By: Ethar El-Katatney
I cried while watching a movie today.
I never cry in movies.
But today I cried because I saw pieces of my soul in a movie. It spoke to me. Deeply.
It’s a movie that on some level I was thirsty for. So, so thirsty. And I hadn’t realized how thirsty I was.
I went to a nursery called ‘Tom and Jerry.’ The first song I learned was “Twinkle twinkle little star.” The first cartoon I watched was Barney the purple dinosaur. I went to middle school and started reading Roald Dahl. I devoured the Sweet Valley Twins series. I had a crush on Johnny Bravo. I went to high school and started watching movies like American Pie, about the trials of high school life: dating, drinking, dancing, exc.
But you see, these things were so far removed from my life.
I am a Muslim. I don’t date. Drink. Dance.
The issues I went through in high school were so much more than simply worrying about what that boy thought of me. Instead, I was struggling as the only veiled girl in the entire school. Struggling to come up with an excuse for why I couldn’t go to a friend’s 13th birthday party where you had to “bring a date”. It was a time where I struggled, hard, to balance between aspects of my identity that on the surface seemed contradictory.
I knew no one going through a similar struggle — no family members, no friends. And there were no movies or books to at least reassure me that I was not alone. Like the times when I felt like ripping off that veil or accepting that locket from a boy I liked were normal — that feeling that way did not make me bad.
Instead, the media I consumed made me feel like an alien — telling me that the lifestyle I read about in books and saw on television was the norm, and that opting out of that lifestyle made me a freak, an oddity.
Where were the people like me? In real life? In movies?
Enter Mooz-lum, stage right.
Mooz-lum is a movie that traces the life of Tariq, a young black Muslim American boy. Raised in an extremely conservative household, he rebels once he goes to college. 9/11 happens and lives change.
It’s a movie about faith. Identity. Tolerance. Struggle. Coexistence. Discrimination. Coming of age.
It’s a movie that every young Muslim will empathize with. A movie that showcases the nuances of struggling to fit in. Of the journey we take to find out who we are and how to stay true to ourselves once we do.
And it begins with peer pressure. And family.
Peer pressure is hard, no matter what faith you are. We all want to fit in. No one wants to be different in high school, let alone different in a way that has such negative connotations — “that’s a Mooz-lum name!” laughs the students in school at Tariq.
I wanted to be blonde and white.
I wanted to be like everyone else.
I wanted a mom who would cook burgers and fries. A cool dad who would drive me to prom. Because that is what ‘normal’ was.
Instead, I got parents I loved deeply, but couldn’t understand how they were so different from me. I felt like I was bending over backwards to satisfy them but it was never enough. I always felt like I was failing them.
We are a generation that is just so so different from our parents.
My dad—like Tariq’s—proudly wears a thobe and kufi out in public. I was embarrassed of him as a child. And then ashamed at being embarrassed to have him pick me up from school.
No matter how hard he tries to compromise, it is just never enough, because we come from such different backgrounds.
My paternal grandmother never went to high school, and she got married at age 15 to a 40-year-old man. My father believes I am a spinster at 23 and sees the fact that I went on to college and then graduate school as the biggest compromise. That is the way he is, and that is the way he will remain.
Tariq’s story highlights this beautifully — the struggle we go through to please our parents, and our comprehension that although they may try, they will find it hard to do as Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib advised:
“Do not force your children to behave like you, for surely they have been created for a time which is different to your time.”
At the same time, Mooz-lum makes you feel for the parents — they want children like them. Better than them. Children who will get the chance to do what they couldn’t. And they want to protect them from the aspects of a culture that they see as against their beliefs.
My dad forbade me to go to prom. I’ve never been to a concert. I’m home before 10pm every night. My dad wants me to read Arabic fluently. He wants me to learn the Qur’an by heart. He wants my brother to pray in the mosque. Grow a beard. Dress ‘Muslim’. He wants us to be good Muslims in the way he understands good Muslims must be. And I cannot fault him for that. And as I grow older, the more I am able to appreciate how hard it was for him to compromise, and the more I understand that being tough can sometimes be the hardest thing to do.
But how to make parents understand that culture and faith are not the same?
And how will we raise our own children? Where will we put the limits? How to raise them in a way that they choose to be Muslims? Choose to abide by the rules because they want to? Where do we relax the rules? When do we let them choose?
Do we send them to the schools where they struggle so much? Or to Muslim schools that come with their own kind of problems?
Tariq’s father sends him to a madrasa—a Muslim school where the children dress in thobes and kufis, eat on the floor from one big bowl, and basically live a life that is different from the world outside its walls.
