About Me

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Reflection on Ashura

Ashura is the tenth day of Muharram, the first month of the Islamic lunar calendar. It is a historically significant day for Muslims. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) enjoined his community to fast on this day since the Jews also fasted on that day to remember their deliverance from the Pharaoh. It was a day to fast and seek forgiveness from sins. The fast was not made obligatory but was a liked act of worship that continues to this day. The day of Ashura is a day of reflection on one's own actions and safeguard against sin.

As a sunni Muslim this was the only way I understood Ashura, it was not until I was in college when I became friends with Shi'a Muslims that I understood how important this day was. On Ashura, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), Husayn was killed along with his family on the battlefield of Karbala. This day became a day of remembrance by a group of Muslims that became the Shi'a. When I first learned of the history of this day and the way it defined the Muslim community in its infancy, I was taken back. I had never learned this history. As I read more and talked to my Shi'a friends I began to understand this day in a way that I had never thought. Husayn, the beloved grandson of the Prophet, was the son of Ali, the fourth caliph of the Muslim community, and Fatima, the beloved daughter of the Prophet. Husayn was supposed to be the leader of the Muslim community, but by that time the ruler was Yazid who had inherited the title. Yazid turned out to be a cruel ruler, and his cruelty lead him to stop Husayn who was leading his family and followers against him. On the tenth day of Muharram after a long cruel siege, Husayn was killed along with his family, the women and children were taken captive.  He was decapitated, his head put on a spear and marched for all to see. When I learned of the events of this battle, I wept, thinking how any ruler of the Muslim community could have dared to lay a harsh hand on the head of the beloved of the Prophet. I remember reading the stories of Hasan and Husayn as a child, both were noble children from whom I learned many lessons. However the biggest lesson that Husayn taught the Muslim community and one that is remembered by my Shi'a brothers and sisters is the one of standing up to injustice and oppression, to fight the good fight even after knowing you're going to lose. Husyan knew he was outnumbered but he could not remain silent, he had to stand up against the tyranny of Yazid. While he had supporters many did not join him, leaving him with a small group made largely of his family. To this day his actions and sacrifice is remembered by Muslims by retelling and reenacting the story.

While I don't participate in rituals and gatherings as do my Shi'a friends, I remember this day and remind myself of the ultimate sacrifice that should be made, to stand up to injustice everywhere. Husayn died living the message taught by our beloved Prophet, he reminded us to strive for justice and to struggle against oppression. This message holds true today, what would have Husayn done in today's world? What would he have to say about the dictators of the Muslim world? As I fast on the day of Ashura as did the Prophet, I remember and reflect upon Husayn's message. What do I do to make this world more just? What do I sacrifice for truth, freedom, and justice? I learned a great message from my Shi'a friends, "Every day is Ashura, every land is Karbala."

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A Reflection on the past decade

I’ve been avoiding the coverage of the ten year memorial of 9/11. I’ve been thinking and contemplating the changes, the good and the bad over the decade. I have wavered between pessimism and optimism. Like many, I also remember that fateful morning vividly. I was a senior in high school, in second period Macro Economics class with Mr. Stocks. He began the class with the usual jokes and stories that had little to do with economics but were shared to wake us up and get us animated in the morning. We were about to start the class when another teacher barged in and told us to turn on the tv quickly. We watched the second plane hit the tower and go up in smoke and then received the news that the Pentagon had been hit. Our teacher, a member of the National Guard, stood with his mouth open, shocked by the news and images. Our class became deadly silent. My mind went numb and I felt like I had no feelings other than utter shock. All of us students walked around solemnly that day, not sure about what had just happened. That day as I left school I turned on the radio and listened to talk radio which I normally did. As I listened I was again shocked by the words pouring out of the mouths of the callers. By this time I knew that the people who had flown the planes into the towers were “Muslims”, and my naive 17 year self did not even think about the ramifications of that for the Muslims living in America. However this quickly became clear as I listened to hateful words pouring out of the radio from ordinary Americans. As a young Muslim and an immigrant from India, I became bothered and angered by this sudden display and vocalization of hate. I didn’t do anything, I thought, I don’t know any Muslims who believe in violence and would ever think to commit such an act. I was a shy person and rarely spoke up in class. I never experienced hate from others because most people did not know I was Muslim. I didn’t wear anything that labeled me as such. However I realized that many of my fellow Muslims were experiencing hate and violence.
As I graduated from high school I knew that the world I was entering into was very different than I had ever imagined and that being shy would not cut it. From that day and the things I saw, heard, and read I knew that I wanted to study Religion, especially Islam and to write about it. I wanted to educate and teach others about Islam and to clear wrong perceptions about Islam. My trajectory was shaped by that day and in college I dove into my field of study, and worked with the Muslim students and became a part of interfaith activities. I also saw a awakening of the Muslim communities around me, as they realized that they could no longer remain silent and invisible in this society. Many mosques started opening their doors to the general public and hosted interfaith events and community service projects. My generation became involved in dialogue and hosted events to educate and inform others. As I graduated from college I was optimistic, I felt that Americans at large were learning to get past the rhetoric of hate towards Muslims, and that the attitude that all Muslims are terrorists was going to come to an end soon. 
However, as the years passed and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq dragged on and despite the optimism of having Barack Obama’s as the new President, I realized that America and the Muslim community had a long way to go. Every year on the memorial of the 9/11 attacks, the media opened the wounds that we desperately wanted to heal. There was constant reminders that Muslims were the ones to blame. In the past two years there was escalation in hate mongering and discrimination against Muslim communities. There was the infamous “Ground Zero Mosque” controversy, anti-Sharia bills in various states, discrimination against building of mosques in many communities, and hate filled crimes towards ordinary American citizens of Muslim, Sikh, Arab, Iranian, and Indian backgrounds. People who even looked anything like what was perceived to be Muslim were targeted and hurt. These incidents linger in the air as the decade since that day closes and the next one begins. Will these sentiments ever dissipate? Will the Muslim community ever be welcomed and seen just as Americans as the rest? When will we ever heal? 
Despite these pensive questions and feelings of pessimism, I do have an optimistic outlook. I know the Muslim community have made tremendous strides in opening up and taking control over their own identity. Many new organizations have been formed to combat extremist ideas and to project a positive image of Muslims in this country. Muslims have began to write their own narratives, to speak for themselves, and to not let a handful of violent men define who they are and what they believe in. I was elated to read the stories collected and written by the two Muslim guys of the 30 Mosques project, in which they traveled around the country giving us a picture of the diversity of the Muslim community. The profiles of various mosques and Muslims is different from the media perception of monolithic Muslims. There is also the book I Speak for Myself,  a collection of stories from American Muslim women. These and others like them have started to come out. We define ourselves. Muslims living in America are just as Americans as Jews, Christians, Blacks, Chinese, Italians, Irish, Mexicans, and all the other ethnic and religious groups that make up this country. Muslims have to take the reins into their own hands and to write their own narratives. We don’t need to be apologetic and to accept what is said about us. We should not be ashamed of being Muslim. It is only by taking this into our hands and in telling our individual stories that we can collectively define our community in positive words. 
As I look forward to the next decade I want to be optimistic. I intend to bring new Americans into the world and raise them here. They will be more American than me. I hope that they will enter into a world that does not have the hate and discrimination that my generation are dealing with. I want the next generation to know that we tried hard to make it better for them just as the previous generation strove hard to grant us the civil liberties that we take for granted today. I want them to know that there is no contradiction in being Muslim and American. I want them to have a positive narrative of the community. I want them to define the Muslim community and American society as a whole in new positive terms and images such that we are only imagining today. I hope in ten more years we will have healed and risen further than we have today. 

