Monday, November 30, 2009

Fwd: Suitcase

How to pack for a 16 day trip to move all my belongings across the country? I'm trying go as light as is reasonable, planning to wash every 5-6 days.

I'm all about the Ziploc baggies, too, to keep certain items together--like laundry detergent, and scarves (though they took 3 bags total.)

This way it will be easy to find everything despite having to unpack somewhere nee each night.

My problem now is that all my clothes are packed either in my suitcase or in bags to be shipped once we arrive in Seattle. So what to wear? Another problem is what to do with my shoes... pack in an additional carry-on size bag those I frequently wear so I have them during the trip? Or "rough it" with just 2-3 pairs?

This is my first post by email. I'd like to see whether I can blog from the road or will need to post from my laptop at the hotel.

Any last-minute tips/advice are welcome!

Thirty-Two Hours and Counting...

With my wedding already three weeks past, then Thanksgiving, Eid, and my brother's wedding also past, my heart has only one focus: my husband.

And he'll be here, in less than thirty-two hours inshaaAllaah. And then I'll have to say good-bye to my family and friends here in Raleigh. So in one sense it is bittersweet, but I fully intend to visit often and so the prospect of moving in with my husband, moving all the way across the country to Seattle with him, is more sweet than bitter.

Tonight I had one last little party with my friends before I'll be leaving inshaaAllaah, and it was so good to see everyone. After my brother's wedding (it was Saturday) I was able to say good-bye to him and to my new sister-in-law (the photo is her by the way, after she changed shoes...) and also to my sister and brother-in-law who will be leaving for the same cruise as the newlyweds. My other sister still doesn't speak to me but I gave a warm good-bye to my nieces and nephews.

InshaaAllaah, husband and I will be meeting with my parents for lunch on Tuesday before we head out, which makes everyone happy alhamdulillah. I was worried that we would need to leave right away (leaving on Tuesday already puts us slightly behind my previously planned schedule) but my dad gets off work at 2pm, and was really bummed he wouldn't be able to see us off. He loves my husband (alhamdulillah for that!) and my husband is looking forward to seeing my parents as well. So it's good all around.

But in the next day or so, I have pages of tasks crowding my to-do list, high-priority items that must be done before I leave. (So naturally I am blogging to further procrastinate.)

Please stay tuned to the blog, inshaaAllaah I'll be posting pictures and updates along the way. And who knows? Some pictures of me might actually end up on here too. :-)

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Cluttered Thoughts

On any given day, I'd say at least one, if not two distinct ideas for a blog post pop into my head, but most of the time I don't get around to actually writing the posts--or even writing down my ideas! What a shame!

I tend to blog about what I spend my time thinking about. And lately, I've been thinking about my move across the country. What will my life be like there? Should I start a new blog when I move, to be more anonymous? Are there other Muslim bloggers in the area? What are the Muslims there like? What will they think of me? And even: How will I decorate?

I've also spent some time thinking about my upcoming honeymoon, the actual trip across the country. Since I've been away from my husband now for two full weeks, I'm really starting to miss him. I missed him at first but three days together was not enough time to prepare me for this separation. Frankly it's just weird--I didn't realize how weird it would feel.

Alhamdulillah, at any rate. My husband (can you tell I like saying that?) will eventually inshaaAllaah make it back to my side of the country to drive me to our new home. When he hasn't been insanely busy at work, he managed to find time to lease an apartment and take some lovely photographs of it with his brand new fancy camera. I'm excited.

The next few days will be extremely busy. InshaaAllaah, tomorrow is Thanksgiving, Friday is Eid and my brother's wedding rehearsal and dinner, and Saturday is the wedding!

On Eid--did anyone see the Best Buy advertisement saying "Happy Eid al-Adha?" What I found more intriguing than the actual ad were the complaints from some "Christian Americans" on various blogs when the subject came up. Now, these folks were not in any sense the majority, but they were certainly the most amusing, from complaining that Eid was a goat-slaughtering holiday and that Best Buy had banned Christmas. (Rolling my eyes at that one.)

