New blog! New address! New residency!

The husband and I seized the opportunity to relocate back to his hometown of Abu Dhabi. I’m officially an expat of the UAE and will be documenting my experiences abroad at my new blog. Check it out 😉 http://www.amirainabudhabi.com

Attention hijabis:

Do you think you can fully express your inner diva where you live?

I first started wearing hijab while I was abroad in London last year, and the muslimahs there are so diverse and creative mashallah. And now, back at university in America (Pittsburgh, to be exact), I feel a bit stifled.

Maybe it’s because I’m a “baby-hijabi”, but I just feel some cities, particularly London, UK, are so much more muslimah-friendly.

I know, I know, I’m completely bias in this assessment because I just love London and would love to live there. But honestly, what are your thoughts?

I see all the styles and outfits, for example, on Hijab Style, and I think “Yes! I am feeling this and that.” And then I remember, “Wait, you’re not in the UK. Slow it down…America is not ready!”

Be odd-ball out? or by the cheapest one-way flight back to London? To be determined…

-distressed hijabi 😛

Till next time, London…

I never expected my last post in London to be like this. Me writing feeling this way. At peace. Sure. But still, unnervingly uncertain about what lies ahead…
I had plans, and mashallah, I achieved them. I successfully completed courses (including International Trade and International Marketing), the internship, and managed to step on the soil of 8 more countries.
But something else happened along the way. “They say the goodness in life belongs to those who believe.” Before, I had recited that lyric with aspiration, hoping its truth would one day make sense to me. Would one day be my own. Waiting to know what faith felt like.

But today, I believe. And I am so blessed to know the difference. I do not know many things. Like if I will be able to register for courses next term. If I will be able to complete my research. In what state will I find my family. My community. My country. I do not know what I will do when I graduate. Who I will become, who I will be with and who will not be with me.But, I have never felt so sure in the goodness promised to those who seek truth. I have never felt so safe in where I need to be.
During one of my last days at work, I was walking down the street after picking up groceries for the cookery club, and I was listening to Yusef Estes on my iPod. During the podcast, he said “No Muslim is in a hurry to die. But at the same time we take that as a fact of life…death.”

And it made think of a moment in my life, years ago.

I remember the image distinctly in my head. Our family had just finished praying together. I think it was during the month of Ramadan because the days were much shorter. I don’t think I was even able to see over my parents’ bed, but I followed my mom to the bedroom and asked her about something she had read to me in the Qur’an. I’m not sure how the verse read, but I remember envisioning the earth, the blues and the greens, and envisioning her leaving this world.

I demanded her to explain this thing called “death” and why God would take her away from me. Why she would not be with me forever. Even as I write this the tears fall. All I can remember was her smiling and laughing and holding me, telling me that this is true, but that I should not be afraid. And like many years to come, she would tell me to fear no one and nothing but God.

When I’d hate to go into our basement (evil surely had to reside in that scary place), I’d repeat that.And now, in what seems like centuries later, I still feel the comfort in remembering how small I am…

For the people who have known me these past few years, they probably see my changes as phases of growth. They know that I am never in one place for too long, physically and metaphorically. But for those who’ve known me longest, it may seem strange for them how often I now invoke God in a conversation. My little sister, for one, was sure to inform me of how funny it all is.

And sometimes I find myself trying to go back to October. Trying to recount the exact moment, when I had found what I had been looking for for many years now.
I know that if I had picked up the Qur’an and it read to spend my nights partying and drinking until it hurt, to intoxicate myself as much as possible so that I am not conscious of my existence, to have relations with everyone I run into without hesitation, to not want for the best, to be oppressed, then it would be very difficult for me to be a believer.

But that is not what I read.

I read how God hates oppression and restricts even Himself from doing it. I read to appreciate my beauty to the extent that I guard it every day from everyone but my family and for whomever else awaits. I read to spend as much time with my family as I can and to honor my mother three times after I honor God, and then could I honor my father. I read how to pray, when to pray and that God hears the one who prays.
And in that, I find the greatest consolation.

