LGBTQ AND ISLAM
on his new album winter 2013
+ pOeurrson of th e year
A GLOBAL UMMA Finding Islam while studying abroad 1
Letter from the Editor It brings me great pride to see young
Muslims strive to better their societies, whether it is through music, fashion, blogging, protesting, or advocating for
the rights of others. In this issue of AlBayan, we are so pleased to introduce you to a few of the worldâ€™s new faces for change.
Like them, we too have found a new
voice. In this issue we hope to tackle
tougher topics from LGBTQ and Islam to Palestineâ€™s new status in the United
Nations. Though our cover article is not as controversial, it is perhaps most important, serving as a reminder that, de-
spite our disagreements, faith exists in the most unexpected places.
We hope that these discussions prove
fruitful, and invite you to consider
which article you find most relatable
and inspiring, be it the fashionista, musician, poet, writer, or advocate in you.
Mariam Gomaa 3
Editor-in-Chief Mariam Gomaa
Managing Editors Imtisal Kokher Zaynab Quadri
Design Editor Mariam Gomaa
Atif Cheema Adnaan Zaffer Hagar Gomaa Heba Hasan Kareem Youssef Mohamed Akef Meena Sayeed Noor Hasan Serene Darwish Yousuf Ahmad Cover photo by Meena Sayeed Thank you to the Muslim-cultural Student Associaton and the Buffett Center for supporting AlBayan.
A Global Umma
photo by Meena Sayeed
Two writers examine their experiences practcing Islam and meeting Muslims in France and China. By Meena Sayeed and Yousuf Ahmad
photo by Meena Sayeed
by Meena Sayeed
This past summer I began my preparations to embark on the journey of a lifetime. I impatiently awaited studying abroad and being able to roam the streets of Paris (theme song: “M**na’s in Paris”!). As the time came closer, however, I grew more anxious as I quickly realized I had no friends in my program, let alone in Paris, and I would miss out on a chunk of my senior year. And of course there was one more worry I had just added to the list. I had always wanted to wear the hijab, or headscarf, and this summer I had decided I was ready. I felt confident in who I was and what I believed, but my mother’s concerns started to worry me. France’s relationship with Islam has a notorious reputation, from the hijab ban in public schools to the caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad. Nonetheless, I had this feeling at the pit of my stomach that covering my hair would make me stronger and even more confident as I traveled the world on my own. So I shut away my worries and a month before I left for Paris, I covered up my newly ombréd locks and stocked up on bright, floral scarves. Nervous about not knowing any Muslims in Paris, one of the first things I did was get in touch with a Muslim girl that one of my friends had put me in contact with. She happened to be studying at the same university where I would be for the quarter. For months we had been talking about life in Paris, what she did for fun, and the Muslim students group they had at Sciences Po called Salaam, which is the Arabic word for peace. When we finally met, she embraced me like I was a long-lost friend. We talked as she showed me where to get the best halal shawarma in Paris and we ate as we walked along the Seine River in front of the Notre Dame. After lunch, she took me to the student activities fair to introduce me to the other Salaam students. As we neared the park, I noticed I was sweating uncontrollably. I couldn’t stop my hands as they continuously reached to adjust my scarf. Knowing French stereotypes of Americans, I was self-conscious about my appearance and behavior (my newfound study abroad friends and I felt the stares from Parisians as we laughed loudly in public spaces and asked for take-home containers). As we neared the Salaam students, I noticed the
diversity of their group. Some were dressed like they were about to hit the runway, others like they were just regular teenagers. A few of the girls wore headscarves, while the rest had beautiful curls or blonde hair. They each warmly hugged me and greeted me. After hours of standing around and chatting, I realized I’d forgotten about my scarf and the tone of my voice many laughs ago. I felt no different from being at a park with my family. It was the first time in Paris that I felt at home. This was the first of many of my encounters with Islam in Paris. As time went on, I quickly discovered I was in a land filled with, what I like to call, Undercover Muslims. I felt like France was being taken over by Arab Muslims (shhh don’t tell their government!). Thanks to my hijab, strangers would great me with “Salaam”, whether it was on the streets, waiters at the corner cafes, bakers at the local patisseries or airport employees. I made friends with a few of our dorm’s doormen as I walked into the building and flashed my I.D. I was their gateway to Muslims in America as they asked me about my day, my studies, and my hijab. They picked my brain about praying, reading Quran and even reminded me to finish my Shawwal (“extra credit”) fasts! When my dad and sister visited, they experienced the special treatment I had been bragging about over the phone. At a fondue restaurant, the waiter happened to be an Algerian Muslim. He told me how proud he was to see me in hijab, so much so that he brought more cheese for our fondue and extra food for us to dip. I can’t claim that there is no Islamophobia in France. Although the majority of my experiences were positive, from time to time I was exposed to the struggles that Muslims face there. One day I Facebook messaged a group Salaam members asking where I could pray in between classes. One of the students explained that although there are many Muslims in France, there remains a strong sense of misunderstanding. I found it hard to believe that the Muslim students at Sciences Po did not have a room to pray, especially since Sciences Po is such a prestigious institution. I thought back to Northwestern, where our Muslim students association had worked with the administration to have a prayer room built in the basement of Norris, fully equipped with an ablution station and all. I couldn’t stop thinking
