Somebody wanted to build me a studio.  With sunlight entering from three sides.  He wanted to see the things I spoke about come alive in the air – or at least on canvas.

But I spoke so sloppily.  The things I said were obvious.  Did you see the way that yellow flower looks up at the sky?

Show me, he said, reaching for the canvas I had stretched yesterday.  He was a simple man and the sloppy was sweet and the yellow flower was me and everything seemed to look up .

But what I wanted to say would never come out of my mouth.  Did you see the way the burnt grass lies idle underneath a thousand footprints?

Water is more important than the sun in the sky.  So I ran out into the rain.  And he lay idle.

Published on Sunday, October 21, 2001 in the Washington Post

Ten days after the terrorist attacks, I was on campus preparing for the start of school when the clean-cut young man approached and handed me a flier. He looked me in the eye and nodded as if we’d conducted a business transaction. And then I looked at the flier; it called for, among other things, “a rounding up and questioning of all Arabs.” My first thought was to tell him he’d confused me with someone else. He hadn’t realized I was one of the ones he wanted rounded up. But after I climbed the four flights of stairs to my office, I found the same flier slipped under my office door — the same door that bears my very Arabic name. For some time, all I could do was stare out my office window at the tiny sliver of sky that shows through the skylight. I remembered that when we lived in Jordan and I was a little girl, there was a woman who used to take care of me who was from a place called Palestine. She used to say: In times of great calamity, clear your eyes and make your mind like a pond of water.

Years later, I read nearly verbatim the same words of advice in a novel by an American writer. It was like coming across a juncture of insight without culture, a moment of mutuality and recognition. I grew up with people always telling me who I was, based on such clues as the color of my skin or the sound of my name, but I often had the sense that they weren’t really looking.

Even now, I’m frequently told — sometimes insistently — that I don’t look Arab. I’m told that I look Russian or French or Irish or Greek or Italian. I don’t take it too personally, though I sometimes have the sense that people simply don’t want me to look Arab. Just the other day, while discussing the frightening fallout of the attacks, a good friend asked, “You don’t think of yourself as Arab, do you? I don’t!”

But sometimes things aren’t so clear. Even though I’ve spent most of my life in America, five years ago I was again living in Jordan. An American friend and I were driving through the open countryside and at one point we decided to explore the courtyard of one of the crumbling medieval castles scattered around Jordan. The place appeared to be utterly abandoned and desolate; there was a large rusted padlock on the door. The wind came ringing high over the desert plain, and for miles around the only movement seemed to come from a pack of yellow dogs trotting toward us from the far horizon. Their eyes were soft and their mouths hung open in natural smiles. But then we realized that a man was walking with them and this man had a powerful, rigid face, the aspect of someone who’s spent his nights watching the stars and animals, who hadn’t learned how to govern his internal state in order to please or comfort other humans.

He approached us with his pack of dogs and the closer he got the more thunderstruck his expression. He finally stopped, raised one hand and pointed at me. My pulse was leaping in my throat. Wind roaring in our ears, both my friend and I stood stock still, unsure if we were intruding. But then his expression seemed to break open and he quietly said, “Anissa?” My grandmother was named Anissa, but she had been dead for more than 30 years. We then learned this man had known her when she was a young woman living in Amman. No one in my family has ever told me I resembled my grandmother — a woman who died before I was born. But here, years later, and miles away from Amman, this stranger crossed an empty space, squinted through sand and wind, and recognized something. … click to continue 

As a micro writer, I’m not used to revising in the way it’s understood to mean: re-working a draft to get to the story. This inexperience is due to the fact that I’m constantly chipping as I write; continuously re-reading, re-arranging, re-envisioning my words as I lay them down. Each time I open scrivener* to write a new chapter, I re-read my whole or most of my manuscript and cut/re-arrange as needed. (It can take hours to get to the actual writing part.) Each time I pick up from where I left off when my last complete thought finished, I have to back up and read every sentence before it. (Like the sentences in this paragraph were played around with quite a few times. Okay, maybe SEVERAL times.)

I’m not going to lament that all they teach you in creative writing/mfa programs at universities is how to write a tidy, lyrical short story and how different that is than writing an entire book with a PLOT. I think I’ve ranted on that enough in another blog. And anyways Ann Patchett does the lamenting way more brilliantly and with way more logical sense in her writing memoir, The Getaway Car – a must for every aspiring writer to read.

Short stories need a different sort of revising. Micro writers will find no discomfort in doing that sort of revising because essentially it’s what we already do: check the flow.

But a book now. That is one big unwieldy thing to keep still enough to check the flow on. Check the flow in all directions and with all threads.  Just thinking of all the times I’ve grappled with this makes me weary.

So I gathered my saved bookmarks of great revision tips and printed them out and bindered them up and they have become my personal coaches.


Here are some links if you are so inclined (mostly or maybe all from writers of Young Adult books):

Laurie Halse Anderson’s Revision Roadmap

Veronica Roth’s Revision Day One, Day Two and Day Three

Mary Beth Lundgren’s PDF of collected final revision checklist

Darcy Pattison’s 2 Amazing Ways to Revise Your Novel (And When to Use Them)

Maggie Stiefvater’s From Rough to Final: A Dissection of Revision

Janice Hardy’s The Spit Shine: Things to Check Before You Submit

Hope this helps other aspiring authors out there.

*and, psss, if you don’t have scrivener, get it! It’s a must for writing big things.

Love this piece about sending/putting your writing out there: The Art of Submission: Why we submit.

I discovered that literary journals consider things you’ve put on your blog as being in the category of PUBLISHED PREVIOUSLY. Which they then don’t accept as publishable pieces.

And since I have a few blogs I keep, my writing has been PUBLISHED PREVIOUSLY in plenty of spaces. (Who knew it was so easy to be published, huh?)

I’m hoping to merge my many blogs one day so I’ll do a link here to the brief one I kept while away from home; the first post:  Snowflakes in Doha. The blog is called Marvels & Oddities and it was an attempt to balance my positive impressions with my I-wanna-go-back-home impressions. The latter was my predominant penchant.


