Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Burkini? Modest Swimsuit



Asalamu Alaykom,




Every now and then I think that I should just shut down this blog...

but then an issue comes up which propels me towards the keyboard.

Burkinis

That's what is so offensive in France that they are now banned on a beach, two beaches, three beaches, FOUR BEACHES!

France, the home of Charlie Hebdo, believes in Freedom with a capital F-you if you don't agree.  Liberte!  In fact, it is what the non-secular country worships.  We all gotta worship something, but if you build a country on freedom, then you should make it freedom for all.

It ain't!

Let's back it up.  I have a problem with even the term "burkini".  This gets us all mixed up with the idea that every Muslim woman is veiled----she isn't.  It is considered an obligation by most in the Muslim world, but not all.  Here are the terms for what some Muslimahs (female Muslims) wear:





The translation for "veil" in Arabic is hijab.  My hijab covers my head, neck and chest (so worn a little longer than in that second picture)  and I also keep my body covered in modern, modest clothes---like what you see there.  Fewer Muslimahs wear niqab which covers the face.  I have NEVER in all my life seen any woman walk around in a burqa.  It's not seen in the U.S. or in Egypt, but it is enforced by the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The modest swimsuit called the "Burkini" was developed by a Muslimah.  She actually trademarked the name, so I should be typing Burkini TM.  Here is her story.




The tagline in the lower right corner is a little hard to read.  It says,

"Freedom, Flexibility, Confidence"

Remember, that "Freedom" is what France has as its foundation.  Unfortunately, the country is not big on flexibility.  Different cultural groups define freedom in their own way.  While some see the suit as an ideological costume to advertise for ISIS, I wear my modest swimsuit with a feeling of ...um...ya... confidence!

I don't own a Burkini TM.  I own a modest swimsuit (no tradmark on that).  For a couple of years, I didn't own any modest suit at all so I didn't go swimming.  I lived in the Land of 10,000 Lakes without any appropriate swimwear.  

When our family got a sudden invite to go to a Wisconsin Dells water park with a business associate of my then-husband X2, I had to come up with something.  I did something stupid, but it was the best I could come up with on short notice.  I wore a shalwar khamees.  This long, loose, cotton/poly Indian tunic over pants weighed me down in the water.  I could barely swim!  It probably looked weird and might have even been against a few health codes.

However, it felt good to be in the water again.  I could play with my three kids and feel like a kid myself.  I could experience once again that release of stress and tension that water so beautifully washes away.

When I came to Egypt, and started to live in the middle of the desert, I didn't have to have a swimsuit---until we suddenly went on an impromptu get-away with workmates of mine.  Marsa Matrouh on the North Coast saw me once again piece together an Indian tunic and pants so that I could get into the Mediterranean.  However, for the first time, I saw some other women on the beach who had Islamic swimwear and I wanted a suit of my own.

My husband Ahmed and I went to the market and found a suit that would fit both my body and my style.  I got to wear it for the first time that trip and I felt great!  No longer were my cotton clothes weighing me down.  I could actually move and feel buoyant once again.  I could relax more since I wasn't fighting the drag downward.  I felt like I fit in as a swimmer for the first time since I had taken shahaddah---eight long years before.

That's a long time to not feel good about swimming.  That's a long time to cut yourself off from a physical activity you actually love.  That's what not having the right clothing can do to a person.

What is "the right clothing"?  It is whatever I need to feel comfortable.  If it isn't right for you, then that's OK.  I'm not living my life in Islam as a guidebook for what you have to do too.  If you are happy skinny dipping, then go for it!  

There are beaches, by the way, where nude bathing is permitted.  You know that, right?  I've been on one---although by mistake---in the Virgin Islands when I was 12.  I didn't have to strip down.  It was still my choice what to wear.  I would have rather NOT had that rotund man go without his clothes, but I could just avert my eyes; his choice and my choice.

The same is true for those in France.  If the modest swimsuit, a better moniker than Burkini TM, is something you don't want to see (as much as I didn't want to see that nudist guy on the beach) then DON'T LOOK!  The beach is often a mishmash of one-piece maillots, bikinis, and (my favorite before Islam) tankinis.  There are sun worshipers---HARAM ALEK!  and those who have to cover up from the sun.  Would anyone tell someone with sun-sensitive skin to remove whatever cover-up they have on?  Of course not!

This month, our family went back to Hurghada, which is becoming a yearly event.  Last year, when I realized that we would be at a water park resort, I went out to search for a new, more stylish, and hopefully less itchy swimsuit.  Even in what you THINK is an Islamic country (it isn't), it wasn't easy to find a suit that covered me up in a nice way.  Three-quarter sleeves don't do it for me.  Super tight isn't actually serving any purpose.  All black is a killer in the hot Egyptian sun.  Eventually, we found such a perfect suit that I could still cry with joyful gratitude.  I swear to you that my much-needed vacations are better for me having just the right suit for me.

Here's a picture of me in the pool.




Slight miscalculation.



That's me!  See?  I'm happy.  Alhumdulillah.

What you won't see is when I was really, really at peace in the ocean.  Ya, it wasn't enough that this resort had a water park and pools, it had a beach too.  So, there I was floating in the Red Sea (even just typing that is an incredible feeling) when I began to really relax for the first time in about 10 months.  I felt the water carry me, the sun shine pull me upward, and the sandy bottom of the bay reassure me that if ever I needed to stand on my own two feet, it would be OK.  I began to breathe in and expand my rib cage to hold all that fresh air my body craved.  When I released that breath, I released a lot of tension.  Alhumdulillah.  I would not have felt that freedom except for being able to swim in my modest swimsuit.

