Sunday, November 15, 2015

Positive Thoughts on Gray Days

Asalamu Alaykom,

In the movie The Red Balloon, a boy who once befriended a balloon later grieves for it.  Some mean boys attacked it until it popped.  That is always the hardest part of the movie for me to watch.

"Why are they doing that?" my oldest son had asked me when he was just a little boy watching the movie for the first time.  

"They don't have a balloon that loves them and they don't want anyone else to have one either," I had answered him.

Aren't there a lot of people in the world who don't know love?  They hurt inside and then they need that hurt to get out of them.  Unfortunately, the only way they can think to remove their pain is to inflict it upon someone else.  Hating them won't make the situation any better.  They already hate and there is no reason to compound it.

Back to the balloon lying limp on the ground:  the movie could logically end there but it doesn't.  Instead of a sad ending, we see something fantastical---all the balloons of Paris suddenly fly up into the sky.  They have somewhere to go and it is into the hands of the little boy who lost his friend at the hands of the mob.  He thought he was alone but he wasn't.  He holds on tightly to all the strings and he floats up and away.

We all have a choice to be a positive force in this world or to be a negative.  Our legacy will be what we make out of our actions from day to day.  For me, I don't want to be cruel and destructive.  For me, I want to be full of kindness and creativity.  I want to be floating on air, not shooting someone down.

It is hard to re-find our place in the world on days when the world seems to have slipped off its axis and fallen into an abyss.  Lately, there has been so much misery.  I can't stop what others are doing but I can reaffirm my need to be better than who I've been and hope that my efforts help the world be better as well.

Love and Light to All.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Egyptians I Love

Asalamu Alaykom,

I tend to let the Egyptians who drive me crazy live in my head rent-free.  I'm not sure why I persist in giving them head space but I do.  I realized that if I'm going to advance my faith I've got to kick them out.  In their place, I want to usher in some Egyptians that I love.

The Little Old Lady in the Street

She was this little old lady, dressed in long flowing black from head to toe.  In the early morning, my eyes hadn't exactly adjusted to the sunlight and I couldn't figure out what she was doing.  She was suddenly crouching down on the pavement and sweeping something with her hand.  What was it?  With some difficulty, she stood up and then  she walked closer to where we were waiting for the bus.  I saw her stop at the pile of garbage and discard the fragments of bread there.

It was bread that she had been sweeping up with her hand.

Bread is a blessing from God.  It can't be under foot.  This elderly woman stopped and stooped to honor the rahma from Allah and to make sure no one unknowingly stepped upon it.  God bless her.

I love her.

Egyptians Who Balance Things on Their Heads

While we're on the subject of bread, let me also admit to loving the men who can balance a lattice tray of fresh bread on their head as they bicycle their delivery load.  It's like watching a circus act!

However, it's not just bread.  It's the big, metal bowl of produce from the market.

It's even the heavy gas tank!

If I want to make my husband laugh, I attempt to carry something on my head.  Truth is, I wish I were so talented.  There's a woman who carries white beans on her head and trills that they are for sale.  Just one day, I want to substitute for her.  I honestly don't know if I'd be strong enough to handle it.

Careful Taxi Drivers

 I don't drive in Egypt.  I haven't driven in six years.  Therefore, every time that we travel out of our neighborhood, I've had to place my trust in someone else's abilities.  I love the drivers who keep their cab so clean that you know it's become their home away from home.  Seeing that they have decorated it and made it personal warms my heart----except for the one who liked skulls.

One time, there was a driver who had a little devil on his dash.  It freaked me out.  I told him that it wasn't nice.  He threw it out the window right away.  You have to love that kind of customer service!

I'm not the easiest customer to please.  Yes, I want to get where I'm going, but I want to get there in one piece.  I will ask for the driver to slow down.  I tend to add that I'm about to throw up and that usually helps them to understand my needs.

While all of these reasons are important, what makes me really love drivers though is how they treat the other people on the street.  I love when they see someone crossing the street and they gesture them to go ahead.  They wait and let the pedestrians go.  It's kind!

Last month, I watched the driver of the day, full bushy beard and the outward appearance of a devout Muslim, as he started to slow down for a young man crossing the road.  I was just about to smile at this good deed when I caught the driver's expression in the mirror.  He was glaring with pure hatred at the tight jeans and carefree ways the young man exhibited.  It shocked me!  I had caught a glimpse of an ugly truth in the rear view mirror.  Honestly, it took me a couple of days to shake the sheik.

The drivers who are truly clean, good-natured, and fear Allah get my money and my du'as.  If they are very careful on the road, I take their number and have my husband call them for other excursions.

Those Who Offer Prayers Wherever They Are

Many workers have a short time to pray.  They can't make it to the mosque.  They might be beside the road, next to their stall, or on a grassy area in the middle of the square.  There they stand and then they bend to prostrate to Allah Subhana wa Tallah.  To me, a Muslim-American who was often scared to pray in public lest someone attack me, report me, or try to have me removed, I feel so tenderly towards these brothers in Islam.  They are not making excuses for place or time.  They know that their prayers can be given anywhere but must be given on time.

Often I see them as I pass by in a car or bus.  I ask Allah to accept their prayers.  They don't know that I have a love for them.

Love.  It's OK to love many people you don't even know----if it's for the sake of Allah.

Here are some more pictures of Egypt.  Many you can find someone else you love.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Faith Above Constitution

Asalamu Alaykom,

Lots of talk after GOP hopeful Dr. Ben Carson dissed Muslims as being ineligible for President of the United States.  It came on the heels of another GOP hopeful, TRUMP, neglecting to right the wrongs that spewed from the mouth of a bigot in his crowd of followers.

A Muslim President of the United States?  No, don't tell me about the one about Barak Obama.   Obama is not Muslim.

It's not that I want to become the next POTUS---unlike Yusuf Dayur.  You can watch his video as he declares his candidacy at the age twelve (so get ready for the 2038 race).

My youngest son, as a dual-citizen, can't hold office unless he denounces the Egyptian half of his identity.  I'm not sure I want or need that for him.  I'd rather he become a business manager.

Why do I care?

Even if I don't live in America, I still love the principles on which it was founded.  Those Founding Fathers set up a system which could withstand the ages and fight off tyranny.  Basically, the Constitution is full of universal truths.  None of them go against Islam.

