Thursday, May 31, 2012

American Gender, Part I

As salaam alaikum,

A bit before I graduated from high school, three of my closest friends suggested that I write short stories for them, since I had established myself as an aspiring writer. I didn't get farther than brainstorming one of the stories, one that I would dedicate to my best friend. It was the closest thing to fantasy that I've ever dreamed up. The story took place in a post-apocalyptic world in which nations no longer existed and singular, small communities were their own nations, warring nations that fought themselves into carnage and nonexistence. Young men, and a few young women, zealously auditioned to join militias and take to the battlefront. Select nations triumphed over the rest, and most of the young men of these nations hungered to join these militias, though it was more competitive.

The protagonists of the story were the futuristic descendants of my best friend and I who just happened to be, through the randomness of genetics, remarkably like their ancestors. My friend's character, who I'll call A, tried out repeatedly for her nation's militia, but repeatedly failed elements of the test because of her size. Short and petite, though enthusiastic skilled in other ways, she was not a contender. My character, who I'll call C, is A's childhood friend. She is a member of one of the numerous peaceful, nomadic societies of primarily women and some of their children who flee battles, care for the wounded and try to salvage vestiges of the previous society as they travel. She supports A in her quests to join her former nation's militia, while she otherwise contentiously objects to the wars.

C is the leader of her society of young women and few children. They wear long dresses, cloaks and scarves to protect them from the elements, depending on the season. Their shoes are worn because of their long journeys and the fact that their clothing is made up of whatever is salvaged along the way. Many of the women in the societies are courted by men from nearby nations, since many women in the nation have either had been killed or fled long ago. Courted instead of simply being overtaken because the women in the society defend themselves fiercely, and women in the nations stand up for them as well. Besides, for the sake of the nations, there is no time to expend energies on anything but the rival nations.

The story opens and C is being courted by a man she's actually quite interested in, though he is the leader of one of the nearby nation's militias. C denies it but has circled her society precariously around the outskirts of this up-and-coming nation, that is not yet in the ranks of the victorious nations that triumph over all and has encountered many casualties. Though their meetings often end with them disagreeing about the means to the end of establishing themselves anew in the world, she comes to love this man, though she is conflicted about leaving her sisters in peace to join, again, a nation, supporting their means.

One day, when A returns, dejected once again about being rejected from the militia, C, in spite of herself, suggests the militia of the man she's been seeing, that is rag-tag but in need. A, excited because she's heard rumblings about this nation, though torn about abandoning her allegiance to her former nation, agrees to meet up with this militia man...

I told my friend about this story after she came out to me about a year later. She asked whether her sexual orientation influenced her character at all, and I told her no, and it was true. "A" was just a reflection of how I understood my friend's expression of her gender, even though she still had long hair and wore "more feminine" clothes at the time. I saw her as a little warrior who was often thwarted at 5'2" and less than 100 pounds, who was often thwarted because of her own self-deprecation, her lack of self-esteem, the memory of past failures, but when she overcame that, she was a beast on the inside, full of vigor, enthusiasm, the ingenuity to make her skills work, to compensate for her shortcomings. She was driven, and when she was, she was fearless. I could tell she didn't want what the other girls wanted. She never got caught up in boys like the rest of us did. And that's why A was like she was.

And C was like she was because C was me. I am a pacifist. I do not believe in the necessity of war and I believe sports came into existence to extinguish the desire within men and some women to kill each other, and keep them occupied in a safe competitive spirit, for example. In a post-apocalyptic world, I would definitely not fight in any battle of dubious import and significance.

We were just two variations of the many possible that I perceived in the female gender spectrum, independent of any notions of sexual orienation. My friend is the passionate warrior, and I was the compassionate pacifist. In the story, neither one of us is judged as more female than the other, more woman than the other. Our concerns were just...different.

Thus was one of my earlier manifestations of the conglomeration of ideas that resulted in my perception of gender. From observing my parents and grandparents, to things my mother directly taught me, to television shows and girls and boys, men and women I met along the course of life, along with my own personal inclinations, these all led me to express my gender as I do now.

This is my American gender.

Friday, May 25, 2012

[uncensored]: Graduating Harvard

As salaam alaikum,

I have a feeling this entry is going to take a long time, so expect it to be in parts.

First of all, all thanks to Allah (swt), I graduated yesterday from Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health with my M.D. and M.P.H! All thanks to Allah (swt) for all of the support of my family, friends and the faculty who have supported me along the way. And thanks to you, my readers, my virtual Muslim family, some of you who have been with me from the beginning, for your support! You have helped me to furnish what has been a spiritual home for me when my own community has been quite lacking or honestly, nonexistent. I love you all!

There is a doctor in the house, but there is definitely a lot more for me to learn, and insha'Allah my residency program will take me there. Heads up, Seattle, this Muslimah is on her way!

This graduation was unlike any other graduation I've had before. I was very reflective of the past, prayerful for the future and mostly grateful for the present as it was. I sat amongst hundreds (thousands?) of graduate students with crimson hoods, listened to an undergraduate senior address the graduating class in Latin, and watched as old-world style ceremony played out before my eyes, including the happy mayor of Middlesex County banging his staff into the ground, calling the "meeting" into session.

