Welcome to the official website of the Salaam America Documentary. Currently in the making, this documentary is designed to give insight into the day to day lives of Muslim Americans from the East to the West Coast. The goal is to clear misconceptions about Muslims by meeting with different individuals as well as families. From scholars to rock stars and artists to fashion designers, we have a wide variety of personalities to capture and we hope that you will join us in our Journey.

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Anonymous asked:

Fatima! What happened to your tumblr? =[

i have a new one newfilosophia

Reminds me of September 11th

When I was a freshman in High School, I was new to the school. There weren’t many minorities in my school, the area was mostly white, mostly wealthy and there wasn’t one girl who wore a scarf/hijab in my entire school. We didn’t have a Muslim Student Association. So on September 11th, every television in every single classroom was showing us what had happened in New York and I was really confused as to what I was seeing. I was so scared and terrified and I couldn’t fathom anyone would do something so terrible. Then I saw my older sister in the hallway and she said something I’d never forget, “They are saying it was Muslims already, be careful today.”

What went from me mourning with my fellow countrymen turned into me fearing them. Each class I went to had less students as parents pulled them out early for fear of their safety. It seemed that I was unable to mourn, unable to hurt because somehow I was now responsible for something that I not only had nothing to do with but for something that hurt me just as much as others. And there is nothing worse than blaming someone who is suffering along with you for what has happened.

That week there was a day where everyone was to light a candle and put it outside their door, I was the only one who did it on my street. As I sat in my room, I felt scared for the first time. For the first time I felt that anytime I go outside, my life could end. It wasn’t fair, it wasn’t right, it didn’t make sense but it was reality. Article after article Muslims, Sikhs and others were being discriminated against and some even killed. Bumper stickers that read, “United we Stand,” made me feel as if my people were not included in the “we”. 

They announced they’d be going to Afghanistan, the country I was born in and Bush said, “If you’re not with us, you’re against us.” But I had always been opposed to war. Did that make me a terrorist? The fact that I didn’t want other lives to be lost? 

This morning, I received a text from a great friend of mine. Probably the most gentle, kind, warm and loving person on the planet. Every friend or family member who has met him has had nothing short of admiration for him. He wrote, “Salaam Fatima Jaan, they found the Boston suspects to be Muslim. This is horrible. I am so sad.”

And I thought to myself, how can I be strong when somebody who I look up to is saddened by this? But it’s not just our own safety, it’s the image of Islam, it’s the image of the Prophet Muhammad, it’s the sisters who will get harassed for their hijabs, the brothers who will be stopped for their beards, the children who will be searched at airports for having names in Arabic, even if their name means Peace, Love or Kindness. 

I will not apologize for something I didn’t do. For something my Religion teaches against. I will not apologize for the actions of others. They keep asking all Muslims to condemn these acts. Why? We condemn every act of violence so why should we specifically condemn these acts? Does it make you feel safer? Have white people condemned the actions of every white man who has ever killed? I want to mourn. I want to give blood. I want to help America because I am American. And this is my country too. I don’t want to be blamed for what has absolutely nothing to do with me. 

As my six year old has learned to say the pledge of allegiance and reads it randomly around the house, I am reminded by what James Baldwin had said, “It comes as a great shock…to discover that the flag to which you have pledged allegiance…has not pledged allegiance to you.”

Repairing the broken parts of me

I posted my story here on tumblr about a year ago. About getting married young to somebody I had yet to meet and how I tried to get away from him but my parents took his side because divorce is looked down upon in Afghan culture. The response was overwhelming and very warm. Everybody was so supportive of my decisions to go against what others wanted and do what was best for me and my son.

Many called me strong and heroic. But there’s something you all should know. I’m not as strong as you think. And going through what I did, I still feel the effects. Not just from the neglect of my parents to do what was best for their daughter or the treatment of my then husband but from so many things. I still have insecurities, I still have nightmares, I still wonder if my parents even care. Even as a grown adult, I felt unloved.

I held everything in for as long as I could and that took a toll on me. On my mental health specially. For the past year and a half, I’ve had many issues from anxiety to depression to bipolar disorder and mood swings. I refused to seek help because I didn’t think it was fair. I didn’t think it made sense for someone who had so much and not just material wealth but loving friends and a beautiful son and a wonderful job to be so sad. I felt I was just being ungrateful. But it was not my fault and I did nothing wrong nor was it karma. If you or someone you have ever loved has been through depression the first thing to address is that it is not their fault. When you see somebody with a physical ailment, you never say “You brought this on yourself.” Or “Why don’t you just cure yourself?” But often times when somebody is depressed, you hear, “Why don’t you just be happy?”

