The day is beautiful – sun beating down, spring breeze floating around. Yet, here I am, rotund belly and all, wistfully enjoying the gorgeousness of the first official spring day of the year from the confines of a room that the wind or sun cannot touch, save for a few wisps or beams here and there. I tried so hard to push my body out the door today, but my being knew I could not do it, my being pushed me back down on the chair and up the stairs towards the four-walled respite. I, who used to do things a hundred times a minute, now walk in slower strides (far behind the rest) and need more rest periods (mind and physical). Denial looms heavy as I attempt to be as I normally would. But normalcy evades me. (more…)

I have shied away from the ongoings of the public health care debate. I deemed them too heated, too beliggerent to even give it a second thought – let it be and this too shall pass. An article on Newsweek.com that I happened to read a few moments ago, reminded me of the importance of vigilance when it comes to politics, most especially when it comes to health care. The article was about the need for the President to reframe his Health-Care debate, Obama needs to reframe health-care debate, and I quote:

As the health-care debate rages, it’s the Party of Sort-of-Maybe-Yes versus the Party of Hell No! The Yessers are more lackadaisical because they’ve forgotten the stakes—they’ve forgotten that this is the most important civil-rights bill in a generation, though it is rarely framed that way.

The main reason that the bill isn’t sold as civil rights is that most Americans don’t believe there’s a “right” to health care. They see their rights as inalienable, and thus free, which health care isn’t. Serious illness is an abstraction (thankfully) for younger Americans. It’s something that happens to someone else, and if that someone else is older than 65, we know that Medicare will take care of it. Polls show that the 87 percent of Americans who have health insurance aren’t much interested in giving any new rights and entitlements to “them”—the uninsured.

But how about if you or someone you know loses a job and the them becomes “us”? The recession, which is thought to be harming the cause of reform, could be aiding it if the story were told with the proper sense of drama and fright. Since all versions of the pending bill ban discrimination by insurance companies against people with preexisting conditions, that provision isn’t controversial. Which means it gets little attention. Which means that the deep moral wrong that passage of this bill would remedy is somehow missing from the debate.

“Sec. 111. Prohibiting Pre-Existing Condition Exclusions

A qualified health benefits plan may not impose any pre-existing condition exclusion (as defined in section 2701 (b) (1) (A) of the Public Health Service Act) or otherwise impose any limit or condition on the coverage under the plan with respect an individual or dependent based on any health status-related factors (as defined in section 2791 (d) (9) of the Public Health Service Act) in relation to the individual or dependent. ” – H.R. 200 (Health Care Bill as proposed by the Government on July 14, 2009).

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With the case of Bridges TV founder, Muzammil Hassan, and Rihanna and Chris Brown, domestic violence is again on the forefront. Mr. Hassan is accused of murdering his wife, Aasiya Hassan, because she had filed papers for divorce. Chris Brown is alleged to have attacked Rihanna after a dispute. As these are high-profile cases they dominate the newspaper headlines and people all over feel the need to comment on them. On the typical gossip pages like Perezhilton.com to the comment fields following a revered newspaper article, comments range from showing full support of the victim of the domestic violence to faulting them for aggravating the attacker to attack them.

In the case of Mr. Hassan, commentators felt that the attack was a form of honor killing, citing Mrs. Hassan’s betrayal of her husband (by divorcing him) as the reason behind killing:

“Nadia Shahram, who teaches family law and Islam at the University at Buffalo Law School, explained honor killing as a practice still accepted among fanatical Muslim men who feel betrayed by their wives.

“If a woman breaks the law which the husband or father has placed for the wife or daughter, honor killing has been justified,” said Shahram, who was a regular panelist on a law show produced by Bridges TV. “It happens all the time. It’s been practiced in countries such as Pakistan and in India.””***

Rihanna, on the other hand, had it coming as she too was perceived to be the aggressor in the incident. If she had not enraged Chris Brown, she wouldn’t have been beatened. Thus, it was her fault too. She should’ve known better. (more…)

