Thursday, December 1, 2011

"The time has come for you to get used to going to sleep without me"

This is the true story of a little four-year-old from over a thousand years ago. Her name was Ruqqayah.

Ruqqayah was her father's most beloved daughter. He re-named her "Sukaina" (Peace) because she brought peace to his mind. She was a princess in her home.

Ruqqayah was no ordinary little girl. She was the grand-daughter of Muhammad. Her father was Hussain- the leader of the youth in paradise. If things had turned out the way they should have been, she would have lived in the glory of a nation that loved and protected her for being the little girl of their messenger.

But things didn't.
Instead, the ruthless seized leadership. They set out to attack her beloved father. She watched, from a tent in a burning desert in Karbala, as the men of her family, one by one, were killed. She felt her tongue dry and shrivel up, denied water for three days, as the outline of the Euphrates River gleamed before her. She saw what was done to her uncle, Abbas, when she complained to him of her thirst. His two hands, carrying a container of water for her, cut off and his right eye shot at with an arrow. She watched what happened when her father went out to the enemy carrying her ten-month-old brother, asking for water for him. Her baby brother returning to her mother with an arrow in his tiny heart. On the tenth of Muharram, she was there when her protector was killed. When the skies wept blood. She spent the night pleading for her father.

Then she was dragged along the scorching desert with the rest of the women and children. For sixteen days, until they arrived at the palace of the "Muslim" leader- the killer of her father. She wept, asking for her father.

She was presented with his head on a tray.

She watched as his killer played with her father's lips with a stick. "Take your cane away from those two lips. For, by God, I have seen the lips of the Apostle of God kiss those two lips countless times."*

She died hugging the head of her father, in the palace of those that ruled in the name of Islam.



*Spoken by Zaid ibn Arqam, one of Muhammad's companions

See here for the full account of The Tragedy of Karbala according to The History of al- Tabari (the most popular historical chronicle concerning Muslims and the Middle East)

Friday, November 4, 2011

Cruel Kids


There I was, a ten-year-old, propped at my homework desk at home, swinging from side to side on the bright blue office chair and getting more excited by the second. The Geography teacher had given us a photocopied rectangle of the world's continents and asked us to show her the next day where all the tropical rainforests lie. I was in that random mood where you decide to do more than expected. I looked around the bedroom for ideas and, spotting the "Stationery Box" above the wardrobe, proceeded to drag my office chair, carefully climb on it and reach for the box to start.

An hour later, I put the box up again, sat back down and leaned back to admire my work. I was satisfied. The ache in my fingers from trying hard not to leave behind any white spaces was worth it. The waters were a smooth blue, the land varying shades of green, and the tropical rainforest areas a burst of colour, with trees and birds added for good measure. A voice in my head was praising my work, and I smiled shyly as I glued the corners of the back of the map to my geography notebook.

I was so busy thinking of the beautiful piece in my bag to allow anything to get to me on the bus ride to school next morning. That's saying something: bus rides in the morning were disgusting things. The bus comes early the day you snooze the alarm too much, and late the day you happen to be the early bird. The atmosphere inside the bus is a mixture of all the possible moods of school kids woken up from dawn, ranging from anger to bitterness to weariness to indifference. Halfway through the bus-ride, the kid who ate too much egg early morning tells the bus conductor she needs to puke. If we're lucky, we get to stop at the side of the road and watch her get sick from the window. Otherwise, we are stuck with the contents of her breakfast spilled over the bus seat and the bus floor and flowing with each movement the bus takes.

That day was no exception. But my excitement kept me smiling through the vomit smell and negative auras. We were earlier than usual that day, so I reached my classroom empty but for one of my class-mates, one of the exceptionally quite and anti-social girls that I'd never actually had a conversation with. She approached me cautiously, "Did you do the geography homework?"

Just the question I wanted to hear. Yes! I beamed, plunged my arm into my book to retrieve the masterpiece I was so blatantly proud of. "Oh!" Her tiny brown eyes widened, reaching out to hold the book closer to her eyes. At that moment, a bunch of people came in, with a bunch of distractions that I can't for the life of me remember today. All I do know is that for a few minutes, my eyes were away from my book. But I went back to check if the girl had returned my book, and I saw it squeezed between all my other books. Phew.

The day dragged on endlessly until the highlight of the day finally arrived: the geography class. All the kids lined up at the teacher's table as she examined everybody's maps. I had played this out in my mind several times by now that I knew exactly what to do. I reached out for my book, opened it-

A blank page stared back at me. My heart missed a beat. I looked back at the cover page to make sure it really was the geography book I was holding. It was. I went back and felt over the blank page. It felt rough and wrinkled.

Was this really happening? How? Did I just imagine I had made such a beautiful map? Had I forgotten to stick it in the book? But I remembered doing that. And yes, had I not seen it stuck in the book that very morning? When she asked if I had- Oh God! No, that can't be.

In shock, I surveyed the queue at the teacher's table and watched her hold out her book to the teacher, with MY map. The one I spent an hour working on. I watched on as I saw the teacher hold up her map to show to the classroom. "Good Job! That's amazing", and everybody's oohs and aahs.

That day was a turning point in my life. I learned a valuable lesson. To give in to the reality that life is unfair.

Can you relate to this? Did you ever have an experience as a child that taught you how vicious life can be?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Habitophobia: the fear of getting too used to earth

I made Habitophobia up, but it must be real because that's I find myself suffering from at the moment.

Kids find everything fascinating. Notice a baby's eyes as it takes in its surroundings. Sometimes what the baby sees around is too exciting to take: it flaps its arms, makes little shrieks and looks around at everyone else to see how they're taking it. The baby's probably thinking, "I guess I'm the only one who can see all this amazing stuff." The baby stares at its own fingers in wonder. Take one stroll in a zoo and you'll notice the sheer fascination on all the kids' faces, the squeals of delight: "GORILLA, Mommy! That's a GORILLA!"

"Yes, yes, gorilla..." come back the bored adult replies.
Have you noticed how just a stroll in the park can be the funnest part of kid's life?

