Once More With Passion!

I flail against your indifference, only to find the constant beating of my fists have broken ground, struck a path where destiny wills I fly

No, Mr. Trump, You Are Wrong ! You are so Wrong!

Monolithic is defined as constituting one undifferentiated whole; exhibiting uniformity. I wonder where we get the idea that peoples, nations, notions and ideas could ever be monolithic. Afterall, we may all be American but don’t we have different views, different tastes, different likes and dislikes? Mosques in China have dragons painted on their outside walls, so as to blend in with the surrounding architecture. Worshippers in India’s mosques, on the other hand, would have a heart attack if there were dragons painted anywhere on their mosques. Muslim brides in the Middle East wear white and it’s probably an influence of their European neighbors. Muslim brides in India wear red as do their Hindu friends who are in the majority there. Just as religion is like flowing water and takes on the color of what lies beneath it, as Dr. Umar Faruq Abd-Allah said, everything is influenced, and even altered, in some measure by the environment in to which its introduced. A notion like capitalism is no different. There is a Chinese version, a Latin American version, a Russian version. Given all this proof, I wonder why when we think of people and nations, or ideas, we stubbornly cling to the idea of monolithic groups? Why do we tend to make sweeping generalizations of groups of people? Does it even make sense? So, Mr. Trump, you are wrong. You are just plain wrong when you characterize Muslims as “Islam hates us”. Firstly, Islam is a religion. It is not a person that can hate you. But there are people who, like Trump, believe his Trumpisms, lock, stock and barrel.

Having lived in India, I know only too well, the way Muslim-Hindu riots are engineered come election time. It is easy to win votes and propel oneself in to power by playing on insecurities and finding scape-goats for all the ills that afflict your voters ( both real and imagined ones).

The Myth of Global Ethnic Conflict by John R. Bowen should become required reading for all and sundry, and especially those in foreign policy. A quick, easy read, this article lays bare the myth of Global Conflict. Bowen uses the examples of Rwanda, Indonesia, and Crotia/ Bosnia/ Serbia to illustrate just how politicians were the puppeteers behind these mass killings. However, what is really frightening is how easily we, the common man, can be whipped into a violent frenzy. One theory attributes this willingness to commit heinous acts as a group, when one would never do it as an individual, to herd mentality. Another theory says “violence lets the adrenaline flow; it’s like sex, you live in the moment.”

Just how do stereotypes maintain such a strong hold, despite all the evidence? In the Balkans the tools that were used to do seed animosity were seemingly benign. They included “corporate media networks fostering hysterical public fear, nationalism, and consent for pre-emptive violence”. Hmm…gives one pause and reason to evaluate all that’s on our airwaves, doesn’t it?

So again, just how do stereotypes maintain such a strong hold, despite all the evidence? It’s because some folk stand to gain by sowing the seeds of hate and distrust. It’s because some folk prefer to be intellectually lethargic. And is that the kind of person we want running this country? Someone whose characterizations of a whole people is so misguided and infantile? Mr. Trump, if that’s what you want to see, do go ahead and do just that. Just don’t take the rest of this country down the drain with you. Mr. Trump can continue to view the world as he wishes. For the rest, if there is any interest in the truth, beyond the sound-bites and the ‘if it bleeds, it leads’ headlines that are skewed to ace the ratings game, there are sources and resources galore. In this Presidential election, please don’t settle for Trumpisms. Wouldn’t you agree there is just too much at stake?

Continue the conversation on Twitter. Continue to get to know a Muslim !

Just Plain Done


Just Plain Done

Hello, is it You You're Looking for?

We wrestle for a fleeting reality .
If only we knew
We are alive, truly whole, truly ourselves
only in the crevices of our day.


My heart on your palm,
on a string, tied around your finger
aching to be yours

Only as Real as a Dream

Paths accidentally touching
Creating ripples on the pond
Only to fade into the silence.
Seemingly once so real.
But only as real as a dream. 
And eventually, like a dream, lost to the fog of time?
Thoughts spoken,
Feelings shared,
Words ricocheting in an empty room.
Am I to you, as distant and far away, as if on another planet, as you feel to me? 
The word 'distant memory' taking on a whole new dimension.
I no longer need ask, "Can you hear me now?"
Once #Alwaysforever 
Now #Over&Done

Rock and Roll Jihad ROCKS

For a long time now I’ve believed that it’s easier to go to war with a people whom you know nothing about and can, therefore, simplistically demonize. For that reason alone, I could heartily recommend Salman Ahmad’s beautifully written biography, Rock & Rock Jihad. But Rock and Rock Jihad doesn’t stop there. Its inspiring pages capture the sights and sounds of Lahore, as much as they open a door to the heart and minds of Pakistani’s, especially one proud Pakistani American musician.
Rock and Roll Jihad is the journey undertaken by Salman Ahmad, a household name in South Asia, founder of Asia’s best known rock band, Junoon. With 30 million record sales under his belt, and with fans including Bono and Al Gore, Pakistan born Salman Ahmad is renowned for being the first rock & roll star to attempt to destroy the wall that divides the West and the Muslim world, and India and Pakistan. He has deftly captured the pangs of growing up as an immigrant child, his journey of self-discovery as a musician dedicated to interfaith understanding and peace, while providing readers with both the political and historical context of what ails Pakistan. Speaking on behalf of every Muslim, his book is also a reminder “that the West (needs) to examine the causes of terrorism, not just the symptoms.”

Salman's family lived his middle school and high school years in New York. Here, his days were spent struggling to fit in, learning to play guitar, choosing Led Zeppelin and the Beatles for his hero’s, and knowing he wanted to be a rock star. The memoir is a must-read especially for every young adult caught between two worlds – whether it’s cultural or those pertaining to parental expectations. As a South Asian, I know only too well the expectations that tend to be placed on the young – you can grow up to be a doctor or an engineer and more recently, a lawyer. All else, especially aspirations to be a rock star, means that you are shortchanging yourself, and more importantly your parents. Asian youngsters will be inspired to run with their passions just as Salman Ahmed did, even after he completed medical school. Rock and Roll Jihad also brings precious insights into the thoughts and feelings of those growing up bi-cultural in America or anywhere in the world. ““You people”, my guidance counselor said to me, need to try extra hard to fit in here in America. To her, it was that simple. Conform or be cast out,” he writes And yet, Salman’s story is heartening because it shows how cultural differences are neither rigid nor impermeable.

Upon his family’s return to Pakistan, the teenage Salman created his own underground jihad: his mission was to bring his beloved rock music to an enthusiastic new audience in South Asia and beyond. He started a traveling guitar club that met in private Lahore spaces, mixing Urdu love poems with Casio synthesizers, tablas with Fender Stratocasters, and ragas with power chords, eventually joining his first pop band, Vital Signs. Later, he founded Junoon which was followed to every corner of the world by a loyal legion of fans called Junoonis.

His is the story of battling to hold on to Pakistan’s historic romance with the arts and music, in the face of angry mullahs and oppressive dictators who wanted to dress Pakistan in all hues gray. Despite his government’s attempt to banish music from the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, Salman Ahmad rocketed to the top of the music charts, bringing Western style rock and pop to Pakistani teenagers for the first time. His band Junoon became the U2 of Asia, a sufi - rock group that broke boundaries and sold a record number of albums.

As his music climbed the charts, Salman found himself the target of religious fanatics and power-mad politicians desperate to take him and his band down. But in the center of a new generation of young Pakistanis who go to mosques as well as McDonald's, whose religion gives them compassion for and not fear of the West, and who see modern music as a "rainbow bridge" that links their lives to the rest of the world, nothing could stop Salman's star from rising.

Just as he has stood up to corrupt politicians in Pakistan, so also he’s critical of the misguided choices of American politicians. “..Bush’s “war on terror” made Pakistani’s view the U.S. as a country to fear or resent for its racial profiling of Muslim-Americans or its torture of Muslims at Guantanamo Bat or Abu Gharib.” This was not the case earlier where America to Pakistani’s was simply the land of opportunity or a place, as Salman’s mother put it, “where people of all colors, cultures and religions could go and fulfill their dreams.”

Carrying a message of hope, of which Salman is an embodiment, the book is suffused with the warmth of spirituality, and its author’s deep-rooted faith in God. “We can only wake up each day and go out and plow the fields, armed with our God-consciousness and a clear awareness of the purpose of our individual life. In my own case, I try to keep the focus on finding common ground through music and teaching,” he writes.

Today, Salman continues to play music and is also a UNAIDS Goodwill Ambassador, traveling the world as a spokesperson and using the lessons he learned as a musical pioneer to help heal the wounds between East and West -- lessons he shares in this illuminating memoir.

Originally published by Common Ground News Service

What Muslim Parents Tell Their Children ( Syndicated by Common Ground News Services)

Chicago – Like all parents, Muslim parents have their fair share of do’s and don’ts for their children. Unlike most parents though, terrorism and how to handle its misguided association with Islam figures in some of our talks.

In the wake of the Boston bombings and given that one of the suspects was only a few years older than my own boy, the need for us to talk with Yousuf took on even greater urgency. Conversations usually begin with “most Americans recognise that not all Muslims are violent just because a few are,” and progress to “but I still don’t want you to talk about bombs, guns or shooting, even if it’s a game you’re discussing”.

These are tough conversations to have with an 11-year old, but they’re discussions we cannot avoid. As Muslim parents, we recognise just how vulnerable our children are.

The harder conversations go something like this: “If you are harassed or teased and called a terrorist, tell a teacher.” When my 11-year old insists that is tattling, I explain that even if it makes him look weak, it’s wiser to tell a teacher than to navigate these waters alone. I don’t want him to get into a potential argument because there’s a chance it could escalate. Best-case scenario, my child could put up a brave front, maybe while fighting back tears. Worst-case he could push back and end up suspended.

Like the rest of the nation, I feel such regret and sadness that the Boston bombing suspects, both well-liked seemingly well-integrated young men, came to be so terribly misled. As a parent, I also recognise the agony their mother and father must have felt, watching helplessly, from thousands of miles away, as their children were hunted and gunned down.

As much as I fear I will alarm him with talk of the bombings in Boston, I take on the subject. “If there are Muslims who try to tell you it’s okay to be violent, remember what your parents have taught you. In Islam, war is between militaries alone – no civilians, women, children, schools, hospitals and other civic amenities can be targets.”

A pre-teen, my son actually listens to me and shares his thoughts and concerns. Shielding him from these difficult discussions today may mean losing an opportunity to imprint the idea that, in Islam, taking an innocent life is tantamount to killing all of humanity. Not talking about this may mean throwing away a chance to warn my child that he needs to be conscious of those who may try to lead him astray.

I talk about how terrible the bombings have been for the victims and their families. “If you, as you grow older, have issues with the policies of any nation or differences of opinion, civic involvement is the way to change the status quo, not violence,” I drill into his young mind. I reiterate that there are acceptable and unacceptable ways to address issues and differences of opinions, violence not being an option.

I fear there may be a time when we aren’t there to be a sounding board for our kids. As my son takes in every word, I quietly hope I’m not scaring him.

Frustrated, my son asks, “Why do some Muslims have to go and mess it up for the rest of us?” “Because, somehow, they’ve come to believe that their actions are justified,” I respond. “But they aren’t,” I am quick to add.

But there is more on my mind that I don’t bring up. I don’t get into a tirade about how the media ties this crime to our faith or calls it a return to terrorism to US shores. What about the Sandy Hook murderer who opened fire on little children? Deemed mentally ill, no ties were drawn to an ideology for his actions. Or the white supremacist, who shot and killed six people at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin? He was not considered a terrorist by the media. Why are only Muslim suspects’ and criminals’ actions automatically motivated by faith?
These thoughts aren’t far from my mind, but I don’t need to add that kind of baggage to this conversation with my 11-year old. He has enough on his plate.


Her first days in America were lonely, but this immigrant from India built a life here ( Originally published on Public Radio International)

In Bombay, we're surrounded by people — the cook, the cleaning lady, the vendors who come to your door to sell eggs, fish, vegetables or milk. There are uncles, aunts, cousins, second- and third-cousins of your extended family. If you are a friend of a friend, upon introduction you instantly become a friend of mine, and that means you are invited to come home for a meal even if we've just met, are gladly offered a helping hand, and generally live a life governed by the rules of reciprocity. In the US, I discovered, people could be friendly but it often stopped at a handshake.

Like many immigrants, it was marriage that brought me to the US in the early 90s. My husband was an undergraduate engineering student at Northern Illinois University at the time. I wasn't scared or nervous about leaving India. It was expected that girls would move away from their parents' home to wherever their spouses lived. Many people I knew in India had relatives who lived in the US, UK, Australia or Canada. But I was diving into the deep end and didn't even know it.

We lived on campus at Northern Illinois University, an hour's drive from my in-laws' home. While my husband went to class, I sat in on film festivals and theatrical events, took a political science class, freelanced as a writer, worked as a telemarketer and haunted the college library. In a nutshell, I mostly spent my days on my own.

(Naazish YarKhan with her husband and children in the US. Photo Credit: Sarwath Khan)

While I could feel the gnawing emptiness, I couldn't pinpoint where my loneliness stemmed from. Each weekend, my husband and I attended at least two social gatherings with friends of the family. The Indian immigrant communities in the Chicago area are large and connected enough that people socialize with each other frequently. My in-laws had been here since the 60s. They had close ties with more people than I knew even back in India. Though I felt welcome and fit in seamlessly, the need to connect at a deeper emotional level, to be understood for who I was, was missing.

I didn't have the comfort of cultural shorthand. I didn't understand what made David Letterman amusing. I didn't get what made Friends such an awesome show. I had to learn that when someone said, "How interesting," they meant "how odd." "How are you?" isn't really an invitation to tell someone how you are doing and "We must do coffee sometime," isn't a literal invitation. I learned that the norm is to use words rather than emotions. I had to say, “I'm so upset” rather than allow myself the luxury of tears. And if I was excited, it served me better to say, “I'm so excited” than to lose volume control and interrupt a conversation. In India, emotionally rich relationships seemed to have formed on auto-pilot. Here, it was all about scaling walls of others' "alone time" and "my own space" to make friends.

It often fell to my husband to play the roles formerly held by my aunts and grandparents, siblings and parents. My cheerleader, my rock of Gibraltar — he had to be all those things and no one had prepared him to do any of it. How could one man do the work of an entire extended family?

I became committed to creating for myself the support I craved, the security I felt back home, the confidants and cheerleaders I could always depend on. It meant pushing myself to be vulnerable and wholly present in every relationship, just as I had been when I was growing up in India. It meant realizing that I didn't have to have the same interests, the same background or age as someone else to become close friends. It also meant having patience. A beautiful garden grows slowly. In my case, what started out as seeds, has flourished for 20 years.


Global Nation is partnering with the South Asian American Digital Archive's First Days Project to tell the stories of your first days in the United States — or those of your parents or grandparents.


Telling Tales at Work - The Case for Getting Personal

What is it about Facebook that's made it so addictive. Once upon a time, having to look at other people's travel pictures or children's photos was considered an experience to avoid. How things have changed with Facebook! What makes it addictive is the unfolding of stories - they give us the means to get to know each other personally. According to the HBR article, Eight Ways to Build Collaborative Teams, getting to know your co-workers stories too can result in improved productivity.

What is America built on if not the Abe Lincoln “Log Cabin to White House” story about this country being the land of opportunity? The Rosa Parks story and the Emmett Till story have served as reminders of the injustices of segregation, better than statistics about hate crimes or discrimination, could ever. It was the story of the tenacity and courage of the 33 trapped Chilean miners that held the world's attention and its heart strings.

Similarly, it was insufficient stories from flood hit Pakistan in June 2011, that resulted in the tragedy falling under the radar. 1/3rd of that nation was under water and more people died in those floods than the combined lives lost during the Tsunami, the Pakistan Earthquake in 2005 and the Haiti Earthquake. How many of us know that? These facts go to prove that story has the power to influence and the strength to mobilize or water down both relationships and movements. As Cohen and Prusak assert, this is true irrespective of whether a story is rooted in fact or fiction, or presented as a fable or as a comic book. When there are working groups with members who do not know each other well, divergent opinions could end up creating walls, bad feelings or hostility even. As we get to know each other’s stories, even seemingly inconsequential ones, we discover commonalities. Bonds form. Lunch room conversations slowly become the “connective tissue”.

Over time, exchanging stories has the power to create a work environment where members feel safe enough to express divergent opinions, and take risks, without fear of being misunderstood or devalued. We have the potential to graduate from being working groups to Senge's synergized 'teams'. The trust underlying the exchange of stories, gifts individuals with the latitude to see fellow team members idiosyncrasies as just that, rather than as reasons to take umbrage. 

When interactions are only task oriented, the feeling of being connected that gives team members mutual leverage for use during negotiations or persuasion, is rarely forged. This is exacerbated when working virtually. Instead if we take a few lines in a few emails each week, to also discuss a book we’ve been reading or ask for advice on a non-work matter, we evolve from just being words on a screen. Instead we become someone the other can identify with at some level. We now become more willing to give each others perspective a platform, even if we may disagree with it. The act of simply being willing to hear the other out, conveys respect and oils the wheels of team work.

Are Family Dinners Over-Rated?

Are family dinners over-rated? The question is kind of like asking whether taking the time to add a link in a chain of memories is over-rated. The exchange of stories, the unexpected laughter, the griping about some teacher or fellow student - all footprints etched on the sands of my heart. (Sand that's slipping through my fingers because I know there are only so many dinners left before college comes calling and my baby girl succumbs. She is my baby girl - all of 18 years of being my sweetheart. How did she come to be all mine?)

Today,  unbidden, my Taskeen set the table for dinner. Forks, knives, glassware included. It made me want to buy new table mats -  beautiful, expensive, gorgeous table mats edging our family to gather together for dinner, making it the norm. Rushed meals, standing in the kitchen and eating. This is our norm. Staggered meal times - each when they are hungry, this is our norm. Dinners in front of a TV set that quells any discussion, night after night. This is our norm. These habits, as regular as the beating of our hearts, are our little clicks on "unlink". In their wake, I can hear the unhinging of chains, fledgling memories carelessly aborted. I am supposed to write an article on the value of one-on-one face time on mental health. When even close-knit families like ours consistently leave moments for face-time with each other untouched, is writing any article on its value, worth the words of advice that will flow across my page?

And yet, just as clear as the air that sustains my days, I know it is the sharing of memories and the making of new ones that is the glue that joins hearts. It is the impetus behind what I would like to call a "cheesy-jokes only" WhatApp group that my friends from 9th grade and I are part of. There really is no reason for that group other than those memories created more than 20 years ago. Memories, and emotions, still powerful enough to oil the wheels our hearts today.

If we aren't connecting, if our fingers aren't holding onto each other's joys, tears and fears, if my dreams aren't inter-laced with yours, are we really living at all?

Are family dinners over-rated? I guess yes if the experience of being immersed in love, as a mother, daughter, friend, neighbor, lover too is over-rated.

Being an Immigrant - A Steep Learning Curve

Naazish and Sonia first became friends in sixth grade (left), while living in Dubai. They continue to be close friends. (This essay is the original version submitted to PRI. The final version appears elsewhere on this blog)

"Where is the hot water tap?" I called the transit hotel front desk, feeling a bit idiotic. Perhaps that was one of my first questions fresh out of JFK airport, or was it LaGuardia? Here I was, a big city girl from Bombay, India, not quite sure how to work the faucets at the sink or in the shower. Yes, they were a puzzle - just one faucet, rather than two taps, one for hot water and one for cold.

Like many immigrants, it was marriage that brought me to the US. When I immigrated, it was time to find work, pay rent, adjust to a husband (who had only known the US as home), and find my place in my in-laws' family. It meant discovering that big meals, three times a day, were non-existent; I learned that I spoke too loudly, and when I said I'd do something, or be someplace, by a certain time, I found out my husband expected just that. In India, 'tomorrow' had meant any day but today; 'soon' had meant eventually and 'now' had meant some time today. Yes, as you can guess, drama and miscommunication haunted the early days of my new marriage!

That said, even as a new immigrant, I don't recall feeling like I was lost, or like didn't know what I had to do professionally. In India, given the competitive spirit, and the challenges to getting even the simplest things done, we learn tenacity, by default. Given the relatively limited opportunities at the time, our environment instilled us with a sense of persistence and a willingness to hustle. So, I did just that. I was writing as a freelancer within a couple of weeks.

I worked evenings as a telemarketer, and was the third highest producer. The accent intrigued people. "Where are you from?" "Oh India?" "That must be so interesting." At the end of those conversations, I guess they felt obligated to make a purchase. While the accent may have been interesting, imagine my exchanges at the local Jewel-Osco grocery, asking if they carried lady fingers! Here it was okra not ladyfingers, eggplant not brinjal, and sidewalk versus pavement, sorry versus pardon, pajamas versus nightsuit, vacations versus holidays ...

My husband and I lived on campus, where he was an undergraduate. I took a class, too. One of my clearest memories, was when I was spelling my name, Naazish, at the registration desk. I pronounced the letter Z as 'Zed' and couldn't get why the lady didn't understand me. I repeated it a few times before deciding to write it out. "Ah, Zee," the woman said. "Yes, Zee," I sighed.

In class, I was surprised to see students eating. When the bell rang, they'd leave even if the teacher was talking. Where was the respect? Speaking of surprises, winter was a shock. I hadn't experienced such freezing temperatures before and it took forever to dress, or undress for that matter. I had never had to wear so many layers in my entire life. My gloves didn't do justice at all. I still remember how much my fingers stung as I waited for the bus in the biting cold. Most importantly, I found out it was a bad idea to take short cuts across a field - the wind will freeze the marrow in your bones and, no, you will not get to a washroom in time.

Over the weeks, I didn't know what was supposedly 'out of my league' so there were no doubts and fears to overcome. I pitched to write for the Chicago Tribune, Chicago's largest newspaper, and the dots connected! Within the year, that same naivete worked in my favor as I applied for an internship at Chicago Public Radio, and pitched commentaries for NPR successfully.

What was hardest, however, was the emotional adjustment. Strange considering that my husband and I attended at least two dinner gatherings, each weekend. You see, the Indian immigrant community is large and yet small enough that everyone maintains their connections. I knew more people in my first month here than I ever did back in India.

But though I felt welcome, and fit in seamlessly, there was that gnawing, emotional void. The need to connect at a deeper level, to be understood for who I was on the inside, a short-hand to one's heart and mind, was missing. New husband, new family, new social circle, not withstanding, the void came from not having connections at a deeper level, either intellectually or emotionally. There is something to be said about the comfort of cultural short-hand and common histories, growing up watching the same TV shows, sharing a similar sense of humor. In the early years here, I didn't have much of that.

I became committed to creating the sense of security I had felt back home, nurturing confidants and cheerleaders I could always depend on. It meant pushing myself to be vulnerable and wholly present in every relationship…just as I was naturally, in India. It meant realizing that I didn’t have to have the same interests, or even the same background, as some else to become close buddies. It meant realizing that age was no consideration when picking a friend. It meant being committed to friendship and being an accessible, good friend. And as I now see, it meant having patience. A garden grows slowly. The friends I made 20 years ago, are my inner circle, my emotional and intellectual sounding board, today. Given my loneliness from the early days, I have learned that spending time with close friends is important to my sense of well-being and vital to my existence.

Jump and the Net Will Appear

When I moved to America in 1994, I was a bride of two weeks. I lived on campus at Northern Illinois University with my husband while he completed his undergrad. That year I began wearing the hijab, or the head scarf that many of my fellow Muslim women wear.
After we left NIU, I continued to hold onto this facet of my faith. I wore the hijab with diligence while I interned at Chicago Public Radio and even as I had my first child in 1997. Soon after, I began working full-time at an internet consultancy. I was one of the few people who had a family to rush home to after work. I was one of two people who sounded different when I spoke. I was one of the ones who didn't head out for drinks after hours, because it was against my religious beliefs.
Wanting to fit in and to forge friendships that lasted beyond the eight-hour workday, I began to view the hijab as a symbol of what stood in the way. Over the next few months, I gave up wearing it while on the commute on the train into Chicago. Soon, it came off completely. The Islamically appropriate loose clothes I wore gave way to more form-fitting outfits. I felt comfortable with this new style. But when my boss told me that I'd done the right thing because the hijab posed an invisible barrier between me and our team, it stung.
Happily, I realized that the people who had chosen to be my friends at work while I wore the hijab were the same people who continued to be my friends. Perhaps wearing or discarding the hijab didn't impact my relationships after all.
Over the next decade or so, I ran my own business and did many public speaking engagements. All the while, the hijab stayed off. I told myself that I was a more approachable ambassador of my faith if I didn't wear it. If people had questions about Islam, they would be more comfortable approaching me without the hijab. I noticed that no one knew I was a Muslim unless I brought it up, and my justification for not wearing the hijab began to feel hollow.

In 2011, I completed my masters from Northwestern and decided to build a career in corporate America. This was also the year that I decided to adopt the hijab once again in my own life. I hesitated with what to do at work. I decided I would only wear it outside of work. I thought the hijab could be a strike against me, especially in PR, where image was everything.
But as I reconnected more strongly than ever with my faith, I felt cowardly for hiding my beliefs.
I found the courage to lean in and to wear the hijab in public, at interviews and, if hired, at work. Didn't my faith teach me that as long as we worked hard, bounties came from our Benefactor? I began interviewing with the hijab on. Within weeks I landed my dream job. I wore the hijab with pride.
I recently changed my LinkedIn photograph to a smiling woman in hijab. Am I afraid that future employers may judge me and disregard my potential worth? Certainly. But leaning in takes courage. It is about risk. And I've decided to take one.

(Originally published on LeanIn.org

Lost in Translation

By Naazish YarKhan

If I gave you my heart today, would you still not want it? That was the only thought that flitted through Naina’s mind as she gazed out on the shroud of white that entombed the city even as the snow lit up the night. Around her, a smattering of red, green and gold lights flickered on balconies and in more than a few windows, a Christmas tree glistened. Naina’s heart hurt at their inherent promise of love, families spending time together, the making of memories. She watched as a snow plough braved the winds, a stab at recreating normal, while a spool of CTA buses inched towards shiny, hopeful Navy Pier.

If I gave you my heart today, would you still not want it? The question grazed at the edge of her conscience, yet again. It bothered her how, over the months, it had impudently grown more insistent for the answer she wanted to hear. Naina lifted her gaze eastwards and it seemed like she only had to reach out and her fingertips would graze Lake Michigan - a dream, icy and cracked in so many places. Cracked like the cocoon of familiarity once woven by her parents, siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles. India’s smells, sights and sounds; the warmth borne from the uninhibited mingling amongst friends and neighbors – whether it was asking for a cup of sugar or sharing news of a grandchild’s birth – all of it an ever present memory.

Naina still remembered the day she’d discovered she was pregnant. Even before she’d broken the news to Ravi, she’d rushed to share her happiness with her family across the continents via Skype. Their unrestrained whoops of joy, the fountain of questions, the heaps of advice, she knew, was the reaction she most needed. It would warm her insides, make her feel loved and cared for. Yes, Ravi would have been happy with the news, but a smile from him would have had to suffice. She wished those closest to her didn’t have to be oceans apart. But then, if they lived in America, would they have learned to be as restrained as Ravi and his family were in their reactions? So polite, emotions invariably under check. Or was that self-control the American way? She had never imagined that one could look South Asian on the outside, but be all American on the inside. What was the name her siblings had given Ravi? An Oreo cookie?

With studying for her USMELE, so she could qualify for a medical residency at a local hospital, to having morning sickness throughout her pregnancy, friendships she’d created at the clinic, where she’d worked part-time, stayed there. What Naina couldn’t understand, however, was why neighborly friendliness never seemed to go beyond the perfunctory hello’s in the hallway or elevator? Why didn’t those overtures ever extend to coffee together? And it wasn’t for lack of trying on her part. Her gifts of freshly baked cookies, samosas or chocolate bark hadn’t led to any friendships. “Why did introductions to new people, in India, invariably lead to invitations to tea, dinner, the beginnings of a life-long relationship. Didn’t both countries have the same 24 hours, the same busy, demanding days, so what made people in India so open to nurturing relationships?” she wondered. 

“I’ve made fresh aloo paratha’s for dinner,” she nodded in Ravi’s direction. A smile slipped across her face as she remembered the many times she’d pulled the towel off his body, the days and nights they’d made love like they couldn’t have their fill.

Reaching for the remotes, he turned the music off, flicked ESPN on.

“Where was the hug, the kiss on the head? Their first after his two days at the hospital?” she wanted to ask. Instead, “I was listening,” Naina pressed her lips together. Then, for the second time, “I’ve made fresh aloo paratha’s for dinner.”

“You go ahead. I’m not hungry,” Ravi drawled, his eyes riveted to the game.

A knot tightened in Naina’s stomach. Why did she do this to herself, she wondered? Hadn’t he told her since the early days of their marriage that she wasn’t to wait for him for meals? That, as a resident, there was no telling when he’d be done at work? 

It was a homecoming that couldn’t have been more different than what she wanted, desperately needed. Her own father had children leaping to greet him on his return from work. It meant a family gathering to enjoy a hot, freshly cooked meal and dinner table conversation about how everyone’s day had gone. Ravi, on the other hand, saw no point in reliving his day if all he wanted to do was put it behind him. Between Ravi’s medical residency, the NFL, the NBA and whatever ESPN doled out, Naina couldn’t remember when she and her husband had last shared a meal that brought them closer. Eating food, in her new home, seemed so functional that Naina was certain it was robbing her cooking of its flavor.

Ravi eased the baby from Naina, and nestling Manal’s tiny body in his arms, he made himself comfortable in front of the flat screen TV. That was where he unwound best.

“I hope you don’t mind if I eat while we talk,” Naina cradled the phone between her shoulder and her face.

“Not if you don’t mind my baby fussing in the background. The minute I get on the phone, she gets gassy,” Sheena replied.

“Why don’t you watch the game with me?” Ravi asked.

Naina took another bite of her paratha. That this typically was the nature of their interaction after days of not having seen each other, and barely two years into the marriage, grated on her. It poisoned whatever desire she may have had to snuggle next to her husband and watch a game, especially since sports just weren’t her thing. 

Naina listened to Sheena lament the challenge it was to get a newborn bundled and ready for a trip to the grocery store, only for the baby to need yet another diaper change. She empathaized, knowing the feeling only too well, even as her eyes lingered over Ravi’s face. He was still as handsome as when they’d first met. He visiting from America, an only child, looking to get married. She, one of six children, one of the many hopeful’s he was to interview. They met at dinner, the two of them, her siblings, his cousins. Amidst the group’s non-stop chatter and the clinking of flatware against china, his quiet measured manner and ready humor had attracted her. His choice of water while everyone else chugged beer, his ease despite being mercilessly teased for taking the “desi” career path dutifully, impressed her. Unruffled, he could obviously stand his ground, be a rock she could lean on.

If their babies allowed, what Sheena and Naina would begin as a conversation about their newborns would evolve into a discussion about the price of diapers and formula, the nature of love, the emotional costs of relocating. If either of them had had any time to watch TV or follow the news online that week, then that invariably become fodder for discussion. The Sandy Hook killings, Obama's re-election, global warming, international news.

Even after all these months, Ravi was still incredulous that anyone could have such capacity for conversation as Naina did. “Can you take your call to the next room?” he rocked a now whimpering baby Manal in his lap.

Naina turned her back to him, reducing her side of the conversation to the occasional “oh no” and “uh-huh”. 

“Do you have to use the phone when I’m trying to watch the game?” Ravi asked, no sooner than Naina had hung up, her next day’s plans with Sheena shimmering like a fragile ray of sun.
Naina felt anger bubble up from deep within her. “I feel so lonely in your company,” she wanted to rage. But what use was it? It had been impossible to convey the depth of her loss to someone who lived less than a dozen miles from the home of his youth and childhood. She bit her lip, hating the game, despising the TV, loathing the shared space they called a marriage. Outside, the snow continued to fall thicker and thicker, burying everthing.

If I gave you my heart today, would you still not want it? Once again, Naina had her answer. Her eyes boring into Ravi’s, she pulled the baby out of his arms. Ravi stared, his face contorting with anger, as she stalked out of the room. Silence fell as each recoiled to nurse festering wounds, neither aware they were speaking different languages, seeking love in different tongues, neither recognizing that even love could be lost in translation.
A long sigh escaped her leaving smudges on the clear glass panel of windows and Naina clung to little Manal tighter. Padding across the polished hard wood floors, she nestled into the burgundy leather couch, gingerly placing her feet onto the coffee table. The warmth from the fireplace tickled her toes and she let her head drop against the back of the couch. Manal’s innocent and fragile scent teased her. She had imagined that the baby would give her the sense of family she so craved since moving to America two years ago. Between a somewhat colicky newborn, sleepless nights and Chicago’s cold, short days that often kept mother and baby indoors, the ache had only deepened.

Switching the baby to her other arm, she rose to turn the music up. Perhaps Bruno Mars’ voice could erase the loneliness? Tears pooled in the corners of her eyes, surprising her. Noticing Ravi emerge from their bedroom, his hair still wet, a towel wrapped around his waist, she wiped the back of her hand across her face.
“Are we planning to do anything this evening?” Naina asked at length, even though she knew the answer. He’d been home barely a couple of hours after being on call for the past forty-eight hours. There wasn’t going to be room for her needs. Her Facebook ‘friends’ seemed to hear her thoughts and feelings more than her husband, she thought wryly. She couldn’t figure out why, then, the more time she spent online, the more alone it made her feel. Besides her family overseas, who else was there to open her heart to?

With no answer from Ravi, nor insights forthcoming to any of her questions, Naina micro-waved the aloo-paratha, added a small bowl of yogurt to her plate and sat down to eat. Digging into her purse, Naina groped for her cell phone. Sheena was a new mother too, and an import like herself, albeit from Atlanta. Their ever increasing sense of isolation had knit the two women closer since they had first met at a party.

Naina’s interest in raising a family, rather than pursuing a full-time career as a physician, her easy confidence and gregarious personality, had drawn Ravi to her as they talked more after that first dinner. They discovered that their big picture ideals dovetailed – family came first, charity and hard-work were the foundation they wanted to build life on, and education was key to all their aspirations. That both of them were pursuing careers in medicine gave them so much in common.
( To be continued)

Video Scripts Based on Input from All Stakeholders

For a series of videos that we are planning here at IFANCA, it's not me in my silo deciding what the script should entail. Rather it is me speaking to all the various departments who interact with our target audience and asking them what frequently asked questions come up in their conversations that we could perhaps address via our website and videos. Given that every company has limited resources, fretting out the most pertinent information that needs conveying, is what helped me decide what each video would comprise. It may be time consuming to cull this information but it's better than running with assumptions, especially since  meeting audience needs is truly the goal. Doing the research allows us to narrow our focus and trim scope down to what really needs to be done.  Having a solid 'why'  - That is the only way to avoid a redundant product.

So yes, this speaks once again to the idea that when you step outside your silo, you get better results.Aarron, noted author and leader of MailChimp's UX design shared a similar approach in an interview with RosenfieldMedia.com

Why do we connect with some and not others? From Like to Love to Lasting Love.

I have often wondered why we connect with some and not with others. Why some relationships fizzle out and others weather the stormiest seas? What does lasting love, whether with a spouse, parent or child, look like ? I stumbled on Yasmin Ayyad's blog and believe I have found one component that takes us from Like to Love to Lasting Love in any relationship. It comes down to feeling heard.

As Yasmin puts it:

"We are people, and we need people. Sometimes no matter how much confidence we have, we need validation. We need support. Find those positive, encouraging people that are around you and talk to them. Let them fill you up with energy and power. They can help you accept whats coming your way and see the best parts about it." 

Do we really have "Friends" online?

I'd agree that friendship is “a distinctively personal relationship that is grounded in a concern on the part of each friend for the welfare of the other, for the others sake, and that involves some degree of intimacy." It's someone who actually cares, who likes you for you, makes you laugh, is a shoulder to cry on, makes you feel comfortable about who you are. I would add it's someone who knows your moods, who listens, who understands and loves you despite your flaws. It is certainly not someone you choose to have in your life simply to be able to say you have a friend, or simply because you've shared 25 FB posts with or twenty tweets with. It is not someone you choose to call 'friend' because you need to fill that gnawing void created by a lack of real, physical meaningful interactions that forge tried and tested "I'll always be there for you" friendships. Real Friends pull on our heart strings.

Our online networks do comprise friends whom we have made the effort to actively include in our joys and sorrows, and are part of a real life, mutual support system. The rest of the people we know online are acquaintances for whom we may want the best, to whom we may blurt every thought that comes to mind, but if tomorrow they disappeared, we'd perhaps notice their absence, without necessarily missing their presence.

What Captures Your Attention Controls Your Life - Kare Anderson - Harvard Business Review

What Captures Your Attention Controls Your Life - Kare Anderson - Harvard Business Review

Who'd have thought that a Harvard Business Review article would lead to some soul searching.  But that's exactly what has happened. "Giving and receiving undivided attention, even briefly, is the least that one individual can do for another — and sometimes the most," writes Kare Anderson, who is also author of Say it Better. "And yet, attending to others doesn't just help them — it helps us, by evoking responses that help the listener feel cared for, useful, and connected to the larger world. Paying attention may be an individual effort, but ....simply gazing steadily and warmly at that person, nodding at times and reiterating what you heard will activate an empathic, mirror-neuron response in both of you."

Heeding Anderson's recommendation to become aware of where we are focusing our attention, for a few days now, I've become increasingly aware that while I may be in the same room as my kids, I'm not always present. In choosing to be preoccupied or only half available, or half listening, I've realized that it's not just them I'm robbing of an emotional bond but myself too. Love, relationships, emotional bonds are about connecting and in order to connect we need to be fully present. This article, though applicable to our work life too, solidified that thought for me.

Perhaps this explains how we fall in love, too. Feeling loved is nothing less than feeling heard, listened to, cared for - all byproducts of being given focused attention. If you've been there, you know just how lucky you were to have made the journey - those all too fleeting moments of actually feeling heard. Moments that don't come by so easily once you factor in the onslaught of our daily lives, the many distractions and diversions in our day.  For me, there is only one solution. To set aside family time, to treat those moments together as non-negotiable and to guard it ferociously from the needling interference of life's many to-do lists, phone calls, pings and texts.  

For Aramco World Magazine - Saleem Ali - A Profile

“Greed is not bad,” says Saleem Ali, professor of environmental studies at the University of Vermont, an authority on conflict resolution and author of Treasures of the Earth: Need, Greed, and a Sustainable Future, a book on sustainable extractive mining. Coming from an environmentalist, that statement alone can raise eyebrows. However, rather than greed for greed’s sake, it’s consumption within a framework of regulations, with an eye on providing livelihoods, with minimum impact on the environment, that Dr. Ali advocates. Improving a region’s environmental health must also mean providing a livelihood chain for people in those areas, he says. Choices such as large scale mining for diamonds or trading across continents do involve a carbon footprint, but it is an exchange Dr. Ali encourages. “Pollution is one problem but so is people dying of hunger and poverty.”

Hope this intro. catches your attention. I tell you, he's a man worth keeping an eye on. Nobel Peace Prize winner in the making. It's for my very first article for Aramco World Magazine. To get up to speed with Saleem Ali's doings turn to http://www.uvm.edu/~shali.

Digital Transformation: How a 162-Year Old Company Moves Like A Start-Up at Social Media Week (#SMWChicago)

Sitting through the American Express presentation, Digital Transformation: How a 162-Year Old Company Moves Like A Start-Up at Social Media Week (#SMWChicago) last week, brought home so much of what we learned in both Paul Leonardi's class and with Nosh Contractor. "As the world moved online, the needs of merchants and cardmembers changed to social, local, mobile and so, American Express evolved their marketing strategies to meet these emerging needs." Dave Wolf, Vice President, Global Business & Market Development, American Express discussed Am Ex's "recent launches with Facebook and foursquare as well as a game-changing tool they call “Go Social” which allows merchants to instantly create a social media marketing strategy." As he explained how a financial company and a really old one at that had adopted social media and created such a vibrant online presence, I couldn't help but think that this sounded too much like IDEO, Google and Pixar. There had to be cross-functional teams and a flat hierarchy where information could flow across specializations, without the challenge of silo's. I asked Dave as much and yep, that was exactly the case. Another nugget of wisdom, we'd picked up in the MSC was that if there was C-Suite support for an idea, viola!, things happened. This was just as true of Am Ex. as it was for IDEO.

If you've been reading this blog, it may seem like cross functional teams, open floor plans, flat hierarchies are pretty much all I learned at the MSC! That's really not the case, of course, but in a world so keen on innovation and the next big thing, if only we adopted these methods, bright ideas and their seamless execution may not seem so far fetched a possibility.

Next stop? Crisis Communications in the Social Age with Todd Bleacher, Communications Director Boeing @Boeing and Kathy Fieweger, Executive Vice President and Midwest General Manager, MWW Group @KatFieweger.Search for conversations about it at #smwmww
Follow me @yarkhan, or www.linkedin.com/in/naazishyarkhan

Nigel Marsh: How to make work-life balance work | Video on TED.com

My dream is to be a presenter at a TED Conference. Perhaps it should be the goal I set for the "Wish List" we are to create for Nosh Contractor's class. Here's an interesting talk : "Work-life balance, says Nigel Marsh, is too important to be left in the hands of your employer. At TEDxSydney, Marsh lays out an ideal day balanced between family time, personal time and productivity -- and offers some stirring encouragement to make it happen."  And while we're talking about success at work it, one of the keys to it lies in the breadth and depth of your smile. Ron Gutman talks about this simple yet powerful act. 


Organ Donations or is it Organ Trafficking – Fueling the Status Quo

In the event of my death, I’ve opted to be an organ donor. Reading “The Global Traffic In Human Organs” I’ve come to second guess my judgment. Having lived in India and the Middle East, I am no foreigner to the many reports of the trafficking of organs – both legal and illegal. It comes as no surprise that there are desperately poor people, who have little choice but to sell a kidney to pay for life’s other needs. Similarly, I’ve read chilling reports of entire villages traumatized by kidnappings, where victims were cut up and their kidneys stolen. I’ve signed petitions against the harvesting of organs, many occuring in prisons across the world. My reaction then and now has been one of disgust at this trade between the hopeful rich and hopeless poor. This article, however, gave me pause for another reason. The authors presented organ transplant as hubris, an unwillingness to accept that death happens, and a willingness to extend one’s life even if it meant shortchanging the donor of well-being and even life itself. Further, according to this report, the recipient of a heart transplant, for instance, is not exchanging death for health. Rather, he/ she is swapping imminent death for a prolonged death - “exchanging one mortal, chronic disease for another.” “That patients will have a condition similar to AIDS and that in all probability they will die of an infection from resulting from the suppression of their immune system.” Now that was something I hadn’t heard before. Nor had I heard that such is the competition between hospitals as well as transplant surgeons that perfectly good organs are disposed off “rather than allowing the competition to get at them.” That kidnapping and illegal means were really unnecessary given the vast number of poverty stricken people who’d only too willingly give up an organ if it could buy them some bread. People of every race and every nation are involved in the trafficking of organs. Child prostitution, child labor, bonded labor, selling your children to make ends meet, marriages between old men from the Middle East and girls barely at puberty, female infanticide, and now this. Straddling this list on one end is poverty and on the other is the cold-hearted willingness to use another human being's desperation to one’s advantage. It is far more gruesome but in some ways not unlike the times families in South Asia employ child labor to do the housekeeping, or babysitting, saying “such is life. At least we're giving this child food and shelter and an income, and if we don't hire this child as help, surely someone else will." Do patients waiting for a kidney transplant from a poor woman imagine, "at least it's allowing her to feed her children?" Is that how men purchasing women and little girls rationalize their choices? Yes, isn't this how we are complicit in fueling this horrific status quo?

The Fallacy of One Monolithic Culture, Tribe, Nation

MSC Blog of Northwestern University: One Monolithic Culture, Tribe, Nation: "Monolithic is defined as constituting one, undifferentiated whole; exhibiting uniformity. I wonder where we got the idea that peoples, nati..."

Jihad Vs McWorld. A Case of Intellectual Lethargy?...

MSC Blog of Northwestern University: Jihad Vs McWorld. A Case of Intellectual Lethargy?...: "Perhaps academics need a black and white viewfinder in order to fit their theories into neatly preconceived categories. Or at least ..."

Of Puppet Strings and Master Manipulators

MSC Blog of Northwestern University: Of Puppet Strings and Master Manipulators: "The Myth of Global Ethnic Conflict by John R. Bowen should become required reading for all and sundry, and especially those in foreign ..."

Halal Comes to Campus Via Food Service Express

Food Service Express (FSE), the parent company of www.HalalHealthy.com, has been presenting webinars and speaking at Muslim Students Association (MSA) conferences on successfully approaching campus administrators to bring halal to campus dining services. This January 28-30, 2011, Food Service Express will be addressing the subject at the MSA Conference at Ohio State University. Entitled “Digging Deep: Cultivating the Seeds of Leadership”, the goal of this conference is to effect positive change by increasing awareness of civil manners, improving the spiritual self, and fostering productive activism. FSE will be presenting three different topics related to Halal and Campus Dining Services on Saturday, Jan 29th, 11:15- 12:00 & 3:15-4:00, and Sunday, Jan 30th 10:30-11:15.

FSE President, Mr. Tymchuck, will be doing workshops and speaking on "Productive Activism: Increasing the Availability of Halal Foods on Campus" at the Conference. These will cover how students can learn to sharpen their leadership skills and gain an understanding of the thought processes used by leaders to reach desired goals. Building consensus among Muslim students, assembling an enthusiastic team, gathering pertinent data to build your case for halal, approaching the campus Dining Services, fostering continuous leadership and even publicizing accomplishments in the local media will be other topics addressed by Mr. Tymchuck. A ‘Leadership’ packet with these materials, including step-by-step activities, will be distributed to all workshop attendees. On November 6, 2010, Food Service Express and HalalHealthy.com presented a similar workshop at the Chicago wide MSA conference.

Debating Dry Writing.....Oops I mean Globalization

My post on Facebook last night was along these lines: “I now know where the late night study munchies come from. If your reading is dry you eat both to procrastinate and to keep from falling asleep. Further, the drier the reading, the more you tend to procrastinate and the later and later into the night it gets!”

YES, the reading this quarter has me begging to me rescued. “Planet of Slums” by Mike Davis and “The Global Traffic in Human Organs”, though backed by tomes of research, is swaths of dry writing delivered in monotones. Could someone please read to me out of a phone directory, instead?

The readings gave me pause, for a rather unlikely reason. I was once considering an MA in Public Policy. If this is the tone that Public Policy readings are made up of, and I suspect they are, what a long grind THAT would have been. And my other consideration, law school. Hmmm..ditto!

Given this scenario, you can imagine my relief when I began reading “Debating Globalization” by Micklethwait. I am referring not to its content but its conservational tone, too. Michlethwait’s writing is liberally peppered with sarcasm and hyperbole. His word choices give the impression that these are his opinions albeit backed by research. “Slap controls on, Grasping fingers, carted off to an asylum, knuckleheads in the Boardroom, illiterates in Hollywood, two-weeks worth of penny-pinching vacations.” However, since you are made so aware of his inherent bias, you can take his opinions with a dose of salt. I just think : at least the article is readable and that means there’s a chance of learning something from it. Dry academic papers sound authoritative and important but wading through them or effortlessly absorbing their wisdom is another story altogether!

“Debating Globalization” talks of failing oligopolies propped up as businesses thanks to government support. General Motors comes to mind instantly. I voted for Obama but I did not vote for the rescue of GM and poorly handled businesses like theirs. Written in favor of globalization the article, however, acknowledges that by no means is globalization all good. It simply states that the good outweighs the bad, on average. If you were an unemployed Tea-Partier right now, you wouldn’t quite agree. If you were a family member of the tens of thousands of Indian farmers who 've committed suicide thanks to the changing climate – both literal and economic, you wouldn't agree either.

But like most things, doesn’t the answer to whether globalization is good or bad, depend on whom you ask and the context ? Call centers in India: For locals there, it's good. Increasing disrespect to parents, looser morals and materialism on steroids thanks to the independence these jobs bring: Bad.

Like any condition, there are pro’s and con’s. Gobalization is no different and the benefits will come with a price tag. The question then becomes, what are we willing to do to mitigate the risks and avert the potential negatives, not just for ourselves but our friends and neighbors across the yard, the border, and those across the seas? What are the buffers we - the global community - must be willing to put in place to break a potentially catastrophic fall?”

Muslims, Jews Break Bread at "Iftaar in the Synagogue"

Ignorance is the real enemy, and in an effort to mend fences and grow relationships Muslims and Jews in Chicago have been part of the Jewish-Muslim Community Building Initiative for several years now.

Ramadan is the holy month when Muslims fast and abstain from eating or drinking anything (and from marital relations) from pre-dawn hours to dusk. Iftar is the Arabic word for the meal Muslims have as they break their fast during Ramadan. It was the month that the Holy Quran, was first revealed to the Prophet Mohammed.

Ramadan is an opportune time to share one's traditions, especially inter-faith efforts. On September 13, the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs and Anshe Shalom Bnai Israel Congregation are hosting 'Iftar in the Synagogue,' where they will play host to Chicago’s Muslims and Jews in a communal iftar for an evening of what both traditions do best: eating, praying, discussing and schmoozing in a unique interfaith setting.

Complete Story on Huffington Post.

Palestinian and Israeli Teens Talk Peace in Chicago

Although Israelis and Palestinians have been meeting and communicating at a grassroots level to better understand one another and work toward a more peaceful future, the initiatives that bring them together do not receive the recognition that they deserve. Until a comprehensive solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is found, these grassroots initiatives remain vitally important.

One of these initiatives is Hands of Peace, which began in spring 2002 when Gretchen Grad and Deanna Jacobson, a Christian and Jew living in Northbrook, Illinois, began talking about how glad they were that their children were growing up with peers of different faiths. The two neighbors had a vision to spread intercultural understanding beyond their own neighborhood and foster it in youth from the Middle East.

With the help of Nuha Dabbouseh, a member of the local Islamic Cultural Center (ICC), Gretchen and Deanna secured sponsorship from Glenview Community Church, B’nai Jehoshua Beth Elohim (BJBE), a Reform Jewish congregation, and the ICC, as well as the support of individual donors and local businesses.

Originally published by Common Ground News Service. Read complete Story.

Why Muslims Want The Community Center in Lower Manhattan

I've read more than my share of news reports that claim that Muslims don't denounce terrorism. We do, but those pronouncements really don't make for riveting news. After all, what bleeds leads. And why wouldn't we denounce terrorism? Muslims died in the 9/11 attacks, and they are murdered by terrorists during embassy bombings and suicide bombings. We are looked on with suspicion at every airport, and often have spent grueling hours explaining to immigration why our names are, unjustifiably, on a no-fly list.

So the next best thing, or perhaps the very best thing, is for Muslims to actually mingle with their neighbors and get people to know them on a personal level. The better people know each other, the more commonalities they discover, and the more their common humanity unites them. Wouldn't it make sense that the reverse would also be true, that those who made the effort to reach out to Muslims would be able to understand what we are really about, rather than have only stereotypes to depend on?

To foster just such opportunities is the goal of the proposed Muslim community centre in Lower Manhattan, originally called Cordoba House and now called Park51. When asked if he'd have done anything differently over the many years he'd worked on the Middle East peace process, Ambassador Dennis Ross, a veteran U.S. Department State negotiator, answered, "More person-to-person contact."

So why the hate and the vitriol against the Muslim community center? Don't people believe Muslims have a right to honor the memory of those lost to 9/11, just as any other American? Or is the very idea scary, that getting to know Muslims up close and personal will threaten closely nurtured prejudices?

Yes, even as New York City wisely allows for the Muslim community center's construction, the flood gates of hate against Muslims have been opened. I dread to think of the backlash, both verbal and physical, our community may receive in the face of this, in the coming days.

The irony of the situation doesn't escape Josh Stanton, editor of the Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue:

In spite of Park51's clear value to the city and its citizens, its location several blocks from Ground Zero has prompted protests that aim to keep some Muslim Americans from practicing their faith in freedom and peace, and from opening their doors in a truly American way to welcome guests from all faith traditions.

The terrible irony is that under the guise of fighting extremism, some critics of Park51 are unwittingly furthering the agenda of the terrorists who attacked us so viciously on 9/11. The terrorists wanted us to be afraid. They wanted us to put our rights in jeopardy. They wanted us to believe that not all religions are welcome in America. They wanted us to undo ourselves by debasing our own principles.

Although the First Amendment of the US Constitution makes clear that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof", it is ultimately up to American citizens to ensure that the principles enshrined in the Constitution are applied in full. When a religious group, in writ or practice, is kept from establishing a gathering place for the community, those ideals are undermined.

The protests against Park51 are all the more severe, as they undermine the freedom of a religious community seeking not only to build a gathering place for itself, but to provide a space that is open to Americans of all faiths.
Yes, it's a space that will honor Islam and inter-faith learning. It will help us get to know each other better. Can we please give it a chance?

Chicago Muslim Photographer Guest at White House

Mrs. Sadaf Syed, a native Californian who now lives in Illinois, has photographed American Muslim women who wear the hijab, or head covering. The result is a stunning coffee table book that has caught the attention of none other than President Obama.

On August 13, 2010 Obama recognized both Mrs. Syed and iCover: A Day in the Life of a Muslim-American COVERed Girl in a White House ceremony. Both the first and second editions of the coffee table book, which were printed as limited editions, sold out within months of being published.

"To be honored by the President of United States reconfirms the value of iCOVER," said Syed. "It's uplifting and yet a humbling feeling to be invited to the White House. (The invitation) itself, is a very American thing!"

"Over the last four years, I've traveled across the country to photograph Muslim women who cover their hair. The intention was to showcase what it means to be a Muslim-American woman," Syed said. "Piecing together these photographs and quotes from the women I met, I self-published this unique coffee table book celebrating Muslim women in America."

In doing so Syed, a photojournalist and portrait photographer with a degree in communications and photojournalism from California State University at Fullerton, has been on her own journey of self-discovery -- one that has lead to the White House.

Mrs. Syed captures moments in the day-to-day lives of Muslim women, moments that the average American can relate to once they embrace the fact that these ladies cover their hair. The accompanying photo captions and personal quotes add another dimension to the women's lives. You hear the voices of a dancer, a surfer-girl, a biker, a tri-athlete and even a boxer and touch their thoughts, dreams, struggles and fears. With each page, a stereotype is shattered and the misunderstandings that surround the female followers of a faith of 1.3 billion, diminish.

iCOVER has garnered significant publicity both domestically and internationally. It has been endorsed by artists and journalists alike. The book is available at www.sadafsyed.com.

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Open Letter to Pastor Terry Jones Re: Burn Quran Day

I think Pastor Terry Jones, leader of the miniscule, 50-member, extreme right-wing Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida, and brain behind "International Burn a Koran Day," was out for some cheap publicity at the cost of being totally un-American, unpatriotic and un-Christian. Just ask Hillary Clinton and Gen. David Petraeus. They've said the move places American troops abroad in harm's way and have called it "outrageous," "disgraceful," and un-American. I'd add "ignorant" to those qualifiers, considering he hasn't opened the Quran once and doesn't even know what it says.

"If there's any good to come from this, may it be a wake up call to all Americans to see the insanity and danger of prejudice and ignorance," says Jonathan D. Scott, author of The Woman in the Wilderness, a historical novel about the search for religious freedom in pre-colonial America. "American government was virtually founded on the principle of religious freedom and tolerance, and to deny that is to deny one's patriotism and birthright."

"International Burn a Koran Day" is scheduled for September 11, to "warn Americans about the dangers of Islam." A reader, Aisha Kureishy, sent me a letter that she has written to the pastor. Her words echo my sentiments, so I've reproduced it below:

"Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you" (Colossians 3:13).

"Be quick in the race for forgiveness from your Lord, and in the race for a garden wide as the heavens and the earth, prepared for the righteous -- [the righteous are] those who spend whether in prosperity or adversity, who restrain anger and who pardon all people. For God loves those who do good" (Quran, 3:133-134).

Dear Dr. Terry Jones,

I write this letter as a message of peace. I am an ordinary woman, a loving mother, and most importantly, a caring American Muslim. My voice may be tiny and distant, but it is not weak or insignificant.

Dr. Jones, the world is shocked to know about your magnitude of unawareness towards Islam and its Holy Book Quran. Muslims have been deeply hurt by your ignoble and sordid plan to burn the Holy Quran on September 11, 2010, in honor and remembrance of all the people who lost their lives that day. There were also Muslims in the Twin Towers also who died that day. You will not be honoring them or any non-Muslim, for that matter, by burning a sacred text.

The Holy Quran belongs to all the Muslims of the world just like the Holy Bible belongs to all the Christians of the world and not just some of them. Such a relentless statement to punish the Muslims by burning their Holy Book indicates deliberate disrespectfulness towards a sacred text. You said in your CNN interview that you are a devout Christian and a true American, but your September 11th demonstration does not prove you to be either. Indeed your Dove institute will be reflecting its true colors to the world by rendering such heart-breaking activities. In this act you will be leading the nation towards intolerance. Instead, I hope this act raises people's curiosity about the Quran and leads them to the Truth that it is.

You claim that Quran is a book of the devil and deception. However, Quran discusses numerous Prophets of Judaism and Christianity such as Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jacob, Joseph, Lot, Isaac, John and even Jesus to name a few. Unfortunately neither the Torah nor the Bible recognizes the Quran as the last Book of God. However, the Quran unquestionably authenticates the revelations of both predecessor books. If you still choose to burn the Holy Quran, I would kindly ask you to at least be respectful by removing all of Quran pages that also mention any Prophets of the Bible. In fact you should definitely remove the pages that mention Jesus, Mary and Angel Gabriel. The entire Chapter 19 of the Quran is titled and based on the Virgin Mary. She is our mother too. With such strong similarities in our faiths, would you consider Christianity "from the devil" as well then?

In the Quran, God declared and promised that His message will not be altered, and that it is an eternal message affirmed onto His creation. The Quran is a miraculous Book that calms the disturbed mind, mends a broken heart, purifies a corrupt body and relaxes a disturbed soul with lessons of compassion, faith, patience, hope and forgiveness and respect for all.

Islam presently is the second largest religion in the world. Despite being regularly ridiculed by false accusations and speculations heightened by the media, it continues to grow rapidly. Islam is an authentic religion that gives precise answers and states detailed facts in its Holy Book for the reader. It was revealed as the last book after the Bible from God to the last Prophet Muhammad, may peace be upon him, through Angel Gabriel.

Dr. Jones, burning the Quran may give you and your flock temporary satisfaction, but that will deepen the wounds of all American Muslims post 9/11. Even after nine years, Muslims still face discrimination and hate crimes. For example, Mr. Ahmed Sharif in New York was recently stabbed, a Muslim woman with a headscarf from Dallas was shot in the throat and paralyzed, another Californian Muslim woman was shot while walking her toddler, and Farhan Khan from Allen, Texas, was tortured and murdered by two men in a park. These are just to name a few. The American Muslims are trying very hard to mend all broken hearts since 9/11, but your atrocious act will certainly ruin any progress that has been made thus far.

Peace is never acquired through hatred and humiliation of people's religions or their sacred texts. Someone of your stature and omnipresence must overcome all the misunderstandings towards Islam and Muslims. As a devout Christian, you can set a global example of respect, tolerance and forgiveness to be emulated by the people. Choose love over hate and forgiveness over punishment. I hope that you will find my request to be the most humble and sincere.

Aisha Kureishy
Really, Pastor Terry Jones? What would Jesus do?

Follow Naazish YarKhan on Twitter: www.twitter.com/yarkhan