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Monthly Archives: July 2010

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Left my heart in San Francisco

And my camera in Oman!  Noooooooooooooooo!

Alhamdulillah ála kulli haal.  Praise be to Allah in all circumstances. 🙂

Ok, so I have interesting stories but no pictures, and on top of that, I have a week of office work pending.  So let me take care of some emails before they burn a hole in my inbox, and then I can think about blogging Oman.  In the mean time, crank it up! (voice and percussion only)

And let it down softly…

Hey, Oman has Internets!

So, Khalid and Iman’s first road trip was interesting- we carefully and gently took them from their beds at five in the morning, hoping to deposit them, still asleep, into their car seats.  Well, we hoped.  In actuality, Khalid and Iman were both so excited to be in the van and on the road that they burst into full awakeness and giggles and screams of VAN! VAN! VAN! and they napped briefly around 9 am, but then stayed awake for the entire drive, laughing and screaming and fighting over toys, and pointing out the camels and trees and eating cereal in a cup for breakfast and chips in their laps for lunch.

We made it to Muscat by 11 am, and have been happily enjoying HF”s younger cousins and big-screen TV, where Dora the Explorer has been playing nearly non-stop.  Iman and Khalid are running amok in a new house, and Iman has already managed to poke the TV with her fingers, find & dump out some detergent and suspiciously poke it around with a toothbrush, though her teeth don’t look any cleaner.

Also, all the decorations and knick-knacks have been moved to the top of the china cabinet.  We’re having a nice time, the weather isn’t too bad- it’s time for me to go frost a chocolate cake, and later we’ll roll some sushi.

Bingley bingley beep

So we’re leaving in the morning for a road trip to visit HF’s family in Oman, and my phone doesn’t work there, and chances are internets may be in short supply.  So leave a message after the beep.  And maybe we’ll be back by Tuesday.  With some pictures.

Beep!

Bittersweet: A Spiritual Perspective on Special Needs Parenting

Reposted from MuslimMatters.org

I’ve tried several times to begin this article and this is my third attempt. I’m supposed to be writing about special needs parenting from an Islamic/Muslim/Spiritual point of view, and the challenge is finding a balance between the bitter and the sweet. I have had some experience, my son Khalid was born with autism, a neurological disorder with complex genetic causes and no known cure. He woke up crying every two hours from the day he was born until he was almost three. He learned how to talk just last year and he occasionally still freaks out if you laugh too loudly in his vicinity. He used to bang his head against windows and walls and cry until he threw up. He’s made wonderful progress, Alhamdulillah, but at the end of the day, he still has autism, and we still have our daily challenges.

It’s hard to understand autism from the outside, and to be fair, no two people are affected in the same way. On the severe end of the scale, there’s our friend Dan, who does not talk, cannot walk properly and was in diapers until 13. His parents put him in leather gloves to prevent him from biting his hands to the bone when he is frustrated. On the other end of the spectrum is our friend Zaina, who has Asperger’s Syndrome, which is a form of autism that Hollywood likes – she’s extremely intelligent, is physically normal, but so socially impaired that she barely talks, cannot make eye contact, and cannot even begin to understand the complexities of interacting with other people. My son Khalid is somewhere in the middle. He has his funny quirks, but he can pass for physically normal unless he’s spinning in circles or flapping his hands. He’s no genius, and his mental age may be behind his physical age, but he’s slowly learned his ABC’s and even attempts to play with other children. Alhamdulillah, his autism is moderate.

IMG_2893In the two years since his diagnosis, I’ve learned more about patience and trust in Allah than I had in my entire life before that, and having a child with autism has been a blessing that I cannot imagine living without. I’m sure there’s more to learn still, but I know that once upon a time, I thought waiting for an hour was a long wait. Until a few months ago, putting Khalid to bed took an average of an hour and a half every night – sometimes less, often more. I would sit next to him, or lie down next to him, and wait for the screaming, bouncing, kicking, pinching and crying to fade into silence. And I had to sit quietly, and not move or talk, and do my best to imitate some sort of maternal rock as the storm of Khalid battered against it.

I didn’t do a very good job at first, I would yell at him to lay down, and he would become scared and cry. So I would yell more, and he would scream, and I would yell more, and it would escalate until he would be shaking with fear and I with rage and at some point it occurred to me that my own son was genuinely terrified and couldn’t understand why he was being yelled out. And then, Allah gave me sabr, and then a diagnosis, and then the understanding that Khalid wasn’t disobeying, he just had no idea what was going on.

