Monday, October 16, 2006

An Open Letter

To my school's MSA:

Every day during Ramadan, steps from my class, you serve iftaar. I appreciate that. Chicken tikka, goat biryani, fruit salad, pepsi. Thank you. Really.

BUT- Hosting iftaars is not just about plopping food infront of people, wiping your hands and smilelessly walking away.

This is my third year attending your iftaars. I still dont know any of you. When it comes time to open fast I walk over. I see you all talking in your small groups clustered backs turned to me in tight intimate conversations. I feel wrong intruding but it's Ramadan, the season to not only feed hungry folks, and grow inner spirituality, but the season for community, that is the whole point of group iftaars isn't it? So I try making conversation to which I invariably get a polite nod, an awkward smile, as you turn back to giggle about something I certainly am not privvy to. I feel like a highschooler with two pigtails, pink braces, thick blue rimmed glasses and a checkered skirt held up by suspenders approaching the cheerleaders with a wobbly lunch tray asking if they would please be my friend.

Am I too old? I'm not that much older than you guys. Are you intimidated by me? Its obvious I don't bite.

Despite your lovely meals, the lack of warmth makes me feel like a vagrant at a flourescently lit soup kitchen rather than a member of your ummah, your sister.

And that is why you haven't seen me recently. Instead of the warm biryani and the honey glazed chicken, you will find me sitting by myself in the dimly lit student lounge with my frozen meal and a vending machine soda. That is a particularly sad way to open fast when you, my fellow brothers and sisters, are just steps away.

I'm not trying to marry you. I'm not trying to become your bestest friend ever and add you to myspace to chat into the wee hours of the night. All I'm trying to do is get a bite to eat and see a warm smile that makes me feel a sense of brotherhood for a few minutes before I return to class.

Sometimes we get so caught up in the act. the ritual. we forget the spirit that should run like a current beneath it all. And the spirit behind the motions are perhaps as important, if not more so, than all the rituals combined.

Just a thought,

Aisha

33 comments:

William Smith said...

Once again, you've hit one of my pet peeves right on the head. That is the blind observance of doctrine, be it spiritual or legal, completely forgeting the spirit with which they were originally intended. We could all use a little reminding of this fact once in a while. Thanks again! I strongly suspect that anyone who would turn their back on you and exlude you is missing out on something pretty special.

mystic said...

I could not stop laughing, reading this para...

"..I'm not trying to marry you. I'm not trying to become your bestest friend ever and add you to myspace to chat into the wee hours of the night....."

Hahahaha

On serious note..Aisha, this may be usual "FOB" shyness !!...May be?

Why don't you approach them?..

Aisha said...

William, I'm glad you could relate to this in some way. And thanks for being so kind. Their loss, not mine, lol :) But its more than that. Its an issue of community building. They are trying to, but sort of missing the point.

Mystic, well I did... that's what I wrote about, the reaction I get when I try to approach them. "I try making conversation to which I invariably get a polite nod, an awkward smile, as you turn back to giggle about something I certainly am not privvy to." Yeah, I tried. I did. :(

Palwasha said...

amen


oh and hello, bet you didn't know i read your blog ;)

mezba said...

To be fair though, that's EVERY univ school group. Our BSA was like that, ppl already in talking in their own cliques - you just have to be REALLY pushy before they acknowledge you :-)

Aisha said...

Palwasha, salaam! No, I didnt know you read. Thanks for the comment :). I know you understand where this letter is coming from.

Mezba, you're right it probably happens elsewhere, but my msa in college, our goal was to make all included and these things didnt happen when I was prez. BUT you are right, it prob does happen, this is why this letter is online.... so others who do similar things might see the effect it has. Maybe a pause to reflect.

Sohnii said...

Sigh. You have a point. I duno why I am sighing but I'd hate to be in ur place. I hate being made to feel lke an outsider. But yeah, you're right. what is more important is that you keep the spirit alive. Go kick them after you have opened your fast. :D I allow u since ure older then them anyway. lol, just a little older.

Muslim Wife said...

Oh...so you're not gonna actually give them the letter? Would be interesting to deliver to them as anonymous or something.

It's sad that that's what MSA has come to, but by no means is it shocking.

Allahu Musta'an.

Huda said...

I don't think it's confined to just MSAs, though, because it's the same at Al Farooq, especially with the college-aged kids. I have been assuming (for the past five years) that they think I'm just way too old for them, and that's one of the reasons I don't eat dinner at Al Farooq. Well, that and the overabundance of oil in the food.

But you're right, it's so sad that even though the spirit of the rule gets ignored, nobody cares so long as the letter of the rule is being followed.

