Faith and Islam

“The way of God’s Messenger is the way of Love. We are the children of Love. Love is our mother.”  – Rumi

For Muslims worldwide, this time of year is a very sacred time. Through the abstention from food and drink along with Quranic reflection and prayer, Muslims commemorate a fundamental moment in their religious story, that is, the moment when the Prophet Muhammad received the first revelation of the Quranic scriptures from the Archangel Gabriel. However, while this sacred time of year is marked with great amounts of joy within the Muslim community, Islam’s image has been subjected to great amounts of scrutiny and misinterpretation throughout the world.

Whether through media, personal experiences or conversations with friends, the Islamic tradition is often interpreted in a suspicious and a less than positive light. Driven by the fear of the religious other, society has majorly imaged Islam grotesquely and associated its religious story with violence, terrorism, oppression and hate.

Even more, society has vilified adherents of the Islamic faith making it so that the world looks upon any Muslim – no matter if she is a good person – with a fearful suspicion. Society’s fear of Islam has pushed Muslims into the dehumanizing and vilifying margins while deafening non-Muslim ears to counter Muslim stories of transformation and peace. Society’s placing of Islam into the dehumanizing and vilifying distance has demonized my sisters and brothers of Abraham and has slandered their name and faith.

Thus, in light of all this, how do I – a lover of God,  a follower of Christ, a human being – respond? Do I respond with the majority in fear? Or do I respond with love? I will choose to respond with love, for I believe as my Christian tradition has taught me that,

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out all fear.” – John’s Gospel

In the following post, you will read two posts from two Muslims, Najwa Mardini an American Muslim and Mohamed Khattab an North African Muslim write about what the Islamic faith is to them. Enjoy!

What is Islam? 

“Islam is a monotheistic religion, the core beliefs of Islam are that one believes in Allah which in the Arabic language means God, and that the Prophet Muhammad Peace and Blessings be upon him is his last and final messenger. Furthermore, followers of Islam believe in all of the previous prophets mentioned in the bible, they believe in Moses, Noah, Ishmael, Abraham, and Jesus. The word Islam comes from the Arabic word that means submission which is derived from the root of a word meaning peace. There are five pillars in Islam, the first pillar is that one believes in Allah. One deity that is merciful and has power over all things. The second pillar is that one is required to pray five times per day. The third pillar is that one must give charity every year to the poor. The fourth pillar is that one must fast during the holy month of Ramadan, this is the 9th month in the Islamic Calendar. The fifth pillar is to perform pilgrimage at least once during one’s lifetime in the holy city of Mecca.” – Najwa Mardini

“The word Islam comes from the Arabic word salaam which means peace. So Islam is the religion of peace that believes in the God of Abraham, Moses and Jesus. We believe that there is only one creator to this world and we are all living to worship him.”

– Mohamed Khattab

What is a Muslim? 

A Muslim is one who submits to Allah SWT. A Muslim is one that believes that there is no God but Allah and the Prophet Muhammad PBUH is his last prophet and one who adheres to the five pillars of Islam.” – Najwa Mardini

“A Muslim is the person who submits himself totally to God and follow his words through the Quran.” -Mohamed Khattab

Who was Muhammad?

“Muhammad was the last prophet and messenger, he received revelation from God through the angel named Gabriel. Prophet Muhammad was an orphan, his father had passed away before he was born and his mother had passed away when he was six years of age. He was illiterate and despite that, revealed the Qur’an which is one of the miracles that Muslims believe in. He was raised by his grandfather and his uncle when his grandfather had passed away. He advocated for the rights of the elderly, women, and children; the most vulnerable populations at the time. He taught peace, humility, kindness, respect for all and love. He wanted women to have rights and established rules to protect women from losing their inheritance or being harmed in any manner because women were treated in an inferior manner at the time. The Prophet Muhammad PBUH, spread Islam throughout the Arabian Peninsula during his life time and after he passed away, Islam continues to grow till this very day.”  – Najwa Mardini

“The Prophet Muhammad was a messenger – or we say the final messenger – like Abraham, Moses and Jesus that were sent to deliver and teach Gods word. The Prophet Muhammad was the final messenger of God that delivered the words of God’s word by means of the Quran.” – Mohamed Khattab

What is the Qur’an?

“The words that the Prophet PBUH received from Gabriel were God’s words that were conveyed to the Prophet Muhammad peace and blessings be upon him and today those words are compiled in what is known as the Holy Scripture for Muslims, the Qur’an. The Qur’an was revealed to the Prophet (PBUH) over the span of 23 years. The Qur’an has not been changed or altered since it was revealed to the Prophet PBUH and written.”  – Najwa Mardini

Is Islam oppressive towards women?

