I did it!

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Today was my TEDx Edina talk.

There is something to be shared about the Lebanese approach to multi-religious co-existance, that could help eliminate prejudice against Muslims here in America. In my talk, I highlighted what I beleive are solutions in that direction for us here at home in the US.

I am so thankful for this great opportunity sharing my “Lebanese approach to help eliminate prejudice against Muslims here in the US”.

Thank you God for the boundless blessings and for choosing me as means to spread peace and understanding in my state.

Thank you #TEDxEdina for amplifying our community’s voices and spreading our ideas. Thank you Barbara La Valleur for your continuous encouragement and support. I also want to thank my husband and daughter for being there for me and putting up with me through this process. Thank you Rauda, Raghda, Nausheen and Farah for being there for my moment and sharing my highs and lows. Finally, thank you all my FB friends and blog followers for all your advices, support and for believing in my message.

A lot of work ahead. Will share the online video as soon as it is available.

Love you all

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Message of peace goes viral

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Amazing things have been unfolding recently. I published an article I wrote on a recent experience that happened to me in my hair salon, on a private group called Pantsuit Nation. The article got more than 110,000 likes and around 7000 comments.

Today I was interviewed by Kare 11 on this with Jana Shoral, we had amazing time chatting.

Please share and spread the word.
It’ll be featured at 6:30PM CT on Kare 11, Breaking the news show. Here’s the link!


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Give those thoughts a trim

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A couple of weeks ago I was having a haircut in a Twin Cities hair salon. The staff was nice enough to accommodate my special need for a private place and a no-man zone during the time I have my haircut while my hijab is off. The salon has a higher, more private platform level in which I can have my haircut.

It was slightly busier than usual. I sat down and removed my head covering, placing it in my bag, then chatted away with my hairdresser. As we started working on a hairstyle, another hairdresser came back from the washing area with her client and settled in their station across from us. Neither of them had seen me coming in wearing my hijab before starting their conversation.

As I was flipping through a magazine and sipping my coffee, I heard the words, “Sharia law.” I saw another hairdresser looking at me as if she was aware of something I was not. I then overheard more of their conversation.

Hairdresser: “… them and the Sharia law they practice …”
Client: “Yeah. … Did you know they are implementing the Sharia law in our public schools?”

Then they continued discussing the practice of polygene, whereby a man can have “eight wives.” “It’s actually three,” the other corrected.

Texted for advice

I sank in my seat and listened. I reached out to my phone and texted my husband for advice. He replied back: “Do what you do best — after your haircut though.” So I did.

As I walked toward the checkout, I asked my hairdresser to call her colleague over so I could talk to her. She went to the other station and asked the hairdresser, then came back saying, “I am sorry she cannot come and speak to you. She is with her client.” I then asked my hairdresser to go back and ask her if I could come to her station and talk to her for few minutes. She did and came back with the same message. The other hairdresser was “unavailable.”

By then the assistant manager had noticed my attempts to engage in a conversation and asked if I wanted to leave a message for the hairdresser. Seeing no other option, I accepted. She gave me a piece of paper and this is what I wrote:

“Dear Friend, I overheard the conversation with your client talking about Sharia Law and Islamic practices. As a Muslim woman, I want to ask if you have a Muslim friend or an Islamic source where you get your information. I believe we need to be more informed in our conversations, making them part of the solution and not part of the problem. I would like to be your new Muslim friend. I really hope you’ll reach out to me to meet for a coffee or chat whenever you are free.”

I then left my name and phone number in the hopes that she would actually call. I am still waiting.

Later, an awesome conversation

A few days ago I was working out with my friend at the gym, which is located in the same building as the hairdresser complex. The assistant manager came up to me with a shaky voice and trembling hands, thanking me for my letter and gracious approach.

“Your letter brought a lot of people to tears and I want to apologize for what you had to go through in our salon.” I took her words as permission to give her a sweaty hug. Then we had an awesome conversation about unity, diversity and Lebanese food.

“Forgive my comment, but we are not really used to having people from your community come across with such grace,” she said. I couldn’t agree more.

