Tag Archives: Muslim

I hate movies; or How to eviscerate an idea

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem.

Photo by Bruno Hamzagic

Assalam alaikum wr wb,

So help me God, I hate movies.

Day after day, week after week, I watch trailers, I look at posters, I scan the cinema listings hopefully, looking for something worth watching.


Less than nothing.  A slap in the face. A grab for my wallet.

I’m not interested in franchises anymore. I’m not interested in movie stars. I’m not interested in explosions.

I am not interested in shock, awe, blood, gore. I am not interested in laughter or tears. Those are empty emotions and can be triggered by practically anything I pull up on YouTube.

I would like a story.

How do you define a story?

A story means something to you. Not to me, the viewer, the ticket-buyer, the audience member, the cat-caller. To you, the story-teller.

Why do I love listening to my parents tell stories? Because they are joyful in the telling and I can see it in their faces. And through that joy, I begin to understand their values, their experiences, their beliefs, however different we are.

As we began to stop telling each other stories, I understood them less and less and we fought more and more.

The fact is, story allows me to empathize in a way that no other medium has achieved.

That is why I hate everything that is in the cinema right now. It’s a blatant insulting play for profit. It desecrates story and the power of the human spirit.

I don’t mean to say that stars, explosions and high drama are bad things. I think they just have to be used in the right way.

I loved Michael Clayton. It showed a veneer of real filth underneath a sterile world. It showed two men coming apart at the seams. Yes it had George Clooney and Sydney Pollack in it. But it was a great story.

I loved Ides of March too for much the same reason. It seemed real to me.

I follow the work of Ryan Gosling, not just because he’s an incredible actor, but mainly because he has a knack for picking exceptional projects. There has not been one movie of his that I’ve seen that I’ve not enjoyed and that I wouldn’t watch repeatedly and that I wouldn’t badger my husband into seeing.

Fo’ rizzle.

So why am I ranting on a Monday morning?

I’ve been generating ideas for The Quest 2013.

There’s plenty of literature on how to test a concept for the marketplace. I particularly recommend Save The Cat’s program of market research.

The question is – how do you know if a story concept is right for you? How do you gauge your level of passion for it? How do you know that it’s touching some deep dark place rather than simply treading tired old ground?

This isn’t just about generating the passion to go the long haul with each project. It’s about having a product at the end, that no matter what happens, you can be proud of. Because you poured your heart and soul into it. Because you told the truth, no matter how much it hurt.

That sort of energy will sustain a career, in my opinion, and that’s what I’m cultivating.

To that end, I’ve been asking a lot of questions about each idea.

As a viewer:

  1. Why would I watch this movie? What elements would make me book that ticket in advance?
  2. What elements would make me avoid this movie? What makes me shriek much like I did above?

These two questions allow me to really get to the nub of what sort of experience I want as a movie-goer.

As a writer (this is the clever bit):

  1. In what ways is this idea within my comfort zone of my abilities, interests, previous writing experience, etc?
  2. In what ways is this out of my comfort zone in the same ways?

It’s maddeningly simple, but for me, it’s helping me shape a story that’s been knocking around in my head for months now.

More importantly, it’s helping me commit to that story. Because I know why I’m writing it. Even if the telling is mediocre and the reception is poor.

Let me know what your thoughts are. And for God’s sake, if you’re a filmmaker with a movie that means something, please tell me about it. I’m starving for something real.

Wasalam and Fee Amanillah (in other words, Godspeed),

The Happy Muslimah

My friend Fear and 2013

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

Assalam alaikum wr wb!

Man, it’s been a wild year huh?

Early January this year, I went to a cousin’s engagement. On our way back to Colombo, my family’s car got hit by two buses. That’s right. Not one. TWO.

Isn’t that wild?

Alhamdulillah, everyone walked away from that accident.

I got a good knock on the head, though, which resulted in a dramatic swelling of my face as the blood from my head injury fell down into my eye sockets.

The effect my face had on people was hilarious. I scared children and made women cry.

I look back on that incident and I have to say, not only am I grateful, I am terrifically happy.

As odd as it sounds, we couldn’t have chosen better timing and a better location to have a disaster. Our entire family was on that same road home.  From wherever they were, they all turned around and came back to aid my mom and dad.  I can say with utmost certainty; there are far worse places to have a mild concussion.

