Sunday, January 30, 2011

Love, InshAllah

As salaam alaikum,

A friend of mine in 2008 encouraged me to write for this anthology, and I did, and insha'Allah it'll be my first piece of published writing. I wrote a short autobiographical piece called, "A Man's Hands," which I think I excerpted at my old journal at the time. That story was about my discovering that me and a non-Muslim classmate liked each other while still holding onto the image of MTQ (who I named Sadiq in the story) and trying to decide for myself what it meant for me to be a Muslimah in the face of a burgeoning relationship.

Well, that relationship didn't happen (womp womp womp), but another one did, so I guess it's still a relevant story. I still had to evaluate what it meant for me to be a Muslimah in a relationship with someone who does not identify as Muslim.

Yes. So it doesn't have to be an actual relationship, just our experiences. Heh, I suppose at this point, I could do a follow-up. I would have to come up with a different name for B. But I don't think I'd do that to him, fronting him like that, haha.

Anyway, check this out!

Dear friends,

As many of you know, we started an anthology project a few years ago entitled Love, InshAllah: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women. We received some incredible submissions and great feedback from agents and publishers. We’ve been asked to include more stories and are reaching out in the hopes that you will consider writing and/or help us spread the word.

We are soliciting auto-biographical stories written by American Muslim women on love, sex, dating or courtship. While we prefer that authors write under their real names, we recognize that some topics – including sex, sexual orientation, polygamy, mutah marriages, etc. – are sensitive, so we are accepting a limited number of anonymous submissions.

If you are interested in submitting a piece, please send a first draft (1500-4000 words) by Monday, February 28th to relationship[dot]anthology[at]gmail[dot]com.

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Thanks for your help and support!

A & N

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Muslims, Wake Up!

As salaam alaikum,

I just thought I'd put this out there for all of those who have used this statistic in talking to Muslims and non-Muslims alike, reverts and otherwise--that Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world. Okay. I saw this in the NYT first but I prefer the CNN version:

The Muslim share of the global population will rise primarily because of their relatively high birth rate, the large number of Muslims of childbearing age, and an increase in life expectancy in Muslim-majority countries, according to the report, "The Future of the Global Muslim Population."

Conversion will play relatively little part in the increase, the report anticipates. It says little data is available on conversion, but what little there is suggests Islam loses as many adherents via conversion as it gains. (emphasis added)

-, World Muslim Population Doubling, report suggests

First of all, NYT's version of the article was a very different, less objective tone. The underlying sentiment, I felt like, was, "Have no fear, oh white folk! Muslims will not overtake the world population." And when I say white folk, I am calling to mind the call for Europeans to reproduce more as they have fewer and fewer children. And I'm like, really, is this a race? Pun not intended. Is this a race or competition to see what group can dominate in terms of the world population? Have the number of children that you will and don't worry about it!

And this is exactly what I've been saying all along...if people were suddenly cognizant of how many billions of Muslims there were on earth, and if they see all Muslims as potential extremists and terrorists, now that we're about to make up over a quarter of the world's population with this so-called youth bulge, heh, if our extreme nature were true, there'd be much cause to crap one's pants right about now, and for the next 20 years as this growth continues.

So on that front, people need to just calm down.

The second part of that, though, is what I'm telling you we need to wake up about. I don't exactly identify as a revert, but eh, close enough. A lot of times when we talk about conversion to Islam, I hear many a Muslim cite the fact that Islam is the fastest growing religion, as if conversion is the source of our increases in numbers. That's false advertising, baby.

I'm not one to eat up statistics without that proverbial grain of salt, but I've rarely heard this as part of the conversation...what do you say? That as many Muslims leave Islam as people are converting to it? That the main numbers are from babies being born to Muslims? Uhhh, you don't say?

What have I got to say to that? No duh!

It may be a coincidence of the current article on Altmuslimah by a revert, or the predilection of some of my Muslimah friends on facebook, but I've been hearing a lot of stories of disillusioned reverts to Islam over the last couple of weeks. And I know those aren't just all suddenly cropping up, many have been there. None of these have been, by the way, people who have left Islam. One commenter on the site of one sister, a "native" Muslim, stated that it's a wonder that she stayed Muslim after her experience.

Now, not all of the people leaving Islam are the converts. A lot of the people are those "native" Muslims who sought alternative ways to live life. Okay. But the notion that (the way that we practice) Islam is so great that look, people are just flocking to the religion, giving up their white privilege to grow beards and don hijabs (as so many of the conversion stories featured, often, are of white Americans) is an exaggeration.

We are in crisis. Muslims are in crisis. We may cry and whisper masha'Allah when we hear conversion stories, witness a shahadah, and I know I did, the first shahadah I witnessed after becoming practicing. It's touching, but we cannot ignore that people who call themselves Muslims are doing horrendous things, resulting in dire consequences for the Muslims and non-Muslims in the communities surrounding them, loved ones of victims, and having reverberations for Muslims everywhere.

As someone who was barely a nominal Muslim before 9/11, I have no idea what it was like before we became synonymous with terrorists in certain circles. But as a practicing Muslim after 9/11, I know that it is hard to come from a place where you were at once everyone else and then suddenly become this other, often finding yourself the token, trying to avoid being grand apologist. It's not a good look.

All of this to is really hard, especially living in the West, to become Muslim...and not in the practice as much as in the identity with this religious group. I align myself in practice and identity, before that statement is taken incorrectly. Reverts need a lot of support, and I'm seeing across the blogosphere that it's not just me that feels like they're not getting the minimal necessary to be able to sustain not only the identity, but the practice. Those who opened them with welcome arms as they first became interested in the religion disappear soon after the shahadah.

What kind of ummah is that?

This is not new. Br. Dr. Jeffrey Lang talks about it in his book, which I'll have to reread at some point.

So stop using the "fastest growing religion" line, please. We should not be so smug. What is the state of those in our religion? There's a lot of uplifting and essential soul saving we need to do on a grand scale, some within our own communities. We need to be more activists than some of us are apologists right now.

I say this because I know I'm one of them, God have mercy on me.

"We all know that sometimes life's hates and troubles
Can make you wish you were born in another time and space
But you can bet your life times that and twice its double
That God knew exactly where He wanted you to be placed
So when you say you're in it but not of it
Make sure you're not making this a place sometimes called Hell..."

- Stevie Wonder, "As."

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Out in the Rural

As salaam alaikum,

My most recent career aspirations, specifically working in a community health center for some part of my career, were inspired by this film, entitled "Out in the Rural" (1970), about one of the first community health centers in the country.

Out in the Rural from Luis Manriquez on Vimeo.

For more information about the CHC movement in the United States, visit the NIH's "Against All Odds" exhibition, specifically the section of community health, subsection "On Common Ground."

I'll include below the email that I sent to family about it, which gives a little bit of background about Dr. Jack Geiger, who also is one of the founding members and former president of Physicians for Human Rights, and how he became involved in this movement. Seriously, masha'Allah!

A little background...

Dr. Jack Geiger, as a medical student, traveled to South Africa and was part of a rotation in a small clinic in a rural, Zulu tribal reserve called Pheola in Natal, based in the only medical school in the country at the time that would train blacks. Headed by two South African physicians and founded in the 1940s, years before the Apartheid government would shut it down, it employed what its founders called community-oriented primary care (COPC). These centers were set up to be care for the people, by the people, run by the people...taking communities and focusing not only on their needs and their assets, empowering them to be able to run their own health center, thus encouraging education and entrance of the youth into the very lucrative health field. It also addressed many of the social determinants of health, including poverty and racial discrimination, through programs within the center.

Geiger came back to the United States and completed his training, writing a thesis about this COPC model and deciding that this should be put in place in the United States.

In this world where so much depends on opportunity, right place and time, his interest and work in community-centered care coincided with Johnson's War on Poverty, and Geiger's model for providing health care for the poor was what was used to begin the community health center movement (CHC) in the United States.