It was so surreal to graduate from Harvard.

And this is coming from someone who has never been in awe of the institution. No, seriously. During undergraduate applications, I very purposefully did not apply to Harvard. When they sent their recruitment letter to me at my parents home when I was in high school, I never opened it. I applied and got into Yale and then ended up going to University of Michigan because I got a tuition scholarship there, and that was that.

I felt like even applying to Harvard was putting on heirs. I'm not sure why I was more comfortable applying to Yale, though. I think the real answer that I wasn't willing to admit was that Harvard intimidated me. It intimidated me and, after all, I just wanted to be a physician. I didn't need to go to the a school like that that was so expensive and so out of the league of anything anyone in my family had done just to fulfill a few pre-med requirements.

And so it was. I spent four happy and challenging years at the University of Michigan, and I will forever bleed know, in that not-really-a-sports-fan type of way.

But you come of age watching football by your heritage, hehe.


I ended up applying to Harvard for medical school on a whim. I had a few big-named medical schools that I somehow had the audacity to think I could get into...Johns Hopkins, Columbia...and most of all, University of California, San Francisco, the eminent UCSF. I fell in love with UCSF sometime at the end of my freshman year of college, learning that it was a university dedicated solely to the medical sciences. I formed myself at Michigan to be the type of competitive candidate for a medical school like UCSF. Everything from my grades, my extracurricular activities, my leadership roles...all was for, if God so willed, my admission to UCSF.

Harvard was an afterthought, a curiosity printed in crimson on a little postcard that was mailed to my parents' house one day in late spring, telling me that my MCAT scores were competitive, and that I should consider applying to Harvard.

Oh, really?

By this time, I had the MSAR, a book whose full name I forget but was basically the resource for all of the vital statistics of all accredited medical schools in the country. I had read over and highlighted key points about most of the medical schools that I had heard about, and a few others in choice locations. I hadn't really even considered the possibility of Harvard until I got that postcard. So, I checked them out, and to my surprise, the class of 2009 was 13% African American.

It doesn't seem like a feat, considering the United States is just under 13% black, but considering most medical schools have less than that much of a percentage of a black population and that this large of a black population was not seen in any medical school outside of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities, HBCUs, (and I know this because I checked all of the medical schools in the MSAR), I was surprised. That was totally not what I was expecting from Harvard.

I interviewed at Harvard Medical School like it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, fully expecting not to be accepted, but taking in the opportunity. As friendly medical students helped me navigate the then-confusing quad and medical campuses to get to my off-campus interviews, I was pleased to see a humility that I didn't expect to see at Harvard, which I had previously considered to be home of the legacy and old-rich, a place where I wouldn't feel welcome.

And welcome they made me feel.

But even with all of this, I wouldn't know the half of it. I got into Harvard a little bit before I heard news from UCSF, my dream school. I went to Harvard's then all-underrepresented-minority weekend, Alliance Weekend, with little idea hat to expect.

I didn't know that it would be this weekend that would cement before me the path of my life to come.

So there's so much I can say about what it means to graduate from Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health. And not all of it is positive or glowing or even warranting of any of the flowery language I can occasionally concoct. I didn't get a chance to do my exit interview with the minority office, but I hear that they ask each student the question, if you had a chance to do this all over again, would you have chosen to come to Harvard and why or why not.

By the end of first year, the answer would have been a resounding, of course I would have! Second year, the answer would have been, maybe not, because I feel like half the stuff I learned I taught myself during board studying. Third year, I would have been like, do I even want to go into medicine? Fourth year, it's all about the Benjamins, baby...should have gone where I got more money...

But all joking aside, I know I wouldn't have done anything different, given a chance to do this again, and maybe I would have even made the decision more purposefully. Maybe, given a chance to do this again, I would have experimented more with the different professional hats that I can wear...

I don't know. I just graduated from Harvard finding myself wondering if I could have done even more while I was here, if I could have pushed myself more, if I could have sealed my professional trajectory even more with a stronger resume, with more projects, with research and papers, more work abroad...

And I found myself wanting to recall my years here and all I feel it means to graduate from this place. So I will, over the next few days, piece by piece, examine this all, what it means for me as a Submitter, a Believer, and insha'Allah what I hope for my future, given the words of wisdom of Dr. Dan Berwick, who addressed my class this year.

So much to say.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Dead at 36

As salaam alaikum,

I take a short break from my regularly scheduled share something I heard in this documentary I watched that particularly resonated with me:

"If a man happens to be 36-years old as I happen to be and some great truth stands before the door of his life, some great opportunity to stand for that which is right. And the man might be afraid his home will be bombed, or he's afraid that he will lose his job, or he's afraid that he will get shot or beat down by state troopers...He may go on to live until he's 80. But he's just as dead at 36 as he would be at 80, and the sensation of breathing in his life is merely the belated announcement of an earlier death of the spirit..." - Martin Luther King, Jr.

I'm only 27, not 36, but could I be dead at 27? Am I standing for truth in my life and not fearing outcome for the sake of survival in tyranny? Insha'Allah the action I take in life is toward truth, and I'm not simply going through the motions of a life tending toward entropy, as it is if we just leave things as they are. Maybe the situation isn't as dire as it was in King's time.

