Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Back to Life

As salaam alaikum,

So, an update on me and my life...

I'm on my sub-internship right now, and even with strict sign-out and no overnight call, my time is at a premium. I've been out of the hospital for 3 hours now and I'll just be going back in another 9.5...7 of those I plan to spend sleeping, at least. And there goes my day. I get a day off on Sunday, then I work 13 days straight, then I get a day off on Saturday, then I work six days, then I'm done...

I hear the sound of the bed alarm in my head now...one of my wily patients set that mug off every five minutes...poor nurses.

I just watched and thoroughly enjoyed my novela, which makes me wonder...what am I going to do if I ever don't have a novela to watch? I'll switch and watch an old 6pm novela...and therefore, I know I'm going to be one of those old ladies watching their stories...except, mine will be in Portuguese!

Ramadan is in a little bit over a month! I need to make sure I'm ready...I can't believe a lunar year has passed since the last one. So much has happened in this year...so many regrettable things. I wish I were still with B, and that'd we'd still be making plans to marry. Life goes on, I guess.

I think I'll go to sleep now and read up on my patients in the AM, because I'm post call and sleepy. Being that we potentially admit patients every day except post-call days, there is no respite. I'll take it and run with it...I'm enjoying the experience.

In summary (as I'm getting used to summarizing notes): I'm enjoying my sub-I so far, my novela is tudo, Ramadan is in a month, and I miss B. Men, however, are never there when you need them or want them to be (at least largely in my experience), so life goes on.


Thursday, June 23, 2011

[uncensored]: Sex and the Courtship Conundrum

As salaam alaikum,

My favorite topic over the last several years has been gender relations among Muslims...because we're just so darn bad at it!

It's part of the reason why, of all of my Muslim friends I've known since college, I know only two who have gotten married...and one of them married a Jewish guy.

It's also part of the reason I've felt so long like a dysfunctional human being. But the fact of the matter is, it's not me who's dysfunctional...actually, everything's working just fine, just the way God intended. No, it's our society and our communities that are dysfunctional. I think so many of us have yet to find a courtship paradigm that makes sense not only in terms of our values and morals, but also makes sense given our surroundings and backgrounds.

I was 10 years old the firs time I saw pornography. I was in my uncle's house with my younger cousins, and they were playing up in his "play room" above his garage, where he kept his musical instruments, a pool table, among other things. There was also a television and a VCR up there, and I guess at some point my cousins had found his porn. They called me to look at what they found. And I mean, it was hardcore. I stood there, looking at it. I knew what sex was at this point, but I'd never seen it before. There was a lot going on. "Isn't it nasty?" one of my cousins said. She was 8 at the time. "Yeah, I guess." I said. I guess...

Before I really knew what it meant to be Muslim and before I decided to be more practicing, I was propositioned by a boy. I was 15 and he was 16, and for some reason, he decided he wanted to have sex with me. I found this very flattering, though I was as unprepared as most 15 year olds are. Never mind that I had sex ed in fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth grades. At that moment, I wasn't thinking about condoms, about STDs, about waiting until marriage. We were at a conference, we were all staying in a hotel...it would be now or never, because my parents kept me on a tight leash at home. The 14 year old boy who had a crush on me saw this boy lying his head on my thigh and chased him out of the room. "Get away from my woman," he shouted. The boy found another girl to sleep with, so it wasn't me. As my ex-roommate said a couple of months ago, I was this close to becoming a teenage mother, the way I was...the way I am, the way things are.

Having seen pornography at such a young age, listening to R&B all the time as a child where all women sing about is men...the man that did her wrong, the scrub, the man who makes her weak, the man that makes her cry during sex, the man she wants to marry. And men about women...about hos, about bitches, about chicken heads, about getting head, about sex, about being on bended knee. My parents tried to shield me but ultimately they couldn't shield me from this society...

Then, at 18 and 19, I come into Islam, and fast forward to me sitting alone on the sisters side of the room during an iftar, adjusting my shayla around my face and two Muslim sisters who I know by name but don't know me come up to talk to me out of pity, because I'm sitting by myself. Completely isolated, they try awkward conversation but eventually go on and meet up with their friends. I look over to the brother's side...now, how is this supposed to work?

Fast forward again. I'm 26 now. I've tried the Western paradigm of things, and I got crapped on by my ex. So I'm sitting here, turning away yet another man who seems to be exclusively sexually attracted to me, and I'm still asking, how does this work?

