Khanversations

Rukhsana’s thoughts on her journey of life, writing and sometimes—when she dares—a bit of politics.
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I think the most charming situation I’ve ever encountered has to do with people trying to outdo each other in politeness!

I mean talk about rivalry! That’s something to strive for!

I went to a school recently, they were having a multicultural festival and I guess I was part of it.

At the beginning, when they were introducing me, my host, a Parent Volunteer, got the kids to say ‘Assalaamu alaikum.’ It means “Peace be on you.”

Of course they mangled it a bit, but gee! The gesture was so cute!!!

I replied to them, “Wa alaikum assalam.” ‘On you be peace too.” and translated for them.

Then during lunch my host told me about a Japanese tradition that apparently the Japanese way of handing someone your card is to do with with both hands, and it’s considered impolite if you take it with only one hand. And before you put it away, you should look at the card. Anything else is rude.

I thought that was so interesting.

The Japanese are kind of known for their politeness and I socked it away as a piece of information to apply if and when dealing with Japanese people.

It didn’t occur to me to wonder if my host was Japanese Canadian.

And then in the rush of leaving, and I gave her my card, I used only one hand. And she said something about ‘two’ and I said, “Oh I don’t do that.” And then I remembered, and I realized what I’d done, and it was almost too late to say anything, even though I should have.

That was a few days ago, and it’s been bugging me ever since.

It’s a little gesture, and it would have meant a lot.

But I’d had no idea she was actually Japanese, I thought she just knew the cultural tradition like she’d known the Muslim greeting. Yes she looked Asian, but I didn’t assume she was. And we were in a ‘Canadian’ setting. But still…

I will get over it.

And I will chalk it up to experience for next time.

It was a small thing, one of those things that happens way faster than I can describe it.

Sigh.

And maybe I’m being hard on myself, my intentions were definitely not to cause any sort of offense. And the biggest thing I learned from the whole incident is how easy it is to inadvertently offend.

I meet a LOT of people who are super polite, and it occurs to me in those exchanges with each other we each are trying to vie for being the most polite.

Not in any sort of bad way, but in a good way.

I put this out there to counter some of the negativity and hate in the world.

We can choose what we focus on.

I like to focus on the positive.

Be aware of the negative, but strive for the positive.

Life’s just a bit more fun that way.

 

Trials versus Punishments…

I was talking to my mom recently and she said something that surprised me.

She said that you can tell when God is testing you versus punishing you based on your own behavior.

She said during a trial, you are behaving correctly, within God’s parameters, you’re not doing anything wrong but you’re still not getting the results you might want. That’s a trial.

And a punishment comes I guess, when you’re doing something very wrong.

I heard elsewhere that when that kind of thing happens, it means that God wants you to pray more, call on Him more. He wants you to connect with Him more.

I often find inspiration from the people around me.

I know people who patiently wait, and wait, and wait for something they really want.

They never stop asking God for it.

They keep asking, and even when they don’t receive it, they don’t get fed up and think OK, forget it then! No, they just keep on praying and doing what’s right, and keep on asking with hope. And eventually, long after the time line they had in mind passes, they do receive what they wanted.

Recently I received a rejection on a project I had high hopes for.

It happens.

A lot.

And I felt like saying, “Okay God. Doesn’t mean I’m going to stop. I’ll keep on keeping on.”

It really helped that I had other projects I was also invested in.

And it meant that I needed to send this project out to other publishers. Other places.

And perhaps I need to resist second guessing myself on whether it’s really that good.

And maintain my belief that yes, it is.

They just couldn’t see it.

I was wondering if I would cry.

Sometimes that helps.

I have found that pretending to be stoic when something really upsets you can be a useless exercise. It will make the hurt linger.

In the past, when something really awful happened, I’d often give myself a time to cry, and be sad. Let the disappointment and pain of rejection or whatever negative feeling I was having, flow over me, don’t hold back. Let the tears flow and pretty soon I found that they stopped on their own.

I’d tell myself go ahead, cry some more, but then, funnily enough, I couldn’t. The tears were gone. The sadness was subsiding.

I was okay.

I still didn’t like what had happened, but it wasn’t the end of the world.

And then I’d pick myself up and continue.

This time, the tears wouldn’t even come. I just kind of shrugged and got back to work.

