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.