I’ve been going back and forth on whether to share this publicly or not but I eventually decided that it’s important to put it out there
I was robbed today.
I’ve always felt safe and secure in my city. Never have I had a reason to worry about my safety nor be concerned about publicly expressing my faith, my heritage or my opinion. I know it’s a luxury not afforded to all, especially for Muslim immigrants living in today’s America, and so I have always cherished and appreciated my city.
But today was different.
As I walked into the mosque for Friday’s prayer, I noticed a package sitting by the door. A simple, harmless package. Addressed, labeled and stamped. But in the split second between realizing there is a package by the door and recognizing that it was the printed material our imam has ordered online, I felt a strong sense of panic and a sudden pang of fear.
I have no reason to fear for my safety. There are absolutely zero indications of any threat to me or my family.
So why was that my instinct when I first saw the package?
This question has preoccupied my mind all afternoon. I couldn’t even focus much during sermon and prayer and up to the point of writing this post, I am not sure my thoughts are cohesive enough to be comprehended.
This thought pushed me off kilter. Maybe the first serious chink in my armor.
Today, the peace that gets renewed, recharged and reenergized every Friday was not there.
Today I was robbed.
One of my biggest insecurities and the thing that I have been struggling with for the past 22 years is the expectation of perfection.
Part of it is self inflicted; I don’t want to disappoint so I strive to be perfect in school, at work and even when playing soccer! That drive can be healthy when honed and matured after one inevitable faces failure. I failed, it sucks and I struggled/still struggle with that failure but I learned/am learning to temper my expectations of perfection and with a strong support system I can grow as a person.
That healthy drive becomes destructive when others expect that from those who show an ounce of promise. We do this most to the ones we’re closest to and the ones who we consider to represent us. We mold them into this image of perfection, we exalt them and rob them of the chance to display any humanity. We are threatened by any deviation they may display of the image we have created for them and project our failures and shortcomings on them. We don’t allow them the opportunity to learn and grow and many times we kick them while they’re down.
I notice this a lot with my fellow Muslims and Arabs, especially if they are immigrants. We do this a lot to our own kith and kin. But this is not exclusive to us (or the minority group) as the majority is also culpable in their expectations of perfection from whomever they consider a representative of the minority. I am to be a perfect Muslim, a perfect Arab, a perfect Immigrant because all those whom you consider me to represent will be judged by my actions.
People are not God. Give them back their humanity
There is a very powerful inner, almost subconscious and visceral, dialogue that takes place when you find yourself an immigrant trying to make it in a new place. I am going to explain this “dialogue” from my perspective as an Arab/Muslim/immigrant although I have a feeling that much of what I’m about to share is felt by others who do not necessarily fall into my categories of otherness.
For many, the aforementioned dialogue is short lived and quickly fades away into occasional whispers. Often, the dialogue ends abruptly with a conclusion that is along the lines of “the hell with the rest, I am who I am and nothing will change me”. They end up with an almost antagonistic view of the majority.
.....I am an Arab.
.....This (insert non-Arab cultural practice) does not jive with my Arab culture.
.......being with “them” will make me forget who I am and I’ll become one of “them”.
Assimilation in this case is akin to conformation, or worse subjugation, and thus become a threatening thought. Insulation becomes a protective mechanism. Eventually everything revolves around this identity and when such identity is marginalized, it becomes the lens in which they view their new world.
.....That person was looking at me funny because of my accent
.....I am going to stick with my kind
.....I didn’t get that promotion because I am Arab
Many others, conclude the opposite from their own short lived inner dialogue. They overcompensate by complete immersion in the new majority culture and full detachment from the culture of their upbringing
....I want people to see beyond my Arabness.
....I want to be viewed as one of “them”.
....Maybe they’ll find my accent cool.
Their full on immersion and complete detachment also become protective mechanisms. They’re unable to bridge the two cultures and it is much easier to “go with the flow”
For some however this dialogue is constant and never fades away. They are, on the one hand, conscious of where they come from, and on the other, receptive to what they experience in their adopted environment. They are in a state of mind that is constantly trying to balance learning, adapting, adopting, modifying, building and rebuilding of new and old concepts. They are well aware of such state of mind and, for the most part, enjoy the growth that comes with straddling both worlds.