I will tell you, we do not live in normal times. We don't live in normal times when children have access to and do watch illicit sexual acts on television (or now, the internet) with no buffer, no explanation. We don't live in normal times because our media, our music, everything is just laced with sex, wherever we go, and kids get that all without anyone helping them to sort out the words and images. I grew up in this jumbled mess with parents who were actually very protective, who did not let me have my own television or even listen to the radio for years when I lived in the house, but I was still inundated with this all from the outside.

And with all of this in the background, there is a boy and there is a girl. And somehow, we're supposed to handle relating to each other in a healthy way.

And then we grow up, and here is woman and here is man. And somehow, we're supposed to handle relating to each other in a healthy way.

Add to the mix that we're practicing Muslims who came up outside of any culture with a strong Muslim tradition, and somehow, we're supposed to relate to each other in a healthy way.

Not, not, not!

It's just a disaster, really.

I've heard young Muslim men talk about seeing women and "all [they] can think about is marriage." No, all you can think about is sex...which is also a problem. I mean, I understand that testosterone is no joke, but really, brothers, if you can't even be in the same room in public as a fully-clothed female without just wanting to pounce her, that's a problem. And I admit, I was once a Muslim sister who waited with bated breath for a certain brother to say salaam to me, and I started making plans for marriage and what we would name the kids.

Okay, I exaggerate, but honestly, it didn't take much.

There's got to be a better way of doing things!

The problem is that sometimes we try to force a paradigm that worked in a different backdrop, in a different society, in a different place and time and it just can't work here. It's purity and piety that we're aiming for and there are other ways to do it than what we are doing. The answer is not to separate the sexes...that is dysfunctional in so many ways. The answer is not to simplify marriage...marriage means something different now necessarily that it meant before because of the different structure of our society, and marriage is different for each couple by a little bit.

I'm a woman who is not going to be going from my father's house to my husband's house, insha'Allah. Insha'Allah I will be making my own money and will be totally dependent from my father by the time I get married. I will be carrying my own weight and will not need to be financially supported after I marry, and given maternity leave I could probably sustain my own children if it were necessary. It would not be for the stability of a man that I would get married...it would be for the partnership with another human being that I am getting married, a partnership that is complimentary, not only sexually complimentary, but in terms of aspects of our persons...

This entry is all over the place. But the thing about it is, there is more than one way to not have sex before marriage. One doesn't necessarily have to deny that love exists, one doesn't have to deny their sexual nature, and I think that for fear of sex we have unnecessarily separated the sexes. Exercising restraint and saving sex for the right place and time is a worthy exercise, yes, but people should be allowed to make it on their own, forge forward on their own relationships and learn how to relate to each other.

Women need to know how to handle themselves around men, and men around women.

So after all of this, I still have nothing really to add as a suggestion. I'm just saying...there's no simple solution, it'll depend on the two people, we live in a society where sex is free and sex is everywhere and...let's not get distracted by it and remember that marriage is about so much more than sex, so don't get married for sex, and don't avoid relating to the opposite sex because of sex...there's so much more about us, really, it's okay.

There is part of a man and part of a woman that isn't either of our genders and is just human. We have so much in common...people need to stop acting like we come from different planets or are different species. We really need to get to know one another and work better together in this world of ours, in our societies and communities, and nature will take its course and yes, people will pair off, share their dreams and discover that together, they can make things work. In a world where women are no longer protected by our fathers and are living life on the outside, and in a world in which marriage no longer has that transactional element, this may be what we have to do...

Monday, June 20, 2011

I'm Not One Who Makes Believe

As salaam alaikum,

I'm not one who makes believe
I know that leaves are green
They only change to brown when autumn comes around
I know just what I say
Today's not yesterday
And all things have an ending

Sometimes, I wonder. Sometimes, I wonder if the original vision that I had for myself, as a Muslimah, as a woman in this country, as an eventual wife, mother...I wonder if it's at all possible in this time, in this space, in this society, in this culture, as I am.

I've often felt that I was incompatible with life. Strangely, I don't feel that way anymore. Right now, I don't. I'm just trying to figure out the vision I have for myself, and marriage, and family...if there were an ideal life that I would live, a life in which I was sure I was pleasing to Allah (swt) and in which I felt I was doing what I wanted to in this life, what would it be?

I have no qualms about my career, alhamdulillah. I'm going into family medicine in rejection of all that I see wrong with super specialized medicine, hoping specifically to work with underserved communities, the people who need health care the most, help them coordinate their care with the specialists, help them prevent disease before they need the specialists, help them promote their health in a way they had never done before. And if they are healthy, insha'Allah they'll thank God more, and it will be easier for them to follow the straight way, or arrive there.

