Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The Tyranny of Now

As salaam alaikum,

I almost have no words for this time. I'm so happy that I got to marry before the storm, in a time of relative tranquility, in the time of the first President I voted for that I was proud to call mine, flawed and polemic as some of his policies were. I was a black woman marrying a white man in the era of our first black president, born of black and white. We wed in the waning time of hope and progress. We spend our first married weeks in a time of turmoil.

My husband, bless his heart, doesn't want me to worry. My husband, accordingly, is used to compartmentalizing himself away from fear when certain things do not directly affect him. We are both citizens. We will be provided good insurance from our employers. If I want long-acting birth control, I can afford to pay $800 for it out-of-pocket, and we have no pre-existing conditions. He is not from a country on the current travel ban. If public schools go to hell, insha'Allah we'll be able to afford to get our kids into private school. We live on a literal hill, above it all, protected from flood and tsunami, protected in a way that we can be at all times blissfully unaware, if we so chose, to what is happening below.

I am not used to ignoring those things that do not apply to me. Everything applies to us all, as long as we are all human. More than any one group of people in my life, the executive actions of this administration so far has and will affect the people I trained to serve--my patients. My patients are low-income, immigrant and refugee. They are documented and undocumented. Thirty percent of them are insured by my state's Medicaid expansion under the ACA.

When I heard the election results, I curled up in a ball and cried for these people who I've dedicated this big part of my life to, for all of the rights and necessities that would be stripped away from them. In that sorrowful way, I have not been disappointed.

I hurt for my patients. I am trying to find the best ways to be active, but recognize at the same time that I am newly married and have this relationship to nurture. When my colleagues were protesting at SeaTac airport the recent Muslim ban, I was present for a business meeting my husband had at our home. I balance the desire to start a family right away with the reality that I will bring children into. Are we headed for a coup? Will the US see its first dictator? Do I want to wait (even longer than we've already waited) for things to become more stable?

I don't know.

He doesn't want me to worry. This is a man who lived in a communist country, protested as a child, lived as an undocumented immigrant in another country, immigrated legally to North America and forged a gradual road to citizenship. He has seen a lot, probably a lot worse. I respect his perspective.

But I will not sit idly by just because I, personally, will be alright. Because those who I serve will not, and to the extent that I empathize with every patient that enters my exam rooms, I will not be alright.

And this is not to speak of the friends and family members who are more directly impacted.

And this is not to speak of how, with any given tomorrow, this could be any one of us. My new Muslim surname, my old Muslim self, the daughter of an immigrant, the wife of an immigrant...anything.

It's reached the point where most happiness is hollow.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Married, Alhamdulillah

As salaam alaikum,

Alhamdulillah, my husband (!!) and I were married this weekend, on January 14, four years and a half from the date we made our relationship official. For very many reasons, I did not noise about my relationship too much on this blog. One reason was from my husband's express request, but the bigger reason was my respect for myself and my privacy. Relationships are delicate, and while it was fine to share so many thoughts and whims as a single woman musing about the future of my life, relationship musings quickly took things to a much more personal space than I imagined.

Then, of course, there are the politics of dating as a Muslim woman, and maybe it could have been helpful for some, but I didn't want to put myself in the position of being judged. And insha'Allah I saved people from being judgmental and backbiting in the process.

Suffice it to say, over the last four-and-a-half years, we've faced challenges that, sorry to be hackneyed, did make us stronger. We will have more challenges ahead. I fret not, because that is what God promises, but I will be prayerful throughout.

Insha'Allah, I plan to write more this year, but it may not be here. I first began the Xanga version of this blog in 2005 or so, began this blog with describing the love I found in family medicine in 2010, and I have been a practicing physician now for four-and-a-half years, practicing post residency for a year and a half. In over 10 years, the way I understand Islam and practice it personally has morphed and changed. I am in a much healthier place now, alhamdulillah, and I don't feel like I need a space like this anymore to be a healthy Muslimah.

And this isn't just because I am married, but it has a lot to do with the relationship even before marriage. It has a lot to do with me finding my people in my career and training for what I actually wanted to do. It had a lot to do with me being honest with myself about where I actually was in my practice and practicing authenticity. A lot of those relatively silent blog years I spent quietly questioning, praying, contemplating.