I can’t remember much of the 12 hours or so after the accident and even in the weeks after, as my brain recuperated, my short term memory was a bit wonky. My big brother (who specializes in emergency medicine) said there’s nothing to worry about; I probably felt drowsy.  Thinking back, waking up in the middle of conversations just adds to that hilarity of the situation.

But my parents were not that amused. They were fully conscious, terrified and anxious.

The capital-F Fear has lasted a bit too long. It’s been almost a year now. My father is still frightened to drive, thinking he fell asleep at the wheel that day. He tells me, “I’m too old to drive. I am too tired. I am too distracted. ” The Fear cripples him.

Why was I capital-H Happy? Why was he Afraid? Was it because I was unconscious? Was it because I was naive? Was it because I simply didn’t care?

Recently I have been quite fearful myself. A recent social engagement left me crabby and shaking.

I have been watching my ‘I am’ statements recently and found there is a shocking prevalence of a kind of self-smack talk. “I don’t like new people. I am not good with new people. I am not good with unfamiliar situations. I am a nervous person. I am a shy person.”

I thought of something else I’d learned recently.

Watch your thoughts, for they become words. Watch your words, for they become actions. Watch your actions, for they become habits. Watch your habits, for they become your character. And watch your character, for it becomes your destiny. What we think, we become. My father always said that. And I think I am fine.

I’ve heard this many times, but honestly it’s only made sense now.

These fearful thoughts have probably become my character. A photographer once told me she was surprised that I am a comedian because I was so timid.

“Like a mouse?” I thought at the time. I wasn’t angry; I was just sad that my Fear was so evident. Still I managed to have a kick-butt photo shoot.

On the morning of that social gathering, I sat very still and quiet and listened to my thoughts.

I was frightened of other people. I thought they would hurt me. I thought they would prey on my vulnerability. I thought they would bully me.

Good Lord, where did these horrid thoughts come from?

I’m not going to blame anyone else. I’m not going to blame some monolithic culture for branding a tiny South East Asian woman with stereotypical qualities.

Wherever they came from, they must be stopped. Because I don’t want to ‘become’ frightened. I don’t want my destiny to be shrinking away in the corners of rooms, waiting for someone to notice me and being scared when they do.  Allah Subhaana Wa Ta’aala is my Protector and His world is too big and too beautiful Mashallah.

I’ve learned that my friend Fear doesn’t leave when asked. He doesn’t leave when yelled at. And he doesn’t budge, even if you tell him to go back where he came from.

I have started changing my thoughts consciously. I’ve started to turn “I am shy” to “I am hopeful”, “I am thoughtful”, “I am observant”, “I am peaceful”. Nothing wrong with not talking. When you listen you learn so much about so many new things. When you consciously listen, it takes a bit of hard work. You have to shelve your ego and give the other person the space to express themselves. I’m still trying but Alhamdulillah it’s a richly rewarding experience.

The day of the accident, I was happy because I wasn’t alone. That day and all the days after that, every time I woke up someone I loved was there. It was like the world’s best Facebook picture slideshow.

And the only person who was hurt was me and I knew it wasn’t that bad. You know when something inside you is changed forever and Alhamdulillah that didn’t happen that day.

That particular week, I was just grateful for every single silly little thing, from my parents to TV, from boiled eggs to pain medication, from hugs to the wind, to beautiful confusing Sri Lanka to lovely and infuriating Dubai.

Hopefully insha Allah in changing my thoughts, I will change my character. Hopefully insha Allah I will nurture peace, whether my friend Fear is with me or not.

That, more than anything, is my intention for 2013 insha Allah.

Have a blessed year. Have a blessed life insha Allah!

Wassalam and Fee Amanillah.

The Happy (and fully healed) Muslimah.

Art is worship Part III: Relaxation

via http://www.freedigitalphotos.net

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem.

Assalam alaikum wr wb, sister or brother.

I am going to do something I don’t do enough. I am going to be honest.

Brother and sister, I am truly too exhausted to make art.

It’s been a draining couple of years. My life has felt like a train-wreck and I have been trying desperately with my petty mortal hands to control it.

