History is not a story of ancient wild creatures or strange celestial beings - it is the story of us.
History is not a story of ancient wild creatures or strange celestial beings - it is the story of us.
Take some time to get to know the people in each picture.
words | adnan perwez
photos | sania elahi
It was a bitterly cold summer night the first time I went stargazing. The biting wind that twisted its way through the city blocks had pushed aside both the stray leaves on the sidewalk and the clouds overhead, leaving both street and sky palely glowing and utterly clear.
My friends and I had spent the better part of the past hour on those empty streets just getting out of town; our old, worn-out car slowly rumbling past sleepy shops and the seemingly never-ending expanse of the campus. The change, when it came, was striking; dimly lit apartment complexes suddenly gave way to barren, open fields as we finally reached the outskirts of Davis.
The car came to a crawl, before pulling off the narrow road to stop on one of the fields. We got out, shivering—the wind was so frigid that it almost sucked the air out of my lungs. I stepped forward onto the damp earth, my breath coming out in visible puffs as I walked away from the car—and looked up.
Perhaps the feeling that comes closest is that of swimming in a freezing river. If you slowly sink yourself in, inch by inch, you can brace your body and prepare for the inevitable cold. Throw yourself in, however, and the coldness will instead feel like a tangible, physical force, grabbing and pummeling your senses.
If we extend that tired parallel, stargazing would be comparable to hurling yourself into the depths of the Arctic. Suddenly, a thousand points of light from a thousand different directions flare out at you; the entire sky is filled with shapeless, ethereal fire. The great, familiar dull purple-black blanket that has always covered the city’s sky is suddenly ripped away, like a furious magician tearing away the curtain to deliver his final, heart-stopping showstopper—the twinkling, endless forms almost vindictive in their full, merciless glory as your head turns round and round, your eyes futilely trying to find a beginning or a middle or an end to stop, to rest, to focus on. But the stars are too many, and they twinkle and they dance, as the heart, the mind, the eyes, the breath - all are frozen in the frigid air.
What does it feel like to look out into infinity? Countless armies of philosophers and writers have tried to give a definitive, all-encompassing answer. Some state that the entire experience is one of Divine awe and can surely inspire nothing but humility. Others state the opposite—that the grand view does nothing but spur man to greater heights, providing an empty canvas to map his endless ambition onto. Those with a darker, bleaker worldview claim that they find the entire thing unsettling; that the stars remind them of nothing but their own insignificance, and so become an inescapable symbol of meaninglessness and nihilism.
Faced with these wildly different interpretations, it seems impossible to find a common thread that could somehow unify and connect all the clashing views—in fact, the single similar thing is that the views were expressed in the first place. The act of gazing upon the stars seems to evoke some primal, ancient instinct—the need for humans to somehow capture an indescribable experience; to boil it down and distill it into a substance that can be more easily understood and shared. Much like witnessing death or falling hopelessly in love, stargazing is a uniquely universal human experience that appears throughout nearly every major writer and poet’s work, across time and cultures.
Perhaps gazing at the stars reveals nothing more than that which is found when we gaze within ourselves. Perhaps we reflect and project our desires whatever is inside our heart out into the endless skies, and so find the same thing staring down at ourselves when we look up. Perhaps not - perhaps there truly is some type of inherent meaning among the stars, one that silently and even unknowingly affects all human hearts the same, universal way when one first truly looks upon them.
One thing I’ve come to know for certain is that stargazing warps one’s perspective of time. One moment you’re staring upwards; the next you find yourself losing your balance, feet scrambling to catch purchase on the damp earth as you barely stop yourself from falling in time. When you glance upwards again, you’re shocked to see countless of the stars fading, as light starts to bleed in.
And so you turn, hands deeply in your pockets as you walk back towards the car. It’s already packed with yawning friends; you step inside the warm, sleepy interior and close the door. There’s a brief pause; then the silence is broken once and for all as the car rumbles into action, tires scratching against the fields, headlights bare against the thin veil of darkness.
Slowly, the familiar buildings and town start to come back into view, as the gentle babble of conversation starts up once again. But though you’re nodding and laughing along, your face is pressed against the cool glass of the window, heart still reflecting on the memory, eyes still gazing upwards.