Frederick Douglass once said, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” And now I have learned the true meaning of his saying. I was broken and I am working so hard each day to repair parts of myself and it is very, very hard.

The thing about having depression or other problems such as depression, is that you push people away. Not intentionally, not because you don’t love them but because that’s how it works. I pushed so many people away whom I needed by my side. It almost feels like your whole life is at a hault, but the world is still going, you’re the only one not moving. I wasn’t going anywhere, I wasn’t getting anything done, I wasn’t do my job as a mother, as a daughter, as a girlfriend or so forth. But the world still needed me.

I remember the day it got really bad. I asked my sister to take Amir, my then five year old, because I didn’t want him to see me crying. I drove an hour to the Mosque, but when I got there I couldn’t even go inside. I just sat in the car. I called a friend, he didn’t answer. I broke down and I needed help. I didn’t know what to do and I was so angry at God. I called my younger sister. I told her I needed help but I didn’t want to burden my family. So if she could somehow tell my parents for me that I needed help, I’d really appreciate it. I was honest and I told her, “I don’t know what will happen to me if I don’t get help.”

She talked to my mom for me. She found me places to go and made sure I went. I took various medications to see which one worked best. I started seeing doctors regularly. I now meet with someone once a week and another individual once a month to monitor my medication. It’s not something you want to tell people. It’s not something I wanted to share but upon coming back to tumblr, I realized many people share my same problems. The doctors haven’t even told me exactly what I have, they aren’t sure. But they are working with me and I am getting better.

I know that there is beauty in pain. I know that much motivation comes from hurt. Beautiful songs have been written by the heartbroken. Breathtaking paintings have been made by the hands of those who have been isolated from the rest of the world. The mind can do beautiful things when it is in a state of constant contemplation and overthinking, but it also is not normal. And sometimes, it’s dangerous. I couldn’t even read a book. I couldn’t write. I felt so ugly. I felt so insecure. I felt like a terrible mother. I stopped working. Three times I left work. My family had to watch my son because he would ask me what was wrong and I didn’t know how to explain to him that I didn’t know. Relationships fell apart. My bookshelf was intimidating and scared me. I didn’t want to leave my room. I’d sit there all day and cry. And I prayed. Sometimes those who are religious will say, “Seek closeness to Allah.” And I think that sometimes, depression is closeness to Allah. Because I had never been closer than when I spoke to him all day long asking him “Why?” If you have a chemical imbalance, praying is not going to help you. It’s like reading Quran for iron deficiency. You need Iron.

I realize now that Allah doesn’t pick and choose who gets what ailment. Rather, there is a logical explanation for everything. Whether it’s a chemical imbalance or something you went through, there is a reason. The reason is not that you are a bad person or you don’t deserve to be happy. We all deserve to be happy and healthy and loved.

Now that I am getting my life back. My son is my best friend again. I am eating healthier, jogging daily, drinking plenty of water, starting work again, finishing this documentary once in for all (Alhamdillah) and learning to see the world in a different light. So why am I posting this? Because I know it may help others. And if you have any questions at all please message me or email me. I do not mind one bit, taking time to answer any question you may have. I also, did not mean to offend anyone in this post. If I said something you don’t agree with I apologize, this is a post based on my personal experiences.

Message my blog, Newfilosophia if you want more details. Thank you and take care.


leleddybug asked:

Fatima, I love you and I miss you!!! <3

:) The feelings are mutual <3


Anonymous asked:

I'm so sorry to hear that you were receiving threats Fatima, I don't know why anyone would ever do that, you are such an amazing and inspirational woman and it saddens me to hear that people can be so terrible. Do you ever plan on making a personal tumblr again? or will it just be Salaam america for now?

I think the target is “Inspirational women” honestly speaking. I’ve learned that to be a woman and educated or learned and wanting to make the world better will make you a rather dangerous subject. And aside from that I can’t explain how suppressed my voice has become. I’ve accepted it almost. Right now I just want to focus on Salaam America. Later, who knows? Thanks for your kind words <3


Anonymous asked:

Does Fatima still have a personal tumblr? May I ask what it is? I used to follow her but I think I lost her url when I made a new account :(

Fatima, (I don’t know why I’m speaking about myself in third person) got many threats. Which not only made her make tumblrs in hiding and delete them, but also slowed down the production of Salaam America. :( But I’m here for you guys now. And apologize for the complications.


polaroidbicycle-deactivated2014 asked:

"engaged at 17" is one of the best things I've read in my life. you're amazing.

