Thursday, March 29, 2012

Messed-up Muslim Bloggers

Part I



Honorary Arab

That's me---or at least that was me.  When I started blogging it was at the suggestion of a real-life friend.  I felt that I could add something to the internet from my perspective as a striving new Muslim revert.  Unfortunately, everything became mired in turmoil and I became a messed-up Muslim blogger. 

I wasn't planning on telling everyone about my then-husband's thoughts of remarrying his first wife (while keeping me too).  I actually wanted the blog to divert me from that problem.  However, the pain of their calls and text messages and the fear of the future was too much.  I started blogging about our private life, astragferallah, because I felt alone.

I wish, in hindsight, that I had toughed it out with Allah rather than going to the 'net for comfort and advice. I am uncertain what role I played in our marriage's demise.  Maybe if I had spent more time thinking of solutions rather than focusing on replaying the problems, the outcome would have been different.

Allahu alim. 

My blog saw my marriage dissolve, our business bankrupt, my home put up for sale, my 14-month old son and I abandoned and me incredibly stressed-out.  Astragferallah.  I continued to have faith but I faltered often.  When the house sold, there was a round of cheers.  When the Islamic divorce and the American-law divorce went through there was commiserating.

I made a risky choice by chronically my road to ruin in a series of blog posts during my iddah.  I wanted to be introspective and not make the same mistakes with my life again and again.  There was a lot of flack about being public about private matters. In many ways, I didn't care.

I didn't care again when I was warned to stay away from men right after my divorce.  About six months after the American divorce was granted (which was a year after being abandoned), I married the Moroccan.  I stopped blogging about my life in deferrence to him.

Instead, I thought of making a blog for Florida visitors.  This could even be a money-maker, whereas my Islamic blogging needed to stay altruistic.

Eventually, the truth of that marriage with X3 hit me between the eyes and I left.  Blogging was the habit to fall back on so once again I was sharing my life with those I didn't know.  I kept writing about the potential suitors and that made for a lot of angry comments from readers who thought that I needed more time alone.

What I probably needed was more time away from the blog and that's what I got when I left for Egypt.

Where are we now?

As readers know, I'm in Egypt and teaching kindergarten at an American school.  My two teenage children (from before Islam) are in America with their father, X1.  My former husband, X2, moved his first wife and kids to The U.S. at the same time I moved here.  The baby is now six and a half and becoming bi-lingual both spoken and written, mashahallah.  I did remarry and with my current Egyptian husband I finally have a man who practices his faith.  Alhumdulillah.

I was not alone in those years.  I was in a community of messed-up Muslim bloggers.  I want to revisit those people and those times.  Come with me in the way-back machine...

Our Rewards Await Us

This easy-going European-American revert to Islam had a good life with her Middle-eastern Muslim husband---until he met another woman at an electronics store.  Then suddenly she had a life she couldn't tell anyone about.  For a time, they were all living together and there was drama every day. The other woman was called NAPster on the blog because she was a "New-Age," practictioner and not Muslim (at least in the beginning of her marriage though she later said shahaddah).  Many of the issue were around the other woman and the husband not adhering to Islam as the three struggled through polygamy together.

Her blog is no longer up but I can provide snippets of how the time went.  There were other posts of course but these are meant to show the arch of events and self-discovery. 

Five years ago ORAU wrote, "Well...he's done it again.  He actually married her again today. I actually feel physically ill. He says he doesn't think it will last longer than a month. I ask, "Why bother then?" Especially when twice this week you told her to never..."

Four years ago ORAU wrote, "I finally decided to delete everything off of my blog. If there was anyone out there that benefited from it, alhamdulillah. If I hurt anyone in anyway from what I wrote, may Allah forgive me. It helped me ..."

Three years ago ORAU wrote, " 'It was an honest and vulnerable post- perhaps she felt too exposed.'  People weren't reading my last post the way I intended...and I could see it was going to cause more trouble than was worth..."

and

"No, I don't feel sorry for him either.  There's been some discussion in my comments which leads me to say that I don't feel sorry for men that get stressed out because they choose to take on more than one wife."

and

"I guess he talked to someone at the mosque that night because now he says the divorce wasn't valid because I hadn't washed yet after my period stopped so I was still in the menstrual state."

and

"She's outta here!  Alhamdulillah, NAPster moved out yesterday. It was a struggle between she and hubby, but she finally left. But, I said some things in the process that now has hubby pissed at me, so we're not really talking."

and then

"I'm in a good place.  Things have settled down around here. And on this 13th day of 2009, I can finally say I'm in a good place. I'm liking myself more....I'm liking my marriage more. I'm liking my home more. The tension is gone."

Later posts were simply announcing that there was no news to tell.  The blog ended with well wishes for Ramadan and then a Happy New Year.  It has since been taken off line.


Where are they now?

ORAU is doing well, alhumdulillah.  She is living happily for the most part (like all of us) with her husband and daughter.  Though her co-wife once lived upstairs from her, ORAU would not be interested in that arrangement again.  Her focus has become making the most of her career and her child.  She has another baby on the way.  The co-wife is still in the picture and is also expecting.

I contacted ORAU and asked her the following:

What do you think about blogging as a coping mechanism.  Does it work?  Is it detrimental? 

How do readers help or hurt the blogger? 

What has to be the ulitmate coping tool? 

How does one STOP being a messed-up Muslimah blogger?"