Oh, but it is.

Folks just got quiet and continued doing so much dirty work. It's easy to hide it.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Strength in Weakness, Faith and Critique

As salaam alaikum,

At the "Expressions of Islam in Contemporary African American Communities" conference (yes, I was conferencing it up before I left Boston!), we touched upon so many topics. Feminism in Islam was not excluded, nor were issues of race for non-black converts to Islam, the so-called immigrant vs. indigenous dichotomy, cultural imperialism, Muslim chaplaincy and the future of Muslim was awesome.

One thing we talked about after Mustafa Davis screened his film was the Ta'leef Collective, and how an organization that was established to support converts came to be made up of a vast majority of what I call "Muslims on the fringe" who come to weekly sessions to find open places to discuss their place in Islam.

In discussing the film and discussing Ta'leef, we discussed the inflexibility of many of our communities and probably many of our world views to accept weakness in Islam.

What do I mean by that? I was raised differently, but in college I came up in Islam believing that any emotion that was not happiness, any of the DSM-IV diagnosable psychiatric disorders were actually diseases of the heart. Diseases of the Heart. I read that collection before medical school, earnestly seeking a firm backbone for my spiritual support of my mental health, believing that this was the way. Depression, I believed, was at its root ingratitude. Ingratitude or otherwise some sign of low iman. There is much to be done. There are special duas, fasting, charity...there is so much to be done.

For less pathological emotions, like loneliness, as discussed in the conference, many Muslims are afraid to pronounce. Some of us feel afraid to admit in our communities that our faith isn't satisfying all of the time. I can say personally that I was afraid to express any discontent with Islam before my father, lest he uses that crack in my faith to try to squeeze Christianity in.

And I also know that I've felt that any loneliness I feel is my own fault, because the religion is perfect. My loneliness in undergrad in the face of a very ethnically divided MSA was my fault for not "putting myself out there" to meet with other sisters, because everyone was busy and everyone was a student and I couldn't expect anyone to just embrace me. And so on...

Okay, well, maybe it's not all our faults, the feelings that we feel. Maybe not every negative or disordered emotion we feel is reflective of weak faith. Maybe it's okay to admit, I feel lonely in Islam so much.

Because I do. I feel lonely more often than I feel any benefit of brother or sisterhood. But God told us in the Qur'an that for the believer, we are bound to encounter lonely roads, as well as life abundant, so I keep on trucking, but that does not take away the fact that being Muslim can be a very lonely, isolating experience.

And this conference gave me permission to express this, and be loud about it!

With Mustafa Davis and with contributions of a great audience, we discussed how it's actually empowering to allow people to talk about their loneliness and their discontent with the religion. So often, for whatever reason, people don't feel like their allowed to express such sentiments. Like we're somehow afraid that admitting such things will send us down a spiral of religion rejection.

Or we're afraid of others questioning our faith.

While, quiet as it's kept, we all struggle. I don't think any of us have found that perfect faith sweet spot. I guess that's just one of the things like evil and the otherwise haram that people are afraid to noise about. But when it's for the purpose of helping a fellow human being, or self-discovery, or strengthening (yes!) one's faith, then...I don't see what the problem is.

I felt stronger in my faith when I felt free to admit the down times. Thereafter, I was more free to reflect and discover that Islam, in its perfect form is never at fault because that Islam has never existed on the face of this earth. It did in spirit during revelation, but as all the reforms the Qur'an called for were not fully implemented by the end of revelation, even then did Islam in its perfect form not exist on this earth. We've had generations do the best they can, and generations do less than the best that they can, and that conglomeration of ancestral tradition (yes) and consensus interpretations of the text is the Islam we have now, as imperfect as its human vectors.

The loneliness I feel is in part due to relative dysfunction that results from people attempting to but not achieving the practice of a perfect faith. It is not unique to Muslims and can be found among other groups of people approximating the form of the perfect faith that cannot exist in our realm. That itself makes me feel a whole lot less alone, and expands my community of believers in one way of many ways that has helped to expand my world.

And I am unapologetic.

There is strength in admitting weakness, laying it out bare. I'm not reveling in it, flaunting it as one would do, say, ignorance. I'm not laying it out there for judgment or begging for it to be fixed. It's admitting to ourselves that in our striving for that perfect faith all of us know we can't attain, we're not only going to be imperfect sometimes, but we're going to make mistakes, have setbacks, lose spirit, lose faith, miss prayers, pray on empty, commit haram, repent and fall into sin again...and we don't have to be lonely or noise too much about it to know that we're not the only ones, and we're not bad people for doing so. We are humans, God is Merciful beyond any mercy we can imagine on earth, more merciful than any jurist, no matter how versed, can be, more merciful than any fiqh said jurist can decree for order on this earth, His order is infinitely more just, and...

Realizing that even at our worst, we are realizing our creation, realizing the purpose that God put us here for (yes), being exactly as He created us, as the angels questioned God why He'd put us on earth, with our tendency to rape, pillage and spread corruption in the world whereas the angels are perfect in exhaulting God. Like Adam, we are cast down, but His guidance never eludes us. The Prophet (saw) told us to try to be as perfect as we could while recognizing that religion is very, very easy.

