Sunday, November 27, 2011

Sister Alecia

As salaam alaikum,

Inna lillahi wa inna lilaihi raji'oon.

She was 68, and almost like an aunt to me. She made me stuffed animals, including my life-sized rabbits Molly and Michael and my display bear, Queen Chinyere, a bear on her throne. She made the family our cookie jar, Coco, with a cookie in his hand. She made me laugh with her convoluted stories in her Caribbean accent that she held on to for dear life after leaving the Islands over 30 years ago. She was the sister from the Virgin Islands that everyone at the temple was asked to feel welcome when she first arrived, my mother tells me. She was like an older sister to the family. She traveled with the family, before my time, from Nation of Islam to Orthodox Islam. My mother knew her longer than she knew my Dad. She's been like family for as long as I can remember, and now she's passed. Today at 10am. And now she's with God, the God we've all come to know more and more as we journey to Islam.

I'll miss having her in this realm, but for me, the next life is greater than this, and though it toils along so long now, one day we'll be there, with her and everyone else there...

Uterine cancer no more. Peace is now.

I love you, sister Alecia. See you, insha'Allah. I am praying for you and your family.

...on a side note, her physician is Muslim, and is paying for all of the funeral arrangements, assuring that sister Alecia gets proper Muslim funeral proceedings. Masha'Allah! That's what it means to be Muslim. May Allah (swt) bless the physician and her family!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Delaying Motherhood for Education

As salaam alaikum,

I read this line in this article a few days ago, and I was livid!

Okay...maybe not livid, but offended, maybe? Put-off? I'm struggling to find the word that correctly describes the sentiment...irritated?

Anyway, here's the article: Fertility Math? Most Women Flunk, survey finds.

The article discusses that most women are not aware that your fertility drops markedly between the ages of 30 and 40, and they often do not seek fertility specialists until too late and then bear the frustrations of fertility treatments. Since I've been in medical school (and I think before this), this was not news to me. I knew that women had a narrow reproductive window between puberty and menopause. In medical school, I was told by one of my (female) professors that since the majority of the women in the class were over 23, we had passed the optimum age of childbearing. I was aware that amniocentesis becomes indicated for women at the age of 35, the age at which your risk of miscarriage with amniocentesis becomes equal to your risk of having a child with Trisomy 21 (Down's syndrome).

And I remember seeing the graphs showing the exponential increase in risk of having a child with Down's contrasted with the exponential decrease in a woman's fertility.

And I have come into my womanhood in a veritable state of horror as I watched each year pass...23, 24, 25, 26...

I will have celebrated five birthdays in medical school. I was a young, nubile 22 when I started, and I will be a nubile though not-as-young 27 when I graduate. I'd hoped that I would meet someone during medical school. And try as I might to secure something for myself, I was unable to.

And then articles like this rub salt into my wounds:

The trouble is, such thinking can cheat a woman out of her options, Collura says. It’s one thing to postpone children in order to pursue education or a career, fully knowing it might be more difficult to get pregnant later. It’s another thing to be surprised by infertility.

“This is not about empowering women and women’s rights,” she says. “This is about science and biology 101.”

That is precisely Holly Finn’s point. She wishes she had realized earlier the effects that endometriosis and age might have on her ability to conceive. If she had her way, she’d tell women ages 26 to 34 one thing: "Start having babies now."
So, I'm in that age group where this woman tells us to start having babies now. I don't know about other women in the 25-34 demographic (now that I'm no longer in the 15-24 demographic for nearly two years now...), but not all of us are in the position to conceive babies nor raise those babies in stable homes because of...

DING DING DING! You guessed it, lack of a partner!

And I'm not sure if it was my choice, rightfully, to postpone children in order to pursue my education or my career. It's not like eligible bachelors have been knocking on my door. Without griping about the quality of men--which I won't, because, genuinely, there are good men out there--suffice it to say that a man who fits into my life hasn't come along yet. Could it be because I've spent four years of college, four years of medical school and one year of public health school pursuing my education and am about to, insha'Allah, spend 3 years in residency, working towards my career?

I mean, because you could put it that way. If I had at least stopped in college and got a job, maybe it would have been easier for a man to fit into my life. Now, with all of the years of professional school, I'll have more letters behind my name than I'll have a chance to have children because my fertility window is narrowing...

I'm not sure if that's the message they're going for, but really, I think for most women, it's more complicated than a choice to have children earlier.

Married or otherwise partnered women who want to have children someday and are in their 20s and wait until their mid-to-late 30s to start trying to have children? Okay, maybe they are ones who you should tell, start having babies now...and even then, I don't know anyone like that. Most women who I know who are having children later are doing so because they were married or partnered later in life. I'm not yet 27, but I'm almost 27. That could be me!

I just get...defensive, yes, that's the word I'm looking for! ...I get defensive reading these things. No, I am not delaying childbearing to my mid-30s because of my career. I know the biology of fertility very well and, yes, with a family history of endometriosis and other unforeseeable elements that could limit my fertility, I want to have children sooner rather than later as will make sense in whatever my future relationship is. Don't wave a finger at me, faulting me for my later childbearing...

Because, for that matter, I could be a mother now. I almost had a high school boyfriend who would have been my first, the way he was interested in me, if I had not put him down because (1) I wanted to come into my Muslim identity and I didn't think he'd be supportive and (2) I wanted to focus on my studies. I was a sophomore in high school when we exchanged letters, back and forth, in which he told me I was the one. His touch was tempting, but I knew Islam was the way I wanted to live and I knew I wanted to go to college. There would be more boys later.

