Friday, September 30, 2011

Stupid Things Muslims Say



Muslims focus so much on the stupid things Non-Muslims say. 

Yet, it's best to look to the plank in our own collective eye.  We say some pretty stupid things too. 

Here are some of the most irksome to me:



"God will forgive me."
Actually, we have no idea what will be forgiven and what won't.  If we are truly sorry for a bad deed, then we get clean from the moment, pray and in sujud ask forgiveness.  We promise to not do it again AND WE DON'T.



"He's going to Hell"
or the converse
"He's going to Paradise"
We don't know.  Only children who die before maturity are promised Jennah.  Okay, ya, and martyrs shaheed.  Here's the deal on that:  only Allah knows our intention or nia when we died.  Were those killed really shot while fighting for the cause of Islam?  Only God knows.  If anyone tries to second-guess the weighing of a believer's good and bad deeds, then that is shirk (trying to add co-equals to Allah SWT, who needs no partners).  I'm tired of so many people declaring the end result of a long life.  We don't know.  We don't even know our own fate!  And we lived it!  How can we pretend to know the lives of someone else? 




"We're like husband and wife."
But you're not exactly, are you?  I will never forget the woman who told me this for years.  No, she had not gotten legally married and there were many complicated reasons why she could not.  No, she couldn't leave him because she had "invested too much time to walk away now."  So, she stayed.  She tried to be patient.  She got pregnant.  He didn't want the baby in his already full life.  It was then that she understood how "like" was very far from the truth.

This idea of being almost halal for one another takes place between fiancees as well.  Yes, you are in the process of getting married.  However, Islam really doesn't practice any kind of engagement process as such.  You don't become more halal (and thus more intimate) by degrees.  You either are married or you are not.  If you are only engaged, then you are still unlawful to do anything physical.  It's the only time in your (inshahallah) long life together in which you can explore the other ways of closeness so why not focus on those? 



"He's like my brother."
But he's not.  He's maybe your brother-in-law or your best friend.  However, there is a firm "yes" or "no" in regards to blood relationships.  You either are or you are not.  There is no reason to pretend who is your bro.  God knows!  Truly, if he isn't your biological brother, then you could marry him---even your brother-in-law!  Take care!  Rasullulah (pbuh) actually called the social mixing of a woman with men related to her by marriage "death".  Maharam, those prescribed as our protectors by Allah, are mentioned in The Quran.  We know who they are:  our grandfathers, father, uncles, brothers, husband, sons, and sons of our husband.  Anyone else is a marriage possibility and therefore a fitnah or temptation to wrong-doings.



"I'm not an angel."
or
"I'm not the Prophet."
Nobody said you were!  Look, we are moderate people who don't need to be angels or devils.  We don't have to live every second by the sunnah but we also don't have to go around discounting The Prophet's wisdom (peace be upon him).  Shrugging off our misdeeds by a dismissive "whatever" is severly limiting our greater potential as people.  Why act like bettering ourselves is next to impossible?



"That verse in the Quran was for long ago and for a country far away."
No, it was for all times and all places.  If God had wanted to exempt a particular place or a particular time, he sure could have but He didn't.  So, realize that God's way makes your life easier and just do it.


"Good luck!"
and
"You're so lucky!"
Luck is what non-believers want to cling to.  They want a kind of life lottery in which the wheel magically turns and prizes are awarded accordingly.  This thinking avoids logic, cause and effect and an All-Knowing Creator.

We can still wish people well.  "Allah with you"  Allah mak.  It's a lot nicer because it helps us all to remember God at times of hoping for better.

We can still exclaim in excitement over someone's improvemed state.  "Alhumdulillah!  Allahu Akbar!  God is Great!"  Remembering God in times of happiness feels sweeter and brings the moment into perspective.  The new change is part of God's plan and not from chance (no matter how much the blessed individual thinks it).


"What sign are you?"
The alignment of the stars and planets is from Allah.  That's all good.

The divination of future events due to the alignment of the stars and planets is from Shaytan.  It's all bad.  Let's stop playing around with horroscopes like children who don't know right from wrong. 

Is there some truth within the attributes?  Sure!  Within every lie, there is a grain of truth.  So, do you keep going with the whole lie because one part smacks of truth?  No.  Drop it.  Drop it because you fear Allah.



"I'm in hejab."
If I can see your butt, then you're not. 

Hejab is an outward covering which Allah has mandated for us women.  It is to a blessing from Allah which protects us.  When we walk around in tight clothes which show our shape, then we are cheating---ourselves.  Why not accept Allah's protection?

How do we know if what we're wearing is nullifies our hejab?  Simple!  If you were to walk outside in that outfit, could the whole world describe your body?  If I could describe the color of your hair (from the little bit you carefully have allowed to show), the slimness of your neck, the size of your breasts, your waist measurement and the circumference of your thighs, then that's T.M.I.  too much information!

Show less and be more at peace that your scarf is actually a hejab.

"Kuffar!"
Kuffar is the term for a non-believer---not a non-Muslim.  To call a Christian or Jewish person a "kuffar" is ignorant.  A believer is anyone who prays to the one, true God; a monotheist. 

Some people have never been given the knowledge of Al-Waheed so you can't really hurl this word at them.  Chill!  If and only if a person receives the information and then choses to disregard it, could they be called kuffar.

However, I'm afraid of loaded guns and loaded words.  I truly don't use this term and bandy it about like others who claim to be above reproach.  Live and let live.  If someone is not sure of their faith or is questioning how they could worship, then it makes sense to keep a hand held out to them.  You never know who could come to Islam.

