Oh, Gaza!

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I was standing at a bus stop in downtown Atlanta, waiting for the Marta bus to arrive. I never spent much time downtown, so I was looking around at the cars as they passed by, the roads shaded by the tall skyscrapers’ shadows. There were cracks in the sidewalk where I stood, and a presumably homeless man sat against the tiled wall next to the entrance of a hotel. Next to me stood a businessman, I guessed. He was talking on his cell phone, looking up through his Tom Cruise sunglasses. He was clean shaven and dressed in a suit and nice tie which was a muted shade of yellow. He was waiting for the bus, as well.

Then the sound came, loud like it was happening all over the earth at once. It got louder and the pitch changed in a way I couldn’t readily comprehend. Something was approaching. A bomb? A meteor? A whole entire planet? The Hand of God itself? I don’t think it mattered- the inevitable conclusion was fixed in my heart, that this was my last moment alive.

I looked at the business man, who had since removed his glasses in alarm. He looked back at me, then turned to the homeless man, who gazed back at both of us with eyes which had long ago become familiar with accepting the inevitable. We all realized, at that one final moment, that we were in the same boat together. The businessman, the homeless man, and everyone else now running, screaming their panic in the streets- we were all equal in this, our final destiny. None of us could help each other, none of us could save each other. We could do nothing except live what was to come, our end.

I awoke crying from that dream nearly 8 years ago. It was so real, so gripping. And yet, it’s what people in other parts of the world are living every day FOR REAL.

The other day I was making wudu in my bathroom. As the water flowed from the faucet and dripped down my arms, I looked at the sink counter. It was clean, a little cluttered, and cool. It wasn’t covered in dust from rubble, or streaked with blood…as other sink counters were at that very moment. I finished my wudu and looked out the bathroom window, where the trees were green and the sky was blue. I knew the sky in Gaza was grey with smoke, dust and ash, and the trees leafless outside most of the broken windows.

I prayed on my rug. A rug not tattered, in a room that was cool and comfortable. I thought about the Gazans, about the many praying on just bare cement- their prayer rugs long left behind in a hasty vacating of their homes. There is no electricity, no air conditioning, no barrier between them and peril where they are. How can I think that my life, as I know it, is guaranteed to always be this way? Theirs wasn’t, theirs wasn’t.

Every day the peace and ease I enjoy seems like an illusion. I can’t forget how easily it was snatched away from those in other lands, and how easily it could be snatched away from me, if Allah wills. I am not better than the Gazans, the Syrians, the others around the world living in conflict. I am just someone fortunate to have what I have, as long as I have it.

My heart is not in my vacuumed carpet. It’s not in my cupboards full of food, or the blankets on my bed. It’s not in the fan that spins to my right, or the keys that I press beneath my fingers. It’s not in the phone that charges under my left elbow, or these day old clothes I wear right now. Although I am very, very grateful for what I have- I want these things for my oppressed brothers and sisters and not myself. They’ve earned them, they’ve earned them, Subhanallah.

Ya Allah, every time I make dua for the Gazans, the Syrians, the endlest nations who are being treated in the worst of ways…when I think of all Your beloved creation being demeaned, tortured, killed, and all manner of unimaginable things befalling them, I am speechless. What words can there be for what’s going on? What words will save these horrible things from happening? What words can express what I and so many others want for these martyrs? All I can do is cry, and love, and feel. My words cannot carry what my soul wishes for them. Just, please, Ya Allah. Please. Make it right.

Tears for Palestine

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The first time I ever heard about the conflict between Israel and Palestine was in the early 90’s, when I was in high school. I had read an article in Seventeen where two young women -one Israeli, the other Palestinian- were interviewed about the true nature of the conflict. Both of them wished for peace. Both of them did not wish harm on the other country’s citizens. Both of them felt that things had gotten wildly out of control, and that a peaceful solution could be reached. Yet both described the core dispute as one over land, land they each claimed their people had a God-given right to.

Looks like nothing’s changed in over 20 years, unfortunately.

Soon after reading that article I converted to Christianity. Christians tend to side with the Israeli’s, who are predominantly Jewish (there are Muslim and Christian Israelis, too). Christians, having adopted the Torah into their Bible as the Old Testament, still believe that the Jews are God’s chosen and that Palestine etc is the promised land God charged Moses with leading His people to. I was too young to care to understand the complexities of history and politics, so I followed the party line. Not passionately, but the belief stucture made enough sense for me not to think about questioning it.

