Monthly Archives: November 2008

My Wanderlust has Returned…

Dictionary.com defines wanderlust as a “very strong or irresistible impulse to travel.” I like to call myself an urban nomad. As I have mentioned before, I am constantly moving. I’ve actually moved every year since my freshman year of college. (Not always to a new city). So far I have only found a few places where I’d actually like to settle. Here are my top 5:

1) Ft. Lauderdale

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I love this place. The only reason I left South Florida is because my position at the organization I was working for was being eliminated. I searched endlessly for a comparable job but was unable to find one. I can admit that I complained bitterly about people staring at me in my hijab, how rude South Floridians can be, and how lacking the social justice scene was. Now, in all honesty, I can tell you that I have missed Ft. Lauderdale almost every single day that I’ve been away from it. Most importantly, I miss the Muslim community. I haven’t found one like it since I left.

2)Toronto

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Another city I love. I visited Toronto years ago but it left a lasting impression on my mind. I was supposed to be there for a week but I ended up staying for almost a month. What did I love about T.O.? The diversity, the pulse of the city, and how it had a New York feel without the aggressiveness (or the uncleanliness). Most importantly, I love that I could find Caribbean Muslims, Ethiopians (my adopted community, lol), city life, shopping(!), great universities, and progressive people all in one town.

3) Seattle

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When most people think of Seattle they think of rain and dreariness. I think of my best friend, clean air, the Pike Place Market, the best Gyros I’ve ever tasted in my life, Gelato, driving to Queen Ann for $5 cupcakes, and a bustling, busy city.  I’ve been out there to see my best friend a total of three times (on long, extended trips). There is a peace, a tranquility about Seattle that I find difficult to describe. I keep saying that I would love to live there yet I never made any effort to do so. (I might’ve applied for a job at one point). Will it ever happen? Allah knows best…

4) Miami

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I will always have an affection for Miami in my heart. Surprisingly, it’s where I came back to practicing Islam. Miami is where I essentially found myself again. Yes, I admit to loving Ft. Lauderdale (Broward County!) more but I’d live in Miami again if I could. Before I moved there people warned me about the crime. They made it sound like I’d be mugged or raped as soon as I set foot outside. Friends of mine insisted that I’d hate it because people are self-absorbed and all into their outward appearances. They said Miami is like LA (Los Angeles) which I absolutely hated for those reasons. However, it wasn’t like that at all. Yeah, there were people who embraced the glamorous life but I met plenty of people who were real, solid individuals.

5) Savanna-la-mar, Jamaica (Brap!)

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Patriotic Jamaicans & Jamericans alike might question why Sav is number five on the list. It’s cultural blasmphemy I know! I love Sav. It’s home. However, we all know about the economic, political and criminal problems facing Jamaica. I’ve spoken with plenty of Jamaicans living abroad who have decided against returning for those reasons. Secondly, I worry about what my life would be like as a hijabi in Sav. As you all know, I take issue with people staring at me and asking stupid questions. I may be wrong but I envision such things happening to me in Sav. (I’ve also talked to Muslim sisters about their experience wearing hijab and interacting in the larger society- most of it was disconcerting). I think I need to go and see for myself…who’s up for a trip?

Close runner up:

Chicago

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I’m really sorry it didn’t make this list but Chicago is definitely a place I’d live. I always say that Chicago is the only Midwestern city I could actually see myself settling in. Yeah, it’s cold and the crime is really out of hand but it’s also home. I still have plenty of family in Chicago from both my mom and dad’s side of the family. (That might be why it didn’t make the list- just kidding guys!) Aside from the fond childhood memories I have, I love Chicago because of the city life. The pizza, the stepping, and the night life are certainly pluses. As a Muslim there is no denying the history there. I still love you Chi-town! Big up Hyde Park!

Another one for my Soca lovers

This tune is FIYAH!

Gratitude

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As we all do sometimes,  I was inwardly complaining to myself about what I don’t have. I was going on and on comparing myself to other people then I caught myself. I realized I was being ungrateful for all of the things Allah has blessed me with. (Coincidentally, the kutbah today was about gratitude- just what I needed!) I reversed my inward complaints then started to think about what I DO have. I came up with a mental check list of things I should be grateful for even though I may- at times- feel like I should have more. This is by no means an exhaustive list but it’s a good start:

-I am in good health. All of my faculties work. I am not bed-ridden. I am not terminally ill. I am not battling a debilitating disease or recovering from a serious injury.