Remember that our beloved Second Caliph Umar ibn Al-Kattab (ra) once wanted to assassinate our Prophet (peace be upon him).



"Saudi Arabia is a Muslim country"
No, it's not.  How can a kingdom be a Muslim country?  Think about it:  we are the people who believe that each individual has to be viewed by their merits; not by their blood lines.  A dynasty goes completely against our beliefs!  Actually, the U.S.  with its democracy (albeit through the Electoral College) is closer to Shariah Law than Saudi.


"Halloween is really just a fun time for the kids so I let them dress up and go trick-or-treating."
or
"I miss Christmas so we still put up a tree in December."
or
"Valentine's Day is really a holiday about love so that's OK."
or
"Easter isn't religious any more so we color eggs and do the baskets of candy."
So many special days make the two Eids less special.  We are Muslim.  We have two special times of the year called Eids.  Eid Al-Fitr (the ending of Ramadan) and Eid Al-Adha (the ending of Hajj).  Often converts bristle at giving up all the fun celebrations throughout the year.  It doesn't seem necessary!  Why not just do the activity without the same feeling as before? 

Why not?  Because it isn't possible.  We bonded to these occassions before with the ties of kinship.  We did what our forefathers did---exactly as it says in the Quran.  We were blindly following what had been done for years and the traditions comforted us.  After coming to Islam, we are not allowed to live unexaimed lives.  We have to ask ourselves why we do this or that.  Does it serve us?  Does it get in our way?

Honestly, the many religious and secular holidays take us away from our Islam.  It reminds us of Jahaliliya, the sinful time before Islam.  We have haram memories of these holidays.  There is no reason to hold onto them.  Let them go!  That was then and this is now.

Make new memories.  Bake cookies!  Create crafts to give as gifts!  Invite people over to celebrate!  Do it, however, in the name of Allah, instead of doing it so removed from the straight path.

Did I leave anything out?

Write to me in the comments section if I did. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

First Things First





I do believe in progress not perfection.  I do strive to make today better than yesterday.  So, it makes sense if Stephen Covey's Habits for Highly Effective People makes an appearance on my blog at this time.  Thanks to Wikipedia for the synopsis of each.

Independence or Self-Mastery
The First Three Habits surround moving from dependence to independence (i.e. self mastery)


Habit 1: Be Proactive


Synopsis: Take initiative in life by realizing that your decisions (and how they align with life's principles) are the primary determining factor for effectiveness in your life. Take responsibility for your choices and the subsequent consequences that follow.

I do have some principles (and one principal).  So often in modern society we are bending to the fun moment and to the new person who tells us that they like us or need us.  We believe so much in the chance meeting, the instant friendship or the great opportunity that we forget to remain intact.  We trade our life for some glass beads.  We're trying to gain something; whether companionship or perceived social or economic advancement. 


I actually need to stop for a moment and catch my breath.  Breath is life.  I need to stop reaching out and instead deepen my roots into the ground where I stand.  This is where I've chosen to be. 


I've been here for over two years now.  This  is the longest my 6-year-old, Mr. Boo, has ever been in any home.  My job at the school is going into the third year which is the longest I've stayed at any school.


Right now I need to claim more of what I want and get rid of what I don't.  What is really striking me is that I don't need chaos.


Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind

Synopsis: Self-discover and clarify your deeply important character values and life goals. Envision the ideal characteristics for each of your various roles and relationships in life.

My goal is to be a servant of Allah.  In order to be that person, I need to have a firm foundation in goodness.  I need to continue to build a halal life.  I want to be proud of my life.  I want peace. 


Habit 3: Put First Things First

Synopsis: Plan, prioritize, and execute your week's tasks based on importance rather than urgency. Evaluating if your efforts exemplify your desired character values, propel you towards goals, and enrich the roles and relationships that were elaborated in Habit 2.

Truly, my job at the school is of the utmost importance.  It allows me the funds to live.  It provides an education for my son.  The hours and vacations are great.  The location is great.  I do my job well alhumdulillah and I believe that my efforts will be rewarded inshahallah.


This past week we ushered in the new school year. NOTHING can prepare anyone for the first day. It's an endurance test for all involved.  Basically, we teachers do what we can to make it as painless as possible. 


Two days before the start of kindergarten (and actually the day before my son started first grade), I got a phone call.  It was a woman from the  TV studio.  She spoke fluent Arabic...and very little English.  I hardly understood her but I did get her when she told me, "Congratulations" on the new job.  I guess I was somehow offered the TV presenter job I had auditioned for previously. 


It was 3:30 in the afternoon and I was expected to come for a meeting that night.  That was an element of chaos in my already full life.  I tried to meet later in the week.  No, it had to be either today or tomorrow.  I then tried to meet earlier in the day (like right after work) but no one is there until 9:00 PM.  That was an inkling as to what my life would be if I accepted.  I would be starting early at one job and staying late at another.  I hated that idea.  Yet, I was willing to hear what they said.  What had they thought of my audition?


We sat together in the producer's office and I asked him, "What was it in my audition that you liked?"


"I haven't seen it."


My mouth almost dropped.  The producer hadn't seen it.  I was dumbfounded.  Why would I drop everything to meet with a man who had no feedback on my audition?  Instead he wanted to show me what was on the previous programs.  I watched.  It was not good.  It looked canned, stiff and stale.  I found out then that all the questions came from that producer.


I informed him that I'm not a talking head.  I'm a teacher and a writer.  I've got my degree in theatre and experience on live TV.  I'm a mind and a heart and I connect with others on a real and immediate level.  I can offer that BURST of enthusiasm and discovery which only comes from spontaneous and real interaction.  There was no way I'd want him formulating questions for me. 


