The Secret Book

A couple months ago I got a book out of the library. I was looking for books about Islam. When I first became Muslim, the entire library system had hardly any books about Islam. Now there are over 1,000, but most of them are either the same kind of informational text: “There are five pillars of Islam…” or they are political: Why Muslims are our enemies. There’s not a lot there actually written for Muslims.

So I selected a promising title: Standing Alone in Mecca. The description said that it was about a woman going on hajj with her infant son. The first day I brought it home, my husband said, “From where did you get this book.” I said, “The library. I haven’t started reading it yet. Don’t know if it’s any good.”

My husband said (and I quote), “She’s one of those numb-nuts who thinks that men and women should pray together.” I placidly replied that maybe it wasn’t very good then, but secretly I wanted to read the book even more because I wanted to know what she had to say. I didn’t just want to hear my husband’s opinion on her. Besides, maybe she was just “guilty by association.”

So what happened was I hid the book and read it at night in secret, and, I have to say, that I feel in some way that this secret book reading proves some of her points. I mean, why should I feel the need to read a book in secret?

So far as it goes, it seems like she probably does believe that men and woman should pray together, and maybe she has done other things since the book was published, but what she actually fought for? That was sunnah, that was women’s basic rights. It’s hard to believe it’s even controversial.She argued for the right of woman to attend the masjids, use the main sanctuary, etc. She made a lot of comments about Wahhabis and salafis, but even people I know of who other people consider to be in those categories wouldn’t say otherwise. I listened to a lecture given by Dr. Bilal Philips, in which he explained that having a separate woman’s section in the masjid was contrary to sunnah (in fact a bida), and that the women had to be able to see the prayer. One of the local masjids has actually built their facilities without a separate prayer hall for women, and they reserve space in the masjid for woman. It is a newer building, so this was intentional. At the same time, there are other masjids that won’t even allow women because they don’t have a separate prayer room for them.

I’m not saying everyone has to agree, but I think judging people before you even listen to them is a dangerous thing. We need to listen more, not just be ready to fight our position.

 

 

 

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Islam Equated with Race

I attended a lecture today at the masjid. It was about raising Muslim children. For the most part I really enjoyed it. The turn out was pretty good. It was just for young mothers, and I felt pretty comfortable and felt that the other sisters were friendly and welcoming. I think Baby enjoyed dragging Mommy around by the hand the entire lecture.

The speaker did something I think she may not even have been aware she was doing. I didn’t even register it too much at the time. I mean I understood whatever points she was trying to make, but it must have left an impression on me because I was thinking about it later. Basically she referred to “white Americans” as if this were the opposite of Islam.

She was talking at first about what children watch on TV or on computers, even programs made for children, and how it affects their behavior. She mentioned some cartoon about a pig or something, that she used to think was really cute, but she noticed that her children were sticking their tongues out and being disrespectful to the parents, and then she looked it up online and found that other parents had the same problem. When she watched the show more closely, she saw that that was how the character behaved. When she described it to us, she said that the children were “behaving like white Americans.”

In another instance she was discussing how we behave as parents, and she said, “Your children are going to think you are crazy. They aren’t going to think their white teacher is crazy.”

The American Muslim community is one of the most diverse in the world, and she was brought up in it. I didn’t really register the racial identities of the other ladies present. Perhaps I was the only “white American.” But I know there are plenty of white Americans in the American Muslim community. I don’t think being either white or American makes us less Muslim or our behavior or values less in line with Islamic values. I think that Allah made a portion of believers out of every racial group, and our race and ethnicity do not reflect our Islam.

Busy With Motherhood/My First Etsy Listing

I’ve had so many good ideas for posts but not the time for even jotting down said ideas let alone actually writing them. And it’s kind of true what they say, even when you think you’ll remember an idea, you don’t always remember when you don’t write it down.

Baby has been keeping me busy/not so busy. Sometimes I’m sure it just looks to my husband like I’m just wandering aimlessly around the house carrying Baby or sitting with her. In reality, there are a great many things on my to do list, but I get at best a couple hours when Baby is sleeping to work on them (which is never enough time to do them all). Of course Baby has also been teething, which means the sleep is unpredictable.

