Back when I was dating Khaled, traveling to Egypt and the Middle East wasn’t on my radar. I was super excited that I had already travelled to Europe and wanted to plan on doing it again. I love traveling to Europe and want to go as often as possible.
Then we became engaged, all of the sudden Egypt became somewhere on my menu of travel options. We went overseas together a few months before we married for the first time. It was a stressful, nerve wracking but exciting time. I was able to share some of my favorite places in Europe with Khaled, and I was introduced to a Middle Eastern country for the first time.
In preparation for my first trip there, I got travel guides. The Lonely Planet and Fodor’s Guide to Egypt. I worried about appropriate clothing choices and if I would be able to get a decent cup of coffee. I worried that his family wouldn’t accept me. This was before Skype or Facetime and the only way we could talk to his family was to pay $3.00 a minute. As I prepared for my trip overseas, I settled into a comfortable acknowledgement that this trip was going to be part of my life, for the rest of my life. Friends and family members were in awe of the trip we had planned. They kept asking me why I wasn’t completely giddy with excitement. They shamed me because I was taking it in stride. Why I wasn’t a gushy, over the top worshipful mess for this ‘Once in a Lifetime Trip?’ For me, this was just the first time of many, many times I would make the trip to Egypt to see my new family.
In my eyes, the differences would include where we would stay, where we would layover, what we would bring home, what we would take with us. I envisioned different excursions in and around Egypt. Of course, all of this would depend on if Khaled’s family liked me, if I was accepted, if I could handle the culture shock.
My first time in Egypt was a life changing event for me, and even though I was more than ready to return to the United States, I wasn’t ready to leave my new family.
In those early years of our marriage, we were able to take my brother and sister-in-law with us on a trip. We were able to buy an apartment and decorate it in a way that helped us to feel like we had a little bit of The States there with us. We were able to take all 3 of the children to visit our family and to see where Khaled grew up. We planned to visit every 2 years. We planned on making our Egyptian home and our US home equally as comfortable for the whole family. We left clothes in the closets there. Toiletries. Shoes. We planned on not having to take suitcases with us when we went to visit. We had PLANS.
But now it has been 9 years since I’ve been to Egypt. The children do not remember what the air smells like in Egypt. They don’t know the sounds of the men selling bread from the streets or hearing the call to prayer echoing through the landscape. They don’t remember what the cars look like or the noises of traffic along The Nile. Memories are refreshed with photos, but they don’t know deep in their hearts the Egypt that is half of their blood. I don’t know if we will ever be able to return to the home where Khaled grew up and this makes me very sad.
Through the grief that has settled over us like a fine layer of dust, is the fear and longing to return to Egypt. Khaled and I discussed traveling to the Middle East recently and I will admit that I have no desire to go. I can’t consider taking the children to any country where there is the possibility I couldn’t protect them like I can at home. I can’t consider traveling to a country where I could be targeted because of the way I look, or because of the way I pray or even the color of my passport. I won’t consider traveling to a country where I cannot understand what is being said around me. How can I protect myself and my children when I don’t know what people’s intentions are? I can read body language, but that is not enough sometimes.
Even saying this smacks of privilege. I can see it in my words, and I recognize it in my actions. I know that there are people in my city who are treated differently because of how they look and how they pray. I interact with people every day that don’t understand my words, just like I don’t understand theirs. But I am not surrounded by it all, and this is my home court. I’m just not that brave. Not yet.
Sometimes, there is stuff you don’t want to talk about. Its too private, or too painful, or too powerful. Sometimes you don’t know what is happening or how to explain yourself. I didn’t even realize it was happening until a few weeks ago, and since then I’ve been trying to figure out a way not to talk about it.
Ever since Naina died, I have been unable to invest any time in attempting to fit into the community here. I just don’t have it in me. I have stopped caring if the Muslim mamas in the community or Kate’s school like me. I don’t go out of my way to try and get them to like me anymore. I just don’t care. I haven’t put in much effort in reading about Islam or what is happening in Egypt these days because it is all about people dying, people getting tortured and murdered for praying the way they pray. Women being raped by people who call themselves true believers. Good people being targets for the new wave of McCarthyism. People being placed on Most Wanted Lists because they believe in Freedom of Speech and Expression.
