One sister's autobiography...
It was a dark and stormy night.... the winds were whistling
and the rain was pelting against the tin roof. All of the sudden a
scream rang out, "Aaaaaaaaah!". It was... of course, my mother
giving birth to a small baby girl. This stormy, dramatic night of my
birth was no doubt a portent of my life to come.
I was born in a tiny room in my maternal family's house in a
small village half way across the world. Having gone back recently, I
was amazed to find the old house in ruins and nothing like what I had
imagined it to be. The houses are made of cement and brick. The
dingy darkness of cool inside rooms play off the walled white roof
and inside courtyards. Sandy water from a pump is all the household
has in the way of amenities. Poverty is what one might call it. But
if poverty is what they live there is also joy and worth in it.
Nowhere else is there so much happiness and celebration
at the time of marriages and births. Nowhere else is there so much
color and life, from the incredible history and architecture of the
mosques and palaces, to the green, green grasses of the fields and
trees after the rains, to the crowded noisy streets.
Although this life is so far away from me, it is in my blood
and whenever I return I miss it like a part of me. When I was about
three years old, we lived in a block of housing that had other
families of students, and behind us was a whole playground as a
backyard. There one could live with the land and animals as one.
The seasons are tempered and the weather always seemed nice. Fruit
sellers even used to come down the streets. While there, another
sibling arrived. A boy, to my young disgust! We moved back to the
old country for a few months and soon came to America; where my
father began to teach.
It is interesting how life moves in circles. Who was to know
that where my father used to work and the place where we used to play
in the halls as children would one day become where I went to school
and become such an integral part of my life. If I had been living in
any other place other than where I was, I would not have survived. I
should have died, but was blessed. I often feel that I was given a
reprieve because I had yet to fulfill whatever my purpose or destiny
was on the earth. I continued through school and did very well. At
the same time I also attended local mosque weekend classes.
The Muslim community at this time was booming and my
friendships there were and are quite strong. A group of girls in
particular really, it seemed we were always together, giggling or
passing notes, or talking during class. One has since gotten
married and moved. Hers was a true Romeo and Juliet story with a lot
of tragedy. Another girl, just left two summers ago and drove
through the floods to move to California, where she got engaged
within three weeks of reaching there! The others have entered
college and university and are pursuing their respective lives.
I neglect to speak of the times we fought, struggled through
math, went to the mall, cried when one got sicker and sicker and was
diagnosed with cancer, when one got diabetes, laughed and hugged when
one (then two) got engaged, all the birthday parties, all the jokes,
our last good-byes, when one, then another left.
The friend who had cancer died two springs ago of ovarian
cancer. We were all stunned. She died on a beautiful day in May.
It seemed as if God had taken away everything she ever held dear to
her one by one; her health, her ability to have children, her life.
It took a long time to realize that if she had to go, she died in
the most merciful way possible. She had a year among her friends,
and died at home with her family and in her husband's arms. That
summer we finally went back to the old country, for the first time in
ten years. I think it was that and my family there that truly healed
me. I left with my room a picture of desolation, with my most
precious things wrapped and stored in cardboard boxes to be shipped
in case we were not to return. Thus this trip when I was eighteen
turned the pages of my life to another chapter.
I returned, ever so thankful of everything I had. I
transferred schools and changed my major. Within a year I had two
new jobs, one working in the university, which I loved, and the other
teaching which I loved even more. Teaching opened up a whole new
world to me. To be able to reach the next generation with your
ideas, to help prepare them, to share your experiences and
knowledge. It is the best feeling in the world (also the most
frustrating)! Having to teach made me learn even more. I would
teach the basics of Islam, like the five pillars. Having to do so I
also needed to learn them inside out, so i started reading books, and
more books. I read the best of Islamic thinkers and their writing,
biographies of the prophet Muhammad peace be upon him and his
contemporaries, the Hadith (the sayings and doings of the prophet)
and the Quran (holy book of Islam).
The more I read about Islam, the more I realize that my
knowledge of it is simply like a drop in the ocean. I have always
believed in Islam, but the level I had been in was just in a state of
cultural Islam. Reading the Quran from first divine word to last,
the Hadith, the biographies, brought me closer to God and to the
message of Islam. I began to truly understand the verse in the Quran
that says that Muhammad was sent not "but as a mercy to all the
worlds" (Quran 21:107) because the message he brought from God truly
The more I went to mosque and was with other Muslims, the
more love and belief I had about Islam. I have no doubt in the
truth of Islam. I believe that Islam is all that which is good. It
is completely rational and what is best for all of mankind. My life
today focuses upon Islamic work. I have great sympathy for young
Muslims who are confused and lost, as I had been. I wish to bring
correct knowledge of true Islam to as many people as I can. In Islam
our goal is not to 'convert' people, our job is only to inform them
of the true way called Islam. I believe that the more true knowledge
people have about Islam, the more Muslims there would be because of
the universal beauty of its way of life.
Of course the age we live in is marked by ignorance of true
Islam. People use its name to further their own political agendas.
Misconceptions and misinformation are omnipresent in everything from
textbooks to the media. Western xenophobes declare Islam to be the
next threat to clash with "civilization." (See The Economist, Summer
1990) This past summer I participated in a program at a national
Islamic organization headquatered. The experience was amazing. I
lived in an apartment with some other Muslim sisters, and we worked,
attended classes of noted scholars, and traveled everywhere.
Wherever we went, we met such dedicated Islamic workers who
were working for the same cause. All were so humble and had such
belief in God and peace, and in doing good works. This Fall when I
came back, I felt I was finally strong enough to start wearing Hijab
(the correct Islamic covering for women). I wanted people to
recognize that I was Muslim and that I believed in Islam, and that it
was not a 'foreign' religion and nor were Muslim women oppressed and
The difference in the way I looked surely surprised many of my
friends and co-workers, but all have seemed to accept it and treat me
with respect. My relationships with others of different faiths are
usually warm. I find it interesting to learn about other people's
beliefs even if I do not agree with them. I am a great believer in
inter-faith activities and relations. Only through knowledge and
relating with each other as humans can we overcome ignorance and
hatred. To many, Islam is a 'scary' religion they do not understand.
They think Islam is about conquering, killing, and blindness, when it
is actually the antithesis.
Through me I hope that the next time someone who has read my
writing or heard me speak, turns on the TV and sees a "Muslim
fundamentalist" (in the media this means terrorist), they will think
twice and know what Islam really says about it. Through me I hope
that some of my co-workers who never gave a second thought to the
questions of life, materialism, superficiality and morality and their
meanings, will find themselves one day thinking about my
conversations with them.
God willing, I hope in the future only to be like the
descriptions of the believers in the Quran: "And the servants of the
Most Beneficent (Allah) are those who walk upon the earth modestly,
and when the ignorant address them, they say, "peace". " (Quran