Ben Carson's eventual backtrack became that maaaaaybe a Muslim-American could participate in the running of his or her country if  they ascribed to a watered down version of faith.  Protestants have perfected this once-a-week, perfunctory attempt of keeping up of appearances.  They don't just have separation of church and state but separation of faith and life.

Muslims do not live in this fractured way.  I myself am not "Islam Lite".

My faith is interwoven throughout my days.  To only bring God into my life on a limited basis is to severely limit who I am and who I aspire to be.

When someone I respect in the Muslim community, Dean Obeidallah, agrees with Carson that every elected official in the U.S. needs to place the Constitution above their faith, I have to respectfully disagree.  It appeases the non-Muslim masses to hear us throw away our identities for White House passes but it is unnecessary.

As Muslims, we have to be law-abiding citizens.  Whatever the law of the land is, even if it is not a Muslim majority country, we have to agree to follow the rules.  The only time we are allowed to stop adhering to public policy is when it contradicts our faith.  Since I've already stated that the Constitution does NOT contradict Islam, then you (and every GOP candidate) can rest assured that any elected Muslim official will be able to uphold the Constitution.

As for Sharia Law,

it is unnecessary in the U.S. because the Constitution itself is so close to it already!  Many Muslim countries, like the one I'm living in, don't even have Sharia Law, but rather the French or British court systems (as leftovers from colonial times).  American law is actually closer to sharia than the law here in Egypt!  The fear of "creeping sharia" is without any basis.

The real fear in the U.S. should be for hatred against "the other".  This is the reoccurring epidemic which needs to be eradicated.  Whoever is the least understood in America becomes the most hated:  blacks, Asians, Irish, Communists, Catholics, gays, Muslims, and the list will go on unless we stop ourselves.  If you don't know what a group of people is all about, then start with the basic info that each member of that group is a human being worthy of respect.

John F. Kennedy, one of our most respected presidents (Allah yerhamo), was running for president when he had to stop talking about policy and give a speech about himself.  People were afraid that if he were elected that he would answer to the Pope.

He had to set the record straight.   Listen to his delivery of the truth.  Remember that he was elected and not because he threw away his Catholicism.  No, he held on to it and even said,

"But if the time should ever come — and I do not concede any conflict to be even remotely possible — when my office would require me to either violate my conscience or violate the national interest, then I would resign the office; and I hope any conscientious public servant would do the same." 

Do you understand what I'm getting at?  He left that slight possibility open that he might someday be at odds between his life as president and his life as a Catholic.  If he had to choose, he would leave office AND HOLD ON TO HIS FAITH.

Muslims, don't be convinced that the only good Muslim is a mainstream one.  Hold on to that interwoven fabric of faith inside you and don't let go.  Be active in both the mosque and the political realm.  Be at peace with who you are and pray that America will find a way to accept you as much as it came to accept President Kennedy.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

After 13 Years

Asalamu Alaykom,

After thirteen years since I took my shahaddah, I am now a teenager in Islam.  I hope I don't break out in acne and need braces.  Inshahallah, it will be less of a major shift and more of an impending arrival.

I do need a place to simply "be".

The place isn't outside of me so much as inside me.

I need this year to be at peace.

One of the reasons I was so eager to accept Islam is that I was searching for peace.  Like most of life, I didn't need more; I needed less.  That's why "revert" truly does make more sense than "convert" because I went have been going back to my original state of being.


This week, my mom and I talked over what it meant for me to have taken this path.

"Don't you think my life is better for having done this?"  I asked her.

"We'll never know will we," she replied.

She's right.

At the same time, I know that there wasn't any other way for me to go.

It's like when my husband asks me, "Do you love Islam?" and I answer, "Do I love breathing?"

I can't NOT be Muslim.  It's how I stay alive.

I felt very alive the morning I woke to begin my thirteenth year in Islam.  I'm praying at 4:30 and it's working for me.  Somehow I do find the way to pray fajr and it's normal now.  The fact that it's an integral part of my daily routine means that I have achieved a level that I didn't have before.  It has been a process and I have advanced from 2002's  "ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!" to "It makes total sense."

Turning on the radio and listening to Quran is another part of my day that I need.  It centers me and calms me.  It's funny to remember how in America I used to wake to rock n' roll and DJs talking over current events.

Yes, as I get ready I need my hijab.  It's been hot and humid with scattered sandstorms so I can't say that I love to wear hijab.  However, I need it.  I feel the power of it and know that there's protection in it for me.

There is also a protection from my husband.  He is by my side when we leave.  Before, I would be so independent and go, do and say ANYTHING.  I don't now.  I realize the very real limits here in Egypt and I am safer with a husband.  In many ways, my life is improved by having him.  Alhumdulillah.

We headed out to the bus stop.  While waiting there, I saw these beautiful jewel-like shapes coming towards me.  It was patterned marble on the back of a truck.  It was for a new mosque.  My husband told me how the biggest piece was the mihrab which shows the direction of Mecca. How wonderful!  I felt very special to have witnessed its journey.

Once on board the bus, my son and I could do our remembrance of Allah on our fingers and we could listen through headphones to our surahs we've been trying to remember.  We can, in other words, be Muslim in our daily life.  This hasn't always been an easy possibility for me and it isn't a possibility at all for some believers.  I'm grateful that I can openly be Muslim in this country.

What's great is that so many others are quietly (but not secretly) following their faith around me.  While we were heading down the road, my eyes looked out ahead at the pick-up truck in front of us.  There was this beautiful young girl all in purple.  When her family's cargo on top of the truck shifted,  she crawled out of the truck bed and sat on the tailgate to fix the problem.  She had no idea that I could see her and no clue that I was praying for her safety and well being.  I breathed a sigh of relief when she sat back down and we took a turn for the Ring Road.

As we sped down the road, our bus was neck and neck with another bus.  The workers in the bus next to ours were obviously headed for manual labor.  Maybe it was factory work because there are a lot of factories in the suburbs.  I realized that while some were asleep, others had a small Quran out and were reading it as if their life depended on it.  I loved that.

It's been thirteen years.  It's been a long journey.  I'm grateful for the moments along the way when I have found joy, beauty, comfort, companionship, knowledge, and inspiration.  Unlike my trip to school, I haven't arrived at the end yet.  I pray most sincerely to not be done until I've reached the highest level of faith possible for me.

