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Deep Roots

I rolled over in bed and quickly realized that was a huge mistake.

The whole side of my body morphed into fine goosebumps and I was awoken to the crisp Chicago night and freshly pressed bed sheets. Streaks of moonlight creeped through my blinds and splashed parts of my bed. It was eerie but serene at the same time. I pulled the covers closer to my body and gazed out the window. The warmth was rushing back towards my body as I bent my legs towards my chest to trap it in. I saw a silhouette of the tree standing in the front yard. During the day it stood in solitude and most of the time barely noticeable but tonight it looked intimidating, fearless and beautiful. The daytime suffocated her true self. She needed to release. The tree was simply stealing the night in order to display her true brilliance.

We all steal in one way or another. I thought to myself.

I took in a deep breath of the chilled night air and reflected on the desires of the human spirit. My chest rose as thoughts stirred in my mind. I needed the tree to share the night with me. So I stole a bit of it for myself.

I did so unapologetically and without shame.

_

Life feels full, but nonetheless very enjoyable. At 28, I feel like I am reaching a point of self-realization. I am growing into myself and feel more confident with the woman I am becoming. I have had opportunities to be independent, extensively travel and pretty much “do me”. It always amazes me the turns that your life can take. I always tend to think that I control the major and minor occurrences in my life. Now, don’t get a sista wrong… I firmly believe that Allah has ultimate control but I think we play a huge part in how our lives turn out as well. In my early 20’s I would have never thought that I’d be unmarried and globe trotting.

For real…

We all walk different paths that may converge with that of our family and friends and sometimes they never converge at all. People get married in clusters then they start getting pregnant in clusters too. Think of it like this, in every group of friends there is that one person who kinda does their own thing. The one who is going against the grain of expectation and normativity.

Society dictates what you’re supposed to have, when you’re supposed to have it and how you’re supposed to get it. Are people just cookie cutters of one another? Should people be labeled or pointed out when they don’t fit into what society expects of them? As women we get stuck with this big time. Once you reach a certain age (normally after 30) certain “things” are expected of you. It’s almost as though many of us have an expiration date that is shadowed in the fear of not fulfilling those societal demands. Once we get into our late 20’s we’re in a rush to get our lives “together”.

Life is not set up like that. There is no “set” age or time to get married, have children or even to be settled in a career. I’m sure those things work as motivators for many people but I refuse to live my life in the cloud of societal demands.

That’s mad stressful!

I think about my life and where I see myself in the future inshAllah. I certainly want to get married and have a family, but quite frankly I am enjoying my life. I’m living in the now and attempt every day to be conscious of the present. The past is long gone and the future awaits me, God willing.

Right now is what counts and it is the only thing I can control at this given point in time.

There is a time for everything in your life. I recognize the chances of me finding someone as mobile as myself is pretty rare. I will have to adapt certain aspects of my life and the older I get I understand that people become less flexible. So don’t misunderstand a sista because I know that time is precious and it must not be wasted.

One must strike a balance of living for oneself as well as understanding the realities of life. This balance can be hard to achieve and it is something I work on quite often.

Right before bed and in the early hours of the morning have always been a time of reflection and thought.

Many researchers have said that trees are some of the few plants that can show physical manifestations to outside stressors. Air quality, soil conditions and limited space can inhibit their growth. Just like the human spirit trees need space to fully flourish and reach their highest potential. If not they remain stagnant and eventually die. One must be rooted in the knowledge of self in order to grow.

Remember, there is no growth without firm and planted roots.

I take my time to grow and breath so that when love comes my way I am ready for it to plant itself deeply within my heart. Until then, I steal pieces of the night and patiently wait for the daylight to bring its lessons on life.

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These Three Words

The airport was packed with people. 