Every Monday I get to tote around two fresh teen (just entering teenhood, refuses to be called tween) librarophiles around town, tasting the delights of a new Toronto library.  Some time ago, while picking up my daughter and niece from school, I threw out a wistful thought, in that absented-minded way of mine that always means more work is coming into my life: Imagine, just imagine, if we visited EVERY single library in Toronto. Wouldn’t that be great? 

The idea stewed for a couple of years. We attempted it here and there and then I moved abroad for a year and now we are back and ready. Ready to take on Librarython T.O. Edition, where we visit and then blog about the library in question.

We started at our home branch of Port Union Library, port-union-library-03but that, we agreed, was just to figure out what this whole discreet critiquing thing entailed. (I.e., we’re not too impressed with our home library but too loyal to start bringing up its negative qualities.)

First, a brief background on the two critics and their credentials.

Sherlocka Critique, future graduate of Oxford, lives at 221B Baker Street, London, England. She wants to tell everyone who’s not too bright that she’s a huge fan of the “bloody brilliant” BBC T.V. series, Sherlock. (Commonplacer: stop swearing in British!) (Sherlocka: By the way, I’m not a FRESH teen. Quite aged actually.)

Hermione Pendragon, future graduate of Hogwarts, lives in Tajikstan. (Commonplacer: remember my intro –  these are FRESH teens.) (Hermione: Please note, this is being edited by Commonplacer.)

So, moving on, to Cedarbrae Library. 


(They decided to take the Good Cop/Bad Cop Review Route; they’ll be alternating roles for each library they review.)

Sherlocka: Cedarbrae Public Library is a ruddy brilliant library for young folks, I mean, aged-folks, like myself. This is due to the adorable seating areas and modern furniture. (I ought to buy some myself!)

Hermione: Really, I believe that all of these “adorable seating areas” are all good and well, but they tend to make the patrons feel as though they are in a living room, and behave as such. Quite rowdily and noisily, if I do say so myself.

Sherlocka: Now now, you must ignore my mate here, she really is adorable, but she likes to critique, hence the job. Cederbrae is very well lit, mostly because of the floor to ceiling windows. They also have these quaint study areas, along with computers. And when I say computers, I mean lots and lots! This just adds more to the modern feel.

Hermione: In my opinion, those lights were much too bright. Quite blinding, in fact. And as for the computers, they were all occupied by youngsters playing a particular popular pixellated program (excuse the alliteration) which I shall not name. This is fine, but there really should be a higher limit on time.

Sherlocka: Continuing on, I must say I was rather impressed by the enormous selection of non-fiction books. And might I say, non-fic really is all the hype these days. The fiction section was also quite grandiose. Don’t get me started on the checkout system. Bloody brilliant. They had a bunch of these little self checkout machines, which everyone knows makes you feel independent and all the rest! :)

Hermione: I concur, they do have a rather large selection of books, which is lovely, but really, this makes their twisted organizing system even WORSE. Is it not a sad display of the state of the library system when one has to grub, yes, actually, physically, literally, spiritually, metaphysically, zoologically, whatever, BURROW beneath the Teen section shelf, just to reach some good old-fashioned science fiction?

Sherlocka: I must say, the organization in my opinion was great. Hermione was just upset because the science fiction had a section at the bottom of the shelf. (She must be a hard-core fan!) It was a fabulously organized library! The adult fiction was large indeed. And is it just me, or is this turning into a row (fight for you Americans)?

Next up: Agincourt Library

*And to think, these two, Sherlocka and Hermione, used to call themselves Ruby Garnet and Emeraldine Amethyst in another time…sigh, how they grow.*

It was my son who was flabbergasted by the Al-Maghrib teacher’s tweets/memes/remarks. I’m in the kitchen preparing dinner and he makes a sound from the family room. It’s a weird sound, one that I don’t hear him making often, like a breath intake cut short by a “whaaaa?”.  Then he says, coherently this time,  this guy says what?

My son proceeds to read aloud what’s making him so speechless, something posted on twitter: “Int’l Women’s Day is great, but starting tomorrow, it’s 364 International Men’s Days again, so stick that in your oven and cook it.”

This tweet was from a man who says he’s an Imam and Scholar. Later, he posted a meme that said Don’t Try to Understand Women. Women Understand Women and They Hate Each Other.

In response to the outcry, he followed that with this classy one,

that escalated quickly

Imam and Scholar? Really, Al-Maghrib?

My son is a typical eighteen year-old in that he loves everything delivered with a side of humor. Just this past weekend he emceed the improv performances for a Muslim youth event. He sees a funny angle to most everything.

That he saw no humor in this Imam’s words was hopeful. That he pointed out the incredulity in this Imam’s statements made me happy; I had raised a Muslim Male Ally, someone who will see through the schlock of those in the Muslim community who conveniently push aside the remembrance that our beloved Prophet challenged misogyny from the early days of Islam.

Here’s the scary part: that some Muslim sisters applauded this Imam’s train of absurd comments. I can only think that these sisters have somehow been spared from seeing the realities of what women and girls suffer around the world due to inequity.

And is there a funny part to all this? Perhaps it’s the well-written salvos equating those who took offense to the Imam’s words as being in that ever-dreaded camp of “secular-western-femi-nazis”. How droll. And unique?

Nice try but you can’t slam this one shut in that filing cabinet drawer.

We’re opening the drawers up. It’s time for some “Spring Cleaning”.

Canadian reads (mostly)I think all these books except The Shipping News are Canadian.  Photo by susanvg.

Happy New Year!

I started 2014 by reading Alice Munro for the first time. While contemplating writing this sentence, I wondered whether I should cringe with shame while typing. Alice Munro, Canadian writer extraordinaire? (I haven’t read Margaret Atwood either.)