Wherever you are on your path, know that you are not alone.

Monday, September 7, 2015

1st Day Back to School Party

Asalamu Alaykom,


You know how tired kids are the first day back to school?  Well, I've got an exhausted 5th grader.  It's 9:30 at night and there's a one-night disco right under his window.  No joke!  Someone is having a wedding and they needed to make some noise. 

This is how loud it sounds in my living room.  

The party is going until 11 pm.  We've both got to be ready by 6:30 am.  I'm not that good at math but I don't think we're getting a lot of sleep.

Only in Egypt.

My husband just walked in like a dancing fool.  He knows I'm mad at this crazy amount of decibels.  He tells me the Egyptian cure-all, "Malish."  

Then he tells me it's only one day and it will be over at 12.  

What?!  12?!!!!!

Sunday, August 16, 2015


Asalamu Alaykom,

I just got back from living the good life at a Red Sea resort.  Although I've been to resorts in the Midwest and the Caribbean, it was my first time at a resort in Egypt.  What I felt there was different; basically, I felt some hope for humanity all getting along.


There was a very diverse group of guests at the resort and yet we all got along.  There were more Russians and Germans than Egyptians milling around mealtimes; I didn't meet any other Americans and only heard a few Brits.  At the pool, there were not only women of all sizes and ages in bikinis but also women fully covered in hijab or modest swimsuits.  There were men in speedos and men in burmudas.  The tattooed couples and the Muslim couples co-existed.  I've been asking myself how that happened because if it can happen in a microcosm then we can also manifest it in the real world.

Axiom 1  We all made a choice to be at the resort.

Everyone consciously planned and made an effort to be there.  It was a financial sacrifice for most of us.  That knowledge that we had made a choice meant that we were actualizing a dream and we all cared to make the best out of it.

Ergo Realize that you and everyone around you has life dreams for which many choices have to be made.  Honor how much of a struggle life is for everyone.  Being an active participant in life stops you from wondering what the other people are doing.

Axiom 2  The resort didn't belong to any of us.  We were guests.

Even though we were in Egypt, this was neutral ground where all nationalities became a community.  We accepted the generosity of those in charge.

Ergo Know that the earth does not belong to any of us and we too are only here due to benevolence.

Axiom 3  If we wanted to stay, we had to follow the rules

Everyone there had their own wants and needs but each of us knew that we could be kicked out if we went against the rules.  We all honored the rules because we wanted to stay.

Ergo Follow the basic rules of decency and kindness to humanity regardless of what anyone else is doing.

Axiom 4  Everyone was connected to family.

Family was the important unit.  Everyone was focused on family and taking care of them.  There were very few friendships.

Ergo  Family is key.

Axiom 5  There was a barrier between every small group which no one felt like breaking.

Cultural barriers of language, beliefs, clothing, food, priorities, time, etc. existed between families units.  Whatever you thought you might want to say or advise to another family, you didn't.  You knew that it would not be easy to communicate and that they wouldn't necessarily understand or appreciate your efforts.

Ergo  Leave others alone.  Even if you speak the same language, your efforts won't be fully understood or appreciated.

Axiom 6  There was no outward display of culture or religion.

While there were many cultures and religions represented, no one flaunted it.  Yes, women wore hijab while others wore bikinis but those differing styles of dress weren't problematic.  I'm stating that no crosses and Bibles or prayer beads and Qurans were carried around.  No one was proselytizing their religion.  Also, no one was waving a flag, singing an anthem, or chanting a cheer for a team.

Ergo Keep your affiliations private.

Axiom 7  There was plenty for all.

Scarcity would have changed everything.  Because we all had enough food, water, shelter, privacy and space, no one cared what anyone else had.

Ergo Getting along only happens when everyone has enough.

Axiom 8  Everyone was busy.

I have no idea what anyone else was doing on their vacation.  I was focused on my family and getting the most out of our time together.

Ergo Stay focused on yourself and your immediate family.  Don't care what others are doing.

Axiom 9  It was for a short time.

We were only there for four days.  Others stay for a week or two weeks.  From my days of summer camp, I know that ultimate self-actualization only seems to happen in these quick bursts.

Ergo In real life, getting along all the time might not be possible.

Axiom 10  Freedom for everyone.

The resort guests had freedom to do as they pleased (within the rules) and that freedom was respected with good behavior.  We also had the freedom to leave.

Ergo Not everyone has freedom and even some of those who have it don't utilize it.  Only by having freedom of choice can anyone get along.

Could the whole world become a happy resort-like community?  Not by tomorrow.

Could you become a little bit happier by living like you are in a resort.  Maybe.  Give it a try.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Lessons Learned in Ramadan

Asalamu Alaykom,

It has been over a week since the journey ended.  You know that feeling when you get back home?  Everything looks different than you remembered it, and now you want to take what you learned while away and change everything for the better?  Deep breath.  At the same time, you're drained; you're tired and your schedule is off kilter and you can't seem to find normal life again.

That is how it is after Ramadan for me----not just this year, but every year.  It is a trip that we embark upon and it is now a trip that we've returned from.  If it's been successful in any way it's because we learned something.

It Takes a Muslim to Raise a Muslim Child

El-Kid, now 10 years old, was a big focus in this Ramadan for me because this was the year for him to fast a whole day.  This process has been many years in the making.  It's a step-by-step for parents to guide Muslim kids into fasting AND praying a whole day.

  • We started when he was six.  He couldn't have anything to eat or drink until duhr.  The azan would signal him breaking his fast and we would treat that moment the same as if it were magrib for him.  
  • The next year, at age seven, he fasted until duhr and a couple of times until asr.  He did his five prayers (but if I couldn't wake him for fajr, I wouldn't enforce it).
  • When he was eight, he fasted until asr.  He did all his prayers and I would force him to wake for fajr). 
  • Last year, when he was nine, we were in America and he fasted until asr, but it was an intense, 12-hour fast.  He woke for suhour, studied Quran with me and did all his prayers.  
  • This year, we stayed in Egypt.  He woke for suhour, prayed, studied Quran and fasted for 16 hours the entire Ramadan.  He made it to magrib!  A five-year process is complete.  
There's a lesson in that.  We can't SHAZAM! instant results from our children---or from anyone else for that matter.  We can't even summon that up from ourselves.  There has to be patience and perseverance in equal amounts and we have to really keep the eyes on the prize.  


