Thursday, December 31, 2009


Heading out to a New Year's dinner. Can't get out of it, don't wanna go.... heart too heavy, sad and frustrated from what I see around me. Urggghhh :-(


My nation is the human race, no other nation alone can claim my attachment or loyalty (Naom Chomsky).


Wednesday, December 30, 2009


My moral sense is tested when I choose to turn away from the suffering of other people in the world. I'm no selfish person. Feeling good as a Muslim is not all I want from life. It's not all about how "I" feel.


Tuesday, December 29, 2009


Hip Hop and Rap from the refugee camps: click here for beats and breaths


I think I'll grab my white T-Shirt, my black permanent marker and write this: " I couldn't organize a protest so I'm writing on my shirt: Free Gaza!"


Find out when and where the Gaza Freedom March supporters are marching in your area: Canada, States, Europe, Australia etc. To do so, click here.

Click here for more information on the Gaza wall erection. Bring your friends, spread the word, don't stay put.


Monday, December 28, 2009


.On December 31, participants are hoping to join Palestinians "in a non-violent march from northern Gaza to the Erez-Israeli border," the organisers said. (


.Beirut boils and sleeps at the same time: ashoura, karbala, xmas, gaza, new year -- and everyone else here who doesn't give a dime about it all.


Twitter Approach

Salams All!

I've decided to do a little adventurous thing with my blog. I want to try a twitter-like approach and see if it works. For a short while, I'll be posting one-liners (or two) with no pictures and will do so regularly. Just like twitter! This way I'd connect with you lovely folks more regularly, and I don't have to shift over to the real twitter just yet - don't wanna be all over the map :-)

So, hope it works, stay tuned!


Sunday, December 27, 2009


Have you heard Kareem Salama's new debut of Generous Peace? He sings in Arabic too! I guess he was inspired. My favorite one is called Generous Peace Arabic (Pop Remix).

Boxing? Yep. Check out his new video clip in which the boy shows some slick boxing moves in the ring and out. Dang! : D



Tuesday, December 22, 2009


My cousin's getting married in a few months and she's palestinian. Meaning, a palestinian wedding. Meaning, dabkeh. For those unfamiliar with it, a dabkeh is a folklore palestinian dance where people stand in one line and do the same moves with their legs, feet and upper body. In my opinion, there is nothing seductive or sultry about it, rather it's something like a Greek Zorba dance or a Texan line dance.

That is why both men and women do it at weddings, scratch that, all men and women MUST do the dabkeh especially if they're part of the bride or groom's family -- yikesss -- which means I better start training with my uncle or something. The other day I saw my thirteen year old cousin do the dabkeh and I tell you this -- I've got some serious learning to do. Whether the guests come from the south, north, east or west of Lebanon, once the dabkeh music is on, like some silent understanding, they all get up on the dance floor, line up and start the feet/leg movement like they were all one body. It's incredible to watch.

Just for sampling, here's a short video of a palestinian dabkeh I found on youtube. It's not the best one out there (don't mind the high-heels in there) but it'll do for now :-)



Thursday, December 17, 2009

Blogger From Beirut

She made it to the #5 top blogs in Virgin Megastore here in Beirut, and her book ( a collection of her blog entries) is now international. Last time we had coffee, she was so happy about all this. Originally, she works as a graphic designer. She's only 23 years old. Too cool :-)

Check out her blog: Maya Zankoul blogs about life in beirut



Saturday, December 12, 2009

The N Word

Nikah. What did you think I meant :-)

Here are some words on the spirit of marriage/nikah taken from the treasure-box that is the net.


So... marriage....What is it? What does the Qur'an say about it?

The Prophet (s.a.) was once asked, "What is more important than prayer?" He replied, "The spirit of prayer" - the spirit that animates the prayer. He was asked what is more important than fasting - he replied, the spirit of fasting. For each question concerning an Islamic practice the answer was the same - because the spirit brings the action to life and unfolds its potentials. Without this animating spirit, the prayer is only movement, and the fasting only hunger. But when spirit enters, when a pure and concentrated intention enters, the action is transformed - the prayer gains the potential to become a miraj (an elevating spiritual journey), and the one fasting approaches towards the potential to witness laylatul qadr (the night of destiny - a night when blessings from the spiritual world descend to this world).

So what is more important than marriage? It is the spirit of marriage, the intention which underlies it, the treasures which it contains hidden within it but which must be brought out and realized by the married couple themselves.

The qur'an provides the signposts and waymarks for learning about this potential. It says:

"It is He who created you from a single soul, And made its mate of like nature in order that you might dwell with her in love...."(7:189) So the male and female complete each other - together they make a single self and this is how they must strive to make their lives together - as if they are one being, one person, one spirit.

The Qur'an says: "Your wives are a garment for you, and you are a garment for them." (2:187) So a husband and wife complete each other - each one takes on a new aspect of their humanity, a new facet and depth to their personality by entering into marriage and this is symbolized in this verse. Garments also conceal the body and protect the wearer so that a husband and wife are each other's protectors and helpers and each of them safeguards their partner's honor shaping the state of marriage into a haven and a sanctuary where each should feel safe and secure, sheltered in one another's care and guardianship.

The qur'an also says "And of everything we created a pair, that happily you may remember." (Qur'an 51:49) The word for spouse, "zawj", (this is the word that is used in the marriage ceremony, the Nikkah ceremony) - the word zawj literally means one part of a pair - and when the pair come together and act in concert with one another, then concealed potentials within them, potentials that were impossible to realize while they were apart make themselves evident. This is true throughout creation. And human marriage in the Qur'an is considered a reflection of a nature and tendency that exists at all levels of creation. When something is created as one part of a pair it is clearly incomplete without the other - as the Qur'an states, "He himself created the pair, male and female." (Qur'an 53:45)

The term nikkah which is used for marriage is also used figuratively to describe the coming together of various aspects of creation. For example it says, in the Qur'an, that "the rain married the soil" and then it describes how, from this intimate mingling, something new springs forth - that the earth brings forth flowers and herbage, it opens to new creations, new life, new potentials. So the act of marriage, the mingling through nikah, according to Islam, courses through all things, through all of creation. Each pair of the marriage brings something necessary and something unique to the marriage. The pairs are not identical but complimentary to one another and their unique qualities when they are mingled together produce that which neither one alone could produce.

So each individual of the pair undergoes change and transformation when they come together in marriage because marriage is an intimate mingling of the selves, the souls, the personalities and the beings of two individuals.

In human marriage the change takes place at many levels - from a change in lifestyle, to changes in behavior, to changes in the very soul of the person. And there must be that willingness, on the part of both individuals, to allow this unifying transformation to take place. To accept the self the way it is, is to lock oneself into stagnation and narrowness and to remain an individual - not part of an intimately joined pair. It is to limit and lock up the potential, the beauty and strength that is capable of emerging from the intimate unity made possible through marriage.

Since "God created everything in pairs", as it states in the Qur'an, and since He "created the male and the female from a single nature, from a single self", it is God that is the point of reference for the married pair. "He has set up the balance..." of all things, so He is to be looked for to set all things in the right equilibrium. If the two partners of a marriage set themselves in correct relation to God then certainly a perfect balance will be realized within their lives together.

Love is a movement towards unity, towards oneness, and since God is One, "the closer the heart is to Oneness, the stronger the power of love is within it."

Love is a movement towards unity, towards oneness. "God made their hearts familiar" (8:63) through the light of Oneness that yields spiritual love and familiarity in the heart. For love is the shadow of Oneness, familiarity the shadow of love, and balance the shadow of familiarity."

Let this married couple be helpers and protectors of one another, let them be a refuge and a comfort to one another, let them be beautiful garments for one another, and let them together experience the many treasures and beauties of marriage.

- Irshaad Hussain


Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy So Many Things!

