Libya: Stop the Crackdown

24 Feb


In Libya, Colonel Qaddafi’s armed forces are using machine guns and fighter jets against pro-democracy protesters — hundreds have already been killed and, without immediate international action, the situation could spiral into a national bloodbath.

The United Nations Security Council and the European Union are in emergency sessions on Libya this week. If we can pressure them to agree to a no-fly zone over Libya, a freeze of Qaddafi’s, his family’s and his high command’s assets, targeted sanctions against the regime, and international prosecution of any military officials involved in the crackdown — this could stop airforce bombings and split Qaddafi’s command structure.

We have no time to lose — the people of Libya are being slaughtered by government forces. Click to send a message directly to all the UNSC delegations, EU Foreign Ministers and the High Representative for the EU to stop the violence and share this with everyone — let’s inundate them with messages and spur them to action!




Converting to Islam: What to Look Out For

24 Feb

Prior to my conversion last summer, I spent a couple of years trying to find my bearings in this divers and often confusing world of Muslims and Islam. There are a few mistakes I made, and a few lessons I learned the hard way. It’s not always easy to see through all the trees of the forest to what Islam is really about. That’s why I would like to share my experience in finding my way.
So, what are the things you should keep in mind while navigating through so many opinions and you must’s?

1. Watch out for extreme opinions

In my experience, there are a lot of forums trying to lure you in with the message “everyone is welcome, come here to learn about Islam, it doesn’t matter if you are Muslim or not!”
They seem so friendly and welcoming, so why not go ahead and become a member?
But when you have a look at the content of their forums, you notice that the message rapidly changes from “everyone is welcome” to “only the people with my views are welcome, the rest will go to hell”. Often you find yourself ignored or told off when you dare to challenge their beliefs and opinions.
I used to be a member of such a forum years back, and it really put me off. “Is this Islam?” I thought, “So intolerant? So women-unfriendly?”
Such forums/views often promote that women stay at home, accept polygamy very submissively and without question and are covered from top to bottom. Anything else is not acceptable. They also frequently use the word “kafir” for a non-Muslim, which basically means a person who is ungrateful to God, a disbeliever. They constantly stress that a good Muslim follows all the details of their interpretation of Islam. They turn what’s allowed (halal) in what’s forbidden (haram), and that’s a very bad thing!
Then I discovered luckily, that what I read was only one opinion about Islam, no matter how much those people want to make it seem otherwise.
The lesson to be learned from this all is that you shouldn’t base your knowledge of Islam on what some people tell you. It’s just their opinion. If you get a bad feeling from what they are saying, by all means, turn your back and follow your own heart! You are still finding your way, no one has the right to put pressure on you.

2. Do your own research

Go back to the original sources of Islam: Quran and sunna. When you learn about Islam only from the lips of a Muslim, it’s possible that he/she will mix the teachings of Islam with his/her own culture and beliefs. Don’t be satisfied with what someone tells you, ask questions and do your own reading and research. Don’t be afraid to explore alternative interpretations of Quran verses and hadiths (traditions). Especially as a woman, know what your Islamic rights are in marriage and divorce. They say knowledge is power, and this is very true. Never be satisfied, always look to broaden your knowledge, to read, to ask questions.

3. Take your time

Don’t rush into things, whether it’s converting, wearing headscarf full-time or other important and life-changing decisions. Think about your motives. Is this what you want or what someone else wants? If you take too many decisions too fast, it will backfire. I know a lot of converts who started to wear headscarf right away, only to take it back off later. I’m not saying you can’t be ready from the start, but do take your time to make sure that everything you do comes from within, and not from what others say you should do.

4. Learn Arabic

Arabic is the language of Islam, there is no doubt about that. Make it your goal to be able to recite and read the Quran in Arabic. This will also enable you to read and study the original sources of Islam, without a translator’s view on things. Also, there are a lot of Arabic works about Islam which aren’t translated in any other language, and it would be a shame to let that chance for knowledge pass you by.