The weird thing is how long it really takes.  You can try to raise a child quickly to accept Islamic beliefs, BUT it isn't going to work.  I've seen that at the Islamic schools in America where nervous Muslim parents plop down their middle-school age kids ( the ones they've just pulled from public school).  That's really too late.  Be the water that wears away the sand that is formless; it's possible but much harder (literally) to wear away the stone.

Be Grateful for the Moments

My teen girl continues to be a...teen girl.  She is very changeable and often feels like a human equivalent of a pushmi-pullyu.

I spent many of my first days in Ramadan praying for us to mend our ways and to find peace together.  I forgot.  I forgot the many times we DO have a good time.  I have had those times over the past year but I don't focus on them.  I get negative on our relationship because I'm not grateful.

I don't want to become one of those little old ladies who finally gets a visitor and then complain the whole visit that no one ever comes to visit her.  I want to be there for my girl and when she comes to me I want to welcome her.

At that moment in my Ramadan, I stopped asking for something and started thanking for something.

The Variety of Married Life 

Every description of married life is going to fall flat.  It simply is so much more than anyone could ever describe.  It has to be experienced in all its richness.  I felt that this Ramadan when I really lost my husband once again during the month.

I lost him to Allah AND found him in Allah.  It happens when my focus is no longer getting close to him and he is no longer focused on getting close to me.  We literally come together on the prayer rug and it is powerful.

Any man can be a sexual partner but not any man can be a partner in prayer.

I'm constantly amazed at how few couples (of any religion) pray together.  There is more tenderness and caring in that moment than perhaps any other time.  One night, my husband didn't wait for me before he began the magrib prayer (as he was hurrying to make it downstairs for dinner).  I cried.  I broke down and cried to be without our connection in prayer at magrib.  He heard my pain and waited for me the rest of Ramadan.  That is a Muslim marriage and I'm happy I have one.

Recognition of Third-World Citizens
When I started Ramadan, I was gung-ho to be an active person.  I had a list of things I was going to accomplish.  I was busy and intent on staying busy.

Eventually, I ran out of steam.  I could not keep going.  I was lacking energy and I couldn't find it again.  I did become lazy; just getting through the days doing the bare minimum.  It was hot, I was thirsty, I was weak, I...realized that a lot of the world lives like this day after day without end.

I thought about all those people who are SO capable but they can't find the energy to put their ideas and abilities into actions.  They don't have it in them because they are lacking basic needs.  Their struggle to maintain the bare minimum is so intense that they aren't contributing all they could.  We, as a world, are missing out on some amazing people because we have neglected them.  They need safety, food, water, protection from the elements, and sleep.

Now that I have my basic needs met once again, I am starting to be more of myself.  I want to remember those who have never really known all they are capable of because they've never been given a chance.

Wasting Time
I waste a LOT of my time.  I think we all do and I think it's a growing trend.  This Ramadan, I tried to get in touch with what enlivens me and what brings me down.

Some of this is on the computer or on the television.  Some of this is just in my head:  I think too much about things and people that don't concern me.

I look better thinner
It's funny what my non-Muslim mother is most interested in during my Ramadan fasting.  "Are you losing any weight?" she'll always ask.  Many people actually GAIN weight in Ramadan---I did last year when I wasn't breaking my fast until 10:00 pm.  However, this year, I did lose weight because I wasn't surrounded by American comfort food.

I did think about the amount of "fun" food I've been eating.  During Ramadan, you can't toy with your food decisions; every morsel you put in your mouth is a serious matter.  If you don't eat a nutritious suhour, you FEEL IT.  If you don't break the fast at iftar with something healthy, you risk falling into a kind of sugar-induced coma.

Looks aren't everything, but being healthy is.  When I project good health with a thinned down self, I feel better about myself.  I like myself more.

How was it that I gained weight?  I've been rewarding all my hard work at school with food I shouldn't eat:  chips mostly, but also fresh hoagie buns, and whatever sweets were being offered in the staff room.  This came after a summer of rewarding myself for traveling to the U.S. last year;  all those gloriously delicious processed foods like Oreos, Pop-Tarts, soda pop, and vats of ice cream.  That's a lot of rewards with not a lot of residual good feelings.

In the end, I need to watch how I'm taking care of my body because it's the only thing keeping me going.  If it falls apart, then a lot of hopes and dreams----not just for me but for my son----will die.

Speaking of Dying...
This is going to sound very strange, but I realized this Ramadan that I had had a parent die.  No, it was not my mom or dad, but my father's second wife; my former step-mother.

This past winter, when  I had learned that she had died, and I had called my dad to talk about it with him.  They had been married longer than my mom and dad, but divorced for the last 15 years.  One good thing about talking to someone with Alzheimer's, you get an initial reaction from the person even if they have already gotten the news from somebody else.  My dad and I had shared an honest talk about this woman who had figured so heavily in my life for so many years.  He had talked over her passing in a very respectful way and I will always appreciate that about him.

I had talked with my mom too, at that time, and I had tried to process how a person whom I had many times wished to die, had in fact died.  My mother hadn't been a big fan either.  On that phone call, I could be myself with her---I could let the ugly hang out.

No, my relationship with my former step-mother wasn't very positive AND just like my relationship with my daughter, I focused on the negative.  It was very easy to do that with the "evil stepmother" because she made it very easy to hate her.  The problem is that I don't want to hate; I really don't.

Some days after her death, as the year was ending, I had decided to stop trying to compartmentalize how I felt about the death of my father's ex-wife.  It wasn't until Ramadan that it hit me:  one of my parents had died.  She had been a parent---many times she was not a very good parent, but that's the role she played in my life.  I will never actually know how she benefited me, so at some point in Ramadan I decided to pray for her soul.

Many people come and go in our lives who hurt us.  We feel so badly about what they've done and we hold onto that hurt.  Yet, when someone else feels hurt by us, we want them to release their pain.  We want them to forgive us at the SAME TIME we won't forgive someone else.

Forgiving this woman came about during the fast when I felt humbled by my inability to do all that I could.  I was weak and I realized that in her life she was weak too.  We all put on a good game face, but in the end we are all weak and incapable of all that we wish we could do.

