A Calm Awakening

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The smell of lavender outstretched itself across my room as the morning’s tender breeze caressed my body just slightly, intimately.

The blue sky enticed my eyes, causing my mind to race, stirring to know more about its Creator

How beautiful is its Creator? How great and magnificent is the entity that created it?

My eyes were left in a trance, enticed by sight

The birds sung their usual melody, unadulterated, full of life
Every chirp was a beautiful note, an unsung song being told

My body swayed like the wind, eyes closed, feet dancing in the carpet underneathe

Madness. Utter madness. Calmed.

Nothing Left to Say

The faint sound of the voice on the other end spoke softly
This was unusual
I could feel the struggle of them pushing words through teeth
They were choking on fear
The phone became heavy
Knees buckling
Slowly did words escape
Travelling, making their way to me
Surely, there was an interruption within the cosmos with this info
There was a death, an awakening
A painful awakening of life
The bloody and surreal reality of choices
Scarred, there would be the permanent scar of a choice made years ago hidden beneath skin and tissue
A fierce jolt raced, scandalously creeping within every inch and crevice of my heart
The air was heavy
Too many thoughts unsaid and not many words to say
Speechless

The Authentic Self: Facing the Person In The Mirror

All my life I had been looking for something, and everywhere I turned someone tried to tell me what it was. I accepted their answers too, though they were often in contradiction and even self-contradictory. I was naïve. I was looking for myself and asking everyone except myself questions which I, and only I, could answer.

In beginning to read Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, I came across this quote. All through school I was told about this book, but never struck gold and read it. In being amazed at the quote above from the first chapter, I knew I had a winner. This would be an excellent read.

Of course, I havent read the book yet so I cant really unpack the quote I cited in the context of the plotline. However, I think this quote came right on time for me. The mere substance of the quote compels me to think about its relevance in all of our lives, especially my own.

In looking specifically at the quote, I believe it is true that we ask people questions that only we can answer. I believe this is one of the realizations that I have discovered about myself. I always ask people questions. Sure, there isnt anything wrong with this. However, when do you begin to trust your own answer? We have to trial and error to grow, right?

Recently, my father told me that at my age I will make decisions that arent the wisest and I should take more heed to what he tells me. Yes, I will agree to an extent. I think there is wisdom sometimes in listening to someone older than yourself. Nevertheless, wisdom doesnt always come with age. So, it becomes up to us to decide what is best for us. We can be advised all day and night, but it up to us to sort through the advice we are given. We are the authors to our own lives. One person’s experiences may not be true of yours.

The life we live is the life that we live. Yes, we all come from various situations and circumstances but we can definitely say that we have a say about our lives. Im not saying that living life is easy. It isnt. Life is hard and can be hard. I know all about it. Life is forever unraveling in a milliom different directions. Nonetheless, we have to trust ourselves in whatever decisions we choose to make.

A few months back, I was invited over a friend’s house to get my hair braided. As she was preparing dinner she told me how she was seeking her authentic self. She wanted to be herself, no strings attached. She told me about her trips to Philly and how the Muslim man’s beard, the Muslim woman’s abaya (long concealing dress) and niqab (face veil) was just a trend. It didnt neccessarily mean piety or righteousness. She insisted that one must also be righteous internally, no matter what one wears. She told me how she would be invited to all-women gatherings and these women would gather to simply gossip. As a mother of two small children, she told me that it is important to always strive for the authentic self. Never strive for anything less than your true self. This struck gold to me. In going back and forth in wearing the traditional dress of Muslim women, she openly told me that she is struggling. She wanted to do it for God and God alone and not for the sake of the community. I think many of us negotiate our personalities for the sake of our communities. So, is it worth it? Should we compromise ourselves for the community? Is this going against our authentic self? This is really important to me. When does a person remain an individual or negotiate it to fit-in with our communities?

I believe these are the biggest questions that I frequently ask myself. In this pursuit of trusting ourselves, we must maintain our authentic self. We must determine when we should either compromise our individuality for the collective. Maybe this issue isnt as simple as I have made it, but it is important to think about. These are questions that we have to ask and answer ourselves, as Ralph Ellison would say.

When do we begin trusting ourselves?

The World She Created Within

She loved herself deliciously without the need of a lover. She was her own lover. Dancing freely in the midst of her own journey of life. Delicate and broken in the intimate parts of she. She, a raging beast and a prisoner of her own isolation. A heart in shambles, in need of answers.

