Happy Birthday to My Beautiful Mother

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happy birthday, beautiful.

the best gift I ever received was God giving me the honor of you being my mother, friend and forever role model. 

last week one of my friends posted a video of her mother dancing around her kitchen on her birthday, and it reminded me of all the times we did the same. 

cleaning, dancing, singing at the top of our lungs. cruising around and "stalking" the houses of the boys i had crushes on in middle school. embarrassing me. laughing so hard we couldn't breathe. crying so hard we couldn't breathe. 

i can't imagine having anyone else as my mother. even though you were taken from me way too early, i wouldn't trade you for anyone else. i wish you were here more than anything. i need you. i've lived more than half of my life without you, and i wish we could have kept laughing and crying through it. 

you said in a letter you wrote days before you died, "just know that me, God, and all of the angels are walking with you, then you never need to feel alone... there's nothing in life you can't get through, and i promise to help you...forever" and that has always gotten me through <3

sixty-one years ago today you gave grandma and grandpa the daughter they wanted and i'm so honored he chose me to be yours. 

see you someday soon. trying to make you proud until then. love you forever.

Happy National Day, Saudi Arabia!

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This has been a busy month. I’ve been travelling constantly.

(Literally my last thirty days has been: Riyadh> Barcelona> Montreal> Cleveland> Washington DC> Riyadh> Jeddah> Riyadh> Dubai> Muscat> Dubai> Riyadh).

Couple that with the fact that this was my birthday week and birthdays are always a bit somber for me, I did not think that Saudi National Day would mean much to me this year…

I was wrong. I got to thinking about how much I love this country and how blessed I am to be able to spend my time here working and having incredible opportunities and friendships.

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See, Saudi means more to me than most people. Saudi is the birthplace of all of my dearest friends. It is the place where my religion was founded. It is the country that my beloved Prophet Muhammad (saws) spent his years.

It is nearly an impossible place to visit as an American - even harder as an American female - and even harder still as a 24 year old. However, I moved here as a 24 year old and spent over two and a half years within its borders in all.

Saudi is my home. Not just my home away from home. No, Saudi is where I feel at home. The first time I stepped off the plane in Riyadh my soul felt like it was home. My heart had a sigh of relief. It’s inexplicable, it’s serendipitous. It just is my favorite place on earth. When I leave I miss it terribly and I can never wait to come back.

And I love everything about this country.

I love its traditions. Amazing food. Old school culture. Unique clothing. Different regions. Diverse accents. Deep Islamic roots and values.

I love its modernism. Women’s rights including driving. Forward-thinking technology. Mixed events. New media sources and outlets.

Congratulations to the progress made in the country this year. Women are driving (including me). Movie theatres are opening. Tonight I went to an electronic music concert that even had a mosh pit. There are new opportunities on the horizon and I pray I stay in this country to witness them.

Is it perfect? No.

Only Heaven is perfect.

But it is a beautiful country filled with rich traditions, a changing population, and love for Islam.

And, there’s no place on earth I’d rather be.

From Khobar to Hail to Mecca to Abha to, of course, my beloved Qaseem and Riyadh - I love every inch of this place. May God continue to bless and protect Saudi, its leaders, and its people.

Thanks for having me.

What Are You Doing To Improve the Image of Islam?

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I really try to stay out of the comment section of all social media sites. It can be much too painful for me, someone with quite a sensitive and soft heart, to see how much hatred there is in this world. Hatred of non Muslims towards Muslims and hatred of Muslims towards each other. It’s too much for me. I am naive and I like to believe in the good in people. Alhamdulilah I try to surround myself with diverse groups but those who have some percentage of the Light of God or at least a positive energy about them. 

But, today, I couldn’t help it. I was scrolling through LinkedIn and came across a video of a fellow niqabi. I naturally had to watch. The video was beautiful. It detailed the interaction between a niqabi and an originally pessimistic islamophobe that complained of the woman’s covering and asked her to leave a Kohl’s. The niqabi responded with kindness by asking to hug her and explaining that she’s not oppressed and instead niqab is a symbol of being empowered. (I can attest to this.) I finished watching the video with a renewed sense of optimism about interactions between the different religions and faith in humanity.

