Thursday, November 27, 2008



I really love cooking for a crowd. Makes me happy.

Monday, November 24, 2008

not what i meant, but it will have to do (or "HOW CAN I STAND ON YOUR HEAD WITHOUT KILLING YOU?")

Superfluous Suppositions of Superiority

Comments like Questions or Killer Colloquialism or Cute Clarifications

Sipping Something Sweet as we Sit Serenely Staring at Stars Somehow Starkly Subtle and Stupidly Surreal Somewhere South of Skiatook in a Superbly fashioned Stone Suite

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Udhiya Confessions: The True Story of an American Muslim

Abraham was commanded by God to sacrifice his son as he would slaughter an animal for food. A prophet of God, Abraham approached his son and told him of God’s plan. Ishmael did not fight the word of God, though surely it pained him. A devout believer in the Most High, Ishmael went with his father to what would surely be his untimely death. The feelings that Abraham must have felt that day would surely torture any soul, but he had faith in God and his message, taking his son to what he thought would be a quick but brutal death at his own hands. And just as Abraham was about to spill the blood of his beloved son, God intervened with yet another message, this time to spare Ishmael’s life. Instead of killing his son, he was to sacrifice a ram.

Clearly, God tested two of his greatest servants and prophets, and they passed with flying colors. We remember this great test each year at Eid Al-Adha, the Muslim holiday at the conclusion of the yearly pilgrimage, Hajj. This day we sacrifice a sheep, goat, or ram and feed the poor. Feeding our friends and our families from this udhiya, we remember the trial of two great men. We remember their willingness to sacrifice for their Lord. And even while eating tasty lamb kabobs fresh off the grill, we remember their test, and, even if for only a moment, we consider our own. We remember the trials of our pasts. We consider the likelihood of trials in the near future.

Take your shoes off in the garage!

Before I explain it all to you, you have to understand that my dad was raised on a farm. In the middle of nowhere in Libya (North Africa), my dad can, and will if you get him started, tell you stories of shooting wild jackrabbits and herding the sheep. He’ll tell you, whether you’re listening or not, about the scorpions and the snakes, too. He’s got stories about his entire family eating from one plate and living in a house built into the ground because it’s too hot during the day and too cool at night.

Before going further, you have to understand that Tulsa, Oklahoma is not Libya, but being Libyan, my dad brought a lot of his culture with him. You have to know that even in our three bedroom home (above ground of course) with a good sized backyard and air conditioning in the summer, my dad is Libyan and a country boy. He has his garden out back, he insists on hanging the clothes on the line despite a working dryer, and uses the water from the washer to water his pepper plants. And at least three times a year, we have sheep (or goats or rams) in our backyard. We live in the city.

What kind of dog is that?

Have you ever seen sheep or goats? They’re not usually pretty. There are different kinds, of course. Just like people, they come in different shapes and sizes and colors. They sometimes taste different depending on how and where they were raised and the kind of breed they are. It just goes to show that it’s true: you can’t judge a book by its cover, or a sheep by its wool, or a person by her head scarf.

My hijab, the sometimes sparkly, sometimes plain, sometimes bright pink head scarf, sometimes throws people off. A glance in my direction is enough to label me an Arab (I am—half anyway) and a Muslim (I most obviously am). It may be enough for someone to attach terrorist, foreigner, anti-American, anti-Semite, non-English speaker, and oppressed to me, but I did not condone the 9/11 attacks, I was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, I proudly sing the anthem at every football game, I actually TEACH English, and I am anything but oppressed. I am proud: proud of my heritage, proud of my country, and proud of my religion. I haven’t always been this way, and I’m sure I’ll change even more, but my experiences, good and bad, have shaped my being. Even the ones related to sheep.

Once, Ali was supposed to hold the rope while my dad fastened the rope around the sheep’s neck. Adam was supposed to close the gate. I was supposed to watch Abdullah, who was too little to help and was just supposed to stay out of the way. Of course my brothers, being brothers, don’t always do what they should. Before anyone really realized what was happening, we had a sheep loose. And despite the scramble to reach the gate first, the sheep made his way outside the yard and out in the street. Dad yells and we all stand for just a moment, in complete awe at the dexterity and swiftness of that wooly creature. It was only a moment, because there was a sheep in the street. The only thing left to do was run!

My dad and Adam, being the eldest boy, chased the scared little creature down the street. Two of our neighbors, Mexican friends of ours, ran along to help. I was somewhat mortified. What would everyone say when they see a sheep in the street? What would they think if they knew we sacrificed a sheep in our backyard at least three times a year? And, scariest of all, should I call animal control to report loose livestock within city limits? Even though all the thoughts in my head were serious at the time, the picture of them scrambling after a sheep only leaves me rolling on the floor. Though tears may stream down my face from laughing so hard, the moment was definitely tense, for there’s no way we thought they could catch that animal—and boy would dad be mad to lose $40 worth of delicious meat that would last at least a month.

