faith

Nadia: The Self-Appointed Facebook Superhero Unable to Save the World

Nadia: “But I want to save the world!”

Nadia’s best friend Arwa: “Save it! Just don’t let it bother you!”

Nadia: “But I’m not bothered for me. I’m bothered for the sake of all of humanity!”

It was at that point in the conversation that I realized I was properly PMSing.

I’m not aware when exactly it happened or how long it’s been going on, but at some point in time I appointed myself savior of all humanity (in Egypt only really because saviors need to be realistic about their goals) through Facebook.

I could go on joking about this and making fun of myself. That would be easy. But I won’t. Because no matter how silly and superficial it sounds, “it” isn’t silly or superficial at all.

I’m not sure when the messages started rolling in. It’s been at least two years now. Maybe three. Perhaps four? Complete strangers, almost all of them Egyptian, started popping up in my Facebook inbox asking if I would listen to their story. So I listened. At first I was receiving one message every few days. Then, for a long time, a year or two, I was receiving around two messages a day. Recently I posted what I thought was another one of my “normal” statuses but for some reason it went absolutely and crazily viral. That day and for a few days after I was receiving tens of messages from complete strangers. All needing a listening ear. (more…)

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My Letter to a Younger Me

I turned 46 this year. If I could send a letter back in time to a younger me, this is what I’d write:

 

Nadia, 

You’re about to turn 30. Strap yourself up in your seat belt because it’s about to get really tough.

You’ve already started to see glimpses of how difficult things are going to get.

The unhappiness. The general feeling of discontent. The loneliness. Feeling lost about almost everything.

All that gets worse. Much much worse.

Prepare yourself for a long period of darkness. You will feel like you are drowning. Every now and then you’ll find a straw, you will grab onto it thinking it will pull you back to the surface only to discover it’s a thorn. You will be pricked, you will have to let go of the thorn, and you will sink ever deeper.

Things will get so bad at one point that, for the first and only time in your life, you will briefly consider ending it. Breathe. Let the moment pass. It will.

You will call out for help. You will explain, using all the words you can find, what ails you. You will be clear that you need professional help. The people who matter, who can help, will hear you. But they will not be listening.

You will look around you and not know whom to trust. You will have many people around you, but you will feel as if you are alone in a stark, empty desert. (more…)

Lost and Then Found: My Breakthrough

I had a major breakthrough over the past couple of days.

Despite all my complaining, despite all my anxiety and worrying, despite the restlessness that hits me every couple of months like a locomotive train, despite a desire – sometimes – for more, I am content.

I am not even going down the road of comparing my life to that of others’ to say how fortunate mine is in comparison to all those suffering from poverty, natural disasters, major health issues, abuse, wars, etc. Doing that is not fair to me and it is not fair to them.

My life is good given the circumstances I was dealt and the choices I have had to make.

I am happy with my choices. Every single one of them. Even the bad ones. I am happy with them because I am the one who made them. I am happy with them because I have grown as a result of them.

I am happy with my choices because I have (almost) always managed to get my priorities straight.

I have struggled through issues of faith only to realize how important my faith actually is to me. (more…)

Adventure Travel: When Self-Belief Faces Others’ Doubts

I vividly remember what it was like when I started to tell people that I was planning to try to climb Africa’s highest mountain, Kilimanjaro. People looked at me as if I wasn’t fully straight in the head. Why would I do something like that? Who did I think I was? Did I really think I was up to that sort of thing? Most people did not ask me those questions in so many words. Those were, in my mind, the meanings behind the looks I got. The manager at the gym I was training at, however, was more blunt. He looked at me from head to toe and then said, “Do you realize how difficult that is? Do you really think a woman of your age can do something like that?” It was almost as if he was disgusted at the thought of me thinking I was up to that sort of a feat.

