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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Connecting by Disconnecting

I don’t have much to say, really.

Before Ramadan began, I did the things that Christians do for Lent “For Ramadan, I will give up…” It’s just an instinct I built from 15 odd years of trying to give up cursing every Lent. I always failed.

In Ramadan, the only thing Muslims are required to “give up” is food, water and sexual pleasures from sunrise to sunset. I, of course, follow that but the little ex-Christian inside of me decided to give up additional things. I decided to give up facebook and youtube. In addition, I am only committing about an hour to the internet every day (to read news, check my e-mail or chat with friends). I have many friends who use the internet during Ramadan because it distracts them from cravings. For me, however, the internet tends to upset me very easily, especially when I read comments on blogs (usually bickering between people who are fighting over religion). Youtube comments are the WORST and have the power to mess up my entire mood. Thus, I find it much easier to keep my patience and refrain from anger by staying off the computer all together.

[Ok, I also tried to give up cursing (AGAIN!), but I failed immediately after so I knocked it off my list (AGAIN!). The most important thing is that I feel steadfast in the most important sacrifices for Ramadan which are fasting and prayer].

Only two days have passed, but I feel like this is something I can actually accomplish. Many of my Muslim friends who know this is my first Ramadan have inquired how I feel fasting so many hour. In all honesty, I feel great. Thank God. When my friends ask me what is the toughest part? I have to confess that it is not tasting food while I am cooking. These past two days I cooked food for Iftar and it was the first time I made dishes without tasting them! Yea, that was hard 😀 Other than that, Allah has been kind with me as I do not feel hunger nor thirst that I cannot control with a prayer or distraction.

I won’t be posting much this month, but every few days, I will write some updates or stories I come across.

Ramadan Mubarak!

NY Subway Scene # 2

I really think that if I sat in the subway all day with a notebook and pencil, I could get enough material to write a series of books. Definitely comics. I guess I would just need both talents: writing and drawing to make a successful living out of it. It could be my 9 to 5, I suppose. I don’t think I would ever get bored of watching the people around me.

This takes me to my new subway story.

For some reason or another, yesterday happened to be the day when all Dominican men I met were fascinated by my hijab. In the morning, on the way to Columbus Circle with my girlfriend, I sat on the subway across three Dominican men. One was about my age, one was his father, the third was a friend who was about 50 y/o.  The conversation went something like this. (For readers’ ease, I will translate the conversation to English as much as possible)

Some: Look, she is all tapada (Spanish for “covered up).

Father: Si! Those Muslim women cover up everything.

Son: But, how can it be! Why would they cover?

Father: They cover completitas! They cover so the men can’t see their bodies.

Son: No joda! Spanish expression for “Don’t mess with me!”

Father: They cover their hair, and even walk around in burkas and everything!…but they’re OK. They don’t look that bad. They’re alright.

Son: Yea, better than being naked I suppose.

At this point, I decided to look at the son and smile politely. I looked over at my friend while he was still staring at me and said to her, “ellos se piensan que no entiendo espanol” (Spanish for: They think I don’t understand Spanish). My friend, not understanding any Spanish just nodded with confusion. The son looks at his father and says “la muy cabrona entiende todo!” (Spanish for: The little bastard understands everything). The three men looked at me with embarrassment and laughed. If my girlfriend’s parents weren’t with us, I might have just started a conversation in Spanish with them.

I Love Jesus, too!

Scenario.

I am walking down 5th Avenue in Manhattan with my girlfriend. We step into Saks Fifth Avenue because Estee Lauder was giving away free mini bottles of Advanced Night Repair Serum. I figured I might as well grab a free bottle myself. I am 24 afterall. I need all the repair I can get. I digress.

After picking up my little miracle bottle, my girlfriend and I walk toward the 5th Ave exit when an Arab-looking guy says “Salamu alaykum”. He was working in Dolce and Gabbana’s makeup section. I return the greeting with “walaykum alsalam”. Then, thinking that I am an Arab woman, begins to tell me about the fabulous eyeliners that they have.

