Ramadan is Here!

It’s Ramadan, the ninth month in the Islamic Lunar calendar around this time. Those who fast in this month abstain from food, water, sex, and involve themselves in as many good things and deeds as possible. Feeding the poor, charity,  being kind and nice, forgiving, extra acts of worship are given extra emphasis. The month is special because it was in this month that the Qur’an was revealed.

It’s the most challenging Ramadan of my life this year – it’s the first time in my life that Ramadan is in the peak of summer, when the days are hot and long. It’s the first Ramadan when I’ve had a full-time job to balance along with the demands of Ramadan – a regular 9am to 6pm job for me. After spending five consecutive Ramadans in the same community, it’s my first Ramadan in a new place after I moved. It has been a challenge, but I’m relishing every bit of it so far.
Everyone has been warmer, nicer and more loving, whether at work or my neighbors or in the community I associate myself with.

I wish all of you a blessed Ramadan! Every moment wasted in this month is the same as wasting an entire year. Time to get to work!

“Ramadan is Here” by Native Deen.

Full of Wisdom

I was studying the chapter of the Romans in the Qur’an early this morning.
You only have to pick up a Qur’an and flip through randomly, reading even the translation to realize how much it speaks to you, directly.
It addresses questions in your mind, and the concerns you deal with, with such wisdom that it always feels like an eye-opener. It leaves you with a feeling of contentment and satisfaction. It answers you.
It is as though the Qur’an was sent just for you. Understanding some of the beauty in the language from the little rudimentary Arabic that I know only served to add further pleasure.

In this context, it struck me when I recalled how this nature of the Quran is pointed out in the Qur’an itself.

Allah swears an oath by many things in the Qur’an just before making a declaration, and we know that any declaration after an oath is very important. The things Allah swears by shows their importance or significance.
In the second verse of Surah Yaseen, Allah swore by the Qur’an itself. What was the declaration made after this oath? That it is Al-Hakeem, full of wisdom.

“By the Qur’an, full of wisdom!”

Wisdom because the Author of this book is the One who Created us and is responsible for us, and consequently,  knows better than anything else, what is best for us. It is according to human nature, or Fitrah, and what man needs for his own good.

I could attest to the wisdom as I read this chapter again.

I signed off, finishing with the chapter, nodding in agreement, with the last verse:

“So endure patiently; surely the promise of Allah is true; and do not let the ones who have no certainty make you impatient.”

Sexism and Feminism

 President Obama’s remarks about Kamala Harris (You have ..to, first of all, say she is brilliant and she is dedicated and she is tough, …She also happens to be by far the best-looking attorney general in the country ..) may have been a lighthearted comment between friends but there were enough people calling them “sexist” to have some of his supporters defend them as mere compliments, and have Obama apologize.

From the face of it, it did seem sexist.  Too often, women are judged less on their aptitude, intellect and more on their appearance.  It was sexually objectifying women, and that woman in particular.  Too often, women are judged more for their ornamental value or for their appearance than their accomplishments.  It was no wonder that women that were more sexually appealing to men have a  better chance of growth in career than their homelier counterparts.

It was like saying that the women that did achieve success did so, because their physical attractiveness had a role in it, and not only because of their talents, capabilities and skills. It was like saying they probably wouldn’t have been successful had their physical appearance not been a factor. It was like saying that Kamala Harris reached success also because she was attractive. You see, men don’t have that advantage. It was sexist, because it was this kind of mentality that prevented women from being judged on an equal footing with men.

But the problem isn’t with some men alone. There is no shortage of women who perpetuate such sexism. Many women who judge themselves as attractive  use their wares to make their men more agreeable and have their way. Women who judge themselves as attractive and have low self-esteem often put most of their self-worth on the basis of their physical appearance, and by the amount and kind of attention they receive from men, actually relishing men hitting on them to an extent. Such women are often insecure about their beauty, wondering if it was a change in their physical appearance to something less attractive the reason for any perceived drop in attention or progress.
What they don’t realize before it’s too late is that the same women who bank so much on their physicality would lose the most of what they have when they lose their physical attractiveness – which every single woman does with age and family and the first kid.