He left the room---twice.  Oh, and I understand that some phone calls are mighty important but then so is our sleep.  It was now 9:00 pm.  Mr. Boo sat patiently with us.  I looked my quiet little guy sitting cross-legged on the office chair and knew that I had cheated him.  I actually took out my cell and started a timer.  It was almost ten minutes of waiting.


Not good.


The men in the hall were distributing drinks amongst themselves.  Mr. Boo got one.  We did not.  We just sat.  In Egypt, not offering tea is considered extremely rude.


So, when the producer came back I told him that I didn't need this moment.  I had been told to come and I came.  For what?  He didn't even know what I could offer!  His leaving twice was not polite.  He appologized.  Us sitting without drinks was unheard of.  We were leaving. 


I stood up. He wanted to know what I would like.  I told him that I'm very honest and very straight.  I could act all smiley with him now and then bad talk him at home but I'm not like that.  I'm all for putting cards on the table.  I didn't like the way the meeting had gone and I didn't need this for me or for my family.  If he could figure out a way to use my talents without making my life chaotic, then he could give me a call.  And I left.


What comes first is peace for me and my family.

Interdependence
The next three have to do with Interdependence (i.e. working with others)



Habit 4: Think Win-Win


Synopsis: Genuinely strive for mutually beneficial solutions or agreements in your relationships. Valuing and respecting people by understanding a "win" for all is ultimately a better long-term resolution than if only one person in the situation had gotten his way.

So, I went home, got my Boo to bed and started on a few of the many projects I needed to finish within the next two days.


That's when I got the phone call.


My lovely new assistant was calling.  She asked how the meeting at the studio went.  She was the first person to ask after the fact so I went on and on. 


Then she told me her news.  She had been in a car accident that afternoon.  Alhumdulillah she was alright.  However, her face was cut up and banged up and she had to recouperate at home until next week.


I now had no assistant for the final day of preparation and the first two days of school. 


I did what any desperate teacher does:  I begged!  I messaged my former assistant from last year and begged her to help me out.  This a favor for me; not the school that didn't ask her back.  She could get paid for a few days work and also get her work seen again.  It truly was "win-win" if she could see it clearly.


She told me that the school did her wrong.  And they did!  I agreed!  I wanted her back for this year but the administration had other plans.  So, this was a chance to right the wrong. 

Habit 5: Seek First to Understand,
Then to be Understood


Synopsis: Use empathetic listening to be genuinely influenced by a person, which compels them to reciprocate the listening and take an open mind to being influenced by you. This creates an atmosphere of caring, respect, and positive problem solving.

I then had to go to work and plead my case to the administration.  I needed qualified help on the first day of school.  My former assistant was a possibility if they would agree.  They wouldn't.  They wanted me to work with a new girl and frankly I couldn't trust someone I didn't know with such an important day.  They denied my request.


In the heat of the moment I actually stormed out ready to march to the Headmistress' office.  Yet, on the way, I made a u-turn and waited to speak to the principal instead.  This is the same principal who could not see eye-to-eye with me during The Revolution.  Now, I was putting my classroom's fate in her hands.


When we sat together, I started "Bismallah."  I calmed myself.  I made my case.  She spoke.  I listened.  We came up with ideas and solutions.  Yes, I could have my former assistant back for those few days and she could be paid out of pocket.  Maybe, even, if she proved herself, there could be a different position for her at school. 


I had to then speak to my former assistant and convince her that her hurt could not be mended at home.  She could come back; give another chance and get another chance.  She accepted.  She accepted because I never wronged her and she trusted me.  Alhumdulillah that I was, at least in that instance, the person I want to be.

Habit 6: Synergize


Synopsis: Combine the strengths of people through positive teamwork, so as to achieve goals no one person could have done alone. Get the best performance out of a group of people through encouraging meaningful contribution, and modeling inspirational and supportive leadership.

So, that first day I greeted moms and dads with the new kids.  Many of the families had sent me their older children previously.  This is a benefit to staying put; the trust and understanding is already in place. 


Alhumdulillah, the day went better than the other two years.  I've been able to get the rules into place very easily from the beginning.  I know that to a large degree it went well because of my former assistant agreeing to come back.  God bless her. 

Self Renewal
The Last habit relates to self-rejuvenation:

Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw


Synopsis: Balance and renew your resources, energy, and health to create a sustainable, long-term, effective lifestyle.

We all made it through the first day, alhumdulillah.  I ached all over; headache, neckache, backache, legs, feet--you name it!  Yet, I couldn't just jump in a taxi and go home.  I wanted to celebrate.  Celebration is a beautiful thing; it means thanking the moment.  There was a lot to be thankful for.  I saw life clearer.


So, my boy and I walked together and talked about our days.  I wasn't in any rush to any studio.  I was going home to relax.  That felt really good. 


We stopped at the first cart along the way.  Mangoes were selling for 7.50 LE a kilo.  Of course, I was told that the ones I wanted were 10 LE a kilo.  I walked.


The next cart had a man who didn't know how to deal with me.


The third cart had a man with a cheerful demeanor.  Here's a translation of how our Arabic conversation went:


Me:  Asalamu Alaykom!  Your mangoes are all so beautiful.  I want to buy all of them but I only have five pounds.


Mango Seller:  These cost seven fifty so you can't have any.


Me:  My husband is difficult.  I only have five.


Mango Seller:  Your husband is Egyptian?


Me:  I said he was difficult.  Difficult and Egyptian!  What if I could buy two?  One for me and one for my boy.  See those over there?


Mango Seller:  These?


Me:  Yes!  Exactly!  Those are beautiful, beautiful, beautiful.  Here's the money.


