Combating Ignorance… A Lost Cause???

Today, during my jog around the neighborhood, I started thinking about ignorance. It’s such a common disease with yet such a simple cure… knowledge. The thing is, people think of knowledge as “education,” “degrees,” “schooling,” “classes,” etc. And although all those things contribute to the cure of ignorance, there are still even simpler antidotes for ignorance. 

Some of the ugliest forms of ignorance are racism, discrimination, and oppression. Most days, for me, people are really nice and don’t seem to treat me any differently because of my religion, race, or ethnicity. Most people seem to understand that judging a group by an individual’s actions is wrong, but there other days where I get dirty looks, under-the-breath comments, and assumptions that I am “an oppressed Muslim woman, forced to cover.” But the truth of the matter is that all of those people suffer from a fatal disease called “ignorance.” I say “fatal” because thinking like that will only kill their minds, spirits, relationships with God, and even society. And as infuriated as I get at these idiotic and ignorant individuals, I remember that their diseases are curable. And that even MY actions can be medicinal and cure this intolerable disease.

What I mean is that I don’t find it helpful to hide out and live in a box away from anyone “different from me. As a Muslim woman who is so proud of my religion and my heritage, I feel like I have to do justice to my religion and help combat the ignorance of other people. As the Prophet Muhammad (the final Messenger in a long line of Prophets including Adam, Moses, David, and Jesus) has taught us to lead and teach through example. Sometimes the things you DON’T do and say make a bigger impact than the constant things we DO to try and talk sense into others. 

When I was jogging through my Caucasian populated neighborhood wearing hijab and long sleeves and listening to my iPod, I thought, “wow, this is really the kind of image of Muslims I am proud to be putting out there.” When I hear about Muslim men and women taking part in their community clean-up or exceling as doctors and nurses in advanced hospitals or writing novels or just helping an elderly woman cross the street or give money to a homeless man and so on, I feel so incredibly joyful. Because it is just being yourself, giving a human face to your people, which really makes the biggest difference. That smile on your face can say a thousand words if you are just willing to give it.

It is hard to hate someone who is just like you. When ignorant people see that you are just human, it becomes more and more increasingly difficult to hate you. Seeing a Muslim family picnicking together or a bunch of Muslim girls shopping at the mall or a Muslim father hug his daughter on her college graduation, people begin to gain knowledge, knowledge that people of all races and religions and ethnicities are so similar.

I think as Muslims, we do ourselves a great injustice when we continually separate ourselves from mainstream culture. We become alienated and “creatures” to be scared of. And it is the same with all minorities. Breaking the barriers and building bridges begins with the individual, in your home, in your community, at school, in the workplace, and in your heart.

I guess none of this is ground-breaking thinking. But it was something that I was thinking about. And I hope more people think about it more often.

~~Leen J.

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The Top 10 Accomplishments of my 20’s

It’s no secret that I am turning 30 this year. In fact, in just 2 months and 10 days, I will be the big 3-0. And it is no secret that I am sick about it. I know, I know, women are like a fine wine; we get better with age. But as I was telling my cousin this afternoon, I am afraid we might just be like milk, the longer you let us sit on a shelf, the more sour we become. But either way, as I approach this horrible number, I find that my only consolation is to look back at my 20’s and reminisce. I started thinking back to all the things I’ve accomplished in the last decade, and I actually felt lucky. I guess sometimes we take for granted the things that seemed to come easy for us. We tend to concentrate on the things that were hard to accomplish and the things we still don’t have.

So, the following is my TOP 10 list of accomplishments of my 20’s.

10) I finally got to see London. I walked on Abbey road, beheld the beauty of St. Paul’s Cathedral, and dined on fish and chips. It was amazing and am so thankful that I got to do it all with my wonderful older sister.

9) I lived in a foreign country for a whole year, and even better, I lived to talk about it!

8) I was so lucky to live in the Capitol: Yes, good old  Washington, DC. I loved it. And I think there is something really special about living in DC, that NO place in the United States can replace.