I have expected situations to be different but they haven’t been. I have expected people to behave a certain way but they haven’t. Things have changed when I had hoped they would stay the same. Things have stayed the same when I have prayed they would change. But the details are unimportant.

My feelings are not. I have disappointed, sometimes angry, exhausted all the time.

I’m sleeping like crazy. I can’t eat. I can’t think. I have absolutely no creative energy to tackle anything long-form like a screenplay or a novel. The thought of a deadline makes me want to vomit.

Alhamdulillah I have written some poetry, though.

I think it’s about time that I took an extended period of rest. Regroup my spirits, learn to forgive myself and others, find my footing a little maybe. Or learn to just let it slide and accept Allah (SWT)’s plan for me.

As soon as I say that though, some strange demon in the depths of my belly stands jumping up and down, making scratch marks in my inside, shouting with the voices of my parents, a thousand teachers from over the years.

“You have no right to relax! People like you, less-than-geniuses, have to work your butts off to get anywhere – I mean ANYWHERE! – in life! Full tension every day all the time! That’s the price you pay for being born the way you are.

What have you achieved in your adult life? Nothing.

Has your writing changed anyone’s life? No. Not even your own.”

(This is not true. I’ve discovered a lot of things about myself and others through my work. Though it has been private, it has definitely been transformative.)

“Have you made your mark on the world? Like your heroes, Sarah Kay and Phil Kaye and Ani DiFranco? Have you made any of those mind-blowing films you keep dreaming of? Have you rivaled Mr. Scorsese or Mr. Kauffman? “

(Is it really necessary for me to change the world? I thought my work was for Allah (SWT). Then it simply is what it is, the story truer than the truth. It’s my duty to tell it, whether anyone cares to listen or not. Whether it changes anything or not.)

“What don’t you have enough of? Time.

What are you getting? Older. You’re 25 years old, 26 next month. Every day brings you closer to middle age and motherhood. Increased responsibilities, lower energy levels and your already poor time management skills will simply fall apart under the pressure.”

I ask real people for advice and it is always conflicting.

“You’re trying too hard.”

“You’re not working hard or smart enough.”

“You’re too young.”

“You’re too old.”

“You don’t give yourself enough credit.”

“You’re resting too much on your laurels.”

I find myself facing a mountain. Make this film. Write this screenplay. Find collaborators who are as excited about your work as you are. And for a while, I feel energetic. But then something happens, not really a discrete incident but just something else. Something outside of me. Maybe my father calls and or my mother or some boring administrative task takes up my entire day and my body just sinks beneath despair.

I feel like the world doesn’t want me to write or create. Perhaps Allah (SWT) is trying to tell me that my destiny is to be mediocre and house-bound like a not particularly cute cat.

I find myself fighting with the people I love. Not being able to tell them how I feel. How lost, alone and confused.

It’s time I took a little time off from the rat-race insha Allah. Whatever I’ve been doing hasn’t been working. This means finding a new path. Maybe recalibrating my beliefs. Doesn’t mean I’m going to stop writing. On the contrary, I think the fact that I’ve written so little has contributed to my exhaustion.

I’ll worship a lot more. I need it more than I think.

I’ll exercise too. Take long walks in nature. Run around after children (will somebody please lend me their children kthx), kung fu, kickboxing, aerobics maybe.

I’ll spend a lot of time outside of my comfort zone, especially when it comes to people and my interactions with them. Maybe I’ll try explaining spoken-word to my husband LOL. Yesterday, I showed him “When Love Arrives” and his mind just went blank.

And yes I think I will spend a lot of time writing. I will try insha Allah to rediscover the play in art, try to refill the well a little bit. Maybe I will work on a long-term project but as something fun, not as something that’s ever going to see the light of day.

I’m not going to be telling you how it’s going because the aim is not for it to be going anywhere.

I’m just going to be myself for a while. I’m going to find out what that means insha Allah.

Wassalam and Fee Amanillah.


Ramadan reflections: On Time

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

From http://www.freedigitalphotos.net

Assalam alaikum warahmatullahi wabarakatahu, brothers and sisters.

Ramadan Mubarak!

My sincere apologies for letting this blog lapse. My wedding was a whirlwind and thereafter, I was too blissed out to even look at my laptop. I kid you not – I survived without Internet for DAYS.

