"It's clearly more important to treat one's fellow man well than to be always praying and fasting and touching one's head to a prayer mat." - Naguib Mahfouz
Ramadan started on May 6th for Muslims around the world. Like I have since I was 12 years old, I am fasting. Since I am Muslim Light, that may seem like an a odd choice. Still, there are several reasons why I fast when I am Muslim Light.
Before I get into those reasons, let me explain what Muslim Light is. It’s a term I invented to describe myself when it comes to how religious I am, which isn’t that much, clearly. It’s also a bit cheeky because it reminds me of Miller Light or Bud Light.
Which leads me to why I am Muslim Light. I find organized religion to be rigid and confining. I don’t care what religion you practice. The idea that one false move can keep you from God’s love is ridiculous. To me, God is unconditional love. Unconditional love has no judgment. So, the notion that something as arbitrary as eating with the wrong hand or how you pray keeping you from God’s grace is fucking ludicrous.
I use these examples because when some pious Muslim wanted to religion shame me, they pointed out my wrongness in those areas and many others.
Let’s call these random rules what they are: control mechanisms. If someone doesn’t like what you’re doing, they’ll tell you it’s a sin. Since I am a contrary being of light to begin with, how much of a sinner do the Quran thumpers think I am?
So why would a sinner such as me fast? Because, for me, fasting is not a meaningless ritual. It’s a spiritual and enlightening one. I actually get excited for Ramadan because it is a time of great learning for me. When I fast, most of the time, I’m barely aware that I am not eating or drinking. It’s beyond the physical.
That’s the point. To focus beyond the physical and focus on the spiritual. At the end of the day, our souls are who we really are. Our bodies are just the vessel.
Fasting enlightens me. It nourishes my soul and helps to strengthen it.
And that’s why Muslim Light fasts.
Until next time... look behind and beyond the veil...
"Said woman take it slow, and it'll work itself out fine
All we need is just a little patience" - Guns N' Roses
The foundation of patience
Patience really is a virtue. It makes my face contort to allude to a cliche’, but, many times, phrases become overused because of the universal truths present in them. The trait of patience is the means through which we go through life with ease. The Bible, Quran, and other religious texts talk about patience at length. It is the foundation of life.
Countless times in my life I’ve stumbled into mental pits of worry because I go through every possible scenario of what could go wrong under the sun. All in the name of being prepared. When I taught, if one thing was off, I immediately went into a domino effect of what could go wrong and, potentially, affect my job. Later, I broke it down into, if I did my job and could prove I was doing my job, I would be fine. I stopped worrying after that.
The fruit of the soul
How much benefit is to be gained from just STFU’ing and letting things play out? In the past, I’ve found myself getting riled up in certain situations. I’ve caught myself and then, the thing I wanted came through. I realized, if I was calm to begin with, what I wanted came through even faster. It felt even better without the self-torture.
One of my favorite chapters in the Quran, “The Cave” beautifully illustrates the value in patience. Moses comes into contact with a mysterious teacher who is gifted directly from God. Moses knows this and asks if he can join him in his travels. From the beginning, the teacher tells him he won’t be able to have patience. Of course, Moses says he will, and he even says he won’t ask questions. They set off.
On three different occasions, Moses is horrified by the actions of the teacher and asks him why he did what he did. Each time, the teacher tells him he won’t be able to have patience. Moses backs off, only to be impatient again.
The third and final time, The teacher tells him they must part and explains everything. All his actions, no matter what it seemed like on the surface, were for the greater good. Moses wasn’t patient enough to see that, and he lost a great teacher.
The key of patience
All my experiences, even the most uncomfortable ones served a higher purpose in my life. A year before my father passed on, I went through a major heartbreak. I moved back in with my parents. During that time, I shared beautiful moments with him. I was grateful to be living with him for the last year of his life. My heartbreak served a greater good.
I see no need to feel sorry for myself for that experience or any negative experiences that followed. Everything is a stepping stone designed to get you to where you need to be.
I’ve learned that, if I just trust the process and myself, everything has a way of working itself out. Patience is key in all of it.
Until next time… look behind and beyond the veil...
SHORT STORY SHARE
Welcome to the April Short Story Share. I usually have this feature towards the end of the month. This time, I chose to do it a little early in honor of my late father's birthday this week. The story I share with you today is a an excerpt of a short story that featured in my first book, Shaherazade's Daughters. "A Soul's Journey" is a fictionalized version of my father's life story. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.
"A Soul's Journey" (excerpt)
When Gulnare the Fairy was fed up with human beings, she came across Junaid. While she was lost in deep thought pondering their uselessness, pettiness, and downright immorality, she stumbled on a human being who seemed to have a heart beating somewhere in his chest.
Walking through the bazaar, she saw a merchant refusing to accept payment for a beautiful blanket. This intrigued her because most merchants she had seen were amongst the greediest people in the world. She stopped her musings for a moment to watch this most amusing scene.
“No, Hassan. It’s my gift to you.”
“Junaid, please, this is your business. You insult me.”
“You insult me by not accepting my gift. We’re friends, are we not? In the name of friendship, please take it.”
“You’re a rascal. I can’t refuse you anything.”
“My wife tells me the same thing.”
They both laughed, and Gulnare could not help laughing with them. At that moment, she wanted to learn more about this man who seemed determined to show another man kindness. She was intrigued because it was quite obvious that kindness was an ideal that this man lived and breathed in.
“You do realize that you missed something?” she asked.
“What was that?” he responded, fully aware of her meaning.
“Usually, a person chooses something and pays for it. It’s usually not given away. Bad for business, isn’t?”
“Bad for business, maybe but good for the soul definitely. In any case, I made enough money for today. I don’t need the money of a man who has a sick wife to take care of and poor besides.”