I jumped to the comments to write something positive and there they were. 

70% of the comments negative - claiming the woman was lying or that she was a propagandist or that niqab is only oppressive. It broke my heart. 

What breaks my heart more is a lot of those comments are from Muslims.

Whether or not you agree with niqab, you have to agree with its existence amongst the wives of the Prophet Muhammad (saws) and at least acknowledge wearing it is a religious choice that has some wisdom behind it (whether you agree or not). I am of course biased as a niqabi myself. 

What really hurt me was to see a fellow Muslim talking about how niqab is something only worn by extreme religious groups and Muslim women should remove it to distance themselves from these threatening groups.

Bruh, you’re so wrong. 

Do you know how powerful it is to wear niqab and to talk to people like a normal person? To be educated and eloquent? To be polite and personable? Can you imagine the power in that instead of just taking it off?

Don’t you see that when you give in and change yourself you’re not curing the illness, you’re simply hiding it and covering it up? I don’t want to be closer to non Muslims because they see me without niqab and now have respect for me. I want us to get along BECAUSE I WEAR IT. I want them to see the truth: my face covering or head covering is not to be associated with hatred or terrorism or oppression, because it simply is not that. It should be associated with the times we give in charity and the times we support other faiths and the times we are just normal freaking human beings, because that’s exactly who we are. A piece of cloth doesn’t change our hearts.

Trust me.  It’s not magic. It’s 25 riyals at Bedoon Essm. From my understanding, magic is a bit more expensive. 

The guy opposing me mentioned that he wants to distance himself from Islam so as to not raise red flags. That’s his choice, but he’s only protecting himself and doing very little to actually help the real problem. He wears glasses and, as I explained, it would be like one day there were a lot of bad people who wore glasses and were doing something bad. Would you stop wearing glasses? He didn’t have an answer. 

He also proceeded to ask me what exactly I’m doing to help the image of Islam. Good sentiment, but unfortunately for him, he asked the wrong person. “Oh not much just had a television show about the normalcy of life as a convert, writing a popular blog about the subject and being interviewed dozens of times by multinational news sources on Muslim related issues...”. 

But honestly? That’s not really that special. Or, if it is, that's such a tiny piece of what I'm really doing.  

What I’m really doing to help is that I’m refusing to “blend in.”  I’m showing people around the world that Muslims (and hijabis and niqabis) are so freaking normal. We shop for sunglasses. We drink Blueberry Bliss smoothies from EarthBar. We get our oil changed. We compliment your cute shoes. We open the door for old ladies. We smile (you can tell - don’t act like you can’t). We cover your groceries when you're short a few bucks and you're in front of us in line. We let your children ask questions. We let your children sit on our laps (happens to me regularly). We give water to stray cats. We’re the best, just like most other people that are on this earth that we are blessed to call our brothers and sisters. I’m not the crazy people that the American media likes to emphasize - whether I look like them or not. And I’m so proud and honored that God blessed me to meet you and show you what reality is like and how inconsequential this piece of cloth is in the grand scheme of things. 

I’m the bee’s knees. Just keeping it real.

And I promise to do everything in my power that I can to show that to my brothers and sisters in this world. Representing Islam is a tremendous pressure but also a tremendous opportunity at this point in history.  I won't let all that potential air slip by and neither should you.

Please join me in doing your best as well. 

If your name is Mohammed, don’t go by Moe. If you don’t want to pray at work because it’s awkward, make accommodations. Help an old woman when you’re wearing hijab. Smile at a kid when you’re rocking a hardcore sheiykh beard. Live the example of the Prophet Muhammad (saws) and other amazing Muslims that came before us.  Be the light that you want to see reflected in this world. 

Don’t hide yourself or blend in. Be proactive. Help to cure the greater illness. There will be a reward for it. It’s all a test. 

May Allah swt make us all worthy examples of His beautiful religion and may we inspire one another. May He improve our manners and our treatment of one another. May He open our hearts and help us to understand one another’s spirits. He created us to worship Him and part of worshipping Him is loving one another. 

