Category Archives: (3)BeautifulThings

Lights in the sky are holes in the floor of heaven

Ramadan Mubarak!
From the Ramadan Cookie Project 2006 photoset, originally uploaded by yaznotjaz

To state the obvious, since everyone is talking and blogging about it these days, Ramadan is here! Has been here for a couple of weeks, actually. How are we nearly halfway through the month already?

I wasn’t fasting on Monday, so I took a slice – actually, two slices – of chocolate fudge cake with me to the office, because we all know that of course chocolate fudge cake totally counts as lunch. Late in the afternoon, when I finally remembered that I wasn’t fasting, I ducked into the kitchen to grab my little styrofoam container of cake. It wasn’t until I had polished off the entire slice that I realized the second slice was missing.

For a split second, I thought I was imagining things, that perhaps there never was a second slice. But then I remembered cutting two slices and deliberating at my kitchen counter at home about how to best place them into the same container. The most amusing part about this whole thing is that the culprit removed slice#2 so carefully and deliberately that it was as if it were never there – no smudges of frosting, no suspicious crumbs.

Days later, I still haven’t figured out who the culprit was. Clearly, someone needs to be stabbed – but one does not discuss stabbing sessions during Ramadan, and, in any case, the whole situation makes me laugh, anyway.

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So, here we go, since we haven’t done this in a while:
Beautiful things: The Ramadan Edition

one. Before Ramadan even began, J texted me about hanging out in San Jose. I warned him that hanging-out sessions in the near future would not be involving food, due to the upcoming Ramadan. His sweet response reminded me why I love that kid so much:

“Es okay, you always fill my tummy with laughs, love, y joy.”

two. On the morning of the very first day of Ramadan, D text-messaged me with, “Eid mubarak!”

I collapsed theatrically into my chair at work, and laughed for a good minute straight.

My co-worker-in-crime turned around curiously. “What’s going on?”

“Eid mubarak!” I announced grandly, then laughed again and tried to think of how to tactfully reply. I texted D back: “Thanks so much, my love! Eid is actually at the very end, when the month is over and we celebrate. The thought is appreciated, though. I love and miss you!”

A minute later, my phone buzzed again: “Forgive my religious ignorance. Ramadan mubarak. Happy fasting.”

I replied: “I love you! And I bet you know more Muslim greetings than I know Hindu ones. We’ll work on me next time I see you.”

three. Driving home from work one evening during the beginning of Ramadan, I thought I spied a kufi on the head of the driver in front of me. I found my suspicions were correct when the little boy in the backseat fidgeted around and turned his head in profile, so that I could clearly see the gold-threaded embroidery winding along his white cotton cap, too. This made me smile, especially because it was close to sunset and I was anxiously watching my clock and the sky for signs of iftar time (the breaking of the fast), and I wondered if they were doing the same.

four. No matter how much I love music, I always try to take a break from it during Ramadan and listen to recitations of the Quran instead. My favorite recitation these days is Surah Layl, as recited by Saad al-Ghamidi. I play it on repeat, listening over and over, trying to memorize the verses. How can you not love this voice? [Translation] My hands-down favorite recitation by al-Ghamidi is Surah Yaseen (chapter 36). I have listened to the same one for years, especially on difficult days, chanting it sometimes under my breath and sometimes loudly until my throat is raw. It never fails to soothe me.

five. The lovely A wrote:

The first time I went to tarawih last week after Isha I turned and there was Yaz smiling at me. I felt so much better all of a sudden.

I am not a very good friend, I admit it. I never answer phone calls, I suck at giving advice (I just don’t know what to say. Also, I am impatient), and sometimes I deliberately tune people out over instant messenger or in person when they start lamenting about their issues and dramas, or otherwise talking too much about themselves. The only sort of advice I can really be counted on is, Okay, let’s get the hell over it already and move on, and that’s because that’s the one I always use on myself. But who knew all I had to do was smile at people? And not just at any people, but at my friends, and that that would be enough to make them feel good and make me feel – having read her post – as if I had done something constructive with my day? [Sidenote to A: I never tune you out, I promise!]

