Oh the places I went this summer

I did a little bit of traveling this summer, but one of the most exuberant places I went was teaching summer camp for six weeks at Philadelphia’s Sister Clara Muhammad School. The children were beautiful, little chocolate and caramel drops full of smiles, laughter, chatter, and sometimes even tears. I had the joy, and exhaustion of teaching 5-10 years olds literature based arts and crafts. One of our most successful projects was the set of gold and black dhikr beats. Insha’Allah I plan to post those shortly. One parent told me that when her husband was upset about something, her six year old offered to lend his dad the set of beads saying, “Here dad, you need them!” I wanted to share some of the art projects we did, some based on literary themes like scenes, others based on books like Rainbow fish, Frog and Toad are Friends, and Library Lion. Others were just for fun. Who doesn’t enjoy painting colorful monarch butterflies?

Adventures in the Life of a Failed Artist

For years, I spent most of my time in thinking, writing, rethinking, spending free time in heady enterprises like deep conversations. But drawing allows me to rest my mind a bit and focus on a shadow, a bright speck of light, a curve of a line, or where two silhouettes intersect. Last Spring, I took an 8 week course at the UCAL. It was an enjoyable experience where I got to use a different part of my brain for once. In some ways, my new artist utensils remind me of opportunities lost and my own personal failures. Maybe this was a gift I that I let flounder and sadly I have to chalk it up to circumstance. Back then, gifted Black girls were never tracked to be artists or even deep thinkers. We were groomed to be engineers, by becoming funneled into programs like MESA.  Distracted, overwhelmed and the on the receiving end of my non-Black classmates discrimination in Physics and Trig, I knew I was destined to become a piss poor engineer.  I slipped into delinquency, high school fights, and general despair. Plus my mother thought I’d be a terrible teacher because I was impatient. I went from the who’s who list to the who’s who of students with multiple talents that didn’t live up to expectations.

School was a miserable place for me, ever since I moved from Trenton and began kindgergarten in a predominantly white schools in the South Bay. But I was curious and loved to write and draw. Ever since I was a toddler, I used to sketch and draw in my mother’s address books. My drawing and story telling in brought me to the attention of my fourth grade teacher. I don’t know if my mother still has the story I wrote, but it was my take on the “Lord of the Flies,” basically the survival techniques of a young Black girl on a desert Island. My teacher recommended that I get tested and following those results I got to escape the dreary loneliness of Kathryn Hughes Elementary school into a world where we played with different shapes and and embarked on odd and nonsensical projects. It didn’t matter that my classmates were socially awkward because they were nerds. I thought I went to this special place because I was different, Black and didn’t think like everybody else. I didn’t think I was so smart, just odd like the other students at GATE. Over time, my teachers expected me to achieve and often accused me of wasting my potential.

I can remember some of those drawings I did from second to sixth grade. I remember the picture I drew of what I hoped I would become when I grew up. I drew my long hair perfectly feathered like Heather Locklear’s on T.J. Hooker. Even though I had my father’s flat nose, I constantly drew an adult me with an aquiline nose with a strong bridge like my mother’s. I remember thinking back resenting my pictures that I drew and how they reflected the low self image I developed after moving into multi-ethnic Santa Clara where Black was a slim majority.

I continued to write stories and draw pictures, often pictures of people’s photographs from time to time. I’ve often regretted that my artistic talents were never really developed. I was tracked so early in high school and I struggled under the weight of science requirements for university admissions and the petty and sometimes deadly violence at a high school that was more like a volatile mix of working class Mexican Americans, Blacks, whites, bloods, mormons, nortenos, rogues, vietnamese gangs, republicans, stoners, jocks, track athletes, and debutantes. I was able to squeeze in one elective art class and an AP art history class. Eventually my college hopes dwindled, and I ended up finishing my last year at a continuation school only to walk triumphantly with my high school class.

I continued to draw things on my own during my community college years, but after a brief stint of being a hardcore Muslim, I burned all my pictures of people and animals. I didn’t pick up a pencil or a pen for years. Nearly a decade later, I took another art class as a return student at Santa Clara University in 2003. It was mostly still life. And my only Black American teacher there noted my work as I captured light and darks on a still life featuring a pineapple. With the help of a some engineering tips, my final project of a japanese garden turned out near perfect. I still consider it my best work to date. Sadly, most of my early work was lost between moves and the instability of being a wayfaring graduate student.