What next?
I will be returning to Brazil for a month after I graduate, inshaAllah. And, right now I have an application being reviewed for what will change my life if I receive it. And if not, I will work, do something, help people. Paint. Lock myself in a room for a year and paint and teach myself Italian, French, Arabic, Punjab/Hindu, and whatever else. Read. Be. Alone. For a minute. Just for a second. In the silence of my existence. …Then back to school.

But, I will miss London. I will miss the people that have been so kind do me during my stay. My coworkers. The children. My two Somali sisters who have been so nice to me. I will miss our short but fun times. Our discussions on hidden piercings, marriage, career plans, and most of all, Islam. The other Muslim friends I’ve made. The food.  Cadbury chocolate. The multiculturalism. The uncomfortable Tube rides. Taking the bus. The trips. The new friendships. The tea.
Yes, I will miss London and I hope to return.

To those reading, I have one piece of advice:
Seek Truth, and don’t stop until you find it. It’s out there.

Sincerely,
Amira

Happy Eid Al-Adha 2008!

I’m not feeling too well at the moment. Foolishness. Some people can make it worse. Some people can make it better, alhamdulillah.

But I am very excited for tomorrow. I will be getting up in a few hours and joining a sisterfriend of mine to celebrate Eid al Adha at the pretty Regents Mosque (see, it’s pretty). I’ve never been. And it will be even extra special to go and celebrate on such a beautiful day, inshaAllah.

Check out Al Jazeera’s photo gallery on Hajj for more understanding.

In the meantime, I hope to stop clutching this teddy bear and kleenex and get back to the peace I’ve been having these past few days!

Eid Mubarak,

“Allah would make the burden light for you, for man was created weak.” [Qur’an 4:28]

“Seek help in patience and prayer; and truly it is hard, except for the humble-minded.” [2:45]

“And He alone is truly Forgiving, and all embracing in His love.” [85:14]

A Bankrupting Education

In case you thought any different, see for yourself.

Study flunks 49 states in college affordability


“The educational strength of the American population is in the group that’s about to retire,” Callan said. “In the rest of the world it’s the group that’s gone to college since 1990.”

That’s a problem.

This is just another reason for me to look towards Europe and the rest of the world for my post-graduate education. Especially when I can’t register for spring classes still! Pitt be tripping. Haha, right now I’m trusting that God is the Best of providers.

Mos Definitely.

Here’s a feature of my feature!

Salaams everyone,

It’s a beautiful day. I mean, it’s grey outside here in London town, but the sun pierced right on through with it’s usual brightness. So, I’m happy.

I was checking out some stats of my blog and got a hold of incoming links. Turns out, someone blogged about my blog post. Cool, right? I think so.
So here’s a feature of my feature from ThoseHeadcoverings.blogspot.com.

Peep it.

That got me thinking about hijab, and my choice to wear it. And, how some women cannot exercise that right freely in certain Muslim countries. I won’t call anybody out (Turkey, cough).

Well, I’ll be going to Istanbul this weekend. I’m terribly excited! Like, you have no idea. New food, new language, new shopping marketssss, AND I get to visit the beautiful Blue Mosque.

I’ve been reading up on Turkey since I booked my flight in October. Some of you may be familiar with Turkey’s secularization of the state which has manifested in the form of Turkey’s ban on women covering themselves in public institutions (i.e. schools and colleges). That’s right…they are prohibited from dressing as Allah (swa) ordained for us.

Well, if you tell people not to do something, particularly youth, we’ll do it anyway. And that’s e

xactly what the Muslimahs have done, mashAllah. Provided, many had to drop out of college or not enroll to protect their rights to freedom of religion, a sort of revival of the hijab has emerged in Turkey and it’s hot! I mean, the youth have been challenging this, organizing and educating themselves (since they can’t enroll in university). Hijab has become a sign of rebellion. What do I think?

