Sunday, December 21, 2008

we are one because God is One

“I think Muslims need to start looking at themselves as Americans. We need to start seeing ourselves as Americans, and, oh look, we also just happen to be Muslim,” Mr. Doug Burpee said in response to a question about what Muslims can do in America to progress as a community.
So I asked myself, as a Muslim and an American: what does this accomplish? Mr. Burpee, a well-respected Muslim figure in the community, argued when various minority communities living in America hold on to their identity via a label, Muslim American, African American or Asian American, it creates divisions. So maybe it erases these lines that we create once we all just call ourselves Americans. Does it though?
I asked Mr. Burpee, “Well, why can’t we just call ourselves Muslims? I don’t believe in nationalism. I think the very fact that we call ourselves Americans creates divisions.” But that would never work, because as humans we enjoy categorizing ourselves and others. The labels of race, class and gender will never leave our vocabulary because our society inevitably, and perhaps necessarily creates them. But people have different definitions of what being an American is. Well, it's only natural because we all come from different experiences and thus, we have different perspectives and struggles.
But how often do our struggles, as Muslim Americans, cross over with African Americans, Latino Americans and Asian Americans? We are united by these struggles not because we are all Americans, but because we all face the same external circumstances that are an infliction upon our inalienable and unconditional rights as human beings.
There are many different types of Muslims all over the world. The only thing that has ever divided us as Muslims, or any community for that matter, is nationalism and race, both of which are man-made and artificial concepts.
Islam is unique because God creates us into different nations and tribes so that we may know one another. Of course, it is natural for each one of us to love where we came from. Oftentimes, when I hear those who subscribe to right-wing, neo-conservative ideology, they say “Oh they hate us, because they are jealous of OUR rights.” This sense of ownership over human rights is dangerous. The right to freedom of speech is not by any means exclusively American. It is an inalienable human right. I am blessed to live in a country that should allow me to exercise my unconditional freedoms as a human being. I don’t have to be proud of being an American to love America. I love America because I have family, friends and memories here. And the government should let me have the freedoms that the constitution sets forth. They are not exclusively American rights, they are human rights and I am proud that I can freely exercise them.
Now, I believe that Allah gave us these human rights in the form of Islam, and that is why I am Muslim. The nature of the Qur’an is one of justice and peace. God says in the Qur’an to “speak out against injustice, even if it may be against yourselves and your kin.” God mandates it upon us to speak out, thereby implying that humans have the freedom of speech.
The Constitution espouses many Islamic ideals and we, the people, reap the benefits of those ideals. The government is there to serve the people and we should not have to bow down to the government, thanking them for “giving” us “our” rights. God gave these rights to humanity and it is incumbent upon a leader and his/her people to understand and ensure that this notion is not forgotten.

As Muslims, it’s important to think of ourselves as part of a community, not just the Muslim or American community but the community of people of all religious and ethnic backgrounds. Once we mentally limit ourselves to the single label of “American”, we prioritize culture over religion, artificiality over reality and nationalistic sentiment over humanitarian goals. Nationalism breed patriotism, a sense of ownership over where one lives. Like I mentioned before, we don't own our origins or the land of our homes.
Moreover, these places do not single-handedly define who we are. Of course, growing up in America has shaped me into who I am today, but many other things did, as well. But these are origins, things we look back to and if we keep looking back to where we came from, we’ll never move forward and progress to who we can be. We have the freedom as human beings to change. God will never change a people until the people change themselves. We have to change this attitude of “I am American, hear me roar”. I am an American, I am an Egyptian and I am an Iranian, but I am first a human being. A respected scholar, Dr. Maher Hathout, once defined Islam as “the communication with the one unique God and the defense of human rights”. Because the elements of social justice and the preservation of freedoms are of utmost priority in Islam, I am a Muslim first and I am not afraid to call myself a Muslim. I am also responsible for alleviating misconceptions about Islam or any group of people for that matter, because it is my duty to humanity.
This doesn’t mean that I put Islam before America or that I am less patriotic than my neighbor. A government and its people serve each other. They give to one another, so long as the nature of that giving is constructive and positive. The government shouldn’t take from its people and vice versa.
Our way of life is that of a Muslim, and we just happen to live in America. And we are thankful to God that He has put us in a place where our freedoms have been preserved by our government. I am blessed to live here, but I will not forget that others across the world have these same rights taken away. And I will not judge others from the point of view of an American, but from the point of view of a human being and a Muslim. So, I guess I’m Muslim and I just happen to be American, too.

Make sense or do you think I'm creating more divisions?

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Eid Mubarak!

Salams/peace ya'llsin. (don't ask i just like saying that word, online.)

I'm still waiting/wanting to reply my thoughts after reading Russell's post, but until then -

(pronounced eed mu-ba-ruk)
meaning Happy Eid!

What's EID
Muslims have two holidays - Eid ul-Fitr and Eid ul-Adha.

Eid ul-Fitr is a very happy day after the month of Ramadan where we praise God in a special prayer in the morning and meet and greet everyone in our community. After prayer, the food and social festivities began (heck yeah!). We celebrated Eid ul-Fitr back in October. Jesse, I am sure you can recall this - just think back to the free dinners MSU had during the month of Ramadan to break fast in the evening (lol).

Eid ul-Adha starts this Monday December 8th. In this three-day holiday, we celebrate and commemorate the day Abraham was asked by God to sacrifice what was most, most precious and dear to his heart in this world, his son Isaac. IMAGINE, after Abraham told Isaac about this, Isaac told him to go ahead and sacrifice him if this was God's will! And as difficult as it was for him, Abraham complied, and God the Most Merciful had Isaac replaced by a sheep and his son was safe and sound.

