Thursday, March 11, 2010

The very voice

My mom dropped her cell phone and it simply went mute. That should not be anything really. A cell phone is nothing more than “stuff” that can be replaced at any time. How the news struck me though is a different story. The way it used to be was that when no one answered your call, out went the answer machine asking you to leave a message. You usually leave your name on your cell so it would be like “X is not available at the moment. At the tone, please leave a message.” Well, X was my father and that was his voice. It was bitter sweet to hear his name each time I left a message. In a way it was a tease to have the voice remind you each and every time that he is no longer with us. “..unavailable at the moment”; ironic quite a bit, don’t you think?

In Temple Grandin, the movie, autistic Temple understood death but did not understand why people crossed by the open casket of her tutor and friend. Her mother explained that it was to pay the last respect. She followed along like the others, had a final look and then headed off to leave. The mom said that the ceremony was not over yet, but Temple said, “It is to me. I will keep him in my mind.”

Now, I did not have the privilege of having a last look, but he is all there in my mind.

I remember when I went to visit his grave in my last visit to my home country that I could not bear the fact that all I saw was the stones he was under. I wanted to visit “him” and when he was not there I simply wanted to leave because I know of way better means to connect with him without this intolerable reminder that he is simply “not available”. When our grief was very much subtle and restrained at the time of the passing, what you never realize is that the anguish and the missing never fade away.

I then started to remember our last conversation on the phone and the warm “Mahmoud” he left on the answering machine that used to stir all that in me. But like they say,you don’t know the true value of things until you lose them. I have now lost that very voice.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Things just happen

I was talking to a complete stranger today and as part of my job, I was asking her about her areas of strength in her personality and others that need more growth. She said that her greatest strength is to try to always be positive. Right there and then, she seemed as if she was looking right through me when she said that things just happen and sometimes there is nothing that you can do about them. All you can do though is to simply move on. I was taken aback for a second. The thought that haunted me was “how did she know”? How did that total stranger answer the question that kept me sleepless for a whole night? Her words just hit the right spot and seemed as God-sent at that very moment. God knows I was trying so hard to understand, give excuses, forgive and swallow a bitter incident when the obvious was there all along.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

I just don't get it!!

I was dumbfounded when I watched a youtube video sent to me yesterday that shows a northern cost beach in a Muslim country where young ladies were walking around with bikinis and talking about the latest styles and "so in" colors! I had a difficult time to explain this to my 9-year-old daughter who along with her Canadian friends go to the swimming pool with knee-long shorts and covering tank tops. I could not believe the care-free attitude of both young ladies and men who happen to belong to a Muslim country known for modesty and conservatism when it comes to dress codes. Then I was hit today again by this

The question is, where do I go if I want to enjoy the beach with my family? I do not swim anymore and do not believe really in that "hijab swimsuit" that is common out there. I do not want to have to explain this to my kids who were raised to believe in modesty and decency because I still cannot figure this out myself. If I decide to go to my homeland, will I be allowed to join my kids and sit next by watching them playing in the pool or will I be prohibited from entering in the first place like that Norwegian Muslim lady. I can understand that I feel like a stranger and think a thousand times before I decide to go to a lake here where everyone is wearing sweatsuits and odd ones like me feel like strangers to this world; though I do not mind that distinction at all mind you! But if this is how it will be like in my own homeland, then till when will I feel like a stranger? Will I be kicked out and denied the freedom I do enjoy here? Can anyone explain this paradox to me?

A Scottish poet with an African background was talking yesterday on the radio explaining how we take our homeland values with us when we leave and lead a life of holding on to them and nourishing them in the souls of our kids only to go back and find that many things have changed leaving us the ever strangers.

Friday, July 10, 2009

The "West" and us? A personal perspective on the reaction to the killing of Marwa ElSherbiny

I very well remember that in a class I took long years ago after I moved to the “West”, I insisted to write about hijab as my final research. I was passionately defending the concept against Western misconceptions in my presentation when the instructor stopped me to ask, “But what do you mean when you say “the West”?

For some reason I get it now, of all times, as I read about the reaction to the unjust killing of Marwa ElSherbiny. I got what he actually meant by the question. He wanted to know what is it that I am standing against because he certainly was not a part of that confrontation. Actually, I have seen no one taking part in that confrontation. I have been living in Canada for almost a decade now and hijab was never a barrier to me wherever I went. I have not been treated but with respect while my fears and anticipation, since I was new to hijab then, were only in my head. In fact, I had several nice ladies ask me about how beautiful and convenient it looks and I always tell them that I never suffer from bad hair days!