Here is where I thought the Hijab came in. Hijab as a means of modesty for both men and women, would include reasonably modest dressing and modest behavior with the opposite gender. In my opinion, Hijab for men entailing modest dressing and behavior with women, and prohibiting lustful gaze addresses the issues of sexism partly.
For Muslim women, by taking out one’s physical sexual attraction out of the equation in a significant way in their interactions with unrelated men, they are in essence asking men to deal with their mind, not their body, and theoretically addressing some of the issues women face.

It was a coincidence that around the same time that Obama apologized for his remarks, FEMEN had naked topless protesters outside of mosques championing the message that they were naked, and they were free. While they had a point that men did not have any business forcing women to dress in a particular way, they were particularly Islamophobic and blamed Islam and Muslim men for women covering up. It was ridiculous that while they were protesting Muslim men patronizing and controlling women, they failed to realize that Muslim women did not need them “liberators” to free them of the clutches of Muslim men – in the vast majority of cases, Muslim women wear the Hijab because they want to, and not because their husbands of fathers or brothers forced them to. And moreover, the unfortunate fact that women are used as objects and commodities, played around by men as ornaments was also widespread in Western societies, just as the Obama episode showed us. Women are used to sell everything under the sun, not through any of their skills and talents, but through their sexual appeal.

I personally know Muslim women who have a strong attachment with the Hijab, relish the Hijab, feet confident, comfortable and in place in it. There are others who struggle in and out of the Hijab. It is true, that a few struggle with their hijab and  wear it more out of societal pressure and fear of gossip and embarrassment than out their own conviction.
Others struggle because they don’t feel confident and beautiful in it – either because of their similarity to the women who perpetuate sexism as discussed above or out of fear of negative reactions at work or school. There are some others who don’t feel the need for any outward clothing but are strong, confident, modest nevertheless, and do not allow men to objectify them.  On the other hand, there are other women who observe the Hijab only in dressing but not so much in their interactions with men. The story of Hijab is very human.

I agree that the remark that Obama made was a friendly one between friends that didn’t deserve controversy, but it served to highlight the underlying issues that are true, nevertheless.

Covered Up Fun at the Beach

“Joyless.”

A disgusted smirk  drew across my face when I came across a right-leaning tabloid describe a group of Muslim women at a beach that way.
“A Muslim family stay covered up as the bathe on a … beach,” it continued.

In some rage, I wondered what made the female author think stripping down to underwear at a beach, as is the norm, was everyone’s idea of fun.

Having fun would mean different things to different people. It is pathetic when an “outsider” shoves down the throat of others their worldview and way of life.

Staying modest and covered up in front of family and others, and having a good family time was how the Muslim women wanted to have fun, but the author would not accept that people are different from her and are still be happy.
While she railed about “backward” Muslim practices, creeping “Talibanization” and “Wahhabism” in the British Muslim community – things which she said were denying its people “simply joys” in life, making several propositional fallacies along the way, she made apparent how she looked down upon people who did not subscribe to the cultural norms she was part of.

She failed to see how the world had long moved on from the colonial era – that era when White European peoples with their armies, cultures,  ran over much of the “third world” and enlightened people who were “backward” and “ignorant.” There was no place for brown sahibs like her anymore.

In the post-modern era,  while globalization and cross-cultural movements, interactions and adoptions are on a scale larger than ever before in human history, there is universal acknowledgement of the refined and advanced cultures in Africa, India, the Middle East and so on have had with thousands of years of civilization. More people than ever in the West are turning to philosophies that originated in the East to heal their broken lives.

To say that one culture is better than the other, though is being ignorant and preposterous, and the author was just that, when she considered a culture as backward for having its people enjoying themselves in a way that was different from how she would.

This might be cliché, but if she had the slightest doubt that those Muslim women felt joyless or subjugated, she could have asked them. Their answer would have been that they were happier than she could imagine. In the vast majority of cases, no one would have forced them to cover up; it was something they would do out of their own free will, in a free society. To force them to do otherwise would be denying them their rights.

  Towards the end, I couldn’t resist making a personal slight* at the risk of indulging in Ad Hominem.
*Edited out on request*

Reasoning Emotions and the End of Gaddafi. A Love for God.