In the wake of her own womanhood, she appears as a strong soldier that is deeply wounded in the battles of life. She is a wounded soldier.

I wonder if she will ever know the beauty of her woundedness. Will she ever fly with expansive wings open wide cascading the horizon? Or will she forever sulk in the pains of her yesterdays? The world screams for her. It stands up in an applause for her. For her courage in getting this far. For the risks she’ve taken. To be different. To question. To doubt. The world is ready. They are all ready to see her magnificence manifest itself in greatness.

Even in the spaces she tried to fit in, she is deeply bruised. She is her own success and failure. The world continues to look at her in admiration, in a daze, but she is too many light-years away to take notice.

The Act of Dreaming

Last night, I had a dream. Usually, I don’t remember or can’t recall my dreams. However, the dream that I had last night was extremely lively and real. I can recall every facet of it. It is a bit scary because the dream was about something that was on my mind about an event that occured earlier that night before I went to sleep. So, I was really interested in my dream.

My dreams are usually telling. They deal with my subconscious. They deal with issues I repress and things that are bothering me. I hardly ever have silly dreams. Almost always, my dreams are significant in one way or another. My dreams are more complex than the issue of good and evil. They’re deeper.

I dont really know how to approach my dreams. When they happen they just happen. Maybe I will look into the types of dreams that I have. My dreams are pretty straightforward with little symbolism. They arent abstract in nature. So, I may just pursue an analysis of what is going on internally with me.

My dreams have always struck me as weird and interesting. They are neither about good/bad or abstract concepts. Maybe I will just look into this matter.

In Search of You

I was told I was redeemed, as it would seem
That la ilaha illallah would forever keep me under the protection of the divine
And everyday is like judgment time when I face the image in the mirror
Fear looking back
Track/ have I lost track/gone off of track because of the crust suffocating this beating heart
Personal desires is like tyranny/trapping you/keeping you chained up/ am I my own worst enemy?
Tragedy, this is a tragedy
In between the lost prayers of yesterday and the surahs that pass my lips today, I dance on eggshells
I was never out of the Divine’s sight/fight/ I have put up a fight to find beauty in ugliness
Never giving up on you/the spirit of what you sent to your prophets by way of Gabriel
A heart shackled to desires/in seek of the love and justice of sincere submission
I seek not the carnal desires of men I seek not the seduction of late night conversations
I seek only the grandeur of the Divine
Even in the midst of my own confusion/I seek repentance from the days of before
Never will I claim innocence/since I  am far from a saint or an angel/ I offer up this tainted soul and offer you the rest I have of me

Letting Go: The Ultimate Choice

One of the many things that is hard to do is to let go. Many of us are unable to let go of something or someone. We try to figure out every reason why we can’t let go. Also, letting go doesn’t always mean a negative. We sometimes imagine a bestfriend betraying us or a partner going out to cheat. However, this need not be the situation for letting go. We don’t have to imagine extreme scenarios. Of course, betrayal and a lack of trust are good reasons for me to leave. Albeit, sad reasons to leave. Nevertheless, we mustn’t think always in the negative.

Last year, I had a close friend of mine’s tell me that she was holding onto anger because of a friend. She was tired of the constant negativity from her friend. Her friend would constantly say sly comments and hurt her feelings. So, she asked me what she should do. I simply told her that she knew her friend better than I did. She had to decide when enough was enough. Additionally, I told her that she could certainly talk to her friend about these negative comments instead of holding all of the anger inside of her. We usually do not let go until we are fed up. Now, this is a negative situation in which we may choose to let go.

In the midst of all of this, she asked me if I knew about a book called The Art of Letting Go. I knew that I had heard of it, but I had never read it. So, a few weeks later I went to Barnes and Noble with a few friends on the night of my graduation and saw the book that my friend asked me about previously. I couldnt believe it. It was right there. It was a book based in Buddhist philosophy. It was about letting go of negative energy, living in the moment and suffering less. I flew through the book. It was an awesome read. I had began meditation to find mindfulness in my life. I was letting go of the unneccessary things in my life. I was learning to live in the moment. I was learning to live. Many times we hold onto things that weigh us down emotionally. This emotional burden can feel like the weight of the world.