And Allah (swt) will guide me through the details of that career...will I do community-based participatory research? Insha'Allah. Will I become the medical director of a community health center in which I have practiced? Insha'Allah. Will I develop health promotion and prevention programs in my community health center? Insha'Allah.

Allah (swt) has blessed me beyond measure in this part of my life, in terms of my future career, in a way that I never prayed for, in a way that I could have never imagined.

If Allah (swt) has blessed me so much in these other portions of my life, why do I distrust Him so much when it comes to future marriage and family life?

I actually don't worry too much about family life, because once I'm married, that will make family possible, insha'Allah. I just worry about the marrying part...

Unlike school, there is no circumscribed road to marriage. This past year, I've experimented with many potential roads to marriage, and have been confronted with tough decisions and man who disappointed me. This made me step back and reanalyze exactly what it was that I wanted in marriage.

I want to be married in the name of God, in a partnership recognized by God, with someone who will help me be a better Muslimah as I will help him be a better Muslim. We will guide each other through life, independent of whether we have children or not. We will be each other's best friend... Ideally, there will be a great deal of attraction between us, important so that we have something to fall back on if we make each other angry. I'll have a partner in prayer, a partner in life, a partner in coming closer to God, preparing for each day and for the end of our days.

I want to be with someone who I would love to be my partner in the Hereafter.

I need to stop getting my panties in a bunch and I need to wait. God has heard every one of my prayers. He has to have...I've been praying for this very thing since I was a precious little 12-year-old girl, knowing nothing and wanting everything. The prayers have evolved, the desires have evolved, and in the end, after a painful trial-and-error, I know that God knows best, better than I can ever know, better than I can calculate, better than I can imagine. I was protected for a while and then He let me learn so that I may ease my frustration...He let me scream, He let me falter...it's time for me to get my stuff together.

There's more than one way I could arrive at this, but I don't want to. Honestly, I went over my best friend's house and took a new look at one of her friends, a Muslim man, who she tried to set me up with earlier. I wasn't ready. He's a small man, very respectful, masha'Allah a great Muslim. He stopped in the middle of the discussion to pray Maghrib in the bedroom and came right back, not missing a beat, something that I've not been able to do...pray anywhere. I usually try to schedule myself so I'm in the privacy of my own home for salat...which doesn't always work.

And I realized, as I listened to these men discuss what a revolution in Ethiopia would look like...no, there are good men out there. Is this man it? I don't think so...but he is a good man. I need to remember to stop singing the song I said I would stop singing...

And I need to refocus my efforts on Muslim men...or men who are ready to be Muslim and want to grow and are ready for partnership...

And I need not give up on my vision of marriage, which I don't think is excessively fanciful, idealistic, or any of that. And where there is God, there is a way...

And honesty is the best policy. I am a shadow of the Muslimah I once was in practice, but all that has happened in the interim will build my strength and iman and take me to that next level I've always wanted to attain. I will be honest with the man who will be my husband about my struggles and my aspirations. I will be honest with him as I hope he will be honest with me. And then we'll go forward and build that life together, in the name of Allah (swt), who has sustained us thus far.

It's not a frivolous desire, it's not unworthy, and it's not magic. For God who can say be and it is, and clearly wants the best for us in this earth in making this final revelation to us, and in everything else...I know God wants a good marriage for me and I know He knows how much it will help me...so let me stop self-sabotaging myself. All that I've learned to this point will help me make a good choice, find a good match. Bismillah...I'm on my way.

But what I'd like to know
Is could a place like this exist so beautiful
Or do we have to find our wings and fly away
To the vision in our mind?

Sunday, June 19, 2011

To Be Frank

As salaam alaikum,

Okay, so I'm not so slick. In fact, if anyone ever figures me out, I'm very predictable.

The entry before, about giving up on relationships, forever? It wasn't because nothing was happening. Hah, no, quite the contrary! It was because I know I was entering into a situation where Satan would quite quickly become the third.

Say what, you say?

I was seeing this guy who was very, very sexually attracted to me and allowed myself to find myself in a compromising situation with him, and I discovered what the fruits of such attraction can be...yikes!

I wanted to run away. I wanted to cancel on him. And probably the good Muslimah in me would have canceled...but curiosity almost killed the cat...

It was ridiculous. I spent the entire day texting B, and I know exactly what I was trying to do. I was trying to get him to show some sign of still liking me, feeling sorry for me, wanting to get back with me so I'd have a way out from the hands of this ravenous beast of a man that I was seeing. I couldn't just leave on my own, because admittedly, I was intrigued...