On Friday it's Eid, and the international day of solidarity with the Palestinian people, of course a day after Thanksgiving which was on Thursday. And it's my nine-month anniversary of being in Lebanon.

So, Happyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy everything everyone!!!! :-)

With warmth,


Monday, November 23, 2009

The Color of Giving

It is here! Like a colored petal floating in the wind over a dry hungry desert, my awaited break-of-silence from my routine work-filled day has come. I have now heard that the number is increasing to a dire level that requires much of our attention.

Yemen, a country bordering Saudi-Arabia, is now witnessing civil strife between a local armed group and the government, both fighting it out, which means local Yemenese civilians have had to flee their homes to seek refuge. They now live in refugee camps in the North named Al- Mazrak which borders Saudi Arabia.

The condition has it that the camp can only sustain around three thousand: it now holds ten thousand, not including some twenty thousand more living around the camp.

In a few days it will be Eid Al Adha -- a time of giving and care. There is no better time than now to think of our fellow brothers and sisters in the world who are dying of malnutrition, meaning lack of food which we have an abundance of especially when making that meat-sacrifice for Eid.

I don't know of all the ways to donate or help, but one of them could be unicef or unhcr -- both of which are international aid companies for refugees (unicef is more global).

Thank you for thinking of this with me. Jazakum Allah khayr.

Best warm wishes,


Sunday, November 22, 2009

When Silence Speaks

There are days when I miss blogging so much that I respect my need for silence, so I can come back because I truly and really want to. The blogosphere has its allure and there is no denying this. Here I am, again, afterall, with smiles again and again to my wonderful readers :-)

This Lebanon has an equal amount of allure in it, something like a mist of flower petals blowing over a dry and ordinary desert. In the stroll of routine work-filled days, something colorful occurs.

I’ll post it up when it happens.




Saturday, November 14, 2009

There hath been an answer. All along.

In the same person is the he and the she. The one and its opposite. The mars and the venus. The question and the answer.

So, Erich Fromm, a few pages down from the quote I posted earlier, writes...

"Love is not a sentiment which can be easily indulged in by anyone... man tries most actively to develop his total personality, so as to achieve a productive orientation; that satisfaction in individual love cannot be attained without the capacity to love one's neighbour, without true humility, courage, faith and discipline. In a culture in which these qualities are rare, the attainment of the capacity to love must remain a rare achievement".

How Islamic, I notice. I recall that the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) has taught us to open up our channels of love to extend outside the sexual or the romantic, to things like a neighbor, a parent, a cat, a tree, an idea, a friend, a companion, a value, a faith, a song, a poem, a moment of happiness. And the list continues in order for us to develop our total personality. To achieve an all-encompassing orientation or vision about the sentiment of love and marriage.

Funny. Some responses I get tend to be so dry, like: "God is most important in marriage not the wife", or " God is first not him or her".

Why this is dry? Because some people's vision is simply disconnected. They can't see that to love God in a true sense is to go through the channels He has opened up for us here on earth -- the neighbor, the parent, the cat, the tree, the friend, the companion and so on.

Can't push this point enough. Because some people. Are. Just. Dis. connected.



Thursday, November 12, 2009

What do you think of this passage?

I've missed you. What a distance this has been. Sorry about that :)

What do you think of this passage? Bring your critical tools and go at it! Remember that the Art of Love is a question not foreign to Islamic thought, too.

"One of the errors leading to the assumption that there is nothing to be learned about love lies in the confusion between the initial experience of 'falling' in love, and the permanent state of 'being' in love, or as we might better say, of 'standing' in love.

If two people who have been strangers, as all of us are, suddenly let the wall between them break down, and feel close, feel one, this moment of oneness in marriage is one of the most exhilirating, most exciting experiences in life. It is all the more wonderful and miraculous for persons who have been shut off, isolated, without love.

However, this type of love is by its very nature not lasting. The two persons become well acquainted in marriage, their intimacy loses more and more its miraculous character, until their antagonism, their disappointments, their mutual boredom kill whatever is left of the initial excitement.

Yet, in the beginning, they do not know all this: in fact, they take the intensity of the infatuation, this being 'crazy' about each other for proof of the intensity of their love, while it may only prove the degree of their preceeding loneliness".

Erich Fromm: The Art of Loving


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Prayer in a Poem and in a Woman

This is the first time I look at how we pray from the eyes of a poem. Here's "My Sister's Prayer".


She has never heard a woman call her
To prayer still she answers
Bears witness five times a day
She faces East
And washes her body covers her human form
In preparation to meet the Most High

She raises her hands
Aware of all who have come before her
Folds hands on her breast
Right on top of left
Between Arabic words heart beat breath
She raises her hands
In hope of all that will follow

Humble and knowing she needs no defense
She bows
Before no man
She bows
Behind the men
She bows
Knowing angels will raise her back up

Head to the ground
Even the floor she walks upon becomes sacred
She prays in prescribed form but knows
There is no language
the Universe does not accept
There is no posture void of God

She is Sarah's daughter
She is Hagar's daughter
And like her father Abraham her tent is open
In the four directions
For each wind will carry her prayers
From each direction will come her blessings
From the trees and the rocks
From the seas and the hills

All the while calling on Compassion and Mercy

Her hands are open
Her father taught her to read the words
Her mothers teach her to live them
Her brothers told her to live by the law
Her sisters tell her the only law. Is Love.

She invokes peace over her right shoulder
Then her left
She sits alone and patiently waits


Friday, October 30, 2009

In you my peace remains

Lady Detroit (not her real name unless we’re in a Miss America Beauty Contest) is new in Lebanon for less than a month, buzzing around town trying to unpack her 39 box-shipment that came with her from Michigan, and trying to put together a decent lesson plan each day for her classes along with understanding the overall famous “cultural complexity in Lebanon”.

At one point we talk about the assumptions made about American women in Lebanon. When I opened up my mouth about the topic, Lady Detroit who is a woman in her late 40s, lights up and pours her heart out with this: “ I don’t get it. The other day I was just over buying things at the grocery and then this nice man offers to help me with my bags. He says he is a professor at the Lebanese university and that he is a philosopher too. So I says okay, please do help me out nice sir. When we get near my building downstairs he tells me, ‘ I want to be your friend and lover’. I was like Whaaaat!! I took those bags over from him and asked him to leave.”

Lady Detroit’s story is not the first I hear around here: American or “white” women taken under the assumption that they are ‘easy’ and ‘willing’ because they’re from the “West”. The bigger surprise is that one hears stories about the ‘Hymen reconstruction’ business in the Middle East as a booming one. What’s further is that many of the clients for the hymen reconstruction business are veiled muslim women. Once again: veiled muslim women. You heard that right.

Lady Detroit says to me late that night: “you know what’s crazy is that I know a lot of Muslims in Detroit, and boy are they devout. Religion is religion and there’s no joke about that, whereas here there is so much of that cultural religion stuff and so much non-spirituality. I was raised in a family where a girl does not have sex before marriage, and that’s how I raised my own daughters. It must be so hard for you muslim girls who do want to have a sincere sense of faith here in Lebanon. There are so many other girls who are veiled who ruin Islam’s reputation here for you …. boy… what do you do with that?”

“ well, you just say no, like any other girl in the world chooses to say no” ( I was thinking of my post on Marc, here).

Lady Detroit is new, but other Caucasian women I know in Lebanon will tell me that the longer they stay here, the less they go out at night alone, for example. Harassment, physical abuse, taunting, and direct attack are not unheard of by Arab men towards ‘foreign-looking women’.

All I could think of, while Lady Detroit told me the story of how her daughter who got physically attacked in Egypt in broad daylight, hit and pushed down to the ground while everyone around watched and did nothing …. All that flashed in my head were the stories I heard in the news of veiled muslim women getting harassed in Texas by rednecks, or killed in other places in the world just for walking down the street and looking muslim …. And I said to myself…. Now you see the larger picture don’t you, that this sort of thing happens not only to us veiled girls but even to Caucasian women from Detroit or Canada or Europe or Australia who walk in the wrong place for them somewhere like Lebanon, Egypt or even Korea (I heard stories about that too).