He was my last chance...for early childbearing. Since then, I've come into Islam and am coming into my own, graduated from college, completed my MPH and insha'Allah will graduate medical school. He graduated from college, too, and now has a toddler with a woman who would not have fertility problems because she was in her 20s. I had no other potential suitors until 25, but even then, I had adopted the "no children until 2015" model, the year I would insha'Allah graduate residency.

What do I say to this? Yes! Delay children, for sure, for education. Too many studies, here and abroad, point to children and families thriving more the more educated mom is. Can you come back and continue education after children? Yes! But should you rush into some relationship for the purpose of having children? No!

And I know, I know...the article is not calling on women to do that. According to the survey, women really do not know that their fertility declines so much as they age. Fair. Let them know that. But the tone just sounds like it's pooh pooing women for delaying motherhood for education or career.

My position? Do what makes sense! As I have been exploring, we all find our mates at different times in life. Those of us who are married or partnered can make a choice about when to have children that is best for the pair. And we should not feel guilty if the desire for children was not great in our lives and then becomes stronger as we age. Those of us who are unmarried and single do not have that luxury, and we should not feel bullied, guilted or pressured into settling for men who do not make sense in our lives for the tick-tocking of a biological clock. As a Muslim, I know that God will provide.

Even if I were to conceive my first child at 39, with a 5% chance each month of getting pregnant and with a higher risk of Down's Syndrome, God will provide because such has been the substance of my prayers.


That being said, women, be smart! Especially "educated" women, educate yourself about your body, your fertility, so you know the risks of choosing to have a child when.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Representing Muslims

As salaam alaikum,

So, if you're reading this, I encourage you to go back and read my last two entry series, especially Single Invisible Muslimah, but Paradigm is also cool, too. It's all about recognizing that I'm more myself than I have ever been and how to love the stage that I'm in. For the longest, the latter especially was easier said than done, but I always felt like there was an answer, and if not an answer, a more correct way of seeing things. No one seemed to have the answer. No one can arrive at the answer but you, however, especially if no one else can quite understand where you're coming from but you.

I've been under and incredible amount of peace this entire week after I had these two realizations...epiphanies, if you will. It's not that there haven't been times when I've been lonely or been surrounded by married people. I just go back as frequently as I need to what I wrote and it reminds me of how I've reshaped my paradigm and come to accept (and am growing to love) my time as a single Muslimah.

In other news, there's been big uproar in the virtual Muslim community about TLC's "All-American Muslim." A lot of Muslims feel shortchanged, that they are not represented...from levels of practice to ethnic groups. I can't say I'm surprised at how Muslims are represented on that show (shhh...I haven't watched narry an episode!). First of all, if they're sticking to Dearborn, MI, yes, most Muslims in Dearborn are in fact Arab-American. The most prevalent ethnicity in Dearborn is Arab. Does it problematic to represent Muslims who are "not practicing?" It may feel polemic, but it's fair. Practicing Muslims need to recognize that, for as much as one tries to represent the "ideal" face of Islam, there are others who are presenting a face that is more in-line with the secular ideal of nominal religiousness. They've got as much of a right to identify as Muslim as practicing Muslims do.

I believe that, starting with college MSAs and going on up, the MSAs are often only open for the most practicing and learned of Muslims. Like, when I joined the MSA, I was having to relearn the Arabic for salat. I didn't know what tajweed was. I hadn't read through the entire Qur'an in English yet. I felt out of place because they were sprinkling their speech with Arabic words I didn't know and explaining what the words meant as if everyone who didn't understand what the words meant were not Muslim.

We're all in different stages. A Muslim does not become relevant only after he or she attains a certain number of completed prayers, a certain number of Ramadans, a certain amount of understanding of the Qur'an and Sunnah. No. But some of our strongest Muslim organizations do not allow space for such Muslims, unless the Muslim transforms to this face of what they expect Muslims to be.

And at the end of our lives, we may not all be in the same stage, but that doesn't mean we were not Muslim, one who submits to God, because by nature of us being human beings, we will never be those who perfectly submit to God. God is the one who will judge us on that in which we differ.

And my thing is now, you don't see yourself represented on television or movies? Represent yourself! My hero in this is Qasim Basir, who is the writer and director of MOOZ-lum, an ambitious, semi-autobiographical film about a young black Muslim man who struggles with the demons of his past -- an authoritarian father and a religious school where one of the headmasters physically abused him -- while being introduced to the secular world of teenage revelry at college. It represented black Muslims seemlessly, not ever making an issue of them being black and therefore the minority, while alluding to their black nationalist history. There was a lot going on in the film that could have been compartmentalized, but I liked it because it reminded me of RMD.

If brother Basir can represent himself in his films, I can represent myself. I can't speak for other black Muslims, but my voice will be out there.

I think I'm going to give it some time, and then I'll rewrite RMD. A lot of stuff is kind of stylized and abstract that I think I'm going to make more concrete...I'm no longer afraid of doing so. We'll see.

And then there's the anthology...

We can be represented! We can represent ourselves! Will it be as mainstream as a TLC show? Maybe not, but the more the voice is out there, the more people will pick up on it.

