A change of strategy… a real change!

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It was jIMG_0097ust another event that we simply could not attend. My husband and I got an email dinner invitation from our kids’ school community. “An evening to unwind and sip a glass of wine”… Well, in our gatherings we do not collectively unwind and we definitely do not use wine to do that… We’d rather un-wine!

Our usual and automatic reply to such an invitation would be “We appreciate the invitation and apologize for not being able to attend due to a prior commitment.” It is a commitment we have made to a religion that we love and embrace and we do our best to abide by in every situation. Our commitment to Islam is a priority to every action and word we take or say.

This time, however, I decided to do things differently. I chose to switch gears and put myself all out there. After all, Muslims have nothing to hide and nothing to justify. So I decided to send an email back to everyone, explaining how we would have loved to attend, but simply could not, due to some practices that fall outside our comfort zone as Muslims.  Alternatively, we invited everyone to our home, where we would demonstrate the way we hold parties, although gatherings is a better word for it.

Beside the fact that it took me three weeks to write the email, 5 drafts and 3 editors to review it, the response was overwhelming. People were open to the experience regardless of how unusual it sounded. For a whole month I obsessed with the details of the event. I wanted everything to be perfect.

On the day of the event, I started my day at dawn and got the house ready, the food cooked and was running back and forth like a maniac. The last time I got that busy was my wedding day.  At 5:30 p.m., people started arriving, greeting us the Islamic way with “Assalam Alaykom,” or peace be upon you. It was so heartwarming, I was giggling like a kid at the door.

The evening was flowing, from serving food to informal chats, sharing experiences and relaying the Islamic perspective with our guests. I had set up a Henna hand-art treat for women that took the evening to a different level. Two of the women and two of the men took on the outward experience and put on Lebanese traditional Abayas and topped that with veils and kufis. The laughter could not be contained.

There was something magical about that evening. All the differences blurred. It was about people and understanding. It was about respecting and accepting the boundaries of people from one community. It was about opening doors rather than shutting them closed. It was about enrolling rather than justifying.As we said our goodbyes, our guests did not want to leave and we really wished they could have stayed longer.

We are blessed to be part of this understanding community. This is the first time we have done this, but it will surely not be the last time. As Muslims, our home is open for people who have doubts and questions. It is time Muslims change strategies. It is time Muslims get out of their shells.  I invite my Muslim brothers and sisters to try this. We need change and last Saturday, my husband and I undeniably lived that change.

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No men allowed!

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LA mosqueThe ground of no-ground

When I first came across the announcement of a women-only mosque in Los Angeles on Thursday January 30, 2015, I have to say the idea resonated with me. But as I read further into the initiatives and thoughts of the founders, it seemed like the two women, Hasna Maznavi and Sana Muttalib, fell into the same trap of the people they are opposing and criticizing. There is no difference between demonizing the presence of women in traditional mosques and prohibiting men from entering the one they just established. Each side is trying to take control over Muslims’ most sacred place in society, the mosque.

Traditionally, mosques were created to gather people and perform congregational prayers and establish Friday services. Both of which are obligations for men, while women can be part of both activities at any given point. The role of the mosque took a broader meaning in the west since it is the main socializing place. In addition to the above it plays a role of an Islamic community center. Hence the greater need to accommodate women and children. Some mosques even have daycare facilities. But the main purpose of such a place is to run perform religious obligations and establish a wholesome community under one roof.

However understanding the mosque territories cannot be evaluated without examining the roles of men and women in Islam. Understanding the different roles of each gender is at the heart of a healthy community. Men are the providers for families, while women are the provider of love. Men are responsible for hassles outside the house while women are entrusted with people’s health and happiness inside the house. Both sides of the coin are essential for its existence. There is nothing that prevents someone from taking on a role different than the one assigned to him/her. Women can choose to be breadwinners in a family, provided that the kids are not being compromised. A man can decide to stay at home as long as he does not force his wife to provide for the family and pay the bills. Partnership is in the whole picture. It is not literal. Clear job responsibilities.