France, if you're listening, radical Muslims don't even allow their women to mix in public with men, let alone to wear any kind of pants.  The idea that the beaches of France are being populated with ISIS wannabees is ridiculous.  That reasoning is all backwards!  Moderate Muslimahs are the ones with the freedom to wear these suits NOT radicals.  By eliminating moderate Muslimahs from your beaches, you are actually kicking sand in their face.  This in turn might persuade some of them to believe that they will never have rights in your society.  When you don't agree that human rights apply to ALL HUMANS then you, France, are inhumane.

Yes, some absolutely horrific attacks have taken place in France and around the world by radicals claiming to be Muslim.  Banning modest swimwear is needlessly warring against moderate Muslimahs who also HATE ISIS.  Being such an extremist country, even though you only see that others are being extreme, will no doubt create more hatred and misunderstanding.

Speaking of hatred and misunderstanding, the Charlie Hebdo cover drawn for this week shows an ugly caricature of a Muslim woman, naked as her hijab goes flying, along with a naked Muslim man with his genitals poking out through his long beard as they run to the beach.  That caricature, unlike the modest swimsuit, is indeed protected under France's freedoms. 

Thursday, July 14, 2016

The Tailor



Asalamu Alaykom,


There have been so many shocking deaths this summer.  It began in Orlando with only one and then the next one became so horribly monumental.  Later, the news came from Louisiana and from Minnesota.  Yes, black lives matter, but they don't seem to matter to police.  I have been reeling from the news from Lake Wobegon.

Yet, yesterday, in my quiet life here in Egypt, there was one very quiet death.  The tailor passed away.  Allah yerhamo.  

We called him "Geddu" for Grandpa, even though he wasn't really a family member.  He was a dignified man in his sixties.  He held court at the end of our street.  His shop had one of those garage doors which opened his work space up to the world.

From our windows, every time I looked out into this country where I've immigrated, I would see Geddu hard at work.  He was a constant in my life.  Often, especially in our first years of marriage, I would see my husband escaping to this neighbor of ours for some male bonding.

My husband's father passed away when my Ahmed was only 16.  This left a void in his life that I've seen him fill with those male elders who are father figures for him.  Geddu was certainly one.  It's not that Geddu did or said anything in particular that was wise or even remarkable.  He simply was a person who welcomed you in.

I felt that from him too.  For three years, I worked close enough to home to walk or take a short taxi ride back.  El Kid and I would have just done our stint at school before arriving home.  Do you know how that feels to arrive?  It feels good if someone greets you and bad if they don't.  Geddu always greeted us.  He'd call out to my son and shake his hand.  It was a ritual; a ritual of acceptance and love.

It wasn't only hand shakes that Geddu shared with El Kid.  He has been the one to tailor all of his school uniforms for the last six years.  It takes some trust to spend hundreds of pounds on new clothes and then give them over to someone to alter.  Geddu always did his best for my son.  He saw El Kid grow from age four to eleven.  

He tailored my clothes too.  He saw my waist measurements go back and forth and my hems go up and down.  He did what he could to make me look presentable.  He never was anything but respectful.  

In the end, it was the loudspeaker from the tuk tuk that signaled his passing.  Geddu hadn't been at his shop since the spring.  The garage door had remained down for months.  My husband last called him towards the end of  Ramadan.  Geddu wasn't well and it didn't look good.  Still, you hope.  The announcement of his death came yesterday after asr.

I cried.  I cried for a good man leaving this earth.  I didn't cry for him dying because that was Allah's plan.  Alhumdulillah.  I cried selfishly for wanting to still have him in our lives.  Egypt has been a good place for us, but it was better with Geddu in it.  

After magrib, my husband said the jannazah prayer with his family.  I had wanted El Kid to participate too, but they were heading to the cemetery at night.  My husband didn't want El Kid to experience something so difficult.

As I wrote all of this, I started to cry again.  Yes, I feel a lot and cry a lot.  I took off my glasses and then something caught the corner my eye.  Something moved on the carpet.  I turned my head and saw a feather.  In all my years here, I don't think this has ever happened.  A feather has never come in through the window. 

I hadn't had a photo of Geddu and I had lamented that.  Funny how we take photos of too many stupid things and not enough of the people we love.  I didn't want a generic picture of a tailor.  I remembered something called a tailor bird from the story "Rikki Tikki Tavi".  That's the bird at the top of this post.  

Funny that I chose a bird to symbolize Geddu and that a feather floated in just when I had started to cry.

Whether or not anyone else feels the connection, I do.  I feel how everything is connected if you want it to be.  Alhumdulillah.     



Friday, July 8, 2016

Yusuf 99



Asalamu Alaykom,




فَلَمَّا دَخَلُوا عَلَىٰ يُوسُفَ آوَىٰ إِلَيْهِ أَبَوَيْهِ وَقَالَ ادْخُلُوا مِصْرَ إِن شَاءَ اللَّهُ آمِنِينَ


And when they entered upon Joseph, he took his parents to himself and said, "Enter Egypt, Allah willing, safe [and secure]."


Normally, this is where you'd see a picture on my blog.  We are very visual people in 2016, aren't we?  We need to see it to believe it.  Yet, The Holy Quran is not a picture book.  

For me?  The Quran is not even a book that I can actually read.  I don't read Arabic enough to read it directly.  I have to read a translation.  That person who has translated Quran has had a monumental task.  God bless each and every one.  

