Archive | December 2015

The Big Short and Why You Should Care What Happens on Wall Street

The Big Short and why you should care about what happens on Wall Street

The Big Short is both the title of a best-selling book (which I am now reading) and a recently released movie, which I saw on Monday. Written by Michael Lewis, a former Wall Street financial journalist, the Big Short delves into the massive mortgage meltdown in the mid 2000s that nearly crippled the USA. The housing market blew up, collapsing into one giant pile of rubble. Millions of Americans, most clueless to the wheeling and dealing that led to the crisis, lost jobs, houses, and retirement savings. Banks at the forefront of the problem began foreclosures on hapless owners. Overwhelmed by such epic losses, some people committed suicide. Household pets were not spared either. They were stranded by the thousands at already overwhelmed animal shelters. Many more dogs, cats and horses were left to die in foreclosed homes. Intake at homeless shelters spiked because families lost everything. Lehman Brothers, a storied, money making Wall Street brokerage firm that had been around for decades, went belly up for making bad investments. Thousands of loyal workers headed to the unemployment lines with nothing to show for years of dedicated service. Lives were shattered, torn apart. Fear not, however. Uncle Sam came to the rescue and bailed out greedy, ruthless and heartless bankers whose stupid, idiotic decisions almost caused world-wide financial ruin. Some bankers even had the unmitigated gall to reward themselves with year-end bonuses, courtesy of the US taxpayer. Wall Street, the finance capital of the world, attracts the brightest and brilliant yet it created a nightmare scenario for the US and beyond. Hard to believe, isn’t it. Was anyone punished? No. Wouldn’t you think someone should have gone to jail for selling worthless bonds that Wall Street rating companies said were top notch? To most of us that constitutes fraud. It’s a crime the average person would and should be punished for. Jail time and restitution would be court mandated. Not so in this case. Further, wouldn’t you hope that our government is in the business of consumer protection? Think again. Wall Street rallied their lobbyists to water down Democratic proposals to insure against a repeat financial collapse and ensuing recession. It is business as usual on Wall Street and another economic catastrophe is possible. That should worry you. A presidential candidate like Donald Trump isn’t your answer. He shows no understanding of the complex, arcane process that caused the last recession. I doubt he sees the intricacy that connects the global economy and how US decisions impact what happens around the world. I bet I read more than Trump does about economic, political, social and world affairs to make informed rather than bombastic baseless judgments.

Even if you don’t see the movie or read the book, The Big Short, what happens on Wall Street affects your everyday life. Sidestepped in the movie but not to forgotten was the Federal government’s role in the arcane process that nearly destroyed America. Members of the United States Congress and other agencies, who shall remain nameless, knew about the potential for the economic disaster that caused extreme hardship for millions of citizens. Some people even died because they couldn’t bear the heartache of losing everything. Congress, as usual, did nothing. The banks got rewarded for bad behavior and the American people got shafted. That’s what happens when people don’t vote and rely on Fox media for their information. Immigrants and the poor didn’t cause the mortgage meltdown. You’re a fool if you think they did.

Don’t take my word for it. Do your own research on the causes and effects of the financial crisis and the painful aftermath. Plenty of material is available. There’s a reason why bankers have lobbyists who squeeze politicians to prevent regulations on Wall Street. It’s time everyone else figures out why. I already know. Other fields such as health care, food, air traffic, transportation, education, drugs, just to name a few are regulated for our own protection and safety. Why not Wall Street? The next crisis may be lurking around the corner and you could be homeless, jobless or both. Donald Trump’s big mouth won’t help you when it happens.

 

Advertisements

For everyone who helped me become a better Muslim

A long list of friends nurtured me along the journey to Islam. Thank you for your wisdom, guidance, patience, and insight. Much appreciated are the donated hijabs, long skirts, tunics and abayas so that I dressed like a proper Muslim woman. Many of you played crucial roles in my conversion. Naming everyone is impossible but you know who you are. Each one holds a tender place in my heart. I’ve learned so much yet more opportunities await me.