Luckily for us, this is not a sad story. They were able to recover the animal alive and well, though stuck in a fence. The only question our neighbors down the street had was “What kind of dog was that?” And animal control was never notified of our rituals. But the way I questioned myself that day did have an impact on me. This may have been about a sheep, but it’s really about being a minority.

My father is from Libya, an Arab immigrant with an amazing olive complexion and black hair who came here to complete graduate studies at the University of Tulsa in the 70’s. My mother was a white American with red hair and blue eyes who struggled to complete her Bachelor’s degree in early childhood education by the time she was 38 and I was 13. Together they make me, their fair skinned brown-eyed, brunette daughter. My father was raised Muslim in a Muslim country and lived with his family until moving here. My mother was from a non-practicing Christian family and lived in the same city as her family until moving around, even if for just a while, with my father. My parents fell in love, married, and had four children. My father never forced his beliefs on my mother, but impressed by his lifestyle, she was interested. After meeting some of the Muslim women at the local Masjid, a converted church, she finally decided to accept Islam. When I was four years old, my brother Adam two (Ali and Abdullah not yet entering the family circle), my mother, Patricia May Rose M, became Muslim.

Being both white and Arab has made life interesting. Most of the time, I was on the fringes of society. In a gathering of Arab Muslims, I was the one who didn’t speak Arabic fluently for most of my life, but was praised for my white skin. In a gathering at my grandma’s house for Thanksgiving, we were the ones who couldn’t eat the ham or drink the alcohol. At school, I was the one who didn’t celebrate Christmas. At the Masjid, I was the one who also got Christmas gifts from my grandparents. It wasn’t all bad. I didn’t usually mind being different. I am a white, Arab, Muslim, bilingual American, and I am an educator. I am unique. I am different. I am proud.

(Wool) Hide

A sheep’s wool is somewhat amazing. Offering warmth and protection, the wool on a sheep can be used to make clothing, blankets, and even insulation. Once sheared, a sheep’s wool will grow back. Even though we all may imagine a fluffy white animal that baas and allows us to assign it numbers in order fall asleep, it’s amazing how many different kinds of sheep there are and the different hides each has. Even when they are white, they get dirty and the fur isn’t always very soft and smooth. But no matter how they look exactly, these creatures are still amazing. These creatures give us so much for which we should be thankful. While not generally made of wool, my own cover is something I am thankful for also. Wool may cover the sheep, but my hijab always covers me, even when under intense scrutiny.

In January of 2003, my cover became the center of a local controversy. I walked into a local tag agency to renew my license after my morning classes. I had accidentally let it expire, a mistake far too many of us make, and needed to renew it as soon as possible. I didn’t have to retake the tests and I didn’t have to pay any extra fines. I just needed to take the license picture and pay my license fee. I was ready to go. When I walked up to take the picture, the woman stopped me. “You’ll need to remove your head covering,” she stated. At first I was a little surprised at her ignorance, explaining that it was a part of my religious practices. She repeated that I would need to take off my scarf. Again and again, I explained. The more I explained, the less confident in the system I became. No matter what I said, she would not back down. Finally, I was shocked. My original license had a photo of me wearing my scarf, so why would today be any different? Well, turns out it was quite different. I clarified, “It’s for religious purposes,” but to no avail. It seems that this particular tag agency (“we,” she said) had a “meeting” and decided that all head coverings would be banned “except for a Nun’s,” or so she told me. Turns out her story wasn’t exactly correct, but wasn’t exactly wrong either.

I didn’t take my scarf off for my picture. I didn’t leave without talking to different individuals, including a police officer (via telephone), who all reiterated that I couldn’t take that picture with my scarf, despite having my original license with it. Even though I stood up for what I believed in, I left the tag agency that morning feeling worse than I’ve felt in a long time. I felt less than human. I felt alone and despised. I felt as if someone had slapped me in the face. Little did I know that this was only the beginning.

Leaving the tag agency, I went directly to work. When I told one of my coworkers about the incident, she decided it was important to investigate the matter. As luck would have it, the Tulsa World decided that this was a good story to cover and I was interviewed for a story that would make the front page of the paper the next day. I remember when I talked to Bill Sherman, the reporter, I asked him what to do. I remember thinking that on one hand I was standing up for my rights and on the other hand I was driving illegally. I was torn. I finally decided to try another tag agency. After only a few minutes, I was given my license with a photo of me in my hijab. I remember being nervous about waiting in the line. I remember just praying that this place would allow my picture. When they did, I felt relieved, though I didn’t know this was only half the battle.

