Thursday, January 30, 2014

Where Are You REALLY From?

San Diego. Born and raised. Yearning to one day experience living in other areas of the world.

But, seriously, where are you REALLY from?

I absolutely LOATHE this question when it comes from someone who has no purpose for asking other than to justify their notion that you’re definitely not from “around here”, also known as not looking “American”.

Story of my life.

The idea for this blog post came from the following experience this past Tuesday night…

I stared intently at my computer screen, fingers tapping away. I bobbed my head ever so slightly to the low music playing smoothly through my headphones that sat hidden underneath my black hijab adorned with gold leafs. The white wire visibly snaking its way from the sides of my hijab, down the front of my human-blood red colored shirt, and connecting to my iPhone.  

The door to Peet’s Coffee and Tea in La Jolla opened to let in a costumer and blasted cold air into the shop. I shivered slightly and looked out the large window I was facing. I hadn’t thought to grab a jacket before leaving the house. Everyone else in La Jolla remembered the moody La Jolla weather and carried or wore a jacket or sweater at night when the fog swooped in at sunset.

Suddenly, a girl sat next me, leaving only inches of space between us. I looked up and arched my left eyebrow in her decision. There was easily space for four chairs to sit next to me, and yet she had decided to pull one up close enough to check out every detail on my laptop screen. I turned my body slightly, facing her in the process, so I was able to angle my laptop away from her view of sight.

Before getting back to my work, I noticed she was shivering and constantly fidgeting. I noted her thin, long-sleeved shirt,  a barely there skirt, and Ugg boots, of course. As I returned to my typing and head bobbing, she opened a textbook and, what I believe to be, a notebook to complete her homework. As she got up to grab a cup of coffee, I lost myself in my work again, only being distracted by the insistent fidgeting.

After half an hour, I took a break to sip my cold coffee. I noticed she hadn't touched her work. She was staring at my reflection in the window. She quickly leaned in, startling me.

“Excuse me?” She retorted loudly in a thick accent I couldn’t place. It came out as a question.

“I’m sorry, what?” I looked directly at her, thinking she thought I had spoken to her.

“What?” She asked again.

Now I was thoroughly confused and irritated. Personally when someone has headphones on, working intently on a computer screen or perhaps studying, I take that as a signal to NOT speak to them. They want to be alone. I took out my right earphone and stared at her, putting the conversation ball in her court.

“Where are you from?” She enunciated her words, as if throwing them at me, her thick accent filling up the space. I couldn’t tell if the reason she was speaking slowly was for me.

I controlled my facial expressions so as not to show how much I hated that question, when in a situation where that question was not relevant or appropriate. I assumed she was asking for one of three reasons: 1. she was curious and had been trying to validate what country she thought I was from; 2. she thought we may have been from the same region and wanted to tell me this; and worst case scenario, in which I was in no mood for, 3. she was about to start a discussion with me. From experience, telling people my heritage is Palestinian illicit either positive or negative responses, not in between.

“San Diego.” I smiled.

“What!?” I was taken back by her angry response.

“I’m from San Diego.” I inched my body away from her reach.

“No, really.”

“Yes. Really.” I held back the sarcasm, still unsure by her motive. My reaction was jilted by her angry tone.

“No. Where are you REALLY from?” She leaned forward, too close to my personal bubble of space.

I always found it incredibly ridiculous that someone would ask me where I’m from and then when my answer didn’t suit their views, have the audacity to insist I was wrong. Umm, what??!

This time, I didn’t hide my irritation.

“I was born. And raised. In. San. Diego.” This time, I leaned forward waiting for her next move. She let out an audible sigh.

“Not here. You know. From where?” I noticed her eyes were slowing turning into slits. Why was she the one who was angry??

I was now aware that we had a little audience of listeners.

“Are you referring to my heritage?”

“What?” She chuckled. It was my turn to hold back a large sigh.

“I’m from San Diego, but my parents are Palestinian.” She let a high pitched laugh startling everyone around us.

I should have been angry, but I couldn’t get the smirk off my face. It was all I could do from reply, “Are you freaking kidding me??”

“What.” This time it wasn’t a question.

I cocked my head to the side and leaned forward, “I. Am. Palestinian.”

She stopped laughing as quickly as she had begun.

“Oh. Uh, huh.” I watched as a mix of confusion and what I recognized as fear spread across her face. We made direct eye contact before she turned away, picked up her phone, and began typing furiously.

I looked behind me to find a table of two girls around my age and a guy who was studying looking at her with confusion. I considered asking her why she had asked me, but I decided against it.

It was an uncomfortable rest of the time I sat there at the coffee shop, mainly because every time I looked up, I saw her staring at the window, taking glances at my reflection. Every time I caught her looking, I smiled. She looked down and fidgeted in her seat.

Let me make something clear, I get the “where are you REALLY from?” question regularly. The situation varies from normal to bizarre and uncomfortable. I might be taking a walk, out running errands, standing at a coffee cart, or in line to buy something. I’m always minding my own business when the questions comes out of nowhere. Sometimes, I’m sending a text and someone will come up to me directly and say, “So, where are you from?” as if we had been having a conversation the entire time I was standing there. It takes me a few blinks to realize they’re not going away until they get the answer that they want, and it’s never the one they want to hear.

