Khanversations

Rukhsana’s thoughts on her journey of life, writing and sometimes—when she dares—a bit of politics.
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Sensitive times…

I recently had an experience that really gave me quite a jolt.

With it being Black History month I came across an image of a woman who was lynched (hanged) and what had happened to her. This was less than a hundred years ago, and it got me thinking about my own growing up in the small town of Dundas, Ontario.

Oh Canadians can be so gosh darn smug!!!

But really we’re no better.

I made a comment about how this lynching had happened still within the period of a person’s life span. Not that long ago, and I remember growing up in the ’60’s and ’70’s and feeling like I was less because of the color of my skin.

It was just the norm. And then when I did meet some white people who were a bit kinder (ie. not as rude) it was like internally they congratulated themselves on being open-minded enough to show me basic human decency.

I mean, I didn’t complain! I took whatever crumbs I could get, but somehow their condescension and patronizing was about as offensive as the blatant racism.

Well I posted it, without thinking, on Facebook, and then a friend messaged me, telling me how it had deeply affected him, pushed him close to the edge. That life was so horrible, he was constantly on the verge of depression.

And finally I got it!

We have to be very careful with what we post.

So many people are struggling, with depression and other mental illness, that a story like the one I’d callously posted can send them over the edge.

The thing is, with me, such stories are very sad, and horrible tragedies, but they make me feel all the more determined to work against such ideas!

They motivate me!

I know there’s a lot of horror in the world, but what gives me hope is that there’s so much good!

It depends on what we wish to focus on.

Anyway, it was a lesson learned.

We need to be sensitive, give warning, so that people can decide for themselves if they want to witness something on social media.

 

Dealing with Different Cultures…

I recently received an email from a person in Australia asking about a specific unpleasant incident she’d had with a Muslim couple.

What was the protocol?

Ever since I wrote an article on my website about Muslim Etiquette and Shaking Hands I often receive queries about people using the article in dealing with Muslim newcomers, immigrants, stuff like that.

http://www.rukhsanakhan.com/articles/shakinghands.html

This is the response I wrote her:

Sorry to hear about your negative experience with that Muslim woman and her husband.

[She had been fingering some fabric in a charity shop and had tried to turn to the Muslim lady next to her to remark on how pretty it was and had seen her husband nearby glaring at her.]

I have no idea why he responded the way he did. Maybe he was just scared and being protective.

When people have been hurt a lot, they tend to expect it. They can be very prickly and defensive. So maybe he expected there would be an altercation or something.

I have no idea. I wasn’t there. I’m only speculating.

Don’t assume that he was being controlling. That may be you projecting your own experiences of controlling men, on him. It isn’t actually possible for him to control you in any way. As a white woman you have way more power and privilege than he does. But that might not be how  you experienced it.

We have no idea of what they’ve been through. Maybe he had good reason to be afraid. Whatever the case, it’s important to rise above.

I know personally that when I travel and interact with people I don’t know, in a strange environment, I make extra effort to speak a lot and be friendly, but that’s just me. And I’m fortunate because I have a very Canadian accent. I’ve seen people visibly relax when they hear it coming out of my mouth.

I’m also fortunate because with time I’ve come to terms with my differences and I’m more comfortable in my own skin and that comes across too.

But perhaps other people are not as confident.

In answer to your question, yes, it is correct for you to speak in passing to any female you encounter in passing in a shop. No worries. Nothing wrong with it. Touching her on the arm is not a huge faux pas either but some people are a little sensitive to that, so it might be better not to.

One thing I learned when I was touring India, is that different cultures have different ways of handling casual encounters.

Western societies, including Australia, tend to be kind of ‘bold’ if you’ll excuse me. (It’s okay with me. I’m used to it and rather like this boldness and directness!) But other cultures find that boldness kind of threatening and aggressive.

I was in a shop in Agra, near the Taj Mahal, buying some souvenirs for my grandchildren. Like you I was fingering some fabric and haggling with the shopkeeper, but I didn’t look at him directly. Many Muslim societies don’t look one another directly in the eye. They think it’s kind of aggressive. Me, I was just examining the material and talking about how much I wanted to pay for it. At the end of the negotiation, the shopkeeper handed me a small glass of tea and asked which part of India I came from.

I was shocked! My Hindi is not very good. I’d assumed he’d know I was from the west and jack up the prices accordingly. Since I’d gotten the price I wanted I told him honestly that I was from ‘outside’. He was surprised and I realized it was because of my mannerisms of not looking directly at him.