I think it was July 4th weekend because I remember people were in shorts and it was mad hot outside. A group of children sat in the seats near me. It looked like they were sharing a bag of potato chips. The oldest looking boy was hogging the bag. I figured they were going on vacation because they looked far too excited to be returning home. I sat in the corner on the floor waiting for my flight to board. My book bag was sprawled out in front of me. I took my flip flops off to get more comfortable. Since I was a child I’ve always hated shoes. My mother always joked and said I inherited that from my African father, who himself preferred bare feet even in the coldest of months.

I was on the phone with a man that I would marry in the months to follow. I was in my own world. He was, in fact, slowly and surely becoming my world. Ironically enough, I don’t even remember what city I was traveling in at the time when he first said it to me. 

The mind is an interesting facet. It is a chest full of ideas, dreams, fears and sporadic thoughts. Some people say you remember what you choose while others say you remember the things that spark a deep emotional response within you. I believe the latter. 

I remember the sincerity in his voice. I remember the way my heart exploded when he uttered those three words. I remember he was hesitant and guarded but all the while confident. 

Then he said it.

I did not respond.

I soaked it in, marinated in his words then mentally saved a little for a rainy day. 

Until that moment I had never felt the power of these three words. They were heavy. Heavy in a good way.

His vulnerabilities started to surface and he began to apologize for his brazenness. 

He was nervously mumbling his words.

Perhaps my silence made him question himself.

I immediately stopped him. 

He was ready to give and my heart was willing to accept. I was young, inexperienced and eager to be loved by a man. When a woman is ready for this chapter in her life no one can stop her, not even her own parents.

As Muslims we walk a very fine line that can be confusing at times. We attempt to navigate a world while being culturally and religiously appropriate, all the while living in a society that doesn’t put much value on either. At times, this can lead to one not being entirely true to themselves. True to their emotions. Some deem it unislamic to confess your love openly, especially as a woman. But how can you be true with others when you aren’t true to yourself? 

Does sincerity not start from within?

Now I am certainly not encouraging folks to profess their undying love to just anyone. I am just reminding you, as well as myself, to be more open with the feelings that Allah has placed within us all. I wish we lived in a world where there was no fear involved with being honest about your feelings. It would make life a hell of a lot easier. Emotions are the core of the human experience and when I deny them I am directly denying myself.

I’ve always said the purest love is that which is young, untainted and immature. Before hard life lessons bite you in the ass. When you haven’t been hurt you allow your heart to guide you. After pain the intellect supersedes the heart. Rationale triumphs emotion in order to avoid pain. For some it’s a coping mechanism. That’s just the way it is. I don’t understand why. Everything in life doesn’t have an explanation so we must stop expecting one for every misfortune that befalls us. 

I never questioned his love. Even though the marriage ended in divorce I believe he loved the best way he could. The only way he knew how to. We all love differently. As children we learn how to love from our parents, siblings and society. You carry those learned habits into your adult life. Some of those habits are good and others are bad.

Just as quickly as people fall in love they fall out of love. I hope to experience the sweetness that comes along with this process. We all experience love so differently and no two experiences are ever he same. Staying in love is never a guarantee and understanding that will allow you to avoid the pitfalls that come a long with the pain.

Plainly put, sometimes shit happens and for some people it is worse than others.

You have to pick yourself up, brush that dust off and keep on keepin’ on. 

It may not be ok today. There is no guarantee that it will be ok tomorrow either.

That one day, when you least expect it, you will realize that the hurt made you stronger.

You were always ok. Life just tricked you into thinking you were not.

It has always been in you.

Promise.

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To the Father who tried

He came here full of hope.

It was 1981 and he was a twenty four year old graduate student sent from his home country of Sudan. He was told to make his country proud so he packed his belongings along with his dreams for a better life.

The ultimate dream of any person living in a poor country. He was starting a new life in America.

A land of endless opportunity and a place where anyone could make it.

My mom said women were always taken aback because he was exceptionally handsome. His nubian almond shaped eyes, strong jawline, and chocolate skin made women, from all ethnicities, gravitate towards him. His solid frame had him shy of 6’5. I always thanked Allah that I inherited his eyes and not his height.

