Diary of a Little Muslim Christian Girl: the New Congress

It’s 10 a.m., January 3, 2019.  Day One on the “New Political Universe” in Washington, DC.

I am excited!

I’m watching CNN, hoping to see the new, most diverse U.S. Congress yet sworn in. I’m especially interested in seeing Ilhan Omar, dressed in her hijab, and Rashida Tlaib sporting a much talked-about traditional Pakistan dress her mother made. They will raise their right hand and swear in using Thomas Jefferson’s Quran, rather than a Bible. I was raised Muslim, converted to Christianity in my mid 20s, and currently promote interfaith dialogue. Watching Ilhan and Rashida emerge, the boldest Muslim women I’ve ever seen, warms my heart.

Ayanna Presley, whose African name means “flower”, carries no banner for any religion, but as a self-proclaimed “woman of faith” she spoke love and compassion to the families of faithful individuals who were killed inside a synagogue in Pittsburg about a week before the 2018 mid-terms ushered in this historic day. I will be watching her with great interest, too.

Watching Nancy Pelosi, “the most powerful woman in American politics” tells MSNBC’s Savannah Guthrie about plans to take Trump to task is interesting. A bust of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King behind her says more to me than her interview can. It says press ever forward for justice, equality, and peace on earth.

Nancy had said in August that Trump might be afraid of her and afraid of the wave of women that might hit the nation’s capitol. The wave of women hit – hard – with a record number elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, including more African American women than ever, the first two Muslim women elected to Congress, the first two Native American women, the first LGBQ and Latina women, too.  Today Nancy clarified, “I’m not sure he knows how to deal with women in power, and women of strength, but we’ll see. Let’s hope for the best.”

I’m excited, too, at something else Pelosi represents: older women in power in the public eye – looking beautiful.

 

 

Advertisements

Muslim Madness: No More

 

save-meriam-ibrahim

Muslim Mayhem: No More

I will sing louder. When I lend my voice, lifting praise of God and Christ, I will sing louder than ever before. Never mind if I sound off-key. The angels will laugh. Holding the red, battered book of treasured hymnals up near my heart, standing in the pews where Christians pray, I will hurl those gospel tunes to the high heavens. Singing for the 27-year-old Sudanese woman sentenced to death for converting from Islam to Christianity. I was raised Muslim in America and converted to Christianity without retribution – because I live in America.

Christianity has soothed my psyche, in many manners saved my soul. I will sing this song loud as I can. I will sing for Meriam Ibrahim and the 20-month-old child who is currently in jail with her as she serves time awaiting execution for her conversion. I will sing for the eight-month-old fetus she is carrying, a baby that will be allowed birth before mother is hanged. This baby may grow up denouncing religion altogether, an unborn soul, a witness to Muslim mayhem and religious rot. I will sing for the baby’s salvation.

Catching up on the news today, I read articles about Meriam, a beautiful woman who also is scheduled to be lashed 100 times for “illegitimate sexual relations” because her husband is non-Muslim. Will she become the female Jesus on the cross – lashed and hung to die?

602-sharia-whip-610

Sudan authorities are killing individuals who denounce Islam. Sudan’s penal code criminalizes the conversion of Muslims into other religions, which is punishable by death, according to an article by the Associated Press.

“Religious thinker and politician Mahmoud Mohammed Taha, a critic of (former President Jafaar Nimeiri who incorporated Shariah and its traditional punishments into law)…was sentenced to death after his conviction of apostasy. He was executed in 1985 at the age of 76,” says the AP article. “A number of Sudanese have been convicted of apostasy in recent years, but they all escaped execution by recanting their new faith.”

That’s Muslim madness run amok. It’s one thing for parents to bully/guilt-trip their children into embracing family beliefs and carrying on certain family traditions. We see it often. And we understand that in every country some religious beliefs become law. But when a country will kill its citizens over a disagreement of religious ideas, that’s just crazy.

That is about power and imposition. It’s about controlling what is precious: the human spirit. This is about forcing human beings – their mental and physical energy – to serve a particular doctrine. This. Is. Just. Wrong.

