Peaceful Prostration

As I lower myself in prostration, blood rushes to my temples. Inhale. I rest my forehead on the carpeted floor as I relax into the posture. Exhale. Uttering prayers in Arabic, I cannot help but to imagine other activities that have helped achieve this state of self-awareness… of complete calm. I can hear the gentle whoosh of blood gently beating in my temples as it does when we float under the surface of a swimming pool. In that moment, the eyes are closed, as we swim in a chlorine bliss, drowning out the sound of children’s joyous squeals… or volleyballs pattering against the surface. Hair floats about our bodies, just as weightless as the body. It is only so long that the lungs can hold in the oxygen that flows to the brain. Rise to the surface whenever you’re ready to return to reality. Gasping for breath, we blink several times until we can gain clear sight of our surroundings. A man lowers himself into a jacuzzi, a little boy runs the perimeter of the pool, eventually joining his friends. It is almost as though the world looks clearer than before we ducked our heads underwater… as if the surface represented a division between a painful reality and the weightlessness of a worry-free mind. But perhaps the two ideas don’t have to be separate. I can carry the calm of the underwater realm into reality, always remembering to re-fill my lungs with oxygen. Let that peace flow through your temples as you walk the earth.

I rise from prostration and eventually conclude the prayer. I turn my head to the right, and then to the left, greeting the angels on each shoulder. “Aslamualaikum wa Rahmatullah.” As I observe the prayer area, I adopt a new perspective of my surroundings. I can juggle the myriad stresses leading up to the mid-terms period because I have found balance. But I realize that my pursuit of a balanced life-style manifests itself in diverse activities that have supported my well-being for years.

When I was in high school, I found strength through the sport of running.

During my transition to an adolescent, I found peace through yoga and meditation.

And for the majority of my lifetime, prayer has been my solace during times of hardship and of ease.

I can trust that if I hold my breath underwater to drown out sound, I will always come back up. Air pressure forces the body to rise.

Inhale…

2, 3, 4.

Dip your head beneath the surface.

Exhale…

2, 3, 4.

And rise again.

Verily, after every hardship comes ease (Qur’an 94:5).

 

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Ever-Evolving Perceptions of the Self

Self-acceptance is crucial to developing a healthy perception of who we are. But throughout my pre-adolescent years (and even today), my self-perception often clashes with the ideas that other people form of who I am. The eighth grade, as I remember it, was a year when I was content with who I was. In my mind’s eye, I walk confidently past Ms. Lawhon’s pre-algebra class. I was (and still am) the girl who would strike up a conversation with anyone, crack a joke with the classmate sitting next to her, and a student who worked tirelessly to be successful in and out of the classroom. But through new phases of my life, such as the beginning of high school and the transition to college, I tend to question and form new perceptions of who I am.

One of the greatest challenges in developing a positive self-image was my decision to wear the Hijab. I remember walking into Information Systems class on the second day of freshman year and imagining the perception of my eighth grade-self fade away. Was I truly the bubbly girl with fluffy, black hair that complimented her smile? I could no longer see that image, as my head was now covered by a pashmina scarf. Perhaps defining myself by the way I looked was a bit destructive. But I was still the same person, wasn’t I? The only difference now was that I was in a new environment with students who looked far too grown for me to label them my “peers.” I shrunk nervously in my seat. I was intimidated because my once-shining self-perception was now a mirror through which I couldn’t see myself. Over several months, I found a solution that would take years to accomplish: to develop a self-image that complimented my wish to represent my faith well. But the greatest accomplishment I achieved on this seemingly-endless journey was giving myself the power to define myself the way I chose. I could no longer hear the voices of those whose religious stereotypes contradicted my self-perception. They can say whatever they want, but I will never give up, I thought.

Sometimes, as I run my fingers through my hair, I’ll imagine what it’d be like if I didn’t wear the Hijab. My side-swept bangs and thick layers were much too beautiful to cover up, weren’t they? Think again. Bullies pushed me to think more deeply about my commitment to my beliefs and the way I represented myself. The toughest part of this journey was digging deeper within myself to realize that there was more to me than what I looked like. There was character, a bright soul, and a compassionate heart that strives to treat all people fairly.

