color, the style (which was unique really), the fashion statement it made. And I purchased it on impulse, so to speak. It was a split-second decision that I never regretted.

Another example--last September I drove to New Jersey for a friend's wedding, and the opportunity to see another friend and his family. I left around midnight Saturday, after deciding only on Thursday or Friday to actually go, and it is still a weekend of only very wonderful memories. Not to mention last summer I decided less than a week in advance to go to the ICNA Convention in Hartford and thoroughly enjoyed it. Just a few weeks ago I made a "sorta" last minute decision to go to New York, and I don't regret going. In all three of those cases, my decision was very... sudden. I couldn't decide, couldn't make up my mind and then, I did, and bang. I went, it was great. Alhamdulillah. And maybe He had a hand in helping me make those decisions?

So I think about this in other areas of my life. Some things need to be carefully considered, because they'll be with you a lot longer and be more heavy on you than a weekend trip out of town or a light jacket. For example, buying a car. I regret buying my car because I paid too much and I can't wait to get rid of it, honestly. I like it, but it's just not worth it. It was a pressured decision, and I hate that about it. It wasn't "impulse" like the others. It never really hit me that this is the one, this is the car I've got to buy. It was the one in front of me and seemed to fit the bill. Maybe I settled for it because I was so tired of searching. (Or I was fast-talked into it by a sleazy salesman. Gr.)

I don't like decisions like that. And I'm about to make some pretty important decisions for my life, now. Who to marry? Where to live? What to do with my life? More school or a career, for example? Well I could make them on impulse, and I am so ready to do that right now.

But I can't. Interesting circumstance. I can't... yet. I have time and time over (more time than I want, honestly) to consider, and reconsider, to think, and rethink. So even if I feel certain now, having to wait before it becomes possible to make a decision leaves room for doubts to creep in. So I figure, if I can bide that time without doubts, and since any more certainty would be difficult to come by, then it's even better than an impulse decision. It's a sort of strung out impulse... or maybe a sum of two. The first, a force and a time. But now that I'm going the right direction, the force is essentially zero right now, having no effect on momentum.

That is of course, sum of all forces is zero. There are forces but... I'm still going the same way.

And it's a fun ride. When it's over, I'll have to make sure I go on a roller coaster. It's been a while...

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Don't Touch the Muhajabah

I like to imagine that Muslim men and women treat each other differently, as a rule, than do non-Muslims. By and large I've found that to be the case, especially by personal observation since donning the hijab.

A woman who covers is not the sort you ask on a date. Perhaps for a more professional or noble intention a man might enjoy her presence more personally, but she is not one to welcome physical advances from any other than her husband. Taking her hand, her arm, her shoulder--really what do you think you're doing? For a woman who is not going to let the world so much as see her, what right have you (any of you) to dare to try and touch her?

A friend of mine is soon to be married (inshaaAllah), and has shared some observations from her soon-to-be husband. Muslim men, says he, see the Muhajabah as a sort of sacred person. The Muslim woman is one to be respected and admired, and the muhajabah even more so--one who is distinctly aware of what her deen calls for and not afraid to practice it. For one seeking marriage, extra care need be taken so that modesty is not breached. Men, he says, understand that a Muslim woman is not going to "put out" until she is assured of a few things... like living expenses for the rest of her life. For my part, I find that appropriate--that modesty, separation, dignity are all preserved, and that marriage only opens the door to that intimate relationship.

So what to make of a man who attempts to take what is not his? Maybe he is talking to her for marriage and she investigating him. Does that open the door? Obviously not. The woman is covered, and she is waiting for marriage--so really, what kind of man thinks he has the right to link her arm as he walks beside her, take her hand when she pulls away, or lean close to attempt a kiss? What to make of him, really? What is the confusion? A woman who is covered does not welcome these advances, I can tell you that much, regardless of her heritage, her upbringing, her culture. Do mixed signals lie therein? Would a woman raised in one society welcome these things despite her cover while another would be repulsed? No, they are all repulsed. As, chances are, any Muslim woman would be regardless of her decision to cover.

As for me, I want no part of that sort of thing. I want only one man to have the privilege to touch me--the man I married. Not even the man I want to marry, but then I don't think I'd want to marry someone who thought that prior to the contract he had any right over me. So for any man reading this, some gentle advice...

Don't touch the muhajabah.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Did you miss me?

In the last week I blogged only once... and there's a reason. For the weekend I was in New York without internet access (who pays for these things?) and then had a busier-than-average week. Having no internet in New York was a mixed blessing for me, really. While not having to worry about whatever random humanitarian project or da'wah presentation is coming up, or the latest news story or article about Muslims, or which thread on the forum needs to be closed was nice... there were things that I missed. I discovered absence does make the heart grow fonder.

I also discovered the subway kinda stinks. Walking around central park in the rain... I'll admit... did not thrill me. But I did see some pretty flowers. I took a lot of pictures--some of buildings, some of greenery, and some of people. I saw people behaving in some very interesting ways. Like on the Staten Island ferry--they stare out the window and take pictures of the river. They couldn't all be tourists, could they? I mean, what's the big deal? They all wanted to take pictures of Manhattan like they'd never seen it before. I took a few too, mostly because I felt it "expected." But really, just buildings. The view from the air would be much more impressive...

But okok, I actually did like New York. I'd like to take it a bit more slowly if I ever go back. Maybe go with some girlfriends and just take it all in and not feel rushed, trying to see as much as quickly as possible. I won't go in to the drama regarding my flight home... it was a mess and at the same time a miracle (alhamdulillah) that I got home Sunday night as planned. A few of my readers heard it from me personally and I don't feel like typing it anyway. :-)

After I came back I thought I wouldn't be taking summer classes... then later (alhamdulillah!) found out I could... and now I am. Alhamdulillah. If it is Allah's will for you to do a thing, then it becomes possible and easy to do that thing. Alhamdulillah. So I pray for His help in other things, that they be possible, and easy, and blessed by Him.