Thank you so much. That’s really sweet. I hope to write more about it in detail for I’ve seen women suffer in the same situation, only worse because in Afghanistan it’s very difficult to get out of these marriages. 


urlugubriousness asked:

Salam, Fatima! I miss your tumblr, but hope all is well with you! I just finished reading about your trip, and although I think you may have removed it, I am soooooo inspired by you. Basically, you encapsulate everything I feel about Islam, and how I view my relationship with God. I don't wanna put this burden on you by saying so, but I am so proud that you represent Islam. Take care, and hope all is well with you and your family. -Andleeb

Andleeb, I don’t even know what to say. You are far too kind. I reposted the story, I’m sorry the first time I posted it there were no spaces and it looked like a Harry Potter book. SO MANY WORDS! Anyhow, You don’t know how much it means to me. Recently I spent weeks writing a speech that I was promised to be able to make at my Mosque and a few nights before I was told I couldn’t. This was the fourth or fifth time it happened to me. There were times where I’d invite friends and family and wait at the Mosque, patiently for them to call my name and after many speakers, my name was never called. Purposely people try to suppress my words and my view of Islam and how it should be portrayed and it hurts. I never claim to have all the answers, I only wish to worship Allah the way I interpret Islam. And so many people hate me because of it. 

So knowing that some people are proud of me or are inspired, it means a lot. Oh no I’m getting emotional. Okay thanks. Bye Much love and peace <3

Searching for God in a Muslim country.

My mother, partly convinced that I have lost my faith in Islam and have gone astray, told me that I should go to this pilgrimage with her to Iran. It wasn’t so much as my actions that made her feel uncomfortable about my religious beliefs but rather my questioning of all things Islamic, specially of scholars. I feel that she never has to worry about me, nor does she when it comes to my actions. I don’t drink, smoke, or ever go out which in our culture is considered “terribly awful and evil”. I spend most of my time with family, reading and writing. As for every harming anyone or being unjust, I was raised in such a manner that I try to do what’s right not to get into the pearly gates of heaven but rather because it is right. The bumper sticker on my car, quoting Thomas Paine, reads, “The world is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion.” Sometimes people look at my favorite sayings, my book collection, my blog or fb page and think of me as blasphemous not knowing that I’ve spent countless days laying in my bed, smiling to myself thinking of God and all the beauty in the world that is simply a reflection of him. Even in High School, I was often without a boy on my mind or what to wear to prom. Rather I’d talk to God for hours. I was also suffering from depression most of my childhood which I think brought me the closest to God then any other time in my life. But alas things have changed. And I suppose my mother was right for thinking I have gone astray. But not astray from the right path, maybe just astray from the path she has chosen for me. I search for God in my own way and I like to learn about him in as many different ways as possible so that I may know him better than if I only view him from one light.