I went to a school like that in Yemen. But I went by choice as an adult, to see what life ‘away’ from the ‘world’ is like, where in no way am I odd or strange. I do not believe that Muslim schools, run by people from our parents’ generation, are the solution. If they’re not run properly, they run the risk of alienating the children. And to be run properly they need people like me, like Tariq, to run them. Who understand what it is like to grow up between cultures and with multiple identities.
But I digress.
The question Mooz-lum raises: How to create a vibrant American Muslim culture? One that is wholly American and wholly Muslim at the same time, rather than neither nor? How to be so secure in who we are and what we believe in order to be able to develop this culture? How to find our place in this world? Where we are proud of our roots and history, proud of our faith, and yet truly citizens of this world?
And these issues aren’t just limited to Americans. We talk about globalization. But the reality is, we’re talking about Americanization. The world is becoming Americanized.
I’m sitting at Starbucks in a mall right now, sipping my tall-skinny-vanilla-latte and staring at a Christmas tree while listening to Frank Sinatra. I just finished typing an analysis of a Harvard Business School case for my MBA class on my MacBook, I’m sending a bbm from my blackberry, and I’m staring at the Apple store across from me and wondering if I really need an iPad, and whether or not I maxed out my American Express credit card this month.
I’m dressed in Levis jeans, Converse trainers, a GAP sweater, and I just came from Gold’s Gym. I’m meeting friends in an hour to see Tangled at the 3D cinema, where we will buy caramel popcorn and then have lunch at Chilis or TGIF. And then dessert at Haagen-Dazs. Then we’ll walk around the mall — I want to buy the new Jodi Picoult book from Virgin, that dress I liked from Zara, and the new raspberry body butter from The Body Shop.
But you see, I am not in America.
I am not American.
I have never even been to America.
I was born in Saudi Arabia.
The mall I am in is in Cairo, Egypt.
I am Egyptian and I have lived in Egypt all my life.
And yet — my identity is no longer purely Egyptian.
In the world we live in today, so many Muslims are going through what I am going through, without ever having stepped foot in America. We don’t have to be American to be Americanized. And we don’t have to be Americanized to struggle as Muslims in a world where religion is seen as backward. Where modernity and civilization seem to be mutually exclusive with faith.
We’re all adrift in confusion. Trying to make sense of our identity, and trying to see where we fit.
As Muslims, we’re struggling to find the balance. Struggling against the loud voices that tell us our faith is violent. Struggling to prove that it is not. Struggling against ourselves and against an outside world that seems to be against us.
It’s so hard.
And sometimes, we slip up. Sometimes, a small little voice tells you:
“Dude, your life would be so much easier if you could just go with the flow.”
If you didn’t have to announce to the world that you were Muslim, with all the baggage and connotations and responsibility that it entails.
If you were just like everyone else.
Tariq decides to be T. To shed the part of him he doesn’t realize is his core. He goes drinking, clubbing, kisses a girl, and decides he doesn’t want any part of ‘it’.
But even when we slip up — the guilt is there.
There aren’t enough words to describe the scene where Tariq recites the Qur’an out loud and tears up. Because that’s what it boils down to — if you truly truly believe, you will not find a joy in this world that is as beautiful as the joy you do when you submit to God.
And that is what makes the struggle worth it — to find the place where you are comfortable in your dual identities, part of the world, not isolated, and yet not schizophrenic, torn apart.
So that was how Mooz-lum impacted me on one level. And partially why movies like it are necessary—for Muslim youth who need to know that they’re not alone.
But the movie is so much more that.
In American society today, artistic expression, and more specifically movies, are the way to impact people. Once upon a time it was poetry. Then it was books. Now, it is movies. As Ingmar Bergman, the famous Swedish director and producer, said:
“Film as dream, film as music. No form of art goes beyond ordinary consciousness as film does, straight to our emotions, deep into the twilight room of the soul.”
When I left college I became a journalist. My job is media. I live in it.
And I don’t think anyone would argue with me when I say that Muslims in western media are grossly misrepresented, that misconceptions are circulated, and that we have been reduced from rich, complex individuals into one-dimensional representations and a monolithic entity. In 2001, Jack Shaheen analyzed the way Arabs (might as well be synonymous with Muslims) were portrayed in over 900 movies for his book Reel Bad Arabs. He found that only a dozen portrayals were positive and fifty balanced.
You know the drill.
The reality is that media shapes perceptions. And the western media of the world today has disfigured the image of Islam, ingrained misconceptions and stereotypes, and consequently promoted intolerance, racism, hatred, and violence.