Also, I hate the idea of you breaking your fast by yourself in the student lounge! It's too bad downtown isn't safer after dark, or maybe we could have met up somewhere in the middle for a quick, non-cliqueish iftaar.

Aisha said...

Sohni, long time no see! Thanks for the advice. I dont know if kicking them would be in line with the whole spirit of the month though, lol :) Thanks for eeling my pain though

Muslim Wife. I have been debating giving it to them. Do you think I should? Sometimes I feel with criticism like mine people just kind of shut off and don't listen. That's why I just wrote it in this manner so others can read it and just maybe if they are doin git can realize. Giving it to them might put them on the defensive I felt.

Huda, I knew yo ucould relate to this with your Al Farooq experience. It kind of depressed me the first few weeks when you're thinking, "I fasted all day and now at this happy ocassion I have to sit here" Which really isnt bad. I mean most students with night classes open it alone.... but what makes me sad is that there is a whole group of like 50 Muslims opening fast steps away but are completely unapproachable.

Maryam said...

wow, this is exactly why i don't attend my school's iftars...
*sigh*

Somehow, I wish I was alone in feeling this, that this was just a problem I was having but it obviously isn't..

Thanks for sharing this!
Peace,
Maryam

Hasan Mubarak said...

That was something straight out of the heart!!

momyblogR said...

Wow, I can't imagine anyone turning their back on you and behaving so rudly. I think I agree with William S., they are the ones missing.

It's funny because as a parent, I spend a lot of time trying to mold my childrens behavior. Some I'm winning and some not so much, lol. However, being rude, making fun of or excluding someone are things that are not at all tolerated in this house. I have always encouraged them both to make sure everyone is included in whatever they are doing. If there is someone sitting off to the side alone, I fully expect my son or daughter to approach the left out party and graphed them into what he or she is doing, if they want to participate.

HOw sad that it seems so many young adults and adults could use a good lesson in being polite and a little less self absorbed. Man, that is just mean. :(

Anjum said...

this happens alot, and it's not a matter of MSA's or of following doctrine or not. That's how ppl are - they make groups, and are usually reluctant to add to the groups. However, I feel that muslims (and all people, really) should make active efforts to NOT do that exclusive thing. Especially during Ramadan, especially at iftaars. That's why when I was at college, and new people came, I would go meet them and intro them to other ppl. I saw that the ppl on the e-board weren't doing it (shouldnt they have done so? isn't that the basic rule of hosting a get-together??) so I did it.

Go if you still can, and even if you don't intro yourself to those groups, you could spot some other loner like you. It sucks that this is the state of things, because all the loners don't go since they dont think there will be anyone else there who's on the outside.

passion said...

what school is this?

Aisha said...

Maryum, though I guess "glad you can relate" isn't appropriate, at leas tyou know its not just you...

Hasan, :) yes...

Momyblogr, yeah its the lessons you learn when you're young. I dont encounter this type of behavior frequently at all. This is why it seemed so strange.... as a former teacher maybe I could sit them down and give a good lecture, :-)

Anjum, ofcourse its definetly not limited to religious groups that this happens, I likened it to a highschool .. And you're right, I used to be on my eboard fro my MSA and that was our job, to reach out to the people by themselves. Honestly, as far as being a loner, I dont mind, I am only there for fifteen to twenty minutes (well, was, I dont go anymore) because I had class. But if I was an undergrad there to make friends. I think it would devestate me. I am actually not an introvert at all. This is why the experience has been so surprisng :)...

Passion, it probably isnt hard to figure out which school I attend, but I'd rather keep it unnamed just to give me a feeling of some sort of anonymity :)

Tee said...

I have written a comment and backspaced over it 3 times now.

I guess basically I don't know what to say.

I'm feeling a mix of emotions.

I feel some happiness because your post reminded me that I'm not alone. (Even if our exact situations aren't even remotely similar - the struggle is.)

I enjoyed your descriptions of an uncomfortable situation and at the same time feel sadness that anyone is missing out on getting to know someone like you. They have no idea what they're missing.

Sometimes I wish there was a way to get our messages to the people who need to read them.

{HUGS}

Shabina said...

aw, bichari! sorry you had to go through that.

cliques are hard to crack. but frozen dinners are just gross. if at first you don't succeed, dust yourself off and try again? (and again, and again?)

:)

Mia said...

