Saturday, 28 December 2013

Redefining My Relationship with Allah; from Earthly to Divine

     I know that's a confusing title. Stay with me for a second.

    Recently, I got an epiphany of the sort that leaves you a little different than before. One that immediately struck me and that flooded my eyes with tears. As soon as I felt them on my cheeks, I began questioning whether they were tears of joy or tears of agony, tears of regret or tears of humility? Whatever they were, I knew at that moment that I had transformed my idea of who I should be as a human being and a servant to Allah. The joy was from the relief of finding truth and an answer. The agony was from the pain of not having known for so long. The regret was from the shame that I felt. And the humility was from the reality of how small I am in comparison to His universe and the Almighty Allah Himself.

     I realized something profound. A part of me had been projecting my notions of human relationships onto my relationship with the Creator. Many of my insecurities about people became ones I practiced when I spoke to Allah (swt). Although, I had been speaking to Allah as a friend and a father figure, there was a flaw in this I could not see. Once I began to compare the way I felt in human relationships with the one I had with my Lord, it became instantly clear how much of myself I had put in Him. I realized how much I was really projecting of my own expectations of people onto my relationship with Him and this caused me to feel some shame and regret. I came to the conclusion that if I was to redefine my relationship with Allah, I must first decode my projections and learn about Allah's mercy with his servants first hand - and that is from His ahadeeth.

     People have limitations. Even the ones who claim to be in infinite love have limitations. Their time and energy devoted to caring is dependent on a number of factors that can be clouded by the ego. It is impossible to confidently claim for any human on this earth that they are in a genuine and fully committed relationship ; as you are not their creator and you have no access to their deep thoughts and feelings. We mustn't forget that their very essence of their humanity is built on sin and imperfection. Thus our expectations from our relationships with people should not be same ones we place on our relationship with the Lord. Your father and your mother or your wife or your husband as well as your siblings and friends can be the best of people on this earth whom you know but they are not Allah. The rules of engagement and the relationship which we practice with them can never be compared with the one with the Al Mighty. How do we tell the difference? What makes our relationship with Allah special? That was the question I sought to answer.

    I'm going to share with you through the following, the thoughts going through my head that struck me into the realization that I had to redefine my relationship with Allah. Here goes:

     1) Relationships with people are those that are human and that are based on a similar background or relative experience. So, by saving up five minutes to speak to Him at the end of my day when it is convenient, I have therefore decided to treat my relationship with Allah like mine with other humans. I am indirectly saying that I can do without him in the time in between. Or that there is no space or appropriateness for me to connect with Him throughout my day (not including prayers). Now I'm aware that the fact that He watches me at all times means I can assume He is by my side as well. Somewhat like an imaginary friend that's not so imaginary, and who lives in my heart and the universe as a whole.

     “I am with those whose hearts are broken for My sake.” Hadith Qudsi

     2) My general feelings of mistrust towards people was evident in my belief that as soon as I committed sin, I spent hours begging for forgiveness, never feeling like I have earned or deserved it. I realized that I was implying that Allah's mercy is difficult to attain and that I must be a perfect saint to get some of it. Also expressing that Allah loses something by forgiving, similarly to the way humans perceive to lose ego when they forgive others. It is me that has much to lose, not Him.

     A servant [of Allah's] committed a sin and said: O Allah, forgive me my sin. And He (glorified and exalted be He) said: My servant has committed a sin and has known that he has a Lord who forgives sins and punishes for them. Then he sinned again and said: O Lord, forgive me my sin. And He (glorified and exalted be He) said: My servant has committed a sin and has known that he has a Lord who forgives sins and punishes for them. Then he sinned again and said: O Lord, forgive me my sin. And He (glorified and exalted be He) said: My servant has committed a sin and has known that he has a Lord who forgives sins and punishes for sins. Do what you wish, for I have forgiven you. Hadith Qudsi

     "O My servants, you sin by night and by day, and I forgive all sins, so seek forgiveness of Me and I shall forgive you."
Hadith Qudsi

     "O My servants, were the first of you and the last of you, the human of you and the jinn of you to rise up in one place and make a request of Me, and were I to give everyone what he requested, that would not decrease what I have, any more that a needle decreases the sea if put into it." Hadith Qudsi

     3) I thought that I could only remember Him when I was in an appropriate state; when for example I was on wudu and when I am sitting idly. I realized I was insinuating that in order to gain contact to Allah and pay him respect, I had to be in a state similar to one that would be invoked when meeting another human being. As though Allah cannot see me in all my other states. However, I do continue to prefer to face Allah at a decent time, and preferably to make dua with wudu and facing the Qibla if I'm aware of it's direction, but I do not limit it the same way I limit human interaction.