-I have a car…some people have to rely on others or take the bus everywhere. What’s more, I have a newer car. A nice car. (Maybe I’ll show my appreciation for it by washing it tomorrow, insha’allah).

-I have a place to live. I’m not homeless. Right now I’m living rent-free.

-I have food to eat. Good food to eat.

-I have clothing to wear. Lots of clothing. Nice clothing.

-I am literate. I can read at a high level. I can write.

-I have skills that I am getting paid for. I have a college degree. I understand and know how to play the corporate game.

-I have the courage to stand by my principles even when it’s unpopular to do so. I speak up no matter who’s doing the talking because Allah has blessed me to be courageous in the face of injustice.

-Alhamdulillah, I have a job. After months of unemployment. In this these hard economic times I was fortunate enough to have three job offers to choose from. I have extra money I can use for entertainment purposes.

-I have my family. Yes, they get on my nerves sometimes and I’m sure I get on theirs but I have them. (And my mom keeps finding more of them!)

-I have Islam. I am Muslim. Yes, it’s difficult sometimes but there is nothing else I’d rather be. I know what my purpose is in this world. I have guidance. I am not somewhere smoking weed, drinking, partying, committing zina, and self-destructing. Allah has blessed me with clarity and insight that many of the people I’m around do not have. That is such a blessing in this time of confusion.

-I have prayer. I have Allah. I know no matter what’s going on in my life I can turn to Allah and ask for his assistance. I have can ask for his guidance. For provision. I am fortunate enough to know when it comes to my relationship with Allah no one else exists in the world except me and him. I know my Lord can do that, can be that for me. It’s a courtesy he alone can extend to me. Allahu Akbar!

Thank you Allah for everything. I can never count  all of the blessings, the rewards. Save me from myself. Save me from others. Count me amongst those who are grateful to you. Ameen.

Shariah in Family Law?

 

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I was doing some thinking after reading this article. I was wondering if I’d utilize a family court system based on Shariah laws if the opportunity became available to me. After thinking about it for a while I came to a conclusion. This may not be the most politically correct thing to say as a Muslim but I’d have to say no. Why? Because I have concerns about whose version of Shariah I’d be adhering to. Would it be some old, out of touch “uncle” trying to force me to stay in a marriage even if I was unhappy? Would there be gender, racial, and economic biases in the ruling? Would the judge be able to relate to me, a Black woman, a convert, a college-educated working woman? Would they understand the challenges that I face? Would they think we’re are all Muslim therefore we interpret, view and comprehend things in the same manner?  More importantly, how would I feel if I did not want to be in a marriage any longer and a judge ruled that I did not have grounds for a divorce?

It’s not that I believe Shariah law is inherently unfair. My concern is more about interpretation. In order for me to feel comfortable I think a judge in Shariah law would need to have a serious commitment to justice accompanied by mercy and compassion. He’d need to evaluate his own cultural, personal, gender, socio-economic and other biases. I’m also be concerned about ijtihad. Would a judge believe that ijtihad is necessary (critical!) in the American context? Some of us have unique situations that do not fall into neat, definable categories. Some of us have situations that definitely fall into a grey area . Would this judge understand that? Would he evaluate conflicts on a case by case basis? 

These are some of my thoughts/questions/reservations…

These words are no longer a part of my vocabulary…

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These are locs not dreadlocks, thank you! (See #4)

Call me p.c. (politically correct) if you want to but there are certain words that I absolutely will not use any longer. (If I ever used them to begin with). Words have power. Words have meaning. As Imam Faheem Shuaibe said in one of his lectures (and I paraphrase of course), words plant the germ of an idea or concept. They’re reflective of a mentality. He argues that we should be very careful about the terms or sayings we adopt because we may be unwittingly adopting the mentality that accompanies the words as well. 

 So, what are those words or phrases?

1) “Pretty hair”, “good hair”, “pretty eyes”, and their equivalent. Like Bob Marley said, I want to emancipate myself from mental slavery. The aforementioned terms are reflective of a slave mentality. I need not launch into the history of how they came about. Just know that I do not believe they should be used when referring exclusively to straight or loosely curled hair or to uncharacterstically light eyes on a Brown Person. 