Climbing Kilimanjaro was one of the most difficult things I have ever done. I can’t say that I was determined to reach the top. I wasn’t. When I got on the plane to travel to Tanzania, I told myself that the purpose of this trip was to be in the company of a mountain. Whether I reached its top was irrelevant. It was the experience that mattered to me. I did reach the top. I believe I reached the top not because of any physical strength I possess. I reached the top because I was surrounded by a very small group of people on that trip, complete strangers, who showed faith in me. That faith, added to my own faith in myself, created a will power that drove me to the top despite the pain, the cold, and the sheer exhaustion.

I’m now in the final preparation phases for another big adventure and I feel like I’m getting the same sort of responses from people around me. (more…)

Is Doubting Religion Something to Fear?

A few times now I have been contacted by mainly younger Egyptian friends who are feeling down or are in a semi-panicked state.  They confide in me, as if telling me a deep dark secret, that they have doubts about religion. They are scared. They are frightened to tell anyone about their doubts and thus be judged and told they are going down that slippery road towards hell that we keep hearing about. They are frightened that having doubts means they are indeed on their way to hell.

They have doubts and they have absolutely no idea where to turn. Sometimes they do not know where to start to address these doubts. In our culture, we have been taught from a very early age that even though Islam is a religion where there are no intermediaries between one and His God, we can only get information about our religion from “trusted” Islamic scholars. We are often not encouraged to do our own research into questions of religion lest we stray the way and stumble into ideas and information that we are not strong enough to handle or not knowledgeable enough to differentiate what is “right” in that information from what is “wrong”. (more…)

26 Things I Learned in 2012 (and Thereabouts)

  1. Your family and your personal wellbeing always trump work.
  2. Your personal integrity is more important than a good salary.
  3. Love can be found on the tops of mountains.
  4. Never give up on the idea of finding your prince charming. He’s out there somewhere if you look hard enough.
  5. The very very hard times WILL be followed by good times so just hang in there a little bit longer. It will get better.
  6. Don’t worry too much about the details. Focus on the big picture.
  7. Sometimes your psyche and your body are yelling, “Give us a break!” Listen to them. Every now and then we need to give ourselves time to heal and to rejuvenate.
  8. Earth is such a beautiful planet. Make a point to see as much of it as you can manage.
  9. Earth is such a beautiful planet. It’s your responsibility to take care of it.
  10. Great friends are few and priceless. Hold onto them for dear life.
  11. Children are God’s greatest blessing. Treat them with respect and sensitivity.
  12. Be true to yourself. To do that you must know who you are. To do that, look within. Do not be confused by other people’s perceptions of who they think you are or who they want you to be.
  13. Value relationships with loved ones by keeping them strong. This requires lots of hard work. It’s worth it.
  14. To keep fit and healthy one must work hard and feel the pain.
  15. Don’t let the fitness of others demotivate you. If you continue to exercise, you can be as fit as they are one day.
  16. 70-year-olds who are consistent in their workout routines can be more fit than many 30-year-olds. These people deserve respect.
  17. Nothing bad will happen to you if you run in the rain or in sub-zero temperatures so just toughen up and get your jogging routine done.
  18. Live life. You only have one chance to do it.
  19. Don’t live your life through others. Decide what it is you would rather be doing and put together a plan to do it.
  20. There is nothing wrong with being 44-years-old and still not knowing what you want to be when you grow up (or wanting to be lots of different things).
  21. As you get older, your skin will droop and your hair will grow grey. Deal with it.
  22. When your country and your countrymen seem to be drowning in a sea of negativity, do what you can to be a drop of positivity in that sea.
  23. Democracy doesn’t come in 18 days. Hope and dignity do.
  24. Faith is a very personal matter. Do not let others tell you how your faith should be.
  25. Never dispose of common sense…especially when it comes to matters of faith.
  26. Do not allow others to dictate to you how your life should be lived, what you should believe, or how you should behave. They are doing what they want to do. You do what you want to do.

Wearing the Hijab: Conviction or Brainwashed by Society?