     4) The physical reality we live in with other humans forces us to assume that forces other than our own come from outward places. So I used to look up to the sky when I made supplication. Although I believed Allah is aware of the hearts of all his beings, my actions did not reflect my belief.


     "There is no one to share His dominion, nor does He take an aide or supporter from His creatures. He is nearer to man than man's own jugular vein." [Al-Qur'an 50:16]

     "I am as My servant thinks I am (1). I am with him when he makes mention of Me. If he makes mention of Me to himself, I make mention of him to Myself; and if he makes mention of Me in an assembly, I make mention of him in an assemble better than it. And if he draws near to Me an arm's length, I draw near to him a fathom's length. And if he comes to Me walking, I go to him at speed. (1) Another possible rendering of the Arabic is: "I am as My servant expects Me to be". (Hadith Qudsi)

     5) Although I could perceive Allah's presence when I supplicated, the idea of a response was hard to conceptualize. This was further expressing my notion of human relations as one where if a person listens and does not respond, then they do not care. Also untrue.

     The prophet (peace be upon him) said " Call upon Allah with conviction in an answer"

     6) My supplications did not last longer than 10-15 minutes. Similarly to the way I speak to authority figures and acquaintances I respect, in order to not take up from their valuable time. Although I was aware that these laws do not apply to my relationship with Allah, my basic instinct to replicate my relationships with other humans kept this habit in my duas. The fact that Allah does not sleep and that he can be in the hearts of all of his creation at once, is one that struck me. Realizing He is aware of even the times when I am asleep prolonged my supplication. 

     "O My servants, you will not attain harming Me so as to harm Me, and will not attain benefitting Me so as to benefit Me. O My servants, were the first of you and the last of you, the human of you and the jinn of you to be as pious as the most pious heart of any one man of you, that would not increase My kingdom in anything. O My servants, were the first of you and the last of you, the human of you and the jinn of you to be as wicked as the most wicked heart of any one man of you, that would not decrease My kingdom in anything."Hadith Qudsi

     7) My requests were limited. So I would say alhamdoulillah and refrain from asking for material things. But if Allah can permit you into Jannah, He can make even the most insignificant desires come true. His powers are not like human powers, His blessings are endless. You are free to ask for all you desire, in this world and the next. 

    "O My servants, all of you are hungry except for those I have fed, so seek food of Me and I shall feed you. O My servants, all of you are naked except for those I have clothed, so seek clothing of Me and I shall clothe you."Hadith Qudsi

     8) I needed to stop asking the question of whether Allah loves me. I am one of his delicate creations. My anatomy itself is His gift to me. I am blessed in the good and in the trials. I remember Him and He remembers me. As long as I love Him and fear Him only, I must find ease in knowing that it was Him who loved me long before I perceived His presence. To show gratitude, I must let this love translate into actions. I must show my appreciation for His gifts by using them in things He loves. 

    Allah (mighty and sublime be He) said: Whosoever shows enmity to someone devoted to Me, I shall be at war with him. My servant draws not near to Me with anything more loved by Me than the religious duties I have enjoined upon him, and My servant continues to draw near to Me with supererogatory works so that I shall love him. When I love him I am his hearing with which he hears, his seeing with which he sees, his hand with which he strikes and his foot with which he walks. Were he to ask [something] of Me, I would surely give it to him, and were he to ask Me for refuge, I would surely grant him it. I do not hesitate about anything as much as I hesitate about [seizing] the soul of My faithful servant: he hates death and I hate hurting him. (AlBukhari)Hadith Qudsi

    9) I thought that if Allah has decreed anything anyway, I must accept it and therefore my duas were limited. But little did I know that it is the combination of acceptance of Allah's word and His mercy and powers that grant us what we please.

     Allah (swt) said "Oh Dawud, you desire and I desire. If you are satisfied with what I desire then I will give you what you desire and if you are not satisfied with what I desire I will make you weary with what you desire and then only what I desire will be. Verily, I do what I desire."

     10) I thought Allah could not help my wrongdoings. The same way that we are expected to abide by rules of human society and to claim responsibility of our actions, I could not attribute my sins to anyone but myself. In this way, I forgot that I could make dua from Allah to guide me to the straight path. If Allah is aware of all places, then he can surely make every condition possible, internal or external, to help me get closer to Him. I choose not to limit my thinking of his abilities to my thinking of human abilities.

