Dr. Maya Angelou – Love Liberates


The Struggle: Parents, Womanhood, Sex, Menstruation, Protection

One of the hardest struggles for me is dealing with womanhood. This issue is problematic because many parents raise daughters very differently than their sons. Many parents raise their daughters as if they are precious gems needing protection from the storms of life. However, sons are raised to become warriors that will brave those same storms. So, on the surface, men are repeatedly being socialized to believe that women are helpless and need protection. So, it perpetuates this cycle of men being superior to women. In comparison, I was raised with this belief that a man’s natural-inclination is to protect women. So, I needed to be protected from ‘men,’ ‘sex,’ and the other ‘vices’ of life. In the process of learning my role as a daughter, I learned the role of my younger brother in becoming my protector. Unfortunately, I would often be told that he is a ‘boy’ or a ‘man’ and that I am a ‘girl’. So, the behavior(s) of men became acceptable because males will be males. In growing up to accept that women are constantly in need of male-supervision or the protection of men, I began thinking more about womanhood and how these ideologies affect myself and women all over the world. In my struggle of formulating my sense of womanhood, I believe it is important to explore my upbringing, along with why many females’ sense of identity within womanhood is stunted and even detrimental in their progression of growing into healthy women within the world.

For my parents, I will always be their little girl. I will always be deemed as that gem to be ‘untouched’ and ‘unscathed’ by life. However, is that fair to me? Well, I can definitely understand that most parents are afraid to see their daughters as being: sexual, free-thinking and able-bodied individuals that can make decisions for themselves. This is not to say that male-children don’t undergo a similar experience, but for me I have always been held to a different standard than my younger brother. In seeking to protect me from the world, my parents have always held my hand. They’ve always felt comfortable in walking me through life without me taking the lead. Nonetheless, I am definitely grateful for their guidance and love, but this form of ‘protection’ can hurt you. Yes, I understand from an Islamic perspective that a father and husband should protect his family, especially females under his authority. However, this ‘protection’ doesn’t help as much as one would think. In being protected, I’ve been saved from many of the vices in the world. I’ve always been too afraid to step near a night-club, drugs, alcohol, sex or dating. In growing up,these weren’t options. Nonetheless, this doesn’t mean I was truly protected. It just meant I didn’t have these experiences. In the long-run, I would later find out that I was naive, ignorant, and unable to handle various situations that would come up. Yes, I believe that parents should keep their children from vices, but I also believe that parents should give their children autonomy. One day these children will grow into teenagers and will have to navigate through the world alone. If anything, parents should equip their children with the necessary skills to travel through the world. In many ways, I never had important conversations with my parents about various topics because they never thought I would encounter certain issues. In some cultures, women aren’t taught about their bodies, specifically their reproductive system. I have many friends from a particular culture and we would sometimes talk about female-issues, but there would be an unsaid tension within these conversations. So, I asked why it was so hard for them to talk about: menstruation, sexual health, and sex. They told me that these issues weren’t spoken about publicly in the home, but they were simply issues to be confronted in marriage. In the back of my mind, I thought they were totally backwards. I couldn’t believe that their parents wouldn’t tell their daughters about these important issues, but due to my own arrogance, I was in the same boat. It wasn’t until I took classes in school over sexual-health and menstruation that I truly learned about the biological aspects of the body’s functions. I remember when I was 11-years old, my mother had printed out a huge-packet over menstruation. I laughed at it. I laughed, but I read it. So, it was definitely awkward for my own mother to grasp such a topic with her daughter. Later on, I would later feel confident to talk to my mom about menstruation due to the classes I had at school about Sex-Education. However, I never had a talk with my parents about sex. For many Western parents, there is always the talk about the “birds and the bees” or sexual-intimacy. No, the extent of this conversation was “Stay a virgin, wait for marriage and only adults do this”. This conversation may not provide enough inspiration for a teenager to stay celibate until marriage, but it was for me. On top of this, I have a father that will never find comfort in men courting his daughter. There’s always that raised-eyebrow and mean-look from him that will scare curly-hair straight. So, my parents are and will always get love and respect from me because I know that being a parent doesn’t come with a how-to guide on how to parent children. However, I would have liked those intimate conversations about: girlhood, womanhood, sex, marriage, sexuality and men. I definitely do not believe that all men are dogs and needy for just sex out of women. Unfortunately, I’ve been taught this for a good period of my life, so in many ways I objectify myself by believing that men are only sex-mongering individuals without souls declaring all women as sex-objects.