I bet she wished she could have done some things better with me.  I forgive her for what she didn't do well and I'm grateful for what she did.  Only Allah knows which is which.  May Allah forgive her for faults and recognize her achievements.

I'm Where I Need to Be
This Ramadan I felt that I'm where I need to be.  This is HUGE for someone who has jumped ship any number of times.  I tend to leave when things get dull, or tough, or sticky.  I haven't left this place and these people.  I am here.

This spring, I had looked into buying a different apartment and moving away from this family house.  Remember that the three of us live in our own private apartment in a four-story home in which my husband's family all have a floor.  We meet together for meals on the main floor.  We also share in each others' lives---for better or for worse.  This spring I was ready to chuck the communal life and live away from them but the 1.6 million pounds I'd need (half now and half over two years) impacted my final decision.  I don't have that kind of money and even if I did, I need to think of El Kid's future needs (like college).

During Ramadan, I did get upset at the inability of the others to SLEEP because they stay awake all night---even the smallest (and loudest) children.  There was one early morning that I was just about to fall to sleep when I heard a horrible cough.  If I had been asleep, as I had wished to be, then I wouldn't have heard it.  Again and again, I heard this hacking so I woke my husband.

It was his brother who was hacking and he had run out of asthma medicine.  It was 2:00 in the morning.  Did he have honey?  No.  I got him some of ours and my husband got it upstairs so his throat could calm down.  Then, my husband ran to the all-night pharmacy for that all-important spray.

Who else in this home would have done all that?  It was down to us to work together; we helped him and often do help the others in the family.  When my husband got back from his delivery run, he prayed two rakhas in thanks to God.  We were in the right place at the right time through the Grace of God.  I told him, when he got back to bed, that we need to stay here in this house with these people.

This doesn't mean I think this is a perfect situation.  It isn't.  There are challenges.  What I feel more than ever is that I have something going on here ---in the country and in this home---that I need.  I need to keep on improving myself and seek for ways in which I can grow.  No one can grow when they constantly uproot themselves.

Back to Normal
Lastly, Ramadan does really come into our lives like this big opportunity for reflection, action, and change.  Some of it is unwanted.  Some of it we crave.  Either way, to have traveled into that territory is to have given yourself a chance to be better.  One of the phrases that kept in my mind was, "Don't let Ramadan just be about thirst and hunger."

"Back to normal," isn't really what we need to feel afterwards.  It's more like "onto better."

Inshahallah, you are better for having gone through the month.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Popular Pakistani Preaches Ignorance

Asalamu Alaykom,

Pakistani celebrity (and would be pundit) Junaid Jamshed is shown in this video demonstrating a number of idioms.  He is chewing the fat, shooting the breeze and putting his foot in his mouth.

The main problem is that he's spouting off about the Holy Quran.  Specifically, he's surmising why there aren't more women mentioned within the pages.  He states that Allah honors women by not naming them.  He also throws out that the Virgin Mary, Maryam (ra), is solely mentioned in the Quran because of her son Jesus, Isa (as) and negates her importance unto herself.  He goes on to say that God created women from mud and He covers up her mud as if behind a veil.

Should we take what he says as a truth?

No.  Don't let his long beard fool you!  Junaid Jamshed is not a Muslim scholar.  He's a singer.  Here he is singing the nasheed, "Mera Dil Badal Dai" which means "Change the World of My Heart."

Back in the 80's, he was "The King of Pop" in Pakistan.

In 2004, he did a Cat Stevens and left his pop music career to focus on his Islam.

Yet, ten years later, in 2014, his Islam was called into question when he was charged with blasphemy from his appearance on yet another TV show.  On the program, he joked casually about Prophet Muhammad's wife Aisha (ra) and how she is reported to have feigned illness to gain attention.  If you watch this video from December, 2014, you will see both the TV show clip and his eventual apology.

It is in some ways similar to the apology he has made this summer because they are made by the same person.  However, if you click the link for the most recent apology, you'll see a lot of eye rolling, as if we've inconvenienced him once again.

I had never heard of this man until I read an article by Pakistani writer Bina Shah entitled, "No Islam Is Not Inherently Misogynistic.  Here's Why."  Of course, she, as a Muslim woman, doesn't think of women in Quran the same way as her countryman.  Bina Shah can count 24 women named in Quran as well as a whole surah actually entitled "Women".  She sees the many blessings Islam has bestowed on women in the form of rights, praises, and promises.  She reminds others of the time before Islam when baby girls were buried alive, women were denied property, inheritance, and the right to marry or divorce whom they wished.

For me, I don't see the issue as whether or not this man represents Islam.  He doesn't and he can't. Over one billion Muslims are no more represented by his sound bytes on TV than the two billion Christians are represented by Quran-burning Florida preacher Terry Jones.

Is he a misogynist?  Junaid Jamshed doesn't think so.  He loves women in his own culture-infused way.

His biggest offense truly is in taking his religion too lightly.  Chit-chatting casually over the lives of the most honorable and revered Muslims is not acceptable to the ummah, the community.  Making an assumption about the Mind of God is indeed blasphemous.  We, as Muslims, are not to assign our reasons for the way things are.  We are not equals to God, astragferallah, may God forgive.

When we have a platform, as Muslims especially, we need to be responsible in how we speak.  If we are not knowledgeable, then we can't act like we are.  As for us, we wouldn't listen to just anyone giving medical advice; we'd ask a doctor.  The same goes for spiritual advice; we need learned imans and not pretenders.

Let's hope he meant well and that, with two nasty incidents in two years, he can learn his lesson.  It's a reminder to all of us to be careful of when and how we speak.  May Allah forgive us all for our transgressions.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Ramadan Tips

Asalamu Alaykom,

Ramadan Kareem!

Whether this your first Ramadan or your fortieth, I'm hoping that it is meaningful for you inshahallah.

I would like to share a few ideas that have worked for me in Ramadan.  As I think of more helpful hints, I will add them to this same post.  Check back later for additions.

You can also read through my extensive Ramadan postings from previous years.

Using Time Wisely

If nothing else, Ramadan teaches us that we are not limitless bundles of energy.  We slow down from our lack of water and food and we WILL slow down in our lifetimes.  We have got to use our time wisely.

