Occupied Land, But Never Occupied Hearts

lights

I woke up to an unexpected text message earlier this week. It said, Don’t come into work today or tomorrow. Cancel all your classes. This is for security reasons, and to avoid clashes.

Well, I’d heard that the whole country was going under a brief strike, in protest to Trump’s announcement of recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and his plans to move the U.S. Embassy there. So the order to not come into work was not totally unexpected. But for security reasons? What was dangerous in the situation?

A lot more than I realized. Here is my hastily-written experience, as a Canadian Palestinian presently and recently been living in Hebron for the time being.
Hanging Icicles

I’ve stayed home from work in Canada before, during a dangerous ice storm situation. But this, this was different. It had never been because my life – and more so, my teenage students’ lives – depended on it. I’d never been told to skip a day of normality as a response to petty words said by a pompous, destructive man in charge of another country across the world.

howmany3

But this is Palestine we’re talking about. I am no longer in more-predictably-safer Canada.

If I were in Canada, hearing the announcement, and watching the news of the sudden surge of unrest that it created, I’d be raving in rage at such an absurd announcement from someone who mistakenly thinks his opinion represents reality and justice. This announcement is not unique of its kind; time and time again, former American presidents have said it also. (And frankly, I couldn’t care less where the U.S. Embassy is located, just so long as it doesn’t have to demolish Palestinian native land in order to do so. Like the occupiers of the illegal settlements do all the time.)

Why aren’t I bursting with anger at the riots and killings that have ensued after the announcement? Because I’m here… in Palestine. And as a result, I see things differently, or at least I understand things differently. I see how “normal” and ordinary colonial violence is to the people here. If anything, I feel more sadness than anger. Is this what the world (especially the cowardly Arab world leaders who turn a blind eye) has decided is a fit state that Palestinians deserve to live in? In a state of constant fear, so much so that from a young age,  deadly fear is merely replaced with just matter-of-fact apprehension?

Here’s a really simple example to illustrate what I mean.

Today I set a date with one of my classes, a date to go outside as part of the curriculum to advocate for a classroom project campaign (healthy living). The original venue was supposed to be downtown, until a group of my male students advised me otherwise.

  • Miss, maybe we should do our advocacy somewhere more quiet, less crowded. I don’t want you to end up feeling bad if we go downtown, and then the Israeli military rounds us boys up.

My heart broke inside, knowing that over here, intelligent, compassionate and responsible 14-year old boys have to factor in ridiculous things when they go out, even when it’s a simple outing to distribute brochures and fruits to pedestrians. Having to factor things like, getting captured for no reason by soldiers, attacked by loosed military dogs, getting tangled in clashes on the way home. How is this allowed to happen? And why is it a normal part of their lives?

To make matters heavier, the boys speaking to me didn’t even seem frightened at the possibility of being taken away by the occupying force; they were more concerned about the guilt I’d feel if I brought them to a location that posed a threat (aka crowded with normal people) for this to happen. No teenager should live a life in which anticipated pain, separation from families, child imprisonment and silencing of peaceful protests is as normal as breathing.

howmany

Living through this with my homeland brothers and sisters, I would have thought my blood would be constantly boiling. Instead, I am just so tired of it all… and deeply saddened at the state of things that have been emptied of a once-bursting life.

Not too long ago, I visited the Old Town of Hebron. It is most well-known for the holy site called the Ibrahimi Mosque (Cave of the Patriarchs), which has the tombs of the Prophets Ibrahim, Isaac, and Sara, among others. The Old Town is known to be full of checkpoints and settler activity, so I spent a few weeks asking around if it was “now safe” to go before me and my sister quietly went without informing anyone (knowing we’d be discouraged and avoid the area). So, off we went.

I was shocked when I went to the Old Town. The streets were eerily empty. Shop after shop was closed down on entire deserted market streets. Streets that used to bustle with love and life. With the deafening silence, I was painfully self-conscious of the loud sounds my slightly heeled shoes made upon hitting the ancient stone floor. It felt like a ghost time.

However, thankfully, it was safe”. We went into the Ibrahimi Mosque (as I frantically ignored the memory of how a shooting massacre had literally taken place by a Zionist in this room), quickly walked past a market tunnel on our way to find a taxi, and arrived home in one piece.

20171025_151713

That safety didn’t last. The day after we went, we heard how unrest spiralled up around the Ibrahimi Mosque. Shootings often happen around the area. And now, due to the latest string of events, I imagine it’s that much riskier to go. We haven’t visited again (which is unfortunate, since it’s less than a 10-minute drive away from where we live).