“You do realize that I could count on one hand the number of merchants in the world who would have done what you just did? And I would have fingers to spare?”
“I like to think that I am not your average merchant. I like to think that I am not your average anything,” he responded with his dazzling smile.
Gulnare smiled back. As she did this, she wondered if this charming devil in front of her was aware that his smile could rule the world. In the same moment, she realized that he probably did. Judging from his behavior towards his friend, she suspected that Junaid was the kind of man who only used his charms for good, but at the same time, her lack of faith in human beings did not allow her to fully accept this assessment. She was determined to learn more about him.
She returned to the bazaar the next day. She watched him yet again. She saw that every transaction he made was honest. He did not try to rob his customers, yet he made sure he did not incur losses. By the third day, Junaid was quite at a loss because he was not certain as to why this woman continued to watch his dealings. He also realized that if he was aware of her constant scrutiny, then the gossip mongers were too. Then, it would not be long before his wife became aware of her. Normally, his wife was a quiet, unassuming woman, but she could be like a tornado where he was concerned. He did not want to be in the path of her ravings. He had enough to occupy his mind.
At the close of business, he asked Gulnare what she wanted from him. There was something not quite right about her, but he did not sense any malicious intent from her.
“Madam, I am sure you mean no harm, but you know how people can be with their idle chatter. Who exactly are you, and what do you want of me?”
“Trust me. I understand the vices of human beings. But before I answer, ask me for something. Anything.”
“A jug of wine.”
At that moment, a jug of wine landed in Junaid’s hand. He took a big gulp of it right away. He thought for a moment, and then asked, “Madam Fairy, what will you have of me?”
“Your story. Human beings have been quite a disappointment to me, you see. I have become used to their avarice, their jealousy, and their unreasonable desire for power. I have yet to see any of these qualities in you. I would be quite interested to know why.”
“Madam, you might still see these qualities in me. If by the end of the month, you are still interested in my story, you may have it.”
“I think by the end of a year that I would still be interested in your story, but I accept.”
What she observed of Junaid only intensified her interest. He was quite charming, yet genuine. He had a penchant for exaggeration, but he was easily forgiven for it because it was all for fun, never for subterfuge. He was immensely kind, yet immensely brutal. If a person crossed him in any way, they would be put in their place as fast as a cobra strikes its prey. Yet even with this paradox, he was adored by all who knew him. He was now adored by Gulnare, but only the way all devotees adore the objects of their worship.
So at the end of a month, she asked him again. This time he complied.
“I received the first obstacle in my life when my mother died, he began. “I was five, and that is far too young to learn the unfairness of life. We were five siblings, and as our father was a travelling merchant, we were sent to live with his brother, who was living a more settled life. We essentially looked after each other as we were constantly reminded that we owed a debt of gratitude, so we tried to stay out of the way as much as possible.
“My sister was married off as soon as she came of age. I have always felt that I didn’t spend enough time getting to know her. But what I did know, I loved. She was the closest I ever came to having a mother.
“Although there was always an air of indebtedness, I found a connection with my cousin, Ali, right away. From the time I was five years old until now, he’s been more of an older brother to me than my real brother. Ali and I have had many adventures together, some of which I may actually tell you.” He beamed his disarming smile.
“My uncle loved me, but I think he was uncomfortable with how much he admired me because I wasn’t his own son. It was almost as if his love had to stop at a certain point. Otherwise, he would be showing me more love than his own children, at least in his own mind. But I learned to accept love when it is given, even if it is not quite the way I would want or do myself.
“As time went on, I eventually decided to work for my uncle. The work involved much travel and I found it wasn’t for me, that I preferred a more settled life, like my uncle’s. One day as I was walking, I stumbled and hurt my head. I am not sure how long I lay there, but when I awoke I met the first fairy in my life.”
At this, Gulnare shot him a quizzical look. She was almost a bit jealous as she had come to think of Junaid as hers.
“I’m sorry, Madam Fairy,” he smiled, “But my wife, Laila, was my fairy long before you. Not to worry, though. There’s room for you both.”
“I feel so privileged,” Gulnare retorted.
“She took care of me whilst I was recuperating. No human being has made me feel more loved than she. I am almost covetous of her. I simply think of her as mine. Twenty years of marriage and six children haven’t changed that.
“When we had been married fifteen years, trouble ensued in the kingdom where I was born. You’re puzzled? Yes, this is now my home, but I was born in the kingdom of Basra. At the time of my birth, the king was a fair and tolerant man. His son was something different altogether. He was always a power hungry, arrogant sort. He wasn’t a man interested in fair governance. He was only interested in what his legion of sychophants had to say.
“When the lines were drawn, I found myself on the wrong side. My family did not have roots in Basra. So the new king decided that the kingdom of Basra should only be for people who had their ancestral roots in Basra. Never mind those of us whose families had helped to build Basra. We had no place in a land we had helped to build. We had thirty days to leave or die. I took my family and whatever possessions that were not taken from me and came here to Sanaa.
“It was a difficult time. We only took what we could literally carry on our backs. I had built a reputation in Basra. Here, I had to start all over again, and I knew no one. I took my family to the first inn I could find and set off to make inquiries in the marketplace. I didn’t have enough money to set up another shop so I had to find work as a shopkeeper’s assistant. I went from owning several shops to a shopkeeper’s assistant and with a large family to support. But one must do what one must.
“It wasn’t long before I met my mentor and friend, Rashad Uncle, who kindly gave me a job and after a few short weeks, opened his home to my family and me. His daughters were married and gone, and they welcomed the clamor that my family brought.
