Category Archives: Rockstar and Crescent

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is

I don't know exactly what a prayer is
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is, originally uploaded by yaznotjaz.

My Ramadan in disjointed pseudo-bulletpoints:

Just before Ramadan began, Anjum started a “Ramadan mubarak!” email thread. Hoda replied, “RAMADAN MUBARAK, EVERYBODY! I’m stoked!”, to which I added, “I’m kinda not stoked. Is that BLASPHEMY? (I think it kinda must be.)”

To which Anjum, being a smart one, had this to offer: “I think thats the point of getting stronger during Ramadan.. to get to the point (&beyond iA) where we are really *stoked* that it’s here and really *bummed* when its gone.”

The night before the first day of Ramadan, I wore my pirate t-shirt to first taraweeh, the nightly, congregational prayers held during the holy month. “Don’t you mean tarrrrrrrrrrrrrrraweeh?” queried Z via GChat, and I had to laugh and shake my head for not having thought of it myself.

The first day of Ramadan, A pointed out that I wouldn’t be getting lunch updates from him for a month. This is the guy who, all the way from Toronto, used to look up links for me so that I could have lunch while working in Silicon Valley (“Did you have lunch yet? There’s a halal deli close to your work. Not sure if you know that”), and who IMs me almost daily with messages like, “I had chicken teriyaki and sushi for lunch today” or “I had seafood fettuccine. Where are you going today?” or “Chicken shawarma platter! Halal!”

I spent a lot of time sitting in cafes and coffeeshops during Ramadan, working on getting things done. Who knew that fasting during the day – and, thus, not constantly contemplating what to eat next – would open up so much free time for productive pursuits? Amazing! I also somehow managed to spend far too much time at the grocery store. And I am here to tell you that shopping to re-stock your refrigerator and pantry while fasting is never a good idea.

While at the grocery store during the first afternoon of Ramadan, the girl at the checkout counter kept glancing at my t-shirt. “The Kite Runner!” she finally exclaimed. “Did you like the movie?”

“I did,” I said. “Not as good as the book, of course, but I thought they did an amazing job with the casting.”

“Just like in The Notebook! Did you see The Notebook?”

“Mhmm,” I said noncommittally. (I hated that movie.)

“Wasn’t it so awesome?” And here, her excitement clearly knew no bounds. “They left out some scenes from the book, though. Remember that part where Noah and Allie…[blah blah blah...] …” I grabbed my groceries and hurried out of the store as soon as I could.

Later in the day, towards the end of a getting-things-done session at a local coffeeshop, the man across from me looked over as we both began gathering our possessions together, and said ruefully, “I hope you had a more productive afternoon than I had!”

“I wish,” I said, wincing. “I’m really too good at distracting myself.”

“Hey, The Kite Runner!” he exclaimed. “Nice t-shirt. Did you watch the movie? What’d you think?”

“Good movie,” I said. “Rocking job with the casting. I highly recommend you check it out, just for that.” Then, I ran away really quickly before he could begin talking about The Notebook.

If there was one single thing I learned over the course of the past month, it was this: How to bend my torso at a nintey-degree angle to the rest of my body. This was something I’d been meaning to perfect for a long time – not just half-heartedly hunching over during the bowing portion of the prayer-cycle, but actually bending in such a fashion, knees unbent and back completely parallel to the ground, so that one could, as is often said, rest a glass of water on one’s back without spilling the water. By the end of the month, I was so limber that I could almost touch my toes.

One thing I didn’t perfect, however, was how to gracefully rise up again from a sitting position without feeling wobbly or brushing my hand(s) against the ground for balance. Sometimes, it worked; sometimes, it didn’t. If you have any tips and tricks for this hands-free-return to the standing position, let me know. Really, I’m serious! Is it about rising up so quickly that you have no time to catch yourself off-balance? Is it about briefly rocking back and then up? Is it about bracing your hands on your knees or thighs on the way up? I must know. You. Tell me.

In Ramadan, my mom kept making chapli kabob and pakoriyaan to go with dinner at the end of the evening, and nothing makes me wrinkle my nose more than the thought of heading out to congregational prayers while smelling like spices. But then I would remember how much I love breaking up the chapli kabob into little pieces to go with my salad, and I would sigh and eat and eat and eat. One evening, I had an epiphany: “Where are those croutons I bought weeks ago? Do we still have them?”