Mango Seller:  Why did you marry your husband if he is difficult?


Me:  Naseeb.  Alhumdulillah.


Those hot mangoes chilled overnight and the next day there were perfection.  I almost felt guilty cutting into their sunset skin.  Each bite was sigh worthy.  Heaven.

There actually is an 8th Habit which was added later.

Habit 8:  Find Your Voice and Inspire Others to Find Theirs

So, here I am finding my voice.  This is the ideal place, or so they say, as Giza is considered The Throat Chakrah of the World.  I actually had to write this out before starting my new week.  I needed to put things in perspective. 


Inshahallah, my new assistant will be back.  I'm hopeful that we can work well together.  I'm encouraged by how the administration could work with me. 


I'm looking forward to saying, "no" to any sudden demands from the studio.


My focus needs to be on us; more of the mangoes and less of the pits.


And you...you've read some of what I've written.  Maybe you're Muslim and maybe you're not; it doesn't really matter.  I hope you see how beautifully life unfolds for all of us if we stay true to ourselves---our most effective selves.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Crabs in a Bucket



Asalamu Alaykom,





This is why I falter in my Islam:

http://forums.islamicawakening.com/f20/should-we-stop-building-new-masajid-west-50541/index10.html

My blog gets mentioned by a sister who was trying to prove a point about making hijrah.  She referenced me and another one.

Normally, I would feel a kind of happiness that a sister found what I wrote to be worth passing on to others.

However, a brother thought differently.  It might even be the anonymous brother who tried to challenge me in my comments section.  Allahu alim.  The brother wasn't pleased with my efforts.  He wrote:

Sister, I think you need to see for yourself what is in the second website. I know you linked it because its supposedly written by an American revert living in Egypt, but some of the things written there are pure garbage. I'm not going to repost anything written there but you should check it out before recommending it.

And then when she came back to say that she mentioned it for the hijrah referrences, he decided to lash out again:

There is nothing helpful or practical in regards to Hijrah from what I saw, only ramblings from an obviously confused individual making dangerous statements which called into question the state of her Islam.

So, I've now joined their forum and written the moderators that this speech, while free, is devoid of adab Muslim ettiquette.  He is questioning whether or not I really am Muslim.  He calls my efforts garbage.  He name calls and ridicules.  And of course lobs the big one:  I might be a bad Muslim.

Dude.

Wow.

I don't like Muslims who do these things.  They have lost something along the way...like a heart connection to others.  He wants to "out" me as a suspect Muslim; somebody who isn't really like him (because of course he's better than me).  No, I don't want Muslims like this to rule over me, my thoughts or my words.

I had a choice tonight.  I could have read his attack and slunk silently away.  Instead, I chose to publish what's going on. 

There was another time on the 'net when a fellow blogger wanted to "out" me as a bad Muslim.  It really hurt at the time because I had prayed for this woman's sanity and for the safety of her children.  I had spent countless hours being her friend---no, really her sister.  In the end, she walked away from a lot of what I still hold on to.  I don't blame her yet she blamed me.  How could I keep talking about Islam if I wasn't a better Muslim? 

Better than whom?

Is there some kind of test I need to take in order to speak about Islam?  Islam is the perfect religion for imperfect people. I have never ever claimed to be a the perfect Muslim.

Is there some special formula I need to calculate with the right amount of hadiths per square inch?  That's not how I roll.

I am who I am. 

I was created by Allah.

I am here for purposes which no one else can perform except me.

I might as well keep doing what makes sense to me, even if it doesn't make sense to others.

I'll tell you what:  my biggest troubles over the years haven't been between me and Allah; they've been between me and other people.  I am the saddest when I realize how many Muslims continue to disparage other Muslims; to be the crabs in the barrel who keep crawling on top of the others (thus pulling everyone down).

It makes me sad until I remember that I'm not a slave to them and their whims.  I'm a servant of The Almighty.  Really!  You seriously can't question this unless you want to sound like an idiot. 

There was a battle raging and an enemy soldier was at the end of a sword held by the sahabi; Companions of The Prophet (pbuh).  The enemy soldier said, "There is no other God than God and Muhammad is a Messenger."  That's the shahaddah; the Muslim oath of faith.  It's simple.  It's succinct.  Yet, the man was killed because the Muslim soldier didn't believe him.

What did The Prophet say?

You killed a believer.  Never doubt the oath.

"I testify that there is no other God than God and that Muahammad is a Messenger."

Enough.

Whether I'm good or bad is not for you to judge.  Being a judge of my faith makes you as bad as the sahabi who was chastised by Rasullulah (pbuh).  Being a judge of my faith actually makes you guilty of shirk because you are acting as if you have some kind of power akin to God.  Astragferallah.  Let go that assumed responsibility.

There's room in the world for all kinds of messengers of Islam.  There are so many different cultures and languages, experiences and expectations.  Go ahead and be one kind of messenger.  I'll be a different kind.  We can spread Islam in ways which reach more minds and hearts. 

Why be scared that my message is wrong?  If it's wrong for you, maybe it is right for someone else.

Can I truly ever damage Islam with who I am and what I say?  Then your vision of Islam is limited---very, very limited.

Astragferallah.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Camera Test



I had been avoiding the test as if it were another blood letting.

In actuality, it was a camera test; the stuff of dreams...well, at least my dreams.  Since I was three or four years old, I  have imagined myself on television.  I let that goal propel me into classes, auditions, shows, through four years of college and even being live on-air for PBS.

So, fast-forward to 2011 and I'm still that hopeful little girl (just in a bigger body) but that good feeling so interwoven within me becomes confusing.  That was then and this is now.  I'm a 43-year-old Muslim mom and kindergarten teacher in Egypt.  Can I still realize my lifelong goal of having a TV show?