He didn’t know it though. He didn’t realize how good looking he truly was because back in Africa he resembled any other tall and lanky East African guy walking around Khartoum.
________

It was mid July and I was sitting in a motel in southern Los Angeles.

My window was open and I could hear the wind rustling through the palm trees. As strays of California sunlight crept through the blinds I could see the dust matter floating in all directions.

I reached into my oversized purse and pulled out a manila envelope. I looked at his photos and cried. The photos were faded and looked like they had been sitting in someones basement for the last twenty years. Actually the motel room looked like it belonged in one of these portraits. The sunlight bounced off the photo so I shifted it in my hands trying to look past the water marks. His eyes were bright and familiar. They were mine. For a moment I was looking at myself.

I needed this.

I needed to grieve properly.

I needed to mourn him and what could have been.

It’s always interesting to me how memory and the mind works. You always want to force yourself to remember the best moments. It’s a sense of nostalgia and usually not based on actual reality of the situation. Sometimes we mourn what we wanted our lives to be like rather than what they actually were. It’s a coping mechanism we all use at one point and I was certainly using it then. It was a mix of emotions. I was mad as hell, horribly guilt ridden but most of all I was hurting.

I knew very well what life would have been like with a schizophrenic father.

There was no point in romanticizing anymore.

________

“That’s the place.” She said. Her index finger was pointed in the direction of a supermarket and her eyes were dazed. I looked at it and thought about the importance of places and how relative they usually are. It just looked like a shabby spot to me but it held some sort of importance to my mother.

This was where she had met my father many, many years ago. She was twenty-three and a new convert to Islam. “He spotted me in the fruit section,” she said laughing. He was pretending to grocery shop. He waited until my mother was in the check out line and strategically got behind her and started conversation. It ended with him getting her number and a marriage six months later.

________

He asked me if I wanted to see the body.

He was a middle-aged man of Arab descent wearing a button up creme colored shirt tucked into his dress pants. He had thick rimmed circular glasses on that made his eyes look three times bigger than they actually were. He was hurriedly walking to his office and shuffling papers at the same time. Being the funeral director at the local mosque I could tell he was trying to offer sympathy, but being in a business of this nature for long periods of time can make one cold. It’s routine. Unchanging. Constant. Just like the postman delivering letters to people every single day, people will always need their mail and people will always be dying.

I thought about it for a moment.

Being an emergency room nurse I see dead bodies quite often. Women, men, the old and the young. Growing up I always saw images of my father. He looked firm and resilient. I had built up this imaginary man in my head of what I expected him to be like. Having never seen him in the flesh I didn’t want my first and last encounter to be with him laying in a casket.

“No.” I said quietly and looking down at the floor.
________

We’re not sure exactly want happened. One day he just started acting different.

My mom said he started becoming very paranoid and anxious. He always thought people were after him and wanting to harm his family. Now as an adult, I realize what an awful fear that must have been. Though not based on present reality its the reality of the individual and to him it was real as day.

It became too much and he began becoming aggressive. My mom feared for herself but she mainly feared for her four-month old daughter.

So she left.
________

Over the years my father would try to contact me. His schizophrenia and constant paranoia meant that he never stayed in one place for too long.

Letters were always sent back and numbers were always disconnected.

He died full of sadness and guilt. A man who tried but couldn’t deliver.

Several years ago I was able locate an uncle of mine who was living in California. He was there taking care of my father who was currently institutionalized. I was put back in contact with my grandmother and a slew of uncles, aunts and cousins, second cousins, third cousins (its Africa, you know how it goes.)

They welcomed me back with African styled love…

Just like I was returning back home from a long journey…

My grandmother hugged me and this time she was the one who cried.

Her tears flowed for a son who tried his best and a child who had made her way back home.

________

On Fathers Day we recognize the men who have consistently been around. Our role models. Our support. Our heroes.