So, it is certainly not the people. I admit that Canadians are known for being a polite and civil nation and it is also true that variety here and seeing people of all colors and backgrounds is simply the default. But I have been through one single incident that the current situation shed great light on to make me understand why anyone would be intolerant to others.

It was around 10 in the morning when my son opened the door for a lady who told him in a hurry that we have to remove the car right away from the street to the driveway of our house since the street has to be cleaned otherwise it would be towed away. I had to run downstairs to talk to her. I was already wearing a t-shirt and loose pants and I grabbed my praying long loose garment and put it on. It is one big garment that shows only my face and hands and covers me almost to the knees. The lady was away already knocking on other doors so, still in my fluffy slippers, I tried to talk to the young men that were already sweeping the streets. The man was already smiling when I approached him saying that the transmission of the car is broken and that there is no way I can move it. He called for some other men to see what to do; or to share the laugh maybe which is something I was not aware of at the time. They said that I still had to move it. I tried to explain that this was simply impossible and that they could not tow away the car anyway since they had given me no prior notice. I was completely clueless trying to think quickly of a way out and offering that we clean under the car ourselves when we get the chance to move it. I did not pay much attention to their side looks and smiles to each other. Yet I noticed that those were not genuine smiles, nor were they the “plastic smiles” given to customers to get the job done. But I had no time to think about that. My Canadian neighbor, who was standing by, witnessed the whole thing after he moved his car and since he knew about cars already he managed to figure out a way by which I put the car on and then the men move it and it worked. But by then, the smiles were almost laughs and the whispers shared were almost audible murmurs. Although I had all the right, and could have been stubborn about the whole car episode, I really wanted to be as cooperative, reasonable, and understanding as possible without stooping to their level of ridicule. It is all about self-control. This is a responsibility that having a hijab on puts you in really. You know very well that once you wear that symbol you are simply representing all Muslims and you do not have much chance to yell or fight, no matter how much you want to sometimes, cause you do not want to bear the guilt if people then get the impressions that “then what we hear is true, they are aggressive!” So, I thanked them and my neighbor and went back inside with a firing rage that I could not put off for a long time. I was mad for my dignity! No one dares to laugh at me, or rather at how I look, without having to pay for it! I was absolutely fuming with anger. Why? What do they know about me that gives them the liberty to laugh that way? The anger infested my mood as I tried to think of all possible explanations for their rude behavior. My son asked me why I cared in the first place when I have always been proud of how I look and never took it for granted or was self-conscious about it. But the bitterness of being ridiculed and mocked is not an easy pill to swallow, let me tell you that!

I tried to calm down using every possible means I know, then I tried to think it out. Why would people act that way at what they don’t know? The answer was that simple… because they don’t know. People are generally aggressive and intolerant against what they fear or do not understand, and they simply did not see beyond my cover to appreciate the human being inside. That was it! They simply did not know and covered their unease with not knowing how to deal with “that thing” with those nervous laughs! All they knew was that there was a lady with something like the burqa’ they have seen people make fun of on TV. And this is where media comes in.

Biased media is indeed what fills that void of ignorance with false ideas and fuels intolerance amongst the simple ones that have no other means to know or understand. Go back to who owns the media in the “West” and the agenda they have and you will understand the big picture here. After 9/11, it was very common to see on TV crime show killers and robbers for example that were shown earlier as praying in a mosque. They either have an accent or dark skin, and it is almost old school now to have the sound of athan (call to prayer) in the background of what is suspicious or threatening. Those are the hidden voices, let alone the outright clear cries of fear mongers that blatantly single out Muslims as terrorists on public TV every day. I watch this with clear frustration knowing that they are nothing but lies and very well aware of what is going on in our region and the injustice that is scantly reported and easily forgotten.
So, it is not the West that we need to fight, tease, or please. The people here are simply human beings that are controlled by a misguiding media. We need a similarly powerful media if we want true Muslim voices to be heard. Actually, the Western figures like Jimmy Carter, Noam Chomsky and many others that go through the trouble of digging up the truth hidden under that heavy rubble of lies are the ones that do what they can to explain; although their voices end up subdued next to the loud bangs of liars. They will keep defending us though until we play that role ourselves.
It was my very neighbor that told me few days later that he was very upset by what those people did the other day. Instead of standing up to them and exchanging some blows and fists with them like many would think he should have, he hit them where it actually hurts. He called their boss and explained that this is outright intolerable and that we have every right to call the Canadian Human Rights Commission to report what happened and sue them to compensate for the damage! What does our neighbor know about Muslims to act that way? He knows us.

