How to find light in the darkness

There are conversation that are hard to forget; hard to forgive.

A few years ago, a conversation with a friend turned awry. During our conversation, she brought up the topic of religion. She started with the question: “What does Allah mean?” I explained that the word was an Arabic term for the word God or dios.

I thought that was the end of her curiosity, until she responded with “Allah is not God. My God is not your God.” I was confused my her remark, so I responded with, “Well, there is only one God.” She went on to explain that her God is one of love, mine was one of war. I was deeply hurt by her comment, but I approached it gently. I told her that she may have misunderstood from the media what the meaning of Islam was (I reminded myself that she had never been exposed to another religion).

She was physically worked up; angry that I did not accept her explanation. I began to realize that she was purposely trying to provoke a reaction.

I remember feeling my throat closing and a sharp pain in my gut. The same reaction I feel when I am about to cry and cannot run away.

Then, she said to me, “Everyone knows the evil in your religion; how you have to deceive and befriend Christians in order to “get by” in the world. I don’t know why you are the only one blind to it.”

My friend, whom I treated as part of my family. One of the only people I trusted to care for my children. I felt like collapsing. It is so different when a keyboard warrior attacks you, but when it is a person that you hold in high regard turns on you, how do you respond? I wanted to physically collapse.

I ended the conversation by calling her an “ignorant person” and asked her to leave my home. After she left, I cried a lot.

The details of the conversation are much worse than I can write.

One week after the confrontation, she called to apologize. I accepted her apology and have since tried to repair my relationship with her. We have become friends again, but it has been almost a year and I still feel very hurt when I remember that conversation. The words that hurt the most were “everyone knows about the evil in your religion”. For the past year, I accepted those words from her. I have second guessed many things; the sincerity of my friendships, my Muslim community, among many other things. I have found myself avoiding talks of religion and any conversation that may reveal that I am a firm believer. For the past year, I have been truly afraid that another person I trusted would turn on me, like the comment section of a social media post gone incarnate.

I have become very nervous when people around me bring up topics surrounding Islam. The words, “everyone knows about the evil in your religion” has made me second guess my family and friends, feelings that they are simply to scared to lash out at me in the same way my friend did at my home.

It has been really hard to forget this particular incident, although I have chosen to forgive her. I hold no ill will towards my friend. Although she was wrong, she is not completely at fault. I have accepted to believe that there are many other factors at hand that have influenced the way she reacted that day.

I try to have hope that forgiveness, especially with your loved ones, can start a process of healing for oneself and the world at large. I try to hold on to this idea.

Today, a friend announced that he would give his first sermon at his Methodist Church. He asked the social world for prayers. A prayer that always makes me surrender myself to God on important days came to mind, the Prayer of Light, also known as the prayer of the prophet Muhammed (pbuh). I hesitated to send it to him, but I went ahead and did so in support of his calling to spread the word of God. I had not shared anything Islam-related with anyone in a very long time, so was a little bit afraid of his response. He responded with gratitude and went on to say how beautiful he found Islam. He further explained that he enjoyed the Quran and recitations. His response made me cry. A Christian, a pastor, validating my beliefs as ones that are good.

It took me a few hours to respond emotionally to the message. Tonight, I have cried a lot. I remembered the scar that my friend left a year ago. That feeling of invalidation and spite towards the path that I hold dearest to my heart; that path through which has penetrated every part of my being with Light.

I am recovering from an encounter that has greatly affected the way I express myself religiously, because I am afraid to do so. Today, my pastor-friend’s message has started the healing process.

There are so many other things going through my mind. How are people able to find common ground despite their religious differences? How do we use framework of our chosen religion to better love others? How do we transcend the human limitations of our chosen religion to connect with people from all walks of life? Is that still possible in today’s world? I know it is possible and I need to hold on to this thread of hope to continue to heal emotionally and grow spiritually.

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The Psychology of Guilt, Repentance and Belief

 A few days ago, my husband and I waited in the grocery line while I carried our daughter. 