With my classmates, I visited the first CHC in the United States, which was set up at the Columbia Point projects in Boston, MA in 1965. It is now called Geiger-Gibson after its founders and after Columbia Point was torn down. Columbia Point were projects built on a landfill where low-income blacks were separated by highway from low-income whites, very much in Boston fashion. Large trucks hauling trash sped up and down Mt. Vernon Street to the nearby dump at the time, resulting in the death of a little girl who was attempting to cross the street. Just as the community banded together, mothers hand in hand to stop the trucks from running their streets, the community was able to band together and make up an essential part of their community health center, including the clerical staff and practitioner staff, many people coming back to be medical assistants, nurses and physicians in the center in their old neighborhood.

The one featured in the film followed a similar model of home-grown staffing, in addition to a variety of needed social programs.

Community Health Centers still exist. Here's a link to the National Association of Community Health Centers:

Here in Boston, there are 25, and I think more than 50 statewide. These not only provide health care for the uninsured and underinsured, but it provides quality, comprehensive primary care for anyone in the catchment area. I visited 7 different centers in Boston, and each have social programs in place as well. One had an obesity program for young people. Another had a special diabetes program. Yet another had an affiliated charter school for the black youth of Boston (who make up the majority of Boston Public Schools), whose college graduation rate is 7.4%. The school had a college graduation rate of 73% and a high school graduation rate of 100%.

I'm very excited to share information about these centers with you. These things have been around now for more than 45 years and have survived various challenges, including the Reagan administration, to be a social project that has unwavering bipartisan support. At a time when my generation barely knows what activism is, these centers were born in the time of and facilitated by the Civil Rights movement that is only taught indirectly and blandly in schools. The people who started these things are still running these things and are looking for new leadership.

So, here we come...
I also showed this documentary to B, and he was inspired by Dr. Geiger, especially in his thoughts for what he wanted to do with his career. I was, too, very much so, in a similar way. He's going to be at Tufts for the Physicians in Human Rights student conference in February. For several reasons but mainly because of time constraints on commitments, I haven't really done anything with PHR, but considering Dr. Geiger is aging and has cancer and this may be one of the few times I can hear him speak in person, I may put down $40 and haul myself over to Tufts and hear him and the other speakers. I don't know.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Makings of You

As salaam alaikum,

My friend here at the med school wants me to sing at her wedding (April 30, iA), and this is the song she's chosen...and here's the version I've chosen to listen to, in addition to the original by Curtis Mayfield.

I'll learn it if I listen to it at least 8 times, so here I go...

Besides that, school has started back up again, and I'm to start my practicum, with a cubicle with my own computer and an ID badge and I must produce a good product! Onward I go...

Friday, January 21, 2011

Desexualizing Women

As salaam alaikum,

I've always wondered why I liked Lady Macbeth so much, and I think it's because of this whole thing:

"...Come, you spirits
That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here,"

Unsex me here! Maybe it was the baby feminist within me as I read Macbeth in high school (I feel like 10th grade), but I just loved that line...of course, she's talking about, you know, preparing herself for murder, but, you know...

Unsex me here...way to go, Shakespeare!

That's what I thought about as I read an interview with Shaykh Suhaib Webb on Altmuslimah last week or so:

One thing is to go back to the example of the Prophet (peace be upon him) – his community was a very human community. Women would come to him and ask questions, and the religious outlook towards men and women was not sexualized by the Prophet (peace be upon him). What we’ve done is reinforce medieval religious constructs, which impart this strange, sexual way of looking at each other. I think we have to be very careful about who speaks to our youth about sensitive sexual topics, and we have to reinforce the idea of being the servants of God and human beings before being sex objects. Desexualizing women, in particular, is also very important...

When we look at women as only a potential fitna, or a potential iman destroyer, it becomes very problematic, and we often send the wrong message to Muslim women. - Shaykh Suhaib Webb, "Muslims Need to Start Branching Out into Social Services,"

Desexualizing women? Hmm, that's interesting. Interesting and oh so called for.

Of course, Muslims are not the only ones that do this. I know of few cultures that have not oversexualized women in one way or the other. We can certainly see it in the West, where it has been normalized in the last century that women wear less clothing than men. It's not the clothing that's the issue, ultimately. I would argue that such oversexualization was minimal if existent even in cultures where men and women wore loin-cloths, women with their breasts exposed as compared to here unnamed Muslim societies where a woman in hijab can be expected to be verbally assaulted with lewd comments if she walks down the street. Umm, cough. It's the attitudes that go along with the clothing that determine the oversexualization...

...and so many of us Muslims, yes, are guilty of this. I remember once a brother stating that he was annoyed by even being in the presence of "sisters," saying that hearing their high-pitched speech and laughter tempted him and made him only think of marriage when around them. And by marriage, of course he means sex...

And herein lies the danger. Not only are potential interactions with fellow Muslims undermined with these attitudes, but marriage is falsely equated with sex...there is sex in marriage, yes, but marriage is so much more than that. And I feel like attitudes like, "I hear giggling Muslim women and all I think about is marriage," is a terrible reduction of this very important institution in our religion.

Oversexualization is a mug.

This is certainly not the case with all Muslims...but I think enough of us are like this that yes, as the good Shaykh stated, we need to do something about it in our communities. It is absolutely ridiculous that a Muslim man can be around non-Muslim women who, while running or in the summer, are outside with much of their bodies bared, and then when it comes to the modest sister in his own MSA, avoid her because of thoughts of "marriage." How utterly unproductive and paradoxical.

This is definitely the topic for youth discussions, as Shaykh Webb called for. However, I would recall the tactics in the Taleef Collective and also stress the importance of getting to the Muslims at the margins as well. The Muslims who will likely not show up for MSA meetings or go to the mosque actually are not nominal Muslims only as some may be led to believe. They identify as Muslims but they're in transition, they're trying to find their place, perhaps wanting to be embraced but don't know where to fit in. Getting to these young people (and when I say young people, I include the 15-24 demographic) and talking about these very relevant issues in their religion is essential...

There are some events that are segregated according to level of practice, but I don't think such discussions should be. So many Muslims I know have been hesitant to participate in, for example, my undergraduate MSA because of their wariness of the gender separation. For an MSA that impacts the optimum number of Muslim students, I think we need to reach out at those at the one who lived at the fringe and so much desired to be "in," but never quite made it.

But the desexualization of women...that's a toughie. A lot goes into that and it has to do with the attitudes of both genders. I don't believe in the "I could be naked before you and you shouldn't look," school, and I don't ascribe to the "men cannot control themselves" school, either. Puh-leese. Certain things may make it hard for you, but you can surely control yourself. As a woman, I can't say what goes through your head, but knowing men (maybe too much about their sex lives), being friends with men, I know that men are capable of controlling themselves, yes, even if a naked woman is before them, so Muslim men should definitely be able to control themselves before a clothed Muslim woman.

Too much of the onus of morality is placed on females and then, placed on pieces of cloth. We are followers of the religion of people who think. Clothing, yes, is a part of modesty but modesty is so much more than that. And we are also followers of the religion of the middle path, yet too many of us stray from the middle path in favor of the easier to determine, more extreme path. And I think that's why women are oversexualized. No sex before marriage? Oh, that's easy...find ways to avoid women, having to look at them, having to cross their paths.


The middle path is hard, but this is the path Allah (swt) has meant for us. We are humans, and we stray from this path, but what we need to realize is that straying is legitimate straying in either direction. We may be more comfortable on the right than the left, but the real balance of our faith, because it is a balancing act for sure, is staying on that middle path...

Sex neutralizing women and encouraging balanced, modest gender relations is just one of the ways that we Muslims can be more moderate, and it will benefit all of us and those around us as well.