I don’t know why it is so hard for me to pick up the charcoal on my own. There’s something about a structured class and a place where you can let the dust fly everywhere without worrying about it staining the white walls and sullying the vacuumed carpet. I know I will never be a great artist, I think that window closed a long time ago somewhere when I was sketching distorted pictures of my classmates on junior high notebooks. But I enjoy it nonetheless. I hope you rediscover a love and reignite an old flame. You only fail if you never try,

Addressing a Real Social Need: Milati Islami

Addiction is a real problem, and believe me it is not limited to just converts and indigenous Muslims ( those whose families did not immigrate from Muslim majority societies).   Addiction is not limited to substance abuse, we have people with gambling addictions, sex addictions, shopping addictions, etc… Many Muslim communities have failed to develop programs to specifically address substance abuse, which is a real big problem that we often sweep under the rug.

I brought this up after reading about the Guantanomo guard,Terry Holdbrooks, who converted to Islam. He fell into a spiral of alcoholism that led to hospitalization after his experiences at Guantanomo, which included his conversion. At the time of the article, he had recently quit drinking and began attending classes at the mosque. I didn’t read anything about any treatment programs, no 12 steps, nothing, nor counseling sessions to deal with the emotional or psychological problems that plagued him. To me, it highlighted the assumptions that people make when you take shahadah or clean up your life after years of hard partying in your youth (I’ve known plenty of Muslim binge drinkers on college campuses).  Often Muslims are wracked with pyschological trauma from their past, and the emotional guilt from a fall from grace. When you take shahada, your sins are wiped clean. But your mind is not a clean slate, nor are your proclivities reset.   While there are many programs to provide services to inmates, and MANA is working on reentry programs, I still wonder if the assumption is that ex-convicts who had substance abuse problems and drug related offenses will be able to resist temptation once they are out in the the world of temptation. Reentry is not just about finding the brothers jobs and wives (in fact one brother did chastise the sisters at one MANA meeting for not stepping up and marrying the ex-cons).

Addiction is devastating on the individual, their family, and the entire community. It also creates an atmosphere of distrust. I remember years ago, a  Syrian family I knew  in the South Bay had spent a considerable amount of resources trying to help a new Muslim get his life together. They lent him money and tried to help him start a painting business. After some months, he began smoking crack and his life spun out of control. After being burned by that experience, they were less inclined to help converts. Another sister told me her previous husband was a crack head, it just took her a couple months after their marriage to learn of his addiction. And by that time it was too late, she was already pregnant. Well, crack addicted men aren’t the best father figures. On the other hand, I know of a success case, a former addict committed to a life of sobriety, found Islam, and is achieving great things including the highest level of education that one can attain. I appreciated the candor of this individual who openly talks about recovery. That candor is not something you see a lot of in the Muslim community. Instead, we try to hide it behind a veil of piety. And beneath that veil of piety is the heavy weight of self-loathing and fear of being discovered. My hope is that we  invest in our human capital, that we address our realities in America. Addiction, mental illness, and overall spiritual nihilism are things that our community should be equipped to address with trained counselors and skilled imams.  I am pleased to see that the Muslim community in Philadelphia  addressing this.

In the Name Of Allah, The Beneficent, the Merciful …
Millati Islami Groups of Phila.
{12 Step Recovery}

Millati Islami is a Twelve Step recovery program for
persons that experience problems associated with
addiction. The steps and traditions of Millati Islami
are based upon Islamic principles. With the traditional
Twelve Step program some principles have proven to be
in accord with our Islamic way of life. When Islamic
principles are included, they have proven to further
enhance the recovery process.

Come Join Us!

Time: 7:00 PM to 8:30 PM
@ The New Africa Center
4243 Lancaster Avenue
Philadelphia. PA


Time: 7:00 PM to 8:30 PM
@ The Quba Institute
4637 Lancaster Avenue
Philadelphia, PA

Time: 7:00 PM to 8:30 PM
@ Masjidullah, Inc.
7700 Ogontz Avenue
Philadelphia, PA

For More Information Contact:

Bro. Ameen Abdur-Rasheed: 215-514-6692
Bro. Abdur-Rahim Burton:347-578-0250
Bro. Naim Uqdah: 215-651-8501
Sis. Noor Doumbia: 267-261-3763
Sis. Hadiyah Najee-Ullah: 215-868-5286
Sis Miriam Sheppard: 215-873-3232

Comment Policy

This is a moderated blog. I will not approve comments that are anti-Islamic/anti-Black/anti-woman/anti-American/anti-anything diatribes, especially those that are full of falsehoods and misconceptions. I do not have time to debunk nonsense or argue with people who are convinced by their own self perpetuated ignorance. Nor is this blog a site for you to proselytize or promote your false universals here. Thank you and like Roxanne Shante said, “have a nice day!”