Very, very easy?

There's strength in admitting weakness. If something of Islam is too hard, if something of religion doesn't satisfy, then there's another way to approach it, there's another way for it to be done. Just as we don't thrash our children with the thought that it will make their studies any easier, we should not thrash ourselves into making religion easier. It won't in either case. We may get better, but not without a healthy dose of fear and the need for negative reinforcers to keep us on our way, and that was not God's intent for us on this earth.

And that is not the path to God.

There is strength in admitting weakness, in being mindful of it, in recognizing that it's a natural part of our existence as God created us. Acknowledging it is submitting to God in a way. Submitting that He is Greater. Submitting that we need help.

As soon as I admitted I was lonely, people in the conference came up to me and provided me with contacts to the Muslim community in Seattle. I met a Muslim/Unitarian Universalist chaplain who offered to be my mentor. I prayed beside an older woman who practices much like I do, giving me a vision into what my future could be as a practicing Muslimah, and I was encouraged.

This ended up more flow-of-consciousness than I initially had hoped. Oh well. I was inspired after watching an episode of Colbert Report in which he, once again, criticized the Catholic Church while being what some would consider a devout Catholic himself. I thought about where he must be in his faith, teaching Sunday school and meanwhile creating parody that criticizes policies and sometimes the very structure of the Church. I wondered how he could exist so comfortably and fluidly in a state of such critique of his own religion...

And then I realized, oh snap, I think I'm there!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Joy Inside My Tears

As salaam alaikum,


I heard this in the car the other day, as my mother and I drove back from visiting my grandparents. Yes, I remember the moment now, before I forget it. We were at the split of 23 and M-14, backed up in the construction that rendered much of 23 a parking lot. I turned on the radio because my mother and I really weren't having a stimulating conversation. And this song was on.

I think I've heard this song maybe once before. I remember hearing it once before, and it must have not been the whole thing, or else I would have been completely captivated. I kept telling my mother, "I've heard this song once before, maybe once." It turns out, it's on one of my favorite albums of all time (if not my favorite album of all time), Songs in the Key of Life. And so true that it's in the key of life, just like this song is.

"Joy Inside My Tears." Wow. I've been listening to it on repeat all night, as I'm for some reason unable to get to sleep. I'm not sleepy at all, and I don't like to be up this late consuming information that may give me nightmares or at least involved dreams, God help me.

We were driving up to Flint to see my grandparents. My mother does this every Sunday almost without fail. She brings them food, keeps my grandparents company, checks my grandmother's blood sugar and gives her her evening insulin dose.

Visiting my grandparents these days is very different than it was when I was a kid, necessarily. When I was a kid, my grandmother was the great matriarch. She dyed her hair jet black and was never out of the house without her khimar or at least her turban. She was on her feet, cooking food only she could make taste so good and cleaning and keeping up their modest home. My grandfather sat back in his chair, with his dictionary and his coffee, did odd jobs around the house, drove on weekday mornings to have breakfast with other older men at McDonald's, and came home with stories. He had stories from years, decades. And my fast-talking grandmother had stories of her own, chided him, made fun of the darkness of his skin, frequently dominating the conversation while telling someone's business in the family.

This was Grandmother's house. I had almost 40 first cousins, and a few second cousins were being born. The house was always full of cousins, uncles and aunts. Family was always to be had. We all took off our shoes and greeted my grandparents with as salaam alaikum. It was one of my favorite places to be.

It still is, even though it will never be the same. Grandmother is wheelchair-bound, able to shakily transfer from her recliner, which matches Grandfather's, to her motorized chair, but unable to help herself in the bathroom. Her daughters and sons have to help her there. Her spirits these days are better, but she insists that she sees people in the house. She feels that her house is no longer her own, that it's been taken over by "ugly people," mainly women who try to seduce Grandfather and children that wreck her house, reflecting some of her lifetime domestic fears, most likely. Grandfather is losing teeth by the day, but my family can't afford to get him dentures. Grandmother's have long been worn down. He's broken his hips and his mobility is much reduced. He is so happy to have his walker on wheels. It helps him get to the bathroom or his bedroom from the living room as quickly as he might, which are the only places he goes. Grandfather is the ultimate homebody...he will not leave his house. Now that he can no longer climb the ladder to reach the feeder, he implores his children to feed the neighborhood squirrels.

It's a far cry from the house I knew as a kid. The carpet is stained, the furniture is failing, and the refrigerator is filled with surplus and meals on wheels food. My grandmother laments this, but is helpless. The sign that reads that this is a Muslim home and to take off your shoes is still up in the entranceway, but only me and one of my cousins take off their shoes anymore.

I can't stop. I always walked through my grandparents' house barefoot...I always did.'s longing for something that you know will never be again as if it could really be.

It's not like I'm reaching for that now. I'm not. I had a very happy and full childhood, and I don't regret anything of the time I spent getting to know and love my grandparents. Grandmother and Grandfather are as they are now, on the outside, but one thing that keeps me going in the mercy of God, knowing that when it is their time...oh God, when it is their time, and I cry, because I miss them already.


