Friday, September 28, 2012

Shadia: Faith is stronger than a film

It is fair to say that last week I was in utter agony, lamenting the hot mess in the Middle East.

You must've thought: This girl is so quick to tell us how peaceful and loving her religion is, but yet the minute we're about to prove her wrong, she disappears.

Part of me hoped I didn't have to write about the violence following a short film ridiculing my Prophet becuase I didn't want to give more attention to those who committed violence in the name of religion.

But how can I waste this opportunity to talk about world events?

I called Imam Yassir Fazaga, the religious leader of the Orange County Islamic Foundation in Mission Viejo, and said, Imam Yassir, WWMD?

I wasn't asking about weapons of mass destruction. I just wanted to know: What would Muhammad do?

He reminded me of a popular story in Islam. People in Mecca would often wait for the Prophet to prostrate while praying so that they could cover him with trash and laugh. They humiliated and bullied him, attempting to destroy his reputation and break his spirit.

And what would the Prophet do? He got up, shook off the trash and moved on, Fazaga said.

The Koran mentions that detractors will characterize the Prophet as a crazed madman, Fazaga said, and Islam's opponents did just that last week.

Fazaga explained that followers of Muhammad should not take the bait and should not engage with his detractors.

But that's exactly what happened last week, among a small minority.

"The Muslims took the bait," Fazaga said. "The insult that was done by the followers of Muhammad was more harmful than the insult that was done by this movie."

It's important to note that the majority of Muslims condemns the violent reaction to the film. In Cairo, about 2,000 people took to the streets to protest the movie.

Cairo's population is about 20 million. Do the math.

When the protests began, my community members and leaders united to condemn those whom they described as "fools," those who dragged down Islam. The fools are not those who made the movie; the fools are the ones who took to the streets and to the embassies, reacting violently in the name of — get this — "defending the Prophet."

If they really wanted to defend the Prophet, they'd do something about the famine and disease killing children every day. And what about the killing of the innocents in Syria? Isn't that more offensive?

"Some people are willing to die for God, but are not willing to live by the commandments of God," Fazaga said.

I wanted to share this story with you to make one last point. Ten years after he began preaching Islam, the Prophet decided to visit the city of Ta'if, but he was ridiculed, humiliated, run out and belted with stones. He left with his legs soaked in blood.

And then the angel of mountains appeared before him, ready to destroy the people between the mountains at his command. But the Prophet refused, saying instead that his wish was for his detractors to one day embrace Islam.

What strength.

What faith.

This is the Prophet I know, the Prophet whom fools can and will never understand.

MONA SHADIA is a reporter for Times Community News. An Egyptian American, she was born and raised in Cairo and now lives in Orange County. Her column includes various questions and issues facing Muslims in America. Follow her on Twitter @MonaShadia.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Shadia: The wine cork is still in the bottle

I'm a hypocrite.

I'm a Muslim who drinks alcohol — except during the month of Ramadan, of course.

There. I said it. I am a hypocrite.

Alcohol is forbidden in Islam.

There are those Muslims, however, including me, who argue that alcohol is not really a big deal, and as long as you don't get drunk, drink before praying or become dependent, it's fine to imbibe in moderation.

But I can't get away with that. The problem here is I can read. I can reason.

And based on all of those readings, the history of alcohol during the Prophet Muhammad's life and verses in the Koran, alcohol is not allowed (and that's just not cool).

Alcohol was not immediately prohibited. When Islam was first revealed in Mecca, everyone, including the few who accepted it from the beginning, drank. It is said that there were more than 40 Arabic words for wine. Alcohol was gradually eliminated during the life of the Prophet.

In fact, forbidding alcohol all at once would have been against Islam's philosophy. You just can't tell a bunch of people to quit everything they do and revamp their lifestyle all at once.

Alcohol was first prohibited during prayer. Some early Muslims prayed while drunk until a verse came down prohibiting the practice.

Then, as time passed, as people became versed in the philosophy and teaching of Islam, alcohol was forbidden altogether. The faithful accepted it.

When I say forbidden, I mean Islam also forbids Muslims from selling alcohol, buying it or benefiting financially from it.

Even though, according to the Koran, God notes that there are some benefits to alcohol, its negatives far outweigh them, because alcohol, like gambling, is viewed as a vice.

I had my first drink at 17. I was already attending college at the time, and one day, I went to a party and there it was. I knew I wasn't supposed to drink, but I was curious and wanted to try it. It tasted so bad.

Until I moved to the United States from Cairo about two years before then, I don't recall ever seeing alcohol, a person drinking or a drunk person, unless it was on television or in the movies.

Though my very first experience with alcohol wasn't all that great, over the years, I've grown to enjoy drinking and learned to be selective.

I've grown accustomed to drinking when I'm out with friends or when I am at a nice dinner. Even at home after a long day at work, I enjoy a glass of red wine.