“Fight the Power!…………………….

Lol, more seriously, some have mobilized and joined Young Civilians. (Read more here)

“Their symbol was a Converse sneaker. Their members were funny and irreverent. One once joked that if you mentioned the name Marx, young women without head scarves assumed you were talking about the British department store Marks & Spencer, while ones in scarves understood the reference to the philosopher.”

Well, that’s just perfect because I love chucks (Converse sneakers) and I appreciate Karl Marx. I’ll be sure to pack my black chucks and reread my notes from Social Theory two years ago.

Maybe the fight will end soon as some leaders are standing in opposition. Read more at Sunday’s Zaman:

[Event of the Week]

Baykal surprises all with softened headscarf stance

An unexpected softening in the stance of main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Deniz Baykal on the use of headscarves surprised everyone in the country. His motives behind this unexpected move were discussed throughout the week.

“We are setting off hand-in-hand with people who have not come together before. We are setting off with all men and women — all who cover their heads and who do not,” Baykal said as he put CHP badge on a covered woman’s coat on Sunday. “It is not right to discriminate against people because of what they wear. It is not right to make deductions about them based on their attire.” Baykal’s remarks came during a CHP ceremony held in İstanbul last Sunday in honor of the party’s new members, who included covered women. The sudden change in Baykal’s tough stance — he’s better known for his opposition to lifting the ban on the headscarf in the public sphere — was interpreted by many as a tactic to gain the sympathy of conservative voters in the upcoming March elections. Opponents of Baykal’s move, including party deputies Nejla Arat and Nur Serter, claimed Baykal was straying from the party’s traditional staunchly secular line and disturbing the grass roots with his move. But Baykal defended himself during a TV program on Friday, saying that the participation of women in chadors did not mean a change in the party’s policies. He said the CHP already has a number of party members and families who wear headscarves. Baykal precipitated the annulment of a reform package that would have lifted a ban on Muslim headscarves at universities by taking it to the Constitutional Court in February

….

When I go to Istanbul, hmm, I guess it’s tomorrow, I will be taking notice of all this firsthand, inshAllah.

“Know your roots, though!”

Today, I went to the Docklands Museum and saw the gallery exhibition: Slavery and Sugar.

Yoruba busts displayed at gallery

Yoruba busts displayed at gallery

It was really good, so much detail and really progressive, in my opinion.
As I learned, I saw kids on a class trip, learning as well, while many of my classmates casually decided to peruse right on past. Some did stay and spent as much time harking over every detail provided as I did. It was quite a lovely collection and as my professor explained, this was quite a big deal for a museum to assume “responsibility.”

So, I decided that my kids shall be educated in London, inshaAllah. Done. Lol.

After that, run to work.
Make wudhu, Zuhar prayer.
Eat lunch.
Go get ingredients for cookery club.
Return.
Make wudhu, Asar prayer.
Just as I was on my way up, my supervisor asks, “Amira, would you like to help with the Christmas decorations?”
Hmmm.
Christmas in my house was always, just another day. Home, with family. Loving to be home, probably catching Home Alone reruns. We would look outside the windows to see the neighbors decorations, then guess how long each one would leave it up.

“February!”
“No, March!”
And then, I’d ask my dad for $100 explaining that all my classmates would be returning with new gear and that I needed new clothes. He’d pull out his wallet and I’d walk away feeling accomplished.
This was Dec. 25 in my house.
But decorations? Decorating.
Like the verb.
I don’t know if I can bring myself to decorate a Christmas tree.

Quite frankly, I don’t feel like it.
I responded “Can you give me 20 minutes”. I didn’t explain that it was time for midday prayer when I stepped out. As I walked to the restroom, I asked myself if I didn’t want to decorate because of some moral/religious/anti-Hallmark profiteering objection, or was it just because I’m sleepy and don’t feel like it.