My reactions are usually very consistent. I can slightly understand if the person who asks is desperately trying to start a conversation. I’ve been told this is because I “look interesting” and people will try to start a conversation in any way possible just to hear me respond, either because they have never met or spoken to a Muslim, or it’s because they actually just want to hear me speak.

I know friends who are highly offended by this, and I can understand. It’s an uncomfortable situation to be in, but this question doesn’t just come from me wearing a hijab. Simply looking “different” these days can generate the “where are you REALLY from?” question. When someone asks this question, it tells me one thing. You are quite certain I’m a “foreigner”.

I am going to be straight forward. If you really want to know someone’s background, even if you think you may share the same heritage, culture, etc., there is a respectful way to ask. This is true 100% of time.

The interaction I had in the coffee shop with this girl was highly disrespectful. Regardless of her reasoning, whether it’s because we disagree religiously, culturally, politically, or perhaps socially, there is absolutely no reason at all for to be inconsiderate and just straight up rude. Have a little respect and decency to not look so shocked when I tell you with my flawless Southern California, English accent that yes, I was born and raised in this country.

Yes, more times than I should, I have also gotten, “your English is so good!” Why, thank you. Yes, yes it is.

I personally don’t mind being asked about my background because I love chatting with people, but only if done so respectfully. Not everyone agrees with me. In fact, the majority of my friends disagree with me, especially when they are just grabbing coffee as they rush to work or when they’re studying. I understand. I felt the same way on Tuesday. It was bad timing and really bad phrasing of the question.

If you are going to ask, if you’re legitimately curious or trying to validate the guilt you’re having for asking yourself if I do or do not speak English, find a way to start up a conversation with me. I have people wait until after I order, sometimes I visibly see their faces relax after they hear me chatting with the barista and asking how his or her day has been, to strike up a conversation. As offended as I am by this, I heave learned to let this go in hopes that the stereotype they have will be replaced by new education.

“You ordered a caramel flan latte? I did, too. Have you had it before?” a woman once asked me. Smooth. Be nice and I’ll be happy to tell you I’m from San Diego, but proud my parents immigrated from overseas.

DO NOT under any circumstance be shocked and then proceed to ask, “No, but where are you REALLY from?

Don’t ask me, “where are you from?” at all. Ask me about my heritage or perhaps where my ancestors are from. Asking about my culture is just as vague. I was born and raised here. My culture is just as American as any of my friends who were born here, too. Yes, my parents have tried to instill the Palestinian culture into the lives of my siblings and I, but just like my English is more fluent than my Arabic, I’m your average SoCal girl who has a vocabulary filled with “totally,” “awesome,” and “DUUUDE!” when chatting informally with family and friends.

I also don’t appreciate the awkward “OMG, I can totally relate” extension to the conversation through comments like:

Middle Eastern? I love hummus!
I can’t stand hummus. GASP I know.

There’s this great little kabob place near my house, it’s like being back there.
I actually don’t eat meat. I’m more of a warak dawali and mansaaf kind of girl.

I love baklava!
Sorry, not a fan. I’m a knafeh lover!

Say something in Arab. I love the language!
Do you mean Arabic? What dialect do you want to hear?

I love your culture!
What part and from which country?

Belly dancing and your clothing is beautiful!
Oh, no. Write down DABKE and look it up, okay? And while you’re at it, Google Palestinian Thobe. That’s only one beautiful way of cultural dress from the numerous other gorgeous styles across the Middle East!

There are about thirty-five countries that are considered to be a part of the Middle East. While Arabic is the common language, the dialect differs greatly and is highly distinct in every single country, and even city, that you visit. Stereotyping to look like you're culturally aware never gets you anywhere. Instead of trying to relate or make assumptions about my culture, I prefer you ask me a question so I know you’re actually trying to learn something.

My favorite part of these conversations are when I ask the same person back, “so, where are you from?”

They respond, “here.”

“I mean what country did your ancestors come from before coming to the United States?”

This is usually met with confusion, frustration, or just a simple, “I actually don’t know. I’m just American.”

“Interesting. I believe the Native Americans might disagree with you.” I laugh to make light of the situation…

This really should come as no surprise, but unless you have any Native American ancestry in your blood, you are not from “here.” Your ancestors came over to this country just like every single non-Native American person to escape harsh conditions, build a better life for yourself and family, or possibly just gain the freedoms and rights this country is known for.

The reality is that we are all American, unified by our history of having had family come over to this land to live in a country where being different is okay and it is possible to live together, as one.

Believe it or not, the following video pretty much portrays the story of my life. Yes, I have used the, “wait, so you’re Native American” response to the confident statement, “I’m from here. I’m American.” I don’t believe I’m the only one who did this long before this video came out. Her response is an over exaggeration, but be honest with yourselves. How many of you have wanted to throw out a few stereotypes to counter the person who’s telling you how much they love your culture by throwing out all the stereotypes?! Haha!

Here’s to being more respectful while learning from each other!

So, where are each of you REALLY from?


Thursday, January 16, 2014

Qana’ah (Satisfaction)

Salaam everyone!

I’ve spent the last two weeks trying to sort out all the thoughts that have been attacking my writer-self. I spent an over excessive amount of time worrying that these thoughts are the main reason that I haven’t been able to write anything that I considered of substance since the beginning of the new year.