The 19th of March.

The 19th of March.

Every year this date comes around and every year I’m reminded of all of the years I’ve spent without her.  


It feels like just yesterday we were dancing around the living room to Frank Sinatra and Sam Cooke and Tina Turner.  We were fighting over how the smell of bleach when she would clean the house on Saturday mornings would wake me up.  We were laughing.  We were going on long drives in the car and she was forcing me to drive by my crush’s house.  I was was eagerly awaiting the sound of the garage door that indicated she was home.  

I was content. I was happy. I was home.


Then… March 19, 2004.

I was watching a lifeless version of my mother take her last breaths.  I was staring at her bright pink fingernails.  I was panicking about how I could ever live my life without a mother.  

I was praying.  I was begging. I was crying. 

And just like that, she was gone.

I was calling her voicemail to hear her voice on the answering machine.  I was missing the way her hands looked, the sound of her spoon in her coffee cup, her giggle.  I was sitting in her closet just to smell her.  

I was scared.  I was alone.  I was devestated.

Now… March 19, 2018.

I’m waking up at 2 am to look at pictures of her face because I miss her.  I’m jealous of every interaction between a woman and her mother.  I’m recalling stories with my grandma trying to make sense of it all.  I’m on the other side of the world missing her.  I have grown up, missing her.  

I’m still praying.  I’m still crying.  I’m still scared.  I’m still alone.

Alhamdulilah, I’m so blessed to have had her for a minute or for a day, but it was the biggest loss of my life.  Everything in my life changed in an instant and it seemed like everyone else’s lives moved on.  But mine, mine was never the same.  

I haven’t felt “home” since she died. “Home” is her tickling my hands so that I would fall asleep. "Home" is her making shadow puppets on the ceiling named Froggy and Sissy.  I think “home” is your mother’s heart.

I know she would have been so proud of all that I have done and accomplished and this “unique” life I live, but having her here would make all of these achievements even sweeter.  

I promise you, any good quality you see in me, came from her.  And any bad quality you see in me, came from me.

I would do anything to turn back time and have one more day together, but I can’t.  Instead I will encourage you to treasure, value, and love your mothers.  Not only encourage... I will pray for it.  I will beg for it.  I will cry for it.  

“Know that myself, God, and all of the angels are walking with you.  Then, you never need to feel alone.  There’s nothing in life we can’t conquer, and I promise to help you - forever.”
 

"Don't Be 'TOO MUSLIM'"

My Snapchat is open to my followers.  Some people tell me that’s stupid - and sometimes I agree.  I like to be able to show converts my life seven years after taking my shahada and how normal life as a convert is...

I also want to preface this by saying - or warning you I suppose - that I am NOT THAT RELIGIOUS.  I hate the word religious because it’s so subjective and has so many meanings… but, in short, I don’t consider myself religious.  I’m pretty moderate.

Some people think I’m CRAZY religious and some people think I’m RIDICULOUSLY unreligious.

That’s the beautiful part about religion… it’s a continuum.  And, the other beautiful part is that we grow and change all the time so our religiosity can change from 0 to 100, baby, realllll quick....

So this morning I posted something religious on my Snapchat when I was up for fajr - a quote from Quran actually that reads, “[He] who created death and life to test you [as to] which of you is best in deed - and He is the Exalted in Might, the Forgiving.” 

 

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And while it got 30+ screenshots and other comments of hearts sent to me, it got one really annoying comment that bothered me more than I care to admit it should.

It came from someone who is Muslim and this person said, “Don’t be too Muslim trust me.”

DON’T BE TOO MUSLIM?

TRUST YOU?

So. Many. Thoughts

  1. Define “too Muslim…” Oh wait… YOU CAN’T because it’s not some BMI of religiosity. “Oh hey… you should really cut back on your duaa… you’re MORBIDLY MUSLIM"
  2. WHO THE EFFFFFFF ARE YOU to tell me who to be and how to worship? (Side note: This is a phrase I tend to use while fighting which is probably the reason I’m not married yet LOL) How can you define me? How do you think you have the right?
  3. TRUST YOU? First, I barely know you.  Second, do you have some knowledge or information that I don’t about what Allah wants from us? Don’t think so, boo.