“Contrary to popular belief and what is spread in the mainstream media, Islam is not oppressive towards women. In fact, women were oppressed globally before Islam spread; female infanticide was a widespread practice that the Prophet had abolished because people at the time viewed women as inferior beings in comparison to men. He also married a business woman named Khadijah, she was a feminist; very well respected among men during that time which was a rarity at the time.

Khadijah was also 15 years older than the Prophet PBUH which dispelled any age-related discrimination towards women. The Prophet set an example for men to wed women that were working, respectful, dignified, and advocated for equal rights for men and women. Furthermore, because Islam has many followers from different countries and backgrounds; sometimes, there is an issue regarding the mixture of culture and religion. Some are unable to distinguish between culture and religion and therefore assumptions are made based off of cultural practices that have embedded themselves under the cover of religion; it is crucial that one distinguishes between the two. There are a few commonly spread myths about women in Islam, one is that they are forced to cover and that they do not have freedom to do what they choose, the second one is that female genital mutilation is required for women to endure, and the third is that women are beaten by their husbands.

I will carefully explain and argue against these points; the first myth that I mentioned regarding women being forced to cover their heads with scarves is negated simply by the fact that many Muslim women choose not to cover their heads. The issue is that some people that are not well versed in their religion and make it so that the Muslim head covering, also referred to as hijab in the Arabic language is required because to some it can be a cultural symbol as opposed to a religious symbol. In the same respect that Nuns choose to cover in Catholicism, so do Muslim women, it is a way that makes them feel closer to Allah. Basically, those that force it need to understand that although the hijab is mentioned in the Qur’an, it is actually forbidden in Islam to force anyone to wear it; in addition, it is forbidden to force anyone into anything including forcing your beliefs on anyone. In regards to the second myth, female genital mutilation (FGM) has become a source of debate and criticism with all fingers pointing towards Islam being the culprit for such a humiliating practice. Islam does not condone anywhere in its teachings that FGM is encouraged or allowed; it is actually forbidden and punishable to mutilate anything on one’s body especially the genital area. FGM has a long history and is very encouraged in Africa, most specifically Ethiopia; in fact, FGM is a cultural practice, most of the population that resides in Ethiopia is Christian. Christians do not condone FGM and in the same way Muslims do not either; it is simply a cultural practice that has been misconstrued to be a religious practice.

Last but not least, the Prophet gave a famous last sermon before he passed away to all Muslims; he said protect, care for, and honor your women because they are your comfort. A man that abuses a woman emotionally or physically is considered a coward and Islam does not condone these types of actions. The Prophet PBUH used to help his wife clean the house; this was not a usual practice for men at that time, but he should be a role model for all men because he treated everyone with honor, love, and dignity no matter what background they were from.” – Najwa Mardini

“Islam raised the level of women, they were no longer chattels being passed from father to husband. They became equal to men with rights and responsibilities. Unfortunately across the globe, Muslim women are victims of cultural aberrations that have no place in Islam. Powerful individuals and groups claim to be Muslim yet fail to practice the true principles of Islam.

It is said in the Quran:

“O you who believe you are forbidden to inherit women against their will, and you should not treat them with harshness, that you may take away part of the bridal money you have given them. And live with them honorably. If you dislike them, it may be that you dislike a thing and God brings a great deal of good through it.” (Quran 4:19)'” – Mohamed Khattab

Does Islam promote violent acts towards non-Muslims?

“The answer is, absolutely not. In fact, the verse brought up and misconstrued by mainstream media is contextual to a time when Muslims were being persecuted by a tribe called the Quraysh. The Quraysh were idolaters that did not allow for Muslims to practice their religion and prayers; they persecuted them by killing many of the Muslims. A verse was revealed to the Prophet PBUH in the Qur’an that basically tells the Muslims to stand up for themselves in self-defense but not to initiate war which is contrary to what many people assume and interpret. Scripture in general should not be interpreted by anyone because some of it is contextual to a certain story, time, and period. In the same manner; some of the scripture is timeless, for example, striving for the acquisition of good deeds in this life to go to heaven in the afterlife requires the same effort it required at the time of the Prophet PBUH; that did not change and that is timeless within the Qur’an. Treat others with kindness, love, and honor your parents, that has not changed.

In a nutshell; Islam does not condone or encourage any type of violence, hate, or hostility towards non-Muslims. Islam instructs Muslims to treat everyone despite any differences in background, race, and creed with respect and dignity. One example out of the many documented is that the Prophet PBUH stood up during a funeral that was passing by him and his companions. When the prophet stood up in silence out of respect for the man that had passed away; the companions of the Prophet asked him why and informed him that the man that passed away was a Jew. The prophet then replied to his companions; “Is he not a human? “He taught them to respect anyone despite any differences. ” – Najwa Mardini

“Well that’s another unfortunate misconception concerning Islam. Being that Islam is a religion of peace, it is forbidden to use any sort of violence. Often, the media is extremely masterful in painting Islam to be a violent faith due to ISIS. Nonetheless, we must note that ISIS is targets Muslims more than non-Muslims in the name of Islam.” – Mohamed Khattab

What is Jihad?

