Saturday, June 15, 2013

The New Muslim

"The wound is where the Light enters you" -Rumi.

Describe your religious affiliation. I'm assuming you're Muslim. 
Rabia's first question (rephrased) during our little interview for her senior thesis on NYPD surveillance.

Her assumption is correct... I guess. While I was collecting the years of religiosity and/or lack of into a sound statement, all I really wanted to do is cry. And I did. Not nearly as dramatic as it sounds though. What followed was a fragmented flow of speech, some tears, laughs, and the usual fancies (curses). My answer wasn't emotional, at least not to me. But why the impulse to cry?

Rabia apologized, but it wasn't her fault. Her question, followed by a genuine assumption, triggered years of thoughts. About faith. The relationship I had and have with God. Being Muslim.

What makes me Muslim? My parents are Muslim. My mother doesn't cover but is consistent with her prayers. And every so often encourages me to follow suit. My father. I've seen him attend the masjid only for Eid prayer. But it's their faith. Consistent. In happiness. In sadness. Constant conversations. They call Allah. Why can't I?

And so in responding to her assumption, I immediately remembered my sister and I wrapped in floral hijabs, dressed in salwar kameez, reciting the Quran in Baitul Jannah Masjid.

Picture me in a hijab. You should be seeing this face:
The New Muslim. This is an insider, minus bubblegum bubble.

Too young to truly grasp the seriousness of faith. Reciting to finish. Never to actually learn. Counting minutes to go to the masjid's rundown "bathroom" only to talk to the boys. And girls who'd we gossip with. However, Sabia and I somehow found ourselves attending Islamic events and lectures. President Uncle, to this day I don't know his actual name, ran an after-school Islamic program in which Sabia and I were his star students. A man of four wives, but we never questioned this. He'd remind us, "Don't tell this one about the other." Mad sus, but I guess one should hate the game, not the player? It was through him that at ages 10-12 I learned about the propaganda circulating around Muslims/Islam. Wait, are the latter interchangeable?

I spoke on tawheed, a concept asserting Allah's oneness. Not understanding the why or for what. But accepting as is. Is that what it means to be Muslim? And at other events, we'd sing A is for Allah. From the onset of childhood, the tools to grow up Islamic were there... but I'm unhappy. Repetitively questioning my faith and ashamed to rightfully accept Islam as my own. The thoughts, which are perhaps displayed by my acts, that I'm not Muslim enough. But even then, on lonely, sad, frustrating times that recently as an adult I find myself wanting only Allah in my life. Perhaps this is what brought the tears. Wanting Him permanently... not just when I'm crying. 

Fast forward to junior high and high school. Hijab-less. Now embodying that Catholic school-girl spirit. You might've just imagined me in what mainstream media, mostly porn, portrays as the stereotypical Catholic school-girl. I mean, we rolled up our skirts... but really, far from sex...and sexy. 

In any case, it's not that I left Islam. At Bishop Kearney, I was still Muslim. Something so significant doesn't just disappear, right? First Friday mass of each month. I'd use my time on the kneeler to recite the four quls from the Quran. Sometimes I'd bring my mother's supplication book to Church. Don't know if it was my conscience or an actual yearning to be with Allah among Christians. Freshman year of high school I met my best friend Ruqayyah through a conversation on Islam. Both in Catholic institutions connecting because of our Islamic identities. The contradictions. 

Rabia, you're learning more than I mentioned. And I mentioned more than I'm writing.

Senior year of high school, diagnosed with Lupus. Visitors, I'm talking about the aunties and uncles, would recite a dua/prayer and blow on my face. Some preached that this ailment should push me to seek God and perhaps change my ways. Is that what it means to be Muslim? But it didn't. Lupus pushed me away from God. Fostering an inexplicable anger. Betrayal. Why almost kill me to test my faith? Those days in the ICU. Immobile. Homeschooled. I didn't feel God. Complete apathy.