When it is their time, they will be with God, essentially restored to their youthful vigor, and I'll be back with them in their best, not their current state of crumbling, hanging on for another wedding anniversary. Insha'Allah 66th this year. Hanging on for another birthday. Grandfather reached 87 this year and insha'Allah, Grandmother will be 84 this year.

Insha'Allah never felt so vital, so real, as in used in the case of one's ailing grandparents...

And driving back from my mother's weekly visit, which I make whenever I'm able to come home, I heard this song, that took me until the 6th repeat to begin crying.

"You brought some joy inside my tears."

That's what I hope that experiencing death will be for me. Bitter tears of missing loved ones that can never be in this realm again, while I'm stuck in this realm...but rejoicing knowing that they suffer no longer, and that they are with God, and have everything they've ever wanted, and more, more than any of us can imagine.

And such a joyous family reunion it will be! It'll be nothing like that heaven-feeling I got during the family reunion in 1996 and the whole family sat together, a bunch of my grandmother's siblings that have since passed... What a joyous family reunion it will be.

The song ended as we rounded the bend, the split between 23 and M-14, and I resolved to download this song. I just did. And I listened to it on repeat. And there are so many other things this song could mean for me.

It could mean what seems the sometimes insurmountable wait to be wed, while in constant fear of what it will mean to be married, to merge my life with a dangerous unknown, if God so has mercy on me. It could mean the future, my embarking on a career for the first time, away from home again, responsible for the lives of patients, never looking back. It could be my time spent at home, knowing that no time is going to be like this time I've spent at home...

It's everything. It's life. My faith is the only thing that can bring joy inside my tears. I will never trust a human being to be the consistent source of this, because promise as they will and try as they might, they can't be with me in this realm, on this earth, forever.

Life is so fragile. Every day we risk our lives, and God brings must of us back again to go at it another day and another. Sometimes, I won't lie, it feels like prison. I can't control it, I don't understand it, I'm trapped and I can't leave or cower when things get hard. The hard will be there. And then, we could suddenly die, or someone we love could. My brother took too much of his seizure medication at once last night and as I went to sleep, I feared for his life, just to be relieved to hear him chortling happily in his room the next morning, him relieved to have been excused from another day at his program...

My faith is the only thing that can bring joy inside these tears.

As I wonder why, if I'm as beautiful as people say, that no one wants me...and do I even want to be wanted in that way? With every potential for great joy there is also potential for great pain.

Joy inside my tears.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

[uncensored]: Sexual Expectations

As salaam alaikum,

I tell you, this week, I have alternatively given up all hope of meeting someone I am willing to marry and been this close to resigning myself to a life of complete spinsterhood. I know God placed me here purposefully, and this time that we live in is a blessing and a test, but trying to live as a righteous Muslimah and be respected as a human being is hard in anyone's patriarchal society.

God created men with the base tendency to objectify women. I don't know why. It makes for a very painful existence, an existence where you are not only regarded as object but you are subject to whims. It makes you feel like a prisoner. I wish men could get past seeing pretty girl or covered girl or any other version of a woman I chose to be and get through to me, see my humanity, instead of classifying my sensibilities as female and no longer listening to me.

It all started when I rented a car earlier this week. The 1994 Dodge Caravan that we have at our house is about to be junked, and my father didn't want me driving it. I don't have a car in Michigan, and so while my parents are at work, I rent a car. All of the cars have an auxiliary port for your iPod or whatever device, but I decided to listen to the radio in the car. I was driving a white Chevy Aveo (cute little car!) and I found a preset station set that was interestingly all the "black" stations in the Detroit area. Mix 92.3, FM 98 WJLB, 105.9 Kiss (which used to be hip hop and R&B like WJLB), among others. So, I spent most of my time on Mix and Kiss, which plays a nice mix of newer R&B, 80s/90s (including my favorite, New Jack Swing!) and old-school soul. But when those stations went out, I went over to WJLB and another hip hop station.

I used to sneak and listen to WJLB and what was then 105.9 as a preteen. My parents didn't allow me. My mother once found a mix-tape that I had made from the radio, and tuned in just in time to hear Ginuwine's "Only When Ur Lonely." After that, she told me that I shouldn't listen to the radio, because the music "wasn't edifying." I had to look up what edifying meant, but I went right ahead and listened to the music anyway. Thus was my major act of rebellion during my entire adolescence...seriously! Anyway, the worst lyrics at the time were from the song, "My Body" by LSG (Levert, Sweat, Gill). And I quote:

"I wanna fill you up 'til your river flows all over me. I wanna feel your precious treasure wrapped around me, oh so tightly. In, out, wanna hear you shout..."

Yes. I've heard a lot of music now, but descriptions of sex acts...umm...usually a little less specific. Maybe not when describing fellatio, but...I don't know.

I feel like there were very specific songs that were more explicit when I was a kid. These are lyrics that I memorized at 12, and still remember to this day, despite not having listened to the song in that long.

My parents weren't kidding about it not being edifying, but they didn't hear the half of it...