I can’t speak on the experiences of anyone else, but I believe that parents should treat their daughters as individuals. Parents should understand that their daughters are: free-thinking, sexual, rational, and independent beings. If she isn’t treated as such then she will continue to believe that she is in need of someone else to make decisions for her. Not only this, but this prison-like restriction of her freedom can breed rebellion. If you keep a bird caged up then just open up the cage’s door and you’ll see that caged-bird take flight. This is no different than a young woman that experiences oppression in the guise of protection. In another real scenario, if someone harvests anger inside of themselves then they will eventually explode. This is similar to nature, a cloud can only hold so much water; eventually the cloud will send rain, sleet or snow. So, this is important to think about when we think about the way we deal with the issue of protection. Now, I am not saying it is okay to delve into destructive activities in the guise of freedom. I don’t agree with destructive-behavior, at all. I just believe anger and frustration can definitely be directed in a constructive and positive manner. So, I definitely believe that protection can be imprisonment. This imprisonment can stunt a female’s view(s) on life. If she is unable to decide for herself then how will she know what is truly best for her? One father is quoted saying in an article, called ‘Dear Daughter: I Hope You Have Awesome Sex’ saying:

You’re not me. Nor are you an extension of my will. And so you need to make your own damn mistakes, to learn how to pick yourself up when you fall. I’ll help. But I think there’s value in getting lost. I think there’s a strength that only comes from fumbling your own way out of the darkness.

So, it is time for parents to allow their daughters to discover their own likes, dislikes, needs and wants. Now, I definitely sound like a feminist…and I am. However,I just feel it is really important to honor people. How do we honor someone if we take away their options? Each of us appreciate the ability to decide about the welfare of our own lives, especially as adults. So, it is important to honor the next individual’s right to decide about their life, even if its your own daughter.

So, in my own struggle of dealing with womanhood, I have accepted that this business of womanhood is serious. We may never think about these issues because they may not necessarily concern us or be relevant, but they are. Womanhood differs from one country to the next. Womanhood is affected by various factors. So, its really important to understand that treating daughters as if they are precious diamonds that will never get scratched up in the chaos in life is detrimental. If anything, let them get scratched up, but just let them know that you will always be there for them.

For extra reading:
“Dear Daughter: I Hope You Have Awesome Sex”: http://goodmenproject.com/ethics-values/brand-dear-daughter-i-hope-you-have-awesome-sex/

The Islamic-Perspective: Am I Really Sinful For Loving Outside of Marriage? Are There Multiple Ways to Love in Islam?

This thing called love is one that penetrates deeply for everyone. This emotion, action, concept, need or want is seen throughout all cultures. This thing called love is so special that it is needed and wanted by every single person. I will not limit this conversation about love nor seek to define love. However, it is important to ask ourselves, “What is love?”. Why do so many of us frequent this topic in our conversations, social-circles, music, literature, and etc? What does it mean to yearn for love? Is love about being with another person? Is it about having someone there to listen to you? Is it about having respect for another individual? Is it about being with someone intimately? What is it? In thinking about all of the ways in which we display love or go about in loving, what defines love? One of the many things that I hear, see and read about is this notion that love is only possible in the marital-bond. Love must not be before. Love must be within marriage and if one experiences love before marriage than it’s sinful. I’ve always wondered why people would say that. How does love become boxed up in one category? Why is love such a narrow thing for so many people? Maybe we should analyze this thing called love and figure out if it is truly sinful to love outside of marriage. In Islam, love comes in various forms that isn’t restricted within the marital-bond and these various forms of love is required of all Muslims.