Long story short, dude attacked me! Like, consensual attacking...like, I wasn't assaulted or anything, but once again, I vastly underestimate the sexual appetite of a man. He even picked me up at one point. It was bad, it was really bad. He was all like, sorry, I didn't meant it.

So to be frank...I tend to shrink away from relationships when I sense that a man really wants to have sex with me. Counterproductive...yes, in a way, but not entirely. If that man can't be honorable and honor my wishes to wait, religious, spiritual, whatever I call them...it's a problem.

I'd never had a hickey before. He gave me two that I tried frantically with foundation to cover with little success, so I had to wear a fleece all day. One of them is so big, I thought I should pass it off as trauma. Like, "Dude, you know what happened...a crazy patient grabbed me by the neck." Nope.

So I told him to, as they say in my novelas, "Da un tempo," give me some time, space. As flattering as it is for me as a female to be apparently wanted that much...nope, nope, nope.

No to him and no to B.

And that's how I got no to all men.

I was very frustrated that the men I get are men who just want to have sex with me, not men who have more honorable intentions.

But then I have to step back and realize...through online and other venues, I've met Muslim men looking for wives...I just don't trust the bulk of them.

And that's it...I just don't trust men! The more I get to know them and how they think, the less I trust the intentions of any of them, even the "honorable" ones. My uncle couldn't even make it married to my aunt for 25 years before he cheated and then ducked out, not even speaking to his children. And he was Muslim.

I think about it, and of the 10 children that my grandparents had, my parents are the only ones who's marriage did not involve infidelity. Of the 10 children, only 3 of them are married to their original spouse...the two oldest boys and my mother. My mother is the only one of her sisters who has been happily married and is still married. My grandparents, who have been married for 65 years in a couple of days, insha'Allah, had huge struggles, including my grandfather's infidelity, to deal with early in their marriage.

In my family, the only model of the type of man I'd want is my father. And I think right now I am in denial of how much any news of my father being unfaithful would shatter my world...

My mother regrets that my father doesn't go out and do things with her, like go to concerts, like travel, like go on small trips. They would have, probably, if it weren't always for the question of my brother. But at the same time, from the outside looking in on their relationship, I see it as an advantage that my mother has in my father such a homebody. He goes straight from work to the house, watches his news, plays on the computer, goes to sleep for an early day at work. On Sunday, he goes to church, comes back, goes to the gym with his son.

I don't know how this all works. Finding someone and then marrying them, that kind of thing. I don't know how to arrive there, short of someone miraculously showing up in my life. I've tried online, and I've gotten everything from Muslim men renaming me to two large hickeys on my neck. Bad yield. I've tried real life, and then I got B, the dud, another man who I know was looking to have sex with me, and a whole other conglomeration of losers.

They say it's when you least expect it. I hope not, because the time I'll least expect it is when I'm dead, and that's going to do no good...

But at the same time I also want to give up. I still do. I want to give up and focus instead on dedicating my life to my brother, giving my parents a break during their golden years, looking to make sure my brother has some enriching activities to do, watching him, freeing my parents to really be empty nesters in their sixties like they deserve to be.

And I think that's what I'll do.

Fighting to keep sex at bay with guys who are really just into the sex anyway and aren't ready for the type of relationship I really want...'tou fora!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Giving Up (Again)

As salaam alaikum,

A couple of days ago, after walking home from my shift at midnight thirty to sleep in my bed, I had a sad epiphany. I'd been struggling to remember something about my past, about the Muslimah I had wanted to be, and I wasn't quite getting it. Things got derailed when I started dating B so I couldn't remember. Then suddenly, as I was walking home from the emergency room, I remembered.

As a Muslimah, my goal was to live Islam  for the betterment of my life on this earth and the life of the Hereafter. By living Islam, I wanted to be in a state in which I was not only ready for tomorrow on this earth, but ready at any time to die, to stand sure that the life that I lived in this life was what God wanted. That's the state that I strived so hard for and was derailed by disillusionment shortly after I graduated from college, and have been losing it little by little every since until...by now, while I can say I'm ready for tomorrow, I am not ready to die...

...and it's not because of unfinished business or that I love life, it's just that I don't feel like I'm spiritually in a the state I want to be to die. I don't feel worthy of God's intention for me on this earth, I don't feel like I'm reaching the equilibrium that is possible...

And it all really unraveled when I allowed myself to date Obi. I thought I had to try something different in order to get what I wanted, ultimately marriage. I realize that I am different in a lot of ways and that I cannot seek out marriage like many of my Muslimah friends have. I thought that maybe B would be the type of man I'd have to go for. I sacrificed some of my standards to nurture him in a relationship, and then he backed out, in the height of dysfunction, because he doesn't know what he wants for his life.