She offered these thoughts:

I don't mind at all being interviewed anonymously. But no references to where I live either :)

I do think blogging helped me through a tough time and did help me cope. Most readers were beneficial in their comments. Others were down right nasty and insulting. But alhamdulillah I took what I needed from it and left what I didn't. It was more like an open online diary but instead of mulling over everything silently, I "met" people that could share my pain and offer words of advice.

I don't remember how long I used my blog, but after awhile I feel like I did grow as a person and Muslimah and no longer needed the crutch of the blog commenters. I do remember it was sometime into my daughter's first year...so maybe my priorities shifted from focusing only on him to focusing on my precious daughter. :) Kinda like getting a pet to focus on....I had to take care of someone that was helpless to have their needs met which made me a little less helpless for myself.

One thing that I did want to answer was about if I feel not blogging makes me a better muslimah/wife. I think it makes me a better Muslim wife in that I'm not putting my husband's business out there for the world to see....even if I never revealed our names and such.
My husband never knew and I did sometimes worry about him finding out. I got really good with clearing out the browser history and cookies so he couldn't see where I'd been online. I never worried that CW [co-wife] would find out because I never used names or identifying info.

I never had any real life people reading and to this day no one in my real life circle knows anything about it."

Muhammad

Yes, there are messed-up Muslim men blogging too!

Muhammad was happily married to Sakinah and the two of them were very upfront about their quest to find the perfect co-wife.  This African-American couple felt that their family (including their children) would welcome another woman into the mix. Yet when Muhammad began the process in earnest it broke them apart.

He wrote very eloquently about it in his post, Al Assab.  Here is a except: 

"Men are single tracked, goal oriented, point to point beings. One activity does not automatically blend with the next. Each activity is its own entity. When you are at work all of your focus is at work, when you are at home all of your focus is at home, or should be. When you are watching the game or a movie that is where all of your focus is as a man. This isn't the same for women. Women's activities blend into several multitasking situations. They watch TV while cooking dinner and talking on the phone. I can't do that. Either I'm on the phone, watching TV or cooking dinner and don't ask me to "multi-task" while doing a single activity. This leads to frustration."

If you ever have wanted to look inside the mind of a man coping with polygamist urges, then this is the blog post you must read.

Where are they now?

From reading Muhammad now, it seems that he is alone.  He still loves his ex-wife and misses the goodness they shared. Yet, he knows that their relationship became too tainted and had to end.  His ex-wife has moved on.

Peaceful Muslimah

By most accounts this woman was living a very successful life. She was teaching at a college in Qatar.  She had many friends and outlets for her sharp mind.  She had married an intellectual man to share some of her freetime.  Yet, her world began to unravel when her new husband announced that he wanted to stay married to his first wife rather than continue with his long-desired divorce.  All of a sudden her dreams of a simple partnership turned into a confusing polygamy nightmare.  Despite trying everything she could, the marriage ended.  She took off hijab.  Eventually, her controversial posts about Islam brought the fundementalist Muslim wrath upon her and she felt threatened enough to close her blog.

Where are they now?

I don't know.  Wherever she is, I wish her well.  I will always remember her kindly for offering friendship and support during my time of aloneness.  Her call from Qatar during Mr. Boo's hospital stay was very touching and in times of trouble that outstretched hand means a lot. 


Safa

Safa became a "Cause Celeb" when she used her blog named "Coping Mechanisms" to deal with her husband's decision to take another wife.  Actually, he took a coffee shop waitress as another wife first and then later (after that didn't work) he took a former business partner's estranged wife as his.  This didn't sit well with Safa, a Canadian revert who had settled in her husband's country of Egypt in order to raise their four daughters.  She was devastated and sank into a kind of depression which she voiced through her well-read blog.

She continued on in their marriage and even became pregnant with their fifth child.  Her decisions and her ways of coping made for an interesting read but a difficult life.  The birth of her son was bittersweet.  As it became apparent that her husband was preparing a villa in order to bring his new wife over to Egypt, Safa made plans to leave him.  Though she had enjoyed a posh life in Egypt, she didn't have money of her own and she set up a paypal account for donations.  Readers from all over the world sent money to help her "escape."

Safa made her way back to Canada with her children and from there set up a fight.  She did not slink away silently but made a stink.  Click here to read more about the firestorm she brought about.  She contacted the local media, made TV appearances, and said her truths to anyone who would listen.  I'm sure she made many people think. 

Did it help her?

Allahu alim.

Did it help others?

Allahu alim.

Did it help the cause of Islam?

Allahu alim.

Safa used to be my closest friend on the internet.  We shared everything.  We truly had a love for each other.  Maybe we weren't healthy for each other in that we were both enabling the other, however we were trying to find a way to continue living after our marriages had died.  Alhumdulillah for any good we shared and astragferallah for any bad.

I have contacted her to see if she would share some of what's happened in her life since.  Safa broke off our friendship once she was staying with her mother in Canada.  That was at the same time she decided to take off hijab.

I remember our last chat and I joked with her, "Come on!  It's not like you're so cute without hijab that you have to show it all off!" 

It was the way sisters kid each other...at least I imagine that's how it is (since I don't have siblings).  I regret not being more understanding of her needs.  I thought that off-the-wall humor was a way to reach her and stop her from making a quick decision.  We had been joking with each other for a couple of years at that point.  I thought she would understand me.  I didn't want her to take it off to everyone when she had just lost so much.  I confided in her during our last chat.  It was nothing new to confide in each other.

What was different this time is that she went on to her private blog and told her followers that I was a fraud.  I was not to be believed because I wasn't a good Muslim.  She was taking off hijab because she refused to be among frauds like me---or something to that effect.  A mutual reader alerted to me to this betrayl.