A major satellitte network thinks I just might---hence the test.

They had wanted me to do a show during Ramadan, but I turned it down so I could really utilize all the possible time with my family in The States.  I turned down a dream.  That's not easy to do.

Having avoided it once, I started avoiding it again and again.  No, I couldn't come in to record segment on an Eid memory.  No, I wasn't available this week.  Finally, I knew that I had to agree to a time to take the camera test.

Even then, I wasn't sure if I really was going to audition.  It felt unreal; I guess that dreams do.  It wasn't the first time I'd dragged my feet at a time when I needed action.  Whenever I have avoided the very steps which could help me reach a goal, I have to get very objective and ask myself,

"How is it going to feel if I have to tell everyone that I never did it? 

On the other hand,

"How is it going to feel if I can tell everyone that I did?" 

For me, it puts it in perspective and I really didn't want to say that, "Yes, I had a chance to be broadcast around the world but I simply was feeling lazy and didn't make the effort to go in."

Yet, that night I fussed and fumed around the house as I cleaned floors.  I already had my job as a teacher and my jobs as mom, wife and homemaker.  I was tired as it was.  Why would I add more to that over-flowing plate?  I had some anger and resentment at one more possible work commitment.  I would love to coast through life for a while...

BUT opportunity knocks when the time is right, even if it doesn't seem right for us.

I stopped all my busy-ness and decided to pray.  I prayed isha and then I prayed istakkarah.  I truly took this huge dream of mine and put it on Allah.  If Allah wanted this for me, then I asked for ease and blessings.  If Allah didn't want this for me, then I asked him to take it away from me and make me satisfied with it.  I meant every word.

After the prayer, I was calmer---I won't lie and say I was totally carefree.  No way!  This was a pretty overwhelming proposition.  I made myself up and dressed in the Old Navy hot pink hoodie I'd gotten while overseas. 

Somewhere along the way, I appologized to my husband for being fussy.  Fear brings out the fussy in us all.  I knew that I was embaraking on something big (either the end or the beginning) and I didn't know what exactly.  My husband is too male to know what we women do with ambiguity; we roll it around and around in our heads without knowing how to stop. 

Men know how to stop.  They cut to the chase.  "Go or don't go.  It doesn't matter."

So, I did go.  He came with me in a taxi.  The studio called to make sure I was on my way.  Yep, a real deal.

When I walked in, I realized what a little beehive of activity the studio was at night.  I'd only been around during the day and never seen it swarm with people.  Right away my contact from all the phone calls introduced himself.  He had me meet a lady who I needed to follow.

Ah!  It was the make-up room!  I tried to explain that I was already made-up but she was telling me that it was too thin for the lights.  On went a layer of orange.  I had to stop her.  My husband tried to help her understand what I was trying to say.  Half my face was orange---which would be OK for various projects (Oompa Loompa in Willy Wonka comes to mind) but I was hoping to keep my skin tone as realistic as possible.  Even though she tried to wipe off the color on the left side of my face, I swear I looked two-tone.

She wanted to line my eyes.  I tried to explain that I already had eye liner on but (once again) it was too light.  She got out black liquid eye liner and put it right next to lower lashes.  I looked so different!  I won't say, "good," but my husband sure was impressed. 

She powdered me, had me put on lipstick and sent me out to the green room.  It was funny sitting there.  All the workers took that sneak peek at who was auditioning tonight.

When I went in, I made a "ice breaker" joke with the stage hand carrying the hammer.  I asked him in Arabic if he was going to hit me with the hammer if I did a bad job.  One of the most important things to do on set is to be agreeable and friendly with everyone.

I worried a bit for my husband's sensibiliites.  I basically had to interact with more strange men than he'd ever seen with me before.  Usually, his jealousy spikes.  In many ways, I couldn't let whatever was happening with him to affect me in the moment. 

I knew that it would be a tricky time when the ear piece and the microphone were getting wired.  The sound man needed to put the cords under layers and clipped them around my chest.  My husband saw this going on and zoomed to the spot.  He was going to make sure that the sound man didn't make any errors in judgement.

Subhanallah, for a TV studio, it actually was such an Islamic place.  Everyone had such nice manners.  The set itself was like a beautiful ode to everything Islamic from the table, to the pillows, to the Arabesque floor and hanging wall panels.  I felt very special to be allowed to sit there.

I hated seeing my raccoon eyes on camera.  I couldn't believe that I was presenting myself that way!  I didn't even look like me.  With my past performing experience, I know that you can't analyze yourself and your looks in the moment.  You have to free yourself up and enjoy the "now".

They brought in a young man for me to interview.  He kept wanting to interact with me before the cameras started rolling and I kept resisting.  I knew that the initial burst of discovery only happens once.  Johnny Carson never talked ahead of time with his guests and I think it's a good rule.  I felt like a jerk for ignoring him on the stage but hoped that he would understand the method behind the madness later.

That ear piece became a voice in my head.  I was now being told what to do.  That must be every man's fantasy!  You tell a woman what to do and she actually does it!  LOL!  I saw my husband standing back from the proceedings and knew I had to zone him out.  They were beginning the countdown.

"Asalamu Alaykom, I'm Yosra, " I began.  I greeted the imaginary audience and then turned to greet the young man.  I really knew nothing about him and began asking about his name.  Then, I said how we had gone through Ramadan and now were in Shawwal. 

"Are you fasting for Shawwal?"  He said he wasn't but we were able to talk about it.  He gave a little knowledge about it.  I asked him who had taught him about this practice and he said that it had been his father.