“Jihad is an Arabic word; it means to struggle and or to strive. Unfortunately, this word has been twisted, misconstrued, and explained as the meaning in which one goes to war against non-Muslims which cannot be more far from the truth. The word Jihad symbolizes the struggle between a human and his or her desires that he or she has difficulty controlling. Muslims believe that God tests people through struggles during our journey on this Earth; each individual has a different struggle in this life. For example; someone may struggle with a drug addiction, alcoholism, arrogance, ignorance, selfishness, anger management issues, depression etc… Jihad in this context would mean to strive to win and not give in to our human desires or any struggles that we may have. It is literally the meaning of striving to get through life without succumbing to desires that may plague our soul.” – Najwa Mardini

“The word Jihad means submission to God. So, in everything we do as Muslims – praying, fasting and more – we practice our Jihad.” – Mohamed Khattab

How do Muslims view non-Muslims? 

“Muslims view non-Muslims as fellow human beings, the Prophet PBUH said in his last sermon that no one person is better than another except in his deeds, morals, and the way in which he and she treats others in a good way. Islam obligates Muslims to love and take care of our neighbors regardless of their faith and background. As a Muslim, I am not allowed to assume whether or not someone is worthy of going to heaven or hell. As Muslims, our belief is that only God can choose the fate of his creation. The Prophet PBUH said that if a Muslim refers to another person as an “infidel” that in that case there is only one “infidel,” it is the one who was arrogant and uttered those words. In addition, the word infidel simply means “unbeliever.”

It is an insult to call someone that and once again it has been used to propagate fear in Non-Muslims to assume that Muslims are insulting them. A real Muslim that believes in Islam in its truest form and understands the core beliefs of Islam will never utter that word toward anyone. Muslims believe that everyone despite their belief system will be accounted for on the day of judgement and that God will indeed count the good deeds of those that were not Muslim as well. Muslims are not allowed to force their beliefs on anyone and this is a very important note to make especially when politically charged statements are being disbursed everywhere influencing peoples’ beliefs about how they perceive Muslims and thus creating for a negatively charged environment that breeds ignorance and hate.”  -Najwa Mardini

“Non-Muslims are people that need guidance.” –  Mohamed Khattab

Can Muslims and non-Muslims peacefully exist together?

“Absolutely and it has been proven throughout history. There was a time in Cordoba, Spain up until approximately year 1492 when Muslims, Christians, and Jews lived together in harmony. Of course, this is not the only isolated case, Muslims and Christians lived in harmony for centuries in Syria and Palestine which is also contrary to popular belief. Tolerance is a beautiful thing, if all humans would love each other and embrace each other’s differences, then we’d live in a utopian society. What many do not realize is that a lot of the conflict occurring right now during these dangerous and troubling times is politically motivated. Muslims can live together with Non-Muslims in peace, prosperity, and harmony; I believe if one would take out politics, human greed, and selfishness out of the equation every human can live in harmony with everyone else. I come from a background that is diverse; 25% of my family being Catholic and 75% being Muslim, I appreciate the best of both worlds and embrace these differences.” -Najwa Mardini

“Muslims and non-Muslims can peacefully live together. Egypt (where I am from) is an example of Christian and Muslim unity. For hundreds of years, Christian and Muslims have peacefully existed, even when terrorists try to break this bond by doing these acts to Christians in the name of Islam.” – Mohamed Khattab

In this sacred season, I wish my sisters and brothers of the God of Abraham, Moses and Jesus a very happy and joyful Ramadan.

Grace and peace,

Rev. Jay How

Living Stories: Race, Experiences and Understanding

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“We must remove our mask to call attention to white advantage. That may help us understand one another a bit better. It may bridge divides, disrupt assumptions and stereotypes that block empathy and get in the way of serious efforts to achieve our country. As it stands, we don’t really talk frankly about race. And too many people are too damn scared to say so.”
― Eddie S. Glaude Jr., Democracy in Black: How Race Still Enslaves the American Soul


Hi, I’m Richard! A substitute teacher, grad student, musician, geek, husband, father, and aspiring Pokémon master. In complete honesty, this is my fourth draft on writing about my experience in America as a person of color. In the previous drafts, I started off with a quip about an experience in Japan in which a girl in Tokyo in her early-20s was confused about why/how my the back of my hand was black yet my palms as pale as her. In another draft, I began with Colin Kaepernick’s recent protest which I would love to talk about but, really, who hasn’t in the last 48 hours. But I think I will begin this with when I went to my friend’s quince-style sweet 16—a time in which I was struggling with my parent’s explanation to me of my dad’s Chicano roots (incidentally this was also the first time I tried a beer). It was the fall of 2006, my parents didn’t have a big conversation with me but my dad had been subtly dropping hints about things.

