Monday, March 28, 2016

We All Know A Town Like This

"By all practical measures, Coatesville is 2 square miles of ghetto." That's how Al Jazeera America described my city in an article this year.

We all know a town like this: a place you've been warned to bypass instead of cut through, a place known more for its stigma than its stories. BYPASSED is an interactive documentary about one such place, the city of Coatesville. The poorest municipality within the state's wealthiest county, Coatesville is a once-prosperous steel town that has struggled to reinvent itself in a postindustrial America.

This documentary serves to go beyond the biased local media and to share the real Coatesville with the outside world.

Instead of dwelling on the negatives, our project has been designed to celebrate residents' hope and determination to challenge the stereotypes forced upon them by mainstream media.

It's a great honor and privilege to be able to work on this project with project director and my friend, Sarah Alderman, but the BYPASSED team cannot do this alone. We urge you to watch this trailer, we dare you not to be moved, and we ask you to help us by funding this critical project. Whether it is $5 or $50 or $500, we need and appreciate your support.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

When Political Correctness Trumps Being Incorrect

Let's start with this case in point.
Many political commentators have detailed quite cogent arguments explaining Donald Trump's mysterious appeal - some of which have described his use of brief language as "refreshingly clear and forthright" in comparison to the convoluted prose of his more politically experienced counterparts.

The appeal is not hard to comprehend. To citizens frustrated with the tradition of empty promises from politicians, Trump's plain speak brings new cadence & direction to politics. His response to critics of his method & to those who are fine with the norm of political jargon is where that direction seems especially off-putting:

"I am so tired of this politically correct crap."

The conservative sect of the United States has, in recent decades, championed the cause against being 'P.C.' in a genuine effort to eliminate the overcorrection of language in politics. But Trump, and many establishment politicians, have taken the game to another level.

Trump and those who agree with his brand of politics have strived towards associating political correctness with censorship of free speech. While that may sound like a fair description, the tradition of political correctness has not been bound to the elimination of free speech as it much as it has been concerned with the excessive sophistication of political speech.

In other words, forcing political correctness is not necessarily eliminating the truth from being spoken, it is about overdressing the truth to lessen any potential for controversy or contention.

The fight against political correctness that Donald Trump has championed has less to do with free speech and more to do with consequence-free speech: that is, the ability to speak whatever comes to mind without any regard to societal or emotional impact. That is problematic.

Trump's 'political incorrectness' that has apparently appealed to so many voters does not align with the sincere conservative cause of eliminating 'P.C.' culture. While he has indeed challenged the norm of convoluted speech that has hindered the American political system, he has done so at the system's peril. This is evident in the American public's struggle to differentiate between the manner in which he speaks and the content of his rhetoric.

There is a difference between having the courage to be politically incorrect, and simply being incorrect. Most importantly, there is a difference between speaking honestly and speaking the truth.

And that's the main issue with the prospect of Donald Trump leading a nation. He guises insult in what he defines as straight-talk. He has convinced all who support his cause to 'Make America Great Again' that making repulsive comments is "a revolutionary act, a badge of honor and a long-overdue tipping of society’s scales back toward reason and truth" - as Kathleen Parker so aptly puts it.

In truth, Trump is on the wrong side of that scale. Most often, when his supporters believe what he is saying is refreshingly politically incorrect, he is insinuating a hateful mindset that is merely incorrect. It's not telling it how it is, it's not getting right to the point. It's saying whatever he wants to say sans any regard of potential consequence. Political correctness might be better than the dreadful comments he so often spews.

Calling Megyn Kelly a 'bimbo' would not be politically correct. What Trump fails to realize is that calling her that would not be 'politically incorrect', either. It would simply be incorrect. It would be repulsive and misogynist. Insinuating Mexico 'sends rapists' to the United States is not audacious political incorrectness, it is simply demagoguery. It is hate and xenophobia and untruth so troublingly cloaked.

Ultimately, Trump's brand of political incorrectness, is not political incorrectness at all.

Near the end of that same speech in which Trump proclaimed that people entering the United States from Mexico illegally are murderers and rapists, he stated "the American dream is dead." To his credit, for a man running to lead this nation, that is truly a politically incorrect statement. Rare coming from him. Although, as an optimist, it's hard to believe he's right.

But - if he does somehow succeed in adding the honorable status of POTUS on his résumé, history might regard that as the truest statement Donald Trump ever made.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

I Shaved My Beard, And It Meant Something

I almost chose not to write this.

It seemed silly and quite honestly pretentious to pontificate an experience so common among adult men – the grow & mow of facial hair. What makes my beard so special?

