Thinking about Perspective

As my oh-so-subtle title suggests, I’ve been doing some thinking about perspective. I’m afraid we are a little guilty of living in our own boxes, completely oblivious to the world of suffering around us. I mean, we are “aware” of the bad things that happen to others (i.e. famine, death, war, oppression) but unfortunately we don’t know how to apply this type of information. We tend to lack perspective.

So, yesterday I was just going about my day, doing my “Leen-type” things: cleaning, blogging, watching True Blood, playing with my cat, when I learned some troubling news. I heard about an old classmate who was going through a divorce, an acquaintance’s 6-year-old daughter with cancer, and a startling sad story about a family killed in a car crash. Needless to say, I was shocked and dismayed by the news. Immediately, I began praying for these people, and in the middle of my prayer, it dawned on me. I mean, it seriously hit me like a ton of bricks. I felt like the most selfish person in the world. I started balling, thinking about how I have been living in this “Leen-centric” universe where my problems and my disappointments were the center of the universe. And although I have always been aware of other people’s misfortunes and have always sympathized and prayed for them, I don’t think I EMPATHIZED–that is really feel with other people’s pain. And although that can be difficult, I think we can do it if we really gain perspective.

You know, we all have problems. And there is no denying how debilitating some of our problems can be. I would never judge the type of struggles that other people have to deal with or how they react to them. And I, too, have had my share of heartache and true misery and regret and pain and trouble and so on. But when you begin to think about your own life with a little more perspective, you begin to stop feeling so bad. We always say “Thank God for everything.” But how many of us really mean it? Yes, we are grateful for our families, our homes, our sanity and health, but are we grateful enough? I heard once that there are three things in the world that if you have them, then there is nothing you should ever be that upset about. If you can go to sleep at night feeling safe, if you can always put food on the table, and if you are overall healthy, then there is nothing you should ever really fret about. Having these three things should give us enough peace to enjoy our lives. I think very few of us know what it is like to have to worry about any of those three things, thank God. I think true gratefulness is being able to look at your own problems with the perspective that “everyone suffers.” The world is filled with one disturbing story after another. And there is always something to smile about, as corny as that may sound.

When I really started thinking about this, I began to feel more and more guilty. This is mostly because I just felt like a brat, always worried about some of the “calamities” that had befallen me in my life and some of the choices I made. Once I collected myself, I did start to remember that God created us weak. We are but human beings, and it is completely natural to sink into our own worlds of despair at times. And we all have the right to react to bad news and failures and disappointments in our lives. We were given the ability to feel and to cry because God wants us to use these emotions. So, it is ok to feel sad or angry about our own conditions at times. It is only natural. But here is where the perspective part comes in. We have also been given the emotions of compassion, mercy, love, and the ability to think and to know how to use these types of feelings and how NOT to let our own stress and depression and anger get the best of us. We are each just a spec on this earth. Standing on the outside, looking in, detaching from our own lives for just a few minutes, you realize that there isn’t anything God has given you that you can’t handle, and believe it or not, there is even room in those big old hearts of ours to feel and handle other people’s misfortunes and heartache as well…

~~Leen J.


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.