So I started class on the 2nd day--I'm taking two classes, each about 10 students in size, and I am the only girl in both. And the professors now both know my name... and one has taken to calling on me in class already... indeed. And if that's not enough, my office (the entire branch really) is moving to another building next month and so I'm extra busy at work. My boss has assigned me the task of recycling everyone's files which unfortunately is taking a lot more time than I had anticipated. And I'm still getting stacks of projects! So it's kind of hectic now for me at work and since I am going to school I will have even less time to work. All that combined has left me with less time to blog.

But still... there is a lot on my mind lately. A lot of issues, stemming from the da'wah training I'm doing and the presentation we had this week, things I've read, even some of my own experiences. InshaAllah, good reading to come.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Friday Fashions

Ever noticed how people look... different... at jumuah? I'm not talking about the ones who wear "ethnic" dress on that day, or who dress up and wear nicer clothes, that's all wonderful and nice to see. But from some others I see some strange behavior.

There are a few sisters who don't wear hijab, perhaps I should say they don't wear it yet inshaAllah, who don it to come in on Fridays. They come, I think that's great, and they cover while they're there, also great. Sometimes their bangs are sticking out of the scarf--it's not adjusted too well of course. Sometimes their shirts rise up when they bend over or turn around and their pants are a little on the snug side... but they come even though they don't have to, which I think is something special. So I hope that their iman grows and helps them to embrace other parts of Islam beyond congregational Friday prayers. But the sisters who wear prayer outfits... they really have me confused. I'm not sure why I can understand the others, but when I see a sister who comes in with a prayer garment top and jeans below, and she has brought her child and feeds her during the khutbah... this person I wonder about. I guess there shouldn't be anything "wrong" with it but it looks really strange to see people wearing those for anything other than prayer at home. It makes it difficult to do just about anything with your hands anyway... so I am confused.

But look at the brothers... never fails, so so so many brothers do this, it really makes me laugh. Their pants are too long. You know the "style" where the crotch sits right about at the knees, with a foot or so of fabric past the ankle? Or even if there isn't that much fabric left over, just a little bit... they roll them up. They don't roll them up outside... in fact, you might think they had just rolled them up so they wouldn't get wet when they made wudhu. But when you see them rolling up their britches as they walk across the floor... why? Is that going to make their prayer any better, suddenly not having fabric past their ankles? See, in the case of the women with the temporary hijabs, her prayer is not valid without it apparently... but for the men... does it even make a difference? Does rolling them up really make them feel better about wearing pants that are too long? I dunno. I think it's bizarre and funny to see so many men with their pants rolled up like they're taking a stroll on the beach.

Here's another one for you. When is a good time to take off your shoes? Before you walk into the musallah? Or after you walked across it? Now, to be fair, we pray in the gym technically. But there is a rack by the door the women come through to place their shoes. If you were coming through another door, and had to walk across the musallah to place your shoes on the rack... wouldn't you take them off first? I watched a sister come in on Friday on the "other" side of the masjid (most people don't use that door) with her daughter who was maybe about 2 years old. They both have shoes on... and they walk across the gym/musallah longways (imagine, from one "court" to the other "court") in front of all the sisters, then the sister takes off her own shoes, places them on the rack, then they walk back in front of all the sisters while her daughter still has her shoes on. What was the point of taking off their shoes and putting them on the rack!? It wasn't helping to keep the place clean which is the only reason to take them off in the first place. Moreover, she didn't take her daughter's shoes off, just let her walk back across the gym.

Maybe if there were carpet people wouldn't do things like this, and that's not what bothered me so much. It just seemed really dumb to walk all the way over there to do that, walking all that way in front of everybody. She could have left her shoes by the other door, or kept them with her. I don't understand though why she would do what she did.

So anyway, some strange behaviors that had me puzzled this past Friday while I was not listening to the khateeb rant about how not to let the kuffar raise our kids. We need a "formula" he said for raising kids in America. It's like kids are assembly line products where you put in A,B,C, and keep out any F, and they turn out ok. Suffice it to say, I thought it less than inspiring. I found out later he was really talking about how we should really limit any communication with non-Muslims, from ourselves and our kids. Remind me to complain to the masjid comittees that a) this khateeb talks too fast and b) fast talking is cannot be distinguished when broadcast over a PA system in a very "live" gymnasium. The echo all but made most of it incomprehensible; I think his accent took care of the rest. Yawn. Awaiting a good khutbah.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Not enough women fly

Aviator's comments on my nascar post got me thinking I wanted to mention this, for those of you who didn't know. A few years ago, a Saudi woman obtained a commercial pilot's license, making her the first woman in the country to do so I think.

It's ironic because in Saudi Arabia, women aren't even allowed to drive. There is a dearth of female pilots here in the US too, though. My flight instructor wanted so badly for me to continue training because it's so rare to see women in that field. Both she and her husband were pilots and she told me people would visit their home and see all this airplane paraphenalia and ask her husband if he was a pilot, never imagining the wife was one too. Such a stereotype, it's sickening.

Women in the US face another battle--people are trying to say women have less 3D spatial reasoning skills then men? I mean really, who comes up with this stuff? Flying is natural. If you have two whits of intelligence you can read your instruments and feel the plane. I mean, after driving a little while you shouldn't need to look at your tachometer to know when to shift gears, right?

Aside from my flight instructor and one girl who was in my aerospace engineering class (who earned herself an internship at Boeing and is probably well on her way to great things) I don't know any women who have ever piloted an airplane. It's kind of a shame really.

But I guess if I really get the gumption I can call up Prince Alwaleed and see if he'd like to sponsor another Aviatrix. God knows that few things in this life give me such pleasure as flying.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Drive fast, attract cops; drive faster, attract sponsors

No, I'm not really into NASCAR, but being in the South, in fact just being in North Carolina, it's hard to avoid it. It's hard to avoid cardboard cutouts of drivers in the grocery store, driver interviews on the news, the scandals about other drivers ("Junior") and reports on races during the sports section of a newscast. Come to think of it, is there really a better place to put such a useless bit of information but a segment devoted to useless information?

