“Cheeky”

I remember the first time I experienced sexism in the workplace. I thought it was my fault.

You may write me down in history with your bitter, twisted lies.

I have never bothered to talk about it outside of my circle of family and a few close friends. But this week, two things happened: AOC breathed fire on the floor of the House, and an article so sexist you could smell the muck through the computer screen was published in a medical journal like it was actual. medical. literature. Titled “Prevalence of unprofessional social media content among young vascular surgeons” and authored (of course) by male vascular surgery residents, it involved these same residents creating fake online profiles to “investigate” (read: creep on) their female colleagues’ photos. At first, I thought to myself, unprofessional… like, butt drunk? Committing vandalism? A particularly disgusting hotdog eating contest? None of the above. Nope, turns out these greasy-haired self-righteous sleaze balls defined “unprofessional” as wearing a swimsuit… while going swimming.

And so it took me back. I started thinking about my internal medicine rotation in medical school – 10 weeks of grueling hours, a lot of stairs, and scut work galore. I worked my butt off. I know, because my clinically depressed self did not do so with my other rotations (a story for another time, or perhaps a journal article: The effects of the toxic culture of medicine on mental health). But for IM, I pushed. Internal medicine was my future, and I was determined to get an A. I put everything else aside, and as desperate as I felt on the inside, I put on one hell of a show and did the work (to be clear, I do not advocate for this). In the end, with a three-part grading system where one received either a Fail, Pass, or Honors, I wound up with a “Pass.”

I stared at the word, monosyllabic and not a little pathetic, dumbfounded. I had pulled liters of ascites off of a patient’s belly until 10pm with a fellow student, my resident nowhere to be found (against the rules, which no one follows). I had listened to my attending drone on about something completely irrelevant before finally starting rounds on my patients, distributed all over an 11-story hospital, also around 9-10pm. I had written a 15-page case report on thyroid storm that earned an excellent grade (from the same attending). I studied nonstop, and complained not once. Not only did I work, I KNEW what I was doing, which would later be reaffirmed when a different (female) attending told me I had the exam skills of a resident.

If this was Pass, what would I have to do for an Honors? Give up my firstborn? Turns out I was close – for this particular attending, I’d probably have to give up my vagina.

When I went in to speak with (read: confront) him about my grade and what more I could have possibly done to earn an Honors, the man did not have an answer. I mentioned the time I had put in, the grade that HE had given me on the case report, the utter lack of feedback during the rotation that could have helped me improve. In the end, this was the sorry excuse of an explanation I got: “You walked in front of us on rounds. It was…cheeky.”

Cheeky.

It’s not the word itself that bothers me. I can be at times, among many other things, cheeky. But coming from an older male attending in a position of power who was holding – it felt like – my future in his hands… all of my work, time, literal sweat and tears I had put into that rotation were reduced to this one word. Cheeky. The fact that I had walked in front of him on rounds (never mind that he was old and I would have had to take a single step for three of his in order to stay behind him) had effectively disappeared all of it. Like Mundungus Fletcher in a crisis. Poof.

Does my sassiness upset you? Did you want to see me broken?

When I brought this up with the rotation director, a younger, more reasonable man who was a great teacher and doctor, I was met with another gem: “Oh, him. He’s just like that. Don’t worry about it. It won’t affect your grade.” So it was that my supposed advocate, who should have reported the incident as an offensive interaction, placated me with an assurance that I would have my grade, just leave it be. It is what it is. My 20-something self was too inexperienced to know where to go next. So I buried it.

The following year, I struggled to coordinate rotations with my home school and my new husband’s home city of Buffalo, so that I could spend a meager few weeks with him after we were married. I called – as in literally a single phone call – to find out about the status of my away rotation application, and the woman on the other end who I can only imagine was going through a terrible divorce or her dog’s death, told me that I was being rude and needed to sit and wait and accept whatever decision came, and that I was NOT to call back. In tears, I called the associate dean – a woman, and another supposed advocate – for reassurance, guidance, just maybe some advocacy. I was told that this was my problem: “I have said it all along, you are just. too. aggressive.”  She lamented that I had likely screwed it up, and I would have to settle for whatever bone was thrown my way.

Does my haughtiness offend you? Don’t you take it awful hard.

It is human nature to begin to doubt yourself when you are knocked down repeatedly – your thought process, your logic, your sanity. Thankfully, as a good friend and colleague used to say, they couldn’t stop the clock, and before I transformed into an unrecognizable doormat, I graduated. It would take me a few years still to figure out what had happened, but I knew not to let whatever it was happen again. I chose a brand new community residency program, although with my USMLE scores and the name of my medical school (ironic) on my resume, I would have been accepted anywhere. But I knew that if I had to sacrifice my mental health and self-esteem for my education again, I would not be worth anything as a doctor.

Some of this was, unfortunately, medical school. But most of it was being a woman. I would bet my degree that, ceteris paribus, a male student would not have in a million years been called “cheeky.” He would not have been dismissed if he brought up an actual offense with someone in charge. And he would NOT have been called “aggressive,” because only women are aggressive. Men…well, they’re in charge. They set the standards, and let’s face it: If Desi Muslims’ thought processes are still colonized (see last blog post), then there are plenty of women of every color brainwashed enough to uphold these same asinine standards.

Equality is not a perk. It is not a fancy addition to an otherwise acceptable system. It is a basic right without which the ship cannot sail. It’s like having to pay extra for the steering wheel. But for argument’s sake, let’s say that it is something to be earned (it is not).  Well, she can’t earn equality with an MD. She can’t earn it by being elected a Congresswoman. So what price, please, does a woman have to pay to be taken seriously?

I guess it’s the price of being called a “bitch” for demanding a steering wheel. I was called the same (he didn’t know I heard) when talking to a physician’s assistant who had with laughable supervision effectively caused my patient to overdose on opiates and land in the ICU with an MI. It’s probably what the ER colleague who thought he could dismiss my emergent handoff as a level 4 thought, after I called him to demand respect in no uncertain terms for my clinical assessment and, more importantly, the patient’s life. And I’m sure that’s what my internal medicine attending meant by “cheeky.”

I will say it until I’m blue in the face or it becomes law, whichever comes first: Whether a woman wears a bikini or a headscarf is irrelevant to her worth. We do not earn the right to equality or the right to be respected. Rights are unalienable, endowed by our Creator. They are debts owed to we who are simultaneously too much and not enough: Why are you so covered? Don’t show so much skin. You’re drinking is unprofessional. You’re so uptight, have a drink and loosen up a little! You talk too much. You should be more assertive! Dress down. Dress up. Have kids. Have a career. Stay at home. Look sexy. What a slut.

Breaking free from this nonsense looks different for every woman. For me, it was putting on the hijab. It reminds me that I answer only to my Creator, the Giver of my rights, Al-Adl, The Just. I made a conscious decision to reclaim my life and my identity as whatever kind of woman I wanted to be. And when my patient asked me a few months ago whether my husband had forced me to wear the headscarf, I was able to laugh – genuinely – and tell the truth: that he didn’t even know I had put it on until I came home from work that day.

You may trod me in the very dirt. But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

AOC, those female vascular surgeons in the “medical” study…make no mistake. They – we – have more skill in a single pinky finger than the bullies who instigate this garbage. And we will, despite everything, rise.

 

I Bought My Daughter a Black Baby Doll

I bought my daughter a Black baby doll.

Hear me out before you decide what to think of that. I am not looking for applause – far from it.

I have been nauseated since the news broke about George Floyd’s murder. Because that is what it was – murder. Even if you accidentally kill someone, it’s still “manslaughter.” Although, I would be hard pressed to believe that what happened was an accident – an officer with 18 prior complaints against him, somehow still allowed to carry a weapon and “defend” the community, kneeling on the neck of a man who repeatedly told him he could not breathe. I cannot fathom that an emergency responder – who is supposed to know how to check for respiratory arrest, a pulse, perform CPR – did not know what was happening. That somehow he simply forgot that his job was to save lives, not endanger them, and that his entire career was supposed to be about protecting the people who could not protect themselves.