I am very happy with who I know and who I am. I am very happy that I have access to both Muslim and non-Muslim circles, because I know for sure that I have introduced more non-Muslims to Islamic principles than they otherwise would have known, because either their other Muslim friends are nominal or they are so religious that they avoid hanging out with non-Muslims. My experience as a Muslim, because of my associations, will be different than others, but it is rich, it is my own, and as the book I'm reading states, I Speak for Myself.

Non-Muslims, Muslims are not all the same. Muslims, Muslims are not all the same. And especially to the that you recognize the levels of practice there is within the actual Muslim community, which extends beyond the imagined ummah, what are you going to do? Are you going to ignore these Muslims, say they don't represent "true" Muslims, reach out to these Muslims, try to be more inclusive and invest in social programs that would help these Muslims find a firmer footing in their religion?

Now that we've met each other, what are we going to do?


Now that we've found love, what are we gonna do...with it?

I realize this was an O'Jays song, but the sample is hot. RIP Heavy D.

Muslims!We diverge! We're different! We're progressive, we're conservative, we're everything in between. Let's speak for ourselves, represent who we are, show how wonderfully diverse we are in our preferences, our likes, our dislikes, our practice, while most of us are in line with the unity of God. You want to see yourself represented? Be the one to do it!

And then you'll represent so many more of your other brothers and sisters!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Single Invisible Muslimah, Part III

As salaam alaikum,

Backdrop:  "[...] as a community, we are so focused on grooming our women to be wives and mothers that we lose sight of the fact that this is not even our number one role.

"Servitude to Allah (swt) is our number one role. We need to use what He has given us, the means that we have at the moment we have, to worship Him in the best of ways." - Wifehood and Motherhood not only ways to paradise.

And, from yesterday:  God knows I will love when I am married, and I will love each moment of life with my children. Those two will be the greatest love I'll ever know, I know it. I feel it in me. God made me a nurtuerer, and it's true for my patients, family and friends and it will be true of my family. I am going to be the best wife and mother I can imagine, insha'Allah.

But that's not my stage right now, and it's not my place to throw myself into that, to love that just yet. It will just leave me longing, as one who fasts the day and thinks too much of iftar longs painfully for that food.

I think I can learn a lot of lessons from fasting. My will power is great and I am usually not hungrily longing for food during the day, even when I sit with friends at lunchtime who are eating. It takes time, and it's not immediate at the beginning of the month, and it does feel isolating for that time that you are waiting to be one of the few around you not eating. The key to getting through those times is recognizing that yes, this is a lonely time, but it is temporary. A month is short, and before you know it you will be eating again during the day but missing the noor of Ramadan.

The ease of this, of course, is knowing that Ramadan has a foreseeable end and recognizing the value of that time. While it's harder to know that one's state as being single has a foreseeable end, a concept that I'm going to have to construct for myself, one definite thing I can do is recognize the value of this time of absence, my abstaining, my fasting...

Lessons from Ramadan extend past the month, as always, and the lessons are many!

Pretty early during Ramadan, I do not crave food, I do not envy those who have food and eat during the day because I am content to know that I am following the will of God, devoting myself to something greater than my base desire to eat. Ramadan is often lonely for me as I don't have family to break fast with, but I am sure that I participate in iftars in the community when I can or invite friends to eat a meal with me and thus effectively break fast with me. I am happy that others eat when hungry during the day and I know I will soon be one of those, but I am not eating with a purpose, a deeply spiritual purpose that I try to realize even in the busiest part of my days.

I recognize that Ramadan is hard, and sometimes it's harder than others. Sometimes my stomach grumbles, sometimes I start to feel spacy and tired. Sometimes I have a hard time concentrating on my work. Sometimes I do look forward to iftar...but I never delay Maghrib for stuffing my face. I drink something, eat a date, and I pray, focusing on my prayers as I did the rest of the day. I am deliberate with it, and eat in moderation when iftar time comes. It's especially hard because of the energy-draining profession that I've gone into. I even passed out this year on the last day of Ramadan, as I did not eat sufficiently during iftar and then walked into a delivery with a profusely-bleeding mom.

With the same resolute (but not resigning) attitude that I look at Ramadan, I should look at my life as a single Muslimah. Yes, I am abstaining...abstaining from sex and I am unmarried while people around me have sex, and other abstainers marry. I should look at that as I look at everyone around me in the hospitals and clinics eating while I'm fasting Ramadan. Not only is this time temporary (and I have to believe that) with the end to come, though perhaps not as forseable as the end of a month, it is a worthy abstinence. It feel isolating, but as that doesn't stop me from fasting Ramadan every year and enjoying it, the isolation should not keep me from going forth vigorously and purposefully in life and enjoying it.

Alhamdulillah, I am making a life for myself that is awesome! First and foremost, I am Muslim. I am about to become a physician and a published author. I am an amateur singer/songwriter, bachata, merengue and samba dancer. I have always been a daughter, sister, cousin, granddaughter, niece, and insha'Allah a decent one. I have grown to be a friend to many, and insha'Allah a decent one. I have been an excellent student, and I will always be a learner. I am rediscovering my inner voracious reader, my silent inquisitor.

The way that I am has been isolating often, and sometimes I despair that, but I should despair that no less than I despair the isolation of Ramadan. I found solutions to my loneliness in Ramadan, resolving to sit with friends and colleagues through lunches because being around food didn't affect me.

I think I have the solution. Marriage and family will not cease to be important to me, things that I desire. I just need to frame this desire in a different way.