Anyway, some of that useless information I found a little interesting. You see that little red and white Pontiac decked out with the Citgo logo? It's not driven by your average run-of-the-mill chewing, drinking redneck. The driver, who is from Venezuela, has been educated and trained to be a Naval Engineer and holds 4 masters degrees--organizational development, naval architecture, maritime business, and marine biology. But that's not the shocking part... the driver of that car is a woman! And yeah, she's gorgeous, too. Her name is Milka Duno. She'll be racing in the Indy 500, making it the first time three women have participated in that race at the same time (because there are in fact two other women drivers who have qualified as well!)

So my hat's off to her for defying stereotypes in so many ways. I wonder if Saudi Arabia could take notice that yes, women can drive just as well as men, even competitively. And even wearing headgear. (Which is the same headgear men have to wear, by the way!)

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

What the Christians said...

The weekend painted for me two very stark, contrasting pictures of Christian behavior in the United States. One of bigotry, one of tolerance. One of pride and arrogance, one of humility and hospitality.
The first, you might have seen on the news since Friday. Link. A sister at my masjid was interviewed before/during jumuah prayers on Friday and told me the story first-hand after we prayed. The signs read:

When is the last time you heard of a Jew or Christain[sic] with a bomb strapped to their body?

Don't be deceived - the message of "Islam" is Submit - Convert - or Die, not salvation in Jesus Christ.

The very epitome of bigoted ignorance. On the WhyIslam forum, one person remarked that Christians and Jews strap the bombs to the undersides of planes instead. Poignant image. The pastor at this church, the Good News Independent Baptist Church in Spring Hope, NC (yea, I'm not shy about telling you where it is!) insists that Islam is an evil religion, a violent religion; and though he doesn't hate the people who follow it (that would be against Christian teachings btw) he does hate the religion.

But let's be clear, the message of Islam is certainly not "salvation in Jesus Christ." So he got something right!! Muslims believe that only God can save their souls, and that everyone is going to die. "Each soul shall taste of death." But then the critical point that Baptists actually miss--Muslims believe everyone will be judged. Even Muslims! No free pass. This is a criticism of Christianity, at times unfair, that Christians believe they won't be judged. I don't know too much about the opinion of other denomniations on this point, but baptists certainly do believe that they go to heaven... judgment is for everyone else and it will most likely wind up with them in hell, be it a fiery torment or a dark abyss of existence without the presence of God.

So basically, people are going to die if they convert or not. But killing someone is murder except in a few instances... so are Muslims allowed to murder? Nope. Killing someone because they don't convert? That would be murder. Non-Muslims, when captured in battle by the Muslims, were allowed to earn their freedom by teaching people to read. Just an example to show how silly the convert or die notion is. And that poor pastor embarassed a whole lot of Christians with his angry rhetoric... while Debbie, the white-American-convert-woman-in-hijab was calm in inviting Christians to the masjid and asking to simply be given the respect that Islam demands of Muslims for Christians and Jews.

The other "picture" from this weekend was a Sunday school circle of adults at an Episcopal church in Raleigh who were discussing a book called Stages of Faith by James Fowler. They had invited a friend of mine who is a 7th grade social studies teacher to come and talk about Islam in this context, to see if faith "developed" similarly, according to the book's philosophy, in Islam as in Christianity. She asked me to come with her, and we talked about people making decisions in their faith (like my story of conversion, at age 21 was a good example of going from one stage to the next, seeking out a faith beyond my upbringing.) We talked about how girls choose to wear hijab at different ages--some out of love for the deen, some for their parents, and so on, which was a springboard for questions in general about hijab. We also got to talk about the issue of prayer (daily salaat and jumuah) and community leaders. It was a very open, non-defensive dialogue that I think benefited everyone who was there. Alhamdulillah.

This is the second experience I've had with an Episcopal church, both times the people have been warm and welcoming, open-minded and polite. A sharp contrasts to the "you're-gonna-burn-in-hell" baptists at any rate.

What is our reward? (A reply to Aliocha)

In another post, I said:
"So acting as if being a good wife will give you the best reward and that is beauty... well, that's not the reward I am shooting for, nor one that preoccupies my thinking, that's for sure."

I don't think the best reward in Paradise is beauty, physical beauty. Not by any stretch of the imagination, and I think there is far too much concern (really, especially among Muslims) about the value of beauty in this life. If I am made beautiful by knowledge, by seeking the pleasure of Allah swt, I will gladly take that beauty, but to appear beautiful before men? That's not a greater desire of my heart. The best reward, I think, is found in the following hadith. A hadith is a saying of the Prophet Muhammad, and this one particular is called a 'Hadith Qudsi' literally meaning "sacred hadith" or something like that. Basically, it is the words of Allah told through Muhammad--in comparison, the Qur'aan is the words of Allah told by Allah, and memorized verbatim. Some of these 'Hadith Qudsi' are really beautiful expressions of Allah's love for those people who love Him, who turn to Him, and who worship Him.

On the authority of Abu Sa'id al-Khudri (may Allah be pleased with him), who said that the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) said:

Allah will say to the inhabitants of Paradise: O inhabitants of Paradise! They will say: O our Lord, we present ourselves and are at Your pleasure, and goodness rests in Your hands. Then He will say: Are you contented? And they will say: And how should we not be contented, O Lord, when You have given to us that which You have given to no one else of Your creation? Then He will say: Would not like Me to give you something better than that? And they will say: O Lord and what thing is better than that? And He will say: I shall cause My favour to descend upon you and thereafter shall never be displeased with you.

And that is the best reward, as far as I can tell, because Allah swt says it is better. Beauty, physical beauty, is for the pleasure of men, but I would rather aim to please my Lord.