These proud Christian Americans are no doubt the ones who will gather around a festively decorated table tomorrow to chow down on a carefully cooked and carved turkey. In fact, it's almost more common to hear people say "Turkey Day" than "Thanksgiving." But Eid is a goat-slaughtering holiday? Excuse my rant, but seriously? When an animal is slaughtered on Eid (and it can be a lamb, sheep, goat, cow, or camel, not just goat) it is done with a pretty clear purpose--to remember how Abraham, with his tremendous faith, was willing to sacrifice his son. The sacrifice also keeps the family in touch with nature, at least in a sense that the animal has to be slaughtered a certain way and so forth. It's not bought in a grocery store. And then the meat from the animal is to be eaten, and shared, especially with the poor and needy. So it's also a charity.

I tend to view Thanksgiving more as an exercise in gluttony than one of faith, sacrifice, or charity. Now that's just my perspective, but I find it pretty laughable to hear those "Christian Americans" complaining about Eid.

But on the other hand, I could care less (and they probably should or they might wind up with high blood pressure) if Best Buy wants to wish anyone a happy holiday, regardless of what the holiday is, and regardless of how specific they choose to be when conveying the greeting. Meaning, it doesn't bother me one bit to hear someone say "Merry Christmas" for example. So I can just keep on laughing at the whack-jobs who need to bother about holiday greetings in sale papers.

So there... a few random thoughts to say I blogged today! :-)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Officially Alumna

I am now officially an alumna. I graduated technically in August, received my diploma soon thereafter, and now have been initiated as an alumna of my sorority.

After a year as my sorority's president, I went way off the radar and had practically nothing to do with the sorority until now, when I had to ceremonially renew my vows in front of the active sisters. It was kind of weird--I was definitely the oldest sister present at the ceremony. There were some other alumnae who had been active while I was, and some actives as well. One sister from my candidate class was still active, the other two are alumnae now but only one was present. But most of the sisters I had never even seen before--nearly 60 of them.

When I was first initiated into the sorority, we had some of the lowest numbers in our chapter's history. One semester I served as membership educator, liaison between the actives and the candidates, and we practically doubled our membership. (I think from 11 to 21.) For the next two semesters as president, our numbers doubled again. (I think from 21 to 44.) So to see that they've only increased more since I've left is really exciting.

I would love to see this kind of growth from my da'wah. Of course it's not in my hands, but can you imagine if you had a few people giving da'wah, and those receiving the da'wah embrace Islam, only to start giving da'wah to more people, who also give da'wah to more people?

Looking back, I think that joining my sorority was one of the better decisions I made in college. It opened so many doors for me, helped me explore my personality and it exposed me to many different types of people. (Which is odd, considering that sororities tend to be comprised of only a few types of people.) But had I not joined my sorority, I would not have hung out with the people through whom I met Muslims for the first time. The sorority was an important part of my college experience, even though I only spent about 2-3 years really participating in it. It was nice to attend the ceremony, look back at all the faces, and finally bid farewell to a part of my life, a chapter drawing to a close.

And now I'm ready to move on, stronger and wiser for the experience.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Blog Update

Since I've been on my blog now for a few years, I am really itching to overhaul it. To change the name, format, everything. Any advice?

I feel like I've outgrown what I can do with this particular set-up, and I want to make so many changes that I think it will be easier to start from scratch. I also want to focus on my writing like I haven't done before--I enjoy blogging but I think I would like to concentrate on it a little bit more. And in order to do that I think I need to find a nitch, but my interests are so varied it might be difficult for me to stick to any particular topic exclusively.

So I'd like to ask from my readers, what sort of updates should I make? What sort of topics are the most interesting and most relevant? From those who know me, what would it be best for me to write about? So far most of my posts tend to be miscellaneous musings, notes from lectures, classes, and seminars, and personal experiences.

Thanks in advance for all the tips!