One of the beauties of Ramadan is that you can see the stupidity better than at any other time of the year.  This doesn't happen right away---because materialism and the mainstream are flowing through our veins.  It takes a couple of weeks for those feelings to drain from us, but if you've been connecting to Allah in prayer and through the Quran, it happens.

In the last days of Ramadan, the time you waste becomes apparent.  The energy you could have directed better abso-freakin-lutely hits you in the face and makes you think differently.  The amount of clutter you've hoarded trips you up and forces you to ditch it immediately.

Use these days of clarity to see how your little corner of the world could be better.  If you want change DO IT NOW before dunya pulls you back down like so much gravity.  You really don't want to be stuck in exactly the same spot you were in before the month begin.  What's the point of being alive if you're stagnant?  Remember how to be organic and changing with a new outlook to match this new time in your life.

Get rid of whatever no longer serves you---be that clothes, emails, friends, social apps, bad habits, or unhealthy feelings and actions.  Ramadan is many things for us---a boot camp, a vision quest, a deep cleanse---it would be a shame if the month ended without us having met the challenge to change.

Imagine:  It's the first day of Eid.  Looking back on your month-long fast, what do you wish you'd accomplished?  What did you hope to achieve but didn't?

Now WAKE UP!  It's not Eid yet.  Just like Ebnezer Scrooge realizing that the future has not yet come to pass, you have time to make a positive difference NOW.

Sandwich Maker

I gifted myself a sandwich maker on my last birthday.  I couldn't get my husband to see the value in an appliance because he reasoned, "You can just heat up sandwiches on the stove."  While he is right, I am so glad that I bought this time-saver.  I can make food quickly for us in the morning faster than if I was using the stove or a toaster over because the heat is so concentrated into such a small space.  Mine has two modes:  pocket sandwich or grilled sandwich.

Today, I heated up foul medamnes, the Egyptian dietary staple, with left-over rice and half a slice of cheese inside half a pita bread.  I added a little bit of seasoning and olive oil.  It went onto the grill plate and came out steaming hot; an Egyptian burrito, if you will.

It's hard to get children to eat suhour, but if it's a sandwich it goes down easier and faster.  This one sure did!


Big straw in a tall glass of orange juice and vanilla yogurt goes down quickly!  My favorite brand is Activa because it has live cultures and that aids in digestion.

With Children

Book Making

It's not to late to sit down with your child and make a book to chart their Ramadan experience.  Project learning is one of my favorite ways to teach so the information sticks.

Decorate the cover however you wish, but keep it peaceful.  It's OK to tell your child that Ramadan can't let everything in.

Inside, leave the first page for your index page.

At the top of the second page, write Ramadan and then both years----with Hijrah calendar dating and Gregorian dating.  Explain how both count from an important time in history.  This year marks 1436 years since the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) took his followers from Mecca to Medina.  This year also marks 2015 years since the birth of Prophet Jesus (pbuh).

Use a ruler and a pencil to make a graph for their chart on fasting and prayer.  Mark in pen the days of Ramadan and explain how we can't know for sure how many days Ramadan will be.

Write tally marks for each prayer they do on time.

Write a comment for any Islamic knowledge gained that day, for instance which surah you read from or memorized.

Have another page for good works.  On our first day of Ramadan, El-Kid went through his old clothes and readied a bag for the boy whose mother sells produce on our street.  We had a good conversations about the poor.  Even working people can be poor and we need to free up our unusable blessings to those who actually could use them.

For sure it's proactive to set goals.  "Begin with the end in mind," is one of Stephen Covey's effective quotes for successful people.  What does your child want to accomplish over this Ramadan?  If there are no hopes, then instill some dreams.  It can be something as simple as having their friend over.

Decorating Drink Bottles

Drinking is a key to Ramadan's success.  The day before, we bought some expensive yogurt drink in very non-ecological bottles.  I almost didn't buy them because of that.  However, some of our packaging is re-usable and these were.  I washed out the white, sturdy plastic bottles, peeled off the plastic sleeve, and my son then took permanent markers and decorated each one with our names.  He wrote "Ramadan Kareem" on them as well.  He was very creative!  I like crafts if they are practical and this certainly is.

Finding Apps  

Browsing the app store for Islamic apps brings the love for technology into Ramadan.  For us, we are using two different apps to help memorize the 99 names of Allah Al Asma Husna.

Making Dawah 

In multi-cultural settings, like my son's international school, there are many different religions.  It's important for our children to share who they are without preaching who someone else has to be.  My son's best friend has two Christian parents.  I'd like to invite them over to share iftar with us.  Sharing iftar dinner with your child's non-Muslim friend is a way to demystify your family for those whose opinion really does matter.  Yes, you do want your child to have friends whose parents understand that the generosity and acceptance you teach your child is a part of your Islam (not an exception from it).

If you're not able to have dinner guests, then still have a play date.  It's easy to think that your fasting child can't have friends over, but then YOU become the friend.  A short time together breaks the monotony.

Study Quran Together

Have time to read aloud the Quran and to discuss it so that it is alive for your child.  It's not enough to hear the words, they have to be understood.  I have been having the most amazing conversations with my son about faith, which we wouldn't have had except for Ramadan re-focusing our lives.


The iftar is the dinner meal after the fast is over.

Be Proactive

Many of us are used to thinking about what to make for dinner when we become hungry.  During Ramadan, there needs to be more forethought.  The meal planning has to start from the night before with thinking what you DIDN'T eat that night.

Menu Planning

Balance is key to everything in life and your diet needs to have a variety during a month-long fast or you and your family will suffer physical repercussions.  It will be hard to get everything in during the meal, so see the whole day, from suhour to iftar, and later the dessert, as needing to be planned.  We tend to overdose on carbs while neglecting fruits, vegetables and protein.  Think of what hydrates and helps with hydration.

Great Meals

Vegetarian Night

As much as Egyptians believe that every iftar needs an animal protein, I can't handle it.  Islamically, we are not to make our stomachs an animal's graveyard.  One night, I had to take a break from the spread downstairs.  I planned a meal of wild rice and lentils with sauteed veggies along with a fresh fruit drink.

After fajr, I soaked brown lentils in one bowl and wild rice in another.  I love wild rice!  It's got a lovely, earthy flavor which makes me feel so healthy from the first bite.