Even today, when Khalid is having a weird night and half an hour turns into an hour and a half, I just sit in the dark and do dhikr, or plan the next day, or think, and if he’s still not tired after about two hours, we just get up and go play for a bit. I’ll have a glass of water and maybe even a cookie. Khalid will get on the computer (yes, he uses the computer) and play games for as long as is takes for him to start looking tired, after which we’ll go back to bed again. And I’ll sit next to him in the dark, and he’ll roll around and count his toes, or sing quietly to himself, and occasionally he’ll sit up to make sure I’m still there, but eventually he will doze off and I can finally get to bed, sometimes three or four hours after we “went to bed.” And before you accuse me of being exceptional, Aal’s mother spends three hours just feeding him, three times a day. And he still hits himself.

Yes, I have a lot of stories. We autism moms tend to gravitate towards one another, not because we have a manifesto or a secret handshake, but because at the end of the day when your child took off their dirty diaper in the mall and got lost in the parking lot and wouldn’t eat their lunch because some of the carrots were too orange, no one else will understand you except for another autism mom.

Another mother, Noura, called me a few weeks ago, and she had that quiver in her voice that we all get from time to time when we need to break down a bit so that we can put ourselves back together. She had been trying to get her daughter into a school, and no school would take her. She had been trying to get her daughter into a swimming class, but when she went for her first trial, the instructor refused to accept a child with “such behaviors.” Noura had been running desperately from one place to another to get her daughter accepted into social and educational programs of any sort, because her daughter will be turning eight and has never been to school. She told me these things crying over the phone, frustrated and burnt out and just needing to hear something to keep her going. “I just don’t know,” she kept saying, “I don’t know what else I can do.”

I didn’t know what else she could do either, except for what I do, which is to ask Allah for help. We have been told that a child’s Jannah is beneath his or her mother’s feet, but in some cases, a mother’s Jannah may be beneath the feet of her special needs child. And perhaps the father’s too, Allahu Aalim. The tables get turned on both parents, and those who were relying on their grown children for care in their old age are instead preparing to care for grown children who cannot feed, bathe, or even clothe themselves. Instead of looking forward to retirement, parents dread the time when they can no longer earn an income to support their children.

If you want to see an adult cry, ask a father or mother what will happen to their special needs daughter or son after they die. If you could see inside of their head, you would see an exploding matrix of questions, fears, worries, and desperate plans. You would re-read every news story you’ve ever read of neglect or abuse, or even rape, of special needs adults by paid caretakers who take advantage of individuals who do not know how to defend themselves or even speak. You would hear the point and counterpoint of a mind divided between wanting more children who could potentially care for the child, versus not wanting to risk having another child with the same genetically linked condition. You would see mental excel sheets tallying savings and money spent on current treatments versus saved for future life-long care, and money not saved for the education of the other children, and you would see a lot of figures in red. Special needs parenting is expensive. And scary. But here’s something unexpected – it’s also beautiful, and humbling, and when undertaken with trust in Allah and faith in His decisions, it is the catalyst for spiritual evolution.

Recognizing that our special-needs children are a trial as well as an opportunity to earn blessings, we are able to change the stories we tell ourselves. When we look at our children, and Shaitaan whispers “Why you? Why your child? How could God do this to you? It’s not fair,” we can bravely answer back. Allah chose me for this because He knew I could handle it, and He never gives anyone more than they can bear. I am not Khalid’s Rabb, Allah is, and when I die, He will look after Khalid with a love seventy times greater than my own. I can only save so much money and teach his sister to look out for him only so much. Khalid’s care is with Allah. His rizq is with his Lord. And he may never learn how to work and he may never get married or hold a job, and he may die alone, or he may die before I do, but he will be raised as an innocent – one who will be exempt from the fear of judgment because he never knew what sin was. If he never had a job, then he will never be asked about his wealth. If he never speaks, he will not be asked about lying. And these things are terrifying for me to think of, to type even, but I know that Allah has given my son autism for a reason, and all of Allah’s reasons are good reasons.

The Messenger of Allah (sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam) said,

“The greatest reward comes with the greatest trial. When Allaah loves a people He tests them. Whoever accepts that wins His pleasure but whoever is discontent with that earns His wrath.” Narrated by al-Tirmidhi (2396) and Ibn Maajah (4031); classed as hasan by al-Albaani in Saheeh al-Tirmidhi.