When it was our turn at the register, my husband joked with the bag boy and said to him: “hey, you look a little young to be losing your hair…” The 18-year old boy didn’t laugh, but began to embarrassingly explain himself. He spoke in Spanish and only I had understood that he was losing his hair because he was dying. I looked down in embarrassment while my husband immediately regretted the joke.

In the car, he asked me what had happened to the boy and I told him that he was terminally ill. I felt angry toward my husband and I began to cry. “I didn’t mean to damage his feelings…I didn’t know he was sick” my husband said. He stayed silent the whole ride home. I knew my husband didn’t mean any harm, so I didn’t mention it again. My daughter was beside me –asleep–and I began to think about her birth: 

Astaghfarallah, astaghfarallah, astaghfarallah… (God forgive me,  God forgive me, God forgive me…)

Around the 7th hour of labor and as the contractions became more frequent and painful, fear settled over me. I thought about the possibility of death, so I began to ask for forgiveness.

My husband was laying down on an uncomfortable couch next to me half asleep. It had been a long night. I had arrived to the hospital at 11PM after my water broke and, for some odd reason, I thought I’d be out before morning. I wasn’t dilating and the nurse’s words were not hopeful: “Chil’, is this yo’ first baby?” I said it was. She said, “if you lucky, you’ll be outta heah in 12 hours… but you ain’t dilated even fo’ centameetas…we may have to start you on Pitocin by 7am…are you sure you don’t want  the epidural?” I wanted to say “yes”, but I said “no”. Perhaps I would be done in another hour? Clearly, I had no idea the way that this whole having-a-baby-thing worked.

The nurse left. My husband was asleep by now.

Perhaps other mothers can tell you that there is a space  in labor and delivery that belongs only to her–that no one can penetrate. And, there are moments where she feels very alone. I began to think about Surah Maryam and how Maryam (the Virgin Mary) had–while she was in labor with Isa (Jesus)–wished that she were dead. I haven’t wished my own death yet, so I must be ok. I imagined the way that Maryam must have teared at a palm tree that would later nourish her with water and dates.

Astaghfarallah, astaghfarallah, astaghfarallah…

I decided to change positions and crouch down with legs wide open. Perhaps the gravity would help me dilate. It did. In another hour, I was almost 7 cm dilated. “Whoa, 3 cm’s in an hour. How’d that happin’…?” Said the nurse. “I crouched…” I said. “Well, there ya go…but we still have to start you on Pitocin, dear. It’s been 8 hours and that baby’s gotta come out. It’s fo’ both you and the baby’s safety…Let me know if you change yo’ min’ about the epidural…” She said…

The nurse left. My husband drifted in and out of sleep. I was so bored of ice chips.

I thought about two Muslim sisters who had recently delivered. One delivered in four hours. The other in two. Both didn’t ask for any pain relievers. They were so strong. Why can’t I handle the pain? Why don’t I dilate? What is wrong with my body? I began to cry again.

Again, I was alone.

Astaghfarallah, astaghfarallah, astaghfarallah…

I called the nurse to ask her how much longer she thought I would be in labor. She told me that even with the Pitocin, it could be another 10 hours or so. It was my first child and my body was taking it’s time. I remembered my friends again and began to think that my body was somehow defective.

Once I began screaming and crying more loudly, my husband stood by my side. He was unsure of how to ease my pain. Perhaps he knew he couldn’t. I turned away from him.

He handed me dhikr beads and I began whispering to myself again:

Astaghfarallah, astaghfarallah, astaghfarallah…

Ya Latif, Ya Latif, Ya Latif…(Gentle One, Gentle One, Gentle One…). I was asking God to grant me his Gentleness…

Finally, I called the nurse and asked her to send for the epidural. I wanted relief so badly, but even the epidural sent an electric shock through my whole body. After the anesthesia seeped through my veins, I drifted in and out of sleep. I continued to feel guilt for the numbness below my waist…

I continued to ask forgiveness for things I probably would never write about…

Astaghfarallah, astaghfarallah, astaghfarallah…

Twelve hours later, the doctor checked me and said “it’s time to push,” and I did.  “BIS-MI-LLAH!” I screamed in anger. My mom, who was in the room, also prayed with her head in her hands. She couldn’t watch, but she also couldn’t turn away. At the end of that hour and a moment between screams, the doctor tossed my daughter onto my belly. Her eyes were wide open. At that moment, I remember myself in a cold sweat and laughing from relief while my husband, mother, and daughter all cried.