I thought what if it was me who got harassed or pushed to the ground like that?


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Arab-Jewish Mixing a National Treason? But My Bestfriend Was ...

An Article from Alternet:

"A local authority in Israel has announced that it is establishing a special team of youth counselors and psychologists whose job it will be to identify young Jewish women who are dating Arab men and "rescue" them.

The move by the municipality of Petah Tikva, a city close to Tel Aviv, is the latest in a series of separate -- and little discussed -- initiatives from official bodies, rabbis, private organisations and groups of Israeli residents to try to prevent interracial dating and marriage.

In a related development, the Israeli media reported this month that residents of Pisgat Zeev, a large Jewish settlement in the midst of Palestinian neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem, had formed a vigilante-style patrol to stop Arab men from mixing with local Jewish girls.

Hostility to intimate relationships developing across Israel's ethnic divide is shared by many Israeli Jews, who regard such behaviour as a threat to the state's Jewishness. One of the few polls on the subject, in 2007, found that more than half of Israeli Jews believed intermarriage should be equated with "national treason."

The Source. Alternet
When someone sent me this little baby I was taken aback. Forget for a minute that dating is not in Islam, this article talks generally about dating, mixing and marriage in a pack.

Putting aside my analysis of all this, and after cooling off my waters (yeah come on, national treason?) ... I stopped and had a moment. I remembered highschool. Grade 9. My best friend was Janine. Her father was Palestinian and her mother was Jewish. She lived alone in Canada and considered herself very Jewish and not Palestinian, though she understood Arabic very well. We got along, two girls who just liked each others' company, no politics, not just yet. And now that I look back at those days, I remember more...

The first crush someone had on me: The first boy who I can say really truly had sincere feelings for me, a boy who would have pursued those feelings to the very end and probably admitted his love for me on national television with bells and whistles, had I given him one glimpse of hope, was Marc. He was Jewish. Captain of the football team, class president and valedictorian of the year. Beautiful green eyes, and dashing good looks. Smashing. Marc tried for three years until the very last day of grade 12 to look me in the eye and tell me he loved me. And each time, every time I saw that instinct coming in his eyes, I'd turn away, and he'd get it. Three years. That went on for three years. It took strength, on both sides.

Youth. We can be idealistic at times, I admit that much, and Marc was willing to keep away from his father's pro-Israeli local lobbying in Canada. Marc was willing to follow his heart. For all that it's worth and after reading this article above on inter-Jewish/Arab love as "national treason", I guess I'm lucky enough to have the memories of my teenage years to supplement my thinking here. Those Jewish psychologists in Palestine's Tel Aviv would have had a hard time "rescuing" Marc from me all the way in Canada. That's my point here. Leave people alone, they know what they want and don't want. Not to forget that Janine's parents were Arab-Israeli-Jewish in Canada. Regulate that.

If anything, the reason I stayed away from Marc is because I felt I was betraying my Islam and my "Arabness" had I allowed Marc to say the magic three words to me.

Not to overlook of course the humorous yet witty Romeo-Juliette backdrop in this picture: "Romeo, O Romeo, where arst thou Romeo?" " I'm over here across the apartheid wall, baby!"

In all, I don't know what all this means, but regardless, what I'm sure of is this: put all the national and religious lines aside, I can admit to myself that at one point in my life I was offered genuine feelings by a Jewish man, and an honest friendship by a Jewish-Palestinian best friend. And I'm honored by that.


.FYI: Marc is now a well-pronounced doctor and active member of the Jewish-Canadian community and the Jewish-Academic world in Canada.


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Monday, October 26, 2009

Grouping It

It’s called a yearly group marriage. Every year, the ex-prime minister’s sister sponsors 100 couples in Lebanon – who are Palestinian or Lebanese – to get married. The group wedding happens in a sports stadium where people attend this mass celebration.

I remember trying to look up this event online having missed the actual thing which happened in the South. When I found no online sources, I relied on the conversation I had with my aunt at her apartment building across the stadium where the event took place. She describes it to me while we stood at her balcony one day.

Fast-Forward in time: Two Months later.

While talking on the phone with my mother …

Me: “ … and then I went to see aunty and she told me about that group-wedding”

Mom: “ Yes, I saw that on the Lebanese satellite channel, but didn’t you say Lebanese and Palestinian men are good-looking. I kept staring at the screen, they’re ugly”

Me: “ lol!’”

Mum: “ And the brides, they were too happy, dancing and singing all over that stadium. Must be the open space, they looked like they were about to take a run around that track in their wedding dresses too, like they’re on crack” (yes, mummy said that :-)

Me: “ umm, maybe they’re so happy because they get a free furnished apartment each one of them sponsored by the ex-prime minister’s sister”

Mum: “ What! You need to get your name on that marriage list”

Me: “ you think they’d toss in a husband along with that furnished apartment?”



Friday, October 23, 2009


She was one of the warm faces when I first got here. Tall, slim, composed and gentle especially when she opens her mouth and speaks with her catching British accent. Let’s call her Sultry Suzy for this blog entry, shall we.

Of Arab parents but raised in London, U.K, Sultry Suzy is a faculty member in the department. She’ll look you in your unsettled face, that face of yours that says I’m a new puppy in town still trying to settle in, and she’ll warmly declare: “ I’ve been here for eight years darling and it’s been magic. You’ll be just fine”.

Sultry Suzy is over 30 years old, single and looking. Or so I assumed when we were walking home one day, each one carrying a box of essays to mark and literally being the sight for sore eyes on the street. While we talked she said: “ those embassy boys are just clueless. I mean come on, what’s left is that I throw my number on the floor and pretend I need someone to pick it up for me”.

I giggle, she looks me in the eyes to see where I stand on this issue of boys and ‘number-tossing’, we both see in each others’ eyes the differences we have, and we both decide, in the same moment, to respect our differences.

Days went by and I run into Sultry Suzy on my way to the copyroom. Still elegant as ever, she giggles my way about having coffee these days, we keep saying we’ll have coffee to each other but it seems we never actually get to it. Which remains a good topic to strike up in a hallway conversation.

As we talk, Sultry Suzy suddenly says, while still half giggling about some joke I had said: “ oh and did you check out the new faculty men, I’ll have you know since we’re both single that there’s a cute one there, a must see”.

She tells me his name.

I say: “ oh. Him. Not my style but let me know how it goes my dear. You’ll have me at the wedding now wouldn’t you”. We keep smiling and talking and being friendly while still reading each others’ eyes for those unheard declarations of differences on the question of being single, and looking.

Perhaps I’ve never given it thought, but it did catch my attention how Sultry Suzy categorizes me with herself as a single person who’s on the margins of aging for marriage and therefore ought to catch the next train, running, running very very fast with her best pair of Addidas on.

In my mind, deep in there I guess, I must have thought that such a stereotype about “aging women” would only come from older, more traditional women and not Sultry Suzy who chooses to live an un-Islamic (I’m not sure she’s Muslim, actually, can never tell unless I ask) lifestyle of a modern city girl who dates men in order to find a husband.

It is good to learn that despite the different routes we take to approach the question of marriage, what remains common to just about every person out there is that level of anxiety, perhaps a sprinkle of resistance against societal pressure, or the common disappointments one encounters in men/women throughout life, getting through bad choices or growing peaceful with the search for the right one. Or that instinct of waiting for love and not rush. Or to rush and get it over with, regardless of love.

That zone, now I see more clearly, is a universal one, even across genders.

With peace,


Thursday, October 22, 2009


Question: What effect has it had on your life (or not) to be a veiled woman in the West?

It's kinda fun answering these theory-based interview questions. They're always mind-opening.