According to Media Tenor, a research firm that monitors and analyzes media coverage of key issues
The tone of statements in US television news in 2009 about Islam (40%) was twice as likely to be negative than the statements made about Christianity (20%). Two-thirds of the television coverage about Islam associates Muslims with extremism.
A Gallup study on religious perceptions in America released earlier this year showed that the more ignorant Americans were about Islam, the less prejudiced they were towards it.
Why? Because they were ignorant — they were not exposed to as much media. If they had, they would have been more prejudiced, since the media image of Islam is violent and horrible and oppressive
And this disfiguration of the faith has gone virtually unchallenged in the public mind simply because Muslims in the west have not yet attained a high enough level of comfort in their identities to express their spirituality through the arts, whether that be music, plays, books or movies.
But this is changing. Muslims are starting to speak up for themselves. The New York Times just ran an article this week about Muslim artists who are bridging American and Islamic traditions with their art.
And that’s why a movie like Mooz-lum is groundbreaking. It isn’t a one-dimensional representation. It doesn’t portray Muslims as angels or demons. It portrays the humanity: we love, we hate, we do good, we do bad. And yes, there are people out there who give Islam a bad name: who beat children, who preach violence. And there are those who do good: who call for mercy, for co-existence, who are great human beings doing great things for the world. Nothing is as black or white as it seems, and the actors do a beautiful job of portraying the complexities of the characters writer and director Qasim Bashir brought to life.
Mooz-lum goes deep beyond the cliches and the headlines, to the heart. It isn’t the best movie you’ll ever see. But it’s a damn good one, and it is groundbreaking. Because the only way for us to start tackling the stereotypes is in the same way they are perpetuated: movies.
For non-Muslims, the movie is perhaps more important: a chance for them to hear Muslims speaking about what it is like to be Muslim. To see the nuances it would be impossible to get across in a conversation or two. To see how 9/11 impacted Muslims: In 2003, the FBI created an Arab-American advisory committee after hate crimes against people perceived to be Arab or Muslim increased by 1,700%.
I believe that working in media, creating movies and songs and books that reflect ‘us’ is just as important as everything else Muslims have to do in the world today —reinterpret scripture, properly teach Islam to children, condemn violence, etc.
But it’s a heavy burden, and not one many of us choose to bear — especially those of us who are successful, articulate, cosmopolitan and secure in who they are, and therefore the most qualified to stand up and say “Yes, I’m a Muslim. This is why. This is my community. These are my struggles. No, I am not x, or y, or z.”
It could potentially harm your career. It’ll put you in the spotlight. You will be judged as a “Mooz-lum,” and not as a lawyer, a doctor, an anchor, a teacher.
But it is our responsibility as Muslims. Actually, scratch that. It is our responsibility as citizens and humans to speak up for a beleaguered faith, which lacks the political and cultural power to fight back.
Eid Lameness Syndrome: Diagnosis, Treatment, Cure
How many of you have gone to work on Eid because you felt there was no point in taking off? No Eid fun. Have you ever found Eid boring, no different from any other day?
If so, you may suffer from ELS (Eid Lameness Syndrome). Growing up, I did too.
My family would wake up, go to salah, go out to breakfast, come home, take a 4+ hour nap and then go out to dinner. I didn’t have friends to celebrate with and even if I did, I wouldn’t see them because we stuck to our own immediate family just as they did.
On the occasion that we went to a park or convention center, we would sort of have fun. Being with other people was certainly better than breakfast-nap-dinner in isolation, but calling that a memorable, satisfying, or genuinely fun Eid would be a stretch.
I don’t blame my parents for the ELS though. They came from a country where Eid celebration was the norm; everyone was celebrating with everyone and you didn’t have to exert any effort. When they moved to the US, where Muslims were a minority, it was uncharted territory. They did the best they could with the limited resources they had.
When I grew up, I did about the same too. When I hear friends or acquaintances tell me that they’re working, doing laundry or whatever other mundane things on Eid, I understand. Eid has been lame for so long that some people have given up trying to see it any other way. Why take personal time off to sit at home and do nothing?
I stuck to whatever my parents did for Eid because “Eid was a time for family.” In doing so, I was honoring their cultural ideas of honoring family, but not Eid. It wasn’t until I moved away that I decided to rebel and spend Eid with convert friends (versus family) who didn’t have Muslim families to celebrate with on Eid, rather than drive for hours to get home for another lame salah-breakfast-nap-dinner.
That was a game-changing Eid for me. It was the first non-lame Eid I ever had, not because we did anything extraordinary or amazing, but because we made the day special by doing things that we wouldn’t normally do on a weekday together. It was then that I made a determination to never have a lame Eid ever again InshaAllah.