I’ve been alternately considering this recent flood of videotaped lynchings (let’s call them what they are) from two perspectives: that of a physician, and that of a Desi Muslim.

Dr. Zia, the physician, is horrified. I took an oath to do no harm. If I am ever at an impasse about a patient’s situation, this is the basic canon to which I return. Should we begin chemo for an 89-year-old man with advanced dementia and metastatic gastric cancer, who cannot recognize himself let alone his family and has forgotten how to eat? Should I talk to a woman who is in the throes of uncontrolled depression without a support system about how she needs to quit smoking? Should I take an action that, by the book, makes perfect sense – but for the very real person in front of me would cause irrefutable and possibly irreversible harm? These are the nuances, the art that no textbook, no lecture, no professor can teach the way that experience can. The stakes are high. The harm is real. The people are real.

I also work every day to provide equitable care, which is not as straightforward as it would seem: A Black man’s cancer and a white man’s cancer are treated with the same medication, but which one can afford it without going bankrupt is another dilemma in its entirety. Black women are more likely than white women and white men to die of heart disease – not because there is something different about their hearts, but because there is something different about their circumstances: the food and medicine they can access and afford, the time they can dedicate to being physically active, the opportunity they have to prioritize their health. And – this one I can effect – the physicians who will believe them as readily as they will believe a white patient.

Police officers are often my right hand as a physician, from appeasing a patient who has become unruly and potentially violent, to conducting welfare checks when we cannot get a hold of elderly patients, to escorting emergent cases to the hospital. And I know for a fact that Officer Chauvin took a similar oath to mine, one to protect and defend. We are part of a community, he and I, that puts itself on the line every single day for the greater good. It is the community of healthcare workers, first responders, society’s guardians: the wall between you and whatever may be trying to hurt you. Simply put, we would risk our lives for the lives of others (see: COVID).

So for one of us to take a life? It’s not just immoral. It’s personal.

Sunna, the Desi Muslim woman, on the other hand, is not surprised in the least.

Like many of you, I have seen firsthand the ugly tendrils of racism tangled throughout my community. When the gods of the West took it upon themselves to arbitrarily carve up entire continents centuries ago, enslaving human flesh because it was a darker color, they catalyzed a complicated, multifaceted process of systematic discrimination that is still very much at play, in pretty much every society. Somehow, from California to Calcutta, we were all force fed the same tonic that embedded itself in our DNA: that whiter is better, and darker is worse. At any given moment in Desi Muslim homes across the US (I cannot speak for non-Desis or non-Muslims, but I suspect something similar), you will find an undercurrent of racism connecting seemingly inconsequential interactions. It is sprinkled across the important and unimportant decisions we make on a daily basis, as common and as difficult to clean as the turmeric staining our countertops. In more obvious scenarios, elders paint the Black community with the caustic brush of stereotype- “kalley,” “kalloo,” and other demeaning references. In subtler exchanges, parents yell at their children to stay out of the sun, or their skin will take color. Women rub their faces with dubious creams from overseas that claim to whiten and brighten. Matrimonial ads pointedly seek “fair” or “wheatish” (don’t ask) complexioned partners.

Mothers pick the white baby dolls over the Black ones.

I am certain that if it were not for these recent circumstances that forced me to look inward and examine my biases, I would be one of them. I grew up without a single Black doll, although I had plenty of Barbies and baby dolls. The fault does not lie squarely with my parents. It is ancestral: We might be free in the immediate, concrete sense, but our thoughts are still very much colonized.

So then, we come to the question of where to go from here.

The examples in Islam and in the Qur’an that guide us as Muslims never cease to amaze me in how progressive they are, even through the modern, seemingly “woke” lens. Prophet Muhammad (SAW) dismantled the institution of racism, including the taboo of interracial marriage, in the 7thcentury. He appointed Bilal ibn-Rabah (RA), a Black man, as the very first muezzin to call Muslims to prayer, a position of undisputed honor. In his final sermon, gathering all of the wisdom by which his Ummah was to live, Prophet Muhammad (SAW) emphasized, “A white [person] has no superiority over a black [person], nor a black [person] any superiority over a white [person] except by piety and good action.” This reflects the basic premise of Islam and of every other Abrahamic religion: When Adam (AS) fell, he took all of us with him. All of us, then, start from the same place in our journey to curry God’s favor. When God does not decide our worth from our skin color, who are we to draw arbitrary lines?

The Qur’an states, “O ye who believe! Stand firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be (against) rich or poor: for Allah can best protect both” (4:135). So it is without hesitation that I stand with the Black community, so many of whom are also my fellow Muslims, against police brutality and systematic racism. And the request I have is twofold.

To my colleagues: If you wear a white coat, you should unequivocally stand for Black lives. I vowed, as you did, to “remember that I remain a member of society, with special obligations to all my fellow human beings, those sound of mind and body as well as the infirm.” In a profession where we are called upon to stand with others in their most vulnerable moments, this stance should be reflexive. We observe daily the disadvantages shouldered by the Black community – the medical statistics alone are enough confirmation – and now we have a chance to advocate for better. There is no middle ground, and there is no other acceptable path.

To my community: Take a good, hard look at your biases. Would you allow your daughters to marry Black men if you approved of their character and their Deen? Would you allow your children to have Black friends without disproportionately wondering whether they are wielding a bad influence? Would you keep them from playing in the sunshine because they will get too dark?

Would you buy your child a Black doll?

If the answer is no, it is time to make some changes. Change is both a difficult and a deliberate process. It will not happen overnight. We will make mistakes, and some days will be two steps forward and one step back. But we must remind ourselves that in the history of our Muslim nation, Black Lives have not only always Mattered, they have been indispensable. A Black man (AS) liberated us from the Pharoah. A Black man (RA) overcame the weight of a literal boulder on his chest to chant the first athaan from a rooftop into the hearts of the Ummah. Black men and women (RA) were among the Sahaba who fought and died for God and our Rasool SAW. For them, we can at the very least commit to creating a new normal for our children. Maybe then we can hope for a future in which the next generation is free from the shackles of implicit bias and the horrible consequences that come with it.

It is certainly not instinctual. Most of us are at an age where our perspectives have already been tainted by this same implicit bias. Bearing witness against yourself, and committing to change, is a monumental task, and it can be difficult to know where to start. As for me and my family, I find myself frequently rereading the words on a sign hanging in my living room: “The most important work you will ever do will be within the walls of your own home.” I intend to start there. Bismillah.

Playboy, the Hijab, and Noor Tagouri

Aspiring Muslim hijabi journalist Noor Tagouri recently caused a ruckus in the Muslim community when she agreed to sit for an interview for the magazine Playboy. She is profiled as a Renegade of 2016, one in a series of “men and women [who] will change how you think about business, music, porn, comedy, gaming and more…[who have] risked it all—even their lives—to do what they love, showing us what can be accomplished if we break the rules*.” At the end of a succession of questions and well-thought out answers, she acknowledges her unique position to represent Muslim women – “I always remember Maya Angelou’s quote, ‘I come as one, but I stand as 10,000.'” Unfortunately, while she was well-intentioned in her goal, Tagouri’s execution missed the mark.

The reason is less about the scarf on her head and more about the concept of hijab. The funny thing which most non-Muslims and even Muslims don’t always understand is that hijab has very little to do with clothes, with the headscarf per se and the hair/skin/body that is covered. Like so much else in Islam, hijab is a way, not a thing – a way of holding yourself, conducting your interactions, preserving your autonomy and purity of mind as well as of body. It embodies among others the principles of modesty, dignity, independence, well-roundedness, poise, and self-control. The Arabic word “hijab” is literally translated as “barrier.” Like any other barrier, it is a way to keep the good in and the bad out: as women, to keep what is ours, ours, and what you would like to say or think about what is ours, out. Hijab is indeed a barrier, between the self and the outside, not only to preserve the sacredness of the human body, but to dissipate the negativity and judgment it might otherwise endure. Our skin is not merchandise – it is soft, beautiful, and valuable, and we will not allow it to harden against the criticisms of a petty society.