In the Islamic-tradition, love can come about in various ways. It isn’t restricted to just marriage. Furthermore, it isn’t something that one would have to wait for in the marital-bond. The prophet Muhamamd(peace be upon him) said: “By Him in Whose Hand my soul is, you will not enter Paradise unless you believe, and you will not believe unless you love each other.Should I direct you to something that if you constantly did it, you would love each other? Spread the greetings of peace among you.” [Muslim]. In this context, what does it mean to love someone for the sake of Allah? It simply means to love them for the good that Allah sees in them. This person could be charitable, kind, generous, and etc. These are good qualities that are praised in Islam because Allah loves them. So, we could indeed love another Muslim man or Muslim woman for the good that they do. Furthermore, this love isn’t necessarily in a marital-bond. So, what kind of love are we talking about in the marital-bond? What makes the marital-bond different? Is this a differenty type of love?

In Islam, marriage is a bond in which two individuals come together and become lawful for one another. They are lawful for one another physically and lawful for one another in the context of being alone together as a man and woman. It is from this bond that families are created and companions grow together in their knowledge, their understanding of the religion and their love for each other. In showing the context of this specific love, I would like to pinpoint one of the verses that are commonly read for one’s nikkah (contract). It specifically states the type of love that is different from the first type of love that I spoke about in regards to having a brotherly/sisterly love. In order to understand this verse of the Qur’an, I have chosen to give the Arabic transliteration and the English translation.

Wamin ayatihi an khalaqa lakum min anfusikum azwajan litaskunoo ilayha wajaAAala baynakum mawaddatan warahmatan inna fee thalika laayatin liqawmin yatafakkaroona

And among His Signs is this that He created for you mates from among yourselves that ye may dwell in tranquillity with them and He has put love and mercy between your (hearts); verily in that are Signs for those who reflect. (Surah 30 Ayat 21)

This love is specifically mutual, it’s one of giving and receiving and it’s one in which Allah places between the spouses. Allah is telling those that are seeking to be in the marital-bond that he will place between the spouses a rahma, a mercy and mawaddata, a mutual love. This mawaddata is a proper love. A love that is affectionate. Furthermore, this love is specific to the ties held within the marital-bond and can only be sought after in the marital-bond.

Another form of love in Islam is to love Allah and the prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) more than anyone or anything else.

It is narrated by Anas bin Malik : The Prophet said, “Whoever possesses the following three qualities will have the sweetness (delight) of faith:

1. The one to whom Allah and His Apostle becomes dearer than anything else.
2. Who loves a person and he loves him only for Allah’s sake.
3. Who hates to revert to Atheism (disbelief) as he hates to be thrown into the fire.” (Sahih Bukhari)

In this form of love, there is obedience and required knowledge in order to truly love Allah and the prophet Muhammad. Allah is the creator of the heavens and the Earth and everything in between. The prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is the example in which Muslims follow and is guided by in living their lives. And in order for someone to truly grasp faith, one must love Allah and his prophet before themselves and others. This love calls for an individual to set aside their own desires while striving to do what is acceptable to Allah and his prophet.

Also, Islam calls for one to have love for parents. It is in this love that a child honors their parent(s), respects them and consoles them in their later stages of life especially.

“And your Lord has decreed that you worship none but Him. And that you be dutiful to your parents. If one of them or both of them attain old age in your life, say not to them a word of disrespect, nor reprimand them but address them in terms of honor. And lower unto them the wing of submission and humility through mercy, and say: “My Lord! Bestow on them Your mercy as they did bring me up when I was young.” [Surah: Bani Isra’il (17); Ayah 23 , 24]

Allah tells everyone that apart of faith is loving and being dutiful to one’s parents. Why? Well, we were all babes, young and in need of someone to help us when we were helpless. We needed someone to be patient with us and to be there for us. We simply can’t say that our parents didn’t play a role in our lives. Yes, for some of us we didn’t have parents there so we give this due love to whatever individual gave it to us. And in this, we are humble and we lower our wings to that person or those persons. We thank them for being there and for helping us.