I’m not the only one fighting ELS. Mosques and organizations are creating events for people to attend and enjoy together, and families are opting to spend Eid with other families. There is still much more than can be done, as converts, students, single people, couples without children and couples with very small children, are hard-hit by the isolation and sadness that ELS brings. Here are a few suggestions for helping treat ELS in your community:
Host an open house
Opening up your home to a large group of people is a monumental task that takes a lot of planning and strength. But it comes with a lot of baraka and reward. Imagine the smiling faces of people who would have had nowhere to go on Eid, but suddenly find themselves in your home being hosted. If you have a big home, hosting an open house is an opportunity to express your gratitude to Allah for blessing you with it.
Expand your circle
Eid is about commUNITY. Many people spend Eid alone when potential hosts stick to their own race/class/social status. Invite and welcome others to spend Eid with you in whatever capacity you can.
You can enlist the help of close friends and family to help so it’s not all on you. Delegate food, setup, and clean-up across your family and social network so that no one person will be burdened by the effort InshaAllah.
Don’t worry if you don’t have a big house, you’ll find out how much barakah your home has by how many people are able to fit in it. I’ve been to iftars in teeny tiny apartments where there’s little space but lots of love. If you manage to squeeze in even two or three extra guests, you’ve saved two or three people from ELS for that year.
Outsource Eid Fun
If you have the financial means or know enough friends who can pool together, rent a house. Some housing share sites have homes that can be rented specifically for events, giving you the space to consolidate many, smaller efforts into one larger, more streamlined party.
It can be a challenge to find Eid buddies to spend the day with. Try looking for people in similar circumstances as you. I’m a single woman and have hosted a ladies game night for the last few Eids where both married and single women attend. If you are a couple with young kids, find a few families with children of similar age groups. If you’re a student, start collecting classmates. Don’t wait for other people to invite you, make a list in advance and get working to fend off ELS together.
The Prophet ﷺ said: تَهَادُوا تَحَابُّوا “Give gifts to increase love for each other”. One of my siblings started a tradition of getting a gift for each person in the family. If that’s too much, pick one friend or family member and give them a gift. If you can’t afford gifts, give something that doesn’t require much money like a card or just your time. You never know how much a card with kind, caring words can brighten a person’s Eid.
Get out of your comfort zone
If you have ELS, chances are there is someone else out there who has it too. The only way to find out if someone is sad and alone on Eid is by admitting that we are first, and asking if they are too.
Try, try, try again…
Maybe you’ve taken off work only to find that going would have been less of a waste of time. Maybe you tried giving gifts and it didn’t go well. Maybe you threw an open house and are still cleaning up/dealing with the aftermath until now. It’s understandable to want to quit and say never again, to relent and accept that you have ELS and always will but please, keep trying. The Ummah needs to believe that Eid can and should be fun and special for everyone.
While it is hard to be vulnerable and we may be afraid of rejection or judgment, the risk is worth it. As a survivor and recoverer of ELS, I know how hard it can be and also how rewarding it is to be free of it. May Allah bless us all with the best Eids and to make the most of the blessed days before and after, Ameen.
Were Muslim Groups Duped Into Supporting an LGBTQ Rights Petition at the US Supreme Court?
Recently several Muslim groups sent an amicus brief to the US Supreme Court to support LGBTQ rights in employment. These groups argued“sex” as used in the Civil Rights Act should be defined broadly to include more types of discrimination than Congress wrote into the statue.
A little background. Clayton County, Georgia fired Gerald Lynn Bostock. The County alleged Bostock embezzled money, so he was fired. Bostock argues the real reason is that he is gay. Clayton County denied they would fire someone for that reason. Clayton County successfully had the case dismissed saying that even if Bostock is right about everything, the law Bostock filed the lawsuit under does not vindicate his claim. The case is now at the Supreme Court with other similar cases.
The “Muslim” brief argued the word “sex” should mean lots of things, and under the law (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act), LGBTQ discrimination is already illegal. American law has developed to provide some support for this argument, but there have been divisions in the appellate courts. So this is the exact sort of thing the US Supreme Court exists to decide.
The Involvement Of Muslim Groups
In Supreme Court litigation, parties on both sides marshal amicus briefs (written arguments) and coordinate their efforts to improve the effectiveness of their advocacy, there are over 40 such briefs in the Bostock case. Groups represent constituencies with no direct stake in the immediate dispute but care about the precedent the case would set.
