Reflections: Humanity

Earlier this year, I was on the train on my way to my university. I had stayed up the night before writing a paper and was dozing in and out with the rocking rhythm of the train. I yawned and experienced a hijabi’s worst nightmare: my hijab pin popped open. Thankfully, there weren’t people around on my side of the cart and resourceful me had another hijab pin in my bag. While I was fixing myself back up, my eyes happened to wander to a nearby sign advertising quick and easy Spanish classes. What caught my eye was a handwritten note on the bottom which said, “Or everybody could just learn English, or leave our country alone.” Two things popped into my head after reading that. The first was that this expert in English needed to take some English grammar classes themselves. The second thought was just how easy it would be for someone to pull off my hijab at that very moment. The part that made me deeply sad was the realization as to how big a possibility there was of that happening in today’s climate.

I first started covering my hair in 2001. August 2001 to be exact. That’s right, a month before the day that changed the world for most Muslims and other minorities in general. I was in the eighth grade and my friends were still trying to get used to not seeing my hair. A lot of them said they kind of figured it would happen eventually, and the others kept asking the usual questions. Does this mean you’re getting married? Does this mean you don’t have anymore hair? Does this mean I can never see your hair ever again, ever? I laughed, joked, and explained. I had no idea that in a matter of weeks, I would be designated the role for explanations for the rest of the year, and in fact, the rest of my life.

I can honestly say that aside from a few misguided curses, slurs, and hijab pulls here and there, I didn’t have it as bad as a lot of other Muslims out there in the aftermath of 9/11. For the most part, I used it as a teaching tool for my classmates. My teachers couldn’t be happier to have a practicing Muslim in the classroom, and for about a week after, my Georgia history class turned into “Let’s Explore Islam” period. Like I said, aftermath, not so bad. Alhamdulillah.

It’s been in recent days where the sociopolitical climate has become so polarized, that I actually have to think about my safety in certain situations. It doesn’t help when the media just feeds the public, who in turn feed the media. It’s a vicious cycle and it’s leaving me to ask the question, what’s happened to our humanity?

While this post is partially inspired by the recent attacks on the Sikh temple, I’m asking a much broader question. A few weeks ago, I was reading about a shooting at a Batman movie showing. A few weeks before that, Burma. A few weeks before that, another attack. A few weeks before that, another shooting. There has been no rhyme or rhythm to any of this, other than something is terribly wrong. Even the reaction to the attacks have taken a harsh tone, where we argue and criticize about the title a person is given and whether he is a terrorist, a psychopath, or just plain disturbed.

I’m not going to lie, I was one of those people who had mixed feelings when I heard that Osama bin Laden had been killed. I in no way was sad that he was gone, but I was taken aback when people started celebrating his death. I’ve always thought that a life lost is a life lost, plain and simple. Death is a part of life, something that’s inevitable and part of His plan. So when I saw people celebrating death, the forceful taking of a life, I had to question again, what’s happened to our humanity?

Today’s climate is such that any comment made will be interpreted to all extremes. You can’t even post a statement on Facebook without a debate sparking and virtual chaos ensuing. The middle path seems to have all but disappeared. The saddest part about all of this is the politicians who partake in this are doing it mainly for votes and funding. The media that’s fueling it all is doing it for, again, funding. The general public that feed into it? It’s a free space with no filter and probably the only place these people get a chance to put any input into anything at all. And hey, if we can get famous quick for our controversial comments, then why not? So basically, the reason we have such extreme thoughts and vibes out there, waiting to filter into impressionable minds is because of strips of paper that have been deemed valuable.

What has happened to us as a society that we’ve become desensitized to the violence, the torment, and the tragedies of others. This isn’t a religion issue, a race issue, or a culture issue. This is a human issue. Last night at our masjid in between isha and tarawih, a brother came on to inform us of local community issues. He told us about Muslim refugees from war-torn countries living only 30 minutes away from us. He told us that the conditions that they’re living in resemble conditions that you’re used to “back home,” back where our families originally came from. While I listened to him describe these conditions, I started getting emotional and felt tears start to form. The person next to me was on her cell phone checking her text messages. The aunties in front of me were talking about their Eid plans. So the question came to my mind again, what’s happening to our humanity?

It’s Monday afternoon as I sit here writing this now, and I’ve just read news about a masjid that was destroyed due to a fire. Not only is this literally a day after the attack on the Sikh temple, this is the second fire this masjid had to deal with in five weeks. Death happens. Death always happens and death will continue to happen. I’ve accepted that. What I can’t accept is the physical and verbal violence this society has turned to in every corner of the world. Whether it’s the blatant violation of human rights in the Middle East, internal political turmoil in South Asia, acts of aggression here in the US, or attacks online via routes of social media, it all makes me sick.