Let Them Eat Cake

(Post to be updated in the future inshaaAllaah with pictures of the actual cakes.)

I've been holding off on some wedding posts since I'd like to include pictures but I'm afraid if I wait much longer that I'll forget to write at all! InshaaAllaah the pictures will come soon--I know I've got two great but incredibly busy friends working on the project.

Last night at dinner a friend asked me about any "craziness" that happened at my wedding. And the first thing that came to my mind was the wedding cake. Since my brother's fiancee has been learning cake decorating so she and her dad can make her own wedding cake, she's been looking to practice on other people's cakes. But I'd seen a previous cake and she did a fabulous job and was excited that she offered to do mine as well, so I readily took her up on the offer.

And she absolutely did a fabulous job. The cake was beautiful, and tasted just superb. Unfortunately it had a little bit of a rough ride to the reception and got a little messed up, frazzling my dear soon-to-be sister-in-law who felt compelled to present perfection. I had organized the tables in the room so that the cake (which I knew would be lovely) would be a centerpiece among all the other trays of food--so in addition to being food, it would also be decor. (And yes, some guests even thought the cake was from Edible Art!)

But the really funny part was that about an hour before the wedding I got a phone call from one of my guests, telling me that despite the late notice, she would be bringing a wedding cake! Really I had no idea what to expect, or what to say. These cakes take days to prepare so I couldn't very well turn her down an hour beforehand when she was presenting it as a gift and only right before the wedding.

So when I arrived at the wedding reception, there were two cakes. Surprise! And the second cake was a full wedding cake as well, set up on an adjacent table looking oddly out of place. A groom's cake? Hehe, perhaps. What confused me is that the guest who brought the cake expected my husband and I to actually cut her cake as well (we had engaged in a typical American cake-cutting photo-op) which to me felt supremely odd. So I didn't do it.

But since the first was so delicious (some guests informed me that they found themselves eating several pieces) it was handy to have a second cake. One of the brothers actually asked me if he could go ahead and cut the second cake--because the first one had vanished before everyone had tried a piece!

So in the end it worked out, but how awkward to have a second surprise wedding cake. A nice gift, to be sure, but one which should be announced beforehand. And a word to the wise about wedding cakes--fondant may be easy to decorate with but truly guests will appreciate the taste of home-made buttercream.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Taking Back the Gym

Click for Photo CreditAlhamdulillah, my masjid has a basketball court--although depending on who you ask, that could be good or bad for the youth. The good is that it brings youth to the masjid, but the bad could be that it takes them from the halaqaat and into the gym, giving them an excuse to avoid the blessings of the masjid. But today I'd say it was mostly good.

A friend of mine, one of the more athletic sisters in the community, has organized some weekly basketball time for sisters, on Friday afternoons. Last weekend with the wedding and everything I was much too busy, but this week I wanted to give it a try. Six sisters showed up, and found the gym occupied for about a half hour past the time we had planned to start. So we tried various stretches and exercises using body weight. Then we had to basically kick some brothers out of the gym so we could play.

Honestly, I didn't feel too bad about it since pretty much it's almost always just brothers playing basketball in there. There should be time for sisters too. When we came back to play again after breaking for maghrib, however, a larger group of guys (including an adult, unfortunately) were not interested in letting the sisters play at all. To be honest, though, they did have a point because the gym wasn't officially reserved, and so I'll imagine that if it had been (and that next week when it will be inshaaAllaah) they won't mind clearing out for a little while so sisters can play.

As I haven't played any basketball in over a decade, I thought I'd be pretty much useless on the court. On the other hand, while I couldn't quite run as fast as the other girls and had little experience in practical maneuvers, I wasn't a terribly bad shot. So I had a lot of fun (it's so fun when you score!) and really enjoyed the workout (mostly running.)

I hope that other masajid with gymnasiums and basketball courts make arrangements to ensure that sisters are also able to play. A lot of times sisters aren't given the chance to exercise--sometimes it's even frowned upon or considered too masculine--and that only makes it more likely for sisters to turn to other, unhealthier avenues to vent their frustration. Exercise promotes health, no doubt about that. And if we as Muslims promote health, we should also promote exercise, even, if not especially, for sisters. And having an environment where it is "safe" to exercise (without the leering eyes of men) is just one important step.

Aggressive Da'wah

I don't think it's in the nature of most people, at least here in the US, to aggressively push their beliefs on others. And I think it's quite natural for someone to feel defensive in a situation where someone is being pushy in the matter of faith. At the same time, I think an effective da'ee avoids putting anyone in a defensive position, at least on a personal level. That's because if someone is defensive they have basically closed themselves off from your position, and they won't listen to your point of view.

Imagine, if you are Muslim, how you might feel if someone comes to you telling you about your own religion. Imagine someone who isn't Muslim telling you that Islam teaches this, preaches that, and you believe thus-and-such, and that this person is actually wrong. Because you don't believe whatever it is he's saying you do believe.

In fact this happens quite a lot--many people like to get up and say what Muslims believe. Usually it's in the context of trying to blame Islam for terrorism (or even to use Islam for terrorism.) It's popular to hear people who aren't Muslim saying "Muslims believe that..." and launching into an absurd rant about killing infidels or something equally ludicrous. Because this happens, as Muslims we should be easily able to understand the sentiment I am about to describe.

Imagine now a non-Muslim being told about his beliefs by a Muslim. In other words, the Muslim is telling that non-Muslim that he believes something in particular--and the Muslim might even cite the Qur'an--but that non-Muslim actually doesn't believe it. For example, I've yet to come across any Jews anywhere who say that Uzair (I guess in English it is Ezra?) is the son of God. And I don't mean to dispute the Qur'an on the issue at all--though it certainly doesn't say that all Jews espouse such a belief. And without bothering to really listen to our Jewish neighbors about their beliefs in the first place, it's kind of arrogant, I think, to try to prove what they believe when we are in fact the ones in error. It does nothing to strengthen the position of Islam or Muslims, or to further the da'wah.

I can't imagine it to be anything but rude or offensive to tell a person what he believes. Now that is just my opinion, but does anyone have reason to believe that such bullying da'wah techniques could ever be effective?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Rainy Day Chili

Alhamdulillah, yesterday I had the opportunity to make and serve some chili. Actually I opted to make chili since it was cold and rainy--a condition that's only gotten worse, as today was colder and windier I think, albeit maybe less rainy. It was a good choice I think, and as far as I could tell everyone enjoyed it. It's a very simple recipe, unlike Br. Siraaj's over at MuslimMatters. Actually I thought I'd try that recipe until I realized it involved chopping onions, peppers, and blending cashews, for instance.

So I do what I do when I want to fix something from an old family recipe--call my mom! And here's the recipe she gave me. It was very simple (no chopping involved, for instance) and was tasty and comforting, especially on a blustery day. Here is my mom's recipe:

1 lb ground beef
2 cans of kidney beans (I used 1 light red and 1 dark red for variety)
1 cans of diced tomatoes (can use the ones with chilis or chili seasoned variety)
1 can of tomato sauce
chili powder (to taste)

Like my mom, I have a tendency not to measure anything, especially spices. But I actually made three batches, using two dutch ovens (maybe I'll get a stockpot in a new kitchen set when I move inshaaAllaah.) So here is how I made it. In each dutch oven (~5qt?) I put:

1 1/2 lb. ground beef (browned, with grease drained)
3 cans of kidney beans (1.5 cans of light, 1.5 cans of dark red)
2 cans of tomato sauce (yep, more than called for, but I like it)
1 can of chili seasoned diced tomatoes
1/2 can of petite diced tomatoes (petite for variety)
chili powder (about 1 tbsp each pot, maybe more)
crushed red pepper (maybe 1 tsp) just for fun!

It wasn't too spicy (some down-home Southern folks don't like things too hot) but had just a little kick. I'd say it was just right for the occasion.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Pineapple Wedding Punch

It's been my experience that punch is a mainstay at some particular social functions--showers and receptions, for instance. So I wanted to have some at my wedding reception. Since the event wasn't catered, punch was definitely something I would have to take into my own hands. Alhamdulillah it worked out really well, and many people enjoyed the punch. (And if anyone didn't, they didn't tell me!)

While punch recipes abound on the internet, with varying degrees of difficulty, I decided instead to use a punch recipe that my mother has kept from her mother. It's actually a recipe for "Champagne Punch" but according to my mother, they never used champagne in it. And of course I didn't use champagne in it either, so I've renamed it "Pineapple Punch."

I thought I might not want to share the recipe on the internet--since there really are so many recipes for punch out there--but really, if a few people use the recipe, what of it? So here it is.

The simple recipe makes "50 servings" according to the recipe card, but I'm inclined to think it makes 25 at best. I basically multiplied the recipe by 4--and made two batches of that. It's difficult to make so much at a time, however. It took me two dutch ovens to make it, and that's the biggest pot I have.

The recipe on the card calls for:

1 1/4 cups water
2 1/2 cups sugar
Boil the sugar in the water for 10 minutes
Add the following ingredients:
2 cups orange juice
1 cup lemon juice
2 cups pineapple syrup
2 cups crushed pineapple
Then at the last minute a 2 liter bottle of ginger ale is added.

On the other hand, when I made it, I did it a little differently. This recipe is how I actually made it, which is roughly 4x the amount in the recipe above.

5 cups of water
10 cups of sugar
Boil the sugar in the water for 10 minutes
Add the following:
1 half-gallon of orange juice (I used the kind with extra pulp)
1 large bottle of lemon juice (~42-48oz)
1 large can of pineapple juice (I think it was 40 oz)
2 large cans of crushed pineapple
And at the last minute, add ginger ale in an amount equivalent to how much punch you're using.
4 bottles (2 liter) of ginger ale.

I poured the punch mixture into empty 2-liter bottles and it filled four of them. Then 1 bottle of punch mixture and 1 bottle of ginger ale were poured into the punch bowl. The punch mixture should be refrigerated, and if the ginger ale is also refrigerated beforehand then the punch will be cold. I didn't add any ice or anything else.

Some slices of oranges, lemons, or pineapple would be a nice touch for someone who has time to cut them. This recipe worked really well because it was easy to make beforehand (I guess it took me about an hour from to get it all into the bottles and everything) and at the reception it only had to be mixed with the ginger ale, and it was a 1:1 ratio of punch mix to ginger ale, thus easy to keep track of how much to add.

Alhamdulillah it went over pretty well. We had about 100 guests at a 2-hour reception, and we had four bottles of punch left over. So the reception used 4 bottles of punch mixture and 4 bottles of ginger ale, i.e., just one batch of 4x the original recipe.

Which means I had 4 bottles left over. Anybody want some? :-)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Wedding

Alhamdulillah! Alhamdulillah! Alhamdulillah!

On November 7th, 2009, Umer and I were married at the Islamic Center of Raleigh. Alhamdulillah! My husband (yay!) kept asking me to write about the wedding but I put it off until he left--he'll come back and get me for our honeymoon in a few weeks inshaaAllaah. I've got so much I want to write about now, especially about the preparations and what it was like for me. But for now I'll try to describe the events for anyone who wasn't able to come.

I spent the last week wrapping up the "last minute" preparations, with my fiance coming in on Thursday evening. On Friday morning, his sister and brother-in-law flew in with his nephews, and after jumu'ah I went home to make some more punch and get ready for my bachelorette party. Umer's sister put some henna on my hands and then we went to the party, hosted by a great friend of mine and her mom, who is also a friend.

Saturday was the wedding day. We had the nikah after dhuhr prayer at the masjid. Actually dhuhr prayer was at 1:35 but I wanted to make sure there was time to set up the room for my guests (we had it in a conference room instead of the musallah). Unfortunately, some of my preparation cost me a little more time than I'd budgeted and I got to the masjid at about 2:30. My family arrived with me, and my friends met me at the door--some taking pictures.

I sat at a long table facing the guests. The man conducting the ceremony, who also acted as my wali (as my family is not Muslim) sat behind the center of the table, and my groom sat on the far end. This was not the imam, a man whom I dearly love, only because he was at a conference for the weekend. He suggested another member of the community, and that was who performed the ceremony. I was asked initially for my consent, which I gave, with confirmation that terms and mahr had been agreed upon. And then the officiant proceeded to deliver the wedding sermon and supplication (du'a) in Arabic and then in English. Then the state marriage certificate was signed by the brother acting as officiant and two witnesses--husband's brother-in-law and a local friend.

That was the nikah, after which the guests came up to me to offer their congratulations. At about 5 til 3 I left the room, and the guests and everyone went then to the reception site. My new husband and I rode to the reception site, and met my friends taking pictures in the hallway. Basically the reception, more an American custom I think than an Islamic one, was an opportunity for us to greet people after the wedding and to share some snacks with them. It wasn't an all-out wedding feast but people seemed to think it was pretty nice. We had hors d'oeuvres, punch, and wedding cake.

It started at 3 and we arrived a little bit after that, with some guests arriving even later. The time for asr prayer came in at about 3:45 so we stopped the reception at 4pm for the salah. After that we cut the cake. My brother's fiancee made the cake for us--and she did a great job. Umer and I cut a small piece and fed each other small pieces from that. Then we let someone else cut the cake and serve portions. I tried to make rounds and greet everyone who came to the wedding to see me.

We wrapped up at around 5pm, had some more pictures taken while my friends (thank you all! jazakumallahu khayran!) and family helped to clean up. I have so much more to write about, inshaaAllaah there will be more to come.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

My American Wedding Dress

This weekend I took my wedding dress to a local seamstress for final alterations, cleaning, and pressing, so it will be picture perfect come Saturday. I don't feel comfortable posting picture of the dress (for obvious reasons, right?) but I don't mind describing it.

Though I and my intended are Muslim, and though he is from Pakistan, I still wish to incorporate some "American" traditions into the wedding so long as they do not violate the restrictions of Islam. That is from my understanding that it's acceptable to do so. After all, as Islam has traveled the world it has taken on the customs of each various locale--adopting those permissible customs of the people.

And many people have asked me about my wedding attire--my wedding dress. And so I will say that it is a traditional (American) white gown. Although, technically it's actually ivory. It has lace, and beading, and all sorts of beautiful details. Since it has a halter top instead of full sleeves, I intend to pair it with a matching ivory satin jacket and, when in public, a beige headscarf as well.

I didn't choose my gown to disrespect my fiance--in fact I truly hope to dress in a more Pakistani style for our walima in Pakistan. I'm looking forward to that, but since we are having the nikah here where my family is I thought it worthwhile to incorporate some of my own local traditions.

And those traditions don't really stop with the dress. Planning the wedding has been a tedious balancing act between family traditions and Islam. Many of those family customs are based in superstition, and others in a religion which I do not follow--and it is those which I will avoid inshaAllaah. But what I hope for observers to really see from the wedding here in Raleigh is that while it is fully Islamic, it isn't simultaneously foreign.

And even though my initial wish about a wedding was that it be very simple and quick has not come to fruition, what I have been planning is an inclusive affair with diverse attendees--all of whom I want present on my happy day. I've gone to (what seem to me to be) great lengths to normalize the wedding as much as possible according to American customs--especially for my family, who are not Muslim and do not understand much at all of what will transpire. So I will include some things that not every Muslim girl in my position might, and some things which might not be at all necessary. Like my American wedding dress--it shows a part of my life and though small and seemingly inconsequential, a part of who I am.