Ammi was thankfully more calm after visiting Hamid Nana and she asked me to help her with some boxes of files that she needed to bring up to her office from the car. I told her she could go ahead and settle inside while I brought it in for her.
It was still morning and the air carried a cool breeze. The sun was out but I hardly felt the heat, which was a good thing cause I didn't want to get thirsty at nine in the morning.
I took the boxes from the car and put them down on the sidewalk beforeI shut the hood. I bent over to pick them up again and started walking towards the building.
NMC was located on a side street just off of Devon Avenue, which made sense since many of Ammi's clients were Muslims that lived in the neighborhood. The streets were not that crowded, since it was still a Wednesday morning. Devon was mostly crowded on Fridays because of Jummah prayers and during the weekend for shopping purposes.
As I headed towards the building, I noticed a guy walking towards me from my peripheral view. I directed my attention towards opening the door without having to put down the boxes again.
He broke into a jog and appeared next to me within a couple of seconds. I stepped back, clearly wanting my space. He opened the door for me so I could go in.
"Thanks," I muttered. He looked a little older than me, but he was definitely Muslim and by the look of him, he didn't seem to have been here for very long. Maybe a F.O.B? Oops, did I just say that?
Anyhow, the guy needed some manners.
"Lower your gaze!" I wanted to yell at him. "It's Ramadan, you idiot."
I quickly went up the couple of steps and into the center. It was decorated with a large banner at the top, bold green letters saying Ramadan Mubarak in English, Urdu, and Arabic.
"Iman! Ramadan Mubarak!" I heard a familiar voice while I put the boxes down on a table.
I turned to my right to find Zubeda, the woman that worked with Ammi and led the immigration workshops.
"Zubeda Aunty! How are you?" I greeted enthusiastically. She came to embrace me with a big hug.
"How come you didn't come earlier? It's been days since you last came," she scolded lovingly. The lady wishes I was her daughter. She has told me on several occasions.
"Summer flew by so fast and then Ramadan started," I told her, remembering that I only had two weeks left until school began.
"Oh, well at least you were able to come in today. We need so much help from you! Come this way," she motioned me towards her cubicle.
I spent most of the day organizing files and entering data in the computer. It was very tedious, but the time went by pretty quickly.
Around 1:00, Ammi asked me to help one of the other aunties to dust the only classroom in the center.
"We'll have a lot of kids for tutoring when school begins," the auntie made conversation with me in Urdu while I dusted tables.
"Oh yea," I answered, remembering the chaos of kids jumping, chewing their pencils, and all of them calling my name at the same time.
This is why I will never be a teacher, I had told myself that one day when I felt like pulling both my hijab and my hair off.
"You're a good girl," the auntie complimented me suddenly.
"Huh?" I asked her, surprised. She was new to this center; I hadn't met her before.
She pointed to my hijab. "You wear a scarf, and you help here," she remarked. "That's very good. And everyone here says you are very smart."
"Aw, thank you," I replied, touched. I wasn't really that great, I thought to myself. But if she wanted to think so, I didn't have a problem with that!
After we finished cleaning, we brought in the boxes Ammi had told me to bring in earlier. We took out school supplies, pencils and markers from one, paper and scissors from another.
Later that evening, Farah called me to invite me to her house for Iftaar the following day.
"Tomorrow?" I asked.
"Yea, did you already make plans? Please tell me no!" she said.
"No, I didn't," I reassured her. "It's just sudden, but that's okay."
"Awesome! I can't wait to see you. It's been so long."
"Don't get too happy. You'll be seeing me everyday in two weeks," I reminded her. We had been given our class schedules earlier this week during orientation. Farah practically squealed with delight when we found out we had art class together.
"Yea, like I'll really be annoyed by you," Farah said.
"Ah, don't bet on it. It's our third year in high school, which makes it more special and should be worth remembering. Hence, I will make it memorable for you," I promised
"My sister would disagree with that. She says her high school life is one she hates remembering because she acted so immature and it's just that phase in life where you have to get through it."
"Oh, older people. I never understand them sometimes. They like to make it seem like it's so much better to be their age. But I say, let's live in the present and enjoy it."
"Sure thing," Farah agreed and hung up soon afterward.