I couldn't think of anything else to do than to pour my heart out in a poem.

Where are they now?

Facebook has that funny way of pushing your past into your present.  From Facebook, I know that she still in Canada.  She has kept her hijab off and that her four daughters have followed suit.  I have no idea if they are still practicing the other aspects of Islam.  Her son is with her and growing bigger alhumdulillah.  There are many referrences to singing karaoke at a legion hall so she is exploring other aspects to her talents.  I don't know if she is writing or working.  She lists herself as engaged and looks happy with her new man.  Truly may God bless her with happiness. 


Vena

From her blog, "Thoughts of a First Wife," Vena often came across as a Pollyana; or maybe a "Polygamyana" if I can make up a new term.  She was looking at polygamy through rose-colored glasses.  She was half-full; not half empty.  It didn't matter if there wasn't enough time or money.  It didn't matter if her best friend came to Islam and then started sharing Vena's husband without asking first. 

Wait...ya...eventually it mattered a lot. It broke Vena slowly but surely. How could the two people she loved the most go behind her back and start a relationship?  No, she couldn't stay friends with Lisa.  She had a new role as co-wife with her best friend and it hurt.  It hurt to be Vena.

Where are they now?

You can read Vena's update and see that she did decide on divorce.  It cannot have been easy for this mother of six girls to find the strength to be all done.  Her incredible faith must have been the one thing to get her through those tough times.



PART II

I feel that we Muslims are on the internet repeating history.  The bloggers I listed above were on the scene five years ago and, even if many are no longer blogging (or not blogging the same issues), we as a community are still populating the 'net with our messed-up lives.  We are turning to the computer like a friend.   Since we are Muslim, we aren't just messed-up bloggers.  We are messed-up Muslim bloggers.

I asked my friend, psychologist Dr. Layla, to give us some professional words of wisdom regarding Muslim bloggers.
When is it healthy to be honest on the internet with personal life issues and when does it become distructive?

More and more people are using the internet as a platform upon which to place their issues. They enjoy the anonymity and the allowances that come with no one knowing who you are. On the internet, and more often through blogs, individuals enact their struggles and will many times express how they "truly" feel.

The difficulty arises when an individuals desire for anonymity conflicts with the desire to be seen, recognized, and validated which is a more personal process. It feels nice to have random users offer their words of support, but inside the blogger, there might be the question of "would they still say that if they knew who I really was". It is for this reason that most bloggers identify their true selves to at least some of their readers. It is not possible to create a dichotomous layout of when it is healthy or destructive to blog about personal matters because the internet is a fluid and boundless entity whereby you cannot control your audience or their remarks.

Often bloggers find themselves attacked, ridiculed, judged and sometimes targeted for sharing their experiences and their beliefs or impressions about them. While it is popular to say that one does not care what others think, most normal individuals are deeply hurt by character attacks.


Islamically, being private is more respected. However, are there times when bringing issues into public is better?


While I am not an Islamic scholar, I can say that the issue of blogging is a personal preference and way in which many choose to connect with the world. Some use Islam as the subject matter while others use themes such as their diseases or other life impacting aspects of their personas. I think it is best to refrain from judging the choice that people make regarding how they share themselves with the world. It could be argued that often sharing one's struggle including one's mistakes helps validate the experience of others and an individuals process of recovering and healing can be immensely helpful to those suffering in silence.


You were a reader of mine when I was going through some very tough times. Did you ever feel that I was in danger of going overboard with my writing?


There were several times when I did worry about you. What I know from my day to day work is that human beings are incredibly resiliant and resourceful and I trusted in your inner strength to make it out.


For others who may be reading one of these blogs, is there a way to be more pyschologically or Islamically helpful in comments?

I'm not sure that the aim of blogging for many is to be necessarily "psychologically" or "islamically" helpful. Instead, I think that our process is often what is most helpful. Often bloggers write when they are in the pit of misery and when their problems resolve, they disappear. This type of a writing style while it is very common reflects how the specific blogger accesses help and their retreat when the problem resolves. Writing is first a self-centered practice, and that's okay.

What would be the danger signs that a blogger is no longer benefitting themselves or Islam with their blog?

I am relecutant to say that there are dangers detectable without knowing a person. Recent studies are shedding more and more light on the personality differences of individuals on the internet versus in reality. Further, I don't think that there is an objective way to assess whether an indiviudal is benefiting themeselves or Islam and any attempt to do so is a sanctioning of an individual's freedom of expression.


Would you recommend bloggers and readers forging interpersonal relationships through the 'net or not?


I would prefer not to recommend anything here, it all depends.


If a person wanted to re-invent themselves from a hard time to a time of ease, would you recommend they continue blogging through the transforming time or to shelve it and come back to it later?


I trust that individuals innately know when they need to share and when not to share. It is important that an individual weigh out the pros and cons to their sharing and make that decision.


Thanks to you, Dr. Layla

...and to all the bloggers and readers who want to rise above the problems within themselves and in the world to instead create solutions.

It's good to remember that we are not our past.  We are not our problems.  We are whole and complete and perfectly able to find solutions through God's Mercy.  There is never any problem without there also being a solution.

We don't need to become messed-up Muslim bloggers.  We don't.  We can have troubles and share but not become the trouble itself.  Be cogniscent of the easy entrapment of blogging yourself into a corner; you can be more careful of your actions and reactions. 


PART III
I would like to offer advice to the Muslim blogging community since I feel I've "been there done that."  Let's evolve beyond where we've been.