“After a time, there was even more clamor as our sixth child came into the world. My poor wife was so afraid to tell me. She didn’t want to add to my burden, as she felt that providing for another child would be another burden for me. How wrong she was, Madam Fairy. I have never seen any of my children as anything but a blessing. Never for one moment was I unhappy at the thought of this child. I loved her from the moment I knew she existed. I knew she would be nothing but a boon for us, and she’s never proved me wrong.
“Rulers come and go, and the tyrant in Basra also went the way of all flash. That place will never be the same for me. This is my home now. Would you believe Ali came to Sanaa at the same time my family did, and we did not know for a month of the other’s whereabouts? Ali found work on the other side of this bazaar, and I happened to meet him one day. I think Allah never meant for us to be too far away from each other.”
“There are some people in life, Junaid, who are meant to love you and be in your life no matter what you do, and there are some people who are not meant to love you and be in your life no matter what you do,” Gulnare said.
“Very true, Madam Fairy,” Junaid responded.
In any case, Ali and I found each other. I’m glad we did because it took me a long while to find true friends besides Rashad Uncle and his wife. I was a stranger here at that time, and all my time was spent providing for my family. There’s a difference between moving to a new place by force than by choice. There’s a built-in resentment that you must overcome. I must say it took me a while to let go of my resentment. When you don’t do terrible things yet terrible things happen to you, you start to become bitter.
“I found that issues that I thought I had buried were coming out in rather unreasonable ways. My reaction to Ali’s brother, my cousin, Saleh was one. Saleh and I were never as close as Ali and me. He always resented it and me. He was a spoiled child who was used to getting his own way, and when he didn’t get it, there was a problem. When he had his little tantrums, he was placated. Of course, I was not spared his injustices, his thoughtlessness that sprang from overindulgence. He would do things to me here and there simply because he could, and I would have to get over it because: Who was I at the end of the day? Why shouldn’t I put up with Saleh? He could do no wrong in his parents’ eyes, so there was no point in arguing. So with a new land and a new life, I decided there would be new rules. No longer would I endure slights and disrespect. So when Saleh moved to Sanaa with his family, I decided Saleh was no longer welcome in my home.”
“You look puzzled, Madam Fairy. Disappointed? Not sure what you conjured up in your head about me, but I am only human, not an angel.”
“I am puzzled as to what you hoped to accomplish with such an action. Since circumstances brought him down a peg, you decided to show your power? By throwing a tantrum just like him? Men have no idea what power really is. Power is silent restraint. Refraining from action when you know you can act. Men will never understand this.”
“Over time, I have learned. Acting, reacting, and in some cases overreacting, these things accomplish nothing. But you will allow some mistakes in a journey that has been plagued with unforeseen, burdensome, circumstances?”
“As long you learn from them, which it seems, you have,” Gulnare concluded.
“Don’t be sure, Madam Fairy. He’s long since moved to Yemen. He’s no longer here. So, I suppose we’ll never see how much I’ve grown,” he smiled.
“Somehow I think we will get to see,” she smiled back.
“I think I would like to make peace with him at some point. We both survived expulsion. We both have families. All our petty squabbles seem insignificant now.” He paused. “In any case, Allah then saw fit to throw more trial my way. He fights with me. I fight with him. It’s okay.”
“Stop it, Junaid. Allah has better things to do than fight with you. He tries us all. It makes us better Muslims and better human beings.”
“Then, I must be the best Muslim and human being in the world,” he smiled again.
Until next time... look behind and beyond the veil...
"Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do." Benjamin Spock
I have a love/hate relationship with fairy tales and fables. I love the lessons and inspiration some of them have. What I don’t love is when they give false impressions and promote falling in line, rather that following your heart. A common archetype is a young, motherless girl who suffers, but if she is pious, she is rewarded. Replace the word pious with the word silent, and you’ll have a better idea of what the real message is.
Believe it or not, I actually like some of the messages of Aesop’s fables. The lessons are universal. No act of kindness is ever wasted. Don’t underestimate yourself. The list goes on and on. One story I always appreciate and go back to is “The Scorpion and the Frog,” It is an Aesop fable, but there are also different versions from around the world. It’s not sweet and sugary, but it makes a point.
A scorpion is trying to cross a river. He looks around trying to assess the situation. He sees a frog sitting on the riverbank. He asks the frog to help him.
“How do I know you won’t sting me?” The frog says.
“If I sting you, then I will die, too.”
They go back and forth as the frog goes through the different scenarios of how the scorpion could kill him. When the scorpion refutes all of them, the frog is convinced of his own safety.
He comes to the scorpion, and he gets on his back. The frog starts to swim, careful to stay on the surface so the scorpion doesn’t drown.
Then, midstream, the frog feels a sharp pain on his back. He realizes the scorpion has stung him. As he is dying, he says to the scorpion, “Why did you do that?”
“You knew I was a scorpion,” he says.
It’s dark. I know. But I always appreciate the message of that story: The nature of a thing will always reveal itself. To take that further, if a person shows you or tells you who they are, believe them.
When it is in your nature to believe in the good, that can get tricky. You want to be positive. You don’t want to pass judgment. At the end of the day, you want to believe that everyone is good and wants to do the right thing.
When we realize everyone’s definition of what is good and what the right thing is varies, we gain a broader perspective. From there, when we accept that what’s good for them may not be good for us, we can take actions that are in our best interests. Or sometimes, like the frog, we can get so tied up in someone else’s interests, we forget our own. That’s when we get into a “yes” to someone else being a “no” for us.
When we go against our own intuition or better judgment, especially when we know the nature of a thing, that is a recipe for disaster. We’re not being unkind. We’re taking care of ourselves, and that’s always the right thing.
Don’t be the frog. Don’t be the scorpion, either.
Until next time... look behind and beyond the veil...