In addition, Islam doesn’t restrict love to just individuals or the creator, but Islam commands individuals to love animals. Not only love animals, but to honor them. Many people do not take this seriously because they somehow believe that animals are separate from other living things and entities. However, this is not the case in Islam. Islam has strongly prohibited torture, hatred, abuse and mistreatment of all living things, including animals. It is from the Islamic-tradition that we learn that animals should be resepected, loved and treated kindly.

It was narrated by Abu Hurayrah the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) told his companions of the virtue of saving the life of a dog by giving it water and quenching its thirst. One story referred to a man who was blessed by Allaah for giving water to a thirsty dog, the other was a prostitute who filled her shoe with water and gave it to a dog, who had its tongue lolling out from thirst. For this deed she was granted the ultimate reward, the eternal Paradise under which rivers flow, to live therein forever. [Muslim]

As individuals, we should be mindful that love comes in so many forms and one form of love is by remembering our four-legged friends. We should remember those friends that may crawl on their tummies, swim in swamps, climb trees, or just like to lay lazily on the lawn. This is a love that is truly humbling because it makes us recognize that life isn’t restricted to just humans, but to all things in which there is life.

So, after reading all of this…what is love? I haven’t quite defined love. I have shown various forms of love and what to love, but necessarily what is love? Why does Islam preach about loving: parents, animals, spouses, friend, and others? Why does love bring us so close to others? Why does love make us draw near to that which is good…in most instances? What is good? Well, in Islam good is defined by Allah and the prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). So, what exactly is love? I’m not sure if I have the answer to that question. This thing called love is one that I do not believe can be defined because of its abstraction. It is in this thing called love that people grow to learn about themselves and others. Love comes in so many forms and is given/received in so many ways, yet many of us are constantly trying to box up a sure definition of love. In love, we can all agree that we somehow feel grounded, complete and nearer to others. Maybe this discussion on love isn’t fulfilling anything that are seeking on the topic of love. However, how does one start a conversation about something that is very much abstract? How can we even start to define love?

Mom, Dad...I Hope You're Proud of Me

Tonight, I cracked open this heart
Climbed in
And began seeing your mark on the interior of my very being
Being so immersed within this soft, but tender heart
I found nothing but your mark being scattered everywhere
within me
Your love, your words, your advice
And your guidance as being like the staff of Moses
most powerful and revolutionary
Telling me to only strive for greatness and nothing less than the best
Instilling in me self-confidence and motivation
to reach for my dreams
and to mark up the walls of the world with my signature
change the place in which we call our home
and make revolutions flourish like wildfires
commit poetic crimes and be my own voice
have my own voice
seek to be nothing but a leader
strive in being nothing but myself
and to never allow anyone to slay me into silence
My parents, my loves
I dedicate these words to you
every pen-stroke
every sentence
every page
every tear that I have shed internally
because you are indeed apart of me
as I am apart of you
and that’s beautiful

Oh Lord, give these two individuals the best of this world and give them the best of the hereafter. Ameen.

Love Letters: How to Get Back the Love Today!

Assalamu alaykom everyone,

One thing that I can remember from my childhood are the letters I would write to my friends. We would pass them back and forth in class behind the teacher’s back, give and receive a new one during our passing periods and give each another one to read on the bus going home. This was apart of this created world that we made as friends. There was nothing like a letter to be opened up, a letter to be given with information for nobody’s eyes but the intended person and a letter to be written with a response from the letter you received. This was a secret world between the giver and the receiver. A world of its own.