This is strange because much of my undergrad time was spent in English/Literature courses.  My degree in Creative Writing required hours contemplating the minutia of the Canadian experience. You would think that some of that would mean considering already published Canadian voices. Alas, no.

My brief experience with Canadian literature was in high school, where the majority of the English faculty were stodgily Canadiana-oriented. Students yawned because the chosen texts were ill-chosen. I was way into Southern Gothic by then  (Flannery O’Connor! Eudora Welty!) so I pretended not to like what I read in my classes, even going so far as to, after perusing a few chapters of The Diviners, take on Margaret Laurence in a precocious essay. Though I marvel at the fact that I received an A+, I chalk that audacious move of mine to the FOIBLES OF YOUTH.

I did enjoy writing about the Canadian identity, having grown up in a home obsessed with the CBC, where they always seemed to be debating what Canada was, is, will be. I was of those eager to dwell on the “will be” part of the discussions. Hence, the first Canadian writers I read by my own volition were the newer immigrant ones: Rohinton Mistry, followed swiftly by M.G. Vassanji.

But to not have read Munro, Atwood or the other stalwarts of Canadian literature? To have read Mordecai as a child (Jacob Two-Two) and not as an adult?

I feel a shame-tinged hole that widened after almost a year spent abroad, where I longed so much for Canada and its identity-crisis of an identity. I’d never wanted anything more than to return home to the embrace of ice-laden deciduous forests. And libraries.

As there were no libraries in the sandy place I went to live, that was the first public space on Canadian soil my daughter and I went to visit. And now that we’ve been to many in the six months we’ve been back, I think it’s time to turn to what is housed in those libraries in the section filled with red-leafed spines.  It’s the year to read Canadian.

I hope to update the blog with reviews celebrating Canadian literature, old and new. New will be first as my current read is The Orenda by Joseph Boyden.  

Stay tuned! And if anyone has any must-read Canadian lit suggestions, please post in the comments.

Never want to forget this book:

taro and the tofu

The first book that made me realize what a book was/is: a bundled-up world that one could slip into and once one slips out again, things looked different – a bit different or a lot – in the real world.

What a nice aha to get as a young child. I thank my dad for bringing home loads of books all the time. One of those loads contained this very special book.

It’s gone now but I hope to get a copy again one day.

Just seeing the cover induces coziness.

Recently I was told that I don’t represent Islam. My Muslimness wasn’t the real thing, being of the Canadian sort.  The way it came out, it was like my Islam was kind of flaky, not AUTHENTIC.

I was told all this by a non-Muslim.

It mainly had to do with the fact that I find the honor-thing really perplexing. Upon sharing my confusion regarding this, I was told that it’s part of my religion, didn’t I know?  That it’s such a very intrinsic part of Islam?

I’ve been a Muslim my entire life, an extremely proud one from the age of sixteen, brought up in a religious household, taught by a father who’s an Islamic scholar, nurtured by a variety of Muslim communities, camps, conferences and never ever once was I informed that “honor” is a part of Islam.

Needless to say, the encounter with the Islamic “expert” left me reeling. No matter how many times I tried to refer to the sources of my religion, I was talked over and repeatedly told that I don’t know my own faith.

It doesn’t help that there exists awful cases of Muslims doing horrible things to each other. But the world is full of people doing horrible things to each other.

Only a racist, A RACIST, would hear of a crime and immediately attribute it to a religion or culture. It seems that racists rule the day in many parts of the world when it’s so mainstream for news media to attribute crimes to Islam, so unabashedly. Perhaps that’s why this expert felt so expert about Islam – perhaps the experts on Fox News or CNN had given him all the facts.

I thought back to all the horrific crimes I’d read about in the U.S. recently, a country with a foreign policy I disagree with. I tried to deconstruct my own thought processes (on hindsight) regarding the Steubenville Rape case and the Newtown shootings.

There wasn’t an instance when I attributed these crimes to the culture they occurred in. But I know what would have happened if the perpetrators had been Muslim.

We would have all been schooled on what Islam was all about, by people who don’t know the first thing about it.

I’m working on organizing the blog again. In the meantime,

This week, my class (grade 3’s this year) encountered the word “dandy”.  So I explained to them that dandy was like the “sick” of about a hundred years ago or so (I’m not sure if my etymological dating is logical but it’s not linguistics 101 so…).

They’re currently on an active crusade to revive the word, because it’s just so…DANDY.

And here’s a real dandy video I encountered on Asmaa’s blog:

I absolutely love it.

I feel like I’ve gone yonder, over the mountains, came back, and have nothing to report.

I wish Ideas wouldn’t present themselves to me, so fully formed and yet, not to be realized, limited as I am by my perceptions. (Of All The Things I Still Have to DO.)

i wish no one had invented to-do lists.

I wonder why I sometimes freeze when I should be writing.  Where does a need to write meet the overloaded expectation of YOU MUST WRITE?

Obviously I am in a funk. Not a writer’s block, because, over the mountains, they said there’s no such thing called writer’s block.

I am fighting the admonition Write What You Know and instead, want to hang out longer in the Write What You Want meadows.  I’m frolicking here past my curfew.

Frolicking might not be the right word.

- posted on my other writing blog on January 7, 2011

my son, a Boy?

Tomorrow I’m going to spend a part of the day at the bookstore with my son. The other two children will be socializing at birthday parties and such, so it’ll be just me and my fifteen year old.

The other day (which was like six weeks ago), I suddenly realized that my son had become a Teenage Boy. This fact hadn’t imprinted itself into my brain even though the child is over 6 feet tall and has his dad’s jock build.

But then, there we were at the supermarket, and the cashier girl suddenly began acting all coy. You know that awareness that alerts us humans when we spot a potential someone? Especially when us humans are in the teen versions of ourselves? Well, this teen-girl cashier caught it right then and there.

Her eyes changed, she kept tucking her hair behind her ears (though none of it had fallen into her face) and was kind of too quick in her movements handling my cereals. When she started biting her lips periodically, I started to wonder. Then I looked at exactly what she was sneaking glances at, between scanning my yogurt and granola bars.