I am not done growing, and practice is not a static thing. But I feel like this blog space was a space for my long-lasting Identity vs Role Confusion phase, stage 5 for Erikson, which for me lasted for yeaarrrrrsss and, in all honesty, preventing me from successfully entering the Intimacy vs Isolation stage. It was only when I resolved my major identity conflicts and became, again, more authentic, that I was able to finally move forward with a partner.

More importantly, it was only after I began practicing authenticity that I began to do more to care for myself and nurture myself and my spirit. I am not done, but my spirit vessel is much healthier. In the last year, I lost 40 pounds and became physically fit. I began running, working out intensely and now engage in a much healthier diet. I'm training for my first 15K and plan to do a long run today to make up for my rest days due to wedding festivities.

My spirit, as expected, is much more a work in progress. I have struggled with living my submission organically for years, as I am not one to fake it until I make it. I am comforted by God's infinite mercy as I continue to strive. Mindfulness was a part of my journey, and part of mindfulness is accepting, without angst, wherever you are. I had never done that before. I thought I wouldn't be a good Muslim without constantly striving and for me, constantly striving meant never being good enough and embodying that at all times.

But no more!

Instead of forever imagining myself as not where I need to be, I will be prayerful that my life is long and full enough for me to nourish my soul with exactly what it needs to attain Jannah when my vessel has expired. And if life is not long, may it be even fuller that I nourish my soul. Nothing in life is a destination, I've found. Just like my graduation wasn't a stop-point, but rather a bursting forth of so many other possibilities, so, too, has been marriage. So, too, will be having children, insha'Allah.

On second thought, maybe I won't retire this journal just yet. I may continue to be sparse, but through mindfulness, Ayurveda and non-violent communication, in addition to many other modalities, I've found a way to be a much healthier Muslimah. Maybe I'll focus on that instead. I have so much more to say about that.

I am now married. The thing that I had so much angst about for so long has come to pass. It was a long time in coming. I learned so much along the way and put so much prayer into this union, and will put much more, no doubt, after the fact.

At the same time, I don't hope to come down as preechy or to issue a series of "how-tos." How I arrived here was perilous and messy, as real life is. If I have any advice to give to anyone who is searching, it is to be you always. Be honest to yourself first, and then you will be honest with those who you are dating/talking to. Never, ever purport yourself to be someone who you are not, even if that is someone you aspire to be. Be genuine. Practice authenticity. You want a partner for who you actually are, and not who you want to become and may not attain.

Meet them on earth. Your soul may strive for Jannah, but for now, our souls are here, in grounded vessels, and our partners are before us, also here.

So anyway, here I am, where I've wanted to be for so long, and it is different than I anticipated. I could be hackneyed and say that it is better than I anticipated, but I won't be.

It is more expansive than I anticipated.

Friday, December 2, 2016

If I Were Single


Insha'Allah, my fiance and I are to be married in less than a month and a half. While I make the final preparations for this stage of the wedding (a larger reception with family and friends will be held later), I also make preparations for the rest of our lives together.

Will I continue to take medicine call? Will I take OB call, even? How many hours will I work? It'll be perfect to transition out of doing urgent care during maternity leave if we try for babies soon, insha'Allah...

I also have begun to lament the things I have lost. I'm no longer singing as much and I haven't written seriously nor thought about my novel in many months. Part of me doesn't even feel like a writer anymore, and it's startling.

I've started to question everything else about my life, including my career choice, while I bring my family life into focus. I'm afraid I'm losing myself.

I don't want to.

There are things that used to be meaningful to me, and probably still are, but I haven't had time to explore them. And necessarily, we change with time, I do believe, but...in the case that, God forbid, I'm left to my own devices again, I want to make sure that I am true to myself and make time for the (other) things in my life that bring me joy.

So I wonder--what would I be doing right now if I were still single? What would I be planning, in contrast with what I'm doing now? And don't get me wrong, I don't wish to be single. As a perpetually single woman in my 20s, I did long for companionship and I've been happier than I've ever been in my adult life once I attained it. It just happened that the advent of this companionship coincided with the final stage of my medical training, so there are a lot of confounders at play.

