Saturday, August 29, 2009

Bits & Pieces

Before I start:
A sister needs help - please donate money if you can. Read her story here. If you can't donate, then keep CoolRed and her family in your prayers. Inshallah she'll make it home.

- I really miss Cairo. I honestly never thought I would, since living there was pretty stressful, but I can't stop thinking about it. I keep remembering little things like hearing the adhaan, going to Starbucks, eating Egyptian food, and being surrounded by Muslims. At this point I feel like moving back but at the same time I know that if I do, I'm going to wish I hadn't and I'm going to regret not giving Holland a chance. It's only been 2 months, and like my best friend told me, it takes at least a year to settle down somewhere. Inshallah once I start meeting people that are like me and once my MA classes start, things will get better.

- I miss my family a lot too. It's weird coming home to a quiet empty apartment, and not having anyone to say hi to. I miss little things like going to Starbucks and doing gorcery shopping together; or just having someone to complain to about stuff. I also really miss my friends. We had so many good times, and I really hope we never lose touch. Finally, I miss my 2 cats, Sugar (white & fluffy) and Flatface (grey).

- I thought that there was no way I'd be able to gain weight during Ramadan, since I'd be fasting for 16+ hours, but now that it's started I'm starting to change my mind. The problem is 1) your metabolism slows down a lot if you don't eat for long periods; 2) you think about food the whole day and so overeat once fasting is over; and 3) it's difficult to go to the gym. Last year in Cairo iftar was around 6, so I would eat then go to the gym at 8. In Holland iftar is at 9, and my gym closes at 10. So yeah, I pretty much have to work out while fasting which is hard, because once you get home after you're pretty much dead. I go every other day for a 30 min training session and once I get home I kind of lie on the couch half-dead checking the clock obsessively. Not healthy behaviour. Since we're on the topic of gyms, I also really miss my old gym. It was the first gym I'd ever joined and I did not realize how attached I was to it till I came to Holland and kept having flashbacks of it. I used to complain about that gym all the time while I was there, but I would give anything to be able to go there again! That's a pic of it, on the left.

- I'm a bit nervous about starting my Masters. I know for sure that I want to study Islam, and that I want my future career to involve Islam, but I'm worried that I don't have enough of a theological/legal background in Islam to do well. I'm also worried about not knowing classical Arabic.

- I'm addicted to Starbucks, and it's kind of something I'm known for among my friends and family. In Cairo I was a regular at 3 different Starbucks', where they knew me, my order, and pretty much my life story. I thought Holland, being the coffee-loving country it is, would have an abundance of Starbucks'. Then I came here and found out there are only 4 - 3 of which are at the airport. Those are the closest ones to me, and they're about 30 mins away by train. Now I would gladly make that journey, and I will once Ramadan is over. Till then I'll just have to keep daydreaming about carrot cakes, vanilla lattes, and caramel frapuccinos. Sigh.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Going to a Mosque

In Cairo it is not common for women to go and pray in mosques, so I've never had the chance to go and pray or attend lectures or pray Taraweeh. The only time I have prayed in a mosque was during Umrah, and I fell in love with it. It's nice to pray at home sometimes, but the experience of praying in a mosque with other Muslims is an amazing one.

I know there are a lot of mosques in The Hague, but I'm too scared to go and check them out. What do I do when I go there? Do I just go inside and pray? Or should I talk to someone there? How do I find out about events, classes, Taraweeh? I know these sound like stupid questions but I really have no idea since I've never been to a mosque before!

I've also heard about bad experiences in mosques, for example women forming cliques etc, which kind of makes me not want to go. I'm scared that everyone will be really judgmental or unfriendly, and that it'll be a negative experience.

On the other hand, I've had a really lonely Ramadan so far (eating iftar alone is not fun!) so it would be really nice to meet some Muslims. I'm starting to notice a barrier between people I've met so far and me, in that they all love to party and drink, and I don't. So maybe meeting other Muslims means I'll find a social environment that suits me better, inshallah.

What was your experience of going to a mosque for the first time? Did you go alone?
Does anyone have any advice on what I should do?

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Qur'anic Wisdom

I hope everyone is having a great Ramadan so far, inshallah =)

I just wanted to post a few things from the Qur'an that I came across today and loved.