Saturday, January 15, 2011


As salaam alaikum,

Let me take a few moments to reflect on the (to me) fast paced events of the last few months. Maybe that will help increase the illusion that I have two feet on solid ground.

Back in September, B, who is now my intended, told me that we should "hang out." I agreed, only because I knew he was interested in me, and this piqued my interest. He knew I am Muslim, he knew details of that story because I told it during book club (which was weird...can't remember how we got on the subject), and I was amazed that this Igbo Nigerian guy was still interested in me, even though he knew I was Muslim.

I accepted to "hang out" just to see what he was all about. I've "hung out" with other the time since I'd met him, there had been three or four, if you count the Muslim guy that I talked to for a bit. So there was nothing novel here. I would feel him out, see how Christian he was (because I was certain that all Igbos were Christian), and see where the relationship went.

We talked more and more, and I got the feeling he wasn't Christian. Every time I mentioned that I was Muslim, he took it in stride, listened attentively, didn't change the subject as many guys do and didn't seem perturbed. Come to find out, he believes in God but follows no organized religion. He has great respect for Muslims as one of his best friends is Muslim.

This man was a bold one! He knows about Muslims to a level that we went out to eat and he asked if I ate halal (I have to tell most people what that means), and expected me to follow some code of modesty...and he still asked me out?

At this point, I had convinced myself that he was a fool.

We went out for a month and a half, and come November, a few days after his birthday, I wondered what we were. It was awkward talking about it in public, where we'd go to a concert or a movie and he'd return me to my place, standing chastely outside of my apartment, wishing me goodbye (no kissing) I figured I'd invite him over while my roommates were home (seemed innocuous) so they could meet him and so we could talk more privately so we could decide where we were...

And, as often happens, our intentions lined up and he had the same question of me. I found myself suddenly and startlingly in a relationship with B, a God-fearing yet non-Muslim man.

Those of you who have read since then have read through me processing the hell out of this! That day in November (which was, in fact, Wednesday, November 17)...I felt in over my head. There have been a couple of missteps, a couple of poor decisions along the way, things I wasn't ready for, like our first kiss, frankly, even though for that month and a half I was confused why he hadn't tried to kiss me...haha, I was a big talker but when the time actually came, I was confused and a bit scared.

I handled things totally not how I thought I would handle I've always imagined things in my head. And I realized, to a point, I've never really imagined myself in a relationship with a Muslim or a non-Muslim. Once I got myself there, I had no idea how I would drive it, what things we would do together to hold it together, when the turning points would be...meeting the parents, talking about we would handle engagement, etc. So now I find myself with someone, and much unlike what has been my style so far in my adolescence and adulthood...I've had to make things up as I go. I haven't had time to ruminate and wax philosophical about what I think should be done...

But I'd been thinking about it. Both of my parents are happy. My mother is happy that I've found a God-fearing man so I can finally stop being so lonely and believing there was no one out there for me. My father is happy because I'm not only with a Nigerian, but an Igbo...he has a schema for this and not for anyone else, probably not even a black man, that I'd bring home. He's so content with that, he hasn't yet asked about B's religion...which I think will come later. B's concerned about that...I am less so. So, on the home front, B's like, pretty much best case scenario.

I knew I'd cross this road when I got here, but I often worried, abstractly, about whoever I would end up with asking my father's permission to marry me. I could imagine that ending badly if he were Muslim, especially if he weren't Nigerian or at least black. This man would have to really be invested in me/love me and have great diplomatic skills to win over my father.

I once considered arranging my own marriage, but I would feel no way comfortable doing that with the situation with my father.

I was between a rock and hard place because I do want the blessing from both of my parents when I do marry, and I feel like me starting out a marriage in opposition to my father would just amplify Daddy issues and introduce tensions into my married life that might be hard to overcome. My nuclear family is my rock, and though my father is Christian, he loves me (though you can't get a Nigerian man to say that), protects me, supports me...has raised me, with my mother, to be the woman that I am. He cares for my brother. His relationship with my mother hinges on their religious coexistence and harmony that is upset whenever I mark my religious territory, so I stopped.

B seemed like the best fit, but I do not love him for that.

I was determined not to "settle" for that. I mean, there were other reasons why I grew to like him, but there were two reasons that I would not let factor majorly in my feelings for him and decision to go forward with him along the marriage trajectory. One of those was my relationship with my father. Being with B has made the relationship with my father feel smoother, because with B, I'm more Nigerian, and I feel like he can know on a level higher than my lip service that my being Muslim is not forsaking my Nigerianness. However, there is no way in hell I would use B just to square things with my father, so I put this off to the side in considering our relationship.

The other reason I would not factor in is his kiss, let's say. We are obviously physically attracted to each other, and that's enough for me to know. I was concerned with other things, and my decision to marry him ultimately will be based on other compatibilities...spiritual compatibility, our friendship, confidence, trust...I had to know if this guy who does not call himself Muslim was worthy of me fulfilling half of my religion with him.

And that was the toughest part to reconcile. He doesn't call himself Muslim. Why do I say it like that? Hah, I feel like I'm setting myself up to be an apologist, but so be it.

I think about this guy who I met out in Cambridge when I went to a salsa club with my friends. He was Muslim. He drinks socially, regularly, and accidentally switched my drinks such that I almost consumed alcohol, which I've never done. He fasts alcohol for Ramadan. I mean, I'm not one to judge, because here I am, in a salsa club, something that I wouldn't have done years back. But he was Muslim, and he seemed absently interested in me, as he cursed, as he described his drunken debauchery, all of this.

Then, about a month later, B asked me out, and I discovered that he believes in God. He volunteers in the city and I've seen him give charity with his right hand, discreetly. He says grace over his food. He's abstained and is a virgin. He avoids alcohol and drugs. He doesn't curse.

And as I've discovered over the last couple of months, we're so very compatible in so many our interest in Africa and the African diaspora, current events, news, our tastes in documentaries and comedies and the way we watch these, the meticulous way we wash dishes to the things we find funny, the way we speak. At first I felt like it wouldn't be so but we've evolved such that we can talk about anything, everything...I can tell him what's on my mind, down to my trying to figure myself out as a Muslimah and what my relationship with him means for that. I mean, everything.

I'm more comfortable talking to him about these things than I have been comfortable talking to any Muslim besides my mother.

Given what I knew about B at baseline, the charity, the no alcohol, his ethics...add Muslim to that, and I would have had no question. But I realize that I'd been operating in such a way that being Muslim was enough on so many levels with no real thought to the brother's personal ethics and his possible compatibility with me.

To some, this will seem like a cop-out, my ending up with a non-Muslim, being a Muslimah, especially since I've intended to end up with a Muslim for so long, that which inspired me to become more practicing in I could form myself into what would be a good Muslim wife. But in this experience I'm learning (because the lesson isn't over yet) about God and I'm learning...He knows what's best for us. I'm still struggling with the possibility that Allah (swt) could possibly intend for me a man who is not a practicing Muslim...struggling not in the sense that I'm losing sleep, but struggling because, against everything I once believed, it seems to be so.

But from that time, in March, my second time seeing B, getting that sudden and overwhelming feeling that I was "going to end up with him," not knowing what that meant, denying it for a wihle, and still not knowing anything about this man, until now, I know...I know in a way no one outside of my body can know, this is what Allah (swt) intends for me. It is with this man that I intend to grow and realize my purpose in this life, as a Muslim and as a citizen of this world.

I didn't write for a while because I felt like my entries and this very journal lacked the bite that it used to. So much of my persona here was fueled by righteous indignation, despair and hope. Faith in the face of doubt, and my primary doubt was if I was ever going to marry, if it were even possible for someone to love me. I know it to now be true. That doubt is gone, but in the process of living this doubt, living this despair, living this loneliness, I've learned so many things about my relationship with God, and I continue to.