But I had questions. Questions manifested through my peers about why my afro would curl differently or why I had so much leg and arm hair, and the ever-stigmatizing “are you mixed”?

So here I am two weeks later, a soon to be 16 year old celebrating my friend’s birthday to the sounds of Oro Solido, Daddy Yankee, and Panic! At the Disco (it was 2006). Around all of the faces, food, and the new understanding of my Latino heritage—I still felt out of place. The film Lost in Translation is probably the best way to describe culture shock—Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson play two Americans in Tokyo on business who haphazardly need each other to survive socially lest they go insane from the thoughts and experiences of being. And in a vague way, that is also the feeling of being a person of color in America.

Sure, we all speak and understand standard English but there are other things at work; culture plays in the background filtering our experience even in the mundane. I explain to my primary students that culture can be described as what a people group likes, dislikes, and loves to talk about. Trekkies, Sneakerheads, gamers, and etc. We all know, and can understand for the most part that you’re not going to talk about Mandolorian armor to a Star Trek fanatic.

But as a person of color in America, that understanding seems to be absent from the rest of the nation’s conscience. The nation cannot understand how the nephew of police officers can still cry out “Black Lives Matter.” Or how a community’s response to the influx of crime would be a request for more employment opportunities.

Understanding vanishes for a number of reasons, none of which I will go into length right now.

But even in the midst of the lack of empathy, being a person of color in this country, I’ve found, comes with a sense of comradery, or rather, a supplemented understanding.

My wife and I had the opportunity of growing close to a big family from India. The children, mostly in there early 20s like ourselves and first generation Americans, would share our commonalities of how our parents raised us, how culture still influenced how we react to popular art, movies, and the like.

But my favorite conversation was with one of their fathers, a man who left India to practice medicine, in which we talked for nearly an hour straight comparing the rhythmic drum patterns of India and West Africa. That was an understanding I’d never expected to experience. Drum patterns turned into comparing food and spices of India to my grandmother’s native Louisiana. Food transitioned to our stories of microagressions and discrimination.

As I would tell my students, we confirmed our belonging to a people group through that discussion of our likes, dislikes, and things we love to talk about.

Race discussions, unfortunately, do not happen organically or as often as this—though they should. Instead, we see them as vain pontifications. Political ideals well researched against another’s passionate emotional response; and there is nothing wrong with research or emotion but understanding has to be the goal.

Thus, I will continue my story of that sweet 16. I sat with my friends from the cross-country team. Myself and a guy named Jason, whose parents immigrated from China in the late-80s, were the only people who had no ties to this food, music, and dancing other than to celebrate our friend. As all of us runners, later joined by the birthday girl, had pointed out that the Coronas were unregulated. We all grabbed one. Some of us shared stories about how they’d tried beer before and others (just me) had never held a can. And in my first sip, I realized three things: 1. My race is regulated to my experience. And my experience doesn’t need to be the same in order to be valid. 2. My friend had invited me to experience her heritage. Not only of her nationality but of her family. Celebrating with her was an experience of race for everyone involved. And 3. Coronas are disgusting. I haven’t touched one since.


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Richard Damon S. Blacksher has recieved his B.A. in English and is currently working on his M.A. in Education.

Living Stories: The L in Lesbian is for Love

Creation is not black and white, it is amazingly diverse, like a rainbow, including sexualities and a variety of non-heterosexual expressions of behaviour, affection and partnering occurring in most species, including humans. The ability to reproduce is only a small part of the creation. Before God created male and female God made an even more important statement; ‘it is not good for mankind to be alone’. This is fundamental to all heterosexual and same-sex relationships. Lasting relationships are based on love, trust and commitment, not sex or reproduction.

― Anthony Venn-Brown, A Life of Unlearning – a journey to find the truth


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If someone would have told me ten years ago that I would be sitting on the couch next to my beautiful wife watching the 2016 summer Olympics writing my story about coming out, I would have told them they were absolutely crazy. But here I am. Doing just that. I did not grow up knowing I was lesbian. Reflecting back on my childhood and going into my teen years, I can kind of put together some of the puzzle pieces or clues. But to be honest, there was no real defining moment in my life when I knew I was lesbian.

I went to a very diverse high school. There were people from all social classes, races, religions and orientation. It was not out of the norm for me to see girls kiss in the hallway or boys holding hands walking to class. When I would see them I just thought to myself

“that’s good for them, but my family would kill me if I ever wanted to date a girl.”