I can’t even read or use the computer most of the time when she is awake. If I sit down with a book, within minutes, Baby is standing in front of me screaming at me because she wants. At the computer, she either wants to sit on my lap and chew on things she probably shouldn’t chew on or she stands next to me and screams at me (probably because she wants to chew on things she probably shouldn’t chew on). I know a lot of people would say I should just go about what I want to do and ignore her, but:

a) Have you ever tried to read while someone was screaming at you?

b) My husband is sleeping!

Despite all this, with a lot of help from my family, I finally got my business, Sister Craft Hijabs at www.etsy.com/shop/SisterCraftHijabs up and running (okay, maybe limping along). I made my first listing yesterday.

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A Purple Two-Piece Abaya/Prayer Dress with Orange roses. I tried it on, and I really loved it actually. It felt so comfortable to wear, and I love the color. It’s one of my favorite colors and not flashy. I was really tempted to keep it for myself. I took that as a good sign, and exercised some self-restraint (can’t run a successful business if I’m going to keep everything I make). If it doesn’t sell maybe I’ll just keep it or make another for myself.

Right now I only have 4 listings. I’ll have another tomorrow, inshallah I plan to have some cowl neck nursing tunics (I made one for myself) and skirts also.

I made a Facebook page to promote my business. Unfortunately it was a typo, so my Facebook page says Sister Craft HIjabs but the url is stillwww.facebook.com/SisterCraftHijabs.

With the limited time, I had the choice to either work on sewing or administrative (computer based) tasks. I guess you can tell which one I’m doing. I hope I’ll get some more posts written soon on all those great topics (I hope they were as great as I thought) that I was planning to write about.

Tough Skin and a Soft Heart?

My sister stopped at my place after work yesterday. She was a bit upset and needed to talk.

At work, she was getting a container of laundry detergent to fill an order. A couple was standing talking a little in front of the display. They weren’t really in her way, and she just reached around and took a container of laundry detergent. The husband said, “Excuse me.”

She said, “Sorry.”

The woman said something to her.

She said,”Sorry.”

The woman said something further to her.

She said, “Sorry,” again.

The woman said something more.

She said, “Sorry.” (I’m thinking to myself did she seriously just say sorry to them four times just for reaching around them?).

Then the woman said, “You’re awfully rude for someone who works here.”

Another sorry.

“Just don’t let it happen again. Other people might not be as nice as we’ve been.” (Really? She thought she was nice?).

My sister walked away, and after a couple of minutes started crying. She says to me that if at over 30 she hasn’t learned good manners and people still think she’s rude, is she ever going to. She says, her whole life she’s always tried to be polite, and no one has ever thought she was polite. People always say she’s rude.

This is interesting to me, our divergent experiences, because my sister really does try, and I don’t try to be rude, but she’s probably more polite and considerate (seriously I’ve never met anyone who worried more about how other people felt and what they would think of her), and I don’t really recall people telling me I’m rude. Also, so far as life goals, I never really worried about people thinking I’m polite; my goals were to live with honesty and integrity and be a good person.

My sister and my aunt were nervous about ever traveling to Bangladesh because they worried they would be ignorant of some point of etiquette and accidentally offend someone. I can’t say I ever worried about that. It probably is a valid worry. It seems, however, that we can unintentionally offend even in our own culture (I’ll have to do a post sometime on why I think I might have Asperger’s).

My sister really thought the whole thing out. She didn’t say excuse me because it makes people feel as though they are in your way or you have annoyed them in some way (I know it makes me feel that way), and they weren’t in her way. Also many people use excuse me in a rude way to show that they are annoyed with you or they feel you have done something wrong. Her logic makes sense to me; I understand where she’s coming from.

To me etiquette is kind of hogwash. That isn’t really what good manners are. To me, good manners is kindness, plain and simple. It’s about real consideration for other people, how you treat people, how you make them feel. Intentionally trying to make others feel low and bad about their shortcomings, there’s nothing polite about that. So who was the rude one here?

She has a lot more forbearance than I do. I’m afraid I would have lost my temper. I’m sure (if I was their employee) that the store would not like me to say what I would like to say to these people even if I’m right (and no I wouldn’t have spoken disrespectfully to them or swore at them because I don’t do that).