six. One evening last week, I met up with my beautiful halaqa ladies for iftar in San Ramon. [Halaqa = circle of learning/youth group/study circle. We usually meet Sunday mornings.] Dinner consisted of burritos and tacos and chips and salsa at Chipotle – an example of an American Ramadan at its finest. After breaking our fast, we headed out to the parking lot in shifts of 2-4; AF had laid out her raffia-type mats in one or two rows next to her little Volkswagen Golf, and we prayed solo, concrete beneath our feet, sky directly overhead. All the earth is a place of prayer and prostration, indeed. Times like these, I can’t help but smile and remember the Dawud Wharnsby Ali song, All the Crazy Spots. It was lovely.

(Speaking of American Ramadans, you should watch this, if you haven’t already. [I haven't yet either.])

seven. The lovely A just relayed the following to me over GMail chat:

Towards the end of taraweeh* today, the qari** kept taking long breaks after just two rakahs,*** and one of the aunties said it was because he was drinking green tea. I was like, man, hook it up.

* Taraweeh=nightly prayer during Ramadan, often performed in congregation; composed of either 8 or 20 (depending on how you roll) cycles of standing, bowing, and prostrating
** Qari=one who recites the Quran
*** Rakah=one cycle of prayer

eight. Conversation with Z over GMail chat, just a few days after Ramadan began (emphasis – in italics – is mine):

Z: How’s Ramadan going?
Yasmine: Ramadan is okay
Yasmine: Not really working on any self-betterment yet
Z: Happens when time is in short supply
Z: I guess it’s more what you do than how much
Yasmine: Yeah
Yasmine: But i haven’t been doing anything, really
Z: You could think
Z: I’m sure you have time for that
Z: Like a minute

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Two Three totally rockstar and beautiful weblogs that I’ve been loving lately, and reading regularly (I would recommend you check out the archives on each of these):

- The Faith Divide, by Eboo Patel of the Interfaith Youth Core in Chicago

- Hungry for Ramadan, by Shahed Amanullah, who has previously brought us rockstar websites such as zabihah.com, altmuslim.com, and BrassCrescent.org

- CharityFocus weblog: An Incubator of Compassionate Action, by the rockingest rockstars ever

It’s not as easy as willing it all to be right

"What are you doing?" asked my friend, after I had finished praying and was still kneeling on the floor.
Originally uploaded by yaznotjaz.

I’m so tired of constantly feeling so tired – I don’t sleep enough, I fall asleep holding books I once could have finished reading in a single day, I sleep crookedly, and my neck has been aching for over a week. Also, there’s that drama that enters my head once in a while: “Am I doing constructive things with my life? Let’s switch it up again!” Clearly, I am my father’s daughter, bored too easily and always wanting change. And yet, too much standing still while questioning my next step, mired once again in indecisiveness and lack of direction.

It’s too easy to get lost in progress, or lack thereof, so here are three beautiful things to remember from last week:

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Poetry reading by Mohja Kahf at the Arab Cultural & Community Center in San Francisco last Monday. It was a wonderful evening, not in the least because I got to see the beautiful ladies, Momo and Baraka, again. And also because Mohja Kahf is hilarious, and that must have been the first time I laughed so much at a poetry reading. She writes candidly about topics such as sexuality and motherhood in a way that’s quite refreshing, as is her take on historical figures that become more approachable and human through her poetry – Asiya, the Pharaoh’s wife, sitting with her husband at a table of Neo-Cons; Asiya written up in the tabloids, dismissed as “crazy.” I picked up copies of Mohja’s poetry collection, E-Mails from Scheherazad, as well as her new novel, The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf, and asked if she could sign my sister’s copy of E-Mails from Scheherazad: “I’ve been specifically instructed to tell you that you’re her favorite poet.”

“Ooh, instructed,” she laughed. “Should I add some exclamation points to my signature?” And so, she did.

While I was waiting in line for the books, one of the women on the ACCC staff asked, “Do you write poetry?”

“No,” I said hurriedly, thinking she had confused me for RC, one of our rockstar Muslimah spoken word poets here in the Bay. (It wouldn’t be the first time; I think it’s the headwrap that confuses people.)