The thought of starting school again wasn't such a pleasant thought. I couldn't sleep until ten or eleven in the morning on a school day, and sometimes it felt like being imprisoned being in school for seven straight hours. But once I got over my summer lazy self and adjusted to the school pace, I didn't mind it so much.
But I sure was glad most of my Ramadan is during vacation, because that way I can at least ensure more time is spent praying.
Do continue to enjoy your Ramadan!
American Muslim Girl
Not going on the computer for several days rouses a strange feeling. You are detached from the Internet bubble and you get a chance to immerse yourself in the beauty of sensing. But once you reattach, you find your email inbox filled up dramatically and after one link leads to another, oh look, it's Asr Salaat! Better not delay it!
Ramadan has made me so preoccupied that alhamdulillah, I am not wasting hours away on Facebook, Youtube, or even the Old Navy shopping page.
But that doesn't mean I can't go on the Internet to read QuranFlash, listen to Ramadan lectures, mull over the Ground-Zero mosque controversy while settling internal arguments, and of course, entrench my experiences in this blog!
Yesterday, I busied myself with writing a shopping list with an actual notepad and paper. And no, this shopping was not for clothes, but for school supplies, which is indeed a very exciting thing to shop for! Though the arrival of Fall and beautiful colored leaves on the pavement (although none are present yet right now) bring with it the beginning of the school year, at least I can comfort myself in the thrilling prospect of school supply shopping.
I sat down with the Staples sales paper, along with the Office Depot, and Office Max (how much more variety can I ask for?). Using the tactical skills my dear father passed on to me, I calculated that buying the colored index cards in Staples versus the boring white in Office Depot would only cost $0.79 more, and that the binders in Office Depot are $0.59 cheaper, which would amount to a lot of savings if I purchased, say 6 binders for the 6 classes, and the pencils in--
And then the phone rang. "Brinnnnnnnnnnng. Brinnnnnnnnnng."
I couldn't tell Humza to pick up because as always, he was outside again with a friend.
"Iman, we're going to the hospital," I heard Abu on the other line. He sounded a little worried, but otherwise, very direct and quite calm.
Images rushed through my mind. Was it Ammi? Nani? They had all gone to the supermarket together. Car accident? Sudden seizure?
"It's nothing to worry about," Abu replied to my unspoken question. "Hamid Nana is recovering from a heart attack and we want to be with him."
"Oh, ok," I replied, relieved. What else could I say? I didn't remember much about Hamid Nana. I know he used to give me chocolate as a little kid whenever he came over. But ever since moving to Aurora, I hardly saw him.
"Is he hospitalized here?" I asked.
"No, in Aurora, so it'll take a while to get there," Abu said. I could hear Ammi's voice in the background. "Here, talk to your mother."
"Listen Iman, where's Humza?" Ammi asked me. She sounded much more tense than Abu.
"He told me he would be at the park with a couple of friends," I replied.
"Well, make sure he comes home soon. And, beta, I'm not sure if we'll come home in time for Iftaar. I've taken the chicken out of the freezer, but you can leave it. Why don't you grab something from--"
"Ammi, don't worry about it. I'll manage. I'll cook the chicken and besides, what will you all eat once you come home?"
"I don't know if that's a good idea. You're fasting."
"Ammi, you forget sometimes that I'm not a little girl. And stop sounding so worried! He's passed the worst, right?"
"Alhamdulillah, but still..."
Ammi should get an award for being the most worried Mom in the world.
"Ok, don't worry Mom," I said, sensing more background noise.
"Don't make a mess in the kitchen Iman! Make sure you clean up!" Ammi said just before I hung up.
I went to our kitchen, feeling the rush of excitement about cooking. As Mom had said, the chicken was thawing. I opened the refrigerator to see what I could cook.
After stirring up my creative juices, I decided to go with Chinese topped with a little Italian: chicken chop suey, stir-fried vegetables, and a regular veggie pizza. I had to pace myself because I only had three and half hours before Iftaar.
I was in the middle of preparing the dough when Humza walked in.
"Oh, man that smells good!" he remarked.
"Why thank you," I replied, smiling.
"Woah, what are you doing? Mom's not here?"