I couldn’t let Women’s History Month go by without chiming in. In this blog, I focused on Muslim women. I have a reason for this. In 2019, we still have a pervasive narrative. We are oppressed, veiled victims who have no agency. Yes, that does exist. At the same time, that is not our entire story. I believe in what Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie calls “The Danger of a Single Story.” Taking one story of a few members of a group and using that to define all members of that group minimizes them. The veiled victim story of Muslim women robs us of our humanity and denies our contribution to history. The women I talk about today made undeniable contributions to the world. They harnessed their own power to make an impact. No single story here. Today, I offer you a few. Here are 7 badly behaved Muslim women who made history:
1. Razia Sultana
Razia Sultana was the first woman sultan in the Delhi Sultanate. She was trained in battle and administration. Her skill in these areas impressed her father so much that he wound up favoring her over her brothers when it came to succession. She refused to wear the veil but still had the support of the people. Although she was an able ruler who worked for her subjects, the nobles refused to be ruled by a woman. She was assassinated with her husband only four years into her reign.
2. Nur Jahan
In her day, she was the real power behind the throne as the emperor of India at the time, Jahangir was an opium addict and heavy drinker. She issued official royal proclamations and even had coins made with her name. As an Iranian immigrant with no regal heritage, her rise to power was near impossible. Still, this talented artist and politician became an empress. She had the strength of a warrior, leading troops to free her imprisoned husband. Both disdained and admired, she is a standout among royal women.
3. Fatema Mernissi
Although she grew up in a domestic harem where women were not expected to leave the house, she sought education, eventually earning a PhD. She became a professor at Mohammed V University in Rabat, Morocco. From there, she went on to become one of the founders of Islamic feminism. She argued that Islam did not favor the oppression of women and could support her assertions with scholarly research. Not only did she question the status quo when it came to gender roles and gender equality, she encouraged women in rural areas to become educated. She expanded her activism when she organized a writer’s workshop for political prisoners.
4. Aisha bint Abu Bakr
A wife of Prophet Muhammad, Aisha was not a woman relegated to the sidelines. In her time and beyond, she caught her fair share of criticism for her outspoken ways. She was a scholar and an intellectual. She assisted the early followers of Islam in interpreting the Quran. After the death of the third caliph, she even led an army in the Battle of the Camel. She lost, but she never lost the respect of the community. She still taught Islam and is known as the “Mother of the Believers.”
5. Noor Inayat Khan
This unlikely World War II hero was a secret agent for the British. After escaping Nazi occupied France, she joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, eventually becoming a radio operator in France. After betrayal by a Frenchwoman, she was arrested, tortured, and executed by the Nazis. Despite her confinement and torture, she never revealed any information. In 1949, the British government awarded her the George Cross for courage.
6. Tawakkol Karman
In 2011, she became the first Arab woman and second Muslim woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. She is known as “The Mother of the Revolution” in her home country of Yemen. As a journalist, she reported human rights abuses and mobilized the community. She founded Women Journalists Without Chains, an organization that reports on social injustice and violations of human rights. Even after being arrested on several occasions, she continues her fight for human rights.
7. Malala Yousafzai
In 2012, she was shot in the head by the Taliban for wanting to go to school. Not only did she survive the attack, she thrived. She continued to advocate for human rights and the education of girls. In 2014, she became the youngest winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. Today, she does what the extremists don’t want her to do and studies at Oxford University, all while continuing her activism.
These are just some of our stories. I honor these women, their stories, and all our stories.
Until next time, look behind and beyond the veil...
SHORT STORY SHARE
Welcome to the March Short Story Share.
This month's story is a bit of flash fiction with some history thrown in. Happy reading and let me know your thoughts in the comments below!
Death by Kahve
As soon as the peasant, Aristotle walked into the largest kahvehane, coffee house in Peloponnesus, his senses were immediately assaulted with the robust flavor. The aroma sailed through his nostrils, and the clamor of all the lively conversations pounded in his ears. He furtively glanced all around him looking for his party.
He sat down cautiously at one of the few empty tables. His hands were sticky, and he wiped them on his shirt. Then, he cupped the curb of his sabre. For what reason, he wasn’t even sure.
He wasn’t sure of much these days. He barely knew how he was keeping himself and his family alive. A sense of urgency bit into him like the Hydra, and when he tried to shake it off him, more urgency took its place. Underneath it all was a lingering anxiety about an uncertain future.
He wasn’t alone. Whenever he entered the kahvehane, the raucous conversations ricocheted between collective anxiety and unified, righteous indignation. Nobleman, peasant, and merchant alike anticipated the winds of change. They hoped the gods they no longer prayed to would harness those winds to the point that they became a typhoon.
Aristotle had no interest in anyone’s gods. Not the gods of the Greeks or the god of the Ottoman Turks. He believed in what he could touch with his hands, feel with his heart, and work through with his own brain. The illiterate peasant had a knack for astounding the illustrious noblemen with what he could concoct in his naturally adept mind.
Konstantinos, his unlikely ally, valued Aristotle’s facility with strategy, although he would never tell him so. The educated son of a merchant could recite the words of enlightened Frenchmen and speak eloquently of their overthrow of tyranny but had no real skill to navigate devious political minds. He needed Aristotle but would never admit to needing a peasant.
Their unexpected collaboration started when Aristotle sipped his kahve. He marveled at how richness, bitterness, and sweetness could exist in one place but still be enjoyable. In the middle of his musings, he heard Konstantinos spew discontent over the state of the Greeks. Another spoiled, educated brat who has no understanding of real suffering. He thought to himself.
At the same time, his intoxicating idealism drew in everyone near him. In spite of himself, it drew in Aristotle. Since a peasant has no choice but to be practical, he had to inject some realism into the conversation.