      "O My servants, all of you are astray except for those I have guided, so seek guidance of Me and I shall guide you."Hadith Qudsi

   To be honest, all of these ahadeeth are overwhelming. They overwhelm my heart and flood me with tears of joy. I can only feel gratefulness now. Islam is a beautiful religion and we are given so many doors of opportunity to fix our deen. So, if I've learned anything from all of this, is that we cannot give up on ourselves. We must always be hopeful because Allah is with us regardless. One last thing; my advice to you is to take these ahadeeth and let them hit you in the heart. Take them as much more than words or rules of engagement. Take them with you as a philosophy and a chance to explore a new relationship with Allah (swt). I can promise that your life will never be the same and in sha Allah you will be one of those who find light where others find darkness.

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Monday, 23 December 2013

10 Facts and Tips to Help You Conquer Social Anxiety

     You get asked by your professor to face the class and answer a question on the material.

     You are sitting alone and a friend sitting in a group invites you to join them.

     You are about to meet your fiance's family and are desperate for a good first impression.

      If you were faced with one of the above? How would you react? How would you feel leading up to these events? 

      Everyday common situations like these are too many to mention. We are social beings that are forced to interact with others to lead a normal life. But what if the mere thought of these encounters leaves you nervous and agitated? There are some of us who cringe and get anxious every morning; wondering whether they'll have to be put on the spot again that day.

     How do we deal with this debilitating challenge? If we ignore society, we are left lonely and asocial and if we don't, there's a good chance we'll mess up and look stupid, right?

      I was one of those people. I was struggling with internalized racism, feelings of incompetence and constant strange behavior from tripping over nothing to eating like a confused animal.  When it came to interacting with people, I would avoid asking a question in class in fear of embarrassment or I would sit quietly in a group setting, in hopes that I wouldn't be provoked by a question from someone that I would awkwardly have to answer. Now I'm not going to lie and say that I don't occasionally do these things today because I do. But, the difference now is that I don't beat myself up for being different. I've learned to embrace even the most embarrassing aspects of myself. But none of it was easy. It all started with a conscious decision to challenge myself and see my personality as a constant work in progress. My biggest regret in all of this is letting my fears stop me from being myself and pursing the things I really wanted to do. If you can find me now, you'll see somewhere speaking confidently to professors and important figures. You might even see me on stage somewhere or in the street chanting in protest to whatever I was passionate about at the time. On top of that, my feelings of internalized racism have been replaced by assertive ways of speaking up against acts of discrimination and I am now working on constantly breaking other's perception of what people who are "like me" should and should not do. The decision to address this aspect of my life is the best one I've ever made. For this post, I wanted to share the helpful facts and tips that helped me conquer anxiety and I hope that  they will change your life for the better as well.

     Here are my 10 facts and tips to help you finally get over social anxiety:

1. All that sweating and panting is literally useless:

     When facing social anxiety, it first helps to acknowledge the normality of this struggle. Our anxiety is actually a normal physiological reaction to perceived threats - alternatively named our essential "fight or flight" response. But the difference is, with social anxiety, although it may feel as such, at that moment there is no real threat to our existence. However, our ancestors in the past required social interaction and belonging to a group for survival. This is why social anxiety and public speaking is the biggest fear that humans face today. Our past has become our present. When we finally acknowledge that our reaction is only a vestigial reminiscent of a past threat, it helps to put things back into perspective and to garner control of our body's reactions to stress.

2. Think about the worst that could happen: 

    Let's say you are about to perform a presentation that is important to your career. Before going in to the meeting, think of the worst possible consequence of your anxiety. Avoid laying out catastrophic events like "I'll lose my job" or "they'll shame me" etc. Think, you "might stutter" or "pronounce a word incorrectly". You may forget some content or you might blank out. But will any of these things kill you? After a nerve wracking public speech, we usually filter out the pros and we magnify the cons. It helps to have an honest friend in the audience to give you a realistic picture of how you performed. But again, you're not dead, so pat yourself on the back for that.

3. Challenge yourself to speak in front of a strange crowd:

    It's scary to imagine being in the spotlight in front of people who matter. People with social anxiety will assume everyone's opinion matters. But I'll lay it out there now and say that there will always be people out there who will question your existence and your behavior. It doesn't matter how confident and well-spoken you might be, it's just a fact of life. So let's at least start by appreciating ourselves and accepting who we are, flawed and all. Because no amount of gratification and praise from others can guarantee us true confidence. Confidence begins from within. Alright, so now that we know that we will always have critics and not everyone's opinion matters, we can test this by going to the other side of town and speaking in front of a strange crowd. It could be an artistic performance or a speech, but you've got literally nothing to lose in that situation.

