Tuesday, August 28, 2007

We Only Cooked Twice!!

Last Ramadan for me was a wonderful experience, alhamdulillah. For converts in general though, I think it could at times be lonely, especially their first if they don't know that many Muslims. One thing I really enjoyed about my first Ramadan (which I stated when I was interviewed for the university newspaper the Friday before Eid) was the real sense of community. I met so many people, so many Muslims, they were everywhere, in large groups. And everyone was always so wonderful and nice (because... we were eating... a happy thing after 12 hours!).

A friend of my roommate's (and mine) recently asked her what we would be doing for Ramadan, and how we managed being alone, as we are. Well, my roommate was quick to tell her that in all of Ramadan last year, we only cooked twice. And one of those times was an iftar at our apartment!! How did we pull it off!? You might wonder... and we thought about it. It was pretty impressive actually, but I think back on it, and looking forward to this Ramadan I'm hopeful something similar will occur. Breaking fast with other people is infinitely better than doing so alone... for me, the first day I fasted was Arafat in 2006, when it was early in January. And I fasted alone. The second time I fasted though was with a sister in the MSA and I broke fast with her and that, my friends, was completely different. For me I was learning something there but also, to have company makes it a more meaningful occasion. And the more people present, the more to make du'a, and it does make a difference.

So, when Ramadan came around, I was fortunate enough (alhamdulillah) to have company almost everytime I had to break my fast. To start with, the masjid had free iftars for "singles/college students" twice a week, on Mondays and Wednesdays. It was segregated (when I say "singles" I don't want people to think it was a mixed get-to-know-you group date kind of thing) and never really crowded. 10-15 sisters usually, 20-30 brothers. But that was twice a week. On Thursdays every week the MSA had an iftar somewhere on campus for the college kids... that is, on my campus. On Tuesdays my roommate had a standing invitation at a friend's place, while I had a class. If I hadn't had that class I'd've gone with her, btw. But I would end up breaking fast in class with dates and water, sometimes a sandwich I would pack in the morning to take with me, and then grab a few more bites of leftovers in the fridge. Yes, leftovers, because especially the masjid iftars, always had leftovers. They had to get rid of the food way before isha too, so the fridge started filling up. (And we ate some of that for suhoor too, btw.)

So, so far that is Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays all covered. Leaving only the weekends. Now my roommate isn't so anti-social like I am, or she just has a lot more friends (being Muslim longer and all...) who give iftars. Some of those nights we were invited different places. Once to see the friend mentioned above who asked in the first place, once at another sister's house with a large group of almost entirely convert sisters, once there was a huge iftar for sisters at the masjid, once another huge iftar with the masjid A-list (the imam was there!) and then there were a few other college iftars, sponsored by the MSA at the other college, so I (and other students) could go over there too because it wasn't that far. And we were invited a few other places too. On Sundays I typically would actually buy food (Greek Fiesta!) and take it with me to sorority meetings, since maghrib came at a time when I had to be in a meeting, and they didn't mind too much. And any other time there were plenty of leftovers still. There was the iftar at our apartment, and also the one time my roommie cooked spaghetti. lol...

So alhamdulillah, that was really nice.

So... some words of wisdom from a convert:
  • if you know a convert, invite him/her to a group iftar... several, if you can
  • if you are a convert, find out about iftars sponsored by groups you're a part of and make an effort to attend
Breaking the fast with others is one really special (and I think, often overlooked) benefit of Ramadan. If you always eat with other people maybe you take this for granted. The only reason I could think of for turning down an iftar invitation would be because I had already committed to another one. (And I did on occasion skip masjid iftars to go to a friend's house instead, I should mention.) Reach out to people you know who live alone, or maybe only with their spouse (married people gonna flip at me... hmm...) or even whole families too. The more the merrier.

I'm pretty sure that eating in groups is better than eating alone, and for sure, praying in a large group better than a small one, and a small one better than none at all.

(And yes, my Ramadan calendar already has dates on it!)

pun intended.

Ramadan Mubarak (two weeks in advance!)

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Eight Things Meme Tag

Okie dokie, so, Naeem tagged me like a week ago with this tag that I'm finally get around to. So maybe people are interested in learning more about me. I talk about personal issues sometimes on my blog, but then there are some things that I haven't really made public, and then some people haven't read a year and a half's worth of archives. So... for all of you......

Step 1: The Rules
1. We have to post these rules before we give you the facts.
2. Players start with eight random facts/habits about themselves.
3. People who are tagged need to write their own blog about their eight things and post these rules.
4. At the end of your blog, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names.

Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.