Saturday, September 10, 2011

A post Ramadan and Eid Reflection

I meant to post this earlier.
Ramadan has been shifting towards the middle of the summer over the years and this year it fell in the month of August, a time when the heat is the most intense and the days long. I was very optimistic and welcoming to the month, I really needed the benefits and blessings of the month. My soul was starving for the spiritual nourishment the month provides to all those that desire it. As the month started I felt a change in the air and in myself, something I have not felt in the past years. Muslims believe that in this month the Shaytan is banished and any wrong doing on our part is our own short comings. I really felt that this year as I felt a lightness and clarity enter my heart and mind right at the beginning of the month. I once read somewhere that those people whose fast during Ramadan consists only of going hungry and thirsty have wasted that month and get nothing out of it except hunger and thirst. I wanted to make the most of the month and get the full blessings and spiritual awareness and closeness to God that the month provides. The month of Ramadan is a gift and blessing from our Lord to us humans, to satisfy and fill the hunger and thirst of our soul and spirit. When we withhold food and water from our mouths and stomach we provide nourishment to our starving souls. The month of Ramadan is not about just going hungry, it is about providing spiritual nourishment to a soul that has been starved for the past 11 months. I made a goal to read the Qur'an after every prayer so that way I can finish one part each day, while I did not finish all of it, I finished 2/3 of it and the habitual reading provided a calmness and focus that I had been lacking throughout the year. As the days of the month passed by I was saddened that it was going by so fast since the routine of fasting and praying and reading Qur'an was providing me with a calm and patience that I had been yearning for. Things that would normally provide me stress or impatience didn't bother me.
One aspect of this Ramadan that was different from last year was that I did not attend the masjid for taraweeh prayers this year even though I was very close to the masjid and could have easily gone. I usually find the masjid, the women's section that is, to be too loud and distracting and I don't feel a part of the congregation. I find my prayers to be interrupted by the constant chattering of women and crying babies. This year I decided to stay home and pray privately in my own space. I would have to say that it was the best and meaningful prayer for me. I had more time and focus to read the Qur'an.

One of the highlights of the Ramadan was a qiyam program in the first week with a wonderful scholar and speaker, Usama Canon. I was on a high, sitting in a packed masjid late into the night listening to up lifting words.

Despite the long and hot days of fasting I found this Ramadan the best one in a really long time. The hunger and thirst barely bothered me, I was more concerned with feeding my spirit than what went inside my stomach.
While I was not looking forward to the end of the month, Eid was celebrated in a small toned down manner. I spent the Eid holidays in a small town in Alabama, praying the Eid prayers in a congregation, 1/4 the size of the normal Friday congregation in my regular mosque. The smallness of the community brought out the generosity and closeness that should be an exemplar of the holiday.

I definitely got a bad case of the post Ramadan and holiday blues but now reflecting on my experience and the lessons I learned in the past month reminds me what I should hold onto until next year when I can strive to better myself even more! Inshallah.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

A minaret on a mosque in Golconda Fort in Hyderabad, India. Love the Qutub Shahi architecture, lots of onion domes and flower petal motifs. 2005. 

Thursday, August 4, 2011

By the forenoon
And by the night when it is still 
Your Lord has neither forsaken you nor hated you.
And indeed the Hereafter is better for you than the present.
And verily, your Lord will give you so taht you shall be well pleased.
Did He not find you an orphan and gave you refuge?
And He found you unaware and  guided you?
Ane He found you poor, and made you rich?
Therefore, treat not the orphan with oppression,
And repulse not the beggear;
And proclaim the Grace of your Lord.

-Surah ad-Duha, Qur'an

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

     Do not look for God.
Look for one
     Looking for God.
But why look at all?-
     He is not lost.
     He is right here,

Closer than your breath.

I am filled with splendour,
     Spinning with your love.

It looks like I'm spinning around,
     But no-- I'm spinning around myself!


Sunday, July 31, 2011

Ramadan is Here!

The month of Ramadan, the holiest month for Muslims is here, time to fast and reflect on life and making oneself better. I have somethings planned for this month will be updating soon. Not sure who reads this, but if you do I will be resuming after being on haitus for most of the summer!