So, I’m sitting here.Making conversation on the laptop as they continue to decorate.
“It’s nice,” I offer my approval.
But anyway, back to my world. Yes, I want my kids to be educated in London because I like the fact that the children here grow up watching the news and have a global awareness. They are going to exhibits and they are like 9 years old, learning first hand about slavery, civil rights, immigration, at a level that many of my peers have yet to learn and have no intentions of filling the gaps.
If, I decide to live in the USA, which would probably end up being Chicago, then, I shall home school my kids, God willing. I don’t trust teachers. I don’t trust No Child Left Behind. I don’t trust the system, man. Period.
I look at myself. How ignorant am I. Sure, I have a real desire to learn as much as I can, but how much can I ever learn to even understand who I am.
We’ll see.
And…
My  fascination with mothers and motherhood in general has been resurfacing lately. I mean, I’m not going to drop out of college tomorrow and throw on my apron! Don’t take what I’m saying to seriously, or seriously at all even. That would be the most awful of crimes.
But yes, I am fascinated. Like the woman from Eritrea that I made friends with during my bus ride to work on Monday morning. I thought she looked spunky in her colorful hijab. Her 2 year old son was just adorable and the little girl in the stroller was so cute and serious, blessing us with her smile at her own discretion. The son was quite active, standing in the seat in front of me playing with his toy car, every now and then offering it to me. I would make faces and laugh and he’d laugh. Sometimes, he’d just look at me and laugh for like 60 seconds without stopping. Oh, it was the best of bus rides!
When he kindly threw his car at his mom’s forehead, she disciplined him with kind words and explanation. Following, she offered me some advice, about not to beat children. “In Islam, we don’t beat our children harshly,” she said. Some do some don’t but children just need to be taught better.

She followed with a few examples, smiling along the way. Oh, she was so beautiful!
I felt good to be in her presence and the way that she was so happy with her two kids reminded me of my mom and how she went out of her way to make us comfortable when we were bad little brats.
And just to further illustrate why London kids probably know more about the world than your boss, here’s a snapshot from my day:
As usual, the kids at my job enlighten me. I’m sitting in the lounge and two girls are talking. “Are you Nigerian?!”
“Yes.”
“No you’re not!”

I interrupt a few minutes later. I was bored, and the girls for the cookery club was late as usual.

“Are you girls Nigerian?” I wanted to know if they were Yoruba, Igbo, or what. I guess, after reading Half of a Yellow Sun, I’m more invested in learning about Nigeria’s history. And Sudan’s. And so many more African countries, but that’s another blog post.

They confirm and then ask me if I am. I reply, I’m not sure.

They kind of understood right away. I mean, they were like 14-15 years of age growing up in London.

When I explained, “You know, because of slavery, I only can trace my lineage like a few generations back.”

They understood what I was saying, but wanted to know more about what that meant. How I didn’t know what language my ancestors spoke, where they were from. “Can’t you look at photos, though,” they asked, hopefully.

I’m afraid not.

“I’m glad I’m not American then. I’m glad my mom was born in Nigeria and I know that,” one of the girls said, sympathetically.

“How come you sound African though,” she asked. I guess she still couldn’t believe that I was African-American but had no idea what is constituting my “Africanness.”

“I don’t know how you do it,” she replied, “not knowing where your from. That must be hard.”
I told the girls that I will one day do some research and pay to get the test taken. But when I explained to them that this was expensive and not even precise, they were disappointed. “So, it’s not even accurate,” the younger girl said, disapprovingly.

“I can tell that,” confidently, the older girl answered, “you’re either from Nigeria. Or Ghana. Or Sierra Leone….or Jamaica! Cause you know they took Africans to Jamaica too.”

Not a bad analysis, and it was free of charge.

The young girl was filling out a form to join the Centre, and the first girl snatched the paper quite upset, “What are you doing circling British Black.” The paper’s ethnicity section had about 10-12 options to circle. Amazing.