I'm also learning what it really means to be Muslim. Because, as we all know, people who call themselves Muslim are not the only ones who submit themselves to God. And while I'll always identify as Muslim, and it's always my goal to become a better Muslim...I think I previously limited myself in what ways I could be Muslim because I thought I had to...but now I'm learning other ways to be...I'm making mistakes along the way, astaghfirullah, but at the end, I think I'll be where I need to be...

Allah (swt) doesn't lead astray those who come to Him, so I'm not afraid as long as I pray.

Yeah, some of the bite of Invisible Muslimah is gone, because I'll likely gripe about gender relations between Muslims less, I'll no longer speculate about relationships and what paradigm I'll work through because I'm in one, making it up as we go along, because B and I, we're in this together...

...but Invisible Muslimah will not cease to exist. I'll probably focus more on humanism and humanitarian issues, current events...and relationship/marriage issues will probably be more concrete.

Anyway, that's all...well, that's not all, but that's a lot of what I've been thinking through over the past couple of months.

Oh yeah, and it's clear to me now...if I ever publish RMD, I'm going to dedicate it to my mother. She has to read it first and help me fix it. B will help Mo sound more like a guy for me, and yeah. Though, he's already weirded out by the first two pages...I'm concerned, haha!

Friday, January 14, 2011

[uncensored]: Love / Haiti

As salaam alaikum,

So...I love him. Who? B. Yep. That's all.

Yesterday, I was so inspired, since I didn't have any reading for my Community Health Centers class, to translate the lyrics to the song, "Haiti" by Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil. So I did. It's probably rough in parts because I don't understand nearly any of the references in the third stanza. All with the help of Google translate.

Here's my favorite version of the song--the long version with Caetano Veloso only:

And here are the lyrics:

If you’re ever invited to ascend up to the courtyard
Of the House of Jorge Amado Foundation*
To see the front row of soldiers, almost all black
Wringing the necks of black delinquents,
Of mulatto thieves and others, almost white
Treated like blacks
Just to show the other almost-blacks,
(And they’re almost all black)
And the poor almost whites like blacks
How it is that blacks, the poor and mulattoes,
And the almost white/almost black that the same poor, are treated
And it doesn’t matter if the eyes of the whole world
Could, for a moment, rewind to a time
Where slaves were punished
And today, a drumming, a drumming
With the purity of uniformed high school kids
On the day of a parade
And the epic grandeur of a developing people
Attracts us, dazzles us, stimulates us
Nothing matters:
Not the trace of excess  
Nor the lens of Fantástico**,
Nor a Paul Simon CD
Nobody, nobody is a citizen
If you are going to see the party in Pelô***, and even if you’re not
Think of Haiti, pray for Haiti
Haiti is here
Haiti is not here

And on TV if you see a congressman in ill-concealed panic
Presenting any, but really any, any, any
Education plan
That sounds easy
That seems easy and fast
And it will represent a threat to democracy
On primary school level
And if that same congressman defends the adoption of capital punishment
And the venerable Cardinal says he sees so much spirit in the fetus
And none in the criminal
And if, while running the light, the old light, red, habitual
You notice a man pissing on the street corner over a glossy bag of garbage from Leblon****
And when you hear the smiling silence of São Paulo
Before the massacre:

111 defenseless prisoners, but prisoners are almost all black
Or almost black, or almost white/almost black that are the same poor
And the poor are like the rotten and everyone knows how blacks are treated
And when you go, turn towards the Caribbean
And when you fuck without a condom
And submit your intelligent participation in the blockade of Cuba...

Think of Haiti, pray for Haiti
Haiti is here
Haiti is not here

*Jorge Amado was a Brazilian author whose works dealt mainly with the poor black/mulatto populations of Bahia. His estate is preserved in Salvador and its supposed to promote the culture of Bahia.
** Fantastico is a popular Brazilian newsmagazine that shows up on their superchannel, Globo. It's like a week-in-review.
*** Pelo is a neighborhood in Salvador (as it's known to people in Bahia) that is a popular tourist attraction. It's the Historic Center of the Salvador, one where slaves were publicly beaten. The neighborhood is home to the first slave market on the continent.
****Leblon is the richest neighborhood in Rio. That's why the trash bag is glossy. It has the highest property values in all of Latin America.

I love B because I can translate this song, send him these lyrics, and he'll absolutely appreciate this more than anyone else I know. This is from an email I sent him yesterday. And of course, that's not the only thing...but it's little things like this that make us realize how much we make sense...

Keep me in your du'as!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

RMD and Reflections

As salaam alaikum,

So, when I give excerpts from RMD, I've pretty much been only giving excerpts from the "Agent" chapters. I've explained it before, but the story has three narrations. The first one that appears is "Agent," in which the story opens up with this troublesome relationship between Mo and his lover, Desirée. The second chapter begins the second narration, which is "Desirée." There, we learn that Desirée's interest in Mo started when she was a freshman and he was a sophomore in the same class. We learn that Des is smart and can hold her own, but is somehow attracted to Mo...but before him, she had begun to notice the Muslim boys in her high school. So it goes to high school.

Then, "Agent," returns, and we learn that Mo is having some issues in life, some depression and stress that leave him vomiting in the bathroom of his lab building several days. During the spring break, not wanting to return to be alone in his apartment or talk with his usual friends, he wanders over the apartment of a friend, a Muslim sister who he hasn't spoken to in a while. This is Nisreen. Nisreen, who calls him by his common name, Mahmud, receives him tentatively, not feeling it was proper for him to be there, not only in his state but because he was a brother. Mo tells Nisreen that he's stressed out about not getting into medical school and worries about his fast-approaching future. He ends up throwing up and crashing on Nisreen's sofa in her apartment for a few hours.

The last narration to appear, "Muslimah," is a POV-style narration with Nisreen talking about Islam and framing her disquiet for Mo appearing at her place, not only because he was male but because she always thought he was better put together. She believes that there's more than just his future in medicine in question, but question of his future spouse and his life as a engaged and later married man that has him despairing.

And there is A Rose Much Desired. Heh.

How did a Muslim boy like Mo end up with a girl like Desirée, who, by all indications, was just a normal, geeky high schooler just before they met...who just happened to notice the workings of the Muslim boys at her high school as her best friend, a Muslim girl named Ameerah, decried their behavior and character on the regular? Nisreen wants to help Mo, although she feels uncomfortable and ill-equipped to help out a brother friend. What will come of Nisreen and Mo? Why is Mo so reluctant to tell about his girl problems, and why is he specifically wary of the word "marriage?" ...haha, well, of course, I know all the answers, I wrote it. Then there are questions that come up in the later half that are never answered...muahaha!

I'm having family read it first, but I think they got bored or confused and stopped. To be fair, I gave it to my cousins to read...then my best friend at med school and my intended (I refuse to call him the B word...any of them, actually, haha, even though his abbreviation on here is B). My mother has not read it yet, which is discouraging when you can't even get family to read it, haha, but I decided I'm not going to care too much. To me, it's great, it gets into a lot of themes that were relevant as I was a college-age Muslimah,'ll always be my baby.