Islam is a religion full of rituals. We pray 5+ times a day, we fast, we pay zakat - there are a lot of rituals involved in being a Muslim, and they do a great job of strengthening and expanding one's spirituality, as well as letting one become as close to God as possible. However, to someone who doesn't really believe, all these rituals can seem very burdensome and annoying:

"Seek help in patience and prayer, prayer that is indeed burdensome except for the devout, for those who believe they will meet their Lord, and that to Him they shall return." 2:46

People have sometimes asked me, "isn't it hard to do all those things?" And I've always replied with a firm no. It is not hard, and it is not a burden - in fact it's an honour. These rituals that take up a large part of my life are liberating, beautiful, and help me become a better person. However, to someone who may not feel God, they probably seem like a nuisance, a chore.

I remember how 2 years ago, I could never imagine giving up certain things that were part of my lifestyle. But then I began praying, and bit by bit, I lost the urge to do any of those things. From an outsider's perspective, it may look like Islam was forcing me or oppressing me in terms of lifestyle. But that wasn't how I saw it at all. I gladly gave up alcohol and partying. It didn't even matter. And it still doesn't matter. Because I'm doing it for God.

This is why religion isn't just about logic. It's also about feeling. A connection between you & God, and without that connection, a lot of things may seem harder than they actually are.

Another part I particulalry liked, as it sums up what being a good person is:

"Virtue does not demand of you to turn your faces eastwards or westwards. Virtue rather is:
He who believes in God, the Last Day, the angels, the Book, and the prophets;
Who dispenses money, though dear, to kinsmen, orphans, the needy, the traveller, beggars and for ransom;
Who performs the prayer and pays the alms;
Who fulfils their contracts when they contract;
Who are steadfast in hardship, calamity and danger;
These are the true believers.
These are the truly pious." (2:177)

God has given us a summary of who a virtuous person is. One who prays, pays alms, honours their contracts, is steadfast in the face of difficulty. These are all inward actions - not outward ones. God does not focus on dress, as most Muslims today do. God instead focuses on being a good person on the inside. No wonder so many people were willing to convert then. Islam was being framed by God as a religion that makes one a better person - from within.

On a final note, let's all remember:

"And yet, for all you know, you may hate something - and it is good for you
For all you know, you may love something - and it is harmful to you.
God knows, and you do not know." (2:216)

Friday, August 21, 2009

Ramadan Kareem & Yay, I Got an Award!

Ramadan is tomorrow for most of the world, so I'd like to say Ramadan Kareem to everyone! May it be a blessed spiritual month for all of you, inshallah =)

Stacy aka Fahiima
gave me an award! Yay!

Here are the rules:
The rules of this award are:
•List five current obsessions.
•Pass the award on to five more fabulous blogs.
•On your post of receiving this award, make sure you include the person that gave you the award and link it back to them.
•When you post your five winners, make sure you link them as well.
Don't forget to let your winners know they won an award from you by leaving a comment on their blog.

5 current obsessions:

Tariq Ramadan

I love his books, his interviews, his show, everything! His ideas are so refreshing, and it's weird to think that his father and grandfather were both pretty extreme in their ideas on Islam, whereas he turned out to be such a moderate.

- Berries

I've been eating them like everyday! They're sooo yummy

- Dance classes at the gym

Just joined a new gym here in Den Haag so it took me a while to gather up enough courage to try out the classes. Turns out they're amazing and lots of fun :)

- Masters

Can't wait to start my Masters, inshallah. I miss going to classes, debates, and writing papers (I'm pretty sure I'm going to take this back in 2 weeks).

- Being in Holland

Although it's still hard for me (being alone, etc), I do enjoy living in Holland - fresh, clean air; organization; nice people; healthy food; no sexual harassment. Holland really is a beautiful country, mashallah.

Okay, I pass this award on to:

Umm Omar
Sarah the Seeker
Sarah Elizabeth
Faith in Writing
Lifes Struggles

I know that's much more than 5 but I couldn't choose!
I actually want to tag everyone that reads my blog and comments, cause I'd love to hear all your answers! So if you're reading this, please comment!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Persepolis, and what it says about today's Islam

I just finished watching one of the most amazing movies I've ever seen - Persepolis. It's a cartoon about how Iran has changed since the Islamic Revolution. Before, it was an open, liberal country. Yes, the Shah wasn't perfect, but neither were the Ayatollahs that came after him. After the revolution, a lot of things changed - women were forced to veil, men and women were often segregated and could not go out in public together, the "moral police" were constantly on guard, thousands of political prisoners were executed, and thousands of innocent people were thrown in jail. (This is all according to the movie.)