Step 2: Eight Things

  1. I'm engaged! I've told a handful of people, and hinted at it in other places, but this is the first time I've really announced it. So, yay! My fiancé is in Saudi Arabia right now, and after I graduate inshaaAllah I'll move there too (though by then he should be my husband.) That of course is why I've been reading so many Saudi Blogs, in case anyone was wondering what was up with that.
  2. I don't like chocolate. Strange, especially for a woman it's strange, but as I get older I like it less and less. I'll eat candy that is covered in chocolate, since most of it is, but seldom straight chocolate bars. I think adding chocolate to cheesecake ruins it, and only make an exception for chocolate cake (I do make an irresistable chocolate cake btw) and white chocolate. Not being racist or anything, but white chocolate which is made from the oil instead of ground up beans is so smooth, excellent in, for example, a mocha. Although I'm incredibly picky about chocolate, I love citrus flavors, lime, lemon, orange, hmm...
  3. I wish I could fly. I have a pilot's log book, with my one pitiful hour of actual flight time logged in it. I can't for now afford (either in money or time) to get my pilot's license. Renting the plane, plus the instructor and fuel is all incredibly expensive. So I have my one little hour. I entered college declaring my major as aerospace engineering. I had a love of spaceflight from all the sci-fi I read in middle and high school, and wanted to do something with planes or spaceships as a career. I picked engineering because my dad implied that women couldn't be engineers. (So B'elana Torres on Voyager rocked, as a character, because she was chief engineer!) Not many women are pilots either, I realized later on. I got to spend a few afternoons one semester out at the airport (general aviation terminal) helping repair some small private aircraft, and I loved it. (Later on I saw the industry being very unstable so switched to electrical engineering, which is my current major.) But I am very proud of the time I spent in the pilot's seat, and that's why on several forums I use the alias 'Aviatrix' which, in case you didn't know, is the female form of the word 'Aviator.'
  4. I'm used to being the only girl in a group of guys. As a kid, I used to play baseball on the boys' team (there was no girls team, and softball was only for older girls.) I used to play basketball on the boys' team. When my parents finally put me in cheerleading and softball, I lost interest in sports entirely and didn't play anymore. I wasn't interested in being around girls that much. In high school it was my physics class and computer science class... as they were elective and not required, there were more boys than girls. My senior year, it was all boys except for me. In all my engineering courses it's been the same, one girl compared to a group of boys. Occasionally there are other girls, but you can count them on your hand. One hand. At work, I'm the only girl in our section (signals management). I'm used to it by now, and I don't feel strange being the only girl in a lecture now oriented towards men, or praying behind the men in the same area. In fact a lot of times I feel more comfortable in that kind of gathering, or at least one of mixed gender, than one of only women. And except for the fact I was sorority president for a year, I don't have much to show for socializing with women. In fact, the whole sorority business is a fluke to my social life. Though I should add that the women in it are all kind of like me... engineering students, more acquainted to being around men.
  5. I like to watch movies by myself. As long as I'm not too busy, I do this quite often. I go to the theater by myself, sit by myself, and enjoy the movie way more than if I had anyone with me I think. When I do go with other people I tend to experience it less, somehow. I watch them at home, too. At home I'm more relaxed and don't mind watching with others. I don't know many people who like to go to the movies by themselves though. Some even think there is this unwritten rule that you shouldn't even go alone, or you look like a dork. Guess I'm a dork! Haha.
  6. I work on traffic signals. Red light, green light. My EE major got me a position (yes I'm still in school but working part-time) working for the state's traffic engineering branch of the department of transportation. In short, I draw up instructions on how to hook-up the cabinet to the intersection lights, and how to program the controller, to make it work properly. I can't say much more than that, because I don't think anyone would understand. I've tried explaining it to my fiancé, for example, and he didn't get it, and he's like the smartest person I know, so I won't even try here. But anyway, people stuck in the car with me at a poorly designed intersection understand that I know why it doesn't work, what should be done to fix it, and I feel more entitled to complain since I probably know who did it.
  7. I want to own a motorcycle. My fascination with motorcycles is thus: they go fast, and you go fast, with no shell around you to mask the thrill. Riding a motorcycle behind a male driver isn't what I have in mind either (some girls would, arms around some muscles and whatever..). I mean to sit in the front, hands on the handlebars, feeling the front breeze rushing past me. What can I say, I love going fast. Joyriding in a car is nothing compared to a motorcycle in my opinion anyway.
  8. My convert story. Some people talk about how Islam saved them from drugs, or alcohol, or scandalous unfulfilled lives. When I entered into Islam, it saved me from something else. I wasn't ready to be a practicing Muslim, no, but simply saying shahadah got me out of a predicament I was in, so in reality I don't regret saying it before I was ready to start practicing. And if I hadn't said it then, I might never have really discovered all I did, and learned to appreciate it so much. However, I did enter Islam with a sour taste in my mouth on a number of issues, and it's a real shame that exposure to Islam would leave anyone with such a poor opinion of any Muslim. And even though I benefited immediately from entering Islam, albeit not in a spiritual way exactly, I know that the only reason I had enough confidence to forsake the religion of my family, of my friends, to assert that I really did not want to worship 'Jesus as lord', the only reason I had the atom of faith to do that was from reading the Qur'an. Yes, it took me time to accept everything else, but the Qur'an is the speech of Allah, and Allah says that He alone guides people, and what else would He guide with other than His own speech? In the face of the worst examples of Muslims you could probably imagine, I decided to embrace it on one thing alone, and it wasn't the paragon people try to hold up when they give da'wah either. It wasn't an ideal, and it wasn't Muslims, it was only the Qur'an and that's the only explanation I can give. We as Muslims ask Allah for guidance at least 17 times a day, (every rakah we pray, ihdina al-sirat al-mustaqeem) but how often do we stop and actually listen to the guidance?
Now, on that note, I'm going to tag some people I know... I don't think I can come up with eight people who I know even read my blog regularly, much less who have their own blogs. So I came up with 5. Haha. If you don't have a blog please leave it in the comment section. Jazakumallah khair.

  1. Amilah
  2. Faith
  3. Ahmed
  4. Rose
  5. Rehman
  6. SS
  7. Metta
  8. Kad

Hairspray! and my New Best Friend

So in the last week I've seen three different movies in the theater. They were all good, I guess, but the only one I would definitely recommend to anyone would be the last one I saw.

Last weekend I went to see Becoming Jane with my brother and his fiancee. It was good, I should say, but the least favorite of the three. It's about Jane Austen, and if you don't know who that is... well, you probably wouldn't like the film. But if you're like me, and my brother's fiancee, who can quote extensively from Pride and Prejudice, and the modern version of Persuasion, you might enjoy it. Basically, romance, obligation to family, and sisterhood are prominent themes, as well as the injustice of the society, particularly towards women. Movies are for happy endings in my opinion, though, so shouldn't the lady get her man? Well, in Austen's novels they do, or in her movie character words they all get what they deserve. Recalling Vanity Fair that seems more appropriate. Anyway, it's like Jane Austen is a fashionable thing these days... Keira Knightly really destroyed P&P for me... I just can't explain it. Okay, so it wasn't just her, but partly how so many of the actors were much to old for their characters and... stopping now. Anyway, my bro's fiancee loved the film, I doubt I could sit through it again. It does little justice to the real Jane, I think.