I cried as I walked home as I remembered the Muslimah I once was, in my favorite pink khimar or my rusty orange shayla, walking up and down campus with God on my mind, in the trees, with the birds and the squirrels, the blue of the sky and the people below, God in everything. Scurrying home in time for salat, scurrying back to the lab, being productive, making sure to expand in my learning about Islam, at least comfortable to know that if I were to die tomorrow, at least I would die striving in the way of Allah (swt).

And here I am now, in a spiritual disequilibrium, status post mistakes and missteps that I may repeat if I'm nto careful, still seeing God everywhere, still ever conscious of God...

I guess the answer was not that I'd have to do things differently in my relationships. The fact of the matter is...I'm still not over B, I don't want another man in my life, and it feels like I never will, and I just want to give up on ever relating to a man. I want to give up on marriage. Children, no, but marriage, yes, and relationships with men in general, yes. The hope for what was clearly not my portion all this time, though I failed to accept it, and the attempts at pursuing this, have brought me little joy and mostly nights upon nights of crying, tears that have not benefited me in the least.

It's time for a new way to be. I need to go back to being like the wax exhibit in a museum. I will be untouchable, inaccessible, unavailable. I will be as good as the prop in the party, the person who is a fixture in life who know one really knows or cares to know any further. I will be as good as a shadow, a character that dissipates when I'm no longer important for the scene. I do not want to relate to men, it's done nothing but hurt me and distract me from the path. I don't want to be "meant" for anyone, meant to be anyone's love, meant to be anyone's wife. I'm going to stop thinking of myself that way.

From now on, I am meant to live in this world, meant to be someone's physician. I will continue to write books and stories that I like that no one else will read. I will continue to dance and sing to myself. I will continue to dream alone. Because God has made it manifest to me that I am actually meant to live alone, after I've prayed for this for so long...I don't know why I didn't understand before. I will be dry, sterile, cold, cardboard, cut out, prop me up and carry me away...

No more. I'm done. I'm giving up, hopefully now for the last time.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

God Laughing

As salaam alaikum,

Yesterday was a very good day. I was sitting in the emergency room, seeing patients, loving my life. It could have been because I only had two patients during my entire shift due to some of the complexities of the way flow goes and the way that I pick up patients. But I feel somewhat more comfortable in the space now, comfortable enough to know that I'll miss the ED, I'll miss the residents. I have a med student crush on two of them, one because he's like the best resident ever, the other one because he's really cute and is a good resident.

The latter is married, haha, so it's like, admiration from a far. They're med student crushes, anyway...not I-want-to-get-with-you crushes.

Then, during the night, I had a sudden feeling of doom. I suddenly had the impulse to look at pictures of death. I watched, again, the last moments of the crew of the space shuttle Columbia, the tape feed that survived, before the shuttle broke up upon reentry into the atmosphere. Then I looked up a picture of Otis Redding's body that was pulled from the lake after his plane crashed...

I saw a dead body once. There was blood everywhere because his head was crushed in a motorcycle accident. Dead on the scene. Somehow, I got through an entire third year of medical school without watching a patient die. Some of my patients have died, but after I met them, so it's like they might as well still be living. Some of my relatives have died...

I suddenly started to remember the type of Muslimah I wanted to be...one who would be prepared for both life and death if it were to happen tomorrow. I wanted to feel as if I was doing everything right and as if I were good with God so that if I were to die the next day, I'd feel more secure about my going to Heaven.

I had a series of strange dreams last night. I think they all tied together. They were family related. I had a dream my cousin's daughter was on my computer and I kept her from it. I also had a dream that I got a free upgrade to Windows 7 and had some bugs to work out. I had a dream about family, and that we were somehow related to Levar Burton's wife, and Levar had converted to Islam, I guess, because his wife wore jilbab and niqab, even. I forgot how we were related to them. They had a light skinned son that she carried around. She was very stylish under her jilbab and very stylish with it. I helped her retie it upon leaving, and I wanted to tell her that I liked her jilbab, but for some reason, I didn't want my father to hear.

I woke up from the dream near the end, where I was playing a recording that I guess I had made with my webcam. I thought it was of me singing, "So High," by John Legend. And it started out like that, but then it became this 80s power ballad that I was singing at an impressively high register (which is unlike me, because I have a bit of a deep voice and I'm an alto by nature). I started singing along with it, but when I saw that my voice wasn't going to be able to do it today, I started it again so I could hear what I did. I looked at myself in the video. I was wearing an orange shirt, pacing up and down in my parent's house when I was singing it.