I am terrified to my core that this will never end.
I have no tolerance for attending Jummah in a mosque where I don’t feel comfortable. For many years, we attended Jummah at one mosque in town because the Imam delivered his sermon predominantly in English. When he got really passionate about his topic, he would revert to his dialect of Arabic that is a little different than the community of Syrian/Egyptian/Palestinian audience speaks. This was the best of all of the options, because the women prayed in the back of the room or in the balcony space and the sermon was (for the most part) in English. Then, when the balcony became another classroom, and the lockers for storing the burial cloths multiplied, the women were squeezed out of the upstairs space and the 1/3 of allotted space for the women downstairs decreased even more. The balcony was where the students sat and now the students and the women had to share that 1/3.
For the last year, we’ve attended Jummah at the mosque down the street when Mr. Fox had Fridays free. There would be headphones for English translation, and the women sat in the library and watched the Khutbah on the television. This became increasingly a source of contention for me because I know enough Arabic to know I was getting the filtered, edited version of the sermon. Not only was I pissed that I had to sit in the ‘library’ and watch on a television, now I wasn’t even getting the message that was intended.
Then, there was enough of a demand for an English Jummah. In the beginning, there were only a handful of people. But, we kept going because it was nice to be able to understand. Then, we discovered that we could sit in the main prayer hall because there was enough room at the back for the women to be included in the main space. Every Friday we would attend, we would sit together with no barriers between us and the speaker. I could see my son and often, Khaled. It wasn’t the best arrangement, but it was better than it had ever been.
Now, the prayer times have changed and the English Jummah is at a time we cannot attend. I feel Unmosqued. We are back to attending the mosque where the Imam is difficult to understand. Three weeks ago I didn’t even bother to go inside. Last week I tried to attend, but I couldn’t deal with people looking at me, questioning why I’m there, being squished amongst judgy people, and then have them look at me out of the corner of their eye when they realized I didn’t pray. I went upstairs where the girls on their period went to listen to the sermon, amongst the folding chairs and the burial clothes. It was sad and lonely.
I felt so empty when I left and I just don’t care enough any more to try to make that empty feeling go away.
A few weeks ago, I went to church. It really effected me in a way I wasn’t prepared for. After I came home, I shared this with a group of women that I trust with my spiritual journey. Now, I can’t not share it with you, because I think it has some purpose.
I just want to share this. Today I went to church. I went because it was Mamama’s funeral. I wasn’t sure I could go because my daughter was home from school today. I didn’t know how I would feel, and I didn’t know how it would go for her. Then, this morning, I couldn’t NOT go. I got dressed in clothing that I knew would be appropriate for a funeral and for church and on the way, I prepped Pea on what to expect. Once we got there, we chatted with my friend (who explained about the open casket and invited Pea to take a look if she wanted.) Then we took a program and sat in the pews. I went through the program with her, explained about the book of worship and The Bible and the singing and answered her questions.
I was not prepared to feel the way I felt. I was comfortable. It felt good to be in a familiar environment. I knew the songs. I knew what would happen every step of the way. I knew all the stuff. The only thing that bothered me was the heavy emphasis on Jesus as Lord. I also wasn’t comfortable participating until they started reciting the Apostle’s Creed…and it just started coming out. Then the Lord’s Prayer. It felt really good. Also, there was a woman as the minister. I really liked her. I loved listening to all the voices mingled together singing.
One of the most wonderful things happened to me on Monday. I received an email from a lovely young woman named Brittany, who is studying Religion in Queensland, Australia.
The assignment we have been given is about religion in Australia, so we have to pick any religion and talk about how rituals are carried out in smaller communities. So I was wondering if by any chance you wouldn’t mind answering some questions for me?
I have no idea how Brittany found me, but I was thrilled to be able to be a resources for her. I responded Yes!