about how unbelievably lucky I was to have at least three places to stop and pray around campus, whereas these students did not even have one. In my France in the European Union class I learned more about the history of Islam in France. French nationalism throughout French history has played an important role in the formation of policy around immigration. As North Africans immigrated to France they were to adopt French nationalism and put their original identity on the back burner. It has been said that this disregard for acknowledging religious and ethnic diversity ultimately marginalized many immigrant groups, particularly Muslims, which further fueled Islamophobic sentiments. Better understanding the relationship between Europe and European Muslims made me appreciate how different the concept of integration is approached the U.S. Though many people describe America as the archetypal melting pot, I see it a bit differently. A melting pot implies that in the U.S., immigrants shed their previous personalities and assimilate to become part of a uniform nation. After traveling throughout Europe, I would describe our society as a salad bowl. Immigrants over the years serve as the lettuce, tomatoes, and carrots that have worked together to create a balance of flavors, colors, and textures within our country. Although our system is flawed in many ways, American culture has largely encouraged the preservation of our differences while simultaneously contributing to society as a whole. After traveling to France, I can proudly say that I not only belong to a unique “salad bowl” nation, but I am also part of another nation built solely upon faith. My experience in France truly helped me understand what the Prophet Muhammad meant when he described all Muslims as being one body; we are all brothers and sisters in Islam. I prepared myself to face Islamophobia and I was surprised at the sense of community I found and the acceptance I was greeted with. Although forced assimilation can be counter-productive, it has created a strong sense of identity within the European Muslim community. It is a given in our society that diversity is essential and, slowly but surely, this concept is taking route in our surrounding countries as the world continues to become globalized. 7
by Yousuf Ahmad
In the middle of February, with a calendar packed with midterm papers and exams, I noticed a flier about a study abroad fellowship that catered to the Environmental Sciences. Without knowing a word of Chinese, or having any cultural exposure, I decided on a whim to
photo by Yousuf Ahmad
apply to study abroad in China. A few months later I was roaming the streets of Beijing solo. On my trip, I had the fortune of traveling to Beijing, Hangzhou, and Shanghai, as part of the inaugural Green Technology and Environmental Sustainability Wanxiang Fellows Program. The program existed due to collaboration between Northwestern, Wanxiang Corporation (a global automotive parts manufacturer). The program was under the umbrella of Barack Obama’s “100,000 strong initiative,” which seeks to dramatically increase the composition of American students studying in China. The classes we took were taught by professors and professionals representing Peking University, Zhejiang University, Wanxiang Polytechnic, and our very own Field Director, Mark Petri, a researcher at Argonne National Laboratories. The amalgamation of the various institutions, not to mention the in depth tours of energy facilities contributed to an incredibly dynamic learning experience.
But the learning experience did not end in the classroom. I had never seen a hospital filled with as many people as an airport, or a wall that snaked across mountain tops into the horizon. I had never seen so many cars or had to take such deep breaths to replenish my oxygen supply. As I roamed the streets, I felt the thrill of bargaining with a storekeeper, the joy of locking eyes with smiling faces and families with matching outfits, and the frustration of waiting half an hour to catch a taxi in the middle of a city. For the first time, I felt like such a stranger, detached from the world. From the simple uncertainty of navigating home, to trying to figure out what item on the shelf is laundry detergent, simple things became tasks, and tasks became challenges. After a few days of eating only vegetarian and struggling to figure out how a virtual private network (VPN) works, I began my quest for searching Halal food. After a few google searches, I stumbled upon a few restaurants that were nearby. The first restaurant I went to, ended up becoming my “go-to.” I knew it was the right place from the Arabic scripture on the walls and the waitress wearing a makeshift headscarf. The food was awesome, so much so, that after inviting a few of my fellow program mates to the restaurant; they frequently went there for dinner. My searches also led me to a Muslim Dining Hall on campus, named “Tongyuan Muslim Restaurant,” where I had to get my ID specifically cleared to eat from the Muslim dining hall. The hall even had a bookshelf filled with Islamic Literature that was available for borrowing. It had instructions in both English and Chinese, on how to reserve the books. Despite this resource, the Chinese students I met did not have a great exposure to Islam. They knew of Muslims but they did not know too much about them. My time in Beijing, however, came to a quick end. Because the program was stretched over three cities, we did not spend too much time in one place, which was both strength and a drawback. After getting comfortable in Beijing, the nine of us in the Green Technology
program were on the move again. Before leaving, we made sure to visit all the sites. Ravi and Tommy, two of the good friends I made went to explore the Summer Palace, the temple of heaven, and shopped on Silk Street before leaving Beijing. The views and sites of all the landmarks, from the great wall to the Forbidden City were all absolutely breathtaking. When I arrived in Hangzhou, I found that it was not as navigable as Beijing because it did not yet have a metro system. Instead, we had to take busses and taxis to get around. Since only nine of us traveled to Hangzhou, we always had student ambassadors from Wanxiang Polytechnic to help us out in the case we needed anything. One particular ambassador, Bruce, was extremely helpful, and took me to a mosque on the first Friday of Ramadan. The onset of Ramadan made my trip more complicated. Although the time for fasting was actually shorter in Hangzhou and Shanghai than my home in New York, the lack of Muslims around me made it difficult. At home, I would have my family and community. I found myself going to the mosque to see Muslims, despite the fact that I could not communicate with anyone. I loved going to jumaah on Fridays because it gave me a sense of connection to my religion, and a strong sense that it was Ramadan. Although China is a very secular society, my experience in China had a profound impact on my spirituality and my sense of community. To say that I had a life changing experience seems cliché. In retrospect, I was exposed to things I had never seen and was challenged with new challenges. Every day I learned with all of my senses. When I came home, I felt different, I felt like I had grown. I feel a new sense of admiration for the Chinese culture, where a normal meal lasts about two hours, with individuals socializing and talking at the dinner table, and where, in the evening, it is common to see people out and about, practicing martial arts or yoga, playing ping-pong, mahjong, or Chinese chess, and having a good time. I realize, more than anything, that the Chinese do not forget about the joy of living. 9