When the story ran in the paper, my issue with the scarf became quite a big deal. Turns out that although the rules stated that nothing could be covering the head when the license photo is taken, many tag agencies just looked the other way when a Muslim woman went in for the photo. When the issue was raised, the Oklahoma Department of Transportation began to crack down on those agencies that allowed a head scarf in the picture. It became harder for a Muslim woman to get her license renewed. Although it wasn’t my intention to make things difficult for others, turns out that is exactly what I did.

There were women who were upset with me. They wanted to know why I had to make such a fuss about the whole issue when I could have just gone to another tag agency. Well, to be honest, I couldn’t have let it go. I don’t believe it is fair or just to have a law and not follow it. If the law states that I cannot wear my headscarf and the law is not appropriate, then why not change the law instead of breaking the law? At the time I know that I really just wanted to run and hide, but in retrospect, I am so glad that I stood up for what I believe. Because one woman denied me the right to take my license photo with my scarf, because one newspaper picked up on the story, because the law needed reforming, because others followed through with the battle that began that day in January, that law was changed. And I’m not just a little proud to have been a part of it.

Black sheep

When the Oklahoma City bombing occurred in April 1995, I was only 12, but it had a deep impact on my life. I don’t remember much from my younger days, but I remember the fear that came with that period. Immediately following the attack on the Murrah Federal building, fingers were being pointed, and in my direction no less.

Being a 12 year old in Tulsa, I obviously had nothing to do with the attack. But being a Muslim, I was part of a group that was being blamed. I remember the phone calls to the Masjid, the hate crimes against Muslims right afterwards. There’s something hurtful and utterly painful in hearing a woman whose voice is similar to your grandmother’s uttering racial slurs into the answering machine and damning you to hell. There’s something a little hard to understand when windows to a house of worship are broken and the walls are graffitied. There’s something a little disheartening when an Islamic school has to shut down for fear of the safety of its children. I was only 12 and the incident may have only lasted a few days, but the scars will last a lifetime. It hurts to be the black sheep. It is difficult to be different at times like these. It is hard to be seen as the enemy, even when you’re really not.

The OKC bombing forced me to grow just a little bit more than I needed to in a few days. It forced me to see the world in a different light. I was a child who couldn’t bear to see injustice or racial tension being put in the middle of an adult world. It was one of the first times I can remember feeling like an outcast, but not the last.

I was at home when the planes crashed into the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. I was just about to leave for class. Just like every other American watching the coverage on the news, I was in shock at what was happening. “Surely we have some sort of defense against such outrageous attacks! Surely this isn’t happening!” But it was happening and we didn’t have a defense plan. After the initial shock and disbelief, another question came to mind. I asked my father if we had been blamed. I asked if the Muslims of the world had this cross to bear yet. At the time, I hadn’t known that it was a group of individuals who claimed Islam as their religion and their religion as their purpose for such hatred against humanity. I hadn’t known that the individuals flying those planes into buildings, killing countless innocent individuals, felt they were getting on the one way flight to martyrdom and heaven. All I knew was what I had already experienced. I simply wanted to know when they would blame us. I just wanted to know when I would be targeted for being Muslim. When, in the midst of a black shroud of mourning and misery, with such a veil upon my own head, would I become the black sheep?

It took longer than I thought. Maybe because of the history regarding the OKC bombing and the falsely accused or maybe because we really were all in shock, media outlets were much slower to point fingers. And even in Oklahoma the response to the news of a “Muslim” attack was slow and slight. Although you may hear stories of hate after 9/11, you’re likely to hear more stories of love and community. You’ll hear stories of Americans coming to the houses of their Muslim American neighbors to offer help if they need it. You’ll likely hear stories of Americans going grocery shopping with their Muslim American friends to ensure their safe arrival and departure. You’ll hear stories that will make you proud, even when such horrible things were happening. I learned something about being a black sheep after 9/11 too. I learned that even though you may be shrouded in black, you can still be proud.


Every year millions of Muslims from around the world make pilgrimage to the land where Muhammad, the final prophet sent to mankind, was born and raised. They make a pilgrimage to an ancient land rich with history. From Africa and Australia, from the Americas and Asia, and from everywhere in between, Muslims join at the house that Abraham and Ishmael made as the first house devoted to the worship of the one God. The pilgrimage, a once in a lifetime retreat to find solace in the desert, is a trip in the footsteps of Abraham and Muhammad. It is a trip that allows us to consider the boy who would sacrifice his own life for God. While everyday may be a small trial and every trial a small step towards righteousness, Ishmael faced the ultimate test. While my life may include making sacrifices, it is nothing compared to the sacrifice Ishmael was prepared to make. And while I’d like to think I could sacrifice all for good, I’m glad God allowed us lamb chops instead.