That unforgettable as well as shocking morning on Tuesday, September 11, 2001 that nearly every American remembers started me wondering about Islam. I whipped out the phone book (yes, they existed back then) and looked up numbers of every local mosque. I called and said I hoped that my fellow Arizonans didn’t slam all Muslims too harshly for the cruel, brutal mistakes of a few. Well, at least one man did. He shot and killed a Sikh who worked in a Mesa gas station, mistaking him for a Muslim because of his turban. Years later, I found out that Phoenix area imams submitted a joint statement to the media harshly condemning the Twin Tower attacks but it was ignored. Ordinary Muslims were horrified and appalled by the terrorists but were held accountable for their actions. In the chaotic aftermath of 9/11, Muslim women wore hats as head coverings instead of the traditional hijab to blend in and to avoid trouble. Everywhere in the US, Muslims were on edge, fretting about retribution. So I thought about Islam. I didn’t do much in the beginning except that I was curious. I drove by the Tempe mosque a few times but that was about it. What happened at a Friday prayer service, the Muslim holy day? I was too timid then to attend on my own so I didn’t. What would I look like in a hijab? I always loved hats and wore a hat almost all the time. My head was rarely uncovered. As the internet picked up speed, I checked out Middle East animal rescue groups. I’ve been involved in animal rescue since 1989 and feel a tight bond with others who rescue animals. Almost right away, I connected with women and men from countries like Egypt, Iran, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia. All rescued animals. Maha from Saudi Arabia and I began conversing regularly. We talked about anything and everything including Islam. About two years later, she poked around, asking about converting. Me? No way. I enjoy our talks very much but there was no way I’d convert. I considered myself spiritual but not religious. Still, I continued to read up about Islam although I never told anyone. I checked out library books about Islam as well as Middle East history and culture. Changes swirled around me as my interests in Islam deepened. A small notice in the daily newspaper announced an interfaith service to commemorate the ten-year anniversary of 9/11 in peace and unity at the Tempe mosque. That was my opening. Take it, I said to myself, and go to the mosque. So much had happened in the ten years since 9/11. The US not only invaded Iraq but Afghanistan too. There was a major recession that rocked the US. We elected Barak Obama twice, infuriating the Republican Party. On the evening of the interfaith service, I arrived at the mosque not knowing what to expect. The imam anticipated 30 guests or so and at least 300 Muslims, Jews and Christians showed up. It was awesome to be surrounded by so many caring and compassionate people. A pastor, rabbi and the imam all spoke of faith, friendship and unity. As guests left the mosque, Quran copies were available. I took one and later that week told Maha about it. She asked if I would read it. Honestly I rarely read the Bible but yes, I would read it. Due to lingering problems from a traumatic brain injury, the result of a pedestrian car accident in 1994, I don’t absorb material as well as before but I started the Quran. Eventually, I read the holy book from cover to cover. Maha sent me additional books from Saudi Arabia about Islam. My journey continued. I read the books she sent and wanted to learn more.

Fast forward to July 2013 at Sky Harbor airport where I was a volunteer. A simple smile brought surprising changes into my life when a middle-aged Muslim woman wearing a colorful hijab stood outside a security checkpoint. Our casual encounter continued. Warm feelings lingered. I didn’t want to leave and neither did Diba. Away went her cell phone and we both started a new phase in our lives. I couldn’t let Diba leave without asking if we could get together. Of course, she said, handing me a slip of paper with her phone number.

After our first meal several weeks later, Diba and her family embraced me as one of their own. From sharing food and conversation, I’ve learned so much about Afghan culture. Afghan people are thoughtful and generous hosts. As soon as I enter an Afghan home, there are always plates of sweets, pistachio nuts, apricots, and green tea. Drinking tea is an Afghan tradition. My knowledge of Islam expanded and grew.

I soaked up more and more about Afghan customs and traditions. To add to my growing knowledge, I borrowed books from the public library. I read about the misery created by the 1979 Soviet invasion and the ensuing violence and the cruelty imposed by the Taliban. The American invasion exacerbated a country already under siege. I gobbled up information as fast as I could.

On a Friday in late November 2013, the Muslim holy day, I attended my first prayer service with Diba. Following tradition, I wore a hijab for the second time. The first was at an Islamic funeral service, also with Diba a few weeks earlier. The loosely fitting scarf fell to one side on my head, not quite covering my hair like other Muslim women but I looked presentable enough.

I felt at home in the mosque as if I belonged there. I wanted to return but felt uneasy about going alone. Reticence was uncalled for. I was warmly welcomed at the mosque. I only returned if Diba’s family was at my side.