If you’re my friend, tell me I’M NOT MUSLIM ENOUGH.  

Tell me I need to be better in my recitation.

Remind me to fast on Mondays and Thursdays.

Send me hadith.

Don’t tell me I’m “doing too much” in the way of Islam. Because guess what? If I do everything I can within my power every single day, it would never be enough. 

I prayed to find a religion that connected me to God for SO MANY YEARS.

I searched.  I read.  I cried.  

And finally, I found Islam - what I had been searching for all along.  How can I not try my best? How can I not intentionally make up for lost time? 

Don’t tell me how to worship Allah (swt).  Don't tell ANYONE how to do that.

I’m being tested.  Allah is trying to find out which one of us is “the best in deed” as He said in the quote from the Quran you so rudely commented on.

That’s why I do what I do.

It's not to impress people who follow me.  It's not so my mother-in-law gives me a pat on the back.  It's not so people look at me as a "good girl."  It's because we should worship Allah (swt) as if we could see Him because even if we can't see Him, He sees us.  It's all for Him.

And guess what? He follows me on Snapchat, honey.

And for that same exact reason, you should never tell a person to “not be so Muslim.” You’re not ordering a curry, “hey can this not be so spicy?” You’re commenting on a person’s life "hey can you NOT BE SO RELIGIOUS?"

Alhamdulilah this doesn’t affect me or what I’m doing because I go through all of these ridiculous and rude comments on the daily and have to navigate my own place in this world.

However, there are girls that just converted that this comment could CHANGE THEIR ENTIRE PERCEPTION OF ISLAM.  And that's what makes me SO ANGRY.

Let’s encourage each other to be better Muslims, not to be worse ones.  

And hey, to the person that said that to me, here's the trick:

BE MORE MUSLIM.  Trust me.

May Allah (swt) forgive us all and bring us closer to Him and His Mercy.  We all need more of this beautiful religion in our lives, not less.

May Allah Be Pleased with You, Lulu <3

Life can change in a second. Literally.

I know we all know this, but do you ever really think about it? I know I haven’t thought about it in a while myself.  Sometimes, maybe because I’m young, I think that life is going to be so long… but maybe it’s not.  Maybe it will all end tomorrow.  Or maybe sooner.

When I was living in Los Angeles, I became friends with a group of girls - many of which I am still close friends with and a few I would consider BEST friends.  One of them, I’ll call her R, is still one of my best friends on earth.  I love her.  One of the things I love about her is her insistence in our spending time together from the first day I met her.  

We became close quickly - and the kind of close where you don’t need to sit together and talk to be together.  We would be in separate rooms in her apartment and still be “hanging out.”  We became so close I would never go home - I would stay on the couch every night for months and it was so fun because all the other friends would be there staying together.  It was like having five sisters always around and another two or three that would drop by often.  I loved it.  It was the first time I had ever had that feeling.  Like our own little special sorority.

In that group of “roommates” (mind you, we didn’t pay rent, this was all forced by R) was another girl, Lulu. We would always joke around with each other - she said I look like a n3ama (ostrich) and I told her she looked like Snoop Dogg in hijab (except that she was really, really pretty mashaAllah).  But, some days she also looked like Franklin the Turtle… it all depended.

We would cruise Sunset Blvd. in my convertible and listen to music.  We would go to eat at the “Curry” place near our house (still don’t know the name - we always just called it “Curry”).  We went to Dockweiler Beach and had bonfires.  We went to the Grove and walked around.  We went to “Lulu’s” for her birthday - this crappy diner that we only wanted to try because it was her name… We had Ramadan dinners together.  

She was extra spunky and extra sassy, and she fit into the group in her own special place. It wouldn’t have been the same without her.