An old memory from childhood cropped up in recent days – it was a chilling sermon I had heard at Eid,which is one of two Muslim holidays in a year. It was a masterpiece of oratory, with powerful rhetoric that, I remember, had sent chills down my spine and gave me goosebumps.

The sermon was on the oft-repeated Islamic chant, “Allahu Akbar”,  Arabic for God is Greater. Greater than anything else.

Listening to this chant being recited in chorus has long been addictive to me. Quite often, emotions stir up. If I do not melt and feel like crying, helpless before God, a fire lights up within me giving me a huge rush of energy and a feeling of invincibility, that God alone matters and nothing else does. At other times, I feel a heavenly inner peace and contentment, a blissful solitude even in a crowd.

I’m not alone. Many look forward to the chant being recited in chorus before every Eid holiday prayer by Muslims. In times of happiness and success, sorrow and distress, in need and fulfillment, many find a way through calls of  Allahu Abar.

It was moving to see young revolutionaries in Egypt standing up to a tyrant, a dictator as they repeatedly chanted the same in chorus, electrifying the masses. I often searched and played the protestors chanting and praying during the revolution, on YouTube.

It was the same during the Libyan revolution, until, things changed.

The last time I heard the chant during the Libyan “revolution”, I was nauseating. I was disgusted.

A bloodied Gaddafi was being sodomized with a long knife-like object, a someone ramming it through his buttocks, cries of Allahu Akbar abound. He was being lynched, beaten, slapped and ultimately killed by people chanting the phrase in chorus. I also read how scores of others were summarily executed by the same “revolutionaries”. I wanted to plead with them to stop one of them – either the religious chant, or their despicable act.

It was clear. Swayed by emotions, the worst has been done, even in the name of religion. Hatred and discrimination, and worse, killing and oppression of a people, because of or due to, or for religion.

 Did I learn any lessons? Yes.  One, be careful about who you get your knowledge from. Not everyone who claims to do and call upon good is right. The truth stands out clear from falsehood.  God repeatedly asks us to ponder, in the Qur’an.

More importantly, emotions that run high and low, and vary with time and place cannot be the sole basis for actions.

Emotions now come after I am convinced of its basis, with reasoning.

 My personal relationship with God has grown beyond this stage.
It is about total love, hope, fear, all at the same time – strong emotions, all of them.
As a mortal human with forgetfulness, I have my mistakes as I act at certain times in ways that may point otherwise, but I do realize this: that the world may teach us, men more than women, that to show emotions is to be weak. But the way to God is through hope, through fear, through love. That God is closer to me than anything else. That He is waiting for me to communicate. That His wishes are more important than mine. That my desires are less important than His. That only He is an infallible entity that I can depend upon, that He will never let me down – men are fallible and can and do all the time.

.

 Someone rightly said: Use emotions—but never let them use you. Control them. Never allow them to control you.

Journey Through a Thank You

thank you note for every language

Image by woodleywonderworks via Flickr

Our desi parents brought us up teaching us to thank people a lot.  If we weren’t saying “I’m sorry”,  A Thank You and a Shukriya (in Urdu/Hindi) would be thrown around a lot with people outside the family.  It was a big thing to not apologize- as a nine year old, I had an epic tiff with my older sister when I refused to say sorry after I shouted at her, which I did because she didn’t say sorry when she brushed my feet with the floor mop. By mistake!  These were times when our parents were our heroes and everything they did was always the right thing.

Then came my rebellious teenage years when I wanted to do things differently, different from my friends and family.  I thought it was cool to not conform.  I started using the Arabic phrase “JazakAllah Khair” (Arabic for “May God reward you in goodness” ) instead of the Thank Yous with Muslims because it was new and different. It was used by someone my aunt  didn’t really like very much,  but it sounded cool and exotic to me.

I  now have a more mature head over my shoulders as a twenty-something year old.  I frequently use both a Thank You and a JazakAllahKhair, but the former is the one that comes naturally, while I use the latter more when I am not being myself.

But despite these changes over a Thank You over time,  there was and is a catch – one thing has remained unchanged. We don’t want to be thanked for things that we think we were absolutely obligated to do.  A Thank You for something, to me at least, would mean we were being thanked for doing something extra that we didn’t have to do, or something we weren’t expected to do, or that we were outsiders.