Even though I really did not feel opposed to the idea of it. I was more opposed to how my family would think of me. I would think about what if I did date a girl, how would I explain that to my mom? I knew she would be upset, so why go through the trouble telling her I’m lesbian if I was not even sure I was yet. I had never been with a girl before how do I know that’s for me? So I left it at that.

I left my home state of Washington for sunny southern California to attend college at California Baptist University. I grew up in a catholic household so the Baptist way was completely foreign to me.

By no means was I expecting to find God and my future wife in the same place, but it happened!

At a Baptist college, I found someone that I adored from head to toe without any restrictions. I have only been with one woman and now she’s my wife.  I remember the first time I saw her I thought

“If I were lesbian, I would be with her.”

I had no idea that she was lesbian at that point in time either. We were friends until we weren’t. I started off by confiding in my roommates. I told them that I did not know how to explain this, but that I had a girlfriend now. They were for the most part very understanding. The way they acted towards me did not change whatsoever. Then I told my sister. She laughed hysterically until she was crying when I broke the news to her. She explained the reasoning of her laughter was that our mother had always thought that she would be the gay daughter. My sister couldn’t wait to meet her. So now it was time to tell my parents.

I dwelled over this for five months before dialing the phone from school to finally tell my mom I had a girlfriend. That was the most awkward conversation ever. She had no words to say to me. She kept saying,

“I don’t know what to say” and “why would you do this to me?”

I was so upset because I was secretly hoping it would turn out differently even though this is exactly what I knew would happen. She said she needed time. We did not talk for the two weeks following that call. I wanted to respect her and give her whatever it was she needed to understand. After the way my mom reacted I did not want to tell my dad at all, but my mom told me I had to be the one to tell him. I reached his voicemail, so I decided to just text him. I sent him a picture of my girlfriend in her Army uniform with this message.

“Dad this is my girlfriend. I know that this is not what you were expecting from me, but I am truly happy and hope that one day you can be happy for me too.”

He replied back in the most unexpected way. His response,

“I love you no matter what. I don’t care as long as you are happy, safe and a contributing member of society.”

I had to laugh at the contributing member of society part. Once my mom met her and saw how happy I was every day that was when she finally accepted everything.

I had a very positive experience coming out. I knew that there were people who were not going to agree with it, but the people that were meant to be in my life would stick around. And they did. Me coming out did not change who I was as a person. I’m still the same friend, daughter and sister. I just chose love over everything and that looks different than the norm. I have been blessed to live in a state that is completely accepting of LGBT. People here are more concerned about recycling than they are with who you love. Yes, there is a LGBT community, but we all live so harmoniously here that I don’t feel like I need to seek out people who are like me because I feel accepted into society. I know this does not stand true for most places around the world though. There is still so much work to be done to make everywhere feel as safe as I do in Washington. So much change has happened in recent years for the LGBT community and it is only continuing. My marriage is recognized now in all fifty states where as before there were only a handful of states that legalized same sex marriages. While this has been a slow process to get to where I am today I would never change any piece of it.

Love conquers all.


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Shelly DeLeon has a B.A. in Kinesiology and she is currently working as a Dance Instructor at Debbie’s  Dance Studio.

 

Living Stories: I Am Muslim & American

“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”
― Rumi


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I identify as a Muslim American woman; the very fact that I have to state this is problematic. We don’t ask people of other backgrounds to identify as “Christian American,” or “Buddhist American.” It’s not that I mind identifying as a Muslim American woman; in fact, it is an honor to do so. This dual identity does not indicate, in the least, that one designation is exclusive of the other; I can be a Muslim and an American to the core, and I never have to choose one or the other.

However, the fact of the matter is that it is unfair to have to constantly profess my humanity and goodness to other humans; it’s essentially an insult, perfectly wrapped and hidden within a bow.

I live in the most diverse country on the planet; I am a minority within a majority and that is not unusual considering the fact that the very base this country was built on life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – all of which entails freedom of speech, freedom to practice my religion, freedom to live in harmony with people from every other background, equality, respect, love, and tolerance. My experience being a Muslim American woman in the United States of America has been nothing short of an enlightening and beautiful path that I and millions of other resilient Muslim American women have been treading upon. Being a Muslim American woman is the very core of my essence; it means that I do my absolute best to uphold the teachings of my beloved Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him:

teachings of love, peace, tolerance of all religions, equality for all, empathy, compassion, and overall goodness.