Needless to mention, I woke up early yesterday with a pounding headache and enough worries to make me feel like this:

I was home alone with a never-ending list of priorities and just didn’t want to get out of bed. Outside, it was a gorgeous San Diego day, straight out of a travel brochure, and I couldn’t get myself to get up and enjoy it. I felt like I was suffocating. I could feel the walls of my room caving in and the cool sheets of my bed wrapping themselves around my legs and waist. I was snapped out of it with a text from my younger brother, who was on his lunch break.

Upon asking how I was doing that morning, I complained that it was a beautiful day, but I felt guilty taking advantage of it when I hadn’t been writing consistently. I needed an outlet to vent and I couldn’t think of anyone better than my little brother to hear me through my sulking. I knew he would turn me right around.

[Warning: grammatically incorrect text-style dialogue ahead.]

After telling me I needed to put my tawakul in Allah and force myself to get better sleep, he added, “Take breaks frequently like doing something spontaneous like when you would go to Coronado.”

He was good, throwing my own words back at me. I needed to escape somewhere to relax that wasn’t indoors, like a coffee shop with nothing but my computer and coffee as company. I preach it on my blog, but just wasn’t feeling it.

I sighed and replied back, “I’m sitting here worrying about not having another blog post tomorrow… I was planning on doing something spontaneous and writing somewhere new, but picking up sis from school got in the way of it today.”

The moment I sent that text, I caught my mistake. Did you? Saying I was “planning on doing something spontaneous”, specifically using the word “planning”, is the exact opposite of spontaneity. My OCD perfectionist nature was getting in the way of my writing again and need to just… chillax.

My brother let that go, “I have an idea for your blog post tomorrow.. Try a negative post. Like talk about how you’ve been feeling and stressing and not sleeping…”

Stress and anxiety are relatable topics, but I instantly countered him, “I thought about it, but that would be a really bad idea… I only let a little slip through, but surround it with positive vibes. Like the post on life and death I did.”

I tumbled out of bed, “Ok, I’m finished venting. I’m going to go make coffee and pray.”

There’s an excessive amount of negativity that surrounds us on a daily basis, and I hate bringing it into my writing and especially my blogging. I use my personal writing and this blog to alleviate stress. This is my place to breathe. Negativity is a part of human nature, but I don’t believe that I have the right to drop my negativity on others.

I decided to get dressed and run a few errands. While running around, I took a quick coffee break and actually sat down. You don’t believe me? Here’s proof!

I tried something new and asked the barista if she could combine two of their new drinks for me to make an iced caramel and vanilla bean latte topped with foam and caramel. I’m not a coffee shop food person, but that jalapeño cheese stuffed croissant was calling my name. Yes, all this tasted as delicious as it looked.

Yes, I did feel silly taking a picture of this, but hey, I can pretend to be a cool young person, right? Right?!

Even though I was out taking care of a few things, I was still alone with my loud thoughts. My brother’s idea of addressing negativity kept swimming in between them. As I tried sorting through it all, I realized that all my thoughts these past two weeks brought me back to one word I have noticed everyone dealing with.

Qana’ah, which from Arabic translates to the act of having satisfaction with what we have.

This is not to be mistaken with just settling and giving up on striving to achieve our goals and dreams!

As human beings, we are NEVER satisfied with what we have been blessed with and constantly look to what others have that we don’t. We used to deal with this more if we were surrounded with people who bragged of what they had often or, quite the opposite, complained insistently of what their life lacked. Now, we have the internet and social media that has taken their place.

I know all of you have seen those endless articles and “studies” on how Facebook and other social media sites lead to our unhappiness and depression. Alhamdulillah, I don’t have anything other than Facebook, but I can understand where these articles are coming from… to an extent.

Even if you argue that you don’t have Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other means of mass sharing information to the world that I am unaware of, you have the internet with a variety of articles on how we “should” and “need” to live our lives.

They usually go a little like this, but I may have SLIGHTLY changed the titles:






[Don't worry, we'll give you the exact option to make the decision to choose a major and degree you will suffer through in belief that a plethora of jobs await you the moment you graduate!]

[Oh, you didn’t have control over this and aren’t considered young anymore?]
[Can’t have kids?]
[Happiness not guaranteed.]

My ultimate favorite articles to hate are the lists that tell me how to live my life at every age.


Reaction: Hold up, let me go pluck a couple hundred thousand dollars off my money trees… Be right back!

What’s worse are the ways in which we share those articles and comment on them. With a lack of interaction in person, anything and everything can be taken negatively through forms of online communication.

Be honest with yourself, how depressed do you feel after these articles? Why do we even read them? Who are these people that apparently have all the ingredients to living life the “right” way?

I said I understand these articles to an extent, because I believe we have the power to take what we want from them and leave the rest behind. This is a tricky thing to do, I know.

When it comes to Facebook or any social media site where we stay in touch with  family, friends, and acquaintances, I compare it to how I view the film adaptations of books. 

If you think about it clearly, Facebook is the movie version of the book we call our life.

SubhanaAllah, unless our friends are explicitly complaining or airing their every detail of their lives to us, we tend to quickly compare our life to theirs and always sell ourselves short. The reality is that we don’t know how others are struggling. I surely don’t post anything on social media. When I do, it’s extremely rare and always something that gives off good vibes.

For all we know, the person on the other end of the wonderful status or picture we see could really be this:

Obviously, I’m exaggerating. I still support the fact that sometimes the thought of something is better than the reality. Hey, this is why I escape into my books and choose writing, particularly fiction, as my solace.