“Your not British Black, you’re British African.”
“But my mom lived her for a while, I got some British in my blood, I didn’t make up the rules,” the girl explained.
“Know your roots, though!”

The younger girl acquiesed, erasing what she formerly circled and then circled British African, sighing out how the girl was just like a friend of hers.

The older girl turns to me then,
“Are you Muslim?”
I’m thinking, “How’d you know?!” when I remembered the green hijab I was donning today kind of gave it away…”Yea.”

I find it weird that you can be American and Muslim.
I told her, like Christianity, Islam is all over the world.
She agreed, still unconvinced.

But I was convinced of one thing: it’s these conversations, these interactions, whether on the bus or at work, with kids, or older people, that make me want to stay in London. There’s a certain possibility for discourse here that I hope exists somewhere in my return to the US of A.

Less than three weeks to go.

And, I’m already lost.

Notes on Paris

Bad news: I am coming down with the flu.
The good news: Paris was amazing!

There was something in the air, I realized, as soon as I stepped off the Eurostar train.
Maybe it was the smell of savory and sweet crepes, or fresh baguettes. It didn’t smell like London.
I was in Paris. And the weekend was as magical as I had hoped for.

I don’t have the mental energy to recap my experience completely. And in some ways, I don’t think I should have to tell every detail. Some things can only be felt by those who feel them. Saw through one set of eyes, and retold but never reimagined with any precise possibility.

I visited the Louve. The artwork. Yes. The art.

The Eiffel Tower, in the night shone an electric blue that turned the sky purple. Every hour on the hour it  sparkled in a frantic fire-cracker fashion for about 10 minutes. We went to the top. But before that, we sat in the park rejoicing over the delicious brie and baguettes and fresh fruits we shopped for at a nearby market, Rue Cler.

Earlier that day, I had been to the Grande Mosquee de Paris. It was modest, but proud. Beautiful. I had dragged my 3 colleagues with me to the Mosquee. Afterall, I had followed them into the Notre Dame. I hoped they enjoyed it. But I had no time to think about that. When I entered and looked past the visitors to see a sign marking the women’s ablution room, I decided to make Salat. It would be my first time, making Salah in a mosque and not my flat (apartment). I was excited, but also scared.

As I started the order of wudu, I greeted the older women getting ready for prayer as well. “Salaam Alaikum.”  “Walaikum As-Salaam”. Such happy murmuring continued as I washed up. A young lady mopping up saw me struggling to keep the water running with one hand and wash with the other. She offered to hold the faucet down.

I continued.

“No,” she said and corrected my steps. I had the order right, but not quite the technique. I again, felt humbled and slightly embarrassed. I felt a need to explain my ignorance. “I am new” I said, trying to convey in some clear words because I knew no French. And she knew a little English. She smiled and continued to watch me. Then correct me. Then smile again.

Finally, I was done. Retied my headscarf. Went up stairs.

Now, I had to find out where to make prayer. Men were sitting just outside the prayer room in a corner, eating rice from a large bowl with their hands and chatting. As I entered, I heard the loud recitations of the Qur’an by the men off in the front of the room. I followed another sister into the women’s quarters, in the same room as the men, just blocked off with a thick curtain for our privacy to be preserved. The women were calm. Some in prostration. Some sitting. Some chatting.

I looked off into distant faces, hoping someone would come up to me with the suspicion that I was not quite confident and would prefer to follow.

No one seemed be to paying much attention to me, mashaAllah, so I started.

As I mumbled out the Arabic that I had managed to memorize these past 4 weeks, I could feel my heart trembling with each verse. I could not help but feel overwhelmed. Tears would have thundered from my eyes had I not remembered that crying was not encouraged during the Salah. One is to be as conscious and focus as possible one’s intention, recitation, and sincerity. I focused on what I was saying, and after completing 4 Rakats, got up and exited the room.

