Monthly Archives: July 2008

Morality and Black Americans, Morality and Black West Indians

A couple days ago I stumbled upon a television program which featured Black women discussing the latest styles and trends in fashion. Eventually the subject lead to the show’s host mentioning  trends like pole dance training (which is basically stripper training in a ‘fun’, ‘clean’ environment) and experimental sex (as in, ‘I kissed a girl and I liked it.’) Everyone on the show- including the host- made it seem perfectly okay for young women to engage in these activities. It’s the new and hottest trend going around so why not join in the fun? I had to ask myself, Am I a prude? Am I becoming uptight? Or is the world moving in an increasingly “anything goes” kind of direction? (I am thinking the latter).

It seems to me that the world is in moral peril. People nowadays are acting solely and completely off of their nafs (their base desires.) It doesn’t seem to matter if their behavior will negatively impact others in the long run. In fact, it seems as if people don’t even care about themselves. Human life no longer has any value. People kill one another over a step on a sneaker or even a glance. Women are disrespected left and right; trafficked, molested, prostituted and discarded like trash. People cuss out their parents and physically assault them. Babies and pregnant women are killed without a thought. My husband called me the other day to tell me about a man in Cincinnati who was arrested for having sex with the CORPSE of his 19-year old victim! 

Since I am a Black woman who is both Black American and West Indian, I have to say that I am all the more concerned about moral decline and how it is affecting both of my communities. I am also concerned about the way in which issues of morality impact Black Americans (BAs) and Black West Indians (BWIs) when they convert to Islam and enter the Muslim community. (And just so we’re clear, I am not suggesting that other groups in the Non-Muslim or Muslim community do not have issues when it comes to morality or that BAM or BWI converts are to blame for the moral decline in the Muslim community). I have to say that one of the areas I’m most concerned about when it comes to morality is marriage and relationships. We’re in trouble people and I hope I am not the only one who sees it! I am appalled by some the activities I see taking place in the BA and BWI community that have been completely normalized. Those activities include:  

1. Having multiple sexual partners (in many cases not using protection.)

2. Rampant infidelity (again, not using protection.)

3. Men fathering children and walking away without a care in the world.

4. Women having baby after baby with different men (none of whom are responsible or interested in marriage or creating a family unit.)

5. The increasing amount of young women and girls engaging in prostitution (this includes the ‘you-got-to-pay-to-play’ mentality.)

6. The normalization of stripping/exotic dancing (which in many cases leads to prostitution.)

7. The complete lack of shyness when it comes to dress or behavior. (Yesterday I actually saw a young girl- no older than 12 or 13- walking down a very busy Twin Cities street in nothing but a pair of ‘Daisy Dukes’ and a bikini top. Sadly, grown men were leaning out their cars and honking at her).

8. The increasing amount of people electing to “shack” or live together. (I actually remember when it was considered a bad thing)!

I could go on but I will stop here.

I have to tell you my concern continues to grow when I see people who were once okay with the aforementioned becoming Muslims and doing nothing to alter their mentality. Instead they find ways to legitimize their behaviors using the Quran and Sunnah.  If you think hard enough I am sure you know exactly what I am talking about. Think about all of the “halal cheating” that goes on under the guise of “looking for a second wife.” (If you’re sneaking to call another woman while your wife’s at work and carrying on relationship with another woman without your wife knowing about it then I dare say you are cheating! Don’t give me this crap about ‘I don’t have to tell her.’ Rubbish!) Some brothers are continuing to leave their babies behind as they righteously stand on the minbar or sit in lectures at the masjid looking pious in their brand new Thobe.  Some sisters, though they wear niqab, have been married and divorced from so many brothers, so many times that the niqab really serves no purpose since so many brothers have seen them anyway. (I dare call out the Salafi community on this one. Hpmh.)

I am not sitting on a moral high horse here. We all have issues and we all have things to work on. (As much as I could rail against immorality I sure forget about it when it comes to Caribbean carnival or some of the dancehall I so love!) I’m just concerned about the direction my people (non-Muslim and Muslim alike) are moving in. I am concerned about HIV/AIDS, broken families, fatherless and motherless children, drugs, senseless murders and so on and how they are affecting the BA and BWI community. And I am even more concerned about the fact that people seem comfortable in their immorality.

Of course, I cannot leave this post without at least offering some kind of solution. I am very tempted to place blame and leave it at that. I want to blame the parents, blame society, and I certainly  want to blame the Black Church and “the Black Masjid” for failing to reach out to the average, young BA or BWI when it comes to teaching morality and discipline. But that does not offer any kind of solution, does it?  To tell you the truth, I don’t think there is just one. Or even a one-size-fits-all solution.  There are many solutions.