Don't blog anything that you would be ashamed to say in a TV interview.  Potentially, your words will be seen by tens of thousands of people.  Be proud of how you present yourself in your posts.  Delete those posts which would embarrass you if others really saw you on TV saying those things.

Be mindful that whether or not you blog about Islam, you are a Muslim blogger.  You are representing your faith every time you type so be aware that you will be accountable for your actions which might bring people to Islam or might repell them.

Blog after the storm has passed.  While it seems like you need a lifeboat NOW, there isn't as much of an emergency as you imagine.  Trust in God, do your dishes and wait until the next day to re-read what you wrote before clicking PUBLISH POST.

Get out of the house.  When your world is small, your troubles are big.  See more of the world, even if it is around your block and back. 

Make real friends.  The people on the internet are not real friends.  Sorry!  But they will not be bringing you chicken soup when you're sick.  Find some people who you really resonnate with in real life.  Make a real circle of friends rather than a group of people hiding behind their screens.

Consider the best not the worst.  We need to make excuses in our life for those who upset us.  Blogging about anyone who angers us sets up a bad feeling inside ourselves that we too are the focus of someone else's rage.  When we are benevolent, we feel the mercy of others and of God.

Find things to say which bring hassanette to your life.  Think of something so glorious to say that you could die tomorrow and your good deeds from your blog would bring you increased favor even in the grave.

Stay balanced.  There are many ways we could focus our lives.  Keep even-keeled and make sure not to neglect the simple duties and pleasures of life. 

Remember Allah.  Remember Allah when you write and when you comment.  Remember Allah when you need help.  Ask for help from Allah, not your readers.

Don't compare yourself to someone else.  Everyone is so different really.  Every story is so different.  We can put ourselves in someone else's shoes but we don't really understand the shoes as described in a blog post.  It's too distant from our own reality.  If someone else is divorcing or taking off hijab, that doesn't mean that you should too.  Don't use other bloggers' current situation to become your own goal.  The converse is also true in that what worked for you won't work for everyone else so don't shove down the "should".

Don't believe the hype.  Muslims are imperfect.


Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Playbody Model Reverts to Islam



This video shows (once again) that anyone can come to Islam. Even people who have been high with success to the point where they didn't fear Allah. Even people so low they forgot that there was a God.

Coming to Islam isn't for those who are pristine clean angels. God already has angels. The Quran tells us that if Allah had wanted to, He would have populated the earth with angels but he didn't. He chose to have faullible human beings.

I like what Jaime says in this video. I like that she has lived and suffered and given up that suffering for Islam. She has found peace and yet still remains fully herself--a better version of herself and one she can be proud of.

She is our sister in Islam.

If you are reading this as someone who never ever would ever think to be a Muslim, realize that she felt the same way once. It is possible but you have to believe that it's possible.

With God, all things are possible.

May Allah reward our sister Jaime and grant her the highest level of Paradise for providing dawaah (the spread of Islam). May Allah protect her and her son. May Allah show her father the truth of Islam and help him reconcile his fears regarding his daughter's reversion.

Everything Will Be OK

Tonight I typed this into google search: 

OK, God, what do you have for me?

And I got this.



Saturday, March 24, 2012

My Favorite TV Show




This is the extreme effort from Saudi media man...or maybe I should say "iman"... Ahmad Al Shugairi.

I watch him every Friday with Mr. Boo.  There is so much goodness in the program that I wanted to share it with you. 

No, you won't hear a lot of English.  Stay with it even though there aren't subtitles.

When you hear "Rasullulah" join with the others in the show to wish peace upon our Prophet.

The name of the show translates to “What Would You Do?” I love the opening of the show and how it illustrates that the times of the Prophet (pbuh) are not to be forgotten in modern days. We can remember him in our daily life; not just as a history lesson from long ago.

This particular show starts with an interview Ahmed Al Shugairi has with an actor popular in Egyptian dramas. He has played figures from Islamic history many times. The tender way the actor discusses his work, bringing to life the important men of Islam, is very touching.

Around 5:30 minutes into the show, is the hidden camera segment. This is a wonderful way to remind viewers how to stay connected with their faith in their every action. This time, the cameras are hidden at a buffet restaurant. The diners are allowed to eat as they like but are then given a hard time when they leave food on their plate. Why? Because food is a blessing and to disregard the food like it’s garbage is to disregard Allah’s blessings.

Watch and see what happens!

Around 12:30, there is some English as he approaches a Western woman. See how she has done with the challenge. See how he talks to her. Learn exactly the way we need to reach out to others.

Go to Ahmed Al Shugairi’s youtube channel to see more. I’ve really enjoyed seeing the hidden camera.

What would you do...

if there was an apple on the supermarket’s floor?

if there was a water faucet running in the bathroom?

if someone was taking a long time at the ATM?

if a child was ahead of you in line at the little convenience store?

if there was garbage on the way to the cave where the Angel Gabriel first brought the Quran?

Last night, on MBC3, there was a really surprising one. What would you do if the elevator operator showed you a new sign that said you must say, “Asalamu Alaykom” upon entering the elevator?

Now, some men didn’t need to see the sign, as they said the Muslim greeting right away. There actually was a man who HIT the elevator operator when he was reminded, by being shown the sign, to greet other Muslims. Astragferallah. I love how Ahmed Al Shugairi brings a calm sensibility to the participants and gets them to see inside themselves better than before.