This? My boy? My itty-bitty child?

Yeah, and he knew it too. I could tell by the stoic, mature, yet coolly-withdrawn way he was passing the items from the grocery cart. That’s when I saw the man-on-the-way emerging from the faint figure of the seven year old playing in the park that I seemed to perpetually see when I looked at him.

If it had been a movie, the soundtrack to the emotions and images in my brain would have been kiss the rain by Yiruma.

Life passes and I hadn’t fully understood that I am the mother of a teen boy.

I can’t wait to spend some time with him tomorrow. I want to imprint the fact that yes, he is coming into himself and I love him as he is now.

And this time, I promise to refrain from scrutinizing the cashiers. Those brash young things.

So here’s what I’ve thought about before commencing to open up commonplacer again:

The blogosphere is essentially a carefully zoned (organically carefully zoned for the most part) virtual space of massive proportions.  When I left CP for more than 8 months, I realized it was like moving away from somewhere I’d felt at home at.  I began another blog in a new ‘hood.  The Young Adult writing zone.  I built up some followers, but I felt kind of sad.  I missed this niche over here.

I also realized, with the closing-up-shop of a handful of other blogs that I’d been faithfully following via Google Reader, that it’s important to keep up the little space on the web that we carve out for ourselves.  It just feels good to read someone familiar.

I sometimes think about how important our part is in this mega-medium that commentary via the internet has become.  It’s like the transformations that happened in literary history when people began thinking about reading in new ways via serialized content (a la Dickens) or just about any other change in previously established lit norms.

It’s just fascinating and I enjoyed blogging here so yes, dad and others, I’m back.

(Can you tell I’m excited? Two posts in one day, woah!)

Hi 2011!!!

I want to wax poetic about my absence from commonplacer but I’m just getting settled in again so later, or maybe never (about the time away).

Aaah, home.



I’m putting my blog on private perusal for a temporary period…if you would like to access it, please email me for the password at (change the AT to @ as you know) by the end of this week (Friday, April 23).  I’ll give the password to everyone and anyone who requests it.  I have a few reasons for doing this…namely that I’m going to start querying soon insha’Allah and secondly, I’m developing another writerly blog and may eventually merge this blog with that one.   Thank you for keeping me writing over the years, and Insha’Allah I will be blogging more – and perhaps more uninhibitedly once the blog goes private.  (Which will be next weekend.)

:) And please keep me in your duas re: getting published…(And to those I’ve requested manuscript readings/reviewings from, I’ll be getting in touch over the next couple of weeks IA. Thanks for being patient with me.)

Oh, and this is what I’ve been itching to blog about today:

WANTING MOR by Rukhsana Khan

I wanted to do a PRE-View of it before I did a review…which is an interesting way to say I didn’t read it yet.  First, I have to let you know that Rukhsana is a friend of mine.  I have most of all her books except for one of my favorites from her works: Dahling, If You Luv Me, Would You Please, Please Smilewhich is a teen novel.  This is a weird and ironic fact.  I think Rukhsana’s teen-geared writing is an overlooked strength (she’s famous for her children’s works)  and people have often mistakenly cited Does My Head Look Big in This as the sole novel with a Western-Muslim-hijab-wearing-girl main character.  Even I forgot for a while during all the initial hype about that book.  Dahlings, we all forgot Zainab from Dahling, If You Luv Me…, a spunky and engaging heroine.

And re: the strength of her teen writing, I give you exhibit A:  My husband.

This husband liked to only read non-fiction.  At the time I met him, he was reading something called The Great Arc: The Dramatic Tale of How India was Mapped and Everest was Named.  Actually, our first talk was in a bookstore and when we passed by a copy of one of my favourite books (The Secret Life of Bees) and I pointed it out, I was met with a blank stare.  He told me he kinda didn’t see the point of fiction.  Yes, we had a great many lively discussions on that topic.

I found out that it was hard to convince someone who gazes fondly at his copy of The Ten Books on Architecture by Vitruvius Pollio about the merits of something like The Wife’s Tale by Lori Lansens (which I’m reading now and love so far).  Especially when he’s tried a few times to actually read fiction – of any type – and given up with the “pointlessness” of it all.

And then, my copy of Wanting Mor arrived this week.  And he idly picked it up and devoured it in two sittings, after work.   He couldn’t stop he said.  I asked him for  a review…he said it was “really good”.  And then he said, it made me almost cry in so many parts.  For the type of man my husband is, the opposite of gushing/hyperbolic and instead, a true Haiku of an understated gentleman, that was saying a lot.

By saying that, he proved two things: 1. Rukhsana’s writing strength and 2. The point of fiction.

He’s a believer now.  And now that he’s let go of the book so I can read it, I say yay!  Thanks Rukhsana!

The last time I posted about my daughter’s bff sleepover, there were 6 girls sleeping in our condo.  Fast forward two years later, and the number has grown to…TEN.  Ten girls and oh yeah, now it’s no longer a condo, it’s a house (we moved in December) so that’s how it got to be so big suddenly.  It’s 1 a.m. and I still hear loud laughter, screams, screeches and whatevers coming from the family room.

Before all this “sleeping”, they were all dressed to the nines as guests at our solve-the-crime party taking place in the 1920’s.  We had the jazz music playing as they mingled and tried to find out just which one of them had stolen the Duchess’ ring, the Rani’s crown, the Museum Curator’s ancient relic, the abstract artist’s painting and the Russian businesswoman’s Faberge egg.

(It was the abstract artist.  She was a starving artist (her work was quite horrible).  She stole her own painting to throw off the scent.)

The boys are gone – my hubby to his mom’s and my son to his grandma’s. Yay, it’s just us girls!

I just heard my daughter informing everyone that there is no curfew for bedtime tonight.

Now I just heard her story-obsessed friend informing everyone that I promised them a bedtime story.  Wasn’t the solve the crime party a big story already?