I personally do not cover my head, but I infer that the reasons to do so mirror my reasons to lengthen my own garments (my hijabi friends can please correct me if I am wrong). With the increasing liberalization of society – a positive development in so many ways – has come acceptance and therefore pressure for women to expose larger and larger amounts of flesh. In 2016, suddenly, Burkinis are the enemy and people are clamoring to “Free the nipple!” (I won’t dignify it by linking it here, but it’s a movement – Google it.) I suppose the idea is that if we have the freedom to uncover ourselves, we will somehow feel more carefree, fulfilled, content – the standard cocktail every generation’s social campaign of choice promises. And yet, as populations become more and more Westernized, their rates of depression also skyrocket, for a multitude of reasons. To me, it seems the “freer” we become, the more miserable we are. A paradox, isn’t it?

But when you think about it, it’s not that much of a paradox at all. The reality is that exposing your skin is also exposing yourself to societal judgment and criticism. I’ve grown up watching push-up bras go on sale for younger and younger age groups. I’ve been to middle and high school, ruthless cesspools of cleavage and lip gloss and getting cute boys to like you, disguised as educational institutions where we send our girls when their brains are the most vulnerable and malleable they will ever be. I now see the women who I assume used to be those girls struggling to balance being too clothed (“prudes,” “stiffs,” “hardasses”) with being too naked (“sluts,” “whores,” “loose”). I see them laughing off uninvited and unwelcome comments, positive or negative, about their looks – as if it’s wrong to react, as if it doesn’t offend, as if it doesn’t matter.

IT DOES MATTER.

Our identities, our self-esteem, our autonomy MATTER. And the reality is that a society that can see your flesh assumes the power, warranted or not, to pass judgment upon it. Therefore the reasons to cover are the same as the reasons to love yourself: Because freedom comes not from society’s approval of you but from approving of yourself, taking ownership of your body and telling the world, “World, these parts are mine, not yours, and therefore not subject to your critique. Not only will I not allow you the wrong opinion, I will not allow you any opinion, because to have an opinion period about my body is a privilege in itself.”

That is what hijab is. That is why we cover. While women of all walks of life must grow a thick skin in order to survive this world let alone thrive in it, the hijab provides an armor instead, preserving the innocence of the soul that it covers. Hijab is what allows me and all Muslim women who embrace it to be proudly different from the twisted, vague, ultimately unattainable ideal of a woman that others have imposed upon the female sex: me, from society’s expectations of me.

That is what Noor Tagouri compromises.

I do not believe her morality is compromised. Far from it, actually. I read the article. She has some excellent and admirable viewpoints, the likes of which probably have not been seen in Playboy, ever. But there is a way I’d like to explain my own distaste for the whole thing: I grew up watching The Cosby Show, and although Bill Cosby has since been completely discredited and I can no longer support him as an actor, the show itself taught important lessons that have been relevant to me at various places in my life. There is an episode (watch the specific, brilliant segment here) when Vanessa, Cliff Huxtable’s rebellious daughter, presents her family suddenly and unexpectedly, for the very first time, with a gentleman to whom she is already engaged, to understandable shock and dismay. Cliff explains to the obviously conscientious man that it’s not his fault:

“It’s the way she brought you to us. Do you have a favorite food, something that you really love?”

He answers steak.

“Steak! Just imagine a Porterhouse, with mushrooms and potatoes, mmm boy, can you smell it? Now I’m going to present it to you, right? I don’t go and get a plate, I get a garbage can lid and turn it upside down. I take your steak, your potatoes and your sauteed mushrooms and I give it to you. Not too appetizing is it? It’s in the presentation. That’s the way she brought you here – on a garbage can lid.”

By appearing in Playboy, Noor Tagouri presents a fabulous set of ideals on a garbage can lid. The message is excellent, the woman wonderful, I’m sure. But the inappropriate presentation tarnishes the whole affair. The situation would be the same with any other message: Most practicing Muslims would not go to a casino to talk about how gambling is frowned upon, or a bar to talk about how alcohol is forbidden, because in doing so one is by default contributing to the publicity and profit of an establishment that has by simply existing gone against the values a Muslim holds dear – and there should be no doubt that Tagouri does still hold them dear.

In an earlier piece on the hijab, I wrote that there is no excuse as a Muslim woman for tearing down another Muslim woman, and I repeat that now. Noor is 22, about my little sister’s age and a young woman who is developing and changing against the pressures of a difficult society just like the rest of us. We have no right to judge or attack her character, ever, and I hope that she attains every goal for which she reaches as a Muslim and as a woman – after all, I am both. What we can judge is the choice of this particular piece of publicity, which although full of good ideas, was in poor taste – steak and potatoes on a garbage can lid if you will – and that is not good enough to stand for 10,000.

 

*Um, who made it a rule that a hijabi woman can’t be a news anchor? I haven’t heard of this rule. I would like Playboy to stop making up its own rules a la Donald Trump.

P.S. A beautiful article I found on Huff Post about how the hijab is so much more than cloth: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rawan-abushaban/reducing-hijab-to-the-hea_b_9075126.html.

An Open Letter to Donald Trump

Those of you who know me know that outside the workplace, I hold little back when it comes to my social and political opinions. And yet I have thus far hesitated to write anything about Donald Trump during his bewildering, embarrassing time in the political sphere. I was hoping, I suppose, that he would just disappear. Then when he didn’t, I suppose I was waiting for him to say something so repulsive and personal that I could no longer stay silent.

Congratulations, Mr. Trump. You, who believe we as Muslim women are not allowed to speak, have managed to break this Muslim woman’s silence.

You have single-handedly led the most vulgar, divisive, and disrespectful political campaign of my lifetime. You have alternately marginalized and insulted Muslims, women, African Americans, and immigrants. You have supported bullying and name-calling. You have regressed to an intellectual and moral level I cannot even attribute to a five-year-old, because even five-year-olds raised right know that you cannot simply “hit” someone with whom you disagree.

You have repeatedly, unapologetically, proudly even, legitimized evil. And I want you to know that before this letter, I was in fact allowed to speak. You simply rendered me speechless.

You said perhaps Mrs. Ghazala Khan did not speak because “she wasn’t allowed to have anything to say…had nothing to say.” She responded to your asinine assumption, in a beautiful letter penned to the Washington Post. And today, as a Muslim woman who stands with her, I too have much to say to you.

I want you to know that you are not the only one who has the impulse to hit people out of anger. When you spoke so disrespectfully about a mother who buried her son for this nation – her nation, MY nation – I wanted to slap you to smithereens. Had you been in my presence, I may have. For you are not the kind of person for whom Captain Humayun Khan sacrificed his life. He did not give all so that you could tear apart the fabric of this nation with the poison of hatred. He did not die simply to have you render his death in vain.

I want you to know that Muslim women like Mrs. Khan do not derive their allowances or disallowances from man. We do not seek permission from our husbands, brothers, fathers to choose our paths in life. We do not ask them for the right to earn a living, to own property, to cover or not cover our heads, to marry or divorce, to decide, to think, to speak. Because you see, Mr. Trump, those allowances are not man’s to give. They are God’s, and God’s alone.

I too, like Mr. Khan, have a copy of the United States Constitution on my bookshelf, next to my Quran. I have read it, learned it, analyzed it, written about it. And I want you to know that as a Muslim woman with the God-given right to speak, affirmed by the First Amendment of that Constitution, I will not allow you to hijack my religion.