There is absolutely no doubt that the incident of Marwa should never go unnoticed and that every legal right should be given to her family to pursue that killer. And I will not even bother call for our governments to protect our rights, because change is what we make ourselves. That said, we need to go beyond raging yet momentarily emotions to see the big picture if we want long term solutions. We need to hit the core of the problem and cleverly solve it instead of helplessly trying to crack the shell while remaining victims of a media of prejudice and injustice.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Losing faith

I lose faith sometimes, in people and start questioning the point of sharing per se. Blogging as well sometimes? What is the limit to what you can post online? Who reads it? How much should we open up and why? Exactly! To no avail sometimes if people change and do not understand. Silence is sometimes better than saying what one might regret. Change; oh that constant change yet how we always end up more of ourselves.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

On sincerity

Have you ever stopped to ask yourself why sincerity is fundamental in Islam? The concept was mentioned in Qur’an around 27 times and numerous verses explain its gravity and significance:

Indeed, God does not forgive association with Him, but He forgives what is less than that for whom He wills. And he who associates others with God has certainly fabricated a tremendous sin. (4[an-Nisā']: 48)

Indeed, God does not forgive association with Him, but He forgives what is less than that for whom He wills. And he who associates others with God has certainly gone far astray. (4[an-Nisā']: 116)

And he who associates with God - it is as though he had fallen from the sky and was snatched by the birds or the wind carried him down into a remote place. (22[al-Hajj]: 31)

I remember how taken aback I was when I first realized how crucial it is to purify your intention and to make sure that every little deed you do is for God’s sake alone. Now, this is not easy! What do you do with your ego then, the innate need to stand out and be praised for your deeds? What do you do with the wish to please others and be granted their approval and admiration? Yet, in spite of the difficulty to attain that in everything you do, sincerity must be that important for a reason and maybe entails some sort of benefit to human beings.

It was almost a couple of weeks ago that I was blessed with the why!

I was working on a research on the impact of work on health and wellness when I came across the “dualistic approach to passion” by Vallerand and his colleagues (Vallerand et al., 2003) . They define Passion as, “a strong inclination towards an activity (e.g., work) that is important, liked and involves investing considerable time in its pursuit.” They distinguish between Harmonious Passion (HP) and Obsessive Passion or addiction (OP); the former being integrated into one’s identity and undertaken freely and willingly while the latter is not well integrated into one’s identity and is the result of internal pressure (e.g., to increase one’s self-esteem in the eyes of others).
It was found that the activity actually controls the person when it is Obsessive Passion; while it is the person that controls the activity under Harmonious Passion. This means that not acting in order to increase self-esteem in the eyes of others leads to more positive effects, less negative effects and higher levels flow; while Obsessive Passion produces the opposite effects.
Furthermore, when not aiming to please but rather choosing an activity freely, the individual is engaged in the activity more fully and flexibly leading to greater concentration, absorption, flow, and positive effect.

After developing measures of both types of passion, Vellard and his colleagues suggest that Harmonious Passion would likely be correlated with psychological health while Obsessive Passion can actually lead to psychological distress! So it is where you choose to direct your passion and intention that may either create motivation, increase well-being, and provide meaning in one’s life or can lead to negative emotions, rigid persistence, and unbalanced life.

It is your choice really.

Friday, April 10, 2009

In the open palms

She was listening to an audio book about a unique teacher who helped the little girl find her voice and identity and snatched her from a world of confusion and fear. I was listening along as I was having another cup of coffee. The teacher was asking the kids to have her carry for them their troubles in her big bag while they were with her in class. The bag was always heavy.. She left the Smarties she was sorting out based on their color, put her palms next to each other and said to me, “Put your troubles here” looking at her opened palms that were ready to carry my troubles. I looked like I was picking one from nowhere and placed it in her hands. I knew exactly what that was. She said smiling, “One more.” I picked another and another; I knew them all. She then closed the open palms and placed them on her shoulder and to my surprise said, “They are heavy!” It was my turn to have her put her troubles in my hands. I kept asking for more; for them all. All were placed in my hands and then I seemed to carry her share on my shoulder and said, “Oh, they are OK. Not heavy at all. It will be just OK.” She smiled in comfort and left me with one thought; if only it were that simple.