“You should,” she said. “We’re trying to organize some more poetry events here at the ACCC, and we’d love for more young people to participate.” She wrote down her name and email address for me.

I remembered how, the week before at the Poetry for the People reading at UC Berkeley, D had asked the same question, “Do you write poetry, too?”

“Ehh, no,” I said. “I only write maybe one poem a year, when I’m forced to.”

“But they’re always such good poems!” interjected my sister.

The day after the Mohja Kahf reading, my buddy A harassed me about my refusal to participate in the open mic at Blue Monkey, too: “Only losers don’t do poetry readings at an open mic.”

So now, apparently, I need to write more often.

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Writing travels the world: Maliha’s beautiful essay, Necessary silence of being made its way to me not only via Blogistan, but also through an email listserve I’m subscribed to. I emailed her to let her know, and received the following reply:

I’ve been lurking around your site and wish you, missy, will take a break from all the messy and beautiful chaos around you, to write a bit more. But with spring weather finally here, and the greys and storms dissipated, I totally don’t blame you for sweeping specks of sun rays rather than blog.

So, there we go, another reminder to write more often, from the beautiful lady who excels at it. It’s too bad that, as I explained to Maliha, writing these days means, for me, too many incomplete posts saved as drafts, and too many scribbled bullet-points in my little moleskine notebook that need to be turned into real posts. And, yet, my buddy Z exclaims: “How did you blog so soon after the last one? How do you have enough material?” It’s not for lack of stories, clearly.

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Explanation of the photo that accompanies this post: Ayesha my love and I canceled our dinner plans last Thursday, so I was left with a free evening, and was actually rather looking forward to being able to go straight home from work.

But then: “Come over to my place for dinner!” said R.

“Who else is going to be there?” I asked warily. I was not in the mood to socialize with people.

“Me!” said the co-worker-in-crime, B.

“And?”

“Just us,” assured R.

“It’s not some fancy-schmancy thing, is it?” I asked. ” ‘Cause I won’t be able to stand it.”

“Not at all!”

So, I went over to her apartment in Fremont after work. We had dinner, and then it was time for maghrib, the evening prayer. There was no awkward questioning: Will you be praying? Will you not? Should we wait for you? Instead, it was all so matter-of-fact: Here’s a rug; the bathroom’s at the end of the hall; I have an extra scarf, if you need it. I appreciated the straightforwardness – needed it, in fact.

R pulled out a prayer rug for me to use – it was short and narrow and golden-yellow, the perfect size for my frame, and something about the beauty of it moved me nearly to tears as I was praying. When I sat cross-legged afterward, hands raised in supplication, my knees jutted over the sides of the slender rug. It had been so long since I had prayed (much less, regularly), and there was something bittersweet – ridiculous and yet so fitting – about the fact that a yellow sunshine-colored rug made me want to pray more often.

“What are you doing?” asked R, after I had finished praying and was still kneeling on the floor.

“Taking pictures of your rug,” I said.

“Why?”

“Because it’s so pretty!”

“And what are you going to do with the pictures?” she asked, puzzled.

I almost replied, Put them up on flickr for the world to see, but said instead, “I’ll look at them!”

She rolled her eyes, picked up the prayer rug off the floor, folded it swiftly, and placed it on top of my purse. “Here. You can have it. Now you can look at it all the time.”

I hadn’t expected this, but I was too giddy with quiet delight to politely question her decision with, Are you SURE?

We sat around afterward, drinking mint tea (okay, I just experimentally sipped a little bit of it; “Will you be offended if I don’t drink this?” I asked R and her roommate L, but they assured me they would not be). “That’s fresh mint from Zaytuna,” L said proudly.

I nearly choked on laughter. “Were you skulking around Zaytuna, picking mint leaves in the dark?” Indeed, she had been. She also shared stories of living in Kuwait and Los Angeles. B and I were fascinated by her Kuwaiti/Lebanese/Hungarian heritage, so L brought out her laptop and began showing us photos.

“Dude,” I said, “these are beautiful pictures. You really need to get a flickr account and upload these.”