The Mahr (Bride Gift)

is a common problem for Black American Muslim women. Many never see it, especially if it something of any substance besides three surahs (short chapters of the Quran) and a iron ring. These same brothers will be the first to tell a sister off for going to “kafr” courts for spousal or child support. Brothers when you get married, you enter into a contract. That is not a debt that can be forgiven, it is not something that Muslim women (who are often left vulnerable by the traditional roles they take) can write off as an expense as some uncollectable debt. Sure, you can bust out that “I owe you one on youm al qiyama.” But is that one you can have hanging over your head? I think it is time that we develop a database for all masajid and community members to know if they can trust going into any business with a brother who refuses to pay an outstanding mahr to a sister he divorced. Also, sisters going into a marriage need to know if they their prospective has some outstanding debt, knowing she’ll likely be in the same wack situation.

Working While Muslim in America: The ‘Id shut Out

Last year, at Stanford my Arabic instructor at the time, who happened to be an Arab Muslim, didn’t think it was appropriate to cancel class. I remember being stuck in traffic coming from the ‘id prayers, stressed out about making it back to Palo Alto in time. Two of my sistah-sisters who rode with me were in the same predicament. I apologized for making them late and deep inside regretted my foul mood. After I finally found a parking space, I had to rush to locate the Arabic reading materials just before class started. This Arabic was supposed to be a class linked to Stanford’s burgeoning Islamic Studies program, yet there were no accommodations for Muslim students or faculty. Yet, on Yom Kippur even some of the most secular and liberal professors and students were notoriously absent and classes were canceled. Right now, I’m reeling over a boss who just shut out ‘id. It’s especially annoying knowing how much they value those Turkey Days and weeks off during X-mas break. It is experiences like these that make you feel out of place as a Muslim in America. Your boss or your professor can say: Screw you practicing Muslim, nobody cares about you or your holiday. It makes me question things, when enlightened places of America’s elite institutions of higher learning like UPenn and Stanford do little to create a space where Muslims can celebrate a day that is really holy for us, and not just a secularized day where we just buy stuff or eat stuff.

Psychological and Religious Ramifications of 9-11 on Muslims

I received this message from a listserv that I’m on. I think this is a worthwhile project on a subject that really needs to be studied. Please consider giving your 30 minutes to help the production of knowledge on the American Muslim community:

Brother/sister as salamu alaikum,
My name is Hisham Abu Raiya, PhD., a postdoctoral fellow in psychology
at the Counseling and Behavioral Health Services at New York University.
Drs. Kenneth Pargament and Annette Mahoney, well-known researchers in
this field of the psychology of religion, and I are currently conducting
a study that explores the psychological and religious ramifications of
the events that followed the September 11 attacks on Muslims living in
the United States. For the sake of this study, we are looking for Muslim
individuals living in the United States who are willing to complete a
survey that includes questions about the stressors they faced after the
September 11 attacks and their religious methods of coping with these
stressors. We are writing to ask you to complete our survey, which will
take about 30 minutes of your time. Your responses on the survey will
remain confidential and you will not be asked to provide any identifying
information. If you are interested in participating, you can access the
survey at:


Your help will contribute significantly in understanding the
psychological and religious ramifications of the September 11 attacks on
Muslims in the United States, and will be extremely appreciated.

Hisham Abu Raiya, PhD.
Psychology Fellow
NYU Student Health Center
Counseling & Behavioral Health Services
726 Broadway, Suite 471
New York, NY 10003
Phone: 212-998-4774
Homepage: www.hishamaburaiya.com

Triple Minority: Black Muslim Women in America

I’m giving a talk at the end of this month on the experiences of Black Muslim women in America. Insha’Allah, I plan on outlining the historical development of Islam in the Black American community and Black women’s roles in the American Muslim community. Much of my talk will draw heavily from two works: Carolyn Moxley Rouse’s Engaged Surrender and  Jamillah Karim’s American Muslim Women. I believe are great follow-ups to Sherman Jackson’s work, Islam and the Blackamerican. They are intriguing ethographic works offering insight into both the experiences of Black Muslim women, the challenges they face in gendered spaces that privilege men over women and in a society that often views them with pitiful contempt. They complicate notions that Muslim women are buying into their own oppression, by showing how becoming Muslim was an empowering act that challenged the racism, sexism, and classism in American soceity. I really liked how both studies shed  light on the ways in which Black Muslim women participate in  Quranic exegesis and interpret Islamic beliefs and practices.At the same time neither study glosses over the challenges many Black women face within the Muslim community and society at large. What is more important is that these studies provide so much  more insight into the actual workings of communities than a study from the top up. For anybody interested in the history and the current condition of Black American Muslims, you should really read these works. In fact, you should encourage more studies about Muslim women. I hope that there is somebody with the training and sensitivity of these authors to do an in depth study of the Black Muslim women within the Salafi movement. I do think that there should be work done on how masculinity is constructed in the American masajid.