The story is told through the eyes of a girl who is about 10 when the Shah is overthrown. She moves to Vienna for a few years, then returns, only to find that Iran isn't really her home anymore. She finds life in Tehran impossible. She is forced to marry at 21 since she can't go out in public with the man she is in love with. She is forced to veil, to accept flawed religious rhetoric at school and university, and to constantly be afraid.

What struck me is that these changes that happened in Iran are happening all over the Islamic world. Capitals that used to be open and liberal are now becoming closed, strict, extreme even. Cairo, Beirut, Tehran. What is happening to these cultural centres?

Were the millions of Muslims who grew up in the 50s and 60s in these cities not good Muslims? Most women did not veil, there was no segregation, couples dated, people were not as judgmental - does this mean all of these people are going to hell? I don't think so, but I'm 100% sure that many Muslims of my generation would disagree and say that yes, those generations were not good Muslims.

Why does Islam (according to these countries) today mean being so strict, so afraid of doing anything? Why does it mean segregation? Why must all women veil (either due to laws or social pressure)? Why can the Qur'an not be interpreted according to time and place? Why should I be called a bad Muslim for even asking these questions?

To make matters worse, Muslims in Islamic countries are sometimes more liberal than converts/Muslims in Western countries. So many converts feel the need to Arabize when they become Muslim - take an Arab name, wear Arab-style clothing - when in fact that isn't necessary. These converts also end up adopting Arab (or North African) traditions such as strict segregation and female circumcision, thinking they are Islamic.

In Tariq Ramadan's book about the Prophet, he quotes the Prophet as having said that moderation is best. Moderation is NOT what I see when I look at many of today's Muslims. And to be honest, it worries me. Either I've got it wrong, and Islam is not what I believe it to be, or I'm right, and we just live in an age today where Islam is being interpeted in a particulalry literal and strict manner.

Ramadan also wrote of the following story: some Muslims were about to go on a journey, and the Prophet told them to not stop and pray on the way, but pray when they arrived at the village. On the way, there was an argument between the Muslims - some thought the Prophet was being metaphorical and meant that they should stop and pray but do it quickly, and some thought that he had literally meant that they should not stop and pray. When they returned, they asked the Prophet which was correct. The Prophet said both. Thus there are two ways of understanding the Prophet's sayings - by following the literal meanings, or by trying to understand the purpose of the saying, its spirit, and occasionally its figurative meaning. "Both approaches had been accepted by the Prophet, and both were therefore correct and legitimate ways of remaining faithful to the message."

I often find myself torn between 2 types of Islam - strict Islam, which I see most Muslims practicing, and a more open Islam, which I see many scholars, academics, and thinkers supporting, and which I also see when I read the Qur'an and books about the Prophet's life. Inshallah I'm on the right path.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Wife-Starving Law

Yes, it exists.
Where? Afghanistan.
For what? Denying your husband sex.

"The original bill caused outrage earlier this year, forcing Afghan President Hamid Karzai to withdraw it.It allows a man to withhold food from his wife if she refuses his sexual demands; a woman must get her husband's permission to work; and fathers and grandfathers are given exclusive custody of children."

So apparently the revised version (that has now become a law) is not as bad as the original. What did the original contain then?! This:

"The original version obliged Shia women to have sex with their husbands every four days at a minimum, and it effectively condoned rape by removing the need for consent to sex within marriage."

Okay, I personally find it absolutely ridiculous that there is a minimum amount of times a woman is forced to have sex with her husband. I wonder, though, how they came up with the number 4? Did they somehow find it in the Qur'an? I also don't understand how this law only applies to Shias? If it's a law doesn't it apply to all Afgan people?

I mean, I don't really even know what to say about this. I'm starting to think the Qur'ans I've read are different than the ones these people are reading. These types of stories make me angry but they also make me really sad. So many horrible things are done in the name of Islam, and because of this we have such a negative image. Yes of course Western racism plays a part, but when someone reads a story like this what are they supposed to think? We can't expect every non-Muslim to read the Qur'an and see that this is not what God wants from us. There are Muslims who read the Qur'an and can't see that!

Read story here.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Ayaan Hirsi Ali & Tariq Ramadan

Yesterday I came across a video on YouTube of a debate between Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Tariq Ramadan. Ramadan is the grandson of Hassan al-Banna (founder of the Muslim Brotherhood), and he was raised in Switzerland and is a professor at Oxford University. Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a Dutch MP who immigrated to Holland from Somalia and is now a prominent anti-Islam activist (I'm not going to call her an intellectual because she isn't).