Another blistering hot summer came along. With it Ramadan arrived. It is a month long period of fasting and prayer. In July 2014, I attended about 7 or 8 iftars, or breaking of the fast, at a local mosque with Diba’s family and friends. I was swept up even more into Islam. I cherished my evenings sharing home-cooked food, conversation and prayers with my sisters, some of whom I met for the first time. Women laughed, hugged and traded bits of our lives. Children played under watchful adult eyes. After meals, we took turns cleaning up. At the end of July Ramadan was over. There would be no more evenings at the Islamic Center. I didn’t want it to end. I loved the camaraderie among Muslim women. No one was a stranger. Everyone including me was welcomed.

As Ramadan closed, I felt let down, at a loss. I enjoyed spending time at the mosque in unity and friendship with my Muslim sisters. So I took the plunge and started attending Friday prayer services on my own. Week after week, I showed up at the mosque each week wearing a hijab. Since August of 2014, I haven’t missed a prayer service. I hope my good health continues to bring me to Allah’s house every Friday.

In the meantime, I met a Somali lady, Qamar, at the airport where I volunteer. Qamar and I started talking during my two weekly shifts. In May 2011, she left for maternity leave. I bought her a small gift for the baby. A few months later she sent me a photo of her and her new infant daughter. She asked if I wanted to visit. At the time we only lived about 10 minutes apart. Since then, we’ve become like family. She now has two children who I adore and love.

About two years ago, I met Nadia, a Pakistani American who asked me for a place to pray while I was on duty at the airport. No problem I said pointing out a quiet corner behind security where I was posted that day. We exchanged contact information and keep in touch. A skilled artist with international connections, Nadia too is a devout Muslim who further piqued my interest. Nadia lives out of town so we stay in touch via the internet.

As I soul searched, I discovered AMWA (American Muslim Women’s Association). I read of their toy drive during Ramadan. For seven years I was a pet therapist with Gabriel’s Angels, a group that tries to break the cycle of violence in abused, abandoned, neglected and at risk children through healing pet therapy. My adopted dog Luke and I visited children at a homeless shelter. At Christmas, friends donated gifs for the children. Those small presents boosted their spirits and brought smiles to sad, sorry faces. After delivering the presents, I drove home in tears wishing I could do more. Sometimes I felt so inadequate. I imagined that Ramadan gifts would be just as uplifting for Muslim children. How could I ignore the Ramadan toy drive? AMWA’s Facebook page listed the Tempe mosque as a drop off location. When I arrived with a bag full of toys, no one was there, just the box. Disappointed, I noted the date of their annual meeting. I came alone with chattering teeth even though it was about 100 degrees outside. I exhaled relief when Diba joined me. That afternoon, I learned about the good work of AMWA. I wanted to help but how? I continued attending AMWA events and meeting terrific people, growing more confident. AMWA’s commitment to women and their devotion to improving lives of new refugees impressed me. So I just dove in. I collected donations for the next year’s toy drive. I helped hand out back packs on a blistering hot summer day. I secured toys from a non-profit organization that once helped the kids at the homeless shelter. About a year later, I received an email from then president Shabana Fayyaz. The email was anything but routine. At the upcoming annual meeting, I would receive an award for community service. Elated and proud, I told everyone. The women, men, and children I meet through AMWA are dedicated, loyal and enthusiastic about bettering the lives of women in our community. I am so glad to be part of AMWA.

The MSA (Muslim Student Association) at Arizona State University played a small but nonetheless important link in my journey to Islam. I wish I was young again to be part of this vibrant, active organization of young men and women devoted to Islam, education, the community and to each other. Returning to the past is impossible but I admire and support the MSA and hope they can change the world in a way our generation failed to do.

I attended an interfaith dinner sponsored by the MSA in the fall of 2014. I met a young couple, Sarah and Mohammad, who became like family. I’m sorry their visas expired and they returned to Saudi Arabia. I miss them dearly.

I know Saba from a social gathering at AMWA and we became friends. One evening Saba asked me if I ever said the Shahada, the Islamic declaration of faith. Although I attended mosque services for almost a year and pray daily, I hadn’t said the Shahada, the declaration of faith. I said it on the spot, repeating it word for word after Saba. That Friday after services Saba’s husband announced there was a sister making her Shahada. Confident and proud, even if I couldn’t grasp every Arabic word, I said the Shahada and became a Muslim. Afterwards, so many sisters hugged and congratulated me. I never felt such love and caring before.

