Archive | October 2015

What Muslims really do (but Fox TV won’t tell you)

Muslims in the US are involved in their local communities. Let me tell you what’s happening here in Phoenix. For example, I recently read a post from the Islamic Center and Community of Phoenix (ICCP) thanking those involved in a neighborhood clean up. The American Muslim Women’s Association of Arizona (AMWA) serves a fresh meal to women and children at a homeless shelter once a month. So do volunteers from the Arizona chapter of the Muslim American Society (MAS). They help serve a meal at another shelter. The Muslim Student Association (MSA) at Arizona State University are involved in numerous community projects as well as hosting events to educate the public about true Islam. Locally, a strong interfaith movement works together to build bridges and cooperation among different faiths. A group of interfaith women work on a community project at least once a month. Volunteers from AMWA, MAS, the students at ASU, mosques and other groups join together with community groups to benefit not just fellow Muslims but anyone in need. That can be spending an evening together stocking the shelves at a food bank. We might make sandwiches at a mosque and then distribute them to homeless people. Several groups work to resettle refugees into the Phoenix area so they become productive citizens, obtain jobs and learn English. Or for fun, we might gather to watch a movie with our families at a local park. To enjoy nature, we sometimes drive to the high country and commune with nature for a picnic. This is just a small sampling of everyday activities. Sounds routine, doesn’t it?

Throughout all this cooperation and unity, friends are made, Lasting bonds are formed. Needy people are served. And our souls are replenished for the good work we do. Yet the media largely ignores the charitable work that is done. Only hate-mongers and violence seem to grab the media’s attention. Shame on them.

A devout Muslim prays five times a day, pays Zakat (our obligation to charity), and is kind to our family, friends and neighbors. Undoubtedly, there are some Muslims who stray from our faith. The media flashes their despicable, horrific behavior across TV screens and newspapers almost daily, if not hourly. Not only are we deeply ashamed by their gross, abhorrent actions but we suffer as well. We are all blamed and held accountable for the actions of a few. There are over 1 billion Muslims in the world and the population is growing. Around 5 million Muslims call the US home and many are born here. Only a small minority commit such grievous mistakes as beheading and suicide bombing. Most of us live ordinary lives. We attend school, go to work, often in menial jobs, and we struggle to pay bills. We are your neighbors, the Muslim next door. Our children attend school with yours. They feel pain when they are bullied and called terrorists or rag heads. Name calling to a child, any child, is hurtful. Just ask a Black child what it is like to be called the N word. It’s a sharp jab to the heart.

There are extremists among us all. No one is spared. No one is perfect. Everyone makes mistakes. The late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said if we don’t live together as brothers (and I assume he meant sisters too) then we’ll perish together as fools.

We are all in this together. United we stand, divided we fall. Islam is not your enemy. You have more to fear from war, hatred, violence, grinding poverty, ignorance and despair.

 

What the media doesn’t tell you about Islam

Phoenix resident Jon Ritzenheimer spits out disgust of all things related to Islam. Yet again, he’s in the media attracting attention for his searing hatred, gross behavior, and appalling idiocy. Last May he received world-wide attention by rallying like minded supporters, armed with guns of all shapes and sizes, to march outside a Phoenix mosque so the world would see their ugly hearts. The peaceful rally had a surprise twist. Hundreds of good people showed up to support the mosque and say no to hatred. In the end, the rally ended in a bust yet cost the tax payers of Phoenix a bundle in police protection. Three days later, about 1,000 people of all faiths gathered at the same mosque with flowers instead of guns to show unity, respect and love. With obviously nothing else productive to do, Ritzenheimer called for national marches against Islam over the past weekend. Show up at any mosque he told supporters, which ones he didn’t matter. Just display your disgust with Muslims. That’s right, get rid of these wretched people causing death in the USA he says. Again, the rallies flopped. In some cases, no one showed up at all. In other places, hordes of supporters came to reject Ritzies rallying cries and said we love our Muslim neighbors. We as Christians, Jews, Sikhs, etc. want to live in peace as neighbors and friends. Grow up and act like a real man supporters’ signs said. Yes, why don’t you?