My whole life people have told me I need to get a tougher skin (so such things don’t upset or hurt you), but my heart is hard. How does a tougher skin and the goal of a softer heart go together? My sister says they don’t. She says they are opposing goals. I think maybe, it isn’t a tough skin, you need at all. Maybe what you need is more patience and forbearance. You bear it patiently even though it hurts you. Maybe that is the goal.

 

Christmas

Now it seems like it’s pretty clear we wouldn’t celebrate Christmas when it is a religious holiday that is not part of our beliefs (we don’t celebrate our Prophet’s birthday either and historically, they are pretty sure that Jesus was not actually born on December 25th). These issues get complicated when you have non-Muslim relatives though. I looked it up extensively when I was a new Muslim and then pretty much stuck by that for the past decade.

Basically, so far as wishing anyone a happy or merry Christmas, I am not supposed to do that as it is considered the equivalent of congratulating them in their disbelief. My family doesn’t necessarily understand that, so it’s a little hard to get around that without offending anyone, but I have mostly managed it.

I am also not supposed to give presents to specifically mark the occasion. I can give them presents on other occasions. I am allowed to accept their presents in the interest of maintaining good relations as long as they are not presents that are haram or of a religious nature. Strangely enough, my dad and my aunt have mostly not seemed to notice that I am not giving them presents. In fact, almost every year, they ask me about how I’m doing with my Christmas shopping. My mom probably confuses that issue somewhat because she sometimes gives my aunt a present and signs my name to it.

I find it kind of amusing that pretty much from the beginning, my mom has given me Islamic themed Christmas presents. One year she gave me an entire boxed set of Sahih al-Bukhari (not an inexpensive gift). She often gives me abayas and hijab.

My mom declared to my sister this year that we should not have a problem with celebrating Christmas because it is secular anyway. My sister disagreed that it is secular, but she said to my mom that actually all the Santa stuff disturbs her more than the Jesus stuff. My mom could understand that.

In one of my sociology classes, the professor referred to it as the religion of Santa Claus, and he really does have a point. Santa is attributed special powers. He “sees you when you’re sleeping and knows when you’re awake.” He “knows when you’ve been bad or good,” and he rewards or punishes if you’ve been good or bad. And it’s all about belief. In all of those Christmas specials, it’s always about whether they “believe” in Santa. Also, in pretty much all those Christmas specials about “saving” Christmas, it’s always implied that there “won’t be a Christmas,” if the children don’t get their presents. Worshiping materialism. If I were a Christian even, I think I would find some of these ideas disturbing or contrary to my beliefs.

As a child I vaguely believed in Santa the way you just accept what adults tell you when you are little. I thought he must be real if they track his progress on the news and my parents and everyone say he is, but he didn’t really have a place in my world either. I was expected to remember who every present was from in order to properly thank them, and even the ones that said from Santa, we knew who they were from. My parents tried to get around this by saying that Santa helped with delivering the presents, but since we went around delivering presents to all our relatives houses on Christmas Eve, and they likewise delivered presents to our house, this really didn’t make much sense either. So there you go! A vague belief that Santa existed but no clear idea as to his actual role or relevance.

 

Thanksgiving

My husband felt very strongly that we should not celebrate the baby’s birthday (or any birthdays), our anniversary, etc. I was not in total agreement about this. I’m still thinking about her amazing birth (I have to write about that sometime), and I want to celebrate that she’s been with us a year. I feel like mainly the only religious grounds he could have for this is the idea that we are only supposed to celebrate (annually) the two eids. That is something a lot of the scholars say, although the Prophet saying they are better, doesn’t seem to me to explicitly forbid celebrating other things as long as they aren’t anything haram.

Last week, my husband asked me what we were doing for Thanksgiving, I asked my mom, and she said we were going there, which we did. My husband has fond memories of Thanksgiving as he came to Thanksgiving at my mom’s shortly after we were married (and we didn’t have an awful lot of that sweet honeymoon stage of our marriage before we were put in difficulty and separated by his visa troubles). Now it seems to me, if we can’t celebrate birthdays that Thanksgiving would be off too, but I didn’t really want to point that out to my husband. So we went to my mom’s for Thanksgiving, and the baby really enjoyed herself.