4. Do an outlandish act that breaks societal norms:

   Science tells us that the most stressful situations arise from uncontrollable events. That is why when you're expected to perform under conditions beyond your control, you immediately get anxious. Well what if I was to say that you can be in control of the event that is supposed to make you nervous? What if you can enact the worst case scenario yourself? You can start small with mildly awkward or unexpected encounters with the public like high-fiving a stranger to doing the moonwalk and crossing the street. The best thing I found about being a minority member built up by stereotypes is that all it takes to break societal norms is to do anything outside that stereotype. Watch people's reactions and perhaps videotape your awesomeness so that you can watch it over again and laugh. When it comes to anxiety, it's a simple hierarchy model. So if you conquer the mildly nerve-wracking challenges, you will only progress further and gain more skills as you challenge yourself more.

5. Pay attention to your body and your thoughts: 

     If you've ever tried meditation, then this will be a simple exercise for you. In meditation, you are encouraged to pay attention to your internal energy along with your breathing. This can be practiced similarly in anxiety provoking situations by monitoring and paying close attention to the way your body acts in that moment. Take note of how warm your body feels or how hard your heart is beating. Now that you've realized what your body does, you can pay attention to those thoughts. When we're anxious, we usually speak in definite terms and label ourselves with negative beliefs like "I'm a failure" or "I cant do anything right". After you've acknowledged the symbiotic union between your mind and your body, start by harnessing control of your thoughts and countering the negative with the positive and the constructive. For example, instead of saying "I'm going to fail this exam", say "I'm finally going to finish this course" or "this is my final shot at demonstrating what I've learned." Next, you can bring your attention back to your physiological response, except now you can use progressive muscle relaxation and deep breathing to pair up your confident thoughts in your mind to a relaxed bodily state.

6. Decode your thoughts and beliefs about your competence: 

    If you experience debilitating anxiety on a daily basis, then perhaps there's an underlying cause for the feelings of inferiority. It may help to try and write these thoughts down in a journal or as a song or in the form of a painting. Do whatever helps you accept yourself and anything that gives you confidence. Use an objective measure and monitor your daily performance and behavior. Confident people tend to attribute their mistakes to external events. Although this may be biased and faulty, if it saves you from the anxiety and leaves you as your best self, then it's worth a shot. It also helps to attribute your confidence to internal events rather than external ones dependent on the feedback of others. So for example, if you know you've got a good personality and sense of humor, then one bad joke isn't likely to make you feel worthless. However, it is possible to be anxious in social situations and confident in yourself at the same time. Pinpointing your beliefs when you are nervous will help you determine whether confidence is a factor.

7. Stand for something bigger than yourself:
     We've established so far that social anxiety is a result of nervousness over what others think of you in that moment. So if we were to focus on the highlight and presentation of a factor other than yourself, it then becomes much easier to lose the nerves. I found that it is helpful to take on social challenges that are attributed to a bigger cause than myself. If I am sincere in my efforts at representing this cause, then my nerves and my personality and what people think of it is irrelevant. Not being under the pressure to sell yourself to anyone and redirecting control to yourself and how good you can present the cause will greatly diminish your anxiety. Knowing that the cause is more important than you gives you a feeling of responsibility and a challenge to showcase it in the best possible light, while at the same time rendering your personal issues minor.
8. Be around those that encourage you:

    The hardest thing about choosing to start changing oneself is facing people's enduring ideas about your character and their resistance to accepting and encouraging your efforts. Not everyone is as encouraging as they should be. Some might joke when you attempt to challenge yourself while others might assume that your traits are fixed and that you shouldn't bother trying. It's "who you are"; they might say. Well, you don't have to endure their discouragement. Sometimes it helps to challenge yourself to something without consulting anyone first. Ruminating and thinking about the consequences of your efforts at change will only exasperate the anxiety further. If you need to take some time off from friends and family to become the person you need to be, then do. You may also communicate to your loved ones how much this means to you and that you would like some encouragement.