Monday, June 6, 2011

a little bit of Ghalib

عشق نے غالب نکما کر دیا 
ورنہ ہم بھی آدمی تھے کام کے 

Love has left me, Ghalib, a good for nothing
Otherwise I once was a useful man

Friday, May 13, 2011

Hijab is not just for women

I work at an Islamic school in which the dress code for all the teachers as well as the female students from grade 4th and up is the wearing of the abaya and a head scarf. The abaya is an Arab form of modest dress which is basically like a long dress or overcoat that is very loose and hides the shape of the body. For the men and boys, there is no such dress requirement. The male students wear short sleeve polo shirts with cotton pants and the male teachers wear the regular business casual attire, pants and button down shirt. I have never in my life worn an abaya, since it is not part of my culture (I'm not Arab). When I go to the mosque I usually wear loose pants with a tunic that covers my arms and bottom and then a long scarf covering my head, neck, and chest. I had to get an abaya when I started working there. I was told that I could not wear the Indian type dress (loose pants and tunic  that I normally wear and which is considered modest by requirements of Islam). In the meetings some of the teachers have asked to be allowed to wear skirts and long shirt or other forms of dress that is not the abaya. However this idea was not taken because there is a concern that the women will start wearing tight skirts and tight shirts and the abaya which is basically a thin shapeless overcoat covers all that. What irks me about all of this is that the abaya or thobe (long dress like robe worn by Arab men) is not a requirement for the men at the school. One male teacher comes dressed in a tight short sleeve button down shirt that fails in covering his behind and he's usually wearing tight pants. I'm sure if he was to bend down his shirt would go up and his buttocks would stick out. However he like most Muslim men can get away with this even though that is an immodest form of dress. If the abaya is forced on the women then the thobe should be forced on the men. Even the Imam wears office attire with a tie and that is okay. This double standard on rules of Islamic dress for men and women is very frustrating. In the conversations within Muslims, the idea of hijab is all about women. The Imam always reminds the "sisters" to cover more and that hijab is obligatory on believing women. What I never understood is why there is a one-sided analysis of the "hijab"?  According to the dictates of Islam, believing men and women are both enjoined to lower their gaze and to guard their private parts (ie sexual acts outside of marriage) and to dress modestly. All Muslims, men and women have restrictions on the dress, the nakedness should be covered, this extends from the navel to the knees and for the women it is also the chest. However while this is strictly enforced by Muslims for the women, it is rather lax in general for the men. This is seen in the school where I teach and is seen in the society also. Muslim boys are allowed to wear short shorts when competing in sports in school even though it goes against the rules for covering for all Muslims, however this point is never brought up or is even an issue. Boys are allowed to wear shorts that barely reach their knees at times. However for many Muslim girls they have to give up partaking in sports all together because they will have to wear outfits that show off their arms or are bit too tight. Imams never remind the men to dress more modestly. There is never any lecture that says men, you should stop wearing muscle shirts and tight jeans or shorts that reveal the thigh. I've seen many young men coming out of the mosque dressed in this very manner. When will the discussion about hijab including all believing people, men and women. When will the discussion of hijab also include that it is not just physical covering but also covering of the heart and inner soul from the evil around us? I want to have a discussion about that. 

Monday, May 2, 2011

Reflections on the death of Osama Bin Laden

My sister texted me late on Sunday night as I was going to sleep, "go read bbc". I wondered what was so urgent that I had to turn on my computer which I had just put away, I kind of started to worry a little. In my mind the thought didn't cross that someone by the name of Osama Bin Laden would be dead and that it would become the hot news item of the week. Once I saw the news I thought how sad. Not sad because he was dead, that part was good, but sad that it took so long for us to get him and over the years we had forgotten that he still existed. Osama Bin Laden had become for Americans a bogeyman, the picture for terrorism, and the reason we went to Afghanistan after 9/11/2001. Over the years we failed to get him, at times I thought it was deliberate to keep the war going and to keep the fear alive in the minds of all Americans. Now 10 years later after that year, with countless battles and on going war in Afghanistan and Iraq, we got him. Now what? Is it all over? Is the war on terror won? I really believe that the idea that we have won is a fantasy, we have won nothing over the years and certainly not now. However we have lost and continue to lose everyday since the American government decided to pursue this action for the terrorism on 9/11. We lost our privacy, our morals, principles of freedom and justice, people Americans and others have lost their lives, countless civilians and soldiers are dead and along with them their families affected. We lost our credibility and respect. Why and to whom did we lose all of this? Well this man had a lot to do with it. We criticize him and others for the joy they take in the deaths of Americans, but that is what has happened here too. When I awoke this morning I listened to NPR and heard how people rushed into the streets especially in New York City to celebrate, as if we had totally won and everything was now right. However reading all the messages on Twitter, Facebook and blogs I realize people have a mix of emotions and there is an anti-climactic feel to the whole situation. It took too damn long for us to get him and there he was hiding away in a nice house behind tall walls, not a cave like we had all imagined. As a Muslim and American I am glad that he met his end, and at the end justice will be served and Osama Bin Laden who thought he was fighting for Islam has met his Creator and will answer for his actions.

Read this piece, expresses my sentiments:
"USA! USA!" is the wrong response: Bin Laden's death is a great relief, but by cheering it we're mimicking our worst enemies.


                                                                                                                     spring flowers by fana

 I do not love you as if you were the salt-rose, or topaz,
or the arrow of carnations the fire shoots off.
I love you as certain dark things are to be loved,
in secret, between the shadow and the soul.
I love you as the plant that never blooms
but carries in itself the light of hidden flowers;
thanks to your love a certain solid fragrance,
risen from the earth, lives darkly in my body.
I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where.
I love you straightforwardly, without complexities or pride;
so I love you because I know no other way
than this: where “I” does not exist, nor “you”,
so close that your hand on my chest is my hand,
so close that your eyes close as I fall asleep.
-Pablo Nureda

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Hijab: Why Some Wear it and Some Don't