My dad laughed. “They’re probably in a cabinet somewhere, with the bag knotted up and tied inside another bag and placed all the way in the back of the shelf where no one can find it until it’s past the expiration date. Isn’t that how it always is?” I laughed, too, while the ummy didn’t so much as crack a smile. (She doesn’t always think we’re funny. And making fun of anything related to how she runs the kitchen is never funny.) A few nights later, I did indeed find the croutons in the cabinet. Sea salt and garlic! O mein Gott!

During the course of Ramadan, I learned to recognize people in prayer by their feet. It got to the point where if, in the middle of prayer, my new favorite taraweeh-buddy, M, came to stand next to me, I knew it was she by the look of her toes, with the glimmer of a recently-scrubbed-off pedicure.

One of the things I loved the most about the taraweeh is hearing Quranic verses I recognize. On the first night, I particularly recall hearing Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi rajioon and Innassafa wal marwata, min sha’a irillah. On the second night, I heard the Ayat-ul-Kursi – which made me smile widely in prayer, and tear up a bit – and Amanar rasoolu…

Another one of the things I loved the most about Ramadan was the synchronicity and unison I felt in the nightly congregational prayers: How everyone, men and women alike, would hum, “Ameeeeeen,” at the end of Surah Al-Fatihah, The Opening, recited during each of the twenty prayer-cycles. How we would all bow, then stand, and then hear everyone’s knees crack in unison as we fell into prostration.

One of the things I disliked (it must be said) about the congregational prayer was performing the taraweeh directly behind tall people who couldn’t seem to properly fall into line with rest of their own row. Instead, they’d stand enough inches behind their line that they’d hit me in the head with their bum every time we both rose from prostration. This aggravated me. A lot. Much inaudible sighing and gritting of teeth ensued.

All that said and done, the last day of Ramadan was about this prayer. As I told erstwhile blogger Faiza when she IMed me about the post, “I kept thinking to myself through Ramadan, ‘There’s something missing. I can’t put my finger on what I’m supposed to be asking for.’” The morning of the last day, I remembered that piece on “authentic prayer,” and scrambled to print it out, then spent a bit of the day sitting quietly and reading through it a couple of times. As a result of pasting that link into my GChat status message ["remembering some duas i could still be asking for while there's this little sliver of ramadan left"], I ended up having at least half a dozen unexpected and beautiful conversations, regarding prayer and faith and that post, during the course of the very last day of the blessed month. I am humbled, and honored, that a prayer that is so deeply personal to me has managed to resonate with so many others as well.

One of my favorite professors in college, herself nonMuslim, once referred to Ramadan as a time of “witnessing without judging,” and a period of “heightened consciousness.” It took me until Ramadan was nearly over this year to realize that I’m too good at witnessing without doing much of anything, and that I spent the month talking about physical hunger but depriving myself of spiritual sustenance.

In re-uploading the above photo (of the Islamic Center of San Diego) to flickr just now, I found a post I had written during Ramadan five years ago, and felt an unexpected lump in my throat for the month I nearly wasted this year. How could I have forgotten all this that I was seeking? And how is it I’ve remembered all these longings and prayers only now that Ramadan is over?

I’m re-reading my favorite lines from Mary Oliver’s The Summer Day, as both consolation and a kick:

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

Headwrapping 101

Headwrapping 101
TARGET dressing rooms have rocking red walls, originally uploaded by yaznotjaz.

Last June, my buddy A left me a voicemessage late one night after having watched the film, Paris je t’aime, which actually consists of eighteen short films by 21 directors, each of the stories taking place in different arrondissements (municipal boroughs) of Paris. Walking home through downtown San Jose, he talked into the phone about the short film with the Muslim girl – she trips and falls, her headscarf flies off, and a nice young guy runs over to assist her. “He tries to help her put her hijab back on, but he wraps it around her head like a bandanna.” Retelling the story, A started laughing. “Yaz, if your hijab fell off, I don’t think I would ever be able to help you. Probably, no one would.”

Listening to A’s voicemessage later, I laughed, too. And replayed the message a few times. And retold the story to several friends. My coworker-in-crime, B, pointed out, “Yasmine, your hijab’s pinned so tightly, I don’t think that thing could EVER fall off.” I ending up watching Paris je t’aime three times – once with A, the second time with N and AyeshaZ and B, and finally just last week with my sister, who had heard me mention this film often over the past year. Every single time, I have laughed my way through the short film about the Muslim girl and her hijab.