The first time I heard about the hijab I was a little girl around the age of ten. I was growing up in the United States, the product of an American mother and an Egyptian father. My father and I were walking somewhere, and he mentioned that Muslim women start to cover their hair after they perform the Pilgrimage to Mekka. He may have been avoiding talking to me at this young age about menses and that in Islam, it is actually at the age that a girl gets her first period that she becomes accountable to God and should start wearing her hijab. Or perhaps my father just did not know this at that time, and because he witnessed so many women come back from the Pilgrimage with their hair covered he assumed that this was the rule. My father did not grow up in Egypt with women who covered their hair. Pictures of him and his classmates in Cairo University show women wearing stylish short dresses, sometimes above the knee, with hairdos that were common in the 1950s all over the Western world. Back then, even the wives and daughters of many of the Muslim Brotherhood did not wear the hijab.

I clearly remember my reaction. “Well, I just won’t ever perform the Pilgrimage then. Not at least until I’m old,” I said. The concept was so foreign to me it did not register as something I would remotely consider doing.

This changed a few short years later. (more…)

Blind Faith

The concept of blind faith frightens me.

Over the past few years, I’ve started questioning some of the givens about Islam that I grew up believing. My questioning has very rarely been about the foundations of Islam as a religion; those I find myself wholeheartedly believing in. One God, Muhammed is the last prophet, praying five times a day, fasting the month of Ramadan, paying alms, doing the pilgrimage once in your life; these and others are things I haven’t found myself questioning.

There are other issues, however, I find myself continuously questioning and not understanding. Details. Mostly things related to the roles of men and women in society and in religion. I read a Qur’anic verse or a Prophetic saying and sit in front of it bewildered, not really understanding what it means or why it seems to mean something that doesn’t make sense to me.  And so I do some reading or I speak to people more knowledgeable than me. Sometimes I will hear an argument or an interpretation that convinces me. Other times I won’t. And the conversation will most commonly end in: Nadia, are you a Muslim or not? Do you believe in Allah and that the Qur’an is the word of God or not? Do you accept Islam in its entirety or not? If so, then you need to accept that there are things that we don’t always understand. If God says do then we do. That’s it.

But is it? (more…)

The Right to Question Faith – Any Faith

On April 26, I published a blog post titled “Time for a confession: I wore the face veil for eight years”. Among the 1,845 words in the article, there are the following ten words: “I even have my own questions about the head scarf.”

In response to those ten words, several people asked me on the blog and on my Facebook page what I meant by that exactly. I even got a rather nasty comment that I refused to publish that included among other things something to the effect of “people are saying that you are planning on taking off your hijab.”

Let me set one thing straight: I have absolutely no plans to take off the hijab (the head scarf).

(more…)

Darwin and Me

This year Darwin was everywhere. New books came out, workshops were held, conferences organized; all in celebration of the 150th anniversary of the publication of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species and the 200th anniversary of his birth.

This will be the year, I thought. This year I’m going to finally understand what evolution is all about and why so many people are against it. This year I’ll make up my own mind whether evolutionism in some of its aspects runs contrary to some aspects of my own faith as a Muslim. This will be the year.

It wasn’t.

At least I don’t think it was.

Or was it?

Allow me to introduce myself. I’m your average sort of person who has a semi-decent education and reads a book or two here and there. I received most of my pre-university education in the U.S.; all the way up to the 10th grade. I have a bachelor’s degree in medicine and surgery from Cairo University and a master’s in mass communication from the American University in Cairo.

If you ask me when I was taught evolution I can give you no clear answer. I know that somewhere in the course of my education I have been taught about natural selection and adaptation. I’ve also learned about genes, mutations, and Mendelian inheritance. But I truly cannot tell you if anywhere in my education I’ve been taught about Darwin and his work, speciation, and human evolution.

I’ve watched television programs where these have been mentioned. I’ve read a few articles and books as well. Nothing too complicated or too detailed. I can also now add that I’ve attended one seminar on evolutionism and one international conference on Darwin.