Anyway the debate in the video was about Muslims in Europe. Ramadan's argument was that it was possible to be a European and to be Muslim. Hirsi didn't really have a main argument (as usual), she just kind of kept making random points. What struck me about her ideas is 1) the fact that she thinks the Qur'an was written by humans and 2) that God doesn't exist. So why exactly does she feel she can debate about Islam? If she isn't a Muslim/doesn't believe in God, then why is she even speaking from a perspective of being a believing Muslim?

Yes, she went through a lot, but maybe she should see that it's not because of ISLAM that she was circumcised etc, but because of PATRIARCHY and the MISINTERPRETATION of Islam. Which is exactly what Ramadan said: he pointed out that his only problem with her is that she essentializes Islam and puts all Muslims in one category, as opposed to saying "some Muslims do this and it's wrong".

There was a point when Ramadan was saying something and she actually started giggling like a 4-year old. In a debate. He clearly got annoyed and when he finished she was like "sorry I don't follow you", and then he told her off.

There was also a point where she said that Bin Laden was more consistent than Ramadan, which is why more Muslims these days choose to follow Bin Laden (an extremist) as opposed to Ramadan (a moderate). Obviously Ramadan was confused as to why he wasn't "consistent" and apparently what she meant was that Bin Laden's rhetoric was simpler. Yes, and? Does that mean he's right? Ugh!!

I don't understand why Hirsi is even considered an academic/scholar/intellectual. She has a BA, whereas people like Ramadan have PhDs, have written scholarly books, and have been to pretigious universities. That doesn't necessarily make him smarter but judging from this debate and from his books, as opposed to her books and the movie she co-wrote (Submission), there is a vast difference in intelligence between them.

Sadly, Hirsi obviously appeals to the Western media, who love to hear a Muslim putting down Islam. Oh well. Hopefully one day they'll realize how shallow her arguments are, and they'll start to listen to Muslims who actually 1) believe in God, 2) believe the Qur'an came from God, 3) don't giggle in debates, and 4) have a moderate IQ.

Here are the 3 videos that make up the debate:

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

I Need Advice

So I've been living in Holland for around 5 weeks now, and so far it's been a pretty good experience. Of course it was stressful to find an apartment, buy furniture & accessories, find my way around The Hague, and just get used to being on my own. However I thought it would get better once I started meeting people and once I got used to the university I'm going to be doing my Masters at, Leiden.

I signed up for 2 introduction programs: one was for 5 days, the other for 10. The 5-day one started yesterday and it didn't really go very well. All the new students were put into groups, and I was part of a mixed Dutch/International group. The people in my group were really nice and friendly, and it was lots of fun until I realized that from 6:30 pm onwards, the program revolved around drinking and partying.

Islam isn't the only reason I don't drink alcohol: I generally didn't drink it before I became a Muslim either, because I hate the strong taste of it. I also hate partying/clubbing - I would rather go out for coffee or have a dinner party. I hate loud, smoky, atmospheres where everyone is drunk.

Because it was part of the program, I found myself in an awkward position: leave, and be the one person who left; or stay, and not enjoy myself at all. I stayed, but today I quit the program. Most students at Leiden clearly love to party, and that's just not me. People I've asked advice from so far have just said that the kinds of people who dont like to party wouldn't have signed up for this program anyway, and so I'll only get to meet them later, in classes and so on.

The problem is the other introduction thing I signed up for starts next Monday and I've already paid for it. In the morning and afternoon it consists of Dutch language, history, culture, etc, so I really want to do that. But at night it consists of pub crawls, drinks, and dinners. So yeah. Should I just not go to those? Or find a way to enjoy myself there? I just don't want to be the one awkward/weird person that always leaves and never goes to the social events you know? It's a small group of 54 people so people will obviously notice if I'm not there. Plus I would like to go out and meet new people and make friends.

Being a Muslim in a non-Muslim country is a little harder than I expected. Being the only one who doesn't drink; being the only student (it seems) who doesn't like to party; having to make sure everything I eat is halal; having to explain that I'm fasting - these are all things I took for granted in Cairo.

I really hope I'll meet people who are more like me once classes start. Maybe the kinds of people in these programs just like to party and drink. After all, they're mostly Bachelors students.

Anyway, the question is what to do about next week's program. Any advice?

Two Contradicting Stories about Islam

I'm not sure how to import a video from youtube so I'm going to just post the link...if someone knows how to import please let me know!

