To the harried-looking mom in the beat-up old burgundy SUV

When I turned the corner on my way to the gym, I saw your car. It was pulled next to the grocery store and you were unloading groceries from the cart into your trunk. Your kid caught my eye.

Because I have an 8-year old, I tend to notice 7-9 year old kids. Maybe it’s because they have this look of confused big-kid-ness: like they’re not little kids anymore, and they can pour milk and cereal for themselves, but they can’t be left alone, so they can’t really decide where they stand. And because kids like mine are growing taller and sturdier, their parents tend to expect much more of them. We look at them and realize that our kids can now knock us over (well, at least mine can knock me over) easily, and we can’t really carry them easily. So something has changed, and we expect more of them. We expect them to act like little grownups. We expect them  not to spill the juice when they pour it; we expect them to remember their math homework; we expect them to behave sedately in public spaces. And when they act like children, we – well, I – sometimes lose it.

Your little boy was pushing the cart, and it slipped from his hands and trundled on, down the slope from the curb, into a small collision with your old car. I inadvertently exclaimed, “Oh no” as I drove past you, and I noticed that you reacted too. The tired, harried, grumpy look on your face was too familiar. The edge in your voice, that dangerous edge, was too familiar. And your kid, that sweet little 7-8 year old boy with coffee-colored cheeks and a big puffy coat, reacted with practiced fear, cringing quickly, leaping back swiftly, aware that he needed to back the hell up, away out of the reach of that grownup bundle of nerves.

I’ve been there, you know. I’ve been at my wits’ ends, at the end of my tether, and my kid has dropped, slipped, broken something or other, and I just can’t handle it anymore. Maybe that is why I react with such internal savage anger. Look at that sweet face. Look at his eyes. Look at his fear. Quit screaming at him. Be a grownup and let him be a kid. I am full of judgment, full of grief, full of sympathy for him and full of fury for you.

So I park, and I stand outside, watching you, bullying you with my gaze, telling you I’ve got my eye on you. Don’t you treat him like that. Because I can sort of see in his fear that he is used to more than screaming. When you open the back door to put a grocery bag in, he leaps quickly away from you, fearful. So I walk slowly to the gym. I want to come up to you and say something. I’m afraid you will unleash your fury on me. After all, I think, how would I feel if someone were to preach good mothering to me when I was having a bad day and my kid was … was … acting like a CHILD?

So I don’t really know what to do. I want to protect him and put a smile on his face, but a nagging thought clouds over my anger for you: you’re having a really bad day. Your face is haggard, your hair is messy and wrapped in a bandana, and your car is not in great shape.

As if to prove my evaluation of your car’s health, when you start the engine, I hear it cough, sputter, and die.

What a day.

I’m still mad at you, but I’m also wondering what a day you must be having. So after a few minutes, when I see your car still there at the grocery store, I abandon my hoodie on a treadmill, step down, and walk out. I go up to you. Your car is stationery. Your kid is now sitting in another car, an old white sedan – a friend came to help you out? – and you are now loading all those groceries into the white sedan. The kid is in the passenger seat of the sedan. stressed-mom

I go up to you. You are so harried you don’t hear me say ‘Ma’am? Ma’am? Excuse me!’ several times. Eventually you turn and I ask if you are okay and if I can help you. As if to explain why your car is there blocking traffic, you tell me your car’s not working, so you’re going to drop off your groceries and come back for it. You seem okay now, maybe getting some help has put you in a better mood, so you smile, and I make a sympathetic face for you and wish you good luck. You thank me with a smile and hurry off.

As I turn back and leave, to return to the gym, I catch that little boy’s eye. He is smiling at me and waving. Is he grateful that I stopped to ask his mom if she needed help? Is he grateful for a friendly face, for someone who was willing to be nice even if she didn’t actually do anything for him?

I give him a thumbs up and a big grin.

I walk away, wondering if mom is unemployed or underemployed, if her car will die now. I wonder how she will manage.