My answer to the lady was: "being a veiled woman in the west has led me to live a fully Islamic life, perhaps in defense, really, to protect my faith in a largely secular state. And this distracted me from my national identity as a Palestinian-Lebanese Canadian. It did. Such a warm womb it is to crawl inside the bubble of Islamic identity and to forget everything else. So the veil can pretty much occupy a girl's mind and keep her in the Islamic mindset for a lifetime. This is not about good or bad ... I'm not complaining. I'm just thinking.


Thursday, October 15, 2009

Hijab. Maybe Your Ten Year Old?

My very dear sister in Islam has approached me with a dilemma which I now share with you in hopes of advice. She has a ten year old daughter. The father wants the girl to wear the hijab for good as the family lives in North America in a primarily non-Muslim neighborhood.

The mother does not want the girl to wear the hijab so early in age, but the father insists. In between the two is the girl who remains anxious, worried and frozen about the entire issue as she goes back and forth between the "two schools of thought": aka: her parents.

I care for this little girl though she is miles away from me. Even from here, I feel her fears and tension. When the mother approached me with this question, my first inclination was to bring up educational material about the hijab and its rules or regulations for girls from online sources. The girl can take this material to her father.

Then, the mother would bring up her own material about the hijab from her own sources and offer those to the girl and the father. This way, there is some breathing space. While everyone stops. And thinks.

I'm in need of your advice. Or resources. If you have any suggestions of good sources about the hijab for girls, please let me know.

Think of yourself, perhaps, fast-forwarded in time when you are married and you have your daughter who is now ten years old. Your spouse has a different perspective on the hijab for your daughter than you do. Perhaps, before you married you had agreed on what to do -- but ten years later, you changed, or your spouse did.

What to do?


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

From Tears to Laughs ( -:

Mother in Laws: the mystery continues :-)


Monday, October 12, 2009


A blog entry offered kindly to us by Yin Yang who guest-posts here from time to time.



Dancing in the Rain

It was a busy morning, about 8:30, when an elderly gentleman in his 80s arrived to have stitches removed from his thumb. He said he was in a hurry as he had an appointment at 9:00 am.

I took his vital signs and had him take a seat, knowing it would be over an hour before someone would to able to see him. I saw him looking at his watch and decided, since I was not busy with another patient, I would evaluate his wound. On exam, it was well healed, so I talked to one of the doctors, got the needed supplies to remove his sutures and redress his wound.

While taking care of his wound, I asked him if he had another doctor's appointment this morning, as he was in such a hurry.

The gentleman told me no, that he needed to go to the nursing home to eat breakfast with his wife. I inquired as to her health.

He told me that she had been there for a while and that she was a victim of Alzheimer's disease.

As we talked, I asked if she would be upset if he was a bit late.

He replied that she no longer knew who he was, that she had not recognized him in five years now.

I was surprised, and asked him, 'And you still go every morning, even though she doesn't know who you are?'

He smiled as he patted my hand and said,

'She doesn't know me,
but I still know who she is.'

I had to hold back tears as he left,
I had goose bumps on my arm, and thought,

'That is the kind of love I want in my life.'
True love is neither physical, nor romantic.

True love is an acceptance of all that is, has been,
will be, and will not be.

The happiest people don't necessarily have the best of everything;
they just make the best of everything they have.

'Life isn't about how to survive the storm,
but how to dance in the rain.


Friday, October 9, 2009

Embarassing Sweetness

While introducing myself to the class, I was saying: " As your teacher, I don't want your adacemic attention. I want your loyalty". Then, they rush in. Three of my students from last summer are now taking the next level of English with me this term.

They walk in while I was talking, and they say, with a sweet loyal smile and a cheeky tone: "Missssssss we're baaaack! We're with you forever misssss! English 102, 203, 204, 206 and whatever you teach. WE LOVE YOU!!!"

gosh darn it, this job doesn't help deflate my oh so growing ego. Oh boy. May Allah keep me straight on the path of humility and modesty, ameen :-)

PS: maybe that's why I chose to discuss next time: "how to take criticism in the classroom of life" as my next topic :-)


Wednesday, October 7, 2009

What is Art

Leo Tolstoy once asked: What is Art? Then he wrote a book about it which many philosophers, writers and educators discuss in supposedly sophisticated circles of knowledge. But what happens when you discuss this in a first year English course with a bunch of juniors in Lebanon’s University?

Weehaaaaa! -- your horses run wild ‘n you do the Macarena with a square dance on the side possibly contemplating a moon-walk too. Never underestimate the mind of nobody.

For Tolstoy, art is when an artist feels something – pain, happiness, sadness, wonder, confusion, frustration, then writes or sings as a result of that feeling. Then the receiver who comes across this piece of art later in time, perhaps hundreds of years later, looks at the piece of painting for instance and feels the exact same feeling that the artist felt when he first drew the painting. Infected, as it were, by the original feeling. Only now has the artist succeeded at his art.

Like the difference, if you will, between a Bush speech and an Obama speech, or a conference on genomes in biotechnology as opposed to a Che Guevara talk on humanity. One can use words to transmit thoughts or one can use words artistically to change people.

The critics of Tolstoy might argue that this approach to art is a selfish perspective because it really just says: “art is about me and me and me. Get it, or get out”. Deeper critics of Tolstoy suggest an alternative: “Feel the original feeling that inspired the creation of the song or the painting – sadness or happiness – and go and create a piece of art of your own, in other words, get infected by the art, or get inspired. Don’t turn into Tolstoy, just get inspired by him”.

Something like a soothing Qur’anic recitation by a beautiful voice that inspires faith and piety, or a talk by a believing scholar on the condition of the ummah at an MSA social, for instance. For Tolstoy, art transforms just like faith transforms.

I ask: “What if you read a piece of art that completely offends your values or beliefs that you hold very dearly. Will you allow the infection of art to happen?”
Like a Salman Rushdie book.

I tell the kids a story that happened to me. Once when I was in third year university, the professor assigned Salman Rushdie’s book “The Satanic Verses”. For those unfamiliar with this work as were some of my students, Rushdie is a Persian writer who has lived in England for a long time. In his book, he took the figure of Prophet Muhammad who is an important aspect of the Islamic faith, and wrote of him as if a person who “sells” faith like a sales-person or a business man. Rushdie’s book is read all over the world except in the Middle East and the Khomeini had issued a ‘fatwa’ or Islamic ruling that allows for the killing of Rushdie because of this book he published.

When I went to class, a girl came up to me and said: “we can’t allow this book in class. We have to go to the Dean and report this. Nobody can read this book at the university”. Turns out this girl is Muslim and Persian too. I had no idea I had a Muslim classmate until that moment. After feeling puzzled, I tell the girl: “I’ll get back to you on that after I read the book”.

To enter a community of minds through art might also mean knowing more about yourself than about other people. What your values are, what your boundaries are: you might surprise yourself time after time. I told the students that I will reserve my opinion about Rushdie’s book when I read it, but the point is this: For Tolstoy, as a student eloquently put it, once you enter a community of minds, you will change and be changed. That is art.

But if you enter just to say your two cents and leave, then that’s just using words to transmit your thoughts. Something like a type-writer, or a Microsoft Word document, or like that person who sits at a gathering and talks with eloquent words, fluid sentences and perhaps a big word or two, and after 20 minutes of hearing him you kinda feel like that guy talked so much but said nothing. Even his thoughts he couldn’t transmit.

If anything I have learned that Leo Tolstoy’s dense philosophy tastes better when discussed in a first year English class, not all of them, just my noon class full of thirty bright young people. It is clear to see that this class has the capacity to receive, and the art to express.

