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reflections on being human

Let’s talk about Allah, the word

The effects of -phobias on the flow of love in our world.

Words can be freeing and validating they can also be limiting and belittling. When there is a word for what I’m feeling it validates an experience, it is no longer invisible. An example, I have a desire to devour my children, to take a bite. Now that they’re older and I can express this into words, I ask for consent, inevitable I get a “No, way.” I try to negotiate and ask for a little nibble, still, they deny me and think I’m unhinged.

But here’s what redeems me; there are words for what I am feeling! Validation! In Tugalog it’s gigil, Bahasa its geram, and in Chamorro it’s ma’goddai.

I’m going to focus on the former. In the Chamorro tradition resisting the expression of love causes illness to your loved one.  Rephrasing: Avoid showing your love can harm the person you love. I would add that it would also hurt you.

Time stilled after reading the effects of resisting ma’goddai, resisting love. How is it that we are all searching for love but we also resist love? In the same breath at times.

I know a personal reason I have blocked the flow of love in my life, the one that screamed at me to work on. My heart couldn’t hold the barrier any longer. It was becoming heart sick with it, so much so that I could feel it on a physical level pressing down on me. It was the effects of Islamophobia. The effects of racism. The toxic byproduct of trying to make everyone around me feel comfortable. Of protecting myself from rejection. All packaged with the expectation of representing all the other Muslims in the world. For the high price of my authentic self. Because to do all this I had to stem the flow of love; in and out of my heart.

You see Arab culture is overbrimming with love. And to “fit in” I started to hold back that love from an individualistic society, one that tallies actions, and at the same time can be so generous itself. But, to protect myself from suspicion, as at times an overabundance of hospitality could be viewed with suspicion; as if a hotel bill would be presented. Or worse received and taken advantage of.

Yes, I imagine the British colonizers coming to Egypt receiving such warm hospitality. After all, you are family if you’ve eaten at an Egyptian household. But at one point the British exploited their welcome and overstayed. Putting their self-serving interests first. There are limits to hospitality and accommodation (insert healthy boundaries and independence movements). But I digress a symptom of being a political scientist and a spiritual traveler. Back to love.

I started to feel a wall between my heart and society. But, I notice that holding back made me feel ill, and made my throat and heart constrict. Its effects kept appearing in my life. One of the most recent is after I released my first book, Land of Light: Journey through the Dark Realms. It is a universal spiritual fiction for children, written in English.

Yet, as more and more readers of different backgrounds open the book I started to feel this anxiety. You see, I used the word Allah twelve times, Beloved five, God three, divine twice. But it’s the word Allah that stands out. That causes my anxiety to spike. 

An unusual response for me since usually saying Allah gives me inner peace and clarity. I inhale the syllable Ah; drinking in the divine light. Then exhale the last syllable; releasing all that doesn’t serve me or that is causing me pain. This is my own experience I am not speaking for all people who use the word, Allah. 

 I said all people because all Arabic speakers use the word Allah regardless of their faith: Muslims, Jews, and Christians. But, I noticed my pattern of centering my experience to cater to the dominant culture. The dominant culture caused me to question the validity of my experience, writing, and wisdom. I questioned whether the use of Allah in a character’s dialogue will turn them off. Should I have accommodated and taken out all mention of Allah? Should I have catered to those who don’t believe in God and taken the word God out? Should I have flattened the character out so he could be so universality accepted and read? 

No, because in that I would have been betraying myself and my character’s voice. In flattening I’m saying nothing of value. No, because I should no longer seek the comfort of the dominant culture. No, because a white, male, Christian, writer, would never ever question their own dialogue except for refinement. 

It gives me shivers to declare this. There is still a voice that wants to protect me. It warns me of the dangers of walking down that path while I still exist in this world with forms of privilege and power dynamics. But in centering, accommodating, and questioning myself I staunch the love. I dimension the unity of the human experience; regardless of the language we speak, or the way we express our love to our higher power and to those around us.

So I am going to break down the damn I built around my heart. I’m going to ask you if I can cook you dinner if you are sick even if we barely know each other. You have two choices you can say no because you wonder if I want anything in return, the answer is no. Or you can embrace the love I am giving Allah through you and just pass it on to heal the world of whatever illness it is facing. The illnesses we give it because we resist ma’goddai.

Oh, by the way, if you see two or more people at a coffee shop loudly arguing in Arabic. Aggressively hip-checking one another. Know they are fighting for the honor to pay the bill. 

If you have an urge to duck, or run check your biases. If you need quiet to return rush to the register and pay for both their cups of coffee. It will make them speechless, restoring the silence. They will thank you, loudly and profusely; while whispering to Allah to bless you with his light and increase your blessings in this world and the next. Imagine a world where you could’ve heard that blessing loud and clear. 

Some freeing words I’ve come across in my healing journey: Islamophobia, global majority, white gaze, dominant culture, authentic self, unapologetically Muslim, unapologetically African, unapologetically…, divine love, gaslighting, self-compassion, decolonized. Just to name a few.