“I used to feel bad when women weren’t given their rights in court”…

I so admire women who never let age or circumstances define them; who use the negative experiences they’ve face to make life better for others, and who go on to leave a legacy of hope and triumph over adversity.

I’m inspired by Safiyo and I hope you are too.

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In Defense of Always Tying Your Camel First

ImageThere was once a man in Arabia who came from the market one day and decided that, on account of his good day,he would go into the mosque and offer his prayers of gratitude.  And so he went into the mosque and left his untied camel outside.  Upon finishing his prayers, the man stepped outside but alas, his camel was gone.  In his outrage, the man shook his hands and raised them to the sky yelling, “I put my trust in you God! How could you let this misfortune befall on me?”

Perhaps the story of this man is what inspired one of my favorite hadiths (acts or sayings ascribed to the Prophet Muhammad):

“Trust in Allah but tie your camel first” (At-Tirmidhi).

I was prompted to write this post because I’ve noticed that alot of us tend to face difficulties with a defeatist mentality and a resigned “If it’s God’s will, then there nothing I can do about it” sigh. It isn’t that I don’t believe in divine will.  It’s that alot of us tend to take the back seat in our own lives and ignore the fact that our input really does matter in the end.

Over and over again, I have seen people from my community stuck in situations and yet are too complacent to do anything about it. Here are some common scenarios:

Unfulfilling relationships? I’m stuck in this relationship, despite the fact that everyday I wake up everyday feeling like dying. This is God’s will that I am unhappy for the rest of my life.

Chronic illness? There is nothing I can do to improve my health or improve my quality of life.  I’ll just keep on ignoring my health and wait for my death.

Injustice? I just have to accept that some people will step on me and de-humanise me.  There is nothing I can do about it.  I simply have to suffer in silence and accept that my suffering is God’s will.

However as a Muslim, I believe that complacency is as much a sin as the disbelief in Divine will.  We should try our best everyday but if things don’t work out as we’d like them to, we should be grateful for the lessons learned along the way.

“And that man can have nothing but what he strives for” (Qur’an 53:39)

When things go wrong, it just means that this is an opportunity to re-think our lives and come up with better alternatives of living.  As long as we have the ability to change that which is harmful to us, it is our responsibilty to do so.  We were created with brains, hearts, hands, and feet in order to do enable us to make the best out of our lives and to leave the world better than we found it.

So, you trust in God-awesome! But have you tied your camel first?

The Poison of Power

Our daily pursuit of happiness in the face of an increasingly violent world is hard enough for anyone.  However the struggle for survival is harder for women because let’s face it, this is a man’s world.  Workplace discrimination, lower pay, lower literacy rates (in most of the world at least), high maternal mortality rates, violence against women…….the list of gender inequity goes on and on.  Women do not want to be just like men, we just want to have the same rights for self determination and access to opportunities afforded to men.

Female empowerment is certainly not a novel concept.  From ancient times women have been struggling to gain equal opportunities that are available to men. In response to this need, scriptures have been revealed, laws passed, organizations formed, etc.  Yet, I feel like once we get over one hurdle, another quake comes along that creates a bigger ditch in the female empowerment movement.  Are we really better off than our grandmothers or is our modern freedom simply a superficial band-aid for age old wounds?

To be honest, I don’t think that men are the sole antagonists in the female empowerment movement and it is unfair to demonize them every time something bad happens to a woman.  No, men are not dogs.  In fact, most men I know are responsible, hardworking providers for their families, generous community members, and excellent spouses.  I know that many men are actually champions for women’s rights. Yes, some men are guilty of oppressing women for the sake of feeding their egotistical selves but so are some women. From the world stage to everyday households, there are numerous reports of women supporting female violence: the role of women in the mass rape of women in the Rwandan genocide, news pieces of mothers killing their daughters to protect the family honor, mothers-in-law so awful to their sons’ wives that they inspire blockbuster Bollywood movies.  So what is it that turns otherwise pleasant men and women into unrecognizable monsters of female oppression?  What feeds the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde syndrome that runs so rampant in humanity?  One word-power.