The next movie I saw was Stardust. I had no idea what it was about, it sounded strangely sci-fi or fantasy-ish. Fantasy it was. Actually, one night out on the beach with my bro's fiancee (under an amazingly beautiful sky, so clear I could see the arm of the Milky Way, subhanallah... not a sight for the suburbs!) she was telling me about how the movie is about a falling star, a star who is a person, and some bloke who is looking for a star for his true love. She didn't tell me about Robert de Niro. The movie was good, but deNiro was great.

And just tonight I saw a movie to beat them all... Hairspray!! Movie of the year, I really really enjoyed it (ok, so I love musicals in general). I'm all out of things to say about. Just, if you haven't seen it, you probably should. It's great, the songs are great and the singing. Assuming you can get past John Travolta in drag... and... you probably can... except when the camera focuses on the butt... that's a bit weird. Nonetheless... great movie! Loved it.

Today was a busy day though. I'd wanted to go see Hairspray since I went to see Stardust, because I got to that one so early so I stopped in the Hairspray theater for a little while to pass time and fell in love, so I wanted to see the whole thing. (I came in near the end, when they were singing Without Love). Unfortunately, I had kind of a rough start this morning, with an icky email indicating to me that someone thinks I'm arguing with him while I'm trying to be happy and patient. I haven't got a reason to argue with him right now, so what the heck? But really, there's no worse way to start your day than that sort of an email... except the kind which says you'll only find out later what the problem is. What's that about? You're mad but what, you can't tell me why, you're just gonna wait a few days leaving me to brood about it? UGH!

So instead of moping about all day, which I really wanted to do--okay, so this really upset me--I decided to rearrange my room like I've been meaning to, and throw out the desk, and get the.. special thing..............

So I did. I bought a desk at a yardsale a few years ago, when I was dabbling with the idea of moving out of my parents' house. I painted it myself (did a terrible job really) and when I did actually end up moving out involuntarily I took it with me, and it was nice, especially the first three months I used it when I was in that other apartment. But now that I have a laptop I really don't need such a big desk with a hutch, but I was using the shelves. So I bought a bookcase... all the shelves (and more) and no dead empty space.

I put it together by myself (and did a really shoddy job of it actually, because it was hot in here, I was exhausted, and the black finish was smearing all over my hands--yeah, ew.) But it's up, only a few nails went crooked (I wasn't trying that hard) and even relatively stable. But once I got everything off the desk and onto the bookshelf or in little drawers I also bought today at Wal-mark (except for my printer, which needs a new home) and cleaned up the space... well then I had to get rid of the desk. Desk plus hutch, now, which I managed to get down the stairs of my apartment building all by myself! I of course did the pieces separately, the hutch I also took up the stairs to the parking lot and to the dumpster to throw it out.. wanna armwrestle?... but for the desk part which was a bit heavier, alhamdulillah one of my neighbors came out as I was trying to work it up the stairs and helped me carry it to the dumpster and shove it in.

And then... I went to get my friend. My new best friend, I'm calling it. My old best friend I had to sell for $800, that was my clarinet. But my new best friend is a YAMAHA "Portable" Grand Piano. Portable because it's electric--a keybord, but only the very finest, with weighted keys. Portable in my car, little red focus. I disassembled the stand (it was at my parents' house still) and put it all in my car, and now it's where my desk used to be. Takes up less space leaving more room to... pray? The whole room seems a little more open now, too. Oh yeah... I took the papasan chair out into the living room... that cleared lots of space! I put the bookshelf where it was, and my hamper, and then the piano where the desk was. Very nice!

So why do I call my musical instruments by best friends, someone might be wondering. I was trained privately in clarinet for eight years almost--a personal instructor, not to mention all the playing I did. My clarinet was with me more than any person was. And at other times the piano, when I wasn't playing in a formal group. You see, when I was mad, when I was sad, I could go to the piano, or the clarinet, and just let everything out. It's a tremendous way to relieve stress actually. It takes concentration, and passion at the same time, and is very relaxing. So it just comes out your fingers and onto the board. Wind instruments are better I think, because they force you to regulate your breathing, and take in lots and lots of air. Piano could cause a similar effect if you sing along with it. Not one of my strong suits. But anyway, whenever I've been really upset about something, I would go and play. If you need to cry, the music lets you cry. If you want to shout for joy it gives wings to your voice. If you need to beat out all your anger, the piano will take it. It will take the beating, and turn it into something else. It will take the tears, and turn them too. The piano doesn't get angry at you for your emotions, it just absorbs them, and uses them to make the music, deriving from them the passion. You can't have a fight with a piano, you just pour into it all your anger, all your pain, and the ivory keys just soak it up, letting you free of it. It doesn't build up, and start spitting back in your face. If you want to be happy, it's happy with you. If you want to be sad, it's sad with you. It doesn't make threats, hurl insults. It's just there when you need a friend. When you need someone to listen to the pain, to feel it.

Maybe that's my anti-social musically oriented self only, but I've always found music to be therapeutic. And on a day like today, I really needed to release some of that. Not sure how much stress you can keep after hauling a piano up a flight of stairs (electric or not!) but whatever was left, the piano took. It's a nice hobby anyway, so long as another friend is too angry to tell me what's wrong, but not to blame it on me. Gives me something to do other than cry, mope, or just generally be upset about the state of my life at present.

So when I need to be upset, if I get angry, or if I'm hurt (like right now), I can go to my best friend who listens, and who helps, and who doesn't get angry at me for having emotions. Thought that's what friends did anyway.

Friday, August 24, 2007

No Shoes, No Shirt, No Service

So I went to the beach again, yay! After isha on the 17th I drove once again down to Shallotte, a NC beach town where my brother lives. I stayed there until Tuesday and came back.

I went swimming... spent days doing nothing at all. Except checking for comments on my blog, and I got quite a few over the weekend (thanks everyone, I'm still trying to reply to some of them!)