For example, I perceive I have less time for myself in my relationship, but is it perhaps that I had less time for myself as a busy resident and as a first-year attending? I feel like I have changed, but is that perhaps because now I am a practicing physician, and before the relationship, I was not?

Anyway, life would be different, if I were single:

  • I'd still be living in Seattle proper, instead of living in the suburbs to be closer to my fiance. Our family home is purchased, has 5 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms, and insha'Allah after marriage I will add my name and it will be our home. I'll be a sudden home owner. But for now, I commute 20 miles to work, which is 40 minutes at best during rush hour and paying 75 cents on the express toll lanes. In my old apartment, the hospital was a 7 minute walk away and my clinic was a 3 minute drive, about 1.5 miles away. 
  • Obstetrics call would be easier. I'm on OB call this weekend, and I'm dreading it. The last time I was on OB call, I managed two labors and attended one delivery. I had to leave clinic a little early and ended up sleeping in one of the uncomfortable call rooms (beds aren't so comfortable for me anymore, after having lost a bunch of weight).  If I had been living 7 minutes away from the hospital like I used to, I would have gone home after the 11pm delivery and slept in my own bed for a while. But since my own bed is now 20 miles away, I often make the decision to sleep in the hospital if I'm uncertain of someone's labor course. On OB call weekends, that means that I'm potentially spending 48 hours in the hospital. It means that I could drop whatever I'm doing over the weekend with my fiance to drive into the city just to potentially miss a delivery. There's also the stress of his disappointment of not seeing me over the weekend because of my call schedule.
  • I would make more of my own continuity deliveries. Two of my patients delivered over the weekend. One I wouldn't have made anyway, because it was precipitous. The other one, I could have made. It was on a weekend night. Again, if I were 7 minutes away from the hospital and single, I would make an effort to make more of my patient's deliveries. But my fiance and I had a bit of an argument a few months ago when I told him all weekend that one of my patients was in labor and that I wanted to go be there for her during delivery but he still ended up feeling like I was sacrificing our time. I was already on call enough, then I would sacrifice our time together when I wasn't even on call to be there for my patient? "All of your patients are special to you," he shot back when I argued that this patient was special. So when a patient goes into labor, I have to take him into consideration as to whether I'll go in for the delivery...which is fair. One day, insha'Allah, I'll also have babies to take into consideration, so maybe I'll stop giving my patients the impression that I'll be in for their deliveries. ...but if I were single, I would be all about dropping everything to make my patient's deliveries.
  • I might be singing more. There is a family medicine band that invited me to sing with them, but they have practice on Thursday nights. Because I work late on Wednesday nights (until 9pm or 10pm or sometimes later, depending on urgent care), I usually do not want to spend any more time in the city than I have to, and I rush back on Thursday nights. I would like to sing with them eventually, but not with this schedule.
  • I might hang out with Seattle people more. Again, not living in Seattle makes meeting up with Seattle people challenging at times. I factor the commute in prior to every get together now.
  • I may go back to dancing samba. I still may check out the Monday night class at some point, insha'Allah in the New Year, but it'd be something to fill my time with.
  • I might be planning a trip to Nigeria with my Dad in the upcoming year. My Dad got to travel to Nigeria after an over 30-year absence this year. I would love to travel with him, but not only are there the concerns of who will then be my husband, insha'Allah, but also, if I am pregnant or with small children, I definitely won't be able to travel for some time.
  • I might be planning a trip to Salvador. I love Brazil and it's been 8 years since I've been (incredibly!). I would go with my new husband, insha'Allah, but...zika. Cases of microcephaly have happened more in the Northeast of the country. And even if I don't get a zika infection, I don't want to have to worry about that 8 week period in which he could carry it in his semen for family planning...
The rest are all big maybes. I don't know if I'd be writing more if I were single, if I'd get back to drawing, if I would be reading more or keeping up with medical literature more. There are also some potential negatives, like I may not have embarked in this body-transforming fitness journey (I've lost 40 pounds!), I may not have started running races, I may not be cooking nutritious food for myself--I may not have been taking such good care of my emotional, mental and physical health as well as I have been relating to someone else.

It is true that I'm not working as many hours as I imagined and minding my hobbies as much as I used to, but that's not a bad thing. I'm also taking care of myself much better than I ever have in my adult life. And those hobbies are not going away. I just came to a critical moment in which I am reassessing what I want to be in medicine, and my practice may change in a way such that I have more time to be all the other things that I want to be in medicine.