At what point did earth begin to bore us? When did we have enough of it? The children can't be exaggerating- we were all equally captivated when we first looked around us. The earth isn't undergoing metamorphosis as we grow older- it still harbours the same phenomenal miracles. Is seeing our beautiful, magnificent home everyday enough of an excuse to be disinterested?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The worm eye's view- Muhammad Yunus

I urge you to read one of the most inspiring stories I've come across- the story of a man who decided to do something for himself about a situation he was dissatisfied with, instead of standing back and pointing fingers (which is what we all love doing). I pray that the world sees more of the likes of him: those who make use of the gifts of God.

It all started 25 years ago. I was teaching economics at a university in Bangladesh. The country was in the middle of a famine. I felt terrible. Here I was, teaching the elegant theories of economics in a classroom with all the enthusiasm of a brand new Ph.D. from the US. But I would walk out of the classroom, and see skeletons around me, people waiting to die.

I felt that whatever I had learned, whatever I had been teaching, was all make-believe stories, with no meaning for peoples' lives. So I started trying to find out how people lived in the village next door to the university campus. I wanted to find out whether there was anything I could do, as a human being to delay or stop the death, even for one single person. I abandoned the bird's eye view that lets you see everything from above, from the sky. I assumed a worm eye's view, trying to find whatever comes right in front of you- smell it, touch it, see if you can do something about it.

One particular incident took me in a new direction. I met a woman who was making bamboo stools. After a long discussion, I found out that she made only two US pennies each day. I couldn't believe anybody could work so hard and make such beautiful bamboo stools yet make such a tiny amount of profit. She explained to me that because she didn't have the money to buy the bamboo to make the stools, she had to borrow from the trader- and the trader imposed the condition that she had to sell the product to him alone, at a price that he decided.

And that explains the two pennies- she was virtually in bonded labour to this person. And how much did the bamboo cost? She said, "Oh, about twenty cents. For a very good one twenty-five cents." I thought, "People suffer for twenty cents, and there's nothing anybody can do about it?". I debated whether I should give her twenty cents, but then I came up with another idea- let me make a list of people who needed that kind of money. I took a student of mine and we went around the village for several days and came up with a list of forty-two such people. When I added up the total amount they needed, I got the biggest shock of my life. It added up to twenty-seven dollars! I felt ashamed of myself for being part of a society which could not provide even twenty seven dollars to forty-two hard-working, skilled, human beings.

To escape the shame, I took that money out of my pocket and gave it to my student. I said, "You take this money and give it to those forty two people that we met, and tell them this is a loan, but they can pay me back whenever they are able to. In the meantime, they can sell their products wherever they can get a good price."
After receiving the money, they were very excited. And seeing that excitement made me think, "What do I do now?" I thought of the bank branch which was located at the campus of the university, and I went to the manager and suggested that he lend money to the poor people that I had met in the village. He fell from the sky! He said, "You are crazy! It's impossible! How can we lend money to poor people? They are not credit worthy". I pleaded with him and said, "At least give it a try- find out, it's only a small amount of money." He said, "No. Our rules don't permit it. They cannot offer collateral, and such a tiny amount is not worth lending." He suggested that I see higher officials in the banking hierarchy in Bangladesh.

I took his advice and went to the people who matter in the banking section. Everybody told me the same thing. Finally, after several days of running around, I offered myself as a guarantor. "I'll guarantee the loan, I'll sign whatever they want me to sign, and they can give me the money, and I can give it to the people I want to."

So that was the beginning. They warned me repeatedly that the poor people who receive the money will never pay it back. I said, "I'll take a chance". And the surprising thing was, they repaid me every penny. I got very excited and came to the manager and said, "Look, they pay me back, there's no problem." But he said, "Oh no, they're just fooling you. Soon they will take more money and never pay you back." So I gave them more money, and they paid me back. I told this to him and he said, "Well, maybe you can do this in one village, but if you do it in two villages, it won't work." And I hurriedly did it in two villages- and it worked.

So it became a kind of struggle between me and the bank manager and his colleagues in the highest positions. They kept saying that a larger number, five villages probably, will show it. So I did it in five villages, and it only showed that they paid back. Still they didn't give up. "Ten villages. Fifty villages. One hundred villages." And so it became a kind of contest between them and me. I came up with results they could not deny because it was their money I was giving, but they would not accept it because they are trained to believe that poor people are not reliable. Luckily, I was not trained that way so I could believe whatever I was seeing, as it revealed itself. But the bankers' eyes- their eyes were blinded by the knowledge they had.

Finally, I had the thought, "Why am I trying to convince them?" I am totally convinced that poor people can take money and pay it back. Why don't we set up a separate bank? That excited me, and I wrote down the proposal and went to the government to get the permission to set up a bank. It took me two years to convince the government.
On October 2nd, 1983, we became a bank. A formal, independent bank. And what excitement for all of us, now that we had our own bank, and we could expand as we wish. And expand we did.

-Excerpt from Stephen Covey's interview with Muhammad Yunus

Sunday, September 4, 2011

From the Holy Cube: the centre of the universe

Pinch me! Is this really happening?

Nothing, absolutely nothing, that anyone said, that any picture showed me, could have prepared me for this. I'm frozen here, on the second floor of the Sacred Mosque, looking right at her. The Ka'ba that has been my direction for each prayer, every day of my life. She stares back, modestly covered in black silk, wrapping the millions of white dots circulating around her with warmth and radiance. The buzz of the millions of whispered and not-so-whispered requests fill my ears, bringing me back to earth and reminding me to take this chance, but I really don't want to think or do anything right now. Let me just stand here and stare at this phenomena forever, please. Oh why must you blink every few seconds? Don't you realize these are missed glances?

She's the oldest house alive to date. Started by the first human being, Adam, she's stood there ever since, witnessing history happening around her. This is where Ibrahim and Isma'il stood together and stood her up, brick by brick. This is where they raised their hands to the sky and prayed. The prayer that was answered then and is still being answered.

-We made the House a place of assembly for people and a place of safety; and take you the station of Abraham as a place of prayer; and We covenanted with Abraham and Isma'il, that they should sanctify My House for those who compass it round, or use it as a retreat, or bow, or prostrate themselves.
-And remember Abraham said: "My Lord, make this a City of Peace, and feed its people with fruits,-such of them as believe in God and the Last Day." He said: "Yes, and for such as reject Faith,-for a while will I grant them their pleasure, but will soon drive them to torment"
-And mention Abraham and Isma'il raised the foundations of the House: "Our Lord! Accept this service from us: For You are the All-Hearing, the All-knowing. (2:125-7)

This is where Muhammad began his quest, and this is where he ended it. And right inside this box, here is where his cousin and successor Ali was born. And here, here is where the Mahdi will arise one day, the savior of all mankind, the one who will bring peace and justice to the globe.