In Malaysia, which is predominantly Muslim, some women wear the hijab, a head scarf that shows the face but covers the hair, ears and neck. And some do not. A new documentary, “Siapa Aku?” or “Who Am I?” by Norhayati Kaprawi, a young Muslim woman, explores the reasons why.
“I am passionate about women’s issues,” says Ms. Norhayati, who herself once wore the hijab but no longer does. Her first documentary, “Mencari Kartika” (“In Search of Kartika”), told the story of Kartika Shukarno, a young Malaysian Muslim woman sentenced by a religious court to six strokes of the cane and a fine for drinking beer in a hotel bar. A day before the caning was due to be carried out last April, the sentence was commuted to community service.
In her new documentary, Ms. Norhayati interviews Muslim women — young and old, urban and rural — in Malaysia, as well as religious scholars and celebrities in Kuala Lumpur and Indonesia about the hijab, also called the tudung.
The pressure to wear one is a dominant theme: “I think this conformity is the most dominating factor on why women in Malaysia wear a tudung,” Shamsul Amri Bahruddin, director of the Institute of Ethnic Studies at the National University of Malaysia, tells Ms. Norhhayati, adding that those who don’t can expect to hear from the lady next door every day, saying “you will go to hell or your hair will be burnt in hell.” Often, he adds, the women don’t understand the Quranic verses surrounding the reason for the hijab.
Indeed, at times it seems wearing it has little to do with religion. Nik Aziz Nik Hassan, former head of the Dakwa (missionary) department at National University of Malaysia, tells Ms. Norhayati, “In the late 1960s, Nik Mohamad Salleh, the son of a Kelantanese mufti (Islamic scholar)… was really against the imposition of tudung on Malay women. However he was not against the wearing of tudung. It is up to women’s own taste and style…. He opposed the claim that women who do not wear tudung are not faithful Muslims and are un-Islamic.”
“This documentary is not aimed at discouraging Muslim women from wearing the hijab,” says Ms. Norhayati, who adds, “This issue is so big…the hijab issue has been there for years.”
The 50-minute film, which is in the local Malay language with English subtitles, presents scenes of Muslim women wearing the hijab at weddings and scenes of Muslim women dancing without the hijab, with their hair showing. There’s also one scene of Muslim men wearing the hijab — as a sales gimmick. They are hijab sellers on Kuala Lumpur’s famous Masjid Jamek street.
“I want to see the response, especially from the Muslim community,” says Ms. Norhayati. She talked to Scene about wearing the hijab and why she turned the issue into a film.
Q. Why did you do this documentary?
A. I decided to do this story because I am inspired by this trend: women taking off their hijab…. People will have an idea of what is actually going on in a Muslim woman’s life. They just see women wearing tudung and that’s it. But what happened? Why do they wear it? What are the challenges they face?
I know a lot of women wear it out of pressure. Especially in schools, they say it is compulsory.  The amount of pressure and harrassment the women go through …these voices, their voices are never highlighted. The women themselves are too afraid to talk about it in public.
The documentary also gives the history of the hijab phenomenon in Malaysia. When did the hijab become popular in Malaysia? Who popularized it? What organization popularized it? And how much of it is actually about religion?
Q.  Does Islam say it is compulsory to wear the hijab?
A. Opinions differ. Most mainstream ulemas (Muslim scholars) generally will say it iswajib (compulsory). I am highlighting [in the documentary that] there are actually differences of opinion, which I do believe  the mainstream media, especially the Malay print and TV, will never highlight. The difference [in opinion] is between the ulemas. In the 1950s, there was an ulema from the state of Kelantan, Nik Mohamad Salleh, who studied in Mecca. He was against the imposition of tudung on Muslim women…. Now the mainstream ulemas view that sort of opinion as  un-Islamic.
Q. You did not interview any ulemas in Malaysia for this documentary. Why?
A.  If anybody can tell me, “You can interview this ulema,” I will go.  I have asked around.
Where are the progressive ulemas?  That is why for this documentary I had to go to Jakarta.  Of course, there are many conservatives in Indonesia as well. But at least there are moderate voices as well as well as progressive voices.  Whereas in Malaysia, where are the progressive voices?
Q. You don’t wear the hijab. Why?
A. I used to wear the hijab. I wore it when I was 14 and I took it off in my 30s. I wore it because at that time…from what I read, I said, this is what a Muslim girl or woman should do, [it was the] right thing to do…. But as the years went by, I felt something was not right, especially when I was 17 years old.  I was already wearing tudung but a friend of mine did not wear the tudung. Almost every day boys [at a co-educational school] would put notes in her table insinuating she will go to hell for exposing her hair. She felt so pressured finally she wore [one]. It left me thinking: How come boys can do whatever they like, can wear whatever they like, yet they feel this higher ground, this higher moral authority to pressure girls?
Q.  How did your family react to that?
A. They did not comment.  I don’t know if they said anything behind my back. One of my sisters wore the hijab when she was working in the civil service. She was pressured to wear it. Once home, she took it off.
Q. What conclusions can you draw from the various interviews?
A. From this documentary, one of the main things that is quite obvious is that it seems the ulemas, their accomplishment is forcing women to wear hijab through whatever ways, either through mental pressure or emotional pressure. From my interviews they have not managed to educate the Muslim women about why they should cover up. [The women] don’t even know the verse in the Koran which says you must cover up. [The ulemas] don’t emphasize education…. You wear or you go to hell. It’s like a command.

source: WSJ 

On being an introvert

I came across this today 10 Myths about Introverts, when reading it a lot it made sense to me. I was told by my teacher in middle school that I was an introvert. But what does that mean? Am I programmed to be like this or can I change myself? Well actually introverts and extroverts are the way they are because of the way their brains functions and has to do with Dopamine.
it turns out that Introverts are people who are over-sensitive to Dopamine, so too much external stimulation overdoses and exhausts them. Conversely, Extroverts can’t get enough Dopamine, and they require Adrenaline for their brains to create it. Extroverts also have a shorter pathway and less blood-flow to the brain. The messages of an Extrovert’s nervous system mostly bypass the Broca’s area in the frontal lobe, which is where a large portion of contemplation takes place.

So if I am the way I am it's because of the way my brain was programmed. When people told me to stop thinking too much and stop being shy, well it wasn't my fault, God made me this way!

Here are the 10 myths about introverts:

Myth #1 – Introverts don’t like to talk.
This is not true. Introverts just don’t talk unless they have something to say. They hate small talk. Get an introvert talking about something they are interested in, and they won’t shut up for days.

Myth #2 – Introverts are shy.
Shyness has nothing to do with being an Introvert. Introverts are not necessarily afraid of people. What they need is a reason to interact. They don’t interact for the sake of interacting. If you want to talk to an Introvert, just start talking. Don’t worry about being polite.

