Monday, June 4, 2018

Individual Exploration

  1. Read! In the Name of your Lord, Who has created (all that exists),
  2. Has created man from a clot (a piece of thick coagulated blood).
  3. Read! And your Lord is the Most Generous,
  4. Who has taught (the writing) by the pen [the first person to write was Prophet Idrees (Enoch)],
  5. Has taught man that which he knew not.
  6. Nay! Verily, man does transgress all bounds (in disbelief and evil deed, etc.).
  7. Because he considers himself self-sufficient.
  8. Surely! Unto your Lord is the return.

The first words uttered in revelation to Prophet Muhammad are the reason Islam is to me, my absolute truth. These first words, revealed to an illiterate man in the center of the desert in Arabia, have a depth of meaning, that in my humble opinion summarizes the basic needs for human survival. Exploration, curiosity, and basic human dignity, are what drive us. 
Read! A message sent not to encourage simply conventional literacy, but a term that pushes all human beings to look at life around us, explore, understand and discover more about his creation. The only two absolute truths whether you believe in God or not are creation and death. How these two happen are still a mystery to many, but the fact of the matter is they happen, and this is the first message God chose to send through his last messenger. 

Read and your lord is most generous. The abundance of information and substance for exploration are boundless. An abundance that man-made interpretations, understandings, concepts have restricted. Modern labels tagged to understand human behavior in social settings have limited the basic human instinct to explore and venture forward in God's creation. Clear definitions tend to do that and while exploring and understanding are a basic human right, in attempting to identify and define, the infinite characteristics of this creation is suddenly bound by limited human knowledge. The individuality that my Truth has encouraged, has taken a different shape, I do not necessary care for.  

Recently, I have started to identify my main source of discomfort in my endless quest for understanding. 
A term which I feel has become too absolute to many people. Cultural understanding, a man-made concept, has become so revered that to many they will quash basic human rights to discovery and dignity to uphold these cultural ideals. Ironically, cultural ideals that developed and were defined by people who unknowingly, or knowingly, followed the first piece of advice sent by God through his last messenger. 
Merriam Webster's definitions for culture have terms like,
 the customary beliefs...the characteristic features of everyday existence,
 the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization,
 the set of values, conventions, or social practices associated with a particular field, activity, or societal characteristics etc.
Riddled with terms that are rigid and restrictive, when culture becomes too overpowering in the discourse of understanding human behavior, human individuality and relativity begins to take a back seat. As an attempt to observe and understand, cultural understanding can be beneficial, but when given more weight than it deserves, it becomes another form of restriction to the basic human need to explore. 
The only collective absolute truths happen on an individual level. Why do humans so revere the collective understanding of such an individual concept?  

Friday, August 22, 2014

On Strength

Today my middle child, a very spirited little girl, remembered when a waitress called her naughty a year ago. She said, "she called me naughty I think, because I was wearing the Hayah uniform." The situation was that my daughter answered the waitress when she asked her questions, and she did not shy away like most 6 year olds do.
What stood out to me was that my daughter still remembers being called naughty by this random stranger. She also remembers, as she rejects a piece of cake, when people jokingly pat her cute little girl's tummy and say she has a "kirsh".
Since I started learning about child psychology during my undergraduate years and as I started the journey of motherhood, one of the most recurring piece of advice was to be careful what you call your child. Comments, labels and observations shape these  young minds and affect them in ways we may not comprehend.
The truth is human beings are heavily influenced by what people call them. I did not think that a waitress calling my daughter naughty would lead her to think she is naughty. The reality is my daughter has been called naughty and annoying so many times by so many different people that she once told me, "I am annoying, that is who I am, everyone thinks so, so deal with it." As her mother I heard the pain that came with that seemingly strong comment.
Children's minds are constantly working as they skim through all the talk they come across throughout their days. Struggling to understand who they are, they search for cues from people around them. What I realize from experience is how difficult it is to unsay what people around the child are calling them.
There is so little you can protect your children from.
She is an interesting personality. She exudes a false strength which causes more and more people to openly pass their judgements on her thinking they are harmless because she is so strong.
 Strong people often get the short end of the stick. They become easy marks as the general public seems to think they are unfazed by what people think. As a result they are bombarded by other people's thoughts and opinions. They find themselves unwillingly striving to live up to society's expectations. They are forced to think they are strong and should be unfazed. They are forced to accept people calling them naughty and "ghelsa" (annoying) then are expected to put up a strong "I don't care face" when in reality they may be screaming inside.
It is harsh to think of all of this happening inside a 7 year old's mind and her life. The reality is we are all 7 year olds as we face this world. When you deal with people you are forced to filter what they say and what they think of you. That filter can only get filled with so many words and expectations. The next time you see a person who is "strong", at any age, remember their filter and make sure that what you say does not clog that person's filter. 