Gentleness in Islam

Khutbahs are supposed to be on topics which are important and necessary for the people, relevant to the issues they are dealing with, timely reminders. With that in mind, I felt that the khutbah that I heard on Friday was quite appropriate.

At the point at which I started listening (I always have to use the bathroom and get settled with Baby and say 2 rakat), the imam was asking what should we say to our children, our non-Muslim friends, anyone when they look at what is happening in the world and ask us, is this Islam, how do you interpret the Quran? We can give a resounding, no! This is not Islam!

He said we should look to the model, Prophet Muhammad (s), our example. His behavior was the Quran. He was tortured and persecuted, treated very cruelly for years by the pagan Makkans. Then when finally, they were in his power, he says to them, “Go! This day you are free!” There is no place in Islam for hatred and vengeance.

Gentleness and Mercy are part of religion. Our prophet (s) said that when gentleness is in anything it beautifies it and when gentleness is removed from anything, it becomes ugly.  He who is deprived of gentleness is deprived of all good.

There is no place for extremism in Islam, even for those with good intentions. When 3 men came to ask the Prophet (s) about his worship, one of them then said that he would fast every day, another that he would pray all night, and the third that he would not marry. The Prophet (s) was displeased. He said, “I fast and I break my fast, I pray at night and I sleep, and I marry women. He who does not follow my sunnah is not of me.”

I am paraphrasing this khutbah. So I hope I have managed to capture the spirit of it, and the main points and not mangle anything that was said too badly.

 

Terrorist Attack

Yesterday I was talking with my mom about our upcoming trip to visit my daughter’s Bangladeshi grandparents. We are all very excited about this. My sister-in-laws have both had babies in the same year and everyone is coming. My sister is also coming with us to meet my in-laws. Because of previous attacks in Bangladesh, my mom is a little worried, and she told me to be careful, especially after this attack in France, and I was like, what!?

My mom was like, “Are you serious? You haven’t heard about this?”

I said,”No, when did it happen?”

My sister was not surprised that I did not know because she knows me, I guess. I don’t watch TV(my husband does, but I’ve never seen him watch the news). I’m busy with Baby and still trying to start this hijab business (although admittedly this past week I’ve been focusing much more on the gifts I am making for my in-laws); sometimes I only get online once or twice a week. I don’t necessarily think this is a bad  thing, but we live in such a fast paced world. It seems like if you’re disconnected for even a few days, all sorts of things are happening ( A few years ago, I almost got fired from my new teaching job about which I was very much looking forward to and really needed because I had not checked my e-mail in 3 days. The last e-mail I had received from the principal had said see you in September no indication that I was required to be in contact prior to that (I could have been out of the country). They were not able to reach me by telephone because there was some problem with the telephone line, and he said if I did not respond by the next day he would give the job (for which I had already signed a contract) to someone else. I had already missed the deadline by the time I checked my e-mail, so I was quite upset. Fortunately, he had not yet hired anyone else. The principal tried to play it very cool, telling me he would have to let me know after he interviewed some other candidates the next day, but in reality the school was very much in need of teachers, and one teacher got hired only days before the start of the school year.).

My mom was upset because she worries about us when we will be traveling. She is also upset and angered by the anti-Muslim hate comments she has seen online. I think she worries about us when she sees such things.

I mentioned it to my husband later in the day. He seemed almost defensive, as if people were accusing him of being a terrorist. For all I know they do. He came here, the first time, the same year as September 11th, and, when my dad asked him about it, he said there was a huge difference in America before and after. I never thought about that before what it might have been like for him. I remember reading in a book about the huge number of Muslim boys getting beaten up in school and called terrorists. For some reason I thought this must be getting better, but I don’t know if that’s true. My sister says that that is one of the goals of these terrorists to make life difficult for the Muslims here, so that they are forced out and into their hands. It does make me wonder what my husband faces, and what my children may face.

I think these people are evil, no question. In theory there wouldn’t be anything wrong with an Islamic state. There was one, of some sort, up until the first World War, and in Islam the religion and the state really are not separate.  But if a person’s goal is good, their means to attain it must be good also. Evil is the fruit of evil. I don’t believe there is any room in Islam for a Machiavellian, ends justify the means mentality. In the Bible it says you will know people by their fruits, and there are similar sayings in Islam.