The next email from Brittany included her questions. Some of them are redundant, and most of the questions seem like they are formatted from her assignment paperwork. :-) I took some time last night to answer her questions, but then I realized that we don’t observe all of the holidays and/or rituals that she is asking about, and I might get some information wrong, so I asked Brittany if I could ask you. She said yes.
Here are the questions and my own answers. Please make comments. Please. Tell me what you do, tell me if I got something wrong. Let’s help Brittany with her research paper. Its due in 2 weeks.
What are the main rituals carried out daily and throughout your life as a Muslim?
The main rituals of daily life are 1. Making Wudu, 2. 5 Daily Prayers, 3. Abstaining from Pork and Alcohol.
Do certain people have to have authority to perform such practices and rituals or can each ritual involved with Muslims be performed in an adherent’s home?
Anyone who is a Muslim can perform these rituals.
In a small community were there might not be a Mosque, how can adherents of Islam continue to practice the rituals (such as funerals, weddings, birthdays, Akikah, Shadada, Ramadan, Id ul-Adha, Al-Isra Wal Miraj, Maulid al-Nabi and rituals such as these) that are required?
The presence of a Mosque is not a necessary element in Islam. 1. Burying the deceased can be performed by a mortuary and the loved one can be buried in a cemetery. 2. Weddings can be performed by a legal representative of the government. It is not necessary to have Muslims present during marriage. 3. Birthdays are celebrated in the home, according to the family traditions. 4. Akikah is not something I am familiar with. 5. Shahada can be performed by yourself. You do not need witnesses to become a Muslim. The only necessity is for converts who wish to travel to Mecca. Travel into Mecca needs special documentation of your religion and at that time, someone would need to seek outside assistance. 6. Ramadan can be observed without a formal religious space. Everything can be done inside a person’s home or even outside. 7. Eid al Adha/Eid ul Fitr – Holidays that can be observed in a person’s home or even outside. If a person is not able to perform the sacrifice for Eid al Adha, there are national charity organizations that will sacrifice on your behalf and distribute the food to the needy. 8. Isra wal Miraj & Maulid al-Nabi are not holidays and are not celebrated. If one chooses to acknowledge these days, they follow the prophet’s example and fast that day.
Are daily and annual rituals required by adherents of Islamic faith in order to stay on their journey as a Muslim? If so how do people in smaller towns with fewer resources perform these rituals?
The only daily and annual rituals are the 5 pillars. 1. Shahada 2. Pray 5 times a day 3. Give Charity 4. Fast during Ramadan 5. Make the Hajj to Mecca. Of these, only the Hajj (pilgrimage) to Mecca is dependent on another person.
As adherents of the Islamic faith do you have a person who is believed to have the authority to perform each ritual? Or can any adherents conduct and perform these rituals?
Any adherents can conduct the rituals.
Have certain rituals, had to be adapted for adherents living in smaller towns so they can still perform the practices? No
If changes and adaptations have occurred to make it possible for each of these adherents to continue living a Islamic lifestyle, has the original meaning of each ritual diverged from what it was made for – due to living conditions, lifestyle, over time, and people not being able to attend a mosque in their local town?
Is it necessary for a Muslim to attend a mosque regularly to call them self-Islamic?
Islam is the religion; one who follows Islam is a Muslim. Islamic may refer to a book, a painting, architecture or clothing, but not people. If there is a Mosque within reasonable distance and it does not cause the follower hardship, attending the Mosque on Fridays for prayer is mandatory for Men. If it causes hardship, then Friday prayer can be performed by a group of men in a house or in an outside space.
Do adherents of the Islamic faith have to attend a Muslim school? If so what do they do if there is not a school within their local area?
No, Muslim children are not required to attend any special school.
Do you have a mosque in your local area?
Yes, in my city, we have 3 predominant mosques and 2 or 3 smaller prayer spaces.
How do you perform rituals in your everyday life such as praying and how do you perform special rituals such as funerals, weddings, birthdays, Akikah, Shadada, Ramadan, Id ul-Adha, Al-Isra Wal Miraj, Maulid al-Nabi and rituals such as these?