I’m calling for a paradigm shift. A shift in mentality. A reinstitution of moral standards.  I think that religion can be an effective tool in creating said standards. (In fact, I believe that part of the reason we are in this mess is because we have left the religious values in their respective texts and respective places of worship). However, the religious values have to be taught in a practical and digestible manner. How else will people implement them into their lives? People need to be able to see how the values and morality that religion teaches can change their lives for the better.  We also need some education. As BAs and BWIs we have need to understand how racism, colonialism, inferiority complexes, and self-destructive behaviors go hand-in-hand with how many of us are living our lives and with how we see ourselves and the world around us.

When it comes to young people, I am inclined to speak about mentorship but I have to agree with Sister Seeking (who commented on Abdur Rahman’s Blog) when she said:

“Many BA’s who are educated professionals believe the solution lies in mentorship: it never will. The solution is “discipleship” or “stewardship”. I have seen up close and person how many of these “big brothers” and “big sisters” are not only insincere but hypocritical. Young people are people: they understand the conflicting, and competing messages. When I see BA’s who tell a young person to practice abstinence, and turn around and go swinging at a night club it makes me want to cry.”

EXACTLY! Be the change you wish to see in the world…or at least exert as much effort as possible towards that goal. That’s what I’m trying to do…Anyway, mi done talk.

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The little quirks that make me…well…me!

So, I was thinking about myself the other day (another quirk, lol) and I realize I have a lot of little weird habits. There are also little things that unnerve me for no particular reason. Usually these are things that matter only to me- no one else cares about them. So here goes. You can call this my confession. I like to call it self-acceptance or self-awareness…

-If I eat a candy that has colors (like the ‘Tropical Typhoon’ Mike & Ikes I so love) I have to eat the pinks with the pinks and the oranges with oranges and so on.

-I sometimes put my hair in my mouth when I’m bored.

-I’m obsessed with planning. I even plan the music I’ll listen to when I’m in the car on the way to my destination.

-Some mornings I fight the urge to take a pair of scissors and wack off my hair until there’s nothing left. I wonder what it’d be like to have a clean-shaven head or only a couple inches of hair. (But then again, what will I do when I’m bored?)

-I cannot sleep unless the closet door is closed. There have been nights when I’ve finally gotten comfortably nestled in my bed only to discover that the closet door is open. UGH!

-I feel itchy as soon as I enter a thrift store. I’ve tried to look for clothing there (some of my friends have found some nice stuff) but I can’t seem to get over my “Jamaican psychological issues” when it comes to wearing someone else’s clothing. Hot gyal nuh borrow clothes…or something like that.

-I like to study people. I can tell a lot about a person if I’m able to observe them; watch their body language, facial expressions, mannerisms etc. Unfortunately, this particular “gift” has made it extremely difficult for me to lower my gaze because I unconsciously go into observation mode. Sometimes people (men!) have mistaken my gaze for interest. (I am now learning to be more careful).

-I am the only one of my friends who is on time- ALWAYS. That may not be a quirk but it sure feels like one.

-I’ve already told you about my lotion obsession. But in case you forgot- I love lotion!!! I usually have two or three in my purse, dozens at home, and two or three in my office or on my desk. I hate the feeling of dry hands or feet.  I’m the same way about my lips. I have tons of lip balm; in my purse, in the car, next to the night stand and one on my desk or in my office.

What are your quirks? (C’mon, out with them!)

My Dedication to Hijabis

‘Cause it’s rough out here and sometimes you need a little inspiration. BTW, that’s me at 1:30 for the curious ones. 🙂

Weird dreams…again!

 The weird dreams keep on coming. Last night I dreamt I was a hair stylist at a Black salon. Some of my co-workers who were Christian would, at times, start singing Gospel music because they believed I was like the anti-Christ or something and I was confronting them about their behavior. Anyway, I had the supereme talent of taking any client and determining the right hair cut or style for their face.  Apparently, I surprised people because they didn’t think a hijabed up Muslim chick could “do some hair.” 

Here’s the joke: I can’t even do my own hair. I pay Lilian good money to take care of mine. So why am I having this dream?