So as I walked through countless classroom doors during freshman year, I learned how to carry myself with more dignity. All of my strength, all of my pride, all of my honor was built on the idea that I—I had the power to define myself. Today, it’s vital to maintain self-acceptance and a clear perception of who I am, as I navigate the highs and lows of my college years.

A couple of days ago, I went to the pool in my burquini (modest bathing suit). I’ll admit, it did bother me that other people stared and may have been judging me. But I remind myself that anyone’s pre-conceived notions about who I am—because of my religion or ethnicity—is not worth worrying about. However, I do find it baffling that those who stereotype any minority group forget that underneath any religious attire is a human, a person who has accomplished countless feats throughout their lifetime, an individual who has friends and family who care about them.

Land of the Free (Restrictions Apply)

Thousands of students recite, “liberty” and “justice” from the Pledge daily, as politicians utter these glittering generalities in their speeches. But as instances of discrimination grow rampant in our supposedly “post-modern” society, our American values fade into the background. When our founding fathers said, “liberty and justice for all,” did “all” include African-Americans? Because the vicious shooting of Alton Sterling by white police officers deadens the meaning of “justice”. As Sterling was shot, a child lost his father, countless Americans lost a friend, and family members mourned his death. But our criminal justice system is indifferent to police brutality. To the injustices that write their stories in the fate of African-Americans.

Daily Show host Hasan Minhaj said, “Civil liberties is an all-or-nothing game.” We will never truly live up to the values upon which this country was founded until we coexist with one another. Until Caucasians hold hands with African-Americans. Until a woman in a hijab can go out in public without worrying that someone will strip “freedom of religion” from the scarf she wears proudly. So in solidarity with the Muslim woman who was assaulted in an Ontario supermarket. With the Muslim doctor who was stabbed and shot at a mosque on his way to morning prayer. With the woman who was stripped of her hijab while running to catch her train in Chicago.  Our voices will be heard. Even over the political tactics that feed off prejudice. Our fight for freedom, justice, and equality reminds us that these values are inclusive. We pride ourselves on domestic security, despite that mass shootings have become a norm. Despite my uncertainty as to whether I am safe from being victimized by those who falsely assume that I am a threat to this nation’s values. Like Alton Sterling and the Muslims who have been assaulted and killed, we strive to exercise our rights in this free society. I am a friend, teammate, student, sister, and daughter to other Americans. So in the face of these injustices, I refuse to be silent. I refuse to let fear suppress my freedoms. Let’s use our voices to speak out against discrimination. Let’s live up to liberty and justice, not let these values crumble under the social injustices that dominate our political climate.

Ask Me About My Hijab

Writer’s Note: The “hijab” is a headscarf worn by some Muslim women throughout the world as a symbol of modesty. In this piece, I offer a perspective on the hijab that is void of a religious point of view. Hope you enjoy!- Naima

Ask Me About My Hijab

People ask me questions about my hijab all the time. “Why don’t you wear your hair out?” “Does it get hot in the summertime?” “Why do you wear it, but your sister doesn’t?” I appreciate when others ask me about my religious practices and beliefs, and I would like to encourage you to do the same. I live in a very diverse environment and attend one of the most culturally inclusive schools in the county. Meeting members of the community whose cultural and religious practices differ from my own is something I have always appreciated. With this post, I want to talk about what the hijab means to me in a way that is as void of a religious perspective as possible.

Think of anything you are deeply committed to, whether it’s a sport, academic club, or hobby. For instance, I am passionate about the sport of running; to stop running would be to stop enjoying life in one of the best ways I know possible. Even though I would rather go home and take a nap on some days than go to practice, the satisfaction of completing a workout is greater than the feeling of getting some rest. In other words, overcoming obstacles is far more powerful than the obstacle itself, from fatigue and muscle soreness to mental exhaustion. Similarly, wearing the hijab represents something greater to me than just wearing a scarf on my head. It is a symbol of my devotion to all my values, religious and moral. It represents my ability to be resilient even in the face of adversities. It is the way that I have defined myself for four years during which I’ve undergone a great deal of personal growth. It has taught me that being patient throughout low points in life is more rewarding than giving in to social or political pressure.

As a woman who proudly wears the hijab, I understand that not everyone will agree with my perspective. That’s fine. I’m not asking you to agree. All I’m asking is for you to expose yourself to a new point of view. Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world, so inevitably, you are going to encounter Muslims, but more importantly, you are going to meet people who are different from you.