It has become a part of my lifestyle. My drinking is, without a doubt, social and responsible. I don't get drunk, I don't drink and drive, and I don't sit on the couch and cry with a bottle of wine in hand (I just cry. I don't need alcohol for that).

I've even created my own system around drinking. Because I pray five times a day, I usually have my glass of wine after the last prayer. There were many times when I would be at home, ready to pour myself a glass of wine and would wait until I was done with the last prayer.

But even then, even as much as I have justified it, there has always been this voice in the back of my mind, a feeling in my heart, especially since I started practicing Bikram yoga. The voice is telling me that it's just not right and that it's not good for my body, mind or, above all, my faith.

That voice has recently become louder. (I wish I could just zip it!)

When Ramadan began this July, I, as usual, stopped drinking, but there were a few days at the beginning when I was missing my favorite kind of red wine.

I didn't cave. (I might be a hypocrite, but I'm not weak.)

Even though Ramadan has passed, I still haven't had a drink — yet.

Not even a sip, even though I've carried on with my lifestyle as usual, hanging out with friends, having dinners, going to work (and shopping too, of course).

It's been 25 days since the end of Ramadan, in case anybody is counting.

But wait. Don't hold your breath.

I stopped by the grocery store one night right after Ramadan to pick up a few things. I found myself going toward the wine aisle. I stood there, looking at my favorite bottle of wine for a few seconds, contemplating whether to buy it.

Then I walked away.

But I walked back to it, looked at it, then decided: enough!

I bought it. But I haven't opened it.

Not yet.

MONA SHADIA is a reporter for Times Community News. An Egyptian American, she was born and raised in Cairo and now lives in Orange County. Her column includes various questions and issues facing Muslims in America. Follow her on Twitter @MonaShadia.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Shadia: 9/11 leads to rediscovery of faith

Do you know the feeling when you have a parent or relative that you keep at a distance for one reason or another, but then they become severely ill, and you can't help but forget all your differences and stand beside them?

And through it all, you rediscover their true nature and you laugh at, even regret, what kept you apart?

I do.

That parent I kept at a far distance was my religion, Islam.

And then 9/11 happened.

I had only been in the United States for three years that month, and although I still identified as a Muslim, it's fair to say that it was my most distant — and troubled — time with my religion.

And to be honest, being Middle Eastern or Muslim in America didn't matter much before 9/11.

I was standing in our living room, about to head out to Crafton Hills College, when I spotted on television the attacks on the Twin Towers, the smoke and the chaos in New York. Those initial images remain vivid in my mind to this day.

I didn't immediately understand what was going on, but I felt very troubled and secretly hoped "Muslims" or Middle Easterners weren't responsible.

I held onto that hope on my way to school, but it wasn't long before I had to face the facts.

And suddenly, I felt as though I had to make a choice: Stand beside my religion or dissociate myself completely.

I obviously chose the former. Though it wasn't the easier choice, my innate sense of curiosity and the responsibility I felt as a human being to stand for justice — in itself a basic Islamic principle — wouldn't have allowed otherwise.

9/11 tumbled the already shaken grounds beneath me.

It also led me to a lot of questions.

Was the source of all my principles flawed? Does Islam really encourage violence, and if it does, why was I taught otherwise and, even more critical, why did I feel differently?

Was I that naive?

Being forced into choices can bring up a lot of hidden insecurities. But unfortunately, sometimes it takes crises to bring about a change.

I wasn't exactly the most qualified to answer specific questions about my religion.

All I had were my principles — the very ones Islam taught me. All I had was my story.

For a while, I would feel very offended and deeply hurt by those who would attack Islam and Muslims for the acts of terrorists.

And apologizing for a bunch of criminals was out of the question.

What and who would I be apologizing for?

It's not like those pathetic losers were my family members or friends. And, by all accounts, we obviously didn't share the same principles.

I began looking for answers. It was a journey that led me to rediscover Islam. It has solidified the grounds on which I stand and it continues to crystallize them.

I can understand those who might find this offensive. "9/11 made her a better Muslim?!"

But you see, for me, my country and people weren't just senselessly attacked by a bunch of criminals on 9/11.

That's just the half of it.

The other half was that my religion — my entire core and belief system — was hijacked, left exposed to be picked apart, twisted and turned by anyone who felt like it, and by those who called themselves "experts" on Islam.

Turning a negative into a positive isn't so bad.

I didn't just turn a negative into a positive here. I essentially accomplished the exact opposite of those terrorists' aim.

I bet you they'd be nauseated with the dignified and intellectual Islam I so proudly possess.

I bet you they didn't expect me, and certainly thousands of others like me, to rediscover Islam for myself and to unabashedly prove them wrong every single day.

I bet you they didn't expect me, or thousands of others like me, to define Islam in America and become the Muslim Americans that we are today.

MONA SHADIA is a reporter for Times Community News. An Egyptian American, she was born and raised in Cairo and now lives in Orange County. Her column includes various questions and issues facing Muslims in America. Follow her on Twitter @MonaShadia.

Monday, September 3, 2012

We have more in common than you might think