Sanem and I took turns crossing the street to each other’s townhomes for afternoon tea, at least once a week, for seven years. In our nearly identical kitchens, we put out similar spreads, a smaller tea pot steamed above a larger tea pot, honey-colored tea served in little glass cups, warm bread, an assortment of cheeses and jams, and cookies for our kids. Sanem was from Turkey, my family was from Iraq, and our tea rituals mirrored one another. While our children played in the upstairs bedrooms, Sanem and I talked about our faith, our families and their impending visits. We discussed decisions we were trying to make, from furniture pieces and home improvements to clothing purchases and afterschool activities for our kids. We got through illnesses, births, and deaths in both our families. Some evenings we simply helped each other cook dinner, but our visits together always left us feel better about our days. On those afternoons, when our husbands came home from work, we weren’t bottles of pent-up emotion, ready to pop. We’d already poured some of our thoughts and frustrations onto each other.
Last year my family and I moved out of state for my husband’s work. Sanem helped me decide what furniture, clothes, and kitchenware to give away, what to bring. She brought us dinner after a long day of packing and breakfast the following morning. She was there when our moving van left, but she couldn’t bear to watch my minivan pull away.
In our new life in a new place, the afternoons stretched in front of me, a wasteland of lonely. I’d pick up my children from school, make them a snack, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was waiting someone to arrive, waiting for the company of a friend. The waiting made me itchy with restlessness, but there was no time to share these feelings with my husband when he came home from work. These were our family’s busiest hours, dinner, homework help, and bedtime. At the end of the night, my husband did his best to sympathize, but he could not offer me the same comforts, time spent over a warm cup of tea, the validation that comes with hearing another person say, ‘It’s the same for me, too.’
When my husband, Hadi, and I lived in Guadalajara, Mexico, I volunteered at an internado for girls. It wasn’t quite an orphanage. Most of the children had a parent or a grandparent who were unable to care for them due to poverty or addiction. I believed then that my motivations for volunteering were selfless. It had nothing to do with the loneliness of living in a foreign country or being away from family for the first time. I simply had time on my hands, and I wanted to make a difference.
I did not know then that I was stepping into a bottomless pit of need, that the longer I volunteered there the more layers and layers of things I had no power to fix I’d uncover. The homes the girls went back to on the weekend were broken, the discipline system at the internado was broken, their schools were broken, their friendships with each other were broken, their shoes were broken, and their hearts had been broken time and time again.
During those years, I felt guilty for everything. My bed, my space heater, my shower, my clothes, my washer and dryer, my childhood, my education, my parents, my husband. I had so much. Too much.
Dear Love, InshAllah,
We are parents of a Muslim college student who met a Muslim boy at school and wish to get to know each other with parental supervision for marriage. The boy told his Pakistani parents he wished us to meet and get to know each other. They first agreed and next day refused and hit him and threatened to have him transfer to another school. We are not Pakistani, however they say that is not the reason, that it is because he is too young. We also wish they were older however we do not want them to commit any sins and are willing to work with them in order for them to have supervision and not lie to us. The boy’s mother caught him on the phone with my daughter, who is out of country doing research for school and taken away his phone and computer and again state will take him out of school. We have suggested our daughter not have any contact with him until parents agree, but this has not happened and if seems the parents forbidding them has made them closer. Our question is should we contact the father and state we were not pleased with this relationship but it is better to work together with our children than to have them lie to us. Any advice on dealing with Pakistani parents who do not want the son to talk to a girl until he is out of college and working and to become a doctor even though the son does not wish to be a doctor.
When I was a child, Ramadan – like the life that stretched before me – seemed magical. Forbidden for the very young, fasting was a mark of adulthood, a rite of passage for which we were all too eager. You woke for the early morning meal with a sense of pride, keen to know what mysterious things adults got up to at this delicious hour.
As I grew older, Ramadan became a time to pause life, a time for reflection as well as a time for community. Growing up outside of our respective ethnic identities and cultures, this month provided the chance to regroup and reconnect with friends and family.
We became used to a melding of cultures where we’d reach for spices in two languages during iftar, knowing only our ethnic name for certain spices and only the English one for others (I will never call “saunf” aniseed or “dhaniya” cilantro, but “namaak” will always be just plain old salt to me). We indulge in kibbeh and kunafeh at our Arab friends’ houses, in pakoras and dahi bade at our South Asian friends’ houses. During Ramadan, we seem to make up for the things we never realized we were missing – the sound of adhan from all corners, mosques on every block, altered work hours to make the fast easy: all things available in the Muslim-majority countries from whence most of us came.