LGBTQ AND ISLAM by Atif Cheema
Most people who consider themselves a follower of a particular religion have questioned their faith. These questions can range from very abstract to very explicit, and the reconciliations of these internal struggles are what shape the extensive spectrum of beliefs and practices that inhabit these followers. In the rapidly diversifying Muslim society of today, the topic of LGBT is becoming ever more relevant. Asking â€œIs there a place for LGBT in Islam?â€? is not sufficient in tackling the problem. While society searches to classify the possible tendencies an individual may experience, we begin to realize that four letters might not be enough to cover all bases. This is a complex issue, and the unclear path to which this question leads has caused division in Muslim society and alienation within Muslim communities. First, it is important to clarify the modern (not the most widely accepted) take on sexual orientation in Islam. Muslims believe that having tendencies, desires, temptations, etc. are not sinful acts by themselves because we do not have control over our feelings. However, acting upon these tendencies with a sinful act is not condoned. And furthermore, the act of lust between members of the same sex is prohibited. On one hand, this tenet refutes the claim that it is a personal choice to be gay, but on the other hand arrives the paradox of how LGBT individuals are expected to live their lives. How does an LGBT individual gain acceptance in the community or with oneself while still being considered Muslim? Many hold that the teachings of Islam should be absolute and universal, while a minority calls for a reformation of the principles to accommodate LGBT lifestyles as
acceptable life choices. There is effectively no chance that the religious texts will ever be altered, but if the interpretation of Islamic teaching has been completed, then there would not be a need for scholars today. Religious practices are constantly in a state of renovation and metamorphosis. In different cultures people choose which practices to include in their routine based on what is most important to them and exclude those that are less compatible with their lifestyles and societal identities. In medieval Islamic Spain, homosexual practices were ubiquitous and while they were never condoned, regulations against them were rarely enforced among intellectuals and political figures of the time. Rulers such as Al-Hakam II, the second Caliph of Cordoba, openly kept male harems, and only obtained a female concubine in order to continue his line of succession. A guideline for living LGBT lifestyles will probably never enter the teachings of Islam. But the interpretation of these teachings varies greatly across different cultures and customs. If the goal of an LGBT person is to be accepted by all Muslims they cannot succeed because there is not a one true Islam that all Muslims subscribe to, but rather a multitude of interpretations of Islam. It could be said then, that there is no Muslim who can achieve the goal of total acceptance because there will always be others of differing opinions within a religion as large and widespread as Islam. Perhaps the challenge then for an LGBT person, as with any Muslim, is not to change Islam, but instead to reach the point where what sets them apart is viewed as just another innumerable nuance in the many interpretations of Islam, instead of the socially inflated, inflammatory issue that it is today. 11
Photo courtesy of newslivetv.com
Malala Yousafzai, our person of the year by Zaynab Quadri
As 2012 came to a close, TIME magazine released its annual “People of the Year” list. For the second time, US President Barack Obama came in as TIME’s #1 Person of the Year – but coming in as a runner-up, completely incongruous to the businessmen and politicians on the list, was a 15-year-old girl named Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani school girl from the turbulent Swat Valley. Young as she is, Malala has arguably done more for her country than most adults have in their lifetimes. She is a fierce advocate for education in Pakistan, especially for girls, who have long been considered unworthy of an education by the Taliban. Though the U.S. is only now recognizing Malala’s efforts, she has long been fighting for her cause. In early 2009, BBC Urdu approached Malala’s school, looking for someone to run an anonymous blog discussing life under the Taliban regime. At the tender age of eleven – the age when most American children are in the sixth grade – Malala volunteered for the job at her own risk. Since run12
ning the blog, the media has filmed a documentary of her, interviewed her in print and on camera, and made her a chairwoman of the District Child Assembly Swat. Through it all, Malala and her classmates have been determined to continue going to school and get an education even as the Taliban attempts to close the buildings down. Her teacher reports that Malala always spent her pocket money on books – a biography of Benazir Bhutto, even one of Barack Obama’s books. However, the Taliban were displeased with her activism and her refusal to comply with their rules. They issued a fatwa against Malala, warning her that they would kill her if she did not stop advocating education for women. Malala did not back down. So, on October 9, 2012, the Taliban came for her. They stopped her school bus, asked the terrified girls which among them was Malala, and proceeded to shoot her twice – once in the head, once in the neck. She was immediately rushed to