Now I'm back in Raleigh, back at school, which started Wednesday morning. Unfortunately. Full engineering load, still in shock over how much time it's going to mean I'll be doing homework for the next few months. I can't just fake it either. But since I won't be working in the middle of the night I should actually be able to pull it off... inshaaAllah.

Sincere apologies if I can't keep my blog up like I did over the summer. Naeem, I saw your tag, I'll get to it soon I hope inshaaAllah, and get on with stuff.

Like the picture? At the Wal-mart they had this sign; my brother's store had one too. I guess people at the beach think they can walk around barefooted and scantily clad. What was nice though, was how much cooler it was there. For example, on Monday it was 102F in Raleigh, but only 84F in Shallotte. Breezy, not nearly as humid. The water was nice. Not quite so calm as sometimes I remembered it being. The first day I went swimming was Saturday, which was calmer than the second day I went, Monday. I don't know if it was actually "swimming." More like, going out into shoulder-deep water and jumping waves. So Monday was just rough enough to be annoying since the waves were breaking sooner, and water getting into my eyes more.

I could explain how I pulled it off anyway... the beaches are public, but really the beaches are on islands covered with condos, and they are too far for most people to go, except those who live nearby. On the other hand, the Wilmington beaches are much shorter a drive for people coming from out of town to go to the beach. Driving all the way into Brunswick County, a whole extra 45 minutes or so, it's a little different. No big port city life down in Shallotte, just a little beach town.

Relaxing! And with limited access to the net I didn't do too much. All that was very nice. Not so happy to be home honestly, but it's my first real vacation in a very long time. Will I be going to ISNA next month? That's the next big question!

Anyway... stuff upcoming. Unless someone asks, I probably won't say how I pulled off the swimming.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Undercover Converts

American CrescentWe have a problem...

Americans are embracing Islam. African Americans, Latino Americans, White Americans--they are researching the faith and embracing the deen, integrating into the Muslim community by marriage and activism. They add a unique voice and contribute to the diverse community present in the country.

Okay so that's not the problem... the problem is that many of these converts are young people, forced to hide their Islam from family, from friends, for fear of a very negative reaction. A lot of times it will keep them from joining the community - and Shaytaan will attack the lone Muslim like a wolf attacks the sheep away from the flock. The fear they face is real.

MuslimI was a Muslim for 6 months before I so much as started to pray. And I was practicing Islam for a good 4 months before telling my parents. My relationship with them got progressively worse. I am not allowed to visit my niece and nephew, scarce can see my sister, and my brother-in-law is simply not talking to me. My parents kicked me out of the house. I'm not saying this for any kind of sympathy, but simply to illustrate that it does happen, and it's not so rare as we might like to believe.

Converts are sometimes counselled to just tell their family, that they will accept it. They aren't given such counsel by other converts, I think, but by born Muslims who fail to comprehend the magnitude of such an announcement. The widespread hatred of Islam only grows in America, conditioning the general population to adopt an increasingly intolerant opinion of Islam, and Muslims. That's what converts face, but for their families, the imaginary "over there" fear is brought close to home when a son, daughter, sister, wife, brother, or husband makes a choice against the family upbringing, and embraces what might seem at first to be a fanatical foreign faith. Brainwashed! is probably the immediate thought.

And while I'm sure many converts encounter families who can easily accept this decision, others face a family that may want to lash out, and attempt to punish the person for this decision by kicking them out, threatening divorce, or in other ways excluding them from the family sphere (excommunicating?) So the "undercover converts" have a legitimate fear. Trusting in Allah is easier said than done sometimes for someone who said shahadah a month ago, who has to that point relied entirely on parental support.

With a predominantly immigrant Muslim community, that "new shahadah" might not know to whom he or she can turn when their family fails them. In 2007, anyway, it's not exceptional for new Muslims to look to the internet for support - from other converts, and also knowledgeable and compassionate mentors who can sympathize with their situation and offer advice. I

MuslimI've seen some new converts on YouTube, and was troubled enough to consider this post. For one thing, YouTube is a pretty nasty place, and viewers who leave comments say despicable things I think they haven't got the courage to say to a wall much less a real person. But hiding behind their computers they are suddenly 'ulema, priests, apostles, rightly guided holier-than-thou know-it-alls. I've been a Muslimah who was afraid to tell her parents she was Muslim. I've prayed in a closet. I've hid my Islamic websites on the computer, my Qur'an, my rug. I became an expert at putting on hijab in the car... and taking it off while driving, before arriving so nobody would notice. And I came out on the other side, alhamdulillah, and I wish I could tell you my family accepts it... but they don't. I couldn't tell a new Muslim, "Oh, don't worry, they'll understand..." and "It'll be okay..." because the truth is it might really suck, and people are tested in different ways.

A sad thing on YouTube is to see a new muslim sister, young, who has hardly any Muslim friends to advise her, hiding Islam from her parents and too afraid to cover in public... it's sad to see how she is criticized. Called a hypocrite for not covering her hair in a video, called a disbeliever for limiting her practice of Islam to what she can do without being discovered. To watch someone who so badly needs support receive only criticism really hurts. Yeah, yeah, I know what it feels like, I've been in those shoes and I hated it.

MERCY FOR THE WORLDSAnd let me tell you this, when you are looking to Muslims for help and it's Muslims who think you're not good enough, Muslims who belittle you and your baby steps in faith... how can anyone expect you to trust Muslims? And many a convert have left Islam for that reason alone. Our brothers and sisters. Would you let someone treat your baby brother or baby sister this way?