During the time of the prophet, women held leadership positions, owned lands and conducted businesses and none of that contradicted with their Islamic practices. One of them was even appointed as head of the market place, a position equal to head of a Chamber of Commerce. That happened when women were still in some cases inherited in Europe. The examples of powerful positions are endless in Islamic history. For example, to name a few Al Audr al-Kareema, ruled Yemen, and Shajarat Ad-durr, was a brilliant ruler in Egypt. Women can choose the role they want to play. They can own a mosque and run a mosque. So where is the problem?

It resides in the fact that the establishment of this new mosque in Los Angeles is a reaction and comes in a spirit of competitiveness. While a basic understanding of the role of women and men in Islam is a complementary one and not competitive in any way. It is team work with a “unite and conquer” motto. They are both leaders in their entrusted roles in society. “Women are the twin halves of men” said prophet Mohammad, peace and blessing be upon him. Two halves are equal even though they could look different. Any movement to take over the other’s territories will lead to imbalance and will have its social and economic consequences.

As a Muslim woman, I do not feel the need to rebel against my religion’s view of women, because I feel there is nothing missing. I am at peace with it, the way it is exactly described. Islam’s view of women speaks to my nature, aspirations and ambitions. The lack of women scholars on podiums is a women’s problem, and has more to do with consciously choosing to lead in other areas in life, over the religious one. When I go into a mosque and get marginalized by its hosts, I have no doubt that it is the result of their futile understanding of Islam. And even though it is frustrating sometimes, for the most part it gives me the giggles.

What I find deficient in the establishment of this new mosque is its inability to fit in the big picture of Islam. Islam is a complete religion for those who embrace it and believe in it. Women can be actively involved in any committee and play the role that their shoes can fill. They can teach and preach in the spirit of respect and modesty, without stepping into the other gender’s territories. I don’t feel comfortable bowing down in front of a man, not in prayers nor in yoga or anywhere else for that matter. My obligations as a woman are different than those of men, and do not intercept “their” Friday service, even though I enjoy being part of it sometimes.

If the intention of a Muslim is to please God then the guidelines are clear. For those who want to change the guidelines then that is a different story.

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Mohammad: Big deal!!!

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cry_by_cahaya_pemimpin-d4aeb5iMy next blog was going to be about my prophet, Mohammad, peace and blessings be upon him. I chose this subject, since few million Muslims are celebrating his birth this month. They do that with rejoicing, telling the story of his life and devotion to God, and listing his actions and good manners. I was planning to do that outside any pressure or context. The point of my article was mostly to explain to people of all faith, or no faith, his status and high esteem in the lives of Muslims.

I am finding myself today writing the same intended article, with deep grief and sorrow for the loss of lives and heinous bloodshed that took place in Paris yesterday, hoping that my explanation will shed light on an aspect that people cannot get a grip of, and therefore help prevent more of those nightmarish scenarios in the future. I will do so disregarding what people expect Muslims to say on such an occasion.

I wanted to look for a figure in people’s life that they can relate to, the way Muslims relate to prophet Mohammad or other prophets, like Jesus, Moses and a lot more mentioned in the Quran. I thought of noble and respected figures like Gandhi, Shakespeare, or Abraham Lincoln. Even though they are great figures, their accomplishments however did not transcend their own circumstances. They are great for what they have accomplished for themselves and their countries. Inspirational but do not come across as personal and alive to their admirers. I had to look in another category.

I thought maybe a mother, in someone’s life, could have a bit of that sacred and personal feeling I am looking for. But I have lived long enough in this country to know that some moms are abandoned as they get old, are rarely spoken to sometimes, and some even die alone. While some people respect and honor their moms, it seemed to me that mothers do not hold that status in general, and therefore cannot represent the perfect example I am looking for.

I really could not find any figure in people’s life that explains to what extent our prophet is dear and sacred to our hearts. It is not even relatable to one’s own self-worth and respect. It is a lot more than that. We owe him our happiness. We owe him the meanings in our lives. We owe him the light we walk in. We owe him the most precious thing we have: our access to God!