I realize as I sit here, my words don’t really change or affect the world in any significant way, and I end up just joining the online traffic that is social media, reaching out to a handful of people. But to that handful of people, I urge you to take action. Don’t just read my words, nod in agreement, and then go about your day as usual. Do something, anything. Whether it’s donating money, goods, supplies, or even time, give something. Raise awareness. Collect signatures. Take a cause and commit. If all of this is too much, then just pray. Turn to God, throw your hands up, and ask Him to give this society some much needed clarity and direction. My heart and prayers go out to all of those people suffering in the world, and all of those lives that have been forcefully lost.

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Mother May I

I’ve realized it’s unrealistic of me to post every single night. I am my own worst critic and I am never satisfied with what I have. Though I started working on this the night I published my last post, it’s been through at least four revisions. With that in mind, I think I’m just going to try to publish as much as I can whenever. Hopefully, this was worth the wait. As always, enjoy.
“Will you please hurry? Jumuah is about to start, and we should have been finished an hour ago.”

“I’m doing the best I can mother. I’m not just…”

I bite down on my tongue as I remember it’s the first day of fasting and I really don’t want to be arguing with my mother.

“There’s no need to be rude or argue. Just hurry.”

And so began Ramadan 2012.

The first few days of Ramadan are the busiest for my mother and me. My mother is in charge of managing the sister’s side for iftar/dinner and tarawih. This pretty much means she has to make sure that everything from air fresheners and soap to water and chairs are well stocked and available when needed. This also includes printing, laminating, and putting up the proper signs in the proper places. It also means that she has to manage all of the volunteers, brief them on their duties and responsibilities, preempt any inner conflicts that may arise, and make sure the teenage volunteers that we have know their boundaries and the proper way to interact with the elders. The list of responsibilities my mother has is endless and extensive, and needless to say, she needs help. That’s where I come in.

My mother and I have a strained relationship. It’s a combination of the typical east vs. west, plus a decade’s worth of hospital stays and surgeries, with just a little hint of misinterpreted sarcasm. I have to admit, I have my fair share of blame in this as well. Honestly it boils down to this, we have two very different personalities. We think differently, we perceive the world differently, and our approach to certain situations are, you guessed it, different. Add in stress, pain, and painkillers, and you can just imagine the volume of a normal conversation between us.

It seems recently though that every other conversation we have is an argument, and the most common theme is religion. It’s not one of the typical arguments where she wants me to wear hijab and I don’t want to. It’s more the fact that I can approach religion without the cultural influences that she’s used to, and she’s not used to that. Many times I can hear her saying that the new generation of Muslims have ‘modernized religion’. She yells out of love, for fear that her daughter is doing something she shouldn’t, that she’s straying too much outside of the religion. Alhamdulillah, I can confidently say that she’s not worried that I’ll do anything to compromise my morals, values, and principles, but she worries none the less.

Another key factor adding to the strain is the fact that I’m in the grey area where I’m an adult living with my parents. She recognizes the independent me. She’s seen that person since middle school, when she first was in the hospital and I stepped up to run the household to the best of my abilities. She depends on that person everyday for help with the cooking, the cleaning, the masjid planning. Her health isn’t what it used to be and her memory is even worse, so I end up being the all-in-one source for whatever she needs. The problem arises when I would like to do things on my own. It’s hard for her to recognize my attempts to assert my need for independence and individuality. Trying to stay late on campus for a group study becomes an unwarranted game of 20 questions, where physical references and two forms of ID are required to pass the game. Sound complicated? It is. And, if you were the non-Muslim betting type, you could put money on the last statement being some variation of the sentence, “Be careful, you still have to get married.”

Which brings me to factor number three: marriage. Yes, the thing that is said to be half of our deen. That wondrous thing that girls dream about, that Bollywood musicals sing about, and that boys scream and cry like girls over when their mothers ask them if they want to go to their neighbor’s nikkah (All they hear is, “Go nikkah,” in between rounds of Halo). What is supposed to be one of the most joyous occasions of a girl’s life is made miserable by all of the poking and prodding and dissecting of her life, and that’s just for the biodata photo shoot. I’m 24, which in desi standards translates to about three more good years of looking before I turn to the divorced, single father group. This concept is not lost on my mother, who takes any and every opportunity she gets to remind me of my age, my weight, my skin, and my utter lack of husband catching skills. To be fair, my mother is not Mrs. Bennet advertising her daughters to the highest bidder (**brownies if you get the reference). She is however concerned that she’s been looking for a good six years now, and is yet to find a boy for her eldest daughter. Out of frustration, she explains to me how I shouldn’t set my standards so high, how I should be open, and how marriage is a compromise. I try to explain to her that I understand all of that, but I’m really only looking for one thing, a practicing Muslims boy, and I’m not really willing to compromise on that. And this is the part where we usually end up arguing over the definition of practicing Muslim, the lack of Muslim Bangali boys, the need for age, stability, culture, etc., etc., etc.