I had done it.

Hamdulillah, I had completed an Asar prayer, for the first time. And not just anywhere. In Paris. In the Le Grande Mosquee. Alone. Without the comfort of my mother’s voice, telling me not to doubt myself, and that I was her hero. Without a friend to follow. I had done it, but not completely alone: I had done it through God’s will and I was happy with that.

As I walked out of the prayer section, I snapped a quick photo of the marble walls and Arabic script surrounding the center garden.

Then, I saw the sister who had helped me wash up. I greeted her again and we talked for a bit at the gift shop. Then we exited. She recommended I go to the bookstore directly next to the mosque for more gifts and materials. I guess she could tell I would rather she come with me.

We walked in and greeted the two store clerks. My “Salaam Alaikum” came a bit later, as I tend to forget to greet people. She helped me pick out a prayer rug, this beauuuuutiful tan rug with pink and gold embroidery complete with a built in compass for me to always know where the Qibla is. Oh, it is so gorgeous!

Then, I noticed what I thought was jewelry.

She explained to me, barely able to find the words, that these were prayer beads, or Misbaha. And she demonstrated, saying “Subhana Allah, Subhana Allah” (Glory be to God) stringing one bead each time. Then she carefully rubbed the necklace of beads between her palms then took her hands and covered her face as if she was washing it.

I watched, in awe. I had never seen this. I was so excited to get my own and she equally insisted. She continued to explain, as best as she could the many uses of the prayer beads. I was stuck between a baby blue necklace, and a deep red one. I went along with the blue one, after she explained the red was made of plastic and that the blue was made with ceramic and much finer.

Still amazed at what what she had shown me, I purchased my prayer rug, beads, and keychain compass. I wanted her to tell me again and again how to use the beads, just in case I had left something out. But, I felt bad for holding her up. After all, she had helped me wash my feet a little while earlier! And, she had already offered to host me in Tunisia, her home country, after I said with excitement how I was just reading on Tunisia and wanted to go.

As we walked out of the store, I asked her to let me buy her tea in the Mosque’s cafe. She agreed. There, she wrote down her Tunisia contact info and French contact info. I gave her mine as she tried to explain again how to use the prayer beads. We asked each other a few questions. I had loads more to ask but I didn’t want to seem to interrogative so I waited until she asked the first few.

“How old are you?” She was 21. Just in France to study for a term. I told her my bio in a few words. She asked me if I would be allowed to wear my hijab in school in the States. I told her that I do not know. “Are your parents Muslim?” I replied yes, but offered supplemental info about practicing and Nation of Islam that I am not sure she understood.

She told me how in Tunisia, she can wear her hijab everywhere but in school. And that during Ramadan, suddenly, all things Islamic are then okay. But just for Ramadan can one witness this or that. I interpreted her sentences in that way.

She then told me a funny story about how in Tunisia, during Ramadan, the stores are closed. No one is seen eating or they will be scolded. But she passed this Ramadan in Paris, for the first time. She told me she had not done so well, and that it was very difficult. I told her, I too, had failed miserably once I got to London. I wanted to learn much more about her, Tunisia, and Paris. But the language barrier was to strict, and my Arabic is far from conversational to speak to her in her native language.

When my colleagues met me at the cafe, I thanked her again and said my goodbye.

I was very happy to have met someone so nice so easily.

The rest of Paris wasn’t as eventful, but I had already experienced what I set out to. I was happy. Satisfied, I followed my colleagues for the rest of the weekend to more markets, churches, and sites. We ate more baguette, croissant, ice cream, savory crepes, and continued to butcher French.

Paris was as romantic as I had hoped. But in a different sense of the word romantic. As I paced about, I had a reassuring feeling that everything was as it should be, and that this moment is truly the culmination of the infinite number of moments before it. I deserve to enjoy it and I am obligated to stay present in it. And always, always, always remain thankful.

God is good.