Monday, August 18, 2014

On Patriotism

    My dad found this old newspaper from when we were living in Bahrain. I made it to the papers a lot when I was living on this small island. The Gulf Daily News, the main newspaper in Bahrain, liked to write about expats who lived in Bahrain. I was the Egyptian voice. There as an American citizen, I was still very vocal and proud of my Egyptian heritage. We were a handful of expats at my school, in my class we were two Egyptians, a Jordanian and two Lebanese students. A group of Rotarian Business men invited two students to come speak to a bunch of businessmen about our experiences as Egyptians. I was one of those two students. I don't remember exactly what my speech said, but I do remember that I made the audience laugh at the right time and nod with understanding at others. I got a standing ovation and one of the businessmen asked me to give him a copy of my speech so he can give it to his Egyptian friend who worked in the embassy. At this time I was 16 years old. 
      I loved Egypt when I was 16 because I loved having my grandmother living in my building and being able to sit with her and go to school with her and listening to stories about her and the rest of the family. I loved Egypt when I was 16 because I was able to visit my other grandmother who lived 10 minutes away and sit with her as she told me her own stories of big houses and gardens and stories that got my father in trouble. I loved Egypt because family gatherings were people who loved each other gathered around a table oblivious to all their differences. I loved being able to drive a few hours and be at a gorgeous beach without a care in the world or hop on a horse and ride for hours in the desert. That was what Egypt was to me.
     Before I found this article, I was looking through a pink box I keep letters. Letters from my friends from when I left the US when I was 11 years old and diaries I kept at the time. The sentiment I felt were completely different. I felt I had left my home when I left New Jersey. I wrote that I missed my friends and school. I wrote that I missed watching the NBA. I had not yet built the family relationships I became so fond of years later. 
      My feelings towards Egypt fluctuated drastically throughout my life. By college the Egyptian flag was everywhere in my room, patriotic songs were always in my head, I will get married and never leave Egypt I used to say. When I went to the US for a visit when I was 18 my cousin had to remind me where I was born because my rhetoric was too anti American (because to be so patriotic I had to be anti American right?). Once I reached that point and actually when my cousin told me that I realized what am I trying to prove? 
     This whole time my parents watched me silently never once commenting on my loyalty or patriotism of one country or the other. The lesson I learned from this journey of understanding nationhood is patriotism can not be forced and, like religion, when it comes from the heart it becomes so precious that it stays there. When you love your country and know why you love it, people making fun of your accent, criticizing your roads, the pollution and lack of organization really doesn't bother you. Because your love to the country is so genuine that you know it has these faults and you may do your best to make changes or you may accept it as it is because that is what gives it its charm. Your efforts to make changes are your own personal shots in the dark and may not be ideal but you know you are doing your best. There is no one way to be patriotic. To some people standing back idly is too much so they start doing what they hope is the best. Doing something generally means someone else is not doing that same thing.  
      Since the revolution began, ideas and judgements of where people's loyalties and how truly patriotic people are lies at the base of our problems now. "This group works for Egypt while this other group works for themselves.""If you truly love Egypt you will vote this way.""Because I love Egypt I will accept this or that.." The comments go on.
      As a mother and a teacher, the number one rule I was told is when dealing with my children's misbehavior, I must be clear when I call them out on something wrong they did. I must clarify that I dislike their behavior but I still love them. In Egypt criticism is not taken with an open heart. You correct an adult you are smacked, you complain in a restaurant you will be asked not to return. For years, about 60 years to be more accurate, the Egyptian general public has been told if you criticize your country you are a traitor and don't even come near your religion because we all know what that makes you. Governed by a military for 60 years uniformity has become a way of life. There is only one way to do something. There is no room for correction. 
     As a result the general public is forced to prove their patriotism because everyone must be patriotic and accepting of everything in the country.  When you are forced to prove something you go all out. You need to point out all the unpatriotic people around you. You may even condone killing them for the sake of your country. You will do all you can to prove to those around you how much you love your country. You will take measures when your family choose to criticize and keep your distance lest they say something that offends you. 
    Patriotism means different things for different people. It is meant to silently unify people under one banner as a reminder of a single goal. But when patriotism becomes a tool used to strengthen one group's cause, it becomes a poison which alienates a nation and divides its people. When you have to scream that you are patriotic and point out that others are not, you really should start questioning how genuine your feelings are. 
A very newsworthy story that made it to the Gulf Daily News in 1999 when I was a graduating senior in a private high school in what is now the Kingdom of Bahrain.