Which segues quite nicely into what should be on all our minds and hearts (and not in our stomachs) these past 3 weeks.

Where I am in Colombo, it’s the 18th day of Ramadan, the Month of Mercy.

The last ten days are coming up very quickly. In one of their nights is hidden Allah’s Mercy, the Night of Power. That night, if spent in worship, are equal to a thousand months of worship. That’s 83.3 years. A life-time. Almost.

Our life-times seem to be getting longer due to modern medicine. Though frankly, I’m not sure we are any healthier in mind, body or spirit.

I know that I am considered young and that my life stretches ahead of me. That apparently, I have ‘lots’ of time. Yet my most frequent complaint is that I don’t have enough time.

I have been meaning to put away my nafs and study hijaab and stand-up comedy. Really figure out whether I am doing the right thing in those two areas.

But I have not had the time.

What has stolen my time?

Unexpected blessings

Until a couple of days ago, my sister-in-law (my husband’s sister) and her three children were also living with us. Little kids can be REALLY energetic and playful. The fact that they aren’t fasting and I am widened the energy gulf between us. Somehow the two youngest took a shine to me – maybe because my slight frame and round face make me look like a child that by some miracle has adult privileges. A worth ally indeed. So some of my day was spent playing and talking and listening to them.

Truth be told, I didn’t realize what a blessing they were until they were gone. It’s amazing how honest and imaginative and unconditionally loving children can be.

I have also decided to try taking my freelance writing career online. Man, that’s exciting work. I never was very good at closing a sale in person but online, somehow there’s a fire lit in me.  I am chasing and vetting clients and working out pricing strategies like I’ve been doing it all my life.

That entire process has brought up another frightening truth. Money. The possibility of making, losing or spending money drives me crazy.

I am not going to try and justify it by saying I’ve inherited emotional baggage from my parents who had poor childhoods. The fact of the matter is, money has a very strong emotional charge for me.

That needs to change. Yeah, we need money, but making it our ‘ilah’ (God) will alienate our friends and family and give us a hernia. And buy us a one-way ticket to hell.

Unexpected trials

Our maid has left for a week to attend a family gathering, so here we are, saddled with cooking and housework in the Month of Mercy.

Still it’s a good opportunity for me to learn to make the kanji, rolls and patties that everyone loves here and that my husband is so homesick for when he is out of Sri Lanka.

I’ve never been a fan of Sri Lankan cuisine. But I’m growing to quite like it now, oddly enough.

Being away from my mother has been an unexpected trial too. Unlike before, when I was living with her, I have no real-time update on her condition. I have to call and ask her, and like all good mothers, her reports are often only half-truths.

I visit her often but not often enough. I hate being in the dark, but I need to relinquish control and trust that Allah (subhaana wa ta’aala) is taking care of her.

Good old-fashioned distraction

My husband and I watched 3 episodes of Dexter last night.

I just Googled Galadriel for no good reason. Well, actually, the trailer for the new Hobbit movie seems to insinuate that she and Gandalf were having it off. Wanted to check if there was any precedent for that in the books.

There isn’t, in case you were wondering.

Still not really the most urgent matter in the world. Sigh.

There are still 12 more days. I can turn this around insha Allah.

Hope your Ramadans are fruitful and blessed insha Allah. Will see you after Eid.
Wassalam and Fee Amanillah,

The Happy (and fasting) Muslimah.

The value of illness

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

Assalam alaikum wr wb, peeps!

So my mother recently began experiencing nerve problems in her hand. They started with silly things – dropping plates, slipping and cutting herself when cooking.But now it is almost completely non-functional. It just hangs there, waiting for relief.

And it hurts her too.

Now her daily activities are no longer as simple as they used to be – very often, she needs assistance dressing, cooking, cleaning. We have been helping her as much as we can, but obviously we have also been looking desperately for a cure.

We have been now around the block (literally – there are four clinics in a few blocks’ radius here in Dubai) looking for a diagnosis. They got nothin’.

We went to Sri Lanka. After a flurry of painful, embarrassing and sometimes excruciating tests – for the wallet and the heart- nothing there either. After this trying ordeal, I flew back in to Dubai last weekend to get back to work. But my father says that my mother needs me now as he is preparing to come back to our businesses.