I had done it. My guilt was gone. God must had forgiven me.

The same night of the supermarket incident, my husband suddenly jumped out of bed and got dressed. I asked him where he was going and he told me he’d be right back. When my husband returned home, I asked him what had happened and he said he had returned to the supermarket to apologize. In a desperate attempt to seek his own forgiveness, he also forced the boy to take all the cash he had in his wallet. “I didn’t mean to make him embarrassed…I had very bad Muslim eh-ticks,” he told me in regret. Ethics. A word he had just learned at the English program. I told him he should rest.

“Astaghfarallah, astaghfarallah, astaghfarallah…”

He continued until he fell asleep. I stayed awake trying to wrap my mind around the way the human conscience makes its peace with good, evil, life, death, guilt and God.

Finding Oneness

When I am praying–truly praying–I lose myself

to my Self.

I become centered.

My husband once told me that he knows when I really pray–

When I really pray, I am hypnotized. When I don’t really pray, I fidget.

He is right.

(Once, I couldn’t control my laughter while praying and kicked and giggled on my prayer rug while my husband turned red trying to control his own outburst)–

He blamed Shaytan, I blamed the towel that was slipping off his hips exposing him.

I stare blankly in the direction of the kaaba

the corner of the room that is piled with dirty laundry

(I don’t know where to begin to clean up that mess)–

I imagine the way home,

again.

I am lost,

self within Self.

Searching and seeking,

dreaming of finding–

something I am sure I once had. Or imagined I had.

Lost.

Prostrating, I relinquish myself to a world I cannot hold.

Pregnancy and Fasting

Yesterday, I felt very angry. Today, I feel very disturbed.

I had to rush a sister to the hospital because she almost collapsed from dehydration. The disturbing part is that she is pregnant and in her last trimester. Even on the way to the hospital, she refused to break her fast with water.

There is nothing heroic about putting herself and her child at risk.

I know that many pregnant women fast during Ramadan. I also know that there are many safe ways a pregnant woman can ensure a proper diet to prepare for fasting. God, however, has given pregnant women the relief from fasting if they feel that it may put them at risk. God is the Most Merciful and we must understand this.

At the hospital, I served as translator between my friend and the doctor because she hardly speaks English. What shocked me was her refusal to tell the doctor that she was fasting. The doctors could not decide what was wrong with her but had suspected she was dehydrated.

When my friend went to the restroom, I let the doctor know she hadn’t drunk water for almost 12 hours. I asked the doctors to keep this confidential. At first, I felt like I was betraying my friend’s trust. After a few exams, however, the doctors determined she was severely dehydrated and they put two IVs to rehydrate her. I continued to be shocked as she continually asked her doctors if it was necessary to break her fast. She could hardly lift a finger, yet she kept refusing.

I will repeat it. This act of martyrdom is not heroic, especially when putting another life in danger for the sake of God. I just wonder what makes her believe that her decision to put her unborn child at risk is pleasing God? God doesn’t ask us to do this. He is the Most Merciful and we cannot forget that.

She is one of my good friends, so I didn’t guilt trip her. Instead, I spoke to her husband and let him know the situation so that he makes sure she nourishes herself as she recovers.

Again, I recognize that there are safe ways to fast while pregnant.  I am not against it in general. I have hard that if done safely, it can be a successful and rewarding experience. I am also not saying that fasting while pregnant is strictly “right” or “wrong”. Only God knows what is best. I am simply disturbed by this particular situation.