"Why?" I asked. "Only Mom's supposed to be in the kitchen?"
Humza walked over to to the refrigerator to get some orange juice. He's not fasting today.
"No. Mom would've freaked if she saw the mess you made."
He was totally right. Sprinkles of dough had settled on the counter top, which also housed noodles and more than half the contents of the refrigerator.
Humza was thoughtful to face his back behind me while he drank the orange juice. "Are you going to be full with just that?" I asked, surprised he hadn't asked for any food.
"I should leave space for all that you're making," he replied rather maturely.
"Smart. By the way, Mom and Dad are at the hospital to visit Hamid Nana. They won't be back until later."
Humza nodded, not seeming very interested. He instead observed me kneading the dough.
Three hours later, we sat together on the floor in the dining room. Dad had called to tell us they were on their way home.
Before breaking my fast, I tried to focus and pray for the things I wanted most, both in this life and the Hereafter. I had so many endeavors, so many goals, but in the end, I only wanted happiness. Looking at Humza sitting across from me with his white topi on his head, I wondered what he was asking for.
We silently ate our dates and fruit. Just as I was about to give Humza a slice of pizza, Dad arrived with Mom and Nani.
"Iman! Look at all that you've cooked!" Ammi remarked, surprised. I was hoping the smile didn't disappear after she looked at the kitchen. I tried to clean up, but I didn't have much time to leave it clear and speckle-free.
"My daughter is a great cook," Abu commented as he dug in.
I hugged Nani who saw after a week. "Will you be okay with this?" I asked, knowing she didn't like bland food.
"Beta, I'm so hungry right now I'll eat raw broccoli if I had to!" she said in Urdu.
I was overall pleased with my cooking. The chop suey could have used more salt and pepper and the soy sauce was a little too much in the vegetables, but it's not like I could have tasted it while I was cooking! Well, I could have but I don't think I could have rinsed my mouth right away like Ammi does.
Surprisingly, Ammi wasn't too upset about the kitchen. She was pleased with my efforts.
"See? If only you'd let me cook more often," I told her while I washed the dishes.
"True, but don't forget the time you stayed up late to bake cookies instead of studying for your Chemistry test."
"Oh that," I said. "I ended up getting an A in the class anyway," I reminded her. I quickly regretted the way I said the words. All success is from Allah only, I reminded myself.
"And I'm asking you for the third time now. Cut your nails."
I sighed. My nails were not that long, but Ammi always bugged me to cut them. I didn't argue.
After Maghrib Salah, I sat down to cut my nails. Nani and I took turns to massage oil in our hair. Closing my eyes and feeling the soothing sensation in my head, my thoughts drifted into an open body of reflection and gratitude.
So very pleased,
American Muslim Girl
I feel as if I am in a vacuum where time is racing past me and I have lost complete sight of it. Is it really already Ramadan?
The first fast is always a little hard for me. I'm afraid I have made my body too used to ingesting food all the time.
I am feeling a little fatigued so I shall let Dreamer take over:
Well, hello! Ramadan Kareem!
One thing I love about Ramadan is that it is so universal. Even though we may not realize it, it arouses a connection to the entire Ummah. Right now, Muslims all over the world are fasting, or are ready to start their fast (Suhoor) or are breaking their fast (Iftaar). Subhan'Allah.
What does disappoint me, however, is that not all of us have started Ramadan on the same day. Here in North America, it was reported that no moon was sighted the night of Tuesday. Yet, there are many people who still started fasting the very next day. How come?
The debate concerns the traditional method versus the technological method, or so I think. According to hadith,
Allah's Messenger (peace be upon him) said, "Observe fast on sighting it (the new moon) and break (fast) on sighting it (the new moon), but if the sky is cloudy for you, then complete the number (of thirty)."
Some argue that it is very necessary to have actually seen the moon rather than relying on scientific calculations. Tuesday night was not a cloudy night, but rather a clear sky. So, are we going to assume the moon was there because of satellite pictures and calculations? Or should we stick to more traditional methods and not declare Ramadan until the moon really has been sighted?
I believe both methods should be used in a combination to validate each other. However, in the situation that it conflicts with each other, as in the case this year, I think we should rely more heavily on whether the moon was really sighted or not.