They are however exhausted by the self awareness that comes with striking, and the effort it takes to maintain, a balance. It is incredibly easy to slip into either of the camps discussed above and many times can even be justified.
.....did I not get that promotion because I am Arab?
.....is my accent really that thick for them not to understand what I am saying?
.....maybe I should change my name to Alex if I’m going to run for office.
This last mindset is, in my opinion, the most fragile yet most beneficial for a society.
Beneficial because they help challenge a society’s long held views and either reaffirm them as timeless or expose them as flawed/in need of attention. How we respond to such a challenge is a measure of the mettle of our society and whether or not we truly believe the slogans we throw around while thumping our chests and bellowing that we are the greatest nation on earth.
Fragile because a society can easily push them into one of the two camps thus losing on their contribution to society.
This afternoon, in recognition of International Day of Peace, Manchester University dedicated a peace pole at the Fort Wayne campus. The peace pole has the message “May Peace Prevail on Earth” in the four languages most spoken at our Manchester University Pharmacy Program English, Arabic, Urdu and Spanish.
I was honored to offer opening remarks that I include below
As I thought about what to say today, I chose not to prepare my remarks well in advance and to rather quickly jot down this morning what comes to you straight from my heart; A heart, and mind, that is heavy by the recent loss of our friend Sue.
With that real and palpable sense of grief, I found myself reflecting on the number of lives lost we hear and read about in the news. Lost Lives that for the most part have unfortunately become mere cold numbers, numbers to which we have become accustomed or worse, numb.
So I asked myself, how can peace prevail on earth? How can we, as members of the Manchester family,
as persons of ability and conviction who are guided by our respect for the infinite worth of every individual,
inspired by a church steeped in the history of peace making,
how can we stem the tide of aimless, endless wars that cause immeasurable amount of pain and suffering on earth?
How can we help achieve such noble goal?
And every time I think about this, I find that the answer lies in one place.
If we want peace to prevail on earth then peace must prevail within, for when peace prevails within we become an unstoppable force of love that strives for justice for all.
May the peace, blessings and mercy of God be upon all of you. And may His everlasting peace shine through each and every one of you.
(Hoping to get a good discussion on this and would really like your input)
I have had a couple of conversations with friends recently about a concept that I will dub "luxury of thought"
Basically, I think, people whose day to day concern is basic survival/putting food on the table/making ends meet do not have the luxury of time to be able to spend on thinking/contemplating/deeper reflection.
Don't get me wrong; It's not that they are incapable, or that they lack the intelligence. Rather, it's that when making priorities, thinking about immigrants/climate change/war....etc does not make the top 10 list of concerns for them.
I believe that when people are not given the opportunity to have such basic rights as the time and mental comfort to think, thinking/contemplating/self reflection becomes a luxury and opt for the basic, often myopic, understanding of the world around them.
This concept is weaponized by those whose interests are best served by those who enjoy such "luxury" but use it with ill intent.
What do you think?
FIFTEEN YEARS AGO while attending pharmacy school in Big Rapids, Michigan, I was asked to give a short talk about Islam to a small group of students during the month of Ramadan. I was not what you would consider a religious person at the time. My adherence to faith then was at a basic level of simple compliance with standards I grew up with, had some understanding of and had some ability to express in a manner that others can understand. Yet I went, stood up in front of the small crowd and shared what the five foundational pillars of Islam are to the best of my abilities.
Fast forward eight years later, I get an email from an old classmate who happened to stumble upon my faculty profile and thought to shoot me an email to reconnect. We were at best acquaintances during school and I remember him as a nice, quite, socially awkward and somewhat introverted person. We exchanged a few emails and decided that the next time I was to visit Michigan, I lived in Maine at the time, we were going to go out to dinner and catch up. Within a few months he came to pick me up from my sister's place in Michigan and we went out for dinner and conversations.
During our conversations he shared with me that a couple of years back he had a Muslim colleague with whom he used to discuss religion, and that through such discussions he grew fond of and converted to the religion of Islam. He'd been working on his faith since and was growing his relationship with God through Islam. I was fascinated and excited by his story but then he told me that the original reason why he started looking into Islam was because he heard what I shared about Islam when we were in school.