The word for Paradise is Jannah, which is a word actually meaning Garden. SWT I added to the side glossary.

A "hoor" or "hour" or "hoori" or whatever is what people think of as spouses in Paradise. Beautiful, pure, ethereal creatures made for Paradise as a reward for its inhabitants. The speaker in that little video made it sound as if women in this life were seeking to become a hour in the next life--something which doesn't make sense at all unless men were to become houris too. The word isn't exclusively talking about masculine or feminine beings so to imply that women become them and men are just men... well aside from being ignorant is rather offensive. I've found a number of interpretations that reject the idea that "hour" is only referring to wives in the feminine sense, that men will have many wives in Paradise. The natural question to follow that silly assertion (that men would have that) is what happens to women? They are sharing husbands in Paradise, even if they were the only wife on earth? I hope your face contorted just now because that makes no sense at all to me in my heart, and it also is not justified by the sources available. However, the specifics are difficult to ascertain. What I think happened is that the male scholarship on the issue neglected the female viewpoint overtime and has left the distorted impression that women become hours, when anyone with just a few brain cells considering the idea can point out the fallacy in it.

So on the one hand, that claim of the pseudo-sheikh just made no sense at all because it suggests women would become these creatures that never lived on earth at all. On the other hand, it implies that those creatures are exclusively feminine. But the real problem... and maybe this is not obvious to a native english speaker... so maybe you didn't catch it. The word hour is pronounced like another word in english that means prostitute.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Loss of resiliency

I had a long rant here about my family, how I feel like I'm being pushed out and how pushing myself back in is getting harder and starts to feel more destructive, about falling apart and getting emotional and wanting to be stronger.

ctrl+a, delete

Socially, I'm not alone. I have friends, someone to talk to and someone to listen just about any time I want. I don't have to look far to find someone who cares, and that's a nice experience. Until a few years ago I was not a social person. But I had my family, whether times were good or bad, someone to listen and help me out. I don't think I have that anymore... and I don't think I can get it back.

I know I'm supposed to be good to my parents but that's going to get harder; everytime I try to stand up for what I believe in, for my faith, I feel like the only option I have is to take a step back, and out. So I'm quiet for a while and try to sneak in... and realize how I've been pushed out, excluded... how I'm losing ground. That's a terrifying and depressing thought... all I see are things not working, I don't know what to do to make things work, to make things improve, to rescue any semblance of a familial bond still remaining... what I've tried so far seems to be failing.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

A new blog--VBTV

Last night I received some books in the mail: Unveiling Islam and Voices Behind the Veil. In a previous post I mentioned my wish to develop a resource for non-Muslim women to learn about Islam from real Muslimahs, instead of what is currently available--a biased and largely inaccurate presentation by missionaries that fails (quite deliberately) to examine what Muslims find so beautiful about their deen.

So I have launched another blog to collect my notes on the subject, I welcome comments and criticism, and also collaborators (anyone who wishes for now to work on the blog with me.)

Religious men aren't masculine enough?

I read an article this week that in an odd way made me really appreciate Muslim men and their... uh... manliness. Well, not quite, but here's the thing. In Muslim communities in America, there are often complaints that women are not active enough in the affairs at the masjid--either women don't/can't go, or they have insufficient facilities, or they aren't allowed to serve on the committees or boards... and so there is an effort to correct the imbalance. And as communities grow larger, this is a problem that I think tends to ease up--the cultural baggage brought by the first wave of immigrants dies off as children of Pakistanis, Arabs, and converts all grow up together, and things improve. It's kind of neat. Muslim communities in the United States are growing. They're getting bigger--masajid are expanding, and popping up to meet the demands of a growing population.

The Christian communities are facing a different problem--the men aren't much interested in participating apparently, and overall participation seems to be dropping. At the very best, it's remaining constant. Yet church populations are dwindling, made up largely of elderly worshipers while their children and grandchildren stay home on Sundays.

Christians test masculine side

I have to really hand it to the author of this article, who made it humorous to read. Perhaps it was subtle, or I have a strange sense of humor, or she was really making fun... let's see. Apparently the churches, while having male pastors and deacons (many/most traditional congregations don't like women in leadership roles) will nevertheless have women taking care of many/most of the duties of actually running the church--planning, finances, building maintenance, special programs, whatever. Yet the article made it even seem like the message of Christianity had become unappealing to men.

Years ago a movement called Promise Keepers started trying to mobilize men to be better husbands, fathers, and leaders of their families and in the church. Now other similar movements are popping up to attract men back to the faith which apparently seems somewhat feminine in essence--i.e., turn the other cheek? How manly is that?

So how are churches trying to bring men back?
Conference organizers hope a male makeover will do the trick. Instead of a church supper, the conference will host a steak cookout at 6 p.m. Friday. They're calling it "Feed the Beast."
Instead of a church supper with chicken casserole and mashed potatoes, they're letting the men cook in the way they know how--slabs of meat over a fire. Feed the beast. Beasts. In church..... sorry.

So anyway, the difference is really interesting--has the faith of Christianity lost appeal to men these days? I'm going to venture out on a ledge and say NO because I know so many men who are comfortable in their faith, and in their role as a provider for the families and so forth. But where are these teachings in the basics of Christianity? Is the message of humility no longer presented in a way that appeals to masses? So they must offer steak to get them involved?

I really don't know. Not being a man, I can't say this with much confidence, but I think that the reasons men are falling out of the church are the same reasons women are--that it no longer provides them with practical answers to their problems, no longer is a network of support and friendship for those who do participate, and that the pursuit of this world has blinded their spiritual sensitivity.

