Monthly Archives: February 2008

Takin’ a break to groove to a old school tune!

Cause sometimes you need a break!

Anti-Muslim Bias or Good Old Fashioned Racism?

Last night I watched ABC’s production of “What would you do?” The first portion of the show examined people’s reaction to “anti-Muslim bias.” Says ABC, “ABC’s production crew outfitted The Czech Stop, a bustling roadside bakery north of Waco, Texas, with hidden cameras and two actors. One played a female customer wearing a traditional Muslim head scarf, or hijab. The other acted as a sales clerk who refused to serve her and spouted common anti-Muslim and anti-Arab slurs.” The actor uttered some of the most offensive and racist comments a person could hear. Meanwhile, the cameras were waiting to gauge the reaction of customers who entering the bakery. Read about it here

.

In the end the reactions were mixed. Some people did nothing, some people agreed with the sales clerk and others defended the actress/Muslim woman. According to ABC more than half of the reactions were as follows:

“Even though people seemed to have strong opinions on either side, more than half of the bystanders did or said absolutely nothing.”

To be honest with you, I wasn’t surprised in the least. As a Muslim woman who has worn hijab in the South, the Midwest, on the West coast and in the Northeast, I’ve had a range of reactions to my presence. The most severe reaction took place while I was in line at a South Florida post office. Basically a woman who possessed a concealed weapon threatened me in front of at least ten people. No one rushed to my defense and no one called 9-1-1. In fact, no one said anything. Though I really wanted to cuss her out, I’m not a fool. The woman had a weapon on her! I elected to ignore her and quickly make my way to my car.

Anyhow, while I’m happy ABC chose to take up this topic something disturbed me during the entire time I watched it. I kept waiting for people to identify the discrimination the actress/Muslim woman faced and the apathetic responses to the discrimination as racist. It never happened. ABC chose to label the treatment as “anti-Muslim bias” or “Islamophobia.” (And don’t get me wrong here; plenty of Muslims label such behavior as ‘Islamophobic’). I personally think when we use terms like that we’re somehow softening (and taking the sting out of) very racist actions and words. We’re creating a distance between something people of color experience in their daily lives (racism) and replacing it with a term that describes discrimination against a specific group of people. Not only do terms like “anti-Muslim bias” or “Islamophobia” isolate Muslims from the larger anti-racism movements, they don’t prick at the moral consciousness of the average American in the way that terms like “racist”, “racism” or “bigot” do. (After all, it is no longer socially acceptable to be overtly racist).

ABC had a golden opportunity to address racism when they discussed how some people choose to define who is American and who is not.

“Jack Dovidio, a social psychologist at Yale University, said these men [racist men in several hidden camera scenes] seemed to define “American” based on the way people look. They connected with the sales clerk and considered our female actor an outsider. “When we as Americans feel threatened from the outside, we’re going to define ourselves in very rigid fashions,” Dovidio said. “Either you’re with me, and if you’re not really one of me, then you must be somebody else who’s against me.”

How about the fact that “Americanness” is often defined as “Whiteness?” And Whiteness is considered the norm. That is why some people are defining “American” based on “the way people look.” Historically people of color have not been included in the definition of American. We have existed outside that definition. At one point during the show, ABC journalist John (I can’t remember his last name) who is clearly a man of color, was told by one of the men who applauded the racist clerk/actor, that he is not American either.

As an African-American, I am all too familiar with racism. I know what it looks like, I know how it feels, and I know how to spot it in its smallest and simplest forms. The only thing I find surprising about the current climate of racism directed towards Muslims is how open people are about it and how socially acceptable it is. But then again, why should I be surprised? It only confirms what I have always known and what some people have been unwilling to accept or see- racism is alive and well in America…

But alhamdulillah, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. There were people who entered The Czech Stop who were viciously opposed to the mistreatment of ABC’s actress/Muslim woman. Some of them walked out, telling the clerk they would no longer patronize the bakery. Others stood there and argued on behalf of the actress/Muslim woman. I’m happy to know that there are people out there who will speak up when they see an injustice taking place. They gave me (the cynic) hope.