Every day is a day of wonderment in our household as our little monkey continues to surprise us with something new. Today, this afternoon, as we were preparing for lunch he headed straight to the refrigerator door and demanded I open it for yogurt. He held onto the door handle with such might as his little hands could muster and I had to give in. I opened it, and he immediately reached for the baby yogurt perched on the second-topmost shelf. As he giggled away with the cup of yoghurt in his hand, I began searching for a spoon. Walking towards the utensil drawer I saw that I had been beat. There he was, our little baby, opening the utensil drawer, reaching inside, and pulling out a spoon. He handed it to me whilst saying, “spoon” as if I needed to be reminded that we need a spoon to eat the yogurt. I am still in bewilderment as to when this development began, when did he know where and how to find the spoon. We never openly taught him that as we thought it didn’t need to be taught to a 2-year old, maybe when he is 3. Resigningly I know that this may be just a freak occurrence, and might not happen again until he is months older, but the fact that it did happen shows to us, well to me especially, that babies are a heck of a lot smarter than we give them credit for and they all do develop differently and at their own pace, so there is no dire need to rush them to be able to do this or that just to “compete” with other children. Just give them ample space to explore their own natural curiosities and support their natural inquisitiveness. They will wow you in due time as all babies do, or should I say now, toddlers.

If we ask ourselves, or one another that question, how many of us can answer it without hesitation, without pause, and with conviction and certainty? Out of the three people I asked in my short field research (very short and very brief lol ), only one could provide the ready answer, without having to think for even three seconds why s/he chose Islam as the faith to follow. The eloquent response showed the depth of their knowledge and the sincere understanding they have found as to why Islam is the best path for them, why being a Muslim provided the enlightenment s/he needed to go on the journey of life with a brave face, no matter the obstacle presented before them. Does Islam provide the same enlightenment for us? Does being a Muslim enable us to stand up strong and proud or do you feel even more burdened? Do we follow the faith we are in because of unadulterated, sincere conviction or because of familial loyalty, of socialization, of an inherited tradition we dare not to question/challenge for fear of reprisal from respected authorities?

Why are we Muslim?

Embedded in the Qur’an is the belief that true faith comes from within. Faith is not just an accessory we put on whenever we deem necessary. Faith is not a blanket we use to cover ourselves from transgressions we oft repeat. Faith should not just be our facades but that innermost layer of ourselves whereupon we build our foundations on.

Faith, most especially the Islamic faith, calls for us to be patient, to be calm, to be persevering. Faith wants to help us brighten that inner light we have been blessed to have from the moment of our birth. Faith brightens, not dims. Faith forgives, not harbors contempt or resentment. Faith understands, not belittles or spread harmful gossip. Faith lifts us up, not brings us down.

There are a great many sins of this world, but the one that can slowly erode our inner light is the sin of harboring negativity. We do not realize it, we cannot feel its effect directly, but the ripples cast forth from our being and spread out affecting any and everything it touches with our inherent ill-will. As in the words of the Beatles, “ Let It Be“. The coworker who just wronged you, let them be. The friend who just belittled you, let them be. The boss who does not recognize you, let them be. The sibling who is annoying you, let them be. The car who just cut you, let it be.  “Let it be” does not mean, in any way, acquiescing to the maltreatment or frustrating behavior, but to look at it, the situation, the person with an eye and heart that is free from emotion: to see the other side of the story, to find an understanding and compromise and not fuel for a heated argument.

I write this not because I have 100% conviction in my faith, but because, in all honesty, I do not. I have let my inner light slowly dim as I allowed myself to be overcomed by life’s obstacles. That has led me everywhere but the path I hoped I would be on now. As I watch my son grow, every day he becomes less and less a baby and more and more a child, I realize that I have more than myself to think about, more than myself to care about. And I wonder: what shall I pass on to him?

As we are the future leaders of our communities, be it our immediate families or the society at large, we owe it to our future generations to introspect and endeavor to understand the very faith we use to build our life’s foundations on. Islam is not a weekly or yearly religion, it is one that encompasses all aspects of our lives, not to burden it, but to lift its soul. We should ask ourselves if who we are today, the path we walk this very day, is the person and path we hope our children and grandchildren would emulate and follow?

Will we pass faith that brightens their souls or faith that will slowly fade their light away?

As Ramadhan is before us again, that holiest of month, why not explore the question and challenge ourselves to understand our faith just a little more better, so when we are asked, we would not hesitate. If we can pray the sholat tarawih, fast, then surely we can dive into the religion we claim to embrace and strive to learn more about it.

I call and challenge all of us to this task. By the end of Ramadhan, let’s hope that we can provide the answers to the question, “Why are we Muslim?” and answer without hesitation, and with firm conviction as to why being a Muslim is the path for us.

May we all have a blessed Ramadhan!

