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Saturday, December 29, 2007

Three Encounters with Death

Posted by Sara at 2:54 PM 0 comments Links to this post
In the past couple of days, I witnessed three different encounters with Death. First, an accident that took the life of a young man in seconds, then the sudden death of an infant who choked while she was eating, and finally the death of an old man who died on his bed. Despite its different forms and disguises, death remains as the last visitor who does not fail to come to all, each at a time, in one way or another.

I wonder how my visit will be like? Unnoticed, in a blink of an eye like that young man, without a chance to say some last few words or witness in the Oneness of the Lord one last time... or suddenly after an innocent smile like that young girl, or expectantly after long long years on a cold bed like the old man...? In which state shall I meet my visitor? I wish I could be as innocent as that infant who has nothing to worry about, passing unstained. Will I have someone to pray for me, or I will be forgotten too soon as it is the pattern of life these days..?

It was time to stop for a minute and think about my position in life, where I am, what I have left behind, and what lies ahead. It is important to pause the hectic life for just a little and weigh who we are and how we are dealing with the precious gift of life, and above all, how prepared we are for the real encounter with death. While I guess it is impossible to be prepared, yet chances are born for us everyday to correct our mistakes and learn from them. Doors of light are everywhere, and darkness can always fade away and be left behind. If we only stop and think, if we seize to forget that we are not here to stay, we would not waste so many of our chances to be better people.

I hope not to be afraid when my visitor comes. I pray for an end of faith that can be a new beginning of a life without fear or pain or misery. I pray for a safe encounter, where I don't have to worry about what lies ahead.

Monday, December 24, 2007

An Enveloping Haze

Posted by Watermark at 5:48 AM 0 comments Links to this post
A common thread.
I had been sitting on the train for quite a while and watched as it stopped at each station. People would get off and new ones would take their places; standing, sitting. I watched their faces and gazed at their features. The skin tones, hair colours and face shapes were different every single time. Even if the physicalities seemed similar, their mannerisms and attitudes distinguished them from each other. There were those with soft features that you felt comfortable looking at. Reading a book or just gazing out of the windows, turning heads as people walked past and the expressions changed but their faces were still comforting to look at. There were others with stern expressions that softened as they were lured into conversation, a neighbouring passenger asking for the time or checking what the next stop was. There were others with neutral or frozen faces that avoided reaction to anything. They appeared to be in another world but if you looked closer and closer still you could always see a hint of a thought or two swimming across their faces and you could feel their vibes. Numerous faces and numerous expressions and no two were ever alike.

Then I turned to look at myself watching people within. How different we all seem yet how similar we truly are. As I shifted my gaze from one face to the other I suddenly saw all the differences melt away. It did not seem to matter anymore who I was sitting next to or across from, we were all part of the bond of humanity. The same origin and the same end, we are joined together by living in the same universe, the same solar system and on the same planet. We breathe the same air, drink the same water and it does not matter where or how we happen to find it. Here we are in a train and we are all strangers to one another yet we are bound together by the common thread of humanity.

Similarity. Scene change...
I am watching tv and they're showing the Muslim pilgrims in Mecca. The camera is zoomed out and I can see what seems like a vast sea of white gathered in the shape of huge concentric discs. Rotating, ever so slowly, the way a huge disc rotates around a common axis, the concentric discs of white were circumbulating a central black structure; the kaaba (representing the House of God). The camera zooms in and you realise that the sea of white is made up of people. Unique and individual people, they were all dressed in pieces of white cloth. I can see their faces and expressions now and as I had previously watched and gazed on the train, I found myself easily transcending the barriers. The skin tones, the hair colours, even the mannerisms were instantly transparent to me. Here the expressions were all speaking the same emotion. The uniqueness within each individual was let loose within the freedom of similiarity. There was no apparent prejudice here; the faces said it all. Even their attire said it all.