“How wonderful is the affair of the believer, for his affairs are all good, and this applies to no one but the believer. If something good happens to him, he is thankful for it and that is good for him. If something bad happens to him, he bears it with patience and that is good for him.” (Narrated by Muslim, 2999).

Sometimes, when I look at Khalid I wonder what life would be like if he were ‘normal.’ He has the most enormous, beautiful brown eyes. He skin is a light olive, he has silky dark hair and a smile that could melt the polar ice caps. Perhaps normalcy would be too dangerous for Khalid. Or maybe he would be fine, maybe the autism is for me. I know with absolute certainty that if my son did not have autism, I would not have been a dedicated parent and a desperate Muslim. If I had not been pushed through fear for his future and hardship through the present, I would never have understood what it really meant to pray. My trust in Allah and acknowledgement of his Rububiyya(Lordship) would never have moved beyond the superficial. Can you dread for your child’s future without losing hope in Allah’s mercy? Is your taqwa greater than your fear?

It has taken me some time, but I can finally thank Allah for Khalid’s autism. It may save him from accountability , and it has definitely saved me from living in the unreal world – one where I care more about my child’s postgraduate degree than his iman. And while I have an entire lifetime of challenges to look forward to, I am keeping faith that Allah intends nothing but good for Khalid and I. If that means waiting until the resurrection to see my son as a normal young man, then so be it. Khalid and I will meet again at Al-Kauthar, and sit in Jannah with an eternity of ease to make up for one small lifetime of hardship.

May Allah have mercy on all Muslims, and ease whatever difficulties they are facing, and strengthen their iman and increase them in sabr, and reunite them with their loved ones in the company of the righteous. Ameen.

SubhanAllah!

I realize that I may already have a few posts titled SubhanAllah or Alhamdulillah or maybe even Astaghfirullah, but sometimes praising God is the only way to do justice to how I feel.  Khalid and I have had our first conversation, a conversation being an exchange of words.  Previously, he has used a word or two to get his point across, or occasionally answered a question, but we’ve never had a conversation where I said something, he responded, I replied to his response, and he added a concluding remark.  But SubhanAllahi Wabihamdihi!  We’ve had our first conversation!

Me, leading Khalid to elevator in mall: Khalid come on, it’s time to go home.

Khalid pulls away and holds up his index finger: No pwease!

Me: You don’t want to ride the elevator?

Khalid: Lay-tuh. (later)

Me: We need to go home Khalid.

Khalid: I wan… banana.

Me: You want a banana?

Khalid: Caddy-fo! Okay!

Awestruck, we go to the grocery store (in Khalid’s world, all grocery stores are Carrefour) and buy Khalid a banana.  All is the right with the world so we head happily home.

SubhanAllah. 🙂

A Judgment about Judgments

Hebah Amhad recently posted a very honest, and very insightful article on MM about fighting down the nafs when it comes to how we see other Muslims.

“She is not wearing hijab, tsk! tsk!”

“He is laughing with that woman who is most certainly not his wife or family member, shame!”

“How can she possibly show up here with her clothing so tight?! Scandalous!”

“I know she does not buy Zabiha so I am sure she is serving people non-halal food!”

“Does his mom see how he is behaving…where is the Islamic upbringing?  That’s what happens when you send your kid to public school!”

It’s a great read, and thank God, it concludes with some practical tips for changing how we see and interact with other Muslims.  I related to the entire post, and in all honesty, anyone who can’t is very blessed.  I think most of us regularly fall into judging and condemning other Muslims  while working hard to avoid the condemnation we anticipate from them in turn.

I know that for years I avoided religious classes and gatherings, and even “religious-looking” people because I was intimidated and afraid of being measured and weighed and coming up short.   Even these days, I sometimes feel a twinge of nervousness when attending classes where I am in a non-niqab wearing minority, and it takes a deliberate mental effort to remind myself that wearing a niqab doesn’t make anyone judgmental or holier-than-thou.  Also, it helps for me to remember that as a scarf-wrapped, black abaya-wearing female, I can seem scary to people intimated by/unfamiliar with Islam and hijab.