And then I quickly realized how often I begin to ask these sort of questions, interrogating myself before I speak, think – write. My beard doesn't have to be special. Not all things must be special to deserve being written about. Sometimes, we should write about the common, the ordinary, the mundane. Ironically, they're the things we forget to ponder, to remember . . .
I stopped shaving my beard the day Mama died.

It wasn't a conscious decision at first. Frankly, the first few weeks, it was like I'd simply forgotten. But just some weeks after that, forgetfulness became choice. It became giving up. Months and months of giving up growing on my face like a derelict garden.

What became humorous were comments, and sometimes even compliments, from friends. Some assumed my beard was a religious epiphany, carrying a spiritual purpose – an attempt to don the Prophetic appearance. Certain pious folk even condemned the mere idea of me eventually returning to a clean face, citing Islamic tales prohibiting the shaving of beards. Yet no one named a Qu'ranic decree – because there aren't any – and so I feared not.

Some assumed I was simply accessorizing my face, that I was letting my beard grow to simply grow a beard. Some thought it looked nice, some though it looked terrible. Most, of course, didn't care.

I was one of most. I honestly didn't care.

Even as I kept it nice and tidy, trimmed and shaped – it remained a metaphor of weight. It sponged up over a year's worth of grief-induced sweat and depressed tears. It grew longer and heavier as I shrunk and hid beneath it.

No, it wasn't special at all. But it was that serious. It is that serious, to me, because when I lost Mama, I felt like I lost a part of myself. And in losing myself, I lost my ability to care, to feel anything other than apathetic. The beard cloaked me with a layer of false manhood & maturity like a costume, a façade. It made me look and feel like a person completely different than Mama knew – and I took an uncomfortable solace in that. I looked in the mirror and I saw an illusion of perseverance. I convinced myself I was moving on.

And so, when I finally shaved my beard yesterday morning, it meant something. Because finally, after over a year without Mama's presence, I looked in the mirror and didn't see an illusion. I saw perseverance. I no longer had to convince myself I was moving on . . . I've moved on. I feel like myself again. I had my Boehner moment – "Today is the day, as simple as that" – and I mowed away the weight.

And as silly as that may sound, as silly as it really is, all I know is now I feel free.

I can grow again.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Stories At Sunset | A Ramadan Reflection

My Ramadan reflection was featured in Muslim Public Affairs Council's #StoryAtSunset photo series. Read more reflections on their Facebook page.

Ramadan Day 20: Aadil Malik from Coatesville, Pennsylvania #StoriesAtSunset"Ramadan in its most rudimentary struggle...
Posted by Muslim Public Affairs Council on Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Monday, July 6, 2015

BYPASSED, the poem

I'm so excited, honored and privileged to be able to speak about this community of beautiful people -- this city that can and will persevere beyond headlines. Click play below to hear the poem & scroll down through the incredible photos of Coatesville and its people taken by Sarah Alderman:

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Why This Ramadan Is Completely Different

Mama reading the Holy Qur'an.
If there was a scale of religiosity varying from not religious, to soft, to hard religous, my family and I would have been right in the middle of soft. Growing up, Islam maintained vast significance in our lives. We were taught the creed at a very young age and told to practice it daily. Mama would not let me sleep at night unless I had read, reviewed, and memorized the last ten surahs, Ayat-ul-Kursi, the six kalimahs, and so on. My father would scold me if he learned I hadn't read the Qur'an.

Yet still, despite our apparent faith, our practice was weak. For most of my childhood and adolescence, Mama and Daddy were not 'religious'. They lived by the principles but they did not completely adhere to the faith. We didn't eat pork, only ate Halal meat, did not swear, were scolded for sin, but we still did not pray five times a day as Islam required. Mama did not wear hijab, and therefore did not inspire her daughters to do so either. We were raised in an Islamic atmosphere more than we were raised Muslim; we feared sin more than we feared Allah.

Things changed when Mama returned from Hajj, her pilgrimage to Mecca, in 2007. Upon her return, she vowed to wear a headscarf, and sought forgiveness in daily repentance and prayer. She was seldom seen without a Qur'an in her hand. She was a completely new person.

And when we moved out of Philadelphia to a small town right outside Coatesville, Pennsylvania, Daddy rekindled his relationship with his Lord as well. One Ramadan morning in 2009, a Muslim neighbor saw us mowing our lawn and she told us about Masjid Ar-Rahman, a mosque downtown where her husband led prayer. She invited us to the mosque that night for iftar.

I'll never forget that night. My father, then unabashed by what now I can objectively diagnose as racism, said to me, sitting among at a predominately African American congregation:  "We can't come to this masjid. This is not a good neighborhood." His tongue committed worse, pointing out a Muslim who had entered the masjid late, after prayer had ended, "Look, these people probably only came to eat the food."