What we owe him is very real and tangible, not the mumbo jumbo that people think it is. Islam fills a person’s life with meaning and purpose. It also makes sense of everything in life. We know and live that truth because of our prophet’s sacrifice and hard work. We know how he lived. We know what he used to say when he wakes up, on which side he used to sleep, what he ate, how he looked, how he walked, how he smiled, we know him as if we can almost see him. We struggle a lifetime to attain his noble characteristics and strive every single day to make him proud of us.

For someone to come and make fun of that, or demean his image in the name of “freedom of expression” is deeply offensive and simply unacceptable. Should Muslims go and kill those who did it? Absolutely not! Muslims then wouldn’t be acting upon their prophet’s teachings. Twelve lives have been taken away in “his name”, while He spent his life saving souls and healing broken societies!!! His name was “mercy to the worlds”, that is what God called him.

If you examine closely the actions of the attackers, they are also a form of expression, that of anger and vengeance. People need to know that a Muslim prefers to be stabbed thousands of times, over seeing the prophet insulted in any way. What the cartoonist did is a lot more damaging than those thousands of stabs. This is the effect and weight of his satire on a Muslim’s heart. Why would someone want to gamble his life on that? For what?

While I am only trying to explain what prophet Mohammad means to Muslims, I am, and with my loudest voice, condemning the barbaric actions of the terrorists. This is not a justification of what the terrorists did. Nothing justifies such hideous acts! This is just a background information for free thinkers, intellectuals and journalists who want to bridge the gap that exists today between two diverging nations: One that wants to communicate, and one that wants what it wants. Religion has barely anything to do with it!

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My resolution of no resolution!

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peace564564565465It is New Year’s Eve to most people. To me, it is just another great eve. What pact could I make tonight that I haven’t made already before? Absolutely none! There was a time in my life when I made sure I celebrated this special night, with some special friends, and had a special time. Back then, my life was not special, so I had to make up a special moment out of that night, and every other occasion for that matter. The general feeling of dissatisfaction reigned my life, even though I had a pretty good life. I had everything anyone wanted. My struggle, back then, was to make sense out of things. I felt like I was swimming against the stream. There was no harmony, nor synergy. There was only temporal, short-lived, and stimulated moments of joy: a great party, a good night out, a fun friend, an awesome weekend. As soon as that event ended, the set back was the usual, lonely, dissatisfied self that I was.

When I embraced my new lifestyle, as a committed Muslim, I made a lot of changes. I stopped seeing people that I loved. I rejected friends that I had a lot of fun with. I even turned down a job offer at one of the best advertising agencies in London. I packed my bags and went home. I had nothing to regret. I went all the way in doing things the way they should be done. I am not a person that can settle for mediocracy. My feeling towards life was swinging in its meaning and I needed to come to term with that. I really needed to give Islam a shot, so I dived in wholeheartedly. Had I not done that, I wouldn’t have discerned what I experienced. I wouldn’t have been able to satisfy my mind with adequate answers. Half-way solutions are no-way solutions in my book.

Now, and after close to 14 years of commitment to my religion, I can easily say that every living moment of my life is special enough, in its good and bad. Every breath I take is an opportunity to get to know my creator and contemplate on His infinite wisdom. Every look I take is a manifestation of His beautiful names. I find peace in everything I do. Peace within me, peace around me, and peace with the world. I am part of the cosmic energy. I am not struggling anymore. Not even with those who have their fingers, or finger, pointed at me. I have nothing but love to give, and I want to be nothing but a source of mercy, just like my prophet was, peace and blessings be upon him.

This is why I do not feel compelled to celebrate New Year’s Eve or Day, even though some Muslims do. There is nothing I want to celebrate tonight that I don’t celebrate every night. There is no resolution I am short of, beside the one I made 14 years ago. I take every breath like it’s my last one.