I have translated back and forth between English and Arabic throughout each day of the last  fifteen years of my life.  It's essential to understanding Islam to know Arabic.  It's not that your whole spiritual life is tapped out on an Arabic keyboard; I think in English, make du'a in English, and pray in English when I'm making sujud (with my forehead on the prayer mat).

When I read Quran, I read in English.  My first Quran was a translation in paperback by Ahmed Ali.  It was that Quran that helped bring me to Islam.  I read it fully before I took shahaddah, alhumdulillah.

I do imagine if I had read a translation that hadn't spoken to me.  The same message might have not reached me.

My second Quran was a gift.  After a horrific divorce, I had been trying desperately to find a good Muslim husband and for some reason thought that online was the best place for that----because we all know how honest and upfront people are online.  

One of the gentleman was a doctor doing his residency on the east coast.  We got along really well and talked until he admitted to himself and to me that the Indian or Pakistani culture of his family (I can't remember which) would be a major obstacle.  He actually was honest!  It had only been a couple weeks of talking and all of it very decent at that.  We were going to part ways very peacefully (and I can't say that about every man who crossed my path).  

Before we said our last goodbye, he asked if he could send me a Quran.  I told him that I already had one, but he insisted that what he wanted to send me was what really spoke to him; he believed that I could really benefit from it.  I trusted him enough to give him my address and a week later a huge, heavy package showed up.

The Muhammad Asad Quran has not only the Arabic and English, but the transliteration (how to say the Arabic using English letters) AND tasfir (footnotes to understand the deeper meaning better).

It's heavy stuff---and I mean that both figuratively and literally!  It's 998 pages and heavy at 2.58 kilograms or (for the metrically challenged like myself 5.7 pounds).  I decided not to bring it to Egypt back in 2009.  This was before Kindle had a lot of titles and before tablets really took off---you can now get this Quran both at amazon and itunes).  The other reason I didn't want to bring it to this part of the world is that it was banned by the Saudis; I wasn't sure if Egypt might care to confiscate it.  Later, when I returned to the U.S. for a visit in 2011, I made sure to bring it with me.  Egypt isn't into censoring religion.




You can read more by Mohammad Asad by downloading pdfs here.


 Mohammad Asad's translation was not to be my last Quran.  There was also the one I bought as I drank juice in Al Hussein Square in Cairo one Ramadan night with my future husband.  A man approached Ahmed and me about buying from him.  I actually was interested to have an Al-Azar approved Quran, so I purchased this one.  It's not my favorite, but I still honor it is as a good effort.

One of my lifetime goals is to help Al Azar make dawah inshahallah.



There are so many translations.  Take a look at how the Surah Yusuf,



Verse 99 is translated thanks to The University of Leeds.


فَلَمَّا دَخَلُواْ عَلَى يُوسُفَ آوَى إِلَيْهِ أَبَوَيْهِ وَقَالَ ادْخُلُواْ مِصْرَ إِن شَاء اللّهُ آمِنِينَ {99 
012:099 Khan
:
Then, when they entered unto Yusuf (Joseph), he betook his parents to himself and said: "Enter Egypt, if Allah wills, in security."
012:099 Maulana
:
Then when they went in to Joseph, he lodged his parents with himself and said: Enter Egypt in safety, if Allah please.
012:099 Pickthal
:
And when they came in before Joseph, he took his parents unto him, and said: Come into Egypt safe, if Allah will!
012:099 Rashad
:
When they entered Joseph's quarters, he embraced his parents, saying, "Welcome to Egypt. GOD willing, you will be safe here."
012:099 Sarwar
:
When they all came to Joseph, he welcomed his parents and said, "Enter the town in peace, if God wants it to be so."
012:099 Shakir
:
Then when they came in to Yusuf, he took his parents to lodge with him and said: Enter safe into Egypt, if Allah please.
012:099 Sherali
:
And when they came to Joseph, he put up his parents with himself and said, 'Enter Egypt in peace, if it please ALLAH.'
012:099 Yusufali
:
Then when they entered the presence of Joseph, he provided a home
for his parents with himself, and said: "Enter ye Egypt (all) in safety if it please Allah."



I know that I am biased, but I simply can't think that any of those translations speak to me better than Muhammad Asad.


فَلَمَّا دَخَلُواْ عَلَى يُوسُفَ آوَى إِلَيْهِ أَبَوَيْهِ وَقَالَ ادْخُلُواْ مِصْرَ إِن شَاء اللّهُ آمِنِينَ (12:99)f


Falamma dakhaloo AAala yoosufa awa ilayhi abawayhi waqala odkhuloo misra in shaa Allahu amineena


AND WHEN they [all arrived in Egypt and] presented themselves before Joseph, he drew his parents unto himself, saying, "Enter Egypt! If God so wills, you shall be secure [from all evil]!" - 12:99


When I read that ayah, I cried.  I only broke down twice reading Quran this Ramadan.  I already told you about the time when I read about Prophet Noah (peace be upon him).  This second time was about Prophet Yusuf (peace be upon him). 


It many ways, it spoke to me on my hijrah here in Egypt.  I will be honest that I didn't really want to stay in Egypt for the coming school year.  I tried my best to get the heck out.  I went through my school's worldwide network...it didn't work.  I went through teacher placement services...that didn't work.  I tried contacting schools directly...nope!  My mom kept asking me to give America another chance, but I told her that it would be like going backwards.  The last week of school, the contracts for next year had to be signed, so I did.  I made my commitment to staying put.



Staying put always seems like a cop out to an American because we are people on the move.  We like to shake (not sheik) things up and make things happen.  Staying put is akin to getting stuck.  When the going gets tough...you know the rest, right?  The tough get going.  Well, I'm tough and things have been hard this past year (both at home with my in-laws and at school).  I really imagined a life of leaving this place.