I often wonder whether our relationship is my fault. Maybe I’m too stubborn. Maybe I should make more of an effort. I should have expected this and thought around that. Maybe I expect too much from her. I’m not going to lie, like many of the elders around me, my mother has also let me down. Not so much in the broad, traumatic, disowning sense, but more so in the little ways. It’s hard for my mother to understand me because she’s not used to the way I am. She’s very emotion based whereas I go through things by logic. To her, many times I seem cold and unemotional. She’s never understood how I can be so friendly and sociable with so many people, but not have too many close friends. She’s always worried about the fact that I don’t connect too well emotionally with even family. I see that, I understand that.

It’s still hard for me to accept that my mother, the one person I thought I wouldn’t have to explain myself to, misunderstands me, but I’m working through it. At the end of the day, I’m lucky to even have a mother. And then to have a mother who cares enough about me to yell at me beyond the point of tears? Alhamdulillah, now that’s a blessing. I’m pretty sure she knows this, but I’m worried sick about her, about what will happen to her if/when I leave. She’s become very dependent on me, and my other siblings just don’t know how to anticipate her needs like I do. Staying up with her every night at the hospital, staying up every night during her recovery, checking up on her from time to time just to make sure she’s there, breathing, well, these are the memories I have of her, and these are the things that affect me the most. Alhamdulillah she’s better now, but she’ll never be what she once was.

I remember joking with her the first time she came home from the hospital, after she had vomited and I was cleaning it up. I was about 13, and that was my first Ramadan where I took fasting seriously. My father and I were the only ones fasting in the house, and he had gone to the masjid for iftar because I couldn’t make him a proper meal. She was crying from pain and apologizing for vomiting, for not being well enough to make us a meal, for putting me through all of this hard work. I remember looking up at her with a smile and saying, “Ammi, don’t worry. Our religion teaches us that the children become the parents at one point, I just never thought it would happen this soon. It’s okay, we’re way ahead of the curve. Besides, I’ve always wanted to have Capn’ Crunch for iftar.” She couldn’t help but laugh after my reply, and for a little while, she stopped crying.

I look back on all of these moments and realize that while some of these nights were the hardest in my life, I am extremely grateful for them. My family wasn’t all too religious when I was younger. We prayed, fasted, did what we knew we should, but nothing more and never asking for more. It was because of my mother’s illnesses, that I turned to religion for answers. I made a pact that if my mother got out of the hospital the first time, I would give my life to God, and Alhamdilillah that’s what happened. My taking an interest in religion sparked the rest of my family onto that path. Every single visit to the hospital thereafter only served to renew my devotion to Him and every single time my mother has come out has been enough proof for me that He is there, listening, watching, and showing us His signs everywhere.

She complains now about how I don’t do as much as I used to, how I want to spend so much time outside of the house, but I think we both realize on some level that it’s just practice for the both of us for the future. I won’t always be there to help her, and we both have to realize that our situation is anything but permanent. I believe this is another source of the tension between us.

I’m not sure how much of this made any sense, because at this point, I just feel like I’ve been going from one random thought to another, so let me try to bring it all together. My mother and I, not best friends. I don’t cuddle up next to her like my sister, I can’t lovingly ask her to do things for me like my brother. That’s just not how our relationship works. She is, however, my mother and I am her daughter, and that’s really all we need. We’re both working to understand each other and we both pray every second of every day for each other. Because really, the du’a is what we need, what will get us through to the akheera. As I finish with this ever so late post, I can happily report that after that first day of Ramadan, my mother and I have not had a single shouting match. The sarcasm is still there, but progress is progress, right? This month and this life is much greater than who is right and who won. I realize that it’s an uphill struggle to control our tempers, even more so when we are starving ourselves, but please try to make an active effort. While we almost always take for granted that our mothers will forgive us in the end, is it really worth all the blood and tears for the journey along the way?

I pray that Allah grants me the patience needed to control my temper and my tongue.

**Brownies will only be given out to people who get the reference but are not prone to reading, was not forced to study this, is of the generation where sparkling vampires exist, and boys.