Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Me, Islam, and an Interview

Note to self: Don’t go out for a walk on the nature trail when every landscaping company in the area is out cutting the grass. Not fun!

This morning, I was struggling with a tricky concept in chapter eight of my work in progress, shooting for a third novel by the end of 2015. And like I always do when I get mentally stuck, I go for long walks on the trail by the creek close to my house. I tried to ignore the buzzing sounds of tractors and lawn mowers by reflecting on an incident or rather an experience I had last week.

A professor friend of mine who teaches a course about Gender and Islam asked me for a favor. She was struck by how many of her students never even met a Muslim woman before, let alone had a sustained conversation with one. She asked if I would be open to having a student interview me as part of an assignment to write an essay about both the experience and me. I thought it a great idea, an opportunity to dispel any misconceptions that might be present in the student’s mind. I’ve always advocated for putting the responsibility on the shoulders of us women to dispel stereotypes, and especially us Muslim women to shatter the dark images/concepts that are shoved onto us by people who don’t know much about Islam. I believe we have a role; I have a role, a duty to speak up and defend what I believe in. I abhor complaining, and I hate waiting for someone to do something, or for an event to just happen and change the status quo. I believe in trying - not necessarily succeeding - to engage as much as possible in the society I live in. So I went to the interview, armed and ready.

Of course there is no way for me to know what the student wrote about me after the nearly two-hour conversation, and that’s not what really concerned me this morning during my walk. What I mulled on was my own reaction to the deep questions asked of how I perceive myself as a Muslim woman. Questions concerning my views on gender roles, sexuality, spirituality, practices, motherhood, work outside the home, LBGT issues, and dress code to name a few. I promised myself to be as honest as possible with the extremely polite and intellectual student, and I was taken aback by how some of my ideas and personal beliefs affected me when I articulated them. Thoughts gain a different measure of weight when they are spoken, a higher elevation when they are explained, and they open up whole worlds when they cross the isle and are received as they were meant.

I always thought of myself a deeply spiritual person. If people want to put me in a box and stick a label on it, they would probably use Liberal Muslim. I, however, try to shy away from labels when it comes to people, and being totally honest, it was not an easy road traveled to free my mind of such biases, for I had plenty. I am ashamed to admit few still linger. Halfway through the interview I noticed how defensive I became, projecting my pre-perceived notion that by simply being asked those questions, I was being attacked. That was not the case at all. I forced myself to stop and switch direction. I didn’t need to be in defensive mode all the time, a habit so hard to get rid off in the times we live in. I didn’t need to protect my beliefs and my idea of Islam. This wonderful student simply wanted to know who I am, and what I stand for, and I owed her nothing less than complete openness. I am who I am. I seek not her approval, nor reject her scorn. I believe that was the goal of the assignment, after all.

This morning, I swiped away the grass cuts flying in my face and headed home. Like those lawn mowers on the walk trail, I tend to push my way through situations not paying attention to the noise and chaos my approach sometimes leaves behind. From the other side of that interview table, I saw the damage I could have caused had I not dropped my shield and opened up. I only hope the student saw me with clarity.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Thursday, October 2, 2014

4 Star Review from InD'Tale Magazine

"An incredible tale of modern day romance born out of the violence in the Middle East. Readers will be pulled into this spellbinding story."

In the October 2014 issue of InD'Tale magazine, a full review is given to Shadows of Damascus with a 4 star rating.

Link to InD'Tale Magazine article

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Second Book

I am happy to announce that I signed off my second novel BITTER ALMONDS to Bloomsbury Publishing Plc. to be released in multiple languages. Possible release date is summer of 2015 in the UK and the U.S. Arabic translations will follow in the Middle East.

Furthermore, SHADOWS OF DAMASCUS will be released in print by the end of September. Paperback copies will be available for purchase through Amazon, Barnes& Noble, and Soul Mate Publishing website.

Moving forward on this writing path, I am in total awe of the whole experience so far.



Sunday, September 7, 2014

Update to Gaza Sisters Story

My family and I took a quick trip to Palestine in August. I was fortunate enough to meet with a doctor in Jerusalem, who was given permission to go into Gaza during the ceasefire that held for 5 days before the fighting resumed, and then ended with the permanent ceasefire agreement. I asked the doctor to try to find out about the Gaza sisters, Hala and Fatimah. The instant I gave her their family name, she winced and said in not so many words that the news would most likely not be good. That family was hit hard, the doctor explained.