I am in total peace and submission, just like the literal meaning of the name of my religion “Islam”.

 

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Minority? Me?

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untitledI was attending an open house at my kid’s preschool, when a mother came up to me and expressed her gratitude about an email I have sent out earlier to all parents, explaining about my religion, in the context of an event taking place in the near future.  As she was talking to me, she said something like “I totally appreciate how you put yourself all out there, and I understand how you would feel as a minority in this country”…. My brain froze for a second and said: “did she just call me a minority?” I couldn’t follow up on what she said next, as the rest of the conversation picked up in my own head.

I never considered myself a minority in this country. I am white so it cannot be the race factor. I am a Muslim, but then so is a million other women who do not wear the veil, so are they considered a minority too? Is it the fact that I look different? So could a rugged dressed person considered a minority as well? I guess not. People will just say he is different. What is it then?

What made me a minority in her eyes, and the eyes of many others? If she said I am a minority then I probably am perceived this way. But I kept wondering why I, personally, do not consider myself a minority. I am a Muslim woman, of Lebanese origin, living in the US. For me it stopped there. She was a Christian woman of, for example, Swedish ancestors born and living in the US. Why can’t we human beings broaden our understanding of co-existence and blur the barriers that define us? We have a lot more in common than our differences.

KabaThis silly idealistic conversation in my head took me back to my pilgrimage journey, back in 2007. I was in Mekka performing the acts of worship alongside a couple of other million people from different parts of the world, black, white, poor, rich, ignorant and educated, a beautiful mosaic of human beings all dressed up in simple white clothes, performing one task. One cannot tell a king from a genitor in that place. We were all equal in each other’s eyes. There was no minority there. There was one majority. Not because we were all Muslims, but because we were all there for one reason: worship God the way, we believe, He wants us to worship Him. When a higher mission is set forth, people will unite under it.

While that task unites Muslims all over the world, it could be argued among other religions. Some want to worship God and some just don’t want to get God into the equation. Some believe He exists and some are still thinking about it. But could we as human beings come up with a platform from which we can all be equal? Is there a task that can contain all our differences and definitions of ourselves? Good versus bad maybe? Could it be possible that we have become so self-indulged that we simply cannot think of anything beyond our own desires and aspirations?

Diversity, a valued term in our time, is still a term segmented in nature. Diversity contains labeling. What if we were all one majority. Wouldn’t that be enriching? Would we be looking at any other person as one of us?

Peace and blessings be upon the prophet that said: “people are all equal just like a comb’s teeth. There is no preference of an Arab over a non-Arab, nor of a white over black, except in piety”. And piety in every religion or philosophy can only be good.

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Veiled in the Jacuzzi!!!

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JacuzziJetHow could it be that the only place I want to be left alone, is the place where people talk to me the most? It is rare that people strike up a conversation with me waiting at the doctor’s office, standing in line at the supermarket, waiting outside my daughter’s school… I am mostly avoided. I see it in people’s eyes or I rather don’t, because people even avoid eye contact. I would love to think that it is not because of a piece of cloth on my head called hijab.

But I keep going back to the Jacuzzi experience and contemplate.

At the gym we frequent, the Jacuzzi is situated in the women’s locker room. So I go there to relax and unwind after a good workout. Since it is privately positioned, I can remove my veil and slip into my swim wear. I become like most people. I blend in. So people find it easier to approach me. Even though while I am sitting in that Jacuzzi, I can’t stop thinking I am still the very same veiled person, the one who believes in modesty, I still have the same set of ideas and convictions. I am still a Muslim and fully committed to my religion. Nothing is different except the way I am dressed.

What makes us different? What makes each and every one of us different? Is it our appearance? Our faces? Our skin color? Our ideas? Beliefs? What makes us free? Is it what we have been told to do? Or not to do?

Personally, I think freedom is liberating yourself from any obligations except the ones that you yourself consider valid, with all respect to civil and legal ethics, of course. That is what I stand for with my hijab. I have an obligation towards the one that created me and no one else. Islam commands women to cover their hair and dress modestly and behave in a respectful manner.