After becoming Muslim, I realized that those Philistines mentioned in the Bible are the ancestors of modern day Palestinians. The same Philistines the Jews often killed and fought repeatedly in the Old Testament (usually at “God’s command”) were still being fought…but was God truly commanding it? It seemed like the biggest flaw from what I remember reading was that those ancient Philistines were of the ‘uncircumcised’, and practiced idolatry. Modern day Philistines are majority Muslim, which makes them both circumcized and anti-idolatry. Seems like a significant enough change to end the bloodshed, I would think.

The thing is, I don’t let the religion I’m practicing (then Christianity, now Islam) tell me what to believe about God. I have an innate understanding and belief about Him, and I follow the faith that aligns most with what I already know of Him. This is what I know: Even if God did promise a particular plot of land to a particular group, He would also most likely tell them to share with those who wanted to live among them, to live peacefully with surrounding groups, and not to fight with another people unless there was a serious need for it. He would command tolerance and compassion, not violence and hate.

Even though I became muslim over a decade ago, I didn’t become a “jew hater”. A lot of muslims unfortunately have a disdain for Jews because of Israeli oppression and divergent theology. I never adopted that. In fact, I have several friends who are Jewish, some more “practicing” than others. They don’t shun me for being Muslim. Our friendship supercedes that. We can get along despite our differences. And I think I can safely say that they are just as horrified at the crimes against humanity as I am, or as any humanist would be. None of us want conflict, bloodshed, or tyranny. All of us believe in finding a peaceful solution that works for all (and they do exist).

What is not being highlighted is the fact that what REALLY is going on has nothing to do with land, beliefs, God, ethnicity, religion, or even politics. What we are seeing is really an attack on the human race by forces we don’t see, and often forget. Our war is not against one another, but against a common enemy. He might be chained during this month of Ramadan, but he is clever enough to create enough discord among men to sabotage the strength we might have against his forces. We are all victims and vulnerable in this regard, and that’s why it’s so important we find a way to unite on our common human ground and realize the nature of this reality, this world, who we share it with, and what our true purpose is. If there is a way to remember Who is our Lord, the one we ALL promised ourselves to, then we can begin restoring our innate purpose and potential. Then we can end these mortal tragedies.

Flipping the Coin

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I’ve been working through a particular ambivalence. It’s about remarrying.

A large part of me has no desire whatsoever to remarry. My life is busy with my kids and work, and I am enjoying my new freedom. I don’t miss the emotional investment into another adult and their lives. I don’t miss putting a husband as a priority over myself and my own desires or whims. I don’t miss sharing a home with a man. I love having my space feel like my own and being able to do as I please without having to clear it with anyone.

But what I do sometimes miss is companionship and intimacy. I know that’s normal, considering I’ve been attached to a male significant other all of my adult life. I miss making out, I miss hanging out and watching movies in bed with a bag of candies, I miss joking around in walmart and holding hands in the car. Stuff like that.

But do I miss it enough to want to marry again? Honestly I don’t. And that’s what I’m having a hard time with, is that in Islam it’s only one or the other. It’s only marriage = companionship and closeness with a male, or singledom = none of the above. I don’t like having only the two choices. It’s not like I’m going to go ‘break code’ and get a boyfriend, or a FWB. That was never my way even before becoming Muslim. Even then, I dated with the intent of finding a suitable husband, or moving toward marriage. But now….I’ve had marriage- 15 years total of it. And I’m a bit full of it’s taste.

Sometimes I wish I could marry someone who would be willing to live in his own separate house and have his own separate life, allowing me to retain my current level of freedom. Someone who would get together with me on evenings and weekends to be ‘husbandly’. Maybe even someone who would be satisfied with a long distance relationship. Unfortunately, the only muslim men I’m aware of who would entertain such an arrangement would be someone looking for a second wife. Having been in polygamy already I know that’s not what I want, either.

I suppose things wouldn’t seem so bad if I was surrounded by family and friends and spending a lot of my free time with them. But the reality is that I’m not. My friends and family all live thousands of miles away. The only way it could be remotely like that is if/when I move back to California. So that is making me think perhaps I need to do that. Meaning sooner than I originally planned. I find the idea exhilerating, but it rubs against my sensibility. I have a house that hasn’t built up much equity here. I have a stable job. Jed is just starting high school and developing his college goals.

The rational side of me says I should stay the next 6 years until Eden graduates high school, and in that time pay off my debt and build equity in the house so I can walk away with more cash in hand. Then I would be leaving with only the two younger kids. Jabiyr would be starting high school by that time, and Shukurah would be ready for kindergarten. It’s nice timing, and a solid plan.