7) I have been to a Bon Jovi concert…. Enough said

6) I got married… No matter how it ended, I don’t care. I still married the most beautiful man I knew. I loved him and that’s what mattered.

5) I got divorced… Some people think that isn’t an accomplishment. But believe me, it is. I wish more people knew how much of an accomplishment this REALLY is.

4) I graduated from college with a degree in International Studies.

3) At 24 I published my first news article. After that, I became a published writer with numerous news, lifestyle, and entertainment articles.

2) I learned to play guitar AND had my first LIVE performance with both vocals (my true love) and guitar. It was the single best moment of my life. I have yet to find anyone who loves to sing more than me. And I am not through yet. I am writing my own songs now and will be posting new performances soon.

1) I survived my 20’s, and lived to see 30…. well, I hope :)

 

What I really feel like I have to say here, right now is that I hope more girls in their 20’s don’t take for granted these amazing years. I know you are going to undoubtedly screw up, live in crappy places, take jobs that are way below your skills, have kids before you are really ready, forgive people who don’t deserve it, and hold grudges against people who truly deserve your love. But please remember that this decade of your life is amazing. I am sure the 30’s will also be wonderful. But nothing compares to being a bright-eyed 20-year-old, straight out of college and starting your new life and embarking on a destiny you will never forget. 

Good luck.

~~Leen J.

What I did on My Summer Vacation

Me overlooking the beautiful villiage of Deir Ghassana, which is currently a part of the governate of Ramallah.

When people asked me what I’m doing on my summer vacation, I told them that I am going to Palestine. I told them that I am going to Palestine to visit my grandmother, my aunt, and my cousins…

But after visiting “Palestine” for a month this past May, I realized that I wasn’t visiting “Palestine.” I was visiting a beautiful piece of land occupied by a foreign, aggressive force. It’s a land filled with millions of people who are displaced and living under the constant fear of violence and corruption by their illegal occupier: Israel.

Growing up in America all my life, I never truly realized how free I actually am. I’m not under the constant fear of unjustified imprisonment without benefit of Due Process. I am not afraid to be denied medical treatment because the hospital is not in “the allowed territory,” and I am definitely not afraid to go to work or school or the mall because I might be illegally stopped, searched, and potentially physically or sexually abused. For most Palestinians, these are legitimate concerns. And as an American, I was disgusted by what I witnessed in my short time in the beautiful and historic land of Palestine…. And as a Palestinian, I am hurt, dismayed, and shamed by the humiliation and abuse my people face in their own land.

To give a brief history (mind you, I am not a historian or claiming to be), Palestine was obtained after a bloody massacre and hostile take over by Israel in 1948. In 1967, the West Bank and Gaza were illegally seized and occupied by Israel and is still occupied to this day, even after numerous resolutions and treaties demanding that Israel withdraw from these Palestinian territories. But still, Palestinian women, children, and men are still living under debilitating and inhumane circumstances inflicted upon them by Israel.

Upon entering Israel, as an American citizen, my sister and me were subjected to hours of waiting and incessant questioning. If I was white or really anything other than Muslim or Arab, I would have not been treated with such hostility or injustice. But because I am an Arab and because my parents were born and raised in the Holy Land, I was forced to sit on plastic chairs in an obscenely cold room surrounded by other American citizens of Arab descent and/or who practice Islam, waiting for hours to be given permission to be entered into “Israel” to visit my grandmother, my sick aunt, and my beloved cousins. Within the 3 hours we sat waiting, I was asked the same questions over and over and over again: “Why are you here?” “Who are you staying with?” What is your aunt’s Palestinian visa number?” And of course my personal favorite, “What is your father’s and grandfather’s names?” After being asked these questions numerous times, we were then asked to fill out a piece of paper asking the same exact questions.

And even though I watched my Australian, Caucasian counterparts enter immediately without harassment or discouragement, my mother, sister, and I entered hours later.

