Thursday, December 9, 2010

Dear Muslim Parents, Let's Get Real

Dear Muslim Parents,

I hope this letter finds you well. Now that it has found you well - let's get to the point. It is 2010 and we are in America not a village in Palestine or Yemen! Our children are growing up in a country that preaches freedom and democracy - I know you don't think that's a good thing (ok I can write a whole book on what kind of freedom and democracy there is in this country or whether you think there is any - BUT that's NOT the point here), I think the freedom to think as an individual is quite fabulous. Lately, I have been quite proud that more of your daughters are finishing high school and going on to college, that's a start. BUT - God forbid your daughters want to go away for school like OUT OF STATE - Astaghfar Allah! My dear Muslim parents - if your daughter is accepted to Yale, Stamford or Harvard, that's a BIG DEAL, oh and she got a full scholarship, everything is paid for  - WHAT?? You are not letting her go because its too far away and a Muslim girl should not leave her parents home before she is married, right? WRONG! In Islam we must treat our daughters the same as our sons. We must give our children the chance to follow their dreams regardless of their gender. If you trust your daughters, than what's the problem?

Not only are our children growing up in a stressful society full of competition, social acceptance and not to forget its sometimes not that cool to be a Muslim these days if you haven't noticed, and in addition to all of that - your children are feeling misunderstood and in most cases don't feel comfortable talking to you about being a teenager. Oh wait - did you know that your daughters talk to boys in their school and get ready for this.....they actually sit next to them in class! Did you know that's totally okay and is actually quite healthy for their social development. I am all for our daughters marrying Muslims and I am instilling that in my own daughters but I will not raise my daughters based on what they can't do versus what they can. Children need to be taught right from wrong and once they reach adolescence they make their own decisions whether we like it or not. Our job as parents is to equip our children with knowledge in hopes that they refer to that knowledge in the situations they encounter. Hearing the stories of young women in our community who are getting engaged at the age of 16, 17, and 18 leads me to the belief that we have a lot of education to do in our community. I ask that parents think about this question - do you feel that if you had the same opportunities as your children have now you would have gotten married at an early age? I understand that years past are not like the present which is precisely my point - let your children follow their dreams, encourage them, love them when they don't do their chores because they are studying for an exam, let them live and be children, your children.

Parents are reading this thinking - what the hell am I talking about? Yes, I did get married at an early age and was a mother of 3 by the age of 24, and that's only because there is a 3 year age difference between my last two children, and I seem to be healthy, happy and successful. Yes and no. No regrets - my parents at the time were isolated in a close knit Palestinian American community and many girls my age were getting married at that age, so I wasn't the only one. It was actually quite normal and to be frank if you hit the age of 20 and you were not at least engaged, something must have been wrong (obviously I think this statement is crazy but nonetheless that was the sentiment). I happen to be a very strong and independent woman (I know you are all shocked) and was able to continue living my life the way I wanted although obviously there was some delay and some change of my life plans. I also happen to have a supportive family, I have the most AMAZING loving mother that anyone can have who is my children's second mother. I trust her with my kid's lives. I also happen to have a family that is capable of taking care of my children without any reciprocation, they see it as a duty. For me that is not necessarily the norm - so I happen to be lucky. I also believe that my parents always knew the potential I had and are allowing me to live my dreams.

Many of your daughters may not have the same opportunity that I had. Last week I heard a story of a woman whose husband got in a very bad car accident and is now completely handicapped and unable to work. She has four children and has no job skills let alone a high school diploma. She must now find a way to support her family, but how? Another woman whose husband left her with five children and he is nowhere to be found. She has never worked before and has an 8th grade education. When I asked her to tell me what she could have done differently in her life she responded by saying,"I wish that I had finished school and went to college. I was such a good student. I would now be able to find a job and I would not need my husband". An education is your daughter's protection. You never know when you can be in one of the above situations.

An educated woman will always be more confident, independent, and resourceful. Don't you want that for your daughter? I know I want that for mine.


A Muslim Parent (aka a cool mom by the standards of the young ladies in my programs) 

Thursday, December 2, 2010

DREAMing is Nice But We Need to Wake Up

I like dreaming but after a good dream I like waking up. The other night I dreamed that I was on a beach on an island, clear blue waters, a subtle breeze running through my hair (or hijab) hey it's my dream - I can be hijabless, the only sounds were of the waves hitting the sand and the sounds of the birds flying around me. It was picture perfect. I was than awakened by the annoying sound of my alarm clock that reminds me everyday that I am not on a beach and it's time to start my daily hustle. So what's this I am talking about - dreams, the American dream. This week the DREAM Act, a law that would allow law abiding undocumented youth a chance at higher education is coming to a vote in the House. While I dream of white beaches, children in our country dream at a chance for higher education. Those eligible for the benefits of the DREAM Act are children who came at a young age with their parents who are undocumented. They did not come of their own free will but traveled with their parents just as any children would. Many of these undocumented youth are excellent students - many top of their class, are bilingual or in some cases trilingual and have the potential to be a great asset to their communities and our country as a whole. Once these students graduate high school - their future is shattered by the current policies that do not allow these students to further their education. We do not provide them a pathway to higher education and God forbid we send them on a pathway to legalization. I don't know about you guys but I live in the United States of America - the land of the free and home of the brave, the highest power in the world, one of the most sophisticated country's, the preacher of great knowledge, of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The country who prides itself on world class education. I also live in a country called the United States that has a broken immigration system, a country that tears families apart, a country that allows immigrant workers to be exploited, a country that has over 3 million of its citizens without health insurance. So the opponents of the DREAM Act say - we can't afford to pay for higher education for these youth, why should we award those in violation of immigration policies with world class education. Let me ask YOU some questions - Why can we afford trillions of dollars on wars, billions and billions of dollars to bail out corporate fat cats and greedy banks? We are already offering them free public elementary and secondary education. You have already invested in them as a country, why pull the investment before you gain the true benefit? Maybe if we stopped investing all this money on wars we can provide world class education to these students who are the future of this country. Young people who will become educated and become professionals, scientists, educators, entrepreneurs - contributors to our suffering economy. I don't know about you but I would never be able to look a child in the face and tell them that they have NO FUTURE. If we do not pass the DREAM Act - that's exactly what we are telling them. Let's not punish these children for the decisions their parents made. Let's also not jump to say its their parents fault. Why did their parents decide to come to the United States - for the very reasons I listed above and for the very reasons why I love this country - opportunity and the chance to make their dreams a reality. Education and healthcare are not things we should be fighting for in a country like the United States, education and healthcare should be a right. I dream of a day when we as a country genuinely recognize the contributions of immigrants, hell I dream of a day when our country realizes there would be no United States without immigrants. Period. Let's pass the DREAM Act - because its the right thing to do.