As softly as a wind rustling the grass, making them bend in place, or as fast and strong as a storm charging at trees forcing their once sturdy branches to twist and even break off, change happens, change is inevitable. But then is it change of who we are that we see or just a change in our priorities? Is the change that occurs manipulation, a change by force? Or a realization of what really matters? Why are we so afraid of change when we should embrace it, for it is through change that we grow, that we progress as individuals and as a collective society.

I fear that our habits as adults have put us in a place where any perturbations to our cycle sets us off on a tirade, at times a gossipy-hateful chastisement of whoever was unlucky enough to bother us. We are used to our ways, in synch with our rhythm, and don’t anybody dare to mess with it lest they desire our wrath. We forget how everyday, we encounter experiences that will move us just a little bit askew of the rhythm we have gotten used to. And this is not only theoretical, it is also biological. Our brain is more plastic than we know: all the wirings of our neurological system undergo changes every minute for as we learn a new thing our neurons become ablaze with excitement.

We are programmed for change.

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Coming home one afternoon, the Bee Gees’ “Words” warmly greeted my arrival. The gentle notes, the simple lyrics, reminded me of a time several weeks back where I spent an afternoon amidst rolling hills in Virginia in very amiable company, one in particular whose memory I will hold dear forever. I am saddened to say that I have only met Tito Rico Ortanez once. I met him a month ago, on a sunny Saturday afternoon at the residence of Mr. and Mrs. Enderes. We were there to get to know one another, families that will be soon be united forever by the union of their loved one, coming together at last. There I met him and his beautiful wife Badette. Happiness bounced off the walls of the house as we shared stories, joined in karaoke, did a little cha-cha, and tickled the ivories of a grand instrument, the music wafting through the air like a cool, welcoming breeze on a hot, summery day. I remember asking him if he played. He remarked, ” a little”.

Despite having recorded many albums and performed all over, Tito Rico never allowed for boastfulness to seep in and taint his soul. After lingering in the background, watching my feeble attempts at the piano, he sat down and played. I had heard of his talents before I met him, but to watch him play and be in the presence of so beautiful a music, I was profoundly mesmerized and deeply touched. Emotion and passion flowed through his fingers to capture the notes of the piano and gently breathed life into them – the stories to be told by the notes are infinite. That day, Tito Rico told the story of life and its struggles and how we should try to overcome them. I wish I knew Tagalog so I can grasp a deeper understanding of his musical poetry, but the little that I know, the short moment that I shared with him, left an indelible impression of a man whose passion and love emanates not only from his masterpieces but from his being. He walked a path of togetherness, of unity.

At a time when conditions in the world strive hard to separate us, to sever any semblance of relationships we might have or can have, Tito Rico strove in the opposite direction: he strove for unity. He greeted his soon-to-be nephew-in-law, Adrian, with Bahasa Indonesia. He passionately discussed the issues of the world with his soon-to-be nephew, not for argument’s sake, but for understanding. Through his music and activism, he sought to bring together the cultures and faiths he grew to love: Filipino, American, Jewish, Christian, Islamic. A song on his new album, “In the Name of Religion”*, provokes us to question what faith really means for us and what kind of path will our faith lead us to. He was born a Catholic but moved on to the next world as a man of all faiths. He was able to find enlightenment in all of them, commonalities that should bring us together as we continue on our paths in this world.

Life is not an eternal matter, we are only here for a moment. What I have learned from Tito Rico is the importance of how we make of the moments we are so blessed to have here. When I met him, Tito Rico was already diagnosed with terminal cancer. He never let his ailment prevent him from enjoying the precious moments we all tend to take for granted and because of that, to me, he did not appear to be sickly at all. Instead, he presented an image of strength, of endurance, of vitality. He strummed the guitar like he always did. He sang his heart out during “Country Road” and “Words”.

Our paths here all intertwine, we do not journey alone, we all have stories to share that can enrich our visions and empower our dreams. If we create barriers against one another, on the basis of ethnicity, of religion, of culture: Indonesian, Muslim, Christian, Filipino, Padang, Jawa, Chinese, Jewish, American then we have severely limited our experiences, severely stinted our own growth. If God had wanted all of us to be the same, He would have done so.

Thank you, Tito Rico, for reminding all of us of the importance of unity and compassion. May you finally rest in peace.

Inna Lillahi Wa Inna Ilaihi Rajiun

To Allah we belong and to Him we shall return.

Please accept our deepest condolences and may God give strength to his family and friends who love him so dearly.

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