I would hope that anyone who is about to offer "advice" to a new Muslim, especially "advice" that involves behavior that the convert might especially fear (i.e., "you must tell your family," or "you aren't Muslim unless you wear hijab,") remember the following two ahadith:

1) Ruined are those who insist on hardship in matters of the Faith. [Muslim]
2) The religion (of Islam) is easy, and whoever makes the religion a rigour, it will overpower him. So, follow a middle course (in worship); if you can't do this, do something near to it and give glad tidings and seek help (of Allah) at morn and at dusk and some part of night. [al-Bukhari]

How's the saying go, "the road to hell is paved with good intentions?" I see how some people behave and I think they would rather see the revert leave Islam entirely if they refuse to immediately conform to the rigid manners they exhibit themselves. Astaghfirullah. Our brothers and sisters deserve a better reception than this.

SalaamSo I feel for the undercover convert--I've walked that path and came out on the other side, alhamdulillah. The peculiar difficulties of a new and young convert often find little sympathy from the born Muslim community; support can be scarce so is ever more precious. For us all, the goal should be to grow in taqwa, to increase iman, so that we all but especially the undercover converts can face their fears, pass their tests, and find peace (that is, salaam) in Islam which they lacked in any other walk of life.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

In Pictures

Okay, I'm editing this post to explain it just a little bit... it won't make sense, but perhaps will be less confusing than it is at present.

Crying Lion Crying is depressing. Depression causes crying. So is it the crying which depresses or depression which caused the crying? Even the lion, fearsome though he may be, succumbed to sadness. And seeing greatness fall to tears is a far more terrifying image than seeing weakness. You see, we'd console someone weaker than us, but what if someone stronger than us is crying? How are the mighty fallen?

Clarinet sings the deepest song of my soul. $800. I lost my best friend, my closest companion for 9 years, for a mere $800. I was willing to negotiate, even, but the buyer knew how close this friend was and was too shy to ask for even a penny less, I think. Would you sell your best friend? How could I... oh tears, please stop.

Optimus Prime, Hope in Technology

I need a hero.

Endeavour - Hunk of junk now, engineers too busy blowing stuff up Once upon a time, this was considered a marvelous feat of engineering... launching people into space, bringing them home. It was the climax of an aerospace engineering dream, the peak of aspiration for college students poring over differential equations and heat flow tables and astronomy charts.

F-22 Raptor, Stealth Fighter; Cesspool of Aerospace Engineering BrainsBut now, aerospace engineering is a military, rather than scientific industry. What was a path to discovery now leads to destruction. I remember this boy who I met at a Society of Women Engineers meeting (why was he there?) as a freshman in college; I said I wanted to work at NASA, he said forget it - the only real aerospace innovation is for the military. So if I was interested in anything "fun" I should look in to the air force. All the engineering brains are going in to war planes, not space planes, and that's a crying shame.

Spacewalking - Once was a big deal, now nobody cares

A crying shame... you see, these "astronauts" are little more than construction crew, piecing together the International Space Station (ISS) that was antiquated 5 years ago, before completion. It's still not finished, the stupid thing, and the shuttle isn't helping, all decrepit and broken down as the fleet has become.

Polyisocyanurate foam - Fatal Bullet for Columbia By decrepit, I mean the above "foam" has the potential to utterly destroy the shuttle. It's insulation, really, but not the Pink Panther you have in the attic. It's foam, but not what I think of when I think of "foam."

Cappuccino Foam I think of cappuccino, when I think of foam.

Sea foam

Or I think of sea foam, the bubbles on the surface of salty crests of beach waves.

Polyisocyanruate foam, like on the shuttle's ET (external tank) But this here, this is the kind of insolating foam we're talking about. Polyisocyanurate (a word I can pronounce quickly albeit apparently not without infusing a little hillbilly into it) insulating foam is covering the external tank (ET). If you don't know what the ET is, go back to the picture of the launch above. It's the big orange thing. Fuel tank for the shuttle's engines. Not for the rockets on the side, no, it takes that thing full of fuel just to run the shuttle's engines (which only account for like 30% of the thrust required to get that tile-covered tin can off the ground.) Anyway, there are two kinds of fuel in that monstrosity, liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen. Oxygen and hydrogen don't naturally occur as liquids in Florida, btw, where it's probably 90F on a typical launch day in the middle of summer. (Not like here, where it's 100+F and humid to boot.) So you have to keep them really really cold so they can fit in the tank. So you have to insulate it. So now you have a very cold tank on the Florida coast, so the humid air condenses on the tank and freezes cuz it's.. cold.. and then when it tries to launch you now have ice on the tank, and the ice and foam all falling off the darn thing as it shudders on the launch pad trying... and you know what happens?

White spots are gouges. Big one bottom left. Fix it, hello?This happens. You get scrapes and scratches and gouges on the tile surface of the "orbiter" (which is the part with wings, the almost-looks-like-an-airplane thing that will--we hope--be able to land.) So that white thing on the left is a hole, about the size of a large cell phone, maybe a blackberry. But a little deeper than that. Deep enough to reach the skin which means that... well, it means that a small portion of the skin is exposed. Columbia blew up on reentry several years ago because of a scratch like that (albeit larger, and on the wing.) The crew now has the capability to repair it "just to make sure," but instead, they're going to let the ground crew run simulations and tests and decide "Eh, we'll probably be okay if we don't fix it." Could they be any more lazy?? Fix it already!

!!!!!! So I'm a little bit angry. Not because of the shuttle really. But hey, did it make more sense when there were just pictures?

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Three stories

I might have blogged about this before a little, but I'd like to elaborate on it if I have, or introduce it if I haven't.

Several months ago, my roommate, a friend of hers, and I all went to a local high school MSA meeting after school on Friday. It was a chance for them to listen to Muslims from the community, instead of their regular meetings (which I can only imagine were pretty boring...). I wasn't sure what sort of format would be appropriate, I didn't feel like giving a speech or anything since the environment was pretty relaxed, and I went first so...

I took a seat in the middle of the front of the room, and talked about myself for just a few minutes, then asked questions. Following my lead, the sisters after me did the same thing. All three of us were converts, I should add. We all got similar questions from the group, but one I think was interesting because of the diversity in our answers. They wanted to know when we started to wear hijab, if we started right away or not.

