Wednesday, November 30, 2005

On this fateful day...

Yesterday was the International Day of Solidarity for the Palestinian people to mark the partition of Palestine and the creation of an independent Jewish state...

I am recovering from a cold so I will be back to blog again soon.


Friday, November 25, 2005

Greetings from Iraq I

An acquaintance of mine just moved to Iraq to work & will be e-mailing her regular updates on her experiences. With her permission, I will post her e-mails on my blog. Here's her first one:

I am in Iraq, having arrived on the 16th early am. Got delayed in Amman for a couple of days which allowed me to catch up on my sleep in very lovely room, worked out at great health club in the hotel.

Flew to Baghdad Nov 18 and am working at the IRI compound -a protected area in a residential neighborhood comprised of about six houses- then to Erbil on 25 -my new home away from home. A few hours before I arrived, Friday morning a car bomb blew up near our compound which is a few blocks from Al Hamra hotel (believed to be the target) where we had people training Iraqis. It blew out some windows in our compound. Exciting start. On our street we have a sheik and a wealthy member of the Janabi family so their 24-hour guards in addition to IRI's, my new employer, keep us quite safe.

I am being briefed in depth on the programs I will implement in northern Iraq along with about 10 local Iraqis. In addition to running the IRI office for northern Iraq (which includes the 5 northern governorates - the three major cities are Erbil, Kirkuk, Suleymania, and Mosel, I will be responsible for political party development to which I very much look forward. I will conduct trainings on how to build and grow political parties and develop plans to implement on how to encourage more Iraqis to become involved in the political process. We will also be working with civil society organizations, teaching them about the political process and government oversight. Very transferable skills from my many year career in government and public affairs.

I am very happy thus far and am quite optimistic that my expected 1-1 1/2 years in Iraq working on democracy building will be rewarding and fulfilling. The weather in Baghdad is perfect with temps much like Washington DC fall- quite a change from the summer where temperatures got up to 135 F. The North is a little cooler.


Thursday, November 24, 2005

I give thanks...

I love Christmas, but I also believe that Christmas season starts the day AFTER Thanksgiving. Although I enjoy Starbucks gingerbread lattes, what's up with all the holiday decor & music before Thanksgiving?! As one of my friends put it, "Why the rush to start thinking about the holiday all about splurging & forgetting the holiday to give thanks?"

In ths spirit of this holiday, I give thanks to God for....

...the continued support & love from my family....
...the safety of a warm house and stable living conditions....
...the opportunity to learn about this world & work on issues that I care about...
...the circle of friends who are a source of joy and comfort to me....
...the Mercy & Love of God in guiding & supporting me in my endeavors....

Happy Thanksgiving

On the light side, check out this great spoof on the turkey holiday by American Greetings!


Sunday, November 20, 2005

Dear Amman...

On November 9th, when I heard about the triple bombings in Amman, Jordan, I did not know quite how to feel. In many ways, it just seemed surreal. For the next few days after the bombing, I felt very much at unease, but could not quite place my finger as to what was bothering me. Last week, it finally hit me: since I have moved to DC, my sense of coherence – both physically & emotionally – has been shattered in many ways.

Firstly, since it has been a few years since 9/11, I had finally acquired a sense of security that has been broken many times this year from the bombings in London to the latest one in Jordan. In addition, although moving away from home and living in the nation's capital has been exciting & eye opening, it has been an emotional year for me, and I am just beginning to realize it. Last year, although I had not yet graduated & did not have a job, I had established a lifestyle and a comfort zone that made sense to me. However in the past few months, things that were so clearly "right" or "wrong" before seem a lot more ambiguous. And although I cherish my experiences in DC, I am craving for the coherence about my world that I seemed to have just a year ago.

Below, is how I decided to deal with my sadness about the tragic bombings in Amman….

Dear Amman,

It's been a while since I have written you. How are you? I hear you got sick with the bug that has been going around for a while now. I was hoping you would not catch it, but I guess in my heart, I knew it was only time before you were affected by it.