I’m curious to hear what some of you think. Are we doing a disservice to ourselves by labeling discrimination we face as Islamophobic rather than racist? Why or why not?

Yu See Me? (A poem/rant by me)

The Dream:
Some women are looking for love
For a fantasy
They seek to be swept away like a dream
Giddy with raw emotion
Drunk off the feelings of love
The thrill of it all
Passion to overtake them

Me:
What I want is something a little quieter
A little less dramatic
Less romantic (some say)
I just want some respect and a lot of understanding
I don’t want him to look at me with a blank, bored, disinterested gaze when I’m speaking to him
I don’t want to stumble over words
Fragmented sentences
Stuttering trying to get him to feel me
No man, none of that for the queen.
I don’t want him to look at the Caribbean novels I read
My obsession with Italian ice cram
Or
My love of exotic bath oils
And find me some strange specimen who slunk into his life one day
He’s got to feel me or the whole thing is off
He’s got a understand me
He’s gotta respect me
Or we’re not getting down

Possession:
Some women are looking for adoration
His eyes made only for them
His thoughts preoccupied with the twist of her waist
Or the curl of her lips
The beauty and glamour
The infatuation with her being

Me Again:
But I’m just sayin’
I’m thinking about the complicated thoughts I have sometimes
My frustration with the world
My 10,001 opinions on everything from elections to music
He’s gotta feel me on that one
Or it’s like
What’s this all for?
And what am I doing here?
And who is this man staring back at me?

Us:
I’m talking about you and I in the kitchen
Side by side
Preparing dinner
And talking about current events
Not so glamourous you may say
But that’s what makes my toes curl baby

Revelation:
I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m just different
Like wearing an abaya on Miami Beach
I’m just doing what feels right to me even if it’s not consistent with the norm
And I’m not afraid to ask for what I want
Even if it’s different from the fairytale I’ve been sold my entire life
And I’m not afraid to demand it
Or wait many years for it
Or suffer the pains trying to get it
In the end I’ll get what’s coming to me
This I know

©2008 JAMuslimah

10 Steps to Being a Better Husband

By Craig Playstead

Everyone worries too much about bills, getting the kids off to school, and why the dog keeps peeing on the carpet. It’s time to light that fire again and remind her of all the reasons why she married you to begin with. Here are 10 steps that will get you on your way to husband of the year.

1) Take an interest in something your wife is really passionate about.
This can be especially tough for guys, because we generally feel that if someone else has interests that differ from ours, they’re morons. It’s not an easy task, and being able to show interest in something that matters to someone you love shows growth—and that’s terrifying. Good, but terrifying. Accomplish this and you’ll make her feel better about herself, and you get better insight into what makes her tick

2) Put the kids to bed. Once a week give her the night off and put the kids to bed by yourself.
Let her take a hot bath, read a book, or check gossip on the Web and forget about the kids. I’m always amazed how happy this makes my wife. It ranks somewhere between low-end jewelry and a Hawaiian vacation.

3) Learn to apologize.
This is the easiest one, and the hardest one. A marriage is a marathon, and we all fly off the handle too quick or let our temper get the best of us sometimes. When you’re wrong, it’s best to step up and apologize. It’s amazing how fast “I’m sorry” can defuse a stupid argument about something you can’t even remember.

4) Thank her for putting up with you.
Every once in a while, just thank her for putting up with you. That’s all you have to say. Don’t launch into a list of your faults, or the story about coming home two days late from that Vegas bachelor party. Just thank her, and let her know that you understand that you’re not the easiest person in the world to live with.

5) Clean up after yourself.
Take care of that late night snack or morning cereal bowl. Setting them in the sink is one thing, but go that extra mile and actually put them in the dishwasher. After all, no one enjoys scraping bacon dip off a bowl that’s been sitting too long or smelling the chili from the night before. A beer bottle on the counter the next morning is even worse.

