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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Prayers and Altars

I grew up around altars. Little make shift altars made from spare glass tables that my family’s witches would decorate with cheap, water-stained doilies from the dollar store.

Wait. I am not being fair when I said they are witches. I do not really have any witches in my family, but growing up around a lot of ladies who prayed a lot–to God, to Jesus, to saints and other Afro deities whose names were all robust and full of diphthongs in their pronunciation–I always imaged that I grew up around witches.

Truth is, I never felt comfortable in thinking too much in the unseen. I know I was supposed to believe in someone named Papa Dios and a bloody-faced Jesus, but I was also told to believe in the seen –that statue of the gorgeous Saint Barbara, the morose Virgin Mary, the list of saints that decked the churches and altars unto which I grew up kneeling.

I also did not like to pray on cue. I spent most Sunday admiring stained glass windows, growing increasingly uncomfortable while sitting on wooden pews; I used to narrated the stories of all the saints that surrounded me. I thought about the personal details in their lives, such as the food they ate and the way they may have laughed at jokes. I had to humanize them in the churches that would treat them as deities. I needed to know all of their stories.

I also wasn’t one much for confession. I felt uncomfortable sharing sins with a strange man in a black suit. When I would confess, I always went through the same list of sins that included disobeying my parents, having bad thoughts and saying bad words. I always received 5 Hail Mary’s and 5 Our Fathers as penance. I never completed my penance, but I always felt bad about lying to the priest and asked God to forgive me for that. Pretending to pray became an art because it meant that I could kneel at the very front of the altar until I was finished. I didn’t have to return to the wooden pew and the teachers could not say anything to me because they would not dare interrupt my penance.

I think I hated absolutely everything about Catholic school. Looking back, I felt uncomfortable with all small acts of indoctrination, but I never resisted. I was an obedient Catholic school kid. I was an altar girl once too. In all honesty, though, joining the altar team was part of the feminist inside of me who knew that altar boys were the norm until the Church recently decided that girls weren’t as dirty as originally thought and could handle the sacred books and chalices at the altar. I was the only altar girl at my ostentatious church and I was proud of that.

It has been approximately 12 years since I have kneeled at a church altar. I had left Catholicism at the age of 16 and spent many hard-earned dollars at therapist sessions trying to understand why I personally became so affected by the rituals, ceremonies and submission that my child body was forced into since the day I was born. I have been thrust into buckets of herbal water butt naked; I have witnessed the clever way an average-sized woman can decapitate a chicken in a sacrificial ritual; have been left for hours in a room full of wooden deities and their plates of food; have been told when to kneel, confess, pray and repent.

When I decided to release myself from gods and altars, I felt lost but also relieved. I could start all over on my journey to understand my Creator. Somewhere along the road, I met a lot of Muslim people and I also met Islam. Somewhere along that same road, I converted to Islam. I really like Islam. It’s a simple thing to say, but that’s just how it is. After so much awkward worship, I finally felt like I found a simple avenue to God.

But every few years of my life I enter into an existential crisis. Recently, I was thrust into a life changing experience when I met Valeda — the lady who could heal (name changed). I cannot tell you much about the predicament that lead me to meet Valeda, but I can tell you that Valeda can heal; Valeda can know things about people, places and things. Valeda is not a self-promoting fortune teller and she explained that nothing she does is “magic”. She assured me that her gifts were genuine and only possible through God, that she never took money for her help, and that she never used her gifts to harm (only to help). About a month ago, I experienced her healing first hand–and being healed literally felt like my soul was a stagnate river that began moving again. The healing I received nudged me in the right direction and saved my life. Valeda is a Catholic, which complicates my understanding of my beliefs and existence so much more. I do not think I am Catholic by belief even still, but I have come to the conclusion that shit is complicated and that God works through many people’s hands and in a million ways we will never understand.

I still don’t fully understand God. I still don’t fully feel satisfied with my understanding of God and this insatiable thirst only opens me up to accept the many ways that God works through his Creation.

Yesterday, my toddler got up and wrapped herself up in my sweater as if it were a hijab. She said “Allahu Akbar” and kneeled down to pray salaat. I was happy and her father was feeling proud that his daughter began to imitate him in worship. In the middle of the room, my toddler bowed, stood erect, bowed again and prostrated. She lifted one finger in her right hand (the indication for the single God) while performing worship. My daughter sat at her altar of an Arabic prayer rug, probably unaware that she herself has already began her own journey of prayers and altars on her way to knowing her God.

I Want to Speak to the Owner!

I am a business owner now. And manager. And customer service. And secretary. And filing clerk.

This is the feeling of having a brand new business that has been slowly, but surely, rising.

Didn’t someone once make a song about “mo money, mo problem?” I don’t want to make it seem like I am rolling in hundred dollar bills, or anything like that. It isn’t like that at all. But, I would say, “mo clients, mo problems.” My advertiser does a good job, so the clients are there, I guess.