After my brother’s passing, Ramadan became a month of refuge from the chaos of my grief. It allowed me space to breathe, mourn, to build up strength for the remainder of the year. The past few years, I have been able to recharge and re-center during this holy month by finding solace in the strength of the spiritual.
But this year? This year is different.
A titanic and towering swell of love lodged inside my chest after the birth of my first child. Here I was, just an ordinary woman of 25 years of age, but I had been entrusted with the world’s very best baby. In my eyes, he was perfection, the realization of my every dream. For the life of me, I couldn’t understand why adoring someone so much left me feeling so destroyed. After I’d wrestled my baby to bed, I’d stand around our small high-rise apartment in Queens not knowing which of my needs or wants I had time to address before he woke up again. Could I get in a shower? Some exercise? Reading? Or should I give up and watch television, or maybe plant my face into the floor and cry?
In those small evening reprieves from childcare, I felt no relief, just heaviness. I’d imagined becoming a mother would endow me with the disposition of the sweetest, most energetic preschool teacher. I was going to be the kind of mom who crouched down to talk to my little one in an even and calm voice. I was going to be brimming with ideas for creative play and projects. But when my beautiful baby grew into an energetic toddler, I didn’t grow into the mom I thought I’d become. I didn’t get down on the floor and play enough. I raised my voice too much. I let him eat too many processed foods and watch too much television. And where was all the early education I had planned on—the language instruction and flashcards? Where were the crafts? I didn’t do nearly enough crafts.
At the time, my husband was in the midst of his first residency and his call schedule was brutal. A sense of urgency surrounded the nights when he was home. I only had a few hours to make him understand what a failure I was as a mother, how he didn’t know who he was leaving his child with everyday. Read the rest of this entry »
Summer is here! It’s time to dive head first into your summer reading list, and what better place to start than Salaam Love: American Muslim Men on Love, Sex & Intimacy. the follow up to the groundbreaking book, Love InshAllah.
Salaam, Love features 22 American Muslim men, from a broad spectrum of ethnic, racial, and religious perspectives—including orthodox, cultural, and secular Muslims— speaking openly about their romantic lives, offering frank, funny, and insightful glimpses into their hearts.
“Simultaneously lighthearted entertainment and an important addition to public discourse around the place of Islam in America…Indeed, the entire collection seeks to offer as much variety as possible, with stories reflecting a broad range of sexuality, ethnicity, religiosity, and romantic success. In this way, it pushes back against common cultural stereotypes of both Muslims and men, showing Muslims with a full range of ordinary American life experiences and showing men with tender and heartfelt emotions that they articulate beautifully. For insiders to the community, this work will prompt joyful recognition as well as thoughtful exploration of different experiences; for outsiders, it will counter one-dimensional negative images about American Muslims. For everyone it will be an insightful, thoroughly charming read.” —Publishers Weekly
I’m going back to work. Which seems like a ridiculous thing to say because I’m writing those words with chapped, painful hands, hands that have not stopped moving, even for a full night of sleep, in the three years during which I’ve been a stay-at-home-mom. Honestly, this work has been the most physically and emotionally difficult, and the most spiritually challenging of any I’ve ever done. It wasn’t so hard with my first. One is tiring. Two is crazy-making. At least when they’re within 2 years of each other. Even when you’re parenting with a blessedly devoted husband and father. The need in these little beings is frighteningly constant. The need for me, that is, and I’d never before longed NOT to be needed. It’s not something I would have easily grasped before I had children, how overwhelming it can be. It’s like my neighbor Nancy, who raised five daughters, says: just going to the bathroom by yourself is a break. The way I get through it is by remembering something my teacher, the woman who ran my local dhikr, used to say: “there is no me, there is only you.” To this day, I have no idea whether by that ‘you’ she meant ‘You’, as in, the divine, or whether she meant any other person, in an offering of limitless service to God’s creation. Either way, I’ve found devout selflessness a more useful sentiment than despair at 4 a.m. when I’ve been woken every hour on the hour since 11 p.m. by a beautiful but teething baby. Read the rest of this entry »