Of course Muslim madness is not contained in Sudan. We read about Muslims bombing Christian churches in Cairo and elsewhere. We read about Nigerian warlords, claiming to be Muslim, kidnapping 300 schoolgirls, believing that Western education is anti-Islamic, threatening to sell the girls into marriage. These mad Muslims over-shadow the millions of sensible Muslims living quiet, productive lives, clinging to Islam because of the personal peace they have found in Islamic practices. Meriam, like me, found her peace/power in Christian customs. But she is called to pay a deadly price.

An article in the U.K.’s Telegraph quotes Sudan Judge Abbas Mohammed Al-Khalifa telling Meriam, “We gave you three days to recant but you insist on not returning to Islam. I sentence you to be hanged.”

The judge should be fried. Meriam was born a Muslim, but after her father left her family, her mother raised her as a Christian, according to news reports. Meriam told the judge, “I am a Christian and I never committed apostasy.”

Amnesty International weighed in saying, “The fact that a woman could be sentenced to death for her religious choice and to flogging for being married to a man of an allegedly different religion is abhorrent and should never be even considered.” In a joint statement, the embassies of Britain, the United States, Canada and the Netherlands expressed “deep concern” over her case. “We call upon the government of Sudan to respect the right to freedom of religion, including one’s right to change one’s faith or beliefs,” they said.

Some will condemn this execution, which, even according to the Shariah law cannot take place until two years after the woman gives birth. Some will call for respect for religious freedom. For my part, I will sing the Christian songs my Muslim-bred heart has embraced. I will sing them loud and clear.

Loving Islam on My Christian Walk

Muslim-women-prayingI’m back. After a hiatus to settle in to a new job and complete my first ghost-writing assignment, here I am. To ease back into blogging I will begin with my most familiar subject matter – growing up Muslim in America. Of course, much has changed since I began learning the doctrines of The Nation of Islam in the 1960s, then found myself immersed in learning Orthodox Islam in the 70s.

These days, when I’m invited to speak to students and teachers about this subject, they inevitably want to know, “what do you believe now?” Last week a teacher asked me, “why didn’t you turn away from religion altogether after experiencing so much heart ache from it?” I told the teacher that for a few years as a young woman I had sworn off all organized religion and considered myself, instead a mystic, tuning into nature and divine inspiration more than religious traditions and customs. I returned to religion during a particularly challenging episode in my life because religion, and its uplifting philosophies were what I found comforting when all else failed.

A high school student last month asked what religion I practice currently and I explained that I find myself loving my old Islam on my new Christian journey.

“I was on my way to church one Sunday morning when it dawned on me that I was about to join hundreds of millions of individuals around the world who would set aside this certain time on this certain day to collectively acknowledge and praise what we all consider a ‘higher power’. It was a worldwide get-together. I was thrilled,” I explained. “Then it occurred to me that hundreds of millions of Muslims around the world get together five times a day, at pre-set times every day, to reverence what they consider a higher power. Suddenly, I wasn’t resenting salat the way I had growing up. Growing up I hated – HATED – having to stop whatever I was doing to go pray at a certain time. Now, I was appreciating this ritual as an opportunity not an obligation.”

The students seemed interested – quiet and attentive, hanging on every word. So, I kept going.

“Now, I can appreciate that millions of Muslims all use a standard daily prayer schedule so that at 6:43 or 6:52 or whatever time is posted for the morning prayer, they’re all bowing down at that particular time, and all speaking in one language, saying the same prayer. That seems powerful to me now,” I explained. “Growing up I resented having to recite prayers in Arabic. I argued with my mother about it, saying it was Arab imperialism and we should reject it as much as our Muslim leaders wanted us to reject American imperialism.”

Ok, “imperialism” was too big a concept for high school students who really were not interested in world affairs, and even less rhetoric left over from the 1970s. Imperialism? Does anyone use that word anymore? Besides, who has time for world affairs when Candy Crush and all kinds of other fun games are in hand? They were interested, however, in how I adjusted to life outside the Nation of Islam, since in the book I described growing up in a very closed and close-knit religious organization. They wanted to know what, if anything, I missed about the NOI.