I want you to know that Muslim men and women are some of the most productive figures and contributors to the good of society in all of history. They are today’s lawyers, social workers, athletes, blue collar laborers, political activists, physicians such as myself who have given all to careers meant to benefit others. They are the mathematicians, scientists, travelers, writers, the historical giants upon whose shoulders you stand – and still, you cannot see beyond your own inaccurate, sad dystopia.

I want you to know that I wish you had gone to medical school. The reality is, Mr. Trump, that despite what I know and think and believe about you, if you walked into my hospital, my clinic, my emergency room, I would put aside every fact, thought, and belief and treat you the same as any other suffering human being and do everything in my power to relieve your pain. I wish you had gone to medical school, where the values my parents taught me were affirmed – simply, that every life is equally precious. That when you cut a person open, they all look the same from the inside. I wish you could spend one day with me and see that cancer, infection, dementia do not look at color before choosing their victims. I wish you could see that the sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, wives and husbands of my patients who die are not less devastated at the passing of their loved ones if they are Muslim or black or speak broken English.

It is often said that people’s opinions of others are a reflection not of others but rather of their own character. And so I want you to know that when you question and insult people like Mr. and Mrs. Khan, I wonder about you. I wonder about your insecurities and the state of your confidence.  I wonder about your wife – an immigrant who speaks the same broken English that you condemn on the lips of others who have contributed more than you could if you lived nine lifetimes. I wonder why she was not allowed into the spotlight of your campaign until the arrival of the Republican National Convention. I wonder why, when she finally managed to speak, the words she spoke were not even her own.

I want you to know that Ghazala Khan’s dignified, meaningful silence will forever ring louder than your wife’s stolen words.

You say that “Islam hates us.” In a way, you are right. Islam hates everything for which you stand. Islam hates bigotry, greed, and negligence of the poor. Islam hates oppression, which is why Syrians are fleeing to freedom as we speak. Islam hates vulgarity, torture, and unlawful punishment. Islam limits war and does not allow harm to come to the wives and children of our oppressors as you have suggested the United States should do in foreign lands.

You say we as a nation have a problem with “radical Islamic terrorism.” I want you to know we have a bigger problem with racism, sexism, chauvinism, and nepotism – you embody them all. I want you to know that your delusions have made it so that Muslim children are teased at school, Muslim women attacked in public for the way they look. It is because of you that our communities have devised escape plans, gotten our papers in order and our emergency items in one place in case we need to escape. It is because of you that so many of us are searching for a second home in case we are driven out of our native home. I have news for you: we are coming up short, because those of us who call this place home have no idea where to go.

Perhaps you could suggest a concentration camp you favor?

I want you to know that the position of the presidency is not a tyranny or kingship in which you are permitted to hire and fire people at your will, to run the nation like you would a TV show. I am eternally grateful to be a citizen of this country, because our Constitution’s checks and balances system was designed exactly for people like you – to stop you from destroying what has required so much to build.

Finally, I want you to know that while your goal may have been to disparage an Army veteran’s surviving family, to paint all Muslims with the brushstroke of disgrace, you have accomplished the exact opposite. Because of your words, a Muslim American soldier’s name that may have otherwise been lost among the headstones at Arlington National Cemetery, has made headlines. Republican party leaders – your people – are standing with him, and against you. You say you can win this election. I want you to know, Donald Trump, that while decent people live, breathe, and vote, your bigotry will never triumph. If you think you can exploit the unreasonable fears of a few close-minded folks for your own agenda, I want you to know that you are very, very wrong. There is far more to this nation than meets your short-sighted eye – far more compassion, far more goodness, far more empathy than you and your campaign would have us believe. I want you to know that the heroes don’t just win in the storybooks – they win in real life too. And the final chapters of this election are only just beginning.

 

Building Love with Faith

I remember one day shortly after my husband and I had first met when we were chatting over Skype, and the conversation turned to our careers. Quite promptly he, at the time a third year dental student, asked me if I would be his patient. Being a third year medical student myself with a gaping dearth of medical experience, I did not hesitate to say no, of course not. It upset him, I could tell, and even while reassuring him that I thought he would make a wonderful clinician and I would certainly allow him to pick out my dentist, I stuck to my guns and refused to accept his offer of care – I could not understand why he would be willing to treat family.

You see, in medicine, we do not treat our own. Putting aside my lack of knowledge at the time, objectivity in the face of a sick loved one is uniformly considered to be at least difficult, if not impossible – a fact I recently realized when, dragging my husband to a specialist after a 3-week stint of coughing and sore throat unaffected by antibiotics, I found myself scanning his chest X-ray for mediastinal lymphadenopathy, terrified he had lymphoma.

He likely has Strep throat and simply needed stronger antibiotics, Alhamdulillah, and I am still a naive intern with just enough knowledge to know what could happen but not enough to know when I’m right – a precarious place to be. But put together this bias with the guilt that would inevitably come with wondering, in the face of life and death situations, whether it was your fault should something go wrong – and you can understand why even after being fully trained, we simply do not treat our own.

He understands this, too, after 2 years of a marriage into which we are still settling that often feels the same way it must feel for a newborn calf stumbling over its own legs – surprising, scary, confusing, joyous all at once. And I understand now how in his profession, the bulk of dental learning and training is completed in 3rd and 4th years during which dental students actively manage patients at the level a medical student only experiences during residency. That is after all why they, unlike us, emerge with a full license to practice. I understand now why he could have taken my rejection as a sign of doubt in his skill. And he understands how I, acutely aware of my own ineptitude as a third year, could have doubted him.

We laugh about it now when we tell our little story, but I am sharing it today in the spirit of a bigger picture as I realize with every passing day how much there is to truly, fully understanding another human being – and how we have barely begun to scratch the surface. I look back now at the beautiful, blessed, chaotic beginning, and it strikes me how much I didn’t know. How impatient I was, how eager to achieve the woozy, drunken fairytale in which work, bills, chores, even sleep didn’t seem to have a role. How short-sighted I was to think that simply speaking your truth, without compromise and patience, would be enough to make your partner understand and even agree with it.

How quickly I had said no to a budding dentist who presented me with an offer I didn’t recognize, not realizing that perhaps his reality was different from my own.

Thinking back on the blissful, foolish headiness that characterized those first few months, I said to him the other day, “You know, I was crazy about you.”

“You’re not anymore?”

I considered. “I am, but I guess I don’t want to say it because I don’t know whether you still feel that way.”

He looked at me, decided he believed me, and responded that he thought he loved me more now than before.

“But didn’t you love me at the beginning?”

He shook his head slightly. “No, not really, not like now.”

I asked why. And he replied, with the straightforwardness I have come to expect, social convention be damned, “I didn’t know you then.”

He’s right, which is something I admit more the longer I am married, and his comment illustrates the challenge that is especially pronounced in a more traditional Muslim marriage, in which you really only get to truly know your partner after you have said “I do.” Most of us I imagine say it with a fair amount of confidence that our partners are not ax murderers with off shore bank accounts, but beyond an initial assumption that they must be good people because of X Y and Z, we don’t get the chance to truly learn them. And let’s face it, that is simply not enough trust on which to build a life.

So where and how do you find more?

I have a drive to understand, in that when I can empathize or identify with a concept, register it in my head and see the logic behind it, I achieve a sense of peace and of what to do next. This is a fact that has served me well in academics, but not so much in life; people don’t come with instructions, and you cannot simply memorize a chapter and get everything right, even after years together. And as my husband put it, if you have to understand or see to believe, if you need proof of something, it’s not really trust, is it?