So, to mix it up, I'll give you an excerpt this time from a "Desirée" chapter. This takes place Des's sophomore year of high school. She's eating lunch with her two best friends, Ameerah and Divya. This chapter is aptly called, "Muslim Boys:"

      “I’m telling you, Desirée, I’ve got slim pickings. Slim pickings,” Ameerah declared one day at lunch, pointing a fry in front of Desirée’s face. Desirée wondered if her eye crossed slightly as she focused on the ketchup on the tip of the fry. It was barely warm outside, but she, Ameerah and Divya had decided to eat on the patio outside of the administrative hallway. The bench was cold to Desirée but the springtime sun made up for it. She watched as Ameerah squeezed more ketchup onto the individual fry before actually eating it. Desirée was amused that Ameerah could eat whatever she wanted and seemingly never gained a pound. Let me eat fries every day at lunch and I’ll have to be rolled from class to class with a stick, she thought.
      Divya was shaking her head, ready to disagree. These days, Divya began letting down her hair, and it covered her shoulders and wavered as she shook her head. “Ameerah, at least they’re cute. I’m the one who has slim pickings.” She swung her legs to the other side of the bench, crossed her legs and smirked. “The cutest ones in our class haven’t gone through puberty yet.” Ameerah clapped and laughed raucously, which she usually did when things weren’t that funny. “I wish I could have my choice of the Muslim boys, but that’s only if I want to be disowned—”
      Ameerah waved her hand at Divya. “You and all this talk about how your parents would flip out if you ended up with a Muslim. What’s so bad about Muslims, anyway?” Desirée sipped on her Code Red and glanced from face to face as her friends spoke.
      “I’m Hindu!” Divya sputtered before choking on a mouth-full of the wrap she was eating.
      “And?” Ameerah was obviously not impressed. She had on her scowling, scrunched-nose disdain face. Desirée recognized it well. She was about to break it down. “You know Amjad who used to go here? His mother was Hindu and his father was Muslim, and they seemed to work out.”
      Divya gurgled between a gulp of water from her water bottle. “They seemed to. That’s key. You don’t know what went on with either side of his parents’ families. It probably was hell. Both sets of parents probably flipped the hell out.”
      “First, dude, eat your food before you like, die.” Ameerah squeezed her last ketchup packet on top of her fries. “Second, you say probably, but you can’t know that for certain. Maybe their parents were more understanding about them getting together. And look, Amjad was brilliant! He was a cool kid, like really, down to earth, balanced, better than the bunch of excuses for Muslims we got going on here.”  Ameerah pointed the fry this time at Divya, raising an eyebrow and nodding before flicking it into her mouth.
      Divya rolled her eyes. “Okay, so I guess I can’t say for sure. All I know is my parents outright told me that I could be ‘little friends’ with whoever I wanted now, but for marriage, no Muslims and no blacks.” Divya caught herself and shrugged, glancing at Desirée briefly before returning her attention to her wrap. “No offense, Desirée.”
     Desirée hated that. No offense. If a person really didn’t mean to be offensive, they wouldn’t have said it at all. And if they slipped and said it accidentally, the more appropriate thing would have been to apologize. “No offense” was defensive. Desirée opened her mouth to answer Divya but was interrupted by Ameerah. “Oh, but you don’t say ‘no offense’ to me, huh? So I’m supposed to sit here while you’re doing your Muslim bashing—”
       “I am not Muslim bashing, I just said—this isn’t even what we were really

talking about, Ameerah, I just said that at least the Muslim boys are cute. I 

don’t think you have slim pickings at all.”

The Desirée chapters definitely have a different vibe from the Agent chapters, which is usually what the excerpts are from. And then, there are the Muslimah chapters...let me see if I can find something good...okay, this is from the chapter, "The Mohammed Mahmud Ghazali Project:"

     It’s kind of hard sometimes to see someone you admire break down. It wasn’t that I followed Mahmud’s life story or anything, but even when he was more in the background of my life, he was like a pillar. I know that sounds weird, a little intense, maybe, but there always seem to be those people in your life that you can count on for constancy, stability. I knew that any time I was freaking out about something, all I had to do was cross his path on campus or wherever and he would always tell me that everything was going to be all right. Then, with that certainty, and I don’t know why it was certainty, just because he said it, I was able to do whatever it was. Nisreen bit her thumb nail as she spoke, And here he was, obviously perturbed about something, to the point that he’s wandering around town and alhamudulillah he at least came to my place and didn’t end up ambling to the other side of town.
      She nodded, glancing up to the ceiling at times. I mean, I know it was foolish of me to look to him for stability those times, or think of him as a rock at all. My rock should always be Allah ta’ala, and not any human being, and him breaking down at my place was proof of that, right? It was hard because I guess for a while I thought of him as stronger than that, above that, more independent than that, but at the same time it’s nice to identify. Someone else is human like you are and someone else is going through the same things as you are. I mean, not to say that I was glad to see him suffering, but—it just humanized him that much more for me, she said, pressing her hands to her chest. She scratched her lower left eyelid, we started reaching a level of understanding, I kind of understood what was going wrong with him, and I knew I could help.
      Nisreen chuckled abruptly, Yeah, I could help him. At the root of it all was a spiritual problem that he needed to realize, I thought. The man was not impoverished in the least. I mean, astaghfirullah ... not that I’m covetous or anything, but I wouldn’t mind some of what he had. In addition to his family he had tons of friends looking out for him and supporting him, and this woman, I can’t be sure but I think I know who she is, who must love him and want to be with him. I mean, I don’t know her or that she feels that way, but if she’s anything like—it’s like, the way we are, the way females are. Nisreen inhaled deeply and glanced and her feet before looking up again. In reality, I guess one could argue that all he was experiencing was normal at this juncture of his life. In the next few weeks, he was going to find out whether or not he had gotten into medical school, and he’s nervous about the not possibility. And after he gets into medical school insha’Allah and starts working to become a doctor and gets closer to the  man he’s going to be—he just kind of freaked out, I guess.

So yes, very different narration styles. There may be too much going on with the story for people to get, but I'm really really interested in what people have to say. Hahaha, people who know me too well (as well as some of my readers over the years) will able to find me in the narrative and pieces of my life story in the story line (haha, one of the narrations more than the other...I won't say which). But yeah, it was awesome writing this and good that I got it done before I enter this new chapter in my life, right before I lost inspiration to write the last couple of chapters as I did. I'll end this with a later excerpt from an Agent chapter. This is from my favorite chapter of the entire story, "Right Left Foot."

    Mo’s so light he feels like flying yet he knows better than to grin wildly at this point. This is no smiling matter, less a laughing matter, and he finds himself another night trekking home with clothing improper for the chill of the evening, his mind fixed on her.
He slipped a while back because they’ve had a freak ice storm and it’s hard to tell the black of the ice from the black of the asphalt and the sidewalks are even worse. He steadies himself and resumes his resolute pace.
Mo stares at his feet and about four feet before him to ensure that he doesn’t slip on yet another ice patch. He also notices that he swings his left foot out farther than his right when he walks. He forgets the ice and finds himself zeroing in on his left foot and contrasting its swing to that of his right.

      Nisreen’s laughing at him. “What is it?” he asks, turning back. It’s one of the warmer days, and she’s wearing a light-weight pink blouse with a neckline low enough that it’s showing her chest a bit whenever the wind blows her scarf. She’s standing near the front door to her apartment building, and he can hear her cackle despite the whirring of the wind that is whipping about them.
      “I’ve grown accustomed to your stride,” she remarks as he returns with her mail in one hand, her mailbox keys in the other.
      “How’s that funny?” he inquires, as she holds the screen door open for him. She follows closely behind him.
      “I don’t know.  It’s just so characteristically you,” she answers, giving him a halfway grin. “You kind of have a clumsy way of going about it, like you’re involuntarily throwing your left foot from beneath you.”

It's been great writing this, whatever comes of this project, whether it's actually published or if I just edit it, with the help of family and friends, bind it and put it on my shelf. This April or so will make this story idea 4 years old. It's the first story I've finished entirely since this campy piece that I wrote as a 13-year-old called "Daughter of a Supermodel," haha, and probably my most ambitious since the story I never finished when I was 15-years-old, "Sisters: Body and Soul." Writing is one of my loves of life...right up there with speaking Spanish and Portuguese, Brazil, the African Diaspora, and other random things, and I'm so happy that at almost 26 years old, 22 years after the first story I ever wrote, which was about P.J. Sparkles' magic powers, that I still can make writing part of my life. And though everyone who's read excerpts throughout the years aren't here to read this journal, thank you all for your encouragement over the years, patience, even though I was really only drawing from the first 100 pages of work.