It didn't happen.





As a Muslim---and I do hyphenate myself as Muslim-American, not American-Muslim---I have to accept what is the truth.  I do have to submit to what might not be my plan, since Allah is The Best of Planners.  That isn't a snap-your-fingers solution.  It takes some processing (especially if you are culturally predisposed to think you are in control of your own destiny).  

That moment when I read to my son, "Enter Egypt, if God so wills, and you shall be secure from all evil", during my Ramadan fasting, it broke me.  Being a broken person is not the worst thing.  Sometimes, it's best to crumble and let the pieces fall apart from what had been painful to hold together.  I cried because I've been wondering about staying in Egypt and wondering about my elderly parents.  There, in the surah were both issues in one comforting line.



The Quran does speak to us, although, it doesn't call out to us from the dusty shelf.  We do have to pick it up and read it.  If we are reading it in English, please do make sure that the English translation speaks to you.  When it speaks, I hope you are open to really listen.

May Allah accept all your prayers and fasting this Ramadan and grant you a year of an improved life for you and your family.   

Friday, June 24, 2016

My Son Is of My Family



Asalamu Alaykom,



Today, we reached the eleventh surah in Quran.  That makes us sound very diligent about reading Quran this Ramadan.  The truth is that it has taken us three Ramadans to reach this point.  I read the Quran to El Kid, but we don't zoom through.  We end up discussing and exploring meaning.  Our discussions are what every parent dreams of, but our page count is not anything to brag about.

Surah Hud explores the idea that you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink.  Messengers (peace be upon them all) were sent with "glad tidings" or at least that's what it says in my Mohammed Asad translation.  Honestly, it makes me think of the Christmas carol line, "Glad tidings we bring to you and your kin.  We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!"  Anyway, The Truth can be delivered to your community, but that doesn't mean anybody is going to accept it.

Prophet Noah/Nuh had the task of being a loner.  He was different.  Not many accepted his ideas.  I understand him---not even his own son agreed with him.  Recently, I've had dealings with my oldest son that have us looking at life from two different angles.  I can understand the amount of anguish involved with wanting the best for your son and not being able to make it happen.  Again, you can't force someone to accept what you want for them---in any regard.


There has to be free will.  We can always offer, but then we also have to accept when it is not wanted.  Often, the people we want to accept Islam the most are the ones who are the least interested.  We have to let it go.


Here is the section from Surah Hud which tells us about Prophet Noah/Nabi Nuh

In the beginning, Noah really tries:

25. And indeed We sent Nuh (Noah) to his people (and he said): "I have come to you as a plain warner."

26. "That you worship none but Allah, surely, I fear for you the torment of a painful Day."

27. The chiefs of the disbelievers among his people said: "We see you but a man like ourselves, nor do we see any follow you but the meanest among us and they (too) followed you without thinking. And we do not see in you any merit above us, in fact we think you are liars."

28. He said: "O my people! Tell me, if I have a clear proof from my Lord, and a Mercy (Prophethood, etc.) has come to me from Him, but that (Mercy) has been obscured from your sight. Shall we compel you to accept it (Islamic Monotheism) when you have a strong hatred for it?

29. "And O my people! I ask of you no wealth for it, my reward is from none but Allah. I am not going to drive away those who have believed. Surely, they are going to meet their Lord, but I see that you are a people that are ignorant.

30. "And O my people! Who will help me against Allah, if I drove them away? Will you not then give a thought?

31. "And I do not say to you that with me are the Treasures of Allah, "Nor that I know the Ghaib (unseen); "nor do I say I am an angel, and I do not say of those whom your eyes look down upon that Allah will not bestow any good on them. Allah knows what is in their inner-selves (as regards belief, etc.). In that case, I should, indeed be one of the Zalimun (wrong-doers, oppressors, etc.)."

32. They said: "O Nuh (Noah)! You have disputed with us and much have you prolonged the dispute with us, now bring upon us what you threaten us with, if you are of the truthful."

33. He said: "Only Allah will bring it (the punishment) on you, if He will, and then you will escape not.

34. "And my advice will not profit you, even if I wish to give you good counsel, if Allah's Will is to keep you astray. He is your Lord! and to Him you shall return."

35. Or they (the pagans of Makkah) say: "He (Muhammad pbuh) has fabricated it (the Qur'an)." Say: "If I have fabricated it, upon me be my crimes, but I am innocent of (all) those crimes which you commit."

Then he realizes that he's never going to be voted Mr. Popularity:

36. And it was inspired to Nuh (Noah): "None of your people will believe except those who have believed already. So be not sad because of what they used to do.

He obeys the command to build the ark, even though he was laughed at:

37. "And construct the ship under Our Eyes and with Our Inspiration, and address Me not on behalf of those who did wrong; they are surely to be drowned."

38. And as he was constructing the ship, whenever the chiefs of his people passed by him, they made a mockery of him. He said: "If you mock at us, so do we mock at you likewise for your mocking.

39. "And you will know who it is on whom will come a torment that will cover him with disgrace and on whom will fall a lasting torment."

FLOOD!

40. (So it was) till then there came Our Command and the oven gushed forth (water like fountains from the earth). We said: "Embark therein, of each kind two (male and female), and your family, except him against whom the Word has already gone forth, and those who believe. And none believed with him, except a few."