So, I'm by no means a prude. I grew up with questionable lyrics describing sex. I think the difference was that, while there were some explicit songs...the songs weren't glorifying man whoredom.

"My Body" was probably, looking back on it, about a booty call relationship. Fine. Other songs from earlier in the day, like Silkk's "Freak Me," could have been a monagamous relationship.

"Let me lick you up and down 'til you say stop. Let me play with your body, baby, make you feel hot..."

I think that's what got me when I listened to the radio. One song after another about one night stands at best, quickies in the club at the worst. Almost every other song was some man raving over the sex he can have with his random, assorted women, how good they are at what they do, or what he looks for when he's looking for a woman to have sex with.

I realize it's the volume of these songs, and not even how explicit their lyrics are, that disturbed me.

It was sickening. Listening to those stations made me feel like, as a woman, my worth is only as good as the head I give, how tight I am or my sex position versatility. My figure is a given.

Like, sorry to be crude, but seriously. I was like, what the hell?

After I crashed Vergil in 2003, I stopped listening so much to the radio...because I didn't have a car. I see that not only was I not missing anything, but I got to avoid the degradation of my soul while listening to music that, if I were a young girl now, would have convinced me that I would never be enough for a man.

I mean, not that the music in my day was pure. Hahaha, you've seen the lyrics. It wasn't. And looking back and reflecting on those lyrics, I realized that part of my sexuality was shaped by those songs. Definitely part of my expectations for sex and relationships was formed by those songs. And knowing that I was a "good girl," I always felt a bit inadequate. Why would a man stop at me, the girl waiting until marriage, if he could sleep with someone else? How could I make myself look more sexually experienced than I actually was?

And now, at 27, listening to music like that and being in the presence of men who have serial one night stands with women they meet on the internet, and these men are to be my future colleagues in really makes me want to give up.

I know, as a Muslim, that marrying is of more value than celibacy, but I was this close to saying, eff this, I'm just going to focus on my career and give up this whole wife/mother bit once and for all. I'm just not convinced of the quality of young men that our society has produced. It's not only that I'm afraid of the skewed gender ideas that any given man that I end up with will harbor, but I'm not sure how much I want to subject myself to the serial objectification that has been my dating experience thus far.

And things on the halal front are not much better. Finding a compatible Muslim suitor is really hard.

Besides, I keep reading and hearing of horror stories of Muslim men and women who marry precipitously whose marriages end up in abuse, if not ruin. I'm not sure that there's enough of us Muslims to normalize matrimonial services, and I'm not sure if there are enough Muslim men who will love me the way I want to be loved to go around.

God did not create me, as a woman, to be subject to men, but somehow, I keep finding myself there. And not just with Muslim men, but all men. It's not the men's that I recognize what is going on, the onus is on me to rectify the situation, and not keep feeding into this destructive system that renders both parties injured and leads to dysfunction in our relating to each otherr.

I alternatively feel like giving up on avoiding zina and recognizing that, in this secular man's world, I have to have sex to progress in most relationships. The rest of the time, I feel like giving up on relationships all together and trying to reclaim the asexual mindset I once knew. I know that neither of these are the answer, but I'm just so frustrated sometimes that I want to give up in one direction or the other.

And hearing music where a woman's worth is measured by the subjective quality of her sex is more and more discouraging. Men my age, Muslim and non-Muslim, listen to this music. They may not embody it, but they take it into their bodies, and it cannot help their image of women.

I look to God for permission to give up, to dedicate my life to absolute celibacy. As my father would say, "God doesn't want that." I don't know what God wants for me at this point. I could die old or young. Maybe I haven't met anyone because I'm going to die young, so I won't leave children and a husband behind. I don't know.

I just...if I do ever end up with a man, I want to be treated like a human being. Not an ass, a set of thighs, breasts, a vagina, a womb, a mouth, a body, a collection of orifices, a receptacle of semen, a source of singular pleasures, a piece, or any other object or conglomeration of objects. No less than I see men as their parts or any sum of them.

But experience tells me that maybe this is impossible?

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Adventures of Cornelius

As salaam alaikum,

And now, for something completely different...

As I write this, it's Sunday. I'm currently in Seattle, awake at 6:34am their time. This is my last day of the apartment hunt, and I have two open houses to get to, a couple of people to meet up with and one house I'd love to see today, if at all possible. May not be, but I'd love it to be so. The moving process over the past couple of weeks has been harrowing, but I love it. I'm really opening my life up to new possibilities, and if meeting up with future faculty and my older co-residents is any indication, the next three years will be awesomely supportive...

But moving from Brookline was pretty stressful. I shipped stuff using UPS. The first shipment went smoothly. It all went to hell when I tried to ship 12 boxes. I ended up spending hours in my apartment waiting for UPS to come pick up my stuff, which otherwise would have been tolerable, had the apartment not been completely empty! I went crazy while in there, seriously...but, all the scrubbing and cleaning I did paid off. Got my full deposit back...

...and spent it promptly paying off my credit card. No riba on that so-in-so, man...

But the thing that brightened my day the most in my last full day in Boston was the transport of Cornelius, my corn plant, from my place to my friend's place, where she will be plant sitting.