I will no longer say "never." While I have aunts in my family who I often remember who did not have happy marriages, they all formed families that they love and fulfill them nonetheless. I don't personally know anyone who never had a family of their own. And the people I know who are still single are not out of their 30s yet, and there is still time. Since I was a kid and didn't have many friends because of my family's social isolation because of my brother, I've longed for companionship. Alhamdulillah, I've gotten it in the form of many awesome friends and a friend in my parents that has developed through the years and fulfills all needs except for that carnal base need that all of us humans have. I will continue to fortify my life with companions, friends male and female, Muslim and non-Muslim, to fit into the various places where I desire companionship.

I often despair that friends with these people will one day disappear as they go to form their own lives and I may not be forming my own. Here we return to loving the stage that we're in, loving where we are right now. Right now, I'm still a medical student, and I'm surrounded by wonderful friends, a virtual family that I've made while here. These will be the most precious times of my life, I know, because of these people, because of what it meant to me to be surrounded for the first time by so many brilliant and beautiful black men and women, and knowing they'll be out there, doing there thing in medicine.

Let me not have that overshadowed by my angst, my anxiety to marry and go on with that part of my life. That will come soon enough. I have these friends now. When I move, I will undoubtedly forge new friendships. Where I move, I want to become more involved in the Muslim community as I did automatically when I came here. When I move, I will be a professional, working and not having as much time as I do now to write, ponder, and write some more. I will have my own place insha'Allah, pay my bills, prepare my own food, listen to my own music in my own stereo, watch my television set, sing in my own place, gaze outside my window, write when I want to (of my free time)...I can be friends with whoever I want, go wherever I want, save up my funds and maybe travel for leisure for the first time in my life abroad...


If it's family I want, insha'Allah family I shall have. I no longer take it for granted but recognize there is no reason I will not have it. Either God will provide me with a husband and the ability to bear my own children or I will adopt when the time is right, insha'Allah. Or maybe I'll do both! I will have my family that I've always wanted, not because Jannah will be at my feet but because I want it. But this time of my life is no less valuable or important and is arguably more important because I'm growing in important ways that will fortify me as the older adult I will become, whether I'm a physician-writer or a wife-mother-physician-writer or anything else I may become!

So let me love life now. What is now? I am preparing for 11 more family medicine residency interviews but leisurely enjoying the last week of my laid-back pharmacology class that has allowed me to take care of life outside of medicine. I have written a short story that is due to be published! I am enjoying the company of a crew of friends who are also in the class, including daily lunches at the public health school. I have made friends with a young, gorgeous man and I am flattered as it becomes apparent that another one of my friends has feelings for me. My skin is clear and my hair is robust, thick and healthy and I come to appreciate more and more each day its native curl pattern. I'm watching a novela that entertains me, I get to read books again that excite, inspire and educate me, I'm writing music for my latest story idea and am once again invigorated to edit my novel. I have great friends who I can talk to, I can confide in my parents and three of my dear cousins who were with me through the tough times of my breakup. I am at liberty to spend my days lounging around my place, and the weekends blend into the weekdays because I don't have clinical responsibilities. My grandparents are alive and hanging in there, I have four new baby cousins this year and one more is in the oven, my family is largely healthy and happy. I don't need to worry about my student debt just yet. I have all the resources I could ever want. I have a huge, purple, spacious, lovely and warm room this winter in a modest apartment that I share with biting centipedes and a little black field mouse that is hiding somewhere but that mostly don't bother me. I just made okra soup that tasted so much like the authentic thing that I almost cried upon eating it.

I am not talking to a man who wants to marry me and I am not engaged as I very much imagine I would like to be right now, but honestly, honestly honestly, in the hypothetical, that adds nothing to the richness of the life that God has given me. When and if such a man comes along that fits and is worthy (yes, worthy), it won't be the fact that he will marry me that will be what I love (only, let's be honest), it will be his mere existence, not only in my life, but his existence period that will bring me joy. Wanting it without that element is an empty want. Waste not, want not? Don't waste the blessings of this life that you already have and you shall not want.

So much to love about my life, including the fact that I had a kind and gentle ex who went through pains to respect me even though he was incapable of being what I needed, who can still respect me even as we are not even able to maintain a friendship, who is intelligent and, in general, I'm happy he was part of my life for the short time that he was to teach me that there can be beautiful, different people in life.

And probably other things that I'm forgetting!

Here's to loving this stage of my life, and being more myself than I have ever been!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Single Invisible Muslimah, Part II

 As salaam alaikum,

Just a reminder of the backdrop of this piece:

"[...] as a community, we are so focused on grooming our women to be wives and mothers that we lose sight of the fact that this is not even our number one role.

"Servitude to Allah (swt) is our number one role. We need to use what He has given us, the means that we have at the moment we have, to worship Him in the best of ways." - Wifehood and Motherhood not only ways to paradise.


Through much of this time, I have lamented being single. Through much of those phases of my life, there was some sort of emotional drama going on where I was depressed for some reason or another, or longing, or something. I chose medicine because I saw it as a most excellent way to serve God, to aid my fellow human beings through life (also service to God), to use some of the gifts that God has given me (academic and intellectual prowess with the love of science) and to have financial stability in this life. At some point, maybe not recorded in one of my many journals, I made this definitive decision as my form of worship outside of family life.

