Fear and a Hunger for Justice

We received this post too late to put it in last month, but it is too good not to share. It deals with an issue we have seen here more than once, fear, prejudice and being Muslim. Even though it mostly focuses on last month’s topic of fear, there too is a hunger for justice, for equality, for understanding, that underlies this great post from Hafsa Mansoor.

I’m afraid. A lot. I’m afraid that my faith is the defining characteristic- in the most negative way possible- of who I am. Don’t get me wrong; I am proud to be a Muslim, and I am proud to say that. I’m afraid of what people perceive as my religion. I’m afraid that the actions of ISIS and Al-Qaeda will be what people see as Islam. I’m afraid that the cloth I wear on my head will be interpreted as a sign of oppression and not the choice I made of free will. I’m afraid that the Islam FOX News pastes across headlines is the Islam people will think is the actual truth. I’m afraid people won’t bother trying to learn more about Islam because they think they already know what it is… but too many people don’t. I’m afraid that this all-too-popular perception of my faith will bar me from any political position and I will never be able to make institutional change because of it. I’m afraid every time I go somewhere new that I will be assaulted in a hate crime. I’m afraid the horrible things happening across the nations featuring Muslims- or Sikhs mistaken as Muslims- are not isolated incidents but indicators of a growing problem and misconception. I’m afraid.

But that fear empowers me to make change. It forces me to confront the problems I see in society, not just from a “humanitarian” perspective, but also from a sheer need for self-preservation, and don’t think I’m being dramatic when I say that. I aim to confront bigotry of any kind whenever I encounter it I am emboldened to take measures I would not otherwise I would have the courage to embrace to stop Islamophobia in its tracks- from starting a blog on what Islam is and writing this post to setting up a series of talks at my university about Islam and joining the Webster Muslim Students Association so we can educate, inspire, and empower people.

One of the things that has helped me the most in my journey to courage has been my faith- especially the hijab. Now I know that strikes a lot of people as counterintuitive because a headscarf is seen as so intrinsically oppressive in today’s society. But it’s not. It’s actually extremely empowering. I have such an immense amount of control over what other people see of me and how they view merely because of this cloth I wear on my head. And suddenly I don’t feel like I have to spend immense amounts of time every morning trying to conform to the beauty standards and new hair and clothing trends. I also don’t have to feel like I need to count my appearance as part of my charm and thereby sexualize or objectify myself;. I feel like because I’m willing to hide parts of my exterior, people get the message that it’s because I respect my interior. And it shows.

People tell me that I’m “intense” because I am so purely me and so comfortable with myself. I respect myself and my opinions and feel like I am worth something, and Islam has helped me to reach an accord with myself. The Qur’an has innumerous verses on women’s equality and promoted respect for women at a time when women were ordained second-class citizens and innately inferior to men; Islam championed women and gave them rights and worth as human beings, establishing them as queens over their households and men as mere providers for them. She can work and gain an education if she so desires, but it is for her betterment, not to earn money for her husband; if she earns any money through her career, it is hers to keep; her husband will still have to pay for all the expenses of the household. This is the power and respect Islam gave women- the self-respect Islam gave women.

So when I see on the news the bigotry and hatred, it is Islam that urges me to fight it and strengthens me to be able to make changes and join the cause to end the injustices committed on both sides of the debate, and it is Islam that helps me to conquer my fears and do what needs to be done in spite of any hesitations or insecurities that could hold me back.

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Afraid Of Liking Loneliness Too Much

 Last week Author in Chief, Jenni Taylor, wrote a post about not being afraid to be alone. Today, our guest post from Nermine Mohamed focuses on fear of liking loneliness too much. Nermine is a Muslim from what she calls “the huge, crowded and contradictory city of Cairo”, although today she is living in Germany. In her post, Nermine shares her wisdom on loving herself while having fears she might be alone too much.

