religion

The “little” things that breed terrorists

It’s Eid. Today is the first of three days of celebration following an arduous month of fasting from sunrise to sunset. No food or fluids are ingested between those times.

Muslims love Ramadan. It’s a month of self-discipline, which is difficult. But it’s also traditionally a month when families and friends gather in the evenings around the table to share food. It’s also a month of spirituality, prayers and re-connecting with God.

Muslims love Ramadan, but we’re also happy when Eid arrives and we can get back to our creature comforts and normal daily routines.

During Eid, families get together. Friends stop by for biscuits and tea. Children receive gifts and money in-hand. Fun outings are organized. But before all that is the congregational Eid prayer.

I haven’t been going to mosques for years, with only a few exceptions. (more…)

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The scariness that is God-fearing America

“What do you think of America, Mom?” a young man with Down’s syndrome asked his mother, the waitress who was serving us in the now almost-empty restaurant. “I think America is in a terrible place, sweetie,” she responded. My ears perked. I wondered if she might be upset about the economy. Maybe she didn’t like one or both of the presidential candidates. Perhaps she felt America was becoming increasingly racist. “We’ve left God. ‘One nation under God’. That’s what it’s supposed to be. But now we’re just one nation.”

I felt uncomfortable. My husband and I were the only two people left in the restaurant located in a small town in Illinois with a population less than 9,000. We were blatantly foreign, my husband speaking with his Scottish accent and both of us walking around while holding iPads, kindles and a man bag. I had just asked the waitress’s daughter if the red things in the mashed potatoes were bacon bits, because if they were, I couldn’t eat it. She told me they were potato skins.

Had the mama waitress answered her son so loudly in order to make a point? Or maybe I had become hypersensitized to America’s God-speak and it was starting to get on my nerves.

It’s everywhere. The Bibles in every single hotel room, the signs in front of churches telling me I needed saving, the four older creationists sitting with big posters at the start of a trail in the Smoky Mountains, the country singers ending their show in Nashville with a gospel song, the tour guide announcing all kinds of religion existed in Nashville: Methodists, Baptists, Catholics…you name it! (more…)

Inner musings on identity

I spend a pretty decent amount of time thinking about “identity”. I often have a one-to-one conversation

Me with my contemplative look on.

Me with my contemplative look on. (Not really. In this picture I was just happy to be sitting in the sun).

with myself, trying to establish who I am and who I want to be. I think it’s healthy to do that every once in awhile. It’s too easy to find yourself being what others want you to be, regardless of your own feelings and thoughts. It’s easy even not to have thoughts about who you want to be. It’s easy to just move with the flow of dictates from parents, family, friends, and whatever society you happen to find yourself in.

I find the whole topic of identity a fascinating one. I’ll often ask people that question: What do you identify yourself as? People identify themselves in terms of where they are from, where they feel at home, what religion they follow, what they do for a living, what gender they are, what sexual preferences they have, what social class they feel they belong to, what education they’ve had, and the list goes on and on. Some people identify as being many different things. Others only strongly identify as belonging to one group, tribe even, or another.

I was born in the U.S. to an American mother and an Egyptian father. I grew up in the U.S. until I was 15, then moved to Saudi Arabia for a year, then spent the major portion of my adult life in Egypt. I am now in the U.K. I studied medicine then journalism. I work as a science journalist. I’m a wife and a mother. I’m a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a niece, and a cousin. I’m Muslim. I’ve travelled all over the world and I have a few hobbies.

But if you ask me: What do you identify as? I’d tell you first and foremost I’m a mother. Secondly, no matter how much I sometimes try to avoid it, I identify very strongly as Egyptian even though cognitively I feel like a citizen of the world. (more…)

The right not to find answers with the “righteous”

Years ago, thirty to be precise, I was buddy-buddy with all the “religious” girls in university. Eventually, not only was I buddy-buddy with them, I was among their “leaders”. I couldn’t be buddy-buddy with the religious guys, mind you. Mixing between the sexes wasn’t allowed. That did not mean in any way, shape or form that we weren’t always eyeing each other up for a potential future spouse.

At the time, I was living in a new country (and loving it) without my parents and most of my siblings. For years before, I had listened to my father’s adventurous stories about revolutions and Islamic movements from when he was a school and university student. My father was a fabulous oral storyteller. He loved telling his stories and I loved listening to them. He loved telling his stories so much that he’d tell us the same story over and over along the years. I loved hearing his stories so much that I never bored of hearing the same story multiple times. The result was that I couldn’t wait to go to university in Egypt so I could go “underground”. I wasn’t sure what that meant or what I should be looking for, but by golly, if I was going to go to university in Egypt then I would be going underground. My father’s final words before he left me alone in the country were along the lines of, “Surround yourself with religious friends.” I didn’t need him to tell me that. I was going to seek them out anyways because I was pretty sure they were the key to my long-sought-after underground.

I found the underground, of course. They weren’t very good at keeping themselves secret. Actually, they were lousy at it. Not that they really meant to be totally underground anyways; otherwise how else would they recruit new members to the “righteous path”?

They were good days. I have a million fond memories from the times. I had a family away from my family. I had sisters, the numbers of whom I could not count. I belonged. I was appreciated. I was even, in a way, adored. I was listened to. All I had to do was read a couple of books and suddenly sisters and “those who like the sisters” were coming to me for words of wisdom or for rulings on whether this or that behaviour was “halal” (allowed) or “haram” (prohibited) in Islam. This thing you’ve seen in me where I spout out eternal wisdoms all the time started all the way back then.