I grew up taking marriage and children for granted. As a three year old, I was asked if I wanted to learn how to drive. I said, nope, the daddy (my husband) will drive me. By fifteen, however, I dismissed that as I got behind the wheel of a car for the first time to practice in the parking lot of the local movie theater and as I navigated the winding roads of Ann Arbor. Even then, though, I just assumed that I would marry and have children someday. I didn't doubt it. My biggest worry at fifteen was that no boys that I wanted to be interested in me were interested in me at the time, but I didn't worry about never marrying.

I'm not sure when that started. I think it was in medical school, as I found myself upon the age that I imagined I would meet my husband and it didn't happen. Compound that with my trying to do things the halal way and not knowing how to go about it, the small pool of Muslim men and beginning to realize that my identity and my standards were more complex than most...and I continued to age...

And thus it has been. I think college was marked by wanting MQ specifically, and I didn't worry so much about being single. I think even more than being lonely, I began to doubt that I would find someone because of the different person I was becoming...or at the very least I realized that the road was going to be harder...

The problem I realize is that I never wanted my life in medicine to be the main dish. I took forming a family of my own for granted. I didn't even think about it. Everyone in my family had at least one child and had at one point been married (when I was young) (a point I haven't thought about, actually, in a while), and all of my friends obviously were family for their parent(s). Until and after I was married and started a family, I would become a physician and make that a mode of worship. I always assumed it would happen. Most people do. Who doesn't?

Those for whom it starts to take longer, like me. Those who are exposed to stories of women who "never." (There are no popular stories about men who never marry, although they are certainly out there and not all gay.) When I came into Islam and began hearing stories of Muslim women who never marry, then experience negated my somewhat naive belief that Muslims disregarded ethnicity as an absolute when choosing spouses in following the Qur'an and Sunnah (hahahahahahahaha!), then rereading the monthly issue of Essence or Ebony talking about the 74% of unmarried black women over the age of 25, the difficulties of professional black women to marry, the black men in jail...and putting those together, that black Muslim men prefer women who can speak Arabic, thus leaving many black Muslimahs behind, the shortage of black Muslim men, issues with Muslim men of quality in general, let alone black Muslims...

And this is where my "never" mentality came from. This is one of the ways that Satan can get me...whipping me into despair, catching me when I'm vulnerable and making me feel hopeless when in fact God is blessing me beyond measure.

Along with my delving into Islam and discovering some of the ugly realities about Muslims in America and the world at large (all of this done after 9/11, so I was already aware of some ugly realities), I adopted some maladaptive beliefs. I read about Jannah at the feet of mothers and fortified my lifelong interest in (or more aptly expectation of) having a family of my own with the belief that it was the most worthy thing that human beings can do.

Not just women, but men, too. Men, of course, can form families at any time. If men take care of themselves and are otherwise already able (thus barring primary or unforeseen secondary infertility), they can father children until they are elderly. We women have the window...the window I didn't start worrying about until I was 22 and when I was 23 when my endocrinology professor informed us that we had already passed the optimal age of childbearing (why would you tell women in medicine that, especially young, formative women?).

The most noble, the most honored thing for us to do, I believed was to marry and have children, raising those children in Islam. I began to believe that everything else paled in comparison. What had been a desire for companionship that I've had since I was that 12-year-old girl aspiring to go to graduate school had become a matter of religious importance, absently, combined with an unchecked desire that evolved into desperation because I thought I was entitled to do so.

And it all started with taking marriage and family for granted.

I have not loved the stage that I am in. That has to change.

If I can love the small sparrows that hop about on two stick feet, perch on branches as I walk to class and rub there beaks against the branch, cocking their heads from this side to that to gain the fabled birds-eye view they need to take flight...why can I not love the more complex and multifaceted entity which is my life? They are both God's creation, carefully, painstakingly and purposefully crafted into a greatness that is beyond our comprehension. But this bird is one of many that is hatched and dies several times over in my lifetime, whose instincts are simple, whose body is small and energy is compact. If I love so many other things to this detail about creation, why not love my life, where I am now, as I loved my childhood. As I've always loved being black. As I love being Nigerian. As I love being in medicine. As I love family medicine. As I love my classmates. As I love my hair. As I love my face. As I love my skin. As I've grown to love my body. As I love my writing. As I love my voice. As I love my eyes. As I love my feet. As I love my mother. As I love my father. As I love our family history. As I love my brother. As I love my relationship with my brother. As I love my grandparents. As I love my cousins, all hundreds of them. As I love the character that came out of our familial hardship.

As I love that plaintive feeling that comes from lyrical memories of trial, longing and pain. As I love soul and samba music.

God knows I will love when I am married, and I will love each moment of life with my children. Those two will be the greatest love I'll ever know, I know it. I feel it in me. God made me a nurtuerer, and it's true for my patients, family and friends and it will be true of my family. I am going to be the best wife and mother I can imagine, insha'Allah.

But that's not my stage right now, and it's not my place to throw myself into that, to love that just yet. It will just leave me longing, as one who fasts the day and thinks too much of iftar longs painfully for that food.


Saturday, November 12, 2011

Single Invisible Muslimah, Part I

As salaam alaikum,

I don't know how I missed this article at's totally what I needed to read, always.

"[...] as a community, we are so focused on grooming our women to be wives and mothers that we lose sight of the fact that this is not even our number one role.

"Servitude to Allah (swt) is our number one role. We need to use what He has given us, the means that we have at the moment we have, to worship Him in the best of ways."