For me, the answer was no. I said shahadah then spent several months questioning my belief. (Don't most people do that before they technically convert? So I was out of order, happens sometimes.) I didn't pray, I didn't fast that Ramadan, I didn't even try to meet Muslims nearby. Not for several months. But I did eventually start to pray, start making friends, and start to wear hijab--in that order. For me, I had to gain a lot of confidence about being Muslim in public before I could wear it on my head. I had to have enough confidence in the religion (which I sadly did not have to start with) to reconstruct my life around it, and hijab was part of that for me. So it took several months (about eight) before I adopted the headscarf on a regular basis. I put it on as a challenge, to see if I was too afraid to keep it on--even then, I was not convinced that wearing hijab was an absolute necessity--and I kept it on, alhamdulillah. I was scared, I felt judged all the time, and it was difficult, no lies, to keep it on and continue life as normal knowing that people were questioning me, questioning the scarf, and were very confused. It took me time to develop that confidence, to feel proud wearing it.

The next sister to speak had spent several years (compared to my couple of months) studying Islam before actually converting. She worked with some Muslims, and little by little started to learn pieces of the religion. It was a long time before she read the Qur'an, but shortly after that she did embrace Islam. When did she start covering? Right away. How did it make her feel? She said it made her proud, right away. She was proud to be a Muslim, and more than happy to show it. And 10 years later she is still happy to wear it.

The last sister had been Muslim for about 5 years, and embracing Islam was a shock to her hard-core Christian upbringing. However, the rights and rulings of Islam she easily accepted. When did she start to wear hijab? Before she was Muslim. She was so convinced of the value of wearing hijab, not even being Muslim, that she started to wear it of her own choice (not religious obligation). It was only later that she realized she was confident that following Islam was a path of truth, that she embraced the rest of the religion whole-heartedly.

I have a lot of respect for both of these sisters, how they waited, though, and considered their choices before making them. I feel foolish in comparison sometimes--I jump in first, then try to get out as soon as the shock hits me, and then realize it's not so bad after all. They knew what they were getting in to, and so were ready to handle it. So I think when people choose to embrace Islam, they should as soon as they are ready... I can't determine whether or not I was ready. But I've seen people who weren't... and then they keep trying to get out. Every little step is a challenge because they didn't see it coming, they're blindsided by it, and let me tell you, when you feel that way, it's hard to trust the path you've taken, since clearly (it feels clear anyway) you were deceived of some of the consequences.

Say it like THIS

Your Linguistic Profile:

55% General American English

25% Dixie

10% Upper Midwestern

5% Yankee

0% Midwestern

If you take the test, a lot of it is how you pronounce certain words, or what word you use for a particular object. I'm not sure how I got 5% Yankee..., but the rest kinda makes sense. My dad grew up in Minnesota, that explains the Upper Midwestern, I live in NC so that's the 25% dixie... at any rate, I'm 75% not dixie. I reckon (haha) 25% is just enough to be charming once in a while, but not smothering or annoying. Some people have Southern accents that just irritate me to death... like the president (Bush) to start with, but even more so, the NC Governor (Mike Easley) and more than that... presidential hopeful and ex-senator from NC, John Edwards--his is the absolute worst. I grew up in the south and yet I have the worst opinion (of anyone I know) of southern accents. A little bit is fine, but these guys just overdo it... and they sound so dumb. Come on, how can you listen to Edwards (and he gets airtime because he's running for president and all) and not think "Ugh, what an uneducated backwards moron." Americans, I think, judge people a lot by how they speak. I'm guilty of it. I know most of the NC Legislature talks like that, coming from backwoods towns all over the state... it's embarrassing to listen to them, sadly.

But other accents I think are actually neat to listen to. Russian accents, for instance, I think are fascinating. (Not Borat... more like Boris & Natasha). Some British accents are interesting, I think, but others really put me off though I can't explain why. New Zealand is funny. Among Muslims, you get the Southeast Asian kind of English from Urdu or Punjabi (aka "Indian") which is kind of abrupt. Arab accents really vary. Moroccans for example sound more like French accents than Arabic ones (which you'd expect, almost). Egyptians are funny though. My favorite...

Some months ago I was riding in the car with a friend of mine whose dad is from Palestine. Out of nowhere... "You can bark anywhere you want" she says, "But you can't park here!"

I just remembered... and laughed... lalala.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Closed on Sundays

I've been eating at Chick-fil-a more frequently lately... I work way outside of town and there's a very large shopping center nearby. But only two quick-service places are there that I know of, and I'm not interested in sitting down for a long lunch most days, I'd rather just come back to work. But since the two options are Mcdonald's and Chick-fil-a... I pick Chick-fil-a. And so would I probably no matter how many options there were--I do like the food. But I detest McDonald's (even the smell makes me sick!)

But the funny thing about Chick-fil-a for me is that I worked there. So did both my older sisters. When my first sister started, they asked her in the interview which church she went to! In case you didn't know, it's a pretty good "Christian" establishment. As far as fast-food places go, it has a very low turnover rate. It's a little more expensive (after all... they sell chicken only, no beef, and chicken can be more expensive than burgers--especially chicken breasts, not patties or anything like that.) It's also closed on Sundays. Usually located in shopping malls and centers that do their best business on weekends, it's bold. But as an employee, it was nice. When my sisters worked there, they'd always have off to go to church. I didn't go to church much while I worked there, which was once I started college. But still, having off on Sundays was nice. At least one day to relax, catch up. Study. Later on my sorority meetings were Sundays. Then again, if you wanted to work it could hurt.

Anyway, I like the food. I worked there for two and a half years by the way, I know how they prepare the food. (They don't fry the bacon in the same fryer as the fries or chicken, to start with.) Actually the chicken has a fryer, and the fries have a fryer. Everything is fried in peanut oil now (which was not always the case, they used to fry the fries in animal shortening... even sounds gross...). Bacon doesn't go in a fryer. Sometimes I wonder if places like Chick-fil-a qualify as food from "Christians." I never really understood what the rulings were about "meat from Christians and Jews" since Christians (to my knowledge) never really slaughtered meat any particular way at all.