The deeper understanding more often than not comes not with drawn-out explanations but rather with the knowledge that automatically accumulates when you allow yourself to be fearless enough to earn it – to take the plunge before you truly, unequivocally know the nuances of a person’s personality, the way (s)he acts when (s)he’s  hungry/tired/sick/frustrated. It comes with the realization that it is a disservice to your partner to react rashly and assume the worst and, it follows, with the patience to observe and to give benefit of the doubt. The trust comes – not with words, but with time. And the fearlessness to wait comes from within yourself in the relationship that you have built with God. It comes ultimately from having never walked before, not knowing how, but trying still with the faith that He has put the ability in your clumsy legs to find their footing. In both the courage to take that first step and in the Guidance that inevitably follows, I see the ultimate miracle.

 

 

Stubbornness and Marriage

As someone who has been married for a little over 1.5 years in the middle of med school and now residency, I can attest that when you’re mentally stressed, physically exhausted, and working constantly, it can be incredibly hard to be a selfless and considerate partner. Sometimes it’s all you can do to not just sit on the couch while your dishes fester, laundry wrinkles, and family makes do with leftovers one. more. time. I’ve done it more times than I care to admit. Not only that, but it’s also all too easy to illogically take out your stress on your partner – get into stupid arguments and find fault with their words, actions, or personality. When it feels like the world is on your shoulders, although marriage is supposed to be your safe haven, it winds up feeling like yet another burden.

But I think people give up too easily these days, especially on those days. They think marriage is supposed to be fun and games all the time, that the safe haven is supposed to come without effort, that balancing work and spouses and family and kids and faith is anything less than a full time job on its own. One thing that my husband and I have going for us is that we are both incredibly stubborn – when it comes to life, unfortunately, but also when it comes to our marriage. We refuse to (permanently) give up on each other, even on the days when we have given up on ourselves. In these short few months, that has made all the difference.

Sticking it out with someone when it sucks, when it makes your life harder, forces you to be there for the big moments, the triumphs, the days that remind you why you chose them. They often come without warning, which is why you have to get through the bad to encounter the good. As you build a life together, grow closer to each other and learn more about your partner, those moments increase in strength and frequency. And the studies prove it: The longer you’re together, the more likely you’ll stay together. The process can’t be rushed any more than you can make the flowers in your garden bloom on your timeline (or more practically, the slow cooker cook faster) – because it’s not your timeline, it’s God’s.

I think this has been the most difficult part for me, the patience. I expected to walk into a marriage and automatically understand the way my husband works, and for him to do the same with me. It was a silly idea – I can’t even do that with my parents and sisters with whom I have lived my entire life! But I am more blessed than I deserve, and for me the gratifying moments have come sooner rather than later. Probably because God knows that my level of patience is nothing like that of the amazing women who have come before me – my mom and my mother-in-law, in particular.

To my readers, married or unmarried, because this is relevant to all important relationships: Be patient – but also be stubborn. Excepting any situation of abuse or grave injustice, don’t give up so easily. It is the most difficult thing in the world to figure out another person’s mind – I haven’t even figured out my own – but as slow and sometimes painful the process may be, every small step forward is so very worth it. My mother likes to say that the goal at the end of every day is not joy, as the movies and songs would have you believe, but contentment – peace with yourself and your situation. This established baseline is what imparts the joyousness to the times of true joy. Sometimes, the positive takes a while to come; but more often, it is simply about where you choose to place your focus.

A Response to Asra Nomani and Hala Arafa

In a controversial article appearing in the Washington Post, journalists and Muslim women Asra Nomani and Hala Arafa denounce the headscarf as a sexist misinterpretation of the ideals of Islam. They confront non-Muslims who have chosen to stand in solidarity with the Muslim population by covering their hair as mistakenly expressing their support by enforcing an oppressive ideology. They make a request, on behalf of women who do not cover – “Do not wear a headscarf in ‘solidarity’ with the ideology that most silences us, equating our bodies with ‘honor.’ Stand with us instead with moral courage against the ideology of Islamism that demands we cover our hair.”

This is my response.

Asra and Hala, as a Muslim woman who chooses not to cover, I’m calling your bull.

I do not cover my hair. It is a decision I have made after careful thought based on what I interpret my religion to require of me and what does and does not bring me closer to God as a worshiper. It is a conscious decision for which I apologize to no one. I have made this decision not to fit in, nor to stand out, but because it is what I believe. I do not profess to refrain out of weakness, or hope to one day become “strong enough” to cover. I am already strong in the choice I have made and ask for forgiveness only from God, as with every choice, for any unintentional misstep. I wish the same for others – whoever you are, whatever your creed, that you may choose the path that rings true in your heart and stand behind your religious and worldly decisions with the confidence that you have done the best you can with what you have and what you know – come Hell, high water, or Donald Trump.

So, I do not cover my hair. That being said, I am decidedly, vocally, unashamedly Muslim. Scarf or no scarf, I wear my faith on my sleeve. I talk about it frequently and with fervor, and the ideals and practices of Islam permeate every aspect of my life and interactions – from what I choose to put in and on my body to the language and behavior I choose to use with others.

Still, in this tense sociopolitical climate in which it is apparently acceptable for a billionaire to run for president on an unconstitutional platform that unearths an age-old form of hatred, I am not encountering even half the discrimination, resistance, and challenges that confront covered women on a daily basis. My sisters in Islam are being ridiculed, slandered, physically assaulted for the way they look and the way they express their love for God. All this, in a country whose men and women have given their lives in foreign battles for foreign innocents in the name of a universal freedom – a freedom of which its own citizens are now being deprived. In acts of utter disregard for this country’s principles and the sacrifices of its soldiers – many of whom practice Islam – Muslims around the country are being attacked for their faith. No one is more vulnerable to the violence than the women who can be mistaken for nothing else, who have essentially written “M-U-S-L-I-M” on their foreheads because they believe it is what God has asked them to do.

I can think of nothing braver.

The headscarf is indeed a symbol of modesty and dignity, of religious values and of piety – for an act of faith is made so by intention, irrespective of religious mandate: “God will not call you to account for thoughtlessness in your oaths, but for the intention in your hearts; and He is Oft-forgiving, Most Forbearing” (Quran 2:225). Covered women choose their dress with their principles in mind, just as I choose out of modesty and dignity my own clothes every morning. Covering one’s head – or any other body part for that matter – has nothing at all to do with sexuality or the preposterous idea that men are undisciplined pigs who must be shielded from womanly wiles. It is the Quran in fact that gives men a “degree of responsibility over women,” enforcing that not only are they capable of controlling their own gaze but of protecting their wives, daughters, sisters, mothers from those with lazier morals (2:228). Covered Muslim women do not – I do not – choose clothing fearing cat-calls or sexual advances or rape. We do not plan our days or our lives based on the sort of men we may encounter.

We choose what we wear because it is our God-given right to protect ourselves and our modesty, our dignity in any way we may elect to do so.

My flesh is my own, not for just anyone – sexist or saint – to view at any given moment, whether for just a moment before he looks away or for as long as he may please. It is especially not on display for someone who sees it as simply flesh. And so I choose to cover – not to hide, not to blend in, not to minimize my beauty – but to cover my body to whatever degree I please, out of respect for myself and my autonomy: You may choose to look, but I choose what you get to see. The headscarves of covered women, like my own clothes, are not burdens borne because of the careless instincts of men but identities, donned proudly and without shame: We are women, daughters of Adam (pbuh), and we will not be trifled with.

If in spite of this you ogle, that is on you – and society help you, because Heaven certainly won’t.

To think that anyone would question this choice – a covered woman’s choice – is heinous. But that another Muslim woman would question this choice – a woman who chooses not to cover challenging a woman who does – is suicidal.

First, a cautionary word to Mses. Nomani and Arafa and to any woman who may agree with their point of view:

You may write and speak what you please. You may plaster your personal opinion all over the media, denounce another Muslim woman’s choice to cover more skin than you think appropriate. But do not, then, bemoan unequal pay. Do not lament rape culture or the glass ceiling or the stain of domestic violence plaguing our communities today. Do not complain about access to birth control or abortion, about American or Saudi or Afghani or Pakistani women being deprived of education or healthcare or the right to drive/vote/marry as they please.