As soon as I heard that you had been hurt, my mind went to all the people I know who live with you and I frantically text messaged them praying they were all okay. I was relieved when they responded saying they were shaken but safe.

In the past, whenever I thought about you, my face would light up with a smile as I remembered the fond memories I have of you. It was during my stay with you that I learned the true meaning of independent traveling, Arab hospitality and delicious Arab food other than hummus and shawarmas.

However, now, whenever I think of you, I am filled with sadness and my eyes swell up with tears. My friends and I used to talk about how living with you was so safe that we sometimes forgot you live so close to Israel, Palestine, Syria, Iraq & Saudi Arabia. It is hard for me to believe that the streets I walked on, the weddings I attended and restaurants I visited are now considered fair targets of terror.

I once learned that before you were named Amman, you were called Philadelphia – city of brotherly love – and it makes me feel better. It gives me hope that all the people who were affected by this horrible incident will come together and seek to heal their wounds collectively. I am sure you're going through a really rough time and I hope you feel better soon.

As I end this letter to you, I can still hear the sound of prayer from the mosques, the honking of the taxis, the smell of fresh bread in the morning, the blaring notes by Amr Diab and the sound from the gas trucks announcing their arrival.

You will always hold a very special place in my heart. And I pray that the disturbing pictures I saw of you recently that are stuck in my head will be soon replaced again by the happy memories I have of you.

Take care.

Luv 'n' regards,



Responsible gifts for the holiday season!

I did not grow up in a wealthy family and thus learned from an early age to be very frugal with my money. In my adult life, this has translated into responsible spending but also a sincere urge to differentiate my "wants" and "needs." One of the many things that bothered me about my community back in Minnesota, is how many of them have become affluent suburban residents, without a thought of the affects of that kind of lifestyle on the environment, economic & social justice or just the unsustainable nature of it.

That is why when my friend & colleague Scott Paul introduced me to
SustainUS, I fell in love with the whole concept of sustainable development right away. I attended the retreat in August & Scott has recently persuaded me to head up the organization's policy process. After some thought, I agreed & am really excited about it!

As we approach the holiday season and are bombarded with ads to buy everything under the sun, I'd like to propose that we buy gifts that are not only unique but also fair trade & more! Check out the
OneWorld U.S. Holiday Gift Guide


The Qunoot Foundation in the Washington Post

All I can say is Yaay!!

From the Washington Post:

Shiite Muslims in U.S. Stay Silent on Problems

A new survey shows that Shiite Muslims in the United States are unlikely to report anti-Muslim hate crimes or other forms of discrimination.

Nearly 80 percent of American Shiites who were victims of "post 9-11 discrimination" reported the incidents either to family members or no one, according to the nationwide survey. The survey was sponsored by the Qunoot Foundation, a Washington-based nonprofit group that released its findings Nov. 12 at a conference.

The survey found that few American Shiite victims reported such incidents to the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a national advocacy group that seeks to represent all American Muslims.

While there are an estimated 6 million Muslims in the United States, no one knows how many of them are Shiite. Worldwide, Shiites account for 10 percent to 15 percent of the Muslim population.

The survey also reported that 47 percent of American Shiites said they experienced overt or subtle forms of discrimination when attending Sunni-dominated mosques.

Conference participants -- mostly American Shiites in their twenties and thirties -- debated vigorously about whether to form their own national advocacy organizations or to try to make existing, Sunni-dominated ones, such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations, more responsive to their needs.

-- Religion News Service


Thursday, November 17, 2005

US vs. ICC

I wish it didn't have to be the U.S. vs. the International Criminal Court, but unfortunately, this is the route this Administration has chosen to take...

Citizens for Global Solutions has conducted an in-depth analysis of this provision in an effort to ascertain its impact on U.S. relations with its allies in strategic regions such as the Middle East, sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America. The amendment in question would cut Economic Support Funds (ESF) to all countries that have ratified the International Criminal Court (ICC) but have not signed a Bilateral Immunity Agreement (BIA) with the U.S.