What do you think?
I don't have the energy to ponder over this matter, Dreamer, because I'm dreaming of delicious spicy Tandoori chicken and cold lemonade with a burst of--
"MOM! Where did you put my basketball?!"
Oh, dear. Humza is at it again. I better go see what this is about.
I find him on the porch outside, beads of sweat on his forehead.
"I can't find it!" he yells in exasperation. "Mom always puts my things where I can't find it."
I touch his shoulder, and he stops talking to look at me. I'm not usually this nice to him. That is why he's giving a weird expression.
"Calm down. Mom is on the phone, but I'll help you find it."
It is amazing how suddenly things become better when the devil is chained. My usual self would have said, "You need to yell like you've been crushed by a car. Go and find it yourself."
We head downstairs to our storage room.
"Are you really going to play basketball right now?" I ask him, my stomach grumbling. We make our way towards the far left corner where Mom has kept all the sports equipment.
"Yea. It'll kill time," he says.
"And I've already checked there. It's not there."
I move my badminton racket and some bats to uncover what was below inside the large bin. "Knowing Mom and how organized she is, I'm pretty sure it's here."
"Why can't she just leave it outside?"
"She probably figured school is starting soon so you won't have time to play," I answer.
I remove Dad's cricket bat and smile. Humza takes it from me and starts examining it.
"Hey, I don't think Dad played cricket at all this summer."
"Yea, he's been too busy with work."
My hands move over the volleyball net, and I see that the basketball is stuck within its folds.
"Somebody didn't look hard enough," I muse.
"What? It's in that?" Humza asks.
We both lift the net and Humza reaches over to grab the basketball.
"I think you just didn't want to lift the entire net when you came looking for it."
Humza ignores me. Now that he's got his ball, he cannot focus on anything else.
"Hey," I tap him on the shoulder. "We'll be going to the masjid tonight for Taraweeh. Don't forget."
"Oh yea," he says. He only came with us several times last Ramadan.
"He's still young," Ammi would tell Abu when he insisted on taking Humza with us. "And he has to go to school as well the next day."
But now there was no excuse about school.
I turn to go back inside. About an hour left until Iftaar. As I was about to remove my shoes, Humza calls me.
"Come here," he motions to me.
Now what? I put my shoes back on and go near him. He's avoiding eye contact.
"What's the matter?" I ask him, curious now.
"I was...I was really thirsty a while ago," he says, looking down.
"And I biked over to Peter's house. We were going to go biking together. His mom handed both of us ice-cold water bottles."
I understand. My heart reaches for Humza and his innocence.
"And?" I ask, knowing what was to come.
"I...I didn't refuse," he says.
Sometimes, I really do forget how young Humza is, much younger than me.
"Hey, big guy. A little sip won't break your fast, unless if you did it on purpose. But, still. You're trying and that's what counts."
"But, I ruined it," he says in a frustrated tone. "For one water bottle, my whole fast doesn't count."
"Well, you don't know that. Only Allah does. And let it be a reminder for you the next time you're fasting," I explain to him. "Now, shoot some hoops and then come inside because we're a house of hungry people eager to grab a bite once the sun sets."
He nods. "Thanks Iman."
"No prob," I reply.
I go inside the house and decide to muster the energy I need to help Ammi in the kitchen.
"It's all about the good deeds," I pat my grumbling tummy and walk into the kitchen.
American Muslim Girl
Mariyam called me this morning and asked if I wanted to join her while she went downtown.
How could I ever refuse?
"We'll be going to the Skydeck," Mariyam informed me when we got into her Acura SUV.
"THE SKYDECK?!" I practically screamed.
"Woah. Calm down there, sister," Ahmed said. I would have given him a fitting reply if we didn't have guests with us.
"She gets excited over small things," he explained to his friend and his friend's wife. That is no way to talk about your cousin to your friend.
I turned to the couple and smiled at them. "Going to the Sears Tower Skydeck is no small thing. I've been dying to go there since last year, but no one was brave enough to join me," I explained.
"Is it scary?" Anisa asked.
"Well," I began, "if you go and stand on the ledge, which is an extension from the 103rd floor, you will be surrounded by glass from top, bottom, and sides."