“I do have flickr!” she said. Oh, internet, how I love you. L went back to her room, and returned with her camera. She and I sat there scrolling through her photos, while R and B just shook their heads – especially when I started taking photos of the tea-glasses again.

B made fun of us: “Yasmine’s going to come to work one day and say, ‘I quit! I’m leaving to become a professional photographer!’ ”

She needs to stop giving me ideas.

Your light shines brighter than the best


Pencils so pretty, it makes you want to eat them, originally uploaded by yaznotjaz.

My (3 or more) Beautiful Things posts always contain snippets from a single given day of the week, but, in this case, I haven’t written in a while, so the following is a compilation of things from the past couple of weeks:

one. While driving to work the other morning, I saw a car with a bumper sticker pasted to its back corner. The long, thin strip simply stated mournfully, MY LIFE IS IN RUINS. Seeing as how the driver was at the wheel of a Jeep Cherokee and in seemingly good health, I felt it was safe to smile. Something I thought of just now, while typing out this paragraph: Maybe he’s quite a dedicated archaeologist? (Where’s Ayan with his puns?)

two. Although it’s been two weeks, thinking about the email from my friend about a recent halaqa trip in which I couldn’t participate still makes me laugh. The subject line: WE NEED YOU! The email:

i was just thinking that we can’t do this trip without you.
who will take the photos of every little thing that everyone else will not think about taking a photo of???
yasmine!!!
who will remind us to eat everytime our stomachs growl but the rest of us are too embarrassed to admit that we are hungry… again…

It’s good to know that even though I’m infamous amongst friends for often forgetting to eat real meals, I’m also paradoxically infamous for my shameless love of food. Oh, and at least someone doesn’t make fun of me for taking photos of seemingly trivial objects (like the evening at the Berkeley Marina, when my friend’s sister said snidely, “That’s just a water faucet.” I felt like stabbing her with someone’s fishing pole. Okay, must concentrate on beautiful things…)

three. I saw a man at the San Ramon gas station who was completely absorbed in leaning against his drivers-side door and reading a book while gas was being pumped into his car. Oblivious to the rest of the world, he remained standing like that for minutes after the pump clicked to signal that his tank was full.

four. Two weeks ago, I walked up to a familiar-looking young man at an event and asked, “Did I meet you at a conference in Oakland?” We established that I had not. He emailed me a few days later, asking if we could meet, since he was curious about my work as well as about my everyday life as a Muslim. I suggested we meet one evening for coffee and talk; we agreed on a time and place. (And I was pleased when he appended his note with, I like the endings to your emails. “Have beautiful days” seems to ensure that there are more to come.)

“I’m going to a coffee meeting with a guy,” I told my work buddy, B.

She was puzzled. “You don’t even drink coffee.”

“Yeah, I know. But saying, ‘Let’s meet over hot chocolate or cranberry juice’ doesn’t have quite the same ring.”

The guy and I met up yesterday at the gorgeous San Jose Museum of Art downtown, and walked over to the Peet’s down the street, where it was quickly established that neither of us are really coffee fans. We laughed and shrugged and ordered frozen blended drinks anyway, then walked back to the outdoor patio tables at the Museum, where I tried to answer his questions about my work and Islam to the best of my ability. In return, he told me about growing up in Iowa (“I have a friend from Cedar Rapids!” I said), the three weeks he spent in Spain (someday, I, too, will visit), and the summer he traveled to Greece to meet his relatives for the first time.

Also, he mentioned the time he and his college wrestling teammates were in the Czech Republic for training, and ran into an Arab team from the UAE, also training for some sporting event. He invited them to dinner with his team, they accepted, and the evening was mostly filled with nods and laughter over good food, since there was only one translator and he couldn’t fulfill everyone’s verbal communication needs. My new friend shrugged, “We didn’t have internet access, so I couldn’t Google them to see what the UAE team was doing in this tiny little city in the Czech Republic.”

I laughed. “Well, if it was three years ago and you still haven’t gotten to it, then just consider it serendipity, and a rocking evening spent making connections with strangers, while eating. You can’t go wrong if there’s food involved.”