Loneliness is one of the greatest fears of our era. People commit suicide, settle for less, and throw themselves in unhappy relationships just to give themselves the illusion of conquering loneliness. On the other hand, some people are not afraid of loneliness and it is quite hard for them to picture their life with others in it. So, there are actually two sides of this coin: the fear of loneliness and the fear of too much solitude.

I was once a people person. I loved to be around people all the time. It made me feel safe. It made me feel protected. People gave me a sense of identity, a sense of worthiness. I’m no longer that person.

Now, I know who I am and I won’t be afraid to say that I love and enjoy my own company. I never get bored when I’m alone. I think clearly in solitude. I like the sound of my own breathing; I find it soothing; it unlocks my mind; it unwinds my soul. I stopped giving justifications for my thoughts, beliefs or worldviews.

I’m happy with what I’ve become, yet I cannot help but feeling afraid. Yes, I’m afraid of this drastic and ultimate independence and lonesomeness and where it will lead me. Although lots of people fear loneliness, for me it is easy to be alone. It is safe and trouble-free. But is this the way things should be? Are not we made into this world to help one another grow and thrive?

I keep pondering the reasons why I turned into this lonesome soul… There are probably many reasons and fears still buried in my unconscious mind that took part in reshaping who I am. But I know the fear of being rejected, or being caste-out just because I think differently caused me to change. Maybe it is also the intense mental pain I feel when I try so hard to make myself understood and miserably fail at it. Maybe it is my need to justify myself to the expectations of others, no matter how unfair or unreasonable they might be.

Yes, it is healthy to learn to love our own company. Loneliness can make us appreciate good company more; it can unleash our creative nature and make us learn about ourselves in an unusual way. It can help us explore our capabilities, potentials, new talents, and new sides of our personality. It can enrich our soul and make us better people.

Yet, loneliness can also lead to a dingy path and that’s what I dread. I’m afraid too much loneliness might taint my soul and obscure my vision. I’m afraid I’ve been deluding myself thinking that I do not need anyone, because I do need other people. My life can’t be full without others who actually give it meaning and sense.

We cannot go it alone all the time, the road can be long, tiresome and full of stumbles and that’s why we need company; we need people to help us back up when we fall, to slow us down when we go too far, to put us back on the right path when we are lost and confused.

I’m not afraid of loneliness, but I am afraid of liking loneliness just a little bit too much.

I think it is good not to fear our own company, but now I also know that as much as I like my own solo song, every now and then I have to let in some other tunes and just listen to the sound of it all together. Only then I will surprise myself, only when I find harmony in the most unexpected of places, only when I am not afraid to listen to more than my own voice…

Asking for Strength

Today, we have the honor of posting a piece from the amazing writer and journalist Alex McAnarney. Alex is a native of El Salvador and former resident of Mexico City. Her work focuses on migration, youth, gangs, and health and can be found at perishmotherland.tumblr.com.

Her post today, though longer than what we usually publish, is a testament to strength, wisdom, and love. We ask you all to take a little extra time over the weekend and experience all the beauty and honesty this post has to offer. We ask you all to recognize your own triggers, and take care of yourselves while reading, and as always, we ask you all to honor the wisdom we are blessed to share with you today.

When Friederich Nietzsche wrote Thus Spoke Zarathustra, he developed the idea of the “Overman” (übermensch). While the concept of the Overman remains up for debate, several interpretations fall along the following: guided by individually crafted values, the Overman lives with purpose, possessing the power to impact others around him (or, I controversially interject, her). The Overman attempts to go above and beyond the human

In stark opposition to a strength that surges from the individual will to transcend humanness, morality, and likely— given Nietszche’s struggles with migraines and neurosyphillitic infections— illness, I’ll quote Psalm 46:1-3: “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.”

I can’t say I know what the meaning of strength really is. To ground yourself in the absurd, greyness of life and live with a measure of creative dynamism to carve out your own rugged path independent of others—a life of perpetual overcoming— is a type of strength. Yet, to relinquish yourself and your trust to someone else when the cacophony of “mountains falling into the sea” becomes too deafening, that too is a type of strength. One thing about strength is clear: I ask for it. A lot.