Not sure what to make of that.

I also gave myself permission to ask for what I really want. I want to be world famous. I want my work to influence hearts and minds towards turning to their Lord and Creator or whatever they might call Him.

I want my books and stories to encourage all people to be their best selves, and do good towards each other.

And yeah, I want to make a lot of money while doing that!

What’s wrong with money??? Nothing!

And with it you can do a LOT of good!

So after talking to my mom, I realized this was a trial. I’m doing everything I can that’s right, and I’m still not getting the result I want. So this is a test, a trial, and I’ll just keep on.

Even then, I’m fortunate.

It’s not a punishment!

And I’m still doing fairly well in a field that’s getting increasingly difficult!

 

Just got back from three days presenting in Kingston, Ontario, and I’m feeling a good kind of tired.

It’s the kind of tired when you know you’ve given it your all, and you have high hopes that you changed a few minds and did some good.

I visited six schools, in three days, did eight presentations, and saw about nine hundred kids.

It’s funny how people first view me.

I had to collect some pictures of me ‘in action’ for promotional purposes.

And I always gravitate to this one photographer in India who took some amazing photographs of me ‘in action’ when I was presenting at the Bookaroo conference. That was in 2013, and I visited four cities in India: Delhi, Bangalore, Pune and Amritsar.

I think Shyam saw me in Delhi and he caught me in the throes of storytelling.

Now usually I don’t like seeing photographs of me storytelling because I make some pretty funny faces! But somehow he captured me at my most raw! And I love the photos!

You can see his album here: https://plus.google.com/photos/111439383080007025766/album/5949645780619793665/5949645813647969170

I absolutely love the photos! But then when I saw a comment on there, saying I looked like a ‘caricature’, I was shaken.

Do I?

Really?

And then I thought, well I guess if you only look at the photos, yeah, I might. And I kind of shrugged it off.

I do believe you have to risk looking foolish when you storytell. Otherwise you’re not giving it your all. And if people judge you just by a photo, then they’ll miss out.

People often make assumptions when they first see me.

I think it’s the hijab.

It comes with a LOT  of baggage!

But then I get in front of the kids and I’m just myself and almost inevitably, I have them for the entire time I’m doing the presentation.

Yesterday I had a very challenging group of kids.

I think there were a lot of behavioral and learning disabled students in the group and they were disruptive.

When a couple of boys started play fighting in front of me, I had no choice but to ask them to stop.

But mostly I’ve learned you need to ignore that kind of behavior in such a situation and forge on, ramp up your presentation so it becomes so engaging that the kids have to stop disrupting and listen.

It took a long time for that to happen. It was some time during the telling of Big Red Lollipop that they finally settled down.

I mean there were kindergarten to grade two, so that’s four year olds to about seven year olds.

I didn’t take it personally when a few of the kids were lolling around on the floor, but even those guys, were listening!

What you have to remember in these kinds of less than ideal situations, is that despite the appearances, there are still going to be quite a few kids who are listening, and will get a lot out of the presentation.

Sure enough, at the end so many kids came up to me and asked questions and told me how much they’d enjoyed it and a teacher asked me if I was a teacher because of the wonderful way I’d handled the kids.

That was quite a compliment! I told her no, I’m not a teacher! And she said, but you managed them so beautifully!

Ah, and here I was, thinking it was a disaster!

I’m so hard on myself!

If the kids aren’t transfixed, completely immobile, then I think it’s a disaster. Oh I’ve got to stop being so hard on myself.

Just a few nights ago, while I was in Kingston, I received an email from a student I’d seen fifteen years ago on International Women’s day!

She’s now a young woman studying in Berlin and she wrote me such a moving letter, of how my presentation that she’d attended FIFTEEN years ago, had moved her!!!

Wow.

I’m still wondering how I will respond. I need to tell her how much her letter meant to me. How sometimes you get comments like you’re a ‘caricature’ and you need to let them go and remember the big picture!

Kingston was an amazing experience.

And I came away from it thinking that initiatives like this is why we don’t have a lot of disenfranchisement in Canada and we’re more accepting of each other. We’re not as racist as we could be.

The school boards actually try to be inclusive!

So the day after, I’m exhausted, but quite happy. Alhamdu lillah.

I really love what I do!

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.

 

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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.”

 

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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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