Tag Archives: fear only fear itself

A Life-changing Decision

Today is one day before my surgery, but I will not be posting this until everything is said and done.

This surgery is a touchy topic no matter who you talk with, or their opinion on it. It touches on issues that vary from vanity, to shame, to health, to laziness, death and disease. It is misunderstood and the people who chose to have it done are misunderstood and continue to face misunderstanding before and after the fact. What makes me sad is that, in general, breast implants/other manners of plastic surgery are more socially acceptable than the surgery I am having and I don’t know what that says about us as a people.

I remember I was 6 or 7 years old and my cousin was sleeping over but she hadn’t brought a swimsuit for us to go swimming. So my mother took one of my old ones, a cute bikini that I had recently become too fat to wear, and gave it to her to use and I had a fit. I didn’t understand why I couldn’t wear the cute one, and instead had to wear an ugly one-piece. Oh, what an analogy for how life would be for me from then on.

At 8 or 9 my mother tried to enroll me in dance lessons to try to get me to be more active than I was, possibly to curb how fleshy I was becoming. Unfortunately as a young child with club feet and the beginnings of fibromyalgia, dancing was painful and I hated it. I more or less refused to get off an uncomfortable metal folding chair in the corner of the dance studio until the instructor gave up on me. I suppose my intense lack of coordination didn’t help much the few times I gave it the ol’ college try, either, and there is nothing, nothing, flattering about a tutu on a fat girl.

I hadn’t, at that age, really comprehended what being fat meant. All I knew was that when I sat on the toilet, my tummy would make two lips and it was fun to play with. No, understanding came later. Along with low self-esteem, horrid moments of potent self-hatred, and social ostracism at school.

On the upside I developed a winning personality to make up for my physical shortcomings; there is always a silver-lining to everything.

I spent my whole life dreaming that one day I might be skinny. One day I might be beautiful. One day I might be all of the things I never thought I could be.

But then I grew up. I realized that I was loved, and lovable, and that so long as I knew what a wonderful person I was, there would be someone in this world who knew it as well. And I did find him- my rock, my lover, my best friend; the man who looks at everything I hate about myself and tells me that I am sexy. And it stopped mattering as much.

But as content as I am, and even though my heart and my soul are whole and happy, my body has slowly started to cry uncle. At 28 I began having knee problems, something that is genetic in my family, and later I was almost prostrate with back pain on a daily basis. I’ve had to sit in a chair to pray for more than a year because I can’t handle getting down on the floor for sujood.

I couldn’t handle it anymore. I had dieted and failed. I had exercised as much as I could considering my physical limitations, and failed. I restricted myself to a 1,000 calorie a day diet and exercised and failed.

So I decided to get gastric bypass surgery.

My mom did it 5 years ago and had wonderful success, and I was with her for much of it so I saw all the ugly things about the side-effects of the surgery, and the repercussions for not following the rules. I know that with my front-row seat on my mom’s journey I am going into this with my eyes wide open.

This surgery is not the magic pill; plenty of people have had it and misused it, and gained back all of the weight. I intend to use it as a tool to help me with my goals, goals of eating healthy, goals of conquering the elliptical (seriously, this machine is my mount Everest), and a goal of finally being able to do everything I can to ease my fibromyalgia pain. Oh Lord, if nothing else I am having this surgery on the off-chance that it will help my fibromyalgia.

I am not using this surgery because I think that it will make people love me more. No, I have an immense amount of love in my life already. I have an amazing husband who is everything to me; who supports me and encourages me through the hardest times of my life. I have a mother who is there to guide me through this. I have a wonderful family who cherishes me. And I have an absolutely amazing group of friends who keep me strong.

I love you guys for that. So much.

This surgery isn’t to make me beautiful because I am beautiful already if only for the beauty of those around me.

And frankly only God knows what is in store for me, but I feel so much hope.

I apologize to all of you who want to comment with words of encouragement, but I am closing the commenting on this. I have already had my fill of people who are of the opinion that I just didn’t try hard enough and I shouldn’t have the surgery because it is the lazy way out.

Send me love, send me light, and make du’a for me please.

Convert Truths Blogival- Shades of Grey

I was having a wonderful conversation yesterday with a good friend of mine who is much like me; a convert married to an Egyptian with similar religious leanings. We were talking about ummahs in different parts of the US that we had lived in or had friends in- what these ummahs had, what they lacked, and what we’re thankful for (a lot) in our local ummah here in Minnesota. We agreed that the Twin Cities definitely has the best ummah that we’ve ever lived in (alhumdulillah) and we posited that it might be the best in the entire US, in terms of size, amenities, and general brotherly love and cooperation.