“And what would you have us do, boy?” he said.
Aristotle had no idea how his off-handed, irreverent challenge would alter the rest of his life and the lives of the other Greeks in the kavehane.
Here he was a year and a half later helping that same boy figure out what to do. Konstantinos never liked Aristotle calling him boy considering Aristotle wasn’t much older. He chuckled at the thought taking his sweaty hand off his sabre.
Konstantinos barreled through with a group of men that included 2 teachers, 4 priests, and 2 doctors. One of the priests went with Aristotle to the mountains to enlist the aid of the self-professed militia who some saw as common brigrands. He hugged him warmly. He gave a quick handshake to the others, including Konstantinos.
“Are you well Aristotle?” he said as he sat down.
“As well as these times will allow,” he replied as he waved a server to their table.
He flashed his rogue smile and asked for ten cups of kahve. He watched the server walk away and took in the whole kahvehane in one fell swoop.
“Did you secure the agreement of the Russians?” Aristotle whispered, unconsciously putting his hand back on his sabre.
“We did. I told you we would,” Konstantinos said.
“I never had a doubt.” The rogue smile made another appearance.
“Oh, but you did,” Konstantinos laughed, shaking his head.
“What word from Istanbul?” Aristotle asked one of the priests.
“Ready and waiting for word from us,” he said.
Aristotle paused as the server placed kahve in front of everyone.
“Do you think the Russians can be trusted, Aristotle?” one of the teachers asked nervously.
“Can we really trust anyone at this time? Why should the Russians be any different?”
“We can trust each other,” Konstantinos said.
Aristotle nodded and took a slow sip of kahve.
With flourish, Konstantinos gulped down most of his kahve.
“Is it time, Aristotle?” he blurted.
“It is time,” Aristotle said, as he took another slow sip of kahve.
Aristotle’s words rang true with their success in Kalamata. The spirit of Aries overtook the peninsula, and the Turks could not match it. Aristotle and Konstantinos shook off their titles of peasant and merchant’s son and embodied the title of warrior. When the battle was over, the two men parted ways after Konstantinos was appointed as one of the first senators of the Messenian Senate, and Aristotle joined the pursuit of the Turks to Tripolitsa.
He saw the young senator again when he came to Tripolitsa to congratulate Theodoros Kolokotronis on his victory. They saw it as only fitting to meet in a kahvehane since that’s where it all started.
This time, when Aristotle entered the establishment, the conversation that buzzed in his ears was filled with collective exhilaration at the possibilities of independence and the restoration of former glory. No one noticed him.
When Konstantinos arrived, cheers greeted him. He shook hands warmly and received the adulation, already playing the role of a politician. Aristotle shook his head.
“I hope the politicos don’t eat you alive,” he said, as he drank his kahve.
“You don’t think I can handle the snakes?” Konstantinos asked.
“Of course not. I never doubt you.”
“Oh, but you do.”
He laughed and took a deliberate sip of kahve.
Revolutions are born with kahve... And empires die with kahve.
Until next time... look behind and beyond the veil...
"Am I too much for the world, or is the world too much for me?" Kelli Jae Baeli, Too Much World“
I think we’ve all asked ourselves that question. Especially when we’ve been told not to be so sensitive. I’ve often thought how little sense it makes to say that to someone. When someone’s feelings are already hurt, are they automatically going to stop being sensitive? Many times, we’re made to feel like sensitivity is a bad thing. I happen to think that sensitivity is a wonderful thing that you can use to your advantage.
When you’re sensitive, you’re paying attention to details that matter. How someone feels matters. When you pick up on another’s feelings, you can, at least, understand them better. At best, you can help them. You can do the same with yourself. Being in tune with your emotions can help you navigate any situation.
Like with anything else in life, there just has to be balance. You don’t let something bother you to the point where you’re on the floor. At the same time, you can be sensitive to and have empathy for the feelings of others. You can be sensitive to your own feelings, too.
Once, I had a student who looked sad and put on a lot of weight in a short amount of time. I asked her a simple question about her grades, and she burst into tears. I took her aside and made sure I talked to her one on one. The next time I saw her family, I told them what I observed of her. They were taken aback. I know they got involved because I noticed a change in her. She seemed happier. I saw her smiling again. Her grades got better. I’m glad I paid attention.
For myself, I pay attention to how I feel. I don’t just cast my feelings aside, anymore. Before I would talk myself out of what I was feeling. It was more important to keep getting things done than to pay attention to how I felt. That didn’t serve me because it just became a vicious cycle, and I would end up being in the uncomfortable place I started. Now, I’ve realized I have to allow myself to feel what I feel without judgment so I can move forward.
Non-judgment leading to elevation
Non-judgment is key. Too often, we judge ourselves about how we feel. Others judge us. That breeds negativity that doesn’t serve us. Our positive emotions can serve us well, especially our joy. Think about all the great achievements that have come from times where you just felt good. Has anything good come from when you’ve judged and come to an unfavorable conclusion?
Being aware and allowing whatever comes to come makes the journey easier for yourself and others. Being sensitive to others makes interactions go smoothly. Being sensitive to yourself can help you get through whatever you have going on or keep yourself in a great place. When your sensitive to others, you can elevate them and maybe, yourself in the process. Using your emotions for elevation is the best advantage to sensitivity that I can think of.
Until next time… look behind and beyond the veil...
Starting a new chapter in life is a daunting proposition. You go into the “what if” scenarios and everything that could possibly go wrong. The nerve-wracking questions come in. How will this play out? Will it work? Then, the make-or-break one: What if I fail? Questions like these make a challenging task even more difficult. To get you off to a promising start rather than a shaky one, I offer you 10 inspirational quotes to ease you into a new chapter.