I used that moment to talk directly into the camera, "This is for all the dads watching.  It's good to remember how your practices and traditions aren't really for you alone.  They are observed by your children and you are role modeling for them."

I was proud of how I shaped that dialogue into a meaningful gem.  That is the interviewer's job and as I sat there I wanted the job.

I asked the young man who else was in his family and he had two sisters.  I asked if he was an uncle yet and he was not.

I then talked about how on one of the nights of Eid we went as a family to McDonald's and all the children were calling "Amu!  Amu!"  Uncle!  Uncle! to the workers behind the counter. 

The young man explained how that's part of the Egyptian culture (and though I knew that, I let him be the expert).  I asked him if being "Amu" to all the children is something that's really in his heart.  Does he really believe that's who he is?

He did!

It was a lively exchange and I was glad for it.

The voice in my ear told me to take a caller.  This was a big surprise because I hadn't known there was going to be any caller.  I flubbed that and appologized later.

I told the young man that in The States we don't have that same feeling of every man being an uncle to the children.  I asked him if he'd been overseas.

He said that he had not (even though while prepping me the voice in my ear had specifically told me to ask that).  So, I asked if he welcomed that idea or was scared by it.

He said that he enjoyed meeting new people and talked at some length about that idea while the voice in my ear told me, "one minute".  So I then found a second to break in to his monlogue to thank him for allowing us all to get to know him.  I then turned to the camera and thanked the viewers for joining us and hoped that we would see each other again.

Thumbs up from the crew.  People seemed happy.  My husband was proud of my efforts.  We walked out without knowing the outcome.  Maybe nothing else will come of that camera test.  Maybe you will see me soon on satellitte.

I don't know.

I don't have to know.

Allah knows. 

Alhumdulillah for the chances which we're given and the chances which we take.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

10 Years Since 9/11

I've written about September 11 before (actually three times before). 

10 Years Ago Today
                            
I was going through a divorce.  I had left my husband because I didn't feel enough joy in my life.  I was a swinging single who had swung all she could.  Three weeks earlier, I had met a new man who brought me so much joy.  He was Egyptian.  He was Muslim.  He was also married with twins on the way but I didn't know that.  Astragferallah. 

I was searching for something but instead I ended up finding someone.

Today

I am married to an Egyptian man.  He is a practicing Muslim.  He is helping me raise the son of the man who once promised to never leave me (but did).  Inshahallah this man will not leave me.  However, I have come to find my joy in God and not through any person.  Though I love everyone, I trust no one.  I have come to trust only in God.

I am not always happy but I am at peace with who I am and who I am with.
10 Years Ago Today

I was earning the most money I ever had by working in a real estate office.  I was well liked and working hard to keep everyone happy.  That day our sales meeting was cancelled and I hadn't understood why exactly.  It was only a plane crash (sad but common).  No, I was told.  It was a terrorist attack.  America was under attack.
         
Because I had brought my two children to my office the previous Friday night, I still had my small portable TV.  My new colleagues crowded around me as the second tower fell.  I heard Peter Jennings' voice fall with it and I knew that the world had collapsed.  I had watched death.  Astragferallah.

I left the room and called my new Muslim boyfriend (this is before I knew that there is no such thing) and told him to stop driving his taxi.  I was worried for him.  Later, my colleagues would worry for me and warned me how to spot warning signs that my man might be a terrorist.

After his divorce and our marriage the following year, the warnings turned to tauntings.  I received the jokes, jeers, comments, lack of support, unequal treatment, the creation of a secret file and subsequent firing.  I lost the highest paying job I ever had in America because I was a covered woman married to a Muslim man.

I fought that injustice for two years---longer than I actually held the job itself.  We settled out of court.

Today

I have my Teaching English as a Foreign Language certification.  I went back to school to re-start my life after my firing.  I worked for several schools helping Muslims gain knowledge.  Alhumdulillah.  My ultimate goal was always to teach overseas (with Egypt as the logical location).

After I was a single mother, Egypt seemed less plausible yet the dream wouldn't die inside me.  I took my leap of faith and made hijrah.  Now, I have the most buying power I've ever had.  It is less money than I had in America but it affords me a higher level of living.  Subhanallah.
10 Years Ago Today

I prayed to God that my two children wouldn't be harmed by what they saw or heard.  My daughter in nursery school was subjected by thoughtless child care workers who kept the news in her view.  Time and again she'd see the tall buildings go down and wonder which tall building was mommy working in. 

That night we colored the sidewalk with messages of peace and love.  It was all I could do.  Their father picked them up and their wasn't animosity between us that day.  Somehow the people who had small troubles that day let them go. 

Today

I am the mother of three children.  Only one of them is sure he is Muslim.  It doesn't matter to me as much as you might imagine.  As I have said, "The world doesn't need more Christians and it doesn't need more Muslims.  It needs more bridges between the two."  My three wonderful children are bridges of faith and understanding.  Alhumdulillah.

I continue to spread messages the best I can.  What was once written in chalk, is now written on this blog.  It may even be sent via satellite.  Subhanallah.


10 Years Ago Today

I was scared.  Nothing made sense.  The world no longer seemed safe or logical.  I worried for everyone I loved.  I worried for the future.

Today

When I feel scared I give my fear to Allah Subhana Wa Tallah.  The world seems temporary.  Now problems seem to be parts of a glorious plan.  I have become a Muslimah who has stories and scars and is able to tell other imperfect people how to let go and let God. 

I remember how a decade has gone past since September 11, 2001.  Alhumdulillah for all the time which has allowed all of us to struggle past the sadness and upset and find some healing.  I have grown.  I have grown in ways I never would have imagined.