So I then look at Muslim men--many who aren't particularly spiritual, let's face it. (Not that women are exactly better in that regard, though.) The Muslims have a faith that is clear in the distinction of gender roles. Being a good Muslim man includes fulfilling the rights of his wife and children. Being a good Muslim woman includes fulfilling the rights of her husband and children. So it's not exactly the same... whereas in Christianity (here in the Southern US, to the best of my knowledge) the distinction is missing--it's a singular, unisex proposition where the value of a father as a provider and mother as caregiver are de-emphasized. So what happens? Well dads get lazy and moms go to work and the children lose.

Mind you, this isn't something happening to most Christians right now, nor do I think it's an inherent problem with Christianity. But I think it's a product of mixing the sacred and profane, trying to integrate spirituality with the pursuit of this world.

I hope that's not something we start to see in Muslim communities, a polar shift that leaves a congregation bereft of practical application of the Sunnah. Muslims have examples of good husbands, and good wives, of good fathers, and good mothers--they know their duties and rights to their Lord and to other people, so are in a position to fulfill them. So in a way Islam right now has the upper hand, here in the US. Our communities are growing, and improving as they become more diverse and therefore more tolerant and broad in understanding.

We as Muslims have such a rich tradition and heritage of familial cooperation--seeing the family and not the individual as a unit of society--that we shouldn't buy in to the "me me me" call of our non-Muslim peers, and ultimately of Shaitaan. Muslims aren't the ones who debated whether women have souls, who pegged the sin of mankind on a woman and cursed her childbirth. Muslims aren't the ones who have divorced the life in their body (physical desires) and the life in their soul (spiritual desires) and let one dominate the other.

So we're in a position to demonstrate how Islam can work, should work, does work... because it can work, should work, and does work! Because a Muslim man knows it is his obligation to provide for his family, and a Muslim woman knows it is her obligation to take care of her family. And they can look at those children, the next generation, and try to shape them and guide them in this faith, and not let the wolves of greed consume their innocence in the pursuit of wealth or fame.

In Islam there is a very clear example of what a man should be, of what the best man was, saws. And nobody can say it's too feminine, or it doesn't apply today--there is an example for everyone that the men don't have to be shy to follow. And they don't have to call themselves beasts to find an interest in religion. They can in fact try to overcome their beastly nature instead of indulging it.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Thieving neighbors

I can think of three major times when I've had something stolen from me. The first was my second year of college--I parked in a park and ride lot to catch the bus to campus. I would arrive around 7-7:30 in the morning and get back sometime in the afternoon. I think that I might have left my door unlocked on that occasion, by accident (I practically always lock my car, even in the driveway) but that doesn't soften the blow. I "unlock" the door (though it might've been unlocked to start with) and climb in... then it hits me that something is different. I had different pieces of junk "decoration" in my car at the time and some were missing but I looked for my case of CD's... under the seat, in the back seat, and so on... gone. Just CD's you might say--many of them were originals but what was so painful about it was that these were "personal" items. The music I listened to reflected my personality at the time and my music preferences weren't common enough for anyone else to benefit from those CD's... so I was hurt without anyone else benefiting. It hurt, and I cried; to me it was unthinkable why anyone would to that.

The second time was a few summers ago, a weekend afternoon on campus. I was taking a summer programming class (C for Java programmers) and was working on a program in the lab, my car parked outside the building. The same building I work in now, by the way, when I'm at my lab operator job. It gets extremely hot in the summer and my car had a leaky A/C (I had to add freeon every once in a while, and I think at that time I was out) so I left the windows cracked to make it more tolerable when I came back out. I spent a few hours doing my program, and came back to find... the window had been pushed down (and incidentally covered with fingerprints) and my CD deck pulled out. The CD's of course were all copies and none were taken, but the deck had literally been ripped out (the wires weren't even cut, but ripped) and the front panel smashed up. This time I called the police and they took those prints. They actually caught the guy who did it--we figure he was pulling these, selling them to pawn shops and buying drugs. Oddly enough, this particular theft didn't hurt me quite as much--I could replace the cd player but not the CD's that had been stolen before. Although, I did end up spending the rest of the afternoon with the campus police, getting myself fingerprinted.

The third time was yesterday. Somebody stole my bike. For several months I've had it locked up under the stairs at my apartment complex, just like many other people do, but when I got home yesterday... found it missing. Why? Well, I know that it's a season now where many new people are moving into the neighborhood. And I hate suspicion, but when I got home yesterday I was watching two boys walking back and forth in front of my building. They walked to the other part of the building, into the breezeway, came back, looked in mine, and eventually left. And I guess I want someone to blame so when I see suspicious looking strangers who don't live there looking up in all the buildings, I can't help it.

I went scanning the neighborhood after that, looking in the breezeways to see everyone else's bike but not mine. And you know, I just don't get it.

Why do people steal things? I couldn't do it, the remorse I would feel would literally tear me to pieces--do these thieves have no conscience? Didn't their mothers teach them that you can't take things which belong to other people? I can almost understand the drug addict who had to get a fix, that he wasn't acting sensibly. And he's gone to jail, I know. (The government sends me letters informing me of his court dates and so forth.) But these kids who just take things? Do they not realize what a grave moral sin it is to do this? Yeah I know it's just a bike, but it's my personal property, so I feel like I've been personally violated. I just don't understand why.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Adventures in Raleigh

Now that I'm working a bit more during the day, I can take lunches while I'm downtown. It took me a while, but eventually I learned it is far faster to walk a few blocks to the "mall" (which is not really a mall, but a former pedestrian zone now a street) than it is to walk to my car and drive out of downtown to somewhere I recognize more and can get to with a car. So I started eating downtown.

There's a restaurant around here called BabaGhannouj, that is owned by a friend of mine's dad. I used to eat there... then he sold it and it became AbouGhannouj or something like that. I still eat there, get the same spicy curry chicken with fatoush. I hadn't been down there in a while because my work schedule has been such that I wasn't downtown for lunch. (Plus I was cooking so I ate at home more.) But yesterday on Salisbury St. I saw this unusual creature:

That long snout is sniffing the curb for trash. I've seen people in downtown Raleigh who are paid to pick up trash (with the trash-poker sticks) but this was new. This we do to keep the streets clean I suppose. I understand that in the middle east people just drop their garbage on the street without a care--here, there are trash cans, but apparently people "miss" or we wouldn't need such bizarre trash eaters, would we?