But of course, Israeli abuse didn’t stop there. Approximately 2 weeks later, my cousins and I went to Ramallah to get our hair and make-up done for my cousin’s engagement party. This should be a fun time. But coming home from the city after getting all glammed up, we were stopped by Israeli solders and asked to go back. When it was clear that the van full of young women in evening gowns and the bride sitting in the backseat were only heading home to celebrate an engagement and are clearly not a threat to anyone, the fully and dangerously armed solder forced us to turn around. We had to take an alternative route through mountains and dangerous unpaved roads, leading us an hour out of our way. Sadly, most Palestinians are used to this torture and oppression, and have become numb.

A week before our vacation was over, we decided to go into Jerusalem to pray at the Holy Muslim sites: a right that should be guaranteed to all people of all faiths. First of all, we didn’t enter Jerusalem the same way White Europeans/Americans do. Because we are Arabs, we entered through a checkpoint that requires us to be searched and our purses to be put through metal detectors. Thankfully, my mother and I were sent right through, but my younger sister was detained for a half an hour for questioning. Of course, you can’t ask why you are being held. So she was asked to sit in a room alone and wait. Finally she was asked her father’s and grandfather’s names. They put it through a computer (making sure my 24-year-old Social Worker sister isn’t a big bad terrorist). She was then released. Apparently Israel doesn’t like it if your middle name ISN”T your father’s name, as they have become accustomed to with Arabs. But may I remind you again, we are American citizens and our fathers’ names shouldn’t be any of their concern.

The Aqsa Mosque: The 3rd holiest prayer site for all Muslims. It is located in East Jerusalem.

Two days later, on the way home from an amazing dinner at my great uncle’s house, we were stopped, once again, by two armed Israeli solders. We were asked were we were going and why we were out to begin with. My uncle (who is in his late 60’s by the way) was asked what he does for a living and where he lives. The solder proceeded to open the van door to peer inside at me and my family and our shopping bags. They then let us go. It felt so stifling and violating for someone to just stop you for no reason, to ask you questions, and to have that much control over you when you aren’t guilty of anything, but just existing. The only purpose for stopping us was to remind us that we are not free and that we never will be. It’s just all very disgusting.

Overall, my experiences dealing with Israelis was not pretty. And to be honest, my experiences are considered mild and routine compared to the hell most Palestinians endure. Abuse ranges from murder to rape to illegal searches and detention, and just about everything else the civilized world would frown upon.

I’m glad I got to spend quality time with my grandmother and my aunt and all of my awesome and resilient cousins. But I am not glad that they are all forced to live under Israel’s state-sponsered terrorism. May God protect them and give them the land that is rightfully and legally theirs.  

~~ Leen J.

A Ramen Noodle Lifestyle

Today, while eating my Ramen Noodles Instant Lunch, I realized something. I realized that what and how we eat really represents how we live. Sure I have a home cooked meal a few times a week, but how many of my meals are instant? How many corners am I cutting when it comes to how I eat? Whether the dinner was frozen or from a fast food restaurant or from a package that says “just add water,” it is clear that my hurried nature and apathetic attitude has caused me to cut out the important things in life, thereby living a life without substance. I am living a Ramen Noodle lifestyle.

The funny thing about that is most people living in the city or suburbs are probably doing the same thing. We are always in such a hurry to get to some goal or rushing to reach the end that we neglect the essentials. And it’s not just with food. In fact, food is probably the least of our problems. Our friendships, time with our children, reading a book, etc are just a few things that suffer when we live our Ramen Noodle lifestyles. If we watch a movie with our kids, then that qualifies as “quality time.” But really, in those 2 hours what did your child really learn about you, and what did you learn about them? Have you really grown any closer? Probably not. But popping in a DVD and sitting on your couch is the Ramen Noodle solution to making your kid happy. It fills them up for the time being, but what have they really benefited? What have you?

Now don’t get me wrong. I am not trying to rip on busy parents. In fact, I really think watching a movie from time to time is a good time, and fun for children too. And it was just an example. But we do this with everything. For example. We hear about a good book. So, we say we want to read it, but we just can’t seem to find the time. So, we go out and buy an audio version and stick it into our cd players in the car on the way to work. After a week or so, the cd is done and we say we have read this “good book.” But have we really read it? Sure, we can recall some details and the ending and maybe even the vague themes the book presents, but have we really read it? In a month or so, do we remember those details? Did the book touch us the same way it would have if we had actually read it? Did we learn anything from hearing the words read to us by an actor as opposed to reading it in our own voice? Did we catch the subtle nuances of the book while we were switching lanes, having road rage, and worrying about getting to work on time? So, yes we can say we have read this fantastic book, but did we really get its substance? I doubt it.