B is right – my hijab is its own free-standing structure. It has stayed put through running and rain storms and lecture-hall naps while slumped in my seat and roller-coaster rides at amusement parks and hiking (and hitchhikes) and skipping down the street and crackstar nieces crawling all over me while bombarding me with their botanical carnage.

HijabMan has harassed me for a long time about collaborating on a headwrap-how-to video. We briefly talked about it over IM during the last year or two, and in Philadelphia and DC in July, and in Chicago in August. I just kind of nodded along vaguely. “Yeah, okay, sounds like a plan.” But when I was stranded in Philadelphia for the night last December, on the way to DC after Ottawa, HMan and I hung out with his friends, then pulled J into being my model for a headwrapping session.

I was drunk off boulani and gelato and the incredibly rich drinking-chocolate from Naked Chocolate Cafe, apparently the best dessert place in Philly, J off her bowlful of chocolate chip cookies & milk; HMan was his usual hyperactive self. It made perfect sense to create videos past midnight. I was groggy and tired from what had been a sh*tty day of travel involving many expletives, but when rockstars come along and pick you up from the airport and take you out to dinner and made you laugh and open up their homes to you, you too would do whatever they want you to.

So, the headwrapping video that came out of that night is sort of a thank-you to HMan and Philadelphia for their rockstar hospitality and open-hearted lowve. It’s also a thank-you to every single person who ever stopped me and asked with genuine curiosity, “How do you do your hijab like that?” I’m honored they took the time to ask. The question came up at an ice cream shop in Washington, DC, last summer; at a conference in Chicago last October and at December hanging-out sessions in Ottawa and Toronto; and at a friend’s wedding just last week. Not to mention the grocery store, the sidewalk outside my workplace, places I stop by for lunch, and all kinds of events and gatherings I attend, as well as questions on flickr and facebook. Since I’m pretty ridiculous about properly responding to compliments or any sort of warm comments regarding the way I dress, I usually just laugh a bit and shuffle my feet a little and toss off my twenty-second explanation of how the headwrap stays in place. Then, I smile brightly and run away, usually to find food.

This, in contrast, is a much better explanation. HMan has posted the video HERE. Check it out:

I’ve already watched it about three times because:

1. I’m surprised I managed a pretty smooth explanation while doing J’s headwrap. Multitasking is usually not my forte, and the fact that I spent six minutes explaining headwrapping techniques while actually implementing them on someone else is slightly mind-boggling.

2. All the references to “stabbing” amuse me. J was so patient with me. I would have been freaked out if someone kept wielding safety pins near my head and cackling gleefully about stabbing.

3. My laugh makes me laugh.

4. My favorite part is my verbal smackdown of HMan.

Highfive to HMan’s camerawork!
Let us know what you think.

PS: If my hijab ever fell off, I now hope you would know how to help me with it, if necessary.

“What do you mean he don’t eat no meat?!” *shocked* “Oh, that’s okay. I make lamb.”

"What do you mean he don't eat no meat?!" *shocked* "Oh, that's okay. I make lamb."
“What do you mean he don’t eat no meat?!”, by yaznotjaz

Re. the post title: Oh, I lowve that filum.

"Akhtar de umbarak sha!" as we say in Pukhtu.
And "Eidi ni umbarak hoviya!" as we say in Hindko.
And I’m not quite sure what the Urdu-speakers say. Probably something simple and formal like, "Eid mubarak!"

Oh, wait, that’s Arabic.

Can’t say it any better than I did last year: May we accept the challenges that come our way with just as much fortitude and patience and willingness for personal sacrifice as that displayed by the prophet Abraham. May this Eid, as well as the upcoming New Year, be a beautiful and blessed time for you and yours. Amen to that.

Rock on, rockstars!

Doorway into thanks, & silence in which another voice may speak

Hands in Supplication
Hands in supplication, by yaznotjaz

Last night, the Pakistani satellite channel, ARY-Digital, showed the Hajj pilgrims, a sea of white, at Arafat and Muzdalifah. I watched the television while eating dinner, the volume turned up loudly so that the pilgrims’ invocation echoed throughout the house:

Labayk Allahumma labayk, labayka la shareeka laka labayk. Innal-hamda, wa’naimata, laka wal-mulk, la shareeka lak.

“Here I am at Your service, O Lord, here I am. Here I am at Your service and You have no partners. Yours alone is All Praise and All Bounty, and Yours alone is The Sovereignty. You have no partners.”