Over the past several months, as I have consciously been trying to get out of my shell and shyness(some of it hypocritical), I try to talk to just about every person I can and be friendly- on the bus, with the taxi driver, with my co-passengers, my neighbors, the people I cross paths with on pavements and so on. This has also meant I help people out much more often, and that I volunteer more. Recently, a set of Thank Yous came home to trouble me when on one such volunteering program, the lead volunteer kept thanking me profusely over three weeks. I now realize it may  have been  to encourage me to volunteer more but back then,  I was slightly annoyed even if I retained my smile.  I really wanted to volunteer, and wanted to be part of the group that was simply doing its duty and wasn’t after any recognition or compliments, but the Thank Yous somehow gave me an outsider feeling, that I was going over  and above what I was duty-bound to do or what was expected of me.  It gave me the impression that I was doing this, or wanted to do this or that people may think I’m doing this for the compliments and the Thank Yous. Well, the truth was I was volunteering because I wanted to volunteer, because of the intrinsic goodness of the volunteering activity and not anything else.

I am now at peace with this issue- I did not have to prove anything to anyone. I know my intention when I am doing something good. I know God knows what is in my heart, and He will reward me and He will reward me by my intentions. Isn’t that what we were looking for, after all?

Gender Relations – The Cultural Divide : Part I (Greetings between men and women )

 The Raison d’être for this blog, at least when I started off, was to dwell upon cultural divides and cultural differences that I have encountered between different societies that have made me who I am today – Saudi, Indian, British and American. One of the most distinguishing features in cultures is the way men and women interact with each other.

Among the things that fascinate me on this subject is the way men and women greet each other when they cross paths. Most Arabs (except perhaps the socially liberated ones’ like many Lebanese) show a lot of warmth when they meet – if two people greeting each other are of the same gender, they hug and kiss each others’ cheeks. If it is the opposite gender, they would barely notice each other and continue their way. In case of social gatherings, care is taken to make sure that there is no free mixing of people from the opposite genders, ruling out the possibility of awkward meeting of glances.

Indians shake hands when they meet – and hug each other on special occasions or when they are meeting after a long time – as long as they are from the same gender. Indians in India seem to be in a transient stage as they embrace Western culture that is more free as far as interacting with the opposite gender is concerned, while still influenced by their heyday which involved greeting the opposite gender with folded hands without ever touching them. As they deal with a heavy dose of Western influence via the Internet, movies and Television, they seek to interact more with the opposite gender and notice them more, but society as a whole still judges such actions negatively, which bogs them down. The resulting effect has been many of them indulging in a lot of interaction when there is no physical proximity – via text messages, social networking sites and chat clients, but when they come face to face, they are left shifting weight from foot to foot while staring at their own feet, if they do gather the courage of getting face to face at all.

Two Arab men kissing each others’ cheeks would be considered weird by most White

United States President Obama meets former Bri...

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Caucasians and African Americans – because they are usually seen doing the opposite – when two men greet each other, the most they would go up to is a handshake, but when a female is involved, a warm hug is quite common in non-professional gatherings. In fact, for example, when a male-female couple passes by another male, the female from the couple would hug the other male and shake his hands, and the guys would just shake each others’ hands but not hug each other. Such a difference in greeting gestures is not considered weird – two men expressing affection is. Indian males who are friends often grab each others’ hands and walk with arms around each others’ shoulders, and these actions would normally be considered weird and reserved only for people from the opposite genders by these cultures. The perception of homosexuality is indeed much stronger here. I pointed this out to a friend recently who concurred after recalling US President Obama hugging Mrs. Cameron, the British Prime Minister’s wife, while Obama and Mr. Cameron only had a handshake during Obama’s recent visit to the UK. As far as Muslims in the United States are concerned, interactions between the opposite genders is worthy of an article in itself . Watch out for the next post!

“My awkward moments in Muslim prayer”

When it’s time for one of those five ritual prayers in a day that we Muslims have to offer,  and we are at a place far  from the safe comfort zones of homes and/or mosques -out shopping, or at work or school, it becomes a challenge to have to pray at a place where others might see you praying and prostrating and may not understand what you are up to.