Get ready, this blog post is really just a long commercial for why you should move to Minnesota.

Just kidding.

But you should.

When I read Nicole’s intro for Convert Truths (link here), I immediately felt a sense that all of her topic suggestions applied, and yet really didn’t apply to me, if that makes sense.

We’ve all been through the die-hard newbie phase; the abaya and niqab phase; the astughfurlillah phase. It’s a good phase, really, an earnest phase and we all generally go through it with sincere intentions.

I think its a necessary phase when it comes to a convert’s need to figure out who she/he is in terms of being a Muslim and still being oneself. Many people need that phase to remove themselves completely from their pre-Islamic mindset, to break from the routine.

I had that phase, my friends, I daresay that I was even a bit of a know-it-all for awhile. So obnoxious.

But eventually I grew out of it; eventually I was able to reconcile who I wanted to be as a Muslim while still retaining my individuality, as most converts are also eventually able to do. But I’ve been Muslim for coming up on 6 years now and I reckon that it took all 6 of them to get where I am today, and God only knows how much different I will be in 6 more.

What I can say is that having lived in Egypt made a huge difference in me as a person entirely, not just religiously. It doesn’t make me the go-to expert on all things Egypt, but I SINCERELY recommend that any convert lives for at least one year in their spouse’s home country because you learn so much about where your spouse comes from, why he/she acts, reacts, thinks, feels, and leans a certain way. Its a meeting point between you and him/her. If I could, I would make it mandatory.

Like I have that power. *flexes muscles*

Friends, it also gives you a bit of street cred with the mosque men/women from your spouse’s Backhomeistan, and it makes you a lot less obnoxious when you expound on why Backhomeistan is such a wonderful place, paved with gold, filled with super deeni people who are loads better than the western kufaar you have to deal with everyday; mostly because you probably wouldn’t expound on that because you’d know that Backhomeistan is actually only about 3% paved with bad asphalt and 99% culturally Muslim.

Seriously. See what I’m saying? Its terribly important.

Especially when it comes to mosque street cred with the Backhomeistan crew. And it ain’t just us converts, either. Western-born Backhomeistanians deal with the same exact side-eye from the crew if they’ve never lived in Backhomeistan, so try not to take it personally if you DO get side-eye when you try to sit with them.

Which brings me to a really, really important piece of information for new converts, old converts, any converts dealing with side-eye from Backhomeistanians in the mosque:

And I’m going to say this very baldly;

Stop giving a fuck.

Your religion is not FOR them to side-eye or front-eye or judge in any manner, mostly because many of them really have no more information about it than you do. See my reference to Backhomeistan being 99% culturally Muslim. They know the basics but unless they are scholars, they’re learning along side you.

And if they are scholars, and they’re still giving you the side-eye without welcoming you and try to help you, then they have a LOT more to learn.

But in reality, at least in many mosques I’ve been to, halaqa-time is Backhomeistanians Social Hour so really, the side-eye is less about religion and more about culture. Which is where Backhomeistan street cred comes in handy.

Now, lets go back for a second to my first paragraph, the one about Minnesota being an awesome place to be Muslim (alhumdulillah) (told you, long commercial for Minnesota); I feel blessed to have lived here and to have come into Islam here.

Are there mosque politics? Abso-freaking-lutely. You can’t get a group of people together WITHOUT some sort of interpersonal politics- religious, work-place, friendly, or otherwise. Its human nature, so try to not take it seriously.

Plenty of sisters I know have stopped going to the mosque here because of these politics, or because of snide things said or enacted by a group of other sisters.

This is sad to me, because they are ways to get around it as long as you are able to let it roll right off your back and, as I baldly stated above, stop giving a fuck.