Inner beauty. Scene change...
A friend is sitting at work talking to her colleagues. It has been a year now since she started working here. I think back then and look at the situation now. What a transformation! There they are sitting and talking like old buddies, yet a year ago this would not have been conceivable. There were the polite formalities, the necessary work discussions but a huge number of human barriers. An uneasiness that manifested itself in an over-polite attitude that kept at bay any indication that she would try to fit into the team. Yet the combination of patience, some gentle perserverance and strength finally broke the barriers down and prejudice walked out of the door. It did not seem to matter where she was from, what she was wearing anymore or what her background was. All they could see now was the beauty that made her unique; the same way she had seen it in them all along.

Was everyone on the train, in the pilgrimage or at that workplace conscious of that common thread, of our similarity and of our unique inner beauty? Better still, does everyone in the world realise this? Prejudice continues to draw a haze across eyes and continues to blind minds to that fact. Some often find themselves enlarging the differences and playing down the similarities. Maybe it is more interesting that way. Nevertheless, what happens in essence is that the beauty within others is missed out on. That piece of uniqueness has been attacked time and time over in the name of prejudice.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


Posted by Peace at 11:28 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Think quickly: who has power over you? Who is it that rules and controls your life through fear, respect, love, or adoration; the one you put into consideration in every move you make or thought you have? Who do you look up to for inspiration and or simply run to? That was the simple question that our Organizational Behaviour instructor started the class with. And each of us had a different answer: my dad, my mom, my boyfriend, my kids, my boss, both of my parents, my friends, even my cat was once brought up! Kerry narrated to us how a cat was so dear to one of his students that she considered it to be ruling her life. It would run to her when spoiled with toys and preferred treats, comfort her and give her warmth when she needed it, and ignore her when upset. “Talk to the paw,” Kerry raised his hand imitating the cat, “cause I’m not talking to you today!” And we all laughed.

I am sure that by now you already have a name in mind. But let me make that easier for you and “empower” you with the tools of making the right choice. The figure you deem most powerful in your life should fall into one or more of the following bases of power:

- One that has the legitimate right, considering his or her position and your responsibilities, to expect you to comply.
- One that has the experience to earn your respect and you need the wisdom of.
- One you do like and enjoy doing things for very willingly.
- One that you try to avoid getting him or her angry for they have the power to punish you or make things more difficult for you. That is the power of coercion or compulsion.
- One that has the power to reward you or give you special benefits.
- One that has the knowledge you need.

Each one of us had to ascribe one of the above bases of power to the choices we made. Parents have that legitimate power of course. Kids do control your life decisions. Your boss has the power to reward or punish you. Your dear ones: boyfriend, spouse or close friends, moderate your actions and you do need their companionship and the joy of being around them.

But how powerful is any of those choices really and are we really that powerless? Reflecting on this, we found that it is our decision to give this or that the right to control and guide us. We allow others to have power over us. We empower them with the authority of our own decision; that we are unaware of sometimes. We can, very politely if we wish, stop any of those powerful figures from controlling our lives. After all, we are the ones living our lives and responsible for our actions and decision-making. We are the ones who choose to be dependent on any of those figures when we assume that they are important, scarce and non-substitutable. But are they? The key to dependency is “to believe that what others offer you is too important to let go of”. But how important or reliable can others be, when we all human beings change, err, turn selfish and needy most often than not.

Let us unravel the mystery of power now and analyze some of the influence tactics used by the “powerful”. They can persuade us rationally and subtly that they control us. They can inspire us, appealing to our goals, values and ideas. They can flatter us and become very warm and friendly to paralyze our ability to simply say, “No”. They appeal for loyalty and that we owe them. I do that most of the time with my kids! “Am I not the one who bore you for long tiring months? Am I not the one who stayed up all night for you when you were helpless little babies?” But I am afraid that I have abused this tool with my whining that it will become very inefficient too soon!