Cornelius is my corn plant. He is descended from a branch of my mother's corn plant that split from the rest about three years ago. My father thought to put pieces of the branches in water, and sure enough, baby Cornelius was born in three parts! My mother asked me if I wanted one one year when they came up to visit me, and I said yes! I took Corny with me on the T, the blue line to the green line, and we've been together ever since, now through two repottings!

So, I searched online and saw that no one will ship a plant for you. Darn. So, since my parents are driving to graduation, I decided to give Cornelius to one of my friends to watch and water after his recent repotting and until my parents can come to pick him up.

And so, the adventure began.

One morning, after I finished packing, I repotted Cornelius with care. I went to my back porch (that I never used), put down an old, opened Trader Joe's paper bag, got my Miracle Grow potting soil, and went to work. I wanted to make sure that Corny was in a healthy (and more spacious) place before passing him off to my friend.

I was giving a bunch of stuff to Good Will, so that was all in my hallway so the apartment could be empty. My landlord had his eye on a few things I was giving desk chair, a few shelves. I told him I would put the things down in the basement for him to do whatever with later. I actually preferred the stuff to go to charity than to sit in his basement, but whatever.

When I got back to the place my last day, I saw that he had already taken it upon himself to move some of the things he'd requested...the office chair and one of the shelves was gone. I thought that was inpatient of him, but whatever. I went ahead putting more of my Good Will stuff in the hallway so the apartment could be completely cleared. I then looked toward the window where I had set Corny to see how he was doing.

And he wasn't there!

I was like, wait, my plant!

I scanned the house, looked in the hallway...I didn't push panic yet, though. I looked in my phone (that was dying), looked up my email and called my landlord, hoping for the best.

"Hi, [Mr. Landlord], how are you. Umm, I was you know what happened to my plant?"

"Yes, it's in my house!"

In your house? Seriously? He then went on to say that I didn't say I wanted to take it with me. What? No! I clearly indicated that I wanted to take the plant with me, that I was going to have a friend watch it, and that it would be out by the next day. He clearly wasn't paying attention.

"You want me to come all the way over there...for plant?"

Hahahahahahaha! I didn't ask you to take my plant! I think it wouldn't have been as funny if he hadn't dropped the article on that one...

So, eventually, he relented and brought Corny back. I thanked him a lot, told him to take care, and hopefully that's the last I'll see of Mr. Landlord...

So Corny was back! We waited hours for UPS to come, just to be informed that the driver would be there between 7 and 8pm. Ugh! Eventually, my friend came at the same time as UPS, nearly, so it was time to transport Corny to her house.

She was like, "'s big!"

People apparently don't pay attention to house plants. I've had this plant for three years, and it was in plain view for everyone who visited me. Yes, it's big. It's a corn plant. They get to be the size of trees! And then, they flower...

No, these are not, like, plants that grow corn. Entirely different thing.

Anyway, I had some books to drop off at the medical school that I was donating to whoever wanted them, so I put Cornelius in the granny cart with the books and we walked out of my place and to the medical school. We ran into people my friend knew along the way. They were so amused that I was so concerned for the welfare of my plant as the wind began to blow it! I'm like, what, am I going to let my plant that I took care to repot, that I retrieved from my sticky-fingered landlord, to get destroyed in a freak bout of windiness? I think not!

After dropping the books off at the medical school, we caught the shuttle to Cambridge, where Cornelius would reside with my friend and her husband. People on the bus were so baffled by the plant! This one woman was like, "Well, it's not a baby..." Hahahaha!

I guess people usually don't have plants this large...?

Once I got to my friends' house, her husband also expressed surprise. He was like, "When I first heard this story, I thought we would be watching a house plant. This is a tree!"

And so, after a busy day, Cornelius assumed post in my friends' place, where he will be picked up and taken home with my parents upon graduation. Sadly, I cannot take him with me to Seattle, which just means that I'll have to buy a corn plant when I get there! And if I leave Seattle, I'll have to leave the plant with a trusted friend...

That was my lighthearted story in the midst of the stress of moving. Oy! I definitely will find some community acupuncture upon arriving in Seattle...that really helps to calm one down...

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Afraid of Sex

As salaam alaikum,

Hahaha, now that I've surely gotten your attention...just to clarify, I am not afraid of sex.

But one of my exes thinks I am, apparently.

One of my exes? Thought I only had one, right? There was actually, if readers may recall, a short rebound after my relationship with B. I guess I needed to feel wanted? Bad idea. If you find yourself rebounding, get away from yourself as soon as possible...and run!

Anyway, ex the remix called me yesterday to talk. After months of my assuming that he would have moved on. Not so much. He told me he just wants to be friends with me, but I can tell he's not over me because (1) he told me not to tell him about my ex or any other guy I may have dated (same thing I did with ex the prototype) and (2) his mother wanted to say hello to me.

When you know you should get off the phone...

But honestly, he was a really nice guy, and still is...nicer than ex the prototype (hahaha, I like these names...I'm going to capitalize them, make them proper, and continue). It's just that...

I just wasn't that into him.

It was an informative experience...clued me into what must just happen in relationships sometimes. I think either gender tries to rationalize it and have it make sense to them, and really, all that's happening is that the other person is trying to soften the blow of "I just don't want to be with you, you are not the one," etc.