Pinch me again! Am I really so close to where all of this happened?

She's the center of the universe, literally and figuratively. As I stand fixed here, still awe-struck, it hits me how she hasn't been left alone for a single moment since her birth. For over a thousand years, the flow around her has been uninterrupted. She welcomes all the assorted produce of this earth: from babies to the aged, from the healthy to the handicapped, from the whitest to the darkest and from the richest to the poorest. Those not around here are still praising God in her direction, from wherever they are, five times a day. The House of God.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Nerd -who wants to stay that way



Except for the second term of sixth grade, I've always topped my class. I've never failed any test. In my high school board exams and in my A Level board exams, I got the best grades we could get. And I'm so far into two years of university and have never gotten any grade below distinction.

This makes me sound like a conceited, toffee-nosed stuck-up person, but God knows I'm not bragging. I know for a fact I'm not more intelligent that the average person. Maybe if people ask me what I've achieved in life I would repeat the above paragraph, not out of satisfaction but simply because I have nothing else to list.

There was a time when, as lame as it sounds, being a topper depressed me. I'm a very, very shy person and the last thing I wanted was to have teachers praise me and have the entire class look around at me. I hated being the teacher's pet always. I hated it when they would pick me for their "special tasks". I hated it when teachers would compare me to other students. I hated it when teachers would grab my book to show as an example to the class. I hated being the one who always did her homework, and always gave her assignments on time. I hated being the one everyone turned to when it was time to copy. And the worst thing I hated out of all of this was all the classmates who would take my phone-number and become "friends" with because I would come in handy.

I can remember at least five girls at the moment from my class-mates whose daily routine consisted of calling me- every single day of the academic year. I've spent hours of my life with the phone ear piece reddening my ear and all our school books surrounding me, repeating the answers of the next day's homework word by word, or number by number. I would hear the dreaded phone ring and look at the number on the call register, and if it was one of the familiar numbers, I would literally feel my heart sink a centimeter- at the thought that I'm going to spend the next hour giving away all my work to other girls. Some of the girls wouldn't even bother pretending to want anything else. "Hello? It's you? Done with the homework? Come on."

Funny how I wouldn't hear from any of them once the summer vacations started. Now that I think of it, I can't believe how much of a tread-on I was. I've come a long way from there. "Tell them to do their own work" my dad would scream angrily. Each time I would promise myself that would be the day, my courage would fail me and we'll be back to the same old routine. At some point, my dad started picking up the phone to tell them I was busy and they shouldn't call again. That didn't work. Not picking up at all wouldn't work either. They'd keep ringing till they had their work read out to them.

All my class-mates naturally assumed I was a topper because I spent most of my time studying. Nothing could be further from the truth. I can swear on my life that most of my classmates studied more than I did and had parents who were after their life. If you ask me why I did so well, I would say it's because my parents taught me to love learning and then left me to it. I don't remember my parents ever telling me to go study. On the day before my A-Level final examination, I told my mom I felt like going to the movies. We watched The Accidental Husband together, laughed lots, stuffed ourselves with popcorn and had an amazing day. I know someone from school whose parents moved the television into the store-room a week before her final examinations. My parents couldn't stand pampering like that.

My parents are both engineers, and my father is a PhD. So don't get me wrong, it's not that they're not educated, nor that they're not interested in my education. But my parents realized something that most parents never do: education doesn't start from a kid's first day at school. It starts from our birth day. It's not about how much you can stuff your brains with, it's about being passionate about finding out more about this world. During my childhood, the best day of the week was the day we would go the public library, pick out books to read- our own choices. When we would sit down to watch the news, my father would tell us all about the events of the twentieth century, events that happened before we were born but that somehow led to the news we were watching at the time. I remember in fifth grade history, when we were supposed to be learning about the Victorian Age and our history teacher couldn't make it more boring if she tried. My father narrated it all to me like it was one exciting fairy tale. I knew about Stalin and Hitler and Mussolini before we started on them at school. I read my textbooks like they were novels and enjoyed every bit. I was always thirsty to know more. I didn't care much about exams and how well I should prepare for them. I was just genuinely interested in most of my subjects.

Exam time meant nothing in my family. It was absolutely no excuse to use to skip my dish-washing chore, or to avoid visiting family friends. "The exams are just testing how much you already know" was what my mom always reminded me, and such a relief that was to know I wasn't under any pressure. I never really set a time aside to prepare for the exams. The preparation happened without me noticing: whenever we studied anything, I would listen carefully to make sure I've understood what happened in class, and if I didn't, I'd go home and read it up myself. I never felt like I was studying then, it was just researching to know more. I won't lie and say my grades didn't matter to me: if I felt the exam didn't go that well, I felt disappointed with myself for not having them under my control.

I know I've matured now since my school days because it no longer matters to me what people think. Peoples' perceptions about me are entirely irrelevant. I love defending interesting courses when they're accused of being a bore, and I love looking up extra material in the library, regardless of when exams are. I also know I've matured because I've learned when help is really needed, when it's hiding under an invisibility cloak, and when it's just a disguise.

Something else has change now too- I love getting high grades: no, they don't tell me I'm intelligent or great, they just re-assure me that I'm still as passionate about learning as I was when I first learned my ABCs. That the spark in me is still lit, and as long as it stays there, everything is going to be okay.

Monday, August 15, 2011

"Why isn't God preventing evil?"

"Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?"

The Epicurean Paradox might seem like one of those clever riddles that will stop you in your tracks, make you pause and get all introspective, but it really isn't. I still think it's a good spiritual exercise to occasionally sharpen your saw by playing the role of the doubter though. There's no better way to strengthen your faith than questioning what you're told is the unquestionable, searching for the answers and finally, that peaceful feeling where you are one with your belief, knowing full well that what you believe in is where you arrived at with your own mind and heart.