Then, my brother came in, and I told him to stop and listen to my singing, and watch me. He did his characteristic, "Whaaaattt?" but I started playing it for him anyway. I'm starting not to be able to reproduce the song, but the last lyrics were, "If I can't make it through the day, I'll make love through the night." Something like that.

And then my mind was like, "What kind of song is this?" And then I woke up.

But I woke up smiling...that was such a pretty song.

I woke up after feeling that little bit of impending doom feeling to a day where I'm once again, loving my life. I look around, I have everything I want and need, alhamdulillah. Something's going to change.

I just talked to a friend of mine who recently got married. I had a dream about her...she was telling someone that she prayed through Jesus (as) and she asked the man how he prayed, and he said through Jesus (as) as well. She is Christian, but she always refers to what God will do, not what Jesus will do, so it was a strange dream.

Anyway, she was saying that there is an incredible feeling of companionship that comes from being married than there was before she and her husband were married. I laughed and told her that this was the same thing that Imani said. She told me, "Yes, and you'll feel the same way with your husband."

I then snorted, "Yeah, in 10 years or whatever."

She chuckled, "You know, God is probably laughing at you." I didn't quite hear, so I asked her to repeat. "God is laughing at you, just waiting for you to see what He has in store."

This friend of mine...she is a riot! God laughing at me because I don't know what great thing I have in store?

...but I kind of took that to heart. Not the God laughing part, but that, if I only knew what was in store for me, I would be overjoyed, I would be even happier than I am now. If only I knew that what I will have will be better than I knew could exist.

I pray.

Because I prayed in my dream, too. I remember how she said she prayed for a God-fearing man, and two days later, she met who would be her husband. So, in spite of myself, in the dream, I prayed the same, with the same expectation. I prayed for in my dream what I have not been able to pray for in real life because in a sense I've given up, I've prayed for this for years, like, since I was a kid, and I guess it hasn't been time yet.

But waking up from that dream is one of those times in life that I feel like I'm in a state of grace...

Saturday, June 11, 2011

This Non-Muslim Business

As salaam alaikum,

Back when I first started going out with B, I wrote a journal entry called The First Conundrum in which I outlined my problem - for our first date, B had invited me to go to the First Annual Nigerian Conference at Harvard for the 50th anniversary of Nigeria's independence. I liked him and I wanted to go, but on the same day, there was a conference being held at the Boston ISBCC by the founder of the Ta'leef Collective, a project which I am very much a fan of that really creates a forum for reverts and, as I call them, Muslims at the fringes to have dialogue, to learn about Islam, to return to the masjid in a way they wouldn't have before.

It was a one-day intensive for young Muslim students and professionals. It would have been perfect for me...but instead, I went out on a date.

So I liked this guy, I was Nigerian, it would be a great event, but I also was interested in what dude had to say, and he would only be in Boston for a limited time. In a sense, I was making a decision between my Nigerian identity and my Muslim identity.

I decided that I didn't do a whole lot with my Nigerian identity, so I chose that over the ISBCC event. Of course, it was also a decision to try dating, so I went there.

And thus began something that will impact the decisions I will make for the rest of my life. I began dating a non-Muslim, an issue that I had turned over in my mind but something that I assumed would never happen.

And now another non-Muslim, a Christian, is interested in me, and at the cusp of something else happening, I'm just going to have to take a time out.

For one thing, the way that B and I broke up had unnecessary drama cultivated by him, but besides that...he broke up with me because he needed space, and he didn't want me to wait for him. He'll need to be with himself for a long time. The thing is...the point that we got into our relationship, even with the unnecessary elements of our breakup, I still cared for him, and I still do. I want to check in on him, touch base with him periodically, all of these things.

Just talking to this guy I'm currently talking to, and he's a nice guy, I realize that I can't be doing that if I'm ever in a relationship with someone else. Like, that's a big no-no, still talking to your ex. I mean, it's all inevitable. If I don't end up with B I'm going to end up with someone else, so eventually our friendship/contact/whatever is going on right now would have to end. I just worry about him and want to check in on him and make sure he's okay and not continuing to go at life alone.

It's especially after a conversation I had with this other guy, and he was talking about what he felt constituted cheating...

The other big issue with this other guy is that he's not Muslim, and he'll have not Muslim expectations for a relationship that I did not fulfill with B...okay, let's be frank. He'll want to have sex. I did not have sex with B (haha, I feel like Bill Clinton right now), but let's say that before him, I had never kissed a man, and that's no longer true. I don't have to do that with anyone else, I realize. I don't regret the intimacy I had with him, and at the same time I do not regret that we did not have sex, by my demand.