1. “Every day I feel is a blessing from God. And I consider it a new beginning. Yeah, everything is beautiful.” - Prince.
2. “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” - Seneca
3. “Every moment is a fresh beginning,” - T.S. Eliot
4. “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” - Lao Tzu
5. “Never underestimate the power you have to take your life in a new direction.” - Germany Kent
6. “It all begins when the soul would have its way with you.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson
7. “No matter how hard the past, you can always begin again.” - Buddha
8. “There will come a time when you believe everything is finished. That will be the beginning.” - Louis L’Amour
9. “The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.” Steve Jobs
10. “One day you will wake up, and there won’t be any more time to do the things you’ve always wanted. Do it now.” - Paulo Coelho
Until next time… look behind and beyond the veil...
"Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don't resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they life. - Lao Tzu
The process of change
Change isn’t always easy. Depending on whether or not we need to be hit on the head (like I, myself have needed on occasion) it can be downright painful. When we feel pain or discomfort, naturally, we resist it. We want it to stop. Sometimes, though, if we let change come when it starts and don’t force or mold something to what our preconceived notion was, to begin with, we can make the entire process easier on ourselves. If we embrace change the right away, we can reap the benefits a lot sooner and have it be soothing, rather than painful.
So many times, I had to be bopped on the head to understand what direction I needed to go in. I had to experience some of the most painful experiences of my life to get where I was supposed to be. I wouldn’t change any of it because it got me to where I needed to be. I am grateful for the lessons going through hell taught me, but I prefer not to do that again. Now, the way I learn my lessons is to embrace change. Embrace who I am, what I’m going through, even if it is not what I would choose at that moment.
Sometimes, change is easy, especially, if it’s what we envisioned for ourselves. Other times, change is hard, even brutal. Part of the reason it’s hard is that we hold on so tight to what we pictured, what we thought we wanted. When it doesn’t go that way, we fight and resist.
Instead of fighting and resisting, why not open ourselves to another perspective, another pathway? Even though our paths might divert from what we intended, maybe the new direction is leading to something better, so we should just allow it to unfold.
That can be hard to do. So many emotions can kick in. like fear, anger, confusion, or sadness. We can feel those emotions, but we have to let them go, not sit with them. When we hold on to them, we make it harder to get through whatever is happening.
Like the ocean waves, life really is ebb and flow. At any given point, the waves don’t resist any of it. The ocean continues to flow no matter what. And it’s still there.
As will you be, no matter what changes comes your way. Let it come, unfold, and understand you will continue to be through all of it.
Until next time... look behind and beyond the veil...
SHORT STORY SHARE
Welcome to the February installment of Short Story Share.
This month, in honor of Valentine's Day, I offer you an original love story. Enjoy!
Love in a Time of Chaos
In 1956 Nairobi, 13 year-old Mumtaz led an idyllic life. She played with dolls. She loved her frocks. Then, when she turned 12 and could no longer wear them, she loved the shalwar kameez pant suits the family tailor sewed for her. Her heart pounded when her mother’s sister, Nazneen took her and her 3 sisters, Malak, Sadia, and Safia on covert missions to movies because their religious father wouldn’t allow it. She still loved every second of it. She spent time with friends and her assorted relatives who seemed to comprise half of Nairobi. Her brothers Aftab, Ismail, Asim, Jalil, and Tameez contributed to all the commotion in the house with their running, their truck racing, and their G.I. Joes. Mumtaz was closest to Aftab because he was the oldest, and they read the same books. She relished spending afternoon tea conversing with him about a book. The rest of her brothers were younger than she and far less interesting. She still loved them, despite them being boring and silly.
Her family had wealth and the respect of the community. One day, it all came crashing down. Her father caught the flu. But then the flu wouldn’t go away. At one point, he couldn’t get out of bed. It seemed almost as soon as the doctors told them it was pneumonia it had taken him. The wealth and the respect they once had went with him. You see, contrary to the teachings of Islam, not many truly respect a widow, especially when that widow can’t read anything but the Quran. To some, the only thing worth reading for a woman. So, when people who she thought loved her family took whatever her father had left behind, Mumtaz’s mother could do nothing.
Her mother, Jia was a beautiful, angelic woman who rarely raised her voice. She didn’t have to. She was generally beloved so even the most hardened person would listen to what she had to say. Despite being a widow who was swindled out of her due, she had not much to say after her husband died. Her focus had to be on taking care of her children. The rest Allah would take care of because he sees everything, as she said often.
Allah saw many things during this time. He saw Mumtaz’s mother cry in her room at night after all her children had gone to bed. He saw her sigh and rest her chin in her hands the first time she rented out one of their rooms. He saw her put aside pieces of jewelry her late husband had given her for her daughters’ weddings but pick through what she needed to sell to feed her children. He heard her racing thoughts. Can I feed my children next month? Where will I get the money to fix the hole in the roof? How will I pay for the dowry for 4 daughters with no husband? Allah saw and heard all of these things, but Mumtaz and her siblings never did.
All Mumtaz and her older sister, Malak saw was her mother’s worn expression when they came home from school. Aftab, who was 18, worked so much in the local welding factory to help their mother that he didn’t have the energy to notice. As for her other brothers and sisters, the poor things barely grasped that their father was in heaven, and they couldn’t see him anymore. No one in that house fully understood the weight Jia carried in her heart. As for Mumtaz, she never asked her mother how she felt because she was sorting through her own emotions during this tumultuous time.
She knew she was no longer the daughter of a rich man. She now had to wait at the tailor’s instead of being ushered in before everyone. She had to recycle dresses for weddings, mehndis, and dinners now. She couldn’t have a new one for every occasion.