The Muslim groups came in purportedly because they know what it’s like to be victims of discrimination (more on that below). The brief answered an objection to the consequences that could come with an expansive definition of the term “sex” to include gay, lesbian, and transgender persons (in lieu of its conventional use as synonymous with gender, i.e., male/female). In particular, the brief responded to the concern that “sex” being defined as any subjective experience may open up more litigation than was intended by making the argument that religion is a personal experience that courts have no trouble sorting out and that, like faith, courts can define “sex” the same way.
While this may be interesting to some, boring to others, it begs the question: why are Muslim groups involved with this stuff? Muslims are a faith community. If we speak *as Muslims* is it not pertinent to consult with the traditions of the faith tradition known as Islam, like Quran, Hadith and the deep well of scholarly tradition? Is our mere presence in a pluralistic society enough reason to ignore all this and focus on building allies in our mutual desire to create a world free of discrimination?
In July of 2017, the main party to the “Muslim” brief, Muslims for Progressive Values (MPV), was expelled from the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) Convention bazaar. I was on the Executive Council of the organization at the time but had no role in the decision. The reason: MPV was dedicated to promoting ignorance of Islam among Muslims at the event. The booth had literature claiming haram was good and virtuous. Propaganda distributed at the table either implied haram was not haram or alternately celebrated haram.
For any Muslim organization dedicated to Islam, it is not a difficult decision to expel an organization explicitly dedicated to spreading haram. No Muslim organization, composed of Muslims who fear Allah and dedicate their time to Islam can give space to organizations opposed the faith community’s values and advocates against them in their conferences and events. Allah, in the Quran, tells us:
Indeed, those who like that immorality should be spread [or publicized] among those who have believed will have a painful punishment in this world and the Hereafter. And Allah knows, and you do not know.
It would be charitable to the point of fraud to characterize MPV as a Muslim organization. That MPV has dedicated itself to promoting ignorance of the religion within the Muslim community is not in serious dispute. The organization’s leader has been all over the anti-Sharia movement.
Discrimination against Muslims is bad, except when it’s good
The brief framed the various organizations’ participation by claiming as Muslims, we know what it is like to be on the receiving end of discrimination. This implies the parties that signed on to the Amicus petition believe discrimination against Muslims is a bad thing. For at least two of the organizations, this is not entirely true.
MPV is an ally of another co-signer of the Amicus petition, the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC). Both have records that show an eagerness to discriminate against Muslims in the national security space. They both applied for CVE grants. Both have supported the claim that Muslims are a national security threat they are somehow equipped to deal with. I have written more extensively about MPAC in the past; mainly, it’s work in Countering Violent Extremism and questionable Zakat practices.
MPAC’s CVE program, called “Safe Spaces,” singled out Muslims as terrorist threats. It purported to address this Muslim threat. In June of 2019, MPAC’s academic partner released an evaluation Safe Spaces and judged it as “not successful” citing the singling out of Muslims, as well as a lack of trust within the Muslim community because of a lack of transparency as reasons why the program was a failure. Despite its legacy of embarrassment and failure, MPAC continues to promote Safe Spaces on its website.
MPV was a vigorous defender of MPAC’s CVE program, Safe Spaces. MPV’s leader has claimed the problem of “radicalism” is because of CAIR, ISNA, and ICNA’s “brand of Islam.”
Law Enforcement Approved Islam
In 2011, former LAPD head of Counter-Terrorism, Michael P. Downing testified during a congressional hearing on “Islamist Radicalization” Downing testified in favor of MPV, stating:
I would just offer that, on the other side of the coin, we should create opportunities for the pure, good part of this, to be in the religion, such as the NGOs. There is an NGO by the name of Ani Zonneveld who does the Muslims for Progressive Values. This is what they say, “Values are guided by 10 principles of Islam, rooted in Islam, including social equality, separation of religion and state, freedom of speech, women’s rights, gay rights, and critical analysis and interpretation.” She and her organization have been trying to get into the prison system to give this literature as written by Islamic academic scholars. So I think there can be more efforts on this front as well.
Downing was central to the LAPD’s “Muslim Mapping” program, defending the “undertaking as a way to help Muslim communities avoid the influence of those who would radicalize Islamic residents and advocate ‘violent, ideologically-based extremism.” MPAC was a supporter of the mapping program, which was later rejected by the city because it was an explicit ethnic profiling program mainstream Muslim and secular civil rights groups opposed. MPAC later claimed it did not support the program, though somehow saw fit to give Downing an award. Downing, since retired, currently serves on MPAC’s Advisory Council.