41. And he [Nuh (Noah)] said: "Embark therein, in the Name of Allah will be its moving course and its resting anchorage. Surely, my Lord is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful." (Tafsir At-Tabari, Vol. 12, Page 43)

His son isn't going with him.  This is the part that chokes me up:

42. So it (the ship) sailed with them amidst the waves like mountains, and Nuh (Noah) called out to his son, who had separated himself (apart), "O my son! Embark with us and be not with the disbelievers."

I really understood better this year the last ditch effort Noah was making.  The son wasn't on the ship.  The waves were already rolling in.  Honestly?  It was too late.  Noah called to his son who was now far away.  Why?  The disbelieving son had distanced himself from his father; the father still reached out to the disbelieving son.

43. The son replied: "I will betake myself to a mountain, it will save me from the water." Nuh (Noah) said: "This day there is no saviour from the Decree of Allah except him on whom He has mercy." And a wave came in between them, so he (the son) was among the drowned.

It's not that the son doesn't understand there is danger; he simply can't follow his dad.  There is a BOAT in front of him with his loving father once again begging him to jump on, but he can't.  The son is so stubborn.  He tries to think up another way to stay alive.  THERE'S A BOAT! but the son tries to find a mountain.  Subhanallah.  

Before we all think of the people we know who won't jump on our boats, we have to acknowledge that there's been a number of boats we ourselves refused.  Life is so hard when we are hard-headed.  Sadly, Noah's son right there and then---pretty much in the middle of stating how he was capable of doing it differently---has a wave rise up and drown him.

Noah saw that.  Noah saw his son's face, saw his son's hope in finding a way out of the disaster (as long as it didn't mean listening to his father), and then saw the water pull him under.  That's horrible.  That's not easily forgotten.  

The flood subsides thanks to the Grace of God:

44. And it was said: "O earth! Swallow up your water, and O sky! Withhold (your rain)." And the water was diminished (made to subside) and the Decree (of Allah) was fulfilled (i.e. the destruction of the people of Nuh (Noah). And it (the ship) rested on Mount Judi, and it was said: "Away with the people who are Zalimun (polytheists and wrong-doing)!"

That is MAJOR drama!  The flood, the earth swallowing water, the sky ceasing its rain, the ship on a mountain?!  If you were making a movie from this story line, you'd been working for months on these special effects.  Remember that Prophet Noah is in the center of it all---manning the ship through turbulent waters and pounding rain, and finally coming resting on dry land .  Right after he is saved, he is told that alllllllllll the people who teased him are gone.

What is Prophet Noah's first thought? 

45. And Nuh (Noah) called upon his Lord and said, "O my Lord! Verily, my son is of my family! And certainly, Your Promise is true, and You are the Most Just of the judges."

No matter what monumental challenge Prophet Noah had survived, his heart was still connected to what he had lost.  This year, that really hit me.  I've always felt a special affinity for this story as it relates to me and my family.  However, this is the first time I cried over these words because they simply rang so true.  The fact that God had safely brought Noah through the hardest time in his life wasn't on his mind.  Despite all our blessings, we all do mourn whatever we have to let go.

Noah wasn't sounding 100% on board with what had just happened.  If he was a prophet, then why had God let his son drown?

God answers:

46. He said: "O Nuh (Noah)! Surely, he is not of your family; verily, his work is unrighteous, so ask not of Me that of which you have no knowledge! I admonish you, lest you be one of the ignorants."

God sets Noah's mind to right with wiping away his doubts.  No, that wasn't a son who could come to follow the straight path.  It wasn't going to happen.  Besides that, Noah needed to simply believe in God and accept God's ways.  That's actually funny.  

God tells Noah to preach to the people---he does it.

God tells Noah to build a ship in the desert---he does it.

God tells Noah to gather up the animals---he does it.

Noah is FULLY believing and accomplishing every task until it comes to his family.  This is why the Quran says that children are a trial.  They aren't really ours.  We have them on loan (same as our bodies).  Yet, we want to think otherwise; we want to hold on to them as if they are an extension of ourselves.  They have their own minds and their own paths which is already known to Allah.

Noah realizes that he's gone too far.

47. Nuh (Noah) said: "O my Lord! I seek refuge with You from asking You that of which I have no knowledge. And unless You forgive me and have Mercy on me, I would indeed be one of the losers."

That's the moment of letting go.

48. It was said: "O Nuh (Noah)! Come down (from the ship) with peace from Us and blessings on you and on the people who are with you (and on some of their off spring), but (there will be other) people to whom We shall grant their pleasures (for a time), but in the end a painful torment will reach them from Us."

This is where the story ends, but Allah speaks to Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in what has to be the most amazing story summation. 

49. This is of the news of the unseen which We reveal unto you (O Muhammad pbuh ), neither you nor your people knew them before this. So be patient. Surely, the (good) end is for the Muttaqun (pious)

Mashahallah.

Don't be afraid to build your ship, to board it, and prepare yourselves for the future.  Your family---especially your children---are to be invited on your journey of faith, but they can't be forced.  

Stay buoyant this Ramadan and always.


Monday, June 20, 2016

MayFly Birthday Flew By



Asalamu Alaykom,




This is a pic from the 48th birthday.  That's funny!  I should have written MY 48th birthday.  I guess I'm still not fully claiming it.

What you're seeing is the dessert tray I brought out after iftar.  I didn't feel like a birthday cake.  There was a time when I actually believed that blowing out birthday candles on a birthday cake was mandatory.  Now?  It can be homemade strawberry ice cream (well, homemade from a powder packet), Rice Krispie bars, along with vanilla nougat and candy berries.  Honestly?  That's so me---on an IKEA platter no less!