Do not turn to men or society or the government and accuse one or all of them of taking away your rights – in not protecting your sister, you have given them away for free.

Because feminism, you see, is indeed a basic tenet of Islam. It is promoting for women the same rights and privileges afforded to men, indeed sometimes more – but before even that Islamic feminism is supporting for your fellow sister in Islam the same courtesy and respect irrespective of how she expresses her love for God. Regardless of how she chooses to believe, feminism in Islam lies in not believing yourself to be higher than her. If you do not grasp this basic concept, you do not grasp Islamic feminism, nor can you speak for the majority of Muslim women – covered or not. You cannot speak for me.

Then, a few requests:

First, to the women who do not cover – Stand unfalteringly beside your sisters who do. More than once, they have taken a snide comment or a dirty look from someone who would have thrown it your way if only they knew. Far too often they have been judged from a distance, without being given the right to speak as you have been. The level of courage it takes them to step out of the house every morning – that it takes my mother and mother-in-law to step out of the house every morning – you and I may never know, unless we one day of our own free will choose similarly.

Next, to the women who do cover and are deciding how to respond – Do not judge the women who choose differently. Do not accuse us of not following God’s command. Do not charge us with weakness or incomprehension or indifferently impious self-exposure. Your anger in response to the article in the Washington Post is understandable, but do not make the same mistake of generalizing your sentiment. Remember that you cannot glance at us and know our faith any more than a non-Muslim can glance at you and know yours. Support our decision, because we have not made it lightly.

Finally, to the non-Muslim men and women who want to help – I, as a Muslim woman who does not cover, ask you to wear the hijab if you do so in solidarity. I ask you to decorate your churches and your synagogues, to say something to the family/friends/strangers who may endorse discrimination in your presence. I ask you to support Muslim businesses and find the Muslims – covered and uncovered – in your communities and social circles and approach them with polite curiosity and an open heart. I ask you to speak in our favor, to take every action you can think of to stand with us against bigotry and hatred, because we, too, are brothers and sisters. Because when one of us falls victim to an act of discrimination, we all assume the responsibility and stoop a little closer to the ground. Because the blood of slavery, the Holocaust, and Japanese internment is on the hands of every single person who had the choice, and chose silence. Because our flesh is equally precious. Because we all reap the benefit of a single success, a single act of love that brightens the future of the generation to come. Because the God I believe in “verily will not suffer the reward of the righteous to perish” (11:115).

I humbly ask you to stand with us in our peaceful choices. Asra Nomani can say what she wants.

On Terrorism, Muslimness, and the Boston Bombings

In the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings, there’s been a lot of talk about assimilation, in particular about the suspected perpetrators’ religiosity and prayer habits and in general about foreign immigration. I’d thus like to take a moment to clear something up.

Muslimness does not make you a terrorist.

I get it. It’s human nature to crave safety for oneself and one’s surroundings. That’s why we install alarm systems and pay for identity theft prevention and buy insurance – we want protection. To protect, we must predict by fitting people into our preexisting schemas: Burglars will usually burgle at night or when the house is empty, so we turn on our alarms before we go to sleep or leave for the grocery store. Identity thieves prowl on the internet, so we limit our online credit card use and sign up for email alerts in case of a breach. Disasters could strike out of the blue, but at least we can breathe a little easier if we know we’re covered.

But terrorism, by definition, is a psychological strategy. Instead of targeting your possessions, terrorism uses fear to target your peace of mind and ability to predict. Indeed, it is effective because the only true goal – terror – is also the inevitable emotional outcome.

You feel, you lose.

You can ask “Why?” all you want, but the explanation doesn’t exist; indiscriminate violence is not a rational tactic, and terrorists rarely achieve their proclaimed political goals. If terrorism is beyond the reach of rationality, it follows that it can happen anywhere, anytime, to anyone. To our precaution-seeking brains, that is unacceptable; it makes me uneasy just to type it. To cope and compensate, then, we grasp at straws, searching for the nearest possible explanation that will separate them from us and make predictability and protection possible –

It’s the Arabs, we say, and devise all sort of litmus tests to smoke them out. A CNN reporter recently characterized one of the suspects arrested in Watertown (when everything was still hazy and no one really knew who anyone was) as being “Middle Eastern in complexion.”

Would you like some non sequitur with that burger? Don’t worry, it’s okay if you have no idea what qualifies as a Middle Eastern complexion – you can ask the group of Hispanic guys who beat up a Bengali gentleman in the Bronx because they thought he was Arab.

It’s the Muslims, we proclaim, and proceed to verbally accost hijab-clad female doctors out on a stroll with their kids and analyze the fact that the suspects in Boston bombings “prayed five times a day.”

FYI, we all pray five times a day. Or at least we try, because there is no such thing as being “very” or “not very” Muslim – you’re either Muslim, or you’re not. You either commit to prayer and to peace, or you don’t; there is no in-between. The fact is that the so-called Moderate Muslims are actually The Muslims, and I hereby move to reclassify Extremist/Radical/Violent Muslims with Anders Breivik, McVeigh, and the other far more numerous non-Muslim murderers, ideological extremists, and terrorists as The Putrid Scum of the Earth.

Do I hear a second?

It’s them, then, whoever they are, and in order to stop terrorism, they must assimilate. Patriotic, blue-blooded Americans come in only one shape and size, and those who wish to be seen as such must ditch their hummus and weird prayer hats and conform. To what extent, you ask? Until that arbitrary and unclear point in time and space when they stop being “weird,” of course.

And that is where I draw the line.

Because, see, my Muslimness does not make me a terrorist, and neither does my supposed difficulty assimilating. Unless you enter this world on Day 1 as a middle-aged Protestant Caucasian male or Ann Coulter, who decided to offer up a solution for the whole grievous situation by proclaiming that a woman “ought to be jailed for wearing the hijab,” you are guaranteed to have trouble assimilating at some point in your life. Ever been to high school? It’s a roiling cauldron of pubescent, flustered boys and girls of all shapes and colors who haven’t the foggiest idea how to assimilate. It’s even harder for people of religious or racial minorities and for immigrants – remember reading In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson in elementary school? And it’s not just immigrants to the US; ask anyone who’s immigrated abroad whether it’s easy to assimilate into British culture (I tried once, but I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what it meant to be “queuing around”), or Asian culture (four words: Take. Your. Shoes. Off.) or Latin American culture (admittedly the food makes this easier).

Assimilation is no picnic. But even so, the Tsarnaev brothers were remarkably good at it – Tamerlan married an American convert named Katherine, and Dzhokhar was a regular at dorm parties. (I was born here and I’ve never even seen the inside of a dorm because I hold the suspicion that it’s a place of drunken revelry and Facebook poking come to life where propriety goes to die; and so I refuse to go, for fear of having my drink spiked and inspiring a tragic episode of Law & Order.)

In fact, the two were assimilated to the point of actually neglecting their religion. Islam forbids premarital relationships and dating, but Tamerlan’s wife was his girlfriend first. Partner violence is condemned in Islam, but he was arrested for battery against a different girlfriend in 2009. Muslims don’t drink alcohol or use intoxicating drugs like marijuana – Tamerlan and Dzhokhar did, respectively. In fact, Tamerlan was infamous for rudely interrupting mainstream imams at his mosque even after he gave up drinking on the grounds of becoming more religious. He was also a boxer; I’d like to see you try to convince any set of Muslim parents that boxing is an actual career – you will lose and exit the conversation defeated and wondering why you wasted your life becoming anything other than a doctor or engineer.

A lack of compassion and active disregard for the rights of others made the Tsarnaev brothers terrorists – not their Muslimness, because Muslimness does not make you a terrorist. Please stop saying that it does, because once upon a time, there was a man who grossly mischaracterized a group of people and in so doing single-handedly precipitated what is perhaps the ugliest stain to date on the fabric of civilization, also known as the Holocaust. Accusation holds immense power, and blame misplaced is the gunpowder of crimes against humanity; heard of the ongoing mass genocide of the Rohingya Muslims in Burma?