Myth #3 – Introverts are rude.
Introverts often don’t see a reason for beating around the bush with social pleasantries. They want everyone to just be real and honest. Unfortunately, this is not acceptable in most settings, so Introverts can feel a lot of pressure to fit in, which they find exhausting.

Myth #4 – Introverts don’t like people.
On the contrary, Introverts intensely value the few friends they have. They can count their close friends on one hand. If you are lucky enough for an introvert to consider you a friend, you probably have a loyal ally for life. Once you have earned their respect as being a person of substance, you’re in.

Myth #5 – Introverts don’t like to go out in public.
Nonsense. Introverts just don’t like to go out in public FOR AS LONG. They also like to avoid the complications that are involved in public activities. They take in data and experiences very quickly, and as a result, don’t need to be there for long to “get it.” They’re ready to go home, recharge, and process it all. In fact, recharging is absolutely crucial for Introverts.

Myth #6 – Introverts always want to be alone.
Introverts are perfectly comfortable with their own thoughts. They think a lot. They daydream. They like to have problems to work on, puzzles to solve. But they can also get incredibly lonely if they don’t have anyone to share their discoveries with. They crave an authentic and sincere connection with ONE PERSON at a time.

Myth #7 – Introverts are weird.
Introverts are often individualists. They don’t follow the crowd. They’d prefer to be valued for their novel ways of living. They think for themselves and because of that, they often challenge the norm. They don’t make most decisions based on what is popular or trendy.

Myth #8 – Introverts are aloof nerds.
Introverts are people who primarily look inward, paying close attention to their thoughts and emotions. It’s not that they are incapable of paying attention to what is going on around them, it’s just that their inner world is much more stimulating and rewarding to them.

Myth #9 – Introverts don’t know how to relax and have fun.
Introverts typically relax at home or in nature, not in busy public places. Introverts are not thrill seekers and adrenaline junkies. If there is too much talking and noise going on, they shut down. Their brains are too sensitive to the neurotransmitter called Dopamine. Introverts and Extroverts have different dominant neuro-pathways. Just look it up.

Myth #10 – Introverts can fix themselves and become Extroverts.
A world without Introverts would be a world with few scientists, musicians, artists, poets, filmmakers, doctors, mathematicians, writers, and philosophers. That being said, there are still plenty of techniques an Extrovert can learn in order to interact with Introverts. (Yes, I reversed these two terms on purpose to show you how biased our society is.) Introverts cannot “fix themselves” and deserve respect for their natural temperament and contributions to the human race. In fact, one study (Silverman, 1986) showed that the percentage of Introverts increases with IQ. 

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Indian streets in an autorickshaw

View from a speeding autorickshaw at night in Lucknow, India.

One of my favorite thing to do in India is ride the autorickshaw, it's a great way to see the city for cheap and it can travel through small roads and alleys. The fare is usually small and there is often haggling involved but I tend not to haggle too much. Taking pictures at night from a speeding autorickshaw often leads to pleasant surprises and abstract compositions with light. 

A history of the veil by Newsweek

Here is an article by Newsweek on the veil, will provide my own commentary on it soon.

Seeing Clearly

Aside from the flag, no piece of cloth in history has been imbued with as much power to liberate and oppress, rally and divide as the veil. Throughout the Muslim world, women have donned the veil as a form of modesty, piousness and defiance, and thrown it off to express freedom, strength and protest. Muslim governments have legislated head covering as a sign of religiosity and banned it as an obstacle to secularism. For liberal Western societies, the debate over the higab --a scarf that covers the head but not the face--crystallizes a key modern dilemma: how to reconcile the commitment to protecting freedom of expression with the ideal of integration and social cohesion?
As traditional as it seems, the veil has gone through perhaps more radical changes in use than any other item of apparel. It has been embraced, banned, enforced and made optional, often in the same country within a matter of years. Indeed, throughout history its meaning has been shaped by the political and social forces at work. The only unchanging characteristic of the veil is that it serves as a universal sign of Islamic heritage--and that women resent being told what to do with it, either way. "When women are pressured to veil, they protest, and when they are forced to unveil, they protest," says Fadwa el-Guindi, an anthropology professor at the University of Qatar. "The veil becomes the symbol of liberation par excellence."
The veil did not always have religious connotations. Pre-Islam, it was worn by upper-class Arab women in the Byzantine and Persian empires, who covered their hair as a symbol of status. More and more elite women began adopting the veil in the seventh century as a way to distinguish themselves from the lower classes. As the Islamic empire spread, the value of modesty--stipulated in the Qur'an for men as well as women--merged with the social customs of the upper class, creating a correlation between the veil and Islamic faith. While the Qur'an does not mandate veiling for women, it does encourage the Prophet Muhammad's wives to cover their heads to separate themselves from the rest of the religious community. "When Islam became imperial, a lot of cultural baggage infiltrated Islamic society," says Haifaa Jawad, a senior lecturer in Middle Eastern studies at the University of Birmingham in England.
Continue reading the article.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Being yourself in a marriage

I recently read an article by Kristin Armstrong, former wife of Lance Armstrong. The article is all about her marriage to Lance and how along the way she lost herself. She writes how she was before she met her husband, working for a start up and living the independent life, doing those things that she wanted and living her life fully. However after she married Lance Armstrong those things slowly went away and she threw herself into being Lance's wife, doing those things that helped her husband in turn slowly giving up and forgetting about those things that were important to her. She writes that
"The problem is that when a young woman announces her engagement, everyone is quick to roll out the matrimonial red carpet by throwing showers and obsessing over wedding day plans. This helps a bride prepare for the reality of marriage about as much as nine months of baby showers and nursery decorating prepare a gestating woman for the awesome task of raising a child: not at all."