Spoke to another Indian who goes back often and they can always tell she’s from outside. And yup, she looks them right in the eye!

So there’s that.

Also remember that people who’ve been colonized will look at white skin as ‘authoritative’. It’s weird, I know, but it’s there. Who knows what sort of dealings they’ve had with other white people that made them so scared of you.

Perhaps what you should have done is not look her in the eye and not look her husband in the eye. But honestly, there’s no harm done, and in the end you don’t owe anyone anything but civility, which you obviously displayed.

Coming from different cultures we will often rub up against each other the wrong way. It’s a good idea to develop a really thick skin and not take anything too personally.

But last night, when I was thinking more about it, I thought wait a minute. I think as we become more and more open to each others’ cultures, we just have to account for the fact that we will meet rude people.

And that is a right that people of color have. That is, they have the right to be jerks.

It’s kind of like that twitter conversation that was out there telling women to smile. Yeah, but what if women don’t feel like smiling??? And then there was that hashtag trending about women smiling.

If the guy glared at her, so what?

It’s not like he did anything physical. And maybe he and his wife, just weren’t in the mood to speak to her. Or maybe they were tired, or whatever.

Nobody owes anyone any sort of cheery disposition. We have no idea what other people have been through.

And basically we need to not take anything personally.

It sure is nice when people are friendly, but if they’re not, shrug it off, and go on your way.

I know, easier said than done at times. But still…

I have a personal motto of trying not to take things personally. It helps keep me humble.

I often tell myself, “Everything isn’t always about you. Get over yourself.”

 

Friends…

Last night I was shocked to hear about the attack at the masjid in Quebec city.

Apparently two gunmen went into a masjid during Isha prayers (around 8 pm) and opened fire using automatic weapons.

So far six people have died. Others are still in critical condition.

And this happened after a weekend of protests at airports all over America because Trump banned Muslims from the country and many were stuck in limbo or being deported.

It’s chaos right now.

This morning an old friend emailed me.

He’s a singer and songwriter and he’s worked on programs that promote peace and tolerance in schools for decades!

I worked with him probably about fifteen years ago. There were the three of us, him and a playwright and me, an author, and we were trying to create a play that schools could put on during the winter holiday season as an alternative to the standard Christmas pageant that would be inclusive of all faiths and cultures.

We worked for weeks at a very progressive school downtown!

I must say I learned so very much from both of them.

We ended up putting on a play, but in the end the project itself kind of fizzled. I explained to them that there’s nothing seasonal about Muslim holidays. They really do travel throughout the year and aren’t associated with winter at all.

But…out intentions were good!

Here were two white men, you could say the epitome of white privilege, working as hard as you possibly can, to better society and make a difference among the next generation of young people.

They were sensitive. They were caring. And they accepted me as one of them, completely and without prejudice. And it was the first time in my life that had ever happened.

It would not be the last.

Come to think of it, I’ve almost accepted it as ‘normal’ to be accepted by white men or anyone really. And I wonder if these two friends of mine aren’t the reason for it.

The fact that one was from a Christian background and the other a Jewish background and me a Muslim was seen as a strength, not a liability.

And this morning my Jewish friend reached out to me in solidarity because he was thinking of me.

It brings tears to my eyes just thinking of it!

The compassion. The sweet understanding!

I told him that I think God sent them to teach me, early on in my career, so I’d always know that I’m not alone. That there are good, like-minded people, of different races and faiths, out there, that I can work with, that I can ally myself with, in order to work towards the common goal of uplifting the next generation.

Working with children is the most important work you can possibly do!

I believe that now more than ever!

It’s why such a massacre in a house of worship doesn’t destroy me.

Because of their friendships, I can pick myself up, dust myself off, dry my tears and get back to the good work I’m trying to do.

God help the victims of the terrorists in Quebec, and God help all those stranded and affected by Trump’s ban.

Ameen.

 

Trump’s World…

I heard that Trump won the election the night I was at a sleep study. The technician woke me up and told me and I had this terrible sinking feeling right through my body.

For days I was upset, walking around in a daze. And then I told myself, “Look, you’re Canadian, alhamdu lillah. This doesn’t affect you that much.”

Oh, but it does!

It’s a new reality.

I watched the coverage of the women’s march last Saturday, cheered on all the Muslims who were going, and felt good about it, but couldn’t go myself. And to be honest, even if I hadn’t been busy, I probably still wouldn’t have gone.

I don’t think protests are all that useful.

Big ones are, I guess. But all the ones I went to felt like a huge waste of time.