Apparently all Arab women love eyeliners?

Guy: I know you women (meaning Arab women) love your eyeliners. (He thinks he is clever).

Me: Sure, I like eyeliner.

Guy: You see, this one has got gold glitter! You put the black eyeliner on top, the dark brown eyeliner on the bottom and your eyes will stand out like stars. Needless to say, his handsomeness faded with every word he said. It was like “get real dude!” So, another brown dude who also works at Saks approaches my friend and I.

Brown dude: are you like from the Middle East?

Me: “You’d think that wouldn’t ya!” I decided turn on my sarcastic switch.

Brown dude: Yea, aren’t you?

Me: “No sir! I am a Cuban American,” I said with my head up high. Not really, but I tried.

Guy: I knew you were Spanish.

Brown guy: No, you must be Arab.

Me: No! I am not Spanish nor Arab!

Brown guy: What’s your background?

Me: “Uh…Cuban. Spanish.” Apparently “American” isn’t enough of an answer anymore.

Brown guy: No Arab in your blood?

Me: No!! I mean, there are rumors that I have a Moroccan gypsy great grandmother who ran away with my sexy Spanish great grandfather, but…

Brown guy: Aha! I knew it! So, are you a Mooz-lim?

Me: Yes. (I thought to myself, “what the hell does it look like?!”). I decided I would turn the tables around and give them a taste of their own medicine.

Me: So, where are you guys from?

Guy: Puerto Rican.

Me: So you aren’t Arab either?

Guy: No. I know, I look it, but I’m not. I’m a Puerto Rican and a born-again Christian!

Ameeen! I thought to myself!

Me: Well, cool eyeliners but we (my friend and I) have got to go.

Guy: Hey, he wants you to call him!

Me: Who?

Guy: You know who! Call him! He’s waiting for your call.

Me: I actually have no idea what you’re talking about…

Guy: Jesus! Jesus is calling you.

Oh, brother. Here we go again. If it isn’t a self righteous brother who wants to save you, it’s the born-again Christian.

Me: You know what? I do love Jesus! How do you like them apples?

Guy: You should, he died for us!

Instead of responding to him, I decided I would smile and walk away. No need to press this undercover preacher’s buttons. Besides, I think he forgot he was working and could be fired for the comments he just made.

NY Subway Scene # 1

I am stepping into the subway heading downtown from Uptown Manhattan. Two guys who are friends begin talking about me in Spanish not knowing that I understand them perfectly clear.

Guy 1: “Por que ellos (them—meaning Muslims) no se visten normal?” (Why don’t they dress normally?)

Guy 2: “La mujeres se ven mejor desnudas” (((Women look better naked. Hahahahaha—-laughter follows from both))).

I feel the sudden urge to make it known that I am one of “them” too. From their accents and appearance, I guessed they were Dominican. I am Cuban-American. I am one of “them” too, damn it.

A few stops later, about 10 minutes down, an African American preacher steps into the subway and starts preaching about Jesus. I ducked. The two boys sensed my fear and started whispering again:

Guy 1: “Se esta cagando, la arabe”.  (((they were under the impression that I was shitting in my pants))).

Laughter ensued.

As the preacher approached me, I plugged in my headphones trying to drown away his voice. I looked up. I looked down. At my embarrassed face. I gave up and just looked at the two boys who were waiting for me to do something…anything. I looked down again (((I’m invisible—lallalalaalala)))).

Preacher: “JESUS!,” he yelled!

And in my head I yell back, “I love Jesus, too.”