I realize that if I cross that line, a lot that makes up my morals, my values, who I consider myself to be will dissipate. A lot of people remark at how different I am from most women they know (non-Muslims), and I think a lot of it has to do with my integrity in that regard. Not my virginity--I never liked that construct. But, the standards I live by, and how I struggle to uphold them...it's not the standards themselves that make me, it's the struggle that has shaped me.

But non-Muslim men have this expectation of sex in relationships that is real, and I understand now why so many Muslims see dating as synonymous with sex in this country because, oh Muslimahs, if you survey your non-Muslim friends, that's usually the case. My roommates of old and new, most of my friends...it's all true. They all assume that sex is part of a relationship...

So I don't think I can relate to non-Muslims anymore. I think the reason that B didn't pressure me to much is because he's a softy. Other men will not be as patient or understanding.

The issue is, it will take a very specific type of man to make a match for me. Even if I were to assume the manners and the dress of a hijabi again next month, I'm not the Muslimah that most Muslim men would expect out of a woman who wears the scarf. I once tried to fit into what I thought was the mainstream American Muslim world in college, and I didn't. I failed miserably.

I don't want to fit in, at the end of the day. I've never fit in really anywhere, and I love who I am. I just wish I had a way to go about finding a life partner without having to compromise my values any more than I already have, but for me, that seems a little bit impossible.

I don't know. Pray for me, as always.

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Meaning of Her Name

As salaam alaikum,

Title of this entry is inspired by, "Isn't She Lovely?" of course.

I don't put my last name here, though those in the know know my last name, for the sake of anonymity. But I think my three names, first, middle, and last, make an awesome name.

My name is God's Gift, Peace, Heart of the People.

I may not change my last name. :)

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Roda Viva / The Wheel of Life

As salaam alaikum,

A gente quer ter voz ativa, no nosso destino mandar. Mas eis que chega a roda viva e carrega o destino pra lá...

We want to have an active voice, command in our own destiny. But here comes the wheel of life and carries destiny far away...

I like looking at maps. I pride myself at being able to look at a map once, figure out my route and be able to get there with little more direction than looking at the map once while walking on foot. Driving is a little bit more complicated...there are too many twists and turns for me to be able to look at the map once, but luckily GPS makes it so much easier to travel while mapping your direction. This may be the most hackneyed metaphor I use, but I wish there were a map for life, for the straight way.

My aunt posted a quote on her facebook that I just remembered that I think applies to what I want to say, and is a dictum I'll take with me for the rest of my life, actually.

"Why do people ask the question, 'what is my purpose on earth?' instead of asking, 'what values, beliefs and morals do I want to uphold while I am on earth?" You answer the latter and then you will get the answer to 'What [is] your purpose on earth?"

I liked that...and I liked it on facebook, but I like this. And I'll carry it with me for the rest of this entry.

We want to have an active voice, em nosso destino mandar, we want to have the road map so we can get to the end goal, heaven, life's ultimate attainment, wherever our spirituality is at the time, but the fact of the matter is, there has never been a road map for life.

Okay, yeah yeah, scripture. Yes, my guide to life is Qur'an, but the Qur'an tells me the basics of following the straight way. The Qur'an does not tell me what to do as a single Muslimah who wants to marry but has a Christian father who has his misgivings about my being Muslim, for example. Yes, the Qur'an outlines a way of life...

If I may stretch this metaphor to the limit, Islam for me is like drivers' ed. I learned to buckle my seat belt, drive the speed limit, not turn on red, merge into traffic, not drive in the left lane or on the shoulder or too long in the turning lane, rules that I know will serve me well. I won't avoid all accidents, because sometimes the other person is at fault. Sometimes I will make a mistake. Sometimes I'll bend the rules and speed a little, pass on the shoulder sometimes. Sometimes those will result in accidents, sometimes not. Somethings I do may hurt my vehicle. But I have my guide in my drivers' education, and I trust in God as I drive that I will survive the trip.

The metaphor breaks down because Islam also gives you ultimate destinations. Growing up, honoring your parents, sustaining oneself with honest work, marrying, having children, carrying for family and the needy, the hungry, the orphans. Death.

But there is no map to these destinations. No scripture gives you that, and our jobs as humans were not to create a map to these destinations as some have tried to do too many times and end up making our lives miserable or too difficult. I understand now.

I used to wish finding a husband were like applying to medical or graduate school, as if there were a process with deadlines and interviews and decisions and choice. Quero ter voz ativa, I want to have an active voice, and I do to a certain extent...and then, I don't.