Before the trip, and before I had any clue about my mother’s intentions and reason for inviting me to Iran with her. I had three dreams. I had one dream I was in a foreign land where there was much violence. It was very scary outside in the small crowded streets. I went indoor and saw many young people wearing hip clothing, something that looked like the seventies and there was wine and cigars and modern art work on the walls. Even some colorful sculptures. But I was out of place so I left. A woman with a black chadoor outside asked me for money. I pulled out some money from my pocket and noticed it was not dollars. It had the pictures of Imam Khomeini. I gave her ten tomans. She then handed it to a child. I saw three other children. I realized she had four children so I looked back down at my money and there was a 140 toman bill. It was bright pink, I handed it to her. I then moved on. I had two more dreams of being in Iran. One of historical buildings and a young boy asking for money. Another of a great big shrine with arabic writing and names of Imams. The dreams came to me as random and irrelevant. One week after my third dream, my mother informed me of the trip. 
Two weeks later, we were at the airport and my father was hugging me and telling me not to join any protests or do anything crazy. I promised. Now before I tell you about my experience in Iran you should know a few things about me and my upbringing. First and foremost, it is important to know that while I was brought up in a religious shia household, my beliefs are very unique and most of the time I am criticized, looked down upon and even ridiculed for the way I think and feel towards Islam. It’s one thing when you’re a child and other kids make fun of you. They make fun of how you look, how you talk, how few friends you have and so on. It’s hurtful. It hurts to not be accepted. That’s just the way we are and the world we live in. But I suppose in my case getting bullied when I first came to America was a good thing. It prepared me for this world. It prepared me for being a thinking, questioning, logical young lady that I am today. Now when people make fun of me and desire for me to be isolated from the others, I voluntarily leave without a fight. To be alone sometimes is to be true.
When my plane landed in Tehran, I wasn’t sure what to expect. All the women, with an exception of a few who wore hijab previously, scrambled to get their hair covered. As did I honestly. In customs my mother and aunt got through easily. Then it was my turn. I said “Salaam”, I handed him my passport and I looked down. He pressed a few keys on his keyboard, didn’t say anything to me, then stepped down from his desk and pointed to another gentleman sitting at a desk near the exit. “Go to him.” He pointed. I took my passport and went over to the other desk. I handed him my passport and without blinking he starred at me. Looked at my passport and picked up his phone. The entire duration of his phone call he was starring at me. I wanted to punch him in the face but I thought that my mother would not approve of that. He kept saying random phrases to the other person on the phone like, “Yeah, she’s Afghan.” Then he began laughing. He was trying really hard not to but him and the other person on the phone were making jokes. While I’m standing there wondering what’s going to happen to me. My mother came over and told him, “This is my daughter, what seems to be the issue?” He stopped joking and became more serious. “Her name.” He replied. “It’s on the black list.” He argued with my mom and she told him a few things and soon enough I was able to leave. We got our suitcases and left. “Fatima, in Pakistan and Afghanistan the guards and police officers are corrupt and do things to take your money, here they just want to kidnap you, torture you and then kill you.” My mom whispered to me. I just looked at her. Sometimes I think she’s a bit over dramatic, this time I knew she was.
We got our suitcases and my father’s friend picked us up. His name was Aziz. We took a taxi to a hotel. The taxi driver and Aziz were good friends and joking the whole time. It was nice. I love meeting new people. My mom asked the taxi driver if he could be our driver for the next few days within Tehran and Qom. He said he had things to do unfortunately. We arrived at the hotel and I wanted to go back home immediately. I, as my friends and family know me, am not high maintenance. I love going to Afghanistan and not having electricity for four days out of the week. And even the fact that there are no toilets never bothered me. I love meeting people and being with loved ones and I could care less about where I am staying. But this hotel, it was just eerie. And so I placed a shirt over my pillow and slept without a blanket. There was a mosque you could see from our hotel window, it was actually a shrine I later found out. It was lovely. The following morning our friend met us up at 8 am. Although we woke up at 5 am and had to wait three hours. He said breakfast was coming and he brought us a tray with bread and some milk. It was one of the best meals I ever had. Bread and milk, I know it sounds simple. But it was good bread. And good milk.
The first place we went to was within walking distance. It was a shrine. We tried to walk in and were told we needed chadoors. We went to a nearby place and rented them. As if it weren’t hot enough, the chadoor only added to the heat but it was bearable. We walked in and the place was beautiful. It was breath taking. I didn’t even know whose shrine it was so I didn’t really care for it. Honestly I didn’t feel it was important. I didn’t know why the location of where a body is makes a difference. Did you learn anything from that person? Did the individual make you a better person? Do their teachings and philosophies inspire others? Okay then, they live on in our hearts and our minds and most importantly our actions. But what I was saying was contradictory. I went to Michigan a year ago and went to find the home that Malcolm X lived in when he was there. I am one to admire Malcolm X greatly and everybody I know, knows that about me. So when we got to the house, I changed my shirt. I was so excited. I went and I knocked on the door and asked the woman who opened the door if this was his home. She had no idea. She said, “There’s a sign behind our house.” Her children came to the door too. I just got quiet. “You can come inside if you’d like.” I declined. I was so sad. I thought there would be something there to see, some kind of feeling I would feel if I entered the house where him and his children once lived inside. Where he had gotten threats for being so brave and outspoken against injustice. I walked behind the house and saw a big green sign. I felt it wasn’t enough. For who he was and how wonderful he was, it didn’t do justice. It didn’t suffice. But I took a photo. Later we got a hotel in Dearborn and I couldn’t sleep. I was just so sad about everything. There were 5 hours left before we had to head back home. And I asked my friend if she was sleepy. She said no. I asked if we could go back to the sign in Lansing. She said yes. We bought a few dozen flowers and we headed back to his home. It was a foggy night. But it was worth it and very rewarding. I did something else that may seem silly to others. I promised Malcolm that I would never forget him or what he stood for even though many want to wash away his memory like the waves wash away any imprints in the sand. 