a hospital in England, where she is making a full following along. Her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, recovery. Ironically, the shooting that was meant is an education activist himself, and he has been to silence her has made Malala’s voice ever louder a great source of support and encouragement for on the world stage. All before she’s even turned Malala. While her fellow countrywomen are en16, Malala Yousafzai is runner-up for Person of during oppression every day, Malala has been catthe Year behind Barack Obama and there are talks apulted into the company of the rich, famous and of her potential nomination for the Nobel Peace well-connected, her future much brighter than the Prize. futures of those she studied with in the Swat ValNow, as 2013 unfolds, the question on every- ley. body’s mind is: what’s next for Malala Yousafzai? In the documentary filmed about her and her As it stands in January, she is scheduled for one school in 2010, Malala said, “I have a new dream. I more surgery to reconstruct her skull. Her father has been given a job at the Pakistani Consulate in Birmingham, allowing his family to stay in England for three to five more years. Colleges in Pakistan have been renamed in her honor, and advocate groups have called for a petition in Malala’s name to extend education to every child in Pakistan by 2015. Yet students in the renamed colleges object to the changes, Malala Yousafzai being treated in a hospital in Birmingham, England that specializes in combat wounds. The Pakistani teenciting security issues ager was shot by the Taliban for advocating for education rights for girls. (University Hospitals Birmingham NHS ) – if the Taliban are still out for Malala, these students are in grave danger must be a politician to save this country. There are by studying in a building bearing her name. And so many crises in our country. I want to remove though the Pakistani government has pledged to these crises.” She has now been given resources pay for Malala to have a British education, Paki- and enormous support to do just that. It is unclear stanis fear that letting Malala stay in England what her immediate plans are in England or in means that she will abandon her homeland, as so Pakistan; But in her tiny schoolhouse in the Swat many of Pakistan’s powerful and wealthy have, fa- Valley, her friend Moniba has inscribed Malala’s voring the pleasures of Western life instead of ad- name into the armrest of her old desk. Moniba vocating in her politically restless country. As long promises, “This is Malala’s desk. It will stay empas she is in Pakistan, Malala’s life will be in mortal ty until she comes back.” danger; though security detail has been promised Whatever Malala chooses to do, she has been an to her, the Taliban have proven that they are not inspiration to countless men, women and children above murdering a young girl in cold blood if she worldwide, for her age-defying fearlessness. Evis an obstacle to their cause. eryone will watch with interest through 2013, as Malala has been luckier than most in Pakistan. the bright, brave young girl from Pakistan recovShe has been in school since the age of two, sitting ers from her gunshot wounds and makes her next in on classes with ten-year-olds and attentively move. 13
photo by Serene Darwish
American Muslims give Palestine a voice, long before and after the UN bid. by Serene Darwish
Recently in Palestine, violence escalated between Israel and groups in Gaza, followed by the declaration of a Palestinian state in the United Nations as well as Israel's announcement to build more settlements in the West Bank. Meanwhile, in Chicago, around two thousand people marched in solidarity with the Palestinian people of Gaza. After the Maghrib prayer in the plaza, the march filled the streets of the Downtown area. Many Northwestern students headed to the city to show support and join in the chants: calls of “End the siege on Gaza now!” and “Free, free Gaza now!” filled the streets. The urgency that many felt in mid-November was a result of the high death toll; however, the decades-long Palestinian struggle is not solely about exchanges of air strikes and rocket fire. It is a struggle against usurpation, occupation, colonization and siege. It is a struggle against indignity. At the same time, the West Bank, the political elite of Ramallah celebrated the outcome of the UN bid, referring to it as albidaya, or the beginning (seemingly forgetting that the Palestinian struggle toward dignity had its bidaya long ago). Within days, Israel's announcement of plans to build 3000 more settlement units in the occupied West Bank served as a crude reminder that state recognition is ineffectual since Israel rules between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. Beyond the region between the River and the Sea is a group often neglected by politicians in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict: Palestinian refugees. As the fight in Syria wages on, many Palestinian refugees living there do not have many options. Having been displaced from their own homeland, they have nowhere to turn. Since Israel's founding, it has kept refugees away from their homes by force. This policy was put on display on Nakba Day of 2011 when Pal-
estinian refugees in Lebanon marching to the ceasefire line with Israel were met with Israeli bullets, as were Palestinian refugees from the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and Syria. Fifteen Palestinians were killed and hundreds were wounded. There are many other efforts by Palestinians towards achieving justice for all who live under Israel's rule. Weekly protests take place in the villages of the West Bank, notably Nabi Saleh, where Mustafa Tamimi was killed over a year ago when an Israeli soldier shot him in the face with a tear gas canister. Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails have gone on hunger strikes on several occasions. At Northwestern, many students sent a message of support the hunger strike of Hana Shalabi; some even fasted in solidarity. Since then, more prisoners have gone on hunger strikes to protest administrative detention (an Israeli policy that allows the holding of Palestinians in Israeli prisons without charge or trial). Besides these efforts, Palestinians exhibit their steadfastness in the face of oppression and siege simply by existing. Outside of Palestine, the Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions (BDS) movement is an opportunity to both show solidarity with the Palestinian people and effect change. College campuses are major players in the divestment aspect of BDS; in fact, Hampshire College became the first college or university in the U.S. to divest from companies on the grounds of their involvement in the occupation of Palestine. This past fall, the student body government at the University of California-Irvine, home to the Irvine 11, voted to divest from companies complicit in the Israeli occupation. While U.S. politicians have expressed bipartisan unconditional support for Israel, grassroots campaigns have made big strides against all odds. 15
