The Blog

Blog Action Day: Homeless Muslims

As part of blog action day, I’d like briefly highlight the work of an amazing community organization — Muslimat Al-Nisaa — tackling both poverty AND homelessness within the Baltimore-DC area Muslim community. Lest you think that this is just a small, isolated problem, the Washington Post recently ran an article on homelessness among Muslim women. Some estimate that there are several hundred homeless Muslim women in the DC area. Driven out of their homes after losing their jobs or by abusive spouses, these women have few places to turn to for help. The services that Muslimat al-Nisaa provide are part of our communal obligation to support those in need and essential to building a healthy community. Donating our money or time is the least we can do to help them.

The organization, run by Sister Asma Hanif, recently opened the first Muslim Women’s Center (MWC) that has space for 15-25 women and provides training, counseling and medical services to homeless women and their children. “It is not just a place for them to sleep comfortably. Our goal is to get them prepared to stand up on their own feet,” said Sister Asma Hanif, in a recent interview with the Muslim Link. I had a chance to talk to Sister Asma at ISNA this year. She mentioned that they need about $5000 per month for BASIC shelter operations (with some additional food and donations), so even your $10-20 per month can make a big difference insha’Allah.

To donate, please send a check to the address below or visit the website to set-up a recurring donation.

Muslimat Al Nisaa
5115 Liberty Heights Ave, Baltimore, MD 21207
phone (410) 466-8686
fax (410) 466-5949
www.mnisaa.org

And if you want further proof that your small donation can make a difference: with your help, DC Green Muslims ranked in the TOP FIVE organizations in the Capital Area Food Bank’s “Skip a Lunch, Feed a Bunch” program. THANK YOU to all who contributed!

Ecology of the Heart & Mind

I was born on the eastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula, where I grew up playing on the western shore of the Persian Gulf. My father, a Syrian civil engineer, would take me to a resort town he was building on the western coast of the Peninsula, on the eastern shore of the Red Sea.

When I was eight, my family and I moved to America. There, on the East Coast, I played on the edges of eastern forests and grew entangled in an ecology that wove existing memories of a dry land and warm waters into seamless, intricate webs in my middle-childhood mind.

There is no gulf between the ecology and culture of East and West for a child whose heart and mind encompasses both.

They say smell is the most powerful trigger of memory. The first time I smelled diesel exhaust on the streets of Washington, DC – the City of Trees – it transported me to my mother’s native Damascus. In that city inhabited for over 4,000 years, the waft from diesel-powered engines that first entered my lungs and imprinted itself upon my memory unfortunately still fills the urban air.

Somewhere between DC and Damascus I learned that there need not be a gulf between the ecology and culture of city and nature for someone whose heart and mind could encompass both.

As an undergraduate student in biology and religion in Washington, DC, my mind started to lay the first intellectual strands of an ecology of science and spirituality that was already reflected in my heart. All this came together for me as a Student Conservation Associate in Tucson Arizona’s Saguaro National Park.

There was something about the Sonoran Desert, so foreign yet so familiar, that spoke to me deeply. Perhaps it was the American West’s reflection of the dry Middle Eastern landscape that I carried within.

An ecology of the heart and mind, my own, was starting to reveal itself.

Beyond that first impression, I busied myself with acquiring the skills in botanical field research that our project (PDF) entailed. I was awash in statistics and scientific data collection, the object of which was the saguaro cactus. But to the Tohono O’odham, the native peoples of that part of the Sonoran Desert, the saguaros are no mere object. They are ancestors.

One late afternoon, as the shadows grew long, another intern and I were walking ahead on the trail when we saw something that forced us stop. We were in the shadow of a giant saguaro. Much larger, much older and much grander than us, we stood in awe of this Tohono O’odham elder.

It was no different than many of the other saguaros we measured, plotted and photographed that day, yet no number, no picture and no words could capture what we saw. So we stood there in silence, enchanted and humbled by the elder’s presence.

How can there be a gulf between science and the spiritual for people whose hearts and minds encompass both?

Mosaic Landscape

I was born and raised in the suburbs of Los Angeles County, 40 minutes from the mountains and 40 minutes from the beach. It was a wonderful place to explore and reflect on nature.

On the other hand, I felt the sprawling nature of Southern California negatively impact my inner landscape. Los Angeles County is compartmentalized, just as my psyche was fragmented and disjointed. Entertainment hubs, friends, work, and home are miles apart, taking hours in traffic to get from one place to another, both in public transit or auto. The lack of unity and harmony felt within me reflected the disharmony in my surroundings.

Less happens in a day when you are spending hours on end sitting in a parking lot, more commonly known as the 405 freeway. It is hard to feel collected and stable when your daily activities are so heavily determined by externalities like commute time and distance from work to home, etc. The daunting thought of getting from one place to another usually meant I stayed home on my couch. This took a toll on my sense of community and place. I felt little ownership for my surroundings/inner-self and frankly, was not equipped with the right tools to fix my predicament.

Seeing as how I was so clearly affected by my built environment, I decided I wanted to learn the tools. I wanted to understand the spatial composition of cities. Who decides where buildings go?… Who decides where the roadway network is constructed?… Who doesn’t have a voice in these types of discussions?… How do we create a sense of community?… How can we lessen the burden the environment experiences because of us?… How can we make public transit a viable transportation option by lessening door-to-door transit time?…

As I try to equip myself with the right tools to help influence the external world, my internal world is on its way to becoming more centered and rooted in a framework of thought that encourages reflection, growth and acceptance of change—paying special attention to how externalities/built environment affect(s) me.

Sometimes our past issues/mistakes can seem as immovable as a 10-story skyscraper, casting its shadow over our future pursuits.I am starting to realize now that we have the ability, the strength from within, to create buildings we deem worthy and raze structures that impede our processes of growth on our respective journeys.

I finally recognize the harmony of my inner landscape comes from an alignment/unification of my soul, mind, and heart—-making every part of me ready to hear God’s presence in my life.

Inner Landscapes

The verses of the Qur’an are called ayaat, literally signs. As some of the ayaat in the Qur’an state, signs (or ayaat) can also be found on earth, in the horizons and within our selves.
“And in the earth, there are signs for those who (seek truth to) believe, and in your own selves! So, you do not perceive? And in the heavens, there is your sustenance and all that you have been promised.” (51:20-22, see also 41:53)
Through these verses, we understand that there are signs in the world both within and without – an outer and inner landscape – that are means for us to reflect on our own creation and remember our Creator.
This concept of an “inner landscape,” coupled with frequent references from a few of our proud Southern members to the landscape of where they’re from (Maryland, Virginia, Tennessee…), got us thinking…
How do these outer, physical landscapes speak to us? What do they say? How are they connected to our inner landscapes? In other words, how do the hills and valleys of a land feed the spirit of someone who’s grown up there?
A few of us decided to answer these questions in the form of blog posts. They’re all labeled “Inner Landscapes.” Enjoy them! …and tell us where you’re from! What’s the landscape there like? What does it say about your inner landscape?