So today I attempt to tackle this from how I understand it:
Before we humans jumped into the picture, it was perfect. Picture Perfect. An Almighty God, and angels, animals, nature..all willingly worshiping and praising Him. There was just the one peaceful system that God willed, and everything was in order. Anyone looking at the universe then would smile and say nothing's missing.

But God is Creative, and Just, and Wise, and if there was anything Higher and More Perfect that could be, He would let it be. And there was. You see: all the elements in that perfect picture didn't have a choice- they had to be good and peaceful and loving. The superior element that was missing was us: creatures with the freedom of choice. That's what sets us aside from the rest of the world.

By creating us, God may have been risking the smoothness of all that existed, (probably the reason why the Qur'an tell us the angels voiced their concerns when they were told we were arriving), but He was also unlocking the greatest potential ever. Because by choosing to do good, rather than doing good because it's the only choice, they could reach levels higher than any angel. Simply arming humans with freedom of choice made them that special. God gives us way more credit for using our minds to choose good over evil, instead of being compelled to do good. The greatness that humans could come up by being given a choice to do good is so large and powerful, that God judges it's worth all the trouble of giving up a world defined by 'goodness'. That's how much faith He has in us.

By expecting God to prevent evil, we're asking Him to take away from us our essence: the freedom to choose. If God prevented evil, He would be unfair because He would be taking away from us what distinguishes humanity. All the evil that happens in the world is a result of choice- our lives are a product of choice. True, there are victims of other peoples' wrong choices, but that's why God has a system of justice in place and accountability, and no good choice goes unrewarded.

Going back to the paradox, God doesn't Will good- He Wills freedom of choice, and that just illustrates and emphasizes the importance of the freedom in decision-making, in that the AlMighty Himself Wills it upon this universe. However, besides God's Will is God's Wish. God's Wish is for humanity to make the best of the gifts we've been given and use them for good. (Another conclusion you can come up with here is that no matter WHAT a person does, they are never going against God's Will, because they are exercising their right to choice. They may choose to go against His Wish, but that still is in line with His Will)

So Epicurus was wrong in concluding that if God is able to stop evil but does not, then he is evil-willing. That's like a professor who teaches all the material, prepares a reasonable exam, but still decides to whisper the correct answers to students during their exam. (In want of a better analogy. I know this one is weak because the student may not know what the answer should be, but there is no human heart that cannot make out right from wrong- another law of nature Willed upon us). I'd be offended if I as a student am not given my simple right to think for myself during the exam and trusted to come up with my own answer. I'd also be offended if God gives me a brain that processes information and is able to distinguish good from evil, but then He doesn't let me use this brain to do evil if I want to.

Imagine God did decide to take back our gift of freedom of choice and prevented all the evil in the world. Evil wouldn't exist, but then you wouldn't be able to call what exists as 'good' but simply 'existence'. Good would have no meaning then and no weight or measure, and when I mean good it includes powerful things that can shake the world, like love. Logically speaking, if no evil existed, good would be nothing, and so would everything that is part of good. I don't want to live in a world where I have no freedom of choice and where I see good in the world but just perceive it all as what exists, no thanks!

We all want everyone to not be ruled by misunderstanding, and so does God, but He cannot Will it (i.e. cause it to happen) because that would make creating us and this world pointless. A world like the one we dream of is beautiful because it is a world in which we, with our own choice, would make that way. If that same world happened because God willed it upon it to be that way, it wouldn't be beautiful anymore. It would be like the women in the movie 'The Stepford Wives'.

Good and Evil may be relative, but only to a small extent. Generally, humans know when they're doing lovely and when they're messing up. They know that they're collectively responsible for the ugliness that's been created of the beautiful world gifted to us. Yet we have the nerve to shift the responsibility away from us, and towards God. How about we open our eyes and see the gifts we've been given, the ones that could do wonders, and use them for a change?

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Spacetoon Generation

I remember that day in third grade, when I was still trying to adapt to everything concerning living in the Middle East.

Sitting next to Maryam, my new Emarati best friend (who I have lost touch with and would really love to talk to again! Maryoom, if there's a one in a million chance you're reading this and happen to remember this conversation, let me know!). I don't recall what work we'd been given to do, except that I was really engrossed in what I was doing, and was getting slightly distracted with Maryam's soft singing next to me. I put my pen down in annoyance, and stopped to hear what it was she saying:

Ta5ayyal anal kawn
La 6a3ma lahu aw lawn
Aw annal televizyown
Min ghayri spacetoooon


(Imagine that this planet....had no taste or colour....Imagine television....without Spacetoon)

Not recognizing what she was singing doubled my annoyance, and I picked up my pen to resume my work, as Maryam continued singing, waiting for my curiosity to get the better of me.

She stopped singing suddenly and turned her head sharply towards me: "You know it?"
"Tut" was all that could escape my lips, my pride injured at having to give in.
She leaned forward and whispered in my ear, "It's going to be the best kids' channel ever. They're testing it now on Bahrain TV, but soon, it'll be a channel on its own, and I'm going to be the first one to watch it".

Well, you know how there's that age where life is a competition.
I continued my work the rest of the class, appearing to be not interested in what Maryam had to say, but inside I was super super excited. 'I'm going to be the first to watch the best channel ever too!'



That's where it started..
There's a whole generation of Arab kids that Spacetoon helped raise. We loved it. We loved the different planets you could travel to- each with a separate genre of cartoons. We loved all the Arabic-dubbed anime. We loved the feature songs to every cartoon, memorized all the lyrics. We loved the in-between play and learn sessions. We loved the little messages it sent across: the little jiggle about Palestine and freedom, the pop-up fact boxes about each arab country.

Spacetoon was probably one of the most useful projects the Arabs have come up with in a long time...

I miss Spacetoon and the big chunk of my childhood I spent under its spell.

Were you part of The Spacetoon Generation? Share your memories, I'd love to hear from you. What was your favourite kawkab and which cartoons did you watch? What would you have done to improve it? Do you think Spacetoon played a role in strengthening your Arabic language, and in instilling a sense of arab unity in you?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

A shout out to my followers :)

I started blogging in 2009 because it was something I wanted to try out for myself. When I began, for some reason, I expected to have a multitude of views and comments the second I typed out my first post. I admit feeling disappointed. (I even remember google-ing tips on how to get your blog to be popular!)