Standing Tall The first words I heard from Baltimore emcee Khalil Ismail affirmed my belief that peace, love, and truth all lie in the hearts of musicians. Allow me to relay his story, and the knowledge that he shared with me. Ismail was born in Washington D.C. and raised in inner city Baltimore. Despite the challenges of city life, Khalil was raised in balanced home. His upbringing was the product of a jazz musician father who converted to Islam and a loving, stayat-home mother. Both of Khalil’s parents loved music, so it was easy to assume that this passion would spread to their son’s heart. And spread it did. Since he was a child, Khalil has had the ability to mimic random tunes, scores of songs, television jingles, and virtually anything he could wrap his ears around. Amazingly, he could not remember the first time he appreciated music for what it truly was. The tracks Khalil would listen to would quickly be put to memory, and it was at this young age that Khalil began developing his soulful voice. Such young talent was precious as it remained with him, ready to be put to good use. Khalil’s musical career kicked-off five years ago when he was laid off from his day job. He decided to commit all of his time and effort to a musical career. The slim odds of a Muslim emcee attaining huge success in the modern musical industry did not deter Khalil Ismail from his goals. He was uncertain of his own fate, yet he pushed on with faith in God and love for the Lord who gave him his musical ability. According to Khalil, the largest obstacle that he and other emcees face is the music industry itself. It is simply due to the fact that the resources independent musicians have access to are dwarfed by the artists with major record labels and production. Nevertheless, Khalil did what all Muslims, emcees, and young people should do. He taught himself the necessary skills and applied them to the field without hoping for instant success. For those who are struggling to succeed in the arts, Khalil offers some smart advice. The first step is for artists to accept that they will be at odds 16
Khalil Ismail on his musical career and new album by Kareem Youssef
with the mainstream, and the culture that immerses people. To convince the naysayers, Khalil says, “You just gotta let them hear it. Once they hear it…it is pretty easy to convert people who might have had so much disdain towards my type of music. The problem is trying to get them to hear it when you have so many people (mainstream music) trying to do the opposite.” Up and coming artists need to lower their expectation for material success, and trust in their talent and passion. A novel artist need to learn to take criticism as well. Khalil emphasizes the importance of having a fallback plan, an alternative way of bringing food to the table, as part of his experience in the music industry. He realized that the love for the arts will always exist, but that it does not always manifest itself n the form of a successful career. Once you listen to one of Khalil Ismail’s tracks, like Sometimes, you will immediately recognize that his love is for love and not for fame. The music he makes is soul based hip hop, with influences from the works of Marvin Gaye among others. Although the music he makes is primarily hip hop, Khalil isn’t afraid to borrow techniques and rhythms from other genres of music, even rock and roll. His music speaks of hardship, piety, love, righteous, and the struggles we all face for the cause of God. When Khalil sings about sadness, the combination of his lyrics and flow make all the emotion seem realer to the listener. He sings because it is what he was taught to do all his lifeit’s the way he learned to express himself. The most beautiful musical moment of Khalil’s life did not come about when he was alone, but in East Africa. The crowd of African people who didn’t speak a word of English still reveled at the sight and sound of Khalil Ismail. While he sang, he translated some of the lyrics just so that the love surrounding the show could be made stronger. This is the essence of being an emcee. True musicians like Khalil Ismail extract the musical genius within their own soul and share it with others. Once they succeed at that, their hearts light up while the whole world looks at them.
photo by Mariam Gomaa
Cheeni a poem by Noor Hasan
You first explained diabetes to me As a condition that made your heart sweet. At six, I knew Azra’il would come soon But why was sugar so bitter to you? I imagined a ball inside your chest Covered in white sugar like diamonds, Shiny silver specks flowing in your blood, Dark brown skin stretched over sugary dust. I didn’t understand why you were sick Or why you would answer my questions with Reassuring chuckles as if the thought of being sick was a casual cost.
I did not realize your depth in illness Until the fragments your vision left You weak and motionless in a hospital While snow whirled outside your sterile window. The brightness in your chocolate brown eyes paled To dry, still marbles on a fading face. I could barely recognize you under A silhouette of copper skin color.
I sat and watched nurses walk in and out. Mom sat by the window and prayed but doubt Streamed from her eyes, staining salt on her cheeks. I choked out to ask if you could see me. Only your heart monitor responded With the hummed sound of your faltering chest. You shifted in your bed, lips ice blue As you said “Of course, beta, I named you, Noor-ul-ain, the divine light of the eyes, There is more to vision beyond my sight.” For even without your vision, you saw Peace within brutal sickness and solace In leaving me as a child on Earth Whose memories of you would turn To sparse images of snowy winters And the sweet and bitter sides of sugar. If you had not shown me the beauty in The dazzling winter world you created, I would have never learned how to find you In the winter world that you introduced. The leaf under your name fell from God’s tree So Azra’il came for you the next week. Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un Surely we belong to Allah and to Him shall return. We whispered softly as we buried you Just a week before November was through. Despite your leaving, you return to me in every winter season’s first cheeni. Your sweetened soul continues to see Even after leaving this zindagi. You linger like soft gray flakes that glide After a calm, weightless snowfall outside, Serene in their translucence of motion, Beautiful in their soft landings at home In the backyard we found happiness in, In a season I didn’t fully begin To understand ‘til it came to an end With the departure of a wise, dear friend.
photo by Mariam Gomaa
My grandpa leads me to the living room And points outside as white winter flakes zoom. I press my hand upon the cool window and stare up to ask what he thinks of snow. He simply says cheeni as the wind howls. Behind the glass, particles move in slow Motion and whirl over thick white blankets. North Shore snow coats our frozen red swingset. When I take his wrinkled brown hand in mine, his wisdom pulses through me as he smiles into my brown eyes three feet beneath him. I fear that his system is too nervous. His grip on my hand has become weaker And his eyes have hollowed with dark creases But the grin he gives me is warm with strength. It leaves a dimple on his wrinkled chin. Neither of us knows that this is the last Snowy winter holiday we will have. Azra’il, the Angel of Death records the approaching death of my grandfather.