Rituals surrounding Funerals, Weddings and Birthdays are more cultural in nature than religious.
We do not observe Akikah, Isra wal Miraj and Maulid al Nabi.
Ramadan observing is waking for breakfast, fasting all day long, and breaking the fast in the evening. Anything in addition to that is cultural in nature and not specific to Islam.
What is the significance about the marriage, death and the five pillars ritual? Can each of these rituals be carried out by any Muslim if they are living in a town without a Mosque?
The 5 pillars are not a ritual. The 5 pillars are the tenants of faith. These are the hard and fast rules of being a Muslim. Anything else is negligible.
Is the significance of marriage ceremony lost if any Muslim carries out the ritual? If so what is the significance that an Imam or mosque brings to this ritual? And if any Muslim cannot perform this ritual do they have to get someone to come in who has authority?
I was not married in a Mosque. My marriage was performed in a space that was not religious in nature.
Is the significance of departed ceremony lost if any Muslim carries out the ritual? If so what is the significance that an Imam or mosque brings to this ritual? And if any Muslim cannot perform this ritual do they have to get someone to come in who has authority?
No. There is no hierarchy of religious persons in Islam. Any Muslim can perform the rituals.
Is the significance of five pillars lost if any Muslim carries out the ritual? If so what is the significance that an Imam or mosque brings to this ritual? And if any Muslim cannot perform this ritual do they have to get someone to come in who has authority?
Adherents living in rural towns where there is no mosque or Imam can they still practice the rituals Islam? If they can practice this ritual is there a divergence from the original meaning of the ritual in order to adapt the ritual to the facilities and area the adherent (where there is no mosque or Imam due to having a smaller community and smaller town)?
A few weeks ago, I received a private message on the My Islamic Life FB page. This customer was looking for an Origami Owl locket and some custom plates for her locket. She had many questions about the locket size, what the plates looked like, how many charms could each locket hold, and what she could have written on the plates.
I do not sell Origami Owl Lockets. Luckily, I’ve got a friend who does. Nina and I have worked together for a few years now, fulfilling the wishes of her many customers. So, I referred Amina to my friend, Nina’s O2 page*.
Then we got to work designing Amina’s plates. She said that she wanted her locket to be a celebration of her Shahada. She was giving herself a Shahadaversary gift. Isn’t that a great idea? We discussed plate sizes, and I shared with her pictures of another plate sets that I had done.
Then I shared with her a picture of my own locket with a few charms inside.
Then, I shared with her a little known charm. There is actually a Crescent Star charm available from Origami Owl, but its not under religion.
It’s under “The Great Outdoors” section. (Which I personally thing they should cross list it into the Keep The Faith section. They would sell many more, don’t you think?)
Then, we discussed my locket story.
It depends on the story you want to tell. Is this the story of only your shahada? Or are you going to put things about before your shahada?For example, I have my mantra words (from 2013) on my plate, I have a birth crystal for each of my children and my husband, then I have a Daisy because it reminds me that God wants joy in my life and I have a Fleur de Lys because it’s a secret cross and I’m a Francophile, and I have a butterfly to remind me to spread my wings and I have the crescent/star because I live my life Islamically. It’s a lot, but its me.
I love shopping for school supplies. I do. I love new paper, new folders, cute binder clips, gel pens, colored pencils and the perfect #2 pencil. I love new lunch boxes and new locker locks. I love it all, just as long as I can shop when no one is in the store, and by myself. This year school shopping was a GIANT headache. I took the children to the store without Khaled this time because I knew it was going to take several days to get everything. We had 3 different schools, 2 different school lists and a guesstimation of what the third list might contain…but if you want the supplies when they are available and at a good price, you guess and buy a bunch of stuff and then return what you don’t need.
I need to figure out a different way to do this. Kate has a specific way of shopping, Pea wants her own choices and Mr. Fox could care less. The problem is that they love to choose without paying attention to what things cost. They took their lists and started chucking stuff into the cart without any consultation. Mr. Fox was enjoying the free WiFi. I had to rein them in and make sure we weren’t paying full price for anything while getting all the stuff on their long lists.