6) Make time for just the two of you.
Take her on a date once a month. Surprise her by arranging child care, ordering a pizza for the kids, and getting a sitter. She will be so thrilled at your ability to take care of the details that reservations at the best restaurant in town aren’t even necessary. The fact that you love her enough to do this would make a Big Mac taste like cracked crab.

7) Groom yourself.
Don’t embarrass her when you venture out of the house. Check the ears, nose, neck and yes, feet for hair or other growths that shouldn’t be there. She not only wants you to impress her friends by how you act, but also by how you look.

8) Get away from the family.
Yep, you’re getting a free pass. This takes a left turn from the others, but it’s essential. Get away from all your responsibilities and go camping or on a golf outing with the guys. You’ll laugh, relax, and recharge your batteries. And all three will make you a much better husband when you return.

9) Deal with your side of the family.
Help your wife set expectations with your side of the family when it comes to making plans. Don’t make her inform your parents that they won’t be seeing their grandkids on Christmas this year—pick up the phone and do it yourself. Dealing with extended family can be a huge stress throughout the year, and you don’t want the burden to fall entirely on her.

10) Don’t lose your dating manners.
Remember, she’s your wife, not one of your buddies. Don’t burp during dinner, or squeeze one out during the movie as she’s reaching for the popcorn. You wouldn’t have done that while you were dating, and you shouldn’t do it now. Continue to try and impress her. Do everything you can to keep the fire alive, and fight the urge to let the passion die. Find the new, hot place to eat or take her to see a cool band that’s in town. Have fun, laugh, and make sure you tell her how great she looks.

Craig Playstead is a freelance writer and father of three living in the suburbs of Seattle. In the past he’s also been a sports writer, a game writer and a talk show host. You can reach him at playstead@hotmail.com

10 Steps to Being a Better Wife

By Sharon O’Brien

Some guys might not realize this, but when most women get married they usually imagine cozy evenings by a fire, sharing their hopes and dreams with the men they love. Our Prince Charmings, however, sometimes turn into The Grinches Who Stole Romance, lying on the couch with a beer in one hand and a remote in the other. You may have noticed our displeasure about this on occasion.

However, in the interest of your willingness to cater to our needs (see “10 Ways to Be a Better Husband”), here’s a list for the women out there. Ladies, instead of trying to fix your flawed but lovable husband, why not start by looking in the mirror? These 10 steps will help you re-energize your marriage and renew your appreciation for the former Mr. Perfect.

1) Take care of yourself
Turns out that the best thing you can do for your husband is also good for you. Eat healthy foods, maintain good grooming, and exercise regularly. You’ll look and feel better, and you’ll continue to be the vibrant and attractive woman he fell in love with, no matter your age.

2) Say thank you, often
When researchers ask men what they want from their wives, appreciation always makes the list. Everyone likes to be appreciated, so remember to notice the things your husband does—for you, for the kids, for the house—and thank him. You’ll put a smile on his face and a little joy in his heart.

3) Keep the romance alive
When was the last time you planned a romantic interlude with your husband? If you can’t remember, you’re way overdue. Be affectionate, write love notes, give him a backrub, plan a date, and initiate sexual play. Remind him that you still find him attractive.

4) Let him have “guy time”
Everyone needs time for themselves—to relax, enjoy a hobby, or socialize with friends. If your husband loves football and you don’t, don’t bug him about it. Encourage him to cultivate friendships with other men. He’ll enjoy the companionship. Studies show that people with friends tend to live longer, healthier lives.

5) Make your husband a priority
With the everyday stresses of work, home, and kids, it’s easy to take your husband for granted. Make time for the two of you to reconnect on a regular basis. Take an interest in his work and hobbies. Let him know he’s important to you.

6) Don’t try to change him
Are you outgoing, but your husband is shy? Do you like a clean house, but he leaves towels on the floor? Behavioral experts say you can’t change others, you can only change yourself and how you react—so look for ways other than nagging to handle these situations. Compromise on social activities by making them shorter, or go by yourself. Place a laundry basket in the bathroom. And when he attends a party or puts dirty towels in their proper place, thank him. Positive reinforcement beats nagging every time.