Photo courtesy of directors
FILM REVIEW BY IMTISAL KOKHER
While watching “The Light in Her Eyes,” a fantastic documentary following the lives of women in Syria, I couldn’t help but admire the drive and passion of these women—as, of course, was the intention of directors Laura Nix and Julia Meltzer. Their formation of a solid narrative shows a real preparation and vision as to what this film could be; “The Light in Her Eyes” manages to touch on a wide variety of issues and also provides valuable insight into the intricacies of women’s rights in the Muslim and Arab world. Houda Al-Habash is simultaneously a captivating protagonist and an excellent living metaphor for the contrasts present for Arab women. She is a pioneer in the movement of female preachers, speaking about issues of change, reform, and modernization. She established one of the first Quran schools for girls in Syria and encourages women to be educated, which is not something that has been traditionally accepted Muslim countries. This is due to cultural limits, not religious ones; in fact, Houda sees education as a form of worship and speaks of the sacrifices necessary for women to pursue education at universities instead of traditionally getting married after 11th or 12th grade. According to Houda, “whoever learns about religion knows extremism is ignorance,” which is
why education is so important. While spending her days teaching and educating young women in Syria, Houda keeps her own home in similar order. She comes home at night, and speaks to the filmmakers while she’s doing the dishes, having tea with her husband, and talking to her eldest daughter, Enas about her longterm life plans. Houda tends to her housework with the same passion that she does when preaching to her young students. She understands that she must, in her efforts to be a pious Muslim, live a complete life. In her mind, there was no utopian separation between a public and private life. To slack and leave her home in dissarray or to leave her family without a loving mother or wife would be shortsighted and transgressing against the very manifestation of female empowerment that she preached. Interestingly, Houda’s pragmatic application of female empowerment sought not to separate women from society, but to drive society with a better woman. The acute attention to detail that Houda has, and her ability to improve towards a big picture goal illustrate not only that Houda’s goals are feasible, but that they’re within her grasp. Houda wants to empower women through education, and emphasize that Islam doesn’t limit women, it frees them. 19
with Muslim YouTube Sensation
AlBayan’s Hagar Gomaa chats with our favorite funny-man and graphic design student at the University of Texas at Arlington. His claim to fame is SubeeTube, an overnight sensation in the world of v-logging.
the wrong example and influence anyone in a negative way. I also want to take advantage of it, like asking such a large mass of people to pray and make dua’a for those suffering around the world.
AlBayan: How did you become a v-logger? Subhi: Well I didn’t really plan on it, it started with my first video, “Sh*t Arab Dads Say.” I made that video because people always told me my imitation of Arab dads was extremely accurate. I honestly didn’t think the video would spread past the group of friends in my area. But somehow it did and out of mere boredom I decided to continue making videos, which was perfect because I could socialize without even leaving my room (result of being both an introvert and a college student)
AB: How does your academic and social life influence your videos? ST: For me, school always comes before any of my hobbies. I’m not a hardcore Youtuber for that reason. If I want to make a video, it’s all good; but as soon as all my projects and studying are done with. And, a social life? Where can I get one of those?
AB: What are some of your other hobbies? ST: Well I was never actually trained at playing the piano, but I often like to memorize songs and play when I have time. Another hobby involves AB: What do you want your viewers and fans a late night run to McDonald’s and rewatching a to take away from your work? season’s worth of Law & Order: SVU episodes. ST: I want to give people a sense of pride for their culture and religion — or any heritage and AB: What is your favorite part about being a faith, not just Arabs and Muslims. On a lighter vlogger? note, I hope that they’re getting a good laugh. ST: Reading comments of people telling me how their families gather to watch my videos for a AB: How does your Palestinian/Filipino back- quick laugh. Knowing I had part in that honestly ground affect your videos? keeps me wanting to make more videos. My absoST: It’s pretty much the foundation for them. lute favorite part is the responses from my people If I express the pride for my heritage and culture, in Palestine. What they don’t know is that they are people will soon follow. My main purpose is not the ones who should get the recognition and reto mock, but to unite us. If there are Arabs/Mus- spect, because they definitely have mine. lims that don’t live around many of their own and have no one to relate to their day-to-day life AB: What is the most interesting experience or at home, they have the videos to reassure them conversation that you have had with a viewer/ that there is a bigger community out there stand- fan? ing tall for who they are. ST: Probably the first time I was recognized for my video. I was standing outside a masjid and a AB: How do you feel about being a symbol of lady got out of a van to ask if I have a youtube the Muslim American identity? video. I said yes. She turned around, nodded, and ST: It honestly pushes me to be the best Mus- the back door of her van slid open. Six girls started lim I can possibly be. I would never want to set screaming my name. It was pretty intense. 20
Restaurant Reviews by Adnaan Zaffer
Pita Xpress Grill Pita Xpress Grill is a relatively young restaurant, having only been open for a few months. Upon entering, one notices how clean it is and the extent to which the space was remodeled. The redesign and layout distinguish Pita Xpress Grill as an ‘upscale’ option on Devon, contrasting with the droves of ethnic fast food options that fill the neighborhood. For what ends up on your plate, the time it takes to prepare it, and how delicious the food is, eating here will be well worth your money. The food is not oily, quite tasty, and portion sizes are generous. The motto is ‘Eat Fresh, Be Healthy’, be assured that Pita Xpress Grill stands by that. Rating = 4.5/5
Visit Lal Qila’s website, and you’re bound to be impressed. Lal Qila offers a menu full of classic tandoori, chicken, beef, vegetable, and seafood dishes, as well as modern ‘fusion’ dishes in a modern fine dining setting. However, an odd gap in business hours everyday (closed from 35 pm), as well as inconsistent availability of many items on the menu may disappoint you as it has others. If you can get passed Lal Quila’s quirky shortcomings, you’ll definitely find the cuisine quite appetizing. Rating = 3.5/5
Photos courtesy of Subhi Taha
Zak’s Pizza, Pasta & Wings Zak’s is a small restaurant with a dull and unattractive sign outside. The lackluster signage makes it easy to miss while driving on Main Street in Lombard. Known well for its chicken wings, Zak’s offers over 13 different wing sauces, which include four different BBQ flavors. What makes Zak’s so attractive is that it’s a Zabiha wings place. While Zak’s is notorious for their wings, I find it hard to order anything other than the BBQ pulled beef sandwich. Eating the BBQ pulled beef sandwich, too, will prove to be quite messy, but it is definitely worth the flavor that kicks your taste buds with every bite. Rating = 4/5 21
Elements of (Modest)Style by Heba Hasan
Whether you hate them or love them, Muslim fashion blogs have been flourishing across the internet, creating a group of new style icons and signature looks.