This helps protect their identity and shed more light on their personalities and intellect. It will also preserve society from corruption and families from dismantlement. Muslim women choose to wear the hijab. Yes, we choose to do so. It gives us peace. Peace within and peace around us, at home, at work, or wherever we are.

Who could have thought a piece of cloth can do all this? Try taking a scarf today and wrap it round your head. What do you see? This time, perhaps you will see the world from a different perspective.

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Why most Muslims don’t celebrate Halloween, and why some do?

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2006eid2What’s the big deal? Halloween is just about costumes and candy. To most people this is what Halloween stands for, but for those who dig deeper there is more meaning to it, some which intercepts Islamic teachings.

First, it is worth shedding some light on the dark underside of this apparently fun and cute occasion. The manifestation of which comes in death-related costumes, sorcerers, witchcraft and blood. The fact is, on “All Hallow’s Eve”, the occasion’s original name, the dead were believed to come back to life and walk among the living. Dressing up in scary costumes would mistake the spirits for one of their own. Another way to be spared was to offer them sweets and earn their good favor, alongside multi-million -dollar candy factories.

The carved pumpkin, which was originally a turnip, was believed to have saved a soul trapped between heaven and hell. Pumpkin lanterns were a way to scare away spirits and save tormented souls.

Of course, no one reviews this information before they set off their kids on a Halloween night, and no teacher goes through the intention behind today’s parade before lining students up for it. But as Muslims, figuring the meaning out of every action in our life and tracing it back to prophet Mohammad and his teachings, Halloween simply does not fit in. It is the upper world that Muslims try to connect to in their daily practices, not the lower one. The place that angels occupy and where wisdom flows endlessly. It is in this world that souls receive guidance, meanings and are closer to being in harmony with the cosmic unity, not the lower world.

When compared to the two main Islamic holidays, the “Festival of Breaking the Fast” which marks the end of a month-long fasting, and the Greater Festival which takes place during the pilgrimage season, Halloween simply doesn’t live up to their significance and importance. And while these two blessed occasions are about giving and sharing, their odd third cannot be about tricking and taking.

After all the above reasons, why would a Muslim family celebrate Halloween, as a lot of them do? Simply because, just like a lot of American Christian families, they don’t think much of it and the kids look way too cute in their costumes. That however is not a reason to judge or scale their commitment to their beliefs. It is just another choice they make along the way.

For us as a family, Halloween season only means savory pumpkin pies at the dinner table that we thank God for. Absolutely nothing wrong with this one!

 

 

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Why would a Muslim join ISIS?

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ISISflag%20copyIf ISIS is not ‘Islamic’, then why on earth are Muslims joining ISIS? There must be a reason for the countless individuals embarking on this bloody journey. I was looking through ISIS’s videos calling for their alleged ‘Jihad’ to get some answers. I was actually very surprised at the result. In the video I came across, the spokesperson was inviting Muslims for this world of ideals that ISIS is claiming to apply on their acquired territories. What the guy was saying was inspirational to me, had I not known better!

The problem is that this world of ideals is totally absent in the group’s practices, to say the least. It does not take a Muslim scholar to denounce ISIS. Any Muslim with basic knowledge about this religion, and a minimal exposure to the prophet Mohamad’s life, peace be upon him, will immediately clarify that Islam and what this group practices are two totally different things.

But why are Muslims joining ISIS then? The only answer I was able to derive from my search, is a combination of two things: an overwhelming love for this religion, and a total ignorance of its essence. The overwhelming love is the drive for their decision, and the total ignorance will turn out to be the biggest mistake that could cost them their life, temporal and eternal.

When converts are asked about their first days of embracing Islam, almost all answers come with a feeling that takes them by surprise. It is a true connection with the creator. A person loses perspective, until he or she starts taking things one at a time again, and study issues with all their complexities. I have always been amazed at how committed converts are within days of embracing Islam, when compared to Muslims who have been so for years, and are still unsure whether they can do this bit of commitment towards it or not.