After a few days, when I realized I was not going to become the next Julie Powell, I pulled myself together, wiped the dust off me and started over with new goals in mind. This time, I was going to blog because I had something to say, not because I was looking for attention. I decided to humbly put in my two cents about whatever it is I want to say. There must be a billion blogs out there, and I was just another one added to them.

For the past two years, blogging has helped me through alot, in two ways:
The first side is the exciting bit of looking for blogs to follow, and getting to read diverse opinions on every topic under the sun. Reading other people's points of views has helped me become more tolerant towards accepting other perspectives, and I know this is one of my weak areas.

The second side is the even more exciting bit of getting my own word and perspective across. I love the feeling of knowing there are people out there, who I have never met in real life, but who are always there, listening to what I have to say and caring enough to let me know they are. Almost everyday, I check my blog stats and smile at the different countries I've had views from. It makes me feel all warm inside!

This is a special thank you to my 50 followers for enhancing my blogging experience.

Thank you:

Notorius Spinks
Stefanie R - Silver Starry Skies
Me's Bubble Me's Bubble
amal Starry Eyed
Rania@FashioningFaith
TheOneWhoNeedsReminders Reminders & Reflections
The Restless Quill ...and then
Amira The Stranger's Diary
Tori περιπλάνηση
Aliya A Pair of Specshttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gif
LuLu Captured
Zarina Hassem
Sabeeha
Noshi Oasis of Truth
Zainab Yikes! I'm a Mum!
Zahra The Girl in the Awesome Chador
muffi smith
Abeer Alternate Mirror
Peace Be With You Working Minds
DYVYNE Meaningless Virtue
Pooja Second thoughts first...
Londoneya Londoneya
eloquence
rose water rose water
Muslimahs Musings
Undefined my atmosphere
Koo A place for my head
Emmatullah
7ormat khalid The Owl from Abu Dhabi
Lubaba
Najma A Star from Mosul
Elimar Licos
Mariam Underneath a Silver Sky..
Fatimah
mustika sari sayuti Vanilla Ice-cream floats
TGL This Good Life
Rukhpar Mor Rukhpar Mor
Ellen Keim I, Muslimah
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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Don't Sweat the Small Stuff

Following is only the contents list from Richard Carlson's 'Don't sweat the small stuff', but I believe the chapter titles are enough reminders in themselves!

Don’t sweat the small stuff
Make peace with imperfection
Let go of the idea that gentle, relaxed people can’t be superachievers
Be aware of the snowball effect of your thinking
Develop your compassion
Remind yourself that when you die, your “in basket” won’t be empty
Don’t interrupt others or finish their sentences
Do something nice for someone else—and don’t tell anyone about it
Let others have the glory
Learn to live in the present moment
Imagine that everyone is enlightened except you
Let others be “right” most of the time
Become more patient
Create “patience practice periods”
Be the first one to act loving or reach out
Ask yourself the question, “will this matter a year from now?”
Surrender to the fact that life isn’t fair
Allow yourself to be bored
Lower your tolerance to stress
Once a week, write a heartfelt letter
Imagine yourself at your own funeral
Repeat to yourself, “life isn’t an emergency”
Experiment with your back burner
Spend a moment every day thinking of someone to thank
Smile at strangers, look into their eyes, and say hello
Set aside quiet time, every day
Imagine the people in your life as tiny infants and as one-hundred-year-old adults
Seek first to understand
Become a better listener
Choose your battles wisely
Become aware of your moods and don’t allow yourself to be fooled by the low ones
Life is a test it is only a test
Praise and blame are all the same
Practice random acts of kindness
Look beyond behavior
See the innocence
Choose being kind over being right
Tell three people (today) how much you love them
Practice humility
When in doubt about whose turn it is to take out the trash go ahead and take it out
Avoid weatherproofing
Spend a moment, every day, thinking of someone to love
Become an anthropologist
Understand separate realities
Develop your own helping rituals
Every day, tell at least one person something you like, admire, or appreciate about them
Argue for your limitations, and they’re yours
Remember that everything has God’s fingerprints on it
Resist the urge to criticize
Write down your five most stubborn positions and see if you can soften them
Just for fun, agree with criticism directed toward you (then watch it go away)
Search for the grain of truth in other opinions
See the glass as already broken (and everything else too)
Understand the statement, “wherever you go, there you are”
Breathe before you speak
Be grateful when you’re feeling good and graceful when you’re feeling bad
Become a less aggressive driver
Relax
Adopt a child through the mail
Turn your melodrama into a mellow-drama
Read articles and books with entirely different points of view from your own and try to learn something
Do one thing at a time
Count to ten
Practice being in the “eye of the storm”
Be flexible with changes in your plans
Think of what you have instead of what you want
Practice ignoring your negative thoughts
Be willing to learn from friends and family
Be happy where you are
Remember that you become what you practice most
Quiet the mind
Take up yoga
Make service an integral part of your life
Do a favour and don’t ask for, or expect, one in return
Think of your problems as potential teachers
Get comfortable not knowing
Acknowledge the totality of your being
Cut yourself some slack
Stop blaming others
Become an early riser
When trying to be helpful, focus on little things
Remember, one hundred years from now, all new people
Lighten up
Nurture a plant
Transform your relationship to your problems
The next time you find yourself in an argument, rather than defend your position, see if you can see the other point of view first
Redefine a “meaningful accomplishment”
Listen to your feelings (they are trying to tell you something)
If someone throws you the ball, you don’t have to catch it
One more passing show
Fill your life with love
Realize the power of your own thoughts
Give up on the idea that “more is better”
Keep asking yourself, “what’s really important?"
Trust your intuitive heart
Be open to “what is”
Mind your own business
Look for the extraordinary in the ordinary
Schedule time for your inner work
Live this day as if it were your last – it might be!
Treasure yourself

The ones in bold are thoughts that I've mulled and chewed over and haven't yet digested, and possibly the topics of future blogposts.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Here's why Harry Potter's so special


(Illustration by cartoonist Einar Lunden)