Wearing the hijab expresses my desire to be judged not on my external appearance, but on my character and intellect. As mentioned earlier, I’m often asked, “Why don’t you wear your hair out?” I’ll be completely open and honest with you. I love the way my hair looks, every strand of it. But my commitment to my religious and moral values is more important to me than my appearance. My teachers, peers, and other members of my community used to describe me based on how I look. Now, they describe me based on the quality of my character. “Naima is intelligent,” they’ll say, or, “Naima is mature.” I want to be remembered and valued for who I am, not what I look like.

It’s clear that the media and clothing manufacturers don’t entirely agree with my opinion. Before I delve any deeper into this subject, I want to remind you that I strive to honor diverse perspectives. Let me ask you this: when viewing advertisements that depict women in revealing clothing, do you wonder what those women are like? Their career aspirations, their values, who they are? It seems that we reduce these figures to no more than beautiful bodies behind a T.V. screen. I know that it may sound shallow to judge others based on what they are wearing or what they look like, but it is an innate and subconscious tendency. It simply makes us human. You wouldn’t get hired if you went to an interview in your pajamas.  I want to make it clear that I do not look down on those who dress less conservatively than I do. I just want to inform you that although the hijab may distinguish me from my peers, I am still able to connect with those who dress in various fashions, follow different belief systems, and come from unique cultural backgrounds.

The hijab has instilled the value of coexistence within me. I work with students of various nationalities and faiths in my school’s writing center, run alongside a diverse group of students on my cross-country and track teams, and befriend people of various cultural backgrounds. My headscarf is a reminder to me that no matter how “different,” I may seem, I am able to coexist with those whose religious beliefs don’t align with my own. We put our differences aside so that we can find a way to connect with each other on a personal level. And that has to be one of the most valuable aspects of being part of such a diverse community. We close cultural, religious, and social divides by choosing to coexist, to accept one another regardless of our differences.

Recently, I was filled with nostalgia while looking at a picture of me and my teammates. As my eyes peered from left to right, I took the time to acknowledge what a diverse group I partake of. In the photo, five members of the team are giving someone a piggy-back ride, including myself. The girl that I’m carrying on my back is part Caucasian and part Japanese. The others are either Italian, French, German, or Mexican. Spending several moments viewing the image, I noticed that my teammates and I are physically supporting each other, despite our differences. Once again, we coexist, just as we have during countless cross-country meets, long bus rides on the way home from races, and even today.

So go on. Ask me about my hijab. Ask me why I would never remove it from a part of myself. But keep in mind that there is so much more to someone than their external appearance or clothing. Learn to value and honor other points of view and understand that exposing yourself to different perspectives doesn’t necessarily mean you have to adopt them.

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The Divided States of America

As we spread the popular hashtag #AllLivesMatter, countless lives of innocent people are lost. Have you heard about the three African-American Muslim boys who were shot in Indiana? Probably not; yet the death of a lion was deemed far more important by news media broadcasters. Why does the media imply that the lives of minorities are so cheap? With the divisive rhetoric that 2016 presidential candidates promote, there has been a sharp increase in police brutality and hate crimes against Muslims. Today, Americans spend more thought ordering the importance of human lives on the basis of race, religion, ethnic origin, nationality, and more. Instead, our energies should be spent building unity between one another regardless of these factors.

Our society doesn’t always agree with this attitude and would like to create as many ways as possible for us to become divided. But I would rather see the integration of all people, black or white, gay or straight, Muslim, Christian, Atheist, and more. Simply put, what does it matter if we’re not all the same?  Shouldn’t the value of our lives be equal regardless of religion, race, ethnicity, or any other factor? And shouldn’t individuality be celebrated?

With the current presidential race, don’t ever let anyone make you feel that you don’t belong here. We all belong here. This is our country, and America is a mixing bowl of so many beautiful cultural backgrounds, religions, ethnic origins, and more. So let’s celebrate our unique part of this American society. Let’s make the world around us more tolerant and inclusive. After all, this is the United States of America. Don’t let us become the Divided States of America.