In being fair, letting go is not always in regards to something negative. Two years ago, I was volunteering in teaching ESL to Somali refugees in my city. I would go a few days out of the week after school and work to volunteer. It was really a learning process. I thought I had enough knowledge to teach, but that wasnt the issue. I never had training in teaching English as a second language. I would plan lessons and try to learn their language. This was my first exposure to Somali-culture outside of the Somali-woman I had met in one of my classes. I would look forward to seeing the kids I would teach. We would pray Meghrib, the prayer at sunset and talk about other trivial things. Also, I had my first cup of Somali tea which became my favorite. It reminded me of Chai, Indian tea. Unfortunately, I lived too far and couldnt travel that far as frequently as I did. So, I ended up letting go. I didnt want to, but I knew I should. Not only that, but I wasnt trained in what I was doing. To me, it was a bit selfish to continue. Teaching is serious and the fact that someone may need to be retaught something because of my lack of training wasnt okay with me. So, I made a conscious decision to stop.

We all have to decide what is good or bad for us. Also, we need to know our personal limits. Many people are selfish and do things out of their own desires. It is simply true. No one can stop us from being selfish except for us. Selfishness can hurt you and others. Satisfying yourself for short-term satisfaction can cause harm in the long-run. So, you have to be honest with yourself in deciding to let go.

Only you can decide what to give up.

Marriage (Re)visited: Leadership Edition

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Many many moons ago, I had a suitor tell me that I should follow his leadership. He told me that if I followed his plans that the marriage would work out. Of course, I wanted to vomit. He would tell me time after time that he was my imam (leader) and my role was to follow him in accomplishing his dreams. He would acknowledge that I could go after my dreams. He encouraged me to do so. However, his dreams were more important and held more leverage. Unfortunately, I would just be on the ride enjoying the benefits of being his wife. Now, I couldnt tolerate that any longer. I had to end that mess.

The crazy part was the fact that he knew how I felt about patriarchy. He knew I was not one to be oppressed. He pledged that he would never hit me, but I wasnt just concerned about that. I was concerned with mental abuse. Leadership roles has always been attributed to men, historically. Many men and women still believe that a woman’s place is to follow.
Yeah, not me. Most of the world is controlled by men and somehow everything in the world is pretty much a mess. I do not hate men. I love men. I believe women and men should work together to end sexist oppression. What exactly is a woman’s place? I’m not quite sure.

So, I have tried over and over again in figuring out if marriage is right for me. I know that marriage is a divine institution, but women have been oppressed by marriage for so long. Some women put up with the crap in their marriages because they are expected to and are told that submission is salvation. For me, submission should go both ways. If not, you have a domination-subjugation relationship. This leads to oppression. This is not ideal for me. The marriage must be mutual. There must be love, respect, trust and communication.

The spirit of Islam is justice and love. After battling months after months, years after years in being taught and fed patriarchal Islam, I gave up. I knew this was not it. I needed to find the Islam that made sense to me, as a woman. I was not going to marry a man that felt that a domination-subjugation marriage was ideal and acceptable. For this reason, I havent married. I have strayed from marriage like the plague. I would rather be single and suffer whatever woes supposedly you have with single-ness. I couldnt imagine getting into a divine marriage and have hell. This is not right. I will not tolerate patriarchal and make an excuse for it.

Many women have told me that Islam is patriarchal, thus I should bow down to patriarchy. Yes, Islam is patriarchal like most religions. I agree. No doubt about it! Nonetheless, patriarchy is oppressive. It is a system rooted in violence. There isnt love in this. It is domination and subjugation. So, I have went in search of an Islam that adheres to the spirit of love and justice for men and women.

In seeking out answers, I encourage others to never take the convenient route of just going with the majority. Yes, it is easier to go with the majority. You wont get questioned or persecuted. However, nothing changes if a change of thought doesnt occurs. If we all yields to one frame of thought then to hell with change. If you are too afraid to think independently then shame on you. You could’ve helped many. I may never get married. This is just the reality. I refused to succumb to a patriarchal marriage of oppression in which I am treated as a piece of property to be transferred from one owner(my father) to the next (my husband). And to hell to the teacher that told me and other muslimahs (Muslim females) that a dowry (bridal-gift) allows a man  to enjoy us sexually whenever he pleased. I am not a piece of property. I am a human-being. I will not compromise myself nor my integrity for any person or institution.

To my future daughter(s), you aren’t property nor any man’s sexual object. You are a human-being. Stand up for yourself and forever use your voice!