I will not change my Muslimness. If you would have me prove myself patriotic by wearing shorts and drinking alcohol and dating guys and tweaking the color of my skin and frying bacon every Saturday morning – I’m sorry. I can’t do that, because I believe in something different. As my sister said quite aptly, that’s not assimilation – it’s “ethnic cleansing but without the whole violence thing.” But I’ll tell you what I will do, and not because I fear retaliation:

I will pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands. I will condemn with every fiber of my being the taking of innocent lives by anyone – whether they call themselves Muslims or followers of the Flying Spaghetti Monster – as a crime against humanity and a personal offense against me as a human being. I will love my neighbor and treat others as I would like to be treated. I will make friends with people different from myself (kind of a no-brainer, because I’ve taken inventory, and my circle contains a disproportionate number of atheist and agnostic friends and people who tell me to calm down). I will even show you my birth certificate from a Southern US town in the middle of nowhere, my collection of all-American pinch pots and macaroni art from elementary school, and my fabulous apple pie recipe (the key is Granny Smith apples; I don’t believe in cooking secrets). I will pray next to you, with you, for you to the God I believe in – the God of Abraham, the Creator of the Heavens and the Earth, the Gracious and Merciful, the End and the Beginning of our existence Who created us with love in His image and will call us back to Him come Judgment Day. I will accept your peaceful beliefs, and learn about them when I’m not drowning in textbooks. I will use my talents and skills for good, and I will try to leave this world a better place than I found it. I will wholeheartedly embrace my right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of pepper spray. I will bear witness against injustice, discrimination, and the culturally ubiquitous glass ceiling. I will, finally, refuse to lose hope in humanity’s capacity for love and solidarity. And I hope you’ll join me, because after all, there’s nothing more un-American than eating an apple pie alone.

How to Choose a Guy (or Girl) in 10 Days: Part 4/4

All good things must come to an end (to make room for more good things), and so here it is – Things 16-20 to Keep in Mind when considering someone for marriage:

16. Be the partner you wish to find.

Before you begin speaking to someone, find some quiet time and take an objective, honest inventory of yourself. This part is not easy – it requires you to assess where you are as a Muslim and a person, dissect your values, and admit your flaws. Then compare the (wo)man in the mirror to your Big Fat Checklist. Do you meet the criteria you expect your future partner to meet?

Throughout this process, make an effort to hold people only to those standards to which you already measure up. When it comes to attributes like religiosity, morality, education, income, and general outlook on life, there is something to be said for the old adage, “Like attracts like.” Don’t expect a religious partner if you drink, or someone with a clean past if your own is not. Don’t request that a guy put up with your quirky family if you are unwilling to do the same for him. Don’t ask someone to forgive your indiscretions if you can’t find it in yourself to reciprocate. Don’t demand a lawyer or engineer or professor if your own educational background isn’t as extensive (*cough cough* ladies *cough cough*). Most importantly, find humility in accepting that just as you want someone good and kind, so too does the person on the other end. In order to procure kindness, positivity, and tolerance in a partner, you must first demonstrate that you are, in fact, kind, positive, and tolerant. Even after the nikkah, in the words of Shaikh Waleed Basyouni, “Marriage isn’t 50/50; it’s 100/100.” It is not your spouse’s job to pick up your moral slack (or your actual slacks, *cough cough* guys *cough cough*), so make sure you are as eager to give as you are to receive. On that note…

17. Ask the hard questions, and be prepared to answer them.

These are the questions that all the TV shows say you should never ask until at least a few months in, and then only indirectly. They include but are not limited to ones about finances, morality, preparedness for marriage, the past, and all of your deal-breakers. This is also one of those times the TV shows got it wrong – it’s important to find the courage to ask these questions kindly, but directly, and at the beginning. You have a God-given right to know some things that are difficult to address, and addressing them once you’re already emotionally invested is unfair and dangerous – once you’re head-over-heels for a guy, you will be more willing to put aside concerns that would have at one time set off a million alarms in your head. You might convince yourself that he will stop drinking for you, or that you don’t mind as long as he doesn’t do it in the house. Don’t put yourself in that compromising position and through unnecessary heartache, because even if you find it in yourself to break things off, it will hurt. A lot. Protect yourself and each other by making your priorities clear. If he’s the sort to be scared off by straightforwardness or doesn’t have similar questions for you, then he doesn’t understand the gravity of the decision you two are making. You’re about to be put through each other’s wringers to see if you work together; in order to arrive at the right conclusion, both of you have to be ready to talk about the hard stuff: Does he have a problem with you working after marriage? Do you expect to have a joint bank account? Do you want kids? Are you okay with a drinker? Are you okay with someone who does or does not eat zabiha halal? If you don’t know where to start, check out the book Before the Wedding by Sister Munira Lekovic Ezzeldine to get the wheels turning. Ask, answer, rinse, and repeat. And when you get confused…

18. Bounce your thoughts off of someone you trust.

The cultural norm in the West is to introduce friends and family to the guy you’re with after you’ve already talked for a while, and the decision to marry is often made solely by the couple. Muslims, on the other hand, come from cultures in which third parties do most of the work. Many of us grew up with parents who were so united and who could not carry a conversation with each other unless it was about the weather, the kids, or dinner. And so we run – nay, sprint! – sweating indignation and clutching our pride, as far as we can in the opposite direction and insist on doing everything ourselves. There’s some good in that, because after all, you and not your parents are going to be living with your spouse after the fact; you need to be intimately involved in the process. But in a country where most marriages have little third-party involvement and the divorce rate is 50% (meaning you’re as likely to separate as you are to stay together), something must be going wrong. And in fact, researchers studying “arranged” marriages (that is, marriages that involve your family’s opinion) have discovered that they hold an advantage – namely, parents catching onto factors that may “drive [a couple] apart.” In marriage as in medicine, there is something to be said for the value of a second opinion: This is a huge decision, and you’re fallible. You may miss things or blow them off because you’re emotionally invested or simply because you haven’t done this before. But you’re in luck, because there are people out there – parents, siblings, trusted friends – with experiences different from and maybe greater than yours. You probably already have someone in your life who plays the role of confidante, who wants your happiness and safety and is capable of objectivity. Those people will be your support system after marriage, too – the ones taking care of your kids, encouraging you to apologize to each other when you fight, and just being there when needed. So stop running, swallow your pride, and call upon them. Don’t neglect their weathered perspectives for the shiny new one in your life, and…

19. Don’t forget to live your life, too.  

The guys you consider will occupy a good deal of your thoughts, and that’s normal; finding a partner is an important stage of life and deserves your attention. But in the process of considering people for marriage, don’t forget who you are. Continue to do the things you love to do – hang out with friends, spend time with family, and don’t forget to pray. Not only will God be your ultimate Guide through this process, but prayer will serve as another gauge of whether he’s right for you – if he makes you want to skip praying just so you can talk to him, think twice. It’s unhealthy to neglect your emotional, social, and spiritual well-being for a potential partner, and the guy who is right for you will never ask that of or inspire that in you. The right person, rather, will bring the best out in your other relationships by bringing the best out in you, so if you find yourself forgetting who you were before him or getting restless, take a breath and reevaluate. No relationship with a guy is worth compromising the relationship you have with yourself, your loved ones, or with God. And finally…

20. BE READY.

This is the most important Thing to Keep in Mind of all, which is why it’s capitalized, italicized, and bolded. WordPress will not permit me to underline, otherwise it would be underlined, too. I’m going to say it again: Be ready for marriage. This is different from being excited for marriage, and the let’s-go-off-into-the-sunset “readiness” is not what I’m talking about. Before anyone comes along, there is an objective level of emotional, psychological, financial, and physical level of readiness and maturity that you must attain, all on your own, with a high level of certainty. Stop for a minute when you’re brushing your teeth tonight and ask yourself: Do you want to get married? Are you willing to let another person into your life, your business, and your house? Can you support yourself and a partner in all the ways a marriage would entail? Are you prepared to be a parent, even if you’re not expecting it, and turn in your two-door sports car for a suburban with a car seat? Marriage, when done right, is one of God’s greatest blessings, but it comes with an abundance of responsibility. You need to make sure that you are ready for all of it before you or your family begin the search. If you’re not ready, don’t allow anyone to pressure you. If someone tries, for God’s sake, speak up and say no. There will be a living, breathing person on the other end whose heart will be at stake, and it’s not okay to play along for the sake of pleasing your parents/relatives/friends/community when there is someone else involved.