Alhamudillah for the life of this world in which we have the opportunity to explore so much about our condition and our fellow humanity, to learn from each other and learn to know each other and express all that we've learned through such diverse media!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Invisible Black Women


B told me that he was going to start reading The Root again, a blog that takes current events and writes them from a black perspective. In the spirit of my clinging fast to other blog sites, like AltMuslimah, I decided to take a look at The Root and see what it had to offer.

One thing was this article: Single Minded: On Being the Invisible Black Woman

And it's all like, hmm, tell me about it!

As a black woman with no apparent religion, honestly, I didn't notice it and it didn't bother me. I hunger not for fame, recognition or belonging. I'm visible enough to gain admission to the "best" medical school in the country and insha'Allah I'll be visible enough to be a good physician that is respected by my patients. That's cool.

But as a black Muslimah...invisible. As just a black woman, if I was socially invisible, I didn't care because the people who I did care about could see me. As a Muslim woman who once hungered for belonging in her community...I cared a lot more.

Now that I'm not desperate to be accepted by the community...I care less. Don't get me wrong...I love it when I go somewhere and say, "I'm Muslim," and that's taken for face-value without me having to tell the abbreviated version of my life's story, and I still hunger for a day when that's the reality in our community, but...let's just say I'm not holding my breath anymore.

And to be fair, it's not usual to have a Muslim Chinyere, or a Muslim Igbo, or a Muslim black person, but especially in certain venues and at certain points of meeting people, I tire of telling the story of how I came to be and would rather wait to relate that story when I know people better.

But yeah. Invisible in society? Yes, please! ...well, invisible until we cause a stink or do something incredible that cannot be ignored.

But, all in all, it's fine. I like relative anonymity. Viva invisibilidade!


Saturday, January 8, 2011

It Must Be

As salaam alaikum,

{Currently Listening: Deve Ser - Jorge Vercillo}

I fell in love with B today.

It is a cautious thing, and it took me now three months in to feel it, but I did.

We were sitting at IHop this morning and had been there for about an hour after we finished eating, talking about everything and anything. I started talking about my brother, who has autism, and how the public schools really screwed him over in terms of his education, and how much more he could have been doing if they had actually been educators.

This was on the topic of him talking about how his brother is the one in his family who has the least education. His brother has a bachelors degree in mechanical engineering. I teased him for his super stringent Nigerian standard. When he talked about his brother and he talked about his brother kind of not doing it big in college, I assumed his brother didn't graduate. He got a degree in mechanical engineering! You can actually work off of that! Whatever, man!

Anyway, that's when I started talking about how, when my family went to visit a family friend of ours, a reverend and his wife, and they were talking about how their second youngest son was a JD and working for a law firm (after I had to present myself...I felt like an overgrown, under-dressed debutante), I could tell my parents felt a twinge as they looked over to my brother, who was falling asleep on the couch.

My brother doesn't quite know how to act, manners-wise, when we go in public and invited places, simply because for years, we wouldn't take him out.

So, I was talking about my aspirations for my brother's education. And this is something I'm passionate about. I admitted that my parents were helping me out for medical school, but once I was done with medical school, I just hoped they would pour tons of money into my brother's education. I admitted that my parents at this point were more interested in my brother being happy and healthy and weren't so much concerned about him fulfilling an education, the standard measure of success in this country.

But for me, it's not even about success, I explained to B. For me, it was about keeping his mind stimulated, growing, him reaching his maximum potential and doing things that he perhaps didn't otherwise imagine himself doing. For me, it's also important that he interacts with other young men, role models for behavior in public, not only as a male and age-appropriate, but just general mannerisms for him to carry himself. I'm especially concerned about that with him being a black man in this society.

And B agreed with me.

I then said, "I was thinking about my brother's education..."

And then he said, "Yeah, so was I."

And then I stopped. I didn't expect him to say that! We'd been talking all this time, and that's not what I expected him to say. He then went on to say that he didn't see why my brother couldn't do some college, in the future.

And I just started bawling! I cried, but it was like an explosive cry and he didn't quite know what to do, haha! I wasn't expecting it, either. My bottom lip trembled, I put my head down and cried for about five seconds before wiping my eyes and apologizing, really touched because...he was thinking about my brother's education.

I can't share this with my mother...because it will only come off as presumptuous and a poor start to their potential relationship as mother-and-son-in-law. But it was really touching to me that he was thinking about my brother's education.

Truthfully, I don't talk about my brother a whole lot and he doesn't know the degree of his handicap. My brother's pretty high functioning, but he still would need a ton of remediation before college was possible. I see where my parents are coming from in wanting him to be happy, but I think a part of his health will come from academic and social stimulation and a sense of purpose. To my parents, who have been with my brother more than I have (though I was once closest to him), these are just lofty ideals that do not jive with the reality of the day-to-day life.

I could have taken it a different way. I could have reflected that B's thinking about my brother's education was an affront, him being naive, because he doesn't know my brother from Adam at this point.

But I didn't take it that way. I took it like...not even my brother's educators took an interest in the education of my brother. B is a future educator himself...he wants to be a professor. That he can care in this way about my brother without having met him...that was really touching to me. Surprising to me...I was left speechless.

B probably has little idea. He's probably at home, eating his first attempt at vegetable soup over his physics equations or working out in the gym, absently thinking of me in intervals as he says he does but otherwise focused.

He has little idea that I fell in love with him, right then.

Our Saturday was nice. We had breakfast and then went to the Tropical grocery in Roxbury where they sell Dominican, Haitian and African foods, along with some Asian and a small halal selection. They had real yams, not the sweet potatoes Americans think are yams. They were also playing old soul music. I fell in love with the store, too. But more as I watched him collect the ingredients for his vegetable soup, the recipe he had on his droid, I was falling in love with him.

I excitedly called my father and told him I'd found a store in Boston with bitter leaf, stock fish and yams, and I wish I had taken him here while I was in Boston. Even before this moment, I realized that B was the best fit for me in my life. One reason is because of how freely I can talk about him to both of my parents, but especially my father.

And then, he expressed interest in my brother and his education? He's not scared away by the fact that I will be caring for my brother someday? Adorei!

We approach this thing tentatively, the both of us. We still act as if we're just a fleeting friendship and that our lives will go on in separate ways soon enough. He doesn't want to jinx it, and I am protective of my heart these days. One day, we'll talk religion in a way that we'll need to for this to go forward. But he became one of my best friends today, and I love him for it. And that's all I can say.

Now, off to listen to "Deve Ser" a couple more times...

Friday, January 7, 2011

New Muslimah

As salaam alaikum,

I'm not afraid to admit it. Before, I was a sad Muslimah.

What do I mean by this?

I was sad in the sense that there was a certain sorrow, a certain angst and a certain desperation that was an undertone in so much of what made me Muslim. Islam for me was my way of life, but my struggle was muddied by so many extraneous things. For example, it was muddied by my desire to be accepted as a Muslim. I narrowed myself, the varied and beautiful self I was, that Allah (swt) made me, to fit into a religious box. I realize only now that it was unnecessary. I'm not excusing the ways in which I've strayed, am straying, and will stray as a Muslim...and part of this disclaimer is an artifact of the whole wanting to be accepted bit. No. I have very personal ways in which I know I can be a better Muslim. But nothing about me as I was before I narrowed myself as a Muslimah was in conflict with the five pillars of Islam, first, or the spirit of Islam in general. I was fine.

My struggle was also muddied by my desire for companionship, something I've wanted for so long. I had a hard time believing God because I didn't understand why I couldn't have just had this companionship. It was half of my religion, Allah (swt) saw me sad...what did I need to do? So much energy was expended hoping for that, it muddied my Islam, too.

Now I find myself in a strange place, a place that I never imagined I'd be in because of my involvement with a person that I never thought would exist. I've said no to so many in my life and he kind of slipped quickly, quietly, stealthily through the cracks, through a small gap. He found an exception clause and squeezed himself into my life more quickly than I could deny him.