For the first time, I felt a little bit of a loss, a sense of regret that I didn’t make it there this year, that I didn’t push to go after all – or, to be honest, even care to – that I ultimately didn’t end up in either of the two places I thought most deeply about this year, neither Sarghodah nor Saudi.

Inspiration for the following post comes from two entries Baraka posted recently – one on authentic prayer – hers is intimate, raw, and powerful – and the other on Mary Oliver’s poem about praying (from which comes my post title). These first ten days of the month of Dhul Hijjah, and particularly the day of Arafat, are about reflection and prayer, so I thought I should work on addressing God less like my co-worker/gossip buddy/He Who Can’t Get the Weather Right and more like, well, God. Serious stuff. Here we go.


Dear God, most Merciful, most Compassionate -

On this weblog, I mostly address You as if You’re the rockstar next door, or the buddy I’m planning on hanging out with after work. And the reason for that is because when I think about who You really are – the vast, timeless expanse of Your Being – it hurts my head to reflect on it for too long. I am short, Lord, You know this: Instead of straining my eyes and my mind, I look up only as far as I can crane my neck, look down only as low as I can bend my head, in hopes of remembering You through the things within my limited reach. Let me feel Your presence with clarity, even in the midst of this world that distracts me from worship and remembrance of You, and especially in the midst of the distractions I deliberately create in order to distance myself from you.

Those whom we’ve loved, and lost to death: grant them – grant us all, when our time comes – light and spaciousness in the grave, and another fulfilling life in the Hereafter. May their memories live on within us, and around us. Grant me a reunion, someday, with the grandfathers I never knew and the grandmothers that I only knew in those painful, ailing last years of their lives. Let me find them vibrant and whole, glowing with love and good health. Let me find my ancestors singing those songs and reciting those poems, some of which I heard with my own ears, most of which I didn’t, all of which we never got to write or remember. How is it that You sent us to be born into a tradition of farmers who lived rough lives of poverty and disease, yet sang songs and wrote poetry effortlessly? Let their wisdom and endurance be an example for us.

Give my salaam to Imran. Tell him I said, I thought of you today in the midst of this Hajj season, and I miss you, my friend, even though you’ve now been gone for nearly as long as I knew you. But it feels like longer, and your photos still make my throat tighten, make me catch my breath, remind me of a life lived fully in the service of others, as every life – as my life – should be.

Teach me to be a joy to my parents. No other people probably love me as much as they do; no other people make me gnash my teeth as much as they. For all my frustrations, though, I realize how shattered my life would be without them. Grant me the grace and patience to be the daughter they need me to be. Grant me the wisdom to be the sister I should be. Let us continue forgiving, even after we hurt each other over and over. Instead of silence and tension, may we always find joy with one another.

When the time is right, grant us partners and significant others who are good for us, who are a mercy to us, who are loving and tolerant of our flaws and imperfections. All that is noble in my father (the hugs, the highfives, the singing, the exuberant culinary experiments, the boundless generosity) without the negative (the sulking, the silence, the unyielding “my way or the highway” approach). I ask not for perfection, but for patience, for compromise and compassion, for mutual respect.

I am grateful to have finally found, in these last several years, a Muslim community to belong to – the two masajid I love for different reasons, the people and prayers that make those spaces sacred to me. Thank You for blessing me with halaqa sisters who understand the benefits and struggles of being an American Muslim, who love ice-skating (they drag me along) and synchronized-jumping on the beach (they let me take dozens of photos) and scouting for the next meal while leaving “I <3 FOOD" scribbles in their wake. Every bite is a shared blessing, each milestone is something to celebrate together. I pray they remain in my life forever, and that we hold halaqas in Jannat al-Firdaus.

I am sometimes accused of being aloof and reserved – more often than I would like. It is shyness more than anything else. But allow me to understand and be comfortable with my own vulnerabilities. There is no shame in sharing sadness, a broken heart, tears in front of people, laughing at myself, acknowledging my difficulties, asking for help.

Please teach me to be okay with asking for help.

Often, I nonchalantly shrug off the need for remorse, repentance: I’m not a bad person. I forget the myriad ways in which I have wronged You, others, myself. In my pride, I tell myself I have no regrets. But I do have two. Remind me of them constantly, so that I may learn from them to appreciate the generosity, kindness, and open-hearted forgiveness that has been granted me when I least deserved or reciprocated it.

Grant me focus. I fumble and stumble in decision-making. I make up my mind one day; mutter, “F*ck it,” the next; abandon my plans and curve around into another direction on the third. I start too many things I don’t finish. Worse yet, I stick to things nearly to the finish-line, then abandon them at the last minute.