Miriam. Sister Miriam. Freshman year of college. How did I find her? I remember being in pain. Some of it mental. The Oxycodone on par with the rest of what I was taking were absolutely useless. Bed-ridden. Missing classes. I had never met her or attended any MSA (Muslim Student Association) events on campus prior to our conversations. We exchanged e-mails and somehow her words helped me find the Light to perform salah (prayer). The serenity, unlike any other feeling. The immediate strength. It can't be all in my head, can it? Other messages followed to help me boost my iman (faith). I asked for it. We eventually met and though only her eyes were visible...I never fail to recognize her. 

It hasn't been permanent. And so it makes me cry when I'm surrounded by devotees. I keep coming back to Islam or it finds me, sort of a never ending game of hide-and-seek. 

Our interview became a therapy session on my shortcomings as a Muslim... an identity I had never expressed as a dominant one. One that I acknowledged in silence. Maybe it'll remain this way. An eternal struggle to seek Light...Allah who always seems to calm and uplift my internal/external struggles (happiness/sadness). But why is that? If there's goodness in believing, why am I pulled away?

Religion. I can't fully grasp it. Islam, always with me, but so close to vanishing. How do I stop it?

***Reader: I needed to write out my thoughts on what seems to be a piece that's all over the place. If you're absolutely lost, it's okay because I am too.***

Thursday, March 28, 2013

potatoes gonna potate

I'm tired. The greed. And selfishness. Among human beings. It's as if I can't involve myself with what makes me happy without being policed or attracting hostility. I don't understand what it is. Do you dislike me for my sometimes extremist feminist points of view? Or because I'm pursuing the shit I wanna do? Is it my enthusiasm? Independence? Whether you're carving bitch under my name on school property, harassing my writing skills through dumb-shit comments on this blog, or just being very unsupportive by telling me I'm doing too much, that I should cut down on the involvement, or when you learn that I'm pursuing projects in fields that your mind is outright incapable of understanding and you stand there staring at me like, "Oh yeah, that's cool" but your facial expression reads,

I'm not about to quiet down or conform to a generic, unfulfilling lifestyle. If you're that unhappy, you should see someone.

And also, grow the fuck up.

Yeah, I would dedicate an entire post to my haters.

your blog is very successful
it's tough because it comes with enemies
that means you're already in the game

Here's the thing, hate resonates more than positive support. It sticks to me. I remember it and keep wondering why? Should I feel threatened? Anxious. Pooped on. Negativity stinks. Maybe I'm not cut out for what I'm doing. Always giving a two shit flying fuck about what others think and say. 'Haters are my motivators'. Actually, no. My friends, parents&sisters are my biggest motivators. Though my parents have not a clue as to what I'm doing and why I'm doing some of the things I'm doing, they let me do me. I'm going to stop violence against women. Do it. I want Bangladeshi women to have access to reproductive health care [I don't dare say condoms though]. Do it. I'm getting a PhD. Do it. Sabia, Sazia, and friends are very much annoyed by my feminist sermons even when race/gender/sex/sexuality are not implied. But it's totally implied. Always implied. They look out for me though. Continuously fueling me. To continue. Being. Doing (no pun intended). Me.

My sister's gonna help South Asian women, like Bengalis, Indians, and Pakistanis. 
LOL, Sazia. 

Or when I make a fuss about women's rights over dinner conversations which should only be about sex. Because that's just all we talk about now. Sex. Sex. Sex. Who knew that sex is all we'd be talking about once we hit our 20s? Or is that just my group of friends and I?

I like it when you write about the bad things.