Today I went to Quizno's though, which is a short hike downhill from my building. It is owned by a Hindu couple who is very nice--plus they give me a discount for being a state employee! Yay! But on the way back, I see this character:

The picture quality isn't that great, not great enough for you to recognize that he's probably about 80 years old. Such a police officer would lead you to think that Raleigh is a safe place to live, right? Very low crime... but he reminds me of a little whistlin' tune. Is it my fault I can't help but think of Don Knotts (aka Barney Fife) whenever I see old policemen like this?

Maybe I have a right, being a native North Carolinian, to see random Andy Griffith references everywhere. Although, I feel compelled to tell the world there is no such place as Mayberry, but the show was actually filmed in a town called "Mt. Airy." And now there's a country song by a band called Rascal Flatt's about Mayberry... he sings: I miss Mayberry, sittin' on the porch drinkin' ice cold cherry... coke! Where everything is black and white...

Ohhhh a metaphor!!

Monday, May 07, 2007

Singular Pluralism

sin·gu·lar [sing-gyuh-ler] –adjective
1. extraordinary; remarkable; exceptional: a singular success.
2. unusual or strange; odd; different: singular behavior.

plu·ral·ism [ploor-uh-liz-uhm] –noun
1. a social organization in which diversity of racial or religious or ethnic or cultural groups is tolerated
I spent this weekend at a kind of campground out in the sticks as part of an interfaith dialogue project. The interfaith aspect means participants included Muslims, Christians, and Jews, and they were all women. This was a very unique experience for me, being someone relatively new to the “interfaith” platform, but what is so special about such a weekend is that, with the emphasis being on understanding other communities, the participants were both informed about their own faith and open to learning about the others. Prejudices and biases were checked at the door, and the weekend passed alhamdulillah without conflict.

One thing I’ve found interesting is the reluctance on the part of Christians especially to participate in interfaith work, or the difficulty we have in finding these Christians. There were, in fact, only three Christian ladies there for the weekend, in comparison to 6 Jews and 8 Muslims.

Being the first of an annual event, the weekend had a number of “kinks” and the Muslim sisters chatted just briefly the last evening about what planning could have amended some of the imbalance as far as explaining about other religions. With the event starting Friday evening, the entire group was able to experience the Shabbat (Sabbath) rites, for both starting and ending the day (which is at sunset, btw.)

Many of the women (dare I say most?) gladly participated in the Dhuhr/Asr prayer Saturday afternoon, after observing the prayers Friday night. We even pulled extra scarves for them all to cover. One of the Jewish ladies spoke about Miriam’s well, about which there is some Jewish tradition—a well that was first entrusted to a woman who was not Jewish(!), namely Hajar/Haygar while she was in the desert with her son Isma’il. Now of course the Muslim tradition names this as the Zamzam well which is of course still in Makkah today. Miriam’s well, as they called it, was a well that would appear and reappear as needed for the Jews, last appearing to Miriam (the sister of Moses) while the Jews were wandering in the desert. The similarities are fascinating really, the idea of a well that people can’t quite explain, to this day. One particularly interesting thing to note was that when we brought out the Zamzam water (a sister had brought some in bottles to share) was the lady who had given the talk about Miriam’s well, when looking at the bottles of Zamzam water, exclaimed that that is exactly how Miriam’s well had been described!

We played a game Saturday morning, interfaith jeopardy—it’s interesting to see how much we actually don’t know about other faiths! And in the afternoon we did a real “dialogue” session talking about solidarity with our faith communities, which allowed us to open up. We found that we (the women participating) have more in common with each other than even with some people in our own faith traditions. The Christians present especially had that reaction, it seemed. This evening there was more sitting about and chatting, about religions and especially about politics.

Politics, you might say?

Absolutely—because to an astonishing degree, most of the women were of the same mind about American (and even world) international policies. We found that we all lament the oppression throughout the world, the hatred between peoples, and the corruption of leadership. Many of the women there, beyond just having informed opinions, are also active in their communities in trying to bring about change in today’s world, change for the better.

Not to mention, I’m increasingly amazed at the overwhelming similarities between Islam and Judaism, and between Arabic and Hebrew—such that we can even begin to translate each other’s prayers into English! And that we all see our faith as a vehicle of hope which makes us stronger and gives us even more reasons to establish peace and justice—unlike what “faith” seems to do to some people, whose most ardent desire appears as nothing other than absolute domination, and who see faith as a tool for the establishment thereof.

May Allah make us of those who establish peace and justice.

More about beards

Gee wiz, you guys like talking about beards. I won't be the one (because I'm not qualified) to say a beard is obligatory or optional. I don't have the facts, I haven't researched it, and I'm not a scholar.

But what I thought was so funny about that group was not people bickering about the necessity of it. (There will always be people on both extremes.) Rather, it was the completely superficial attraction of the beard. I was reading one of their discussion boards and the question was whether women like the beard. So naturally the following topics arise:

  1. Does the beard indicate the brother is more keen on following the sunnah? Or merely looking like it?
  2. Does the beard actually look more attractive?
  3. Does a non-beard look unattractive?
  4. Is it required? (not covering here)
  5. Does a man face beard criticism like a woman faces hijab criticism?
  6. Are women less likely to want to marry a man with a beard?
Some people were getting the impression that women are a little hypocritical here--they like for men to have a beard, but they don't want to marry a man with one.

I think this could be why:

And to be honest, I do know some women who have made it slightly more difficult for their husbands to grow one. Or rather that they give more credence to the doubts they have about growing one. While I personally like the look of the beard, I feel it's not my place to make a man feel uncomfortable or pressured to grow one, and risk having him do it for the wrong reason (especially if the case were my husband.)