“It’s my Islamic teaching that compelled me to reach out, modeling my prophet Mohammad, peace be upon him, in his mercy and compassion,” I replied. “Please tell that hairdresser I am still hoping she will call,” I concluded.

I know there are a lot of people in Minnesota and, indeed throughout the U.S., having similar conversations. My hope is that we will have the courage to talk about these uncomfortable topics and reach out to one another with nothing but love.

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Ban the burkini ban

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How the same decision that claims to liberate women actually oppresses them!

In 2004 I was in France reporting on the Cannes Advertising Festival on behalf of ArabAd Magazine, not only as an Arab, but also as a Muslim woman and a veiled one. For a whole week I was following up on the Arab delegation, arranging interviews with winners and even scoring with the festival’s highest rank and advertising celebrities. I was very proud of myself and thought I deserved a day off before traveling back to Lebanon.

Nice, as the closest town to Cannes, was my leisure destination and I enjoyed wandering aimlessly at its charming Sunday market. The craft kiosks lining up next to farmers’ colorful produce and eclectic bags fascinated me. I looked forward to having breakfast at one of the local cafés. As I was entering the establishment, a long skinny waitress blocked my way and said in a snooty French accent: “Where are you going?” I said naively, “I want to have breakfast.” She said, “The restaurant is booked.” I looked around and saw people coming in and out freely. Clearly the restaurant was not booked. The waitress turned to me and huffed, “People like you have no place in this restaurant.”

Back in my hotel room, I cried my eyes out. I vowed that night never to be quieted again.

The animosity toward Muslims in France dates to long before recent terrorists attacks. The ban on “conspicuous religious symbols,” including headscarves in 2004 and the full-face covering in 2011, was the start. Its latest iteration bans the burkini, a swimwear designed to cover most of the body worn primarily by Muslim women. The religious obligation for women to cover their bodies stems from the concept of modesty that Muslim women believe in — in simple terms, converging the attention on women’s thoughts rather than their bodies and bodily assets. Objecting to the ban on the burkini should be the quest of every woman.

Double standards

This decision exposes the West to double standards, furthering discussions on the clash of civilizations. In most cultures, isn’t a woman free to wear whatever she wants? Isn’t a Muslim woman’s body her own and isn’t she free to claim it in totality and proclaim it as private property the very same way a so-called “liberal” woman proclaims her private parts as private?

The West is still struggling with women’s freedom, and this decision proves it. Why is it that 21st-century male state officials are deciding what parts of a woman’s body she should show or cover? Where is the feminist movement in this? Isn’t the ban on the burkini another way of forcing women to strip?

The ban on the burkini is troublesome, to say the least. The Muslim women who have fled patriarchal communities are facing a different kind of oppression in the West, specifically in Europe, one that imposes a specific oppressive ideology in the name of freedom. France is failing to acknowledge its religion of “no religion.” Is it hypocritical of France to oppose the very same values it preaches?

Rights protected in U.S.

I thank God for the U.S. Constitution. I truly do. The great country I live in guarantees my right to practice freely and display the beauty of my religion without advocating for it in governmental institutions, whatever my religion is. Our founding fathers got it right and I believe this is why the U.S. is far better at dealing with terrorism than Europe. That is unless Donald Trump becomes president.

My headscarf is my invisible crown. I take pride in covering my body so people can focus more on what I say and be less critical of my shape. My body image is totally my own and I am not fighting the society to prove my size is appropriate or perfect in its imperfections. My body is simply mine.

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Disgraced or Graced?

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I walked into the McGuire Proscenium Stage at The Guthrie Theater with my friend Barbara La Valleur and her husband, in anticipation even though I knew exactly what to expect because I’d read the play.

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People were sitting down, chatting and flipping through the pages of the program before the play started. From my seat, I could spot the ones who had it open on my article. I watched silently as they read, then flipped the page. I was glad that people were being introduced to the story of the play from a different angle, by a different medium, in the very same auditorium.