On Saturday evening, I attended an interfaith dinner at a Christian church. The crowd, mostly Muslim and Christian, sat together as brothers and sisters enjoying lively conversation, delicious food while listening to a mixed panel of speakers talk about unity, respect and community. Children laughed and ran around in the play area outside while adults spent time learning about each others’ faith. I met a Somali woman. I told her about my dear Somali friends. She said now you’re part of my Somali family. All Somali’s are family. You’re welcomed to join us anytime Mr. Ritzenheimer to learn about the strength and the power of the Arizona interfaith community. Yes, right here in your own backyard, people of various faiths gather regularly and enjoy each other. In addition to regular interfaith dinners, there’s a group of women who meet monthly to perform community service. From Mr. Ritzenheimer and your followers, we’ve heard the blistering barbs you hurl about us Muslims. Yes, some of us stray from our faith but the vast majority of us are decent human beings. We are committed to our faith, our community, our neighbors and our families. We want to live in peace and to co-exist with those around us.

On Sunday evening, I was blessed to attend the 20 year anniversary celebration of Al Mu’Muminah, a self-help organization of Muslim women. Founded in 1995 by a small group of teenage Muslim women, the group is dedicated to helping young women achieve their goals. I am proud to personally call some of the founders as my friends. Last evening’s celebration of sisterhood was awesome. What can be better when women help other women to move forward?. Back in the 1970s when the women’s movement in the US was gaining momentum, sisterhood is powerful was a common theme. That’s still true for us all, Muslims and non Muslims. We rise by lifting others, not by bringing each other down.

The media often doesn’t show this side of Islam, the side that was part of my conversion. There is good and bad in us all; Muslims are no different from anyone else. We are all human beings. But the goodness and mercy I’ve found in the Muslim community has been awesome. I am welcomed into so many homes. I sometimes say no to invitations. I am surrounded by love, kindness and joy. I love you my sisters and brothers. Thank you Allah for guiding me to the right path.

 

Do I need my hijab in Heaven?

Do I need my hijab in heaven?

In the past few months, several friends around my age passed away. I was born during the Cold War. Remember the paranoid days of the red menace when fear of “the bomb” was ever present? Fallout shelters were as common in big city apartment building basements as vermin scurrying around. That was my era, a time without cell phones, Instagram or Starbucks. Hard to believe I grew up normal, isn’t it? Not only did we survive but we even thrived.

Now, I sometimes think of my own end. A pedestrian car accident almost did me in on 1/6/94 but I pulled through. I face mortality from problems associated with age and lingering issues from the car accident. Modest exercise and a vegan diet keeps me fit and trim but the inevitable is coming sooner or later. I’ve often wondered what heaven is like, assuming of course that’s where I’ll go. Notwithstanding a slew of mistakes earlier in life, some of which I prefer not to mention, I turned out to be a decent human being. I atoned for my sins and more than made up for past transgressions.

What will heaven be like? Will I need make-up to cover my pasty skin? What about toiletries? Unless I brush my teeth in the morning, my breath probably smells like a camel. I’m cranky if I can’t shower at least once a day. Does heaven have laundry facilities? I generally won’t wear an outfit more than once. What about a place to shine shoes? A girl has to look stylish. A smart pair of shoes can make or break an outfit. I converted to Islam last year and wear a hijab, also known as a headscarf, every day. Will I need to cover my gray hair in heaven? It’d be a shame to leave behind two drawers full of colorful hijabs that I’ve collected, either as gifts or purchases

Then I wonder about boredom. What’s there to do in heaven? The 1994 car accident ended my working career so I found a new life as an all around volunteer. Then the alternative was to sit home and watch television. No way. Not me. I despise television. I won’t care if there’s no television in heaven but I’d miss the radio. I love music, all kinds of music. I listen to the radio every day.

Anyway, after the accident volunteer work prevents boredom and keeps me connected to the world in different ways. I have a reason to get out of bed. I had hoped to find success as a writer but that never happened. Memberships in a few professional writing organizations and attendance at writing conferences failed to boost my nascent career. I won awards, nonetheless, in several writing contests but my credentials were never enough to entice literary agents to represent my work. Eventually, I gave up, closed the door to a literary career and filed away all my published articles. Maybe in heaven I can become the writer I failed to on Earth. We’ll see.