To my future son(s), you are not a woman’s protector. You dont have to feel sorry for females because they are female. They are not helpless, no matter what people tell you. They are capable just like you. Never treat a woman like property. Never seek the permission of a woman’s father for marriage. Her consent is her permission. She should neither be given away or passed off. She is your equal, no matter what you hear in the streets. You condemn anyone that tells you otherwise.

(Re)discovering Beauty in the Ugliness of Life’s Chaos

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Over the last few years of my life, I have met many people. Some stayed and some left. However, in the passing of time, I have learned a few life-lessons to keep in my pocket for the long-haul. I wouldn’t be who I am today if it wasn’t for the encounters that I’ve had and the experiences that I’ve been through. Sometimes life just seems too much of a mess to contend with, but there is beauty in it. Yes, I am saying that there is beauty in the mess of it all. 

I graduated only a few months ago in December 2013 with my degree. I was in total bliss. I knew I would quickly find a job that paid more than the part-time job I was relying on for sustenance. However, this was not the case. Not only this, but I was experiencing a crisis in my belief in God. This crisis drew me into a phase of questioning everything that I once knew was stable. I questioned everything from the existence of God to the issue of scripture being truly divine. I was dancing on egg-shells, but I didn’t care. I was at the crossroads. I was struggling to know God, myself and the world around me. I was dealing with financial-instabilities and family-problems. I was dying daily. I didn’t know what to do or who to turn to. I would frequently isolate myself from people. Some people would fight to stay in my life during this period of isolation, while others simply didn’t care. I don’t blame them. I was probably too far away from reality to even be contacted. 

Not only did I find this time of uncertainties troubling, but I had suitors in the midst of it all. These suitors never impressed me. They seemed to want the typical “perfect” Muslim-wife that would ‘cook, clean, obey’ them. I wasn’t going to stick around for this. Not only this, but the pressure of getting married by friends and the external Muslim community sent me further away. There would be the occasional, “You’re so beautiful. You’re young too. Why aren’t you married?”. I must admit that I was pushing hard for a good period of time to get married, but I never found contentment in this towards the last semester of school. I was still…young. I hardly knew what I really wanted. I thought I knew what I wanted, but I don’t think I did at that point. I knew that I could be the “perfect” Muslim wife for any man, but I don’t think I had come upon anyone that truly understood me. However, I did yearn for the Muslim-family that I would see at the Eids (twice a year celebration after Ramadan and during Hajj-season). I wasn’t raised in a Muslim-family and would practice Islam alone without anyone else. I wanted that, but I didn’t want to get pressured into just marrying any person. Furthermore, I started to question the institution of marriage. I didn’t like the fact that I would need my wali’s permission (guardian of the woman) to get married. I was perfectly capable of choosing my own spouse on my own terms. I thought that my guardian (father) would totally void my agency, my own voice. The prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) certainly warned the men of the Muslim-community that a female’s permission is needed in order for any marriage to be valid. However, I was at odds with this when learning that I needed my guardian’s permission to marry a man. So, does my permission even matter if my father’s ‘no’ was good enough to stop a marriage? Yes, the purpose of the wali (guardian) is to check out the man’s credentials, his background, his income, his mental state, and etc. Some would even explain to me that a man knows another man. I’m not saying that marriage shouldn’t be a family-affair, but I most certainly am not going to give away my right to having a voice. Women have had their voice continuously stripped from them in history, through patriarchy, and in various communities. I will not have this happen to me. I will not bow down to a role that oppresses me. I will never teach my daughter(s) to succumb to a system that isolates her participation in her community, her society. As long as a man can determine and choose what is right for me then I should not expect to have a voice. Unfortunately, this view of mine’s may be in conflict of the Islamic-tradition, but I will maintain my stance on this. At the end of the day, this same woman will be with this man, romantically, sexually, mentally all throughout the marriage alone. There will not be anyone within their household day-in and day-out except for them. They will be the only ones determining solely the situation of their marriage. Sure, you will have arbitrators to help resolve marital-problems, but generally it will just be them. Not only this, but I have an issue of having a guardian. It is said that the woman’s guardianship transfers from her father to her husband. I’m sorry, but this is not the case for me. I will always maintain my own identity. This identity will not be compromised…at all. I am not a part of a business transaction. I am not to be passed off or transferred to. I will empower myself by denouncing this guardianship. I understand that some women are definitely okay with this and will delight in this. However, I am not one to delight in this. The role of the guardian is to: protect, provide, and maintain the woman. Now, once again…this is not for me. I will leave this for the next woman. The issue of a woman’s place just always give me chills. Brrrrrr! 