The Old Town has often been a hot site for danger due to violence imposed by settlers and shady checkpoints. The difficult situation for Palestinians living there doesn’t make it any more acceptable, but predictable, at least.

Now, because of some gibberish made from an orange-faced man, the whole country is in an uproar. From Bethlehem to Ramallah to Jerusalem to Hebron – you name it.

Some areas are hotter than others, but there are flames burning in hearts all over.

I wrote this post because a friend asked how I was feeling. And honestly? I don’t think it matters how I feel. All I know is… no child deserves to be born in a world where they can’t even get to school safely. Where going through checkpoints like a criminal is a daily occurrence. Where praying in a sacred mosque of historical significance is deemed unsafe, unsafe to prostrate your head to the ground…

howmany2

Such are some impacts of living in an occupied world. Occupied land, but never occupied minds and souls.

I’ll leave you, dear reader, to some powerful words written by Omar Suleiman which perfectly summarise my opinion on the whole thoughtless announcements:

howmany4

And God knows Best.

A.S.

Advertisements

Are There Really Any Words?

Wings

Words are a blessing,
That we use to express everything
But are words really enough?
~
Is there really a word to describe…
 ~
The longing that sweet memories cannot satisfy?
The heart-flying feeling under the umbrella of a blue sky?
The breaking sweet pain that holds the hand of healing?
The steady chaotic rhythm of events unfurling and swirling?
The melody of rising and slippery sliding hopes?
The recognition of metaphysical ropes and incredible power to cope?
The music of even anxiety, suspense, and naive expectation?
The new life breathed into one held hostage in a moment of inspiration?
The way one’s heart swells at the sounds of truth and recognition?
~
Oh, what can one really come to say
When there doesn’t seem to be a right way…
~
To describe —
longings, heart-flying feelings,
musics of states, inspiration and heart-swellings…
breaking sweet pain, chaotic steady rhythms, hope,
rising and falling melodies, and metaphysical ropes…
~
Are there really any words?
~
Romantic Red

 

And God knows Best.
A.S. (Dec.2, 2017)

Wordless Poetry

A Beautiful City

When you think of poetry, your mind drifts to paper

Paper with words artistically linked together by a writer…

But what if I were to declare that poetry can be wordless, too?

《》

Poetry is the wind’s sweet caresses on your cheeks through an open window

Poetry is allowing your inner positive energy to surge upwards and make you glow

《》

Poetry is the majestic standing of a white mosque’s pillars

Poetry is entering a new space and feeling like it’s somehow all familiar

《》

Poetry is the resilience-themed messages sprayed about with graffiti paint

Poetry is reading a soul-fulfilling book in a cozy coffeehouse so quaint

《》

Poetry is the quiet playing of Coldplay’s best songs against the backdrop of Ramallah’s streets

Poetry is you turning an empty canvas and acrylic paint into your own secret retreat

《》

Poetry is the plentiful “astaghfirullah” signs on orderly lined up palm trees

Poetry is the cheerful morning sounds of roosters and darling birdies

《》

Poetry is the waterfall-like effect of vines against rocky walls

Poetry is the sound waves of overlapping athan, or prayer calls…

《》

When you used to think of poetry, your mind once drifted to paper

Paper with words artistically linked together by a writer…

But now you know, based on the journeys you flew

That poetry can also be wordless, too.

Pretty Pink
God always knows Best.

Nov.19, 2017, on the way to Hebron from Ramallah

– A.S.

Have You Ever Found Soul, Heart & Mind Scattered?

Under the Lemon Tree

Have you ever found your soul’s song scattered about?

There you are

Seeking…

Searching…

Finding it…

Between bulky boulders and rocks

In quaint dessert cafés that barely sleep, no matter the clock

Among thorny plants and at the sight of a cactus

Under thick soft blankets that melt your coldness into bliss

During a simple olive-picking activity

Or when standing beneath the shade of a lemon tree —

Have you ever found your soul’s song scattered about?

Have you ever found your heart beats scattered about?

There you are

Seeking…

Searching…

Finding it…

In a yellow taxi cab playing classical Fayrouz

During a road trip car playing Oumayma Khalil tunes

In a stab of nostalgia, hearing Rihanna in a Hebron shopping mall

At the sight of a man proudly galloping in traffic, on a horse so tall

Against the backdrop of scents, spices and music in the open marketplace

With the rhythm of footsteps walking distances in the lit-up night space —

Have you ever found your heart’s beats scattered about?

Have you ever found your mind’s thoughts scattered about?