photos courtesy of bloggers
Muslim fashion blogs pose an interesting conundrum. On the one hand, fans praise these bastions of conservative style for putting a more modest sensibility into the mainstream. Others see these shrines of selfies and posed portraits as the complete antithesis of humility. Whether these website prompt eye rolling or hours of procrastination, one cannot deny that these bloggers know how to market themselves. At Al Bayan weâ€™ve created a guide of some of the best Muslim sartorialists out there.
Dina Toki-O 22
combination of that elusive feminine cool. She keeps girly pieces from looking too saccharine by adding edgy elements such as studs. And when she does don more masculine wares she chooses fitted and streamlined silhouettes to keep any piece from overwhelming her. Her Malaysianbased boutique called I am Jet Fuel, is filled with colorful and bright pieces that reflect her fun and bohemian sensibility.
Winnie Detwa Michigan-based Winnie Détwa garnered an online following with her striking pattern and color combinations. She recently attracted much attention when she decided to take off her hijab. Despite the headgear change, Winnie still sticks to her glamorous aesthetic, which often features dark red lips, patterned pants and chunky heels. Her style definitely appeals to those of us whose sartorial taste leans towards a more “get noticed” sensibility.
Based in the UK, Dina Toki-O is a stylist and designer who creates and wears hijabi friendly styles. Her eclectic taste is all over the place, one day wearing a floor length hobo-esque sweatshirt with sneakers and on another day twirling around in leopard print heels and a light pink dress. Not afraid of switching up her more girly looks for something a bit edgier, her site is a refreshing standout in the new crop of feminine and floral filled Muslim fashion blogs.
Ok, so Yuna isn't technically a fashion blogger but her Instagram is definitely used by her fans as style inspiration. Known for her unique turbans, the Malaysian singer’s look is the perfect
photo by Mariam Gomaa
An Object of Interest I never set out to befriend strangers. Yet it was a skill I soon acquired like a set of hand-me-down clothes. One might attribute it to the fact that I spent my childhood moving across the country with my family (mind you, we took it slow and steady, creeping along New York and through Pennsylvania until we somehow found ourselves in the Midwest), but I like to think that I have an affinity for understanding other people. I recently decided to put that affinity to good use and begin people watching. Whether that’s ethical is an entirely different matter. As it were, my people watching skills became a project (specifically a blog about the various people I meet while riding the el) that was eventually taken on by Inspire Media, a group that promotes socially conscious art. Suddenly, I had a wonderful alibi for my wandering, curious, and occasionally judgmental eyes. And more importantly, I had a reason to talk to the people I so avidly observed from my plastic, felt covered seat. On these excursions, I try to act like any other passenger while secretly perusing the car for any interesting characters. I remain sensitive to my surroundings, waiting for the sudden onset of enigma that radiates from certain people. At times it is purely superficial – pink hair, unusual glasses, or a curling mustache. More often than not, however, it is the small details that draw me to a person – a weathered pair of entwined hands or a sheet of music being read. In the rare instance that there is no one of inter24
an essay by Mariam Gomaa
est, I leave the car and walk into another, or wait on the platform for the next train. But when I find a potential candidate, I try to discreetly take a photo of him or her (or at least convince myself that the person is completely unaware of my stalker-ish behavior). Occasionally, I find myself emiting an audible expression of celebration at the clarity of a stranger’s face on my LCD screen. The hard part is approaching the person afterward and explaining myself. There’s the stumbling apology and the eager interest, and then the courteous and pleasant goodbye. For the most part, people seem a little wary, but receptive to my interest in their lives, which is always a little surprising. I often fear that my subjects will think that I am objectifying them in my photographs, rather than trying to show that each of them is worthy of being examined and identified as an individual in a place where one is typically sentenced to anonymity. As I rode the train to the Art Institute to see an exhibit of Rabindranath Tagore’s works, I conducted my usual, if not awkward, interviews with several passengers that intrigued me. That day, I happened to notice a girl with a large flower in her hair and layers of carefully applied makeup. After some thoughtful consideration, I found myself sitting beside her and introducing my project and myself. She introduced herself as Reese. I showed her the photo I had quietly acquired of her from afar. We began talking and came to realize that we had much in common with one another; we both enjoyed literature and writing, loved visiting the
Art Institute of Chicago, and had a similar taste in music. As we approached Lake Avenue, her destination, she handed me a card with her contact information. I asked her if there was one last thing she wanted to share with me, so that I may share it with the world. She smiled and said, “I’m a fire eater.” As a child, she had been in an accident that burned her hands severely. Fire eating was a means of overcoming the overwhelming trauma that permeated through her life long after her childhood. Though I met Reese, the fire-eater, what struck me was not the conversation we had that day. Rather, what remained the defining moment from that day was an experience I had at the Art Institute. It was there that I encountered a family that interested me, and there that I became more aware of the uncomfortable aspects of my observations. It was in the member’s lounge, and as usual, I was feeling rather self important because of the $40 student membership card that fit perfectly in my pocket and granted me free tea and coffee, as well as an unlimited number of entrances to see the numerous galleries. Secretly, I relish the days when it is lacking visitors so that I may wander the galleries alone and unhurried. As I sauntered into the lounge, clutching a black notebook