I also made the drink.

I already had the apricot drink "amar al deen" made and refrigerated and I added the thickest gloop at the bottom.  I did NOT add any sugar.  It doesn't need it!  I peeled two apples and cut them up into small, bite-sized pieces.  I added cut up dates and dried figs.  I also put in raisins.  Both the figs and the raisins can have tiny stems, so I carefully removed those.  It got to chill during the day in order to get ready for breaking the fast at magrib.

An hour before iftar, I sauteed the wild rice in a glob of butter and a vegetable bullion cube.  I then added the lentils and enough boiled water to cover the mix and covered the pot.  While that was cooking, I washed white rice and let it sit.  After I could see that the wild rice had started to expand, I added the white rice and more water and stirred.  I brought it back to a simmer and then cooked it as I would white rice (letting it steam for 20 minutes on low heat).

While the rice and lentils were cooking, I cut up veggies in an angled way into large, thin strips.  I used a small eggplant, two zucchinis, two small green peppers, a large carrot, and a small onion.  When the rice was done, I put on a large fry pan of oil on to heat and sauteed the veggies along with a bay leaf, a ton of rosemary, some oregano, salt and freshly ground pepper.  When the veggies were tender, I turned off the heat.

While the rice stayed hot, I left the veggies to cool down.  After breaking the fast with dates, water and prayer, I plated the food easily.  We enjoyed the meal while watching the last episode of Colin Firth's Pride and Prejudice.

Pig is not at the Table

Don't be the pig at the table and eat until you're full.  That moment when you feel comfortably full is better than the I-can't-move full.  It is Islamic to push yourself away before you are fully engorged.

Keeping Hydrated

This year, Muslims in the Northern Hemisphere will be seeing the longest fasting days possible.
Since it's summer, staying hydrated and keeping children hydrated is really important.

Frozen Grapes

Love this!  Wash them and freeze them.  It's that simple!  Smaller is better and of course seedless is important.  To make it easier, freeze in portions.  I have a set of small, plastic bowls with lids which I separate the portions into before putting them into the refrigerator in the morning.

While you can certainly eat frozen bananas, I don't recommend it during Ramadan because it's so easy to become constipated during the fasting season.  Bananas do not help with this problem---in fact they make it worse!  Children, who love bananas as much as monkeys, don't understand the correlation yet of what we eat affects how we feel and might overindulge.  It is best not to offer this alternative, in my opinion.

Frozen Yogurt Drops

This is another winner.  Get yogurt that it's too sweet and blob dime-size portions out onto a plastic tray or plate.  This gets frozen for a short time.  Pull it out and use a fork to pry them off the plastic bottom.  You might have to let them thaw just a bit.  Have individual containers ready to portion off the amounts.  They stay in these cute, little drops and they stay very cold.  The key is not to make them too large because the coldness is really too much with the larger blobs.  Smaller is actually better.  I have tried using plain yogurt and it isn't good.  Some fruit flavor is a nice ending to the day.


Of course, the danger is in buying jello from the regular supermarket in the West and then you run the danger of eating pork gelatin.  It's worth a trip to a halal market to stock up on all the flavors.

Jello is one of the best deserts to serve after iftar dinner and prayers.  It is so refreshing.  You can serve it either alone, or layered up with yogurts or fruits.  You can even put fruit into the jello.  I froze mine the other day and it was fun to eat that way too.  I use those same small, plastic bowls with lids (which I used for the grapes) for this too.  It saves me time later to organize the after-iftar while I still have my wits about me in the morning.


Buying popsicles is a good idea.  It's fun to make your own.  I've got Nesquick and oatmeal cookie popsicles in the freezer now.  The key is having a REAL set of popsicle forms---forget about propping some stick into a cup covered with tinfoil.  The form that I have now is connected in one unit (like an ice cube tray but deeper).  I put that on top of another tray in the freezer just in case there might be spills.  Take it out once frozen, let it thaw enough so you can release it from the form.  Then, you can place them in a container until you're ready to eat it.


In America, Tang only used to come in Orange.  Is that still the case?

We are so blessed in Egypt to have Tang in so many flavors.  Currently, we've been busying Mango Delights---both the Mango, Orange and Strawberry combo along with the Mango and Watermelon combo.  I love the variety!  What's cool is that the company comes out every Ramadan with special flavors.  We've been buying them all:  Tamarind, Hibiscus, and Apricot.

I make a liter of Tang and separate it into small plastic bottles I've washed out.  They then get popped in the freezer in the morning.  Later, after we've eaten dinner, they come out again for whoever is thirsty.  What's nice about preparing them in the morning is that I can forget about them all day.  After dinner, I can take them out again so they thaw a bit before offering them.  Ice cold Tang is better than any pop or sweetened juice for quenching thirst.  The low sugar is the key.

If you want to be fancier about serving it, then keep it in a pitcher, but pop it in the freezer until it's slushy.  Having it icy is really the key.

Stay Away from Dehydrating Drinks

Not all drinks are getting you hydrated.  Take a look!  Some drinks are classified as diuretics, like coffee, black tea, and sodas.  Your body needs to flush their toxins out, which means eliminating them through urine.  The sweeter the drink is, the more need to send it out of your body---with that water you thought you were getting.

Eat Your Water

It isn't only drinks that keep you hydrated.  Some foods are really excellent in that regard.  It isn't just watermelon---although, that has a 92% water content.  Cucumbers have even more with 96% and they are great with yogurt for suhour in the morning and with salad at iftar.

Click the links and read up on what you could be adding to your Ramadan diet to keep hydrated.


Pancake Pockets

I just made up that name.  If you can find a better name, let me know.  I used the aforementioned sandwich maker like a griddle for cake batter.  I used two eggs instead of three, the melted butter, milk, and only about a third of the package.  The trick is to not over-fill the cavities in metal plate.  While the first batch of four individual little cakes is cooking, I took out some raspberry jam and chocolate spread.  When the timer light turns green, I could take the cakes out with a tong and place them onto a plate to cool a little.

I then took two tiny teaspoons and put a dab each of raspberry jam and chocolate spread onto each cake before folding them over.  I kept doing this until the batter was used up.  Arranging the completed pancake pockets in a ring around a circular plate looked pretty.  The report from the guys was all good---alhumdulillah!  I served these with a cold coconut drink.