9. Introversion and shyness is not an excuse:

    If we lived in an accepting and tolerant world, then this point wouldn't be in this list. However, society is unfortunately not suited for introverted and shy folk. Most are quick to praise and look up to the "outgoing" ones while neglecting the ones that aren't. So, if it takes faking or acting like an "outgoing" person to reach your goals and aspirations, then don't let it stop you and go ahead and do so. I say it's not an excuse because shyness and introversion can impede your growth and stop you from asserting your strengths and proving yourself. You don't have to prefer to be around people in your spare time, but make the effort to evaluate how your shyness has effected your life and make a decision from there. Fake it till you make it if you have to.

10. Find ways to get comfortable when you're alone:

    Most of us feel anxious around people when we crave their approval. If we were okay on our own, we wouldn't feel nervous around anyone. But we've all got to admit that we can't become schizoidal and choose to not interact with anyone at all. So when we pressure ourselves to be in a group and we feel incomplete when we're not, we are then falling in a downward spiral of nervousness about nervousness. When we are comfortable being alone, suddenly the worst that could happen is not so bad. If you're confused about how you can go about doing that, read "Just Face it, You're Alone in this World". I'll let you in on another secret, but it's not my own:

It is narrated from Aisha, mother of the believers, that the Prophet peace and blessings of Allah upon him said: "Whoever hold on to pleasing Allah over pleasing people, Allah will make him needless of people, and whoever holds on to pleasing people over pleasing Allah, Allah will leave his case to the hands of people."

Good luck!

What are your thoughts? How do you deal with social anxiety?

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Monday, 16 December 2013

10 Tips for Resolving Old Grudges Between Couples

     So let's get right to it, shall we?

    Conflict in the form of old grudges can be damaging and nauseating to say the least. It effects the core of one's confidence and leaves both parties unsatisfied. But if they're so toxic, why do we choose to stay in these relationships?

    It's simple, we hang on to the smallest sign of hope for change. Or maybe we hang on to past memories and filter out the ones that broke our hearts. Some people may say trust can never be established again. Perhaps that's true -although we could argue against this- but it's usually not the last straw.

FACT: studies have shown that the top predictor of divorce is contempt. It includes negative judgment, criticism and sarcasm regarding the person's worth.

     So how many more years will it take? How many more cycles of the same behavior and feelings can one tolerate? Well, if you're hanging on for years, then there may be some room for forgiveness and resolution.

     Let's face it, there's no sure fire way to fix some of the problems we face. So all I offer is some tips to try out the next time you might find yourself in conflict with your significant other.

Tip # 1:

Use "I" statements 

     After a long and married life, both partners will probably come to know very well what ticks the other. In order to end a discussion brought up by a dispute to a peaceful close, each partner can try to first decipher the exact approach that causes defensiveness in the other. Once we get defensive, there is really no way to have an appropriate conversation without blowing the issue out of proportion. Using "I" statements and avoiding the aggressive pointing-of-the-fingers gesture is one of the best ways to avoid initiating that initial defensive reaction. Saying things like "I didn't appreciate that treatment", "It made me feel violated" and" I would love if we could find another way" can be better than attacking with "Yous." Choosing an indirect way of stating what one wants really does the trick at convincing the other to do just that. Try it for yourself and see.

Tip #2:

Validate emotions

    Every expression of emotion should be taken seriously. The fact that one partner may not understand what the other means to say and where they come from doesn't mean their emotions are invalid. Begin by addressing them and acknowledging that they exist, then perhaps find ways to contest them through Socratic questioning (again, any indirect ways of suggestion might work best). And similarly, how you would like your own emotions taken seriously, so does your partner. 

Tip #3:

Establish ground rules

    If we were to decode the elements of a good -or maybe not so good- grudge, it would probably take on a very repetitive and expected form; one that is based on old arguments and core beliefs of the other. In order for the couple to focus on the here-and-now rather than the past disappointments, ground rules can be established as a code of conduct between the two. One ground rule could be the invalidation of the use of evidence and arguments older than a month for example. Another rule could address extended family conflicts and rules of engagement. Another might address the specific discomforts of each person and red lines can also be established. Get as creative as possible and keep a copy for each of you. It will help keep everyone in check. Another idea would be to use a debate style approach to resolving conflicts and making use of an unbiased mediator.

Tip #4:

Let your Islam guide your behavior

    Similarly to the above idea of using a mediator, the book of Allah as well as the Sunnah can be a great place to find answers to specific questions. If both partners have an inclination towards finding answers from these sources, then each can do their own research on the matter. Grudges pertaining to duties of the wife or husband can be consolidated through sources from the Sunnah for example. Letting Islam guide the behavior of the couple means that each is responsible for his own actions with Allah. So, if a man wants to hold a grudge on why a women is dressed in a particular way, I would think that since he will not be judged for her actions on the day of judgement, he should probably stick to polite advice or leave it alone. Same idea goes for a man that smokes for example - unless of course there's second-hand smoke problems involved.