Points from this video:

- European fertility is low so their numbers are shrinking and hence so is their culture. EU birth rate: 1.38

- In a matter of years Europe as we know it will cease to exist

- France: 1.8 kids/family; among Muslims 8.1 (!)

- In Southern France, more mosques than churches (!)

- In 2027, 1/5 Frenchmen will be Muslim. This makes him state that in 39 years, France will be an Islamic Republic (?).

- In Britain, the number of Muslims has risen from 82,000 to 2.5 million in the last 30 years

- In Holland, 50% of newborns are Muslim

- In 15 years, half of Holland's population will be Muslim

The video goes on to give a lot more questionable information. So far more than 10 million people have watched this video.

BBC made a video debunking all these claims:

Click here to watch video

Definitely worth watching the 2 videos and comparing!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Dating - Islamic Style

Candice just wrote an interesting post about early marriage and how it helps in terms of preventing young Muslims from having pre-marital relationships and sex. This got me thinking: is a system where people get married without really knowing each other feasible?

Of course not every Muslim couple doesn't get to know each other before marriage - many do, especially when their families are more open and liberal. However there are still many instances where the young couple meet only a few times before tying the knot, and thus barely know each other or the family they are marrying into. To me, this seems so strange. I've never been in that situation and don't know anyone who has, so I can't really speak about whether it works or what the outcomes of these types of marriages are. I guess having grown up in Western countries it seems weird to me - but that doesn't make it bad or wrong.

At the time of the Prophet (pbuh) usually parents would arrange marriages. That makes sense since girls and boys usually married very young and so maybe couldn't make the decision for themselves. However, that isn't usually the case today, particularly since in most countries the legal age of marriage is above 16 (in Iran it's 9!). If a person wants to get married, and they are say 24, should their parents still arrange a marriage? What if they themselves meet someone they are interested in (as is bound to happen in mixed settings such as work, university etc), should they refrain from interacting until they are married? But then how do they know they are interested in each other?

What kind of dating is haram, or is dating as a whole haram, in your opinion? Would two people chatting and going out for coffee be okay as long as they don't do anything intimate? Or should they do nothing at all? (But again - how do you become interested enough in someone to want to marry them, unless you at least talk to them?)

Would love to hear your opinions!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Turkish vs. Moroccan

Two of the biggest immigrant groups in Holland are the Turks and the Moroccans, so they form the bulk of the Muslim population here. Inshallah I'll start looking for a mosque to start praying at soon, and one thing I know is that there are Turkish mosques and Moroccan mosques. Coming from Cairo, I find this separation strange. From what I know, there are mosques for Muslims - from anywhere. It's weird that here you have a Moroccan mosque and a Turkish mosque. Of course that doesn't mean they only allow Moroccans/Turks in, but I'm sure it's rare to find a Moroccan in a Turkish mosque.

I guess I should try and find a Moroccan mosque, since the imam would speak Arabic. That's another thing I need to check - do the imams speak Dutch or Arabic/Turkish? If they do the sermons in Dutch, a lot of older immigrants probably won't understand it (although if you move to Holland you should definitely learn the language). On the other hand if they do it in Arabic/Turkish, a lot of the younger Muslims won't understand it, since they've grown up speaking and knowing Dutch. So I wonder how they balance that here.

There are also usually cultural centres attached to mosques, which would be very interesting to check out. I wonder if they have classes and language lessons. I've been living by myself here in the Hague for 3 days now and I'm already really lonely! I can't imagine how hard Ramadan is going to be since I'll be having iftar by myself without my family for the first time ever. I really hope to meet lots of nice Muslims here. I feel like that would motivate me to become a better Muslim and it would also just feel nice to have people who understand why you pray 5 times a day or to break the fast with.

Inshallah I'll meet people soon.

What about where you guys live? Are mosques separated by nationality? Or are they multi-cultural? What language are the sermons in? Does this mean only certain segments of the Muslims population attend?

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Bridge Between 2 Worlds

Have you ever had trouble explaining certain religious ideas/concepts/beliefs to people who don't share the same religion/belief system?
The other day I was trying to explain the concept of the evil eye to my mum and sister, and as I heard myself talk I wondered whether it even made sense to me. I strongly believe in the evil eye but find it so hard to explain to non-Muslims. It just ends up sounding so superstitious and backwards.
Has anyone else had an experience like this?

On a side note, I'm finally done moving so inshallah I'll have more time to blog and comment now!