Ramadan Log T-1: Bismillah

I feel like I’m looking outwards at several video projections of all of the different scenes of myself during past Ramadans. All of the tears. All of the “ah-ha” moments. The serenity. The fatigue. The longing for entertainment. The constant question of “who am I doing this for?”

Is it possible to simultaneously feel both overwhelmed at completely at peace?

I’ve spent weeks talking to friends, supervisors, and family members about how nervous I felt about Ramadan starting. I spent three years experiencing Ramadan without any school or  work responsibilities. Then I had a Ramadan while I was working part-time. Now for the first time, I will be experiencing both grad school as well as working while fasting. All with no coffee. No water. No food. And very disrupted sleep.

And yet, I feel at peace.

It’s so hard to explain, but I guess this is what happens when super stressed meets super excited.

I also believe that this is the power of Ramadan being upon us. I have spent the last several months so busy with school and things happening in my personal life; I haven’t taken any time to actively reflect and work on myself as a Muslim. My life felt like it was moving in fast-forward all year. So much has changed in my life, and within myself.

Now with the return of Ramadan, one of the few constants in my life, I feel centered. I feel back at home. Sure, I’m getting closer and closer to that formidable territory of adulthood, but I’m still me. I’m still a Muslim. I have given up a lot of my old self since entering the grad school arena, but I still have Ramadan. And that is such a calming feeling.

If I learned one thing last Ramadan, it was to stop comparing my current self to my self of the past. It doesn’t matter that I blogged every day of Ramadan for three years in a row.  It doesn’t matter that I was inconsistent with it last year. It doesn’t matter that I read the entire Qur’an during past Ramadans. Right now, all that matters is that I am here, alhamdulillah, and I am going to do the best that I can each moment to make the most out of this month.

Bismillah.

#AtoZChallenge Day 3: Cultural Identities

C is for Cultural Identities.

C

I was once on a six hour road trip with just me and my dad. To pass the time, we came up with a little game. What are the best and worst parts about your different cultural identities?

Here is what I came up with.

Muslim

Best Part: I have a guidebook, and a Being always looking out for me. I don’t have to wonder about my purpose or why things are the way that they are because God is taking care of that, which is so reassuring.

Worst Part: Because this religion is a way of life, with self-improvement always on the mind, there isn’t really any room to plateau or take a break. I have to constantly watch myself and make sure I’m making use of each moment, which is tiring and does make me a little superficially envious at times of those who don’t follow a religion.

American

Best Part: The shared culture. Thanksgiving dinners. The universal smell of barebeques on Memorial Day and the 4th of July. The holiday season that I look forward to even when I don’t actually celebrate any of those holidays.

Worst Part: That we are all slaves to money and capitalism. Everything, everything, is driven by money in this country.

Muslim-American

Best Part: I have the freedom to take control of how I learn about and interpret my religion. Because I don’t live in a theocracy, where the practice of Islam is governed by those in power, I have the freedom to learn and use my intellect to be critical of my sources and strive to find the most appropriate way of implementing the words of God in my own life.

Worst Part: My government is on a mission to paint the narrative of Islam as having some violent agenda.  I’m caught in the middle of pledging allegiance to this country and sitting by while it defames my very way of life.

Indian

Best Part: From the food to the clothes to the weddings, we just do it better.  Food has more taste, clothes are more festive, and weddings are just so much more fun than American weddings.

Worst Part: The colorism and racism is so painfully strong in this culture, which makes no sense when you consider the bigger picture.

Indian-American

Best Part: I get to enjoy the benefits of being American while having a lot of accessibility to very Indian things, like food or Mehndi or other Indian people.

Worst Part: Growing up and feeling left out of a lot of “American” experiences because our family is too conservative. Sleepovers. Going out with friends. Not having to report back to your parents on the hour every hour.

Indian-Muslim

Best part: Within Muslims in the Midwest, I’m part of the cultural majority, which is a pretty comfortable place to be. The majority of our community looks like me.

Worst part: Indians are so attached to their cultural practices, and that can get tricky when your culture has very strong ties to Hinduism.  There are so many practices that Indian Muslims have to unlearn because they don’t coexist well with Islam.

White

Best Part: Feeling connected to the racial majority in this country. I feel comfortable around White people because they too are my people.

Worst Part: Carrying the baggage of all of the truly terrible things that White people have done to non-White people throughout the centuries.

White-American

Best Part: I can claim roots in this country farther back than most non-White Americans I have encountered, which for some reason appears to be an advantage in terms of how legitimately “American” people consider you.

Worst Part: The overwhelming guilt and disgust at the name White Americans are making for themselves right now.  I have never wanted to distance myself more from this title than I have in the past year.

White-Muslim

Best Part: People, both Muslim and non-Muslim, seem to take you more seriously as a spokesperson for Muslims if you’re White.

Worst Part: Feeling invisible in the sense that Muslims often use “White” as a synonym for “Non-Muslim.”