Whoa now that’s a color scheme right there my sister!
It’s a sad thing to admit Aisha but a lot of people lack the social skills to invite and more importantly include “strangers” into their groups. It’s like we’re back in high school. I could never understand that mentaltity. You figure once we become ahem adults that we’d get over that but some of us don’t. Perhaps you should drop a line to the head of MSA they should be made aware of this and forced to deal with it especially when you consider what the spirit of Ramadan is all about. Make me wanna stick my foot out and trip someone sheesssh.

Off Topic: You asked about “Water” I got it from NetFlix. I got the other two pieces od the trilogy as well, Earth and Fire . They were marvelous. Make sure you check them out as well.

ARK said...

Take the food, leave the company. I mean, come on, they're undergrads. Do you really want to sit around and listen to the endless chatter about who's (secretly) dating and how hard orgo is?

ark said...

Follow-up: Once they see you walk in, take their food, and leave, they'll insist on talking to you.

Aisha said...

Aww thanks Tee, your comment warmed up my day. :)

Shabs, well... 20 minutes a day.... you can only try so much :0)

Mia, I'm thinking of doing that. But also on a diff subject. This is a trilogy?? I have been searching for the others and can't figure out what connects them?

Ark, your comment made me alugh out loud. This is true. Maybe listening in on the conversations would make me realize I'm not missing out anything, lol.

Mia said...

I think what connects them is the elements,and the fact that each of them touch on a subject considered taboo. Fire is about lesbianism and the unhappiness of an arranged marriage. Earth deals with the division of India and how people who had lived in peace like brothers and sisters turned on each other. In this case it focuses on one particular group of friends among them a Sikh,a Muslim, and a Hindu.
You know she (the director) caught alot of flack for these flicks.

Aisha said...

Mia, i heard about Fire actually. I didnt realize it was a trilogy. Thanks for clearing it up :)

Anonymous said...

I've experienced your kinda thing with only the BSA club at my uni, but not the MSA. Actually, the MSA people were REALLY, and I repeat, REALLY open and friendly!

I guess it depends on the people who are at the these things. Or maybe it depends on the leaders of these things who determine the type of atmosphere? Just a thought.

Aisha said...

I'm glad your MSA is friendly. They should be. Its a form of dawah after all. But yeah atmosphere depends on wher eyou are.

ASH said...

Aisha:

yes, I am actually posting again and commenting. Sorry to hear about the MSA experience.....I never allowed this when I was prez of my MSA either. But when people make friends, it is human nature I think that you harden the group and don't let anyone else in. Don't take it personally.....just give them the letter anonymously.....it may just do the trick.

wayfarer said...

You can forward this letter to almost every mosque i've ever been to...

Cindi said...

I would find some way for the letter to get to the MSA. I'm not in college and I wasn't Muslim when I was but have been cut off by other Muslims and left out of iftars and it really stinks and is just so rude. To me part of this month is for togetherness and sharing our faith and our test of fasting. It's not right for anyone to treat another person like this so, yeah, the need to know how they came across and then, insha'Allah, they will maybe make some changes. I would include some "remedies" like smiling and saying salaams to people who approach and at least introducing yourself.....even if there are no chummy conversations at least it breaks the ice and makes the person feel more welcome. You've got nothing to lose but a lot to gain by this!

Aisha said...

Ash- I dont take it personally b/c I know others who've talked about this in the past. I knwo its not me. But its a shame. I'm beginning to think I need to send this to them.

Wayfarer, I know :( BTW do you go to zainabia musjid???

Cindi- wow thanks for sharing. I can't believe they are rude to you. Well I CAN. But it just makes me mad. And you're right perhaps that is one value of continuing to attend. finding others who are feeling alone and reaching out to them. Good point :)

Saadia said...

I think a lot of muslims are just shy - much more comfortable with their group. It seems like we grew up with this mentality - we are muslim so stay within the net, rather than we are muslim so let's open our arms to newcomers, like the ansar of Medina. But they same thing happens to me sometimes with people besides muslims. I try to talk and the response I get is ...no response, or some curt or quiet little thing. Its especially hard being in a new city. I guess reading this makes me realize its not me, its their lack of social awareness. I think its also about the age group.

I wouldn't stop trying though. There are some people who open up when you take the initiative. I was at a party at work and was feeling so shy and could not drink to get comfortable, plus I was new and had ruffled some feathers too. but just introduced myself to someone I work a lot with on email. Him being a communications major in college just began talking right away.

If I were you, I'd go to the ifthaar, take the food, and then leave. If its just about the food for them, it should at least be about the food for you.

Saadia said...

Mystic, although my fob relatives harassed the hell out of me, fobs can be pretty sharp socializers sometimes.

Saadia said...

aisha, I think the MSA in UF wasn't too bad but they weren't all that open either. I think they might have been shy about me being older or something.

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