We drifted apart after I left Los Angeles and move to Riyadh and even when we all were “evicted” from the apartment when R’s brother moved in LOL (“the end of an era” as we all said). Still, we were Instagram friends and when we saw each other when I would visit LA we would always text each other and stayed in touch.

The last time I saw her we were driving next to each other and randomly spotted each other and we both screamed out the window “OMG I MISS YOU!” 

We had our arguments, no doubt.  We had realllllly different perspectives on certain things.  But, I loved her. 

A few days ago, R texted me to let me know Lulu’s family had a gas leak in their home and it exploded and unfortunately she and her father were both in very serious condition.  I’ve been praying for her and thinking about her ever since.  

I was sure she was going to be fine though… she’s only 24 and she was so full of energy and life so how could she not pull through? A similar feeling I had when I found out my mom was sick.

Unfortunately, this morning R informed me that Lulu and her father have both passed away, Allah yarhamhum (May Allah be pleased with their souls).  When I don’t know what to say, I can only reflect on the best memories and write… so that’s what I had to do.
 

To Lulu, my little Snoop Dogg:

I missed you before.  I miss you a million times more right now. Thanks for all of the fun and all of the memories.  Thanks for putting up with my snoring when we had to share the living room.  Thanks for the one time you and M attacked me with perfume and gave me an asthma attack.  Thanks for cruising. Thanks for being the only other person that would let me listen to Arabic music.  Thanks for the time we went to the zoo and informing me I have the body of an ostrich.  

Most of all, thanks for reminding me, and all of us, that this life is so so so delicate and in a second it all can change.  I love you and I’ll always love you and I’ll always pray for your beautiful soul.  May Allah grant you the highest level in Jannah and may you and your father be amongst the shaheed. 

Missing You, Nicole <3

 

I have been crying for the past hour thinking about this post, let alone writing it.

Bismillah…

Nicole Hunter-Mostafa has been gone for a year as of today, Allah yarhamha.  365 days without her light on this earth.

When I think of her, the only words I can get out are “GOD, I LOVED HER.”

And, I really did.  I think of her every time I see anything here in Riyadh that reminds me of her.

The restaurants we went to together.  The Kingdom Tower she always photographed.  And old Saudi couple holding hands.  Just, everything…

And then I start to feel guilty for this pain.  I realize her amazing mother, who she loved more than anything, and her sweet father, who she absolutely adored more than anything and couldn't stop telling stories about, and her perfect children, who she also loved more than anything, and her husband, who she loved more than the entire world, are going through such a deeper, harder pain.

I’m ashamed to tell you this.  Nicole was the first person in my entire life that when I knew she was dying I prayed to God to take me instead.  I prayed for it because I knew she had this incredible love for her family and this amazing spirit that deserved to be here.  The world NEEDED her. The world still needs her.  Unfortunately, we didn’t deserve her.  She was literally too good for us. I’ve never met someone so pure.  I feel guilty being here without her.  

Ya Nicole:

We miss you.  

We miss you.  We miss you.  We miss you.

I miss you.

You should see how much this place has changed, subhanAllah! Saudi is so much more open minded.  On National Day there was a mini rave! Women are going to be driving.  It’s improving, and yet… you’re not here to celebrate in it.  It makes it feel like all of these victories are not quite as sweet.

Your death is an absolute tragedy, but you were too good for this place anyways. 

Thank you.  Thank you for making the world so much better.  Thank you for choosing to always be positive.  Thank you for sharing your life and your family with us.  Thank you for sharing your beautiful memory with us.  Thank you for your daughters who will no doubt be as fierce as you.  Your passing introduced me to you absolutely LOVELY mother and the rest of your family. Thank you for all of your words and all of your time that you selflessly gave us.

Most of all, thank you for being an amazing friend and an even better role model.  

I never look at the NJHM together on my keyboard in a little square without thinking of you.

May Allah (swt) grant you the absolute highest level in Paradise.  Hope we can be neighbors there to catch up <3

WALLAH, I LOVE YOU

 

P.S.: Please don't forget to continue reading her blog to keep her memory alive: The Same Rainbows End

STOP JUDGING ME. It's Between Me and Allah.