Maybe I shouldn't have said that. Anisa didn't look the most excited, but her husband, Sajid, definitely did.
"Good thing I brought along my Canon. It's gonna be an incredible view."
"And it's called the Willis Tower now. Not Sears," Ahmed corrected.
Well, I obviously know that, but to me, it is still the Sears Tower.
"It's the tallest building in North America, right?" Mariyam asked.
"What a true Chicagoan my sister is," Ahmed said, "she has to confirm that fact with me."
I knew Mariyam wasn't too excited, but she had to drive. Ahmed was still recovering from the surgery on his arm.
There was traffic on Lake Shore Drive, and on top of that, Mariyam was being very nice and allowing cars to cut in front of her.
"You don't have to let every car go," I finally said.
"Hey, when I need to go in another lane, someone will be nice to me too."
"Yea right. If anything, city drivers are aggressive and not as nice as you."
"It's a good deed," she simply said. I couldn't argue with that.
After the long drive, it was a long wait in line. I began to get impatient. So, I tried to entertain myself by observing people.
You could tell apart these tourists just based on how they spoke. The Southerner accent vs. the New York accent and of course, if someone was speaking amazing French or Madrid Spanish, they were probably European. When some of them looked at me, I smiled at them. But, sheesh, some people are just rude and don't like to smile.
I wanted to talk privately to Mariyam about any marriage updates, but I didn't get a chance. Especially not in the elevator.
I jumped up and down like a little girl who just got a princess dollhouse when I got to the ledge.
Anisa started to look pale just at the sight of it, so Mariyam took her away. I didn't waste any time in taking the breathtaking view of Chicago underneath my shining gladiators.
"You are a chicken," I told Mariyam afterward.
"What? Me?" she asked, feigning innocence. We were driving home after dropping Ahmed and the couple over to a relative's house where they were going to have lunch.
"You used Anisa as an excuse to not stand on the ledge. CHICKEN!" I have so much fun teasing girls for their scare of heights. Thank the Lord I'm not as scared; I am quite an adventurer.
"The poor girl was going to puke and her hubby was too busy clicking pictures," she defended herself.
"Speaking of hubbies, what's the status on the matrimonial site?" I asked.
Her expression changed to a more solemn look. She shrugged.
"What happened? No one interesting?" I asked, slightly disappointed. I was looking forward to good news, although I have had my fair share of weddings this summer.
It looked like she was hesitating to tell me something.
"You found someone," I guessed, "but there's something wrong with him." Wait, did I just say that?
"He's Arab," Mariyam said simply.
I understood right away. "Your parents don't like that." I knew my aunt and uncle pretty well to know that.
She pursed her lips. "They would never agree. I haven't even told them."
"Did you even contact him?" I asked.
"Yea, through the website. I can't say anything until I meet him in person, but he seems like a really good person."
"You should at least tell Khala about it," I encouraged. "You never know."
We parked in front of my house, but I didn't leave immediately.
"An Arab. That is so cool," I mused, leaning my head back on the seat. A streak of sunlight settled across my face, but I didn't mind.
"Oh Iman, the hopeless romantic." She knew me too well. "I just wish..." she drifted off into her thoughts.
Mariyam is like an older sister to me more than a cousin. I looked at her and touched her shoulder.
"I don't like it that our family sometimes considers our ethnicity to be superior over others. It's just not right," she said, anger and frustration evident in her voice.
"Yea, when culture is given more importance over religion," I added. "I don't know why we can't marry outside the Indian culture, but Mariyam, if Allah wills, then that won't last forever."
I wanted to give her hope, but she didn't want it.
"If you go against the family's will, you're taunted by everyone."
"Who cares? As long as your happy?" I said.
"No. My parent's happiness means a lot to me," she said.
We sat in silence for a while. I couldn't come up with anything else to say.
"Hey, Iman, why did you get so serious all of a sudden?" she asked, breaking the silence. She softly pinched my cheek like one would to a young child. I drew back, laughing.
"Serious and me? C'mon," I asked. "I should be heading home now before la madre gets worried."
"Sure, chica. Go ahead and enjoy the last month of vacation."
"Hardly a month. And Ramadan is next week!"