5. Know your rights

I know I mentioned this before, but I really want to stress its importance. It’s not because someone else tells you you can’t do something, that it’s actually based on Islam.
As a Muslim woman, you have the right to claim your rights when you get married. This is done by means of a marriage contract. Don’t let this chance pass you by, because you never know what life’s going to bring.
For more information on which rights you can claim in a marriage contract, I suggest you read this article:

6. When you’re lost, go back to the essence of Islam

Everyone of us goes through ups and downs when it comes to faith. We are only human. Sometimes we feel we just can’t do it anymore, to follow a belief that’s so different from the culture in which we were raised, and the people around us. We can’t be strong every day.
My advice is to not get caught up in details. If you are having problems with the idea of wearing headscarf for example, don’t let that get in the way of your faith. Concentrate on the five pillars of Islam:

1. Shahada: There is no other god than Allah, and Mohammed is His prophet
2. Salaat: praying 5 times a day
3. Zakaat: giving money to the poor and needy
4. Sawm: fasting during the month of Ramadan
5.Hadj: pilgrimage to Mecca

These are the basics. Although modesty is also very important in Islam, it’s not a pillar, and if you feel you are not ready to cover or wear headscarf, or whatever someone is telling you to do, that’s ok. Concentrate on the essence, so you get a feel of what Islam is really about. Also, while you are doing these things, your love for God and Islam will grow, your faith will strengthen,  and you will feel ready for things you didn’t feel ready to do before. Just give it time, and trust that God will guide you. Don’t feel inadequate or put down because you’re not ready for something. It’s your intention that counts. If you strife to be better, God will surely help you, for He is the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.

If You Wish For Light…

22 Feb

If you wish for light, be ready to receive light.
Nourish your ego and be deprived of light.
If you wish to find a way out of this prison,
do not turn away;
bow down in worship and draw near.

– Rumi

If you want light, be ready for it. That’s what the great poet Rumi is trying to tell us. If we only think about ourselves, our life, our career, our needs and greed, we will not receive light, because as the Buddhists say, our cup is full!
We can’t see anything beside ourselves, and our thoughts are firmly grounded in daily life. We are all guilty of it, myself included. Life can be so hectic, and sometimes difficult, that I don’t have much energy left to think about “higher” things. I mean, hello, I have a paper to finish!

Still, Rumi warns us, do not turn away, bent down in worship and draw near.
How easy it is to forget our blessings, and to focus on what’s going wrong in our lives! If I only had more money, I would be able to buy this and this, and then I would be happy! If I only had a partner who’s here to take care of me, and to love me, my life would be great! If I only had more friends, I would feel so much better about myself! And the list goes on…

The truth is that peace, fulfillment and happiness, are not somewhere out there in the world, waiting to be triumphantly snatched by us. They are attitudes, a way of living. They come from within. If we are focused on always wanting more, we will never be satisfied, no matter what. If we are grateful with what we have, we will always find things to be happy about.  I’m sure you heard this many times before, but we forget so easily… Our culture is based on buying happiness, just look at all the ads on TV or in the magazines.
Me too, I’d buy a new cellphone, computer or eyeliner, thinking it would add something fundamental to my life. But the more we “nourish our ego”, the further we are from our goal, i.e. to find peace and fulfillment.

That’s were (for me) religion kicks in. No matter how busy I am during the day, I’m a Muslim, and it’s expected of me to bend in worship 5 times a day. This obligation is a mercy from God, to be sure. It helps to keep my focus on the important things in life, on what really matters. It helps me to grow a feeling of gratitude, as I thank God for my blessings. Gratitude leads to a feeling of contentment, and therefore peace. If we just take a moment to think about all the things we have in life: our family, our friends, a roof above our heads, education, food when we are hungry,… we realise we are very blessed indeed! If we forget to show gratitude, we can get caught up in a spiral of moodiness, feeling inadequate, and even depression, because the days can seem so dark! But all it takes is a shift in perception. There is always something to feel grateful about, even if we feel we are lacking so much. When we bow down in prayer, our perception changes, and we are finally ready to receive the light. And then, there is nothing that can’t be done.