7) Don’t make him guess—tell him what you want
It’s easy to assume that the person who lives with you every day also knows you well enough to know what you want. Not true. Most of us view the world through our own needs and desires, so don’t be surprised if your husband thinks that what you want is what he would want. If you want something specific—advice, a hug, or a red sweater for your birthday—let him know.

8) Cultivate friends and interests outside your marriage
Once you’re married, it’s easy to shrink your social network to revolve around your husband. But no one person can meet all your needs, and it’s too much to expect your husband to be your partner, your lover, AND your best girlfriend. Make time for friendships outside your marriage. You’ll have more fun and bring new energy to your relationship.


9) Let free time be free
Just as you need time to relax and unwind, so does your husband. He may not define it the way you do, though; while your idea of relaxing after work may be talking over a glass of wine [Maybe not wine. How about tea, coffee, Kool-aid, Vimto or something else] he may enjoy being quiet for awhile, reading the newspaper, or watching TV. Find a compromise so both your needs are met. And give him time to recharge by not over-scheduling weekends with home projects and shopping.

10) Believe in your husband, and let him know it
Men can display a lot of bravado, but like us they sometimes struggle with low self-confidence and feelings of failure. And because men approach the world as competitors, they sometimes end up feeling like losers. When he comes home, your husband needs to know that the person he values most in the world believes in him—especially when he doesn’t believe in himself.

Sharon O’Brien is a licensed psychotherapist in Portland, Ore., who writes nationally about relationship and lifestyle issues.

Coming Back to Islam (My Story) Part 1

Once upon a time I had tight network of friends. We used to party together, travel together and wreak havoc on any club scene. There was Caribbean carnival, the dancehall, live reggae/dancehall shows, the envious stares of girls who weren’t part of our crew and of course, the male groupies who longed to get close to us. When you saw me, you saw at least one member of my crew. No, we didn’t always get along but we’d surely make up after a heated argument. We were having a blast and enjoying our college years.No one ever thought it would come to an end. Then one day something happened to a member of the crew. [Cue sound effects]I was growing tired of the partying. My conscience was nagging me. I was supposed to be on a temporary “break” from Islam. Yet, I was getting further and further way from it. I was supposed be sorting things out but my lifestyle left little room for contemplation or quiet reflection. I knew that I still wanted to be a Muslim. I wanted to live my life by the principles and guidelines Allah set for me. The question was how was I going to do that? My lifestyle up to that point had been one of carefree abandon. I answered only to myself. How could I go from “kickin’ it” to being an observant Muslim? And did being an observant Muslim mean a life of boredom? Would it mean a departure from my culture and identity?

One night my roommate and I were at a dancehall club. I was leaning against the wall observing my surroundings. Everyone appeared to be enjoying themselves. People were dancing, talking and having fun. However, I was not enjoying myself. My conscience was nagging me again. I started asking myself questions: Is this how you want to live your life? What if you were to die right here, in this space? How would you answer to Allah? And aren’t you tired of this scene? The more I stood there watching everyone have a good time the sicker I felt. I realized I couldn’t do it anymore. I needed to GET OUT. As my roommate and I made our way home, I told her I was tired of clubbing. I wanted to do something different, something else. “Like what?” she asked. I didn’t really know either.

I decided to cut back on partying. I began looking up masjids, resumed praying, and started studying Islam again. Fortunately for me, I found a masjid with “regular people” who were Muslim but they weren’t as strict in their interpretation of Islam as the people I had been around when I first came to Islam. I began to learn about the Salafi movement and its ideology. Up until that point I had no idea that the way I lived when I first took shahadah was part of an interpretation of Islam. I thought it was Islam. The more I studied the more I realized how possible it was to commit myself to being a Muslim again. I really could do it! The thought was exciting but scary.