Powerful ones also demand, pressure and threaten us sometimes. They exchange favours for benefits or claim the authority to make a request. Have you hated them yet? Do you realize now how much power we willingly give them? This is exactly what an abusive relationship is like, Kerry explained. The ones subject to domestic violence or bullying for example never stand up, fight back or even disengage themselves from abusive relationships because they are simply brainwashed to believe that they are deprived of all power and that they cannot live without that bully.

When Kerry asked us the question the first time, he asked us to write our answer on paper so that we go back to it as we analyze further the concept of power. I was the second one to answer at the very beginning and had to think quickly. “Power over me? You wish,” I thought to myself! I ran quickly through all the names I know of, all the dear and significant ones, and found no one to play that role. I love my dear ones dearly, cherish, enjoy and deeply respect them, but I know that I am responsible for my life and that no one rules it but my own decisions. Yet, the answer came as simple, flowing and logical as this: God! Only God has power over me. Kerry raised his eyebrows and said, “Hmm, I like that!”

And I had to go back to my answer every time to defend my choice. It perfectly made sense that when each student had only one or maybe more of the aforementioned bases of power to defend his or her choice, all bases of power fell into place when I said that God indeed has the power over me. He has the legitimate right that to Him only I comply. I certainly need His guidance, wisdom and knowledge. I do enjoy doing things for Him and even sacrifice and self-discipline myself for Him. It is not only fear of His punishment that I acknowledge and deserve when I err, and it is not only Paradise that I seek, but it is the peace and spiritual fulfillment that all the pleasures of this life fail to even come close to.

Does that contradict with the concept of our own power and right to choose? Not at all. The rule is very clear in Islam. Observe what is clearly stated in Qur’an,

- There shall be no compulsion in [acceptance of] the religion. (3 [Al-Baqarah]: 265).
- The truth is from your Lord, so whoever wills - let him believe; and whoever wills - let him disbelieve. (18 [Al-Kahf]: 29).
- So remind, [O Muhammad]; you are only a reminder. {21} You are not over them a controller. {22} (88 [Al-Ghashiyah]: 21-22).

And on and on go the examples by which we are rather empowered by the right to choose for ourselves. Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, confirmed this concept by saying, “A strong believer is better and more lovable to God than a weak one…”[1] It is true that Islam comes from the Arabic word taslim, which is submission to the Lord. Yet, this submission has to come from the heart and mind. We believe in it and actually chose to submit. This is the dignity and power provided to us by a loving and merciful Lord. This is the “power of belief”! What oppression then do they talk about when you have the right to think, choose, question and walk in your Lord’s way with all that He filled your soul with?

What about the influence tactics then? Which of them does God use to rule us? Well, God does not need to claim the authority or right to make a request. God does not form coalitions for support. God does not exchange favours or use flattery. God does not even need to persuade us rationally or threaten us. God only inspires us to think and reason when he says in Qur’an; So have they not traveled through the earth and have hearts by which to reason and ears by which to hear? For indeed, it is not eyes that are blinded, but blinded are the hearts… (11 [Al-Hajj]: 46). This loving and wise leading manner respects humanity and endows it with the characteristics of empowered people; i.e. having self-determination, a sense of meaning, a sense of competence and a sense of impact.

Moving to dependency then, and testing whether it contradicts with Islam’s empowerment, we find that we have seen how unpredictable and defective dependency on human beings can be. The rule of dependency is to avoid choosing a substitutable figure. Having God on our side indeed spares us the need for mortals. But what if we decide to substitute Him and surrender to our whims and desires instead; gratifying bodily needs and ignoring our souls? Here is what God says in the Qur’an; Have you seen the one who takes as his god his own desire? Then would you be responsible for him? (25 [Al-Furqan: 43). Once again we are empowered by being our own judges and guardians, responsible for our own actions; There has come to you enlightenment from your Lord. So whoever will see does so for [the benefit of] his soul, and whoever is blind [does harm] against it. And [say], "I am not a guardian over you." (6 [Al-An’am: 104).