For those of you who are having an issue with mosque politics, feeling burned by the side-eye, or out-casted I would like to give you a checklist:

  1. Check YOUR intentions. What are you going to the mosque for?
    • Socializing? I don’t blame you for it, where else can you socialize with other Muslims without having a core group of Muslim friends?
      1. Try another mosque, sometimes that’s all you need. If there are no other mosques then open up communication between you and the other women/men. Communication is KEY because they may only be giving you the side-eye because they don’t know you, and they can’t know you unless you talk to them. Yes, its shitty of them not to make the first move and welcome you, but if they are Backhomeistanian they may already feel out of place and uncomfortable around westerners. Sometimes it just takes breaking the ice and you find that they realize they were wrong about you and you were wrong about them. You can’t know until you try. Honestly, I’ve bull-dogged my way into a group of Egyptian women (after living in Egypt for a year, they became a lot more open to me because I LEARNED how to interact with Egyptian women. I TOLD you its important to have that street cred.) and now they’re pretty wonderful. You don’t HAVE to have the street cred, you just have to try. If they still ice you out, then they are not worth it.
    • Religious talks/classes/prayer.
      1. MashAllah. Why do you care what they think then? Go for the Islamic knowledge and fuhgeddabout the other people.
      2. Your local/only mosque is a different sect/leaning than you? That’s a toughie, especially when you have few options. Move to Minnesota.
        • Ok, I’m joking. But really, I don’t have an answer for that beyond trying to find a good online community. Internet friends are just as important as real friends, only you can’t hug them.
    • All of the above, but the men/women like to cause drama and you’re tired of it.
      1. What type of drama? Can you ignore it? I promise you if you stop giving a fuck what they think, and focus on why you are there, it should be better. Just because Islam is perfect, doesn’t mean Muslims are. Focus on why you’re there; focus on Allah.
  2. Check YOURSELF, and I mean this sincerely. Drama is many times a two-way street. If you take a step back, stop responding, stop back-biting about the other person to those people who are on your side, and the other person continues their rain of drama upon you, eventually it will become obvious that the only person continuing the beef is them. Focus on your reasons for being there, and ignore the drama-whores. They’re like bullies, if you stop rising to their taunts, they get bored. It may be hard, but remember that Allah rewards the person who backs down from a fight even though they are right. I’m too lazy to look up the hadeeth, but I’m pretty certain that reward is Paradise.

Of all the mosque drama I have ever encountered personally, most of the above advice should suffice. If it doesn’t, feel free to email me your issue at mollyannelian at gmail dot com.

Maybe I can start a Dear Abby column and call it Dear Amina.

I think this blog post is not what Nicole was looking for.

Plus I don’t know how to wrap it up. I am so off my blogging game, see why I don’t blog much anymore?

I stopped giving a fu— ok, I should stop swearing, sorry.

In reality, the Muslim blogosphere is no longer what it was then because we, the dinosaurs, grew older, wiser, and, at least in my case, tired. Many of us came into Islam around the time that blogging blew up and so we dove into this new media with the desire to work through our issues, our growing pains, and our creative labors online.

For me I live blogged a tumultuous, horrible, wonderful, amazing, and painful year in Egypt, and before that the first ten months of my marriage in the US, separated by an ocean from my husband. I could not have made it through that without my blog, and my friends who commented on my posts and commiserated with me. Thank you all for that, by the way.

Maybe Twitter has replaced my blog for me, because I can air my grievances out immediately, in 140 characters or less, or in a long, run-on set of tweets.

Maybe when I pop out a mini-me I’ll go back into live-blogging that child’s first smiles, farts, spit-ups, and steps. I don’t know.

Maybe right now I’m just at a contented point in my life. Alhumdulillah. Happy, comfortable, completely and totally bourgeois. I go to work. I cook. I shop at Target. I fill my car with gas. I dig myself out of the million tons of snow we seem to have gotten this winter (seriously, will it ever STOP?!?). I hang out with my wonderful friends and family.

I’m… happy. Alhumdulillah.

And I think I would make a very boring blog.

Am I getting boring? Honestly, I’m exhausted. I forgot how much work this blogging thing was.

So.. snappy wrap up?

I’ve got nothing. Check out my checklist though, see if you think it would apply. See if you think its a bunch of bull-hockey. Give me things you think should be added.

We’re works in progress, all of us.

And everything we do.

frantic love

sometimes he is so peaceful and quiet when he is sleeping that I have to stay a moment just to make sure he is still breathing.

how can one person fill me so completely that if I ever lost him I might actually cease to exist?

Its that time again


Check out cool Ramadan pics from around the world courtesy of the BBC.

Happy Ramadan!

Ramadan Kareem!

Ramadan Mubarak!

Ramadan Mubarak-ho!