Today I recognize the many men who fell victim to the difficulties in life. The men who have weeping hearts from never witnessing their child’s first step or the first day of school. The men who sincerely tried and prayed that they would never repeat the actions of their own fathers but somehow identically mimicked the loins that bore them.

The men who are painfully reminded about the type of men they had the potential to become.

The type of fathers they wanted to be.

Today I recognize you.

Mahmoud Tahir Haj Adam circa 1973

Mahmoud Tahir Haj Adam circa 1973

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Ice Cube & Jummah

Recently I was having one of those days.

You know the ones when you’re really feelin’ yourself.

Outfit was on point, weather was nice and I had a fly cheetah print hijab on. Not only that but it was Friday so I was in a really good mood.

There was nothing more I could ask for. My red car glistened in the sun as I drove down Stony Island Avenue. In my Ice Cube voice “It was a good day.”

I was thankful and blessed.

You couldn’t tell a sista nothin’…

I was on the south side of Chicago and I decided to go to jummah nearby. I rolled into a mosque I was somewhat familiar with and soaked in the sermon. After jummah, I gave the greeting to the familiar faces I saw put my shoes on and made my way out.

I was walking back to my car. I crossed the street and headed towards the open parking lot. First thing I noticed was that my car was blocked in by two vehicles. It looked like it would be a game of Tetris trying to get out of that lot. I thanked Allah under my breath for having a small car. I was strategically parked at the end all the way in the corner.

I pulled my keys out of my purse as the gravel crunched under my shoes. As I opened my door I heard someone say “Asaalamu alaikum sister.”

I looked over and realized there was a brother sitting in the car next to where I was parked. Like myself he was patiently waiting in the post-jummah traffic jam. He poked his head out of the window and smiled.

I returned the greeting and kindly smiled back before closing my door.

It was mad hot outside. I got in my car, started the engine and rolled down the windows.

“I like your car.” He said. I couldn’t tell if he was looking at my car or at me because of his huge sunglasses. One thing though, I could tell he was slightly nervous by the almost unnoticeable quiver in his voice.

“Thanks, its a good car. Very reliable” I said shyly.

I could hear the reggae playing in his car. He turned the music down.

“I’ve never seen you here before. So you come to this mosque often?” He asked.

I knew where this was going but I thought let me not shut the brotha down right away. He had the guts to initiate conversation and he did so after jummah for that matter! Plus, it would be kinda awkward ignoring him as I was stuck in the lot. A sista couldn’t run even if she wanted to.

Plus you already know the deal…

Muslim men say Muslim women (specifically hijabis) are hard to talk to. Muslim women say Muslim men never attempt to initiate conversation.

“Naw, not really. I was just in the area and decided to stop by. The khutbahs (sermon) always seems to be relevant here.” I said.

I looked in my rear view mirror to see if there was any progress. The cars were still empty. I guess folks were trying to get their Friday blessings in and putting extra sunnah prayers in.

I could see him in my peripheral. His body language indicated he wanted to say more. During the eleven minute hiatus he told me about his family and profession.

As folks headed back to their cars and the sound of engines echoed in the parking lot he said this, “Sister, I’m really just looking for a wife. I know its forward of me but I have to start somewhere. No better place to meet a sister than at the masjid after jummah, right?” This came out of his mouth with such sincerity.

The brother had a point.

After much thought I realized I wasn’t mad at him. He was simply doing what he needed to do in order to find a partner. He made his intentions perfectly clear.

No disrespect involved.

I know y’all ain’t gonna admit it but we’ve all scoped the scene out after jummah, Eid prayer and at lectures.

Stop frontin’…

You see, the way some men approach women makes us feel violated at times. Most women have felt like that at some point or another.

I didn’t feel violated or grossed out after our conversation ended. My dignity and self-respect was still intact.

Then I thought about how a couple of years ago I would have totally written this brotha off. I probably would have flipped my cheetah hijab, said “astagfirullah” under my breath, given him an eye roll (maybe with a neck roll for added emphasis) and zoomed off in my mini red car. Getting older, wiser (hopefully!), and experienced has honestly allowed me to see the “human” in people.