With heart,


Sunday, October 4, 2009

Eight Pictures

You know how you go on vacation and you take your camera? You take tons of pictures to share with friends or even upload them on facebook? Yes. I took photos during this weekend’s trip to the South, but this time I took “mind pictures” which I’m sharing with you :-)

From sleepy head, with smiles

Snapshot One

In my diary: My father’s mother had a sister. That sister had a son. That son has a family up in the village of Babliyeh, a few miles away from Akbiyeh or Basriyeh: all of these primarily Palestinian villages are not too far from Tyr in South Lebanon where many have witnessed missile exchanges between Israel and Lebanon’s Southern borders. We spent the weekend there during this summer-like October along with my father’s sister, who came to visit from Germany for a week. Confused? Fabulous …

These villages are full of orchards also known in Arabic as “Basateen” where many Palestinians would live as farmers in lands other people own who are primarily Lebanese citizens. The ordinary scenario is one in which a Palestinian father and mother have a dozen, literally, children running around in the “Bustan” (singular for Basateen, or orchards) where some of these children would take pride in making money tilling the earth, while the rest of them dream elsewhere far beyond the boundaries of the orchard and never take interest in becoming future farmers like their parents. This last one, this last category was my father who dreamt of becoming a journalist while living at the orchard with his dad who was very business-minded and believed his son should be more practical in his career decisions. Hence the title of my father’s first book published around the age of 21 in Lebanon titled: “Father, have mercy”.

Everyone in the family seems to know the same story which goes like this: my father defied all odds, walked a tough journey and became what he wanted to become. Then he died of cancer. But what remains in the air as I step on the earth in the orchard, step after step, probably on the same earth that my father threaded around 50 years ago as we both walk towards the sunset in between a line of lemon trees shading us along the way … is …

Snapshot Two

At the village in Babliyeh: Asma is 14 years old and she has cancer. She is one of the daughters. I don’t want to think of her sentimentally because that’s the last thing on her mind. Last Ramadan, in 2008, this family lost their other 22 year old daughter in a bus accident: she was standing at the bus stop, bus came, hit her, she died. Six months ago, the family lost another one of their daughter to illness. Two butterflies hang on the wall in their living room right above the frames of their two angel daughters who are as beautiful as sunset in October.

When I did not know yet, I asked Asma who is their living sister who those girls were in the pictures. She looked at them and said with a smile and casual manner: “oh that’s Halimah and Bisan”. We continued talking and I just thought that the girls were married off somewhere.

Snapshot Three

In the hallway: “ You’re sure he’s gone?”
“Yessss I promise dad’s in the other room!”
“Okay just one more time. Ready!”

Asma and I are in the hallway and we’re ready to Tango! :-) Like literally. Okay hands on my waist Asma, head up like a Chihuahua, rrrrrrrrrrrrready aaaaand go! Ta Ta Ta Ta TA Ra RA RA Ra Ta TA TA TA Ta RA RA RA RA “heyyyyy I taught I’m Al Pacino and you’re the girrrrllll: you’re so not my senorita” and we laugh!! :-)

Snapshot Four

In the girl’s bedroom: Have you heard the latest song called Bisan?

No I haven’t, let me hear it.

Asma hands me her music player and describes the song to me while she gets the headphones ready. “The story is about this girl named Bisan, she was in a car with her cousin going home. Her fiancée who really really really loved her was driving in the car behind them. The car with the girl in it lost control and went flying in the valley and the guy saw all this while he sat in the other car driving behind them. So he wrote this song after he lost his fiancée who he really really really loved”. She giggles.

I hear the song.

Oh Asma I can’t continue hearing it. So touching I’ll cry and you’ll need to get me tissues. Let’s go outside and see what the cat is doing …

Snapshot Five

At the garden outside: Aunty, I really want you to help me with this. I need to get my Palestinian ID issued. For god’s sakes there is nothing on this green earth in any official document out there that proves I’m Arab. I’ve got a Canadian passport that says I’m born in Germany. Do I look German to you.’

When I say this to my aunty, my friend interrupts and exclaims: “What for. You don’t need the ID. It’s enough that you know you’re Palestinian and Lebanese”.

Snapshot Six

At the Bustan (Orchard): So you are Abdullah, my cousin’s husband and these are your two boys eh, so nice to meet you.

Likewise. I’m looking for a second wife, by the way.

Snapshot Seven

Indoors: Dear Lord Jesus Lord Dear Lord Jesus Lord: where’s the washroom! Gotta go Gotta go Gotta go. I’m in the washroom getting ready to go. I lock the door. I turn around. Where’s the toilet? Where. Is. The toilet. I look around and hello: An Arabic style washroom lies there for my eyes to see and for my bowls to look forward to. An “Arabic style toilet”, for those interested, is a hole in the ground. And that’s where you go.

Snapshot Eight

On the bus back home, my friend says: “ I can’t believe the father smokes in front of his daughter who has cancer but he totally freaks out if she touches the cat because he thinks it carries ‘bacteria’. Like? I’m never coming to this country again (frown). Except for the food. And beaches. And cats”.


Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Birthday Lights and Reflections - 2009

Of Empathy and a Helpful Hand

I have always known that helping someone, anyone, revives me like an endless smile that lights up the world forever. I do feel youthful in these moments when I see or feel or sense that someone, anyone, has found happiness again. But I never placed this in the framework of marriage or even in the image of a husband.

Would he be a man with misery at heart, a man with a tear and a smile, a man who needs a friend who reminds him always of The Friend above in times of self-war and sin and tears and hardship…

In hurt but with pride, in short, a man I know how to know.

Of Courage

A man once said there’s a fool in us all that sees the mountain so tall but in the end it’s the valley that’s safe.

Foolish it is to think courage comes from the big shiny famous things we’ve done in life. And foolish it is to think true happiness comes from these statues of accomplishments gathered like gods in Roman temples. With this kind of seeing the world, with these pair of eyes, what happens is we imagine our happiness in people we do not have. Can never have. When he who sits right next to you is the happiness of your life. The one you thought is your mundane valley while you turn your cheek and dream of glorious mountains.

It takes courage, you see, to change. To change how we see. How we see our loved ones, and this matters when we think of soul-partners or husbands or wives. The pursuit of happiness (and the movie helps, too) is about re-learning how to see happiness in the person who truly offers it to you, and not to dream of it elsewhere.

And the same man said… and though folks might say you must conquer the heights, you ain’t conquering nothing without the valley inside …

Of Humor and Smiles

In a dream I once learned that the funny person is twice more serious than the not-so-funny person. Heart heavy, mind tactful, smile measured. But when I look in the mirror of my mind, I remember the words of my grade three teacher Mrs. Barbara who looked at me with her beautiful blue eyes and said in her lovely British accent: “ Never let anyone take your smile away from you, dear”.

I can understand if the world takes my smile away from me but what if that anyone is marriage?

I’m joking! Where’s my unearned ha-ha?

Of Writing

I will argue it to the grave. Writing is healing, ranging from bloggers to grade school writers, the inside cannot be seen unless penned with ink and paper. Or Mac and Microsoft Word. Or color paint and a white wall. Or napkin and an old school pen. Or a finger writing in thin air while you lie on your back looking up to the clouds passing by …

Of Quest for the Right One

This blog started with an idea. Why not make the quest for marriage, especially in the “West”, one step easier by starting up a space for communication and the exchange of thoughts. My older posts shoot straight at the title and address notions that seem much more relevant such as suitoring or choosing a husband or describing experiences about my friends and so on.

When real life experiences about marriage or suitoring ran out, I found myself in a two-forked way. Either be honest, or tell stories. Either stop the blog or make up stuff. So I took those two options, put them in the blender and created a third thing: Narrations that are as honest as the smile I flashed to my mother the last time I saw her. And if some of these narrations happen to be about marriage, that’s good too :-)

As mentioned in an older post, the quest for the right one has also become the quest for the right me within me. Only in this self-reflective state can I offer something beautiful to my soul-partner. Otherwise I’d just be a wife.