My sister said, how can people say Allahu akbar while they are so blatantly disregarding Allah’s laws and all morality? To harm men, women, and children who did you no harm. Retaliation for a harm is only allowed to the degree you were harmed, and it is better for us if we forgive. When the Prophet (s) saw a woman killed in war, he said, “She was not fighting, why was she killed?” Harming of innocent people is forbidden.

How can these people justify their actions and call themselves Muslims? Perhaps they are munafiqun or the people mentioned in the Quran who think to deceive Allah, but only deceive themselves. The people who make mischief on the earth while claiming they only want to make peace. May Allah protect us from their harm.

 

Prayer for Mothers with Small Children

We took Baby to the masjid again on Friday. I decided to try out the prayer for mothers with small children even though the idea had bothered me last time. I guess it kind of bothered me too, Baby being the only child at the prayer. I think also there is an encouragement in Islam of abiding by the decisions of people put in authority over you.

It turned out to be a small room with a lot of toys and fairly loud playing small children, 12 mothers, and about 20 infants and toddlers. There was a TV fixed to the wall, showing the imam. I’ve seen opinions about watching the jumu’ah on a TV screen that it doesn’t really count as attending the jumu’ah, but I have to admit that this was probably a better environment for me and Baby. We felt more accepted, didn’t have to worry about offending anyone, and overall it was just less overwhelming. The size of the gathering is more what I feel comfortable with as the masjids in this area are just so large!

I still don’t really agree with the ideology behind it, but I did feel it was better for Baby to be with other children, so we will probably go there from now on. I do kind of wonder though whether the rest of the community is depriving themselves of the presence of these children. I wonder whether women were actually asked what they wanted or whether the male leadership just made these decisions. In my childless days I used to enjoy seeing the children in the masjid even if they were a distraction, and when I took Baby to the prayer, there were definitely ladies who enjoyed seeing her. I also wonder what it says for the future of our ummah that the mothers of small children made up such a small group at such a large masjid.

Hiking Amidst the Ruins (Kaaterskill Hotel)

Kaaterskill Hotel

Last weekend we went hiking at North South Lake State Park. We went along a scenic ridge where at least one overlook was called Inspiration Point. I’m not really sure what anything else was called. On our way back, we came looking for the site of the Kaaterskill Hotel. It was on our map. We hadn’t actually heard of it before. I speculated on whether they would put a sign up marking the location.

At a juncture in the trail, we came upon three other hikers. They asked us if we were looking for the Kaaterskill Hotel. They told us they had been looking for it all day. Apparently there was no sign. They said they had found some cooking area and small ruins. My sister suggested that was all that was left, but they said they had seen pictures online, and there is supposed to be a lot left.

We continued along the trail to see what we could see. I pointed off the trail at a deer trail leading into sumac and suggested we should look up there because a hotel would have been built on higher more open ground. We came across some old stone foundations. It did not look like an exceptionally large building, but we had never heard of the Kaaterskill Hotel. Perhaps it was not very large.

We wanted to go to the other side to see if there was more to find, but there didn’t seem to be any way around. I hesitated to walk through the foundation and made a comment to my sister about it. She agreed that it “just felt wrong.” A friend told me once that jinn hang around ruins, but I won’t say that was what it was. It just felt wrong to walk through it. It could have been that the ground was simply less even and we feared to turn any ankle. Whatever the case we did not go through or trespass there.

We walked back down to the trail and came across the other hikers who we had seen tromping higher up. My sister asked them if they had found it. They said yes, but there wasn’t much left. We walked off into the woods in the direction they had come. There wasn’t any trail. We came across a small portion of a facade of a concrete building. There was hardly anything left.

When we got home, I looked the Kaaterskill Hotel up online. I was stunned. It had not been a small or even modest hotel. It had been a colossus, one of the grandest most expensive hotels of its day. There is something eerie to think that we had been walking there where such a place once stood, and hardly a trace was left. Not even one hundred years, and people are wandering through woods having to search to find even a small sign of it.

Surely this is one of the signs of Allah, that something that seemed so impressive and grand, so massive and strong, could vanish into woods where hikers tromp through, leaving scarcely even ruins behind.