But one person posted what Sh. Yusuf Estes said about growing beards, when asked if it was obligatory. He said, you can't grow a beard. Allah will grow it for you, all you have to do is stop shaving it off!

[Disclaimer--I do not support that man in the photo or what he does! He's an example of an ugly man with a nice beard!]

Thursday, May 03, 2007

A facebook post

I never heard of facebook until my first junior year of college (fyi, I'm finishing my third junior year) when I was pledging my sorority. One of the other candidates (pledges), who was a freshman, was all over this "facebook" thing and I had no clue what was going on. You facebooked who? What do you mean he's on facebook? Huh? So I eventually signed up... about the same time my brother did, who was a freshman at the time. Back then, you had to be a college student to get on facebook. Now... well, now I have no clue. The president has a profile on facebook and so do random Egyptians... you know who you are.

At one point (I think I even blogged about it) I responded to a pretty arrogant post about women and mixing, and a few days later heard about how nice my post was from a member of the community! I got to realize... people are spying... So I untagged myself from all photos of me that I did not put up, and that didn't have me in hijab. That left... one. On on hand, I don't have much to feel guilty about--I wasn't Muslim or covered when they are taken, and that they are on the internet is out of my control. But any connection to me was within my control so I did remove that. There is one picture of me in a marching band uniform on there... ah, good times!

But feeling bored a few days ago, or maybe wanting to take a break from all the things I had to do, I logged on looking for a group about Mike Gravel--he's a senator from Alaska who has entered the Democratic presidential candidate nomination (whatever) race. And he's blunt. To the point. And not a smiley cheery face when he talks about how serious the state of this nation is (like Clinton), or one to try to rally a crowd with nice but two-faced rhetoric (Obama). When I turned on (briefly) the South Carolina debate, this guy stood out. On a stage with Senators Biden, Clinton, and Obama, this man stood out. So I figured someone had to have a facebook group... and sure enough, I found it. "These candidates scare me."

But I also managed to find some other groups that my "friends" (people who have facebooked me, as I consider it a policy to not actually facebook people unless I need their contact information for school or something.) By the way "facebook" as a verb means adding a person to your collection of "friends" on the site. Groups are other ways of networking--like an MSA group, a sorority group, people who are voting for a particular student government candidate, people who ride a particular bus route, and so on. Lame. So looking for groups for Mike Gravel, I found that people I knew had joined some pretty funny groups. Here's a taste of what you can find on facebook... Enjoy. :-)

We LOVE Sunnah Beards!
This group is for anyone and everyone that just love their men like they love their forests... bushy!! hehehe...okay but seriously... beards are sunnah, and it is wonderful, if you have a beard for the sake of Allah(SAW) or if you are a girl and insha'Allah wish to marry a man with a beard because it is the commands of Allah(SAW) let yo self be heard!!

If you are on facebook, find this group. The discussion posts are hilarious--why women will or won't marry a bushy brother. F-u-n-n-y!

Yes I'm bald under my hijab.
For any hijabi who's ever been tempted to make up bizarre answers to the ridiculous questions she is asked on a regular basis.

"Yes, I shower with this thing on."
"Yes, I've worn hijab since birth."
"Yes, I sleep in my hijab."
"I know it's hot outside, but I can tolerate the heat because my hijab is centrally air-conditioned."
"No, my husband won't ever be allowed to see my hair."
"No, other women aren't allowed to see my hair, either."
"Well, what happens if you accidentally see my hair is that you immediately get hit by lightning."

Muslim Man Law
8. When praying, always insist that someone else lead. This will lead to a insisting pushing match between you and another person. After an awkardly long time, one of you will break and lead while the other feels that he won.

15. No man shalll speak while he is in the stall UNLESS he is lota-less in which another man is obliged to fetch one for him.

22. No man shall wear a pseudo-religious garb (especially during ISNA), in order to impress the sisters. If convicted, he may be penalized by being forced to grow a Tom Selleck mustasche.

25. No man shall have a profile picture that is not of himself. You are NOT a BMW M5 and whether or not you have one is questionable.

31. A man should obey is mother at all times (Unless she is asking you do something that is Islamically unlawful). This law supercedes any laws that may be found contradictory to it.

33. A man should not allow his garment to drag on the floor. It is not cool. It is filthy.

37. No attempting to split Muslims up into Arabs and Desis. This only divides the it makes Brian feel lonely.

56. No USED miswaks in the fridge

Funny brothers... I only picked the highlights, but once again, you can find the rest on facebook!

And last but certainly not least, I wanted to share a lovely photograph with you. Muslim Girl magazine started at the beginning of this year (2007) I think, and has recently featured a local Muslimah on the cover. It's such a gorgeous shot of Hanifah that I wanted to share it.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Each prayer as though it were your last

I didn't realize it until recently, but women have a very unique capability for understanding a certain aspect of the prayer. I've heard it said a number of times to pray each prayer as though it were your very last prayer--none of us know when our breaths will run out, what death we will die or when. We sleep at night without the assurance we will wake for fajr; busy ourselves in the day without the assurance we will make dhuhr or asr, or return home for the evening and night salawaat. So we shouldn't take that time for granted, rushing through it or travel mentally to another place while our body distractedly goes through the motions. What if it was your last?

Lately, and this has been for a couple of months now, my awareness of imminent death seems to have increased. I notice it most right before my period, because I have a "feeling" if you will that my last prayers are coming. Perhaps I wake up for fajr and pray with a fair amount of confidence that it will be my last prayer--for a week.

Ah, it's only for a week you say, or something less than that even. But if you can consider that you lack assurance for 8 short hours (the time here between isha and fajr iqamahs) or even less between asr and maghrib for example, then how can you imagine several days without prayer? Three, four, five, six, maybe seven days without a salaat--how then do your chances of losing the opportunity to pray anymore increase?