Furthermore, the very concept of depending on God is part and parcel of that of “locus of control”. If we fast forward to personality attributes and how they affect our behaviour, we find that there are two kinds of people when it comes to locus of control; i.e. the degree to which people believe they are in control of their fate. Internals believe that they have control over their destiny. Those are the ones with greater motivation believing that their efforts will result in better performance and are universally reported to be in a better well-being. Externals, on the other hand, believe that they have no say on their destiny and that their lives are controlled by outer forces. Those are the ones less involved, rather alienated from their settings and feel that they have no impact on their surroundings.

Depending on God does not at all mean that we turn into idle passive externals, it is rather the balance of striding with confident steps into the challenges life puts in your way with the boosting relief and security knowing that God is there on our side rewarding us for each step with the success we deserve. An empowering dependency!

Does it make sense now to have God and only God as my ruling, moving and empowering power?

[1] Authentic hadith reported by al-Albaniy in Sahih Ibn-Majah page/number 3379, and narrated by Abu-Hurayrah (RA).

Monday, December 3, 2007

Being a woman

Posted by Peace at 1:26 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Not only am I a woman; I am a Muslim woman wearing hijab. Oh, and top that with the fact that I live in the West; i.e. stereotyped as helpless, dull and a “poor thing”! For most people, I do not even exist. I am a covered lump of nothingness that is easily ignored by those who don’t care, easily overlooked by those who define women “differently” and simply smiled at by the kind who do not know how to handle what came their way. And mad I am when people turn their heads when they hear me speak. Mad I am when they raise their eyebrows at my “fancy words” and eloquent style. Mad I get when the bus driver graciously lowers the floor of the bus to allow easier entry whenever I ride it, like s/he does with senior citizens, greeting me with a “ma’am”! Do I look that old simply because I am covered up? I think that got into me to the point that I now wonder sometimes at my own agile walk that does not match my “modest” appearance.

Like all women, I am bombarded with commercials that define beauty differently depending on the season. So, the burning hot colors and styles of the summer are “out” now and “in” is the 60s look this winter, of short dresses and cool shades! The pretty and digitally brushed-to-perfection faces on the covers of Beauty Magazines sneer at me as I drag myself, as if ashamed, to the checkout lines at grocery stores. Insecure young women are all around me; craving for acceptance, covering their faces with layers of make up, and piercing their ears, noses and God knows what, to simply belong to the cult of young and cool. A lady in my thirties myself and more than a decade older than my young colleagues, I see them now on daily basis. I cannot match their, “like, totally awesome, like, seriously super” upbeat rhythm, so I watch them trying to understand. I find myself most of the time unable to grasp the paradox of watching how tough, smart and reliable they are, yet how they fall for that snare of fashion and appearances in spite of it. I wonder though what they say when they see my washed clean face and my plain long and un-trendy outfits. Well, I know how I feel as I watch them. I too adore perfumes and scented lotions, but know that I cannot wear that around strangers. I too know how to wear make up beautifully matching my skin tones. I too take good care of my hair and color it occasionally; the way I like and not necessarily following a certain style. I too, used to walk around with my jeans and tennis shoes and add a formal jacket to that as I enter my classes as the then-fresh young instructor. But it was my decision to wear hijab; a difficult decision it certainly was to one that is very self-conscious of how she looks, to one always assumed to look younger than she really was. Hijab now, adds long years to my look and I acknowledge that and see it in the eyes of everyone. A struggle it is indeed to walk around in a world of plastic surgeries, millions-of-dollars cosmetic industry and a general tendency to overlook anything but the pretty, young and “bling-bling” rich.

But in time, I learned to live with that till I was taken aback by the one looking back at me today!

Who was that in that long unflattering mirror? To whom did that reflection belong? What’s that complexion? That would-be wrinkle screamed out loud at me. That “un-complimenting” outfit I tried on regretfully said the truth and nothing but the truth. You are getting old! It is true that a genuine smile of yours may obliterate years from that look and that the shine in your eyes reveals who you truly are, but what shine or smile are you talking about now in that silencing gloom? What looks are you talking about when you walk around defeated with your stooped shoulders and dismayed eyes?