2) Terrorist. The reasons may be obvious here but I have a problem with this word on so many levels. The main one would be the way that the term has been applied to certain people and not others. Even when the others commit the same kind of acts as the people who are deemed to be terrorists…

3) Mulatto. I admit it. I used to use this term when I was younger but now I know better. Many people who are biracial take offense to it. I heard it was originally derived from the word “mule.” I don’t know but I stay away from it.

4) Dreadlocks. I once had a professor who said, “…cause there’s nothing dread about them!” Back in my ultra Pro-Black days I heard that the term came about when Europeans encountered Africans with locs. They thought locs were dreadful- hence the term dreadlocks. Even if that story is not true I don’t want to imply that  naturally textured African hair is dreadful in any way.

5) Fagot, batty bwoy, chi chi man, funny man, sodomite etc. Unfortunately, I am around quite a few people who continue to use those words even though they know how offensive it is to members of the gay community. The way I see it, if you are not concerned about how other people might feel at least you’d consider how upset you’d be if someone referred to you using a derogatory term. Sidebar: I was stunned when one of my Guyanese friends’ uncle came from Guyana and was referring to Black people as “Negroes.” I admit that I use the term when talking to other Black people from time to time but my neck nearly snapped off when I heard him using it. (He’s East Indian-descent).  

6) Titties. EWWWWWWWWWWWWWW. Is this a curse word? And how old are we anyway, 10? I am surprised by the number of grown people who still say the word when referring to breasts. Upgrade, please!

I can’t think of anymore words right now but if I do I will add to the list. What words are no longer a part of your vocabulary and why?

What’s your personality?

Have any of you ever taken the Myers-Briggs personality test? I’ve taken it several times for different reasons- school, work, and personal interests. The description of me is dead on. It’s almost creepy how well it defines my personality (even things I don’t want to admit.) If you’ve never taken it you can do so here.

No matter how many times I take the test I still keep seeing the same letters. I‘m a perpetual ISTJ. After retaking the test I am now an INTJ. It was hard for me to accept but I think I still embody some of the characteristics of an ISTJ. The difference that I’ve noticed (which has landed me in the INTJ category) is that I no longer hold fast to the conventional or traditional as much as I used to.

Here is what it says about me:

To outsiders, INTJs may appear to project an aura of “definiteness”, of self-confidence. This self-confidence, sometimes mistaken for simple arrogance by the less decisive, is actually of a very specific rather than a general nature; its source lies in the specialized knowledge systems that most INTJs start building at an early age. When it comes to their own areas of expertise — and INTJs can have several — they will be able to tell you almost immediately whether or not they can help you, and if so, how. INTJs know what they know, and perhaps still more importantly, they know what they don’t know.

INTJs are perfectionists, with a seemingly endless capacity for improving upon anything that takes their interest. What prevents them from becoming chronically bogged down in this pursuit of perfection is the pragmatism so characteristic of the type: INTJs apply (often ruthlessly) the criterion “Does it work?” to everything from their own research efforts to the prevailing social norms. This in turn produces an unusual independence of mind, freeing the INTJ from the constraints of authority, convention, or sentiment for its own sake.

INTJs are known as the “Systems Builders” of the types, perhaps in part because they possess the unusual trait combination of imagination and reliability. Whatever system an INTJ happens to be working on is for them the equivalent of a moral cause to an INFJ; both perfectionism and disregard for authority may come into play, as INTJs can be unsparing of both themselves and the others on the project…

For all my Soca Lovers Out There…

Randomness…

-Speaking of rage. If I’m not careful I’m going to turn into a Muslim version of Vanessa Williams’ character on “Ugly Betty.” Devious, the kind of woman you love to hate, fabulous but not a good way to be in the long run.
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Sometimes I wish I could be sweet more than just some of the time…*does a cat hiss loudly*

-Just in case it slipped past you. Read this article about the $50 billion of bailout money going to employee bonuses. Can I get a bail out on my student loans? What about the sub prime lending victims who are losing their homes? If this isn’t injustice I don’t know what is…the rich get richer and the poor become jobless and eventually homeless. Allah save me us. Ameen.

-At work we played this game where we all submitted a little known fact about ourselves and then tried to guess which fact matched the participants. I pronounce myself the official winner! I admitted to them (and now to you) that I was once a contestant on MTV’s Singled Out. I think someone’s going to revoke my Viva La Feminista pass…(Don’t you go looking for archives now)!