The Muslim he had pointed out that night was Brother Abdul Aleem. We soon learned he was the founder of Masjid Ar-Rahman. He had built the mosque in 2004 by himself, imported the rugs and chandeliers from Egypt while he was ill, bed-ridden, hoping for a kidney donor to save his life.

Abdul Aleem with my father.
Abdul Aleem became my father's best friend. How unlikely a relationship it was, but in the house of God it seemed all things were possible. My father was soon himself diagnosed with kidney cancer, which drew him closer to Allah, closer to Abdul Aleem and the mosque. He, like my mother, sought forgiveness for his sins. And Abdul Aleem helped him do so. He rid my father of the racism that plagued his mind. He softened my father's heart. And together, they became close in their worship of their Lord.

Abdul Aleem passed away just a few days ago. His funeral occurred on the first day of Ramadan, what we Muslims believe to be the holiest month of the year. How fitting - the purest exit from this Earth for one of the holiest men I've ever met.

Many Ramadans have come and gone, but this year is completely different. I share all of this backstory to simply tell one story, and that's the journey of my faith. I did not grow in a strict household. We were Muslim, but we were reckless. I was already a young adult when I finally saw Mama and Daddy practice the Islam they always tried to preach. Their daughters were too far gone.

And today, I find myself in an intense struggle with my faith. Mama is no longer here with us, her journey has ended. My father is barely still here; his words have become so incomprehensible, I can no longer find solace in him when my heart is in despair.

The most significant reason this Ramadan is different - and perhaps most perilous - is that I know a dark shadow has cast upon my stone heart. This heart has been forced to bear years of pain, and as a result I have disguised cold apathy as perseverance. I have forgotten what it feels like to feel. My arid cheeks long for the day they will feel tears again.

I am numb. I am numbed by the loss, by the pain of a father, by the disregard of his daughters, by racial inequities, police brutality, mass shootings, irreligious terror, small coffins. I am numb to it.

And so this Ramadan, I long for my heart to be softened. I beg to be vulnerable again. I pray these fasts to starve my soul until I feel again. Until I find myself on my knees, staring at this world's many ills and finding hope in any panacea I can bring.

This Ramadan is completely different, because like my mother after Hajj, like my father after Abdul Aleem - I seek to be a different man because of it.

"Indeed, Allah will not change the condition of man until man changes what is in himself." (13:11)

Friday, June 19, 2015

Walking By Empty Coffee Cups & Cardboard Signs

I worked on the 12th floor, so naturally, the elevator was going to make plenty of stops on the way down to the lobby as we all left work. That day, it only stopped on the 6th, a floor occupied by one of the largest law firms in Delaware. A man dressed in a well-tailored suit stepped in to the elevator. I followed him out of our building to the parking lot when I saw him being stopped by a distressed woman. It was hard to distinguish her tears from her sweat. She wore a heavily stained t-shirt and a pair of smeared men's shorts. She held a container of strawberries in hand, likely given to her by someone at the farmer's market nearby.

She approached the man in front of me, saying, "Please, just buy me a sandwich."

Her words brought no hesitation in the man's brisk footsteps. He raised his hand and waved her away. Didn't bat an eye. She approached me right after.

"I just need some money to buy a sandwich, please..."

I asked her how much a sandwich costs. She told me probably $5 or $6. As I pulled out my wallet, she sobbed.

"I have cancer." In one quick motion, she pulled down her shorts and revealed herself. "I'm all wet, please I just need to buy some Depend."

My heart paced faster than those man's footsteps. Heavier than his wallet. I opened my wallet and saw that I only had $8 left in cash.

"My mom has that same cancer."

I gave her all I had, and I walked away. I felt helpless -- not because I wasn't able to give the woman more, but because I couldn't stop that man who possibly could have. A man with obvious wealth, yet not a second to spare to use it to help someone in need.

We have a tendency to drive by cardboard signs and walk by empty coffee cups and ignore the humans that hold them. Humans.

My Mama did have that same cancer. And come to think of it, so could the mother of the man who didn't care to spare a second to even listen. So could your mother. So could your grandmother, your sister, your wife, your daughter. No one is immune to calamity.

I was not passing judgement on the man just as I did not pass judgement on the woman. Many will believe I was naive to have given a 'panhandler' money that was probably not used to buy a sandwich. But the question is not of naivety, it's of conscience. The point is not stopping to give money. The point is stopping.

That day, I witnessed a man who could have stopped, who could have felt, who could have cared. But instead, like many of us do every single day, he chose to walk faster, build walls, and chase this world.

I am in no way saying I'm a better person for stopping. I am in every way saying I'm human. And in a world of suffering and pain, our humanity is something we should never sacrifice.