On I walked fumbling for recognition. I could not find that in the eyes of the only one whom I can seek attention from. It is not fair though to expect the reassuring and satisfying attention you need from the whole world to come from only one man. This is too much to ask; especially with that restless, demanding and anxious attitude of yours. Insecurity charges up in you the worst of attacks. That frustration has to burst out one way or the other making me not only old and unattractive, but also intolerable!

Why am I still wearing hijab then? Why not free myself from all those shackles and simply be! Why not have breeze fly my hair away and carry my perfume everywhere?

I can’t.

I simply don’t want to.

I am holding on to my hijab now more than ever and with the same tenacity.

Unconsciously, I went tonight in pursuit of that recognition. Reached out to loved ones, but it so happened that no one was there to the rescue. Someone had to pick up the shattered pieces of my self-image. But no one was there.

When I first decided to wear hijab, it seemed like the logical thing to do. Nothing seemed to make me happy anymore and as I gradually got sick from the superficiality of the surrounding unfulfilling pleasures, I wanted to tend to the soul that was deserted and left behind. Though a born Muslim, I have always practiced Islam out of habit and hence praying for example was void of meaning or touching significance. I knew that peace was in the true spirit of Islam, but like a fish out of water, I gaped for air through a hand that leads me to the Islam that speaks to both my heart and mind. I was not the one to be intimidated and scared by the familiar clich├ęs of torture and Hellfire. I was not the one to be led around by dos and don’ts. I needed the comfort of knowing that I am loved and accepted by a merciful most kind and generous Lord that would take me the way I am, get out the best in me with His guidance, and clear my soul with His forgiveness from the harm I have done to myself. I needed the light that tells me where I am in the universe and what I am meant here to do. That blend of who I am must be here and now for a reason. I must be equipped with what I know and what I am still to dig up to make a change. Thus, I needed to surrender my whole being to God and His decrees; and that I did by striving to be a true Muslim since the word “Islam” means surrendering to the Lord. Wearing hijab was one of those decrees that felt right then. Yet, little did I know that it will take me years to understand what hijab really is.

On my way back home today, I could not leave that image I saw in the mirror behind. It remained there on my mind; with silent tears on my face. How do I really look like now; with or without hijab? Is there anything to stop the crawling years? And what if I am now old? What kind of recognition and attention do I really want, and why? Where and what is beauty? Why should I seek it in the eyes of the beholder in the first place? If I am born to be a rebel and refuse to be enslaved by those who dictate to me how I should look, walk and talk, why am I defining myself by the rules of others, any others, friends or strangers? How can I respect anyone that treats me any differently because of my mere looks, good or bad? With my hijab I simply look to such people in the eye and challenge their integrity as if saying, now that this woman is trying very hard to look the least attractive possible, how are you to judge her?

I am a human being. That was the answer. I am a free human being not to be judged or chained by meaningless ever-changing rules. Why should I be treated differently if I am a woman? Isn’t this the ultimate empowerment a woman can have when she is freed from the discrimination or privilege she is granted or denied based on how she looks? Isn’t it true slavery to “grease my way up in this sleazy corporate world”, a term I literally heard myself few days ago, or being taken advantage of and harassed because of the fact that I am a woman? This is where hijab comes in compellingly.

In Arabic the word hijab means barrier; and barrier it is indeed if it protects me from others and from my own nature of competing with other females on daily basis for a beauty trophy or trying to attain power through others. I always say, “I never have a bad hair day!” Nothing will simply stop me from getting what I want unless I do not have it in me to get it. So it is all about me, not about what others think or decide that I deserve. It is THE true power that a woman like me would not forsake. The kind of discipline that takes me away from whatever may defuse this bursting energy and keeps me focused instead, time and effort wise, on what really counts.