My religion has taught me to be resilient in the face of injustice and discrimination; during a time where my faith is put under a ridiculous amount of scrutiny and it being represented in such a negative way, it has ultimately made me now more so than ever clench on to my religious values, beliefs, practices, and identity. I have never wanted to visibly identify myself to everyone around me as a Muslim than I do now; I leave my house everyday with my head covered in a hijab, a scarf that represents how proud and happy I am to have the honor to represent my religion and its teachings, my hope is that the principles and teachings of my religion permeate through my character as a person.

I’m a flawed human being and my religion accepts that and guides me through life to be the best that I can be.

In a nutshell, I’m trying to live my life in a steadfast and in a divinely guided manner just like billions of other people around the world, no matter what their religion is. My hope is that thousands and millions of other Muslim girls around the globe will not be discouraged and fear for their lives when they choose to follow their religion and very obviously identify as Muslims when leaving their house.

This is not just about hijab;

hijab is something that I choose to wear because it draws me closer to my Creator and contrary to popular belief, it is not in any way an impediment on my daily life like it has unfortunately been portrayed. It is about my autonomy and my right as a proud Muslim American woman to live my life without being discriminated against subliminally, implicitly, or blatantly. I want myself and other Muslim American women to be recognized for their character, their strength, their humanity, and their resilience in the face of arrogance, ignorance, and hate.

I have experienced compassion, respect, and love from complete strangers giving me compliments ranging from the color of my scarves to words of support regarding the current anti-Muslim climate, and letting me know that I and other Muslims are loved and respected. I could tell you about my negative experiences and the clear instances where I was discriminated against, but I do not want to focus on the negative; I choose to actively steer away from that, as I know that there is always more good than evil and I know for a fact that the majority of humans are not ill-willed, malicious, or spiteful. Humanity is alive and well, and there is so much goodness to look forward to.

13606982_10154327691224660_4903613609203261050_nNajwa Mardini has recieved her B.A. in Health Education.

 

Living Stories: Race and Diversity

 

 

“Diversity is an aspect of human existence that cannot be eradicated by terrorism or war or self-consuming hatred. It can only be conquered by recognizing and claiming the wealth of values it represents for all.”
― Aberjhani, Splendid Literarium: A Treasury of Stories, Aphorisms, Poems, and Essays

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Hello I am Eugene! Growing up in a mixed community made racism more stereotypical for me than real. My playmates were from Mexico and my closest friends were White. In a mixed race family and community, however, everyone seemed aware of the stereotypes and we governed our lives by them. Interestingly, the stereotypes did not inhibit interaction, relationship, or care. Members of my small community regularly shopped together, learned together, churched together, and grew together.  Sure, everyone believed the Black people were loud talkers, good singers and dancers, the best athletes, and quick to fight. Yes, everyone believed the White people were quiet talkers, decent singers and not so good dancers, average athletes, and quick to tattle.  Of course, everyone believed the Hispanic people had the best food and the loudest, all day and all night parties. Many of these things were true for many members of those groups, but our community did not seem to care. In my generation, we knew who danced, sang, played, and fought well, and we knew who did not—regardless of racial identity. We made it work without great discrimination or overt racism.  Well, at least that was my experience.

In high school, I moved to a predominantly White community and that is when I first experienced racism beyond the stereotypes – even though I did not recognize it as racism immediately. My view did not change, nor did my friend circles, which remained largely mixed. I was a young adult when I encountered and witnessed repeated racism by police, business managers, and authority figures that led to my views changing, and the change was needed. I needed to see what others were seeing. I needed to assimilate my distorted worldview to reality, which was far less kind and far more regarding of color than I had believed. In my adult years, I have learned so much more about discrimination, prejudice, racism, bigotry, and blind hatred than I honestly care to know.

For me, America is that small town of diversity in which I grew up.  People of different kinds and creeds all making it work to bend the rules and getaway with an extra hour of playtime. I do not view my nationality – American – through the lens of my colored skin. Unlike most other Countries, the U.S.A. is ethnically diverse, which leads to unique challenges of assimilation. The diversity of America, the many colors herein, is truly a realization of an ideology that “all people are created equal.”  Racism, this belief that certain characteristics of specific racial groups make one group superior and another inferior, must be eradicated. It threatens the life of individuals, it threatens a family’s ability to pursue happiness, and it threatens the moral stitching of America. I am a realist, however, and I recognize that people are committed to teaching their children and grandchildren to hate and reject others without knowing those others. I would like to hope those numbers are dwindling as mixed race families and communities grow.  So maybe it is time that Americans turn on racists like racists turn on others. Maybe it is time for those racists to be denied accesses, privileges, and opportunities.  Maybe it is time for Americans to say, “We are colored and the biggest Crayola box ever known.”


10530953_10204094553103728_192829007518554277_nEugene Furnace has a B.A. in Psychology and a M.S. in Counseling Psychology. He also has recieved a Doctorate in Behavioral Health.