Almost a year ago in January 2015, shortly before I said my Shahada, I started to attend a Quran group, also known as a halaqa. Love is like the wind, you don’t see it but you feel it. That’s an apt way to describe the sisters in my Halaqa. Each week, the meeting room overflows with love, joy, kindness and compassion not to mention tasty food and lively conversation. I missed only one session to attend a memorial service. Starting out with a potluck dinner, we nibble on homemade food and dabble in conversation about our lives, families, jobs, friends or the latest news. Children giggle and play games. Then it’s time for business. A smart, well read sister leads us in a serious discussion on parts of the Quran. We ask questions and talk about true Islam, not the distorted often violent version a few misguided and fanatical men and women carry out in the name of Islam. At Magrib, the fourth of five daily prayers, we break to pray together then return to finish our discussion. We end with a sister offering up a prayer of peace, mercy or thanks. Sometimes now that sister is me. I am so proud and honored that sisters have enough confidence in me to lead a closing prayer.

Our Halaqa enriches and nourishes each of us because of our strength and diversity. Our age ranges from students to seniors. Women are from around the world including places like Somalia, Egypt, Morocco, Algeria, Chile, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Mexico and the US. Forgive me if I left out someone’s country. We are bonded by our devotion to Islam and to each other.

For a long time, I knew little or nothing about Islam but the more I learn, the more I want. My sisters help me expand my knowledge. It’s refreshing to be in a group without competition, gossip or backbiting. We respect each other and truly care about one other’s well being. There’s no rivalry on who has the sharpest looking purse or most expensive pair of shoes. We’re in this together as sisters in Islam. If I fail or if I succeed, at least I know my sisters are on my side. This is the true face of Islam. Thanks ladies for welcoming me into the group. You’ve helped me to become a true sister, helping me to learn about what it truly means to be a Muslim.

No one forced me to convert. AMWA, the MSA, and friends like Diba, Qamar, Nadia, Sarah, Mohammad, Saba, and others showed me the goodness, mercy, peace, and love of Islam. I am so thankful for the sisters who cook food for me each week, knowing that my life as a disabled person is a struggle. I appreciate the friendships that I’ve made since my conversion. I enjoy the camaraderie among us sisters. I try my best to uphold our deen, our faith, and demonstrate to others what it really means to be a Muslim. Take the Muslims on a bus recently in Kenya who refused to be separated from Christian passengers as demanded by a group of armed militants who boarded and threatened to kill everyone. That’s what true Islam is about. That’s the Islam I learned and practice. I pray five times a day. I am good to my neighbors, even if they don’t reciprocate. I will continue to serve the community that so lovingly embraced me as best I can for as long as I can.

 

 

 

For the children

For our children, we can and must do better

A few days ago I visited my friend Qamar. After I packed away a delicious meal she cooked for me, Qamar asked if I’d watch her two little girls as she grocery shopped. Sure, I said. Both girls were napping and have known me since they were born. About half hour after Qamar left, the bedroom door opened and out walks a frightened two-year old who sees me, not her mom or dad. Overcome with fear, tears rolled down the little girl’s cheeks. In a panic she vomits. Wow, I don’t know what to do. Mommy will be right back; she’s just buying groceries. And besides, you know me. I love you. Reassuring words do no good. She vomits again, which I promptly clean up. Then her baby sister wakes up. I figure if she cries too, I’ll do what mothers around the world do – they cope. But the baby was quiet. I picked her up and held her as her older sister continued to sob and sob. Oh Allah, help me get through this I prayed. Finally, Qamar arrived and everyone was happy, including me.

On the ride home, tears streamed down my cheeks as I thought of all the children who are ripped away from families by social services because of parental drug abuse, domestic violence or severe neglect. They don’t have parents like my friend Qamar and her husband who love, adore and cherish their children. Who will comfort nervous children on the way to foster care and say you’ll be OK? Their lives aren’t OK and who knows if and when they will ever go home. Drug addicted and/or violent parents aren’t capable of providing a safe, nurturing environment for children. Sadly, the only alternative at times is for the state to intervene and place children into foster care. Removing a child, even from a bad home, is traumatic. That environment is the only security the child has ever known as unstable or rocky as it may have been. Taking the child away, even if it’s from a hell hole, can be jarring. I know. I was a social worker, responsible for filing reports on children in abusive homes. My reports led to court actions and subsequent foster care placement. If I failed to act, I abrogated my social work obligations. Moreover, I would’ve left a child in a potentially life threatening situation. Some days I hated my job. Life sucked not just for me but for the children who bounced around the foster care system desperate for love and a stable home. I haven’t worked as a social worker since 1994 but I still remember some of the children whose lives impacted me. I wonder what became of them. Did they get the help they needed? I surely hope so.