My words intrigued him,
piqued his interest in something he was unfamiliar with,
and stayed with him until he met that person who embodied them for him.
MY simple words, during a time when I was not the best representative of my religion, led to such a significant impact on a person's life.
Why do I share this story with you now? Especially when I have this nagging feeling that I have shared it before?
I share it because I don't want you to underestimate the power of what you say, whether in person or on social media. Your words have an impact. That impact is certainly more magnified if what you say is a reflection of what you do but if all you can do is share a status, retweet something you found meaningful or post something that made you see things differently then that is still meaningful and impactful.
Especially during these times.
Go ahead, make your beautiful voice of justice, peace and mercy heard. Drown out the voices of bigotry and hate.
About 17 years ago while I was having a cigarette outside the undergraduate library of Wayne State university, a young black man, who was about my age then and dressed in a dark blue suit,a white shirt and sporting thick rimmed glasses, approached me. With a very calm and respectful yet determined manner says "may I ask you a question?"
I said "sure, go ahead".
He said "If I let you borrow my suit would you return it to me with all kinds of holes and tears in it?"
confused, I said "Of course not"
He said "Well, God gave you this body. Your suit. Why are you tearing it apart with this cigarette?"
I remember putting my head down in shame and feeling all kinds of embarrassed as I didn't know what to say then.
But now I do.
I would like to tell that random person "thank you" as he was one of the many signs God has put my way to help me quit 9 years ago.
God bless the random and seemingly small acts that have a major and positive effect
So after a Ramadanic hiatus from reading, I got back to and finished Hillbilly Elegy. Here are a few thoughts about it but would love to hear yours
- I thought the author was very courageous in sharing his struggles and giving an insider's view of a culture not often discussed in popular literature (or at least I don't think it is....but maybe I'm not the best measuring stick)
- I can understand why people who identify with/as hillbilly or working class white would have an issue with the book. The sense of "don't air your dirty laundry" comes through as he describes the culture. And even though he romanticizes certain parts of it, his description of the culture is sobering
- I didn't feel that there was much substance from a "what can be done about this" perspective but then again I don't think this was the author's intent.
My main take away though is that he eventually made it. Despite all what went wrong, still some things went right and he (a lucky son of a bitch as he himself puts it) made it. There is a sense of hopefulness. A sense that, you know, if we address some of these issues we can save a lot of kids in similar situations from the dim future they face currently.
I couldn't help but compare and contrast this book to that of Ta-Nehisi Coates however. Different yet very similar as I find both to speak of a dim future for children born in a certain set of circumstances.
What I find strikingly different though is that the set of negative conditions in JD's book are, to a major extent, self made and limited to the immediate actors within the child's life. Whereas in Coates' book, in addition to a similar set of circumstances a child may face, there is still this societally and systematically pervasive set of obstacles that will take more than one generation to overcome.
The major difference between the two stories as I see it is still that of, well, black and white.
What did you think?
If given the ability to wave a magic wand and change something, what would it be?
I would choose to eliminate the metaphorical pedestal for I believe it to be the most destructive thing we do to ourselves. No, not by placing ourselves on said pedestal but rather by placing others upon it and then kinking our necks as we cock our heads in puzzlement over how such perfection is humanly possible. Be it a beloved actor, a religious figure, an athlete or even a keyboard warrior, we tend to view the ones we admire, especially if we admire them for something we lack, without any imperfections thus creating an unhealthy and an unattainable standard. At the same time we rob them of the right to be human and therefor we see any sign of humanness as a "fall from grace" that not only shakes our perception of them but also of the world around us because afterall if "so and so" can't even be "such and such" then what kind of a world do we live in? Well my friends, that world is an imaginary one that we tend to create for ourselves to escape some realities and avoid truly living.
Life is a symphony of imperfections dotted with some perfect moments. The sooner you understand that the sooner you'll get rid of that tension in your neck and realize that the ebbs and flows of life affect us all.
Palestinian, Muslim, American, Husband, Father, Academic, Pharmacist, Coffee Addict, Nutella phene, Pseudo writer, Soccer player, former Canadian, Community servant, Pinch hitter imam, interfaith ninja, Intellectual vigilante, and the undisputed KING of snark