So upon entering the shrine. My mother and aunt walked right up to the place with the body and made pilgrimage. I looked around. Then I asked a few female guards who this guy was, they kept giving me very vague answers. He was a good person. He was related to the prophet. He was very humble. And I just looked at them like with a blank stare. I never really approached the actual site of the grave. I just walked away. Telling me somebody was simply related to a Prophet of Imam, tells me nothing. The Quran curses one uncle of the Prophet Muhammad. Abu Lahab, so being related to someone doesn’t automatically make you a good person. I saw a lot of women crying and pushing one another to touch the grave site. I didn’t understand. We walked out into the courtyard. It was one of the most beautiful places I have ever walked into. It was lovely. I felt at peace. Although I didn’t even know the individual who was being praised and glorified, I felt at peace. We walked out of the courtyard and I saw a sign for a planetarium. Of course, I went there. They asked for 300 tomans per person. And I handed it to the guy. He let me take photos. It was pretty. Not a lot about planets but still pretty. 
We went back to the room and got our belongings and checked out of the hotel. I noticed a photo of the cover of a book I read growing up. “Tears and Tributes.” A book about the struggle of Imam Hussein (as) in Karbala, Iraq. I read this book so many times and noticed that there was a replica on the hotel wall. Where else in the world, except for maybe Iraq, can you find this? I found it absolutely fascinating. Being from Afghanistan where there were once statements sent out throughout the country to kill Shias wherever you find them, it’s a feeling I can’t explain to be in a country where every way you look there is a reference to Imams. You’d see signs on the road stating what cities were coming up and in how many miles and then you would see a sign that states, “Ali Wali Allah.” Meaning Ali is the friend of Allah. I’ve read many books, I’ve had many favorite philosophers, I watch five to six documentaries per week, but Imam Ali has always been very dear to me. Unlike the Prophet Muhammad who all Muslims praise and love, to admire Imam Ali is sometimes looked down upon. I’ve had plenty of muslims ask me if I worship Imam Ali because I’m shia. Or why I put him above the Prophet. Which are all false claims and assumptions. So to see a sign so openly out there on the road, stating Ali is the friend of Allah, well it gave me goosebumps. Right now there are doctors on trial for treating Shia patients. There are people being killed for having Shia names in Pakistan. My cousins have to take the long way home from school to avoid being asked to show ID cards. There are so many people hiding their true beliefs and their love for the prophet Muhammad’s (saws) family. But not in Iran. And that’s one thing that really warmed my heart. To know that somewhere on this planet, it’s okay to love them. It’s not looked down upon. Although I don’t agree with the depictions, even seeing those kind of made me happy. Although I highly doubt that all twelve Imams and Abul Fazl Abbas all looked completely Persian. 
We went shopping in Tehran. I bought some shoes and a long jacket. I loved it. They have really stylish clothing. My clothes were so plain. And I didn’t wear makeup once while I was in Iran. I tried to look simple. I tried to fit in and not let anyone know I was from America. I tried to not even wear name brands, not that I own many. Then I saw how the girls in Tehran dress. They looked like Fashion models. Even the men. Very stylish, very good looking. Every other girl looked like she was attending a wedding. Many had bandages on their nose too. From having cosmetic surgery. At first it seemed really overwhelming for me. I was asked for directions by locals. I later, after wearing so many layers for a few days, realized that had I lived in Tehran I would dress up to go out too. And wear lots of makeup. Because when you’re a woman and you have no choice but to cover up. You’re probably going to try to bring out the one thing that shows most, your face. A lot of girls also dyed their hair blonde. It was funny because a girl I met later, Huma jaan, explained to me that girls in Tehran try really hard to look western but even in the west girls don’t dress or do makeup in that manner. Huma was from Mashhad. Even in Qom, people asked me, “In Tehran, did you see the way the girls dressed?” It was as if they were ridiculed everywhere else in the country. I thought it was unfair. I think that considering they covered the parts mandatory in Iran to cover, they are free to wear makeup however they want. Anyhow that was my view.
We took a bus to Qom. Two guys sat on the opposite row where my mother sat and she wanted me to sit beside her. The guys starred at me, I felt uncomfortable. I asked my mom if I could have the window seat. She moved over and I sat by the window. We both fell asleep within minutes. We arrived in Qom where everybody dressed differently. There was a different vibe and it was hotter. We went to Mosque of Jamkaran. I asked for the history of the Mosque and everybody told me the same thing. Somebody had a dream that Imam Mahdi (as) told them to build a Mosque in that exact location. Later he was seen in person praying there. I later read online that, “Belief in Jamkarani has been compared to that of Catholics who believe that the Virgin Mary appeared to three shepherd children in Fatima, Portugal in 1917.” We first went to the well. It’s a well where you write letters to the Imam and you place them in there. We had a pile of letters written from America. The letters were addressed to the Imam, we threw them into the well. I didn’t write to him. I don’t know why. I just had nothing to say or to ask for. My mom asked me where my letter was, I just looked down. She gave me a look and I shrugged. We went into the Mosque to pray. There were birds flying inside the Mosque. On top of the lights. It was beautiful. Imam Mahdi (as) is the only Imam who is still alive right now. He walks among us here on earth. And will come back with Hazrat Isa (or more widely known as prophet Jesus) before the day of judgement. We left that Mosque and went to the shrine of Imam Reza’s sister.