June 1994
Abue, my great-grandmother, is dead. I find out three days after they bury her. They didn’t want me to see her when she was in the coffin because they thought I wasn’t strong enough. I think it would have been nice to kiss her forehead and say bye like I did when she was going to sleep. I get mad at mom for deciding for me. From the back seat of the Toyota, I see that Tita, my grandma and Abue’s daughter, is sad. Her chin whiskers quiver but no tears come out. When my mom pulls at my hair when she brushes it I think of Abue and how she brushed my hair, expertly, gently. It makes me sad, but I think of Tita’s quivering chin whiskers and tearless eyes to suppress the waterworks. When she comes to visit us, I ask her why she doesn’t cry.

“Tears are how bad things stain you. They’re hard to wash out and forget,” she says.

I shroud myself in this. When the other girls at school pick on me because my hair is like a beehive, I try hard not to cry and get mad instead, catching bees in empty butter containers and letting them roast in the Mexican sun. When I get in trouble for telling made up stories about sleeping in a dungeon to my classmates, I really, really try not to cry. But my parents are really, really mad. When I get an egg accidentally thrown in my eye at a party, I don’t cry. I just scream and scream and scream and try to punch the boy who did it.

June 1997
When Dad leaves, I try my hardest to only cry once. It’s really hard because mom is crying and the kids at school suck, especially the boys. Daddy doesn’t cry. I know he feels bad, but I guess he’s strong? We always say Dads are strong at school. I want to be strong and not cry because I’m sad or because mom cries. I grab my little prayer book which I read every night and squeeze it in my hands trying to draw out a few drops of meaning. I only get half burnt flakes of pages. The book belonged to my mom, and before her, Tita. I don’t know if I should ask the fading doodle of a girly boy with a yellow hat on his blonde head. I ask him anyway, “Give me the strength to never cry.”

June 2003
I don’t tell anyone because I was passed out, drunk and possibly drugged. I hide the bruises. I don’t mention his attempts to keep me in the room after, calling me his Latina Lolita. I claim him as a notch of conquest achieved on a fun weekend in Key West. I don’t need to be a victim, I can keep saying what I’m saying: He was a 25 year old Marine my 16-year old self managed to seduce. I shove every shred of despair into a tightly sealed jar and lock it away in a mental cabinet, never to be explored again. Individual responsibility is strength, after all. In the meantime, I ask the 500 mg of ibuprofen I just swallowed “Give me strength to walk straight tonight.”

January 4, 2005
There is pain. There are rivulets of blood pouring from somewhere that I cannot locate. My vision is a pinhole of post-Grand Mal seizure confusion that envelops the world in a blissfully anesthetized miasma save for one little opening through which I can see blood, a stretcher, a worried fat man.
“-hit you?”

The pinhole is slowly stretched by halogen lights into a gaping, heaving asshole of reality I’m not ready to enter. My arm lifts heavily to wipe some drool that feels embarrassingly chunky. Through the asshole I see: bloody chunks of teeth and lip clustered on my hand.

“Did somebody hit you?”

“I had a seizure,” I mutter.

My shoes are off. My hand is holding an empty pillbox. My shoulders are shrouded in a brown EMT blanket. My mouth is red, dripping, and toothless.

I must have collapsed in the parking lot. I press my nose. Not broken. No plastic surgery freebie for me. It’s funny. I laugh with a blood choked gurgle.

A male EMT looks at me funny. I keep laughing and trace the remaining bits of canine and fronts with my index finger. Jagged stalactites hanging in anticipation of the next earthquake, because the aftershocks always happened. Little bastards, won’t get the pleasure I begin to try pulling out the bits with my own hands.

“Don’t do that!” the resident advisor sitting next to me swats away my offending hand.

You don’t understand. I think to myself, they need to go. They were weak!

I don’t cry. I try my hardest to be hilarious even though I have no idea how or where I am. As I do that, I keep trying to pull my bits of teeth out. To my fingers, I plea “Give me the strength to pull this weakness out of my body.” Continue reading