For me , it's a terrifying thought. So terrifying that I have had some of the most moving prayers when I knew my period would prevent me from praying at the next prayer time. I wish I could recall that feeling every time I pray--I admit I don't, but I am coming closer. Then I wonder if other people experience it at all?

The first time it occurred to me, that it would be my last salaat, I concentrated in a way I don't think I had anytime prior. And I've been able to do that since then, knowing when it would be my last salaat... and it is a sad thing to give up. Do you think of this? I don't think men can ever know beforehand that they are missing their prayers and for how long--maybe for an illness or something, but it's sudden. So I don't think you understand what it's like to look ahead of you and imagine days without prayer. They look dark--perhaps this could explain why women get so moody right beforehand, the immediate future begins to look very bleak.

When I stand up for that last salaat I am begging in my heart for the opportunity to pray again, just to pray again before it is my time to go. The thought of dying without having prayed for several days... can you imagine? Oh sure, it's excused, you'll say. But imagine how you would feel (if you're not a woman) at having to miss a week of prayers each month?

Then again, perhaps it's the fact that we lose these prayers, that we can understand what a precious gift they are, how rewarding they are--in this life, and in the Hereafter inshaAllah. And if you think that you would not have the opportunity to stand up before Allah swt again, would you listen to the conversation in the background? Rush through al-Fatihah without contemplating the depth of that prayer? Make sujood without imagining your Lord watching you? Don't. Because you don't know when that precious opportunity will be taken away, when you can merely lie in your grave wishing you had taken advantage of this treasure, and not dismissed it as an empty obligation.

We don't know when our breaths run out, but would you like to meet Allah swt knowing the last time you gave for Him was hurried, distracted, and full of worries about dunya? I wouldn't...

Some more answers

Aliocha--here are some more answers to your comment-questions. Please let me know if you'd like some more information.

What are salat and Taraweeh?

Salat or Salah is the Arabic word for prayer, specifically the ritual prayer that Muslims pray 5 times a day. It is a pillar of Islam, the central pillar really, and is a scripted means for Muslims to connect with God. It is glorification of God and praise of God, and a request for guidance. The prayer consists of reading Qur'an as well, plus bowing and prostrating (before God) while supplicating to Him.

Taraweeh means resting or something like that, and I'm talking about an extra kind of salat in Ramadan, the month when Muslims fast. This is an optional prayer, where a portion from the Qur'an is recited in the prayer every night, such that the entire Qur'an is read by the end of the month. It's called resting, but basically, in the prayer, the first chapter of the Qur'an is always read, then something else from the Qur'an. In these prayers, which are at night in Ramadan after the night prayer, large passages from the Qur'an are read, and for a few hours the person praying and anyone praying behind, everyone is standing, pausing sometimes to bow and prostrate, which sort of breaks it up a little bit.

A few more questions about Islam: how do you see the salvation for non-Islamic believers? For instance: I am a Christian. Does that mean I am going to Hell?

This is a good question, but the only answer I can give you is that God knows who is going to Hell, and I don't. In fact, I'm not even certain that I won't go to Hell, as a Muslim, and I fear that. I fear that I am not sincere, I fear that I might become a hypocrite, and that my devotion to God is not deep enough to spare me from disbelief, even by accident.

So salvation... Muslims don't talk about "salvation" so much, or being "saved." Being Muslim is not a guarantee of avoiding Hell actually, though we do believe that anyone who truly believes in God and submits to Him will make it to Paradise. What you'll find in Islam, though it might seem strange at first, is the idea that some people will go to Hell for a while, and then be freed of it. I don't want to spend one second in Hellfire, though... not even less than that, forget hours, days, years, or more! There is no guarantee that we will not be in Hellfire, or that we will certainly make it to Paradise--just saying we're Muslim isn't enough. Hypocrites face one of the worst punishments in Hell!! But what is necessary is belief that there is absolutely no god, nothing at all worthy of worship, no deity, no power or ruler, except for the One God. And in Islam, on top of that there are other beliefs, namely that God/Allah has sent Messengers, including Muhammad, peace be upon all of them. Part of believing in God is believing in His Messengers, and in the Message that he has sent mankind--which is in essence that we should worship Him alone, without any partners.

What are the sources of authority in Islam? I know the Quran is the basis for Islam, but how do you decide on the interpretation of the Quran?

Basically there are two "sources of authority" in Islam. There is the Qur'an--what Allah says/said. And there is the Sunnah/Hadith--what Allah's Messenger said. So we rely on the Qur'an as the preserved verbatim word of God, and then the teachings of Muhammad. Muslims view Muhammad as a "walking Qur'an" meaning that he understood it completely, more than anyone else, and that all his teachings and actions were in accordance with it. So we take instruction from him, and we take our understanding of the Qur'an from him.

I have some notes at home about the study of the Qur'an and interpretation of it, but I hope this will answer your question. The first means of interpreting the Qur'an is by using the Qur'an. If one passage has something that seems unclear, another may clarify it. The next means is by using the Hadith (which are sayings of Muhammad), because Muhammad knew the Qur'an's meaning better than anyone else. After that, we look at the interpretation of the first generation of Muslims, (i.e., Ibn Abbas), and after that we look at interpretations through language. One option under debate is whether a consensus of the majority of scholars of the Qur'an is another valid kind of interpretation.

There is a whole science to studying the Qur'an--I just bought a book on it actually that I hope to be able to post on soon. Islam is steeped in tradition--in some ways, like the Catholic Church. We don't just look at the Qur'an in light of the 21st century, but as a book that has been revealed for all time, with a history going back to the 7th century.

And to your last question--Alhamdulillah.
Alhamdulillah--this means literally that all praise is for Allah (God.) We should praise God for everything we have, everything that happens, and Muslims say it a lot, even as a response to simple question like "How's it going" or "How are you?" or "How was your test?" Because regardless of the outcome, we should praise Allah for it.