Living Stories: Nigerian and Race

“…We steal with our eyes closed to the conditions in which the poor, who make our affluence possible, live. We covet what our neighbours have and want more of the same.”

― Karen Baker-Fletcher, Dancing with God: The Trinity from a Womanist Perspective

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Hello my name is Yvonne. I moved to America when I was seven years old. Before I lived in Nigeria where everyone looked like me.  Being a Christian family I was around white missionaries but what I really knew about the Western Civilization came from movies. It’s not that I didn’t know colonization and racism didn’t exist, it just wasn’t real. Nelson Mandela was the hero of a whole continent and with Sarafina being such an iconic movie, I knew to an extent what racism was. The thing is none of this has been real to me.  When I started school in America I learned about racism as though it was something of this plague that was eradicated.  I learned about racism like I learned about the Scarlet Fever, it happened, killed people, but don’t worry about we have it all fixed now!

The most vivid picture of racism experienced by me in North America was when I was in a middle school health class learning about different types of STD’s  and during health class we learned about different types STD’s. Of course out comes the topic AIDS and the teacher notes that AIDS originated in Africa.  From that moment on my classmates didn’t touch me because I had AIDS. My classmates started a rumor that I had sex with monkeys in Africa which gave me AIDS. You think it’s a joke until someone bumps into you and immediately wipes it off when they think you don’t notice.  I’ve often been called a nigger (or its derivative: nigga) but I just took it as people making jokes rather than peers trying to hurt my feelings. I could not imagine that my peers would think of me as an inferior on the basis of my skin color. It’s even more infuriating to think that my teachers who were in my classes did nothing.

¨Perhaps they did not notice….¨

but then I thought:

 ¨How can a teacher be so naïve (or blind) to the inner workings of her own class?¨

I have to keep reminding people that racism isn’t as obvious as it has been in the past but now it’s subtle. Malcolm X said it best, it’s like a Cadillac and every year they bring out a new model. It is now done in a way that people aren’t outright with their racism but rather sly – so it often carries with you. For example, when I was in high school a few girls in a class were discussing the upcoming powder puff game.  We were talking about how much more fun it would be to tackle one another. In between the classes the school dean pulled me aside and said that,

¨Some girls felt a little worried because I seemed too excited to play tackle powder puff¨

A group of girls talking about something in the exact same tone and I’m the one who’s too excited?!?  Interestingly during the game a white girl was the one who was the most violent to the point of kicking someone while they were down.  But by all means focus in on me!

The biggest regret that I have had is not calling out racism more.  As a woman of color I have had to pretend not to hear every snide remark, awkward look, and ignorant remark –  It’s a full time job I have to do.  Looking back what was stopping me from correcting people who were saying terrible things about Nigeria?  What was stopping me from standing up to people who used derogatory terms towards me? Why didn’t I have those uncomfortable conversations with people?

As a Christian I kept saying that it was because I lived in a not so perfect world which meant that I had to accept the injustice of people like the one’s described above, yet the type of Christianity that says I have to accept the injustice done towards my body is the  colonist white  version of Christianity that has whitened, spiritualized, depoliticized, domesticated and demarginalized Jesus to keep colored bodies like me on our symbolic and literal plantations.

As a Christian I have come to learn that I don’t have to accept circumstances that are designed to oppress me and now I gladly will call out bad jokes and shady remarks even if this means that I have to eat alone. I will gladly let my kids wear all the hoodies they want, and from now on I will hold every leader of the black community accountable for the lack of progress they actually make. I have come to accept that maybe white America may never understand or even want to understand because understanding means that their entire reality will have to change. Nevertheless, I have found self-empowerment through my own black narrative and it is that narrative that has made me a fighter and my oppressors’ greatest nightmare.

I can’t call myself an American because I’m not one. While I am a Permanent Resident I have no interest in pursuing a citizenship.  I honestly don’t know why so many people idolize being an American.  With all the history and current news – I have a culture that I am so proud to be a part of.  Nigeria is a lot of things negative but the positives are so amazing that I can’t even believe I am chosen to be a part of it.  I couldn’t and wouldn’t trade it for anything.


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Yvonne Fyne-Nsofar B.A. in Business Administration with a concentration in the area of International Business.

Living Stories: Amerindian and Race

“Stories can conquer fear, you know. They can make the heart bigger.”

― Ben Okri

The hope of this new blog series entitled Living Stories is to create a space for diverse narratives to be heard, shared, and reflected upon with the hopes of opening up human hearts to the human other in all her queerness. The contributors to this blog series come from diverse walks of life and in sharing their stories they confess to its power to inspire, transform and provoke change in the lives of the human other. Through reading each person’s story, I pray that your hearts be transformed and I pray that your transformation may lead you to act reflectively, compassionately, justly, generously, humbly and peacefully on behalf of the human other.