I just muttered loudly, “Hmm, I don’t remember promising any stories”… I think they heard.  My feet are killing me – I was “the butler-who-didn’t-to-it”  for the whole party.  I literally was the butler, the scullery maid, the cook (though my husband made the delicious chocolate cake) and the handmaid.

Now I’m hearing someone saying this is boring (it’s 1 a.m., the dress-up party started at 6 p.m., they masqueraded, they danced, they ate, they solved, they laughed their heads off, they watched a movie and now it’s boring?)

Someone else just said, yeah, this is boring.  I was about to leave my blog posting to tell them that if it’s so boring, they should all go to sleep when I hear the DS’s coming out…ooooh, suddenly everyone’s having fun.  Again.

In 1998, I had the experience of extensively visiting four countries in two months.  In each of these countries, I encountered the lovable mosques offered to me.  (Some were un-offered as I am female).  This was way before I began blogging and I wrote a whole imaginary post on the unity of the global mosque experience.  And the washroom experiences therein.  (The best was in London, England. The worst was in…I shall not say in order to protect the reputation of that beloved country.)

Yesterday, in the middle of a bustley day, we stopped by a downtown spot to pray.  It had a secluded, alcoved spot for women.  It was lovely.  In the middle of this bustley day, it felt perfect to have a bit of quiet one-on-one time with Allah.

Usually, I’m not the type that gets excited at cordoned-off zones for women.  I love seeing the Imam when I listen to the Khutba – as I get to do at the mosque I attend regularly.  But I also love it when I occasionally get to visit the mosques that separate women so entirely.  I only recently discovered (maybe within the last five years) how much I love them.  Love them occasionally* that is.

The quietude that descends in these places is almost blissful.

Perhaps I see them this way because I visit these mosques on road trips, hectic errand days or while vacationing.  While juggling a happening day, a spot of dedicated prayer space anywhere is just beautiful.

But in almost all these mosques, no matter how different, you will find the following lovableness:

  • a variety of jumbled flip-flops hanging around somewhere – some lonesomely single; others, mismatched but companionably so. No, I wasn’t meaning this to be a metaphor for the state of marriage in the Muslim community – it just ended up being so.
  • an extraordinarily sweet older woman who kindly assists you in some way and then asks you where you’re from and then tells you she is from Bulgaria/Egypt/Pakistan/Somalia/Bosnia and then kisses you so much while asking you to pray for her family and their problems…the ones from Pakistan say all this in urdu but you can string it all together due to past experiences with extraordinarily sweet older women.  The last one I met was from the Ukraine.  She helped me find the women’s washroom – which happened to be situated at the end of a maze.  And I did pray for her family as the imprint of her numerous kisses reminded me right at my nightly dua time.
  • a stinky feet smell permeating the shoe zone and each time you inhale, you berate yourself for not being more active in offering your volunteering services to clean a mosque, any mosque.
  • numerous computer printed signs in the washrooms reminding people to be clean/keep it clean.  Some are misspelt, some don’t make total sense, but alhamdulillah, they all recognize the importance of reminding Muslims multiple times about something.   Nagging works in our community.  At least I think so, judging by the reduction in sopping wet counters and slippery, lawsuit-worthy floors in the mosques I’ve visited recently.
  • a cute jumble of Qur’ans on a shelf/cart/on something more special than its surroundings…sometimes even Qur’ans in a variety of languages.  It just warms your heart so much to see that Cantonese copy of Allah’s words in a predominantly Indo-Pak mosque.  Almost nothing screams  “our global Muslim family” more poignantly.  Or, “I inherited a box of Muslim World League dawah project Qur’ans in all sorts of obscure languages and I am going to do a mosque run around town to dispose of them in a way which warms my heart and yours”.
  • a corkboard overflowing with flyers, ads, that basement apartment Ahmed has available for rent, that apartment Muhammed is looking to rent, that baby-sitting (with free Qur’an recitation classes thrown in) that Safiyyah will provide…and that care-giver Zainab desperately needs…can’t we all just start a Muslim craigslist, people?  Because, while I know it might be working (as evidenced by the number of phone number tear-offs Safiyyah’s ad has received – sort of like an ancient way of gauging the number of hits a web-site’s getting), it just hurts my head to see it all shoved together like that.  But apparently, it doesn’t hurt anyone else’s heads and that is just so heartwarming – that almost every mosque proudly boasts its prized collection of random announcements and offerings/wantings.  The bigger the mosque, the bigger the cork real-estate.  I love it.

What else is there that’s lovably the same between our mosques?  And if anyone knows about a Muslim craigslist, I’d love to learn about it!

These flip-flops are suitable paired, alhamdulillah. (Photo by Paul Keller)

*I say this know quite well that I have a choice in terms of the mosques I experience, whereas many women do not have that luxury and instead deal with always being ushered into dungeon-like premises in order to pray.

2009 in review: This has to be seen right to the end…and I love the way he introduces parallel topics/questions to display societal double standards/selectiveness:

obama/real change?

tiger woods/martin sheen

michael jackson/millions dying around the world

I say it again: Ismail Daugherty is one talented man, masha’Allah.  I can’t wait for his new LP, Hope coming at the end of the year – it has one of the most beautiful songs I have heard: Paradise.  It’s a description of heaven and his longing to go there.

WASHINGTON, March 5 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — The board and staff of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) today offered their sincere condolences to the family of Aminah Assilmi, a national Muslim community activist, scholar and leader who died earlier today in a car accident outside of Newport, Tenn. She was returning with her son from a speaking engagement in New York. Her son, who was injured in the accident, was taken to a hospital in Knoxville. read more


I met Aminah when I was sixteen at a MYNA camp in Indiana, over 20 years ago.  She had her hijab wound in an interesting style – way before all the hijab fashion blogs hit the scene.  Her big smile didn’t spare anyone who salaamed her.  I was instantly drawn into the warmth of this adult despite being a stick to my own circle kinda teen girl (yeah, the snobby kind).

