Thursday, January 29, 2009

American Muslim Women’s Leadership Training, United Arab Emirates (UAE)

By Malika Rushdan

It was an honor and a grand privilege to be chosen as a participant in the American Muslim Women’s Leadership Training, organized by Br. Khalid Ahmed, director of the Washington based American Congress of Muslim Youth. The program, funded by the UAE Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, provided for 21 American Muslim women to travel to the UAE for an in depth Islamic studies program and cultural exchange for a period of 5 weeks. We were provided accommodations at the Zayed House for Islamic Culture (ZHIC), I beautiful campus in the Emirate of Al-Ain.
Before embarking on our journey to the UAE, participants traveled to Washington, DC where we were afforded the opportunity to meet and greet with our hosts and each other before making the 14 hour journey to the Emirates. A representative of the ZHIC, Br. Saeed Salim traveled to the US to accompany us during our travels and ensure that our needs were attended to. While in DC, we were received by the Congressional Muslim Staff Association on Capitol Hill, who congratulated us on being chosen as leaders and introduced us to their work on the Hill. Congressman Andre Carson graciously attended the reception and welcomed us as guest. Congressman Carson is an American Muslim convert representing Indiana-D.
Upon arriving in Abu Dhabi, we were escorted to a reception area where we were greeted by the Director General of the ZHIC; Br. Khalid Al Marzouqi and the glitz of cameras documenting our arrival. From the very moment we stepped foot on Emirati land we were treated as royal guest. Our host had arranged for refreshments in a relaxing atmosphere within the airport after our long journey, as they took care of our visas and baggage claim without the hassle of customs.
After a little over an hour drive, we arrived at the Zayed House for Islamic Culture in Al Ain, UAE our home for the next 5 weeks. Our accommodations were more than we had hoped for, on a beautiful campus with private villas well equipped with all the comforts of home. Classes began early the next day with a full schedule including; Fiqh, Aqeeda, Adab, Hadith, Seerah, Arabic Language and Tajweed. We were in classes 5 days per week taught by professional, diverse teachers including visiting scholars. Though the classes were fast paced, we welcomed the challenge and opportunity to study our Deen in an Islamic environment, without the distraction of our day to day lives.
Twice weekly we were treated to field trips, visiting government agencies and cultural sites throughout the UAE; in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah and Al Ain. At each visit we were greeted with formal receptions exhibiting the generosity of the Emirati people; Arabic coffee, sweets, fresh juice blends and gifts were presented at each reception. We were truly spoiled by our host which included the;
The Princess Haya Bint Al Hussain Cultural & Islamic Center; Islamic Affairs and Charitable Activities Department
The Ministry of Foreign Trade
The Ministry of Foreign Relations (USA Division)
The Gov. of U.A.E. General Women's Union
Dubai Courts; Shariah Judge
U.A.E. Islamic Endowment Fund
The US Ambassador to the U.A.E. who presented us with our Graduation Certificates
A privileged meeting was at the home of Sheikh Ali Al Hashimi, Advisor in Religious and Judicial affairs to the President of UAE. We were afforded a personal Khutbah with Sheikh Hashimi advising us on religious tolerance and establishing a culture of Islam in America which takes into consideration our own individual traditions as long as they do not contradict Islamic teachings. He spoke about finding the middle ground and not going to extreme in our practice of Islam. I was impressed with his view that converts to Islam play an important role in reviving the true spirit of Islam.
Sister Rowda M. Al Otaiba of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; American Section welcomed us into her home where we shared an amazing dinner with her family. Sr. Rowda’s mother showered us with handmade gifts of Attar and Bakhoor, her father presented us with the book; Don’t Be Sad. It was a lovely evening where Sisterhood overcame language and cultural differences.
An additional high positioned female was the UAE Minister of Foreign Trade; Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi who we had the opportunity to meet with at her office in Abu Dhabi. Sr. Lubna is an amazing woman who is establishing the UAE as a major economic player. She has proven herself to be an asset to the UAE government with her major dealings with prime global companies.
In fact, Emirati women play major roles in all aspects of society in the UAE, from a newly appointed female judge, 2 district attorneys, several Ministers and numerous business women, Emirati women are respected and valued for their contributions. The founder of the UAE; Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan ensured women’s rights and education by establishing several universities dedicated to the empowerment of women and numerous foundations which ensure the fair and equal treatment of women. For a country which is only 37 years old, it is greatly advanced in women’s rights. Women in the UAE are assured equal pay as men while women in the West are still fighting to receive. Emirati women have been able to strike a healthy balance between having a career and raising a family due to Islamic family values being well intact.
I must say, Emirati women are very fashionable putting together sleek and eloquent styles. Modest attire in the UAE is high fashion black abayas with matching Shaylas which are extremely feminine and beautiful. The female staff of the ZHIC hired a tailor who came with various samples and styles, having custom abayas made for each of us. They have taken the traditional plain black abaya to a whole new level, pairing them off with custom bags and accessories, Emirati women take pride in Islamic dress.
A highlight of our trip of course was the safari in the desert. Four wheeling in SUV’s over the desert dunes beats any roller coaster at 6 Flags. However, the camel ride really made you reflect what it must have been like for the earlier followers of Islam. The slow clumsy stride of the camel must have been a difficult journey for the dedicated followers of Islam when making Hajj or Hijrah. I was humbled by the vast openness of the desert.
The culminating moment of our trip was the lavish graduation ceremony where the US Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, Mr. Richard Olsen presented us with our certificates and beautiful ZHIC trophies. It was a bitter sweet ending, saying goodbye to all our Sisters and staff of the ZHIC. The experience will stay with me forever. I feel very humbled and blessed to have been a part of the American Muslim Women’s Leadership Training, while I owe great appreciation to Br. Khalid Ahmed for choosing me, it is Allah who made this opportunity possible at a time in my life when I needed some spiritual awakening.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A perspective from a sister in ACMY