It took me a long time to get that, and it took me having to be that to another person to understand all that went down with Ex the Prototype...and maybe I gained a little insight from reading a little bit about President Obama's ex, and all of the embarrassing ways that she tried to rationalize why he was distant with her...

Not that into you, babe. You were no Michelle for him. Sorry!

He's just not that into you is not only for women. It's for men, too.

Surprise, guys! Happy un-birthday!

It just happens that Ex the Prototype actually told me really indelicately (to the point that I burst into tears) and tried to make it better later, leading to the chaos which was the year it took me to get over everything. I did not tell Ex the Remix that, really, I thought I could do better...because seriously, who would do that?

What did I tell him? I didn't know if I was ready for a relationship, that I didn't know what I wanted, and that I didn't think we would work out in the long run. I'm in a very different place, religiously and spiritually. And that's the version I sold.

The truth's not that I don't know what I want. It's a combination of...I don't know if I can get what I want and I'm not sure if what I want is, in fact, what I need. So I tread very carefully over relationships...but I know when I absolutely don't want something, and what he wanted and what he was, I didn't want. I could have told him that, but...he sometimes (many times) doesn't understand my logic (because he assumes that women are illogical...this is actually his primary demerit, that he doesn't understand me most of the time, and it makes communication impossible...).

Translation: I'm just not that into you. He'd understand that. But he'd be hurt. So no, I didn't tell him that.

So he thinks I'm afraid of sex, most likely for "religious reasons." He thinks I should start dating immediately. And he made sure to warn me not to get too attached to my husband when I get married if that is my first time, because he noticed that females get "sprung" the first guy they "smash" with. He asked if I understood ebonics before he made this blunt admission...

What the eff ever!

Just because I talk "white" doesn't mean I didn't at one point and still am able to speak "ebonics," or otherwise understand it. You ain't never seen no doctor talking no ebonics up in the office, though, now, have you? Or any other professional office, for that matter? I don't know what you think this is...

I have to be like my mother right people! That's why y'all ain't running nothing. Get over this white talk/black talk bull and maybe focus more on being proud of and supporting each others' endeavors, whatever they may be, and maybe we can elevate ourselves... This is no longer about the infamous white man. We do enough to relegate ourselves and to keep ourselves down. All anyone else has to do is sit back and laugh at us, because they are. They most certainly are.

Okay. Sorry, the black nationalist blood runs thick through my vessels.

Anyway, warning me against getting too attached to a future husband? What is marriage, one, and two, it's evident this fool guy doesn't know me from Eve.

Nor, thankfully, in any other Biblical sense...

And that was on purpose! No, I didn't have sex with you, and it was not because I'm afraid of sex. I don't like you and you patronizing me and treating me like a silly little girl is not helping. First thing, I fear God, and while I have done my fair share of bounds-overstepping, generally speaking, when I know for sure I'm about to make a mistake, I stop. And sex with you, my friend, would have always been a mistake were not the one, second thing.

But that's fine. I'll let you go on thinking that I was afraid of sex, that I have no idea how to conduct myself in relationships, that men scare me. It makes you feel better to believe that, and that's fine.

I pray to God that I don't have to put up with anymore BS male sexual politic philosophers who will try to tell me about myself and instruct me in relationships. I may not always know where to draw my lines and I may be a virgin but I knew exactly what I was doing when I said no to you.

I am not afraid of sex. I look forward to it with tempered a controlled emotional and spiritual environment full of trust, respect and understanding, as God intends for us, as a protection for both of us...

And I guess, for you, that equates fear.

Hehehe...I guess it's like, the difference between someone thinking that one is afraid of heights for not skydiving while they are perfectly fine in tall buildings in observation decks. It's not the heights I'm afraid of...

It's the fear of the falling.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Not a Destination

As salaam alaikum,

To apparently quote Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Life is a journey, not a destination." And it's true. I've lived long enough to realize that for every milestone that you achieve, there's another to be broached...and another, and another, until death.

It's like the difference between the wave and particle theory of light, kind of, the way things are broken down. Or like, is life a staircase with a series of landings, just to discover that there are more stairs to climb? Or is life a path with hills and valleys and we actually aren't actively seeking the end of the path...

But it's hard not to have the end in mind, have a goal in mind.

I just realize that graduating from medical school is the beginning of much more than it is the end of. Similarly, when I marry, my world is going to explode with so many opportunities, including each one of my children, insha'Allah. The things I look forward to achieving, attaining, reaching...are the beginnings of journeys in themselves. I feel like a tree. My childhood was the root, my early adulthood my trunk, and now I'm branching out to so many realities. It's not getting any easier.

There are things that I want more than others, but as long as I am alive and human that will not be the end of my want. It will be replaced by other desires and needs.

There is no point of arrival. I'll continue to need guidance every day.

I do believe there is a final destination that those of us who follow monotheistic faiths use to shape our lives. But I feel like a lot of us live in jumps and jolts because we're living for milestones instead of a more smooth, organic approach, recognizing one state flows into the other...

Like waking into sleep sometimes.