Then, periodically I would meet her at conventions and camps.  And the same thing: the smile and the warmth.

My husband and I met her again on the fourth of July weekend in Washingto D.C. last year.  We were on the street outside a restaurant and spent some time chatting – she remembered my husband skateboarding with her son when they were younger.  When we expressed happiness on seeing her so well (after being ill), she said that while there were rumors going around that she had succumbed to her illness, she was still going strong, alhamdulillah – she still had much work to do.  Among other things, she mentioned a recipe book recording her dad’s country cooking.

May Allah grant her jannah for her tireless work and for that smile and warmth that touched people everywhere, including a young girl trying to act cool and totally unaffected.  You did affect me, Sr. Aminah – you were woman who strove to live your words:

“I am so very glad that I am a Muslim. Islam is my life. Islam is the beat of my heart. Islam is the blood that courses through my veins. Islam is my strength. Islam is my life so wonderful and beautiful. Without Islam I am nothing, and should Allah ever turn His magnificent face from me, I could not survive.”

Sr. Aminah posing with the Eid Stamp she was instrumental in getting issued in 2001.

You know when you love a song the first time you hear it?  This is one of mine.  It reminds me of my teens.  So sadly much.

(so sorry for the sensational post titles)

“Matt Damon Disappointed with Obama

Matt Damon, up for the role of a Kennedy, is not satisfied with Barack Obama’s performance. The actor said Obama’s health-care proposal and Afghanistan track record have left him disappointed. Damon, who campaigned for the Democrat in 2008, said: “Politics is compromise. I’m disappointed in the health-care plan and in the troop build-up in Afghanistan.” Damon, meanwhile, confirmed he was in talks for a role as Robert “Bobby” Kennedy, the brother of the late President John F Kennedy, in a yet-to-be-titled biopic. Robert was assassinated in 1968 in Los Angeles. He added: ‘Everyone feels a little let-down because, on some level, people expected all their problems to go away. But real change comes from everyday people. You can’t wait for a leader.’
In other news, here’s one everyday person (well, award-winning everyday person) with courage to change things. Like people’s perceptions. And if you can do it on a subway wearing a thobe, you have real guts.  Go Boonaa! :)

I just realized I didn’t say anything in February (on my blog that is).

Just a quick hi (so that I don’t have any month in the 2010 archives (insha’Allah) whence i didn’t say anything).  :)

I’m working away writing (too much according to my soulmate).

Insha’Allah I hope to post soon.

It just hit me…I now know why I feel like blogging all the time again suddenly.  I’m single again.

My husband is in Chicago designing a restaurant (which I will write about when it opens, insha’Allah, with pics) and though we talk each night and text each morning/afternoon, and though he flies back very other weekend for 4 days at home, it is not enough time to recap EVERYTHING on my mind (poor, poor guy…)

So here is something that I observed today, that I want to stay with me forever:

A long while ago my parents had next door neighbors who, shortly after moving in, said some disparaging comments about black people to my mom.  They were Muslims of Indo-Pak descent (with obviously very developed racist views).  At the time I heard about it, I had gotten upset and asked my mom how she had responded to their comments.  I had hoped that she had responded with a bit of feistiness or boldness to set them straight.  She told me that she had not but had simply said that she didn’t agree with them (and what they thought – something about NEVER opening the front door to black people and so on).

Humph, I thought.  Especially when the neighbors to the other side of these people were an older black couple!

My mom’s way was to just interact beautifully with this black couple and the other black families in the neighborhood – within sight of these new Indo-Pak neighbors, who had gradually, over six years, become friends with her.  They moved away about three years ago – out-of-town.

Well, fast forward to today.  And what had been going on behind the scenes.  And Who was in charge behind the scenes.

We found out that the eldery black man has cancer (which was only discovered just over a month ago) and has very little time to live.  And who did his wife say had come to visit him right away – from FAR away – when they found out?  This Indo-Pak couple.  Who had been so disparaging and wouldn’t have come close to associating with them before.   But then had gone on develop a close friendship with them…and then with others.

A change had occurred over time in their hearts – a change planned by Allah and put into effect by someone who simply led by example.  Not by feistiness or boldness or humphs.

It made me realize two things:

1. The power to powerfully and totally change others lies only with Allah.

2. The ONLY power we have to change others is through our own practices.

I know I should have learned these simple truths a long time ago – perhaps when Chicken Soup for the Soul came out or before, when Gahndhi said “Be the Change You Want To See” or even way, way before, when the Prophet showed us this again and again…but I just love when I learn it by seeing it play out right in front of me.

I feel so bad as I write this post title knowing I am about to be misleading…especially with a big, prominent BLOG WITH INTEGRITY button on my sidebar.  But I can’t stop myself…but just to be more “integrous”, I will do some nice disclaimers:

1. No I did not get my book published.

2. No I did not get my book published.

3. No I did not get my book published.  Yet.

There, now that I thoroughly ruined my post, I will just tell you that I feel like such an author – finally – after all these long years, yearning to be one…because of my daughter, who had to chose a poem to memorize and recite to her 4rth grade class from AN AUTHOR (search on the internet even, they were told).  I directed her to Maya Angelou, Langston Hughes even Shakespeare! but she asked me if I had written any poems.  I tried to get away but was forced to reveal that I had written some and that there were a few on my blog. Next thing you know, she was memorizing and practicing In Your Praise, tasbih in hand for proper effect.  When I tried to dissuade her, I was told that I am an author – my poetry is even on the internet just like Maya’s is!

At the beginning of December I read The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver in 3 days while recovering from surgery.  The only thing I could do was read.  I was astounded by her book – not blindly astounded, because I do have some criticism (like the depiction of the character of Rachel, the eldest daughter, was not humane – she c(sh)ouldn’t have been THAT shallow, that bad).    I was simply astounded in the sheer work it took to get something that realistic in terms of the socio-political/economic situation in the Congo (well, really the world) – yet still in fiction form – out.  Wow, she’s a powerful, strong, muscled writer.