Help me to pay attention when people are conversing with me. Open not only my ears – and You know my ears need help! – but also my heart. And let words come easily to me, so that I may write about You and myself and people I know – and those I don’t – without fearing I will do us an injustice.

Help me to be just, always.

I thank You for the sunshine, for California, for my beautiful, beloved, open-armed Bay Area – my first home, and now, after all those years of packing and moving, still my favorite home. I think “they’ve” got it all wrong; there must be some mistake – Hell must be icy cold, bone-chilling cold, not fire and flames. I would rather not be in a hell of ice. If heaven has snow, let me, at least, feel like it’s 70F. This weather thing – I just can’t stop bothering You about it, I know. I’m not a bossy person, but weather always brings out the dictator in me. You know how the hills and the sky looked on this day? Something like that would be nice.

Thank You for good health, for feet that enjoy meandering walks lacking destination, for eyes that crinkle when they smile. Let my hearing remain stable. More than blindness, I fear complete deafness, but I would preferably have neither. Yet I thank You for the humility and empathy – and the rockstar-red hearing aids and superhero lip-reading skills! – that the moderately severe loss has given me. If there is one thing I am to be tested by in life, this one is easy – let this remain it.

Teach me to be comfortable with who I am. Compliments catch me off guard. Who are they talking to? I duck my head, shuffle my feet, change the subject. You, of anyone, remember who I used to be, who I still am. Years later, it’s the same shyness, awkwardness, and insecurity, just hidden under a more stylish wardrobe and straighter teeth. There are days I feel like a fraud. I am not as pretty, smart, sociable, accomplished as people think I am. But I thank You for always reminding me where I come from, who I come from, who I used to be.

What I am so far, let that be good enough.

And then let me seek to improve myself in the things that matter. Make it easier for me to read the Quran regularly and to perform the prayers on time and with concentration. Grant us all the best of this world and the next, and keep from us all things which will not benefit us. On the Day of Reckoning, let the Prophet recognize us as part of his Ummah, his community, and the general community of Believers. May our parched mouths drink water from his hands.

I thank You, over and over, for the beautiful people You have allowed me to know, the smiling strangers with whom I’ve momentarily crossed paths, the individuals who have moved me through unexpected conversations, those who have trusted me with their stories, the friends You have brought into my life, the family and relatives with which You have blessed me. Be compassionate and loving to them as they have been to me, be merciful to them as You have shown mercy to me.

Hold us all in Your Hands. Permit us to sit at the foot of Your throne. Let the light of Your presence blaze in our eyes, cleanse our hearts, purify our souls.

Help us see in one another what we see in You – perfection and beauty beyond telling.

I don’t know why I say the things I say, but I say them anyway

Let's go home
Let’s go home, originally uploaded by yaznotjaz.

By Tuesday or so, I had already realized this week needed to be over. My GMail status:

Dear God: Please make it be Saturday already, because this week kind of sucks. Thank you.
Love, Yasminay

The responses were hilarious:

Anjum, channeling God:

Dear Yasminay,
*sigh*, I get this request every week from you.
and every week from about 64% of the world.
If I jump to Saturday for you,
what about when Anjum here (who is channeling Me) asks for teh same thing?
*the (yes, God makes typos.)
So Yasminay
all I can do is give you a big hug
and perhaps some chocolate
and that should keep you going til Saturday.
chin up, buddy boy.
Love, God.

ZMan, channeling God’s executive assistant:

Z: God doesn’t care about your week, okay
he told me he doesn’t
Yasminay: hahaha shut up!
Z: you’re actually telling God to shut up
which he clearly doesn’t have to do
he could make you shut up if he wanted
like in the matrix
just delete your mouth

HijabMan, with prayers of his own:

Dear God: Please let yasminay send me some questions
before saturday
so i have something to write about
HM :)

And, in sort of related conversation with Z again:

Z: you know what i was just thinking
it’s really good that I have internet here
and it’s working (most of the time)
’cause a lot of my studying is online
makes me realize that God’s not such a bad guy after all
Yasminay: god is awesome
Z: in fact God is pretty freakin sweet
Yasminay: i got my new darren hayes cds from amazon
and there’s a song called ‘conversation with god’
i like!
Z: is there a lot of cussing?
Yasminay: not that i heard
clearly, that’s not your or my conversation
Z: f*ck no it isn’t

The things He has to put up with from us… Good thing God has a sense of humor.