There is a quote by Imam Reza where he has told people to visit his sister’s shrine before they visit his own. Her name was Fatima bint Musa. Both her brother and father were Imams and she was taught by them the Islamic sciences. She was called the learned lady. She fell ill while traveling and passed away. According to wikipedia,”Fatima’s body was washed and shrouded according to customs. As’ari nobles determined that they would bury her somewhere special, not just an ordinary cemetery. Musa ibn Khazraj had a garden which he donated for her burial place. Qadir was summoned to give her last rites, but instead a stranger appeared and laid her to rest. The town of Qom decided to build her a mausoleum.” 

Her shrine was breath taking. It was overwhelmingly beautiful. Just as crowded as the eighth Imam’s in Mashhad. There is a fountain in the courtyard and a beautiful door decorated like a palace of some sort. There were people of every background there. Sitting around, praying, crying, making wishes. It was very hot as it is often in the religious city of Qom. And aside from an under shirt, a long abaya and a hijab, I had to wear a chadoor. When I walked into the entrance, I saw the shrine. I was unaffected. I almost felt guilty. I got closer and just wished to speak to Hazrat Fatima. As I got closer, I began to feel overcome by emotion. I cried. I felt a connection with her. Although I knew very little about her. It was a very strange reaction. When you brain tells you one thing but your heart makes you do another. In my logical, deepest thoughts I felt it was more important to learn about a person, ruminate about their life and be enlightened than to visit a shrine. I walked in with no such intention to be attached to a grave site, but I found it difficult to leave. I walked out of the shrine facing the grave site, with tears in my eyes and I took each step hesitantly. Contemplating in my mind how the person who read her burial rights felt when they laid her body into the ground. When they must have thought, “Farewell  enlightening soul. We are surely at loss her on earth without you.” The number of respected women in the world is limited. But reading about her I realized she was really respect by so many and praised. Her own brother, an Imam, said to visit her shrine first. It was moments like that where I realized, the disrespect and disregard towards women by Islamic scholars is something they’ve created on their own and has no basis in the teachings of Islam. All my life I’ve struggled to understand why women were treated the way they were in Islamic countries. By Muslim men claiming to practice Islam. Why when I tried to divorce my ex for fear of my safety, I was turned down by multiple Imams telling me that things such as, “You probably just want to be with another man. Fear Allah” or “In order to get an Islamic divorce you must move to Iran for two years.” And the worst thing I heard, “Have a few children, that will bring you two closer.” I felt so lost. I felt so confused about Islam. I prayed Allah would give me truth. Show me the right way and help me through my struggles. I saw other women going through worse. I felt all those thoughts, all those doubts, all my questioning of what the prophet really taught flew out the window in that instant. Standing before a shrine, bigger than any shrine I’ve ever seen in my entire life, for a woman I felt humbled and my heart was relieved.  

I sat down and wrote a letter that began with, “Hazrat Fatima bint Musa, you are known as “The Learned Lady” please help me become learned too. In science. In math. In Islamic studies. In history and literature. Help me change the world. Make it better. Help the oppressed and fight the oppressors.”

Walking out into the courtyard. I saw little girls with chadoors. It was cute and also I felt bad for them. Little girls don’t need to cover, it’s silly. Not to mention very hot. While putting my shoes on a lady asked me for water by using hand gestures. Her face was sweating and she seemed short of breath. She knew no Farsi. I believe she spoke to me in Arabic. I felt really ashamed that I didn’t know how to say water in Arabic. I signaled for her to follow me. We left the courtyard in search of water. I didn’t even know where I was going. She came with me and I bought some water from a local vendor. I handed her one as she took money out to pay me back, I refused to take any. She told me, “May Imam Hussein be pleased with you.” Somehow I understood that much. My mother and I walked along to the stores. I saw some pop up books. It was the little mermaid and she was wearing a long sleeved shirt. I guess it was the halal version. Of all the Islamic books we saw, I bought two pop up books. Robin Hood and Pari Darya, which was the Little Mermaid. My mother bought some books as well and then we left.