But on the other hand, I’m reminded that I’ve spent the past 20 years living pretty much vicariously. I’ve made my life about whatever was going on with my ex husband(s), and never really lived my own life. I made a lot of choices that were not necessarily what I wanted, but what I thought was needed. I am almost 40, and I feel like I’m tired of waiting for my own life and dreams to begin. I have my own direction and path I want to choose, but the sacrifice would be a degree of stability.

It’s the same old dilemma, I guess. Do I choose something reliable and safe, like I’ve always tried to do? Or do I finally blaze my own path? Marry or stay single? Stay in Atlanta or go to Cali? Movement or stagnation? Selfish or unselfish? Is that even the right question?

I feel pulled by the invigorating lure of changing the game and taking some risks. But I’m also grounded by my sense of obligation to my kids and overall responsible nature. But maybe a decision I’m thinking about making much sooner will help me clarify my inclinations…

…I had been planning to go to California for a trip next week. I haven’t been able to get a good flight on plane tickets. I have always been able to find tickets under $300, but they’ve not come below $400 for those dates. In fact, they’ve been averaging $500-600. This is way beyond what I can afford, since I was going to be bringing one of the kids with me (originally it was going to be Jedidiah, but due to some recent significant changes in circumstances I decided to bring Jabiyr instead). I still need money for the rental car, food, gas, and other expenditures.

I have a sum of money right now, and I am actually thinking about driving out there instead. Take a long road trip, visit with family for a few days, then come home. My new nanny and her son would accompany me. It would be quite an adventure! One I desperately need right now. I am intoxicated with the thrill of the idea.

Yet, my conscience reminds me of all the other ways that sum of money could be better spent if I just forfeit the trip altogether. It tries to sweeten the deal with suggestions to take the kids to White Water or even to a nearby beach town for a weekend. But it’s not enough to satisfy that passionate recklessness in me.

So what will I do? Right now I’m still undecided. I don’t know what will push me in one direction or the other. I don’t even know what I would need to know to make a choice. I desperately need a vacation and break from everything that I’ve been dealing with here since my last trip out there. I need an adventure, a memory to savor in my old age, a story to pass down to my grandkids.

But I also need to be wise. But what happens when the wise choice- the very thing I decided a while ago to guide myself with- is not the most satisfying? 

 

What’s Different This Time?

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I often find myself thinking about the differences between this most recent time I divorced my second husband, and the previous time at the end of 2012. Of course it feels totally different, but that’s nebulous. It makes me ask myself, is it actually different?

Looking back at that time, I felt a lot of uncertainty and insecurity. I felt desperate to find clues as to what my future would look like. In the back of my mind, I wondered if I had done the right thing. I wondered if I had made a hasty decision, since it was precipitated by a single event instead of being something I had planned out with deliberate thought. I questioned whether living in the house together would’ve made a difference, or having a little girl, or even him getting a job.

Even while I was in California last year, I was seeking something I couldn’t describe. Security, familiarity, comfort….whatever it was it seemed out of reach. I felt unmoored and directionless. Sure, I was glad to be out of a stressful situation, but I felt unprepared to go forward. I didn’t have a plan or a sturdy sense of self-worth.

Last year, after we reunited, I learned what it was like to live in the house with him, to have a daughter with him, and for him to have a source of income. It didn’t change a thing. Not a thing. So I began thinking -rather quickly after our reunion, actually- about what I really wanted. And it was not that life I was experiencing with him. I wanted out, but the situation was not exactly ideal for that. I tried getting out in several ways, but they backfired for various circumstantial reasons. But I wasn’t about to give up, because I knew what I really wanted. I begged Allah for it nearly every day, to make it possible, to make a way for me to go forward without him even in spite of all the factors that had come into play.

Masha’Allah, in the end I gained that victory. And you can bet I made certainly sure that there were no hidden loopholes to negate the divorce like last time! It’s final and clear this time, and I feel such peace, such confidence, such certainty that I have put myself and my family in the right place.

I don’t in the least feel insecure or uncomfortable. I don’t feel like I need someone, like I felt before. I feel content and satisfied and capable of going along as I am as long as necessary. Don’t get me wrong, it would be nice to remarry eventually. I don’t have an ultimate plan to continue into the second half of my life forever single, and dying a lonely old woman. I value companionship, and I have a lot of love I would like to give someone. But I am never going to settle again. If I do ever remarry, it’s going to be someone who I will be able to enjoy a much healthier marriage with than I did with my first two husbands. And if I don’t ever remarry, I really feel I can accept that and still have a full, meaningful life.