Then there are children of war, violent, burning, endless war and civil unrest that displace thousands of children in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine, Myanmar, Sudan, Central African Republic, and countless other places. Children, even infants, lose their mothers, fathers or both parents ever day because war continues to grind on with no end in sight. What becomes of these children? Who takes care of them? Who tucks them in at night? Tells them a bedtime story? I shiver to think of their futures in squalid refugee camps. Sometimes kind, caring strangers love and care for orphaned children like family. Other times these pitiful souls are on their own, subject to abuse from predators. Disgusting, isn’t it? Yes, it happens.

We adults are responsible for the children of the world, even if they are not our own. It is our collective duty to insure a safe, sound and secure environment for them all. So far, everyone from the USA to Europe to Mexico to Africa to the Middle East has failed our children. They deserve better than the violent, divisive and hate filled world where many of them scrape by to survive. On the other hand, there are millions of people dedicated to children around the world. To all of you, I say thank you for your tireless efforts today and every day. May Allah reward you. But to the men and women who are hell bent on war, civil unrest and cruelty, I condemn you, all of you, politicians, business leaders, whoever you are. Shame on you for creating such wretched conditions that causes misery and suffering for children.

Making a difference, good or bad

Last week a group of high school girls, non Muslim, wore hijabs to be in sisterhood with their Muslim classmates because of the alarming hysteria festering in the US about Muslims. The project, walk a mile in her hijab, was started by a Muslim student in the Chicago area. About a dozen girls signed up. Not only was the principal proud of his students but so are thousands of people around the world, including me. One person or a small group of brave, conscientious and concerned people can and do make a difference by taking a stand against injustice.

Take Rosa Parks as an example. In December 1955, Parks, a seamstress, rode the bus home every day from work as she always did. Fortunate for Parks, there was an empty seat in the front but in the south, burning with segregation, all Blacks were required by law to get up if a White person boarded. Such was the case that day but Parks, exhausted after a grueling day at work, refused. Like others before her who also wouldn’t get up (why should they), Parks was arrested. A young pastor, new in town, was asked to bail out Parks. The name Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would soon spread around Montgomery, around the South, the USA and the world. Blacks, through their network of churches, said enough of the humiliating, degrading and discriminatory treatment and organized a bus boycott that lasted slightly over a year. History was changed because one woman said enough was enough.

Will these high school girls make history? Certainly not in the same way that Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. altered American history. But the Chicago girls who stood up for their Muslim classmates demonstrated leadership, courage, and honor, values that clearly many adults lack. I am proud of you girls, all of you. I am disgusted with the adults calling for death to all Muslims because of the mistakes of a few. Did you call for the condemnation of White men when Dylan Roof unloaded a shotgun at a church in Charleston South Carolina killing nine innocent men and women? No, you did not.

The world is full of people who make a difference. Our lives are better because of men, women and children who cared. They live everywhere. We personally know people like this or read about them in the newspaper. Maybe we’ve donated to groups or initiatives they’ve started. Their work makes us feel good.

On the other hand, there are famous people with lots of money in their pockets but little or nothing in their hearts or minds. Shallow, sanctimonious and self-serving, they brandish their super-sized egos and make us believe they are good for the economy, a corporation or the government. To win support, they cruelly put down others, often weaving tall tales about minorities or other groups they deem unsuitable. Sadly, their corrosive chatter picks up a following of equally small minded people with little insight and before you know it, there’s an explosion of hellish hatred burning that once ignited may be hard to extinguish. Is this where we are headed? I surely hope not. I doubt the average German in the 1930s ever imagined that their country would build human-sized ovens to gas over 6 million people to death. Did the average Rwandan ever expect that his small central African country would witness a bloodbath in 1994 where nearly a million people including babies were hacked to death? Don’t think that genocide can’t happen in the USA and if it does Donald Trump and the GOP presidential candidates will be responsible. Shame on you for believing Trump and his insidious pack of lies. I have no respect for you. I pity the children you raise because they will be as hateful as you. God help us and save us all.