There are few children books that manage to twist all of life's important lessons into a capturing tale, and still make you feel like you're just reading for entertainment. This is exactly what J.K. Rowling's done in her series. In Harry Potter, there is something to extract and learn from for every person of any age or intelligence. However ironic it sounds, the magical, fictional and very-far-from-real world depicted throughout is so very relevant to the world we live in today. I know there are many Harry Potter-haters out there, and I'm here to give you five really good reasons why you should be mesmerized by The Harry Potter Phenomena that our times have witnessed:

1. The Battle between Good and Evil
From the moment the first human was created till the moment the earth will no longer exist, there will always be a battle between those two powers. The sad truth is that at many points in life, it seems that evil has the upper hand and evil is all that will prevail. The other sad truth is that most people are likely to join the evil side. Not because they are evil, but because of the deceiving nature of evil and the many temptations that come with it. The happy truth is: eventually, good prevails. As long as there is a God who is Just, good must prevail. This is beautifully shown in the story: it revolves around the battle between Voldemort and his evil supporters (some who could easily have been on the good side) and the few who try to overcome them. In the end, Harry Potter and his supporters succeed in defeating the evil forces. The positive note on which the series ends teaches readers to never give up in the fight to spread good, no matter how alone you may feel you are.

2. Oppression
Throughout history, those who are different from the majority have suffered discrimination on the hands of those who claim to set the standards of what "the norm" must be. But if we open our eyes we will notice the beauty in such variation, and how much more we can achieve together. Intentions should be the only criterion for judgement. This is one of the most recurring themes in the series; the discrimination faced by elves (who are made slaves by humans and given limited freedom), half-bloods or muggle-borns (wizards/witches whose parents have no magical skills), squibs (who have fewer magical skills than others) or giants.... These are all synonymous to the people of our world who have suffered for being different: whether it is for having special needs or for having another skin colour or whatever. What I love about these books is that, throughout, Harry Potter and his friends constantly manage to defeat the dark side with the help of the oppressed. Their turning to them makes them stronger than their enemies. Harry chooses friends based on their qualities and not their social status, and this provides a very good role model to readers, especially children. Of Harry's closest friends are Ron (who comes from a poor family), Hermione (who has Muggle parents), Hagrid (who is a half-giant), Dobby (a house-elf he set free)..

3. Family
Harry Potter constantly highlights the importance of family: a part of our lives without which we are incomplete. Although Harry's parents die when he was a baby, Harry is always thinking about his parents and what they would've told him to do in that situation. The reason Harry survives Voldemort's curse and manages to live on is because of Harry's mother's love for him. Rowling chose a beautiful way to illustrate the power of a mother's love to her readers: it can even conquer death. Harry lives with his mother's sister Aunt Petunia and her family. His being badly treated by them again illustrates the importance of family by illustrating the impacts ill relationships can have on lives. It also brings a real problem to light, which is child abuse and the fact that there are many children not receiving the correct childhood experience they have a right to. All of us love the huge, bubbly Weasly family: a great example of a typical and ideal family. The Weasly family have their share of problems, financial or otherwise, but the family tie remains amidst the sibling quarrels and whatnot.

4. Friendship
Harry Potter is realistic: in life, the average person makes many friends. There are a couple of special ones who stick with you throughout, and who are the ones worth keeping. Without them, you will not be capable of anything. Harry may be a brilliant and brave wizard, but without the support of Ron and the intelligence of Hermione, he wouldn't have been able to achieve a quarter of what he accomplished in each part of the series. Harry finds comfort in knowing he can confide into his two friends whenever faced with dangerous situations (which is basically always considering he is a huge target). His friends in turn, are ready to sacrifice alot for him. But their friendship doesn't come without its share of problems: at two points throughout the series, Ron lets his bitter and jealous feelings take the better of him, causing him to abandon his friend. This is only human, and Rowling does a good job of teaching her readers that no relationship can be strong without its ups and downs. I could go on about the friendship between Harry's dad and his friends Lupin and Sirius, and the betrayal by Peter (aka Wormtail) which shows how the choices of friends we make could go all wrong sometimes, but I think you get the point.

5. Media
The Harry Potter books very accurately show how people in positions of power (the Minsitry of Magic in this case) can abuse their positions by misrepresenting the truth to the public, and how they use media to accomplish this. We see this everywhere in the world today: governments lieing to the public, the majority of which are confused and choose to believe in what the newspapers and officials tell them without questioning their authority or accuracy. For a very long time, the Ministry of Magic chooses to hide from the public the return of Voldemort. At another point, the Ministry chooses to send over its people to take charge of the education system in Hogwarts. There are many other instances that remind the reader of the importance of thinking for oneself and realising the power of the influence of media used on us.

There are many other important lessons I'd like to mention, but I don't want this to get too long. If you're reading this and you're a Harry Potter fan (or have just been converted!) let me know why you think Harry Potter is so special!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Must we love ourselves?



I'm positive it's not just me who's been through this thought struggle.

Have you ever come across people in your life who openly speak of their love for themselves, with no apparent signs of discomfort? Have you noticed how the discomfort seems to come instead from those surrounding the person in love with theirself? I've always wondered why I feel uncomfortable and restless when things like this happen. Is it because there's something wrong with what I'm hearing, an undesirable trait that you feel awkward about because you're embarrassed on their behalf for not knowing what they are meant to or not mean to say? Or is it the opposite? Do I feel discomfort because I'd never have the boldness to love myself and speak up about it?

In other words, must we love ourselves?

If the answer is no: Why? Wouldn't loving yourself keep you at peace? A person who loves themselves will be immune to any feelings of worthlessness or weaknesses. That person will be content no matter how many failures or criticisms they encounter. How they treat their self will remain on the same level, and not depend on how well they're doing in life, because their love of them self will keep them, in their own eyes, worthy of the best treatment. Doesn't that make people in love with themselves more likely to be successful because of how good they'll be feeling all the time about their life? And won't that mean they will always be happy, irrespective of what's happening in their life? Also, what about the idea that to be capable of loving others, we must be capable of loving ourselves? How true is it, and why are the two related?

If the answer is yes: Why? Wouldn't loving yourself make you self-conceited and vain? Wouldn't being content with the way you are make you blind to your imperfections, and therefore trapped from improving yourself? Wouldn't loving yourself make you more likely to look down at others? Is it possible to remain humble and modest while loving yourself? Would the love you feel for yourself occupy you from loving others? Would your narcissism make others around you uncomfortable and less drawn to you?