Tomorrow Ramadan will start inshAllah, and I’m not sure I’m ready. Not not ready for the fasting, but not ready for the iftars and the suhoors and the expectations that come with them. I don’t know whats normal here, what foods I’m supposed to cook, how much food I’m supposed to cook, etc. All of my Ramadans thus far (all three of them) have been in the US where I only had to worry about feeding myself, and I’m not sure about anyone else but I personally am quite easy-going in terms of food. If I only fed myself a TV dinner I was quite alright with that but somehow I don’t think Mr MM would be very happy.

He says that I can just keep cooking like I normally do, and I’m lucky because he focuses more on the spiritual aspect of Ramadan rather than the traditional aspect: feasting until you can’t move. He scoffs at the Muslims who make 20 different courses of food and spend ridiculous amounts of money on sweets and meat. He’s all about the prayer, mashAllah, not the ostentatiousness. Yay for me, alhumdulillah, that means I’m not expected to cook for half the day. I’m lucky like that. But when it comes to us holding an iftar here in our home, well… I’ll be dead in the water.

And in the back of my mind I’m thinking about the iftars I was invited to and the iftars at the mosque and my cooking just doesn’t quite match up with that. Hopefully things will move smoothly for me and I’ll be able to fulfill both his expectations and my own. And I’m looking forward to spending Ramadan here in Egypt; in the US I had to mold my fasting around life whereas here life molds itself around fasting, which is great. It will be a big difference.

Anyways, I’m wishing all of you a blessed Ramada filled with love, family, happiness, and the acceptance of your prayers.

May it be a joyous time.

God bless.

* All Arabic words like iftar and suhoor can be found in the Glossary of Terms.

Some notes on Ramadan:

Fasting: nothing to eat or drink from sunrise to sunset, this includes no smoking and no chewing gum as well.

Fasting lasts for 30-31 days and at the end is a big celebration called Eid al-Fitr which lasts for three days.

Those who have a medical condition, are pregnant or nursing, or may be somehow harmed by fasting are not supposed to fast as the religion prohibits causing harm to yourself.

The meaning of Ramadan is to remember God and pray.

Ismael Pasha El-Mofattesh Palace

An illicit bit of history fell into my lap today, totally by accident and most certainly without the necessary permissions or guarantee of personal safety needed to explore such crumbling historical locations. My husband and I were strolling down a street in the Sayeda Zaineb neighborhood (one of the more historical parts of Cairo), walking along a mysterious palace-looking building (one of many strewn about in different areas of the city) when we came across one of its ornate wooden doors open into the courtyard. We took the opportunity to step in and look about in the attempt to ascertain exactly what the building had been, as it was obviously now fallen into disuse and disrepair. To the contrary it had been partially converted into governmental offices (wherever they can stick them I suppose,) as we were later informed. Initially we were turned away by the single guard bent studiously over his Quran who was set to send us out with the single factoid that it had once been a palace when, hearing me ask Mr. MM in English how old it was, instead asked if I was Egyptian. Learning that I was American he eagerly left the desk and, explaining that where he was taking us was against the rules and slightly dangerous, led us quickly past the refurbished government offices into another more dilapidated courtyard and further past into the oldest and most rundown section of the old palace which was built in the mid-1800’s by this guy.

For a moment I wondered if he was leading us to a place where he could rob us in privacy, and I thought about halting and retreating, but the inner-adventurer in me could not resist the experience and so we followed him into the dark recesses of the crumbling palace. Coming from the sunlit courtyard into the pitch black interior of the entry, which had no electricity and was, in fact, filled in with mounds of the dirt and debris of centuries, we couldn’t see much of anything at all. Approaching a gloriously ornate set of wooden stairs (you know the kind seen in Gone with the Wind that crisscrosses itself as it winds its way upwards) I thought he had brought us here to show us only this but to my dismay he indicated that we were to follow him up what were still very beautiful but not visibly stable stairs. When the only thing left standing in the hall (as far as I could see in the dark at least) are a set of wooden stairs it take cojones the size of bowling balls to trust someone of dubious intention and whom you met only minutes before. But, follow him we did. Mwahaha. The only thing that lit our path was the sunlight that filtered in through the holes in the ceiling high above our heads and as we approached the staircase a street dog burst out from the darkness and passed us at a gallop, startled by our presence. In fact the dirt all over the palace, on all floors, was littered with paw prints and feces, but dogs were not the only creatures inhabiting the uninhabitable ruins. As we ascended the top floor I realized that the squeaking I had not immediately registered, much too taken with not falling through any holes or weak spots in the stairs, was that of the hundreds of bats hanging from the ceiling still frescoed (with cherubs and angels of course) and edged with gold painted moldings. Having already cheated death on the staircase I did my best to ignore the winged rats (which were the size of Chihuahuas) and follow our guard-cum-tour guide as he took us around the rooms which were crumbling but still painted and decorated in the French castle style (Louis the Fourteenth can you hear me?) The rooms were enormous, it being a palace of course, but I must admit I spent most of the tour alternately watching for weak spots in the floor and trying to remember what diseases might be caught from breathing in the dust of powdered bat droppings. We disturbed more bats in every room we entered, but we were given, and consented to be led on, a very extensive tour of the palace floors. Descending the steps again, me still with an iron-grip on my husband’s hand, we emerged into the sunlit courtyard alive and well. When we attempted to pay him for his wonderful but dangerous tour he resisted, eliminating the second explanation I had for why he seemed so eager to bring us around despite it being against the rules. And why he had only been eager to take us after he learned I was American. Rob us, nope. Extract money for showing us antiquities, nah. Pride in the history of his country, probably. Either way it was awesome. Check out the pics on my flickr page as soon as Mr. MM figures out where he stashed the cable for my phone. And yes I know I promised to post pics of Marsa Matruh and those will be forthcoming as well.