As I said in my last entry, I can't but make this be an opportunity for spiritual growth.

So, I'm no longer the sad Muslimah. So many of my entries here were reassuring myself...reassuring myself of my acceptance as a Muslimah, reassuring myself through the Qur'an and the spirit of Islam that it would happen for me, reassuring myself that I was a good person by the grace of God who had unique ideas and a unique way of living Islam, loved by Allah (swt) in spite of my shortcomings. It was a way to record my angst.

I mean, let me not be all revisionist history up in here. It was also a way for me to express myself in writing, and to be comfortable expressing things as a Muslim with mention of God as much as I wanted. In regular life, I found I had to censor a whole lot because some people are offended when you mention God a lot. So this was my place to be free. I left my old site because I realized that I felt the need to posture, depending on who was there, and not only do I not like that, but that's deception. So I came here, felt more free to express myself, felt more free to talk about whatever, felt more free to not have to defend myself.

And my life changed, and I'm no longer the sad Muslimah. My entries here will change as they have changed.

So I'm new right now. I don't quite know how to characterize the change. But I'm growing now. On to the next phase of my life.

Which includes...aaaaahhhh!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

No Lyrics

As salaam alaikum,

"E eu que era triste, desrente deste mundo, ao encontrar você eu conheci o que é felicidade, meu amor." Tom Jobim, "Corcovado"

And me, who was sad, disbeliever in this world, upon meeting you I knew what happiness is, my love.

...but that wasn't quite it, as pretty as it sounds. I was sad, yes, but was I really a disbeliever? I don't think I was. I think I still believed, but I struggled with understanding how to believe, and I still do. I think we all do. We trust God but since we don't know His plan or His methods, really, we don't know from what direction our prayers will be answered, nor in what plane our life will realize itself.

Because, face it, we Muslims, what we know in this world is the path of select Muslims before us, things that worked for them, paths that they believe to be the most right, the best fit. Our cultures dictate that, often, our families help guide us there. But these ways, though they may be the straight path, may not be the only way...

But I digress. I was sad, but I wasn't a disbeliever. I was disillusioned, yes, because I didn't understand and I didn't know how to be while I waited for my life to realize itself. I didn't like how I was feeling, and I sought to remedy it by submitting that I gave up on relationships, that I would dedicate my life to helping my brother, going back to living near my family. I no longer actively sought a relationship...and to weeks later, it happened, as soon as I was no longer seeking it.

Upon meeting him, I didn't know happiness. I already knew happiness. He didn't supplement my preexisting happiness, but he complemented it. With him, I'm coming to know a peace in my life that I hadn't had before. However, I fear no human being. The peace will increase as I trust him more, yes, but the peace that I know now is in coming to understand a little bit more God's plan for me...

For everything that I feel, I don't think there are lyrics that adequately explain it all.

There have been lyrics for other things ("Overjoyed" and "Doidice" for the entrance and exit of MQ), there have been melodies for sentiments ("Brandy" by the O'Jays for the dissolution of the remnants of feelings for MQ), but what I feel now, right now, has no lyrics, has no melody. It has no song.

And I think this is why, really, I can suddenly do without music. I clung to music at a time when I felt it expressed what I was feeling...from my hope to my sorrow, from my joy to my angst. But I'm growing now in a complicated spiritual state that most lyrics oversimplify or ignore. Maybe few artists come from this place.

I'm always a Muslim. So while other people would be wondering, "Am I falling in love?" in this whole process, I'm sitting here wondering, "What am I learning about Allah (swt) in this experience?" What am I learning about my relationship with God, His plan for me, how I am to be Muslim in this unique place and time in history, as a native-born United States Muslim, born into a capitalist culture that has lost hold of many of its original values, born into a struggling black subculture, born surrounded by the remnants of a once fervent black nationalism, born into an interfaith household, born exactly where God wanted me to be placed, but mainly, born Muslim?

What am I learning from this experience? I have to make things up along the way. I have no model of how to be everything that I am, so, with God's guidance, I have to pave a new way.

I am also getting to the base of so many of my intentions and getting to purify them. So many times I would participate in activities either to be seen or in hopes of finding someone along the way. Interestingly, the book club where I met B, I did for my friend, and it was a comfortable place. It wasn't to be seen. It was to eat dinner and talk about Africa. My participating in any event is now clear of this ulterior motive...ulterior though not necessarily sinister motive.

Love for me, I think, is so tied in religion and such a spiritual experience, I don't think anything wordly like the lustful lyrics to a song will ever explain what I'm going through as I arrive there.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Love Hasn't Changed

As salaam alaikum,

It took me 9 hours yesterday to twist my hair. Whoo! What an ordeal. It's my fault for making them too small. I meant to write this entry yesterday when I was so inspired, but after running errands today, this is the first chance I have to do it. Just as well.

I'm seeing B after not having seen him for two and a half weeks this evening, iA. And I barely talked to him over break, too. I maybe had hour long conversations with him three times...the rest of the time, it was trying to text him or just failing to call him. Break was lonelier, even though in the presence of my family, this time and I don't know why. I guess I just feel like my parents have their own routine and whereas those first few times I came home, we'd hang out, this time it was like I was just an accessory. They enjoyed my time at home, though.

But that's not what I was going to write about...

If this were even a few months back and someone told me that my life depended on not listening to music anymore, I would have declared myself unable. Now...I think I would actually be able to pull it off.


Because, I felt entitled.


Yeah, it's confusing, but let me explain.

As I became a more practicing Muslim in college, I learned so many things about Islam and Muslims that I never knew. For example, growing up, I had little idea that some Muslims consider music to be haram. I mean, I did remember that my mother would "fast" music for the entire month of Ramadan, a tradition I upheld for about 6, stemming from her reasons for doing that, I could understand it. As I worked to decide how conservative I wanted to be, I considered stopping listening to music altogether.

In the meantime, I think Yusuf Islam had come back to music and I read part of his explanation why...I never got through the whole thing. I considered that pretty powerful...a revert who had denounced music, abandoning his career, coming back to music.

So, I resolved to employ what I now know is media literacy...I am very cognizant of what I take into my body, what it means, how it affects me. I absolutely will not listen to music with Atheist themes, even if slight, or any songs that go against my theology (if they are religious songs).

But now, at this juncture in my life, I see the wisdom in not listening to music that I didn't see before...

I said I felt entitled. That was the other reason why I didn't give up music. I was trying to be patient, and in the name of Allah (swt) and my Islam, I avoided all relationships so that I would be sure that sex would only happen in marriage, and that the process of my getting married was done properly. But at the same time, I was lonely, very lonely. There was a time in my late teen years where I cried myself to sleep nearly every night, I think, for every day that I was still alone. At the same time, I prayed and I prayed and I became more practicing and I prayed...but without the fullness of faith that all would be alright.

So, in my mind, I was suffering, but for me, it was a self-righteous struggle. Yes, I was just another Muslimah striving in the way of Allah (swt), striving, praying to achieve patience, persevering, in a time when my body is ready and fully capable of being a wife and a mother. Listening to music, whose themes addressed love and for me was often a catharsis...was the least I could do, the least of several other evils in my mind.

Because I was waiting, because I was perpetually single and in wait for half my religion to realize itself, I was entitled to have my music.

But now, I'm moving forward and on into uncharted territory. I'm never going to be perpetually single again...even if this relationship were to end, the 7 year drought (if I count from 18 onward) has ended.

And it's not that I rationalized that I no longer need music...I just, no longer feel about music the way I used to.

That being said, I did listen to about an hour and a half of my favorite Stevie Wonder songs on youtube while doing my hair and still enjoyed it, so it's not like I totally dislike music. I can just do without it.

So if someone told me that my life depended on it or that it was better at this point for me not to listen to it, I'd be able to do it.

But still, love hasn't changed.

And what do I mean by that?