The train stopped. I grabbed my girlfriend’s wrist and ran out the subway. When I looked behind me, the two Dominican boys kept looking at me until the subway moved me out of sight. Our eyes met for the last time, but they weren’t laughing at me this time. They noticed that I panicked and left the subway to escape the condemning preacher. Perhaps they began to see me as a human who is capable of feeling fear, too…

This made me wonder if I should purchase an “I LOVE NY” t-shirt and print out apology letters that say “I’m an American. I have nothing in my bag, just an iPod and anti-bacterial lotion. Yes, I love Jesus too. What? The headscarf? I bought it at Forever XXI.” I can hand them out to terrified subway passengers who look at me in suspicious ways.

The end.

Facebook Islamic Police

“Make things easy for the people, and do not make it difficult for them, and make them calm (with glad tidings) and do not repulse (them).” (Sahih Bukhari)

Who would have thought that the infamous religous police of Saudi Arabia, the Mutawas (Islamic religious police) would have made their way into the United States! Instead of long unruly beards and white thobes (I’m not judging, I swear), they have come in the form of Muslim facebook “friends”.

So, I have been struggling in wearing hijab while in Miami for many reasons. For one, my parents simply don’t like it. I already told them I am a practicing Muslim and that went incredibly well. My mom actually said she has only seen positive changes in my character since becoming Muslim, so she couldn’t object. On the same token, she asked that I don’t wear hijab around the family because they are simply not accustomed to it. I thought this was a fair deal considering that I am not 100% committed to hijab. I have been trying, but I strongly believe in taking small steps when making big changes. God knows I yearn for the moment I will be fully committed, but that moment is simply still in the works.

Back to the tale. So, yesterday was my birthday and I went to dinner with my family. I had the most amazing time and took absolutely gorgeous photos with them. The pics, naturally, were without hijab. So, I (unapologetically) posted my photos onto facebook. A few minutes later, I receive a message from a brother (Let’s call him Fred) saying, “Advice from a friend: I wouldn’t put pictures of urself w/o hijab on facebook.” I don’t even know this guy. Fred is a Muslim who became Christian and later reverted again to Islam. Alhamdullilah! Fred came back stronger than ever, but from the few conversations I’ve had with him, I got the sense that he’s on a mission to prove himself good (not to Allah, but to the community who saw him leave Islam for a few years). I know the feeling of wanting to make up for loss time, but seriously. Don’t get into others’ personal spiritual affairs.

I received a second message that said, “As a muslimah who has put on hijab, for Allah and Allah only, it should remain on. The reason for wearing it is because it is a commandment from Allah, not for others.  When u post pics up revealing urself w/o hijab, it takes awayfrom the reason Allah has commanded for it. I know ur situation is tough and I see why u wouldn’t wear one at home, but I advise u not to put it up to where the world can see@”. I am not saying he is wrong. In fact, Fred is totally right. All our struggles are for Allah alone. And if hijab isn’t in my heart at this time, why would it be for Fred?

Why did Fred feel a duty to search facebook for Islamic incongruities? Does he really believe that I am so dense in the head that I posted non-hijab pictures by “mistake”? Hell, what would he even know about my struggles?! As a fairly new Muslim, I really value advice from friends, but not chiding from strangers. If we all go through spiritual struggles, doesn’t it make more sense to work out our own problems before becoming missionaries? If I didn’t have strong faith on the purity and truth in Islam, I swear that the self-righteous attitude that hoovers over my Islamic community would have driven me away by now (as it has done to many reverts who simply don’t want to put up with the social scrutiny).

Hijabi Monologues

To be quite honest, the Hijabi Monologues weekend left me without words. I directed and performed “I’m Tired.”

Really, I am tired.

I didn’t blog directly after the show, because I was too busy reading a set of completely opposite responses. I will write a response. Eventually. When I decide if it was a success or total failure. I don’t see it falling anywhere in between. It either woke up the community or scared them into silence.

Here are the responses.

http://hijabimonologuesosu.blogspot.com/2010/05/comments.html#comments

http://centralohiomuslimnews.blogspot.com/2010/05/hijabi-monologues.html