What I realized, after writing about my birthday, is that this year has been a confluence of many milestones at once. 

The birthday---whichever one it was (I can't remember)

The end of another school year

My eldest son graduating from university (alhumdulillah big time)

The start of Ramadan which is a super-duper reflective time for everyone

The anniversary of us making hijrah

Even though, we came in August of 2009, it was indeed Ramadan.  To enter into another Ramadan means to remember coming here when the decorations were up and so were everyone's hopes for a better life.  

In some ways, I came to Egypt when Egypt is at its best.  Going out at night and feeling the energy in the streets is different at Ramadan.  There is such a relief; a collective sigh of a burden lifted.  Subhanallah, that I saw Egypt that way almost seven years ago.  Of course, I also saw my husband at his best since we first met during that Ramadan as well.  You can read "Making Hijrah" if you wish.

This year, I am working.  It is the first Ramadan since I was pregnant with El Kid to be teaching.  We have shorten days, alhumdulillah.  If I don't have duties, I can leave as early as 1:00.  That's a blessing!  Of course, in the States, there are no shorter hours and no understanding of the limitations a person feels while fasting.

Unfortunately, some days I couldn't leave until the later bus, which brought me to my neighborhood, but not to my street.  In the heat of the day, I had to make my way home.  Micro bus?  Tuk-tuk?  Both fine options.  If either had been there when I was dropped off, I might have taken one.  However, I stepped off the bus onto a quiet street (an oddity in Egypt) and I walked peacefully home making tasbeeh all the way.

Keeping track on my finger joints of every praise for Allah, as I went step-by-step home, I noticed the world around me which I normally I might take for granted.




I am forever loving the artwork on vehicles.




Mashahallah, this family builds a mini-mosque every year and places it on this cement corner.  You cannot tell from this angle, but there's a speaker in there.  Sure enough, that mosque plays Quran!
  



This other family doesn't have enough money to buy a brand new fanoos, so they make one from that year's discarded text book.  I hope it was math and not English!




The streets are decorated with these plastic streamers.  They blow in the wind and sound like rustling leaves.  It may seem silly to you, but to a Midwestern gal who was used to TREES, the desert is a better place for having this soft swooshing sound.





Here's a combo of streamers AND homemade fanoos.

Later, a vegetable cart set up shop in the shade.




Then, just because Egypt is weird, there was a camel rib cage.  It is the only time I've ever seen the butcher have it on display.  Usually, there is meat hanging, but not bones.




Sure, the sun had been hot and the walk was a little longer than I would have liked.  On the other hand, I wouldn't have missed this opportunity to see the world with appreciative eyes and remember how blessed I am to be a part of it.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Mayfly Birthday



Asalamu Alaykom,




It's been a while.

It's been almost 48 years.

That's a lot of years and a lot of birthdays.

Actually, Prince (God bless him and grant him peace), believed he had only one birth day.



It's amazing to be alive at all.  15-25% of pregnancies do not survive.  Alhumdulillah for those that didn't and alhumdulillah for those that did.



I've just been reading about baby traditions around the world.  Celebration timings vary from the first week to the first tooth 




---and you have to watch the Armenian ceremony when the baby chooses his or her work tools for the future.

In Bali, it is the 210th day that is special since only then is a baby let down onto his or her own feet.  Mashahallah.  Imagine the commitment the whole family makes to ensure that baby is always held.

So many babies don't make it to their first birthday.  For every 1,000 babies born in the world, 6 die before they reach a year.  Subhanallah.

Now, once again I need to remember that I have survived those perilous months-- many, many, MANY times over.  I am blessed.  Alhumdulillah.

It's easy to feel those 576 months weigh down on me like kilos---especially when people assume I would rather shed them in a kind of anni-ectomy.

To everyone who has said, "You don't look 47," I want to say, "Obviously, I must because I am and soon I will be 48.  This is what 48 looks like."

Other birthdays have a cute nickname.  There is the Golden Birthday when your new age matches the date you were born.  There is Sweet Sixteen when you finally get kissed by Jake Ryan.



See Molly and Michael from 32 years ago ?

I went to summer camp with one of the extras who stands in the school bathroom with Anthony Michael Hall and John Cusack to admire undies.  That young actor housed me secretly in his DePaul dorm room (completely platonically) in Chicago so I could audition for their drama program.  I didn't get in.  There are many times I didn't get what I wanted, and I'm grateful for all those disappointments ---at the time I wanted to disappear off the face of the earth.  I didn't.

I'm still here.

I'm here, and I have made up a cute nickname for my 48th birthday.  I got to thinking that 48 is really the number we think of as 48 hours---and then either the TV show or the Eddie Murphy movie.



It's the equivalent of two days.  I wanted to make a connection between two days and my 48th birthday.  What lasts two days?

I thought of the mayfly.    That's a mayfly at the top of this post.  I thought they were rather ugly until I saw this macro picture.  The wings are disco-diva iridescent.  While a mayfly doesn't get the same admiration as a butterfly---they aren't as "nice"---it truly is an amazing creation worthy of admiration (as it alllllllllllll is).  

A mayfly isn't known for its longevity.  Two days is the maximum.  It is such a temporary creature that it hardly seems fair to kill it, even if it swarms in with hundreds of others. A mayfly belongs to the genus, or family name, of ephemera

Ephemera, noun (from Greek emphemeros) things that exist or are used for only a short time.

However, there's another definition which states, "something of no lasting significance". 

That's vastly different to me.  I have accepted that I will not exist on this earth forever, but I do hope and pray that my life will have lasting significance.  This is why I am a mother and a teacher.  