This said, I do apologize if the title of the blog seems more and more irrelevant, but if I can make it better, I’d advise you to get comfortable with this disrupt. Go into the unfamiliar with me. See what it brings. And don’t quit believing.

Thank you all for your insightful, loving and soft words! This birthday girl can now grow one year younger.

With Peace and Joy and Cha Cha Cha!!! :-)

PS: wanted to quickly say I'm so like super touched by the e-gifts I got. Totally unexpected, totally loving this :-)


Monday, September 28, 2009

It's My Another Chance at LIfe Day!

Next week is my Birthday! And she giggles like a little girl :-). With respect to all those who do not celebrate Birthdays, I take this day as an occasion to re-evaluate myself and all I've been and become. Can I ask you for a favor please :-) I want a present, and this is it:

Tell me one thing you've noticed about me from this blog, good or bad.


Sunday, September 20, 2009

Eeeeeeeeeid Gift to You --- :-)

*** Sweeeeeeeeeeet blissful Eid Everyone!! ***

How can I forget my peeps on this special day. My sister knows I like masjid Al-Amin in Beirut so she filmed the inside of it for me.

I'm sharing this glimpse of Lebanon's Eid in unity and solidarity from this place to yours. Once more, Happpyy Eeeeeeeeeeeeid!!! :-)

Click HERE for the Eid Gift :-)



Thursday, September 17, 2009

Peekaboo for Zakat too

With the idea of zakat in mind as money goes around, I felt a need to post this. We've been to the camps and slept over there and here's a note:

The question of Palestine is not about poverty. People generally aren't poor. It's about human rights. Dignity. The right to work, vote, own property, not to be disallowed from over 70 job types in the host country, about being allowed to travel with a Palestinian ID to Arab surrounding countries -- Qatar won't allow a Palestinian in the country (with very few exceptions).

So sending money through international aid is good, folks, but that's not all to see in the question of Palestine or the refugee situation. There is way too much focus on "money as aid to Palestine" idea, which is really a misconception now I see.

We think a refugee camp, we think a poor suffering child doing nothing waiting around. We think refugee only when a missile hits Gaza or the camps in Lebanon, only when that Palestinian is dying. When we think Palestine we don't think pharmacies with updated medicines, clothing stores, young boys selling vegetables. We don't think satellite dishes, girls with ipods, iftars during Ramadan free to families, or monthly allowances to every Palestinian kid. It's not about money. Trust me. Now I see, it's more about security, human rights, dignity.

To return to the homeland. Even this is under further investigation in my mind. Many, just too many, of the Palestinian youth I've spoken to, aren't thinking of the awdah or the return. They want out, into neighboring countries for work or education. Or better yet, they want the "dream" -- to go to America, Australia, Canada, Europe.

This idolization of "the west" is almost stomach turning. Anyone with any connection to the "West" is idolized, even secretly envied. Adults too, not just youth, want to migrate to foreign countries and not return to Palestine. They want to secure a future there.

Don't get me wrong, there are supporters of the awdah, the return, but they are NOT the majority, and the international audience needs to know this more deeply.

Yes, to answer some of the questions posed to me, my aunt and family do live in the refugee camps, and that is why we've been going and sleeping over and living there basically for a few days and permits are required of us of course. But this experience has really opened our eyes to many things we never focused on even as members of Palestinian human rights student groups in Canada, or just activists generally for human rights. We always thought the problem with Palestine is to return them to the homeland, because they have no country no more. Though this is true, as we said, it is partially true. There is so much more. So much more to this picture.

Some food for thought as we end this Ramadan. Peek. A. Boo.


Footnote: Since it is the commemoration today (Sept 17-18) of the massacres of Palestinians in Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Lebanon, I dedicate the above post to this day. I've been to Sabra and Shatila, interviewed people there, and walked through its streets ... though I appreciate the good will of people abroad in commemorating this day, it still bothers me how Palestinians are just a day to remember and then move away from.


Sunday, September 13, 2009

Peekaboo! :-)

I watch her sleep as I write this. My sister's in town, I won't be blogging regularly for a while, but I'll peekaboo you every once a full moon :-)

Today we go South to visit our aunt at the refugee camps. First, we make a quick stop at the Lebanese Army Force to get permits, gulp.... though we do think of those missile exchanges that happened a few days ago in the South between Israel and Lebanon. But, people live on. And our family's there.

Make du'a for us.

I'll end with this sweet picture: my sister's nine year old daughter, my beautiful niece, calls and asks her mom on the phone: "how did you feel when you saw aunty?"

I was surpised at how quickly she answers: "it's like a big part of me was missing and now I'm whole".

Alhamdullilah for these things in life :-) ...
Until the next breath,


Thursday, September 10, 2009

Words for the Living

The night befriends my waking hours as I stride through a funding application for my research that is due in less than a week. To take a break, and while I skim through reams of literature, some interesting quotes have come my way, some from past interviews and some from inspirational talent. Let them speak to you:


“I would rather be amongst a pack of lions than lead a pack of sheep” (Ahmed Barakat).

“It is very important to understand that war is the result of a flawed peace” (Arundhati Roy from God of Small Things).

“Humans are beings that have knowledge as well as ignorance, memory as well as forgetfulness. In contrast with the rest of creation, they have to live with dignity, risk, and freedom, all at once” (Tarek Ramadan from In the Footsteps of the Prophet)

“This world is a form of pleasure ready to caress you, wound you, break you to pieces, so re-make yourself and remember. Always remember. Your ability to change” (mine).

“I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood” (Audre Lorde from When Silence Speaks).

“(Nationalism is) a set of beliefs taught to each generation in which the Motherland or the Fatherland becomes a burning cause for which one becomes willing to kill the children of other Motherlands or Fatherlands” (Howard Zinn, from The People’s History of the United States of America).

“Tonight it is raining in the tradition of my parents who wanted a daughter not a writer” (Suheir Hammad from poem Daughter).

“Break a vase, and the love that re-assembles the fragments is stronger than that love which took its symmetry for granted when it was whole” (Derek Walcott from Omeros)

...goodnight folks … slumber is calling ...


Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Muslim Bachelor Looking for Wife!

Alright, listen up single ladies, here is a shout-out from a muslim brother looking for his soulmate. Indeed, he has a "Quest" blog going on through which he tells his story (yes, but I blog in pink, beat that Mr. Quest! ;) and I've asked him to introduce himself to my followers and readers here. Because you never know where your naseeb or destiny is, my sweet sister. Check out his blog and feel free to contact him. Aight, let it spin Mr Quest!


Assalamu Alaikum!

Nice to meet you, everyone! And thank you lady Quest for letting me do this and self-promote on your blog :-) I'm born and bred in the west. Brought up in a society that is fairly full of corruption. I've stayed close to my deen on this journey so far. I'm now looking for a wife.

As I look for a wife, and share my stories, I remain inspired by people around me who continue to share their own troubles, turbulances or successes and happiness as they go through life in the west... I'd really like to blog my journey to Mrs. Right along with a community of minds out there, and not alone, plus I'm a good writer so bring popcorn!

My blog encompasses events as they unfold through this journey. Events which you can either understand or relate to. Especially those born and/or raised in the west.
My blog welcomes the words from both genders and all kinds of stories because even though I'm seeking a wife, I'm also a regular guy with whom you could possibly relate to, even as your brother in Islam going through life in the West.

Here's my story. Join me on this journey:

Feel free to get in touch at:



Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Mantra of Beauty in Ramadan

A spiritual transformation can happen to the sounds of beauty. Silence the mind and its undying urge to understand or to know, leave your heart to the following:

Close your eyes and listen to a moment during Ramadan taraweeh prayers captured on youtube that certainly reminds me of some of my Ramadan experiences here in Lebanon. Resist your urge to run towards a translated or subtitled page of the verse that this Imam (who is one of my favorites) from Kuwait is reading, and take in the experience in its entirity. Notice the chandeliers, the Qur'ans with their wooden stands, the endless rows, the high ceiling, the space, the unity.