That being said, if I have ever taken anything from any of those articles telling me how to achieve happiness, it’s to never compare myself to others.

“Comparison is the thief of joy.
Theodore Roosevelt

I wrote this in my previous post, but I believe it needs to be re-stated. It’s easy to compare our happiness with others based on the narrow view that they give us of their lives. So easy to feel a sense of jealousy for what we don’t have and forget all that we do have. The successful person is able to step back from what they think they want and actually look at how much they already have. Recognize your blessings and stop worrying about what you don’t have control over.

Comparing your life to someone else’s life, even if you think you know everything about this person, say it’s your identical twin, is just another chain holding you back from living your life to the fullest.

“Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans.”
Allen Saunders

I don’t believe that there is a concrete definition for happiness. Feeling content, satisfied, accomplished, and overall blessed comes from our own view on life and how we want to live it. It’s in our hands to reach that level of peace and serenity in our hearts.

“The moment you change your perception, is the moment you rewrite the chemistry of your body.”
Dr. Bruce Lipton

Reaching the level of qana’ah, satisfaction, is in our control.

If you love lists like I do and have been searching for the PERFECT list on how to live your life well, I would suggest this one. The lifestyle of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) provides the perfect list for me.

May Allah swt allow us to reach a level of qana’ah that allows us to appreciate every blessing that has been given to us, while also being inspired to achieve greatness.   

I’m off to rest and wish you all a good night’s sleep!

Tusbahu ala kheir!
(May you wake up in a state of goodness/happiness!)


Thursday, January 2, 2014

New Year? Bring. It. On.

Salaam lovely readers!

Keef halkum? Izayakum? Comment allez-vous tous?
How are you all?

I can’t believe it has been six weeks since we last chatted! Well, at least since I last had this one way conversation with you all, haha! I truly hope that you have all been having a wonderful winter and holiday season wherever you are in the world.

While I was unable to write in December due to my health, I turned my focus to family. I took the time to be cozy at home, drink lots of tea, read, catch up with extended family and cousins, and just enjoy the bit of cold weather that blew through San Diego.

It’s truly incredible how time just moves at a pace that we don’t always acknowledge. Blink We’re welcoming in a new year.

I have never found the new year and all its celebrations to be anything special. I don’t make resolutions or set goals for myself come January 1st. It’s because I try to live by the following words on a daily basis:

“Live in this world as if you were going to live forever; prepare for the next world (Hereafter) as if you were going to die tomorrow.”
Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him

To be honest, I consider my birthday to be my new year. One more year that I have been blessed to be alive. One more year that I have succeeded in getting through difficult times and salvaging some of my sanity. I remember writing in one of my previous posts that I prefer to set goals for myself on my birthday.

This year is different.

2013 brought changes that I have not experienced or dealt with in years. The amount of, for lack of better words, challenges that the past year hurled at me was incomparable to any other year of my life. While I did hit many milestones, such as completing my first novel and sending it out into the world as well as graduating with my MFA (which may or may not be the last degree I decide to attain), I also dealt with devastating news and obstacles in 2013 that I look forward to leaving behind.

“Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.”
C.S. Lewis

The reality is that while I hated being in certain situations the past year, I considered them to be a blessing from God. Everything I went through forced me to re-evaluate my life through new lenses and come out a changed person. I full-heartedly believe that everything happens for a reason. Everything that happens in our life is put there to strengthen us and bring us better understanding on how to change ourselves and our lives for the better. There’s nothing stronger than having faith that everything bad will and does pass. Just as the sun will surely rise in the morning and the moon will come out to bring us light in the darkness of night, good does exist. Having that tawakul, trust, in Allah swt brings me through every day.

“But perhaps you hate a thing and it is good for you; and perhaps you love a thing and it is bad for you, and Allah knows while you know not.”
Qur'an, Surat Al-Baqarah, Verse 216

Remember how much I love making lists? I decided to make a list of goals, aspirations, dreams, and whatever else you want to call them for this new year and years to come, inshaAllah. These are my personal promises to myself – from strengthening my religious faith to basically everything else I prioritize in my life – and I welcome anyone to take.

This new year and my future will no doubt bring me memories to cherish, adventures to take, and demons to battle. I say, BRING IT ON!


Waves to ride (because life is a series of long waves to surf through):

1.   Find a blessing that has been given to me, daily.
Every single day that I wake up breathing, in a warm bed, with a roof over my head and four walls, food in the kitchen, and a family I sometimes take for granted is a day that I have been immensely blessed. AlhamduliAllah. AlhamduliAllah. AlhamduliAllah! (Yes, I’m all about that three for Sunnah life. ;])

2.   Read or listen to Quran daily.
The words of Allah swt brings the most ultimate form of peace and serenity  to my heart. I rely too often on just the recitations I make during prayer to be my daily dosage of Quran. I admit to myself that this is one of the lowest forms of imaan, faith. I regret every day that I skip picking up the Quran, even if just for a minute to push away any sadness I’ve experienced during the day.

“The Quran is unique because it's not a story, it's not a narrative. If you pick it up and try to read it like a novel, it's not going to happen, because it's a guidance, it's a communication, it's God talking to you.”

Find your state of peace and motivation to constantly rejuvenate your heart.

3.   Practice the importance of Salaat on time!
AlhamduliAllah, I’m not one to miss prayer and I go great lengths to pray on time. I know it can be easy to choose to combine prayers or tell yourself, “I’ll pray when I get home. God is merciful,” just because you’re out or don’t want to make ablution, wudu. I’ve fallen into the same trap, all too easily.