IT takes no time for me at all to have others see beyond that hijab. I give them the permission to touch the human being inside without touching the outer shape. I do not need their recognition or acceptance; they don’t have to. Yet it makes them comfortable to understand that the one under that cover is a smart tough cookie!

And the natural feminine need to look and feel pretty? I am not denied that. I got that in the comfort and convenience of my home surrounded by my close family. I am a human being, a round character, and my religion addresses my needs as well as regulates them in a way that is very logical and reasonable. It makes sense here that the decree that I willingly followed then was sent by the Lord that created us and knows about our natures. He knows about our weaknesses and hence He is helping us not to fall victim for that and thus lead balanced and productive lives. It makes perfect sense to start looking at hijab that way and outsmart the media that hammered on “the oppression that helpless Muslim women are subject to”; a concept that comes to our minds if and when we stop and notice a woman with hijab.

What difference does it make how I look; how I polish my nails, wear my make up or pluck my eyebrows? If I die right this minute, it is my words, deeds, and how I contributed in the lives of those around, that I am leaving behind; everything else is finite and of no true significance.

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"Do they not then meditate on the Qur'an? And if it were from any other than God, they would have found in it many a discrepancy" (Qur'an, 4:82)

2009 THEME: Islam in the West and Our Children (Discussion & Resources regularly updated)

There is increasing concern that second and third generation Muslims in the West are mostly no longer Muslims so they actually end up adding to the Christian or Atheist population of the West, albeit racially from a non-Western origin. Accordingly, the ratios mentioned in the video ( would be correct in regards to race or ethnicity but not necessarily to religion.

It is a grave danger facing our children and grand children from a real life stand point as statistically only 1/5 of the second generation stay really Muslims when they grow up and are independent and almost non from the third generation are Muslims. And that is why the Western authorities are still permitting the immigration of Muslims inspite of the figures provided in the above video. They know that on the long term the descendants of Muslims in the West leave Islam because their parents raised them up with an Eastern mentality in a Western society instead of an Islamic mentality that encompasses all cultures.

You can see more about that by Jeffrey Lang; an ex-atheist American Mathematics University Professor who reverted to Islam in 1982. He has also written 3 books that I highly recommend; "Struggling to Surrender", "Even Angels Ask" and "Losing my Religion; A Call for Help".
Now I will leave you to enjoy 2 short excerpts from one of his lectures followed by links to his most important full presentation regarding our children.

Here is a solution that is yet to be implemented.

Raising children here is not an easy task ofcourse but if we do it the right way they will be true Muslims in shaa Allaah who are "Informed Muslims" rather than "Muslims by inheritance" like their counterparts in the East. Hopefully they will then be a much better generation than ours.

Quickly, I do believe that the best 4 authors (for example, there are many others but these are my favorite) who could guide us through this difficult process are Yahiya Emerick, Jeffrey Lang, Jamal Badawi and Dalia Mogahed.

Here are some links for future reference and for an ongoing learning process that I have started collecting slowly.
Please spread the below information to all your Muslim contacts in the West.

Jeffrey Lang: I highly recommend the lecture titled "The Purpose of Life". It has true meanings that I have not come across in any Arabic literature.

Yahiya Emerick:
Articles: I highly recommend reading and spreading the last article in this link by the name of "The Confusion of the Scholars"
Books: There are only 14 books, about half for adults and the other half for kids. The extra are just repetitions.

Jamal Badawi:
Many products including books, articles and lectures mostly for adults. You can find them by searching his name online. My favorite is;

Dalia Mogahed: (Obama's adviser)
Has one book so far but has a great potential. "Who Speaks for Islam".
You can watch her debate with Irshad Manji (an openly Lesbian Canadian Muslim who is distorting the picture of Islam in the name of "Progressive Islam")

Finally here is a website for a store that sells lots of Islamic products including Islamic cartoon DVDs in English and Arabic for kids.

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