After quietly going about my life for several months, I finally broke the news to my best friend and roommate at the time- I was done clubbing. I wasn’t going to carnival, stage show or other parties anymore. I told her I decided to buckle down and practice my religion. She was brokenhearted. For four years we had been inseparable. We moved from the Midwest down to South Florida to live our dream. We did everything together and now I was telling her I wanted out. I wanted to live a lifestyle that was foreign to her. (Though she didn’t say it, I think she also felt it was boring and restrictive). Instead of offering me words of encouragement she said, “You tried to that before and it didn’t work. Did you forget?” I just smiled and told her this time would be different. I could tell she didn’t believe me. She, along with my other friends thought I was crazy.

Not long after that, Allah started testing my commitment to practicing Islam. Though I had grown tired of clubbing, it had been the only thing I ever did for fun. I didn’t know what to do with myself in my spare time and to be honest I started missing it. Coupled with that, the gap between my friends and I was widening every day. We lived completely different lifestyles. I was going to Jumah on Friday afternoons, they were in mall looking for the perfect outfit to wear that evening. I was praying, they were partying. I was lonely, they were going on dates. While I was at home at night, bored out of my mind, they were partying and having fun. My roommate would be getting ready for a night on the town and I’d be surfing the internet. (I hadn’t found Muslim friends yet). She would try to tempt me by asking in a sing-song voice, “Are you sure you don’t want to go out with us?” I’d shake my head no before my resolve weakened.

New Year’s Eve found me at home by myself, bored once again and broke. I could hear celebrations taking place all around me. I never felt so alone in my life. Moments later the phone rang. It was a friend of mine calling to ask me if I was interested in going to a reggae show with him. (He had back stage passes and VIP entrance!) The show was going to feature some of the top artists. I sighed. This was almost unfair. I explained that I’d retired from clubbing and concerts. He suggested a get together some our friends were having at their home. Once again, before my boredom got the best of me, I declined and told him I had to go. I shook my head in disbelief.

After that I spent many lonely nights in front of the television or on the internet. I would be lying if I said I didn’t question my decision to practice Islam again. Rather than give in to the thoughts I was having I started making du’a, asking for Allah’s assistance. I wanted to practice Islam. I wanted to do the right thing. I didn’t see how I was going to make it through. I needed help. Fortunately, Allah answered my du’a not long after that. I was invited to become part of an Islamic studies group at the masjid and two days after that I was introduced to a sister who would become one of my best friends. I was becoming stronger in my practice of Islam. I had a support network through my class, Muslim friends who encouraged me, a healthy, balanced understanding of Islam and life was looking up.

But that’s not where the story ends…TO BE CONTINUED

 

Why are you boycotting ISNA?

Several people have emailed me privately to ask me why I’m boycotting the annual ISNA convention. Before I give you my reasons let me start off by saying the word “boycott” sounds a little strong. Yet when I think about my reasons for not attending anymore they’re beyond simply being “tired of it.” My reasons are pointed and purposeful. They’re both political and personal. Shall we begin?

Reason #1: Relevancy to my life

I’ve attended the ISNA convention three years in a row. Apart from one workshop about Africa or African-Americans, there was nothing else that spoke to my reality as a Black Muslim. Most of the workshops focused on American Muslim life from the perspective of immigrant Muslims or second generation immigrant Muslims- namely Desis. A central question that has run through each workshop and main lecture was “How do I develop an identity as an American and as a Muslim?” Another question was, “How do I navigate through the larger American society and culture?” As an African-American Muslim (and more pointedly as a ‘Jamerican Muslim’) I already know how to do those things. I don’t see any conflict between being Black and being a Muslim. And I certainly don’t have any questions about where I fit in American society. Furthermore, I am not seeking American (read: White, non-Muslim) approval or acceptance. Year after year it’s the same rhetoric and the same problems being discussed.