On another note though, what about Lupus? I'm in remission and haven't experienced any additional pains or flares [relapse of the disease after a period(s) of improvement]. Or else I'd actually be miserable. At the same time, it's as if no one wants to know about that part of me. The new know nothing about Lupus unless they delve into my blogosphere. Or ask about my scars. Hi, my name is Shahana Hanif and I have Lupus. Maybe not that abruptly. I knew it was visible, and thus, this is how I used to introduce myself. I was Lupus. On the real though, it's very rare to meet someone who actually wants to know you. Me. Relationships are so dull. Fickle. No one talks. It's all laughs and alcohol. And even if we're aware that we're dealing with shit, we're just like life's good. ALL IZZ WELL

But friends who've seen/endured the struggles and have been a part of it...never ask how I'm doing. How I'm handling myself. Before, I was a limping, swollen, anemic mess. Now that I've progressed (as some have mentioned in regards to my weight/appearance), Lupus is forgotten. It's a challenge because even I'm forgetful or apathetic about Lupus. It's there, but not so much. Why is it so difficult to accept this newness? I reward my seemingly improved health by skipping medications. I haven't visited any of my doctors since the Spring semester began. I could be putting myself in a lot of danger, but I just don't know anymore. I don't care anymore. YOLO? This is probably not a good time to make a joke.

Are you taking care of your body/Lupus? Don't forget about your health in the hype of activism. 
Happy to be a part of the Sakhi team.

I don't know. I sound like a big baby. It's difficult. My God, I'm 22.

Welcome back, Sabia.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013


The following is not written in 'classic' blog format or what you may be used to reading written by me. The piece isn't even from my Women's and Gender Studies classes. Rather, it's from a newswriting course I'm taking and of course, because I take my feminism everywhere, when given an assignment to write a 'special' report about an issue affecting us at large, I chose RAPE. Newswriting is different from a theoretical/analysis requiring essay. I'm sharing this because it's simple to read and understand unlike the other work I do which is indulged in bulky language and theory. You may or may not understand everything I've mentioned in this piece. It might be overly simplified and very broad. It's a good start for me. 

Boy meets girl. Girl plays hard to get. Girl is raped by a gang of street thugs. Boy saves girl and becomes a hero. Typical Bollywood plot? Maybe. But the reality of rape in India is far from classic Bollywood. In fact, the hero is nonexistent. Victims of rape are left to deal with the shame and suffering on their own. As the fastest growing violent crime in the world, rape continues to focus on the victim. This is a problem. However, current feminist activism is allowing women in India and beyond to realize their worth. They are not alone. Sexual violence will not conquer any woman.

In any given rape case, the victim is closely interrogated. The conversation revolves around blaming the victim about where she should have been or what she shouldn’t have worn. The assaulted is held responsible for asking for it. Blaming women for their sexuality is not a validation for raping. Dressing provocatively is not an invitation to rape. Rape is not about attraction or fulfilling a sexual fantasy. Rapists seek vulnerability. Victims can range from a three-and-a-half-week-old baby to a 94-year-old woman. Thus, rape involves male privilege of power, rage, and sexuality over women. It is about the entitlement to control and objectify the female body. Is this how a rapist rationalizes rape? No. In fact, the language surrounding rape does not question the rapist’s motives. Statistics show that 97% of rapists will never spend a day in jail. While the rapist may or may not receive punishment, it is the woman who deals with the consequences. Victims worldwide simultaneously face emotional, physical, and social trauma. In more “traditional” cultures, women are ostracized by their families and communities. This abandonment often results in forced prostitution or suicide. Instead of empowering the victim to realize it was not her fault, chastity, a constructed virtue associated with a woman’s body, becomes the central focus. 

Losing one’s virtue is attached to what feminists theorize as a rape culture—everyday language, laws, and images that perpetuate rape. Rape cultures condone sexual assault by promoting violence against women as a natural phenomenon. Women are devalued and assumed to have no authority over their bodies. A rape culture makes it acceptable for men to rape. Since birth, it confines women to live their lives in fear of sexual violence. Social movements such as SlutWalks challenge rape culture and the belief that sexual violence is brought on by the woman because of her clothing or sexuality.

If the objectification of women is not challenged, rape cultures will continue to exist. Allowing women to live independently of sexual terror cannot be an afterthought. The dialogue of rape needs to begin with the rapist—not the victim. 

Saturday, January 26, 2013


Do you ever find yourself cornered by emotions? Or when participating in a deed, your conscience deems it/them as immoral (Mrs. Guilt creeps in) but somehow you feel extremely liberated and even happy? My conscience and I. Separate entities? Why can't I hug freely? Kiss freely? Conscience seems to overrule any decisions I'd like to make against the learned or instilled norms. Maybe I'm naturally this way?