We like shooting white powdery stuff...

For some reason, while I was contemplating the recent allegations that the US military used white phosphorus against Iraqi civilians in Falluja last year, I was just hit by the gravity of the fact that this country's at war. You may feel like rolling your eyes or says "DUH" but I mean it. Since I've been so engaged in the policy & activism side of things, I haven't been able to take a step back as an ordinary US citizen & grapple with the horrible reality that we are at a war & will probably be at war for a few years to come.

The more I think of it the more it depresses me that my life in the US has mainly been shaped by 9/11 and the Bush Administration's policy that followed the tragedy. I moved to the US in December'99 and the next year was election year, so Clinton was hardly in the picture. And less than a year after the 2000 elections, we had 9/11, and after that, as the cliche goes, the rest was history for me.

I have been thinking a lot about how my sister's generation (she's 13 yrs old) will view the war or how my children will study about it. Although I think Vietnam & the war in Iraq are different in many ways, check out this interesting NY Times piece Vietnam Archive Casts a Shadow Across Decades.

Although Pentagon or Washington scandals no longer surprise me, I still find them very disturbing. I feel like this country has lost its soul & we need to help it find it back.


Monday, November 14, 2005

So, what's with the new name?

To be honest, when I first created my blog, I was still relatively new to politics & I was tempted to title it "An Opinionated Khoja Girl." But for some reason, I just chose "Progressive Muslim Thoughts" because that's what I thought I was trying to be - a "progressive Muslim". Over the past year and a half, I have learned that the word progressive means so many different things to different people and honestly, I don't even know what to term myself.

All I know is that I'm a Shia Muslim on a journey trying to figure out who am, what my beliefs are and what I want to do with my life. The new title of my blog is actually what I titled my honors thesis where I explored the heritage & identity of the East African Khoja Shia Ithna Asheri community.

In addition, on Saturday, I was grateful to be part of The Qunoot Foundation's first conference, which was titled "Exploring the Layers of Our Identity" which was a great success alhamdulillah (praise be to Allah). I was so proud of the co-founders Mohamed & Zahir who are my dear friends because they created a crucial platform for Shias & Sunnis to come together & talk about some really tough issues that don't take place in public spaces. I thought it really went well and my sentiments echo what most people probably fell. However, I will truly know when I compile the responses from our evaluation forms.

Yesterday, I was re-arranging stuff on my bulletin board, and most people are disturbed by what I have on it: the Balfour Declaration, a bloody picture from Iraq, Palestine, something on genocide & poverty. But I now have 2 new additions that make me smile and give me hope: the blue program from Saturday's event & the post card for the Qunoot Foundation's next conference in April on Imam Hussein - who the Shias revere as a 3rd successor to Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

I regard Zahir, who is one of ther co-founders as a brother, friend, mentor & more. Through Qunoot, I have become close to amazing people like Mohamed (my friend from Minnesota & the other co-founder), Saba (Zahir's wife), Zuleqa & Khizer Bhai (one of the cutest couples I know) & Shenaaz (Zahir's sister). And in a way, they all fill up a small part of the gaping hole in my heart, for which I'm very grateful.

These past few weeks have been really overwhelming for me because the more I learn & interact with different people, the more I realize how much I don't know who I am and what I want from life & it's really emotionally draining. Since I moved to the US almost 6 years ago, so much has changed in my life & I feel like the ground under me is constantly shifting & sometimes, I crave for it to stabilize. Ah well, Inshallah (if Allah wills), I will pass through this phase of my life smoothly.

To my loyal readers: thank you for the support you have given me this past year & I hope you will continue to tag along with me on my journey.

"The spiritual path ruins the body, but subsequently restores it to health.
It ruins the house to reveal the treasure, and with that treasure it builds better than before." ~ Rumi


Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Eid Mubarak - in advance!

As mentioned before, I will be in New Mexico for my organization's annual conference. It is entitled GLOBAL SOLUTIONS, LOCAL CONNECTIONS: making the global local one activist at a time! I hate the fact that I will miss spending Eid with friends here in DC but I'm pretty pumped about the conference. It's my first business trip and the first time that I'll be moderating a panel.

I don't know whether Eid will be tomorrow or Friday - I believe Saudi Arabia has already declared Eid on Thursday. For more on my rant on moon-sighting politics, check out my entry on the first of Ramadhan.

May Allah (SWT) accept our prayers and efforts this Ramadhan and give us an opportunity to experience the holiness of this month next year. Ameen.

Eid Mubarak!


Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Ramadhan in Washington, DC

This Ramadhan was my second away from my family & community. However, two years ago, I was in Jordan and was amongst Muslims, so this was the first time for me alone in the US. The first week, I was extremely homesick: having spent most of my Ramadhans as part of the Khoja community, I missed the familiarity of qur'an-khani, iftars at the mosque on weekends, duas, etc. But I was determined to make this Ramadhan special, so I made sure I attended the free iftars that were being offered by the Muslim Student Associations (MSA) at the universities in the city. This allowed me to bond with the few Muslim friends I have made over the past few months. I am very grateful that my Muslim friends come from very diverse backgrounds and experiences because mingling with them has forced me to come out of my comfort zone and dispel any stereo-types I held about "other" Muslims.

When I was living in Minnesota, one thing that I found disturbing is how many Muslims,have institutionalized religion. For many, Islam only exists within the compounds of the mosque and although we may practice various acts of worship in our personal lives, Islam had begun to feel a ritual for me rather than a vital aspect of my life. What I find fascinating about my Muslim friends in DC is that as students or young professionals working in various non-traditional fields, we are all seeking a nearness to Allah but are willing to explore different avenues of spirituality and explore religion in ways that we probably did not "back home." This included deep conversations about life, women, politics, Islam, the Qur'an, history, culture and the future of Muslim Americans over Desi, Ethiopian, Arabic, Mexican and Italian iftars.

A few months ago, the MSA at Georgetown University had initiated a Seerah class that focuses on the life of Prophet Mohamed (SAW). The class meets every week and is taught by two young students who pour over tons of historical material so that we can have a better understanding of the Holy Prophet. Although the class is taught via a Sunni narrative, it has been so refreshing for me to learn about Islam right from its origins and in personal way, start all over again without the cultural baggage that I was brought up with. During Ramadhan, we were fortunate enough that by coincidence, we were studying about the first revelation of the Qur'an, and tried to experience what the Prophet, his family and followers must have experienced when the first few ayats were revealed more than 1400 years ago

Although the number of Shias in DC are few, we are definitely growing in number and during the 21st and 23rd nights (very important nights for Shias), a bunch of us got together at a friend's house and recited our dua's (supplications) and a'amals (specific prayers for the nights) in a circle over some yummy manadazi, makati and chai. We also ended up talking about what it means to be a Shia, the challenges we face within our own communities and the broader Muslim and American community.

For me, this Ramadhan has been like none other and over the past few weeks, I have established relationships that I know will last a lifetime. I have been able to bond with people - both Sunni & Shia - that in the past, I would have labeled as different and probably even ignored. Nevertheless, they have taught me so much about Islam and made me appreciate the rich diversity that exists within Islam.

As we near the completion of this holy month, I find myself questioning what exactly does a "community" mean? According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a community is defined as people with common interests living in a particular area. As a Khoja, for me, it always meant that I belonged to a Khoja community. However, these past few weeks, I haven't been part of one, yet I feel a sense of connection with all the Muslims I have befriended. I find myself wondering whether it is possible to create a Muslim community or a pan-Shia community that is not based on language, nationality or ethnicity but rather on the common goal of understanding Islam and serving Allah (SWT). My honest answer is I don't know. What I do know is that this month has been one of the most enriching experiences of my life and I am willing to give it all I have to establish such a community.

"Guide us on the straight path, the path of those whom You have blessed, not the path of those who earn your anger, nor of those who go astray."
~Surah Fatiha, The Opening [1:6-7]