Preach it, Sister! See the full article here: Wifehood and Motherhood not only ways to paradise.

This paragraph was also encouraging:

"God, in His Wisdom, has created each one of us differently and in different circumstances. Some recognize this, love any stage they are in, and develop their abilities to the fullest. Let us, too, use the time and abilities God has given us to maximize our worship to Him and work for the betterment of society and humanity as a whole. If wifehood or motherhood comes in the process, then at least we were using all of our ability to worship Him before it came and can continue to use the training and stamina we gained before marriage to worship Him with excellence once it comes along."

Ameen, sis!

The article starts out with a Muslimah aimlessly making her way through college, really just buying time until she finds a husband and marries so she can have children. In my heart of hearts, I felt like this was me.

No one else sees me this way, and when I talk this way, it seems incongruous with who I actually am.

I am the 12-year-old girl who helped her mother copy articles for her Auntie Florence's dissertation in Nigeria and aspired someday to attend graduate school. I am the 12-year-old girl that, in researching careers, was choosing not only between medicine and architecture, but considered specifically the specialty of OB/GYN. I am the 13-year-old girl who took two math classes in middle school so she could be in the advanced science-math track. I am the 15-year-old girl who participated in a conference and initiative to try to address the achievement gap with black American students. I am the 18-year-old girl who graduated in the top 5% of her high school class after taking 7 AP tests, all 4s and 5s, and had gotten into all of the colleges she applied to with a full tuition scholarship to the one she would eventually attend. I am the 17-year-old girl who definitively embraced Islam and decided to become more practicing once in college.

I am the 18-year-old girl who entered college toying with the idea of becoming an MD/PhD, focusing on genetics. I am the 18-year-old girl who fasted Ramadan for the first time. I am the 19-year-old girl that started to develop her social consciousness and the idea of entering medicine as a service career, serving Allah (swt) through serving fellow human being. I am the 19-year-old girl who found a dream medical school and began to develop myself in college to be able to gain admission there. I am the 19-year-old girl who decided to double major in Cellular and Molecular biology and Spanish. I am the 20-year-old girl who juggled her double major, working in the lab, volunteering in the Children's hospital, tutoring students in Spanish and helping Latino children and adults increase their literacy all the while delving into Islam head-first. I am the 21-year-old girl who began wearing the khimar, traveled abroad for the first time and applied to medical school all in the same year. I am the 22-year-old girl who graduated with a 3.9 and accepted admission at Harvard Medical School with aspirations to attain her MPH.

I am the 22-year-old woman who made the very hard decision to shed the khimar and find alternative ways to assume her Muslim identity.

I am the 22-year-old girl who thrived upon entering medical school. I am the 22-year-old girl who started writing her first novel, A Rose Much Desired, during anatomy class, where she sawed off a human leg. I am the 22-year-old girl who aspired to publish at least one work while in medical school. I am the 23-year-old girl who wrote her first story to be published, insha'Allah, which was renamed "The Hybrid Dance." I am the 23-year-old girl who co-directed a cultural show with her classmates that celebrated the African Diaspora and was musical director for her second year show, realizing the dreams of performance that she never allowed herself while studying through college. I am the 24-year-old woman who studied for and conquered USMLE Step 1. I am the 24-year-old woman who decided not to miss Ramadan because of tough coursework and fasted successfully through her OB/GYN rotation and still got her desired grade. I am the 25-year-old woman who survived third year of medical school. I am the 25-year-old woman who fell in love with family medicine. I am the 25-year-old woman who realized her aspiration and matriculated into the school of public health, studying family and community health and maternal child health. I am the 26-year-old woman who was an intern for a project to find solutions for homelessness of transition-age youth in Massachusetts. I am the 26-year-old woman who is applying to residency and interviewing across the country as I type this.

I am the 26-year-old woman who has made mistakes in the course of life but always has her home in Islam, alhamdulillah.

None of this is the mark of a woman who has been ambling through life, aimlessly waiting for her husband to come along. No. I don't know why I though that.

I don't generally like to lay out my life in this way, but for my own purposes, I had to. I had to slap myself in the face and see, in fact, that I've made some very purposeful decisions in my life, academic and leisure and otherwise, to achieve my goals.

As the quote above says so nicely, we are created differently and we are born into different circumstances. Some of us recognize this and love the stage we are in and develop our capabilities to the fullest. I think I recognize that we are born into different circumstances and I have developed my capabilities. What has not happened is that I have not loved the stage I am in.

I was constantly trying to be something else, be somewhere else. Thus the movement of I am more myself now than I have ever been.


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Paradigm, Part IV

As salaam alaikum,

So what is this paradigm that is the topic of the last few entries? It's a paradigm that's shifted, to be sure, and a paradigm that is constantly in flux. It is the halal courtship paradigm that I seek for myself.

It is more than a "dating" paradigm. It is the paradigm with which I will seek out and get to know a man who I will at some point in the future marry and share my life and my family's life with, who will father our children and with whom I will share myself. Regardless of religious affiliation or lack thereof, this is a major spiritual undertaking and should not be taken lightly.