Honestly, no excuse is worth missing prayer. More than that, there’s no excuse to rush prayer for the One who is in control of whatever we’re rushing for. Recognize the beauty of being ordered to take a break five times a day.

Take it from a girl who’s always attracting attention with her hijab and way of dress. I do struggle with finding places to pray, but always realize how easy it is and how calming it makes my heart feel once I’ve completed it. Allah swt has made purifying ourselves easy. When there isn’t water, there are other means in which to make wudu. You don’t wear hijab? No worries, carry something to cover up with in your purse or car. There are so many options for us. All my non-hijabi friends do it. As for prayer, I’ve prayed in alley ways, behind pillars of busy business buildings, fitting rooms, middle of school quads, between library book rows, parking lots, empty sidewalks, and most recently a corner of a Starbucks because I didn’t want to leave my stuff unattended. Sure, by the end of my prayer, that entire area of Starbucks was deadly silent, but everyone went back to their activities once I stood up, brushed myself off, and went back writing. Trust me, everyone has always seen something more perplexing.

There’s no excuse to slack off in the pillars of our deen. Forget yoga. Who gives up a few minutes of pure clarity and rest only five times a day? Stop complaining you don’t have any time to relax and find time.

4.   Take care of my health!
I know I disappeared for the end of last year. I was battling an upper respiratory infection and a bronchitis style cough throughout December. I hate to say this, but I was forced to bring my intense cough into the new year. The cough was strong enough to cause strain in my muscles and a bit of bruising to the bottom of my left rib-cage. I’m still struggling with the pain. Be it known that I absolutely hate pain killers. Fun times.

Looking back, I don’t know what words to use to describe the pain. I say this having had knee surgery at a young age, among other minor surgeries. At one point during the end of last year, I fell during prayer and couldn’t get off the ground because pain shot through my bones like they were glass being shattered with fire. I was constrained in the form of sujood, prostration, with nothing but dua’, supplication, and tears to get me through the moments. For several days, I spent long hours in bed, unable to move or do anything but think of how on a whole, I was far from the situation my brothers and sisters in other parts of the world, like Syrian refugees, who were literally freezing to death under non-existent shelters. I watched the death toll go up daily. Drained of all energy, I had to admit to myself that I was an idiot for not taking advantage of the healthcare that is available to me. A few trips to the doctor and medicine slowly brought me back to life.

This isn’t the first time that I’ve neglected my health and ignored the signs, convincing myself that I had more important matters. My doctor can attest to the fact that I am a very healthy person, but when I need to slow down and take it easy, my health is something I push aside and take for granted too often.

 “Take advantage of five before five: your youth before your senility; your health before your sickness; your wealth before your poverty; your leisure before your occupation; and, your life before your death.”
Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him

5.   Slow down. Breath. Enjoy life.
I’ve written far too much about this in previous posts. It seems that I constantly need this reminder. If I can go back, particularity to my days of being a student at UCSD, I would tell myself to step back and slow down. Just take in the beauty that surrounded me, even at my lowest moments of human failures. Living by my life motto: InshaAllah Kheir. Just breathe… 

6.   Express how much I LOVE my body.
I’m about to start a rant. Proceed with caution.
I originally wrote an entire post about this, but I’ll just give you this teaser.

You know that cliché new year’s resolution that everyone has about hitting the gym more often? Yea, well, screw that. Been there, done that. I HATE the gym! I prefer to exercise on my own time and never to the standards that society and media has brainwashed us to believe. Don’t go getting all defensive with what I’m writing. Stay with me here.

Yes, I did just say that we all need to take care of our health. “Healthy” is the key word here. There is such a thing as going overboard with weight. Yes, there’s being over-weight and being under-weight. What everyone needs to understand is that EVERYONE’S TARGET HEALTHY IS DIFFERENT! We ALL have different body types, bone structure, and different ways that our bodies handle what we put or don’t put into our bodies. You want to be at your best state of healthy? Speak to your doctor. Speak to a professional in this area. This should really be common sense.

I have spent too much of my life hearing others, family members and friends alike, weigh in on my weight and body. Don’t be shocked that I do have thighs, a butt, and your typical “Middle Eastern” figure. And yea, dude, I’m quite fond of my baby cheeks that keep me looking youthful! I joke that this is why J’adore by Christian Dior is my favorite perfume. Love that bottle and the perfume even more. The truth is, I love the body that God has given me.

"God made a very obvious choice when he made me voluptuous; why would I go against what he decided for me? My limbs work, so I’m not going to complain about the way my body is shaped."
Drew Barrymore

But, I’m human and words have an effect on me, just like anyone else.

While working on my MFA, I was thrown in this dark cave of thoughts and I basically needed a way to get out all my anger and negative feelings. I figured I would strike two issues at once by going to the gym. First, I spoke to my doctor and then I chose to work with a trainer at the gym. Right from the beginning, my trainer (who had the perfect body that all celebrities and “beautiful people” of the world are expected to have) very simply and strongly told me that I clearly did not understand what my body needed. In simple terms, I was told that unless I wanted to surgically change my bone struggle and cut out important muscles, what I should be focusing on is eating more often at the right time and just toning the muscles I’ve been ignoring. Every body has different needs for maintaining the best health possible.