Grace and Peace

– Rev. Jay How


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Introduction

For many non-white Americans, racism in North America is a reality that is continually experienced by colored bodies. Whether it is in the supermarket, the classroom, in the mall, on the street, on a mission or in the workplace one need not look far to come to the conclusion that North America has a race problem. However, for many white Americans racism does not exist – or if it does exist it only exists at an individual level. In denying Americas’ racist problems, white Americans do more than deny the reality of our continual experiences as colored people but they make us into liars and inventors of false narratives while they play the role of the victim. In light of all that has been said, I leave you with our colored stories from the margins. These are our stories!

– Rev. Jay How


 

I’m Cherokee. I’m also white. I’m equal parts both, though according to my Certificate Degree of Indian Blood I’m 31/64 Cherokee – yeah, the U.S. government registers American Indians. What does that mean? It means I’m well-tanned. It also means sports logos like the Washington Redsk*ns make it difficult for me to convince people that I am not just that white guy pretending to have Indian blood because I don’t have dark skin, a huge nose, or wear feathers. It also means that when Elizabeth Warren claims to have been Cherokee – when she pretty clearly wasn’t – it’s offensive, but to be honest most white people I know also claim to be related to a Cherokee princess – oh you haven’t heard of our royal bloodlines? It also means it’s even more offensive when Donald Trump calls Warren ‘Pocahontas , a real life person who was imprisoned, raped, likely forced into marriage, and taken to Europe to be paraded around as a New World “savage” where she would die in her early 20’s – you know, just like the movie.

Basically, being equal measures red and white is complicated, it’s nuanced. Relatives on my mother’s side of the family are southerners from Texas – a state infamous for its treatment of Natives and likely slave-owners pre-Civil War. My father’s side of the family lived in the middle of nowhere in Oklahoma and grew up poor with an alcoholic dad. I love both sides of my family, but one set of ancestors caused the suffering of the other and that suffering doesn’t stop when both generations are dead, it keeps on into today. That’s institutional racism. Institutional racism can be subtle and it can be jarring. For a lot of Natives, it’s jarring. Around half of Natives live on reservations, plots of land nobody wanted, far away from cities or valuable resources, and often Natives can’t sell, lease, or purchase land without the approval of the US government. Native Americans are shot by police at higher rates than any other people group in America, we’re incarcerated at high rates, we have significantly higher suicide rates than the rest of the country, we have staggering unemployment rates, our education lags behind the rest of the country and our healthcare situation is a mess.

But I grew up removed from all of that. My dad was a missionary to reservations in California when I was young and I often traveled to the reservations with him. I saw Natives living in third world conditions and at night I would go back to our house in the suburbs. I’ve seen people treat my father differently because the color of his skin, but I’ve never had a teacher or police officer watch me suspiciously. I’ve had to hear about the history and greatness of America, knowing all the horrors that this country is built upon, but no one gives me looks or treats me with ‘kid gloves.’ I’ve had people tell me, ‘Yeah, but you’re not really Native American like your dad,’ and I’ve also had people ask me if I dress up in feathers and perform rain dances. My life is not difficult and I don’t face overwhelming obstacles or stigmas, but I inherited the depression of a people decimated by policies of racial hatred.

My last name is Shade. That’s an English word, but it’s not a typical Anglo name. Cherokees didn’t have last names, but after the Dawes Act was passed in the early 20th century, Cherokees (and other tribes) were required to take on an English last name in exchange for land. It’s a good metaphor for me now. Some people say, ‘Hey, cool last name,’ and most others don’t notice it, but I am always aware of its history.

It’s from this lens that I see the world and the issues dealing with race. North America has a race problem. Its existence was founded upon racism – colonizing Native land – and its economic subsistence relied on it – slavery. There are things we can do better and listening is the first step, but until the conversation shifts away from “Is racism still a thing?” we’re going to be stuck debating whether black lives matter – they do – while everyone collectively ignores people like me who whisper “Native lives matter.” White America needs to understand racism is still a reality today and it isn’t a handful of Trump supporters in the backwoods, it’s the system itself. Our country was founded upon white supremacy and that legal legacy is still in place today. Surely, it is important to condemn individual racism, but that doesn’t change the fact that reservations exist in legal black holes where sexual assault committed by non-Natives against Native women often goes unpunished. Nor does white Americas’ embrace of multicultural values enable tribal governments and Native individuals to have control of their own land and resources. But hey, if we can get a few sports teams to #ChangeTheMascot, let’s call it a win.

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Matthew Shade has a B.A. in English Literature and Public Relations while he is currently working on his Masters’ degree in Economics.