Ani Zonnevold, the President and Founder of MPV, currently sits on the International Board of Directors for the Raif Badawi Foundation alongside Maajid Nawaz and Zuhdi Jasser.
MPV has also been open about both working for CVE and funding from a non-Muslim source, the Human Rights Campaign, and other groups with agendas to reform the religion of Islam. It’s hard not to see it as an astroturf organization.
Muslim Groups Were Taken for a Ride
Unfortunately, Muslim nonprofit organizations are often unsophisticated when it comes to signing documents other groups write. Some are not even capable of piecing together the fact that an astroturf organization opposed to Islam, the religious tradition, was recruiting them to sign something.
There are many Muslims sympathetic to the LGBTQ community while understanding the limits of halal and haram. Not everyone who signed the brief came to this with the same bad faith as an MPV, which is hostile to the religion of Islam itself. Muslims generally don’t organize out of hostility to Islam. This only appears to be happening because of astroturfing in the Muslim community. Unfortunately, it was way too easy to bamboozle well-meaning Muslim groups.
Muslims are a faith community. MPV told the groups Islam did not matter in their argument when the precise reason they were recruited to weigh in on the case was that they are Muslim. Sadly, it was a successful con. Issues like the definition of sex are not divorced from Islamic concerns. We have Islamic inheritance and rules for family relations where definitions of words are relevant. Indeed, our religious freedoms in ample part rest on our ability to define the meaning of words, like Muslim, fahisha, zakat, daughter, and Sharia. Separate, open-ended definitions with the force of law may have implications for religious freedom for Muslims and others because it goes to defining a word across different statutes, bey0nd the civil rights act. There would be fewer concerns if LGBT rights were simply added as a distinct category under the Civil Rights Act while respecting religious freedom under the constitution.
Do Your Homework
Muslim organizations should do an analysis of religious freedom implications for Muslims and people of other faiths before signing on to statements and briefs. A board member of MPV drafted the “Muslim” Brief, and his law firm recruited Muslim nonprofit organizations to sign on. CAIR Oklahoma, which signed up for this brief, made a mistake (hey, it happens). CAIR Oklahoma’s inclusion is notable. This chapter successfully challenged the anti-Sharia “Save our State” law that would have banned Muslims from drafting Islamic Wills. Ironically, CAIR Oklahoma’s unwitting advocacy at the Supreme Court could work against that critical result. For an anti-Sharia group like MPV, this is fine. It is not fine for a group like CAIR.
CAIR Oklahoma is beefing up their process for signing on to Amicus Briefs in the future. No other CAIR chapter signed on to the brief, which was prudent. CAIR chapters are mostly independent organizations seemingly free to do whatever they want. CAIR, as a national organization needs to make sure all its affiliates are sailing in the same direction. They have been unsuccessful with this in the past several years. CAIR should make sure their local chapters know about astroturf outfits and charlatans trying to get them to sign things. They should protect their “America’s largest Islamic Civil Liberties Group” brand.
Muslim Leaders Should Stand Strong
American Muslims all have friends, business associates and coworkers, and family members who do things that violate Islamic norms all the time. We live in an inclusive society where we respect each other’s differences. Everyone is entitled to dignity and fair treatment. No national Muslim groups are calling for employment discrimination against anyone, nor should they.
However, part of being Muslim is understanding limits that Allah placed on us. That means we cannot promote haram or help anyone do something haram. Muslim groups do not need to support causes that may be detrimental to our interests. Our spaces do not need to be areas where we have our religion mocked and derided. Other people have the freedom to do this in their own spaces in their own time.
Some Muslim leaders are afraid of being called names unless they recite certain words or invite particular speakers. You will never please people who hate Islam unless you believe as they do. Muslims only matter if Islam matters.
If you are a leader of Muslims, you must know the limits Allah has placed on you. Understand the trust people have placed in you. Don’t allow anyone to bully or con you into violating those limits.
Note: Special thanks to Mobeen Vaid.
A New Eid Tradition: Secret Gift Exchange
Gift exchanges–they’re common traditions for many gift-giving holidays in America. I’ve participated in gift exchanges in religious and secular contexts and I’ve loved being a member and even a host of them in the past! This past Eid al Adha and Eid al Fitr, I organized a secret gift exchange (we called it “Secret Bakra” from the Urdu “bakra” which means goat) with my siblings, cousins, and their respective spouses who live all over the US and it was one of the most memorable and fun things I have ever done for Eid in my life! The best part of a gift exchange like this is that I don’t have to feel the pressure of gifting 13 people gifts every Eid, but I feel as if I have!
Here’s a quick guide and some tips to help you and your family or friends organize an Eid gift exchange!