I discovered that, over time, I'd been fighting against my own self and my own nature in favor of what I thought was Islamically correct when no one in fact told me this to be true. I had no conversation with any given scholar or imam or sheik or anything. I just read, I read texts, I read the Qur'an, I read blogs, I listened to talks, and I guess I came up with the conclusion that I shouldn't pay attention to who I'm physically attracted to. I should consider those for the content of their character and their devotion to the deen. Essentially, even if he is not that attractive to me, I should choose a man who is pious, because, as it says in the Qur'an:

" may well be that you hate a thing the while it is good for you, and it may well be that you love a thing the while it is bad for you: and God knows, whereas you do not know." (2:216)

Or, more specifically, just a little ways down:

"AND DO NOT marry women who ascribe divinity to aught beside God ere they attain to [true] belief: for any believing bondwoman [of God] is certainly better than a woman who ascribes divinity to aught beside God, even though she please you greatly. And do not give your women in marriage to men who ascribe divinity to aught beside God ere they attain to [true] belief: for- any believing bondman [of God] is certainly better than a man who ascribes divinity to aught beside God, even though he please you greatly. [Such as] these invite unto the fire, whereas God invites unto paradise, and unto [the achievement of] forgiveness by His leave; and He makes clear His messages unto mankind, so that they might bear them in mind." (2:221)

I hold all of these to be true. But it never said in the Qur'an or in the Sunnah that one should avoid anyone who they are actually attracted to. Alhamdulillah, the world is wide and people are many. The 7 billionth baby was born. Marriage is our duty but it's also something that many of us desire to do, as companionship is something we desire to have, and at the base of things, so is sex. And why on earth would we marry someone who we are not attracted to in any way when God created attraction to facilitate our relationships?

So all of this to say...I realize that my finding a mate will be a more organic process than I previously thought. It will make sense. Someone will be spiritually in line with me and want the same thing I want, marriage. I won't have to work in someone else's paradigm and force things to go my will be what we both want, the way we both want it, insha'Allah. Nothing else will work.

The key is to be myself, where I am spiritually and in terms of my iman and practice. I will be truthful about myself, all of the things that made me and all of the things I want to be, spiritually and in terms of my iman and practice. And the man who accepts and fits will be it. And there's nothing I can do to find him other than to be myself in the world I live in, and pray, because God always answers.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Paradigm, Part III

As salaam alaikum,

At the time I'm posting this, I'm sleeping soundly in my hotel south of San Francisco right now, hopefully, the day before my first residency interview. As I'm writing this, though, I'm procrastinating my final residency interview preparation, which will entail me verbally answering a series of questions that could come up during the interview, reading about ACOs and PCMHs, and reviewing Contra Costa's residency program and coming up with questions tailored for both residents in the program and faculty.

One of the blessings of going into medicine with this rigorous training is that you're always on the cusp of something bigger, and you're constantly growing. Even though we sometimes feel stagnated, like we're in suspended animation, or that we our adolescence has been perpetuated in this odd state of arrested development as many of us don't marry and have children during this time, and we, unlike our peers, are yet to own salary, I think this extended development really affords us an opportunity to grow past what we otherwise would have been if we were dropped artificially into the hands of adulthood with the advent of paid employment.

It was a big thing when I held a human heart in my hand the first time in anatomy class. It was greater once I learned its physiology and pathophysiology. It was greater when I held a live, beating heart in my hand during surgery. And even greater will it be for me to actually be a partially-licensed doctor and finish my training in residency into the physician I intend to become. And even greater will me be completing that residency. And even greater will be my learning through my career. All insha'Allah, of course.

And the greatest, insha'Allah, will be when I end my career and end my life and can reflect on all I have learned and all I have done.

Without foresight, which few of us actually have, life can seem stagnant at times when we are on the verge of great things. And I'm one of the more anxious ones who feels antsy and itchy and fidgety at those times when lives pauses. Instead of being anxious during the quiet times, I should relish those times and use those times to do some of those other things that I love that are not medicine...

This life, just like we are, is God's creation. It was not merely created to teach us to avoid haram, because there is so much more in this life that is actually halal...and it's not just halal meat! We can strive to live this life to the fullest while being God conscious, and if we are in that place spiritually, we can tie everything to the afterlife, or if we are more evolved spiritually, we don't have to make that mental circuit to recognize those things that nourish our souls and Heaven, insha'Allah, will be a given.

I have found a way insha'Allah to live Islam more organically and a way to live my reality more organically and to anticipate my life partner more organically. I therefore feel more comfortable in my own skin, in my own way of being. It is not the type of comfort that keeps one from striving in the way of Allah (swt) but is rather the type of comfort that allows one to strive more in the way of Allah (swt) because they are no longer paralyzed by fear of abstract and intangible things of their own minds' creation.

I am no longer paralyzed by the fear of abstract and intangible things that I created in my mind that made the life Allah (swt) always intended and intends and will intend for me impossible.

And I am more myself now than I have ever been.

More to come...

Monday, November 7, 2011

Paradigm, Part II

As salaam alaikum,

I'm artificially splitting my entry into parts. They're all written at the same time, but there's so much to say that I wanted to split it into distinct entries.

There is a uniting theme, though: I am more myself now than I have ever been.

I said that it all started with D, but that's not true. It more likely all started with what sparked me to resume my "Center of Awesomeness" and my writing projects. It was the death of Steve Jobs.

I am currently typing on a PC, but I have much respect for Apple products, which I grew up on, using them in school from the time I was in kindergarten until I was co-editor-in-chief of our high school paper. I comfortably alternated between using Macs and PCs in the libraries and computer labs in college. I own an iPod. I always thought that Mac users formed a little bit of a cult, but that didn't keep me from recognizing how much of an innovator Steve Jobs was. I remember the distress that my friend had when Jobs first revealed that he had pancreatic cancer, and how he was worried about what Job's impending death would mean for the future of Apple.