Monday, July 21, 2014


When I moved to Egypt when I was 11.5 years old I was devastated. This place was alien to me. The people spoke differently, their priorities were different, they drove differently, they even slept differently!
I remember when I came people close to me would make fun of my brother and I for answering the phone with "Salam Alaikom", you don't say that they would tell me, you say "Alo", that was the proper way to answer the phone. They made fun of me for saying water and spaghetti with a rolled t because it was not proper english. The driver even made fun of me once because I would keep an apple core in my hand for hours until I find a garbage can rather than throw it in the street. "This is Egypt," he would say, "throw it anywhere".
Worst of all, Egypt, the country only meters away from the one of the holiest places on Earth, is where I saw a hatred towards a people I grew up to admire, love and vowed to fight for. Here is where I heard for the first time that "palestinians sold their land". I heard rhetoric against Palestine that I thought only Israelis were capable of.
The years passed, I grew up and was granted my lifelong dream of visiting Palestine when I was 16. I fell in love with the country, but sadly I was at a stage in life where my passion for the cause took a different shape. While my younger brother, who was 14 then, heard about protests in Hebron he wanted to go join, I was "enjoying the culture" and walking through the streets of Palestine and the occupied lands as a tourist. The fact that I was the only one stopped at every turn because I was veiled didn't bother me, or the way the officer at passport control corrected me when I told her my name was Sarah because I should pronounce it in Hebrew. I was just happy to visit. Although we were stopped at the airport leaving for about an hour, I was the only one not bothered, "they need to go through the security procedures" I rationalized. I was just happy I got to go to Palestine. Living in and around Egypt, somehow put out the flame I had as a child towards the cause.
My childhood was based on the first Intifadha. Our friends were mostly people who had fled Palestine and had uncles, aunts and cousins who were fighting for their lives daily and in constant terror that the Israelis would break into their homes, which they did regularly. Our close friends even attempted to move back to Palestine and ended up in schools for a month where they were forced to learn hebrew and "history" written by the zionists.
Since the '67 war that Egypt fought and lost, a bitterness among the generation that witnessed the war arose and kept growing. Not only did the Egyptian army enter a war for another country, but they lost some of their own land in return. Even the 1973 war did not do anything to abate resentment which instead of being directed towards the leader of the army which was ill trained to enter the war in the first place was poured completely on the occupied people, the Palestinians, who not only lost 78% of their land by then but young men and boys were being thrown into Egyptian prisons and all forms of resistance was being thwarted on all ends. For after all, an Egyptian commander in chief who led the Egyptians out of their own occupation cannot be at fault.
Today, over 400 civilians in Gaza have been killed in one week. Brutally murdered and forced to leave their homes, homes that were originally makeshift homes handed down to them from their grandparents who 60 years ago were forced from their homes around Palestine, never to be given the right to return. Even in 1948, Israeli soldiers called Palestinian civilians and told them to flee for their own safety because terrorists are hiding around their homes, Hamas, the hanger used now, was not even established then. Now lavish Israeli homes and an established country resides over what was once Palestinian land. Slowly the Palestinian map is shrinking and every single time Egypt somehow is complicit. Palestinians run into a brick wall on all sides and not a single neighboring Arab country does more than condemn as they lose more of their land.
In 1992, when I came back to Egypt, I was told by my own relatives that these Palestinians sold their lands. That when the "heroic Egypt stepped in to save them they refused". This is the history that Egyptians are being taught. Because Egyptians do not want to be dragged into another fight. So the facts are shaped to free the general public of guilt. The millions of people living on our borders are not our concern, not only that, but they are now a threat to Egypt and to the Palestinian cause.
My college years restored my flame slowly. By the year 2000 the 2nd Intifada began and I slowly began to realize what living in Egypt has done to the cause in my heart. Today in 2014, the full realization slapped me in the face. The "you're either with us or against us" ideology is what controls Egyptian history and since the Palestinians did not choose the correct government or did not choose the Egyptian path of surrendering to fate and raising the white flag well then too bad for them.
Our prophet taught us that we should be kind to our neighbors. He taught us to support them in their time of need. He taught us that our neighbors are among the first people we should help. He did not say we need to force them to follow our own paths. He said we should support them in the path they have chosen.
Palestinians are our neighbors. As the Israelis push Palestinians off their own land, they will run out of Palestinians to steal from. The next piece of land they will start looking at is just West of them and it is rather appealing to add to the collection. I hope that that piece of information will be taught in our books at a point in time.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Judge or Jury

I wrote this sometime in August 2013.