Mixed-Race

Best Part: I get to experience the goodness of two cultures and attempt to shed the badness from each culture.  I love experiencing Indian culture in terms of the food, dress, language and social fun, while being able to replace the patriarchal culture with the White culture of female independence.

Worst Part: I. Don’t. Know. What. The. Heck. To. Call. Myself.

Mixed-American

Best Part: I am able to feel connected to both the cultural majority and minority of this country and relate to both experiences.

Worst Part: Feeling invisible in any of the discussions on race and culture.

Mixed-Muslim

Best Part: I think it is easier for me and my family to separate what is cultural from what is religious compared to other Muslim families who come from only one ethnic background.

Worst Part: There are very few people who understand why I live my life the way that I do, because in one way or another I separate myself from each culture due to my inclusion in the other culture.


*Note: I wrote the majority of this post about a year ago.

**I know, A to Z is over, but I still want to post the topics I missed over the course of the next few weeks.

#AtoZChallenge Day 13: Misidentification

M is for Misidentification

M

I used to work in a nursing home. One of the residents there talked about coping with the death of two of her cousins. They were in Israel, and according to her, they were killed “by some Arabs.”

Then she turned to me and said, “I know you’re Muslim, so I mean no disrespect.”

Um.

 

Okay.

First, “Muslim” does not equal “Arab”.

Second, even if I was Arab, I am still in no way sympathetic toward the people who killed your cousins.

Obviously, that’s not what I said. I didn’t say anything because the incident simply left me speechless.

She is one of the sweetest women I’ve ever met. She had dementia, and so I could never take personally any of the negatives she had to say because I had to reintroduce who I was to her every single day. On the days that she wasn’t refusing to associate with me because I was Muslim, she would tell me how beautiful she thought my scarf was or what a lovely girl I was for pushing her wheelchair to wherever she needed to go. She would point out to me all of her favorite staff members in the facility and ask each of them how their kids were doing as she did so. She encouraged her fellow residents to stay cheerful and hopeful, even when she had no clue how they got to be her neighbors.

It wasn’t her. It was the idea she had been primed with before her disease took away her ability to remember her context.

I wore a scarf on my head. And so she identified me as a potential sympathizer to the killers of her relatives.

 

#AtoZChallenge Day 2: Bright Side

B is for Bright Side

B

There are a lot of reasons to support the perception that this is a particularly low point for Muslim in the United States. We had a person show in several ways an extreme dislike of Muslims (and pretty much anyone different from him), and 63 million people used their right to vote to choose him as our president. He has since exercised his power to target Muslims around the country and world, and the rise in hate crimes against Muslims has increased, which means it’s not just the politicians who hate us. We’re hated by our very own people.

Things are pretty terrible, and with no end in sight.

And yet.

I have never seen so much support for Muslims in my life. The day after the election, I didn’t just hear distant stories of non-Muslims holding protective hands around mosques; I felt within my bones solidarity from my non-Muslim American peers. I watched girls from the ethnic majority shed tears for what I and those like me will be going through for the next few years. I had people around the world tweeting words of sympathy and encouragement to me because they knew that I was a Muslim in America facing a Trump era.

To this day, after I go to sleep crying after reading about another step closer the government has taken towards removing my safety, I wake up the next morning and discuss with my classmates how disgusting they see the racism in our country. I see others, who have no need to be invested in this struggle, getting just as riled up as I am when we talk about the double standard mainstream media has in reporting crimes by ethnic minorities and majorities.

The conversations that I, for my whole life, have only been exposed to in the echo chamber of the Muslim community are now taking place right before my eyes in groups in which I am the only American Muslim present.

People are talking about Muslims with love and support. 

I was in elementary school when 9/11 happened. All I’ve ever known is people in power preaching fear of Muslims and Islam. This year’s unwavering support of us goes against everything I ever thought to be a norm in this country.

It was meant to be a joke, but Hassan Minhaj’s piece about being Muslim in this era is so spot on. Things are terrible, but things are also surprisingly beautiful and, frankly, refreshing.

#AtoZChallenge Day 1: Awkward Moments

A is for Awkward Moments

A

Being asked “How do they do this in your culture?”  (uhm, which one? Muslim? Indian? American?)

.

The imam makes a mistake in recitation but you don’t want to correct it because suddenly you’re questioning every ayah you ever knew.  (it starts with “qul huwallahu ahad,” right?)

.

You eat non-zabiha meat and realize the person you’re eating with doesn’t (or vice versa).  (Frantically tries to recall all of the meat products I’ve ever eaten in the presence of this person)

.

He asks why you’re not praying.  (you might as well be overt and ask if she’s on her period.)

.

She assumes you’re not going to wear Hijab at your wedding.  (I wear Hijab every other day of my life; why would I stop on that single day?)

.

Your friends/coworkers make endless references to drinking, not realizing that you’ve lived a pretty decent life without a dose of alcohol in you.  (seriously, I don’t get it.)

.

Being asked “How do they say it in your language?” (Honey, you and I speak the same language.)

.

They complain about not being represented enough in mainstream entertainment when you’re still waiting on that fictional Hijabi character to show up. (never once been represented accurately and still living)

.