Mainly, now that insha'Allah I can now start planning a family, I realize how much this has always been a top priority for me that was for much of my life out of reach and how much I want to prioritize it now. It's more important than my career. I find myself putting some of those medical aspirations aside for a moment, thinking about the women who have said, "You can have it all...just not all at the same time."

But now that I am marrying, there are things that I want to bring back into my life. I want to bring writing back into my life first, and fiction-reading. This year, I have been reading only non-fiction. Literally, I have not read one piece of fiction this year, which is odd for me. I wanted to be a physician and a writer on the side, but I'm finding that I'm also a person who wants to do all of her jobs well, and I can't be a good physician right now with the hours that I'm working and also write on the side, and I'll be a horrible writer if I'm only writing on the side and not devoting more time to it.

I already don't feel like a writer anymore, and that's devastating for me.

And it's hard to to do either of those things well while making a family.

But I can have it all, but not all at once. Right now, the thing that I put on hold is writing. For years, what I put on hold (in theory) was family life. Next, what I'll put on hold is medicine.

That is the topic for a later entry.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

A Trump Presidency

As salaam alaikum,

I need to be doing some charting this morning, but after cruising the pain on my Facebook newsfeed and not feeling able to limit my thoughts to my status box, I decided to come back here, my nearly completely neglected blog with, so it seems, zero readership at this point, to put some of my thoughts down.

When I saw the polls take that critical turn toward Trump last night and saw my own home state had turned red for the first time since Reagan in 1988, I curled upon myself and cried. I cried for my patients, who I've grown with and come to learn from, who will no longer have insurance when the ACA is repealed. That's 30% of the people at our clinic that didn't ave insurance 2-3 years ago who now do. I cried for what that would mean, acutely, for our clinic, and the sudden struggle.

Of course that is where my mind would go first. Of course I would think of my patients. They are the people I spend most of my waking hours with, every week. These are the people who challenge me and sometimes traumatize me with their own stories of trauma. I empathize with them, even in 10-20 minute visits, I get in their space, 20 times a day I get into another person's space. It is emotionally taxing, but it was made easier by the fact that my patients had more resources because they had insurance through the ACA and Washington state's Medicaid expansion.

I was not among those who didn't believe it could happen. I saw it happen with the Republicans, and I hoped Trump antagonists were calculated enough to vote accordingly. We were not. There was hubris, and now there is nemesis.

I slept fitfully, having to pray before I could drift off and acknowledge all that I was grateful for, and all I'd rather have than avoiding a Trump presidency.

I am not of the most privileged in this country, but I am privileged. In January, I marry my long-time fiance, who is (now) a citizen and who is a white man. I will reap the benefits of his white privilege, including our living situation. Insha'Allah, we'll live and I'll co-own a home he bought for us last year, with five bedrooms, enough for our future children.

After my crying fit last night, I briefly wondered if this is a world I want to bring my children into, the children that I've been praying about more as of late, as family planning becomes acute for us.

I talked to my fiance about it. He calmed my fears. He's lived in a communist Albania. He's lived as an illegal immigrant in Greece, fearing for deportation at every turn. He's been an immigrant engineering student in Canada, he's earned citizenship there and, this year, here in the US. He's experienced that trauma. I still hurt for my patients, especially the undocumented immigrants and the refugees among them. I hurt for the babies that got invested in this election and are now are afraid for their well-being.

Insha'Allah, when Trump is inaugurated, I'll be sitting with my husband in our house on the hill with a relative position of privilege. The perfect position to affect change.

Don't get it twisted. LBJ knew Kennedy was going to be assassinated and gleefully took over as POTUS. This was a man who bragged about the size of his penis. It was not going to be him alone who signed into law the Civil Rights Act or the Voting Rights Act. My people mobilized to affect change. They mobilized. There were no submitting of demands. They gave their bodies to the cause. They worked to affect the change they wanted to see, they saw that change with their bodies. In effect, they were the change they hoped to see in the world.