Tip #5:

Avoid definitive statements

  Definitive statements are just a method of trapping the other in the name of power and control. Statements like "you must" and "all women/men" or "you always/never" are toxic and leave the other with little hope for change. Try using statements that address the situational aspect of the conflict rather than the pervasive personality characteristics of the other. Using statements that leave some room for flexibility of behavior like "perhaps" "maybe" "sometimes", are better ways of addressing conflict.

Tip #6:

Avoid indirect and non verbal gestures of expression

    I don't mean to point a sexist finger here, but women tend to do this a good deal of the time. There are ways in which the male brain versus the female brain work differently. So when a woman or a man believes they have made their point to the other, they could be mistaken. Bottom line is, although the two may have lived together for years, that doesn't mean they can read each other's minds. So spare yourself the trouble and find direct ways of expressing -preferably verbally- what it is you would like to see in the relationship. 

Tip #7:

Give and take in the relationship

     Relationships are based on sacrifice and commitment. They require a mutual give and take. One night watching football for a women who hates the sport can be substituted with another of the husband going dress shopping. If that doesn't sound practical enough, try a token system where partners exchange tokens for doing things they hate for the other. It's a fun way to track down the reciprocation in the relationship. I can't guarantee it will work, but worth the try nonetheless.

Tip #8:

Break the same patterns of conflict

    Many years of living with another person is bound to cause some sort of ingrained behavior when conflict arises. And each partner may be reacting in the same way every time. Maybe it's time to break that pattern and try out a new behavior. It can range from using "I" statements to letting go of power in a heated debate.

Tip #9: 

Control anger

There is no excuse for anger. These pent up flames of rage should not be a part of resolving conflict. Anger is not an emotion that is attributed to anyone else but the one who gets angry. Practice breaking these habits using deep breathing, making wudu, postponing discussion to a later time or using effective assertive techniques.

Tip #10:

Do what works

At this point in the relationship, both parties know what makes the other happy. So instead of implementing something that you're both not used to, focus on what does. A candle-lit dinner may sound great for one couple but can be not as effective as a favorite dessert or movie for another. Pay attention to what works and keep the romance alive that way. 

Good luck!

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Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Internalized Racism; An Invisible Dilemma

"That's not a job for Muslims."
"They'll never let you make it big."
"Better not mention your religion."

     Statements like the above are too common to mention in Muslim communities in the West where Islam is not the majority. We're confronted too many times with the phenomenon of the glass ceiling that we can't break because of our identity. "Hope - but don't overdo it" is the motto. We are all told to confine to careers and aspirations that are synonymous to the ones of others who are like "us." Well, I am frankly sick and tired of hearing this talk. 

   The other day, while I was explaining my future aspirations with a few friends of mine, I received a reaction I could not have anticipated. After explaining my aspirations for my future as a contributor to a specific field as a Muslim woman, I was met with still faces and a sense of pity fell in the room. "Poor girl", they must have thought; "she's going to have a hard time adjusting to the real world." They then began explaining to me the following:

  • There are people out there who don't want Muslims to succeed.
  • You will face challenges being a Muslim woman.
  • Be careful not to speak so openly about your identity.
  • Don't lie on your job interviews and applications, just omit anything to do with your religious affiliation. 
  • They're curious about Muslims cause they want to monopolize that information according to their own agendas.
Who's "they"? I kept asking myself.

     I can only say that I was genuinely shocked; not at the arguments themselves but at the passionate way in which they were posed as the hardcore truth of everything. Have we forgotten the ways in which the Prophet (pbuh) spread the word of Islam in the days of ignorance? Islam is our lifestyle and everything we do is stamped with our manners derived from the prophet's ways (pbuh). What kind of Ummah would we be if we denied the existence of our Deen within our societies? I can only imagine that we would become conflicted and anxious folk who lack the confidence to stand confidently on their own feet. If we don't embrace our identities, then who's going to do so for us? If I was going to get any job or opportunity by pretending to be something I'm not, then I would rather not do anything at all. What's the point of spending a lifetime trying to make money and to stay uncontroversial and safe if we don't contribute to the bettering of the ummah?  How selfish and individualistic would we be then?