I guess my younger brother’s childhood wasn’t any different. Today, my mother went into her drawer and pulled out two folded up pieces of notebook paper and handed them to me. They were old, worn and torn in some spots, but readable. I unfolded the pieces of paper in fear of the words to be read. I thought to myself, “What did she read that she wasn’t suppose to read”? As I unfolded the paper, I started to read one of the two letters that she had given me. She told me to read them aloud as if I was under some form of interrogation by the FBI. I swallowed my fear and stuttered over the first few words to only unravel the letter of a lover to its beloved. As I stood in the midst of a letter intended for someone else’s eyes I felt scared. I didn’t want to go on for this was indeed a breach of contract. I knew I wasn’t the beloved of this lover. I was intruding on a love that was most intimate and heart-felt. My mother looked at me with a smirk on her face to only know the ending to such an intimate letter. As I continued to read this personal letter aloud, I found my heart skipping and my eyes watering up. I didn’t know why I felt this way. Was I getting too wrapped up? Was I missing this love? Why isn’t love like this anymore? Where is the sincerity of love at now? Is love now only wrapped up in 140 letters on Twitter or on a Facebook status or inboxed to our beloved?

I continued to read this letter that my brother had wrote to his beloved and wept internally. He opened up the letter with the sentence of “Dear Mom and Dad, I am sorry for leaving home without permission. I really like this girl and I have to do this. I’m not going for alcohol, drugs or sex. I love you so much. I will be back soon. Your son,” and my heart dropped. He wrote out a letter to his parents. This most intimate letter was to his parents. He was writing about an undying love to his parents. What teenager does that? Was he crazy? He knew within the words of his letter that our parents weren’t okay or in agreement with him having a girlfriend…let alone going to see her. However, he took out time to get pen and paper and write his thoughts. He took out time to lay out the things that were on his mind. He didn’t email my parents. He didn’t tweet them. He sat down at a table or on his bed and wrote a letter. Within the letter, I saw his love for our parents. He loved my parents and told them his feelings. He knew he was wrong and would be in trouble, but he was going to let someone know how much he felt about them. I’m not saying it is okay for any person to make irrational decisions, but there was something that got him to the point of having to run off to see some girl and write a letter to his parents about this rendezvous.

In reading my brother’s first letter, my mom unfolded the second letter. I just knew this letter was mine’s. The ink was purple. It was definitely a gel-pen. I just wanted to die. My legs started to shake and my eyes were burning to read quietly before saying the words aloud. She passed me the crumbled paper and told me to read…aloud. As I started to read the letter, I knew this wasn’t a letter I had written. This letter was for my brother. This girl had wrote a letter to her beloved. The letter confessed her undying love to my brother. Sure, at the back of my head I wanted to cry but she was honest. She was unsure of herself and I could see that. She wasn’t really certain in how she wanted to proceed in her thoughts. You could see how she loved my brother, but she wasn’t positive if she wanted to go all out in exposing her vulnerability. However, she exposed herself. She exposed the undying love she had for him and the beauty of not always being sure of how to proceed forward. She scratched out words and added ‘lol’ when she was unsure about statements made. However, she kept going. She was quite fluid in her feelings. She may had been unsure of how my brother would react to her letter, but she was sure that she loved him. Unfortunately, I remember this little love-affair of theirs. I have no comment. It’s just this whole act of writing on letters is just gone. Some people like to rebel against this new system of emailing, texting, inboxing, tweeting, but many have assimilated to this modern communication. This notion of writing intimately to the other is deep, sincere and personal. It truly can be intense depending on the conversation and the person(s) involved.