As a woman who engages in conversations about sexuality so freely and leads discourses about men/women having the right to choose what they do with their body, I can't seem to get out of my conservative (parental, religious, societal forces) upbringing about engaging in romantic relationships without a commitment. Which is insane because even committed relationships go awry. Break-ups, make-ups. Somehow, a commitment makes me feel protected and loved.

It's really all a mindfuck because at times I find myself supporting the casual hook-up, friends with benefits, no strings attached, whatever-else-they're-calling-it-these-days type of relationships. And other times when a man gives it to me straight about what he wants, I'm just like, damn what a sleazebag. But wait, that sounds  fun, stress-free, and even doable... we all need some lovin' (even if it's noncommital) ...right? 

I don't want a long-term commitment with a man...yet. At least, that's what I've come to know about myself.  The idea of settling (for one person) scares the shit out of me. My mother was married at 17 (23 years strong). Unfuckingbelievable. Is it because I have a choice at age 22 to remain unmarried that I'm so analytical about and against settling? Or is it because of the times we're living in which very few (up-front) make an effort to actually want you as you and spend time building a relationship? Some of my friends are suggesting that I register on an online dating service because apparently those on it are serious...what is the world coming to?

I can't commit. I don't want a boyfriend, but I want someone or something. This isn't an invitation though. I don't know. Holy shit, I have commitment problems. I have problems.

What drives me even more crazy about myself is when I try seeking commitment from a man who I know is incapable of doing so or clearly doesn't want to. I don't get it. Don't want those who want me. Want those who don't want me. What kind of fuckery is this? 

I don't know what I want. And neither does a friend of mind, but on a totally unrelated subject. He definitely came to the right person for some sane advice because I clearly have a great sense of direction in life and know exactly what I'm doing and want. I don't. However, at a certain point I had it all figured out. I decided that at 18 I'd enter college, engaged to my one true love (never been in love, I'll be clear on this), ridin' dirty with my sexy sports car, married by 22, off to med-school, and other such nonsensical hopes and dreams. Yeah, none of that happened. Not even the sexy sports car. Now, I'm just like, as long as I'm in an educational institution, I don't really have any worries. I'm good to go. He, on the other hand, is graduating next semester and feels life's at a halt.

"I'm just not sure about anything right now. 
I don't know.
I feel like I have no direction at this point. 
I don't have any plans next year.
I don't know what I want to do."

Me: "Take a breath." 

"I have no direction."

My input seems apathetic here but we did have an in-depth conversation about his many options (this friend of mine is a genius--he is the smartest man I know) and while I was trying to help him figure himself out, I couldn't help but worry about myself. And others who come to a point and feel that they just don't know what's next? or what now? Lack of direction? Not knowing or being indecisive is the hardest shit to deal with. I'm optimistic and I believe that through opportunities we all find our niche (someday). We're raised definitively--always having to know the future--setting our mind on a specific path. Planning is all good but let's be real, how often does shit we plan actually work out? Why can't we just let life be? (I guess then we'd just all be poor motherfuckers...) In all seriousness, being at an age where shit's getting real makes me very uncomfortable... as if I have to make a decision right this instant so that by a certain age I have a certain amount of stability. Having Lupus, I don't waste time with goals because life's a goddamn joke. You just don't know what'll happen or where you'll end up next. But it works out. And I'm okay with that.

Directionless isn't the right word to describe not knowing. Indecisiveness is a better word because with a little push, we all know what we want. Might as well take a chance. (YOLO, don't hate me). 

Saturday, January 5, 2013

unnecessary ramblings

All that's been on my mind lately is sex. I think about it a lot. More than the physical deed, the concept. Every group conversation with my women turns into a conversation about sex. Not about experiences or how much we want to have it... liberal/semi-conservative Muslim-Bengali women don't admit to such things. More so about the cultural/religious perspectives on when/why or why not women should have sex. And masturbation. 