Another difference I notice is  that I truly have stopped needing validation from others like I used to. I feel confident in my own thoughts and feelings. I accept my own reality and views, even if others don’t. I’ve learned how to give myself what I thought I needed someone else to give me. And that truly satisfies. I find peace in deciding what I want for myself, and creating a plan to achieve those dreams. I don’t feel hindered by unmet needs inside.

These aren’t just things I’m saying trying to convince myself, or pump myself up. I’ve always had a personal integrity to write what I really feel and think, even if it comes back to bite me in the tail someday. This is my reality, and this is my joy. This is my peace WITHOUT the freefall.

 

The Fragrance of Forgiveness

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When I was in high school, I had an English teacher who would post a quote on the board every day. We were required to write half a page on our thoughts about it. I ended up having him for a semester during both my Sophomore and Junior years, and the first day of both semesters he posted the same quote:

“Forgiveness is the fragrance of the violet which clings to the heel that crushed it”.

This is very similar to a quote attributed to Imam Ali (RA): “Be like the flower that gives its fragrance to even the hand that crushes it.”

But in reality, forgiveness isn’t about what we give to the one we have exonerated. It’s more about us, about being able to move forward and live a life with peace and inner freedom.

I grew up with caregivers who I perceived at that time to be resentful. I experienced my grandmother in particular to be overly mistrusting, guarded, and emotionally distant. She seemed to carry pain that was decades old, letting it shape and twist her into someone who I felt was very unpleasant to be around. I never wanted to become like her. In my youth I felt free, loving, hopeful and positive. I never wanted to lose that quality, so I spent a lot of time thinking about what makes one become a bitter person, versus a compassionate person.

My freshman year of college I made a conscious decision, which I recorded in my personal journal:

1/28/1995

What if I learned to forget the wrongs that are done to me? What if I…see situations for what they are, not like “I’m the victim”?…What if I…opened myself up to be hurt again and again, so that my heart won’t become hard…but shaking off the hurt and dealing with it in its real state and moving on? We can choose, I believe, how to view reality; but everyone has some kind of glasses on that distort it- glasses of emotion, past, future, despair, even (looking) through someone elses’s. But if you see life through emotion etc, you can’t see what the true reality is…That’s what I want.

For me, the key to avoiding resentment, and to be able to forgive, is to stay open and be willing to hurt. There is no way to let go of any wrongs committed by another unless one achieves a peace with pain, with unjustice, with unfairness. If we hold on to ideals of how “things ought to be”, in a world where many events and experiences don’t follow that rule, it will only poison our own souls.

My good friend Wael Abdelgawad recently wrote, “So many of us nurse our resentments over the injustices done to us, holding on to our bitterness as if it were precious, when in reality it’s a dead thing…But resentment cannot heal our hearts, no matter how much time passes. Only forgiveness can do that.” What struck me most about what he said was how he described resentment as valuable to the holder. Instead of peace, connection, love, ease, etc. being treasured, the resentment and memories of slights are kept and coddled. People who do this, even some of the time, make it difficult for others to feel safe with them. After all, if we see someone holding a grudge against someone else (especially if it’s something insignificant), how can we be sure the same won’t happen to us with that person if we happen to unintentionally hurt them? Resentment completely undermines the foundation of trust needed in every type of relationship.

I’m glad that I took the time while I was younger to contemplate these things. Now that I’m almost 40, and I’ve been married to and divorced from two different men who hurt me in various but significant ways, I know that I’m better off. I have forgiven both of my ex husbands. I righted their wrongs by moving on into something better than the life I shared with them. I didn’t take let the pain that I experienced with them become a seed that would eventually sprout into a constrictive tangle of rigid pessimism. I still believe in love, I still believe there’s plenty of good to be found in others, and I still believe that there’s more blessing in embracing the natural pains of life than running from them. I am still able to trust, embrace, and give myself completely to another…and that in a more healthy way than I’ve ever been able to do before.

I will also teach my daughter in shaa Allah how to be fearless during the freefalls she will face in life. To be brave when in pain. Then she will also learn how to freely forgive, and stave off resentment. This is a new path, for a new generation.

A Truer Reflection

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Almost a year ago I wrote a post about my curiosity. In it I mentioned how I wondered whether my future would be one as a single mom, or would Bashir and I remain married. The future has come, and the curiosity on that issue has been satisfied. After many stalls, obstacles and challenges, I managed to ransom myself out of my marriage (again lol).