Reaching Out

Writing THOSE emails

After being shown the Holy Quran by Angel Jibreel/Gabriel, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) did not get to stay in the cave.  He had to leave and commune with others.  That's a lesson for all of us because we all have a friends and family on our contact with whom we are NOT in contact.

Ramadan is the perfect time to reach out---for the sake of Allah.  Wish every Muslim on the list, "Ramadan Kareem" and tell every non-Muslim that you were thinking about them during Ramadan.  Ask for forgiveness from anyone who stopped speaking to you because of some falling out.  Thank anyone who showed you kindness in your life.  Some people are inspirational to you but you haven't really told them---do it!  If it's someone who has moved away, let them know you miss them and ask how they are doing.  Make it simple and short but above all---heartfelt.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

I Own a Confederate Flag

Asalamu Alaykom,

After nine African-Americans in a Bible study group were killed in the sanctity of their church, it is once again time to examine what the hell kind of place America is and what does it want to be.

I visited America last year.  I no longer say, "went home to America," because it doesn't feel that way to me any more.  Senseless violence, like the killings in Charleston, reinforces that.  No place is free from hate and violence, but what we saw this week was amped up racial rage.

In my role as an eighth grade English teacher in Egypt, I teach a book about the 54th Regiment Massachusetts Infantry Reserve or the "Glory" regiment which was the subject of the Oscar-winning film of the same name.  For three years, I have tried my best to communicate that what we read on the page is still resonating decades later in current events taking place DAILY in America.

My first year teaching the book, there was a strange case of an elderly white man slapping a black toddler on an airplane while calling him the n-word.  

I thought that I was incredibly lucky to have such a human interest story take place at the same time I was racking my brain for a way to push the students' empathy buttons.  I told the story and then passed the little boy's picture around.

"He's not black."

"Yes, he is considered black."

"He's no darker than us."

The second year, I had the Donald Sterling case happen right before we started the book.  We talked over  the incendiary nature of the n-word and the zero tolerance for it coming out of the mouths of bigots.


This year, there were the many deaths of black men at the hands of police.  There were so many and there were more as the term went on.  Often, the students heard about the deaths before I brought them up.

Once we were a couple of weeks into the book, I brought a visual to share.  I brought the Confederate flag.  We had just read how Robert Smalls, a black slave and pilot of the steamship Planter, had hoodwinked Confederates by pretending to be the white captain so he could steer the ship to the Union blockade and to freedom.  As soon as he was in Union waters, he had the hated flag torn down from the mast.

The flag stood for slavery.  I spend a lot of time in my class helping the students understand what an evil slavery was.  Slavery is believing that human beings are animals who can be bought, sold, beaten, raped, and torn apart from their families.

Slavery is so hated in Islam that one of the best things you can do in this life is to free someone from bondage.  We are all equal.  In some ways, we are all slaves because we all serve the Almighty.

It is a huge sin in Islam to differentiate due to skin color.  There's a story from the Sahabi, the companions of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), that Bilal, the first man in Islam to give the call to worship, was made fun of by another man.  Bilal was black and the man identified Bilal by his blackness, as if it made him less as a human being.  That man was strongly rebuked.

So, there I stood with a flag which represented all that I abhor.

I'm a Northerner.  I get scared in the South.  I got scared when I traveled south to visit my transplanted father.  I wasn't sure what I would find there or how the southerners would find me.  Honestly, I didn't have a problem---no rudeness to speak of (although I was accompanied by two elderly white people so it probably isn't a fair assessment).

I bought a Confederate flag during my visit, although I had originally thought to buy an American flag while I was in the U.S.  When I saw a stack of Stars and Stripes, I made my way to the shelf.  It was then I saw the Confederate flag, and my mind started conceptualizing of using that instead as a teaching tool.

It's all good and fine to talk about ideas but students need visuals and tangibles.  This flag would be  very real evidence that once the U.S. was split in half with two different governments---two different presidents!  I put down the $10 flag and walked around the tourist shop some more.  All the while, I kept wondering if I should buy it.  I went back to it twice before I picked it up with the intention to purchase something I hated.

This is when I morphed into my mother. My mother, God bless her, has this annoying habit of thinking that the cashier actually cares about what you're buying.  They don't.  They've seen it all.  They just want to ring you up and send you on your way.  For some reason, I couldn't keep my mouth shut.

"I don't like this flag but I'm going to buy it because I'm a teacher and I can show it to them when we study the Civil War."

He didn't speak English. It was bad enough I said it once, but now he got the manager over so he could understand me.  I had to say it all over again.  I might have even tried to say it in Spanish.

"No me gusta la bandera pero estoy una maderisa y mis estudiantes mumkin..."

Okay, "mumkin" is Arabic for possible.  I can't speak Spanish any more without throwing in a few Arabic words.

Oddly enough, the manager didn't care either why I was buying a Confederate flag.  I spent the equivalent of 70 Egyptian pounds on it and walked out the door.  It did make me wonder how much I really loved my students to spend that much in the U.S.,when I really needed to buy things I desperately wanted.  I had actually spent money on something I didn't ever want to own.

Later, as I packed to come back to Egypt, I rolled my eyes at my knee-jerk purchase.  Yes, I had been on vacation in the South and had bought a relic of slavery.  Would anyone see this during my bag check at the airport?  Would I be taken into a small room and questioned?

Nothing happened.  Nobody cared.

Back in Giza, the flag sat in my home for many months.  I hadn't taken it out of the package.  I really didn't want to unfurl it---ever.  I wasn't sure how I was going to present it at school.  Would I post it?  Let them hold it?  I mulled it over.

That day, when we had finished reading about Robert Smalls, I had to show them.  I decided to keep it in the package.  There is some additional kind of proof with that slick packaging; this is a modern flag which is mass produced.

"This is the Confederate flag which I bought last summer in the U.S.  I had to buy it in the South because you can't find it in the North.  In fact, I had never seen a Confederate flag for sale EVER until I was in that southern store.  I bought it to prove something to you.  What?"

One of the more astute students (when he isn't asleep) piped up, "The feelings against blacks is still going on."

"Slavery is gone," I remarked, "but is racism?"

The class chimed in, "Noooo."

"No, " I agreed, "it isn't and this flag, in 2015, is the proof."