We took a taxi back to Tehran and went to the airport. We had a flight to Mashhad. I played fruit ninja on the plane until I fell asleep. It was a short flight. I held my mother’s hand while I fell asleep. There’s something about mothers. Something comforting. In my time of contemplation and wondering what was right and what was wrong, I felt comforted to hold her hand. I must’ve looked like a big baby but for me, it was nice. When we arrived in Mashhad, it was sprinkling outside. A big change from the sandy and hot cities of Qom and Tehran. The rain began to pour as we got into a taxi. I felt things would be different now. I just felt something special was coming my way. We arrived to the family’s house in which we would be staying the entire duration of our stay in Mashhad. They were very kind and very helpful. The father was a Mullah, like 50% of the men in Iran, don’t quote me on that but it’s probably true. My sister who had visited Iran in earlier years told me she once saw a Mullah on a motorcycle with a turban and his wife was in the back with a chadoor. He was speeding. That always made me laugh. The closest thing to that I saw was a lady on a motorcycle behind her husband who was in front, and her infant was in her lap. I saw about three or four women holding infants on motorcycles. It really worried me. It reminded me of that time I went to Afghanistan and the young children sat up front in taxis where there were no seat belts.

The next morning I woke up at 5 am and I got dressed. I asked the lovely people I was staying with for some kind of sweets or cookies so my low blood sugar wouldn’t be a problem. I was handed a bag of cookies and candies. Then we got a taxi and headed to the shrine of Imam Reza and I didn’t know what I was in for. 