Nearly all men (women) can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s (woman’s) character, give him power…Abraham Lincoln.

When it comes to the struggle of ego-centrism vs. socio-centrism (service of others), Mr.Lincoln couldn’t have said it better.  History has proven time and time again that power in the wrong hands is dangerous. Without oversight and accountability, power only serves to feed egotistical self interests.  Remember the Zimbardo prison experiment at Stanford? Yes, the one that involved assigning test subjects to guard and prisoner roles (more details on this experiment in links below). Before too long, the ‘guards’ developed an inhumane sense of power and started to abuse the ‘prisoners’.  In what he would later call the “The Lucifer effect” (symbolizing the fallen angel who crossed the ‘good’ to ‘evil’ line),  Zimbardo successfully demonstrated that:

  1. Evil is largely circumstantial.  Power without accountability can turn men (and women) into monsters.
  2. While other people do not actively engage in evil-doing, their inaction also makes them guilty of perpetuating evil.
  3. Every evil event comes with the opportunity for heroism.  Heroes are social deviants; people who speak out and fight against evil are going against the social norm and often sacrifice their own comfort and security for the sake of the greater good.  Heroes are not necessarily the historical greats; they are you and me.

Women need more heroes. We need the everyday supermen and superwomen to advocate for better lives for women.

This is a man’s world BUT it would be nothing without women. When you become a hero for women, you are in fact becoming a hero for your sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, and husbands as well. When you educate a woman, you are educating a village. When you nourish a woman, you are nourishing the future generation. When you protect a woman, you are protecting the community.

Women are half the sky.

The Zimbardo experiment:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OsFEV35tWsg

http://www.lucifereffect.org/index.html

What my first encounter with social justice taught me.

Lately I have been dwelling so much on the injustices one has to perservere throughout life.  From being charged extra at the car shop (women, can I hear an ‘Amen!’) to being denied legal rights, it is a no wonder that most of us prefer to ride out the wave of unfairness instead of swimming against it.  Speaking out against injustices can be so time-consuming, energy-draining, and totally nerve-racking, right?  Isn’t it easier to just ‘tolerate’ the inconvenience than to challenge it?

I grew up in Lamu, a tiny town (island) just off of Kenya’s coast. There are no roads on the island, just alleyways and narrow streets, limiting the mode of transportation to foot, boat or donkeys.

My cousin and I used to sell my grandmother’s home-made traditional bread (mofa) in one of the town’s most popular commercial streets.  After the evening prayers, the street was floooded with pedestraian traffic of mostly men and donkeys who were buying home-made food (men) or eating food scraps from the floor (donkeys).  Unfortunately there was also a group of rowdy neighborhood boys that would stop by tease my cousin and I, often times discouraging potential customers from buying from us.  We complained about these events to our grandmother and she promptly sent out my grandfather to ‘protect’ us.  The boys were not deterred.  My poor grandfather, overpowered by the youthful energy, simply muttered under his breath. Of course after a few days of returning back home with our commercial basket still full of mofa, my grandmother could no longer contain her fury.

A few days into the testosterone-charged verbal assaults, something radical happened.  My cousin, grandfather, and I were sitting in our regular spot when the boys came charging again.  My hands went flying over our basket, my grandfather immediately started sighing out loud.  We were already in defence mode when we heard a commanding female voice from a nearby alley….”I have had enough of your nonsense! Get away from my grand-daughters!”

It was my grandmother to the rescue, not dressed as Wonder Woman, but covered from head to toe in her black buibui (cloak), her wrinkled face ready for some serious action.  The boys, sensing danger, ran off. My grandmother jumped onto the nearest concrete platform and bellowed out. “This is the last time anyone is ever going to tease my grand daughters.  The next time anyone dares to trouble my children, THEY WILL FACE MY WRATH!”. Immediately, the traffic came to a halt.  Everyone was looking up to this small, angry woman…and they were scared.   My amazing grandmother had just staged a one-woman revolution.

My cousin and I were left in peace after that evening and consequently the sales of our mofa rose dramatically.  And 20 years later whenever I feel the grasp of injustice choking me, I remember what my grandmother taught me. I remember to speak up.