But gradually I became disillusioned. In the beginning, I became disillusioned with various Islamic movements, choosing to affiliate myself with only one. Eventually, I became disillusioned with “the one” Islamic movement as well. As I grew, as I read, as I listened, as I learned, as I gained more experience and met more people, I began to believe there could be no such thing as “a one”. Rather, there were “many”. I began to believe that what might be right for me doesn’t necessarily have to be right for others. I started to think that just because other people’s choices are different does not make them wrong.

So I un-affiliated myself completely from the movements (as opposed to the religion). And instead, over time, I gained friends from all over the world, each of whom was different from the next. The one thing that might connect them all would be their acceptance of others despite differences. Lots of differences. Not the I’m right and you’re lost acceptance but let us be brothers anyways because by associating with me you will learn how great my path is and you will want to join me (unless you’re a lost cause, that is). But the kind that just lets people be the way they want to be. The kind that celebrates difference and embraces it.

Gradually, instead of my life seeming to focus on bringing sisters into “the light”, it became more focused on trying to be a better inhabitant of planet Earth. Instead of proselytizing and directing people to the one and only path of righteousness, I looked inward. It turned out, there was a lot that needed to be dealt with. (more…)

Guru Nadia loses “the way”

I thought I had me figured out.

I thought I had me under control.

I thought I had been on this long, tortuous (anything-but-spectacular-now-that-I’m-where-I-am-now) journey and that I’d learned the greatest lessons of life, reached the age of wisdom, and I could deal calmly with anything that was thrown my way.

I don’t know what happened or when exactly, but I was really really wrong.

Now I find myself asking me: “So what’s the deal? I knew life was always going to have its ups and downs. I figured that part out. I lowered my expectations completely and started enjoying whatever it was I did have. But I thought I had learned self-control. I thought I had gained inner peace. WHERE THE FUCK HAS THAT GONE???”

Does this mean that just as life has its ups and downs, self also goes through uncontrollable rollercoaster-rides of emotions? But why?

Or is this just me bolting right into pre-menopause? I have to warn you now, if this is what my menopause is going to be like, if I have to go through this for several years, you will all want to run out of my way starting now. Because this ugly. This is really ugly.

And then I think, “Why has God made women’s hormones so difficult to deal with? I mean: this is God we’re talking about. G O D. God can do anything. God gave us tornadoes and tsunamis and poverty and asshole dictators. (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…)

Should You Be My Valentine?

I grew up in a conservative Muslim family in the United States. Except for my early years as a child, we did not celebrate

It is a positive thing, in my view, to have an annual reminder that your spouse, parent, or child deserves that extra bit of special attention.

It is a positive thing, in my view, to have an annual reminder that your spouse, parent, or child deserves that extra bit of special attention.

birthdays. We never celebrated Christmas. We didn’t do anything special for Thanksgiving. New Year’s Eve was never a proper big deal. But we always went all out on Eid. Eid was our special day as Muslims, my father taught us. The house was decorated and we received loads of presents. My mother made special foods and desserts. We had lots of people visiting and the Muslims in our town all gathered for a special Eid celebration.

As I grew older, and later as I became a mother myself, I had no issue with continuing my own family life this way. It was the lifestyle I knew. What one knows is one’s norm. My birthday, for example, would pass and I wouldn’t even remember it. That has always been perfectly fine with me. I feel uncomfortable when too much attention is placed on me. Age, to me, has always been nothing more than a number. It is how I feel about myself inside that counts.

But also, as the years moved on, I began to recognize that I had a need to be acknowledged every now and then by the people I love.

Is it religious or cultural?

Several times a year, the Muslim community worldwide rises in an uproar about the un-Islamic nature of the many special days the mainly Western cultures of the world celebrate: New Year’s Eve, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, birthdays, and the list goes on. Bid`ah (innovation)! many shout. A long rant may follow about the pagan origins of this holiday or the Christian origins of that.

Read the rest of my article where it was originally published on OnIslam.

The Awkwardness of Christmas

When I was a little Muslim girl growing up in Midwest USA, my Egyptian father did everything in his power to segregate us fromChristmas-Tree Christmas. Christmas, we understood, was a religious holiday; someone else’s religious holiday.

I managed to get away with some things. At school I engaged in the arts & crafts activities of Christmas. Everyone at home appreciated the clove-covered apples wrapped in shiny ribbon that made a room smell nice. My father would not allow me to take part in Christmas plays or even watch them for that matter. But I did find myself humming along to Oh Holy Night and The Little Drummer Boy during music class. I couldn’t help it. They were catchy tunes. Those songs were overtly religious and were frowned upon by my father, as opposed to Jingle Bells and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Rein Deer that were both allowed. (more…)

When It’s All Right to Be Judgmental of a Whole Country and the Zombies Who Occupy It

For a few years now I have prided myself on being a non-judgmental person.

Until yesterday, that is, when I wrote a blog post implying that a significant portion of the Egyptian population was brainwashed.

It wasn’t my blog post that made me stop and think. The blog post was actually quite a hit and I received lots of positive feedback about it from Egypt and around the world. What got to me were comments I received from two people on two separate occasions in the past three days. One told me I needed to calm down. The other told me to give myself space to have a “clearer head”.

Calm down?? I thought. CALM DOWN?? I’M THE F#$%ING CALMEST PERSON IN THE WHOLE BLOODY COUNTRY! Clear head?? IT LOOKS LIKE I’M THE ONLY PERSON IN THE WHOLE COUNTRY WHO HASN’T BEEN BRAINWASHED YET!!

“A bit patronizing of you,” I responded to the second person.

That is when I stopped to think. (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…)