I listen to some of the songs and I remember how I felt about my last major crush, MQ. The song that describes how I felt when I first started falling for him was "Overjoyed," by Stevie Wonder ("And though you don't believe that they do, they do come true. For did my dreams come true when I looked at you. And maybe, too, if you would believe, you, too, might be overjoyed, over love, over me"). The song of my disillusionment was Djavan's "Doidice." (translated: "I fell in love? Maybe, it could be. I went crazy? I don't know, I've never seen it. I need to leave. After I discovered that there is you, I never existed again.")

There's not one song that describes what it's like for me when I fall in love. The reason I can go without listening to music now is that I now feel validated...what I felt, those crushes, I fell in love with those men. I'm validated because I'm in the process of falling in love with another, and I'm not there yet, and I know where it can go.

I can't even put into words what my love is, but once I'm there, I'd follow the man to the ends of the earth if that's where he was going without batting an eyelid. For me, love is not mystical-magical. It's part admiration (of a man's intellect, his personality, his aspirations, his charity) and it's part my estimation of whether or not this person is good with God.

I'm not yet in love with B because I'm still gauging his faith and what he thinks about my faith. MQ was easy. He was already Muslim, so I made assumptions about where he was in his faith. But if B were Muslim, I'd be praying for him to propose to me already!

So yes...I listen to old music and I know, I've been in love before, and the formula is the same. Love for me hasn't changed. I'll know it when I'm there.

But now that I'm sure of it...and now that I'm experiencing a relationship...most of the music where people try to approximate the feeling seems hackneyed at best. It pales in comparison to the real experience and is valueless, often. Or rather, their value-thin.

For me, love is not valueless. There is no romantic love for me because romantic love sounds devoid of spirituality, while my falling in love is so linked to spirituality and my conceptions of religion...and practicality. I only fall for someone who I think has feelings for me back. That's not romantic.

So love hasn't changed. I still know how it feels. I'll know it when I get there, if I get there with B or not. But I'm growing so I'll get there in a more practical way, in a better time frame. I'm growing and I'm learning things that I knew abstractly would exist that I'd have to deal with and here I am, facing them, on to the next one, as it were.

Now, just waiting for him to get off of work so we can have dinner...the quesadilla I made and the cherries I ate will hold me until we finally get things going, which I posit will be 7-8pm.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

[uncensored]: Hello, New Year

As salaam alaikum,

I haven't been writing on here as much in the last month or so. This relationship business has gotten me preoccupied...mentally, emotionally and spiritually preoccupied. Put in this situation, I know this was the decision I would make. I've made my bed, now I have to lie in it.

This new year was more anticlimactic than new years in the past. When 2009 came, that year felt different. It would be the year that I'd be a third year medical student, the year that I'd take the boards. I don't think 2010 felt that triumphant, but I was probably tired. This year felt more like business as usual because starting the relationship with B was like the beginning of a new year for me.

Shit I never thought of before has come up, things that I want for myself, the dream I have for myself...everything is in flux right now with the thought of the possibility that we'll actually work things out and actually get married one day. It makes me realize how delicate this dance is, this "let's see if I want to marry you" dance that we're engaged in right now (not to be confused with engagement to no no, not there right now). I think I need to move out of the, "Oh my gosh, someone actually likes me" phase to the, "Now seriously, is this what I want" phase, tonight, while he's apparently not answering my texts.

When I had given up on ever finding anyone, I'd resolved to devote my life to my brother. That meant that I would find the best family medicine residency, do my fellowship, and ultimately move back to Michigan and be a family medicine physician, have my own place and visit my folks on the weekends, and help pay for my brother to get the education and opportunities he needed to live a healthy and happy life.

Then, along came B, a God-fearing, non-Christian Igbo Nigerian (which I didn't know existed). He told me he didn't know that someone like me could exist. I'm dying to know what he means by that, but alas, I haven't seen him in two weeks and I really need to talk to him in person about this...

And by deciding to go forward with him, in this relationship, which is for me like a really intense friendship plus reciprocated attraction plus the possibility of marriage in the future, my life trajectory has changed...and become complicated.

First of all, where will I do residency? I've decided that I'm operating as if I'm single (which, legally, I am, muahahaha!) for the next year and one month (that is how long I have until I submit my match list for residency). If I am not engaged to him by then, or with that at all looming in the next 3 months, I am probably moving away from Boston, regardless of how much he has left of his research (he's due to finish his PhD in 2012, iA) and regardless of where he's doing his post-doc (he's planning to do it here). That would effectively mean that we'd be broken up. I don't have time for someone who just wants to be in limbo for years, nor do I want to end up making my residency decision based on a noncommittal relationship that may end while I'm a resident, anyway.

Then, whether or not I do my fellowship, if we were married by then, would then be complicated by when we'd want to have kids, where he'd move after his post-doc (probably to MD, where his father lives now) and whether they had a obstetrics/women's health fellowship in the area. I wouldn't have the entire country at my fingertips anymore.

I know I'm oversimplifying here and if we were to be engaged to be married and then married when I needed to make all of these decisions, I feel like a good deal of compromise would take place, it wouldn't just be, well, he'd be here, so I'd be here...but yeah.

Then, in terms of my brother...I'm still, insha'Allah, to care for my brother when my parents age. I wanted to be there for my parents, too, but no way B would be happy in Michigan. He hates Boston, so I know he'd feel like hell in Michgan, for sure. No, Michigan's not my favorite place, either, but it's my family being there that redeems it. I guess I'll cross this road when I get there with whoever is my husband, but I wonder how I'm going to swing caring for my brother and being there for my aging parents. After seeing my grandmother in a nursing home for four years, I don't want to do that with my parents. If I have to hire help in the house and build an additional wing onto my house for them, or see them in senior housing nearby my own home, then that's what I will do.

But at least in thinking about being with B...if we're in MD, and property values are outrageous there, with both of our salaries, we will not be living in extravagance. Considering a townhouse there is $500,000, and I'm not going to be swimming in it as a family medicine doctor, and I have no idea what physics professors make...there's going to be no house with an addition in MD.

What was so simple yet haphazard while being single is so much more complicated now that I have an intended.

We've talked about religion a little bit, and it's so interesting that he doesn't have one. I guess I once believed in God without following any religion in particular, like, from 18 and before. I chose Islam because it was the closest, it was what I was raised in, but then I felt like if I claimed a religion, I should practice it. Following Islam gave me the structure in my life that I hungered, and there is no other way I can live right now. Talking to him, I can see where he is in want of spiritual structure...

But I understand. I would be where he is if I hadn't had the very specific events in my life that left me in want of a religion. Islam helps me to understand why my brother has autism, why the world is like it is. Islam gives me a balance, from wanting more out of my fellow human being but not despairing too much because I know that God is Judge.

And as much as I like the prospect of getting married, and he's not Christian so he's not going to be trying to convert me, and his best friend is Muslim and he has great respect for Muslims, and me, and he follows my lead in this peculiar dance we're doing, although I haven't been the best of leaders...

...I cannot forget this is nothing to be flippant about. This is nothing to shit on. This is half of my religion. And as much as I love not being lonely, as much as I love knowing that a relationship can happen for me...I am Muslim. I cannot but regard marriage with the utmost importance, not only religiously but personally. I became more practicing as a Muslimah for myself and with the hopes of increasing my chances of finding a like-minded individual with whom to eventually marry.

Flat out, I don't want to end up with someone who cannot teach, with me, our children about God, how to approach Him, how to live this life in remembrance of Him, submitting to Him.

But do I want this over forgoing marriage and child-rearing altogether, and instead devote my life to my brother?

So I'm either stepping closer to marriage this year or suffering my first break up.

This is not to mention my completing my public health degree, going back to medical school, applying to residency, starting my interviews...

Hello, 2011. This could either be the most important year in my life so far...or a slightly less important, though definitive year in my life.