My point in all this is that LBJ was hardly the charismatic and hopeful Kennedy, but he was the president under which these critical laws were passed because of the people. Will things be harder with a "Republican" (I think?) president and Republican majority in the House and Senate? For many of us, yes. Are we less likely to see the change we want to see under this president, even if we work hard to realize it? Yes. But the movements before us also didn't happen overnight.

One can muster all the memes that they like, craft all the hashtags they want--that has never been, nor never will be what is real. Although it will be painful, I will shower, dress, and be present for my patients this afternoon and evening because that is why I am here. I moved to this state from the comfort of Massachusetts' health care plan to learn how to provide care for a resource-poor, underserved community without a robust health safety net. The ACA happened, and I was overjoyed. It may be taken away, but my mission still stands. I will be there for my patients. I will use my position of comfort and privilege and muster up all the strength and smarts I can to be there for my patients.

And insha'Allah, I'll still bring babies into the world...but that's a topic for another time, another entry.

I don't believe this is a signal of end times. God knows, as always, and we don't. I also believe that this is (hopefully) the last hurrah for a dwindling majority in this nation. I will divert my energies into praying for us all, that God keep us in spite of political and financial twists and turns. I pray for my patients, my overwhelmingly black, Latino, and East African immigrant/refugee patients. I pray for my safety and the safety of all of my black and brown brothers and sisters in the face of police brutality, racism, Islamophobia and xenophobia. I pray for the scared babies and their future. I pray for those abroad who bear the brunt of our foreign policy. I pray that all of my loved-ones survive the next 4-8 years, as we did Bush...

...as we did Obama, who has the blood upon blood on his hands, who played the game, who wasn't the president we all hoped he could be, who didn't affect the change we wanted to see, sometimes because he couldn't and sometimes because he didn't try. Let's be honest.

At times like these I remember my purpose in this life, our purpose in life--to help each other through it. This is why I'm here, and forward I go.

Also, inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji'oon. One of my cousins passed away yesterday. Please join me in prayers for my auntie and uncle who lost another child just 4 months ago. Yesterday was also my grandmother's birthday. She would have been 88 years old. Please join me as I continue to pray for God's mercies and that God grant her peace and paradise.

I'm honestly thankful that my grandparents lived to see the first black president elected, for all that it was worth, and that neither lived to see the resurgence of the hatred that they felt so acutely when they lived in 1920s to 40s Arkansas.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

My Own Sadie

As salaam alaikum,

My grandmother passed yesterday night. I think I felt it coming when I couldn't get through singing "Sadie." She was my own Sadie, though she was my grandmother. She was a woman of a different time whose purpose of life was her husband, children, grand-children and great-grandchildren. She lived to see several great-great-grandchildren, alhamdulillah. I learned from her to nurture and love fiercely. She was my model of a hard-working woman of the home and one of my first models of a Muslimah outside of my mother. Even as a little girl, I admired the woman, rising for fajr and continuing her day from there, preparing meals for my grandfather, for me (and my brother, if he was there) and herself, leaving my grandfather breakfast and packing the meals for us as we went to FIS, Flint Islamic School where she taught with my aunt. I don't remember her ever complaining about the work she did around the house, for us, or even so much as groaning. This is how she lived out her chosen destiny, purposefully.

Grandmother did not suffer fools, though, nor did she suffer unruly grandchildren. I was just telling my fiance stories of various happenings in my grandparents house, from running over plastic runners that Grandmother turned over while cleaning, just to hear in my mind her injunction, "Don't run in the house!" as I nursed my hurting feet, to falling from upstairs to downstairs and landing on my but to imagine my Grandmother chastising, "I told you not to play on the stairs!" Another favorite of hers, when a group of cousins congregated in the TV room, was, "Don't y'all close that door!" She was not the coddling grandmother other people had, but I can see it no other way. I had soft in my life. She was my strong when I needed it.

Grandmother had the scoop on all family gossip for most of her life, and now she is delighting to know all the details of things as she transitions, insha'Allah. I miss her, I love her, but I've missed her a long time, through several years of the distance dementia creates, and I am happy that her soul can now be at peace, insha'Allah.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Learning to Love Myself by Loving Someone Else


The fiance is out of the country for two weeks, so for the first time in several months, I truly have all of my time to myself. Instead of commuting to see each other and dedicating slices of time that used to be dedicated to writing and music instead to our growing relationship, our daily interactions consist of 30 minutes total text breaks.