“You wear too much makeup” “You’re a fitna” “Cover the top of your foot” “Perfume is haram” “Do you want guys to give you attention?” “OMG you listen to music?” “Stop acting so Americanized”

“You’re wayyyyyy too conservative” “Don’t you know niqab is cultural and not required in Islam?” “Show me your face… I bet you’re hot” “I don’t want my kids to be around girls as conservative as you” “You’re sooooo boring, Hannah” “Stop acting so Saudized”

I have literally heard all of these statements said about me IN THE PAST WEEK.

Every single one.

So, which is it? Am I too open or too conservative?

Guess what, I’m neither.  The best part about religion is each person has his or her own religion. 

What I do is between me and Allah (swt).

If I decide to parade the streets tomorrow in a bikini, that’s something I have to answer to Him for.

If I decide to wear gloves and abaya alrass, again, it’s between He and I.

Stop judging me, people.

I’m not too Americanized and I’m not too Saudized.  I’m not too wild and I’m not too conservative.  I’m moderate.  Some things I am conservative on and some things I’m open minded about.

At the end of the day, Alhamdulilah, I can say I’m a good person.  I know both sides and I am on a perfectly moderate path towards Allah (swt).

I know it’s difficult not to judge people.  I am quite judgmental at times myself.  But, I really do believe that what we do is between us and Our Creator.  I can disagree with you and still respect you enough to shut my own mouth. From Him alone do I seek forgiveness for anything I have ever done to displease Him.

Case in point:

Today, I was sitting outside of a hardware store with my friend.  I am wearing niqab, black abaya, a black long dress underneath and looking perfectly normal.  Yes, I wear makeup… and yes, you can see it on my eyes.  My friend was with me who happens to not wear niqab, in a pink abaya, but looking perfectly acceptable as well in terms of Islamic dress for women.  A woman walked up to me and told me what I’m wearing and putting makeup is a fitna and Allah is watching me and blah blah blah.  I understood 80% of her rant about how I look (in Arabic), but I stopped her to tell her I don’t speak Arabic just to make her realize how silly she sounds. How absolutely ridiculous it is to come up to someone and tell them about how what they are doing is sinful when really I’m not doing anything wrong.  I wanted to tell her to go to any mall and give the same speech to girls that don’t cover their faces nor their hair.  There were others around me less conservatively dressed, and yet I am the one lucky enough to get the comments.  

I’m not offended by her.  I’m mad at her.

I don’t believe I should be held to a lesser standard of Islam because I’m a convert.  That’s something really important to me.  But, if I was a weaker person who perhaps had recently converted, what would this comment do to me? This could change my opinion on the whole religion.  Our words - and especially our criticisms - are more powerful and hurtful than we realize. 

I'm mad because she could have really hurt me if I was anyone else. I'm mad she had the nerve to say something so judgmental without knowing the first thing about me. 

A few hours before that, I was talking to someone who I was potentially going to work with and the work would involve children.  When the client found out I cover my face, he said he was very much against this and that he did not believe in niqab and it is just cultural and blah blah blah.  So, in this case, I’m too conservative.  He laughed at me.  Told me I was essentially crazy for wearing it and that this is not Islam.  With tact, I responded that this would not be an environment that was suitable for either of us and I wished him the best of luck. 

I can’t win, guys.

I have a million flaws.  I am far from the person I hope to someday be. But, if you want to notice my flaws and take time to really think about them, please keep that information to your DAMN self.

I don’t say this enough, because I know it sounds like I’m narcissistic, but, Alhamdulilah I am SO EXTREMELY PROUD of the person I am.  I have been through HELL in my life.  I have been hurt beyond belief.  Allah continues to give me these tests that take me to my limits.  I have suffered through so much.  And, I have handled myself with grace and patience and humility EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.  

I have had the kind of life people write books about because the number of trials I have had - that I don’t talk about here - is unbelievable.  

So, when you look at me and see someone who is flawed, know that I am doing perfectly well... I am amazing… and, most importantly, I am just as Allah (swt) created me.