Be patient with yourself. There is time. You do not have an expiration date. Wait – because anything worth having is worth waiting for – and the moment will come when you are prepared and eager to be someone else’s garment, to cover and comfort them for the rest of your life. When you are ready and when it is the right time, God will send you your other half, and you will wonder why you ever thought you needed to read this series at all.

A summary, for your convenience:

  1. If he wants you, he needs to be able to put up with your father.
  2. It’s okay to have standards.
  3. It’s not okay to judge.
  4. You cannot not know everything.
  5. Know what is important to you, and reevaluate frequently with an open mind.
  6. Trust your gut and keep your eyes open – there will be plenty of time to fall in love later.
  7. There is no such thing as wasted time, missed opportunity, or saying the wrong thing.
  8. There is no perfect family.
  9. Be yourself.
  10. But don’t be looking to marry yourself.
  11. Honesty is everything.
  12. It’s neither a confessional nor a private investigation.
  13. Communication is everything else.
  14. Take time to heal and collect yourself.
  15. Don’t allow yourself to become jaded.
  16. Be the partner you wish to find.
  17. Ask the hard questions, and be prepared to answer them.
  18. Bounce your thoughts off of someone you trust.
  19. Don’t forget to live your life, too.  
  20. BE READY.

Cheers, and thank you for reading :).

How to Choose a Guy (or Girl) in 10 Days: Part 3/4

Here we go! Things 11-15 to Keep in Mind through the Muslim marriage process…

11. Honesty is everything.

Let’s all admit something. Teenagers don’t consider the future feelings of their future spouses when they do things. In fact, you’re lucky if they think as far ahead as tomorrow’s weather advisory. Being young and Muslim in America is all about wrestling with the American culture and trying to figure out where it fits into you and your religion. Parents might like to brag about it, but Islamic values are not always an effective vaccination against peer pressure, especially if you go through that muddy time where “being raised Muslim” is transitioning into “being Muslim.” And so some of us try things in our obligatory confused periods about which we are not proud. Some of us may have drinking in our past, or a relationship with the opposite sex. Some of us may even have those things in our present. Some of us may not be totally ready for marriage but unable to tell our parents. Some of us may have never felt a true attraction for the opposite sex or feel like ever getting married.

When it’s time to meet someone, it’s important to be completely honest about the Big Things with yourself (probably the hardest part) and with the other person, even if you’re not asked. You know what those Big Things are – think about what you would want your children to know in your situation. This point in your life is the time to own yourself: When you add each other on Facebook, make sure everything – everything – is visible, and if you’re not proud of it, remove it from your profile and your character. Marriage is one of life’s greatest responsibilities, so take responsibility for yourself by committing to disclosure and accountability before you commit to another person. Needless to say, it’s important to always be honest about the things that you are asked. Never lie – either tell the truth, or express that you’d rather wait to answer the question and accept the sequelae. We all make mistakes – don’t fear being unaccepted because of your own. You’re looking for the person who will take you as you come, past and all; someone unwilling to do so is not necessarily a bad person but rather someone who has been honest with you about what he can’t handle – that’s good, because that means he isn’t The One. But keep in mind that…

12. It’s neither a confessional nor a private investigation.

For those of you out there with a humongous guilt complex, remember that this isn’t, in fact, Confession. You don’t need to tell him about the time you held that one boy’s hand in Islamic preschool until your teacher told you to stop (He had just wet his pants and looked like he was about to burst into tears, give me a break!) or about every single crush you have ever had. Part of your job as partners will be to protect each other from trivialities that could do much harm if they’re made to matter more than they actually do. So explain those things about which you are asked and offer up important things about which you are not, but keep the bigger picture in mind.

Conversely, resist the temptation to go on jealousy patrol and ask him about every girl he’s ever liked, unless his attraction for girls is a deal-breaker (it shouldn’t be, you want that). Because those matters aren’t things over which you will end your relationship, interrogating will only make you unnecessarily worried and uncomfortable. What matters most is the people you are now and the people you will be moving forward. Ask what is important to you – know your deal-breakers – but above all, ensure that he’s the type of guy who will not do anything to disrespect or hurt you now that he’s in for the long haul, including pursue other women. Then focus on building the present and planning the future – it’s a much more hopeful thing to do. If you’re persistently uncomfortable, question whether it’s because you don’t trust him, and whether he’s perhaps given you good reason to not do so.

13. Communication is everything else.

Good communication takes practice, so start early. You should be able to easily talk to one another through this process, especially about the process itself. Remember, he’s probably new at this, too, and just as clueless as you are. Help each other by making your intentions and perceptions clear. You can avoid misleading or being misled by keeping up a direct and candid conversation about how you think things are going. (It is, in fact, as simple as, “Hey, I was wondering, how do you think this is going?”) Try not to go through your parents or a third party – they are your liaisons, but they shouldn’t be your mouthpiece. Follow the rules that the two of you set instead of deferring to cultural norms that can vary among households and cause confusion. Eastern families are excellent at garbling things in transit, and your dialogue will be one to which the generation before is not accustomed, with different ideas of what is acceptable or offensive. If you are unsure of how to interpret something he says or does, bring it up. Be gentle, be forthright, be honest. If you are able, talk to your parents and keep them in the loop so they too are aware of your intentions. Above all, if you’re interested, make it clear through your words and actions. If you’re not, end it – there is no sense in prolonging a futureless relationship out of guilt or pity; neither will last a lifetime, and the person on the other end deserves better. And when the same happens to you…

14. Take time to heal and collect yourself.

It’s natural to develop feelings for someone you’re considering. Unfortunately, as we’ve all experienced in one way or another, the attraction is not always mutual. Discovering that hurts. Rejection hurts, reframing your thoughts hurts, and letting go hurts. It’s also scary – Will the next one be as good? Will I ever find him? Am I unlovable? The pain is normal – it speaks to your innocence and humanity and tells you that you’re capable of emotion, love, and connecting with another human being. It will heal with time, and there is no epiphany quite like 20-20 hindsight. But for as long as you’re hurting, your judgment will be clouded. So make sure that before you talk to another person, you are over the one before him. You owe that time not only to yourself but also to the next person; no one wants to be caught on the rebound. Keep in mind, though, that it’s important to soon find the faith in God and in the future that will allow you to keep going, and appreciate that Islam’s prohibition on dating is partly so that the pain of a million breakups doesn’t steal that ability. On that note…

15. Don’t allow yourself to become jaded.

Talking to people who wind up not being right for you can be discouraging. You might find yourself losing the excitement and anticipation with which you began the journey of finding your partner. I hold the conviction that even outside the marriage process, people enter our lives for a reason. Every single person you consider will have something to teach you, either about the world or about yourself, if you allow yourself to learn. Be receptive to and find purpose in those lessons. Make a conscious effort to avoid negative thinking, and don’t let anyone steal your hope. Approach every new opportunity with the same sense of possibility you took into your very first meeting. A guy who doesn’t fit is not another one that bit the dust – he’s simply one guy closer to finding the one meant for you.

*Stay tuned for Part 4 next week!*