Far, far above, the purple-black blanket stretches itself tightly, firmly reclaiming the sky and cloaking any glowing shapes underneath. Farther still, tendrils of pure pink light start to unravel themselves across the horizon, as dawn begins to settle in.
By Selem Helil
The summer after my senior year in high school, my parents decided to finally have a long overdue trip to Ethiopia. We hadn't been in ten years. I had only been there for a month when I was seven years old, and the only memory I had was the incessant throwing up from the terrible food poisoning I got. Now that I was older and would be more aware of my surroundings and experiences, I was excited and nervous. Needless to say, it was definitely an interesting trip.
I should preface this by saying that despite having hardly been in Ethiopia, I have always tried to be aware of the culture I come from. I knew the language fairly well because of the time I spent around family, ate Ethiopian food frequently, and kept up with the news there. The moment I stepped out of the Addis Ababa Bole International Airport, I knew there was no way I could have anticipated the differences in life. Non-travelers weren't allowed in the airport, so hordes of people stood outside awaiting friends and family on the side of the parking lot side adjacent to the airport exit. Finding our family in the crowd proved to be more of a challenge than anticipated, but seeing my grandma, uncles, aunts and cousins that I have grown up hearing so much about (despite very limited memories) and being able to see the tears in everyone’s eyes was a surreal moment. I thought I understood it—the immensity of seeing the most important people in your life after years of uncertainty that you ever would. In retrospect, though, I'm not sure I fully understood that moment because my strongest emotions were exhaustion and relief to be off a 20-hour flight.
When we first arrived, strict guidelines were placed on us about leaving the house by ourselves. My parents were staying at my grandma's house, and my sister and I switched between crashing at our grandma's house and our aunt's house. Our nights were filled with laughter, conversation, and games with my cousins, aunts, and uncles, when we exchanged stories about the different lives we lived and discussed politics. After a few days of wandering between the houses, though, my sister and I were eager to see the city beyond our houses. We started by frequenting the gift shop in the neighborhood that my aunt and uncle owned, the coffee house, and the internet cafe across the street. Getting access to Internet would mean buying an Ethiopian SIM card for my phone and paying to fill it daily. Going to an Internet Cafe and sitting at a desktop gave me a reality check as to how modern the technological era we live in is. Eventually, we made our way to Bole—the downtown-esque, modernized district of the city where the best restaurants, hotels, malls and coffeehouses were.
Transportation in the city was a whole other set of customs with many failed attempts before I could finally get anywhere. The Ethiopian roads had hundreds of cars and people maneuvering in the streets with hardly any consideration of lanes, lane changes, signaling, traffic lights, and at times cars were just barely swerving to miss hitting pedestrians. What was even more astonishing was how good the drivers were at it. My parents rented a car, but even they were too scared to drive in Ethiopia after decades of adapting to the calm streets in America. They convinced my uncle to drive them around, and while some days we would all go out to visit distant family friends or get food, most days my dad and uncle would go out with the car from morning until around dinnertime. On those days, my mom would go out with her sisters in something they called a "contract taxi." The idea is similar to how taxis work here, but they would hire the driver for the day and pay him a lot at the end of the day. My sister and I quickly opted out of visiting people with our parents after about a week, and we spent our days hanging out with family, and exploring the city with whoever would show us around. We took the regular "taxis", a system similar to our bus system.
While there was a lot of contrast to life in Ethiopia, the biggest surprise by far was culture. I thought I knew what to expect because I knew the language, but I had no idea how unfamiliar the culture was. I found a community that was much more respectful and family-oriented than I expected, but most of all, it was religiously centered. My family was in Kara Kore, a region that is generally traditional, despite being located in the more westernized capital. It is a predominately Muslim community, but there is a strong Christian population as well. I could hear the adhan from multiple masjids in the yard of our house. On Sundays, I could hear the locals church's Sunday sermons overlap with the adhan at times. Almost all the women, Muslim or Christian, dressed conservatively, covering up their hair, or at least casually throwing on headscarves, and wearing long skirts and sleeves. Because we were in Ethiopia for Eid, I got to be one of the hundreds of people praying on the streets because we couldn't make it to the stadium prayer. I witnessed the amazing sight of thousands leaving the stadium after Eid prayer. Religion is a major part of life in Ethiopia and for me, the highlight was seeing the unity among people with different faiths and practices living as neighbors, despite the world conflicts with religion going on today.
Our trip in Ethiopia lasted a month, but it has continued to stay with me ever since. Long after we had left, the emotion I didn't understand in my families eyes became fears and tears we all shared. It changed my perspective on family, culture, and, more than anything, travel. I used to think a trip to Hawaii or Paris would be the most amazing thing in the world. Of course, the thought of seeing one of the world's remarkable tourist attractions still excites me, but now I see the value of going somewhere, even if it may seem unglamorous. It's about seeing a new culture, new customs, and a totally new world. I had been excited for the reunion with my family, but I forgot just how incredible where I was going would be. We have too long misunderstood the purpose of travel. It may not be about upping your life standards, or enjoying yourself, but rather learning something and humbling yourself with the grandiosity and diversity of the world, and surprising yourself the oneness of humanity.
It’s been nearly twenty years since Al-Bayan’s first issue was printed. Our purpose has always been to provide the Muslim community with a platform for discussion and expression—a medium through which our voices can be heard. In light of that purpose, we, the Board of Al-Bayan, would like to announce a series of important changes to the publication. These changes are met with unanimous agreement from Board and our advisors, and are as follows:
Our first goal this semester was to give the magazine a clearer identity, resulting in the decision to shift the makeup of our content. For the longest time, Islam and Muslims have been spoken of by everyone but Muslims themselves. Even when Muslim voices do rise up, they are oppositional and reactionary. That is to say, we speak after we are spoken to, usually in defense of our actions, thoughts, and decisions. While this is not always a bad thing and something we often do poignantly, it is nonetheless exhausting. Muslim college students, our main demographic, are often caught in the crosshairs of doing what they want to do and doing what they feel they should do. To contest the notion that the Muslim voice exists exclusively within the realms of politics, oppression, and ideological clashes, we are rebranding our identity from one that contributes to the exhaustion of the Muslim voice to one that frees it. With this in mind, we now welcome a plethora of topics that we cover including but not limited to the arts, spirituality, technology, mental health, opinion, travel, culture, and the list continues. This shift is intended to guide us in retaining our identity as a Muslim publication—a publication written by Muslims, for Muslims.
We also won’t be launching an issue this Fall; this is going to be the only semester in our history that there won’t be a physical publication. This is more of a structural change, intended to facilitate smoother internal transitions and to increase the interactiveness with our readers. Currently, our production timeline is as follows: recruit staff in September, create content in October, print November, and launch late November, early December. This only gives our readers a couple of weeks to read and interact with our content before leaving for break, which isn’t enough because our readers are usually preparing for finals (or should be). Instead of truly provoking thought and discussion from our work, we forget all about it and begin working on the next issue. Instead of publishing at the end of each semester, we’ve decided to begin printing and distributing at the start of the semester, beginning with the Spring 2017 issue. That way we have the entirety of three months to celebrate and discuss the work our staff has produced, and do things like hold discussions and forums to encourage dialogue on ideas. We want reading the magazine to be an active experience, not a passive one, and hope that by distributing earlier in the semester we can better foster our engagement with the community.
Finally, after serious deliberation, we’ve decided to give Al-Bayan a new name. Starting this Spring, we’ll be publishing under the name “threads”. When we describe to our readers, friends, and family what “Al-Bayan” means, we use the words “clarification” and “eloquent speech” to define it, but besides that, it doesn’t mean anything to many of us. It’s simply a name whose significance and meaning we’ve attempted to mold and frame into something that relates to the entire community, but to no avail. We also want to recognize that the Arab-izing of the Muslim community is an issue, and can be alienating to our community members who aren’t native Arabic speakers. We wholeheartedly stand for changing that narrative, and believe “threads” is more representative of both our staff and readers. After making the decision to change the name, the process of choosing the name was more challenging, but many meetings later, “threads” fit the bill. We view our community as together in our solidarity, but unique in our stories and backgrounds. To capture the beauty of such a diverse community, we viewed our community as a tapestry, beautifully woven together in strength and solidarity, with each thread representing each and every member of our community. For these reasons, we have decided to rename the publication from “Al-Bayan” to “threads.”
The magnitude of these changes is driven with the sole intention of being more inclusive and capturing of the diverse community that we cater to. We are still going to host our traditional semester event, scheduled on December 2 from 6:30 p.m. - 9 p.m. at Hearst Memorial Mining Building.
We invite all of you to come to our Rebranding Event, where we will be talking more about these changes in the company of good people and good food. We will also be showcasing Al-Bayan’s work and previewing thread’s work to build up to a smooth transition. As content creators, we will be presenting visual and audial content at our re-branding event.
We look forward to seeing you at our event, and to continue to serve this community.
by Daniel Diaz
Music is a universal part of human culture that dates back to at least 40,000 years ago in the history of our species. That means music is much, much older than money, older than the written word, much older than agriculture itself!
Both the technological developments in musical instruments and in our modes of consuming it have radically changed throughout the years. However, while we are voracious consumers of musical entertainment, many of us don’t always have the tools to appreciate the art form fully.
Here are some things you can do to improve your music-listening experience:
Make music-listening an active experience.
The formats of music-consumption have changed drastically since the turn of the 20th century: from live performance, to the phonograph, to the radio, to vinyls, to tapes, to CDs, to MP3 players, to internet radio stations.
Each of these changes radically revolutionized the way we listen to music. During the vinyl era in the U.S., people often held gatherings centered on putting on a brand-new record and listening together over some finger food. Before the rise of the Walkman and subsequent portable music-listening devices, listening to music was relegated to live performances, domestic consumption, and the airwaves. Back then, you couldn’t walk around with music in your pocket.
Today, music is largely a portable commodity.
So many of us often listen to music while doing something else: sitting in the car, going out for a run, or doing chores. Portable music has helped us add a soundtrack to our lives, but may also make us passive music listeners, consuming music as a product rather than observing it as an artform. The beginning step to improve your music appreciation skills is to try sitting down and putting music-listening at the center-stage of your activities. It’ll sound different. You’ll be able to focus more deeply on other aspects of the music — from the instrumentation to musical qualities like textures and dynamics.
Pay attention to instrumentation.
The technological and performative circumstances of musical groups have shaped the kind of ensembles people put together. Centuries ago, when European royal courts held outdoor events, musical arrangements often consisted of a brass ensemble, not only out of a need to project louder volumes in an outdoor setting, but also because they could afford to. Brass instruments can be pretty loud and overwhelming indoors. By contrast, during more intimate indoor events, ensembles would often consist of stringed instruments and/or piano. This later came to be known as chamber music, named precisely after the intimate venues in which these ensembles played.
Similarly, today rock music and electronic music would not be possible without the advent of electricity. Technological developments in instrumentation both expands the types of music genres that are possible and freezes the genres’ idiosyncratic sounds over time. Here’s a great example: there was once an instrument that preceded the piano called the harpsichord, which today is largely relegated to Baroque music and doesn’t really enjoy much play outside that genre. In a way, the instrument froze in time and is largely associated only with Baroque music. Knowing how technology has influenced instrumental arrangements and genres helps us appreciate music more deeply.
Listen for musical qualities.
Incidentally, no matter how soft or how hard you hit the keys in the harpsichord, the strings would be plucked with about the same loudness. When the piano came along, those tiny little hammers could strike the keys really loudly or really softly, which is how the piano gained its name. Part of the reason the piano became so wildly popular was precisely because of its wide range in dynamics, or the changes in the loudness in the pitch of a musical track.
Dynamics are one aspect of music that give an emotional flow to a track with its crescendo — an increase in loudness — or with its decrescendo — decrease in loudness. For example, in Jeff Buckley’s unparalleled cover of “Hallelujah” you can hear a back-and-forth wave of loudness and quietude throughout the track that can give a chilling effect. Other songs like, “Sometime Around Midnight” by The Airborne Toxic Event have a constant crescendo throughout, where the layers of instrumentation are added slowly as the track gets progressively louder toward its passionate end.
The way that these layers of instrumentation complement each other is referred to as musical texture. When all the parts of a song play the same notes, the texture is considered monophonic. Polyphonic textures are those that contain two or more melody lines that are relatively independent from each other — e.g., in this section of “Stars and Stripes Forever”, the flute plays a separate melody on top of the main one. The most common type of texture in popular music is homophonic texture, in which there is one main melody accompanied by a chord structure. Here’s a good graphic example of the melody “Ode to Joy” played in three different textures.
Whatever music you listen to, I hope you can take these principles with you and rediscover not only your favorite music, but also new unfamiliar genres with a new depth. I like to think that, ultimately, “music” is more about an expectation to find beauty, than it is about finding an objective beauty “out there”. Thus, as we hone these skills of active listening, we also become more ready to find beauty everywhere and also learn to tune in more attentively to the world around us, to that Divine orchestra hidden in plain sight.
by Iman Labanieh
UC Berkeley's student-run mental health campaign is called "Half of Us," referring to how roughly half of college students will face a mental illness at some point in their college career. If it's something that 1 in 2 of us will first-handedly experience, why is it that we still refuse to talk about it? As a Psychology major and aspiring therapist, even I feel uncomfortable talking about my mental health struggles with anyone outside of my closest circle of friends and family—but refusing to talk about such a persistent issue only perpetuates the stigma.
It's true that these conversations are increasingly being brought to light, yet we are still uncomfortable with listening to others' experiences. It seems that, despite the fact that people are dying by suicide (read here for why you shouldn't say committed suicide) every day, we are not ready to have raw conversations about mental illness. As much as we try to tell ourselves that we are making progress, the stigma is still alive and rampant in our communities.
What is stigma?
Stigma: a set of negative and often unfair beliefs that a society or group of people have about something
While research continues to be done on stigma, very little research has been geared toward the Muslim community. However, in one study, South Asians had significantly worse attitudes than Caucasians toward seeking help. Ciftci et. al (2012) write that “differences in stigma level and content have also been identified stemming from class and educational attainment (Phelan, Bromet, & Link, 1998), specific religious beliefs (Wesselmann & Graziano, 2010) and gender (Corrigan & Watson, 2007). The complex interactions between race/ethnicity, gender, class, religion, and health status have nevertheless gone largely unexplored, suggesting a need for more sophisticated intersectional analyses.” This research is important because it empirically proves that some cultures have much higher stigma levels than others and explores the potential causes of this finding.
One of the biggest reinforcers of the mental illness stigma in the Muslim community stems from Muslim parents telling their children that seeking treatment for their mental illness is unnecessary, that the “sadness” or “nervousness” they feel stems from a lack of iman*. This is an argument I have heard far too many times from a number of friends who have confided in me. Parents and community leaders are reinforcing the stigma by claiming that prayer is adequate treatment for mental illness (this argument can lead to self-blame and resentment of Islam, as it is often unsuccessful), and by preaching about how jinn* have possessed the suffering individual. Both of these arguments delegitimize the reality that is mental illness, which most often stems from biological predispositions, neurochemical imbalances, and environmental factors. Interestingly enough, seeking self-care and treatment has always been part of the Islamic tradition; however religious values have long been muddled with cultural traditions, which you can see through other claims such as families not allowing daughters to live on their own or approach potential spouses first. This conflation can go insofar as to how mainstream media paints “honor killings” and female genital mutilation as Islamic acts despite them being solely culture and indisputably condemned by Islam.
Traditional figures are not the only ones reinforcing this societal stigma, the health industry plays a significant role as well. Most insurance companies account for psychiatric disorders but only cover pharmaceutical treatments instead of therapy, despite the fact that Cognitive Therapy and antidepressant medications (which treat both depressive and anxiety symptoms) are equally as effective. Medication is a short-term solution that does not address the root of the problem and does not allow those struggling with mental illnesses the opportunity to talk about and come to terms with their mental health status, while therapy takes longer to have an effect but predicts better long-term outcomes. It is important to recognize that the most effective outcome is always the combination of both antidepressant medications and Cognitive Therapy (DeRubeis, Siegle, & Hollon 2008).
Health insurance companies are profiting from constant prescriptions but are reinforcing the idea that patients should not talk about their illnesses. In other words, people can receive pharmaceutical treatment for as little as $5 a month, but even the best health insurances require a minimum $15 copay for therapy at every session and rarely cover quality, long-term therapy. Mental health has now been so detached from the health industry that it is perceived as something completely distinct from our physical health. While many believe that psychiatric diagnoses stem from early childhood trauma, most are actually due to biological predispositions. Medications change the chemical balances in the body within a few weeks, so many who have an already existing stigma may legitimize it as a physical ailment rather than a disorder that implies a fault within oneself.
(Please note: I am not invalidating the importance of psychiatry and full-heartedly support people reaching out to psychiatrists and their primary care physicians for help. As stated, mental illnesses do have biological bases and medications are highly effective. My issue solely stands with insurance plans only covering psychiatry for profit because this reinforces the stigma of mental illness).
So what can we do?
Stigma is an issue that has been plaguing our respective communities and not allowing us adequate accessibility to treatment. I hope that this new column can serve as a space to have honest conversations about mental health, help us normalize this topic within our own lives, and destigmatize the utilization of mental health resources.
*iman: faith in God
*jinn: evil spirit
Salaam (peace) y’all! I’m an undergraduate Psychology student at Cal and am super passionate about all things mental health. I’ve interned in the mental health department of a non-profit organization in Southern California, worked in two psychology labs at UC Berkeley, and currently serve as the Mental Health Cultural Assistant Director in ASUC Senator Jenny Kim’s office. Post-graduation, I hope to pursue a degree in Clinical Psychology, research the etiology of mood and anxiety disorders, and ultimately practice therapy in the Muslim community.
‘Chamomile’ is Al-Bayan Magazine’s new mental health column that focuses primarily on the Muslim community and my own reflections. If you have any questions or concerns about anything addressed in this article, please do not hesitate to contact me. Thoughts, criticisms, and recommendations are very much welcome and appreciated!
Take the ‘Half of Us’ pledge here: https://www.ocf.berkeley.edu/~mhc/sign-the-pledge/
For resources on the Berkeley campus: https://asuc.org/news/top-10-mental-health-resources/
Khalil Center (Santa Clara): http://khalilcenter.com/why-khalil/
For further reading:
Ciftci, A., Jones, N., & Corrigan, P.W. (2012), “Mental Health Stigma in the Muslim Community” http://quod.lib.umich.edu/j/jmmh/10381607.0007.102/--mental-health-stigma-in-the-muslim-community?rgn=main&view=fulltext
DeRubeis, R., Siegle, G., Hollon, S. (2008). “Cognitive therapy vs. medications for depression: Treatment outcomes and neural mechanisms” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2748674/
By Ahmad Shami
Beards: man’s personal face carpet. Now, don’t get me wrong, I like big beards and I cannot lie, but there’s a lot that comes with having a beard that people might not expect. Here are 4 things that people with beards have probably had to deal with:
1) The journey to beardhood is a long one.
You don’t get to wake up one morning and say, “Here’s my beard world!” If you want that chin curtain, you have to endure the patchy mess of hair on your face for weeks until it grows out. And there’s nothing to make it grow faster. Believe me, I’ve tried it all. From watering to encouraging to begging to bribing, nothing is going to make that sucker come out faster than it wants to. Some people can’t even get past the patchy stage and are stuck looking like a botched wax job for their entire lives. A moment of silence for those brothers.
2) Maintaining your Crumb Catcher is a pain.
Heed these words: trimming is important. It can make the difference between looking like your neighbors unshorn hedges and Chuck Norris. A good tip is to match the trim of your beard to your face shape. Also, remember to wash it regularly, because who knows what is in there. I once had a spider crawl out. True story. For those that like to go above and beyond, go out and get a nice beard oil. It not only conditions your hair, but it leaves it smelling manly as well.
3) With great beard power, comes great responsibility... as well as associations.
These can range from people assuming you are a lumberjack to people assuming you are a homeless person. In extreme situations, some people might associate you with terrorism, or even worse, being a hipster. But learning to brush off the haters builds character. If that doesn't work, you can give them a solid one-two with your beard.
4) Your Chin Chiller will undoubtedly attract hordes of people.
Whether it be all the ladies trying to stroke your Nair Bear, or all the dudes begging you to tell them how you managed to pull it off, the spotlight will definitely be on you. Those of us with a few years beardsperience already under our belts know to keep a newspaper handy to swat away all the adoring fans.
Bristle sprouts save us from so many of life’s problems. They keep us safe from winter’s cold embrace. They save us countless times by allowing us not to shave. They catch the food that we are unable to get into our mouths. For some of us, they even get people to stop asking whether or not we want to order off the kid’s menu. The benefits are limitless, so if you don’t already have one, start growing.
Note: This is a work of humor; the status of your beard does not determine your masculinity.
photos by Zahra Ansari and Ahmad Shami.
Midterm season (a.k.a. the time from your first midterm to your first final) is well under way and we are all feeling it. To kick off the semester and provide a worthwhile distraction from studying, all of us here at Al.B would like to share ten of our favorites that keep us going throughout the semester.
have colorful, organized notes even when you can't understand them
stick them on stuff
absolute necessity for telling yourself you are studying but actually on facebook
zone out and get distracted
so you can check those dry notifications
you won't need to keep asking everyone around you for their charger
stay hydrated and get up every half hour to refill it
blue door cafe
get out of the library to get work done but mostly watch other people get work done
mint mojito from philz
no they're not alcoholic
consume in moderate amounts
by Sarah Bellal
“I think Islam hates us.”
These words were uttered during an interview with CNN by everyone’s favorite insult-comer-upper, Donald Trump.
Allow me to assure you that it is an utter and complete waste of my time to write about why Trump’s views are problematic.
However, I coincidentally saw the headline from the interview while thinking about something that has been racking my brain for months. The last time someone asked if I am “racially Islamic”, I was at work—thank God—and I had to suppress my frustrations. But even people who are aware that Islam is a religion are guilty of racializing it.
It is important to note that the racializing of Islam exists outside as well as inside the Muslim community. Those less familiar with the religion can be spotted using “Arab”, “Muslim”, and sometimes even “ISIS” interchangeably (but right now we’re talking about the first two).
“But Sarah!” you rudely exclaim. “Aren’t most Muslims Arab?”
If 15% is most, then yes. Will someone kindly inform the Nobel committee?
The racializing of Islam is manifested in so many aspects of our lives. From asking a woman in hijab where she’s from, to telling Muslims to go back to their country, we see an all too common idiocy incarnated. A piece of fabric is not a birth certificate and believing in God is not a visa.
In the United States specifically, there is a tendency within Muslim communities to divide ourselves along the lines of Arab and Desi. Those who fit into either category participate in the disunification of the ummah, and everyone else is swept under the oriental rug.
Possibly the most detrimental side effect of this dichotomy is the alienation of thousands of Muslims who exist as minorities within their religious communities. Any Muslim will tell you that the last thing they want to do is push someone away from their faith. Any Muslim will express concern over people not wanting to come to the mosque.
And many Muslims still think of their skin color as the default.
The phrase “Islamic culture” is often used to describe something that may very well be nonexistent. It makes very little sense to use it to describe abayas or hummus. The phrase implies that whatever practice being referred to is intrinsically Islamic when it is likely just a cultural component of some predominantly Muslim countries.
The guidelines of hijab can be followed in clothing other than an abaya. Fries are halal, too.
At the root of this issue is our tendency to categorize people for the sake of convenience. I can only draw so many maps in the air to explain how Algeria is in Africa, I have light skin, and I am a Muslim. It is time we stop making sweeping racializations that, with the existence of the World Wide Web, have no valid excuse. Society at large needs to stop thinking of Muslims as people who “come from somewhere.”
Islam is unique in that it is not exclusive to any racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, or regional demographic. What ties Muslims together is not their complexion, but their complexities.
The simple antidote to this problem is to cease the equating of Islam to any race or ethnicity. If you aren’t Muslim, this means acknowledging that being Muslim is a choice and being Arab is predetermined. If you are Muslim, this means remembering that the ummah is more diverse than you can imagine.
Can the pain ever become too hard to bear? One student writes of her own pain and how she found healing in Allah.
A graduate reflects on her four years at Cal and the lessons she learned. The author provides us advice, personal stories, and hope for whatever difficulties are to come.
A man at a local mosque suffers a moderate head injury as a result of praying Asr.
by Daniel Diaz
Sleep-deprived, coffee in hand, and sweating my way to my morning class, a guy jumps in front of me in a narrow hall and asks, “Excuse me! Would you like to study the Bible?”
What do I say to the poor guy? Sometimes I’m tempted to reply with a snarky comment like, “No, but would you like to study the Qur’an?” just to trip them out. However, I then realize that would be counterproductive to bettering the image of Islam.
All around us, religious organizations compete for our souls. Earlier last week, while waiting for the bus, my sister Giselle and I were approached by a kind Korean lady. “Something to read?” she asked as she pulled out a Jehovah's Witness pamphlet. The bus was arriving, so I decided to just take it and entertain it on the bus, only to throw it away a few seconds in. Giselle, the more assertive of the two of us, dryly said no.
Ah, the perks of living in a vibrant religious economy. The U.S.’s free market of religion allows for these types of interactions, where people of all religious traditions vie vigorously for membership.
This all has led me to reconsider our own da'wah methods and their underlying implications. The word da'wah itself comes from the tri-consonant root [d-ʕ-w], meaning “invitation”, but what are we inviting them to? This, to me, is a question worth pursuing.
Pamphlet-giving is the staple of proselytizing in most religions I’ve come across, but just as it didn’t work for me on the way to class, I don’t expect for our pamphlets to work much for other peers rushing about on campus. Aside from the practical explanation to this, there is also the fact that religious conversion is not just an intellectual pursuit—it is also an emotional and social one. Statistically speaking, it is very rare for people to just hear about Islamic tenets or to be reproached about all of their faults and proclaim “You’re right, that makes sense! I’ll quit my ways and take a shahadah, please!”
Don’t get me wrong: there is an undeniable beauty in the simplicity of Islamic principles and the sense of a direct connection to the Sacred without a middleman. This is particularly appealing to Latinos from Catholic backgrounds, like myself, who so often feel disconnected not only from the principles and rituals of their faith, but, perhaps more importantly, from their community as well.
Sociologist of religion Rodney Stark has done quite a bit of research on why people change their religious affiliation. He states that people who convert often times come from lukewarm religious households or no religion at all, and thus no religious community.
Considering the vast religious market in the United States, the selling point that draws people into a particular religion is often the religious community itself. Stark’s research suggests that the community’s welcoming attitude allows for the prospective converts to consider the possibility of another worldview. For us as Muslims, this means shining as such an exemplary community of kindness and compassion that people can’t help but think, “Wow, this practice, this submission to God is what drives you to do this? I want to be of your people.”
But becoming a more welcoming community requires sincere affection and care for the other person’s well-being. We must be willing to question our intentions in inviting others to this community of kindness—into this ummah. There are as many ways to get ajr as there are stars in the sky.
So, why go into da‘wah? We must ask ourselves: am I trying to convince others into seeing the world the way I do? Do I proselytize in order to have better conviction about my faith, and if so, what does that say about my faith? Do I genuinely care about this person, even in contexts outside of da'wah? What are this person’s community’s needs, and can I align my solidarity with their plights?
According to many sociologists of religion, conversions involve a realignment of identity and goals with the other group. In becoming a Muslim, I felt it was almost inherent to be pro-Palestine and to be familiarized with other issues and causes in Muslim-majority societies.
However, I’ve often wondered to what extent my fellow Muslims reciprocated in their concern for the Ayotzinapa students, Latino deportation rates and abuse of labor, or the U.S. government’s denial of refugee status to the thousands of kids escaping violence in Central America. Considering that approximately 12% of all converts into Islam in the U.S. post-9/11 are Latinos, isn’t it time to express solidarity with them? Even if that wasn’t the case, shouldn’t we care for our non-Muslim neighbors simply for our shared humanity?
Da‘wah is more than dishing out pamphlets and convincing rhetoric; it is quite literally about making new friends, about carrying them through the process of conversion, about caring for them and having patience with them before and after their conversion, and about familiarizing ourselves with the issues of their communities.
During my freshman year of college (in my more naive days), I saw my friend smoking a cigarette and self-righteously tossed the cliché, “Smoking kills, man.” She went on to tell me about her former drinking and drug problems; she dealt with the anxiety of her unstable living situation by smoking a cigarette every now and then, instead of recurring to drugs.
It was very humbling, to say the least. I learned to never judge someone, for there may be a struggle underneath where you see a fault. At the end of the day, we don’t know what people have sacrificed to get where they are—especially converts. Just learn to be there for them.
Da’wah does not start at the booth, nor does it end at the booth. It starts with our everyday kindness to everyone around us. Instead of merely asking, “How can I provide the most convincing argument to change their mind?” or, “How can I get them to act the way I act?”, we should ask, “How can I inspire them? How can I be of service to them?”
At the end of the day, Islam is meant not just to inspire our intellect, but to guide our hearts to Him as well. Ultimately, faith is beyond proof, beyond reason. La ilaha illa Allah, Muhammad rasul Allah is an electric truth that I feel in my bones. It is a direct, ephemeral experience of the Divine that nobody can take away. And a community inspired by that truth—that is, a community of empathy that puts that ideology into action—should be what we invite people to.
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