To make it simple, it is like taking a drug gradually so that your body can get accustomed to it and adapt to its effects, versus gulping it at once and watching the body react to it. I am just getting the effect feeling across. Islam is not a drug. It is rather a remedy for the soul taken on with rational and logical consciousness.

When we see the people joining ISIS from the western world, we notice that they are mostly relatively young people, who may have the identification right, but cannot possibly have studied enough about Islam, or contemplated the life of the prophet, even in its biggest headlines. In addition to that, at such a young age, kids can be subjected to all kinds of crisis, religious profiling, feelings of non-belonging, yearning for ideals, tendency to rebel, spark for change, etc… All of these could lead to this reckless and radical decision.

Once joined with the group, individuals will start living the epiphany of the choice they made. Chopping heads off, killing innocent civilians, forcing religious conversions, disfiguring the dead can only darken ones’ soul, rendering it inhumane. That and what the prophet was, peace be upon him, is like day and night, east and west, good and evil. They don’t mix and can never be seen as one. Ever!

 

 

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I understand why some Americans dislike Muslims… I really do!

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I understand whyFor once, I will not justify. I will not defend. I will actually agree that it is normal for people to view Islam as a bad religion that should cease to exist.

As a Muslim, even though the above notion does not surprise me, it sure breaks my heart. Not only because Islam is a beautiful religion that does not have enough good ambassadors at this stage, but also because in saying so, Americans violate the one thing they stand for the most, freedom.

Growing up in a Muslim family, my main concern was just like any other kid: Get a proper education, have a nice group of friends, have a great career. And I had all that. Praying five times a day was not my top priority. The truth is, the actions of some Muslims, repulsed me. They didn’t seem to me like they were the most ethical people I can come across. In a word, they did not inspire me.

It wasn’t until I had a spiritual inquisitiveness that I had a more objective look at Islam, alongside other religions. The career, the friends, whatever I had was just not enough! There was something unsettled inside of me and I knew it had nothing to do with materialistic gain. Only then I looked at Islam without judgments and only then I fell in love with it.

So when I hear that people dislike Muslims, especially those they have heard about from Anderson cooper, I am not surprised. I dislike those ones too. But I am lucky enough to know the difference between Islam and Muslims. There is no entity that represents Islam in our age… No country, no state, nothing! There are however great Muslims and they are so hard to find, even for Muslims seeking knowledge themselves. This is how it is and that is exactly how it should be.
Islam, as a religion exists for people who seek true knowledge, regardless if they want to embrace it or just be exposed to it. Outside that there is only news and politics!

 

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It is about time Americans wash the blood off their hands!

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bloody-fingerprint-9761527It is in the Middle East, so why should you care? A very legitimate question. You cannot possibly care about every single problem in the world. Americans have their own problems after all, and to some extent, it is true. The only difference in this specific problem in Gazza, is that every single American is actively participating in the killing of innocent civilians, demolition of houses, dismantlement of families, and violation of every possible human right.

The fact is, the American government spends over 3 billion dollars in Direct Aid to Israel, and between 12-17 billion in Indirect Aid such as military equipment, that is in addition to 10 billion in loan guarantees. The cost of America’s relationship to Israel today is likely to be in excess of $5 trillion, or $16k per American.

Next time you hear a breaking news, that is if they ever report what is actually happening on the ground, and see burnt children and covered bodies, you might actually want to add your own signature on the coffin.

This is an open invitation for people to read the facts and investigate about a major injustice that is being committed in the world today in your own name, with your own money. The least you can do about it is step out of your little perfect world, become informed, and make the people you know aware of what is going on, then shout out “NOT IN MY NAME!”.

I have never seen more compassionate people than Americans. They are true believers with sincere concern to fellow citizens. This is the time to stand up for a population that is under attack with almost nothing to fight back with, except some big boy homemade toys.

Your silence is deadly… Literally!

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