“I do miss the camaraderie,” I explained. “There was a certain comfort in being surrounded by a whole group of people all with the same beliefs and mission. It’s similar to church community, but it was different, a more engaging, completely involved experience. It was true what they said about Islam not being just a religion, but a way of life. Think of a woman wearing a dainty, cute little crucifix on a necklace compared to a woman dressed from head-to-toe in a Muslim outfit. The whole experience is like that.”

And, speaking of women, I love-love-love tuning in to Christian women preachers these days. OMG! As a Muslim girl I was taught that women should be “modest,” although the interpretation of “modest,” has evolved – thank God at least in westernized Muslim communities. As a Muslim girl I learned that a mother could not lead her own sons in prayer. A Muslim woman could never lead males in prayer. In fact, I vowed never to return to the Islamic Center in my native hometown, Washington, D.C., because when I was dragged there as a child for Muslim holidays, women and girls were relegated to a room in the basement. At best, when the Mosque was not crowded, we were allowed only to sit in the rear of the main prayer hall – behind the men. So, you can imagine my delight the first time I tuned into a Joyce Meyer sermon on-line. To see a woman passionately yelling and screaming scripture and her interpretation felt like heaven on earth.

Ok, this entry is getting too long for a blog. So, I will end it hear with plans to return to this space once or twice a week getting back in the blogging groove.

Send me a note. Let me know what you think. And if you’ve got questions about my Muslim-Christian experience, I promise to take time and answer them.

Shop-Lifting

In the current economy I have learned to appreciate an activity akin to window shopping. I call it shop-lifting. I go to shop but lift my consciousness and character awareness more than my wallet. For instance, the other day I was standing in line at the Card Factory Store when I overheard a customer behind me explain the items spilling out of her hands.

“My husband’s 50th birthday is coming up. So, we decided to write 50 things we love about him and put them in a decorative vase he can keep on his desk at work,” she said. 

Now that’s a gift! I thought. Cheaper than the latest iPad or the next high-tech communication gadget, but a communication of something so much greater – love. 

It reminded me of when I was on a  shopping fast in November, following the advice of financial fitness guru Michelle Singletary. She suggested a 30-day no-spending fast. She also suggested that you not even go into stores, tempting yourself. I did not want to over-deprive myself. So, I went into stores with the idea that I could only lift ideas and enjoy the experience of exchange by watching others engage in it. 

Once, while in a dollar store browsing near the check-out, I overheard the cashier’s conversation with a customer and became intrigued. 

“Your hair is beautiful. Were you always blond?” she asked. 

“Yeah. Since I was a little boy,” he said. 

For starters, I never knew people’s hair changed colors except for turning gray. So, without spending a dime, I learned something. But there was more as I listened. 

“My husband’s hair used to be dark like his,” she said, pointing to another customer. “But as he got older it turned white. It’s beautiful.”

It sounded like she enjoyed growing old with her husband.  I found that encouraging for my own marriage. Encouragement – free. 

I moved to the back of the store so I could whip out my pocketbook journal and make a note. But while I was back there I noticed something else. A family – parents and kids – talking about what else they should put in their “gift baskets.”  Curiosity got the best of me and I drew on my old reporting skills to find out more. 

They belonged to the Chesapeake Christian Fellowship Church, which sends Christmas gift baskets to “third world” countries. Billy Graham’s son, Franklin, is in charge. The mother, father, and their two sons, each carried a box filling it with toys, candy, and other treats.

“We have a lot, so why not give to somebody else?” the mother told me when I asked about their motivation. 

Without spending a dime, I was inspired, and reassured that we’re not all a bunch of self-seeking, greedy, can’t-get-enough, no good people in America.

Shopping without spending allowed me to collect encouragement and inspiration that lifted my spirits higher than a new pair of heels would have lifted my frame. 