I could never be Muslim because…

“I can’t give up eating pork”

“I could never wear ‘that thing’ on my head”

“I couldn’t imagine fasting for the month of Ramadan”

“I like to go clubbing”

“Carnival is my life”

“I don’t think I could pray 5 times a day”

“I love women too much”

“I have to drink a glass of wine every now and then”

etc. etc. How many times has someone uttered the aforementioned phrases to me? And how many times have I thought to yourself, Is this person really serious? Believe me, I’ve heard a thousand and one reasons why family members and friends “could never be Muslim.” None of them have been about the actual belief system in Islam- for instance Tawhid (the oneness of God) or disbelieving that the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) is the last and final messenger sent to human beings. Instead, people, without my insistence or urgency, list off a bunch of real (or imagined) Islamic practices that do not gel well with their current lifestyle.

The way I see it, when you combine faith and dedication, you can give up or do anything (even the things you previously said you could not do or give up.) I cannot imagine standing before Allah on judgment day and saying, “Well, I couldn’t at least make the effort to submit to you because I enjoy carnival too much.” I realize that trying to be a religious person, a person who lives a God-centered life, means that I will have to give up some of the things I used to love. I realize that I will have to make small changes in my life or even drastic ones. After all, how is there growth or improvement if my lifestyle and my behavior stays exactly the same as it did before I committed myself to God?  One of the things I’ve had to accept is that I won’t be able to partake in everything that goes on in the world. And thank God for that! 

However, that is not to say that a person will not have struggles. I have been Muslim, alhamdulillah, for 16 years and I still have things I struggle with. I think that is the nature of a faith. In some matters we will struggle and then succeed. In others matters we will find ourselves succeeding one moment and then right back where we started. As frustrating as it is, I believe that Allah recognizes the effort and judges us by the intention to improve and not just by the success itself.

The other issue I have is when non-religious people say to me, “well, you’re practicing your religion, you’re serving God but you still have problems like me.” Before my faith had matured to where it is now, I, too, believed that a person who committed themselves to God 100% would suddenly be carefree. They wouldn’t struggle in life (financially or otherwise). They would always be happy and their devotion to God would be rewarded by a lifestyle of ease. Now I know better. Now I know that there are tests and trials that we go through which (hopefully) teach us lessons, help us to grow and bring us closer to Allah. I think the difference between me before and me now is that I know I am never alone. I know that I can always turn to Allah no matter the circumstance. I know that Allah does not give me more than I can handle. Furthermore, my faith prevents me from feeling hopelessness and despair. There are boundaries which I do not cross. However, there are people (I cannot count myself as one) who live in a constant or frequent state of contentment. Yes, there may be problems or struggles in their lives but they are not devastated by them. They just take them in stride.  Faith can do that for you. (May Allah help me to reach that level. Ameen).

Though hijab was not as much of a struggle for me as it is for some women, I’m going to be honest with you and say that I NEVER thought I could give up clubbing. As I mentioned way back, in some respects clubbing was my deen, my way of life. Thursday through Sunday found me in the dancehall, at Soca night, going to stage shows and to see live Reggae bands. Not only was it a part of my lifestyle but I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that “clubbing” is a part of Caribbean culture. It’s what many people do for enjoyment. And trust me, I loved nothing more than putting on the latest clothing and going with my girls to “wine it” or “wuk it up.” So it was very surprising to others and even to myself  that I could give all of that up for the sake of Allah. But alhmadulillahI did!  Do I miss it sometimes? Yes!!! Have I completely, 100%, cut myself off from all things related to Reggae, Soca and Dancehall? NO. The progress is evident however…

As Muslims, interacting with non-Muslims, I think we sometimes share in the blame for people feeling like they couldn’t be Muslim because of certain practices or rituals. How so you ask? Let me give you an example. My sister’s boyfriend attended a class at a local masjid in order to learn about Islam. (This was prior to meeting me, btw). The brother who was teaching the class told him that he had to pray in Arabic because that was the only way that Allah could hear him. (Sigh). Naturally, my sister’s boyfriend was turned off because the idea that God, the master of the universe, the all-knowing, could only hear a specific language sounded preposterous. Secondly, could you imagine being told you had to learn Arabic (which to many people who are not familiar with it- including myself at one point- looks like a bunch of manic scribblings) off the bat? I can clearly remember feeling intimidated by the Arabic language as a new Muslim. (And I still don’t know any Arabic apart from what I say in the fard salaat and a few Islamic phrases and terms).

The point here (and I hope you’re getting it) is that it’s important for Muslims to start with people where they are. Don’t overwhelm them with talk of hijab, celibacy, learning Arabic, fasting from sunrise to sunset  etc.  Can we discuss the basics, the foundation of the Islamic belief system? There is a reason why the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) spent the early part of his prophecy laying the foundations of tawhid instead of going around and telling the people of that time “put this hijab on”, “hey you, put down that liquor”,  and “stop chasing women.” We can do better…

In the end, I suppose the question people must pose to themselves is this: Which do I love more, God or my own desires? And if the answer is God then it’s time to embark on a journey of exploration and self-reflection. God willing, the questioning will lead you to the appropriate place.