A perspective from a sister in the American Muslim Women’s
Leadership Training Program from Zarinah Shakir

This was such a whirlwind journey for a planned five weeks of Islam from an UAE perspective starting from America in Washington, DC in December, 2008 with the night meeting at the Washington Plaza Hotel with a very ethnically, diverse group of professional sisters, two students (undergraduate and law), and invited guests to see the sisters off.
The next day started with a breakfast meeting of twenty sisters chosen for the program. The idea of the program germinated with Brother Khalid Ahmed from America for a group of imams who attended the Zayed House of Islamic Culture the previous year from America and it was through some cajoling that he decided to address the needs of sisters for this year. As the coordinator of the program, he greeted the “chosen” women along with Imam Yusef Maisonet from Mobile, Alabama (an attendee from last year’s Imam’s program and our resident photographer). Additionally, in the afternoon a gathering was arranged for the group to meet on Capitol Hill with Congressman Andre Carson (D-Indiana) and members of the Congressional Muslim Staffers Association before leaving the United States.
As we prepared to depart from Dulles Airport the sisters took time to get to know each other. The flight from Washington, DC to the United Arab Emirates was about twelve hours. Once we arrived at the Abu Dhabi Airport, we were greeted by our sponsors from the Zayed House of Islamic Culture located in Al Ain, part of the emirate of Abu Dhabi. Unlike most arrivals into another country, we received the “royal treatment” in a beautiful waiting room at the airport. We were treated with beverages, sweets and picture taking from the Zayed House and airport staff. And, we didn’t have to wait for the usual long line at customs.
Upon arriving at the Zayed House, we were all given villa assignments to room with several sisters. I chose to stay with three sisters (blood-related and African-American) originally from Jackson, Mississippi. I felt because I knew their mother, Okolo Rashid, the director and founder of The International Museum of Muslim Cultures, that I could act as a surrogate mother and get to know these delightful young ladies all with their own talents and individual personalities.
The first day in Al Ain we were all taken to a local hospital to have very, general health checkups. I was in the group with the older and more experienced sisters. Also, since I am the second oldest one on the trip, it gave us an opportunity to converse with one another, share “war stories,” and beginning to genuinely get to know each other.
The program was an experience of a lifetime designed with classes to enhance us with additional Islamic knowledge: fiqh, shariah, aqidah, hadith and, of course, Arabic and Tajweed in Quranic recitation. Some of the sisters were born into Islam and many of us converted/reverted as adults. I was exceptionally pleased with the structure of the curriculum. Although, it seemed to be highly accelerated and quite intensive, the pace was not beyond our capacities to be students again. For those of us who have procrastinated in learning some of the basics of the Arabic language it has been a dream come true. The instructors, staff and all were incredibly kind and thoughtful.
One of the highlights of this program was the opportunity to meet and peripherally get to know new sisters in Islam from America.  However, the star of our group was a young and upcoming leader, Tahanie Aboushi.  She not only participated in all the classes and other programs, but she took on the duties of "In residence" liaison for the sisters, Zayed House and Brother Khalid Ahmed.  She handled herself with the utmost of respect, dignity and sisterly adab while also dealing with the plight of her own people, the Palestinians and a mini-holocaust occurring only a few miles away.  Lookout New York and the world you have a Human Rights activist and lawyer preparing to take center stage, InshaAllah.