And after all that, I can honestly say that I still haven’t been able to wrap my head around it all. Or maybe I have but I just don’t see what the problem is. Or…and just maybe…I do see what the problem is very clearly and I’m not liking what I see.

What do I see?

I see scientific method used for hundreds of years giving clear evidence that species adapt, change, and evolve.

I see scientists telling us that all living organisms have much of their DNA in common; humans and worms have 60% of their DNA in common. I see scientists telling us that humans and chimpanzees have most of their DNA in common. Those scientists say that humans and apes have a common ancestor but they emphasize that they are not saying humans descend from apes. I’ve never truly understood the difference and I’ve never truly understood why scientists make a point of saying in the same sentence: “Darwin never said humans descended from apes; he said we have a common ancestor” but then not going on to tell us what this means exactly.

From Islamic scriptures I see that we are told that there were creatures and living things on the Earth when Adam was created. I see that God says that He created Adam from clay and Eve from Adam’s rib.

I see A LOT of people voicing their concerns about how the implications of the theory of evolution might have encouraged racism, eugenics, and ethnic cleansing.

But this is what I don’t see.

I don’t see how science can be to blame for sick philosophies, ideologies, and practices.

I don’t see how the science can be falsified as a result.

I don’t see anything in the Islamic scriptures that tell me what kind of “Homo” Adam was. Does he have to be the Homo sapiens of today? Could there not have been other “Homos” before him?

I don’t see why we need to read all the stories in the Qur’an literally. What does God mean when He says Adam was created from clay? Anyone who claims he knows what that really means is lying. We can only conjecture and interpret. Basically we are only making a semi-educated guess.

I don’t see scientists making an honest effort to communicate this science in a way that semi-educated people like me can properly grasp.

But I do see a use of language and of metaphors in explaining evolution that seems culturally insensitive and that in some cases could be damaging to the science itself.

I do see some scientists insisting on inserting religion into their dialogue about the science; exactly the same thing most scientists ask religious scholars not to do. I see some scientists saying that evolution means that it is not God who creates, forms and evolves; rather it is the natural processes of evolution that do all this with absolutely no supernatural intervention.

I also see a lot of people talking; most of it gibberish to my ears; most of it not making a lot of sense. I see a lot of people who try to sound like they understand what they are talking about when they support or oppose evolutionism but are not being very successful in the act.

And the conclusion I come to every time is that most people really don’t understand evolution. They are not taught it properly, whether during their education or through other channels such as the media and the public literature. At the same time, most people are receiving confusing messages from multiple, loud sources telling them that this science they do not understand is contrary to their faith. Go anywhere near someone’s faith and you have their attention. I see a lot of people telling themselves: I don’t understand the science, I have no idea what these other guys’ religious arguments are against evolution, but they seem to know what they are talking about and they are talking about it very passionately. There must be some substance to their claims. Maybe I should just back away from this science that might be telling me not to believe in my God.

I see some scientists and many philosophers using science and manipulating it to impose their own ideological convictions.

And, more important than all, I see people, everywhere, unwilling to question their faiths or even their own interpretations of their faiths. And that is what scares me the most.

So, after a year living on and off with Darwin, I’ve decided to keep an open mind. I am going to continue to try to understand the different aspects of evolution. I am going to try to understand what my own religion says or doesn’t say about creation and evolution. I am going to keep an open mind about the meanings of scripts and allow space for different interpretations. I am even going to allow this and other knowledge to get me to question my own faith and understandings. For it is only through this process that I can come to any understanding of truth; whether within what I already know or from somewhere else. And ultimately, isn’t it truth we are searching for, wherever it may be?

And I realize that by doing this, Darwin has rubbed off on me after living with him throughout 2009. Darwin’s genius, after all, was his ability to question conventional wisdom, keep an open-mind and to think out of the box.

Happy Birthday, Darwin.