-I have one more week before my temp assignment ends. I’ve been here two and a half months but it feels like a year. I’ll miss it mostly because I’ve gotten used to the routine. At the same time, I’m excited to begin my new position, insha’allah. It’ll be quite a switch to move from a prestigious business school to Adult Corrections.

-I am trying to create a Hijabi B-girl look for my days off. It doesn’t seem difficult to do on a budget. We’ll see what I come up with…

-Is it just me or did Seal do a fabulous job with this Sam Cooke song. Wow!

The Mental Toll of Being a Muslim in a Post-9/11 World

“The world is a prison for the believers…”

The other day I was speaking with a co-worker of mine who is Black American. We were discussing the mental and emotional toll that racism takes on people of color. During the course of our conversation she asked me a question that has me doing some serious self-reflection. She wanted to know what coping strategies I had developed in order to deal with the discrimination and prejudice against Muslims in our post-9/11 world. More pointedly, she wanted to know if being a visible representative of Islam (wearing hijab every day) has taken a mental and emotional toll on me- especially since the bias and discrimination comes from people of various ethnicities.

When I ask myself how well I’m doing I’m forced to admit that I’m having some trouble. At times I’m angry, other times I’m sad, sometimes I’m frustrated. Generally, I’m okay. I have times when I don’t let things get to me no matter how hateful or ridiculous they are. Then there are times when I’m deeply troubled by how acceptable it has become to degrade Islam and Muslims. My co-worker said that I seem so calm when I talk about my daily experiences. I had to laugh at that one. When I think about it, one of the things I’ve noticed about myself is that my patience is wearing thin with people and their ignorance. There is a silent rage bubbling inside of me and I pray that Allah gives me a way to work through it before it comes out. The source of my rage, you ask? Years of experiencing the following:

  • Being told to “go back to my country.”
  • Being asked where I’m really from.
  • People assuming I’m oppressed, anti-American, and backwards.
  • Not having my own people recognize me as one of them- this includes Jamaicans, Black Americans and even family members. (A distant cousin of mine was visiting from Mississippi. When he came into the house he started hugging everyone in the family but gave me a simple hello. When I explained that I was his cousin he seemed confused. How could this ‘foreign-looking’ lady be his family member? In an attempt to lighten the mood another one of my cousins made a joke about camels…*sigh*)
  • Being complimented on how well I speak English on one hand but having people speak to me as if I am three years old on the other. (It just happened today!)
  • People suspecting me of being a terrorist.
  • People assuming that I am unintelligent and/or passive because I have a scarf on my head. I am still wondering how I can be passive and a terrorist at the same time. (I’m thinking of Azhar Usman’s joke about simultaneously embodying the characteristics of Osama bin Laden and Gandhi- names he has been called by ignorant individuals).
  • The stark contrast between the ways that people receive me in the professional circles I move in; the reactions ranging from fear to hate to curiosity to discomfort to disregard to simply being okay with my presence. The crazy-making part about it is that I never know which one it will be or who will have what reaction to me.
  • The negative portrayal of Muslims in the media in general and Muslim women in particular.
  • Being asked some of the most ridiculous, asinine questions I’ve ever heard in my life.
  • People automatically assuming I’m a Somali refugee (with the entire range of positive and negative behaviors that accompany their assumptions.)

And the list goes on. I told my co-worker that I feel like one more incident could push me over the edge. I think I will snap on somebody. (May Allah save me). I came really close to snapping not long ago. I was walking down the street, minding my own business, marveling at the beautiful weather we were having when this guy rode up next to me on his bike and yelled, “Go back to your country!” Before I could stop myself, I was screaming at the top of my lungs, “This is my countrrrrry!”

The rage I feel is not unfamiliar though. Being a Black person in America, it was always there. As Dr. Joyce Leary so eloquently explains in her book Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome (and I paraphrase of course), many African-Americans have rage that is simmering just beneath the surface of our consciousness. This rage is a result of the experiencing the effects of racism, injustice and discrimination on a regular basis. As a Muslim living in a post-9/11 world, I feel as if my rage has been compounded. I have NEVER, IN ALL OF MY LIFE experienced such overt racism as I have since those towers fell on that tragic day in September 2001.