I want to thank the Zayed House of Islamic Culture for all of the outstanding programs and sessions both on and off premise that we participated in and enjoyed. Upon returning to America, requests for presentations have already been emailed for different audiences Muslim and non-Muslim. I am preparing to do press duties for the Muslim Inaugural Gala in Washington, DC and the advent of a new President, Barack Hussein Obama. Again, I am thankful to add this to my other interfaith travels abroad. This one has been especially grand.
Finally, this especially must be said, I thank Allah for this blessing and may Allah continue to bless us to assist in the spreading of this wonderful deen. Alhamdulillah.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Stress Management 101

A lecturer, when explaining stress management to an audience, raised a
glass of water and asked, "how heavy is this glass of water?" Answers
called out ranged from 20g to 500g. The lecturer replied, "The absolute
weight doesn't matter. It depends on how long you try to hold it."

"If I hold it for a minute, that's not a problem. If I hold it for an
hour, I'll have an ache in my right arm. If I hold it for a day, you'll
have to call an ambulance. "In each case, it's the same weight, but the
longer I hold it, the heavier it becomes."

He continued, "And that's the way it is with stress management. If we
carry our burdens all the time, sooner or later, as the burden becomes
increasingly heavy, we won't be able to carry on." "As with the glass of
water, you have to put it down for a while and rest before holding it
again. When we're refreshed, we can carry on with the burden."

"So, before you return home tonight, put the burden of work down. Don't
carry it home. You can pick it up tomorrow. Whatever burdens you're
carrying now, let them down for a moment if you can." "Relax; pick them
up later after you've rested. Life is short. Enjoy it!

And then he shared some ways of dealing with the burdens of life:

* Accept that some days you're the pigeon, and some days you're the statue.

* Always keep your words soft and sweet, just in case you have to eat them.

* Always read stuff that will make you look good if you die in the middle of it.

* Drive carefully. It's not only cars that can be recalled by their maker.

* If you can't be kind, at least have the decency to be vague.

* If you lend someone $20 and never see that person again, it was probably worth it.

* It may be that your sole purpose in life is simply to serve as a warning to others.

* Never buy a car you can't push.

* Never put both feet in your mouth at the same time, because then you won't have a leg to stand on.

* Nobody cares if you can't dance well. Just get up and dance.

* Since it's the early worm that gets eaten by the bird, sleep late.

* The second mouse gets the cheese.

* When everything's coming your way, you're in the wrong lane.

* Birthdays are good for you. The more you have, the longer you live.

* You may be only one person in the world, but you may also be the world
to one person.

* Some mistakes are too much fun to only make once.

* We could learn a lot from crayons. Some are sharp, some are pretty
and some are dull. Some have weird names, and all are different colors,
but they all have to live in the same box.*********THIS ONE IS TRULY

* A truly happy person is one who can enjoy the scenery on a detour.

Journey into Islam by Akbar Ahmed

About The Journey
How do Muslims fit into contemporary American society? And how have the uniquely American ideals of pluralism, openness, and cultural integration held up in post-9/11 American society? Those are the driving questions behind “Journey into America,” a cross-country adventure led by Ambassador Akbar Ahmed, renowned Islamic scholar and author, and his team of enthusiastic young Americans. They will explore America and American identity in a post-September 11 world during their journey, which will take them to cities big and small, from Birmingham, Alabama, Nashville, Tennessee, and Salt Lake City to New York City, Boston, Chicago, and Los Angeles.

A similar journey through the Muslim world resulted in the book Journey into Islam: The Crisis of Globalization. The result of this adventure will be a unique anthropological study of American identity as seen through the eyes of Americans—both Muslim and non-Muslim.