 

Hey you in there

Hey you, yeah you, the nasty one who defaced my mosque? Do you feel a sense of personal satisfaction, like the joy of eating a home-cooked meal, by spray painting ugly, vile graffiti on my mosque? Of course, you’re a petty coward. With a covered face and a can of spray paint under the cover of darkness, you ran up to the mosque and got on with the dastardly act, muttering to yourself those Muslims deserved it. Did you even know why you shamed yourself and committed a criminal act? Probably not. You don’t know Muslims like me, have never been to a Friday prayer service, or read a Surah from the Quran, but someone on TV said hate Muslims. If you heard it on TV, likely a Fox channel, it has to be right. TV wouldn’t lie, would it? After you messed up my mosque, did you go home, sit down to dinner with your children and talk about family values? Or as you rolled over in bed later on, did you think about the harm you caused to my mosque. I wonder if you even care. I hope you do. Would you be upset if there was graffiti scrawled on your church or synagogue? Sure you would be. You’d have every right to be angry, disgusted and disappointed by the person who had the unmitigated gall to scar a place of worship. So why did you disfigure our mosque? What harm have we caused you?

Hey you, yes you, you’re the one I’m talking to, the one with the smug attitude and the violent streak. Did you puff out your chest after assaulting the Muslim woman, a young mother, as she left the grocery store? The lady wearing a flowered print hijab carried a bundle with eggs, peanut butter, juice, a loaf of wheat bread, apples and blueberry jam. She was on the way home to make lunch for her children but she didn’t make it on time. An ignorant man with a grudge against Muslims stuck his foot out and tripped her for no good reason. The woman fell to the ground, spilling her groceries around her. Tears fell from her eyes as the man cursed and swore at her. Did you feel manly as you stood over the sobbing woman? Did you text your wife and send her a selfie with the woman lying on the ground next to her scattered groceries? Is that what being an American is about? I hope not.

Yo, you with the big mouth. Yes you, hiding on the internet with a fake name. Did you post filthy, vulgar comments like I hate Muslims or die Muslims on Pamela Geller’s Facebook page as so many people do? Pamela Geller’s heart is so full of hate towards Muslims that I’m surprised she hasn’t exploded. On-line posts reveal a lot about a person and what’s in her heart. In some cases, it reveals the lack of a heart. Geller attracts the most hateful, crude, insufferable and wretched bunch. Are you one of them? What scares me about her followers is that many of them have children. Imagine what they’re learning. Parents go home, kiss their little ones goodnight then say go hate Muslims. I doubt any of them have ever been inside a mosque or talked to a Muslim.

What’s with you who think it’s OK to attend a Quran roast and burn a holy book, another vile idea cooked up by small minded people? Is your level of hatred run that deep you feel pleasure from desecrating a book sacred to another human being? If the answer is yes, then I am truly horrified. I hope you don’t ever have children or pets because you don’t deserve them.

Hello in there, do you feel like a true American by pledging loyalty to Donald Trump and other Republican presidential candidates who vow to end immigration for Muslims? Who swear that no more Muslims will come to America? Do you feel like a true patriot with Trump at your side?

I am an American and I am a Muslim convert. I am a loyal citizen and a proud Muslim. Yes, we can be both. We love this country just as much as you do. It scares me to see and feel the rising level of not just violence but threatening rhetoric towards Muslims in this country. We do not deserve it. A few Muslims make horrific mistakes and America is ready to take us all down. But let me say this. How many White men have committed acts of terror over the years with mass shootings at schools, churches, abortion clinics, and other places? According to the news, there have been a lot. Thousands of Americans of all races and religions have died or been injured. Why didn’t America rise up against gun owners in the same despicable way she is hounding Muslims? Terror knows no religion. If Donald Trump and company want to make America great again then grow up all you hateful people and stop acting like a bunch of hooligans. Your Muslim neighbors don’t deserve to be treated with such violent disdain.

And to the thousands of people who have used the internet search engine for “kill Muslims” shame on you. That’s all I can say. Shame on your pitiful souls. I feel sorry for you.

There are plenty of hateful people around the world who spit forth garbage about Americans. I’m not talking about them. I’m talking about my country, my fellow Americans. We’re better than Donald Trump and the people who believe his filthy lies about Mexicans, Blacks, immigrants and Muslims. If you are among the Muslim haters then you hate me. I am a Muslim. I will die as a Muslim. Please delete me from your Facebook list because we cannot possibly be friends. We have nothing in common and never will.

“God knows best those who do wrong,” says Surah 6:93. God is watching you even if you think nobody else is.

May peace be upon us all.