Nonetheless, I will express the positive side(s) to these last few months. In trying to find my place in the world, I had entered into a close friendship/relationship with someone. I’m liberal. I started seeing another world outside of the one I was living.  I was treading on a path of: spirituality, love, lust, sexuality, education, identity, and etc. I happened to have stumbled upon another person, similar to myself, having questions about religion. I didn’t suspect that I would find answers in the midst of finding another person like me, confused. However, I did. In the poverty of my own life, I was spending most of my time reading about religion. I would stay consumed in religious-studies. I would visit my college to talk with professors about life. Yes, I am a bit…extreme. However, I was dying in this crisis of my life. I was broke. Starving for answers about God. On the fence about feminism. I was suffering a minor-depression. Nonetheless, I soon found a close companion to share some of the intimate parts of the pain I was struggling with internally. The simplicity of the friendship/relationship was the real beauty of it all. The occasional bilingual conversations in Spanish. The occasional meals at a local restaurant. The frequent bike-rides alone or in a group. The long conversations about: faith, poverty, dreams, sexuality, feminism, and problems. Very simple pleasures. Nothing expensive. Simply simple. I must admit that this quote is true:

“Living simply makes loving simple.”― Bell Hooks

I didn’t intend on engaging in a companionship, but I did. I would say that I regret doing this because this isn’t acceptable within the Islamic-tradition. However, I did engage in this. I certainly did grow from this encounter. Interestingly enough, I realized the importance of taking risks. 

“Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.” — Anaïs Nin (The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 1: 1931-1934)

The world we live in is not black and white. It is not as simple as we may think. Its complicated. I’m sure someone that is reading this is shaking their little finger at me and threatening to forever label me as a ‘sinful’ and ‘impure’ woman. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Settle down. Life is what we make of it. In a time in my life when I wanted to just fold up under the covers and cry, I didn’t. I reveled on the beauty of what I had discovered at the most unlikely of times. I would frequently stay away from people because I was broke and didn’t have money, but with the friendship/relationship I was engaging in, I didn’t have to always have money. I learned that living doesn’t have to always mean spending. You are not what you own, can spend, and can display. I didn’t feel like going to another all-women’s party/gathering and putting on a front. I didn’t feel like putting on a prom-dress to just attend a dinner at another woman’s home. I’m not that shallow. Yes, I can isolate myself, but I am not shallow. There is this pretentious secret that happens too frequently for me. For many women, the whole women’s only scene is a battle-field. Women would dress up in ostentatious outfits that they would only wear once to show-off. I’m usually not at such events. For one, I’m not going to fake as if I have money by wearing something I may never wear again. Secondly, I can’t afford to go to a high-end restaurant every week. This is just my reality. I’ve experienced the whole ‘women’s only’ scene and do not find joy in it. If I know someone that isn’t into the whole ‘let’s-show-off-our-wealth’ then I will attend her gathering. 

Well, I definitely did go on a long rant there. Back to what I was saying, I didn’t have to contend with this reality when I was in this close relationship/friendship. I was me. Simply me. I didn’t have to dress-up or put on a front. I was simply Lauren. It was the simplicity that kept me in engaged. It was living simply to love simple. 

In the midst of it all, I experienced new places within my own backyard. I went to many places that I never knew existed in my city. I traveled to several places on my bicycle. I discovered new cultures. I experimented with various religions, philosophies and ideologies. I was confused, but awakened at the same time. I didn’t feel the pressure of getting married just for marriage-sake. I didn’t feel like I had to put on a mask to fit in. I was just taking my life day-by-day. I was and is broke as hell. There is no shame in that. However, I am living. Before, I was just existing. I was going about life in a routine. I started to see that we all are struggling with something. We aren’t perfect. We all are dying a death internally because of someone or something. We just have to find beauty in the midst of ugliness and chaos. 

“And sometimes I wonder, why we care so much about the way we look.
And the way we talk and the way we act and the clothes we bought, how much that cost.
Does it even really matter?
Cause if life is an up hill battle
We all tryna climb with the same ol’ ladder
In the same boat, with the same ol’ paddle
Why so shallow? I’m just asking
What’s the pattern to the madness
Everybody ain’t a number one draft pick
Most of us ain’t Hollywood actors” -B.O.B. “Both of Us”