The sad truth is that it’s grossly more expensive to buy anything deemed as healthy in this country! Yes, I am singling out the United States. If Palestinians in the West Bank have access to fresh and organic food that’s good for our bodies, how can we not?? Here, instead of stocking up on wholesome organic and natural foods, which may mean needing to spend money on gas to drive far enough to places that sell food we can trust, it’s easier to fall into the trap of spending a lot of money on well-known diets. It hurts to see women I know and respect constantly trying to uphold their diet plans, of barely putting anything into their mouths, just to keep off ridiculous amount of weight. If it’s not an overload of articles I keep seeing on the next new diet and exercise trend, then it’s articles on young teens and adolescents being bullied enough to undergo plastic surgery. Is this honestly what we have come to??

“If you don't look like an airbrushed model... you have to look past it. You look how you look. What are you going to do? Be hungry every single day to make other people happy? That's just dumb.”
Jennifer Lawrence

If we were all meant to look like Barbie, would we not all have been created that way?

The funny thing is that in past last several years, while I have been focusing a bit more on strengthening my muscles, I haven’t lost or gained any significant weight and yet I have noticed that based on what I wear, I always have that one person who swears I’ve lost an insane amount of weight. “Oh my God! You’ve lost weight! You look so good, love! How did you do it??” Umm, if I lost that much weight, what the heck did you think of me last year when we last saw each other??? Yes, I’m offended when people keep insisting I’ve lost so much weight and they want to know how I did it.

It makes me angry because I start to wonder if that is all that matters to people these days: our physical appearance in terms of body type, make-up, and what's considered to be "in fashion" today, which always has the possibility of being "out of fashion" or "so yesterday" as quickly as it came in. 

“The most attractive people are the ones who know that their physical appearance isn’t the most attractive thing about them.”

If you mention my weight the next time you see or speak to me, don’t be surprised if I give a quick salaams and excuse myself. There are always more important and exciting subjects we can chat about.

I think many can relate with me here when I say that I can't stand it when someone, especially someone I care about deeply, constantly criticizes her weight and complains that she needs to hit the gym. The reality is that there's more pressure on females than males. Argue with me all you want here, but we see it every day whether at school, work, the media, and really anywhere.

Why is Justin Timberlake dreamy and sexy in a suit and tie while Beyoncé is considered a role model for “women empowerment” in her sequined leotards and sultry dancing? The media and fellow celebrities are too busy bashing Adele for weight despite her sophisticated attire on stage and INCREDIBLE voice.

“And the word fat. I just think it should be illegal to call somebody fat on TV. If we're regulating cigarettes and sex and cuss words because of the effect it has on our younger generation, why aren't we regulating things like calling people fat?”
Jennifer Lawrence

I prefer to dress in non-form fitting clothing, as I try my best to adhere to the Islamic dress code. The fact that I always get comments, negative or positive, about my body when I wear a dress or anything that may show the shape of my body only pushes me closer to wearing more comfortable and fashionable (if I do say so myself) clothing that I don't have to worry about constantly fixing.

In case there’s any confusion. I’m putting this out into the world, right here on my blog: I LOVE THE BODY GOD HAS GIVE ME SO STEP OFF! I love you exactly the way you were created, too. 

7.   Choose my words carefully.
Words hold an incredible amount of power. One word has the potential to harm someone, similarly to the consequence of one small act of insincerity.

"The tongue pierces faster, deeper, sharper than any sword can; think carefully before using such a weapon."
Yasir Qadhi

I’m checking myself before anyone else. I believe it’s important for me to gage the situation I’m in and the people I’m speaking to. I am in no way saying that you should wear different masks around people. I believe the key is to be sincere in the way we interact with anyone. Yes, I speak different to my best friend than I do to my other close friends. You all know by now that I am a  very sarcastic person, but I also believe there’s a time to joke around and a time to be serious. There’s often a fine line between these two states. Not everyone understands or appreciates sarcasm and I’ve learned the hard way that I need to be careful. In an age where sadly a lot of our interactions happen online, it’s even more pertinent to consider what we put out into the world.

“The tongue is like a lion. If you let it loose, it will wound someone.”
Ali, may Allah be pleased with him

Careful with your words and remember that you should never give anyone else authority to harm you with words and make you feel powerless. You are in control of your own thoughts and how you choose to see yourself.

"No one can make you feel inferior without your consent."
Eleanor Roosevelt

8.   Be kind and smile to everyone I meet, especially in the face of my enemy.
Absolutely no one’s hate and ignorance should have the authority or power to dictate my life. I have chosen to live with Islam as my way of life and hijab as my way of dress. I will always face discrimination in too many forms to even go into in this post. I’ve learned to let it roll off my shoulders. This isn’t to say that I ignore it or turn a blind eye. I do recognize it face forward, but choose to react in the way that causes harm to no one, whether it be to educate the one who tries to harm me or understand that all I can do is walk away.

“Be kind, for whenever kindness becomes part of something, it beautifies it. Whenever it is taken from something, it leaves it tarnished.”
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)

No one is superior over another. Arrogance is a trap all of us fall through and it is one that we must continue to struggle against. Life is much too short to even think that way. I know that social media makes it easier for us to judge, but also remember that every single thing that is posted online is made with a deliberate intention in mind. Sometimes, all we see are the best or worst in people’s lives and it is never our place to judge when we are unable to ever step into anyone’s lives but our own. Live by the words we hear over and over, treat others as you would like to be treated.