Eis que chega a roda viva...

No religion tells us why we are here, ultimately. Some Muslims say that it's to serve Allah (swt). I think that deserves more explanation. I mean, even the angels ask (I think that's a name of a book), which is a powerful concept:

(2:30) "Behold, I am about to establish upon earth one who shall inherit it." They said: "Wilt Thou place on it such as will spread corruption thereon and shed blood -whereas it is we who extol Thy limitless glory, and praise Thee, and hallow Thy name?" [God] answered: "Verily, I know that which you do not know."

So why are we humans on earth? We don't know. God knows what not even the angels that serve him and bow to us know.

I'm pretty comfortable in thinking that our purpose on this earth is to help each other through life. Serve Allah (swt)? Of course! But God does not need our devotion...our devotion to Him is for us. So part of serving Allah (swt) are doing good deeds that will help our souls, and the other part of serving Him is doing good deeds that will help others...zakat in all forms, from feeding the hungry, supporting the orphan as traditionally outlined by the Qur'an, to being in a service career...public service, public health, medicine, etc.

But my personal purpose of life? My story? My stops along the way down the road of life? Insha'Allah, He has it planned and He is guiding me as He did guide me through life. I negate predestination. Predestination is an artifact of the limitation of us to think outside of space and time. God exists outside of space and time, so nothing is written without being currently written and being written in the future all at once. Since God is outside of space and time, God exists in all dimensions of my life, even in those that I'm not able to perceive...

So instead of worrying about what my individual story will be, I will instead, as my aunt said, worry about my values, my beliefs and my morals. I will make some decisions in life, but life also happens and it's all about what values I invoke to make decisions, what beliefs I use to buffer any bumps along the way and with what morals I use to travel through life.

And the truth of the matter is, I don't want to know what the next step is! It seems more comfortable, but from looking at my mentors and role models, it seems as if the best and most important things that happen in life are completely unplanned, are stumbled upon. Instead of saying God has written, I'll stick with the present tense and say that God is guiding me. If I fight God, who is with me in all dimensions, I may get burned now or later, but He's always there for me, fortifying me, building me up to prepare me to be with Him, whatever purpose I may serve. I am not a pawn or any other chess piece. This is not a game.

I don't know why I exist. I don't know what I'm going to do ultimately in life, who I am going to serve, whose wife I'm going to be, whose mother I'm going to be, whose aunt I'm going to be. So many people in my life yet to come to pass. However, I now understand that instead of worrying about the specifics of the destination and the route, I'm going to make sure that I am the best that I can be as God outlined for me, and as life happens, I will be equipped to make the best of decisions, to cope well with hardships and challenges, and to conduct myself with class, dignity and modesty.

The rest, I leave to God, because, verily, He knows what we do not know.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Full Circle

As salaam alaikum,

I just wrote an email to my cousins that turned into a short story, so I'll spare my readers here (unless you really want the detailed, juicy version of the story...yes, there is some juice). Anyway, long story short, I met up with B last Monday and we had a two-and-a-half hour long conversation that yielded the following fruits:

(1) I got him to apologize to me. What started off as a standard, unimpressive apology quickly became what I always wanted to hear from him after the telling-me-I-was-fat incident: He told me that he didn't mean it, he never meant to say it at all. All along, he was going through issues, so it never was about me. He also revealed that I was one of the most beautiful, greatest people he'd ever known, and he felt like he effed it up. He said he should have done other things, just asked for a break, some space to figure things out, and recognize that I gave him those routes and he didn't take them. Okay. That's everything I wanted to hear.

(2) I got to say everything I wanted to about his behavior over the last three months. I told him how not even a jerk would say what he said to me to a woman, that I felt like our relationship didn't mean anything because he broke up with me over crap, that I felt really bad about myself and really angry at him for a long time because I had trusted him, etc. I got all of that off of my chest. I never have to do that again.

(3) He did not try to get back with me! I mean, this is a victory. I knew he wasn't ready as things started falling apart in February, and I knew his mental health was poor. That he recognizes this and is striving to take care of himself is excellent, and I have major respect for him on that front.

In short, he owned up to saying something really hurtful, not meaning it, being truly sorry and recognizing that what was really up is that he was going through times (I haven't said that in a while) and needed a break from what we were, and he didn't want me to wait for him. That is all I ever wanted...boys are remedial sometimes, though, so it took him three months to do it.

I am now at peace with the entire thing and can look back on our relationship with fond memories and lessons learned. We came full circle, this chapter is over and I'm excited for the next!