Neighbors inquiring after their well-being dwindled. Over time, where compassion existed, anxiety about whether or not the poor widow woman was going to ask for help crept in. Proud woman that she was, she never would ask anyone for anything , but they couldn’t be sure.
Mumtaz was already drawn to fashion and sewing. But the change in the family fortune gave her an extra spark to sew the clothes she wanted. As time went on, she grew to love it. She added delicate embroidery to her long shirts and scarves. When she cut blouses out of sari fabric, she would pattern it after the latest style she saw in Filmfare. The first time she made a sleeveless blouse, her mother almost had a meltdown. “Proper Muslim girls didn’t wear those”, she argued. Lucky for Mumtaz, Nazneen told her mother to pipe down because Allah had better things to worry about than women’s bare shoulders. By the time, she was 15, Mumtaz became the family tailor and sewed for a few select friends who she wanted to spend the precious time on. She couldn’t wait to get home from school to get to the sewing machine.
That changed when she turned 16, and Malak turned 17. Their mother looked a little more thoughtful as marriage proposals started flooding in. Jia had always said she didn’t want to marry them off too early. That was when her father was still alive. Like so many things in their lives, that changed too. Unknown to their mother, Mumtaz and Malak knew what was coming when they overheard a conversation between Jia and Nazneen.
“You have to start considering these proposals for Mumtaz, Jia. You’re lucky Malak is already taken care of with the promise you made to Shahnawaz to marry her to his oldest son. Marry them off together. You only have one son who works. Between him and your tenants, how much can you expect to provide for 9 children?”
“I want them to go to school like we always wanted. It’s 1960. Times are different. Girls can at least go to school before they get married. I wanted that for my girls.”
“That was an option when your husband was still alive. It’s easier to provide for 7 children instead of 9. They will be taken care of. We are a respectable family. We will get the best matches for Mumtaz.”
“Nazneen, no matter how much I struggle, I will not sell my daughters to the highest bidder. I will only agree to a proposal if I know they will be treated well.”
Mumtaz and Malak looked at each other. Malak beamed. Shahnawaz was the local shipping magnate and friend of the family. His son, Imtiaz was practically the prince of Nairobi and handsome, too. She was anxious to become a wife, especially the wife of Imtiaz . Mumtaz smiled faintly, happy for Malak.
Mumtaz became thoughtful before she went to bed. She never told her mother or even Malak of the waking dreams she had in the quiet of night. She imagined herself designing clothes for all the high society ladies of Nairobi and being known for her impeccable work.
Aware of the pressure her mother was under and always the “good” girl, she kept her grand notions to herself. When suitable matches would present themselves in their home, she and Malak dressed in their best clothes. Mumtaz looked like Saira Banu from "Junglee." She was a thin wisp of a girl who looked like a rough wind could sweep her away. She reminded people of a fairy which made them gravitate towards her. She was a gore-rang, fair-skinned. That made her top commodity in the marriage stock market.
Jia turned many proposals down for one reason or another. One was wealthy, but too short and fat. Mumtaz would have short and fat children. One wanted to take her to Tanzania. Too far. One sucked his fingers too much as he scooped up his masala with his naan bread. Inwardly, Mumtaz was relieved. She didn’t like any of these men.
Then, one of her school friends, Maliha told her about her cousin coming to visit from Uganda. Maliha was short and brown and much more attractive than she was given credit for. She had sharp features and amber-tinted eyes. Most people didn’t notice because her amber-tinted skin caused them to look past her. Their fair-complexion-obsessed community disregarded Malak due to her wheatish skin tone, too. They reserved their lavish praise for Mumtaz. These slights only emboldened both girls to say what was on their minds. It dawned on Maliha what a good match Mumtaz would be for her cousin, so she told her about him. Then, she gave her mother a nudge to approach Jia.
His name was Raja, and he was the manager of a textile company, which intrigued Mumtaz. Maliha and her mother brought him over for tea. Her first thoughts when she first saw him were not good ones. She had her own ideas, but she was still a product of her community. He’s dark. I don’t want to marry such a dark man. What will our children look like? Then, she sat down and kept her eyes to the ground. It wouldn’t have been proper for her to stare at him like she wanted to.
Malak had no such compulsion. If some man was in her house wanting to take her sister away, she was going to look. Mumtaz kept her conversation between the ladies of the group which included her mother, her aunt, her four sisters, and her friend.
When she and Malak went into the kitchen to make chai, Malak grabbed her by the elbow.
“Did you see how smart he looked? He looks like Manoj Kumar!”
Mumtaz had a crush on Manoj Kumar.
“Really? He’s darker than him, though.”
“Are you serious, Mumtaz? He has an ascot and jacket on. His hair is just like Dev Anand’s. It’s perfect. If you weren’t so simple you would have looked at him a little longer.”
Mumtaz opened the kitchen door slightly. She saw what her sister was talking about. In the middle of her school girl reverie, Raja looked up at her. Her face matched the red in her kameez, her long shirt. She backed away from the door and helped Malak pour the chai.
“I told you,” Malak said with a laugh.
They brought the chai out. Mumtaz kept looking at Raja as she poured the tea. As he sipped it, he complimented it. She smiled and said thank you. It was the first time she spoke to him since he arrived.
“Do you like movies Mumtaz?”
“Yes. Very much.”
He looked over at Jia.
“Auntie, may I take Mumtaz and her sisters to see Mughal-E-Azam tomorrow?”
Malak almost jumped out of her chair. She loved Dilip Kumar. Mumtaz smiled shyly. She was glad Raja was so proper to offer to take her sisters. Jia told him if Mumtaz and her sisters wanted to go, he had her permission.
Mumtaz nodded. Her sisters, especially Malak let out a cry of “Yay!” together. Since Raja was due to return to Uganda in a few days, he arranged to take Mumtaz and her sisters to the movies the following day.