Kristin Armstrong explains that marriage "has the potential to erode the very fiber of your identity" as the wife slowly becomes the person who cares for everything of the husband and has to be willing to make more sacrifices. She fell into the often common problem of marriage for women and one that is often touted to show how marriage is a bad thing for women. I grew up in a traditional family with a stay at home mom and a working father, however I was never taught to be a wife that was to bend to my husband's lifestyle after marriage. I was taught to do those things that I want to do and is a reflection of my potential. As for getting married I did and chose a partner that would give me space to do what I want and also had similar ambitions and outlook in life. That is not to say that my husband is a mirror image of me, we have our differences but in the end we respect each other and encourage each other to do that which makes us happy. I did not have to give up doing those things that make me me. Similarly I don't ever tell my husband to give up a dream he has because of me I will be there to encourage and support him. This does not mean that we will lead two separate paths, there is always some give and take so that we can be together but never at the expense of each others happiness. Kirstin writes that if she were to do it over again, she would not have completely given up those things that make her and define her. As women we do not have to sacrifice our identity for our husband to make a marriage work, by doing that we only make it worse for ourself and also for our husband, as he thinks that we are doing it out of our own volition. In a marriage it's important to assert your own worth and identity and to let the other know when something bothers you or when you are not happy. A marriage really thrives well with good communication, and expressing feelings. A healthy marriage should be equal and loving for both individual, not one sided.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Mooz-lum, a fresh portrayal of Muslims

According to a recent study put out by the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism and the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, Islam dominated the headlines for 2010. While this might appear to be a good thing, most of the news involved the rising antagonism towards Muslims. From the controversy over the planned community center by an Islamic group near Ground Zero to the Qur'an burning that was to be held by a pastor in Florida, many wonder whether there is any good positive and accurate portrayal of Muslim. Well let me tell you that there is one that has just come out and is a must watch by all, whether Muslim or not. It's a film by director and producer Qasim Basir titled Mooz-lum. The film's alludes to the mispronunciation which is often derogatory of “Muslim” by many Americans. The film centers on the character of Tariq Mahdi, a young Muslim who is starting college and trying to come to terms with his relationship with Islam. Tariq grew up in a strict Muslim household, with a strict father who wanted him to become a scholar of the Qur'an. When he starts college he wants to distance himself from his faith due to his bad experience with Islam as a young child. The film takes place a few days before September 11, 2001 with flashbacks to Tariq's life growing up with divorced parents, a very strict father, ridicule from his classmate, and his scarring training at a religious school. It is the day of September 11 that marks a turning point in Tariq’s life as well as the lives of Muslims. While the main focus is on the personal struggle of Tariq and his relationship with his family and faith, the movie also shows the struggle that Muslims face in America. On September 11, the Muslim students are fearful of their lives and are even attacked by other students who are venting their frustration of what happened in New York onto the Muslims around them. What I liked most about this movie was the accurate portrayal, from the diversity of the Muslim community to the challenges of college life for Muslim students to family life; all of it was so real and not contrived. When Tariq is embarrassed to say his name or tell more about his religion in school and college I could relate to it. He faces problems which all young Muslims can relate to such as drinking at a party. Additionally, the director presents one of the strongest portrayals of Muslim women in recent films. The Muslim women are not singular entities without a voice; rather, they are diverse and vocal. Tariq's mother is a very strong personality and is not afraid to speak her mind to her husband or to anyone else in the film. Tariq's sister and the other Muslim women are very sure of themselves and do not bow down to what others think of their religion or their dress. I highly recommend this movie to all, whatever your faith happens to be. In this time when there is negative portrayal, Mooz-lum humanizes Muslims and shows a fresh new perspective that is real. Mooz-lum is now playing in select AMC theaters in select cities.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Ugly Indian

If you ever go to India, one of the first things you will notice as you step out of the airport is the dirt and trash everywhere (along with the sea of people). I love India and love traveling and living there, however one aspect that irks me the most about the cities and even the countryside is the abundance of trash and the lack of care about it from the people. Piles of trash are ubiquitous, plastic bags piled up in corners, clogging up drains, and littering the parks. Sometimes these piles of garbage are burned, releasing black toxic fumes that are not pleasant at all. India did not always used to be dirty; if you look at old pictures the streets are so clean! My parents tell me how clean their neighborhoods used to be when they were growing up, before the infiltration of plastic bags and wrappers. I'm also amazed at the way people litter even when there are trashcans nearby. I was at a new park in Lucknow with my host family and their teenage kids when we decided to get some ice cream. This family was middle class, educated and well to do. Despite these qualities, the typical Indian lack of care for the environment was on full display as the ice cream wrappers fell to the ground without a thought or care. I took mine off and looked around for a trashcan and sure enough there was one ten feet away. It was in the shape of a cartoon bunny with a hole and the words 'use me' stenciled on it. These clever and amusing trash cans can be found all over India, put there by the municipalities to encourage people to throw trash in them. I threw my wrapper away and turned around to see that the others had just flung their wrappers to the ground and were busy talking and gobbling their already melting popsicles. I became upset and kind of yelled at the kids, "why don't you all just throw your wrappers in the trashcan it's right over here." Their response was, "This is India and someone will clean it up." It is this mentality that I encountered over and over again with Indians, like my cousins tossing my banana peel out of a fast moving car and telling me to stop acting so American as I clung onto every piece of trash waiting for a trashcan or proper place to dispose of it. To me it always appears that Indians don’t care about their surroundings and that their cities look like trash dumps. But mind you that Indians are generally not dirty people. Go to their homes and you will find them to be immaculate. However this cleanliness only extends to their persons and the boundaries of their homes, outside and everything else can well go to the dumps!