Another day during the 30-day spending fast, I went into a gift shop, browsing for ideas of gifts I might buy in the future. Instead, I got a great idea of a gift book I can create. I rushed home to write down my idea and more inspiration flowed. I followed up with a little research about how to market it. Made a list of publishers to pitch it to. 

I had loved shopping, justified it as retail therapy for so long, I am pleasantly surprised and thoroughly delighted these days to experience shopping of another sort.  I spend less money these days, enjoying so many other aspects of the shopping experience. I chat with the store workers now. I laugh at their jokes. I enjoy samples at food stores and have outgrown my shyness about asking for a sample before I buy something. Guilt. 

Yesterday I was browsing Whole Food, which I love because of the abundance of samples at the ready. After a few samples of fresh squeezed orange juice, fresh squeezed lemonade, chocolate-cherry coffee, chocolate chip cookies, and toffee-covered pretzels, I really was hungry for a purchase. I bought only a $3 jar of tomato sauce and left without feeling guilty. The guilt I may have felt for enjoying so many samples and spending so little cash was lifted as I realized the store did what it intended to do, which was provide a customer with an experience that would ensure my return again and again, and I did what I intended to do, which was – spend more wisely. 

In the interest of full disclosure, when I was a kid, I was once caught shoplifting, in the criminal sense. I had everything basic I needed at home, food, water, shelter, family support. But I envied my friends who had designer clothes and Tinker Bell lotion and lip gloss. I stole Tinker Bell lip gloss and lotion and got caught. Thankfully, my mother did not find out until I told her years later.

Shop-lifting this new way is alleviating my envy of others who still seem to have more – more job security, a bigger house, more financial wealth, etc. I am realizing that I have so much more than I realized. My mother tried to tell me this, of course. She insisted that I shop in my own closet. Now I, do that, too. I realize that I have all the pieces and colors to create my favorite look for any occasion.   I also realize that I have things to give away. I have more than I “need.”

What are you shopping for? Beyond the basics, what are you really hungry for?

What’s in Your Hand?

What’s In Your Hand?

Yesterday, out the blue, Adam Clayton Powell’s famous, “What’s in Your Hand Speech” came to mind. I remembered happening upon his speech about 15 years ago, during one of what would become a series of my mini-retirements (more on that another time).

I had been in line at a library when I noticed a documentary on him on a shelf nearby. I grabbed it, and when I watched it, I was so blown away by the clip of his speech at the end, I rewound it over and over again. I jotted it down verbatim in my diary and memorized it. I loved it so much. It was a call to political action, an attempt to jolt people from apathy.  But I imagined it could be an inspiring call to personal and professional action, as well as a call to celebrate the gifts that we have.

I imagined using it in a speech I would give someday, encouraging beauticians to realize they held in their hands the gift of making others beautiful, calling teachers to realize they have the gift of guidance and instruction. Everybody’s got a gift and often we don’t fully appreciate what we are giving right where we are.

I once envied a friend who made six figures as a personnel specialist. He lamented that he had no special gift. Money isn’t everything, he said. He prayed for God to show him his special gift.

“Are you kidding?”I asked. “Not only are you making money, adding value to your own life and by extension the lives of others you give presents to, causes you donate cash to, your church, which is sustained partly by your tithes and offerings. You have the gift of modeling a level of success that is possible. Plus, in your job you help match people with the right opportunities. That’s a gift!”

Of course, he was thinking of an artistic gift. He admired my gift of – and passion for – writing. He said he envied that I could be content in a corner anywhere with a pen and a notepad or journal. Of course, I did not see what I had as a gift because as much as I love journaling – and now blogging – there’s no money attached to it – yet.  

It can’t be a gift without monetary value, right? Never mind the peace of mind, and what we now call “psychological income.” That doesn’t pay the mortgage, right? At some point it will.  (I have complied trunks full of journals, that I am now considering a gold mine of material for novels.) That’s a gift to be shared, right? 

This morning I tuned in to hear Steve Harvey’s morning testimony, something I’ve enjoyed off and on for at least two years now. I like “witnessing” him share his love of God with his audience of millions. At the end of his 12-minutes of testifying this morning, he talked about gifts God gives us all.