It was glorious this morning: waking up when my body felt ready, lounging around in my pajamas for the first half of the day, leisurely completing charts from clinic while simultaneously documenting ideas for future writing projects. This instead of my usual Friday fare of hurriedly completing any charting left so that I'll be ready to hang out with him when he gets off of work.

He works half days on Friday, and I have Friday off for that specific reason. It makes up for Wednesdays where we have lunch together but I work until 9 or 10pm and otherwise wouldn't see him that day.

I got to spend nearly 30 minutes on the chart of a complicated neonate I'm caring for. I carefully documented the birth history, and my plan, and I was about to finalize the document, I remembered something essential I wanted to add to my plan. I went back to the assessment and plan tab and saw that I had already documented that very thing.

I instantly felt that warm glow in my heart space I get whenever I'm proud of myself. Good job, you're pretty sharp! Look at you, way ahead of the game...

...and that gave me pause. How long have I been feeling that way? For a while now, I haven't been counting. I feel particularly accomplished after complete, well-rounded patient visits where our plan for their health worked, or a treatment helped more than either of us expected, or the patient felt listened to like they had by no other provider. That heart space swell happens there, too.

It wasn't always like that, though. And that's what gave me pause this morning. There was a time where I had to imagine someone else being impressed by me before I could be impressed with myself.

Rewind to ten to twelve years ago, and that was exactly the case. I was in love with a man I imagined to be different from who he actually was. Whenever we interacted, he was impressed by me. And I mistook that for interest. And I fell in love with this man, who was so outside my realm, who could enter my world and like me.

He was not that courageous, but I wouldn't come to terms with that for a few years.

When I met him, I was knee deep in depression. I had to have friends talk me down from self-destructive behaviors and plead with me to start medication, which I never did. I prayed and God didn't seem to listen. I had convinced myself that the reason was because I was actually one destined for hell, one whose heart God had hardened. I felt doomed. I was a high functioning severely depressed college woman who earned a 4.0 GPA her freshman year.

And then I met him, and I had a reason for living.

Not only living, but thriving. I had a reason to get better. I wanted to be worthy of his love. I didn't want to be depressed, damaged. So like a whining child who struggles to wipe away signs of crying with a parent's reprimanding, I quickly tried to become normal. I tried to become the full person my depression was keeping me from becoming. And it had to be convincing, so he wouldn't become disconcerted and take his interest elsewhere.

It was often emotional whiplash and I wasn't ready. Depression became neurosis. I used to walk around his dorm late nights, hoping I'd chance to run into him, sometime taking those walks past midnight alone on campus, absently singing "Love's Train" to myself.

"Now if by chance, you'll let me come over. Down on the street, I wanna see you, baby."

I just wanted to see him, to have one of our 2 minute awkward interactions and be on my way, fill myself with the hope that would keep me going.

Long after the time I realized that we would never be and he met the woman that would be his wife, my brain was still stuck in this circuit. I met him in a science class. So, whenever I solved a difficult problem in my science problem sets, years later, I imagined him being impressed with my prowess over the tough material, and I'd get that glow in my heart space, and it would inspire me to keep going.

It took me a while to realize what I was doing, and a while longer to break it.

Sitting here, doing charts, congratulating myself on making a clever plan for my complicated baby patient, I realized that I had to learn to love myself by loving someone else. And isn't that backwards? Isn't that exactly what all of the smarmy advice articles tell you not to do.

Oh well.

My life was close to losing all meaning for myself. And since I was a child, I lost myself in love for others. So it would just make sense that I'd have to lose my self-destroying persona in the love for someone else in order to start over. It may not have been ideal, but it was an emergency!

And through prayer and time, I've come to fully love myself without needing the love of someone else. There are things about me that no one else appreciates that I love. My love for myself is far beyond my fiance's love for me, so I don't have to imagine his pride to be proud of myself. I don't need his love to fill my heart space with warmth.

Although, I must say, having people who love you, including a partner, does wonders to validate your own great love for yourself. It's not everything, though.

All this being said, I don't recommend this way of learning to love oneself. I'm just so grateful that, after years of despair and desolation, I finally do.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Make Way for Compassion, Part 2

As salaam alaikum,

Lack of compassion and self-compassion can lead to hatred.