May Allah be pleased with our brother Ahmed. May the programs he helps produce be acceptable and seen by others so that they too can improve their knowledge and their actions.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Musa Cerantonio



Asalamu Alaykom,


AN UPDATE

August, 2016:

My time working on a TV show in 2012 led to me crossing paths with Brother Musa Cerantonio.  We never met in person.  He saw my audition and we later emailed.  After this blog posting, I never corresponded with him again.

Imagine my surprise this May when I learned that he was arrested for trying to sail from Australia to Indonesia in order to fight in an Islamic jihad.  Here is the story from The Guardian and from The Daily Mail. I hadn't realized that he'd already run into trouble in the Phillipines in 2014.

There is nothing he said in our interview back in 2012 that led me to believe he was a jihadist.  The only hint that he was not very tolerant was an entry he made on his own blog.  He had been very annoyed by a taxi driver who had been playing music when he got in the car.  Cerantonio asked him to turn it off (which is seldom greeted kindly by the driver).  A problem ensued and Cerantonio blamed the driver without seeing any blame going towards himself.  This lack of empathy can lead to extremism.

I am not really sure what happened to him and who he is now.  All I can do is remember a time when this is the man I got to know.  After all is said and done, Allah is The All Knowing.

And now for what I originally posted...






Brother Musa Cerantonio is the speaker featured in the above video.  It’s from a time when he spoke to a large audience on the topic, “From Darkness to Light.” It’s about his reversion to Islam. While it is a long video, it’s also fascinating. It’s worth viewing if you want to understand why anyone would leave their past life and come to Islam.


I asked Brother Musa if I could interview him for this blog and he was nice enough to agree. In some ways we are alike and in others different. I’ll let you compare and contrast as you read.

Asalamu Alaykom, Brother. Thank you for agreeing to answer some questions. I trust that you are back in Egypt in good health and increased deen.


Wa Alaykum Assalam.

Al-Hamdulillah I am here in Cairo and well.


Alhumdulillah.


I'll try my best at answering the questions without going on and on which I tend to do whenever I write.


When and how did you take your shahaddah?


I embraced Islam in the year 2002 at age 17. It was a long journey which took about 2 years of reading and investigating Islam. As it would be a long story to narrate, you may watch it here in this video.


Thanks for that! I’ll include it on the post. I also took shahaddah in 2002. For me it was on September 9, 2002. How about you?


I don't know the exact date that I embraced Islam however I know it was in the month of Ramadhan in 2002, which means it was somewhere in November, I think in the first or second week of it. Which means you beat me by 2 months.


When and how did it become apparent that you would feel better in a Muslim country?


The first time I knew that a Muslim country would be better for me, especially for my faith, was when I visited the blessed city of Madinah in 2005. Being in a place where Islam was everywhere and you were able to feel so at home and at peace really made me want to stay there forever. I won't lie and say that I didn't still miss home, especially knowing that the Australian Muslim community was in great need and there is much to be done. It was this balance that I realised I had to satisfy, being able to practice Islam as best I could and having access to Islamic knowledge which was available in Muslim lands as well as being able to serve my community and be involved in propagating Islam. I was never sure how I would be able to fulfill this as they seemed like 2 contradictory aims, either settling in a Muslim land and being cut off from da'wah, or staying in Australia and being cut off from the Muslim lands. It wasn't until I was offered a job in Egypt working for an English-speaking Islamic TV channel that I was able to do both of these things and now that I am living this dream I don't look back for a moment.


I really hear the pull both objectives have on you. From the chance you’ve been given to present on IQRA, I think it’s the best choice for now inshahallah.

Do you consider that you've made hijrah?


This is something which I ask myself until now and I try to resolve with myself what my true aims of being here in Egypt are. I did come here wanting to be able to improve my religious practice, however at the same time I cannot say that I will be here for good, if an opportunity were to arise that I found to be more beneficial for me. I still aspire to return to Australia as well as other lands to help work for and spread Islam and I cannot rule this out. For now though my intention is to stay in Egypt as long as I can and as long as I feel I am getting the most out of my time.


That’s a good litmus test as all of us have finite time and must constantly monitor how best to utilize our time and talents.

What has been the hardest part of making that leap of faith?


Leaving my family, friends and activities behind me. These days its not so hard with cheap air travel and Skype to see family and to keep in touch, however perhaps the hardest part is knowing that in some ways I am leaving many activities behind me and having to hope that somebody will be able to continue them. I really miss being in the mosques and Islamic centres that I have been in since I embraced Islam. I miss being able to learn and share knowledge with those I have become so close to.


I see from the video you held a leadership position within your community in Australia so I bet they are feeling the loss of you as well.

How do you imagine that it's easier for you, as a male, to live in Egypt than for me as a woman?


I think in some ways this is true as Egypt is still a very patriarchal society. I have found that many of the 'cultural' elements of society here can make life harder for women, whereas at the same time among the more religious people a woman will find more respect and ease. Speaking with many secularists I heard them say that they are completely opposed to women working as it was against 'Arabness', whereas speaking to some of the religious people they said that they had no problem with it and would be willing to work alongside women.


That’s an interesting comment! I haven’t heard that before. Some of these conversations are not ones I get to hear.

In the reverse, how do you imagine that it's harder for you, as a male, to live in Egypt than for me as a woman?


I will be honest and say that I cannot think of any specific example where it is harder for me in Egypt as a male, however I do not doubt that there must be examples available. Perhaps in time I will find something though for now I have not encountered any hardships that were due solely to me being a male.


Formerly, as a single man, did you find that Egyptians want a foreigner to marry into their family OR that you were not welcome to do so? I'm curious if they were as welcoming to the idea of a foreign man as they are to a foreign woman.