 

 

Meet a real Muslim

News about Muslims, most of it hair-raising, is all over the media. We are terrorists, ban us from entering the USA, force us to wear labels, and keep us on a watch list. How many of you have actually ever met a Muslim besides what you see and hear on the media? I mean shared a meal with a Muslim or laughed with us at a funny movie? Watched a soccer game with our children? Shopped together in the mall? How many of you know what our community is really about? I’ll tell you.

My dear friend Diba is from Afghanistan. Her family and friends are good, kind and decent people with loving hearts. They invite me to dinner, high school graduations, and iftars during Ramadan. I always feel part of the family. After each visit, I leave with a care package of delicious Afghan food. No one is a stranger and everyone is welcomed.

The sisters from my Quran group perform a community service project at least once a month. In the past we’ve packed dried food for a Christian group called Feed My Starving Children. We joined our Christian brothers and sisters by serving breakfast to homeless people at a church in Mesa. We collected clothing for refugees. And the list goes on. Many of our sisters are committed to community service on their own.

College students at Arizona State University, members of the Muslim Students Association, are equally active in social causes. They engage in service to the university and to the greater community. Posts on their Facebook page constantly ask for volunteers to help at various events they are involved in. They also support and guide each other.

The American Muslim Women’s Association of Arizona sponsors a tutoring program for the children of refugees. They serve a hot meal each month at a homeless women’s shelter and offer scholarships to worthy students. Other programs also assist women, all women, in the greater Phoenix area.

Local mosques raise money for worthy causes such as food and clothing for the needy. They raise money for Syrian refugees. I’ve attended Friday prayer services (Friday is our holy day) for over a year. Sermons are always about loving your family, neighbor and community. The media insults me and my fellow Muslims to say that hatred is spread. I invite anyone to join us on Friday and hear it yourselves. All are welcomed. Women are simply asked to cover your heads out of respect.

Every week, a Muslim sister from my Quran group brings me home cooked food. She knows I am low income and have a hard time making ends meet. I enjoy the food so much and it helps stretch my meager budget.

The community I know is really not much different from you – Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists and atheists. Men and women go to work every day, some in menial jobs for barely above the minimum wage in places like Wal-Mart or driving a taxi. Others are doctors, lawyers or pharmacists. Children attend school and are active in sports, arts, and music. Because of lies, hatred and revulsion spread by Donald Trump and others, many of whom at the same time claim to have family values, Muslim Americans are relegated to second class status.

There is no doubt that some men and women disguised as Muslims commit heinous, barbaric crimes against innocent people but most victims of these extremists are other Muslims. They are not Westerners although attacks against Westerners garner most media attention. Extremist attacks in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, etc. have gone on for years rarely attracting attention or sympathy, even when children are slaughtered. The rise of extremism is complicated and I won’t discuss my views here. I don’t hold all White men culpable for the appalling rise in mass shootings in the US because most shooters are White men. All police men and women are not racist even though most victims of police shootings are young Black men. At the same time, please consider the popular media view point. All Muslims are not terrorists as Donald Trump would have you believe. We are just as repulsed and fearful of the terrorists as anyone. They shame us and tarnish our religion as well as themselves. Allah will judge them because whoever kills an innocent life it’s as if he has killed all of humanity.

If you want to learn about Muslims, learn from us, not from Donald Trump. If you rely on the media for your information about Islam, you know nothing at all.

What Diba’s family and others showed me

10955636_10153317308233351_4214143231760896629_nBy now, nearly everyone has heard about the murderous assault by a Muslim couple in San Bernardino CA. Shame on them for the slaughter of 14 innocent people. The cancerous disease known as ISIS causes death and destruction, mostly to Muslims. ISIS is a sickness disguised as Islam and not what my friend Diba, a Muslim native of Afghanistan, and other Muslims showed me.

On an uneventful Sunday in July 2013, I was on a routine assignment as a volunteer navigator at the airport. In between the hustle and bustle of passengers whizzing by, I noticed a Muslim woman wearing a colorful hijab sitting outside a security checkpoint. From her furrowed brow, I wondered if she was lost. I rolled up to her on my motorized scooter and asked if she needed assistance. That’s what we volunteers do – guide passengers to their destinations or answer questions they may have. The middle-aged Muslim lady smiled and said no help was needed. She waited for her sister-in-law to return from escorting two minor relatives beyond security. The children were on their way home from a visit. We bonded right away and began talking about anything and everything. After about 10 minutes or so I said,

“Diba, it’s lovely talking with you, but I’m on duty. I have to get back to my post.”