Writing Blues!

12 Feb

I’m currently (trying) to write a short story for a writing competition. It’s been a while since I last wrote a story, and I feel like inspiration is lacking. This leaves me wondering: where does creativity and inspiration come from? Why do some writers have the story clear in their head, right from the start, while others have to scratch their heads and invent as they go along? I seem to definitely belong to the second type, and it frustrates me. Of course, no good work is easy, and I need to write more. I know that. But it’s just so sad that in my childhood I could come up with a whole storyline in five minutes, and really enjoy writing, while now it’s bringing me more stress and worries than anything else!
I think I just need to relax, and practice. As the saying goes: “Rome wasn’t build in one day”!  But am not bloody trying to build Rome, I just want to come up with a good short story!

I heard that Hilary Duff published a book called “Elixir”, together with a co-writer who’s not even mentioned on the cover, Elise Allen. Now me thinks that Elise Allen did most of the work, and Hilary is just running off with all the credits and praise. I mean, if Hilary has been “playing around with the idea for a while”, what does she need a co-writer for?
Also, she was a guest on a Flemish TV-show called “De Laatste Show”, and the TV host told her happily : “In the book you mentioned exactly one Belgian, do you know which one?”
Hilary, a bit confused “Did I mention that?”
The host :”yeah, you mentioned him. On page 124.”
Hilary: ” euhm”
Host: “It’s a painter.”
Hilary: “He’s a painter?”
Host: Peter Paul Rubens!” (Famous painter, hello!)
I rest my case.
For the ones interested, here is the interview I’m on about:

I browsed through some pages of the book over the internet, and I didn’t like it. It seemed like a very shallow story, along the lines of Twilight, and just full of clichés. I’m romantic, but writing about immortal soul mates is just a bit (a lot) over the top for me. Yikes, It rather gives me stomach ache!
Anyway, some readers seem to like it, so who am I to judge?
I just have a feeling that the quality of published literature is really going dooooown.
Ok, second try at an objective ending: Here is the summary, hope you enjoy!

Clea Raymond has felt the glare of the spotlight her entire life. The daughter of a renowned surgeon and a prominent Washington DC politician, she has grown to be a talented photojournalist who takes refuge in a career that allows her to travel to the most exotic parts of the world. But after Clea’s father disappears while on a humanitarian mission, Clea’s photos begin to feature eerie, shadowy images of a strange and beautiful man—a man she has never seen before.
When fate brings Clea and this man together, she is stunned by the immediate and powerful connection she feels with him. As they grow closer, they are drawn deep into the mystery behind her father’s disappearance, and they discover the centuries old truth behind their intense bond. Torn by a dangerous love triangle and haunted by a powerful secret that holds their fates, together they race against time to unravel their pasts in order to save their lives—and their futures.

Anger & Frustration

6 Feb

I’m doing research on the rights of Saudi women for my Bachelor Paper, and the whole thing left me feeling enraged and wanting to throw things.
I read about a girl who was abused by her father, and tried to get away from him, but was placed right back under his custody by the Saudi authorities.
I read about a man being stabbed by a member of the religious police for “daring” to defend his wife (who was told by the religious police guy to cover her eyes, the only part of her body that was still visible), and instead of the religious police guy being punished, the stabbed man got imprisoned and sentenced to 30 lashes.  These are just two examples of the many things I read that upset me.
I’m left to wonder: do Saudi authorities hate women? It seems to me that for some twisted reason they think a guardian has the right to abuse the women under his custody. Why else aren’t there any laws protecting women from such abuse? Why else is it so hard to remove custody from a guardian, even if it’s proven time and time again that he abuses his power? Why else are women forced to live with an abusive guardian, or else risk facing charges for disobedience and running away? A women was shot 2 times by her husband and ended up in hospital. The hospital wanted to help her, but apparently as a woman you can’t file a complaint without the permission of your guardian (her husband). She had to go back to him. She was shot a third time and died from her wounds. I feel enraged by this. I’m trying hard to control my anger, but why is this happening??????!!!!!! This is not Islam!!!!!!!! It’s a disgrace that Saudi Arabia calls itself an Islamic country!
If the Prophet (p.b.u.h) would see how women are treated nowadays in his country, I think he would weep. He tried to fight these tribal and cultural practices in his day by preaching the message of Islam, but it seems that the Saudi’s have gone right back to pre-Islamic behavior. God will judge each and every one of us, and I wonder, do all these men who abuse women, who put them down and oppress them really think God will reward them? Do they really think they will enter Paradise when the Prophet (p.b.u.h) himself said “The best Muslims are those who are best to their wives”? Or do they think their gender will give them the same free passage there as they had received in Saudi? We are all equal in God’s eyes, and men are not better or free from judgement!!!
I have a feeling this anger that I’m feeling will surface again and again as long as I’m working on my paper. I just don’t see any solutions or improvements happening! Sure, the Saudi government makes promises, like that the ban on women driving will be lifted, but as is often the case with men, one must look at their actions, and not at their empty words!