I am not surprised, the architecture of the Masjid here that I go to in Lebanon is inspired by the architecture of this one in Saudi Arabia, I believe, perhaps because the prime minister who built the Beirut masjid was friends or business partners, to use a mild term, with Saudi Arabia.

Now forget all I've said, empty your mind, and leave yourself to the Imam's recitation who undoubtedly reminds me of the Imam reading here in Beirut during taraweeh. Let it soothe you.

With spiritual love,

Recitation of Qur'an during Ramadan


Sunday, September 6, 2009

Conference Decision!

I’ve always liked it. Especially when she gains a few pounds and her face rounds up like a yummy muffin :-) ...

I approach her and I nail a big huge kiss on her round chubby cheeks like a cub pouncing at its mother! My mother will be getting one soon, inshAllah.

Remember that in every moment I rest in her arms, you’ve all earned part of the blessings that surround a mother and her child. With your caring thoughts and guiding words, you are in this picture. Thank you!

I’ll be giving word to the conference organizers tomorrow of my acceptance to their offer, inshAllah …

You know what really did it for me? … I called momz, told her the scenario. She answered the way she always does when I consult with her on things, which is to take a neutral diplomat position and say: “ Oh you know I don’t interfere with your decisions because you’re a big girl, and, I know that you know what’s good for you …”. Then, she pauses. And says: “ but … I miss you …”

There’s no thinking after that.

With warm melodies on the horizon :-) ...


Saturday, September 5, 2009

Decisions Decisions ... D.E.C.I.S.I.O.N.S

They say Libras can never make decisions easily. They keep weighing the two sides eternally and never come out from that state of mind in order to make a decision. Oh boy, perhaps it’s time I believe this of myself. I’ve been chewing on this pickle – more like a giant dill --- for a few days now. It must be a sin somewhere to take this long to decide. So, I’d love to know what you think ….

I’ve been invited to a conference on global youth development that will take place in Canada and Greece. The tickets and hotels are paid for. The downside is the timing. This thing happens like this: three days in Canada (September 21-24) and three days in Greece/Athens (September 28- Oct 1st).

Now, my sister is supposed to come here to Lebanon to visit between September 11th to October 12th. After my calculations, if I go to the conference, I really spend less than half of that time in sane vacationing with my sis in Lebanon.

Also, it takes around 11hrs to fly from Lebanon to Canada (not including airport waiting time, ranges from 3-6 extra hours) – only to stay for three days! Three measly little small days in Canada!

Upside: I’ll see my mummy! And my baby girl niece who I miss like crazy! But.But. But. It takes me a week, normally, to wake up from such a loooong flight. I’ll physically be with them for a few hours each day after conferencing while I’ll be jet lagged worst than anything you can imagine.

Barely will I awaken from all this, then I have to fly out to Greece! Another friggin’ ten hours. Then, to Lebanon.

When I come back, I have three days then. Yes. The semester starts and I’ll be teaching. Though my sister will still be in the country for another seven days, I’ll be teaching (while jetlagged) during most of the time. Oh Lord.

Dilemma: I really wanna see momz, my niece, even my girlz in Canada, participate in important conference, but it’s not fair for my sis … I want to spend time with her in a normal way without all this craziness, plus spend Eid with her in Lebanon and grow old with her on my birthday too which is in October.

… ach me needs your thoughts … what would you do? ... Libras always want to be just to everyone. but it'ssss harrrd ... :(

PS: I felt I should add this footnote, that I've been praying istikharah since I got the news of the conference, and the masjid gives it a peaceful environment to make the dua with heart, too. On the same page, everyone ;-) .... beyond that, what would you do to decide? ....


Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Reflection on Chapter Ahzab or "the Enemy Parties"

This is what happens when you have an engaging Imam in Ramadan. You start thinking :)


This chapter of the Qur’an is very interesting because it talks about the art of submission during war. Simply because in times of war there must be submission, but the greater submission to Allah swt is harder to find under these conditions. If you look closely at this chapter, what you see is a very detailed description of how different everyone can get when there’s no peace around, and the road to the greater submission becomes unclear.

Groups. Sects. Parties (Ahzab). Take Lebanon for example. A country that has seen over 50yrs of war, from internal and external forces, it has over 11 different millets or branches/sects within Islam, just Islam. Not to count the political Islamist groups, the resistance groups. Other than Hamas, Hezbollah or the Brotherhood, there is Fateh Al-Islam which in itself has five different sub-groups. Not to count many many other Islamicized/politicized groups.

To return to the 11 millets or minority groups here, other than sunni or shiite, there are Alawis, Alevis, Yezidis, Druze and Isma’ili. Not to mention other religions entirely which include Roman Catholic, Jewish, Maronite, Greek Orthodox, Chaldean Catholic, Armenian Catholic and many more. What makes all this different from North America, where you can also find the same groups, is that here they’re part of the political and governmental infrastructure in a much more augmented degree. Some say there is no “real” government in Lebanon, that the country is run by all these groups.

Furthermore, this religious map of the country continues to change starting as far back as the 15th Century. The idea is that when “we” Muslims, we people, we human beings are in war, we are vulnerable to change (about human nature, see chapter 70, verse 19). And chapter Ahzab describes the many ways people do change.

Funny that a chapter named Ahzab, or enemy parties, when read closely, is not really about some other evil, nasty, monstrous, disbelieving army out there attacking us, but is rather describing us, yes, us believers and the many different ways we might possibly change the map of our faith when we’re tested and expecting mass danger. Allah swt says: “when they came from above you, and from beneath you, your eyes were terrified, your hearts ran out of patience, and you harbored unbefitting thoughts about God”. And He also says: “when the true believers saw the enemy parties ready to attack, [this dangerous situation] only strengthened their faith and augmented their submission” (33:22).

It is better, of course, not to be in a war zone. Sometimes, it's as simple as a man who lives in a village, tilling the earth, bringing back food to his family. Then one day, an army attacks his village, and he watches his daughter die in his arms. From an ordinary civilian of peace, he now is filled with hate, and picks up arms to fight. The same thing could happen to another man, and he might choose to live in peace, and not pick up arms. Like the people of Gaza, for example, where many civilians, despite all the death, still choose peace. It takes strength to do that. It is better not to be in a war zone because most likely the change is to the worst. This is how war functions. But if you happen to be in one, the Qur'an offers some tips to the believers.

It is hard to figure things out if you’re a person born into the schizophrenia of faith that maps the religious world in Lebanon, as in many other war-stricken zones. So in times of adversity, we are in a zone of change, and everything is unstable. But you are trained to deal with different wills and intentions all around you. And you are a master at building bridges between groups, if you want to. And you can be a master-warrior, honorable or unfortunately dishonorable, who fights wars like no other, if you wish to take this route.

So what do we learn from this chapter on enemy parties? Perhaps there is no one answer. But know that as you shift in and through the secrets of your heart, the good and the evil, know that while you understand your mistakes or your good actions especially if you live in a war zone, that “He is the one who helps you, together with His angels, to lead you out of darkness into the light” (33:43).

This is God’s eternal system. I will end with closing remarks by one of my favorite authors, Arundhati Roy from her book God of Small Things (1997): "It is very, very important to understand that war is the result of a flawed peace, and we must understand the systems that are at work here".


Monday, August 31, 2009

Masjids and Musallahs in Ramadan

I have never lived the sunni/shiite difference before. I only heard of it, or watched it as an unbiased spectator. When I was in school, I would only absorb the tensions or fury, the hopeful mediations or the call for unity by my friends who vocally proclaim that they are sunni or shiite, or the ones that want non of it and who proclaim: “I am Muslim. Period”.