Afterwards we carried on our merry way through Sayeda Zainab, shopping in the souk and then taking the metro home. I did vigorously wash myself off when we got back and put all clothing down to socks and headscarf into the laundry. If I could only take my lungs out and rinse out the insides… Oh but now my husband is convinced that what I point out when we’re walking after the sun has set is actually a bat flying through the air, apparently he previously didn’t believe there were any bats in Cairo.


Note: Pics are posted on my flickr, find the link in the right hand column, or click here.

For those who speak Arabic check here to find an article that talks about the disrepair, the government renovation for non-historical purposes, and all of those bats. I wasn’t lyin’ peoples.

Stage Fright

I am scared about this move. Can you blame me?

Not the doom-omg-I’m-going-to-die scared, but the excited, nervous, edge-of-my-seat thriller movie scared. The kind of scared I get right before giving a big speech before an audience. The same feeling of inevitability, of great things about to happen, of adventure, and of possible failure. There is the desire to impress, the desire to make myself understood, the desire to illuminate the audience, and the desire to make a name for myself. And numerous things could happen: I could go out there and wow them with my intelligence and eloquence, or I could fall flat on my face walking to the podium.

Its stage fright. Gut-wrenching, throat-closing, butterfly-inducing, light-headed, nauseating stage fright. I am afraid of the unknown- I’m stepping off a cliff and hoping to God that I know how to fly. This isn’t like my move to Arizona which was frightening in and of itself. This is a completely different beast of a different name. It’s probably a good 3,000 (if not more) miles farther away than Arizona and sure as hell as lot harder to come home from.

Its the fear of forgetting something, although it would be simple enough for my mom to ship it to me if needed badly enough; its the fear of a murky future, although I have a deep and enduring faith that I am following the will of God by going to Egypt; it is the multitude of different customs, foods, lifestyles, expectations, language, and opportunities; and it is the sharp pang of loss I will feel when I tearfully say “see you soon but not soon enough” to my mom at the airport, or my best friends before I leave. The possibility that what I leave behind me here will not be there when I come back.

Of course I could leave home tomorrow just to run and get some milk and what I have will not be there when I return, God forbid. Inna lillahi wa inna ilaihi rajioon.

But I do not fear for my safety or my well-being. For as frightened as I am it is just the unfounded, excited fear of making a distinct and final change in my life. This is a new chapter, a new me, a new adventure, and new roads to explore and exploit. At risk of being accused yet again of romanticizing the Middle East I must adjoin that I do not expect to be made a better Muslim for being in Egypt, but possibly I may become a better person. Isn’t travel a form of enlightenment? Isn’t knowing, learning, accepting, and incorporating another culture and way of thinking an existentialist’s dream? And I, if anything, am a shameless existentialist.

I will be different when I return than the person I am now as I get ready to leave. I will add a new adjective to my many descriptions: expat; I will possibly add another language to my repetoir: Arabic; and I will certainly redefine who I am as a person in response to my surroundings. I am trading one minority-class for another: here I am American like most everyone else but Muslim as only a few are and there I will be Muslim as most everyone else will be but American like only a few others.

Going about my business I am suddenly and virulently seized by nervousness, I can’t breathe, can’t think, can only focus on my wildly-beating heart. I am scared, and rightly so. But its only stage fright for the next act.