Must we love ourselves?

The usual response to a question like this lies in moderation. But that's not a satisfying answer, because how do we maintain this level of moderation? How do you manage to keep the balance?

And in any case, who said any of all of this is in our hands?

If you're reading this, please drop by your two cents and tell me, must I love myself?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Remembering my grandfather...



On a day like yesterday, eight years ago, my maternal grandfather passed away.

So I sit back and try to re-live the moment: not because I enjoyed it but because I can't help but do so when I open that drawer in my mind labeled "Jaddaah" (My Grandfather) that consists of all the information I can ever gather on him. [On a side-note: Do you find it funny that I refer to him as "Jaddaah"? The arabic couldn't get more formal than that if I tried. Does addressing people formally limit the relationship? Maybe so under general circumstances. Yet in my family, being polite to elders is the un-breachable law. My whole life, I have never spoken to my father in a singular form.]

The year 2003 was the worst in the years I've lived through so far. I vividly recall the dark and dull atmosphere, the tense moments, the long hours of idleness. 2003 brought about some really important events in my personal life. But it also brought about other global events: like a space shuttle sent and returned with seven dead astronauts, or the invasion of Iraq, or the world losing one of their most precious human assets.. Most of that year we spent staring at the television screen, trying to compensate for The Guilt by filling our minds to the brim with the anguish and despair of what was on constant display there.

The memory film's rewinding quickly now back to my eleven-year-old self. The skinny geek with the huge circular thick-rimmed glasses (that only decided to get into fashion when I changed them -_-) sitting on the top of my bunk-bed, reading what I thought at the time was a very funny joke book I had borrowed off the school library. The world outside is yellow- literally. Inside, it's so quiet that I can hear the sound of silence. And then a loud, startling, telephone ring breaks this. My mother picks up, and now I'm only giving half of my attention to the joke book laid out in front of me. The other half is dedicated to deciphering the purpose and participants of the phone call. Which is an easy task even though I can only hear one side of the conversation.

It was my uncle calling from London. I knew that because of the way my mother added a "habibi" after every sentence, the kind that's reserved for your big brother. Yes, everybody was fine. ...Yes, the kids don't have a holiday at the moment. ...Yes, the traffic still hasn't got any better....New news from home? No, we had tried calling them but the lines are really bad at the moment...Yes, what can we do other than pray with all our hearts....Yes habibi, what is it?....Tell me?....Is something wrong?.......What is it, habibi?....BABA?!

And then I hear a thump, and struggle down the bunk-bed's ladder to see my mother on the floor, holding the phone at an arm's distance, shaking silently. My mother, the strong woman who tells us to wipe away our tears and get on with life when we cry over a broken toy. The woman who could put through with anything- who survived alone in a strange cold land with two little children, a job and an absent husband. Now she's alone on the floor hopeless and sobbing. And what is that expression on her face? I can't seem to place it because I've never seen it on her face before. A surge of instructions flow through me. Some tell me to stop being so cold, standing and staring. Others tell not to venture into the unknown. This is a foreign situation and you should stand back now.

What I do is go to the kitchen to get her a glass of water. Please don't judge me. Remember that I'm eleven, and that this was the strangest thing that had happened to me. Remember that feeling during desperate situations when your brain and heart shut and refuse to co-operate, and then irrationality takes over. Soon, in no less than five minutes, the house will be filled with men and women, some I have not even met before, sitting around my new fragile mother, offering little whispers of comfort that do not help at all. For now, it's just us and the despair. It's bad enough losing a father. It's worse losing a father who has been asking you to come visit for a year. It's worse losing one in the midst of news of war and chaos and ambiguity. But it's worst losing one and being told way after his soul has passed on, after his soulless body has been laid underneath and after all the prayers have been recited.

Most of what saddened me that day and several weeks after, (weeks filled with a silent house, the occasional murmurs and ready-made meals), was seeing my mother going through such pain. But what also saddened me was the fact that the little time I had the chance to spend with him was all that there would ever be. So I tried to keep myself satisfied with what I had- the stories of how he would take me for a walk in our garden, and I would miraculously stop the cries that everybody else would try anything in vain to put to silence. How everybody would complain of how difficult a baby I was, and he would announce that I was a smiling, happy one. How he came to us in London when I was five, and took me to McDonald's for the first time in my life! And then, on our trip to Iraq, practicing French with us, telling us jokes and laughing at our lame ones, showing us old pictures and enjoying all the goodnight hugs and kisses...

But the stories aren't enough to fill my drawer, so I steal away bits of memories from other people.

My grandfather was one of those rare people who literally worked his way through life. He was born in one of Iraq's scholarly families. This meant he had the obligations of a religious scholar's son to society- no school or college work would excuse him from his duties to stand by his father in the mosque or religious center. He worked to pay for his own education. Yet his intelligence and determination paved his way to Paris, arriving at a new city knowing not one word in French and leaving the city with a Doctorate degree in law from Sorbonne University. The years my grandfather spent in Paris will remain preserved in my family's history through all the stories being passed on- stories of the city's atmosphere at the time, the strikes, the people, the cafes he loved, the little community he found himself part of, the girls that "fell apart on either side of him as he walked on carrying his good looks" (exaggeration does run in the family!)

With his degree in hand, my grandfather planned on returning to his land. But he returned to a different country to the one he left- his Iraq had been seized by a ruthless group. Their entry brought about the beginning of what would prove to be a continuing downfall of the country. He was no longer aloud to express his thoughts freely, even as the Dean of the University of Mustansiriya in Iraq, and he went to Kuwait as a lecturer in the University of Kuwait, leaving behind his sisters (who he continued to support financially) and a lecture hall named after him. By this time, he had a family: a girl and two boys. Who had he married? His brother's widow. His brother had recently passed away, leaving behind a distressed wife and two orphans. My grandfather married her later on, and took the orphans as his own children.

I wish I could write more on this. About how he eventually helped found a university, the University of Kufa, near the city of Najaf. Or about the sort of father he was to his children- grabbing any opportunity to educate them, the kind that would always take his family out for dinner on a weekend to their favourite restaurant, or ask them to pick a holiday destination. I could go on forever about his efforts to bring up his children to be people accepting of others' opinions and to be true servants of God. But enough memory-stealing for the day.

