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.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

BYPASSED and e.e. cummings

I've been busy with some amazing people lately. One of those amazing people is Sarah Alderman, photographer at AGPcollective, and director of the upcoming interactive documentary about the City of Coatesville, BYPASSED.

Sarah and I were introduced to each other through a mutual friend a few weeks back, and ever since, we've been on each other's wavelength. Sarah entrusted me with the task of crafting a spoken word poem that conveys what our city represents for the Coatesville project.

We filmed that piece this afternoon. Here's a behind-the-scenes look:




All that can be said for now is: I'm so excited to be working on a project like this, one that seeks stories, highlights the humans that tell them, and reveals their beautiful community.

Perhaps there should be a break in this page for what I'm about to share next, but I assure you it's not irrelevant. A quick glance at my previous posts will reveal that joy has somewhat escaped me as of late. I'm happy to say that intro/retrospection has allowed me to find myself again, and rediscover my purpose.

e.e. cummings once wrote a poem titled, 'nobody loses all the time', that shares the lesson I learned these past few days. The piece itself may be somewhat unpleasant, but the lesson remains a positive one: everyone, everything has a purpose. Peaks follow troughs.

nobody loses all the time

i had an uncle named
Sol who was a born failure and
nearly everybody said he should have gone
into vaudeville perhaps because my Uncle Sol could
sing McCann He Was A Diver on Xmas Eve like Hell Itself which
may or may not account for the fact that my Uncle

Sol indulged in that possibly most inexcusable
of all to use a highfalootin phrase
luxuries that is or to
wit farming and be
it needlessly
added

my Uncle Sol's farm
failed because the chickens
ate the vegetables so
my Uncle Sol had a
chicken farm till the
skunks ate the chickens when

my Uncle Sol
had a skunk farm but
the skunks caught cold and
died so
my Uncle Sol imitated the
skunks in a subtle manner

or by drowning himself in the watertank
but somebody who'd given my Unde Sol a Victor
Victrola and records while he lived presented to
him upon the auspicious occasion of his decease a
scrumptious not to mention splendiferous funeral with
tall boys in black gloves and flowers and everything and

i remember we all cried like the Missouri
when my Uncle Sol's coffin lurched because
somebody pressed a button
(and down went
my Uncle
Sol

and started a worm farm)

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Reborn


I used to come to this place often. I don't know when that changed.

I woke up today feeling the best I've felt in months. I felt driven, capable, filled with purpose. I felt reborn. Part of it came from a realization that I've been stagnant, immobilized by apathy. Most of it came from facing the fact that the only thing holding me back was myself.

I stepped outside today, completely alone, free from any real or virtual access to any other being, and felt nothing but the world and my body that inhabits it. That feeling, that natural solitude that seems so foreign in today's world, drew a reflection no mirror could ever create.

I came to this place today and saw myself again: the person I am and the person I am supposed to be. I don't when I changed, but regret is irrelevant. I've found myself again, and I'm happy.

Alhamdulillah.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

We're All Roadkill




Today, I almost sacrificed myself in order to save a bird.

I'm no expert at identifying birds, but it was large and dark, perhaps a crow or a vulture. It attempted to snatch roadkill that lay in the middle of the road. It began to fly away with its food just about five or six yards away from my vehicle. I swerved into oncoming traffic and was met with a symphony of honks and horns. After I returned to my lane, I immediately thought: 'did I almost sacrifice myself in order to save a bird?'

Why?

No, not why as in 'why did I almost kill myself to save a bird'; rather, why did I immediately assume I saved the bird? Truly, I was concerned more for my safety - my instinct assumed the bird would do me damage, and so I attempted to avoid it not considering alternate consequences. Less altruistic an act than instinctual. Less honorable an act than selfish.

I think we all have a tendency to assume we are noble, with better intentions than those we actually hide. Indeed, I saved the bird, but I would not have hesitated to slaughter it had there been a car any closer to causing my death in oncoming traffic.

Too often, we speak with similar proud tongues. We believe our own fictions, believe that we are better than we are. We believe others who present themselves as better than us. That's why reflection - deep, pensive retrospection - is so important. It reduces our fictions and exposes our true nature. 

Today, I did not almost kill myself to save a bird, I almost killed a bird while trying to save myself. I'm not half the honorable person my soul wishes to be.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Coming Clean: My Temporary Depression


I can't remember a night I did not sleep without draining hours staring into a computer screen. Modern day insomnia.

I can't remember a night where I lay in darkness, in silence, before slumber. The virtual world offers too many distractions. It offers panacea for the depressed mind. It brings the world to the alone.

It did happen tonight, though. I sat on my bed and heard nothing but the sound of Bollywood dramas and my father's echoing snores from downstairs. I took my glasses off and I stared at my midnight snack -- no, that's a lie -- dinner. A slice of triple mousse cake & five cookies in a paper plate.

I didn't think twice when I silently scavenged these foods out of my fridge and pantry. I didn't think twice as I brought them to my bed upstairs. I was hungry, and I had only eaten once at lunch earlier in the day; chicken tenders and sweet potato fries.


I was hungry, and so I took my first bite and swallowed more than cake. The hunger was gone, but not the ache. I stared at my plate and I remembered a video I recently watched in my late-night Internet travels, a story told by Imam Khalid Latif told at an NYC Story Slam two years ago.

He tells a story about going to visit his mother late at night. As she is preparing his favorite food with special love, she drops a utensil, sparking Latif's realization that his mother is growing older.

He tells a story of inevitable separation. He tells a story about choice. His mother's food, the way she makes it, is temporary, unlike foods he can choose to eat or make himself. Her food in that way is unique. He says that a day will come where she will be gone, and how his heart will then ache.

It is not a story of relative blessings. I open my fridge and there has always been an abundance of food compared to many in this world whose stomachs ache deeper than I will ever know. That blessing is never ignored or forgotten.

It's simply a story about a hunger for love.

My mother dropped many utensils in her final months of life. In extreme discomfort, she still somehow poured all her love into her food. Breakfast, lunch, dinner was always there -- whatever it was -- and it was always fulfilling. It was always special, even if it had not been recognized or admired then.

I opened my fridge earlier tonight and yes, there were foods made by my gracious neighbors, some even things my mother would make. But I chose triple mousse cake and cookies, without thinking twice. And when I swallowed it, I realized that had I chosen even my neighbor's food, that ache would still remain. Any other night, perhaps I would have finished the cake. I would have munched on snacks whilst watching YouTube videos until 4am. But not tonight. Not in silence.

That's depression. This -- me writing this at 2:42am -- this is my depression. It's real, it often brings tears, it often sparks anxiety, and it always triggers in absence of sound. It always hurts when I stare at blank ceilings at night and ponder how we will afford this house, how I will graduate college, how I will get a decent job. It makes me think about my mother's death, my father's deteriorating health. It makes me look at a full fridge and see it as empty. It makes me ignore my faith and forget my blessings. It disguises itself as reasonable thinking and encourages unreasonable solutions. It forces me to reflect upon why I'm doing anything and everything I do. It makes me doubt religion and discover my insecurities. It masks itself as humility while shattering my confidence and aspirations.

It makes me hate myself and who it makes me think I am becoming.

And the only anti-depressant is these words, this recognition. I take solace in knowing that like my mother's short life, like her delicious food, like this cake and cookies -- this depression, too, is temporary.


This too shall pass. Even if I find myself at this time tomorrow gazing into a pixelated abyss, feeding my depression induced insomnia into the dark hours of the night. That too will pass.

It will always be temporary.