We're all in our 20's still laughing and giggling at words like 'vagina', 'masturbating', 'sex'. Soon to be 22 (February 5th, accepting all sorts of gifts starting with D ending in O), I realize that I've wasted my years. By not having enough sex. Is it age or the mind-set I'm accustomed to? Maybe it's not too big of a deal. And maybe you're all about to judge my thoughts on sexuality and exploring one's body. I should stop here.

How often do Desi/Muslim women write/speak about sex? How much do you know about your vagina? Reproductive health? Contraceptives? Abortion options? I have family and little kids reading this, so this conversation ends here for now

This post should've been about sex/sexuality within the realm of a Desi/Bengali woman's life. However, I won't deny that even I, a woman who loves to discuss such topics in great analysis with close friends, am too concerned on the reaction/responses to such a discourse on my blog.

In all honesty though, is it me or is there a lack of real men who want to pursue a real relationship? I understand I'm young and I should be runnin' wild havin' lots of good ol' sex and fun, but let's be real for a second... WTF is going on? This semester was... let's just say, an eye-opener to the world of promiscuity. Nothing's wrong with it...but for how long do I just fool around as if it's all good in the hood? You meet a new guy and start talking thinkin' all is well and you're like 'yes, maybe this guy doesn't want sex and hugs from me,' but na chill, that thought lasts for about a minute because the dude is already initiating a sexual conversation or deed. Which is alright when I'm horny and I've got nothing better to do, but one thing for sure, it turns me off. And even if you're physically on me or trying to seduce me, yeah, you're still failing to turn me on. Sometimes I feel, 'whatever, I'll just go with the flow' because even I have a desire to just kiss and hug without strings attached. But na, I ain't about that life. Or am I?

I'm ready for a real commitment and if I'm the equivalent to a piece of ass to you, stay away from me. 

Yeah, I don't know what I want. Single is what I know and how I've been for a good while. But at the same time, I want something more. Maybe I should take a breather. Too analytical to do that. Some white wine will do the job. Shoutouts to my homies who are in steady relationships. I'm jealous of the times that I'm surrounded by these couples who truly care for and want each other. I idolize you people so don't break up! Special love to A&N. You two are amazing individuals, and together you are fuckin' amazing.

I should be graduating in the Spring 2013 semester, but I'm not. A part of me is upset that most of my friends are graduating and moving on to bigger and better things. Another part of me is just tired of going to college and desperately wants to discontinue. And a third part of me is like na, I gotta finish this shit. Dilemmas, dilemmas. In any case, what I'm proud of is my progress, not in academia, but with Lupus. No flare-ups. Hips are chillin' out, walkin' around, doin' their thing. And along with it, the rest of the joints are behaving well. Such pleasures don't come that easily. This semester has been the least stressful of all semesters. And yeah, I took only three shitty classes (except for Women's Health--the best thing that ever happened to me; immediately needs to be a core requirement in Brooklyn College and every other college out there) which makes it obvious that I'd have no stress regardless. But seriously, this was the semester from high school which I missed out on. All throughout high school, I was a loser nerd. I like to think I was cool at times, but now that I look back, I realize, I was a loser who was always buried in books. In any case, I wasn't my loser-self this semester. Studying was not a priority. And it was fuckin' awesome. The men (I attended an all-girls school (LAME) so I didn't really have much exposure to them except for Papo, the school janitor, he was pretty chill), Desi drama, random outbursts of laughter, lots of free food, and just good ol' Desi togetherness. All who made this possible, I will never forget you.

And especially the day we went ice skating. Even though I urged I didn't want to go because I can't ice all wanted me there. I can't ice skate, ever. (New readers: Google Avascular Necrosis, Systemic Lupus Erythematosus). To be situated among people who can do what you'll never be able to do makes me cry. But to feel wanted regardless of disability and having friends who'll sit around with you and watch others fall on their asses on the rink, life doesn't get any better than this.

Resolutions. I'm gonna continue being awesome and keep it real and casual. That's all there is to it.