There you are

Seeking…

Searching…

Finding it…

In the eyes of kind, compassionate, down-to-earth people

As you acknowledge this land was walked on by prophets without equal

In the bubbling words of an enlightened, engaging conversation

Upon entering any shop that is casually playing Quranic recitation

In the sanctity of being in the Ibrahimi Mosque, or Cave of Patriarchs

In the old stone buildings, colourful fall vines, and structural archs — 

Have you ever found your mind’s thoughts scattered about?

Have you ever found your soul’s song, heart and mind

All

Debating, wondering, arguing,

persuading, agreeing, disagreeing,

musing, guessing, being certain,

being uncertain, pondering, reflecting —-

On what home means?

                          On where home is?

                                                    Who home is?

                                                                           Why home is?

Alas.

Have you ever found your soul’s song, heart and mind scattered about?

Pinecones Galore

And Allah knows Best.

-A.S.

-Written November 11, 2017

 

Strange Liberating Truth

Dedicated to Nada.

Cheerful

There is a liberty to knowing that people often don’t care about you as much as you think they do.

Many people have opinions about your choices. If you’re a feedback-welcoming person like me, your decisions may be swayed by their opinions. However, here is the unpleasant and yet strangely liberating truth: not everyone cares about your well-being as much as you’d like to believe.

Once you come to this realization, it is much easier to change your life. It is much easier to jump out of your comfort bubble and pursue crazy dreams – because those that try to put down your ideas aren’t doing it for you, really. Those who have not reached their full potential do not wish you to reach yours, either.

Here is the bitter, and yet strangely liberating truth: Know that often you will cross paths with people who only like you when you can do things for them. But the moment your services are given or denied, they’ll never give you a second thought. You were just a stop sign in their way, they paused to check if the surrounding area had anything worthy, and when they found you were only you… continued driving.

But either they don’t really know who you are, or don’t know how to give proper value to worthy beings… or they would not have simply continued on their way.

The people who hurt us the most are often those we think cherish us most. I am not speaking about family – family drama is a given, even if seldom. I am talking about strangers who cross paths with you, make you feel something like you’re flying, and then like a kite with a string, yank you back down to earth. These are the people who assume to know your best interests and give you “advice”, but really they maintain in mind how you will serve their best interests. These are the people who don’t care about you as much as you think, or hope, they do.

Once you come to this realization, it is much easier to change your life. It is much easier to let go of strong invisible emotional bonds you’ve placed on certain people who made you feel essential to their lives – and then dropped off the face of your world. Because they never liked you for your soul, really.

Do not settle for being mediocre because popular opinion wants you to be. Do not settle for less because you have yet to find the more.

As Nayyirah Waheed beautifully says:

3de6bb959fd538335e5aa4a6b7d79557

People may be cruel, but you must never be cruel to you. To your self. To your heart energy. To your soul. You are irreplaceably precious, and don’t let anyone or anything make you forget that.

And Allah knows Best.

-A.S.

Reliance on God (Tawakkul)

f22

It is a fact that there is joy in this world, and there is pain. There is happiness in this world, and there is sadness. There are gains in this world, and there are losses. But there are misconceptions that correlate the ‘good’ results with ‘good’ people, and misfortune with ‘bad’ people.

It is not without effort to reach tawakkul, but to succeed in the effort, it is essential to put our minds and hearts to rest.

As human beings, we only think two-dimensionally and sometimes may forget we cannot see the full big picture, 3D and all. The basis of the lack of reliance on Allah is uncertainty in the outcome. By striving to know God more and trusting in Him more firmly, the outcome of a decision or result will no longer be a source of agitation and worry. Knowing that all one is truly responsible for is trying one’s best, and leaving the rest to God, should bring a steady peace and contentment in one’s heart. Maybe the outcome will be what you want, maybe it won’t be… but you know it’s what God decided, and you accept it as you accept that He is All-Knowing, All-Wise, and All-Merciful. That’s tawakkul.

To rely is an action, a verb; but relying on God in all situations, at all times, the good, bad and ugly, is a progress, a journey – it is a state. One should strive not only to remember to rely on Him in uncertain moments, but to rely on Him at all times [mutawakkil]. Tawakkul is not necessarily seeing the big picture, because our view is obviously limited; but rather, trusting in the big picture. Trusting that all matters have been, are still, and always will be in God’s hands. When seen through this lens, one can’t help but feel content and accepting of the state of things. Tawakkul is all about letting go of that which is beyond our control.