"Do not be people without minds of your own, saying that if others treat you well you will treat them well, and that if they do wrong you will do wrong to them. Instead, accustom yourselves to do good if people do good and not to do wrong (even) if they do evil."
Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him

9.   Surround myself with only good vibes!
Good vibes = supportive family and friends that I trust and sincerely love me.

People aren’t always going to stay in your life. I’m not referring to losing someone through death. We lose people for different reasons in our life. I have trust issues and I have learned sometimes it’s just best for my well-being to cut off the baggage. Dwelling on the people I have lost in the past does me no good. I know who I need and who I will always be there for in my life. I don’t let go of people I love easily. I do my best to keep in touch and check in, but sometimes that effort and energy is met with silence. Eventually, you just know it’s time to let go.

"Hate no one, no matter how much they've wronged you, live humbly, no matter how wealthy you become, think positively, no matter how hard life is, give much, even if you've been given little, keep in touch with the ones who have forgotten you, and forgive who has wronged you, and do not stop praying for the best for those you love."
Ali, may Allah be pleased with him

I have friends that I used to trust with my deepest of secrets that now only contact me when they need something from me. I have other friends I never in a million years thought we would be close and yet I now trust with my life and know I will always be able to go to them when I’m feeling my worst. I have friends who I can go months with out speaking or years without seeing, but when we do find time to say hello or check in, it’s like no time has passed at all. You can feel that genuine love and care they have for you.

All these types of relationships are needed. Every person comes into our life for a reason. As for me, every person I have ever cared for in any form will never be forgotten, but I know when it’s time to move on.

“I still love the people I’ve loved, even if I cross the street to avoid them.”
Uma Thurman

10.        Forgive, but never forget.
Life is just too short and too beautiful to hold on to hate. This is a subject I can speak to for pages, so I’ll leave you with the following quotes:

"Forgive but do not forget. You want to benefit from the experience by holding onto the memory, and you want to let go of your pain by forgiving."
Dr. Marwa Azab

"Resentment is like ingesting poison and expecting the other person to die."

“Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let the pain make you hate. Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness.”
Kurt Vonnegut

11.        NEVER compare myself to others.
Success does not have one, two, or even just three definitions. It has infinite forms. What is good for someone else, may be harmful to me, and vice versa. Define your own success, achievements, aspirations, goals, and dreams on your own term to the beat of your happiness.

“If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.”
Audre Lorde

It’s easy to compare our happiness with others based on the narrow view that they give us of their lives. So easy to feel a sense of jealousy for what we don’t have and forget all that we do have. The successful person is able to step back from what they think they want and actually look at how much they already have. Recognize your blessings.

“The grass may be greener on the other side. But you can always water yours and work on it to develop into a splendid garden. Mere wishes and whims will get you nowhere. Purpose, hard work and the courage to be patient are always the needed ingredients to life.”
Ismahan Warfa (who also happens to be a very dear friend of mine.)

12.        Chase knowledge for as long as I am alive.
Trying to imagine the amount of information that is floating around us, everywhere… is just… MIND BLOWING! This goal speaks for itself.

“‘I’m bored’ is a useless thing to say. I mean, you live in a great, big, vast world that you’ve seen none percent of. Even the inside of your own mind is endless; it goes on forever, inwardly, do you understand? The fact that you’re alive is amazing, so you don’t get to say ‘I’m bored’.”
Louis C.K.

As a Muslim, knowledge is the key to life.

"Acquire knowledge. It enables its possessor to distinguish right from wrong; it lights the way to Heaven; it is our friend in the desert, our society in solitude, our companion when friendless, it guides us to happiness; it sustains us in misery; it is an ornament amongst friends; and an armour against enemies."
Prophet Mohammad (PBUH)

13.        Be the best person I can be.
I read a book recently where the main character asked herself, “Imagine you’ve been asked to write your own obituary. What would it say?"

As a Muslim, my main destination in this journey of life is Janaah, heaven. To enter, I must face everything I have done in my life. I must face Allah swt, where nothing is hidden. How do I want to face my Lord?

What kind of person do any of us want to be remembered by our loved ones and the rest of the world. Every single one of us will leave a mark, some sort of change, on this Earth. What will it be?

"Live amongst people in such a manner that if you die they weep over you and if you are alive they crave for your company."
Ali, may Allah be pleased with him

14.        DO NOT SETTLE
I’ve written to this belief of mine many times and I will continue to write about it. I don’t believe in settling. I believe everything happens for a reason and at the perfect timing. I choose to live life without putting all my energy into one area or goal I hope to reach in my life.

I don’t believe in settling in any situation in my life, but more often others always correlate “settling” as having to do with love and marriage. In this case, I absolutely will never settle. Period.

This goes out to every girl who was told there’s only one road that must be taken in life and that at a certain age we “expire” if we haven’t settled down and started a family early on in life.

“Don’t settle for someone because it’s easy, because they’ve come ready-made, because they already love you. There’s more to life than what’s simple and convenient and available. There’s struggling, striving, and hold out the silly, inane, naïve hope that maybe something perfect exists after all. And when you find something perfect, if you find someone perfect, they wont be an ideal, of course, because no one is without their flaws. But there is bound to be someone who will be right for you in that moment, they will be what you’re looking for… Don’t settle for someone just because it’s time you made a choice, and they just happened to be there all along. A person’s heart isn’t a consolation prize. Don’t settle for them because they’ve been there all along. No one deserves secondhand love.”

