Saturday, October 15, 2011

Making the First Move

I was teaching a review session for my chemistry students the other day when one of my students (a post-bacc in her late 30’s) approached me.

“Lisa, I don’t mean this to be offensive so please don’t take it as such. But I really wish there were more Muslims that do what you do.”

With a half-smile and some confusion, I replied, “What do you mean?”

“It’s just refreshing to see a Muslim going out of her way for me.”

She proceeded to tell me the story of how her brother was a victim of the 9/11 attacks. I cannot even begin to attempt to paraphrase the complexity and emotion of her words so I won’t.

At this point, she was almost in tears, and said

“I mean, I see a lot of Muslims every day who aren’t terrorists, but I don’t see them as anything else. It’s just nice to finally have a relationship with a Muslim.”

She then apologized for ranting, changed the subject, and proceeded to ask about the titration question we had just gone over. But I couldn’t seem to focus on that.

As a convert, I often wonder if I am, in fact, being a “good Muslim.” For so long, I took that to mean praying five times a day and fasting during Ramadan, but it has grown to mean so much more. Having left the comforts of MSA-life behind, I now often find myself as the only Muslim in the room. Whether I’m doing experiments in the lab or teaching a group of first-year chemistry students, my responsibility to be an example on behalf of all Muslims has recently become more evident. I mean, it would certainly be easier if people did not directly associate my actions with my Islam, but I am well aware that this isn’t the case.

Is it fair? No. Is it reality? Yes.

The Muslim community needs to step up its game. We want people to stop having issues with us, but we don’t want to do anything to engage them. (And no. Shoving dawah pamphlets in people’s faces does not qualify as community engagement.) We are such multi-faceted people with unique talents and skills that, theoretically, we should be able to connect with a large, diverse population of people. But instead of making the first move, we sit and wait for “the other” to come to us. And when they don’t, we hide behind this fact and blame them for their lack of willingness to learn about our religion.

As part of our respective communities, we need to do things to connect with all people, Muslims and non-Muslims. And this doesn’t even need to be done on a grand level- some of the simplest things we do can facilitate the beginning of conversations that really need to take place if we ever want to be understood. Community service and random acts of kindness are a great place to start. People notice when you do something for them because, regardless of how big or small you may think your actions are, you put their needs ahead of your own. Actions like these speak much louder than any pamphlet ever could.

We shouldn’t be content with simply being recognized for not doing something bad. We should strive to be known for the good things that we do for the benefit of others. May Allah give us all the courage to make the first moves in reaching out to those with whom we come in contact and may He allow for us to foster a sense of understanding and acceptance of all people in our respective communities. Ameen.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Sweet Charity

The Islamic month of Ramadan will [insha’Allah] be back again in just a few weeks. While most people understand the blessed month to be a time during which Muslims abstain from food, drink, and sexual intercourse for the period of the daylight hours, Ramadan holds a much greater meaning.

This 30-day abstention from food and drink gives us an infinitesimal glimpse at the daily lives of the poor while allowing us to refocus our time and energy on other, more spiritual things, the goal being that we will maintain that focus outside of Ramadan.

One of the 5 Pillars of Islam mandates that those whose wealth amounts to more than a specified minimum must give a small percentage of this wealth to those in need [zakat]. Additionally, voluntary donations [sadaqah] are highly encouraged in Islam and are considered to be a proof of one’s faith. While charity in all forms is encouraged year-round, it is especially significant in the month of Ramadan.

Ibn Abbaas reported that the Prophet Muhammad (saws) had been more munificent than the falling rain. He was said to have been even more so in the month of Ramadan, such that his generosity in the previous 11 months would not compare to his giving in that month alone.

But a lot of us hold our money with a clenched fist when it comes to giving it to others. Many give only the required zakat each year and some of us can’t even bring ourselves to do that, let alone give voluntary donations. Recent psychological studies [published in the March 21 issue of Science in 2008] have concluded that people who spend money on others (be it gifts, donations, etc.) reported significant boosts in happiness than those who use their money solely for personal spending. The long-term, compounding effects of charitable spending far outlasted the fleeting pleasure people felt from personal consumption. So if you’re finding that you’ve become less happy or more irritable than you once were, think about how you’ve been using your money- that might just be the cause.

If you can remember all of the times you’ve donated money, you’re probably not giving often enough.

Don’t wait until the last week of Ramadan to start thinking about giving to others. Better yet, don’t even wait until Ramadan- do it now! And don’t let Ramadan be the only time you donate. Give consistently all throughout the year, even if you can only spare a few dollars every week. If your intention is pure, insha'Allah you will be rewarded each time.

You don’t need to be Muslim to give to those in need. And those to whom you give most certainly needn’t be Muslim.

May Allah allow all of us to reach and experience the blessings of this upcoming Ramadan and may He soften our hearts to those in need, allowing us to give freely from what He has so graciously given to us. Ameen.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Asking the Muslims to Ask Allah

I tried really hard not to write anything regarding the Anthony Weiner nonsense (specifically with regards to his Muslim wife, Huma Abedin). I really did. But recent conversation and media have warranted a Muslim sister’s perspective on the issue and I decided to step up to the plate even though I might strike out.

So as far as I can tell, there are two general opinions that Muslims seem to be taking:

1) that Huma should work things out with Weiner
2) that Huma should leave him because she shouldn’t have married a non-Muslim in the first place or because she deserves someone better

First of all, let’s just stop.