I wonder, seamlessly, how I will manage next time I have car trouble and my kid is being a pain in the neck. I wonder if someone will stop to be nice, or if they will offer me nothing but judgment.


I haven’t told my daughter about the Chapel Hill shooting

I haven’t told my eight year old daughter about the Chapel Hill shooting.

I don’t want her to know that Muslim college students who are model citizens, work hard, and do everything right are still at risk of being murdered in cold blood by their neighbors.

barakatI want to conceal from her as long as I can, that basketball-playing, all-American, joyful young Muslim college students are at risk of being executed in their apartments.

After being murdered, these community volunteers who devote themselves to the poor and the needy, are blamed. They used a parking spot. They laughed and talked in their own home. They wore clothes that reflected their faith.

This young radiant couple and the young wife’s sister – ‘best third wheel ever,’ Deah called her – had a bright future and they looked toward a better world for all of us.

What was their fault? What did they do to be executed?

A shot in the head for each of them – BANG. BANG. BANG. – no hesitation. Craig Stephens Hicks did not chapelhillvictimsrazanstop after killing one, or the second. Not until he had snuffed out all three lives did he stop.

So I don’t want to tell my kid that she is growing up in a culture where she and her faith community are routinely demonized. I don’t want her to know – until when? Until she is ready. When will she be ready? When are you ready to deal with hate for being who you are?

So I surf channels and I absorb the hate from Fox News, and I mutter about it to my husband so my daughter will not hear me. I don’t want her to grow up with the disease of self-hate. I don’t want her to feel like she has to hide who she is. I don’t want her to know that when she steps out into the world and, happily, shares how she prays namaz, she may be putting herself at risk.

When she joins the mosque youth group that contributes to a peace garden project at the Mennonite Church, someone will be watching and reading the worst into this bridge-building. Someone will be saying, “They have conquered us through immigration. They have conquered us through interfaith dialogue.”


And yet again, through this tragedy, we have learned that mainstream media have made themselves irrelevant by their selective silences, by their falsehoods, by their selling of hate. We have learned to rely on social media for our news.
Some people think that the disease of Islamophobia is limited to right-wing Christians and Zionists. They have learned, today, that this is not the case. Much Western secularity is just as infected with the contagion of hate as is right-wing religion. We have seen how laicite often thinly veils a long-standing racism. It’s not religion – whether Christianity, or Islam – that is the problem, nor is atheism and secularity the problem. The problem is racism all wrapped up in hate.

razanRacism wrapped up in hate. Hate and anger all wrapped up in excuses. Fury agains hijabs and adhans all wrapped up in the paucity of parking spaces.

But without guns, hate would be yes, horrible – traumatic, even. But without guns, a mother would not lose her child, a father would not have to bury his young son or daughter, the world would not lose another shining star, another hope for tomorrow.

For those who think that we need more guns to protect ourselves, let them consider the Chapel Hill shooting. For those who think we need go into a preventive war frenzy, consider the young lives of Yusor, Deah, and Razan.

In memory of these loving and bright souls, I will not retweet or share any hateful posts. I reject everything that fans the flames of the hate that took the lives of Deah, Yusor, and Razan. I ask you to do the same. For you, for me. For our tomorrows. For our children.


The Women’s Mosque & the Obsession with Unity

rt_womens_mosque_1_kb_150204_16x9_992I am delighted to share the news of the first women’s mosque, the first all-women and women-led Friday prayer. I was delighted to share the news with my 8-year old daughter as well. The prayer was held in Los Angeles, so we were unable to attend. At least my daughter knows that there is a space where women give the call to prayer, women deliver the khutbah, and women lead the prayer. I have been waiting, truth be told, to tell my daughter this.

Many Muslims have come out shaking their heads and muttering solemnly about the legality of this prayer. At this time of my life, I really could not care less. I have heard people express themselves with anguish and anger on this subject on both sides, and I am mostly silent.

At the same time, I’ve heard Muslims say they are profoundly upset about Shia and Sunni mosques, about Pakistani, Arab, Persian, Somali, Albanian mosques. Why must we separate? Why, they say, can’t we all pray together?