Why not save your energy for other things.

I wrote a Facebook post for example. Probably ill advised.

Why do I always feel the need to play devil’s advocate?

I wanted to warn all the people who are completely devastated that Trump won, that they’re going to have to be patient.

I think white people, and even white women, are used to being able to click their fingers or something and fix whatever ails them.

It’s so nice to see such confidence and enthusiasm.

But don’t they realize it’s exhausting to be in protest mode? And we’re talking a period of four years!

He’s got at least four years, unless he’s impeached, which is a very high probability.

I wanted to warn them not to demonize the other side, but rather to try to understand them.

Everything happens for a reason.

And I said, hey you’ve only been disappointed and embarrassed by your leadership for a few days, I’ve been disappointed in Muslim leadership for more than sixteen years!

What was the biggest lesson I’ve learned through all those bitter disappointments?

That the people who claim to represent me as leaders, don’t define me. I am a separate and distinct entity.

I am responsible for who and what I am, my flaws and my admirable characteristics, both.

No one else.

And so are you!

And whatever a boneheaded leader does, it doesn’t reflect on who we are.

That’s what those who disagree with Trump as their new president have to learn.

I think they also have to realize that they’re dealing with an awful lot of people who do agree with him.

Soon after the inauguration I saw a Facebook post of a fellow children’s author saying how happy she was that Trump had won, and how uncomfortable she’d felt for eight years as others had sung the praises of the Obamas.

And as I read her post, I realized what a mistake it was to openly talk about politics. And this will probably be my last post on politics as well.

I found myself thinking less of her.

Even though she was right, she had every right to express her opinion.

And then I thought of how other people must have viewed my posts.

Politics, like religion is so intensely emotional. A lot of people identify so completely with the people they support that they view criticism of their leaders as criticism of themselves.

It’s silly, but it’s the way it is.

The funny thing is I’m actually not totally liberal. I have conservative leanings as well. I can actually kind of understand why Trump supporters are so enraged that they’d support him. But I think they were seduced.

He is not what they think he is, but time will tell.

One piece of advice I can give, because I think I’m pretty darn good at it, is to be patient!

Be patient over the next four years.

Keep striving towards the good you want to see in the world, and do not abandon your principles in order to create short cuts you think might be justified at the time. The end does not justify the means! The means are important!

I believe that God doesn’t change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves.

That means that if you’re rolling along and everything’s peaceful, things won’t change unless you yourself do something that changes your fundamental nature.

And if you’re going through life at war with everyone nothing is going to change until you change your fundamental nature.

It goes both ways.

I’ve found this true of my life.

And it’s true in general.

I don’t believe in abandoning my principles. In that way extremism lies.

And extremism is the worst. You have to remain steadfast, you have to remain patient. Work towards the good, talk to those who you disagree with, try to understand and reason with them. Not all of them can be swayed, but some can. And always always appeal to people’s better nature.

Good luck with it!

It’s going to be a bumpy ride!

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Creating writing–how I do it–vlog post

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A new vlog series

I’ve decided to go a bit more high tech and there’s going to be a learning curve involved.

This is a vlog post I did about tips on speaking to audiences, creating content that really appeals emotionally to your audience.

 

This is going to be a resource series.

If you find it useful please like and share!

All the best,

Rukhsana

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Did anyone else notice…

That terrorist attacks have become less shocking recently?

When I heard about the Berlin Christmas market attack on Monday, the first thing I thought was ‘Oh no!’, the second think I thought was ironically, it had been a while.

Like it was almost expected one would come. And the third thing I wondered was how many dead.

Like our outrage will depend on that factor. And then I thought, Subhan Allah.

And I hated myself for thinking that.

So I read about  the eye witness accounts and I deliberately imagined the horror of the blood and the broken bones and the carnage, because I don’t want to ‘normalize’ this in any way.

Every time it happens, no matter how many times it happens, it is horrible.

For the twelve people who were killed I mourn them and I pray for them.

And I prayed that we would have peace.

I’m afraid for the world but I still hope we have peace.

I’m in the midst of a fascinating project right now, and I was looking for the verse in the Quran where God says, “Do not kill yourselves for verily I have been merciful!”

I can see the verse so clearly from last time I read it. It was on the right side of the page in the Yusuf Ali translation I read during Ramadan, and I thought I’d marked it but I couldn’t find it yet. I’ll ask my hubby to, he’s good at that kind of thing.