Reason #2: The Incident

I stepped into the conference room for the main lecture hoping to find a seat close to the front of the room. If I remember correctly, Hamza Yusuf, Zaid Shakir and a host of other well-known speakers were about to begin. I found a row with a bag resting on the aisle seat and a bag leaned against a chair about five seats down. I was delighted to see that no one had claimed the seats in the middle. I dropped my bags on the chair and went to the back of the room to get a drink of water. When I returned to my seat I saw a 30-something year old Pakistani woman rifling through my bags! I flew over to her just in time to hear her ask, “Whose bags are these?” I looked her squarely in the face and said “Mine.” I took my bag from her hands and sat down. I couldn’t believe what happened next. She approached me with her hand on her hip, a scowl on her face and yelled, “These seats are taken!” Though I was shocked by her tone (and the fact that she felt comfortable standing over me, scolding me like I was her child), I calmly looked her in the eye and said, “I don’t see anyone sitting here.” By that time a crowd was starting to gather. I told myself to stay calm because the last thing I wanted to do was cause a scene at an Islamic conference. The woman, still scowling with her hand on her hip said, “I put a bag over there [pointing to the aisle seat] and a bag over there [pointing to the bag five seats down] to mark the seats. I saved these for my family. They’re taken!” I could feel the anger rise from the bottom of my feet to the top of my head. I wanted to snatch her by her scrawny neck and mop the floor with her. I took a deep breath and looked at the people gathered around us. If I told this woman off, would they say I started it? If I refused to move would I be thrown out of the conference by security? Would I be “that Black woman” who caused a scene at ISNA? Furthermore, what would be the appropriate thing to do at this juncture? I decided it wasn’t worth it. I grabbed by bags and found a seat in the back of the room. The last thing I saw before I left was the woman’s triumphant smile…

Reason #3: The Rudeness:

Apart from the aforementioned incident, I was appalled by the number of people that would answer their cell phones, have conversations, or get up and walk around during the middle of a lecture. How rude! It happened in every single lecture I attended. At one point during the main lecture Imam Zaid actually asked people to turn off their cell phones and to show the speakers some respect. At times I had to strain to hear the lecture.

People would often bump into me without so much of an “excuse me.”

Before salah people would save places for their friends or family members who hadn’t arrived yet.

Then there was the whole shuttle situation. Oh boy! I, along with many other people, stayed at a hotel that was some miles away from the convention center. We had to rely on a shuttle to take us back and forth. (It was very inconvenient). When the last lecture of the evening concluded people would cut in line or push each other in order to get on the shuttle. One man actually tried to save four seats for his family members who were nowhere in sight, leaving the rest of us (including a pregnant sister) to stand. By then my patience had run low and I’d already been through “the incident.” I asked him, “Do you really expect everyone to stand while we wait for people who aren’t even here yet?” I sat down and refused to move. Eventually the pregnant sister sat down next to me. Just as we were about to take off the man’s wife and three kids came running up to the shuttle. I put on my headphones and looked out the window. I was not moving.

Reason #4: What about us?

Last year I watched as ISNA welcomed a Shi’a imam and talked about how we need to build an alliance between the Sunnis and Shi’as. Everyone was hopeful and cheering. I don’t have any problem with Shi’as. I haven’t had much contact with them and seldom think about them apart from the news headlines or the occasional non-Muslim who asks me the difference. The immigrant-African-American divide seemed far more significant to me than the Sunni-Shi’a division. As ISNA celebrated its representation of the Muslim community and the achievements of MYNA and the MSA, a question kept running through my mind, “What about the fact that the largest American Muslim movement to date, was holding a separate conference on the other side of town?” Why wasn’t anyone acknowledging that division? I didn’t need to be a Statistics major or an ISNA board member to notice that the African-American attendance to the annual convention was dwindling. (There were fewer African-Americans at last year’s convention than the year before and even fewer than the first time I attended).

As the excitement swirled around me I realized it was time for me to hang it up. Why was I wasting my time and money? Apart from the bazaar I wasn’t getting much out of it anyway. Maybe I was on the wrong side of town…