(But then I’m seldom seem without this big cheesy grin, and in my old age I’ve become the kind of person who talks to other people in elevators whether they want me to or not.  Owl says I’m crazy.  I say I’m entertaining people who are just as bored as I am and might never be likely to talk to a Muslim woman unless they were talked to first.  Also,  sales people remember me and I tend to get lots of free samples :p)

Having lived in the UAE for over five years now, I finally have many, many friends who wear niqab, and I’ve come to realize that the initial awkwardness wasn’t their fault, it was mine.  Underneath of the niqab are normal, entertaining, intelligent, and very funny women who joke about sometimes standing near good friends without realizing who’s “under there,” and washing ice cream out of black chiffon, and beneath the billowy black abayas they wear things like purple sequined ballet slippers, and overalls, and sometimes- their pajamas.   The mental barrier was of my own making, because I was afraid they would see me as falling short of their greatness, so I accordingly  bristled with subtle indignation from a judgment that was never made.

“I don’t think niqab is fard,” Sabah said to me one day over cookies and coffee eating with her niqab flipped up.  “I just think it’s extra points, and I have no problem saying that God knows I really need some!”

I’ve come to recognize her by her height, the shape of her abaya, her green purse, and the way her eyes crinkle at the corners when she’s smiling under there.  And I no longer find her intimidating, I just find her normal.  She isn’t a member of the pervasively judgmental and highly exclusive organisation of ‘The Niqabis,’ she’s just Sabah.  And Farzana is just Farzana.  And Noura is just Noura (and occasionally talks about Star Wars) and none of these women are defined by the clothes they wear any more than their husbands are just ‘beards.’

In the printing world, a stereotype is a copy of the original, and they are both the same.  In the Muslim world, a stereotype is an assumption that all religious people are the same, and they all think you’re lame.  And it’s very rude of them to say such a thing, and you could never attend a class with people who think so badly of you, and you would never, ever want to be like them!  Hmmph!

When we see others with a negative filter on our vision, we see everything they do as wrong.

(So, the niqabi likes Star Wars? How hypocritical!

Hey, don’t you have the whole action figure collection?

Yes, but no Muslim is perfect!)

(She’s wearing purple sequined ballet slippers?  Wow, that is so flashy.  What is she trying to do, attract attention to herself despite the niqab?

You’re wearing a purple sequined tank top.

Yeah, but Allah knows that I have modesty in my heart!)

(She struggles with her Iman on a daily basis?  She’s human just like everyone else, so why does she have such a holy attitude?

You’ve never spoken to her, how do you know what her attitude is?)

Sterotypes are illogical, and as far as Muslims are concerned, they generally stem from fear of judgment and our own perceived inadequacies.  We are conscious of our shortcomings, and we assume everyone else is too.  Our own deficiencies are more conspicuous in front of people who seem to have spiritual abundance, in the way that a normal woman feels fat in the company of supermodels.  Ok, that’s a strange analogy, but I think you know what I mean.  And maybe some more stuck-up supermodels really are tsk-tsking in their heads and thinking that you let yourself go, but the majority of them are probably just normal people who are really skinny.  And skinniness is not the zenith of human fitness any more than a niqab or beard is the zenith of spiritual achievement.  So if you tell them they look nice, they’ll say oh man, I have such awful hair!  I love your hair!  In the same way, when you talk to Sabah you realize that in her mind she’s standing at the bottom of the spiritual ladder and has a long, long way to go up.  She’s not looking down on you, she’s looking down on herself, just like you are.  The only difference is that she doesn’t think you’re looking down on her too.

If she did, then she might be afraid that all non-niqabis think that she’s oppressed and unintelligent, and has made her own intellect subservient to her husband’s desire for her to dress in a black cloud of fabric, and that given the chance, she would throw caution and headscarf to the wind for just one ice-cream cone that doesn’t get smeared on her niqab.

(Ok, not really.  Sabah’s more secure than that. But you see what I mean.)

So where does this pervasive feeling of mutual persecution come from?

And say to My servants that they should speak only what is gracious, for satan (is keen to) provoke discord among them. Satan indeed is an enemy to the people, disuniting (one another).

–The Qur’an 17:53

When we feel judged by people before we’ve even spoken to them, and we exclude ourselves from the company of ‘religious’ people solely because of their religiousness, we’re doing exactly what Shaitaan wants us to do, which is hate, separate, and isolate ourselves from other Muslims- aka- divide and conquer.  Good company helps us maintain good behavior, so Satan gives us reasons to keep away from practicing Muslims.  Regular reminders of Islam make it easier for us to remember Allah, so Satan creates distance through self-consciousness that helps us forget.  In accusing others of judgment, we ourselves are making a tremendously unfair judgment about others- we assume that their righteousness is just a way of lording their superiority over other Muslims, that their actions lack sincerity, and their perceptions of other Muslims are harsh, unforgiving, and holier-than-thou.  Where do we get off making harsh judgments about the state of another Muslim’s Iman when Allah alone can see what is in a person’s heart?