Excercise. Everyone says they would like to work out more. We have a million excuses for why we haven’t yet, but we all want to do it. Running/jogging is a great way to stay in shape. Running a few miles around your neighborhood or through the park is not only healthy for the body, but great for the spirit. No one can tell you it’s not invigorating. Oh but wait, we don’t have time for that either. So instead, we’ll buy ourselves a few hundred dollars worth of equipment to simulate running. So we put our treadmills in our basements, and we run miles without actually going anywhere. We don’t have the wind blowing through our hair, we don’t see other people, and we don’t get any sun. Granted, we lose the calories, and we shape up, but did we really get the full experience of excercise? Do we release as many endorphins?

And there are so many examples of how we do this in our daily lives, but I think I’ve gotten my point across. We sacrifice so much because of time. We never seem to have any time for anything, especially the things that are worth having time for. We are all guilty of this. But maybe if we stopped to smell the roses every once in a while, we may find that life is truly worth living. And living it to its fullest.

~~Leen J.

My NPR Debut

Leen Jaber - November, 2010.

Hello everyone!

In January, NPR National interviewed me regarding my decision to stop wearing hijab (a modest form of dress for Muslim women) 3 years ago, and my subsequent decision to put it back on a year ago. Please click on the link below to listen to the story that was broadcast this morning. Feel free to ask me any questions regarding my statements or about hijab in general. Because unfortunately, I don’t think this article describes hijab and the beauty and necessity behind it. And the article tends to present hijab as a “cultural” phenomenon as opposed to a mandate from God that liberates women.

Here’s the link!

NPR Interview

~~Leen J.

Who is the ‘Bad Guy’?

We have been brainwashed to believe that good always wins out over evil. This problem stems from television and storybook fairy tales and movies and just about any form of entertainment media. We are told that karma always finds its target, what goes around comes around, and the good guy will always get their happy ending.

This may make for good storytelling, but not a very practical guide to the way the world works. I think growing up in this world where children tend to watch television and movies more than play outside, we grow up with this notion that the universe somehow evens things out to make them fair, to make the good guy win. The princess always gets saved and the evil witch is destroyed and the ‘good guy’ lives happily ever after. And of course, in our own personal tales, we are always the ‘good guy.’

 

Don’t get me wrong, no one wants to be entertained by books and movies that don’t have a happy ending. No wants to see the ‘bad guy’ win and the virtuous fail. But the truth of the matter is that sometimes the bad guy does win and the rest of us have to just accept that. This doesn’t mean that God isn’t fair. I believe that He does even things out, and if not in this lifetime then in the next: in the hereafter. This is why He asks us to be patient and to have faith in Him. Because things are not always fair in THIS life, and we will just have to accept our loses sometimes. These loses tend to teach us so many lessons, and again many of us never learn those lessons. But I digress.

Really, it just pains me that everything we’ve been forced fed growing up has told us that the ‘bad guy’ always gets his comeuppance, and you will always be vindicated somehow. But my question is, what if we don’t get our happy ending? What if the antagonist wins and keeps winning and never sees the error of his ways? What if he continues living happily and stubborn and never sees the bad things he’s done, never seeing the effect it has had on you, the ‘good guy?’ And what if his pride is too great, that he can never say he was wrong or never feels guilt, and even worse, never suffers any punishment or repercussion of any kind for the mistreatment of you or others? And even worse still, if we the ‘good guys’ don’t get our happy endings, if we don’t see justice for the mistreatment we endured, or are never vindicated, what does that say about us? If everything we have been indoctrinated with through TV and movies has told us the ‘good guy’ wins, and we don’t win, then are we really the ‘good guy?’

Or are we the ‘bad guy?’

~~Leen J.