Flipping radio stations while driving home, I came across another form of serendipity: KQED Radio broadcasting the Spirituality and Social Change: An Interfaith Roundtable, inspired by the papers of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., that was held at Stanford University in January. [Audio, video, and transcript are available on the website linked above.] Imam Zaid Shakir clearly and articulately touched on so much of what I had been struggling to explain to my new friend all evening. I drove home captivated by each speaker’s thoughts on spirituality and social responsibility, compassion and human connection. I remembered telling my friend that in Islam, we are encouraged to think critically, to question, to seek and analyze answers as one way of deepening our own spiritual growth. During the course of the Aurora Forum roundtable, the Rev. Dr. Warnock said something (in reference to Dr. King) that resonated:

For me, critical reflection is an act of worship. It’s part of what it means to be a person of faith, and he’s a thinker, but he’s an engaged thinker. I do think the first act, in a real sense, is what the liberation theologians call praxis: you’re engaged in the world; you’re actually involved in the effort of trying to make a difference.

five. Over dinner, my father was grousing about his recent speeding ticket, which he received while driving with his colleague to the Friday congregational prayers. “I gave him a guilt trip,” said the daddy-o. “I told him, ‘I always drive too fast, but you heading out of work only five minutes before the sermon begins doesn’t help matters, either.’ ”

“Did he offer to pay for part of the ticket?” I asked with interest.

“No,” he said, surprised. “I didn’t even think of that.”

My friends would have been more considerate, and offered to pay half, I bet you,” I said smugly.

“Oh, yeah?” He raised his eyebrows. “Would you offer to pay, if you were with your friend?”

“If they were running late and speeding because of me?” I almost said, Hell yeah!, but swallowed those words and added instead, “Of course!”

The daddy-o laughed and raised his hand for a high-five. “See? That’s because I raised you well.”

Just give me moments/Not hours or days, just give me moments

Tomatillos at $1.99 per lb
My life is little things that make me happy – like tomatillos at $1.99 per lb.
Originally uploaded by yaznotjaz.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007 – Beautiful things: The mid-week edition

one: flickrphotos. I get to work, check my emails, and the first thing I find is a facebook message from my sister’s friend, which makes me laugh and pretty much makes my day.

two: hanging-out sessions! There will be dinner with the lovely A this Sunday, and a hanging-out session with rockstars in San Francisco the Sunday after that. And, even better, when I email 2Scoops with yet another small-world connection I have found which concerns him and our mutual friends (“So check this – this is a funny story [well, sort of, since I am easily amused]…”), he replies to say he will indeed be in the Bay soon, and ends with the best postscript ever: “Work is stinky and overrated and you need a break which we will be taking the week I’m there.” Yes! I foresee gelato in my near future.

three: touching base. I have not mentioned my friend H on this weblog in years, I believe. He was always part of what I called our “core group” while in college, but then he graduated the year before I did and returned home to Los Angeles, leaving behind those days of shuffling our belongings from table to table, trading batteries and CDs, sharing books and lecture notes, practicing Arabic calligraphy on white boards meant for neurobiology review. We initially remained in close contact, but lost touch in the last year and a half or so, after he settled back into life in LA and stopped returning our emails and phone calls. Then, last month, after I forwarded an email to “my favorite SoCal buddies,” he unexpectedly replied back with his new email address. I was elated, but, in my usual Yasminay way of doing things, never got around to emailing him back.

Today, H comes up again in a conversation I have with Somayya. “He couldn’t have changed,” I tell Somayya. “In that email he sent me last month, he still started off by calling me ya Yasminay.” It has always been one of my favorite things about H. “I’m disappointed in him,” she says, and I remember all those months when we were worried sick, not knowing where our friend was, and how to reach him. “I know,” I reply, but I also understand what it’s like to be disappointed in yourself, to distance yourself from those who know you until you feel you’ve made something of your life.