There was this precious conversation I had on the school bus with my boy this week.  We talked over the connection between Rip Van Winkle and Ramadan.  Washington Irving's story is actually Surah Al Kahf in American trappings and Ramadan is the month we can chose to be like Rip, mindlessly idle, or like Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) fully engaged in a daily betterment program.  I tried to impart 7:20 AM wisdom.  Did he "get" it?

"So, " El-Kid, at age 10, questioned, "if I listen to you and do a good job with my life, then you will get good sins?"

"Deeds not sins, " I corrected.  He apparently was also feeling the 7:20 AM.  "What's really great is that, even after I'm no longer alive, I can collect good deeds if you help other people learn any of the good I've taught you---and taught the kids at school.  Subhanallah, right?"

I am here for a short time, but I am determined to make it significant.

Therefore, I will look at my transformation into a 48-year-old as my Mayfly Birthday.  Yes, I know that it sounds nasty to name a celebration after a bug, but keep in mind that both halves of that compound word have double meanings.  May can be the month in spring or it can be a modal verb meaning "possibility".  Fly can be the noun, the insect,  or the verb, meaning to travel through the air.  That idea of possibly sailing from where I am through the atmosphere to another higher level is another reason to have a May-fly Birthday.

Inshahallah.

What makes it even more important to me this year is that this is the first time in 30 years that my birthday will be in Ramadan.  



The lunar or Islamic/Hijri calendar takes 30 years to move around the solar or Christian/Gregorian calendar.  I haven't had my birthday in Ramadan since I was turning 18.  

In 1986, when I was 18, I didn't have any idea that I would be a Muslim teacher in Egypt.  If you had told me that, I would have laughed.  I was going to be an actress.  18 is a turning point.  It is adulthood when you have to make real choices for your future (not just on an Armenian table top).  It seems that making the wrong choice will flip your world upside-down from which you will never recover.

My eldest son is 21, graduating university this month, alhumdulliah, and feeling that his next step must be a good one---no, a great one!  "One small step for man..." and all that.

At almost 48, I can testify that I have goofed up, flubbed up, and screwed up a multitude of times to the nth degree, yet through the Grace of God my life is exactly what it was always meant to be.  Alhumdulillah.  It doesn't mean that I'm always happy about it, or that I can easily accept what I'm given with gratitude.  No, I get caught in stinkin' thinkin'.  



This year has had a lot of that and I am sorry that I wasted time.



For the year ahead, which starts with a month of fasting, I will inshahallah re-focus on....



This blog is in need of an overhaul.  I will be making sure over the summer that it still an accurate extension of who I am and who I want to be (not just who I was).  If you are a reader of this blog, like Shafaq and Deanna, then thank you for being here.  I am sorry that I haven't been here.  

Just as I only take photos when I'm happy, I only blog when I have something to say---at least more than 140 characters on Twitter.  I haven't been here because I didn't know what made enough sense to anyone else.  Hopefully, there will be something that speaks to you----if it does, then that's from Allah; if it doesn't, that's from me.

Love and Light! 

Monday, January 4, 2016

Chinese and Islam



Asalamu Alaykom,



When I was teaching at an Islamic school in Florida, I was appalled at how the Muslim children in my English class couldn't read a story about a Chinese-American boy without making fun of Asians.  No matter how much I stopped and corrected, the ill treatment continued.  I am a firm believer in teaching children (and adults) not to make fun of anyone; act only as you would if they were standing in front of you.  That fifth grade class got a surprise writing assignment:  write a page on Chinese Muslims.

Here's an article from Emel if you'd like to read more in depth on them.

One of the more interesting facts we discovered back in my classroom is that there are actually 10 million Chinese Muslims which means there are more Muslims in China than there are in Saudi Arabia.  Think about that!



Maybe from that time of standing up for my Chinese brothers and sisters, I have developed a special affinity for them.  They have NO REASON to be Muslim other than they feel it necessary for their soul.  These days, there is a crackdown in China which is squeezing them and testing their faith so please make du'a for Chinese Muslims.

Today, as I research some Chinese language for my upcoming lessons on Hung Wu, the founder of the Ming Dynasty.  Hung Wu helped to build The Great Mosque of Xi'an which is really an amazing testament to the spread of Islam.  I once again became enlivened by Chinese Muslims.

Take a look at this:

huí

I find that character quite simple and beautiful.  I found it when I was looking up the word for "to answer".  Yes, it has that meaning but it also means


to circle
to go back
to turn around
to return
to revolve
Hui ethnic group (Chinese Muslims)

It's the word for Chinese Muslims!





Isn't that great?!  It is like "revert" in that it is someone returning back.  The symbol looks exactly like what it is--a turning around in a circle.  It is like tawaf; the ritual circling of the Kabbah.  If you think of it as such, then see how the inner symbol is a square THE KABBAH.  Subhanallah.  I see that.

I found it on yabla.com and, being the curious person I am, started to search for more.

Here are some of the most important words in Islam written in Chinese.

This is actually how to write Kabbah

克尔白 
Traditional 克爾白

Kè ěr bái
Ka'aba, sacred building in Mecca


安拉

Ān lā
Allah (Arabic name of God)


伊斯
Traditional 伊斯蘭

Yī sī lán
Islam


兰经 
Traditional可蘭經




Kě lán jīng
Quran (Islamic scripture)

Here's something that blew me away.  The word for the Muslim Holy Book in Chinese is not "quran" because that word already has meaning.  If you say "quran" in China, it means quiet, still and silent. 





阒然 
Traditional 闃然
qù rán
quiet
still and silent

 How amazingly true is THAT?