   As you can guess, I had my own refuting arguments to pose. This internalized racism is the biggest barrier we face as Muslims trying to break out of our shell. We tell ourselves we can't; so we don't try. And here's another reality, most of us are of visible minority status; meaning that there's really no way to hide our identities. Denying our true selves is not moving us forward in any way or granting us the privilege of the majority. So while you're an outcast out there in the world, just own it and stand up a little taller for us all, will you?

    Here in the US, there's no denying racism exists. It's everywhere and in many forms; from direct aggression to micro-aggression to exclusion and neglect. But we must never let that be the norm. Our opposing stance to this normalization of racism must begin first and foremost from our hearts. When we choose to not accept this treatment with our actions before our words, we become a proud ummah with valued teachings to pass down to the upcoming Muslim generations that will continue to populate this land in the future. There's no excuse for doing otherwise. If you think you've had it bad, just remember the prophet (pbuh) and his companions who've endured torture and death punishments for their deen. They were only accepted into society when they chose to stick by their identities in the harshest of circumstances.

     I'd like to say to conclude this post that I really hope we begin to challenge these ideas of racism head on within ourselves and with the world. Always be optimistic and keep your eye open for refuting evidence to any ideas you may have of where individuals as Muslims should be in society. Choose not to accept racism -internal or external- and live life a proud Muslim whose identity stays firm and grounded.

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Sunday, 1 December 2013

A Letter: Jerks

A dear sister writes:

"     Asalamu alaikum Random Rants,

      I've got something I wanted to share. I hope its worthy of publishing:

      You know what ladies? it's time we discussed a topic that's been on our mind and in our hearts: Jerks, and not just any kind of jerks. Guys who are jerks. 
You could never tell these days, from the humble priest to the highly educated scholar, they come in many shapes and sizes, you would be shocked to know which ones are. 

      These people were put on earth so that Allah SWT could make you realize your worth. So that when you do find out they're jerks you are able to stand up, and say no more. There are the jerks who are straight up jerks and then there are the jerks that manipulate their humbleness and kindness to make you feel like the jerk. The ones who are straight up are easy to tell, we're all smart wise women here and most of us are able to tell from the actions of a man with others if he's a jerk or not. 

     The ones who hide it are the worst, there are guys out there who unfortunately manipulate your feelings and use them to their advantage. They will mold you with their humbleness to believe that they are right and you are wrong whilst still thinking that there's nothing wrong with them. These are powerful jerks, they remain mysterious to everyone as to not cause a stir, they're quiet, they're generally known as good people within the community but in reality they use they're good intentions to manipulate your mind and play with your feelings. 

     It's not your fault, they're really good at making a lot of girls believe them. they want to get off easily, whenever they want, they expect you to be there for them without telling you to, making you feel like they deserve it because they're so humble and kind when really they're just playing a manipulative game. This game is something they enjoy because they're in charge of it. You have no say in this game no matter how much say you think you have, and you will believe everything he says because you believe that he's the one, that he's going to come and ask for your hand and life will be all swell after that. These types of jerks keep you waiting, they push your buttons making you wake up and feeling uncertain about everything in your life. Everything becomes unexpected, your life depends on them, you begin to compromise a little more every time thinking "if I give in more then maybe he'll talk to me more."

     Ladies, do not let this happen to you, do not get to that point in your life where you're compromising pieces of yourself for someone who isn't willing to directly make the first official move - meeting your parents. This is wrong on so many levels. Compromising only gives them an excuse to lounge a little longer in secret. No matter how humble, nice, educated, good looking and "perfect" they are, NEVER compromise anything! A guy who really wants you will do everything in his will to have you. Don't settle for them telling you to wait, or even if they give you reasons as to why they don't want to get married now such as "I'm broke, I can't face your parents like this, I want to provide the best for you but I can't right now." 

      All these are excuses. Excuses of a jerk and not a man. A real man would NEVER allow you the opportunity to compromise because they know what they want and they know that they have to be straight forward about it to get it in a respectable manner. You may have heard this about 10 million times but it is the truth. It is the only truth that you will hear about this topic, there is no "but he's different, but he's nice, but everyone in the community says he's amazing" 

     If this "man" is not straight forward then he's not the one. Drop everything in place, realize your self worth and move on. I cannot stress this enough, move on. Allah SWT has better plans for you indeed, He really does. Don't let these jerks get to you, face them, tell them the truth, make them face it. If they keep changing the subject and moving around all over the place then they're being ambiguous, that is not what you want in a man. You want someone who can lay out their feelings in front of you when you need them to, someone who can tell you straight up without belittling you, hiding behind the bush and misguiding you what they really feel and that they will do everything it takes to have you the right way. 
      Men who can't do this are either players or don't have trust in Allah in their hearts, at least not for you, and you don't want either of those men in your life, because both of them are unreliable and unpredictable. 

