Why names matter in the wake of Orlando

Omar Mir Seddique Mateen was a 29 year-old US citizen of Afghan descent living in Orlando, Florida. Because of his actions, 49 people are dead and 53 were wounded.

Centuries ago, his namesake and companion to the prophet shepherding the world’s youngest Abrahamic religion, Islam, lived an ascetic life in Saudi Arabia. Omar, also spelled Umar Ibn Al-khaṭtāb, was a fierce leader widely respected for his justice and authority (read more about him here).  Some of his thinking, steeped in religious belief is worth revisiting. Here are some examples culled from different sources on the Internet:

“May Allah show mercy on the man who shows me my faults.”

“Fear your sins more than you fear the enemy as your sins are more dangerous to you than your enemy.”

“Let not your love become attachment, nor your hate become destruction.”

As we try to make sense of the unthinkable, it is worth wondering what may have happened had the Omar of Orlando truly understood the meaning behind the words of the Omar of yesteryear.

A caffeine-infused rant about the Starbucks CEO and religion

There are five pillars of Islam (see references with my book, “The Heroine Next Door”:

1. You should bear witness that there is no God but Allah and that
Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah
2. You should keep up Salah (prayer conducted five times per day)
3. You should give Zakat (donations to the poor)
4. You should Saum (fast) during the month of Ramadan (ninth month
of the lunar, Islamic calendar)
5. You should make hajj (pilgrimage) if you are able to do so

In terms of a moral code, it seems less complicated than the Ten Commandments, but continues to be a source of conflict and condemnation around the globe. One is not the enemy of the other. We are all human and as such find it difficult to adhere to five or ten rules.

Whether one rejects the pillars, the notion of God, or the very idea of spirituality are no longer options for communities living in the middle of conflict zones. It is also very easy to get ensnared in tribal dogma, the modifications from different schools of thought within the religion, shooting the original messenger, or debating about who is most appropriate in terms of expanding or reinterpreting that message to a wider audience.

That luxury is usually reserved for well-fed and clothed experts and casual observers. Refugees crossing different boundaries in search of safety and food and water might be forgiven for thinking that academic discussions about the future of a faith is a case of “too little, too late.”

For those intent on making strategic compassion the focus of any specific intervention, perhaps condescension in any rhetoric could be modified with a Starbucks-CEO approach. No, I am not suggesting that tone-deaf, overworked barristas barrage the latté-swilling masses with the latest horrible headline or discuss the political correctness of using “Islam” and “extremism” in the same sentence.

However, Starbucks has the platform to create an “events”-type scenario, where gold – or platinum- or interested-members could be invited to special evenings with, let’s say discounted cake pops or other desserts, and their favorite activist for special meetings.

Topics could range from the latest horror story in the news to getting ordinary people to adopt “Yoga Girl’s” impossible poses on Instagram.

Just a thought.

The importance of literacy for peace and empowerment (and the impact of women)

An infographic from UNESCO (Institute for Statistics) spells out the importance of literacy for peace, development, poverty eradication, empowerment, health, and gender equality.  Approximately 776 million people in the world are still nor able to read or write. The situation is especially dire in the Muslim world, according to one report: 40% of Muslim world’s population unable to read or write: Study Thirty countries participating in the study reported that gender parity for adult literacy is estimated to be achieved in 2015. However, much more remains to be done. Dr. Bruce Wydick’s (University of San Francisco) infographic shows the ripple effect of educating girls in poverty.


The Heroine Next Door (and more about me)

Hi everyone!

I am so excited that my first book is finally in print.
My earliest memories of growing up involve sitting next to my father, as he drove a green truck filled with chattering children, to a Muslim primary school located in the whites-only neighborhood of Paarl. This prosperous South African tourist attraction and home of the Afrikaans Language monument can trace its roots of its name (Afrikaans for “pearl’) back to the description given by a Dutch colonist, Abraham Gabemma, when he saw a granite rock on one of its mountains gleaming after a rain storm. Three years later, in 1660, different Dutch settlers would give a street the same name after the oysters found in a New York river. Little did I know, as I watched my father teach overflowing classes of children the three R’s (reading, writing, and arithmetic) and I learned about nature from my mother (an avid gardener), that I would one day find myself in New York City.
Had I been the meticulous diarist of my later years, the stories of analyzing geraniums for signs of viral infections and probing the plump, yellow flesh of loquats in a tree (while hiding from my mother for some long-forgotten transgression), would be chronicled in glowing detail and cross-referenced with comments from my brothers. Instead, in my incarnation as a writer and given the vagaries of lost memories, I chose to write a work of fiction that is inspired by people and events that I have had the privilege to witness over the years. Because I am South African by birth, “The Heroine Next Door,” has a strong regional flavor, focusing on the pre-and post-apartheid era, before transitioning to the USA and Europe, and the impact of path-breaking infectious and non-communicable disease research on the lives of people in Africa. However, the core identity and relationship issues that the main character, Leila, struggles with are ones that resonate with me and hopefully with the readers. With that in mind, I plan on continuing to write about relationships, sometimes in the idiom of the religion in which I was raised, Islam, and to creatively meditate about my other great loves, including history, news (I am a news junkie), education for all, and science.