Just some thoughts swirling around in my head this week:
Not blogging much these days
Someone recently asked me why I haven’t been blogging as much as I used to in the past. Several reasons come to mind, which include the increase in other social media outlets. But I think at a deeper level, I haven’t been writing as much because I’m at a better and healthier place, emotionally and spiritually. I’ve realized some of my best blogging (cue the Penalty Box post) has come from a place of (hopefully righteous) anger at injustice.
And while I still get angry at injustice, I think I’ve found a number of constructive ways to channel that anger into positive outcomes. I’m also living in the beauty of the grays, no longer willing to parrot the mostly black and white moral certainties of conservative orthodoxy, which I don’t and maybe never really believed in, though God knows, I sincerely tried to believe and practice it.
An Embarrassing Mistake
Yesterday, I made an embarrassing mistake. I barely glanced at two people and I asked, “Who are you two ladies?” Thee was an awkward pause and recoil from both of them. One said her name and the other said, “I’m so-and-so’s husband.” Yikes! I immediately felt shy and embarrassed and wanted to make amends but wasn’t sure how. The husband had long hair down his back and I didn’t really look at him, kind of just assumed with my cursory glance that he was a woman. I couldn’t unsay what I said even though I dearly wished I could take those words back so instead I pretended to be engrossed in some activity all the while trying not to look in the man’s direction.
I couldn’t help but replay some of the recent discussion around the incendiary comments by AlMaghrib Institute and Prophetic Guidance instructor Abu Eesa. I certainly didn’t intend to be stubbornly belligerent, defensive or mocking but here I was in a real situation standing just a few feet away from someone I may have offended. I chose to stop avoiding the situation, put down my things, turned and looked the gentleman in his eyes and said, “I’m sorry, I just saw your hair, and not your face.” He didn’t respond and I didn’t and still don’t really feel much better. But we were able to interact normally without any overt awkwardness after that and as he left he wished me a good weekend and I wished him a safe drive home.
Making mistakes, saying things we don’t necessarily mean, and hurting people in the process is a part of the human condition. It’s not the mistake, which defines us, but how we respond when we realize or if we even realize we have made a mistake is the mark of a person’s character.
I’m working on a post tentatively called Inside AlMaghrib Institute: An Insider’s Perspective, which will revolve around my own decade long experience with the organization so stay tuned for that.
Respecting My Parents
I am so thankful for my parents. I haven’t always and probably still don’t fully appreciate them and all they’ve done for me. My parents are my biggest unwavering supporters. They have taught me so much and given me so much. And I’m sorry to say that my encounter with various strains of Islam has not always led me to accord my parents the deep love, honor, and respect they deserve from me.
My family tells a story about my grandmother, my father’s mother, Mama 71, as she was known by many. She had seven surviving children including four sons, of which my dad is the youngest son. My dad and my three uncles all left Nigeria to pursue their undergraduate and graduate studies abroad. Mama 71 and maybe grandfather, too, ensured it was well understood that none of the boys, much less the daughters, would marry from outside i.e. a non-Igbo. And none did.
While completing his graduate studies here in America, my dad dated an African American woman. She, according to family sources, was very much in love with my dad and they even traveled back to Nigeria together for a visit. However, she was aware that my dad would never marry her because she was not from our tribe. And he didn’t, auspiciously enough for me, as he would later marry my mother.
I’m struck by this story because after I converted to Islam, I did so many things that I know must have riled, rankled, hurt or upset my parents. I hid my conversion to Islam fearing the reaction from family and friends. In my mind, I didn’t need anyone’s permission, I was an adult, though, just barely 18 at the time. I bowed to Muslim community pressure and started going by the Arabic name Zainab, though I didn’t legally change my name and my family always called me Ify.
I almost married a couple of guys without so much as discussing it with my parents, though, I did discuss it with several imams. None of the imams who were supposed to have my best interests in mind seemed particularly interested or bothered with the enormity of decision at hand and the exclusion of my family. Their main concern was fulfilling assumed jurisprudential requirements. I didn’t discuss this with my family, I simply informed them that I wanted to marry so-and-so. A remarkable change in just a single generation. My dad and my aunts and uncles bowed to parental pressure to marry within the Igbo tribe. I, born and raised in America, decided to inform my family of my intention to marry after I’d found who I wanted, not even asking nor really caring for their input.
For too long, I’ve relied on the knowledge, wisdom, and experience of Muslim preachers as a substitute for that of my family. As I get older, hopefully, I’m a bit more mature and wiser, I really want and need for my family to be involved in my life. I want to discuss issues with my parents to hear and respect their advice and wisdom. I sometimes feel that converts are given advice which minimizes or harms our family ties and leaves us vulnerable to be preyed upon by others so I always advise converts or the newly practicing that we must not discard our families.
So interesting how life goes! I don’t know what talks were with my father and his family about whether he should marry an Igbo (shoot, even a Christian!) woman or not. Maybe it was because my grandmother had already passed by the time he came to the states and I feel that sometimes women are more adamant about those types of things…I don’t know. The story of your father with the African American woman reminds me so much of my own parents’ story…my mother traveled to Nigeria to see him. Luckily for me, my father did not have the familial pressure to marry Igbo, and he didn’t…though, the fact that my mother was Muslim was a family secret for over 30 years, I guess.
I know what you mean about respecting parents. Ultimately the thing that kept me at the edges of Muslim culture and not a full participant is because I didn’t want to do anything behind particularly my father’s back. I lamented my fringe identity for a long time, but I don’t any more. It’s healthy and it makes sense for me and my family story and who I actually am.
Sorry for the novel but I identified so much with this post!
Wa alaykum salaam Chinyere!
Your story and that of your family is so fascinating. I found your last post on the Love, InshAllah blog, Interfaith Marriage on a String, so poignant and reflected parts of my own experience. My parents never argued in front of their children, my mother being embarrassed to be seen with me or not able to bring herself to say that I was Muslim early on after my conversion, and the difficulty brought on by long distance relationships.
amazing story the video you shared about breaking the kola nutbrought back so many memories I was at that celebration 1 year as a student of your fathers. He was also my mother’s teacher when she was in college. Brilliant man I never knew his love story but it is so sweet I have shared many things with him and I consider him a second father to me I was to travel home with him when Christmas but my finances did not allow. You are very brave woman it takes great strength and courage to break away from all you know and stand out on your own and I know how he is he is very passionate about his beliefs I am very pleased to call him my family and to now know you!
Wonderful to hear from you, thank you for your kindness. Two of the most important lessons I learned from my parents include being true to yourself and standing up for what you believe in, even at great personal cost. A couple of years ago, I was at a dinner party and I met a woman, an educator, who I discovered as we spoke had also taken classes with my dad back in the 70s at SUNY Brockport. Utterly amazing, the ripple effects of a lifetime dedicated to learning and teaching.