I, however, am trying to find a way to divide myself between various positions, perform various tasks, without driving myself into insanity.

As owner, I am the boss lady. I guess. I am also the one responsible for taking sure my clients are happy. For the most part, they are happy enough to refer friends. My business thrives on “word of mouth.” And, customer service is crucial.

I started doing customer service since I was 16 years old at David’s Bridal. Had that gig for 6 years on and off. Was pretty good at it; enough for them to take me between college semester, or on my summer vacation while in grad school. I was pretty good at customer service. Looking back, I know that the secret to good customer service is to have someone who is not emotionally involved in the business to do it. Did I give a damn about David’s Bridal? Not really. Did I care that a customer did not like the ugly bridesmaid dress? Not really. My job was to be nice and solve the problem so that the client leaves with a smile on their face.

After 6 years, I thought I had this customer service gig down to the T. Over this past week, I realized I have lots to learn.

It all started last week when one of my clients suddenly demanded a refund. We had done half the work he paid for, had been working on his file for 4 weeks, and our invoice clearly states 80% REFUND WITHIN THE FIRST 48 HOURS OF PAYMENT. There’s a logic to my ‘no refund policy”. First, I only take about 8 clients per month (it’s impossible to take more at this time). Secondly, I begin a client’s file within the first 48 hours, so some time is spent. Lastly, Paypal charges me a processing fee for accepting money AND returning. Refunding is really a hassle; therefore, it is clearly explained at time of pay.

Back to the story. Client demands full refund. His reason was that I had only done half the work; therefore, he was entitled to a full refund (?)! Of course, I said in my head: no fucking freaking way dude I just worked on your file, edited your essays, created your personal statement, searched for graduate programs for you and had two scheduled consulting conferences. WTF?” Of course, all this was communicated professionally through e-mail. Guy goes nuts and begins to trash me on my Twitter advertising page. Guy grabs all my potential clients and calls me a THIEF! A THIEF! I let it go on for a few days until he grew tired; thought he did, and later realized that he was using a second profile to continue to spam my clients.

Today, I needed to put a stop to this. He was undeservedly accusing me of lying and stealing. STEALING! Oh my God! My potential clients were believing this, and they avoided me like the plague. I called him, so that he can answer to me. I wanted to hear the shame in his voice.

I told him calmly: “why are you doing this, if you KNOW we have given you exactly as you paid for?”

He said, “I want my money back! I want my money back!”

I asked him, “Do you think it’s fair that we work and don’t get paid?”

He said, “I changed my mind. I want my money back! If I get money back, I will stop on Twitter?”

I told him, “Should I say thank you for putting a stop to your lies on Twitter?”

He said, “I don’t care. I just want my money back.”

I FUCKING LOSE IT AT THIS POINT. TEARS, SCREAMING, AND ALL!

I said, “Listen, Rayed, YOU are the liar, the thief and what you have been doing to me will come back to you much harder!”

He said, “I am Muslim, I am honest, and I just want my money back.”

I said, “Honest person? You defamed me and my business AFTER I worked honestly for you! You call me a liar after I have tried repeatedly to cooperate with you! You take my clients away from me, when I am simply trying to make an honest living…! A Muslim does NOT act like this! I work so hard everyday to build what I have for the sake of my family. YOU HAVE A BLACK HEART!”

I actually told the guy that he has a BLACK HEART (lol). I have to laugh now, because I am done with crying.

I finished the conversation with, “I will give you your entire money back today. I am worth more than $XXX.XX.” I hung up the phone, cried and sobbed in my car outside my office for a good 10 minutes.

The guy calls me back and begins to apologize, “I am very sorry, Cristina. I was very wrong. I took down everything from Twitter. I don’t want my money back anymore.I’m very sorry.”

I said to him, “I don’t want any favors, nor money from you. You can’t repair the damages you have done with your lying. What you did to me will happen to you, and it will cost you more than your refund.”

After months of not blogging, this experience has prompted me to write. Writing is my therapy, and I feel like a broken person today. Rayed did not break me. My inability to do everything well at the same time; the impossible task of making every single client happy; the struggle to divide myself into a million pieces as I try to build the foundations of my business. Every dollar I work for, I feel its gain and its loss, because I put my soul into my work. I feel deteriorated today. I feel so tired. I just want to take a bubble bath, get into my PJs and sleep a good sleep.

Business exhausts. Trying to be fair, yet firm, has made me tired. My business is at its birth, yet, it is growing strong. Someone comes along to damage what I have built, yet I know these are the responsibilities that come with managing a business. The customer is always right, they say. How about when he is dead wrong?

I wanted to finally make Rayed see me as a human being, so I let him hear me cry to make him feel.

Finally, he felt. And tonight, I just feel for myself.

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.

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?