Many Muslims like to view themselves as the ideal Muslim (at least in public) but no one realizes that this is something we all aspire to become. We all want to reach a level of religious perfection and utter obedience.

But what does being a “good” Muslim really mean? Why do we deny ourselves the right to emotionally express our human needs and then equate that with religiosity?

It just doesn’t make sense to me. Acknowledge your basic needs as the human that Allah created you to be.

It’s not a weakness and at that moment I realized that,

I could not fault him.

I could not ridicule him.

I could only empathize with him.

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R.E.S.P.E.C.T.

As y’all know I am all for women being independent and free thinkers.

But…

There are certain things that you just DON’T say to your man.

You can still be a sistaqueen and reign that throne but a smart woman knows how to treat her man right.

Likewise a smart man knows how to treat his woman right.

Recently, I witnessed a woman talking to her man in the most disrespectful manner. I cringed as I heard her put him down. I knew she would regret it later and more importantly I knew he would not bring the topic up later.

His bruised ego would surface in other ways.

Most men will not admit when you have hurt their feelings. It’s seen as being “unmanly” or weak.

They are men and they have something called pride. At times, some have more than others.

Now this should never happen but my first thought was if she’s talking to him like this in public then how are they talking behind closed doors? When you show respect for your partner you are in turn showing respect for yourself. After all, this is a relationship that requires the involvement of two equally dedicated individuals. Treat it like that.

Shaunti Feldman, author of The Male Factor broke it down like this:

1. Respect his judgment

2. Respect his abilities

3. Respect in communication

4. Respect in public

I love getting relationship advice from the OG’s (aka aunties who have been married 20+ years) and one lady told me that for a relationship to be successful women need to feel loved and men need to feel respected.

This woman was the truth! I’ve often thought about this crucial piece of advice she gave me and she was right.

One thing I see over and over again is women throwing up the fact that they make more money than their husbands.

Now if a brotha is holding it down…

Paying the bills and doing what he needs in order to take care of you then why are you throwing it in his face?

That is one of the most emasculating things you can do to a man and a smart woman will not degrade her partner in this manner.

Sure, when you are in the heat of the moment your judgement fails quite quickly but you have to remember words can create deep wounds that can take time heal.

Lastly, I can’t finish this post without paying homage to the sistaqueen who made respect soulful and cool.

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V-day Mubarak!

V-day Mubarak to you!

Another year of love, sacrifice and the mushy gushies has sneaked upon us.

Love is in the air and I am such a softee during this time of the year. I suppose I am a hopeless romantic at times.

Muslims love to be the first to vocalize their disdain for non-Muslim “American” holidays. We see it all over Facebook and Twitter. Personally, I think it goes slightly overboard. I would be very offended if non-Muslims had the same attitude towards Ramadan or Eid.

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Regardless the meme wars have begun!

Now, I can understand the religious standpoint as to not wanting to celebrate certain holidays. All the power to you. A sista gets it, you are trying your best to remain steadfast on the Quran and Sunnah. May Allah make you successful.

Though…

With that being said many Muslim men are really lacking in the romance department. The art of wooing a woman has been lost. Is it not the sunnah to be romantic and treat your wife in a loving manner even after you are married?

Romance is a lost sunnah and for some V-day assists in rekindling it.

One thing I realized is that Muslim men love to religiously legitimize not celebrating certain holidays. Most of the anti-vday propaganda is initiated by them.

Red roses…

ASTAGFIRULLAH! 

Candy for my sweety pie…

A’OOTHOO ‘BILLA!

Brothas, now if y’all were smart you would take advantage of this day (or any other day of your choosing). It really does not require a lot of planning. Every store, boutique and flower shop caters to the “man” customer during this time of the year. They understand you get easily overwhelmed and hate to shop so as a result everything is laid out for your shopping convienence.