He’s Muslim and offers to shake your hand. (can I even use a religious excuse with this one?)

.

You accidentally let a “salaam” or “inshaallah” slip when talking to a non-Muslim. (I’m genuinely trying to figure out whether I can just let this one slide. It’s no different from Jewish people saying “mazeltov” or Latinos referencing their “abuela,” right?)

.


(Disclaimer: I’m not saying any of these are “good” or “bad” things to do. They’re just moments in life that make me laugh.)

Ramadan Log Day 27: Don’t Compare

Only I would get sick during Ramadan. :/

I’m not sure if this is due to my hectic last couple of days or simply a result of my business this entire month. I felt a tickle in my throat yesterday morning, and since then it has just grown into full on disgustingness inside. I did find one interesting positive though: Despite feeling sick, at least I don’t have an appetite. I didn’t feel hungry at all today. 🙂

With that being said, I am definitely taking a day tomorrow to let my body rest. It doesn’t feel right, but Allah allowed the sick to be exempt from fasting. I should take the blessing.

This was definitely a month of firsts. It’s my first summer ever working at a “real” job. My first Ramadan while working. The first time since I started blogging that I probably won’t finish the Qur’an (I’m only on the 17th juz. It ain’t happening). My first time getting sick during Ramadan.

Part of me wants to be upset about how this month turned out compared to other Ramadans, but I watched a video yesterday that changed that perspective. Usama Canon has a series on YouTube called “Fast Reminders” which are daily one-minute videos during the month of Ramadan. I splurged and watched all of them yesterday, and in the video titled “Don’t Compare,” I felt like he was talking directly to me.

In this video, he encourages us not to compare this Ramadan to Ramadans of the past, and rather to treat it as its own unique experience. He even says, “Maybe you’re working this Ramadan and you weren’t working last Ramadan.”

That’s ME!

So today, I’m taking the comparisons and shifting the view into blessings I have been given this month:

Rather than dwell on not being able to read as much Qur’an, acknowledge the success of getting to the second half of the Qur’an despite working four days a week.

Rather than complain about not being able to go to iftars because of work the next day, be grateful for having the opportunity to help dozens of people in my nursing homes during the month in which good deeds are multiplied.

Rather than wonder why God made me sick today, thank Him for giving me twenty-six straight days of good health to be able to experience what I did this month.

It’s kind of a fun exercise once you get into it. Don’t compare your current situation to situations of the past. Reflect upon the blessings that have come out of this moment and simple let it be. Lately everyone advises being present and mindful, and I have always struggle with what to do once you’re in the present, however this exercise has helped with that. Rather than just thinking about what is currently going on, it feels much more enriching to think about how what is going on is benefitting me.

Ramadan Log Day 23: Adapting

It’s hard to tell if the difficulties I’m having this month are actual issues in my life that I need to deal with or if it is just a result of the fasting and after Ramadan things will fizzle down and be bearable again.

Working is really tough for me. Props to all you dads who work full time for years on end without “summer breaks” and you moms who literally never leave your work of raising a child even for a second, and you superhuman beings who somehow do both work and kids and manage not to have a breakdown every five minutes. I only work a maximum of 20 hours a week, and I feel like I’m drowning.

But then again, I can’t tell if this is me not digging the whole regular job thing or if it’s just the fasting.

I still have that feeling that I’m not being productive with the time I have in this precious month. I had a scary thought today that this may very well be the last Ramadan I experience in my life, and I feel like I just let the whole month go by. One of the things weighing down on my mind these past few days is that I went the whole month without changing. Yes, I’ve read Qur’an and developed a closer relationship with Allah through reading some of his 99 names, but the amount of ibadah that I have done is much lower than what I have done in previous years. I feel like I’ve gone backwards in a way, and that is not a nice feeling to have as you leave what is supposed to be a transformative month.

At the same time, I also remember a conversation I had with my aunt last week in which she told me how being a wife and a mom has really limited the amount of private worship and prayer that she has been able to do. When I was talking to her, I remembered that Allah is The Just, and he would never put anyone at an unfair advantage than another simply due to responsibilities beyond their control. Moms don’t have time to sit for long periods of time with the Qur’an, but through taking care of their kids and home they are still earning favor from Allah.

With that in mind, I realize that while I may not have the hours in the day to do the same kind of worship I have done in the past, that doesn’t mean I don’t still have the opportunity to worship. Sure, I can’t dedicate the time to read 12 pages of Qur’an after each prayer due to my work schedule, but I can find ways to find God through my work. Maybe I can find ways to give my clients the best, most beneficial service that I can offer them in the time I have with them this week. I can be a more courteous driver while commuting to and from work rather than the impatient driver I have sadly turned into. I can push myself to efficiently do my work in a way that eases the workload of others around me. With the intention to use my abilities to improve the situations of others for the sake of God, maybe I can still have that enriching last ten days.

It still doesn’t feel like enough to me, but this may also be a matter of venturing away from what is familiar and trying to adapt to a new stage in life.