After he left, the house was abuzz with anticipation about the movie.
“I get to see Dilip Kumar play a prince!” Malak said.
“Maliha said it’s the best movie she’s ever seen!” Sadia said.
“Madubhala is my favorite heroine!” Safia said.
Mumtaz smiled as her sisters talked about the movie. She was thinking more about Raja than the movie. His hair really was like Dev Anand’s, and it was perfect. His eyes had an intensity to them that she had never seen. They were a beautiful chestnut, lighter than her dark brown eyes. They stood out against his darker skin, demanding attention. They made her anxious to know more about him. When she thought about looking in them for the rest of her life, she shuddered. No one noticed.
He arrived with Maliha in the early afternoon. Mumtaz, Safia, Malak, and Sadia practically ran out the door. Mumtaz said bye to her mother who was staring at Raja with her arms folded not saying anything. She did manage to respond to Mumtaz’s “Khuda Hafiz” and went right back to staring Raja down. Unaffected, he said, “As-salamu alaykum.” Jia returned his salaams and nodded.
Her sisters almost stopped breathing during the movie. It was the biggest spectacle they had ever seen. Madhubhala’s bold dance that defied an emperor during “Pyar Kiya to Darna Kya”, Why should we be afraid if we have loved? had them gasping. Prithviraj Kapoor’s commanding Emperor Akbar enthralled them. Dilip Kumar’s smoldering Prince Salim caused Malak to nearly choke on her popcorn more than once.
Mumtaz enjoyed the movie, too, but she kept shooting furtive glances at Raja who was doing the same. He asked her many times if she needed anything. She told him she was fine with her soda pop.
“You’re as beautiful as Madhubala,” he said.
She bit her lip and turned her head.
When they all came back at 5:00 pm, they found Jia waiting on the front porch like it was 3:00 am. Even though there were 4 other girls with Mumtaz, she was concerned with the one young man and the damage he could do to her daughter’s reputation. She had to be vigilant as all good Muslim mothers are.
She still had manners, though. She offered Raja and Maliha tea which Raja accepted without a second thought. Mumtaz and Malak made the tea and brought it out to everyone. Before they left, Raja told them his aunt had invited them to dinner the next evening. Jia saw Mumtaz’s eyes widen and her shoulders perk up. She understood her answer had to be yes.
At dinner, Mumtaz talked to him about his textile job, her love for sewing, movies, and many other topics until it was time to leave. They said good night but didn’t arrange another meeting to Mumtaz’s disappointment.
The next day Maliha walked Mumtaz home from school. They had biscuits and talked about the day until it was time for Maliha to leave. Before she did, she handed her a note. It was from Raja. It said:
Think of “m.”
Think of “e.”
Put them together,
You’ve got me.
Know that you have me always.
If we come to your mother with a proposal, will you say yes? Write your answer, and give the note back to Maliha.
She looked up at the sky and sighed. Before she wrote her answer, she thought about what marriage would mean. It meant no more school. No sewing college for her. No chance to be a top designer in Nairobi. No more late-night talks with Malak. No more making chai for Aftab when he came home from work. No more Nairobi. Marrying would mean moving to Kampala with Raja’s family. It also meant less worry for her mother. One less child to provide for.
She looked down at the note, wrote her answer, and folded it. She held it in her hand for a moment. She put it in her school bag and went back into the house.
The day before Raja returned to Kampala, he, his aunt, uncle, and Maliha brought sweets and a proposal. Jia said yes because she liked Raja, and she knew Mumtaz did, too. They decided Mumtaz would finish out the school term, and Raja would return to marry her.
As they made the wedding preparations, various relatives and neighbors gave gifts and invited them for dinners to celebrate the auspicious occasion. Raja’s aunt sent Mumtaz the most beautiful fabric for her wedding dress. Malak’s future mother-in-law, Mona insisted their family tailor make her wedding dress. She was already inwardly seething that her husband still honored the engagement even after Jia’s reversal of fortune. She would be damned if her future daughter-in-law would wear anything less than the best. Although it gave her piece of mind that her daughters were taken care of, Jia pursed her lips when she thought about how she couldn’t even afford her own daughters’ wedding dresses. She only commented on how generous Raja’s aunt and Mona were.
Mumtaz decided to sew her own wedding lehenga. The fabric was a brilliant red with light specks of mirror work. She added a delicate pearl border on the bottom of the kameez and on the sleeves. The dupatta veil was heavy with silver zari work with a silver tinsel border on the edges. She sewed the kameez so it hugged her figure slightly.
When she finished, she stepped back and admired her own work. Then, she paused and thought about what it would have been like to dress the fashionable ladies of Nairobi. She thought about seeing her creations in the Life and Style section of the Daily Nation. She knew she had talent and could really make a go of it. She smiled at the possibility. Now, the only possibility she had was being a good wife and mother. She shrugged her shoulders, hung up, her dress, and stared out the window.
Her wedding day started with a nikaah at her home and ended with a reception with only close friends and family at Bombay Palace, much to Mona’s chagrin. She wanted all of Nairobi there.
Both Mumtaz and Malak were relieved that all of Nairobi was not there. They only wanted to share their day with people they loved. As the elder sister, Malak came to her intended and his family first. When it was time for her to make her entrance, Mumtaz lowered her head under her dupatta. Aftab, Sadia, and Safia led her and Malak to the living room where Raja was sitting with his uncle, his aunt, Imtiaz, Malak, Shahnawaz, and Mona. She caught a glimpse of Raja beaming at her and the intense eyes that stared at her with intense love. In that moment, she knew she could look into those eyes for the rest of her life.
Like Madhubala said, “Why should we be afraid if we have loved?”
Until next time... look behind and beyond the veil...