A couple of months after being featured in an article in the Star Tribune, I received an email from a Guthrie staff member inviting me for an informal chat with team members working on Disgraced, a play written by Ayad Akhtar, that received the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Play, and was named the most produced play in America for the 2015-16 season.

As I was reading the script, I started understanding the reasons behind such a request. I felt that the conversation played on some anti-Muslim sentiments and left a lot of misconceptions about Islam unchecked.

The play is a compelling and provocative conversation between an ex-Muslim and his American wife, who are hosting a dinner with a Jewish friend and his wife, a person of color, who is a work colleague of the husband. They discuss work, religion and politics over drinks and dinner. As the conversation takes a more aggressive tone, the characters expose deep-seated feelings of hatred and resentment from every angle, but mostly stemming from the main character, Amir, who apparently still carries anger and hate towards Americans that he believes stem from his previous faith’s teachings. There were many layers addressed in the play and it certainly gives rise to continued conversations.

Back in the meeting with Guthrie staff I was asked, “What do you ultimately hope to do?” by Marcela Lorca, the play’s director. My response was, “If I had the chance to address every single person in the audience after the play, I would.”  She expressed the need to do “justice” to the subject given the political rhetoric in the U.S.

A week later I received another email inviting me to write my own story in the Disgraced program handed out at each performance. I titled my response “Graced” and am proud that it gives the audience a different perspective to consider.

In further conversations, a powerful collaboration with the Islamic Resource Group (IRG) took place, resulting in an IRG speaker, along with a moderator on almost every post play discussion during the six-week-run of the show.

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It is a bold move by The Guthrie to spark such a conversation. And it is an unprecedented way to have a dialogue on such platform. It is genuine and beyond the Minnesota-nice. That is American!

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Horror in Orlando

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RTX2FRIO-1024x70850 families lost a loved one today in ‪#‎Orlando‬. Their families and friends will be mourning for years and missing them forever. They were Innocent civilians living their life the way they chose and saw fit.

It is God that has given them the free will and power to make their choices the way they did, and it is a stupid murderer that decided otherwise.
Hate is blinding to such simple notions.

“And had your Lord willed, all those on earth would have believed entirely, would you force people, against their will, to believe?”
Quran Yunus:99

Do some Muslims not read the Quran? or are they too blind to understand?

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It is my right… It is my Human Right!

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On Tuesday May 25 of 2016, I had the great honor of receiving the Eden Prairie Human Rights Award for 2016. The Eden Prairie City Council and Human Rights and Diversity committee granted me this title for my “efforts to uphold the values of the City’s Human Rights Manifesto by building bridges of unity and dismantling mis-information and fear about Muslims”.

I received the award at Eden Prairie City Hall, Minnesota, in the presence of the Mayor, Nancy Tyra-Lukens, city council members and Human Rights and Diversity committee Liaison, Patricia Fenrick.

I now know that I was nominated by a good friend of mine, Megan Mardock Soukup. Megan and I have taken ECFE classes together and watched each other’s kids grow since they were babies. I remember expressing my thoughts and frustrations with our moms group whenever a terror attack took place and making myself available for any questions. Megan also participated in events I had planned for the purpose of establishing bridges with the larger community. She has always been a great friend and awesome supporter!

I want take the opportunity to thank my husband and loving partner for encouraging me in every possible way to pursue this effort. I also want to express great appreciation to my close friends Barbara, Zamzam and Nausheen for personally supporting me by words and actions every step of the way. I want to thank every single person that was present with me in that room and shared my special moment, and those whose thoughts were there with me but couldn’t make it. Please know that your encouraging words, trust and faith in me are a big part of this title.

When I received the email announcing me as the recipient I had to call my husband and ask him: what exactly did I do? All I did was dedicate my time to meet people and visit institutions that want to know more about Islam from a MUSLIM. The Islamic Resource Group and Engage Minnesota were great platforms for such interaction.

I have spent 30 years of my life living in a region where the only right I was advised to practice was the right to be silent. Not anymore. Not in America!

It’s about time unmasked Muslims present their own dear faith and have a voice.