I say this as I’m struggling to understand that writing is really hard work – sweat and all.  I think I had been flying by on inspiration on all my previous success in turning out little things here and there.  But to write something whole and big and substantial is as terrifying as giving birth for the first time.

I fear the one book I’m concentrating all my energy on right now is shallow and deplete of any contribution to the world.  But I so enjoy writing it.  Does that mean I’m shallow and ditzy (’cause the book is)?

The other two should hold my attention more.  One more than the other because it has the job of shifting people’s thinking in a monumental way (it was going to try to be one of those books).  It had such a lofty, precise goal that I kept trying to plot it and plan it just so – that I lost interest in it for a long while.  And then I read Kingsolver and saw that I was in no way fit to enter the league of writers of those books.

The third book is about a topic I know nothing about, am scared of and just writing because I’m recording a saga I’ve told over the years to my daughter and nieces and since it was their ultimate favorite from all other told stories, I undertook the duty of duly recording it.  But it’s one thing to make the kids you love believe you’re an expert on something you know nothing about and another to convince the rest of kiddom.  And the research makes me squirm and squeal.

So that’s it for my writing whinefest.  Back to my ditzy novel.

This past month has felt like a year.  It felt like a life – with all that comes with it: anticipation, hardships, joys, tests, relief, grief.  But I will only say Alhamdulillah.  I’ve been shaken with such small, miniscule shakes in the grand scheme of things and I don’t feel like I stood as tall as I could have, as I should have – given the enormity of blessings that weigh down my life.

A new friend phoned me the other day and called me graceful in the way I handle things.  She was speaking of what she knew of on the outside.  Would the One who knows the whole, the inside and the outside, call me graceful?

I hear my sister’s voice and it is asking me not to ask so much of myself.  But who else to push myself to a true state of submission and all that goes with it: sustained patience and sincere attachment to truth, to Him?

So I  remind myself of my central blessing:

“Love begins by taking care of the closest ones
– the ones at home. “
Mother Teresa
My family: overcrowding with love, brothers who cry with you, for you, so you feel like comforting them in your time of grief; parents who love unconditionally with inhuman sacrifice; a sister who bears and shoulders with you; in-laws (parents, sisters, brothers) who are beacons of kindness and understanding; children and nieces and nephew who are love in cuddly form and a husband who is all that I have ever asked for in love.  And friends who don’t forget.

That is A LOT to have in your life.  Thank you Allah.


I also wanted to share in this post.  Share 9 things.

1.  I’ve loved a beautiful, inspirational photo blog for a long while now: Daily Colours Photography
I love her pictures and her gleanings (see the Mother Teresa quote above).   Her photography is soft and observant and reminds me of being attentive to how God measures beauty and how easy it is to find it immediately and so nearby. The words she chooses to accompany her pics are often just right for the moment I’m in.

2. The most appropriate, best?,  umbrella in the world:

3.  When I grow up, I want to blog like her: Maira Kalman, of “And the Pursuit of Happiness” fame
(and psst, her husband, now deceased, designed that most appropriate umbrella).

4.  A Story Before Bed ( is such an awesome idea.  If you are far from a treasured child in your life, connect with them by reading them a favorite book via this service.  The child gets to access the book you chose and your recorded image and voice reading it.  There’s a small fee – but it’s worth it if you cannot be close in proximity to a little one who would really appreciate hearing from you.

5. Islamic Relief Fair Trade Partnership: bring it to a mosque near you.   Equal Exchange (with over 2o years in the fair trade “trade”) is the partner – and yum, their quality is as good as their integrity .

6. Profound Aesthetic.  My husband likes their t-shirts – they strive to have meaning (profound?) in them. They have an interesting blog too. This is one of his favorite t-shirts (I think I need to get him another one) – the designer we talked to described it as asking one to consider the dichotomy/or synthesis (depending on your view) between nature and human-produced music:

7. Kareem Salama has a new reworked Generous Peace song – it’s more upbeat now.  He’s reproducing many of his tracks – look for them coming soon to his updated website or itunes.  Here’s the official video to the new Generous Peace, directed by Lena Khan:

I like that he’s continuing with his talent.  And with the new song and video, he has an added fan at our  house – my son, an avowed country-music avoider who would argue with my daughter when she would want to play Kareem’s songs in the car over and over.

My son actually made me buy the new song right away on itunes –  for HIS ipod.

8. Chicago.  I just got back from there – visiting my husband, who is designing a restaurant in the windy city.  Even though it holds a part of my grief, I still found it a fascinating city – one that I would want to spend more in.  I don’t think I’ll ever forget it.

pic by my husband



a shadow dies
medically pronounced
it sounds mistaken

i grew ten more years
in the time you stopped your perfect heart
small, lifeless but still
it had filled,
so completely
taken over mine

I just made this post public.  After searching for solace – I found it in the words of God’s Prophet.  How perfect is Islam in that it addresses everything a human goes through.  How beautiful a Prophet who went through trial after trial, a simple human with all that it entails, yet again and again, he finds his fortitude in that which lies awaiting with his Lord.

I love the second and third songs (Fatima  and Wavin’ Flag).

Speaking of music, I had been meaning to profile an artist I met at ISNA this summer.  I don’t have the time presently to write a lengthy piece but I want to make sure to mention him.  I was impressed with Ismail Daugherty’s (who goes by the name Khalil Ismail) talent and character.  From the intro. song (awesome! classical music sauteed with hip hop/rap to perfection) on, Ismail’s ability to use his musical aptitude with thought and full awareness/consciousness (which is rare to see with such consistence throughout an album) is obvious.  If you can, please support this brother who is well-spoken, a good writer and musically gifted, masha’Allah. 

Once upon a time, there was a time when there squeezed through the bustlings of my day a little bubble (pink, faintly bubble-gum smelling) of time – just enough to write something down…and, lo and behold, with some key-tapping, it would be something that could be read by readers out there somewhere. Oh whither that bubble?