Does what we say she should do really matter to Huma Abedin? No. She’s going to do what she wants to, regardless of what we think she should do.

Do we really think that we’re helping in some way by announcing to all our friends and co-workers that “she must stick by her man no matter what” or that “this happened to her as a punishment for marrying a non-Muslim man”? Because it’s not. [Why aren't we more concerned with prepping for Ramadan? It's only weeks away!]

If we actually want to help Huma, let’s just pray for her. Make dua that our sister finds comfort and ease again. Make dua that Allah will keep her [as well as the rest of us] on the path of Islam and that He allows her to find happiness. And may He allows us all to be as merciful towards one another as He is to us.


The Prophet (saws) was reported to have said, "Whenever you make a supplication for another believer and he is not present, an angel will say ‘and same to you.'"

"The supplication that gets the quickest answer is the one made by one Muslim for another is his absence." [Tirmidhi]

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Let's Talk About Hijab

When we hear the word hijab, or (head) cover, we immediately picture a Muslim woman wearing a scarf and perhaps a long, loose-fitting dress. We might even picture specific women in our community who fit the bill. But this word very rarely (if at all) makes us picture a man.

The men of the Muslim community are especially good at spotting hijabi women (those who choose to wear the scarf) who are not properly covered (according to the standards set by their mental picture of a hijabi woman). This superhero-like ability allows for them to rush over and" kindly" let us know that we have a hair out of place or that our ankles are visible.

"Astugfirullah! All your hair is showing!"
"Those pants are way too tight!"
"This is not the appropriate dress of a modest Muslim woman!"

Ok. So perhaps men need to be a bit more considerate in their approach.

But as nice as it is to know that Muslim men are so concerned with the hijab of Muslim women, it would be nicer to know that men were just as concerned with their own hijab. (What?! Hijab for men?!) Yes. Men have to wear hijab too.

Allah says in the Qur'an, "Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty: that will make for greater purity for them: And Allah is well acquainted with all that they do." [24:30]

For men, the hijab entails covering everything from the navel to below the knees. From the perspective of a hijabi woman, the male dress code doesn't seem nearly as difficult to incorporate into a modern American society as does the female's. Yet time and time again, we see Muslim men lifting their shirts to wipe their sweat from their brow during a basketball game or wearing shorts that come above their knees, consciously exposing what they should be covering.

In addition to the clothing requirements, the male hijab includes lowering one's gaze. When a woman approaches her male classmate simply to ask to borrow his notes from the previous lecture, the community attacks her as if she has committed some terrible crime. But when men gawk at the posters of scantily clad actresses hanging outside of movie theaters or even on the walls of their rooms, no one has any desire to address the situation.

As a woman who struggles daily with opposition toward her choice to cover, I cannot understand why some men see no problem with scolding a woman on the way she dresses when they themselves a- haven't got a clue about their own hijab and b- will never have any idea how much courage, confidence, and faith it takes to choose to wear a scarf out in public. Male hijab is essentially effortless as most men in society (both Muslim and non-Muslim) dress in a way that agrees with the Islamic requirement, making it virtually unnoticeable.

The hijab of a woman is much more noticeable (to say the least) and a clear symbol of one's faith which is often why it takes time for women to decide to implement the hijab into their lives. Any effort toward wearing hijab that a woman makes, even something like choosing not to wear a bikini when she goes to the beach with her friends, needs to be acknowledged and respected. Women in society today have enough pressure to conform to the images of women portrayed in movies and television. We don't also need the men in our community to pressure us not to conform. And we especially don't need this kind of pressure from men who could care less about their own hijab.

May Allah make following our religion and expressing our faith easy for both men and women.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

2010 in Retrospect

For many of us, the closing of the year 2010 was a sigh of relief. It was within those 365 days that some of the most terrible, hate-inspired events occurred- especially within the United States. The youth of the homosexual community were abused to the point of suicide, the Hispanic community in Arizona was targeted and discriminated against with the passing of Proposition 107, and the Muslim community was threatened with protests and public burnings of their holy book in an effort to stop the construction of the Park51 Community Center as well as mosques across the country.

But while looking back on this past year may seem very demoralizing, it is imperative that we do not become discouraged to the point where it prevents us from taking action to support what we know to be right. The Egyptian people, who are currently celebrating the fruits of their labors, are a clear reminder of the importance of not giving up. These people who, for thirty years, had been living without their most basic freedoms stood up against a dictator to reclaim the liberties that were rightfully theirs. They cast aside their differences in skin-color, religion, education, and social class as they worked together to achieve their goal.

We should remember that the end of a year does not necessarily mark the end of people's hatred and ignorance. In fact, just eight days into 2011, Congresswoman Giffords was victim of a shooting that killed six people, including a nine year-old girl. This year will not look any different from 2010 unless we empower ourselves to play an active role in making things better. The Egyptian people should inspire us to put our fears and differences aside in order to find peaceful solutions to our problems.

May Allah give us the push we need to take initiative in order to help shape the kind of world we wish to live in.

"Oh mankind, We created you from man and woman, and made you into nations and tribes so that you may get to know one another. Indeed the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted."
[Qur'an 49:13]

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Rally for Rights

*For individual pictures, click on the collage above*

Earlier today I had the privilege of attending a rally at The United Nations in support of the Egyptian people. I have compiled a couple of the photos that I think best capture the sentiments of the event. Enjoy and share :)