Relying on God is not limited to trusting in His judgment, but it includes that one first use whatever means he/she has to reach their goal or intended purpose. A well-known hadith mentions the Prophet telling someone to “tie the camel, and have tawakkul”. Tawakkul is being proactive physically and submissive mentally to the will of God, knowing that no one like He has your best interests at heart. It is essential to have a good opinion of God always; a hadith Qudsi says: “I am as my slave thinks I am.”

As human beings striving to fulfill our unique purposes in life, we need to constantly remind ourselves that we have a responsibility to work with excellence in everything we do. However, the outcomes are only what God wants them to be, so do not let the opportunity of doing good through your career/family ties/ activism be yet another source of worry and anxiety for you. Take care of yourself to better take care of those around you.

And Allah knows Best.

A.S.

(This was written in May 2014, and I stumbled upon it today.)
—————————————————————–

Useful resources on tawakkul:

VIDEO:

READINGS:

  • Purification of the Heart, chapter “Relying on Other Than God”

(PDF version available, free, online)

AUDIO: {In Arabic}

 

Why Palestine?

gggg

Back in Canada, all I had to say to any friend was “I’m going to spend a few months living in Palestine,” and practically a round of applause sounded. Even my colleagues supported this decision, and that hyped me up some more. But for perplexing reasons (among them heavily affected from colonial experiences), many Palestinians living in Palestine do not share that same optimism. The moment anyone learns that I came from Canada to temporarily live in Palestine, I get the same reaction:

  • An incredulous face, along with a “My dear… what has brought you here?

Okay. I get it. Living under an illegal and dangerous occupation isn’t exactly a bliss. But this isn’t even the reason that people question my return.

What has brought me here? Why Palestine?

Well, for starters, regardless about my other career and family reasons… I’m Palestinian.

What’s up with native Palestinians not understanding why it’s perfectly legitimate for me to be here? I am a daughter of the land, after all. Once left, does it mean I would never want to come back? Here are just a few examples of things I can only really revel in Palestine:

  • Partying with aunts, uncles and cousins whom I haven’t seen in many years.
  • Listening to classical Arabic music in taxis, against the backdrop scenery of vast mountains and vineyards.
  • Being a car passenger alongside a galloping horse that is pulling a carriage of vegetables.
  • Driving through small villages and seeing donkeys, herd of sheep, and more horses alongside cars. Here, nature has the same space as technology.
  • Eating cups of corn on the go. Freshly squeezed mint lemonade. Date syrup. Grape syrup. The delight of discovering new cheesecake coffee shops here and there.
  • Speaking with the young people who have lived under occupation, yet still have such a zest and upbeat passion for life. It is not common for me to find bitter and angry teenagers here; rather, they have a hope and vision of the future, and want to be a part of building that better world.
  • When teaching an ESL class, and a Quran quote comes on screen, everyone becoming eager to recite it in perfect personalised melodies.
  • Olive trees, palm trees, and white lightbulbs gracing the streets.
  • Being pleasantly surprised how your heart can connect so easily to another’s, as though you grew up in the same house…

Palestine is an astonishing place, and it grows on you the longer you stay and give it a chance to. It has a beautiful culture, remarkable history of prophetic footsteps, a dizzying plurality of diverse people, and gorgeous landscapes. However, only those with beautiful hearts can truly appreciate the blessing of having a chance to walk on its soil.

So why Palestine? Because there’s nowhere else quite like it.

May God protect Palestine.

And He Knows Best.

A.S.

Love Happens

~
It happens.
.
Love happens when you’re not seeking it in someone else.
.
Love happens while you’re seeking other things, like self-respect, dignity and integrity.
.
Love happens when you’re too busy loving yourself that you ain’t got time to wonder why Mr. Right hasn’t found you yet.
.
Love happens while you’re doing your most important life work, in the present moment.
.
Love happens when you live life as boldly and unapologetically you as possible.
.
Love happens while you love other people.
.
Love happens when you love for the sake of God, and no lower purpose.
.
Love happens while you’re awake, while you’re asleep, and while you dream.
.
Love happens when your world revolves around what is and not what if.
.
Love happens while you are.
.
Love happens when you be.
.
Love happens.
And the All-Loving One knows Best.
A.S.