“He gives a lot of people a gift. Some are not using it, now they’re life ain’t what they want. But, guess what? You made that call,” he said in all his sassiness. “You know how to cook, but you won’t bake a pie. You’re funny, but you ain’t on stage. You can sing, but you ain’t got a record deal. You can counsel, but you ain’t took up social work. What you want God to do? You the best painter, but you ain’t got your art displayed no where…That’s crazy.”

I considered the coincidence of recalling Adam Clayton Powell’s speech on using God’s gifts last night and hearing a similar message from Steve Harvey this morning an interesting enough coincidence to follow it somewhere. I googled Adam Clayton Powell and found a clip of him giving his speech on YouTube. I listened and not only felt inspired all over again, I felt compelled to share the inspiration.

Here is the text of Powell’s famous “What’s In Your Hand” speech:  

“As far as I know, here, you’re in trouble. It says you’ve got about 30 percent unemployment. That’s why I’m working hard to get this surplus food here. Some of you say to me, ‘well, I’m not like you. I’m not a congressman. I haven’t got education. I haven’t got work. But you’re a human being. And you know what you’ve got? You’ve got in your hand the power to use your vote and to use even those few cents you get from welfare to spend them only where you want to spend them.” The crowd applauded and cheered. “A young slave boy stood one day before the greatest ruler of his day. And God said to Moses, what’s in your hand? And Moses said, ‘I’ve got this stick, that’s all.’ He said, well let me use what’s in your hand. And God used that slave boy with a stick in his hand to divide the Red Seas, march through a wilderness, bring water out of rocks, manna from heaven, and bring his people to freedom land. What’s in your hand?”

“What’s in your hand! George Washington Carver, who was so frail that he was traded for a broken down horse as a slave boy, and George Washington Carver sitting in the science laboratory at Tuskegee told me, he said, ‘Dr. Powell, I just go out into the fields each morning at 5 o’clock, and I let God guide me, and I bring back these little things and I work them over in my laboratory.’ And that man did more to revolutionize the agricultural science of peanuts, and of cotton, and of sweet potatoes than any other human being in the field of agricultural science.”

“What’s in your hand? Just let God use you that’s all. What’s in your hand!!!!!!!” he boomed. “I’ve got a string in my hand, that’s all, and I’m flying a kite, and way up in the heaven’s lightening strikes, and I Benjamin Franklin, discover for the first time, the possibilities of electricity – with a string in my hand. What’s in your hand!!!!! Little hunch-back sitting in a Roman jail. ‘I haven’t got anything in my hand but an old quill pen. But God says, ‘Write what I tell ya to write!’ And Paul wrote, I have run my race with patience. I’ve finished my course. I’ve kept the faith. What’s in your hand little boy!!!!” ‘All I’ve got is this slingshot, but the enemies of my people are great and big and more numerous than we are.’ Well Little David, go down to the brook and pick out a few stones and bring them back, and put them in the sling shot and close your eyes if you want to and let them go. And David killed the enemies of his people, and his people became free, just letting God guide a stone in his hand. And a few years pass, and David is King. And God says, ‘What’s in your hand?’ And David says I’ve got a harp. And God said then play on your harp. And he played, ‘The Lord is My Shepherd I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures. He leadeth me beside still waters. Yea thou I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil. What’s in your hand!!!!!”

Now here was my favorite part.

“A man hanging on a cross with two nails in his hands said ‘Father I stretch my hands to thee. No other help I know. If Thou withdraw thy hand from me, whither will I go. And that man with two nails in his hands split history in half, B.C. and A.D. What’s in your hand tonight? You’ve got God in your hand, and with God in your hand, He’ll let you win because he’s on your side, and one with God is always in the majority. So, walk with Him and talk with Him. And work with Him and fight with Him. And with God’s hand in your hand, the victory will be accomplished, sooner than you dreamed, sooner than you hoped for, sooner than you prayed for, sooner than you imagined. Good night and God bless.”

 Click here for link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nuZjcd7t-sE&feature=related