And I almost completed medical school and learned so much about the lethality of pancreatic cancer, and then he died.

His death meant the resurgence of many of his quotes, on facebook, blogs and other modes of social media. I saw this one and it gave me pause:

"Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart."

This is from his Stanford commencement speech in 2005.

I pray for a life long enough to realize my purpose in this world and to approximate God as much as I can, but I also recognize that I could die at any time. This is not usually a thought that causes me anxiety because I do not fear death itself, as long as the circumstances of which are not particularly traumatic or painful. However, I am God-fearing and I don't think, if I were to die now, I'd be in the place I want to be before I meet God.

For me, living life as if it were my last has always meant trying to be as pious as I can be in that moment of life so, theoretically, I'll be ready to meet God at any point in time. But I think, as many of us Muslims and in fact, many of us religious people have trouble doing, we have trouble living in this world and for the next at the same time. We're not entirely sure either what that means or how to balance both. Because we were placed on this world with the confines of space and time and this body and its feelings and urges for a reason, and yes, a big reason is that it's a test, but this existence isn't all about denying everything that is on the earth in favor of the next.

So while I do think it is important that I should try to live each day as piously as I can as if I were to meet God next, there is an element of that piety that is focused on how I live my life here on this earth, the things that I do, who I become and who I impact.

"Because almost everything - all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important."

I'm still digesting all that this means, because I believe it to be true. If I had a sudden premonition, for example, that I was going to die if not tomorrow, but in say, five years' time...what would my life look like? What would I do?

So many petty and trivial things of this life wouldn't mean that much to me anymore, including what people thought of me. I would be who I needed to be. Like Mahalia, I would live the life I sing about in my song. At the same time, I would enjoy the fruits of this world that God intended us to enjoy, which are more numerous than the little that we are forbidden, actually, and include some of the things that we, in fear, deny ourselves.

That just made me remember this song, which I think I"ll end this entry be continued:

It's a great prayer, actually.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

[uncensored]: Paradigm, Part I

As salaam alaikum,

I'm sitting in bed, reading my Kindle version of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, and I had an epiphany of sorts, weeks in the making. I was reading the story of John Moore, a man who was diagnosed with hairy cell leukemia whose physician, who sued his physician for not informing him of the purpose of the many follow up appointments that Moore attended miles away from his Seattle home. When I read about the sudden appearance of a consent form that Moore felt uncomfortable signing, his physician's somewhat violent insistence that he sign the form, and then his later contracting a lawyer to find out that his physician had been taking samples from him to create a cell line named "Mo," I was like, shit!

And I laughed, and looked at myself in the mirror, covered in my comforter for heat and yet sleeping naked, the heat blasting in my poorly insulated apartment because we don't have to pay.

I looked at myself and I smiled and I said aloud, "I'm more myself now than I have ever been."

And it's true. Right now, this last hour, I'm becoming more myself than I've ever been.

There's so much to say.

I laughed and said shit because I'm halfway through this book and I've just learned so much about the history of makes me want to read more and more on the topic. I decided to go into this field because I wanted to translate my love of science into a service career, and I picked medicine. I went further with my dedication to service and decided that I wanted to go into primary care, and chose family medicine. While I see medicine and health care in general as a potentially benevolent entity in our lives, what with its Hippocratic oath and its base of helping people, I've always recognized that there is a potentially sinister and dehumanizing side that is pervasive in some areas more than others. This is really vague because it's really quite ubiquitous in the field, from the level of specific specialties to training programs to fields of research.

And I guess more than ethics class teaching you snippets about the Nuremberg Trials or the Tuskegee experiments, this book highlights succinctly some of the many injustices that were committed in the name of biomedical science, the people who were exploited, and the racists that were the founding fathers of many of the technologies and therapies we now take for granted. For example, the father of cell culture was a eugenicist and a Nazi sympathizer.

I think this is an important book for all medical students to read, particularly those of African decent, to understand a little bit of the history of the field we're going to, to appreciate how far medicine has come even in our lifetime and just years before our births, and to therefore learn to revere less the field and some of its predecessors and recognize the importance of our place in getting health care to those who need it most, those of the very populations that have been marginalized and exploited. We owe it to them, essentially.

I want students of African descent, even Africans who don't feel like they're part of the African American experience, to read this and recognize why it is that there are health care's because just 50 years ago, a black patient, dying, could go to a white hospital and the all-white staff, including doctors and nurses, would feel comfortable sending that person away to their certain demise because they upheld segregation and didn't want a black body to taint their white hospital. Fast forward 40 years to Katrina, and its no wonder that happened. The Civil Rights Movement was great but future generations did not carry that forward. The movement was awesome in the most formal sense of the word but it was incomplete without the next generation understanding what their task was to be done.

But that's not why I'm more myself than ever before.

It's a complicated sentiment that, as usual, I'm not sure I can express succinctly. It all started when I met D (yes, he's still around, in some form). I met D while going out with my friend. I saw him "across a crowded room" and I instantly found him attractive. I think I'll save it for another entry.

I realize more people would probably read my stuff if it were shorter. At the same time, it wouldn't be me if it were shorter, so I think I'll put up with a lower readership in order to express myself as I see fit.

I am, after all, more myself than I've ever been before.