Between Worlds, Never to Belong

oil painting

“Under the Olive Tree” – Oil painting by Aya Salah (2017)

Perhaps it is fate, and perhaps it is destiny.
Perhaps it was always meant to be this way, and perhaps it simply never was. I don’t know. What I do know, is that for most of the time, I do not feel like I fully (physically) belong anywhere.
Belongingness is a complicated abstract concept. Do you belong with your heart, with your yearning, or with concrete memories that physically connect you to a place?
I can’t be the only one who hangs in midair, between worlds, always identifying with both yet never feeling completely embraced in either.
Being a Palestinian Canadian is a most intriguing experience, but it is difficult to describe to someone exactly what it’s like to be a Palestinian in Canada. Having grown up since babyhood and well into adulthood in the marvellous city of Montreal, I can hardly picture myself living anywhere else. Montreal is my home, the bounds of my childhood, the foundation of my character; it is where I feel safe, strengthened, and comfortable to grow.
And yet, I still don’t feel like I fully belong as a Canadian, or that I truly have a right to use this term since I am not originally a native of the land. No matter where I’ve planted my roots, the seeds first and foremost came from Palestinian soil. There is no way to ignore that.
Deep in my aching soul, I keep finding myself yearn for the land and people that had once been, and relentlessly continue to be, a part of me, even way before I was born. It is for this reason I find myself gravitating towards places and experiences in the West that satisfy my nostalgic emotions. I always felt as though a piece of me belonged in the Middle East, on another continent, and that perhaps if I spent more time in both worlds, then Canadian-me and Palestinian-me could comfortably coexist in satisfied harmony.
It was mostly for this reason that I took a great leap of faith, and decided to try living briefly in Palestine. Maybe, just maybe, I could find that missing part of me in new, strange yet vaguely familiar lands.
But alas, belongingness is a far more complicated concept than I ever thought it to be. If only it was simply a matter of physically connecting with a place. The truth (my truth, at least) is… this diaspora situation extends beyond the physical realm. It includes emotional, spiritual, and intellectual (dis)connections at times.
On the surface, I fit in Palestine in a lot of ways. The language, core cultural values of generosity, family, hospitality, and even my self-chosen dress code happen to align quite well with the society I am currently in. But every passing day reminds me how much I do not belong here. Maybe it’s the noticeably different dialect that flows from my lips; maybe it’s the uneasiness I feel at commonplace trashy (yet embraced) values, like cheating and bribery; maybe it’s my constant waves of shock as I learn of occupation and violence that I have obviously never needed to deal with in my own life, and never envisioned I would ever live through.
Fact is, the longer I stay in Palestine, the more I suspect that my heart really belongs in Canada. Yet when I go to Canada, my heart jumps right back across the fence. It’s like it thinks grass is greener on the other side – even when I have been on both sides, where the grass is the same shade of green!
So am I never to belong anywhere? Am I to remain suspended metaphysically between worlds, and realize that no place on Earth can actually ​fill my inner thirst for complete connection? Does anyone actually feel like they belong anywhere, or are we all equally lost, yet too timid to confront the void?
These are a lot of questions that come to mind when I daydream or drift off. Of course, I don’t expect that definite answers exist for them; but they are something to muse over.
Personally, I have no problem with not fully belonging to one single world. Perhaps who I am depends on the very fact I not get blindly attached to one particular worldview. I am a lifelong traveller, travelling between realms of cultures, ideas, controversial histories, intricate experiences and lifestyles.
Perhaps I am never to belong anywhere. 
This constant diaspora, manifested in multiple realms…
And you know what? I am at peace with that.
And God knows Best.
-A.S.
.

Never Enough

guitar

Her blood boiled.

Her head seemed to swell.

She wanted to tell society it was sick –

Though society believed it was well.

Men.

And certain raisers of men.

The extent they believe women empowerment goes

Is learning to lift the pen.

But what happens when

The pen drops is another story.

What she chooses to write decides

The rise or fall of her glory.

For women, it never seems

To be enough.

She grows and grows,

But still she’s made to feel it’s backward she goes.

If she shows her hair, they want her to cover it.

If she covers her hair, they want her to show it.

If her clothes are tight, they want her to loosen them.

If she wears loose clothes, they want her to tighten them.

If she thinks the same as everyone, she is said to have no opinion.

If she has her own opinions, she’s seen as too radical.

 

I think it suffices enough

To say,

That society doesn’t want really want women

To act themselves in their own way.

Her blood boiled.

Her head seemed to swell.

She wanted to tell society it was sick –

Though society believed it was well.

They preach respect of women

As mandated by the faith

But when it comes to her life decisions,

They don’t want her to decide at her own pace.

They preach equality of women and men

As mandated by the faith

But when it comes to implementing this system,

Patriarchy and dominance is the mind state.

So when she tells you her blood is boiling,

And her head feels like it swells

Know it’s because society is sick –

Though it ironically thinks it is well!

——————————————

– A.S.

July.16, 2017