"I know! Woohoo! Pray hard and don't waste your time!"
I was happy to leave her smiling, but I prayed that things would work out for her. She really truly deserves a good husband.
American Muslim Girl
Today is August 3rd, which marks three months since this blog was launched and this is the 10th post thus far.
That is pretty special, so I have decided to share a secret. I have pondered long and hard about whether I should even do so, but then again, what is there to lose?
So, drum roll please.
The truth is...
...I AM IRON MAN.
Okay, I'm sorry. I just really enjoy that last line from the movie. It's such a powerful ending. And oh hey, did you know that Transformers 3 was being filmed in Chicago last week? Go Chicago!
Well, now that I have vented the movie fanatic in me and possibly annoyed you a tad bit, I shall move on to our little secret.
Have you ever wondered why my blog is written with dialogue? Do you think my posts sometimes read like a book or story? Well.
The truth is...I am a fictional character. Yes. I know you were not expecting that. And it really does sound demeaning, but I thought I should share it with you nonetheless.
Let me explain. Wait, I think I should rather have my author explain. She gives herself the pseudonym Dreamer and I have the pleasure of introducing you to her:
Hi there. I am so sorry to intrude like this, but I must say I have been feeling so guilty lately. I feel like a betrayer, a liar, and so much more.
First let me properly introduce myself. I am, of course, an American Muslim, currently a University student, and the real author of this blog.
You see, I love to write, but alas, I do not have many people to read my short pieces of fiction. People, especially here in America at least, are just too busy in their own lives. Time is of the essence and who really picks up a book now to read for the pure pleasure of reading? Well, there are a lot of people that do read actually, myself included. But I have not published anything yet so you won't find my work on Kindle or an iPad, or even your local bookstore or library.
But I have not lost hope. In this modern era, it is fortunate that we have the opportunity to write a blog and to be published worldwide.Subhan'Allah.
Two years earlier, I started a blog with the attempt to give my readers a chance to read Muslim fiction. I tried to write at least every week, but I found the task both very difficult and time consuming. Moreover, I had no followers of my blog, which discouraged me greatly because I was writing for the sake of having people read it.
I discontinued my blog and continued to write on the pages of my small notebook like I did previously. However, I was constantly reminded of blogs and the door of opportunities it opened. I decided I needed a theme to write and stick to. Thus, I came up with Blog of an American Muslim Girl.
It is difficult to write a personal blog. The problem is what if one does not want to share his or her identity, family problems, the drama that exists, the test one failed, the private conversations one holds? Also, my initial motivation to write a blog was for the purpose of writing fiction so I didn't want to be writing about myself.
I decided I would blog from the perspective of a fictional character. Yes, this little family, which includes Iman, Humza, Abu, Ammi, and many other characters, is completely made up. It became so much easier and so much more fun to write this way.
Unfortunately, I am giving the impression that I really am Iman and Humza is my brother and so forth. Alhamdulillah, I am so thrilled to have followers of this blog. After receiving comments which implied this misunderstanding that I was really Iman and I was writing about my family, I truly felt that I needed to disclose this secret.
Fiction is so beautiful and such a powerful tool. You can recreate and stir up exciting things with a pool of memories, experiences, and your very own imagination.
Most of my fiction concerns Muslim characters because their lives are so interesting. This blog is an attempt to both expand and share my writing in addition to exploring my faith and this life.
I hope you continue to ride this journey with me. It is a humble request that you send this blog link to your fellow non-Muslim friends. Many people are oblivious to the lives of Muslims and how Islam influences their daily actions, and that is the main force that drives me to write.
Insha'Allah, God Willing, we shall meet again. Iman is becoming a little impatient so I shall let her continue now.
Ahh thank you. Now the question that I am dying to ask: What do you think? Are you angry, confused, or taken aback? I hope you will not leave me thinking that I am a good-for-nothing fictitious character.
You see, I am a mosaic of a variety of American Muslim girls, and though I may be fictitious, I am real in a sense. Anyone who writes doesn't always use only pure imagination. They are influenced in so many ways.
But, enough of my talking. What do you have to say? I'm craving for some feedback now that my identity is known. Thank you for reading. :)
Kindly awaiting your response,
American Muslim Girl