Aside from the discrimination I face outside of the Muslim community, as you well know by now, there are problems within the Muslim community. We have our share of internal division based on race, nationality, class, gender, religious interpretation, educational level and so. But that is not all. Like many Muslims, I suffer from a social schizophrenia of sorts. I live in two very different worlds. There is the world outside of the masjid (where pretty much anything goes) and the world within it (where there is strict a code of conduct and religious parameters.) Ideally, we should behave the same way in the outside world as we do in the masjid. The reality- if we’re honest with ourselves anyway- is that many of us do not. Some of us are still trying to strike a balance between the masjid and the larger world. (I refuse to cut myself off from the world but don’t want to become completely absorbed in it either). I want to be a person of the “middle way.” In the end what I find is that I come across as liberal in comparison to many of the Muslims in my local community but ultra-conservative to the non-Muslims I interact with. It’s enough to drive someone crazy! I start to wonder where my psychological home is.

So how am I doing? I’m coping. I’m trying to remain positive. I ask for Allah’s help and his guidance. I try to think about all of the rewards Allah will give me for persevering during these trying times. (I’m seriously considering finding a therapist or life coach to help me gain some focus). But I’m human too. Sometimes I really want to cuss someone out. I want to scream. I want release my rage. Bear it to the world. Fortunately, (for me and for the world) I blog…

One World:

The Other one (is music that contains profanity- remember the rage):

Is your Vicki’s Bra Making you Sick?

Lawsuit Claims Bras Caused Rashes, Scarring

By ANDREA CANNING, JEN PEREIRA, MARIECAR FRIAS and IMAEYEN IBANGA

Nov. 11, 2008 —

The secret is out for one of the world’s most recognizable lingerie brands, according to a potential class action lawsuit in which consumers claim they’ve experienced very uncomfortable symptoms, like rashes, hives and permanent scarring from Victoria’s Secret bras.

“I had the welts … very red, hot to the touch, extremely inflamed, blistery. It itched profusely,” said Roberta Ritter, who describes herself as a longtime Victoria’s Secret shopper. “I couldn’t sleep, waking up itching.

“I was just utterly sick,” she added.

Ritter, 37, filed a lawsuit against the company May 14 in relation to the Angels Secret Embrace and Very Sexy Extreme Me Push-Up bras she said she purchased.

But the Ohio resident isn’t alone in her complaint. Her lawyers said dozens of other women have contacted them with similar claims involving a number of the intimate brand’s collections. Many seek to be a part of the potential class action lawsuit.

“I was floored. I thought, ‘I have to come out with this. The can of worms has to be opened because it’s not just me, it’s other people as well,'” Ritter said.

The medical Web site medhelp.org also features numerous complaints against the underwear company.

“I, too, had an awful itchy, red splotchy rash from the Secret Embrace bras,” one poster complained.

Victoria’s Secret’s Response

A Victoria’s Secret spokesperson admitted the company had received direct complaints from customers, but added the bras remain on store shelves.

The company said it is investigating complaints and released a statement that said, “We are sorry that a small number of people have had an issue and we want to help them determine the cause.

“Customer safety and satisfaction are always our primary concerns and we take seriously any issues our customers may have with our products,” the statement continued.

Moving Forward

The firm representing Ritter has done some investigating of its own. The firm said it purchased the same bra types named in the suit from Victoria’s Secret and sent them to a lab. It said the bras tested positive for the chemical formaldehyde.

But, Victoria’s Secret denied the accusation.

“We have strict quality controls around our products, and we do not use formaldehyde in our bras,” the company said in a statement.

But Ritter’s attorney said somehow the chemical is making its way into the bras.

“It may not be something that they’re specifying to put in their bra, but somehow it’s making its way into the manufacturing process because it was certainly present,” said attorney Dawn Chmielewski of Climaco, Lefkowitz, Peca, Wilcox & Garofoli Co., L.P.A.

And though Ritter’s bra has not been tested, she said her doctor diagnosed her with an allergic reaction that could have been caused by formaldehyde.

“It’s not something you think about every day when you grab your underclothes, when you put them on, but it’s woken me up, and I just hope to wake people up to the reality that it can happen,” she said.

The class action paperwork already has been filed, but a judge won’t decide until May if enough evidence exists to move the case forward. Dozens of women are seeking compensation for medical bills and suffering as part of the claim.

This isn’t the first time a consumer has sued Victoria’s Secret. In June, a Los Angeles woman went after the retailer, claiming a thong malfunction injured her. She is seeking unspecified damages and the case has yet to be resolved.

WATCH THE VIDEO HERE