I miss blogging.  But I don’t miss writing as I’ve been doing that pretty consistently since my official year off work began.  My book, well, bookS now (when one takes a snooze, I turn my mind to the otherS) is/are coming along slowly but surely – with Allah’s help.

But I miss blogging because when one is blogging, keeping up with reading bloggers and discussing things, you’ve got your finger on the pulse of what we’re about – in real-time, in actual-history.  And now, to be shut away (even if by choice), it feels rather peculiarly lonesome.

One of the bloggers whom I used to lurk at before I launched on my own, Ali Eteraz, just came out with his book, Children of Dust.  I haven’t had the chance to read it – but as he was a captivating writer, I think I will need to pick it up.  I am still holding out that he takes up writing a book he had once described called The Poverty of the Prophet.  As I remember from a brief excerpt he published, it was unique in its ability to so compellingly capture the moving simplicity of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

While I am tapping away on my story, I am constantly trying to rein my cart in before the horse…I so want this year to be fruitful in finishing a book.  Even if it does not see the light of publishing day, I feel like that song by the beatles, blackbird…I was waiting all my life for this moment to arrive… to become a writer.

Well, I like to think I became a writer in grade seven when my homeroom teacher, who had the reputation for being the strictest in the school, called me to her desk on the first day and asked in a stern voice if I really did write the “What I did this summer” essay on my own.  I quakingly said yes.  For two weeks, she watched me carefully every time we got assigned something to write and then finally, called me again to that majestic desk and handed me a paper marked with an A+ and asked me if I knew that I was a writer.   I quakingly said no.  I did not know anything definable about myself besides Muslim, girl and perhaps, brown? Muslim Brown Girl.  Now Ms. Z. made me Muslim Brown Girl Writer and it felt good.

So this moment has arrived and I try to take the pressure off by devoting all my energy to making googly-eyed breakfasts for my daughter and packing heartier, healthier lunches for my son, and growing more in gratitude to the Merciful One for the love He allowed to fall into my life through my awesome husband,  and by having so much fun with the condo:

 (and my favorite, the beginnings of a library!)

but the moment has arrived – to write, to finish and to have and hold: A BOOK.  Written by a Muslim brown girl, insha’Allah.

(But please remember, I still miss blogging.  And I’m thankful that some of you still miss me and keep googling commonplacer.wordpress only to find nothing updated…I so sorry.  Perhaps, at that point, you can say a prayer that I finish my book. :)  )

My youngest uncle on my mom’s side passed away this past weekend.   It was sudden, unexpected and beautiful.  How can I say this about the death of a man with a quiet smile and a wide heart?  Perhaps this is why I can say it – maybe it only makes sense that a life of generosity and gentleness would end after fajr with the shahadah being the last words uttered over and over on the way to the hospital.  He died of a brain hemorrhage.  Unexpected and sudden.

The first and lasting memory I have of  him is of a thin young man, his arm outstretched with something – fruit, candy, something yummy – being offered to us – his nieces, nephews, the teen girl across the road who played with us.   The spunky, fun girl who would suddenly become shy when she got a glimpse of him.  And pretend she didn’t want those slices of mango all the rest of us were clamoring to get from his fingers.  Then he would look to the side, smile knowingly and say to me or my sister, “why don’t you take a bit extra to share with your friend?”  Oh, that would just make her shy smile glow.  I think that was the first time I understood what love could look like.

They got married soon after and though it must have pained them both, he joined the exodus of young men going to the UAE to work in order to support their families.  And it was here we would often stop by on our visits to India or while on Umrah.  On these visits, we would find ourselves in a surreal situation – watching my uncle in his cramped, simple quarters lay out a pricey feast of food for us – his roommates hovering nearby to help host us with an intense loyalty which surely must have been generated over the years of knowing Sidi Aaka.  It would feel awful at first and make one want to shout: Please don’t pamper us like this! We are overfed Westerners who just got off a plane which suddenly appears luxurious though we had just finished complaining about how cramped it felt! But…then, the sight of his eyes lighting up, his smile glowing as we ashamedly ate would quell these thoughts.  We would once more take from his outstretched hands  because we understood what love could look like.

May Allah have mercy on your soul Sidi Aaka and may your young wife, three children and all of us who love you hold those quiet, gentle and loving hands once more in the life to come.

It’s so nice to hear this from an American president.  Alhamdulillah.

A Saturday afternoon to myself! How did that come about? I can’t say I miss the old days as a single mom when I had many a Saturday afternoons to myself – to write, to take a nap on the white sofa in the sunlight, to swim and to chat with friends and make plans for the evening.   Wait, that sounds so lovely that it sounds like I miss it.  Ok, so while I absolutely love being married, the solitary Saturdays are like drops of… of… of something sustenance-ing.

My husband is working on a project, my daughter is at a BFF sleepover – extended version, my sonS (stepson too – with us for the summer) are with their uncle.  And I is alone.  Sigh (of sustenance).

The vestiges of the whirlwind of a summer we found ourselves in are still in the hallway to be unpacked – we just returned from a camping trip yesterday. My husband and I get exhausted when we rhyme off all the things we’ve enjoyed, done, encountered, endured, accepted, planned, etc just in the month of July.  Let’s just say that they involved, among other things,  3 separate road trips, baseball season for my 13 year old, a hospital stay and balcony gardening battling with the wind (he says he has learned not to garden 19 stories up, I say I’ve learned to choose more hardier plants – and you should see the extra tough sweet peas that bloomed!) And I forgot to add that the summer also involved two step-sibling 9 year olds lugging around their stuffed panda and dog, each stuffed into their very own mini-sleeping bags, all the way over to east coast U.S.A. , Quebec and Ontario wilderness – all the while alternating seamlessly between bickering and being the bestest of friends.

I think I’ll go nap on the white sofa now.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 39 other followers

%d bloggers like this: