Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Just a collection of thoughts and renewing of intentions…

Asalaamu Alaikum!

I have been trying to find a legit place to study, or rather write, since I started applying for my MFA last year. I have always known about Cosmo’s Coffee Café in downtown La Mesa but I also know that parking sucks. You only get two hour meter parking before you have to pack up your belongings, run out to fill the meter again, and make dua’ your spot is still there when you get back to the café… not cool. Now that I’m a regular, I ask the barista to look after my stuff while I run out and make sure the meter hasn’t expired. I’m good after 6pm. There are a lot of coffee shops in San Diego but they’re awfully far from my house. I’m now realizing that it’s a good thing, AlhamduliAllah, to be studying far from UCSD. So, here I am at Cosmo’s trying to expand my novel… and sort out my thoughts.  

This place is actually pretty awesome. It has this nice vibe to it with its artsy solar system theme and contemporary art covering the walls. I’ve always been very interested in the study of astronomy. Want to know a secret… shhh… up until my junior year of high school- wait, don’t laugh, seriously- I wanted to be an astronaut. I was seriously determined to be the first Muslimah in space. I loved (still love, I guess) science. What can I say, I have always been a nerd. If I would have chosen to go into the sciences at UCSD, I would have chosen a major in astronomy or environmental chemistry. SubhanAllah, I ended up on a road far from a science field, or any field I had studied in undergrad… (<- Have you noticed how in love I am with ellipses?)

Anyways, I’ve been having a hard time focusing lately on my writing and even readings. The days are gloomy. I absolutely love it. InshaAllah, it will rain soon. I LOVE the rain! It’s such a purifying process. The majority of my favorite memories are on the gloomiest, rainy days in San Diego. I think it’s because I easily enter this calm, reflective trance during these days. SubhanAllah, how Allah swt has given each season it’s unique blessings, benefit, and beauty.

I’m sitting here at Cosmo’s, sipping my cappuccino, trying to make sense of all the craziness going through my head. I tend to overthink and overanalyze everything on normal days; yet, I don’t know what it is in the winters that causes me to sit for hours just rehashing old memories and thoughts. I know I can’t go back and change anything and yet I still have all these scenarios of how things could have gone differently, maybe better, or at least carried more benefit to my future. Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the short time I took off from school, after I graduated undergrad, to work and apply to graduate school. I’ve written before that being the only Muslim, hijabi, Arab, etc. in my MFA program is quite terrifying. Recently, I’ve been going over and renewing my niya, or intentions, for choosing the path I am on right now. More importantly, I keep thinking of the reasons for Allah swt to have written this path for me. Everything from Allah swt is kheir, good.

I knew what I wanted. I was determined to continue my education in a field in which I could use my skills in the best way possible to benefit my ummah and serve Allah swt. I wanted to write novels and work at a publishing company. There was no one I could turn to for advice so I made dua’ in every chance I could that I was making the best decision.

When I first told my younger brother of my new plans for graduate school, he thought I was kidding. He told me it was ridiculously difficult and crazy competitive.
“Do you know how many ‘wannabe writers’ are out there Haneen? You’re good but do you really think you have a chance? Just stick to law school.”
I had the same answer every single time someone pointed out the obvious, “I know, but if this is the right path, Allah swt will bring me through it. InshaAllah kheir.”
In the end, I knew he had my back, regardless of what I considered a pessimistic attitude (he referred to it as being a realist). “I’ll support you all the way. Just don’t give up.”
My biggest fear wasn’t giving up. My biggest fear was the lack of support I was getting. I knew I had the support of my family and closest of friends but they didn’t serve as a connection to my future career. I know I shouldn’t have cared much. My brother and friends jokingly refer to me as a “starving artist”. Money wasn’t my priority. I knew I was sprinting right at a heightened amount of challenges and obstacles. I also knew that if I kept my niya pure, if I had the right intentions and placed my tawakul, trust, on Allah swt, then He would lead me onto the right path. I was still nervous. I felt like, or rather, still feel like I have little control on where this path is taking me.

Above all, I thought that to truly make it in the world of writing, to be published and acquire my dream job, I needed to get out to San Diego. I wanted to move to either San Francisco or, more inspiringly, New York. I made dua’ day and night, during every single prayer- fard, sunnah, nightly prayers, at all times. Allah swt truly is the best of planners. I was accepted into Antioch University Los Angeles (AULA), a school in Culver City, in a program that allowed me to live in San Diego and commute throughout the year to LA when I needed for my residencies. I wasn’t going anywhere, not anytime soon. [I would go back to living with my family. I had believed that one of the reasons I made it through UCSD was that I lived with the MSA sisters, far from family. I went home to visit at every chance I got but I lived my separate life, on my own terms. Don’t misunderstand me, I love my family more than I can ever express. My family will always be my number one supporter and I know they’re not going anywhere.] Never mind that AULA has an incredible and inspirational program that thrives off of education, community, and social justice; I was devastated. I admit that not until I drove up for my first residency did I see the blessing and barakah that Allah swt had given me.

My brother continuously reminds me of how competitive this field of study and career is. Hundreds of applicants and only several get in yearly. I’m definitely blessed. Honestly, there’s a crazy amount of Young Adult and fiction storytellers and writers out there, trying to make it daily. Everyone’s stories and work have similarities… some stories I could easily recognize within the works of already published authors. What am I doing trying to compete with the best??? I need to constantly remind myself that Allah swt blessed me with being a bit more unique… especially at AULA. There’s a reason he has written for me to be at AULA. This is the perfect path for me.

AlhamduliAllah, within my American identity, I also identify myself as a Muslim, hijabi, Palestinian, Arab. This identity defines my experiences, stories, and voice through my story-telling ways. A lot of my short stories can be seen as typical stories of relationships and challenges. However, my novels and core stories are vibrant with multicultural and religious upbringing and experiences. Allah swt is truly the best of planners.

When I’m at my lowest and surrounded by hectic obstacles and tedious challenges, it’s difficult to remember why I’m walking this path. My intentions have not changed. I work for Allah swt. I will continue to work hard to make sure the voice of the voiceless are heard strong and sharp. I would rather be struggling and know that Allah swt is always watching over me than to sail smoothly, and quite boringly, through this temporary life. I may not see the fruits of my labor now but I need to keep my faith and trust in Allah swt. Of course this is a reminder for myself before anyone else.

So while I may not be able to run into the warmth of the support and love that the Muslim ummah provided me with at UCSD, I will always have Allah swt. That’s all I need. AlhamduliAllah!

Always renew your intentions and remember the blessings Allah swt has provided for you!

[It’s finally raining so beautifully right now! I’m going to be soaked in a couple of minutes! I LOVE IT! AlhamduliAllah!!!]

AULA MFA Program

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

I want to go somewhere…

Every day, I wake up and I think, “I want to go somewhere.”
I want to go somewhere far.
I want to go somewhere beautiful.
I want to go somewhere where I can try something new.
I want to go somewhere where I can taste something delectable.
I want to go somewhere where stress is not my enemy yet a insignificant worry compared to the true trials of this world.
I want to go somewhere where I can feel my heart beating with exuberant tingling.
I want to go somewhere inexpressible through words.

I want to go to Ummrah & Hajj.
Become lost among my diverse Muslim brothers and sisters all equal under the ruling of Allah swt.
Marvel at the power of the Creator.
Let my tears flow as millions of Muslims kneel and prostrate to the One with only two words, “Allahu Akbar!”
Feel my heart beats intensifying as millions unify to obey Allah swt.
Taste the purity of Zamzam water.
Forget the worries of this material world.
Make every dua’ possible to Allah swt to guide me on the straight path and give me the privilege of dying with the Shahada on my tongue and Allah swt and his messenger in my heart.
Struggle to return home because this is where I imagine my true home to be.
Believe sincerely that my journey is this life yet my destination is Janaat.

I want to go to Palestine.
Pray in Masjid Al-Aqsa after 11 years of desire to return.
Gaze with adoration at the beauty of the Dome of the Rock.
Run through olive tree groves.
Indulge in the sweetness of knafe.
Grin at the vibrant sight of intricate cultural stitching.
Excitedly add to my growing collection of kuffiyahs
Devour the freshness of homegrown grape leaves.
Ache at the image of strong-willed children laughing and playing football (soccer), carefree under a tyrannical occupation.
Feel the therapeutic salt minerals slip through my hands as I dip them into the Dead Sea.  
Visit refugee camps lit with noor, radiating of deen from the strong women who have lost loved ones to the vicious occupation. 
Hear the beats of dabke as youth dance to tell the story of their ancestral struggle.
Leave my mark on the Apartheid wall as I make dua’ for it to fall.

I want to go to Egypt.
Where liberation has a square named after it, Tahrir.
Where revolution has a history.
Where the nation understands that it must stand together, despite differences, for freedom and justice.
Where Om il Dunya (Mother of the World) no longer just refers to its influential entertainment capital of the Arab world.
Where the fertility of the land runs alongside the Nile.
Where the pyramids stand proud with ancient history.
Where Alexandria and Sharm-el-Sheik bring night-life to the deserts.
Where its language is the most unique and distinct among the Arabic dialects.
Where the adhan (call to prayer) is heard five times a day.
Where the charming humor of the Arab world pulsates.

I want to go to Lebanon.
Smell the beauty of its terrain of luscious mountains views.
Hear the religious diversity among the plethora of languages spoken.
Be at the crossroads of Asia, Africa, and Europe.

I want to go to Dubai.
Where everything is taller, bigger, better.
Ski in the dessert at an indoor mall.
Feel the presence of being surrounded within the big skyscraper cities of the western world while in the Middle East.

I want to go to Paris.
Hear the elegant language flood the streets.
Discover the amazingness of cheese as the French see it.
Scarf down warm croissants and baguettes from the boulangerie.
Sample delicacies at the patisserie.
Take touristy pictures under the Eiffel Tower.
Discover the beauty of the Grande Mosquée de Paris.
Stroll down the Avenue des Champs-Élysées.
Breathe in the fresh scents of nature in the Jardin du Luxemburg. 
Sip coffee at the Café les Deux Magots.

I want to go to London.
Skip along the Tower Bridge.
Stare back at the London Eye.
Ride a double-decker bus.
Venture through Oxford.  
Check the time on Big Ben.
Stand on Westminster Bridge.
Stroll through Hyde Park.
Use a telephone booth.
Feel like Hermione Granger. 

I want to go to Italy.
Feel the ancient power of politics in Rome.
Strut through the fashion capitals, Milan and Florence.
Explore the ruins of stunning architecture.
Lean on the walls of the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
Ride gondolas through the canals of Venice.
Inhale espressos.
Treat myself to authentic Neapolitan pizza.
Flavor creamy gelato.
Write in the halls of the University of Bologna. 
Observe the architectural masterpiece known as the Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral.
Smile at the work of Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and Donatello.

I want to go to Spain.
Walk through the great walls of the Alhambra Palace in Granada, Andalusia.
Marvel at breathtaking Islamic architecture.
Feel like a movie star in Barcelona.

I want to go to Ireland.
Become lost in the rich nature scenery.

I want to go to Switzerland.
Travel the vibrant green, blue, and white landscape.
Visit the proud Palace of Nations, the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva.
Pose with the statue of the writer and philosopher, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, in Geneva.
Ski the soft, white hills of Saas-Fee.
Consume sweet, delicate chocolate.

I want to go to Canada.
Feel the mist of Niagara Falls.
Practice my French in Quebec.
Cheer at a legit hockey game.
Photograph the busy Toronto skyline.

I want to go to New York.
Remember my blessing of being born and raised in the USA at the remarkable sight of the Statue of Liberty.
Pretend I’m a student at New York University.
Stroll importantly through Manhattan.
Acquire inspiration at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art
Explore the insanity of Times Square.
Attempt to ignore Time Warner Center.
Allow temptation of a West Village stroll along tree-lined cobblestone streets.
Absorb the energy of Rockefeller Center.
Visit the touristy Empire State Building.
Observe the celestial ceiling mural in Grande Central Terminal.
Feel the cool breeze while riding the Staten Island Ferry.
Watch a musical on Broadway.
Experience the magic of Carnegie Hall.
Write a new novel and take a bazillion photographs in Central Park.

I want to go somewhere where I can
reinvent myself,
rejuvenate my soul,
be true to my thoughts,
renew my intentions,
let all my stress fall away,
leave the material world behind,
remember how blessed I am…

I wake up before the sun rises and realize that I do not need to travels to go away; I will be in this place soon. 

I pray fajr.
It’s just me and my creator.
In those few minutes, it’s just me and Allah swt.
All the anxiety, fears, migraines, heart aches… gone.
Serenity engulfs my heart and that tingling feeling is there, vibrant.

In those blessed moments, I pray to the One and only Allah swt.
I am fully exposed in my thoughts. 
I am myself.
Nothing else matters.

There is no fear of this material world that can disintegrate at any moment and take me to the eternal hereafter.

I thank Allah swt for all that he has given me.
I ask Allah swt for forgiveness and an answer to all my supplications.
I ask Allah swt for anything I want.

In our relationship, I am never alone.

No matter where I am, I am never alone.
I go to this somewhere five times a day.
Five times a day, I am reminded of Allah swt’s beauty, mercy, blessings.
I can go to this somewhere anytime I want.

In those moments, I go somewhere and I am free…

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


“An MFA???”
“Yea, an MFA.”
I always answer back with a sparkle in my eye and the BIGGEST SMILE! I smile not just because I am completely amused by the look on this person’s face, considering it’s the same reaction I get from just about everyone. No, I smile because I love hearing my own answer. An MFA.

As I said in my first post, I am currently working on my Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing with an emphasis in Fiction. Honestly, a year ago I would have never, in a zillion years, believed anyone if they had suggested that an MFA was in my future. Me? Haneen? Oh, no, no. I was going to be a lawyer. I had my future set. Of course it looked like every other Muslim’s future, I thought… or rather exactly how a Muslim and his/her parents thinks his/her life should look.

Allah swt is the best of planners…

I worked hard enough to stress every single fiber in my body, all the way through high school and into college. There was nothing I couldn’t get myself involved in. I had full control, I thought, and complete determination to get me where I wanted. I had a nice balance of Islam, school, family, extracurriculars, volunteering- you get the picture. I needed those straight A’s. I was destined to get into my dream school, I told myself. I made massive dua’ (supplication) 24/7.

Allah swt is the best of planners…

I ended up at UCSD. It wasn’t the only school I was accepted into, AlhamduliAllah, but it was the second to last school I told myself I would attend. It’s an incredibly strong school but I wanted out of San Diego. Allah swt had another plan for me. No worries, I told myself, my goals and dreams had not changed. I would gain experience by living on-campus. I would major in Political Science/ International Relations, get into my dream law school, become a strong International Lawyer and fight for women/Muslimah’s rights internationally. Then I discovered the Muslim Student Association (MSA). Or rather it snuck up behind me and screamed “ASLAAMU ALAIKUM SISTER! JOIN THE FAMILY!”

Allah swt is the best of planners…

I thought I had successfully dodged the sisters and brothers on campus but MashaAllah, they were good! Coming into UCSD, I saw the MSA everywhere but I had a fear of joining. I didn’t even know what it was like to go to school with a Muslim and all of a sudden there were hijabis everywhere. It made me grin constantly. A simple smile and nod meant “salaam”. Sometimes I would be able to catch their lips moving, “Asalaamu Alaikum”. The brothers I ran into- no, not all had beards- would lower their gaze/heads, place their palms on their chest and say “Asalaamu Alaikum”. I had a fear that I wasn’t “religious enough”. I didn’t really know what to expect and at first I was too stubborn to overcome my fear. Despite the obstacles I was facing by choosing to live on-campus, especially since the year started off with the beginning of Ramadan, I always felt like I was surrounded by an aura of support. By the end of the year, I was pulled straight into the heart of the ummah (Muslim community) on campus, the MSA. I had a whole new family, support system, and lifelong friends.

Allah swt is the best of planners…

I could tell you all about the exceptionally knowledgeable events (weekly, quarterly, annually) that the MSA strove to hold, but I would need an insanely long post for each one to give each justice. Beyond doubt, what stood out to me- and really the rest of campus as well- about the MSA was how unbelievably diverse it was! So many backgrounds and, more fascinating, SO MUCH TALENT MASHALLAH! I was excited and shocked at the talent that I saw within my Muslim brothers and sisters. The stereotype among us was that we worked hard to become doctors, lawyers, engineers, teachers… strong and sensible careers.
I enjoyed writing. So, I spent a lot of my time observing those around me. I was mesmerized and delighted by what I saw:
-       The brother who had leadership skills that provided a voice of reason for everyone- especially when questioned about Islam. There is halaal (permissible) and haraam (forbidden) and he wasn’t afraid to state and explain them.
-       The sister who had enough energy and an optimistic outlook that could make any depressed person excited about life. “GOOD MORNING!” She would yell even as the moon smiled down upon us.
-       The brother who could freestyle raps and poetry about justice faster than I could gulp down a glass of water.
-       The sister who had enough fashion creativity to start her own line instantly if she wanted.
-       The brother who could calm down any tense crowd, or bring energy to an apathetic crowd, with a bit of sarcasm and light humor right before getting serious again.
-       The sister who could write and perform spoken word poetry in a heartbeat.
-       The brother who had computer skills that allowed him to design fliers and websites like a pro.
-       The sister who had more knowledge on the three monotheistic religions than I had an on Islam.
-       The brother who could self-teach himself anything that allowed him to make impressive videos, take stunning pictures, and write epic novel plots.
-       The sister who could literally draw anything you asked her for!
-       The brother who could make you fall in love with the Quran instantly through his recitation in salaat (prayer).
-       The sister who could make anything look aesthetically pleasing through photography.
-       The brother who could memorize Islamic facts faster than you and I could memorize song lyrics.
-       The sister who was so mathematically skilled, she could gear up and face Bartel Leendert van der Waerden (look him up).
-       The sister who was destined to lead the ummah with her pure heart filled with love for Islam and the Muslim community.

I could literally go on. These are not just skills or talents but also gifts and blessings from Allah swt. Each one these brothers and sisters could (and will) go on to change the world. More importantly, this is the future of the ummah. I was wrapped with the belief that I must work to dispel the misconceptions that American society, and the rest of the west, had about Islam and Muslims. As an American, I know the secret. We all do. We need to penetrate and swim within what’s popular and most appealing in society. The media and the entertainment and art world.
You see, every single one of those brothers and sisters were science, math, social science, engineering majors. There were only a couple “non-traditional” majors. It came as a shock to everyone that I was minoring in photography at the time (you should have been there when people found out I picked up a major in literature/writing before I pushed it to my minor). “I heard a rumor that you were an art major and could do magic with publicity?!” A brother once asked. Having an “artsy” minor gave the impression that I had this unique skill, when in reality, I was definitely not as qualified as others I had met in the MSA.
Allah swt is the best of planners…

We need doctors, lawyers, engineers, teachers, etc. These are all absolutely noble paths and careers. Yet, these are not the only noble careers in society. I feel that as Muslims, we feel that if we step into a path not really well known, we might quickly plunge into the realm of haraam. Tawakul (to place complete faith or confidence in Allah swt), understanding Islam, and practicing the true teachings of Islam will keep us on the straight path. We need to show the entire world the beauty of Islam. We need to venture out and challenge ourselves. Allah swt gave us our gifts, talents, and skills to do good and strengthen our ummah. Above all, we must support our brothers and sisters who go for these endeavors. I know that it is difficult to make the majority of our parents and Muslim communities understand the importance of taking paths less traveled, but it is definitely needed. We must stand by one another to strengthen this ummah.

Allah swt is the best of planners…

I changed back to a political science major at the end of my fourth year at UCSD. I walked in the commencement ceremony. Once summer began, I pulled out the large stack of LSAT prep books my friend had given me. The plan was to take a year off so that I could take the LSAT, apply to law schools, and look for work within the next year. Throughout the summer, I made an astonishing amount of dua’ to Allah swt to guide my heart to the straight path and help the ummah in the best way that I can by utilizing what I do best. By the end of July, I woke up. I revamped a whole new life plan, shared it with my parents, took another quarter to finish my literature/writing minor, and after an insane amount of research, applied to every single MFA program I could.

Allah swt is the best of planners…

My parents have always been supportive, but this was quite possibly the largest decision I would make that would change my life forever. I was terrified. My parents stood by my side; yet, I knew that I would need to work harder than I ever had to prove to them that I was serious. Even after I finished applying, my parents still asked, “Are you going to study for the LSAT and apply for law school next fall inshaAllah?” It was the most stressful and intense year that I could remember. While applying and waiting for responses, I told no one but my parents and three friends of my plan. One of my strongest supporters had actually been one of my inspirations to go after what I loved. He could have chosen to go on with his plan of attending medical school, or even law school, but instead he had gone after his skill that will soon change views of Muslims in a beautifully positive way. He had already been involved in starting the movement of change through art forms in the MSA ummah at UCSD for the better. As a filmmaker, director, producer, writer, and activist, he practiced his talents well- making videos for the ummah. We needed much more Muslims to follow in his footsteps and go into “non-traditional” careers.

Allah swt is the best of planners…

I want to write novels. I want to write novels, not just for Muslims, yet about Muslims and our diverse backgrounds for my own society. The American society. The world. Why should we not be able to normalize Muslims, practicing Muslims, with rich backgrounds in novels. Why should it not be normal to see Muslim writers, filmmakers, directors, producers, artists, photographers, comedians, spoken word artists, etc. among Muslim doctors, lawyers, engineers, teachers, politicians, etc. It’s honestly, completely in our hands to paint the image of Islam beautifully for the world to see. It can absolutely be done in a halaal form. We don’t need to use profanity, sex, gore, violence, drinking, and any haraam in our artwork to make ourselves known or be successful in our lives and careers. We do the best we can to change the world for the better and bring up our image as Muslims for the sake of Allah swt and Allah swt will take care of the rest. Allah swt will take care of us.

The  MFA program that I’m in is exciting yet extremely exhausting and demanding. I will admit that it’s terrifying to feel alone in my path. I shouldn’t be alone. I am not the only, and definitely not the best, Muslim or Muslimah writer out there. I just chose to take on the challenge. I wanted this. I love what I’m doing despite the harsh obstacles that lay on the road ahead.

Allah swt is truly the best of planners…

Your ummah is calling. Bring back the voice to the voiceless. Bring justice to your oppressed brothers and sisters and those facing hardships all over the world. If you have the power to do so, if Allah swt has blessed you with a talent, use it. If you’re reading this blog post, then you already have a skill. MashaAllah, I’m going to assume you can read and inshaAllah write. WRITE! Let your voice be heard. The least you can do is support and encourage your brothers and sisters to do good with what they love.

Do what you love! Do it for the ummah! Do it for your Muslim brothers and sisters and all of humanity! Do it for the sake of Allah swt and you will find ultimate success and happiness inshaAllah, if not in this life, then the hereafter!


Sunday, September 11, 2011

Exactly 2 months and 1 day after I turned 13...

My hijab became the most significantly important article of clothing and element of my deen (religion) in my life.

To put things in perspective, my birthday is on July 10th.

I started wearing the hijab about a month after I turned 13, right before I started 8th grade. I started wearing the hijab in a moment of spontaneity. Looking back, I don't think I was prepared for what it meant or what it would mean to me in the future.

I was born in a Muslim family, and understood my obligations and responsibilities. However, I also lived in a community where my family is the only Muslim family in the area. At home, I was Muslim. At school, and practically everywhere else, I was just any other American. My friends, peers and teachers couldn't even tell what my background was, until they saw my mom who wore the headscarf and covered.

I was, and still am, never ashamed of my parents or family. I was an independent, feisty child growing up and still kissed my parents on both cheeks and hugged my parents publicly all the way through high school and into college. I wasn't popular at school or well known (before my hijab) but I was pretty active and a hardworking, straight A student. Basically, I wasn't the girl that everyone watched constantly nor was I ever ignored or bullied. I just did my own thing... until September 11, 2001.

Like every American who is old enough to remember the exact events of 9/11, that morning is captured vividly in my mind.

While getting dressed, our home phone rang. It was my dad's brothers from Palestine. My mom and I stood around my father, in our pristinely organized townhouse living room. My dad's family only called from overseas on Eid (holiday) or in tragedy. My uncle's words were rushed and scared as he asked my dad repeatedly if he and his family were okay and safe.

"We don't live in New York. We live on the other side of the country... Wait, hold on, let me turn on the news. I can't understand you." My dad’s voice boomed into the telephone receiver.

Horror filled the screen. I had never heard the word Muslim said in such anger. Nothing made sense but I knew my religion well enough to not be able to wrap my head around the scene. I had attended Islamic school every Saturday at the Islamic Center of San Diego for as long as I could remember. I clearly understood the difference between halal (permissible) and haraam (forbidden).

The images couldn't be real. I live in the United States, the safest place on the earth. I was terrified. My hands shook as I ran upstairs to fix my hijab. I was going to be late for school. It was my last year of middle school and I wasn't going to mess up my clean record.

I opened the door so that I could wait for my dad in the car.

"No! Close the door. You will not go out dressed like that!" My mom pulled me back from the door, yet the door still hung open.

"But I'm late, yalla (come on)!"

"Take off your hijab, now." She ordered.

I felt as if someone had knocked the wind out of me. Instantly, I found it hard to breath. I was so confused. My mom, the woman standing in front of me who wore the scarf when she was 19, despite sneers from her family, friends, and professors, wanted me to remove my hijab. After a moment, I finally found my voice and it came back stronger that I thought it would.

"You're joking right? She's kidding right." I looked to my dad for confirmation.

"Your mom is right. I don't think you understand how tense the situation is right now." The news still played in the background.

"Ok," I looked at my mom. "If you take off your hijab, I'll take off mine." I knew her answer.

"You know I can't. I have worn this for years. It's dangerous for you! You're still young! You have plenty of time to wear it! You can't leave this house with it on!"

"I will not take it off. Allah will protect me." I think my parents were shocked at my response. I had used a strong argument in our religion, tawakul (to place complete faith or confidence in Allah swt).

My dad turned to my mom, "Let her keep it on. InshaAllah, she will be okay. Tonight we will all sit down as a family and discuss this. This is her decision."

I hugged my mom and left realizing the fear in her and feeling her intensified heart beats.

As my dad talked on in the car of taking care of myself and going to an adult if I felt I was in danger, I was too busy finally letting the situation sink in. When had I become this person? Was this considered a higher level of religiosity? Am I, what they call now, conservative? I knew how tough it was to go to school on regular days with the hijab. I could take it off. I could put it back on after high school even. I could have a normal high school experience, where students didn't look at me weird and teachers weren't scared of having me as a student. Where people didn't think it offended me if they asked abut my background and why I wore the piece of cloth on my head. I was sure of one thing, if I took it off, I might have never worn it again. I had nothing to apologize for. Muslims were among those whose lives were also taken. There were Muslims working in the World Trade Center, Muslim firefighters, Muslim doctors and medical responders on the scene, Muslim Americans were just like anyone else in United States.

School was a blur. I could feel the hot and humid September air get cold as I walked through campus. The looks I was getting. The whispers that no one was pretending to hide. I expected the worst.

"Haneen!" I turned to find one of the most popular boys in school approaching. I had known him all through middle school and sat next to him in all our classes because of our last names. I tensed up.

"How are you?" He walked up to me in a hurry.

"Um, good-"

"If anyone tries to hurt you or says anything stupid to you, seriously anything, let me know right away and I’ll kick their a** for you, okay?"

Taken back, I smiled, "Yea, thanks. Seriously."

He smiled, "People are stupid. They don't know what's going on. Fear, you know. We're going to be late for class."