Gift Exchange Basics
A gift exchange requires:
- a group of 3 to 40 people
- a budget range for the gift
- deadlines for sending/receiving gifts
- an organizational system to assign members who they will be giving gifts to
Optional parts of a gift exchange can be:
- some sort of exchange party (in-person or virtual)
- gift recommendations/interests for each person to help nudge the gift-giver in the right direction)
- an anonymous/secret exchange system with a reveal during the party/after everyone has gotten their gifts
Why a (Secret) Eid Gift Exchange?
Following the Sunnah and Bringing People Together
The most important motivation anyone can have to organize or participate in a gift exchange is taken from a hadith of the Prophet (S) in which he says, “Mutual gift-giving increases the love between people.” This hadith can be taken as advice for a way to bring people closer together and with the intention of following the teachings of the Prophet (S).
Celebrating Eid and Creating Meaningful Traditions
Another important motivation is to celebrate Eid, as the Prophet (S) has mentioned is a main annual holiday for Muslims, and to also make Eid special for you, your family, a group of friends coworkers, masjid volunteers, etc. Not only is it important for individuals and families to establish Eid traditions that everyone can look forward to (Eid shouldn’t just be fun for kids!), but it is particularly important in communities in which Muslims are a minority. I’ve always been a firm advocate for making fun, memorable Eids with exciting, wholesome Eid traditions and festivities.
Manageable Way to Give Gifts within a Large Group of People
A gift exchange is a great way to give gifts in a large group of people without breaking the bank and without exhausting yourself trying to think of gifts for a bunch of people and then buying or making them. My cousins and I have gotten closer more recently due to an upswing in family weddings, and I really felt like giving all of them gifts last Eid. But realistically, I didn’t have $200 to get all 9 people in this group a decent gift, or the time to make 9 gifts that were meaningful and special for each person, or the energy to come up with different gifts for all 9 individuals. A couple of years ago, my husband and I sent ice cream gift cards and personalized Eid cards to each one of our cousins (allocating $5 per cousin per family). It felt great to extend an “Eid ice cream on us” gesture, but for $45, it didn’t seem like we really got much of a bang for our buck. By doing a Secret Bakra Gift Exchange, we both spent under $30 total for our gifts, but it felt like more of a meaningful gift. It also felt like each one of my siblings/cousins gave a gift to everyone in the group–and that’s the magic of gift exchanges! Although we didn’t give and receive 9 gifts on Eid, we all came together to celebrate our family ties and Eid in a special way and everyone felt like they scored on Eid. Lastly, if there’s a dedicated group of people that you always do a gift exchange with, such as extended family in my case, theoretically everyone will end up giving everyone else a gift when you consider probabilities if you do a gift exchange every Eid for enough years, right?
Bridging the Gap: Togetherness Despite Age, Distance, Financial Means, etc.
One thing that was super magical for my cousins and I this past Eid was having the feeling that we celebrated Eid together. We’re always lamenting the fact that we seldom get together and rarely with all of us or talking about how if we were closer to each other then we’d do xyz awesome, fun things together all the time. This gift exchange wasn’t just about giving each other gifts–it was also about making time for a video call in which we all made it despite being strung across three different time zones and having work/school the next day to unwrap our gifts and wish each other a blessed and joyous Eid. It was also about creating a more tight-knit group and welcoming the newcomers to our extended family (we’ve had two weddings in one year and we’re all still getting to know the new spouses and vice versa). We’re all different in many ways–age, gender, religiosity, personality, etc.–and we may interact with each other (and even be fond of each other) at varying levels. Doing an anonymous gift exchange is a great way to force a person’s hand into making a greater effort to connect with another person in a wholesome, beautiful manner. Lastly, we considered our budget range to accommodate our financially-dependent younger cousins in high school, our unemployed bunch, our students, etc. No one felt burdened by the price tag for the gifts and everyone felt like they made a meaningful contribution no matter what their lifestyle or financial means allow.
Tips on Making Your Secret Gift Exchange Easy, Fun, and…Did I Mention Easy?
With the business of worshipping in Ramadan and Dhul Hijjah on top of daily life struggles, who has the time to monkey around with extra nonsense like a gift exchange for Eid? Following these tips will help YOU pull off a great gift exchange with minimal time, effort, stress, and hiccups! (These tips will be particularly useful for people conducting a long-distance gift exchange.)