Though I didn't marry an Egyptian woman, I have found that Egyptians are very open to allowing a foreigner to marry into their family.  Most will be content with having someone who is a practicing Muslim and do not focus so much on race, though I do not doubt that they still have their preferences. Being a white westerner I have found no problems with this, however speaking to other brothers who are from the East or Africa I have heard horror stories of being discriminated against by some Egyptians. Out of those who I know to be religious and sincere I have never heard of any racial preferences and I have seen with my religious Egyptian friends that most are in fact married to non-Egyptians.


The racism in Egypt is sadly apparent.

Hindsight is 50/50. If you could help someone else avoid a pitfall, what would be some advice to clear their path for them?


Being aware of your path and learning from your experiences and the experiences of others is very important. I find that forward-thinking will help clear many of our potential problems. I remember my grandfather always taught me to treat life like a game of chess, don't simply think one move ahead, think 10 moves ahead and this way you will avoid falling into traps. This means we have to assume every possibility and plan ahead to make sure we are able to avoid or at least be ready for any hardships or trials. This necessitates doing all of our actions and planning with absolute sincerity. True sincerity does not just mean having pure intentions, but rather it means studying what you will do, preparing for it and exerting your utmost effort to do it with the best of your ability.


I love that advice! May both you and your grandfather get good deeds for passing along this smart way of visualizing a life plan.

How did the revolution effect you personally and professionally? Did it shake your deen or your resolve to live in Egypt? Did it increase your faith in any way?


I was not in Egypt at the time of the revolution as I did not arrive here until later in the year. I remember though being glued to Al-Jazeera watching the revolution take place. My emotions went wild, I was watching the people march in the streets, being shot at and attacked by police. My heart longed for the chance to be with them and to be able to take part in this uprising against tyranny. Knowing that the people were making their future and deposing the tyrant Mubarak made me proud and gave me hope as a Muslim. I knew that this was not something that belonged to the Egyptians alone, but rather was something that the whole Muslim Ummah would benefit from, paving the way towards Islamic governance Insha'Allah in Egypt and around the world.


Inshahallah.


As soon as I arrived in Cairo I went to Tahrir Square and it felt so surreal to be there standing in the place I had seen so many shocking and amazing scenes unfold before me on the TV screen. later when protests resumed against the military rule I went to Tahrir to join the people and found myself in the middle of the chaos and ended up having a tear gas canister land next to me and learning a valuable lesson that if you ever find yourself exposed to tear gas, don't stand there looking at it, run as fast as you can away from it!


I’m laughing because I can picture very well both your surprise and sudden resolve for self preservation. I have been to Tahrir since the protests but not during the protests. I myself don’t have an interest in being part of Egypt’s change in this way. I’m very subversive and mold the kindergartners of Egypt to be compassionate listeners and thinkers who solve problems with words not fists.

Can you describe one really joyful experience in Egypt which made you say, "Subhanallah! This really is a moment which makes being here worth it!"


There are so many to choose from that it is hard to choose just one.


I’m glad to hear that! I can say the same for me.


I remember when I first arrived at my apartment I asked the doorman where the nearest masjid was. He told me that if I go left there are 2 mosques in the street, if I went right there is another, if I went straight ahead there were 2 and in the street beside my apartment there was another masjid. All of which were no less than a minute's walking distance. I went from having only one mosque in my area to having to choose which mosque out of the 8 or so that were in my vicinity to pray in!


Mashallah that moment must have felt so good; to know that you were surrounded by places of worship whereas before you were limited.

Thank you, Brother Musa for answering my questions. May Allah continue to surround you with light and guide you so that you can in turn guide others.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Prudence in Paris



Asalamu Alaykom,




Dear Prudence, won't you come out to play

Dear Prudence, greet the brand new day


The sun is up, the sky is blue


It's beautiful and so are you


Dear Prudence won't you come out to play


This is a story about "Prudence."  That's not her real name.  No one names their daughter "Prudence" any more.  We don't actually seem to want daughters to be prudent.  We want them to live for today; to be in the 'now' of the moment and enjoy their life.  Planning for the future isn't for Isbella and Oliva.

"Prudence" however is the perfect name for this woman because she was always the one to be smart about her affairs.  Maybe "always" is overstating.  In her teenage years, she had been the wild child who ran around with a patcholi-scented crowd of artists and musicians.  She was their mascot of sorts.  She was still in high school when she was learning how to avoid getting arrested when the clubs let out.

She was one of those students who trouble teachers; not because she was naughty but because she was so bright.  "If only she'd apply herself," they'd say to each other.  She never did.  She never went on to college either.  She didn't even try.

What she wanted to do was travel.  She had a dream to travel to France and be alive among the backdrop of Diva, her favorite movie.  She wanted to sip tea on a sidewalk cafe, butter a bagette and drive off in a white Citreon.  So she began what would become her undoing.  She began to save for that trip.

At first, she started an accoutant's ledger book for her tips.  She would waitress and collect the dollar bills, quarters, dimes, nickles and pennies.  While other waitresses scoffed at small change, she thought of each offering as a step towards her goal and carefully tucked them away.  She would not consider using any of the change to ride the bus.  She would walk home.  It was a long walk.  She decided that it was good for her health.

She lived in a small apartment.  Even when she was promoted to being the manager of the restaurant, and had enough money to get a nicer place in a better neighborhood, she stayed put.  She stayed where she was because she was saving for her trip to France. 