Alif & Hamza

4 Feb

In my first year of Arabic studies, around Valentine’s Day, you could hear my fellow students often joke to each other: “oh alif, let me be your hamza”. Although I found this joke rather silly, it did inspire me to write a bit of a love poem.
For the readers who don’t speak Arabic, alif and hamza are two Arabic letters, which are combined in this character:  أ

Oh beautiful alif, let me be your hamza
Let me be the one who protects you
And remembers you
Let me be the finishing note to your
Most soulful tune
My wonderous queen
Your radiance makes me humble and small
What am I without you?
Let me stay with you
Until time dissolves
And words are no more

Oh dearest hamza, let me be your alif
Come and pour all your beauty over me
My love, you define me, shape me
Come and let your soul melt into me
For you are the reason I draw breath
If you will only be mine
Mankind will never cease to speak of us
And rejoice in our love
We will be together forever and a day
My beautiful hamza
My wonderous king
I will stay with you
Until time dissolves
And words are no more

Egypt belongs to its people!

3 Feb

A lot has been written and said about the revolution in Egypt. Some in favor, some complaining about the loss of power they are experiencing. There can be no excuse for the latter. I read an article about Israel being angry with the US because they didn’t support Mubarak. Israel clearly wants Mubarak to stay in power, and that purely out of self-interest. Maybe in the old world, this kind of attitude would have been rewarded, but I’m having the feeling that we, the people, are creating a new world. The Tunisians and the Egyptians gave everyone hope. And we must hold on to that hope, and support these kind of revolutions in every way we can. We mustn’t let the old powers take over again. I think a lot of superpowers are afraid of people standing up for their rights, and will try to do everything they can, whether openly or behind the screens, to prevent this. But we are not isolated from each other anymore. We have the media, the internet, mobile phones etc, and we are not blind.

I took a class this semester called “History of International Relations”. We learned about the Congress of Vienna (1815) after the defeat of Napoleon. This congress was designed to keep the status quo in Europe and to suppress revolutions. That’s right, we were in that place too once upon a time. They designed a system that would help the monarchies keep their power, as instability was seen as very dangerous for Europe (or should we say for the power of the people in charge in Europe). But just as we see today in the Middle East, where the dictators are trying to cling to the status quo of their power, and the people will not take it anymore, the same pattern happened in the history of Europe. There were no less than 3 waves of revolutions during the 19th century (1820-1830-1848), which spread all over Europe like wildfire.

Of course the world is very different now from how it was in the 19th century, but I do think that this proves that suppressed people will not be suppressed forever, no matter how the superpowers try to keep them there. I pray for the people of Egypt, that they may succeed in chasing Mubarak and his regime away, and that they will be able to build a democracy, that responds to their needs. I pray that Egypt will experience prosperity, and true freedom. Freedom to speak up, to fight injustice, and to stand against other countries trying to impose their interests. I pray that the selfish, greedy attitude of countries like Israel will no longer have a place in this world, because people will not accept it anymore. Egypt has given us hope, and we must do everything in our power to not let it go to waste.