One of the ironic things about working on women in Muslim communities, is that you can easily find yourself marginalized. Even creating a space for women in the masjid can be a double edged sword, as I discovered when I gave a recent talk. Many of the women wanted to have a women only event. As a result, my husband was excluded from coming. I attend many of his talks and sermons to support him. He felt it was unfortunate that he couldn’t support me. I knew of another couple where the husband had wanted to come hear my talk. It is likely that the wife decided to not attend because she would have been by herself. When I first learned that my talk on the Spirituality of Muslim women was women only, I became mortified. First, because the times I have attended masajid in Philadelphia I have often received an icy reception. There are no warm welcomes, or even a friendly curiosity over a new face in even a small community. Usually it is a polite ignore, which I find disconcerting, especially coming from California where I met most of my friends through random encounters at events. Second, the idea of women only talk reinforced the problem that I was just highlighting about the lack of women’s voices in Islamic scholarship. I noted that on campus topics focusing on women and family issues  were poorly attended by Muslim men. But a women only event meant that no man would know about Muslim women’s spirituality. Why should they care? Most have mothers, wives, sisters, daughters, and associates. Perhaps knowledge the can offer understanding or even inspire a bit more respect for our spiritual journey. I do believe that people are well intentioned, but I became flustered when somebody approached me as they were attempting to develop women only programming. Imam Anwar, on the other hand, is working to create an environment that both allows for women to carve out a space safe from the male gaze and a platform for women to be heard in their community. Just because I am a woman does not mean that I deal with women only topics and even if I do begin to write about Muslim women, I believe those issues should be of interest to the broader Muslim community.

Sometimes I am at a loss for words. There were times when I first began researching for my lecture that I was frustrated and even saddened by the condition of women’s scholarship I read those books relating to the struggles that each woman faced, personally moved when those scholars gave voice to the struggles I experienced. This is why I started blogging and why I was so relieved to find a community of Black Muslim bloggers to engage in these discussions with. Through this discourse I even found my soul mate.

I’m reading a lot of blogs by Muslim American women in general, and Black American Muslim women in particular to gain insight into life experiences that may reflect my own or differ in multiple ways.  In an effort to get a better sense of the issues that Black Muslim Women face in America, I am making a general call for input. I am developing a non-scientific survey to get a sense of what are our primary concerns. Is it discrimination in the broader society as Muslims, within the Black Muslim community as women, within the broader Muslim community as Black women? Are we concerned about marriage, raising children, economic disparities, losing our children to drugs and gang violence, lack of resources, access to Islamic education? In the meantime, feel free to comment and let me know your greatest concerns.  Believe me, my talk will also high light many of the rewards of being Muslim in America. If you don’t want to focus on the negative, please feel free to write what you want people to know about you.

Gloomy Day and Collective Guilt

Summer turned out to be rather lackluster, with a lot of rain, lots of overcast days, and an intense heat wave that rose up and gave us the smack down at the cusp of Ramadan. Just as September rolled in, the weather seemed to turn immediately into Autumn school day dreariness. After Fajr,  I had a cough that rattled in my chest and constantly interrupted my sleep for about an hour. After my post-Fajr nap I tried to take it easy and read. I closed most of the windows, finished reading the ethonographic book, American Muslim women.  When I took a break, I decided to watch a movie online. I decided to finish a film I began watching about childhood innocence. The only problem was that it was The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, a film that felt like it was either a tragic joke or a tragic train wreck ready to happen. My husband wasn’t interested in watching it the first time with me. Like me, he had misgivings about films like Valkyrie that try to show the “good German” who resisted Nazi hegemony in Germany. I began to wonder if this film was like Schindler’s List, which shows some of the horrors of the Holocaust, while at the same time absolving some Germans of the collective guilt. A Jewish friend of mine noted that in the 80s, that a number of times he had strange encounters from white Christians seeking to become absolved from guilt of letting it happen. I’ve that happen a few times myself from well meaning white co-workers. Put on the spot, I tried to come up with a thoughtful answer. But we joked, “What if I did say: ‘No, I don’t forgive you or your people!'” Some say that the election of Barack Obama helped a lot of White Americans feel absolved from their  collective guilt. So, I figured that this film was maybe an attempt to show the human side of Hitler youth to show that friendship can overcame race hatred and even mass genocide. We’re just people and that’s all that matters, right?

The well meaning book and film did its best to humanize a monstrous chapter in Western history. I was moved to tears during the gassing scene. Even though I was by myself, words slipped out of my mouth conveying my horror. The music and cinematography was supposed to emphasize the  German mother and sister’s anguish over the loss of their son. But there was nobody left to grieve for little Schmuel.  I feel kind of guilty that part of me  wished that it was based on true events. Can anybody absolve me of my guilt over having feelings of revenge and retribution over injustices?