The security guards there who were female patted me down then checked my purse. They saw I had makeup and asked me to go back outside and turn my makeup in. I did so and got a card with a number on it for the cubby my belongings were placed in. I nonchalantly walked into the courtyard and the beauty of the whole scene simply caught me off guard. I was immediately captivated. All my worries and concerns flew out the window. Nothing mattered in that moment. Nothing at all. I had felt that if God had created various kingdoms on earth, this was sure to be one of them.The men and women who maintained the shrine all lined up and read a prayer while circling the main fountain located in the center of the courtyard. I was told they did this every morning. Their voices, so rigid and off key, were music to my ears. I had never heard something more lovely. I was falling in love with the positive energy the shrine was giving off. We walked in and put our shoes in the plastic bags that they leave out for everyone to place their shoes in. We headed inside through the golden entrance. Just one of three entrances to the shrine. Upon walking in I felt my heart racing. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I knew so little about Imam Reza (as) I felt I was being disrespectful just being there. I felt so unworthy. I was out of place. 
I felt I didn’t deserve to be in a shrine so beautiful and holy when deep down I found very little importance for shrines. All my feelings overwhelmed me greatly as I walked in hesitantly. The closer I got the more women were pushing and shoving to touch the grave site. There was a gap between the people, I looked over. A couple of female guards kept everyone away from a puddle on the ground. I asked what happened and somebody told me a child peed on the ground. Within moments, men walked over to the women’s side with buckets and a hose. They washed down the area and dried it and walked away. Later that evening, a friend of mine had mentioned what a terrible parent that child had. Who would allow for a child to pee in the shrine. I argued, “I’m sure they didn’t plan for that to happen. Accidents happen. I doubt they woke up that morning with the intention to pee at an Imam’s shrine.” She replied, “You have to be careful, it’s a shrine, holy ground. What a bad child.” I couldn’t believe my ears. “Do you remember that story of the Prophet Muhammad?” I continued, “The story where a mother brought an infant to our dear prophet to read a prayer into his ear and while the prophet was reading the prayer, the child began to urinate. And the mother held her arms out and tried to take her child back in embarrassment, apologizing greatly. The prophet refused and said, “You’ll startle the child, let him finish and then take him back.” And after the infant was finished, the Prophet handed him back to his mother and then went and cleaned his clothes. We must learn from the prophet to be compassionate and patient. Specially with children.”
After they cleaned the area, the empty ground filled up quickly with women seeking to touch the grave site. I stared into different faces. Little girls who didn’t know what they were there for. I smiled at one, she looked away. I became more nervous. Tiny, old women were being pressed up against the shrine. I felt others who desired to touch the shrine might not get their chance if I went any closer. I helped ladies get out. I helped women get closer. Within moments after intervening I unexpectedly found myself right beside the site. I humbly looked down, embarrassed, like someone who was caught staring at a passerby. I didn’t know what to ask. I was reminded instantly of my friend who is ill. I prayed for her. I prayed for her a lot. I prayed that if somebody had to go, it should be me. Her health and well being was far more important than my own. Then, after realizing that getting out of the crowd wasn’t exactly as simple as I imagined, I placed my hand back on the shrine. “Imam Reza.” I paused. I thought long and hard. What do I want to tell him? What could I possibly need so importantly and so badly that if he has a limited number of wishes to fulfill, mine should take precedence to others. To people who have illnesses incurable, to mothers who have lost children, to strong faithful believers who seek to get closer to God constantly. People who read every prayer, fast every day of Ramadan, give to the poor and humbly submit themselves to Allah’s will. Who was I to take up space in this holy ground? My eyes filled up with tears. I looked up and hoped God would help me. “Imam Reza.” I whispered. I looked around as women struggled to touch the shrine. “Ya Imam Reza, help my hand reach you!” One lady exclaimed. “Ya Imam Reza, save me!” Another woman cried out. I couldn’t stay there any longer. Speechless and without any real request from the Imam or from God, I had no reason to be there. I am nobody of importance. I am nobody of spiritual greatness. I barely do the obligatory. I had nothing to say. Just then a thought came to my mind. “Truth.” I said. “Give me truth. I need truth.” It was only a few words but it was sincere. And I meant it. I then tried to hold on to my spot now that I knew what I wanted and what I seek most. But I was pushed away from the shrine and the space I was in filled up quickly. How easily we are replaced. My foot stood on something hard. I knelt down and picked the object up. It was turbah. Sand from Karbala. It came right under my foot. I felt awful. I kissed it and held it tightly. I remember my father told me before I left that after you make a wish you will see a sign. You will be given something or come across something immediately. That will mean your wishes are granted. I smiled to myself. The other day I had just been laughing at my aunt because she had a bag stuck to her shoe and I told her, “Wow, one of your wishes must’ve been fulfilled.” I made fun of her but here I was seeing this turbah that I stepped on thinking it was a sign. Thinking my request was heard and I might receive and find truth.
I stepped aside. Next to a doorway. I leaned against the door. I heard women praying, some chanting to themselves. I watched people going about. Praying, hoping, wishing for some kind of miracle. Some might’ve needed nothing. But we were all there. Some of us came from far and wide. Some of us lived nearby. I wondered what Imam Reza would’ve really wanted. If this shrine and these followers fighting over who can touch what pleased him. I felt bad for questioning so much. But when you hear stories of the prophets of Allah or the Imams you hear how very humble they are. You hear how Imam Ali (as) was served dinner and he asked his son to take back the salt. Because there was bread, salt and water. And he couldn’t have three different things. Only two. And now their shrines are decorated in gold, silver and marble. They were simple men. They were good people. Whether a person believes this religion is right or not, I thought to myself, they were admirable personalities in every way you look at them. Praised by historians, philosophers and even religious authorities from other religions. I tried to think of the situation in a different light. I tried to understand and tried to make my heart comprehend what was going on. Why I was getting emotional. I leaned my head against the door. I took a deep breath. And I sighed. My forehead was pressed up against the golden door. I began to cry. I didn’t know why. I guess I felt really blasphemous for over thinking. Then my first personal request once again found it’s way out of my heart and onto my lips, “I want truth.” I covered my face with my chadoor embarrassed of my tears. “That’s all I want. I don’t want anything else.” I thought of everything I already had and how blessed I was to begin with. “I need to find the truth. I need to find my creator. I need to know my place. I want truth. Nothing more.” I took a deep breath. The tears became abundant and my heart began to empty itself.  ”As a human being to another, I seek for you to help me find the right path. Not the Islam that we have these days where people are hurt. People are cheated. Lives are taken. I want the real Islam. I want the real truth. Help me. I need truth.” I cried and felt silly but I couldn’t stop. I walked away from the door and took a deep breath. Then I saw my mother leaving so I followed her. We stepped outside. In the courtyard there are these beautiful Persian rugs with intricate patterns and designs. You sit on them and you can read prayers, Quran or supplications. I began reading my prayers. Then I saw a little boy in his mothers lap crying out loud. I felt bad. I saw the frustration in his mother’s face as she tried to calm him down. Without hesitation I picked up my bag of cookies and sweets and went over to them. I handed him a cookie and he stopped crying. Then I gave his little sister, who I didn’t want feeling left out, a piece of candy. Their mother thanked me and I went back to my spot and continued reading prayers. I looked around at all the different people. I felt at peace. I felt wonderful. I felt certain that either I would find truth or it would find me. And I remembered Simone de Beauvoir and how much she went through for questioning and for searching and for coming to her own conclusions instead of accepting others views to be the ultimate truth. She said, I tore myself away from the safe comfort of certainties through my love for truth — and truth rewarded me.
So an update to my trip, I’ll have you know that I have decided to tear myself away from the comfort of certainties as well and weather I am rewarded or not by truth, that’s a risk I’m willing to take.

People who are not allowed to call hijab oppressive:

People who don’t wear hijab.