 

 

 

Divide

Surprise, surprise. Donald Trump has done it again. He continues to promote discrimination and vulgarity, as the 2016 Presidential process brings great dissent among Americans. At a recent rally in Manchester, New Hampshire, for instance, Trump encouraged a woman to repeat invective against Ted Cruz, current U.S. Senator from Texas. “She just said a terrible thing,” Trump said, smiling. “Shout it out” (Johnson). Trump encouraging his supporter to call Cruz a “pussy” is simply unprofessional and immature; his vulgarity and rudeness is not a quality presidential candidates should condone.

This harsh invective contradicts American public school’s efforts to mitigate bullying. When political leaders direct insults at one another, it signals to younger generations that it is okay to direct vulgar language at others. One can argue that young people don’t vote, and therefore, their political opinions don’t matter, but children are likely to reflect their parents’ attitudes. For instance, nine-year-old Ava Lovely shed tears of joy after her mother told her they were going to see Donald Trump in person (Mills). Regardless of your political affiliation, would you want your president to be someone who uses invective to make his candidates feel inferior to himself? You don’t have to be a supporter of Ted Cruz to understand that what Donald Trump did at the New Hampshire rally is not an attitude our future president should reflect.

While invective against other GOP presidential candidates is encouraged at Trump rallies, peaceful Americans have often been escorted out of these events. These people are notably followers of Islam and Sikhism. For instance, at a rally in South Carolina, a Muslim woman wearing a hijab was escorted out of a rally while conducting a peaceful protest (Diamond). Similarly, a group of Sikh men holding a banner that read “Stop Hate” were also asked to leave (Wang). “You don’t have to be a Muslim to stand against anti-Muslim bigotry,” they argued. Why should an American who is shouting vulgar language at a Trump rally be encouraged to repeat her insults, but peaceful attendees be asked to leave? And why should we amplify the voices of those who condone vulgarity but suppress the voices of peaceful religious groups?

This issue is a divisive matter of race and religion that does not align with American values of peace and justice. It scares me to know that, as a Muslim, I would be forcefully escorted out of a Trump rally because some people wrongly associate my religion with the words “un-American” and “dangerous.” Contrarily, if I were Caucasian, like the majority of Trump supporters, I would be a welcome guest at these rallies. President Barack Obama said, “There is not a white America or a black America and Latino America and Asian America. There is the United States.” It’s unfortunate that the 2016 Presidential process has served to divide us as Americans. We continue to promote prejudice and bigotry while forgetting the values that built this nation, such as justice, equality, and liberty for all. Let’s think about those last two words: “…for all.” American rights and values are not limited to any one race, gender, religion, or nationality, and the framers of our Constitution did not intend for them to be exclusive. So while thousands of Trump supporters may have laughed with the woman who called Senator Ted Cruz a “pussy,” we certainly should not smile at the fact that our American values are in jeopardy because of the widespread bigotry and discrimination that politicians promote. Don’t accept bigotry as a norm in America. Do something about it. Say something. Otherwise, America will remain divided. We will forget what it’s like to be truly united as one nation.

 

Works Cited

Diamond, Jeremy. “Silently Protesting Muslim Woman Ejected from Trump Rally.” NBC News. N.p., 11 Jan. 2016. Web. 9 Feb. 2016. <http://www.cnn.com/2016/01/08/politics/donald-trump-muslim-woman-protesting-ejected/&gt;.

Johnson, Jenna. “Donald Trump Repeats Crowd Member’s Ted Cruz Insult: ‘He’s a Pussy.’.” Washington Post. N.p., 8 Feb. 2016. Web. 9 Feb. 2016. <https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-politics/wp/2016/02/08/donald-trump-repeats-crowd-members-ted-cruz-insult-hes-a-pussy/?tid=sm_tw&gt;.

Mills, Emma. “Young Girl Cries with Excitement about Meeting Donald Trump.” The Telegraph. N.p., 27 Jan. 2016. Web. 9 Feb. 2016. <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/donald-trump/12124464/Young-girl-cries-with-excitement-about-meeting-Donald-Trump.html&gt;.

Wang, Frances Kai-Hwa. “Sikh-American Protester Removed from Trump Rally.” NBC News. N.p., 25 Jan. 2016. Web. 9 Feb. 2016. <http://www.nbcnews.com/news/asian-america/sikh-american-protester-removed-trump-rally-n503971&gt;.