I sit down and email H back to say hello and catch up, and, as a pointed reminder, give him my cell phone number again. During the course of the day, I have two missed calls from him. The next morning, he calls again while I’m driving to work, and I answer the phone, laughing: “H, my friend! How goes the life, buddy?” Even now, years later, there is no one else I know who can say “Alhamdulillahhhhhh!” [All praise is for God] with such gratitude and enthusiasm as H does. I am so glad to have this friend back in my life, this young man who still speaks so quickly and punctuates his breathless sentences with the same familiar shout of laughter.

four: chapstick. I have just enough time after work to swing by Target and pick up a couple of my favorite Dr. Pepper-flavored chapsticks. Lip gloss is too much of a process sometimes, and I don’t believe in lipstick, so chapstick it is. I do believe in color, though, which is why I always buy the Dr. Pepper-flavored chapstick, which has a nice reddish tint to it. But I always peel off the blatant Dr. Pepper wrapper, otherwise I’d feel like a twelve year old. Still, I’m amused I’m not the only one who’s thought of this. Months ago, visiting my lovely Hindku-speaking buddy N one evening, we sat talking on her living room floor, and she stared at me when I pulled out my chapstick and quickly swiped it across my lips. “Where did you get that?” she asked, almost accusingly.

I stared back in bafflement. “Umm, from my bag?”

“Oh,” she said, relaxing, laughing. “It’s yours? I have those, too! I was so confused.”

five: citrus scents. Against my better judgment, I also stop by the earrings section at Target, but nothing catches my eye. So I buy citrus-scented perfume instead, because I love citrus-scented things, and I believe in smelling good, no matter what idiotic boys say. This one’s called Tuesday. What are people thinking, I wonder, when they decide to name perfumes after days of the week?

six: meditation. This one deserves a separate post of its own.

And the toppling sand mounds

We are like these things, impermanent and unpinned.
We are like these things, impermanent and unpinned; originally uploaded by yaznotjaz. [Click here for larger view.]

A few things I have been grateful for, so far this week:

one. …That so many of you took the time to read my last post about Imran Saithna. And that, for once, my commenting system seemed to cooperate just long enough that I could read your own responses to and reflections on Imran’s life. One of the things I love most about blogging is the feedback (I admit it) from those who read, and it meant so much to me that you took the time to comment on the one post that meant more to me than anything else I’ve written in a long, long while. I’m trying to move beyond posting bullet-points and numerical-lists so regularly, and trying to go back to posting deeper, more meaningful pieces of writing. The last entry was a good start, although I wish it didn’t have to begin this way. Thank you all again for the comments, the GMail IMs, and the emails. As Rick said on flickr, No one can say exactly what paths one leaves on this earth. May your friend’s path be one of heart. Amen to that.

two. …That my lovely friend A‘s fiancé has finally woken up, after being hit by a car and unconscious for two days. After the last two days of holding my breath and being too scared to venture saying the word “coma,” I am so relieved about this much. The bad news: Both his legs are broken, and doctors are still unsure about the extent of his back injuries. The fact that A is here, halfway across the world and unable to go see him, makes this doubly difficult for her. It broke my heart hearing her voicemessage on Tuesday, hearing her voice say, “I don’t really know what to do…’cuz I’m sick, too, and I’m worried…and I’m just trying to be okay, but it’s really hard. [His sister's] leaving tomorrow, and his parents the day after…and I get to stay here…by myself.” I can’t even begin to imagine what it must be like to be so far away from someone you love. Please pray that he recovers quickly and fully, so that he and A can live happily ever after in the green house in Berkeley that A covets so much.

three. [I don't know why this list is harder than it usually is. Here's a third thing:] …Dinner last night with B and N, two of my favorite Pukhtu-speakers and Hindku-speakers, respectively. The evening was filled with rocking (Malaysian) food, beautiful company, and the endless laughter that always characterizes our time together. My new favorite quote is a profound statement by B’s father: “There’s no point in making money if you can’t eat good food.” Listening, amused, as both B and N regaled us with stories, I promised N I’d make up some drama of my own, so that I, too, can have stories to share next time we hang out. As someone who prides herself on the fact that her life is “gorgeously drama-free, always,” this is really going to be SUCH a process. So, I ask you, how does one imbue one’s life with drama? Please provide advice, suggestions, and/or examples.