Some of the ways that I practiced Islam lacked self-compassion.

I can only speak for myself here, but I do predict that there are very many who will identify with me in their own practice and understanding of their faith, and not just among Muslims.

This entry is not meant to be a vendetta against Muslim scholarship or a commentary on ahadith. I am not on par with any authority to speak to that. I really just want to look at commonly held beliefs and rules at face value.

The moment I realized that my practice lacked self-compassion is when I wondered if my day's fast had been invalidated by a mistake.


This is the language that was used, that was taught to me and has undoubtedly been taught to others in the rules of Muslim fasting. Without going through the list of actions and events that will invalidate your fast, I want to highlight vomiting. Vomiting invalidates one's fast.

I never thought of it that way. I thought of it as--if you vomit, you are sick and it is better for you that you don't fast. To say it is invalidated with vomiting makes harsh self-judgment implicit.

Oh, stupid me, I vomited. Now the whole day's fast doesn't count!

Instead of, oh no, I guess I'm sicker than I thought. I'd better take a break and take care of myself and get some fluids in me in preparation for the mud butt that is about to ensue.

Or something like that.

I pause on invalidated because that's such a strong word. Not counting is duly a strong concept, not to get stuck on vocabulary. I'd like to believe that intent would have something to do with it, so if someone put something in their mouth or ate it accidentally and were not, say, sneaking food while no one was watching, that a pure intention for fasting would supersede the accidental ingestion.

I don't know, but I don't care to look up fatawa on the subject because those things are often traumatizing for me.

My mentor in residency preached self-compassion for physicians as we trialed the very restrictive elimination diet. For three weeks, we eliminated major foods that are often the culprits of food sensitivities through leaky gut pathophysiology -- corn, gluten, dairy, eggs, peanuts, sugar, artificial sweeteners, red meat, oranges/grapefruits, vegetable oils -- effectively reducing us to a home-cooked diet. We had to be abstinent from these food groups for three weeks in order to reduce the inflammation in our guts enough to trial the possibly offending foods. For example, no seasoned salt, as it has both corn starch and sugar in it. Even with these restrictions necessary to make this health experiment work, she implored us to practice self-compassion if we slipped up in our diets midway.

I scoffed at that recommendation. I fasted Ramadan for over a decade and dietary restrictions were my way of life. It was easy for me to adhere to the strict diet.

In the end, I had no food sensitivities besides gluten making me really low energy, but I've approached every other diet I've had with a self-compassion script, and its made it even easier.

The Islam I learned is often devoid of a self-compassion script. Or, if there is a self-compassion script, there is often a caveat. It is human to err--but you erred, so you have to make up that whole day again. Sorry.

Of course, the fasting SNAFU was not everything. It was the turning point, the moment of recognition, the catalyst. It helped me to intellectualize what I has been evolving over the last 4 years, from the time I was still a fourth year medical student in Boston attending those conferences on woman and African American Muslims. This reminds me of my father, who, in his last attempts to convert me to Christianity 2 years ago, told me that Islam was a religion devoid of love. That Christianity taught love more than Islam did. I argued him down with Qur'anic citations of my own, but at the end of the day, while Islam is not devoid of love and compassion, the individual practice of Islam is many times lacking.

Again, I can only speak for my own, what I saw modeled, what I was exposed to. Others may identify, some may not. Feel free to counter me.

The Islam I learned was full of judgments, shaming and guilting from human beings. The Islam I learned was rigorous and sometimes unforgiving. A lot of my practice was based on God's obligation, not God's love.

And I know, God obliges us because God loves us, but obligation is heavy.

Obligation is heavy, invalidation is heavy. Both of those terms feel punitive.

Obligatory or what? Obligatory or you will be remote from God's mercy and excluded from Jannah? This does not breed self-compassion. It breeds self-critique and self-judgment.

To which someone may say, yes, self-critique is necessary. It's crucial to keep someone on the straight way. Whereas I feel like we kill our souls a little bit with that.

This is not my announcement of leaving the faith. As long as I believe in one God and submit to God, I will always be Muslim. That has not changed. I just find the level of self-compassion that I am currently living in my life at odds with my practice of Islam, and I've decided that the latter has to change.