These are the typical excuses Muslim men give:

Allah says your spouse should be appreciated every day. I celebrate Valentines day all the time!

OR

Muslims don’t celebrate a holiday rooted in pagan theology. Sister, you get no flowers! 

After really thinking about this it led me to this thought:

As a Muslim woman what does is mean to be truly “appreciated”?

Does buying me a bouquet of roses or box of chocolates cut it?

Like, really?

Of course, I don’t view V-day as being the ultimate display of whether or not a man truly loves me. With that being said, truth of the matter is that everyday you don’t get taken out to a special restaurant nor do you get flowers.

What’s so wrong with having one day dedicated to being treated like the sistaqueen you are? When we live in a culture where folks are caught up with work, school and family its nice to have a day solely dedicated to celebrating your love. Everyday throughout the year you are hustling at work or in school. These are the physical labors of your love in a relationship. Whether or not you celebrate V-day take one day aside to just unwind and let your partner know how much you appreciate them.

Anyways, who doesn’t have the time to celebrate another capitalistic holiday?

Ya’ll are frontin’.

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Patience vs. Oppression

She sat across from me crying into her hands.

I rubbed her back trying to console her. The more I rubbed the longer her sobs became.

“I juu-usst need to be patient.” Her eyeliner was starting to smear.

She needed support. She needed a friend, not someone to scold her and ask why she stuck around so long with a man who was abusive, even while they were courting.

She ignored the signs. Her silence gave him the idea that she accepted the way he was treating her.

But now, she’d had enough and was prepared to leave, infant in hand. She said her perspective changed once she had a daughter. But he refused to let her divorce him. To make matters worse, his Imam encouraged her to stay even though she was being both physically and verbally abused.

She found herself in a situation many women from all walks of life have found themselves.

Young, scared and alone.

She was told to be “patient,” that Allah loves those of us who persevere when put in trials and tribulations, that she would surely have a special place in heaven for being such an obedient wife.

I shook my head in disapproval every time she repeated those words. I thought she said them just to make herself believe that there was some truth to it. Many women who have never been abused automatically believe that they would confront an abusive husband, never allow him to get away with it. I remind myself and others to steer away from such harsh judgment of our abused sisters. There is a physiological component of abuse that must be catered to very gently.

At first she listened to her husband. Tried her best to please him and not make him upset.

It worked for a little while but then the vicious cycle of name calling and hitting would start all over. She would then pay a visit to their Imam and he would send her back home to him. Again.

Then one day it dawned on me. As Muslims, specifically women, we have the tendency to confuse patience with oppression. There is a very fine line. Having your Islamic rights denied or looked over is never acceptable. You are not being patient. If you silently stick around you are quietly approving of such behavior. You deserve to be treated with love and kindness.

Many Muslim men are very adamant about ensuring that their rights are upheld within a relationship (including sexual rights and the right to practice polygyny). As Muslim women, it’s crucial that we understand our rights as mandated in Islam. This serves as a protection – Allah knows us better than we know ourselves. As Maya Angelou says, “The first time someone shows you who they are, believe them.” For examples, if a brother is trying to persuade you to omit your mahr (a vital component in Islamic marriages) take caution. If he loves Allah he will ensure that your rights are upheld.

Many Muslims pretend as though issues of abuse don’t exist. Even the vague mention of it will send people into a frenzy because it puts Muslims in a “bad light”. As a result of this “bad light” we ignore serious issues within our community. As long as abusive men are not held accountable for their behavior, and misguided Imams refuse to properly address it, we will continue to have the cycle of abuse. Far too many of these abusive men jump from marriage to marriage only to leave a dark path of destruction.

Abuse is never acceptable in any way or form, be it physical or verbal. If you are a woman who is victim of abuse, I encourage you to seek help. And if you are the friend of a sister being abused don’t scold or judge her. She needs you. You might be her only, or even last, means of support.

_________

This post was originally featured on Love, InshAllah: Fresh Prespectives on Love

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