For my Muslim brothers and sisters out there, if marriage is half our deen, then we really shouldn’t settle. I want someone who will not only wake me up for Fajr, but also strives to want to be with me in Janaah and motivates me to do the same. Don’t expect me to settle for anything else.

"The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it.”
Steve Jobs

15.        Don’t forget family.
I’m blessed with family that loves and supports me. I will always put them first, no exceptions.

“We often take for granted the very things that most deserve our gratitude.”
Cynthia Ozick

Truly take the time to appreciate and learn from the people you call family. Enjoy their presence, stories, and wisdom gained from years of experience.

My mom's side of the family had an unplanned min-reunion this past winter. It was only three days, but the memories made in those days were quite possibly the best memories I have ever had of my family. While we spent our mornings enjoying the outdoors in what we call winter in San Diego, every night, there was a dinner party to attend. The first night was at my parents' house and the other two were taken on by my mom's brothers. There was amazing home cooked authentic Palestinian meals and all the little ones running around enjoying their innocence. Every night ended with the entire family - my grandmother, aunts, uncles, and the cousins - packed into the family room sharing stories, telling jokes, playing games, and just enjoying each other's presence with the added delight of endless tea, coffee, sweets, and whatever else was edible in the house because that's how we Arabs hold dinner parties. There is no end to delicious food or laughter. It is the best feeling in the world to just be surrounded by people who love you for all the same crazy quirks they share with you. Be aware of the blessings of having family, guardians, and loved ones.

16.        Remember that the past will always stay there, in the past.
Telling myself that I will make peace with my past is easy. Following through with it is another issue. Letting our past dictate our present and our future does us no good.

“No amount of guilt can change the past and no amount of worrying can change the future. Go easy on yourself for the outcome of all affairs is determined by Allah’s Decree. If something is meant to go elsewhere, it will never come on your way, but if it is yours by destiny, from you it cannot flee.”

Umar ibn al-Khattab, may Allah be pleased with him

The past will never change and we must take our experiences and push forward. With what little control we have over our past, we need to realize that we have control over our present that changes our future. Always continue to move forward.

"Finish every day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt have crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; begin it well and serenely and with too high a spirit to be cumbered with your old nonsense. This day is all that is good and fair. It is too dear, with its hopes and invitations, to waste a moment on yesterdays."
Ralph Waldo Emerson

17.        Stop overthinking!
I remember writing an entire post on this.

It’s okay not to know everything and it’s okay to just slow down and rest. Not everything is worth our time and thoughts. The key is learning what is worth our energy and efforts.

“Never have I dealt with anything more difficult than my own soul, which sometimes helps me and sometimes opposes me.”
Imam Al-Ghazali

Stop worrying about things you can not change! Let beauty pull you in and shield yourself of all evil.

"Run my dear, from anything that may not strengthen your precious budding wings.
Run like hell my dear, from anyone likely to put a sharp knife Into the sacred, tender vision of your beautiful heart."

18.        Write.
Write like no one will read it. When you think you’re finished writing… step back, take a break, and then write some more.

A writer never has a vacation. For a writer life consists of either writing or thinking about writing.
Eugene Ionesco

I must constantly remind myself why I write.
I must not let anything stop me from writing, especially fear of rejection of any kind. Don’t let rejection stop you! Stories, whether they be fiction or non-fiction, just like anything else in the world, has an acquired taste. We don’t all like to read the same type of work, but your work will surely find the right home when it’s time.

Always push forward. No excuses.

Writing is a freeing expression of thoughts and feelings that anyone and everyone in the world has access to. There is this incredible feeling to just putting your thoughts onto paper, even if it’s only for your own eyes to see. This is not to be confused with understanding that writing is a God-given talent and skill that not anyone can easily pick up. It takes passion and dedication that is unexplainable to those who do not practice the craft regularly. 

“Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.”
Benjamin Franklin

19.        Read.
This is slightly different than chasing knowledge. I wish I could post every single quote I have ever fallen in love with when referring to books.

“I believe in the magic of books. I believe that during certain periods in our lives we are drawn to particular books—whether it’s strolling down the aisles of a bookshop with no idea whatsoever of what it is that we want to read and suddenly finding the most perfect, most wonderfully suitable book staring us right in the face. Unblinking. Or a chance meeting with a stranger or friend who recommends a book we would never ordinarily reach for. Books have the ability to find their own way into our lives.”
Cecelia Ahern

Books are my preferred drug.

“Books are a hardbound drug with no danger of overdose. I am the happy victim of books.”
Karl Lagerfeld

20.        Live.


I’ll stop at 20. It’s such a wholesome number. Frankly, it’s almost ten at night and it’s time to leave this coffee shop and go home to food!

I chose to make this list for myself, in no particular order, not for the new year specifically, but to be followed and expanded upon for future days and years to come. With the exception of this year, I agree with Anaïs Nin.

"I made no resolutions for the New Year. The habit of making plans, of criticizing, sanctioning and molding my life, is too much of a daily event for me."

Anaïs Nin

I’m happy with the life God has planned for me, even with all the battles I face, and patiently look forward to all the beauty that will come my way.

Happy New Year, my dear readers!
May this year bring you beautiful memories, exciting adventures, wonderful reading, and incredible writing!!