Returning to the point where we started from, one of the comments following the article had some wonderful advice which I would like to share.

Sa’eed bin Al-Musayyab was reported to have said:

“Some of my brothers among the Companions of the Prophet, salallahu alayhi wa sallam, wrote me the following message:

“Give your brother’s action the best interpretation you could find as long as you have not seen any proof that would make you think otherwise. Do not ever give the word uttered by a Muslim bad interpretation as long as you can find better interpretation for it.

But he who makes himself vulnerable to suspicion should blame only himself. He who conceals his secrets has the options in his hand.

The best reward you can give someone who disobeys Allah through you is to obey Allah through him. Be always truthful even if truth is going to kill you. Do not envy anyone except in regard to something for which the dead person is envied.

And consult, in respect to your affairs, only those who fear Allah in their privacy.”

The Leader of the Believers, ‘Umar bin al-Khattab, may Allaah be pleased with him, said, “Think only well of a word that leaves your believing brother so long as you find a way of understanding it in a good way.”

[Quoted by ibn Kathir in the commentary of 49:12]

May Allah have mercy on us all, and protect us from the whisperings of Shaitaan, and protect us from fitnah. Ameen.

So go on, hug a scary-looking religious person today!  They’re not judging you, and even if they might have been, you were judging them first.  So there. :p

A nod’s as good as a wink to a blind man…

Sometimes old memories pop into your head out of the blue, and they’ve been so deeply buried that remembering them is almost like experiencing them again for the first time.   Banana Anne recently posted on her experience as a new hijabi, and one bizarre incident that happened to me nearly ten years ago came to mind.

While living in Pakistan, I was doing some freelance writing here and there.  One interview for a news magazine found Owlie, my co-journalist, and I taking an interview with a very elderly, very respectable Muslim doctor who was also a director for the same magazine.  When I say elderly I mean over seventy.  We were both wearing hijab as well as jilbab, and the interview was interesting but uneventful until in the middle of a sentence, he looked at up at us and said:

“You know, a naked girl on the beach in Cannes has nothing on you.”

I would imagine we both looked pretty blank at that point.

“Your beauty,” he said leaning forward earnestly in his chair, “It is in your mystery!”

He nodded, and smiled in a grandfatherly way, and then went on with the interview as if nothing happened at all.

0_0

The End.

My little hero, MashaAllah

Some children are bad at taking turns, but my kids are good at it for all the wrong reasons.  When Iman is getting an involuntary manicure, she’ll plead “Khalid’s turn!  Khalid’s turn!”  And when it really is Khalid’s turn, he’ll do the same.  “Iman’s turn!  Iman’s turn!”

To say it’s the other sibling’s turn is loosely translated as “Not me, take him instead!”  On the other hand, when Khalid is playing with a toy that Iman finds interesting, she has no hesitation in grabbing it and yelling out “Iman’s turn!” and when Khalid wants to use my computer, he’ll stand at my elbow and cheerfully announce “It’s Khalid’s turn!”

Turn-taking has been anything but an altruistic skill, until now.

Iman had a dental appointment two days ago, and of course, she screamed bloody murder while having her teeth cleaned.  I held her in my lap, Cindy held her legs, one assistant held her head while a second handed tools to the dentist- a lovely lady who works with the rapid expertise of someone with a small window of opportunity in the midst of a big fuss.

In all of this, Khalid was just outside in the waiting room, playing uneasily with the legos and periodically trying to come in to see what was happening to Iman.  Joy redirected him back to the legos several times, but he was quite upset by Iman’s screaming.  And my brave little boy, you know what he said to Joy as he tried to enter the room again?

“It’s Khalid’s turn.”

SubhanAllah, MashaAllah, Alhamdulillah. 🙂

They don’t make bubbles that big :p

Doc: So, how’s your knee feeling?

Me: Alhamdulillah, pretty good!  It’s not yellow anymore, and it’s not creaking or grinding.

Doc: (Throwing his hands in the air) Thank God!  Now stop getting into car accidents!  Or we’ll have to install a bubble around you or something.

Me: InshaAllah.

Random Rubiyaat

Fight the world if you have to

Even yourself if you must

Forgiveness is for the forgiving

And mercy is owed to the just.

***

(Bi Iznillah)

How can I fault the world

For the turmoil that’s within it?

It’s all of what He said

And none of what He didn’t.