Alhumdulillah.


Thursday, September 8, 2011

U. T. O.





Today I did one of those much-hated but totally useful parenting techniques:  a time-out.

What is a time out?

It is not a punishment.  No one gets hurt.  There's no cruelty involved.

It is not a threat.  The method is all about influence not power.

It is a STOP of everything and everybody.  All stimuli ceases and you remove the child from the situation.   It doesn't have to be a chair but if you are giving a time-out at home, then it makes sense to have a routine place.  It can be while you are out but get prepared for stares that you can't care about.

I gave Mr. Boo a "time-out" today on the streets of Giza.  I was only a few blocks from home but I made the decision that I don't want to accept a loud whiny kid walking with me.  First, I told him to stop fussing and he didn't.  I then stopped walking with him and stood there on the side of the road for one silent minute.

I named his behavior, "You were fussing."

I named the expected behavior or rule, "You are not allowed to fuss through the streets."

I told how he needed to make recompense, "You need to say, 'sorry'."

He said it.  If he hadn't said it, then it would have been another minute.  It's a drag.  I hate it BUT there are some behaviors which are worth the effort.  Do I want him to fuss through the streets?  No.  I'd rather nip it in the bud.

After he appologized, he got a hug and we walk on.

However, he decided to fuss and whine again.  So, we stopped again for another minute.

After that, he walked home quietly. 

The problem is that my child rearing techniques are totally alien here.  If I had yelled at him and told him that he was a dog or a donkey, no one would have batted an eye.  If I had threatened to take off my shoe and whack him with it, everyone would have accepted my behavior.  Even if I had slapped him around, as long as it wasn't his head, then most witnesses would have been OK.

So, instead of ignoring, accepting or approving, I get concerned apprehension and upset even.  For Western parenting techniques in Egypt are as uncommon as U.F.O sightings.  Call it a U.T.O. sighting.

Unidentified Time-Out

I have to have very thick skin to handle the mumblings, stares and worries from passers-by.  Yes, they are scared for my boy.  They are very concerned that my silence is more frightening than any yelling they've ever heard.  They don't know what to do with it.  Even my husband was embarrassed and unsure (though he knows what a time-out is, he didn't want one on the street).

So, I'm going to keep doing as I see fit with my son...at least until the mothership tells me otherwise.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

On the Third Night of Eid



The first night of Eid wasn't exactly as we had imagined it. 

That whole platter of shrimp?  Nope.  It was not tender and melt-in-your mouth deliciousness.  It was overcooked and greasy shrimp gum gamberry leban.  Considering the price for shrimp, my brother-in-law who had bought it was not happy.  He let that be known.  The other brother-in-law is married to the cook of the house. He then let it be known he was upset as well.

It was time to plan an evening out.

The following night of Eid we ate food happily as a family and then left to visit the sisters.  There are four sisters.  In Egypt, a sister leaves the family house to go to the family house of their husband.  During Eid, their brothers visit and bring money for the children.  My husband was most happy with us bringing some joy to the nieces and nephews. 

The next day was the third and final day of Eid.  Yes, we get three days of celebration.  The first day you must truly break the fast and eat and enjoy.  After that, you may start fasting again. Fasting for six days in the month of Shawal is Sunnah; following the life of the Prophet (peace be upon him). 

Remember:  though ladies are exempt from fasting during their menstrual cycle, they must make up the days before the next Ramadan.  Making them up right away, in the month of Shawwal is doubly good.  You get the obligation done AND you get extra blessing.  It is said that fasting the month of Ramadan and six days in Shawwal is like fasting a whole year.  Subhanallah!

So, on that third night of Eid we planned a night out and away from everybody and everything.  We were going to the cinema for the first time as a family.  I had wanted to see Toy Story 3 when it played in Egypt and I tried everything I could to get us there to no avail.  This time, I told my husband that I really wanted to see the new Mohamed Saad movie Tek Tek Boom.  I am a big Limby fan from way back.  I crack up at his antics.  My husband really wanted to please me and I appreciate how he agreed to go.


When we leave to go into Cairo, it's like this huge endurance test.  We start getting ready at 3:00 in order to be on the street at 4:00.  We time it so that we do the asr prayer at home and then zoom out.  It's still warm at that time but whatever clothes we have on have to be appropriate for the night time breezes as well.

Me?  I decided (foolishly) that I truly was oh-so-Egyptian and could layer my new unexpectedly tight (haram) shirt with a linen jacket (in order to make it halal).  I mean...layering is so fashionable in Egypt these days.  Surely, I could handle that one extra layer.

AHHHHHHHHH!  NO, I COULDN'T!

I was so uncomfortable I wanted to scream.  Never again will I layer until the weather actually dictates.  I don't know how Egyptian ladies do it!  Why don't they freak out?!  I sat there on the sauna micro-bus with sweat dripping down my face wishing I had chosen better. 

I cooled off once we started off for Cairo.  We were going to the Ramses Hilton Mall.  It's a good location; next to the Nile in a safe area.  Plus, their theatre is right next to a McDonald's so Mr. Boo could load up on favorite food.  My husband wanted to give my son our boy every happiness that night.

As we sped along the road, I saw a young teenage girl, in her newest clothes, riding side-saddle as a passenger on the back of a motorbike.  Her arms held on to the boy she loved.  The look on her face was priceless. She was on top of the world!  I thought about the preciousness of that moment. 

When was the last time you felt like that?

Does it have to be in the company of a man that we allow ourselves to feel free and in love with life?

I looked down at my little man.  He had fallen asleep.  We were almost across the bridge.  I had to wake him up.  Time to unload and walk a ways.  It's not an easy moment.