I will not play judge or jury
for it is not my job.
But fighting for humanity
I know was my God given duty.
When sister stands infront of sister
and pounds her for her choices.
Brother points and shoots at brother
Silencing all their voices.
I will not search for who
is right or point fingers
at who is wrong.
But I will turn my back on bloodshed
To humanity, I remain strong. 

I Use my Pen

This was written sometime in 2013. 

I will not stand in line again
to think a choice! I used my pen
but as it wasn't the popular vote
my hours in line were just a note
a paper to keep the nation amused
while others write down all that we will lose
I will not predict the unpredictable
while people have interests
outside my principles.
That's it, it's final or so I thought
until someone new decides
to call the shots. 

Monday, March 25, 2013

Why you wearing that for?

I took off the Niqab.

How many blogs, editorials, reflections and stories have you read or heard of lately that begin with a line concerning taking off an article of clothing or putting it on for that matter?

Personally I hear it alot. I also experienced it almost a year ago.

I have been places, met people, socialized and everything with and without the niqab. For ten years I endured people making comments at my choices. What color I am wearing, how I wrap the niqab, the fact that I was wearing niqab. Because it was impolite to answer I swallowed the comments with millions of retorts swimming around in my head but a small voice telling me to keep quiet because anything I do say will get them upset or will be misunderstood.

Never mind what I think about the comments made to me, or about me, completely crossing all boundaries and any personal space I may try to build.

I decided I will make my opinions on these comments clear.

 The comments that are made about my choice of clothing when uninvited feel like someone grabbed my purse, opened my wallet and took out all my credit cards and receipts and started commenting on them.

If that is not clear enough.

Comments made about my personal choices, that affect me and only me, are like an unwarranted slap in the face. Statements about whether or not I should wear black, white, long, short, wrap around or throw backs, when not asked for, are all different ways of saying, "you are not as important as I am, you are not as competent as I am, you must listen to my opinion on you, because to you I should be more important than you."

To me clothes are an inconvenience. Not because of anything but the social baggage that automatically accessorizes anything you choose to wear.

I took off the niqab.

I don't remember the exact date, not even the exact month because frankly it isn't a milestone. I still remember 10 years ago to date when I wore the Niqab. I also remember that one of the main reasons I wore it was because I had been thinking about it and didn't want to dwell on something as lame and pointless as clothes.

It took me longer to make the decision to take it off. If I am to be completely honest with myself, the feeling I had that pushed me to make the decision to take the niqab off (which I will not discuss here and probably won't discuss anywhere) were less weighing to me than the comments I would have to endure socially.

Are you still going to wear black?

Wow you're not wearing black anymore. You look much nicer.

Why are you wearing black again? You look so good in colors.

I never had to worry about how I am perceived and what people will tell me before I wore the niqab, apparently as soon as I made the decision 10 years ago to wear it, I was mistaken for a punching bag.

Nonetheless I made the decision and took it off. I went about my daily life with utmost respect to people's personal decisions regardless of my opinions on them. Because of my experience with niqab, I hold my friends and colleagues who chose to remain wearing the niqab and lead successful lives with it in the highest esteem.

Yes I met people who made their mighty observations that this is better for me. People who made their own assumptions and who made up their own stories. I tried to ignore their comments but I did not realize that each of these comments affected me.

I just placed a picture for the first time of myself on Facebook.  I did not think about it at all when I was posting it. I actually had forgotten that I used to wear the niqab and people will comment on my face. It didn't take long for me to remember though because people who I haven't seen in years (probably not even when I was wearing the niqab) commented.

Comments with the connotation that I have emerged from the dark ages are thrown at me with great liberty as if making a choice means I have to be graciously accepting of people's views on the matter.

I wear black. I wear white. I wear the niqab. I wear the hijab. I wake up and dress for MY convenience. I do not need the inconvenience of someone else's validation or lack thereof on how I look.

The prophet PBUH said, "whosoever believes in God and the day of judgement should either say something good or stay quiet."