Why the hell can’t we all take a chill pill and pray separately?

I remember the same Battle of the Salafi-Gulfies vs. the Sorta-Feminists at Bloomington Islamic Center in the mid to late 1990s. Women’s participation in the “MSA” (which was a community organization, really) was abysmal. Somewhere down the line, the community had changed in its demographics, and second generation Muslim Americans as well as the undergrad Muslim population had started attending the mosque. When we, as a newly elected executive committee, raised the issue of splitting into an MSA and a community organization, I heard similar cries of grief and anger. Why are you calling for disunity? Why must be split into two? We have worked this way for so long (“we” was the Salafis and the Gulfies, the male students and the wives, and everyone else just made themselves scarce). Why can’t we continue? Why are you bringing disunity to our ranks?

Guess what. We are not ranks. And praying in different spaces is not a big deal. Ironically, it was the Soldiers of Unity who also called for a complete division of the community down gender lines. The ummah had to be divided into two – the men’s ummah and the women’s ummah. It only intersected when the men needed to eat and to leave a big mess in the mosque.

islamic-sects1When my Shia friend goes for Muharram majalis and my Salafi friend goes to attend al-Maghreb Institute classes, I am very happy to go to a mawlid. We can get together for coffee afterwards. I don’t have to go to Al-Maghreb in order to re-establish unity in the community. It’s really not a big deal.

Plus, folks, have you noticed? – we are a bigger community now. The numbers are so large that in our Champaign-Urbana community, at the historic CIMIC, we have two Friday prayer congregations now. Is that division and disunity? Guess what – when I attend the Friday prayer, I make choices as to which one I attend. Which khateeb is sane and inspiring? Which khateeb makes me furious about his gender-related views?

Denominationalism is right here, folks. Let’s embrace it explicitly.

There is a women’s prayer. You don’t like it? Don’t attend it. You have many choices. The Brelvis in Chicago make you mad? Don’t go to their madrassahs. Go to the Salafi mosque, or the Deobandi mosque, or the Pakistani mosque, or wherever the spirit moves you. It’s no big deal.

This is not tafarraqah or disunity. And we are not ranks arrayed for battle. We are diverse people. Unity is not uniformity. Wa la tafarraqu (and be not disunited) does not ask you to occupy the same spaces but to be united in your hearts. If we hate each other, we are disunited and divided from each other. Geography, workspaces, social class, gender, all divide us already. It’s not a big deal to pray in a different space.

Actually, I’ll go further and say I like you better if I don’t have to pray next to you every Friday and argue about how I’m dressed and how far apart our feet are. I can get along better with you if you find inspiration and comfort in your Friday khutbah and I find inspiration and comfort in mine. Look at it this way: we can be like a couple in a Sleep Number bed. Why do we have to kick and snore and make each other miserable? Why not have optimal spaces for each denomination?

And why not accept that we have denominations? This anxiety, this terror surrounding the words sect and sectarianism is so old. It prevents us from self-understanding and from deeper theological understanding. When I hear someone say “I’m neither Shia nor Sunni nor Wahhabi nor Sufi – I’m just a Muslim,” I roll my eyes with a great rolling. What I hear is not purity, but denial, not knowledge, but ignorance. Remember, we are nations and tribes (and religion and denominations are akin to tribes in many ways, or at least function like tribes), and God made this happen. Division and diversity are an attribute of life. In death, we are all the same.

At the mosque, I often see aunties who don’t really get what the English khutbah is all about. I also see high school kids rolling their eyes at the immigrant khateebs. Is it such a bad thing if the Pakistanis have a Friday prayer so they can listen to a khutbah in Urdu? Is it so terrible if they sell biryani plates afterwards?

Denominationalism allows for a plurality of free associations. It is already here.

I like the women’s prayer. You don’t? Don’t attend it. I don’t like your small, segregated women’s prayer rooms. I won’t be attending your mosque.