But in a country such as Lebanon, this scene escalates and the division feels too real. I read books, too, about this situation. Although books kindle the mind, experience engraves the memory. And memory carves the soul eternally.

It is one thing to imagine divisions and wars in Islam when in Canada or America or any other “neutral/secular” state, getting it from books or TV or the media. It’s another thing to sit on this stage, down in a war-zone like Lebanon and to animate it all in your mind while everything around you reinforces division and war, yes, between sunnis and shiites. It’s no game. It’s too real.

In every country where there is co-existence, there is war. Where there is a masjid next to a church and a synagogue, there is also war. The people of the masjid fight between themselves, the people of the church fight between themselves, the people of the synagogue too, not every Jewish community is like the other. Therefore, where there are angels there are also people who want war. Never be naive about this.

I am at this Masjid you see in the photo back in Anjar, an area near Baalbeck, about an hour drive from Beirut. Baalbeck is a renowned shiite neighborhood in Lebanon. What I notice, instantly, is the soldier rhetoric. This region highlights the warrior/martyr/soldier spirit of Islam by commemorating it everywhere with huge billboards of soldiers born in this area and who died in resistance fighting. The color black is prominent.

As you see in the photo, the masjids look different than most of the ones in Beirut such as the Muhammad Al Amin masjid where I pray taraweeh during Ramadan. What is highlighted in Baalbeck’s masjids is ornamentation and decoration such as Arabic calligraphy on the walls. Other than Qur’anic verses, these writings are about martyrs. Or, about Hassan and Husseyn who are the relatives of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).

In Ramadan, the shiite neighborhood breaks its fast after the ‘sunni’ neighborhoods by around 15 minutes at Maghreb.

In Ramadan the world turns in different rhythms depending on where you are in the world. And what's around you. And you are the product of your environment ...

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Counting Blessings in Ramadan

In a strange chain of events I was reminded of a photo and then I stopped. To reflect.

I have traveled to Hawaii, Honolulu and to Lebanon in a period no longer than a year apart. Of the many bounties I have been offered throughout this year, this photo reminds me of a particular one.

When I was standing at Hanauma beach in Honolulu not too far from Waikiki, I remember clearly thinking, or even expressing to my sister who was with me for this week-long conference escapade, “no fair, I want to be in that water! I was raised on an island, in sea and ocean so every ounce of life in me wants to be in that water, like diving back body and soul into my childhood sensations under the sun immersed in the deep blue. No fair (pout)”.

About a year later, I’m in Lebanon. Not only do I swim in women-only beaches and take my liberty in every shape and form, but the sea I’m in is not just any sea. It’s the Mediterranean sea. It’s the one I grew up in.

Can we ever count the blessings of the Most Beautiful Allah? …

Reflect. When did you wish for something and He gave it to you? It's there. Just make the connection, then praise Allah with me ....



Saturday, August 29, 2009

Ramadan Sweetness

Sahteyn! :-) in Lebanese, which loosely translates into "enjoy!" I took this picture when I went to the sweet store I go to, called "Rif'at Al-Hallab". In Ramadan, this store's line up is to the door, subhanAllah.

My favorite dessert there is called "knafeh bil gibneh". Translation? ummmm... many calories? :)

PS: I prayed at Masjid Al Amin today too (alhamdullilah) ... with my rhinestone Abayah. Come on, I did say that one of my intentions for ramadan is to find a good masjid, and stay there. Keepin' my word ;)

My next blog entry, inshAllah, will be a video post showing one of the refugee camps I'm looking into.

Sweet salams,


Friday, August 28, 2009

When Wealth and Spiritual Experience Mix

As intended, I went to Masjid Al Amin and let me tell you about it before I … zzzzzzz go to sleep ;)

Is it wrong, people, to pray in a five star masjid?

I’m in the cab entering downtown from the bridge. We can hear the Qur’an being read on the speakers from the center of downtown where the Masjid is. Imagine that.

I’m out of the cab. I walk towards the masjid to the ladies entrance. At the door, a guard greets you and tells you, “this way, ma’am”.

As we go inside, you see a row of abayahs (as mentioned earlier), good quality, mind you, and a pair of hijab to go with it. There are about 30 or 40 of those lined up along with a drawer full of regular prayer outfits (the white ones) just in case more is needed.

On your right hand side is dark brown oak shelf for shoes. On your left, same thing.

I put on a black abayah – I choose a cute one with beads and rhinestone on the sleeves (so fly), I leave my slippers on the fine brown oak shoe-shelf and I head towards the elevator. Next to the elevator are two bathrooms and a wudhu (ablution) room.

Once upstairs, I step out of the elevator and I’m ushered by a woman who has a tag to show that she’s employed or volunteers there. She tells us, “this way, sisters”. We walk, fine queens that we are, and we enter the praying room. I mean hall. I mean gala. I mean soccer field that pretends to be a praying space. You dig? It. Was. Huuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuge.

If you look up, you see a chandelier that must have belonged to the Queen of England in prior days. Up ahead, at the very front of the praying space, is a flat screen TV, a gigantic one, to project the men’s praying area and the imam.

On your left hand side, over there, yes, is a floor-to-ceiling book shelf that has a gazillion Qur’ans, with their “book-stand”, you know, those wooden ones.

I stand, in my brand new rhinestone abayah, with my hand-picked Qur’an from the big brown book shelf, and I pray two ruk’as in respect for the masjid. I bow for sujood. What is that? That scent? Dalias? Gardenias? Flowers from the heavens? Whatever carpet deodorizer they used, it was so good I didn’t want to get up from sujood! Maybe crawl in a fetal position and take a nap. Better than the gym socks aroma elsewhere, you dig?

In this place, all I needed was a throne, a couple of diamond rings to go with my rhinestone abayah, a few good men to fan me with peacock feathers, and I’m rollin! :-) heheheh lol!!

No, seriously. Where were we? Oh, sujood. Yes, I’m done the two ruk’as. We now pray Isha. The reciter/imam, subhanAllah, has the most beautiful way of reading I’ve ever heard. So serene. So engaging. MashaAllah.

Now in my normal days, when in Canada, I like to pick up the Qur’an and read along with the reciter during taraweeh. It has many benefits, such as it keeps me focused, it improves my memory of the verses, and also, I improve my Arabic. After three ramadans, there was a notable improvement in my Arabic reading as well as comprehension of the classical Arabic language (fus-ha) that is used in the Qur’an.

I do the same at this masjid and the experience was glorious, especially since the reader/imam is so good at what he does.

At one time, after one taraweeh prayer was over, I decide to look behind me. I was standing in the second row. Notice that each row holds about 60 women. I didn’t think there was more than a row behind me. When I look back, the rows went as far as the exit door. In this soccer field praying room! There were hundreds of women in there. SubhanAllah. They must have all liked the abayahs (wink).

No, seriously, the imam prays 20 rak’as (prostrations) each night at the Taj Mahal. I mean masjid. He also prays salat al-witr, the closing prayer. People come and go depending on their own time convenience.

I’m done. I go to the elevator. I get to the bottom floor. I take off my abayah with the rhinestones. I hang it back up on the wall. I go to the brown oak shoe shelf. I take my slippers. I exit the door and the guard says, “assalamu alaikum sister, have a good night”.

I’m out into the real world. Sigh.

You bet I’m praying there again. And again. And again. Like?

In contrast to the masjid next to my house. It’s an ordinary masjid, no rhinestone abayahs, but see, the reader, astaghfirullah, he reads real quick. And he’s not reading the Qur’an from beginning to end so he can finish it at the end of Ramadan. He just picks random surahs, in no particular order. Like? I want to finish the Qur’an by the end of Ramadan. Just because it’s not a “five star” masjid, it doesn’t mean that it offers a more spiritual experience.

I think I can truthfully say that in this case, class/wealth/style/posh and spirituality do mix. And I’m witness to it. So is my rhinestone abayah :-)