I find this historical event SO beautiful:
1) What a test of faith - sacrificing what is most precious to you requires true and firm faith in God
2) God is SO MERCIFUL. He tested Abraham, and all He wanted to see is if Abraham would go through with it, and once He saw that he was willing to, he restored his son to him safely.

In commemoration of Abraham's sacrifice, Muslims are obligated to either sacrifice a sheep/goat/cow or donate money for poor people to do so. This process is called Qurbani (meaning sacrifice). We then distribute the meat amongst neighbors, the poor, and cook some for dinner.
BTW, Eid ul-Adha also goes hand-in-hand with Hajj, a trip to Mecca that every able-Muslim must perform in their lifetime. This year, 4 million people are performing Hajj - OH DANG! All those rows and rows of white things in the picture... yeah, that's people. This btw is the life-tranforming trip that Malcolm went on that caused him to realize that racial problems could be transcended.

Now that you know what we're celebrating, here's...

How I'm gonna celebrate:

So, in the morning, I'm going to eat some special sweets that my mom prepares each Eid and then get ready for Eid prayer. My family and I will then go to the Anaheim Convention Center, one of the local places Eid prayer is held. I'll be wearing some shiny new clothes (and Pakistani clothes are literally shiny, too, LOL), will hear a short sermon about this special holiday, pray me some prayer, and then.... come to school to study for my final at 4pm!

My dad is going to go to some farm in Corona/Riverside/somewhere not in Orange County with his brother to sacrifice a goat. When the goat comes home, I leave, because I really don't like the smell of goat meat. My mom will then cook something fabulous while I enjoy some random food - I'm feeling Fish Grill.

Now, as my friend put it, "it feels like finals are the grinch who stole Eid!" I'm hoping we don't let this happen and throw in lots of food-related adventures and random breaks for the sake of celebrating. This also brings to mind a challenge Muslims in America face: finding a way to celebrate Eid right. Currently, things tend to be quite boring, which is a shame to say the least. I agree with my sister, maybe we do need to put up some "Eid lights" on our house lol.

Anyways, Eid Mubarak ya'll.
Peace, Love, and Light.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Reflections and Realizations Deux

I'm tired.

I really don't know what to do with myself right now and it's really bugging me. The combination of being sick for almost two weeks now and it being week 10 are pretty damn frustrating. Studying a week before my first finals seems fruitless and unmotivated, while staring at facebook chat windows only provides temporary relief.

I think that there's really just some serious growing pains that I'm going through, and everything else is a result of that. Don't get me wrong, I have plenty to be thankful for and plenty to appreciate... but the same main question keeps popping into my head and I can't answer it: "What am I doing and is it enough?"

I recently realized that throughout my entire life, I've only done enough of everything/anything to keep those evaluating me (parents, teachers, peers, professors, etc.) satisfied with what I was doing and what they asked of me. I found out early on that it would only take a minimal effort to not only please them, but actually convince them that I was doing an excellent job. The end result of this trend is that I don't know what it's like to try my hardest... on anything.

Now as the "real world" full of responsibility and accountability approaches, I have a lot to learn. It is a really scary situation because now the only person who evaluates my performance is me. I answer only to myself. So what am I doing and is it good enough? We'll see.

Every choice made is confronted with this question, and I have an opportunity to redefine what "enough" means for me, otherwise repeat 21-year-old habits.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Reflections and Realizations

I've been feeling something heavy for some time that I can't explain. There have just been a lot of things on my mind, a lot of things that I have been turning over in my head. I just got out of a really inspirational conversation/dialogue with some awesome sisters from the MSU and Amir Abdel Malik Ali, our brother. It really meant a lot to me in a lotta ways. A couple thoughts before I resume doing other things:

I am really touched, and refreshed, and relieved, and I don't even know how to tell you what else, at the true, genuine respect Amir Abdel Malik Ali has for female activists. I have really been disilusioned these days by the male-dominated sphere of politics and power-play. I have become sick of seeing men make rules and laws and policies and definitions that influence society and the world at large. I've become sick of seeing a male figure slapped on the face of Islamic rulings. And of the Muslim male figure in the media at large being associated with narrow-mindedness in my mind.

I really just needed to see the faith our respected brother and friend displays in women, the regard he has for women as women, for them to be as valuable in the people's movement, and not measured by men, but valued in their own... this reinforced for me the belief that I must cultivate myself to be a strong Muslim woman working for the betterment of myself, my family and my community, to "be the change" I wish to see.

The second thing is that I realized tonight, something I've been grappling with, that I have come to see in my mind some large portion of the American population as a vague body that is as dense as a brick and just unwilling to understand or be open to anything real/truthful/meaningful. I knew this was problematic because, exactly that, I've been placing a monolith understanding upon such a large amount of people. But on the real, that's what I've been feeling. Now the issue is, even this if this is a reality, one that I can't even begin to quantify in the first place, how do I know who falls into that group of people? Yeah, that's an issue. Then I start judging, and then I just start to get demoralized and think that nobody is listening when we are trying to raise awareness about something.

Anywho, I realize that, as the media has villainized Islam and Muslims, I being of the stereotyped have displaced my feelings onto some random large vague portion of the American people. That is to say, I stereotyped the other people that intake this media material as people that are judgemental/dense/etc.

What I mean to say is, because of the stereotypes that come out of the media, I as someone that is being stereotyped and am so deeply aware of the stereotyping, and my reaction is, to judge all of the people that consume the media. So the media works in two ways for me: it stereotypes my faith, and it leaves me with a feeling of disilusionment, hopelessness, and faithlessness in my OWN people.

Dayum. That's got to stop!

Anyways, I realized that today. Gotta believe in my people yo.

Nida Chowdhry