My question is why do Indians have this mentality and can it be changed? It is this question that a group of Indians are asking of themselves and their fellow neighbors in order to change themselves and their neighborhoods, and eventually their country. The Ugly Indian is an initiative that aims to change the lack of civic duty and mentality of no care of the average Indian. According to their website, Indians are good at blaming others for their problems, the reason the streets are dirty, the road full of potholes, and the sidewalks unwalkable always comes down to some else's fault. It is either the government, the poor people, corruption, etc that creates these problems. There is never an attempt to take ownership of the problem. The Ugly Indian wants to show that things can be changed, streets can be clean, sidewalks walkable, and the neighborhoods orderly. Their website is full of examples of how they tackled specific problems that are often taken for being irreparable, such as men using the wall and the sidewalk as their personal urinal. Since people used the sidewalk and the wall along it as a public urinal, it also became a place to throw trash. Due to this condition pedestrians stopped using it and used the dangerous and already congested streets. There had been attempts to clean it but it always reverted to its disgusting filthy state. The people of The Ugly Indian came up with a strategy; they cleaned it up and painted it white so that it looks even more clean which means that people will be less inclined to urinate there. They painted cute footprints and put potted plants and convinced the cabdrivers who park there to not let anyone use it as their private toilet. According to the website so far it's been kept clean and people are beginning to use the side walk again. In all of their other cases, they were able to involve businesses to care about the spaces right outside their property. Because a few of them actually stepped forward and took initiative there was improvement. If everyone complains and does nothing then obviously nothing will ever be done about it! The strategy adopted by this group of conscientious Indians is a right step towards a better India. There is an Indian campaign that aims to bring this type of change, Tum Chalo to Hindustan Chale which basically means that India can't work without each of us doing our part. India is great and can only become better if everyone decides to take initiative and begins to change their habits and mentality. As a famous Indian once said "be the change............"

Leave a Message

I'm not sure who is reading this blog, I know it's fairly new. But if you are reading it or just stopping by, please leave a comment and let me know. I've been under the weather for the past few days. I have things I want to say so watch out for some new posts. The weather is gorgeous now but I have yet to go out and actually enjoy it. Maybe this weekend I'll finally feel better. I've been itching to go back to taking pictures again, I've neglected that for weeks, my cute point-and-shoot is collecting dust, calling out my name every time I pass my desk. I'm going to take it out this weekend and take pictures. When I go out somewhere I compose shots in my head and wish I could capture it, but I never have the camera with me. That's always my problem with everything these days, I have a wandering mind and when I come upon something whether a nice composition that I could have taken a picture of, or an idea for a painting, or something to write, I think about it for a moment and then poof! I forget it. I'm going to try really hard to focus and actually go through with my ideas. I'l leave with this picture I took some time back. I would love to sit on those steps and just day dream....

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Teaching women how to dress in Baghdad

I recently came across an article in the NY Times, "Mannequins Wear a Message for Iraq's Women" about a display put in a shopping area in Baghdad that was meant to teach women how to dress themselves.
On a raised stage between two shops, four mannequins in Western dress, their blond hair peeking out under colored scarves, stood amid crepe-paper flames. To one side was a banner featuring lust-crazed male ghouls; behind the mannequins, images of eternal suffering.
And at the foot of the stage was a scripture from the mosque.
“Whoever fills his eyes with the forbidden, on judgment day God will fill them with fire.”
The display is meant to show women how to properly dress themselves. Those that do not dress to a certain standard i.e. the abaya, a black cloak that covers the body, which the clerics there believe is what is Islamically sanctioned, then they are committing a sin. It is also meant to frighten women into dressing in a specific manner, to protect herself from men's lustful looks and to protect her from hellfire, the punishment for showing her body. What's interesting about the display is that all the mannequins are dressed in a very conservative manner, long dress, arms covered as well as hair but it is not the abaya. In other Muslim countries this form of dress would be considered acceptable by religious leaders. However in this Shi'a area of Baghdad, the abaya is the proper Islamic dress. The approach of teaching women how to dress as well as the comments made by men and women in the interviews presents an all too common sentiment about women's dress in the Muslim world. Women are taught repeatedly that they must dress a certain way, cover your head, cover your face, cover your body. The reasons given for it are two: one, it is mandated by the religion; and two it is a protection against men looking at them lustful, men can't help themselves if women dress in a way that reveals her body. What is scary is how myopic Muslims are when reading their own texts and religious mandates. What is often not discussed is that the Qur'an mandates that believing men and women dress modestly, guard their privates, and lower their gazes. It is compulsory for women and men, not just women. However the emphasis on the men to lower their gaze and to not harass women is never made or even taught in society. Why is there no display that shows how men will be punished in the hellfire for looking at women and committing other sins? This partial and near sighted view of modesty in the religion is sad and causes more problems. This emphasis on women to cover up even more by wearing the abaya so that men will not lust after them or harass them only gives men the right to do that to women who are not dressed in this manner, even if she is dressed modestly. This harassment is then forgiven because the woman was asking for it, she should know better and cover up more. No wonder, non Muslims see Muslim men as controlling and misogynistic. The equity and fairness that is prescribed for both gender is never carried out, it's always the woman's fault.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Book Review: Mother of the Believers

One of the most controversial topic in regards to the Prophet Muhammad's life is his relationship with Aisha, specifically the age difference between them. Over the years those opposed to Islam have maligned the Prophet's character by bringing out this point, that he married a young girl of 9 when he was a much older man. Many Muslim have tried to reinterpret the historical data and justify this marriage and clear the Prophet's name. However within this controversy what is lost is the actual relationship of Aisha and Prophet Muhammad and impact Aisha had on the early formation of Islam and Muslim women. Aisha has always been an intriguing woman, widowed at an early age and considered a scholar who transmitted many hadith, providing examples for Muslims in coming generations on how to live their lives in the footsteps of the Prophet. It is her life that comes out in the a book by Kamran Pasha called Mother of the Believers. This book is a new approach in reading about her life, it is a novel format, a historical fiction that weaves a great story about a remarkable woman and the early formation of Islam. The story is told in her voice, she recounts her life and the history of the beginning of Islam to her nephew at the end of her life. Through her voice and eyes we obtain a perspective of the religion and early community of Muslims through the perspective of a woman. I would have to admit that I was a bit hesitant in reading this book, thinking that it will distort many things to add drama to the book, but I was proved wrong. The 527 page book is a riveting read, sticking true to the actual events in history and the stories of Aisha and the Prophet that are well known in the hadiths. What is added in here are details that string the many stories together into a novel. The book really brings a fresh feminine perspective to a history that is often seen as male dominated. While the author of the book is a male there is never any feeling that a man is writing in that he brings out a sensitivity that allows for the complexity of a woman's thoughts and emotions to come out. Kamran Pasha treats all the characters with respect and reverence without erasing any of the complexity. He shows the good and the bad to show that not everything was happy go lucky. His story gives a humanness to all of the companions of the Prophet and his wives, with emotions and thoughts that we can relate to. We can understand the jealousy that Aisha felt when the Prophet married other women, and the conflicts between Ali and Aisha or any of the other companions. These details that are added allow for the reader to feel the ups and downs of the religion and to connect to them. As I read the book I felt the jealousy, sadness and happiness of Aisha, I cried when she describes the death of the Prophet. I enjoyed reading every page of this lengthy novel. It is a well written sensitive and insightful novel that is a first in bringing out the story of a controversial yet powerful woman in the history of Islam.  