Coming up for Air

I must take the time to thank the two readers who suggested I check out this book. THANK YOU SO MUCH! Mashallah, I am really enjoying it. (I’m forcing myself to read it slowly and to reflect on the message Amartya Sen is conveying to his readers). It’s exactly what I need to hear right now.

More random thoughts

-So, if you haven’t heard already, Black women and Asian men are the least likely to get married. I could cite the reasons why but I am sure you can come up with your own. Anyhow, my mom, my aunt, my sister and I were discussing this and how unlikely it is that the two groups would get together. (We were thinking about the cultural differences, the fact that Black women, generally speaking of course, don’t marry outside etc.) My sister, the youngest of the group, was hopeful. Fast forward. Last Friday my sister and I were in the mall and she pulled me into Forever 21. (Sidebar: I must be getting old because I hated every single minute of being in that store. Between the thumping music, flashing lights and the sensory overload from trying to look at the clothing which was crammed into every nook and cranny of the store, I was starting to get a headache. I really felt like I was being tortured.) Guess what I saw? A Black woman with an Asian man and their two kids! Of course I had to find my sister and show her. We really wanted to go up to her and say, “That’s right, do your thing girl!” But we knew we’d look crazy…lol (P.S. In Jamaica it is not uncommon for Chinese-descent Jamaicans to intermarry with Black Jamaicans. I have a couple of friends who are half Chinese).

-Speaking of Black men. I was having a mini-debate with my mom about Blair Underwood. I was telling her that he “looks very good for his age.” My mom was trying to say that he’s not that old. She swore up and down he’s younger than Denzel Washington. I disagreed. I remember Blair Underwood being on “L.A. Law” when I was kid and he was an adult! My mom finally relented when she recalled other shows and movies he’s been in along with the corresponding year. We could’ve just looked his age up on the internet…

Case in point:

– Has anyone else heard of Cynthia McKinney and Rosa Clemente? They’re running for president and vice president on the Green Party ticket. By now you know I’m not too hot for politics but I actually liked some of the things Cynthia McKinney had to say (especially about Barack Obama.) I’m tired of people telling me I’m “wasting my vote” by voting for a Green Party candidate. I’ve also had people tell me that “people like me” are responsible for the likes of George Bush winning. They say Green Party candidates are taking votes away from the Democratic candidate. Like I said, I’m not too hot for politics but I have eyes and I can see that the Democrats take the Black vote for granted…

– I have a summer cold. BLAH!

-It’s official: I have the weirdest dreams on the planet. I dream that I’m all kinds of people, speaking all kinds of languages. Last night I dreamt that I was Chinese. In my dream I was speaking Chinese…and I worked in a Chinese restaurant. WTH? The only logical explanation I can come up with is that I was reading this month’s copy of Saudi Aramco World magazine which features Chinese Muslims.

-Speaking of which, the magazine has some nice pictures of the “women’s masjid” in Lanzhou. I started daydreaming about a women-only masjid. I was thinking about how clean it would be, how nice it would be to sit in the front of the room for once or to just be comfortable there knowing it was all women. Then I was dreaming about all of the classes we could have, programs and even what iftar would be like. I was thinking about the number of sisters who would flourish in that type of environment. However, my little reverie was cut short by reality. Would any Muslim (including Muslim women) in America support a women-only masjid? As awful as some of the brothers treat us in the masjid I am sure they will be hooping and hollering about “bidah” if women went off and started our own thing. I wouldn’t be surprised if the women-only masjid received threats and condemnation from local imams. But hey, look at this way, we wouldn’t be a “fitnah” for the men. You guys could luxuriate in your filthy bathrooms, funky carpets, front door entrances and never have to worry about a lock of hair or an ankle tempting you! (For the record, I don’t believe that a women-only masjid would contribute to the building of ummah).

-How irritated am I that the MANA Conference is taking place, insha’allah, during Thanksgiving weekend? Grrr! That’s the busiest travel time of the year!!! My friend looked for airplane tickets on-line and they were a whopping $600. I’m just wondering how likely it will be to find a hotel that won’t cost an arm and a leg. Last year we stayed at a hotel way out by the airport while the conference took place in downtown Philadelphia. It was very inconvenient to say the least. I’m not ashamed to admit that we took a wrong turn and almost ended up going to Atlantic City…ANYWAY, how many of you are planning to go, insha’allah?