Many times, I remind myself of my ancestors and what they left behind, and that keeps me motivated to try to leave something behind for myself. So fast-forward the reel back to the present: hopefully the little walks down memory lane help me contribute more to current moment. For now, carpe diem!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

My long, tiring quest for the powerful driving license

I wake up with a jolt, lump in my throat, heart beating like I've just run a marathon, and a lingering indistinguishable thought at the back of my head nudging me, trying to get my attention. In one second, it all comes to me. It's your third test today. This time if you fail again you're a real moron.

As I reach for the easiest abaya I can slip over me in my closet, my eyes fall on something blue-covered lying rejected, gathering dust, on the corner of my bookshelf. "The Secret" I whisper to myself. There was a time when I lived the words in here. When I was the known advocate for this, quickly judging anybody with misfortune in their lives as one who hasn't taken control over it themselves. Things are not that simple anymore: the laws of this book failed me once-terribly. God wanted to remind me what I had dared to ignore- that He was behind everything, and the ultimate decision-maker in my life.

I don't normally talk to myself but I do this morning. Just stop thinking and philosophizing too much. Go and get your damn license. Act like it's already yours.
The drive to the place I spend whispering every prayer I knew by heart.

The driving institute I go to specialize in inconveniencing their customers. Or maybe that's how all of them are. I wait for an hour and a half, in the same position on my chair. My skin has too little layers to protect my bones from its hard surface. There is little to do during these ninety minutes except stare around at the all too familiar place- the same faces of the employees: each has the complete Emarati look with her heavily-makeup-ed face, bored expression, highlighted fringe popping out of her elegant silk sheila, designer abaya, and most importantly: the gamboo3a over her head. The same signs everywhere with instructions: "Speed kills", "Wear your seat belt at all times".... One of the girls calls a worker from the kitchen and orders her to make a cheese sandwich and heat it for "Mama Examiner". Deja Vue. At least it means she won't be hungry while testing me. The sameness of this place and the recurrence of this all makes me feel suffocated. I tug my sheila at my chin to allow myself a little extra air. Oddly enough, I am not nervous. Maybe it was a good idea to keep us waiting: wait for their anxiety to turn into boredom and then desperation before we let them hit the road. Because that's the stage I reach: I am desperate to get this over with. When the examiner comes to read names off her list, I jump to my feet, and then sit back down disappointed as I realise mine's wasn't one of them.

The exam itself is uneventful. With two other examinees staring back at me nervously from the center mirror, I carry out the examiner's instructions like a robot:
Turn left
Turn right
U-turn
Change lane
Junction right
Junction left
Park
And there, it's over. I go back to the back-seat and smile big at the next girl in line, because I know I had not given her any reason to fail me. And that's the approach here: how can I fail her? How may I keep her in our institute and make more money out of her?

Funny how the driving institute changes from a prison to the most jolly environment when I get back. I giggle to myself as she stamps the PASS on my learning permit, and I can't help detecting a hint of anger in her "Mabrook". Or am I just one big cynical?

Suddenly, I notice all the colours in here. The walls are painted grass-green. There's so much positive energy around this place.... What looked like a strange web I now recognize as a kids' play area. They climb and twist on the ropes happily. Their laughter fills the air.

Could all this change have occurred while I was gone? No.
The driving center, the world, people you know, friends and family.... everything seems as it is because of your perception. With positive thoughts the world becomes a garden. And with negative thoughts the garden turn into a scary cave.

أحبب فيغدو الكوخ قصرا نيرا.... وابغض فيمسي الكون سجنا مظلما

from كن بلسما by the Lebanese poet إيليا أبو ماضي


Image from: http://www.1hitproperty.com/
I CAN DRIVE LEGALLY ON THE STREETS OF DUBAI NOW! :D

Friday, February 18, 2011

The bulge on my right hand's middle finger

Although it goes against everything I've been taught and believe in, I hate to admit I belong to a group of millions of girls across the globe who are on a constant hunt for any out of the "norm" aspects of their appearances. Which sucks, because there is no norm, and the standards we weigh against are put together by machines, and we are really supposed to be thanking God that we're not deaf, blind or dumb instead.

But there still exists a 'fault' in my appearance that passes the critical examination. And that's a tiny bump on the side of my right hand's middle finger. I love it. It was born when I reached around nine years old, and continued to grow with me- the finger's result of enduring many hours of being pressed against a pen.

The bump is my wedding ring- a reminder of a commitment. No matter how busy my day, how tired I am, how elated or depressed or angry or nervous, I will never give up on sitting and putting down on paper everything that's going on in my life and all the thoughts that run around my head. Without this regular activity, I'd go insane. It is so important to me to sort out everything life's giving me in words.

In good times, I feel I owe it to my future self to narrate all the positivity I experience at that moment. I never know when I'd need it. And in bad times, I honestly can't figure out what I'm thinking if I don't write it down. My brain finds it difficult to work if my fingers aren't assisting it.

Sometimes, it comforts me when I can write it all down like it's just another novel I'm reading. And then my entire life turns into a story, and I smile to myself because I am more awake than ever to the insignificance of our tiny surreal world that will seem like only the blink of an eye one day.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Beginning

When the sun rises today, she smiles down at those eighty million people on the earth that made us proud and heaves a huge sigh of relief.

Victory comes to them because to each of them, the love of their nation is their top priority. Because they set aside their religious and personal differences. Because they focus on their common goal. That is why those millions managed to free themselves without a leader or plan. When the hearts are grudge-free and the intentions pure, everything is possible.

All I can hope for is that the historic moment we had the pleasure to witness was not merely an incident in Egyptian history. Let it mark the beginning of an era filled with justice.

No longer must we be ruled by dictators blinded in their self-interests. In time, they must all fall. No longer must we silently live through humiliation and watch our brothers and sisters in distress. No longer are we slaves to our enemies.

From now on, the civilizations that taught the world how to read and write will re-gain their pride. They will forget the differences that divide us. They will remind us all the sweetness of unity.

They will break away from their chains and lead us all back to what we were.

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