and a copy of Nietzche’s The Genealogy of Morals, passively trying to persuade people that it was leisurely reading and not school work, I heard a familiar guttural sound. My eyes scoped the room. The noise was distinct to Semitic language, but no one seemed to fit the image. Then I heard it again. This time on my left. I turned toward the sound cautiously, pretending to glance at some unseen artifact on a couch in that general direction, and saw a mother with two curly-haired boys playing with a set of brightly colored, little cars beside her. I smiled. They were adorable and reminded me much of my own brother. The woman did not return my smile. As her husband came forward with a cup for her and himself, I saw her nod her head toward me and speak. This time I recognized the language that I had so often heard my cousins use with one another, so that I would not understand them. It was Hebrew. I understood. At the tea station, I prepared myself a cup of chamomile tea with lemon and sugar. A man stood behind me. As I moved out of his way, I smiled and asked if he needed the milk. He gave me a curious glance, before curtly thanking me in an accent, and
walked away. When I settled into a couch, I noticed the man and his family sitting with the other family I had seen previously. They were not talking, but instead watching me. I deliberately opened my copy of The Genealogy of Morals, and flashed its cover at my neighbors. Peering over the book, I saw them inspect the cover and whisper to one another. The show continued. I read and chatted animatedly with the person next to me. I drank my tea, which had cooled over the course of my time on the bright orange couch in the lounge, and looked at the photos from the el on my camera. All the while, I was being watched, examined even, and I wondered what they might be saying about me – if they realized that I had been born and raised here and knew no other nation as my home, whether they understood that I was not a foreigner like them. I glanced again at the camera in my hand and back at the families beside me. One of the frowning fathers carried the Canon equivalent to my Nikon. I turned to my hands, and arms and legs, and then (from the corner of my eye) back to the family. The parents, the children, and I were all wearing striped sweaters and khaki pants. The mothers and I wore similar shades of pale pink nail polish, and shared the same dusty brown hair, and thick eyebrows. They could not know about my hair, but couldn’t they see that I was like them? I too had a family with a little boy who liked to blow on his mother’s steaming tea before she drank it, and parents who had carried me to museums and encouraged me to be curious about my world, so that I would grow up to study at a prestigious university and become a human being in my own right. I felt as though there was something I had to prove. I knew that my hijab was something they attributed to Palestine, to the other, but I didn’t know how to tell them that I was neither Palestinian, nor well informed about the struggles of our mutual holy land. I was not entirely sure how to explain to these two Israeli families that I felt no animosity towards them… that in this room, we belonged as equals. And I didn’t have time to find out. In the hour that I spent occupying myself with these families and the thoughts they might have about me, I realized that I too had been avidly people watching. And rather than take the risk that I would take on the train, I left, too nervous to approach the first group of people that had dared to turn me into an object of interest in return. 25
One writer examines the Islamic tradition of eschatology in light of living through the Mayan predicition for the appacolypse. by Mohamed Akef
2012 has been an interesting year, if for no other reason than all the pop culture references and spoofs about the impending apocalypse foretold by the Mesoamerican Long Count Calendar. This year, Facebook and Twitter lit up with a plethora of comments and jokes about the end of the world, all meant to stir up a good laugh. Yet with the help of things like the fiscal cliff and Gangnam Style as talking points and fodder for jokes, we survived the mania. Conspiracy theories and jokes aside, we don’t know and can’t know when the end of the world is or will be, but we certainly know that one day it will come. Allah has ensured that we humans are not aware of the specific date. There is wisdom in this, for if we truly did know the time when Judgement Day was arriving, everyone would be paralyzed with fear and life would come to a grinding halt as that day came closer Prophet Muhammad was confronted by polytheists with questions about the date of the Day of Judgment. The Qur’an gives a very specific answer to these questions, “They may ask you about the Hour: ‘When will it arrive?’ SAY: ‘Knowledge about it rests only with my Lord; He Alone will disclose its time’” (Qur’an 7:187). The Messenger of Allah 26
himself was not given this special piece of knowledge, for the same reason every other human isn’t given it: to ensure that mankind can live life without fear of meaninglessness, which allows Allah to test us for our actions. Despite the fact that we will never know when the end of the world actually is, Allah has told us about certain signs, both major and minor, that will mark its approach. The Qur’an does not delve into the topic of eschatological signs in great detail (after all it’s meant to guide us in our lives, not meant to help us anticipate life’s end), and some of the Hadith on this subject are questionable. Nevertheless, some of the more famous signs we are aware of include the return of Jesus and the arrival of Gog and Magog. These signs and others involve dramatic and drastic events that we have not yet witnessed. So fear not, friends. There is time (or at least time beyond 2012). And there will, as always, be predictions about the arrival of the last day. Rather than being carried away by these theories, we should brush them aside and continue to live our lives with good intentions. And having survived the mania once, we can survive it again. So long 2012, it was fun while it lasted.
THINGS WE LOVE 4
5 1. Alaa Balkhy, blogger and owner of Fyunka, a handbag company. 2. Noor Tagouri, journalism student, aspiring to become the first hijabi news anchor. 3. Mohammed Langston, photographer. 4. Ayman Mohyeldin, NBC news correspondent. 5. Tariq Ramadanâ€™s new book, Islam and the Arab Awakening.