However, where does that leave us? In writing about these various stories about written letters, what is the point? The point is this…we need to get back the love. It’s very easy to simply text a line to our friends and partners, but is it really deep? Is it the love that we want in our relationships? Is this really a love that reaches deep? Honestly, if anyone knew my brother it is really hard to imagine him sitting down anywhere to write a letter…let alone a long one. However, he did. There was something within him that needed to be placed upon a notebook, on a piece of paper. And he did it. There was something in me that made me and my friends write notes constantly on a daily-basis to only reveal my secret stash of notes in my bedroom and in secret places. There was something that kept us writing. We didn’t care about anyone else. We were only intending to write to the intended recipient. We drew, scratched out, colored and wrote outside of lines and on margins. We would sometimes even fold up the note in funky ways. This was apart of this creative culture/world we had created in our social-circles. It really revealed an artistic way of expressing ourselves and our love, especially in the case of my brother. These letters were unrestricted and open. They exposed ourselves, our thoughts, our uncertainties, and everything else that makes us human. There was a hidden treasure in these letters. They unwrapped a world of our own and we didn’t care. We didn’t fear anything except for the eyes of those in which the letter was not intended for. We carried them in our pockets, in our hands, in our wallets, in our purses, in our backpacks, under our mattresses and any other places in which they could fit. It was our own world. It was us giving each other something most intimate and personal. It was us giving love in a strange, but personal way.

It was us showing each other love. It was us creating something. Making something out of nothing. It was us making the world our own. It was us taking relationships to the next level. It was us letting the world become our own.

Remember Your Children Are Watching and You're Responsible

Assalamu Alaykom,

One thing we all can agree on is that the upbringing of a child is important. However, we may differ on what qualifies as being a good upbringing. As a Muslim, Islam has laid out guidelines in raising children. Yes, we all are in different situations and have various circumstances when it comes to our children. Some Muslim families are nuclear, single-parents, extended, and inter-cultural and inter-faith based. So, we have this reality on the table. We cannot deny this is the reality for many of us globally.

Islam is meant to be a mercy for the people, so it shouldn’t be hard. Also, Islam is easy and simple. In knowing this, Islam can only provide easiness for a person who strives to practice this religion.

Islam has told the parent/guardian over children and teenagers that ” The Prophet (s) said: “Allah (SWT) will ask every caretaker about the people under his care, and the man will be asked about the people of his household” (Nasa’i, Abu Da’ud). Parents/Guardians are responsible for the individuals in their care and they will be held to this responsibility until they are asked about it by their creator.

In addition, the head of the household is told that their primary responsibility is to keep themselves and their families from falling into error and landing themselves in the hellfire. The head of the household should teach, educate and be active in the family. There should be mutual love and understand between the family members. Allah states in the Quran, ““O you who believe! Ward off yourselves and your families against a Fire (Hell) whose fuel is men and stones, over which are (appointed) angels stern (and) severe, who disobey not, (from executing) the commands they receive from Allah, but do that which they are commanded” (Tahrim 66:6).

Also, It is really interesting to see how girls are one of the primary focuses for head of households because there was a time in which girls were simply ignored and seen as less than their male-counterpart in society. The prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) stated that “Whoever is in charge of any of these girls and treats them well, they will be a shield for him against the Fire” (Narrated by al-Bukhaari, 5649; Muslim, 2629). Also, he said that The Prophet Muhammad, sallallahu alayhi wa sallam said, was also reported to have said: “Whoever has a female (daughter) and doesn’t bury her alive nor scorn her nor give preference to his male child over her, Allah will admit him to Paradise.” (Abu Dawood)

So, It is a blessing to have and to raise a daughter in Islam.

Also, in rearing children it is important to be just and to remember they are individuals with feelings. The prophet Muhammad said that the one who is not merciful towards others than God will not be merciful towards them. So, one must be mindful of their treatment to their child(ren).

Furthermore, the children should be raised in a household in which Islam is taught or lived out on a daily basis. Sadly, some parents simply expect the local mosque or Islamic-school to raise their children but this is not the case. One must understand that education starts at home. Islam should be seen as a way of life. It should be seen as a beautiful thing too. Of course, there should be joy, laughter, love, playfulness and education all at the same time. Islam shouldn’t be seen as a way of life that is hard, bothersome and restrictive. If one was to live Islam in this matter than it would only lead to the children growing up to hate and to distance themselves from such a lifestyle.