- Use a self-generating exchange system like “Elfster.” Have one person do it (it only takes 5 minutes to set it up) and send out the sign up link. You can even take turns every time you do a gift exchange. This way, nobody has to sit out the game because the website takes care of matching people in the group and can also let an administrator get in behind the scenes in case a problem arises (like someone doesn’t send their match a gift.) For the rest of the participants, signing up takes less than 5 minutes if you’re a first-time user and less than 2 minutes if you already have an account. The site draws names, notifies everyone of who they received, provides your match’s address, etc. It basically takes out all of the headache stuff that would discourage someone from wanting to organize one of these exchanges. It can also allow for anonymous messaging, which can be handy for contacting your match to inquire about clothing sizes, color preferences, delivery options/issues, etc.
- Set a budget range that’s friendly for the people of less financial means in mind. Think of the spread of your participating group members and make the exchange accessible to those who have the least means. Gifts don’t have to be expensive to be meaningful and you don’t want to set a $80 budget if someone in the group is struggling to make ends meet every month. My recommendation is to choose a budget range so that each person isn’t busting their brains to try to get a gift as close to $15.00 as possible, for example. Determine whether or not you’d like to include shipping costs inside this budget. If someone is making a gift, then estimate how much you’d buy whatever is made if you got it from the store (this is probably a bit harder than just buying something that has a price tag associated with it.) Give a $3-7 range around a price point everyone seems comfortable with. Our budget for the last exchange we did was $12-17. Most participants bought gifts at the $14-17 range (which I think is better.) Some good budget range recommendations I have are the following: $14-17, $15-18, $18-22, $20-24, $25-29. For a higher budget: $28-33, $38-42, $48-53.
- Set a strict deadline for receiving the gifts before Eid and keep in mind your gift exchange party date/time. Make sure everyone knows that they need to have the gift delivered on or by a certain a date. Don’t have a “send by” date, that doesn’t really make any sense, and don’t have a deadline that spreads across a couple of days because it’s too confusing. My personal recommendation for the deadline is to have the deadline at least one or two days before the earliest day anyone in your group might be celebrating Eid (#MoonWars). This way, everyone can take care of their gift before the Eid madness sets in which can make Eid more enjoyable because no one is stressed out about their gift being delivered on time, and it gives a little bit of a buffer if there are any complications with delivery or fulfilling an order/shipment.
- Virtual exchange party: set it before Eid prayer. Eid day is just too crazy because people have a lot of things going on. Now take into consideration the fact that people celebrate Eid on different days…exactly. If you set your virtual exchange party for the night before the earliest Eid’s prayer, you’re nearly guaranteed to be able to catch everyone because no one will have an Eid dinner invitation for that night. Additionally, it will feed into the excitement for Eid which will be on the next day or two.
- Alternative virtual exchange party. You can have everyone send a video recording of themselves opening their gift on whatever day the gift deadline is or whatever day you want to have your “party.” This way, everyone can participate despite schedule conflicts. If there are a handful of individuals who can’t make the actual party, you can also have them send videos beforehand instead of joining into the party on the video call. This might also be helpful if you’re doing an exchange party in-person if you can have the one or two people who can’t make it video-call in or send video recordings beforehand (if it’s before, then that person would need their gift before the party.)
- Anonymous gift-sending and guessing who the gift-giver is. Make sure that the person giving the gift does not reveal their identity in any way, whether that’s putting gifts in a dark room before the party starts or making sure that their name is not on the package being sent at all. What we like to do is to have the person guess who they think gave them the gift after they’ve opened it. Our rule is that if the person guessed correctly, then the gift-giver should confirm it was indeed them that gave the gift. This is one of the most fun parts of the exchange party in my opinion.
- Have a code word in your package to signify that it’s a gift from the Eid exchange. Let’s face it–online shopping is convenient and becoming increasingly so. It’s more likely than not that you will order something from online during the gift exchange, so in order to prevent confusion, include a code word in the name of the person you’re sending the Eid gift to. We chose to write “Bakra” as the middle name, so it’d look like “Muhammad Bakra Ahmad” on whatever package was intended to be their gift for the Eid gift exchange.
I hope all of these tips were useful! If you end up doing this Eid gift exchange in your family, let us know what the best gifts were this time around!
Here are the gifts that we had in our Eid al Fitr gift exchange this past June!
- Juvia’s Masquerade Eyeshadow Palette
- NASA Worm Logo Shirt + The Great Wave off Kanagawa Tapestry
- Jade Roller for Face
- Music Record
- Nose Frida
- Campfire Mug
- DSLR Camera Remote
- Llama String Art Kit
- The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*** + Knife Sharpening Stone
- Philadelphia Eagles Sun Hat
- Golden State Warriors Mug
May Your Eid Be Blessed!
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