The hesitation may just have more to do with our own thought process , of fear and of shame, embarrassment etc., and of being judged. Some do not want to express their Muslim identity in public and keep it under wraps, while others find it awkward to do anything that would appear weird in public and attract attention.  Most others are just too scared to pray in public – wondering how the authorities and/or owners of the place they want to pray in  might react.
It is also true in a few cases, the establishment frowns upon public prayers on their premises- my own niece gathered enough courage to start praying the afternoon prayer at her school  and after a few days, she was asked to stop.

Most ritual prayers, called Salaah, prayed at five different times of the day last from five to fifteen minutes at most depending on the devotion to God felt at each time and the time we have on our hands.  But some of those five minutes of prayer have been real anxious ones for me many a times, with a heart beating fast and hope that  no one enters my lab when I’m praying, no one comes to where I’m praying at the library or that corner of the shopping store.

An article on salon.com linked below has a hilarious account of the author trying to pray in a Gap store’s trials room in a hurry when there are just fifteen more minutes remaining before the time ends.  When people see your head on the floor from outside the fitting room, it could spell problems – you know, like, they may think you’re having a heart attack or something ?

My awkward moments in Muslim prayer.

Comments on Islam.

In my previous post on Islamophobia, I talked about how the media coverage on any subject, even about Islam and Muslims, doesn’t necessarily match what the people on the street feel like.

I stumbled upon this adhan video from youtube and the comments, though moderated, made by non-Muslims gladdened me.

A section of the comments are posted here:

 

“Islam is not Osama bin Laden, Judaism is not Bernard Madoff, Christianity is not Adolf Hitler, Buddhism is not Pol Pot”

“to all muslims, from a jewish man: we are brothers, the sons of isaac are the brothers of the sons of ishmael. i remember how when the jews were kicked out of spain, muslims in the east gave us refuge. aleichem shalom!”

“even though i’m not exactly religious ive always been fascinated by Islam and it’s people. Even though Muslims are treated badly in things like the media, every Muslim I’ve met has been so nice and caring. plus this Prayer is so peaceful and beautiful.”

“Respect to all religions. I am catholic. I found this melody to be very amazing. It would be an honor to go to these countries and wake up by the voice and melody of this beautiful prayer”

“I am a Christian residing in Salt Lake, Utah, USA. I love my muslim friends and neighbors dearly. You have a beautiful culture and history. You have contributed so much to humanity. Thank you for just being who you are and honoring your heritage. You are always welcome here in Utah.”

“Peace and Respect between religions is always possible! Different names, One God!
Extremism is the on to be erradicated, from everywhere!”

“I feel desolated by the way the jews treat Muslims and particularly the Palestinians.
God bless you all, because your God is my God, there is only one for all.
Many Regards. Marlene”

“nd I think you shall find peace. I was born into Orthodox Christianity but have a great amount of respect for Islam. It’s core values being love and respect but mostly faith towards God who happens to be the same for all 3 Major religions.”

“My little 3 year old girl (christian) playing so happily with four other similar aged little girls and boys (muslim) in the local park the other day. None of them were bothered of their colour, beliefs etc . . . They were so so happy playing together. We as parents just stood together, again, not bothered by our religious difference, colour etc. We were so so happy together ! Why is it that we fight ? We should learn from our own children !”

“I’m Jewish and the quotes you picked out are really wonderful, and reflect what I believe to be the true loving nature of Islam, just like any other faith. Lets stop the hate and create unity. The azan has always been a fascinating and beautiful chant.”

“I am a Sephardic Jew… Truly this is beautiful. I have friends who are Muslims and I respect their faith. We should not judge one another we serve the same God, who has many names…Allah, YahWeh, Yahshua… Only God can judge us… and in the end we all die and our bodies return to the dirty… where will your spirit go? Love and do not hate…”

“I’m Jewish, but recently decided to find out about Islam, not just by reading books & watching videos, but by actually visiting a Mosque (on a regular basis); not only any Mosque, but a PALESTINIAN mosque (believe me, it took a lot of guts).What I found shocked me!These Muslims welcomed and embraced me even more lovingly than my own people.I find it hard not to like them.They are what every pious Jew is called to be.Gosh! “

“this is truely wonderful i’m a christian but i have the greatest respect for muslims and i can’t understand why many people don’t like muslims”

“Iam a Christian but this voice brought me to tears ,, what a great voice and sweet word”. Many such comments talking about how emotional the commenter got on listening to the adhan were made.