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Sharia gone wild

Another case of Sharia gone wild. A case out of Bangladesh this week in which a 14 year old girl was raped by a relative and then sentenced to 100 lashes by the local clerics in her village. The girl died before her sentence was completed. Her relative that raped her fled before he could be punished. This form of punishment is illegal in Bangladesh, and now the high court and government are investigating this case and how such a punishment could be carried out. The thing is while Bangladesh has a secular government, the laws and customs at the local level especially in the villages often go unchecked as was in this case. The media of course has spun this into how sharia is a bad thing that inflicts harsh barbaric punishments often unfair to women. Sharia is one of those words that is often used but the least correctly defined or understood. This case of the young girl being punished is not a case of how bad sharia is and that it should be banned but rather a case of the ignorance of the Muslim world that does not understand its own laws. The principles of sharia does not dictate that people should be punished unjustly. The local clerics are a poorly educated bunch that don't understand their own religious law and were in no place to give a "fatwa". A case that does involve fornication must have four reliable witnesses that actually saw the act, without that there is no case and any accusation is thrown out and those that accuse are punished for spreading lies. This case of the 14 year girl is an example of the ignorance of local officials and their usage of their own backwards customs and not a case of implementation of sharia. Today many Muslims know just about the same about sharia as those that are non-Muslims and that is a scary thing. 

Friday, February 4, 2011

Hypocrisy in the Muslim world

I hate hypocrisy and I hate double standards, and most people are afraid to point these out when they see due to fear of retaliation, that is why I was glad that someone had the boldness to call it out. Veena Malik, a Pakistani star spoke out against the double standard against women that exists in Pakistan. A cleric on a talk show shamed her for appearing on the Indian show, Big Boss and wearing short dresses. For the cleric, Ms. Malik misrepresented Pakistan and Islam, and should be shamed for her actions. Ms. Malik on a talk show defended herself and lashed out against the comments made by the cleric, saying that she does not represent those things, and that the clerics are always ready to condemn the behavior of women and not the true injustices committed against them. While the cleric might have had a right to express his viewpoint about what he considers immoral, the need to highlight this issue when there are more pertinent issues in the country shows the double standard of the society. Men in the entertainment industry are never ridiculed or slut shamed, while women quickly become the targets. Ms. Malik points out that women are considered soft targets because they never speak back since they don't want to not bring more attention to themselves in this regard. Also in Muslim societies women become the carrier of honor, and their every action is scrutinized, a misstep is considered a point of dishonor. The good things that a woman dose is discounted and she is thrown under the bus for a misstep or for speaking her mind. The weapon of shame and discrediting woman are powerful tools used to silence dissent, a way to keep women subservient. Ms. Malik and others like her (e.g. Mukhtar Mai) who speak out instead of taking the abuse or retreating in the face of shame are needed to give women more courage to speak out and also to show the men that we are not to be taken lightly. Those that purport to speak out against immorality and injustice should do so against everyone who commits them, not just women. By targeting their women, the Pakistani men show their real cowardice. Why not go after those men that rape and throw acid on the faces of women, maybe they are afraid. 

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Brrrrr, it's cold!

Ya'll it's really cold here! The temperatures have been in the low 30s and 20s, and there is a chance of ice and snow tonight and tomorrow, and I love it! I know I live in a warmer area of the country that rarely sees snow and ice, and there are people up north that are suffering but I love this rare treat. My reasons for loving really cold weather is silly, but I love using the opportunity to snuggle in bed with a book and sip hot tea. I know I'm a romantic. The thing is I love the changing season, and I'm always deprived of a formal winter season, I only get moving cold fronts and the temperatures mostly stay in the 60s and 70s, I know, I know people from New York would call me ungrateful, but I just want some cold weather y'all, I want to be able to have an opportunity to wear warm clothes and get to stay inside without feeling guilty. I want my snow day too! My work has been cancelled today and tomorrow and I'm taking the opportunity to enjoy it! Hot chicken soup, and a cooking up a nice stew tonight, and hot tea in between. I might try to venture out today, or I might just open the door a little and peek out, feel the cold wind in my face, see the iceless and snowless yard, and then jump back into bed, grateful that it's not worse than this.

Alam-e Masr

For a week now Egypt has been in the news, and I have been following all the latest developments, reading the news everyday and following up on updates. However as a non-Egyptian I cannot even begin to understand the feelings of the people there and what it means for them. I don't know too much about the politics of the region but I support the people to make the decision for their future by themselves and not be told by outsiders what is the best strategy. Over the week the American coverage and response to the protests and call for revolution in Egypt has been pathetic and very misinformed. For starters America was completely caught off guard by the intensity of the protests by the Egyptians and it was apparent that they are scared by it. They never imagined that Arabs can actually aspire to democratic ideals, for them Arabs are just angry mobs who are used to living in despotism. The immediate response by the American media was how will this affect America and American security. It is a legitimate question but shows how foreign policy has always been in the interest of the American power and never in their espousal of democratic ideals. America has backed Mubarak all these years despite what he has done to the people. Also the media here has tried to spin the call for revolution and protest as coming from Muslims and that it will eventually turn into a "Iran styled" revolution and will turn into a fundamentalist state instead of a democracy. People have been throwing the name of the Muslim Brotherhood around, using scare tactics to dissuade Americans from supporting or even understanding the situation. It is hard for them to believe that there are other factors than just religious that can move the Arab people. It is unimaginable that the people of Egypt have a voice, that they can speak for themselves, that they can move together in unison without regard to religion. The people of Egypt, Muslims and Christians, rich and poor are speaking out together and will decide the future of their country together, it will not be decided for them by outsiders.

I found this to be very telling about the media's coverage.