When I worked there, I got free food on breaks. (If you worked more than 4 hours you got a break.) Breaks weren't paid but the food was free. So I ate Chick-fil-A a lot. You'd think I'd get sick of it. You'd think everyone who worked there would get sick of it. Nope. Addicted to it? Maybe the cheesecake... but mostly? No. But when it comes to fast food Chick-fil-A always stands out to me. And for more than just the "chicken sandwich."

I think McDonald's (ew again) tried or is trying a "southern style" chicken sandwich, basically frying a chicken breast and putting it on a bun with pickles--exactly how it's done at Chick-fil-a. I detest McDonald's (yes I know I'm repeating myself) so I'd never bother to try it. But maybe other people would, who knows. Anyway... my sisters and I still eat at Chick-fil-A sometimes... even though we all worked there... as far as fast-food goes, I think they're a "cut above" the rest.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Big Brother is listening...

CNN calls it "eavesdropping." Is it eavesdropping or is it spying? The American government has checks and balances. Three branches, judicial, legislative, and executive. One is out of control, guess which? The executive branch is taking over, that's what we call it when lawmakers merely argue and discuss non-binding propositions instead of passing legislation, and begin to shift judicial power back to the executive branch too.

We don't hear a lot about the judicial branch, from a government perspective. We hear about the president, we hear about congress... and sometimes we hear about judges but it always seems so minor. When it comes to surveillance of citizenry, however, I think it's a law enforcement issue which should, naturally, fall under the judicial branch. Which makes it very unfortunate to see Congress taking power from the courts and checks and balance system, and bestowing it on the over-pompous president and his "administration."

In principle, it's wrong. Civil rights are slipping through our fingers...

Fear of Poverty

More from Purification of the Heart...

It's probably kind of ironic that I start these posts with a humorous image, and follow with a serious post. It's a snare, trying to catch your interest. I said today, "don't fear poverty." Turns out that Fear of Poverty is a chapter in the book so I feel compelled to post on it, just as a gentle reminder.

First of all, fear of poverty is described as a disease of the heart because nurturing it implies a bad opinion about Allah. And He has revealed, Satan threatens you with poverty and he commands you to immorality. But God promises you His forgiveness and bounty. (2:268). See that? Allah promises both forgiveness and bounty. I feel like this ayat is very pertinent to a current situation (which I am not in alone) and that being the case, I am amazed once more at the relevance of the Qur'an. Fear of poverty--that is when Shaytaan incessantly bothers us with pondering the importance of our wealth in our lives, when the whispering makes us depend on the wealth instead of Allah and cling to it--causes us to neglect the needy and ultimately deprive ourselves of giving for the sake of God, which is actually virtuous. (By the way, we can recall here that envy is allowed in two cases, one of which is to envy a man who has wealth from Allah that he spends in the way of Allah, wishing that we could also spend in Allah's way and earn reward through that.)

Anyway, the preoccupation with wealth leaves a person open to transgression to gain or at least maintain wealth. The text here actually says "vulnerable to transgress laws and indulge in lewdness." And then comes my favorite line in the whole chapter...
God is the Provider and source of all wealth and comfort.
I love to be reminded of this, when someone tells me for example that he is indebted to Allah first, and grateful to Allah first, and that such-and-such provision is for Allah. The actual poem says that the cure of fear of poverty
is in having a good opinion (of God)

and knowing that what God possesses is never diminished in the least and that what has been apportioned to you will reach you inevitably.
So if we have fear, we should fear Allah. Definitely. Allah has revealed And whoever fears God, He will make foor him a way out. And He will provide for him in a way he never expected. And whoever trusts in God, He is sufficient for him. (65:2-3). More beautiful ayaat... I mean, I can't even read the Arabic but still this moves me. Perhaps more moving is that I have seen it, experienced it, experienced having to trust in Allah, and finding a way out... an unexpected way out... subhanallah.
There is a stipulation in receiving this provision, namely, that one have true taqwaa (or awe of God) and is nurturing of the condition that permits him or her to walk the earth with dignity.
The cure then is to maintain a good opinion of our Provider, which will "deflect insidious whisperings" and "subtle provocations that create irrational fear." The good thoughts express themselves in contentment with status, and the Prophet Muhammad saws said "Contentment is a treasure that is never exhausted."
One should not worry, for what is determined for a person shall come to him or her.
And I would like to end on the following ayah, that on no soul does Allah place a burden greater than it can bear.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Detecting "Spin"

It really gets on my nerves to listen to talk radio... or tv news... sometimes read the newspaper... yet despite that, I turned on the conservative news radio station while driving around town this afternoon, and the voice was blabbering about providing free health care for children and why it's such a bad idea. He quoted something from CNN about how biased they are, wanting children to have access to health care when their parents can't afford health insurance, and then proceeded to explain why this is such a bad idea, and how dare a woman have a child who she can't pay for? As if, 8 years previously, she knew that she wasn't going to be able to provide health care? This from a man who hates abortion and frankly doesn't care for birth control that much either. So he made a lot of nasty assumptions about one woman just to make his case against this health care bill coming out of the house. A bill that wants kids to go to doctors.

But anyway... I was listening and I start noticing things, not just from him but things I hear that always strike me as odd things to hear in a newscast. For example "slippery slope." I'm sick of hearing this phrase, every time someone acts for change, they're on a "slippery slope" towards this or that evil... it's always a slippery slope. The alliteration sounded neat the first time but after that... I'm sick of hearing this phrase, and I hear it all the time. It's such a cliche now we shouldn't write it without quotes around it! Nonetheless, when it is used, it's fairly uncreative attempt to make people think that whatever it is will make things get worse in the future... and markedly so. It's a fear-mongering attempt. So now I start to question the validity of any news report where the announcer opted to use this incredibly annoying and overused phrase.