      May Allah SWT grant us all the ability to see the truth behind people and grant us all the ability to stay away from them and grant us wonderful spouses who aren't any of these jerks.

Thank you,

Your soul sister"


My response:

     Wa alaikum essalam sister,

     Thank you for taking the time to write to me. It takes a lot of courage and heart to put topics such of this to light and to have the intention to share it with others so they benefit. It is certainly an emotionally charged letter. I can clearly feel and sense your frustration which is completely understandable to the situation you've been put in -I'm assuming this was an epiphany from a personal event although you never mentioned so forgive me if I'm wrong. Although this may seem to an outsider to be an exaggerated letter with plenty of over-generalizations, the emotions you experience are real and they point to a bigger issue within our communities; an issue that is usually swept under the rug.

   I'm here to let you know that you're not alone. And that men -and women alike in specific situations- can be manipulative and downright abusive. Many of their attempts are difficult to decipher or bring to light to others. What we can do as independent and self-reliant women is to recognize the signs of an abusive partner before the matter gets out of hand and we find ourselves stuck. You mentioned the type of man who promises but doesn't follow through with his promises. When a woman has established clear boundaries and timelines for exploring a potential husband, it becomes easier to establish them early on in the relationship and to stop oneself from entering this cycle of forgiveness and compromise.

      So I'll start by sharing some signs of an abusive and manipulative man:

  • He puts her down and makes her feel bad about herself
  • He does all the talking and dominates the conversation
  • He checks up on her all the time, even at work
  • He tries to suggest he is the victim and acts depressed
  • He tries to keep her away from friends
  • He acts as if he owns her
  • He lies to make himself look good or exaggerates his good qualities
  • He acts like he is superior and of more value than others
  • He makes her think she is crazy
  • He uses jealousy to justify actions
  • He plays mind games
  • He makes her feel guilty
  • He makes light of very serious matters
  • He thinks he defines men and women's roles

    Now, just because a man might fit only one of two of these categories doesn't mean his behavior must be tolerated and accepted. Establishing those lines for yourself before entering a new relationship will set clear boundaries and red flags that will guide you out of a potentially hostile and dangerous environment. Personally speaking, one of these is enough for me to say no.

     So in reality, we can sit and talk for hours about the dangerous and evil people out there but that won't do enough to protect you if it's not accompanied by clear boundaries for meeting potential partners. Now envision a slightly different situation - one where a woman subject to a potential manipulative man has set in place for herself a "protocol" of some sort for meeting new people; one that involves only selecting to consider men who directly express their full intentions and interest in marriage - men who explicitly state their intention for seeking permission from her parents before delving into the relationship. People tend to underestimate the power of imposing these boundaries in relationships. It acts as a filter that leaves all the men with bad intentions a few miles away. We've got to admit to ourselves that often our own filters are not so objective. There's nothing harder than standing your ground against a man who says the right things at the right time - not to mention if he's also handsome and of good social status. But remember that not all that glitters is gold.

     Now, what about the men who make the parent test and are still potentially dangerous? The key is to continue implementing these boundaries until some official agreement has been made - like marriage or engagement. All men should be treated in the same manner until things have been made fully public. I say this with full acknowledgment that there are still men out there who are toxic after marriage and that a "happily-ever-after" doesn't happen after marriage. But in the time a woman begins exploring a potential husband for marriage, she's got time to pick up on those signs and to ask the tough questions. And there are instances where a woman may feel that she doesn't have a clear case or evidence to hold against him, so she follows along with the marriage. Often, your gut feelings can tell you more than your intellect. So evaluate them and use distancing to see the relationship from a third perspective.

    You mentioned how men of this caliber are usually the most sought-after in the Muslim community and this is usually the case.  A man who manipulates women and plays mind games can also twist his words with the rest of the world to make them fall to his feet. So take caution and take other's white/black opinions of him with a grain of salt. And when it comes to mystery, I mean it's okay but only when it's in the right places. If you are clueless to what he does with his time, money or friends, then the mystery becomes dangerous. Leave the mind games to amateurs. A real man who can be a potential father to your children has to lay it out on the table as it is.

     Keep your head up high sister!

     and Ameen!

With my best duas,

Random Rants

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