She told everyone her dream, as if it was to make up for the smallness of her apartment and the smallness of her life.  She would not be working in the restaurant forever.  She would be the one to travel to France and see the sights.  It wouldn't be just a week or two.  She would be gone a summer as in, "summering in France."  People could do that if they prepared.

Prudence was preparing.  She took language courses.  She took art history courses.  She even learned how to play songs on the accordian.  She spent her time perfecting her mind and body so that she would be ready for France.  It was a process.  It took years.  Eventually, the years took decades.

There was the short-lived marriage which almost derailed her dream.  She had married a man who reminded her of the past.  He was a singer who overspent, overslept, and did drugs.  She married him because he promised to take care of her.  He couldn't even take care of himself so it wasn't the wisest decision.  It might have even been the stupidest.

She felt so stupid when it ended.  Prudence had not planned for a marriage let alone a divorce.  The experience took thousands of dollars to start, thousands of dollars at the end and almost two years to finish.  She made a vow to never let another man in to her quiet world.

She turned to cats for comfort.  Cats didn't need as much effort.  They were cute and fun without all the baggage.  They were fuzzy children.  Yes, they were like her children.  She decided that she didn't need children.

She didn't need so many things.  Her life became more streamlined and exact.  Her routines became almost a kind of ritual.  She began to log what she bought and what she ate.  She was happy knowing how much she spent and how much she saved.  She felt in control.

Going out was unnecessary.  There was no need to eat at a restaurant if you could make the food at home so much cheaper.  There was no need to go to a movie theatre if you could borrow tapes and later DVDs from the library.  That DVD player had been a big extravagance for Prudence.  She couldn't make the purchase without hesitation.

In fact, she couldn't do much without wondering if she was doing it correctly.  She began to feel that each step was either in the right direction or the wrong direction.  "How would that affect my life?" was her constant thought.

Her relationship with Thom took her by surprise.  She didn't need or want him but somehow he entered into her life anyway.  He'd been a friend of a friend for years so there was no hint that he was going to be anything more.  At first, he was just sitting on her couch to watch movies and he was welcome as a fellow audience member.  They liked the same genres and laughed at the same jokes.  They could ridicule bad movies together and talk endlessly about the ones they enjoyed.

Then came the moment she was both excited for and dreading:  she would show Thom her favorite movie.  She put in the Diva DVD and sat down.  She had never tried to show the movie to her ex.  He was more Ren and Stimpy than foreign films.  This man was different.  They shared the experience and the distance on the couch dissapeared.  They even talked about her dream to travel to France.

It became their dream together.  They counted their money and figured on another year's wait.  They could go but they would need that much more in savings.  She had been delaying the trip for over twenty years so another year didn't really seem to matter. 

Besides, the planning of the trip would need a lot of attention on her part.  She wanted everything just right.  She didn't want the dream to explode in her face.  She needed it to go well.  Thom had little say in the matter but then he wasn't the kind of man to make plans. 

A year passed quickly; the way boring lives move forward.  Each day was crossed off on the kitchen calendar until at last the month of departure arrived.  The anxiety was palpitable.  It was hard to focus at work and hard to think about anything other than the trip.  She was finally going to France!

I saw Prudence after the trip.  Once she returned we reconnected.  I was so happy for her to have lived her dream.  Except, she wasn't happy.  She was crushed.  Nothing had gone as planned.  The experience was marred from the moment they touched down.  I listened to a long list of complaints. 

Her French wasn't good enough.  She had thought that those lessons would be all she'd need.  She forgot how very few conversations she'd ever practiced.

The people really were unhelpful and unwilling to go that extra mile for a tourist.

Her ability to read maps and travel the metro was non-existant.  She got lost more times than she had patience to endure.  She had cried a couple of times when the going got tough and Thom got going.  Thom was able to keep flexible and fun and she wasn't. 

It was hard to find food that was vegan.

It was hard to find places that weren't overcrowded.

The flat they had rented for June and July was next to a club and loud every night.  Why hadn't she realized that before?  She didn't sleep well.  Paris was all loud with cars and shouts and it was dirty too.  She hasn't known the true city; she had only known the cinematic version.  She stopped wanting to go out and explore. 

Instead of going with the flow, as she had as a young girl, she looked in the mirror and admitted she was middle-aged woman.  She was on the trip she should have taken years ago.  All those years of delaying gratification turned her the kind of person who couldn't enjoy a summer in City of Lights.  She had built her whole life around the idea that this trip would be the highlight of her life.  Instead, it left her wondering about all the various mistakes she had made along the way.   

She had scrimped and saved her way to Paris and in the end she had been unable to find happiness.  There was no gold at the end of the rainbow.  She left for home a broken-hearted woman.

Upon her return, she didn't want to admit to anyone that she had hated the trip.  Thom didn't even want to speak to her.  She didn't know what to say to him anyway.  It was embarrassing to not be the person you thought you were.

Prudence now had a huge void in her life because the big plan had been played out.  She didn't want to go to work because she didn't know why she was working anymore anyway.  She called in sick.  Everything stopped.

The only thing she could  think to do was to watch Diva another time.  She cried when she saw the places on the screen which reminded her of the trip.  Why hadn't she been able to enjoy her time?  As the movie credits rolled, she thought of the character of the postman who steals the dress from the Diva's dressingroom.  He just wants to be close to her beauty.  That's all Prudence had wanted from Paris.  She had just wanted to experience it firsthand; to touch it and taste it so she could feel the beauty of France herself.