And so, I waited. I went through the rest of my tour in Palestine and left without hearing a word from the doctor. The instant I landed in the airport coming back home, I received this very short email:


"The news is good, they had evacuated their home but they are fine and are now back in their home apparently, I got this through the coordinator who was responsible for them form PCRF."

A sigh of relief, and a quick prayer for this favorable outcome carried me through the rest of my day. And then I looked at the date: August 19st. The fighting had resumed. 

Two days later, on the morning of August 21st, I got another email from the doctor:

          "Hope we will get to see you again, the situation is Gaza is pretty dire today."

That was the last I heard. I keep waiting for more news. Nothing so far!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Gaza sisters

The girl brought her head down. She swung her legs back and forth under the kitchen table and crossed her arms on the wooden surface. A single braid sat neatly in the middle of her back. A big window behind her framed her profile in the mid morning light. She looked small, too little for an eleven-year old.

Her sister sat to her left. Her head stayed upright, her legs dangled above the floor and she crossed them at the ankles. She ran her hands over her hair, tightened her ponytail, and then brought down her hands to her sides to grip the bottom cushion of her chair. Her size didn't match her age, either. She looked like she was five or six, not ten.

The girls exchanged quick glances then sat perfectly still. They were nervous. We had that in common, at least. I could not clearly see their faces from where I stood at the other end of the big kitchen. But I had seen pictures in their files and had read their psychological evaluations. I was prepared. Or so I thought.


Fatimah and Hala are burn victims from Gaza. They came to Houston for treatment sponsored by the Palestine Children's Relief Fund, or PCRF for short. PCRF is a non-political, non-profit organization dedicated to fighting the medical and humanitarian crisis facing children in the Middle East. The girls could not be treated in besieged Gaza. Doctors and surgeons had volunteered their time and expertise to provide reconstructive surgery for them in Houston. A number of wonderful volunteers were involved in the girls’ unbelievable journey. On my end, I had volunteered my family to host the girls in our house during their stay, and this was my first meeting with them. The month was October, the year 2011.

My daughter and son formed a deep relationship with Fatimah and Hala, and we all kept in touch after they returned to their family in Gaza once they finished their treatment. Now I have no idea what happened to them. I can’t get through on any of the numbers I have for their parents. Their mother was also burned in the same explosion that maimed her girls. PCRF representatives informed me they are also trying to get a hold of them, as well as the other children they helped from Gaza. No news yet.

Today, my daughter asked me about the girls. She said she felt nauseated for not being able to do anything. I had no answers for her. And the little information I could gather was not promising. 

I remember the long nights, when the girls couldn’t fall asleep no matter how hard I tried to ease their pain. I remember the way I had to shield them from people’s stares, the many times I had to set strangers straight on how they got hurt. More often than not, people would doubt my account when I mention the Israeli invasion of 2011. But once in a while, informed individuals would briefly close their eyes and mumble, “Yeah. We heard about that.”

Going back to those days, when the girls graced us with their courage, their everlasting smiles, their giggles and tears, their hopes and dreams drawn in crayons and hung on my fridge door, I gulp for air to get rid of a suffocating sensation. We helped them heal, and where are they now? Are they still alive? In what shape or form? What kind of nightmares are they having? Are they with their mother and father? Holding them when they wake up screaming during the night? If they are alive, are they able to sleep? And how many children are burned like them this time around?

I heard my daughter’s voice quiver when she asked, “Will you let me know as soon as you find out anything?” And I’m afraid of what I may have to say.

I can’t, cannot imagine what those mothers who saw their children’s bodies torn by the latest Israeli bombardment on Gaza are going through. What courage, what faith, what strength they have!

How can they go on after this horror?

How can we all?

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Together We Came!

In celebration of the first annual immigrant heritage month, I am honored to be featured on the Arab American Institute website as part of their Together We came campaign. I shared my story on how I came to the States.

Here's the link: http://www.aaiusa.org/blog/entry/together-we-came-your-stories/