This sister is one of the most generous and loving people I’ve ever met. In regards to the material, she doesn’t have much and she gives everything she has. I love this sister very much for the sake of God. But today, I felt very angry towards her. I just can’t help but wonder what is going through her mind as she physically struggles to maintain her energy in Ramadan while carrying a child.

A few weeks ago, I took her to the hospital and heard her baby’s heartbeat. I had never heard an unborn baby’s heartbeat before. Three days ago, she let me touch her belly while her  unborn child was pushing. I had never touched a pregnant lady’s belly before. These two experiences were very emotional for me. I can’t even imagine how I’d feel if I were the one pregnant. These two experiences also revealed the fact that a pregnant woman’s body is no longer her own. She shares it with her unborn child. Her womb serves as the unborn child’s shelter. While I never expressed my anger towards her, I became very angry inside because I saw her fasting (and refuse to break her fast despite her illness) as an act of selfishness with total disregard for the life that is growing inside of her.

She is still my friend, of course. Right now I am really struggling with my own judgments. But I continue to be disturbed by yesterday’s series of events and continue to have very mixed feelings in regards to women fasting while pregnant.

Does anyone have stories to share about fasting while pregnant? I have never had children, but I am really interested in understanding other women’s experiences in the case I am in a similar situation in the future. 

Reasons Why Extremist Rhetoric is All The Same

By the word “extremists,” I am referring to individual adherents of any faith who respond to the world around them in mentally and socially imbalanced ways.

1. They see the world in black and white; right and wrongs. The only exceptions are those that work in favor of their larger arguments.

2. They appeal to fear in order to gain followers. Ex: “If you don’t follow Q, then you will burn in the pits of Hell.”

3. They use logical fallacies when trying to “prove” their points. Ex: “This is wrong, because the guy with the religious man with the big beard says so.” (Appeal to Authority).

4. They are desperate to convince you they are right. If they cannot, they resort to the fallacies as a rhetorical tactic.

5. They condescendingly think they know something you don’t know.

6. They believe that they are neo-prophets. Their  role in this life is to show you the way to salvation.

7. They carry a lot of theory (book knowledge), but rarely any experience or practical knowledge about the way to their Creator.

8. They speak before they listen to others. This deafness leads them to make commentaries about subjects, religions and people without knowledge.

9. Anything that doesn’t line up with their worldview is simply “wrong” or “misunderstood”.

10. If they don’t get their way, they become violent. Ex: blow themselves (and others) up, burn Holy Books of other faiths, commit murder, verbally and physically attack, force others into submission, build oppressive theocratic regimes (these make me want to vomit), they silence their people, and so on. (Honestly, the Buddhists are the only ones who have gotten this peace thing down).

11. Last and certainly not least, they do not understand neither God nor Peace.



10 Things Some Feel Are “Normal” Questions to Ask Muslims

The biggest WTF Questions that are pretty invasive and absurd, but asked as if perfectly “normal”. Let’s see how they sound if similar ones are redirected at Jews and Christians.

1. You removed your hijab. Are you still a Muslim?

Imagine: You removed your yarmulke. Are you still a Jew?

2. How are you a Hispanic Muslim?

Imagine: How are you a Black Christian/Jew?

3. You wear makeup and eyeliner. Isn’t that immodest and unIslamic?

Imagine: You show too much cleavage. Isn’t that immodest and unChristian?

4. Do you have hair on your head?

Imagine: Do you have hair on your crotch?

5. Does God want you to kill kufirs?

Imagine: Does God want you to crucify your only son?

6. So every Muslim man can freely engage in polygamy?

Imagine: So every Christian/Jewish man can have 700 wives and 300 concubines? (See King Solomon–Kings 11:3)

7. What happens if you miss a daily prayer?

Imagine: What happens if you miss a Sunday/Sabbath service?

8. Why do Muslims want world dominance?

Imagine: Why do Jews want world dominance? 

9. D0 you believe that men should marry underage girls (under 18)?

Imagine: Do you believe that God should impregnate an underage girl without her consent and then not marry her? 

10. If you are really a Muslim, why do you curse so much?

Imagine: If you are really a Christian, why do you fuck so much?