She looked down at her cat and itched behind his ears.  It was a beautiful black cat.  Prudence looked at him as if for the first time.  He really was special and she loved him.

She looked around her living room and for the first time realized that she was where she should be.  There wasn't a flat on the Cornice calling to her anymore.  She didn't like living in Paris.  She liked Toledo.

She went out to the kitchen to make some tea.  She looked at her used tea bag on the counter; waiting for her to brew it up again.  She started to reach for it and then once holding it made the sudden decision to throw it away.  No.  She would get a new tea bag.  She deserved a fresh pot of tea with all the flavor possible.

Prudence looked out her window and saw her life anew.  She sipped slowly and savored the view.


   

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Our Daily Bread

I never met a bread I didn't like.


This is the preparation of one of my favorite Egyptian breads:  oris.  You can't just walk into a bakery and pick up a bag.  It's one of those specialty items which is homemade.  

My husband knows I crave it every now and then.  It's got this sweet sour dough crusty taste.  The key ingredient is high quality butter.   When my husband wants to treat me to oris, he secretely buys some of the better butter and gives it to his sister and mother for them to use in the recipe.  I swear that the recipe seems from Pharaonic times.


 

\This was supposed to be a picture of a full circle of oris but I took a bite before I remembered that it was the last one.  So, that's me and my oris a few seconds before I devoured it.


I know you're probably thinking that the Middle East is all pita bread.  It isn't. 

It isn't called pita bread here, by the way.   It's called, aish balady; country bread.

The poor can buy five of these little rounds for 25 piastres.  The government subsidises it. 



The well-to-do don't eat aish baladi even though it's the healthiest alternative.  They eat the phyllo rolls like this.  I think these are about half a pound each. Think French bread.

The kids' sandwiches at school are all in these.  It's funny for me to see how the sandwich bags are long and rectangular to accomodate the shape of this bread. 


This is a pate which should be filled with cheese but instead has a smear of cheese taste.  It's OK.  This little pastry is a welcome addition to any breakfast.  I like to cut mine open and add some apricot jam.



This is the dry bread.  I don't eat it unless I have to.  It tastes good!  But the edges could do some damage to your mouth.  The family wets it before eating it but I don't do that since they use tap water.



Ma-rah-rah!  I love saying it!  This is a dry bread too but is more like a chip.  It can be a nice snack cracker, crouton, and even as a cereal.  The children love it.

All of these breads are considered Allah's blessing.  To see bread on the floor or ground is to witness a very haram action.  If we are walking and my husband sees any baked good in our path, he stops and picks it up to get it out of the shoes trampling through. 

Subhanallah that we could be so reverent about bread!

May Allah give us our daily bread.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Important Meeting

  I tried to write about praying on time before...



and some were not amused.

Did I not understand how to reach you?

Did you not understand what I meant?

Maybe a little of both.

Neither writer nor reader are to blame.  We were both striving to understand and to be understood.

I'm going to try it again.

No, I'm not just going to shout PRAY ON TIME!

Because frankly, shouting hurts my throat and hurts your ears.  I'd rather find a clever way to present the subject.  Inshahallah, I'll do my best and if you would be so nice as to humor me and play along.

Right now, I want you to think of the five people currently living you would most like to meet.

Don't be like the people of Thamud and ask a million qualifying questions.  Keep it simple.

1.

2.

3.

4.

5.

Name them in your head or write them down.  If you want, you can even list them in the comment section.

I'll tell you mine:

1.  Yusuf Islam (Former Pop Star Cat Stevens and Muslim Revert)

2.  Queen Elizabeth (Reigning Monarch of England)

3.  Jimmy Carter (Former U.S. President and Humanitarian)

4.  Elizabeth Gilbert (Author of "Eat, Pray, Love")

5.  Sheik Mohamed Jebril (Egyptian Reciter of Quran)

Quibble if you will with my list, I'm sure you can get a sense of the immense power those people wield.  They are special.  If I could meet one-on-one with any of them you'd better believe I would be super excited.  If you look over your list, I bet you have that same feeling with your five. 

In getting ready, I would think about being very well-groomed to the point of being fastidious.  I would be thinking of washing up, dressing for success, and brushing teeth for that million dollar smile. 

However, I wouldn't just care about my looks.  I would care about being focused on the meeting itself.  I wouldn't want to be distracted by any other person that day.  Every other problem I had before would melt away because I had the chance of a lifetime to meet someone so great.

The appointment time for me to arrive would actually be a window of opportunity.  Each one of my top five people would be waiting for me for a couple of hours.  I could come right away or keep them waiting.  That part would be left to my discretion. 

But seriously..why would I want to keep them waiting?  If I had such an amazing chance, who or what would be more important?  No one and nothing would get in my way of being on time.  Right? 

Right!

Of course.

What were we talking about?  Oh, yes...praying on time.  So we are given five chances each day to meet with God.

GOD

Who is more important:  God or God's creation?  Astragferallah, for the times we value God's creation above the Creator.  We realize how exciting and special it would be to meet with one of the people we treasure in this life while we forget the chance we have to be in God's presence every time we pray.

Do you get me?

We miss a chance to elevate ourselves from the Meccan idol worshippers of Jahaliyya to the immigrated believers of Medina.  We could be the motivating force in our own life.  We don't have to wait for an invitation; Allah is always welcoming us.

ALLAH

Allah Subhanah Wa Tallah wants to meet us; not a world leader, or a superstar or the author of a best-seller. Think how incredible that opportunity is and remind yourself that you've got five chances every day to go to a most important meeting.