Another thing I can't stand is when the announcer starts insisting that he's been telling you this... forever. "I told you they were going to do this..." and "I've been saying all along.." Isn't it so nice to know, and now have proof that our talking heads are not only inanely clever, they're also clairvoyant? They knew the future, see? They kept telling you and you didn't listen... and now look what's happened? So listen up now, take everything he says as Gospel truth because hey, he's on your side and he has more information than you. This is time to pull out that British cutie, "Bollocks!" Anyway, it used to annoy me to listen to Rush Limbaugh when he'd begin ranting about how right he'd always been and how he was always telling you and always right. Fact is, he's not always right. Just makes a point of milking it when things go as he predicted. Some cheap kind of prophets these guys think they are. So beware... if he has to tell you that he's been right all along... that should really should raise suspicion on everything he says. Does an honest man need to keep asserting his integrity?

Another troubling thing to hear is, "Nobody else is going to tell you this." What I want to know is, why isn't anybody else going to tell me this? My first reaction is, because it's a lie!! But the announcer insisted that he has all the facts for his listeners, and nobody else is going to explain the truth of the matter. So they have to listen to him, and not question any of his information, while they should totally disregard everyone else. Is this legislation shrouded in secrecy, is that why nobody else will tell me how evil it is to provide health care for poor kids? And the answer is... no! It's just that it's hard to find people who hate Nancy Pelosi so much who can articulate themselves well enough to get on the air.

So nobody is going to tell you the truth, except for your announcer; but that's okay because he's always right. And he has to tell you because you must act in opposition to whatever (like health care for poor kids) or else we'll all be on a "slippery slope" towards some unimaginable evil like... health care for everyone.

When can people go back to reporting the news? Tell me what happened, who did what, what the possible outcomes are. That's what I want to hear. Not a self-validation by the announcer, not his prophecy success rate, not one person's opinion or irrational fear. (What is so scary about health care for poor kids??)

This really isn't about the legislation, for me, it's just that whether the issue is health care for poor kids (saying it that way should give away my opinion on this issue but there's more to it than that and I'll admit plainly I know next to nothing about the proposal), or if it's pulling troops out of Iraq or allowing Qur'ans in courtrooms, gay marriage, or ethanol fuel... I'm fed up with hearing the same cliches, the same lines, the same boring storybook format and learning absolutely nothing about the issue at hand. When can we get announcers who report the news instead of throwing it in a blender, adding a few healthy doses of Ego and Fear only to chuck the resulting garbage out at their listeners?

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Nessun Dorma

Perhaps one of the most famous tenor arias is Nessun Dorma from Puccini's Turandot. You can find it all over youtube nowadays, most especially by Pavarotti. Of course, if you listen to Pavarotti I have to tell you it's far far better than anyone else you'll find singing it.

Such things occur to me at odd times, to seek out particular pieces of music, and I won't tell what exactly made me look for Puccini but I found a recording of Pavarotti at the Torino Olympics. (And if you watch this, check out how far his mouth opens... it's like anime characters almost, so wide.) Anyway, listening to him sing reminded me how impressed I had been watching him sing then, for the Opening Ceremonies. I never was much into opera, really. I didn't know the story of Turandot, nor the meaning of the lyrics to Nessun Dorma. I find it somewhat interesting then I was listening to it on a graveyard shift in the lab...

"Nessun dorma" actually means "none shall sleep" or something like that, in Italian. In the opera, the princess (who is named Turandot) has decreed that nobody will be allowed to sleep that night until the name of the prince, who has met her challenge and thus is able to marry her, is discovered. If she can learn his name, she will not have to marry him. It's a riddle the prince has given to her and this aria is sung on that night, since he has very nearly won. The last words of the aria even mean "I will win!" meaning he will get to marry her--it's more romantic than that, really, he's trying to get her to fall in love with him. The crescendo... it's beautiful. It's enchanting, not knowing the words, that's the beauty of opera anyway.

It was interesting to find the meaning though, "none shall sleep," while working graveyard. I've finished my last graveyard shift, though, I'm happy to say. Working at night has a disturbing effect, I think. The prayer times are designed around the sun, this keeps you in touch with reality, the motion of the sun. Keeps your body in a natural rhythm. Working up at night is an undesired state... and I feel bad for anyone who has to go through that regularly. For the last four weeks I've had this disturbing schedule, working Mondays midnight-4am, and Wednesdays 4am-8am, and Thursdays 8pm-midnight, in addition to normal daytime hours of school/work. So being up extraordinarily late Sunday night... having to get up extraordinarily early Wednesday morning... staying up again Thursday night... it's been hard to catch up, and I've paid for it in a number of ways, not the least of which is a regrettable effect on my salaat.

So I have decided to stop working graveyard hours like that, to stop working such late, early, or otherwise bizarre hours. Losing sleep is bad, the effect on my concentration is lamentable, but salaat is even more important than that, isn't it? Anyway, I'm looking forward to, after over a year of working strangely late hours which disrupt my overall performance at school and work, I'm going to stop. For a number of combined reasons I've decided (almost) also to only work one job in the fall semester. I'll pull as many hours there as I can inshaaAllah, but I think overall that will be much healthier (physically, not to mention spiritually) for me. Without having to worry about night hours in the lab, I can actually work more hours at DOT--being fresh in the morning to come in an hour earlier, no late night commitments so I can stay an hour later--and it adds up, will cover most of the difference for not working in the lab. I will have one night class, but other than that my schedule should be relatively normal, inshaaAllah. And I can hope that will make adusting to the fasting of Ramadan easier as well. I may change my mind and keep the second job on the stipulation I don't work graveyard, but I think I'll much prefer to leave it entirely (part of that has to do with new duties being assigned to the job that I'm not interested in, by the way.)

Anyway. You heard it here first. Yay! Alhamdulillah.