But in the looking I found other verses that seems appropriate where God says that “No misfortune can happen on earth or in your souls but is recorded in a decree before We bring it into existence: That is truly easy for God: In order that you may not despair over matters that pass you by, nor exult over favours bestowed upon you for God loves not any vainglorious boaster…” (Quran 57:22-23)

This verse is beautiful: Chapter 29 vs. 10: “Then there are among men such as say, “We believe in God” but when they suffer affliction in the cause of God, they treat men’s oppression as if it were the Wrath of God! And if help comes to thee from thy Lord, they are sure to say, “We have always been with you!” Does not God know best all that is in the hearts of all Creation?”

They treat men’s oppression as if it were the wrath of God.

Exactly. When people do things to them, they blame God for it instead.

The older I get the more I realize that in and of themselves, one person can’t do anything. They need a following to really carry out dark designs.

Hitler was only one person. The other Germans could have stopped him, but he spoke smooth words that appealed to them so they supported him. Just like Trump.

People know he’s horrible, but what he says appeals to something inside them so they support him.

I really hope it doesn’t take a massacre for people to wake up.

And if there is a massacre on the scale of the holocaust or even smaller, is it God’s fault or is it ours for going along with him?

I’d say it was ours.

Because despite the power of peer pressure, we all have a brain to weigh right and wrong, and we don’t have to acquiesce to the group think.

I uploaded another video to my youtube channel that seems to be appropriate under the circumstances. Here it is:

Not Guilty

 

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My very first book!

Hi Everyone!

I’m developing my youtube channel and I just put up a new video book talk of my very first book Bedtime Ba-a-a-lk.

I want to make it an excellent resource for teachers and educators to use.

I hope you enjoy it!

Please like and share.

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for perspective!

I think I mentioned how I feel like I’m going through a real learning phase!

Visited a school recently where I spoke to grade sixes about growing up in Dundas and afterward a lady came up to me. She asked which school I went to and I told her Dundana and she she said, “But it wasn’t a middle grade school.” I said that the school I’d attended only went up to grade six so I went to Dundana for grade seven and eight. And then she nodded and asked me the last names of the bullies I’d referred to.

I never mention their last names in the presentation, it’s really not necessary, but since this was a private conversation I told her.

Turns out she was at Dundana one year ahead of me!

And the strangest thing happened.

I got worried. I wondered if she’d contest my version of events and call me over sensitive or something, but no, quite the opposite! When I told her the bullies’ last names her eyes went wide and she said, “Oh yes. They really were awful!”

And then she told me about an incident she’d witnessed and I could breathe easier.

And I wondered why I’d suddenly panicked like that. I’ve been thinking of it since and the conclusion I’ve come to is that when a person has been victimized, they live in fear that people will tell them it’s all in their head. That things weren’t the way they remembered them. And it made me see interviews I’d seen on television where people had confronted the people who’d abused them and their perception had been completely dismissed.

It was a real moment of enlightenment for me. I saw things very clearly.

And then just yesterday I had a fascinating conversation with another artist about the literacy of today’s kids and he said something that suddenly clicked in my head.

Quite frankly I’ve been feeling like an old fogey recently. Like maybe I’m not in sinc with the times. It appalls me that kids don’t have very good vocabulary or grammar any more.

But this artist spoke of a professor he’d had a long time ago who’d said quite the opposite. He said that no, today’s generation has evolved language to include all kinds of short cuts and emojis, that they’re still expressing deep thoughts they just do it differently.

That seems to be the nature of English. That it’s always evolving! And it was literally like a light bulb went on for me.

It gave me a lot of hope.

It was a small adjustment on my part in terms of attitude, but a huge leap in terms of perspective.

And it makes sense now to me, why I can interact so easily with today’s youth verbally, but my writing needs a bit of a personal touch to engage them.

Once they’ve heard me, they want to read it, but my books might not be picked up on their own.

That’s something I still need to work on.

And so I’m taking some courses right now, honing my skills, and part of that means clarifying my vision of what exactly I want to accomplish with my work.

One of the assignments asked me, if I could sum up my vision in one sentence, what would it be?

This isn’t about each individual story or project. This is about what I would say to humanity through the sum of my endeavors.

At first I came up with something very lame. I even knew it was lame, so I discarded it and went deeper. And I think I know what that one statement would be.

It’s: “With eloquence and the right angle of approach, you can get people to believe almost anything.”

And then we were asked what single action we would want people to take after reading my book. This is what I wrote:

“Open your mind to different ways of thinking and always question  your assumptions.”

Just putting that into words like that has clarified a lot for me!

I highly recommend you do the same.

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