While I was focusing on my sleepy boy, my husband was paying attention to the bus passengers from the other vehicle parked ahead of us.

"Igry!"  which means Run!

One quick look over my right shoulder gave me all the information I needed.  There was an angry young man picking up a large rock.  The young woman with him screamed.  I ran with my sleepy boy across the street and down the steps to safety.  When we were at a safe distance, I looked back again.  A man, his victim, was covered in blood and trying to call someone (probably to tell them he'd just been hit by a rock).

Yes, my friends, anything can happen when you leave the house!  That's why I make du'a every time I go out the door, "May Allah protect me from hurting anyone.  May Allah protect against anyone hurting me."

My husband then told me this rule.  Once someone picks up a rock, you run!  Someone is going to get hurt and you don't want it to be you.

We were now down by the Nile and so was everybody else from Egypt.  I had thought that celebrating Eid en masse would bring about a feeling of unity and happiness.  Actually, you get a little fearful.  You know that with so many people, the chances are greater that someone is going to be up to no good.  We crossed the street and left the beautiful Nile.  I had to trust that my husband best knew how to protect us.

The crowds never stopped.  It was packed!  Every street was overflowing with families and carefree teens.  The mall was so busy that Mr. Boo mistook is for an airport (and he wondered if we had to catch a plane).

Inside the mall, the lines for the elevator were long and people's patience was starting to wear thin.  I hate to wait more than just about anything.  We took the stairs.  Up we went to the top.  We bought 30 LE tickets for each of us; almost a hundred to see a show!  Wow!  Good thing that we we didn't do this all the time.

Over to McDonald's and I was about to drop another 30 LE on little sandwiches, one medium fries and a large Sprite.  It was hot and crowded in the lines.  The teen boys kept yelling, "Amu!  Amu!" Uncle!  Uncle!  at the workers to take their order.  I stood my ground and remained calm and intent on getting food.  Oh, and when I did get to the front, I remember to wish them "Kullu sana enta tayib" which roughly translates to Many Happy Returns of the Day.  It got a smile and good service (whereas shouting at them didn't seem to get either).

When it was time for the movie, it was also time for magrib.  I got into my seat and then heard the azan on someone's phone.  Big oops!  It had crossed my mind during the planning at home that we would be out during magrib but I had neglected to make any effort towards praying while we were out.  I don't want to do that again.  Astragferallah.

The theatre itself was very small.  I was surprised at that.  It was beautifully air-conditioned and my layers suddenly felt reasonable.  Mr. Boo, on the other hand, was freezing.  We munched our 9 LE popcorn and finished our Sprite. 

There was an actual usher on hand to seat patrons.  This is really unlike the American movie theatres where you have all the freedom in the world to sit where you like. All our tickets had seat numbers which had been assigned to us.  That was nice, in a way to have some orderliness to it.  When a young couple entered our row, I could ask the woman to change places with her man so she wouldn't be sitting next to mine.  There were lots of families and respectable people---a very different crowd than that for Shara Al-Haram Pyramid Street starring belly dancer Dina.

When the previews started they were THE SCARIEST previews ever!  Mr. Boo was hiding his eyes and covering his ears.  Eventually---I think it was after the bridge collapse---I had to do the same.  Way to start a family outing!  LOL!

Alhumdulillah, all bad things come to an end and our movie started.  I am so pleased with the efforts of Mohamed Saad in this film.  He really has told the story of The Revolution in a way to make very complex ideas understandable.  You see the groups clearly:  the tech saavy youth, the thugs, the common (poor) people, the army, and the children.  I truly did have to hold my husband's hand when the gunfire started on the screen.  I wasn't scared but I was filled with emotion to see it play out in the movie.

There are so many good messages, though, it's not a preachy film.  You will see unity among believers of both faiths.  You will see patience and love and courage.  Perhaps the main message is that we don't have to act on impulse to do the same bad as others.  We can make a stand to be our best selves no matter the dire circumstances around us.
Time for us to leave and go home.  The crowds had multiplied and then some.  We navigated ourselves down the stairs and out the door.  Another fight in the crowd and another time to run.  Mr. Boo was tired from all our walking.  We finally found a bus with seats and he promptly fell asleep.  I held his head so it wouldn't bounce around as we raced through crowded streets.

Back to Giza but not back to our house yet as we had to catch another bus.  There I was, holding a sleeping boy.  He is so much heavier, mashallah, than two years ago.  I really can't continue to carry him like I used to.  My husband was trying in vain to get us transportation back to our area.  No one!  Everything was full.  A taxi stopped and he talked to the driver but got refused.

The driver was still sitting there and I approached him with my arms full.  No, I'm not supposed to talk to men and negotiate deals.  I know this.  However, various parts of my body were atrophying and I needed to get home.  When the driver saw me with my burden, he agreed alhumdulillah.  My husband got in and thanked me.

It had been a big night out.  As my mother always says, "It's nice to go out and it's nice to come home."  Yes, it was nice to get out and get away from it all but our home is always especially welcome and cozy after an outing to Cairo.  Alhumdulillah for both.

Alhumdulillah for The Third Night of Eid.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Happy Eid

"After hardship there is ease."



After Ramadan there is Eid.


No, we Muslims don't wish each other "Happy Ramadan," as it really isn't a time to get happy...it's a time to abstain, fast, pray and repent. That time is done, alhumdulillah.




 Happy Eid!




Elizabeth Gilbert: Allah! Allah!




The author of Eat, Pray, Love discusses the creative gifts from God. Keep watching and hear an amazing connection to Islam that I bet you never knew.