My teachers checked in on me. My principal called me into his office to make sure I wasn't being bullied or attacked. My counselor told me her door was always open. My friends stayed near but that didn't stop the quiet remarks and looks from students I had known since first grade. I HAVEN'T CHANGED! I wanted to yell. It was my first day with hijab at HMS all over again. Except this time, I saw more than confusion. I saw fear, hatred, generalizations and misunderstanding.

At home, I got calls from family members from all over.

"Don't be stupid. Take off your hijab. You're too young! What are you trying to prove??? You will get hurt!"

The list goes on. Everyone's concerns became one. I was more worried about the talk I would have with my parents.

Very simply, my dad asked me why I chose to wear the scarf, warned me of the new intense consequences, and asked me if I was ready. It's my choice, I told him. I have not taken it off and will never take it off. My decision is mine and stands firm.

I was always known as the sweet, ultra quiet, hardworking student. The hijab brought out another side of my character. I became known as the confident, out spoken, highly involved in extra curricular clubs and activities, determined student. As the only Muslim at my high school, my name was known by everyone. I was very noticeable and knew that I was judged for every word and action I took. I took it upon myself to prove the ignorant, negative, racist views of Fox news- that started to shape American views of Muslims- as wrong. I educated myself on the Quran and hadiths (sayings) of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH – peace be upon him) so that I was prepared for any question. If I couldn't answer, I continued to research.

I wish I could say that the hate has softened but just as racism still exists in America, Islamophobia has risen. It's really in the hands of Muslims and the educated, intelligent proud Americans to have forward conversations with others and eliminate ignorance and misconceptions.

Five years later, on my way to my first MSA (Muslim Student Association) UCSD bonfire, my new friend Noha - surprised at finding how early I began to wear the hijab - asked how I felt, especially since I had chosen to live on-campus and not with the MSA sisters in their off-campus apartments. I told her I loved my hijab. It is the first way I choose to define myself. I smiled as I realized that in Noha's car was the first time I felt calm and at ease with my hijab on. There was always that bit of doubt in high school but I knew that it was an order from God that I was ready to obey. I was 100% sure that it was my hijab that kept me safe and confident to be who I am and serve Allah swt in the best way possible. It had taken me 5 years to come to a full state of acceptance for the action I took when I was 13.

I'm not perfect. That would defeat the purpose of a human being. I still have so much to learn about my beautiful religion. The challenges and struggles that I am faced with daily keep my life interesting. I wouldn't be me without it.

To top off this incredibly long post (inshaAllah the rest won't be as heavy in material), these are a few links of how Muslim American lives have been affected since 9/11. I hope you take the time to check them out.

The Unwritten Codes Muslims Live by After 9/11

For Muslim family, faith complicates grief for loved one lost on 9/11

My Take: Muslims should stop apologizing for 9/11 (Opinion piece)

CAIR '9/11 Happened to Us All' PSA, Firefighter (60-Second)
CAIR '9/11 Happened to Us All' PSA, Medical responder (30-Second)

Despite the heightened obstacles that Muslims, and especially hijabis, face each year around 9/11, my younger cousin, Rawan - who I consider to be my little sister and best friend - just boarded her flight from San Francisco heading to Beirut inshaAllah. She will be spending 3 months studying abroad and experiencing life in Beirut, Lebanon and getting the opportunity to visit Palestine inshaAllah. I am so incredibly proud of her! She is a beautiful, confident Muslimah who is set out to change the world for the better. I love her for the sake of Allah swt. May Allah swt bless her travels and make them beneficial for her.

As my friends so perfectly put it:
Today is in remembrance of the fallen 9/11 victims as well as the Muslims, South Asians, Arabs, and others in the U.S. who were murdered, beaten, discriminated against, illegally detained, deported & subjected to racial profiling, and humiliation that came with the "War on Terror". R.I.P. to the 2,976 American people that lost their lives on 9/11; R.I.P. to the 48,644 Afghan and 1,690,903 Iraqi people that paid the ultimate price for a crime they didn't commit; R.I.P. to every single American soldier who has given his/her life to defend our country and its freedoms & the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who experience this everyday.