“I am catholic. I found this melody to be very amazing. It would be an honor to go to these countries and wake up by the voice and melody of this beautiful prayer.”

“I’m jewish and Israeli, and I must admit that it’s one of the most beatiful things I’ve ever heard”

And of course, there were many people who declared their conversion to Islam in the comments, while some expressed their intention to do so.

“I converted to Islam 6 months ago and its the best.”

“The Azan is so beautiful… i had always heard it through youtube but my friend recently went back home & when he called me it was time to pray & i heard it.. nothing but tears came to my eyes…Alhamdulilah I have chosen the right path to revert to Islam. <3”

“assalamu alaikum,i’m 15, i have accepted Islam”

“Though I am not a Muslim, I find so much peace in this exercise of the spirit. Perhaps one day, God willing, I can overcome my weaknesses and convert.”

“I’ll convert to Islam…. the truth way..they have all the answers about life!!!”

“I will convert to Islam officially soon, but in my hart am already submitted to the will,grace and mercy of Allah”

“This call to prayer is the one that made me curious about knowing what islam is all about,and guess what I found?the truth I’d been looking for 38yrs!Thanks to Allah for guiding me to Islam.”

I mined many more comments, but I think, you’ve got my point by now :).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Islamophobia ?

Islam-A-phobia is the buzzword that’s  flying around these days. In the media, in restaurant discussions, heck, even in my university portal, discussions constantly put Islam under trial in a negative sense.

Most of it has to do with Islam having something to do with violence.  Blaming Islam, perhaps out of naivity, ignorance, or even deliberately defaming it to clear the way and further their own ideologies.

Blaming Islam because some Muslim violent extremists interpreted it in a certain way, not agreed to by the rest of the 99.9% Muslims, and only agreed to by the likes featured on http://www.loonwatch.com.

Blaming Islam because a handful of violent extremists who happen to be Muslim, are working on their political struggles. You never saw this happen with Catholicism when the IRA was active in Ireland. Nor with Hinduism when the LTTE was active in Srilanka.

While it has been universally seen in all such forums of discussions  that the saner voices of moderation and understanding,  are in the majority,  the likes of Fox blasting away anti-Islamic right wing propaganda and hatred still hurts.

But, the media, as someone recently said, is a biatch –  it doesn’t necessarily portray the popular sentiment. It seeks to mould public sentiment according to the individual ideologies of those who own them.

 

Ignorance at display ! Qur’an the word of God is safe as ever.

In my previous post, I had talked about how ignorant, Islam haters are harming themselves in the hereafter by insulting God. (That their hatred of Islam is also a result of ignorance is another matter and worthy of another post). Pastor Jones may have backed out of his Qur’an burning exercise, but he surely managed to trigger other people to do the same. May God have mercy on them all !

News story : Six christians rip pages from the Qur’an.

News story :2 Local Men Burn Quran Despite Protest – Nashville , Tenessee

Koran Burning at Ground Zero, Man burns Quran on 9 11: Well, they took off this video.

But I got another one from a user called “Dove World Outreach Center”, the same tiny church that had threatened to burn the Qur’an.

—removed—

May God help them repent from the excesses they have committed by insulting God’s Own Word, and save all of us from His wrath in the hereafter !

Hook Up with God, God will Hook You Up!

Hook Up with Allah, Allah will Hook You Up

This was a beautiful article that I read on a blog that I follow.  I recommend this blog to everyone – I found  the posts on personality development and relationships on this website extremely useful .  I just made my friend who started the topic of marriage again for the nth time with me to read this. Find the article here

It’s just my poor luck that  a lot of people I surround myself with are older than me and are actively looking for the one meant for them for marriage, so there’s no surprise they always raise the topic. Though I always dismiss even the remotest of thoughts on marriage or companionship as soon as it comes to my mind, I do know, that deep inside, I feel the need for companionship with someone close, with whom I can share joys, sorrows and frustrations, and open my heart out. But I am strong enough to keep myself in check – I know I still don’t want to marry for quite some time now and I’m not going to have the so-called platonic relationships with anyone from the opposite gender too as a compromise. Prayers, friends and blogging be my companions till then :)

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