“Nice meeting you too,” she said as she got ready to input my number into her cell phone.

“I hope we see each other again.”

“InshaAllah we will, after Ramadan. It’s our holy month now and we’re fasting. I’ll be in touch soon.”

I didn’t know what InshaAllah meant but I’d heard about Ramadan. Wow, Afghanistan is so far away. All I knew about her place of birth was that the Russians invaded in 1979, a civil war ensued, and the brutal Taliban forced women out of work, school and into the smothering burqa. We followed by attacking in 2001. I would soon learn more about life in Afghanistan. The next day, Diba and I connected on Facebook. I hoped to see her as soon as Ramadan ended. A month was a long time to fast. I don’t know if I could do it.

Since that summer day over two years ago, a lot has changed. I soaked up as much information as I could about Afghanistan. I borrowed books from the public library to help me learn about Afghan history, culture, food and religion, asking Diba questions about things I wasn’t sure about. Due to short-term memory loss from a car accident, I’m unable to master even a little bit of Farsi, the Afghan language her family speaks. I quickly developed a fondness for Afghan cooking. I just love it.

Diba and I are close friends, talking or texting almost daily. Her family embraced me as one of their own. I’m included for birthday parties, Ramadan Iftars (breaking of the fast), graduation celebrations, school recitals, or to dinner for no reason at all. Sadly, I mourned with the extended Afghan family and friends during the sudden and crushing loss of a loved one. The grief tugged at me too.

Several months after we met, Diba and her husband Abdul moved to Southern California to be closer to their only daughter. That’s where she attends graduate school. I remember that gray, dreary day as if it was yesterday and the sad tears that flowed down my cheeks. My heart ached to see Diba go but I understood why. Their family ties are much stronger than I ever had.

I converted to Islam although Diba never asked me to. Their family’s interactions showed me about true Islam, not the false idols portrayed on television who kill, maim, and terrorize people, animals and the environment in the name of Islam. That’s not the Islam Diba’s family showed me. Diba’s family and friends are true Muslims, sharing food with each other, friends and neighbors. They look out for each other. They work hard. No one is a slacker. Children attend school and do well in their studies. There are no issues with drugs, alcohol or gambling. Prayer and zakat, also known as donation to charity, are part of their lives as is the respect for parents and elderly relatives. No one is left alone to shoulder a heavy burden. New friends are always welcomed for dinner or green tea. Green tea is a staple in Afghan homes.

Before Diba moved to California, we attended a Friday prayer service at the Islamic Center of the East Valley. I felt at home, as if this was a place was meant for me. I wasn’t quite ready to convert but I was on the road. For the next few months, I went to Friday prayer services, although never alone. I would ask my Somali friend to go with me (she was also an influence in my conversion). I was still anxious about going alone although there really was no reason to be. I was always welcomed. Always. Over Ramadan 2014 I attended a few Iftar’s with Diba’s family. I was sorry when Ramadan was over. I didn’t want it to end, wishing the good feelings to linger. In September, I started attending Friday payers every week, this time alone. Finally, in February 2015, I said my shahada, the declaration of faith, sealing my conversion to Islam.

Diba was overjoyed when she found out. Our chance meeting that day in the airport was part of Allah’s plan she said. I am grateful for her friendship and for the community surrounding me. Furthermore, Islam, true Islam, has given me a purpose, structure, and determination. I feel as if I finally belong. I am part of Diba’s family and many others too. I am so blessed to be loved and cared for by so many friends. If today was my last day on this Earth, I would leave with the greatest love of all, the love of Allah and my dear friends. You know who you are.

I wasn’t born into Islam but I will surely die a Muslim woman. Thank you, Diba and your family for welcoming me into your household. For that simple act of kindness and compassion I will be forever thankful. The community I found since I met you Diba has been more than I thought possible. I love and appreciate you all.

The despicable shootings yesterday in San Bernardino shocked, saddened and sickened me that they were committed by two people who called themselves Muslims. If a Muslim takes an innocent life it’s as if he killed all of humanity. I am deeply sorry for the loss of life and for those who were injured. This is not the Islam I learned from Diba or the other Muslims in my life. Terrorism has no religion, no race, no creed, and no color. My wish for us all is to live as brothers and sisters as the late Dr. Martin Luther King envisioned or we’ll perish together as fools. That cannot happen. It just cannot. Spread love to end hate. Don’t ask me why. I ask you why not?