Looking back on it all, I probably should’ve just stayed out of the mix of Bashir’s new life after we divorced the first time. Even though the divorce was shown to already be null then, with enough time I might’ve gotten to a place where I would’ve just corrected that technicality and moved on. But the truth is I needed to grow and learn to make decisions based on values instead of feelings, and having a daughter was just the thing to motivate me through the pain of that change. In fact, Shukurah is the sweetest blessing to come out of such a fateful mistake.

There are going to be a lot of tough decisions I’m going to be facing. I probably wasn’t ready for them before, because I felt like I needed to appease the storms inside first before anything else. Now I know I don’t have to do that. I can choose what’s important, and let my emotions catch up with that program. I am ready to teach my daughter what it means to value herself, because I know how to do it myself now.

I thought the pain in my marriage was destroying me, but it ended up making me realize what I’m worth. I know without a doubt what I deserve in a husband and relationship. I will not accept anything less than what I’ve chosen, so if it means being single the rest of my life I am perfectly fine with that. I’ve fought too hard for myself and my kids, and we’ve all endured way too much, than to sell our victory for a cheap bit of company during a lonely moment.

I’m not going to jump through any more hoops for someone’s attention and approval. I am beautiful and unique, and I have a rare quality in the way I love. I do age well, both inside and out. I am worthy, just as I am, and someone out there will recognize the hard work I’ve put into my character and cherish me for it. And if no one ever sees what a blessing I would be to them, it’s their loss…because I know how utterly devoted and passionate I am when I am given one’s heart.

In the meantime, I’m enjoying everything about life. I’m not just finding myself, but actively creating who I want to be. Nothing is worth getting me down when there is so much hope for my future- hope borne from who I am in shaa Allah, not limited to what my circumstances are.

Thank You Allah for rescuing my spirit. Thank You for life, ever transforming.

Allahu Akbar

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We all have special days in our lives. Anniversaries of when we met the one we love, graduation dates, the first day of our dream job. There are days we look forward to- like the day we leave for hajj, or the day our baby will be born. There are days we never forget, like the one when our mother passed away, or the day we won the regional spelling bee.

Today is a significant day for me, because today is the day my baby girl Shukurah officially outlived her sister, Nadhiyrah. When my first daughter died, the trauma of it left a scar that rewrote my belief system. This is what trauma does. It makes you believe that whatever you lived through will happen again in the right place, or under the right conditions. That park where you were attacked is the park where you will always be attacked. Or that intersection where the bad accident happened is the most dangerous intersection in town. I’ve lived the last 10 years with a subconscious belief that baby girls only live for a little over 112 days, so after I had Shukurah every day was like an agonizing countdown of her short lifespan.

Logically, we know that this doesn’t fit reality. But the parts of our souls that have been traumatized have their own reality, their own set of laws and rules. Only can a new experience rescript the old, maladaptive one. So today is a day where facts kept archived deep in my psyche are finally reformatted. Today is a day when Shukurah DID wake up in the morning, and she is breathing. Right now she is laying next to me sleeping, turning her little head from side to side with grimaces and grins.

I know I will never lose the vigilance I have with her. I will always be worried about her safety and wellbeing no matter how old she gets. I feel my mind thinking, deep down, that every day hereafter is most likely “borrowed time”, and I will never rest easy that even one day of her life is guaranteed to me. In some senses, trauma never goes completely away.

But then, if we can be traumatized by the lack of a sure thing in life, then trauma is the hallmark of our very existence. Nothing is guaranteed in this life, from one beat of the heart to one breath of the lungs to one dollar to spend. A lover may leave, a business may fail, a friend may betray, and every possession could be burnt to ashes or swept away in a storm. We, in our imperfect state, cannot even depend on ourselves to stand for a single prayer, or even sleep through the night without waking from a bad dream. We cannot stop ourselves from longing for the wrong things or abandoning the right things if we aren’t given divine strength to do so. And though we may know that Allah is the only sure and reliable One to trust and follow, our fallible created nature won’t even let us remember it for more than minutes at a time.

So I take this moment to thank Allah for shifa, for barakah, and for hope (don’t know the Arabic word for that one, sorry). I thank Him for all the painful experiences that are the alchemy to wisdom and peace. But most of all, I thank Him that no matter how Great He is, He still succors us at our insignificant place of need. Truly, Allah is Most Great. Allahu Akbar.