At the very least, I hope to continue reading once I’m gone. Let heaven be full of libraries and bookstores in heaven. Without books, I am nothing. Ignorance always scared me. It still does. Literacy saved me from myself.

For relaxation I enjoy sitting in a cafe and reading a book or newspaper. Does heaven have such amenities like home delivery of the New York Times? Do the deceased talk over their lives? How they lived? How they died? What’s happening on Earth? Why are stupid people still killing each other over trivial matters and why are extremist right wing gasbags elected into higher office?

I grew up in New York City. Shopping back then was fun because New York City was loaded with department stores. I mean loaded. Shopping on Amazon.com can’t compare to walking through the aisles and trying on clothing in big stores like Bloomingdales, Alexander’s, Abraham and Strauss, Macy’s, Mays, Franklin Simon, Bonwit Teller, B. Altman’s, Sak’s Fifth Avenue, Orbach’s, EJ Klein’s, Gimbel’s, May’s, and there’s probably some I left out. Furniture sections in department stores were handy places to snatch a bit of warmth on frigid afternoons. Sit on the sofa for a few minutes, pretend you’re interested in buying and when the salesmen become pushy move on. On a Saturday morning, I’d meet my friends and our starting place was Bloomingdales on East 59th Street on Manhattan’s East Side. Alexander’s, which hawked cheap and tacky clothes, was across the street. Most of us couldn’t afford Bloomie’s prices but it was interesting to see how the other side lived. Wow, affluent women shelled out big bucks for even small items like bras and panties. I guess if you could afford to live in a Park Avenue penthouse with a maid to cook your meals then you could afford pricey underwear. After Bloomie’s we headed down Fifth Avenue, a main street choked with stores, big and small. Our bulky paper shopping bags (no plastic at the time) filled up with purchases as we squeezed ourselves among throngs of shoppers, resting tired feet for lunch at a cafe somewhere along the way. All shopping ended on 34th Street, home to world famous Macy’s and a few lesser known stores like Gimbels. Only the unfortunate shopped on 14th Street, then known as the armpit of NY. Now the average apartment there sells for about a cool $1 million dollars. I guess real estate in heaven is unimportant. I surely hope so. I gave up a comfortable, cozy place because annual rental increases reached beyond my disability income. I’ll never forget the day I moved out. Tears welled up in my eyes as the movers loaded the last box on the truck. I said goodbye to a place where I felt at home, at ease. I felt so defeated, so crushed at having to leave the Meadows, the name of the trailer park where I lived. I hope there are no impossible rent increases in heaven that drive people towards moral bankruptcy like depression or suicide.

In heaven, there will be no more bills to pay. Finally! No more threatening past due letters and what the banks will do if I don’t pay. Surviving on a disability income tests my patience as well as my ability to balance my budget. I learn to stretch shampoo, dish soap, etc. by watering them down. Day old bagels taste just as good as fresh. I look sharp in thrift shop clothing. I feel envious sometimes when I overhear strangers talk about how they pitch in and pay for a disabled family members’ wheelchair. How lucky for that person. Once in heaven, I’ll be free of disability so I won’t need a new scooter every few years or sweat through the desperation to replace a broken down one.

Heaven awaits me. When is my time? I don’t know. I don’t want to know. It could be today, tomorrow or whenever. I’ve done everything to guarantee passage to Jannah, what we Muslims call heaven. I trust Allah that He will make my place safe and secure. I will miss my friends, the sisters from my Quran group, the volunteer work that uplifted me, but I won’t miss the incessant wars, bickering among people, hatred, and violence. I’ll be glad to leave all that behind. Who wouldn’t? Human beings can be so kind and merciful yet sometimes they are so cruel, callous and wicked. Who but the arrogant calls dead children collateral damage? Heaven surely must hold gifts that are more precious than I’ve found on Earth. May Allah help me and help us all.