清真

qīng zhēn
Islamic
Muslim
halal (of food)
clean
pure



朝向

cháo xiàng

Qibla (Islam)


The Qibla is the direction Muslims face while praying and it is to the Kabba in Mecca.
To me, it looks like the faith of 回 has an open door to reach the inside and isn't that a beautiful way to think of the qibla?

To go on Hajj has an interesting connotation. 






 
Traditional 朝覲

cháo jìn
to give audience (of emperor)
retainers' duty to pay respect to sovereign
hajj (Islam)

Isn't that kind of interesting?  The same words for hajj are what you'd say if you were going to visit a head of state---like an emperor...or a caliph.

哈里 
Traditional 哈里發

Hā lǐ fā
Khalīfah or Caliph (Arabic: successor), head of state in Caliphate  


It brings an earthly understanding of how important going to Mecca is.

麦加 
Traditional 麥加

Mài jiā
Mecca, Saudi Arabia

圣地 
Traditional 聖地

shèng dì
holy land (of a religion)
sacred place
shrine
holy city (such as Jerusalem, Mecca etc)
center of historic interest


耶路撒冷

Yē lù sā lěng
Jerusalem


Someone who goes on hajj gets an honorary title and here is that.

哈吉

hǎ jí
haji or hadji (Islam)



This is getting ready for the Eid at the end of Hajj.

古尔邦 
Traditional 古爾邦節

gǔ ěr bāng jié
Eid al-Azha festival of sacrifice on tenth of twelfth month of Muslim lunar calendar




If you're racking your brain on which Eid is "Azha", it is known as Eid-Al-Adha here in Egypt or as the Eid Kabeer the big holiday when the sheep are slaughtered at the end of Hajj.

There are the other observances of Islam like fasting in Ramadan. 



 
Traditional 封齋

fēng zhāi
fast (in several religions)
Ramadan (Islam)
see also 齋月|斋月[Zhāi yuè]


斋月 
Traditional 齋月

Zhāi yuè
Ramadan (Islam)


尔德 
Traditional 爾德

Ěr dé
Eid (Islam)




斋节 
Traditional 開齋節

Kāi zhāi jié
Eid ul-Fitr (Islam)
Hari Raya



There are the words for the observance of prayer.




清真寺

qīng zhēn sì
mosque

 
Traditional 教長

jiào zhǎng
dean
mullah
imam (Islam)
see also 伊瑪目|玛目[yī mǎ mù]


When I looked up "wudu" this is what was brought up.
  

无毒 Traditional 
無毒

wú dú
harmless
innocuous
lit. not poisonous

I love this!  I don't know if this is what you'd say to speak about the Islamic absolution but it's very cool to think of the literal meaning as not poisonous.  I always imagine my wudu as cleaning off the toxins of the day so this has real meaning to me.    


I looked but couldn't find "hijab".




This may or may not be what a hijab gets called.

 
Traditional 蓋頭

gài tóu
cover
cap
topping
head covering
veil


朝向

cháo xiàng
Qibla (Islam)


The Qibla is the direction Muslims face while praying and it is to the Kabba in Mecca.
To me, it looks like the faith of 回 has an open door to reach the inside and isn't that a beautiful way to think of the qibla?





祷 
Traditional 
dǎo
prayer
pray
supplication


顶拜 
Traditional 頂拜

dǐng bài
to prostrate oneself
to kneel and bow the head (in submission, supplication, worship etc)


念珠 
Traditional 唸珠

niàn zhū
prayer beads



I looked up the prophets (peace be upon them all). Not all were listed and for many I used the Christian names for them.


亚当 
Traditional亞當

Yà dāng
Adam


诺亚 
Traditional 諾亞

Nuò yà

Noah


亚伯拉罕 
Traditional 亞伯拉罕

Yà bó lā hǎn
Abraham, father of Judaism and Islam in the Bible and Quran
same as Ibrahim 易卜拉

Just from seeing a few names, I can guess that 亚 means prophet or something like it.


依撒格

Yī sā gé
Issac (name)

摩西

Mó xī
Moses

This one made me laugh.  I know it isn't pronounced exactly the same, but in English, "moxie" means a force of character, determination or nerve and that CERTAINLY was Nabi Musa/Prophet Moses (peace be upon him).

亚伦 
Traditional 亞倫

Yà lún
Aaron (name)

雅各

Yǎ gè
Jacob (name)

耶利米

Yē lì mǐ
Jeremy or Jeremiah (name)

约瑟夫 
Traditional 約瑟夫

Yuē sè fū

Joseph (name)

约纳 
Traditional 約納

Yuē nà
Jonah

施洗约翰 
Traditional 施洗約翰

Shī xǐ Yuē hàn
John the Baptist

 
Traditional耶穌

Yē sū
Jesus

穆罕默德

Mù hǎn mò dé
Mohammed (c. 570-632), central figure of Islam and Prophet of God





It is incredible how Islam spread to China.  We can thank Abi Wakas (ra) who went to China and died and was interned in China.  Read more about him here and about the mosque he founded here.



There is a hadith (although of only deserving the grade of "fair" believability) that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said, "Seek knowledge, even as far as China."  For certain, Islam encourages knowledge and learning about other languages and cultures helps us and helps the ummah.  Why China specifically?  It is unfathomable that it could have been brought to such a far flung place by a sahabi...but it was.  Subhanallah!  If a sahabi (ra) can travel so far a distance, when travel was so long and dangerous, to such a diverse group of people and BRING ISLAM and have it remain for centuries in their hearts, then what can't be done?!