Peace be upon you all.

 

Photo courtesy of Barbara La Valleur

 

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Big day for my Muslim community and my larger community of friends and colleagues!

Paris. Play dead!

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Muslims Protest Against Paris Terror AttacksI was struck by the words of one of the Paris-attack survivors. As she was on the ground, under the body of another victim, covered with blood, she thought to herself “just play dead”. How easy it is to say these words and how horrific it is to live through those moments.

How alive she must have been to consciously play dead and how dead were the hearts that, with all consciousness, intended to kill that day as many civilians as possible.

“Allahu Akbar” cried the attackers before reloading their machine guns and sending another set of souls home, “Allahu Akbar”. An expression so dear to a Muslim, vandalized by a group of inhumane beings that have mistaken their own desires for a divine plan.

“Allahu Akbar” indeed, God is greater as justice shall be served and heinous acts like these will never go unpunished. God is greater indeed as these killers got what they deserved. God is greater indeed as the world is uniting against evil. God is greater indeed as Muslims will have to rise from dormancy to speak about their religion. God is greater indeed because the countries that helped create ISIS are suffering from it. God is greater because He is, irrespective of whether we admit it or not.

Play dead. Like a lot of people have been playing dead whether they were in Bataclan that night or under shelling in Gazza, underground in Myanmar, or undergoing a raid in Syria. Play dead because sometimes that’s the way to survive, until humanity wakes up!

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How Patriotic are the Anti-Muslim Rallies? And how Free are they?

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In a claim of exercising their constitutional right, a group of bikers, hikers and drunkards are calling on people in the name of love for freedom to protest near local mosques in 20 cities across America, on Saturday October 10th, 2015.

It is amazing that this protest contradicts, in essence, the constitution that it pretends to defend. BikerSanta-620x365 And while it is the protestors’ right to state their opinions and express their hate, they are doing so contradicting the values for which they claim to stand.

The freedom to bear arms originated from the need to defend one’s own territory and stand strong in the face of self-defense. These protestors are obviously not defending themselves against anything that actually exists in those mosques. They are primarily attempting, and failing, to terrorize Muslims in their own place of worship. They are using weapons to project hostility and aggression.

While terrorizing Muslims, they are actually attempting, and failing, to stop them from practicing their constitutional right to practice their religion. So in claiming they are standing up for their own freedom of speech, they are hindering other people’s freedom of worship. They hate our freedom! (I always wanted to say that stupid sentence)

In case we want to play the nasty game that’s being played: what does this protest say about their ideology, based in the Christian faith? What message are they affiliating their religion with? Hate, terror, violence in the name of peace, therefore contradicting and hypocritical in nature? Are they really acting on the teachings of Christianity?

Muslims are not stupid enough to paint a whole nation, let alone, faith with one brush. With Muslims interaction with Christians in the workplace, in the neighborhoods, they have known better and are able to discern between what some Christians do. But do these people, or their supporters, do the same? Do they know the difference between Islam and Muslims? Do they make any effort to get to know a Muslim person? Have they ever considered getting to the source?

And guess what? Neither did ISIS. The two groups have similar hate ideologies. The main difference between them is that, thankfully, in America there is a tightened security forces and police officers protecting the rights of everyone and making sure these events are outlets for people’s opinions that hopefully end peacefully.

Can you contemplate for a moment what would happen if there was no police on the ground in those 20 cities and how easily it would turn into a domestic tragedy in the name of Patriotism?

For what concerns Muslims, this is the time to start the conversation. People are at our door, knocking with what looks like a gun, but is actually fear. This is the time to step up and let people in. Allow doubters to attend our lectures, witness our prayers and observe our practices. Let’s build those bridges that we never really built!

This is a perfect place to fulfill on the verses that say, “Good deeds and evil deeds cannot be equal. So give up evil for what is better. Then verily, he, between whom and you, was hatred, will become like your friend and close companion. And no one will be granted such goodness except those who use patience and self-control, such are the people of great fortune.” [41.34-41.35 Quran]

These are our Islamic teaching!

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