Next year, I think I will take them out individually. Kate gets her day for shopping and Pea gets her day.
Last year, we came across a Groupon for custom Agendas from May Designs. I love Custom. I loved that we could choose the color and pattern of the cover, I loved that we could decide to put our name on the front or something else. I loved that we could make the inside with a Student Agenda, A yearly Calender or a Notebook. Each one of us chose the perfect design for us. I especially loved the part where we could put our names on them.
This is what my design looked like. I loved that there was a design that incorporated the Islamic Star and a Cross motif. So Interfaith. Plus, I could choose color that compliment my logo. The one thing I did not love about the May Designs agenda was that I couldn’t specify what holidays I wanted to appear inside. The only holidays that were included were US Customary holidays, Christian and Jewish holidays. I contacted customer service and requested that they offer the option to include holidays of other religions. I thought that since the outside cover was customizable, the inside should be also. Not so much. I placed my order anyway because it was much more custom than anything I could find at an office supply store and it was so cute.
I used the agenda to track my work orders for VianneFere and MyIslamicLife. It worked very well, for a year. When I went shopping for school supplies this year, I knew it was time to replace my agenda.
I immediately went to the May Designs website and searched the new patterns and colors. I got all the way through the design process to choosing what the inside of my agenda would include. There wasn’t any place for holiday options. I searched the website and could not find any answers. So, I went to twitter and found @MayDesigns there. I asked them about including Islamic Holidays.
I was so disappointed that they did not include the Islamic holidays again this year that I decided not to purchase.
I went online and started to search around. Every option I found didn’t include Islamic holidays. Even on Etsy.
I went to my online community and asked them if they knew of a place where I could find a fully custom agenda.
They had many suggestions, but what it all came down to was that to get the type of agenda I was looking for, I’d have to design one myself.
So, I searched for some templates for the software I already own and couldn’t find what I wanted.
Then I looked for other programs.
And then I decided that creating my own agenda did not solve the immediate problem of needing a way to track my orders and my work schedule. I needed to figure out something now.
Then I came across the Vera Bradley Agenda. It is pretty. It is colorful. It is not customizable, but it does recognize the beginning of Ramadan.
That’s a start. Right? Its pretty. Its Colorful. It includes Christian, Jewish, African, US Customary, Silly, AND Islamic Holidays. This is as close to perfect as I could find. Until I create the PERFECT Calender, this will do.
When the girls started praying, I started making them prayer outfits. In the beginning, we had one outfit for each girl and a bag to store them in.
I didn’t have to put too much thought into the storage options because they had just one outfit a piece. I would make them a new one each year and we would store the old ones away.
Then, they started wearing hijabs with their Eid outfits and for school. So, I thought we’d get a cute drawer unit to put in their closets for organized storage.
And it worked, for a while. But as you can see, its not currently working. The first drawer was for the few 2 piece hijabs they had, the middle drawer was for the prayer hijabs (long, finger tip length) and the bottom was for skirts. These days, the prayer hijabs look like this:
In a big heap in the corner of the living room. No matter how often I fold them and tuck them away in the bag I have set aside for their containment…this is what ends up happening.
And the drawer unit is stuffed to the brim.
Because not only do we need to buy new hijabs for each Eid outfit, but when we go to the shop, we collect new hijabs in the colors that coordinate with their favorite outfits. So, when we go to the mosque for whatever reason, they will be fashionably coordinated.
I’m no better. The only scarves I grew up with were the ones you wore around your neck in the winter. When I started working (before children) I owned a few scarves that were easily contained in my delicates drawer. Now, I’ve collected a modest number of scarves and hijab-like items for when they are necessary, but I just stuff them into this closet organizer.
It works, somewhat. It is fine for my knitted head warmer hijabs, but for the long scarves…they come out wrinkly.
What do you do? How do you store your scarves? Send me photos of your storage options! (Share them on twitter @MyIslamicLife, on Instagram or email them to me MyIslamicLife *At* Yahoo.com I want to see what works and what isn’t working. I need some ideas on how to fix this.