So out I go to Sri Lanka again.

Illness is a funny thing. It’s like an unwanted visitor, taking residence not in your house, your room, your closet or your bathroom, but somewhere else, somewhere more sacred – your body.

But illness is also an incredible teacher. Illness has taught me that I cannot be truly compassionate unless I break down the barrier between my mother and I. ‘Tough love’ never worked during my illness and it won’t work during hers. ‘Tough love’ usually happens when you can’t accept that the other person is in pain and is infringing on your life; I think it’s an ultimately selfish form of compassion.

Yes, we have had our moments – in fact, we continue to have those moments even as I help her on with her shalwar kameez. But now I understand. I understand the worry and the pain and the suffering, the “What will happen if I die? Who will take care of you now?” Because when I left her to come back to Dubai (a much tinier change than DEATH), I was thinking, “What will Mama do without me now?” It’s the same thing, just different hearts.

Illness takes no prisoners. It sits and it stays till you take action. But you can never be sure if it’ll work or not. As in all things in life, you are never sure. The end result is with Allah (SWT). Tawakkul and Yaqeen are such precious resources at a time like this. It’s the difference between spiritual death and the energy to take the next step.

People always say that you don’t know what you can do until you do it. And it’s usually those big things they are talking about – writing a novel, building a house, lifting a truck with your bare hands.

But illness makes you super-human. It’s a paradox, but those finest of human qualities – patience, strength, faith – finds their deepest and truest expression when the firm vessel they are housed in slowly begins to fade.

I can’t think how many times I have looked my mother in the eyes and told her, “Just a little while longer. It’s all going to be over soon.”

And she has said to me, “Okay.” Probably the first time in years we have agreed on anything.

You think you’ve scratched the bottom of the barrel, but suddenly there’s just a little more left. You can go on just one more day. And maybe today, you’ll figure this out.

I think the best thing that has come out of this illness is that my mother and I are renegotiating the terms of our relationship – at least Insha Allah I hope so. We’ve kind of turned the mother-child relationship on its head a little, and insha Allah, that’s exactly what we need to move over the impasse in communications we’ve hit recently.

It’s a delicate process. I’ll let you know how that goes.

Another rather obvious lesson illness has taught me – jolly well exercise and eat right or bad things will happen. I’m serious.

May Allah (SWT) keep all of us healthy Ameen!

Wassalam and Fee Amanillah,

The Happy Muslimah

5 Lessons Screenwriters Can Learn from Ramadan

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

Assalam alaikum warahmatullahi wabarakatahu!

So the blessed month is upon me and I’ve been using it to reflect on the things I need the most in my life, both spiritual and materialistic.

To those of you who don’t know what Ramadan is, it is the month in which the Islamic holy book, the Noble Qur’an, was sent down, i.e. the word of God in unadulterated form. The Qur’an is one of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)’s many miracles, as he was an illiterate man, yet he was given words that moved the Arabs (who were great poets). We honor its revelation to us by fasting.

Fasting is about not eating between sunset and sundown, true, but it’s also about controlling your temper and staying away from sin and becoming truly conscious of God’s blessings and guidance in your life (called taqwa in Arabic). The gates of heaven are thrown open and Satan is tied up for the entire month and every good deed is rewarded multiple times in this month. So it is truly a blessed month.

Personally I can well and truly feel that blessing. You see, being a South East Asian gives you an inferiority complex from birth. Being a hardcore practicing Muslim and an artist, well, that just compounds it. In this month, I have no fear being myself. Female, Muslim, an artist – a servant of God in all respects. Whereas in other months, sometimes I worry what people think of me a little too much. The work of Satan and a uniquely Asian affliction.

That aside, I have come to the conclusion that fasting has many lessons to teach us screenwriters. Here are but a few I could think of:

1.       Be prepared.

I went into Ramadan having fasted a few extra days to prepare my body but I hadn’t really prepared my soul to take advantage of the blessed month. I hadn’t made a plan to truly make this month a success. I know what unique tests I face – between jobs, friends, comedy and film, it’s a miracle I have time to breathe. But somehow through all of that drama, in this blessed month, I need to remember to remember Allah (SWT). That means training my soul (nafs). Ramadan is a bootcamp. Screenwriting should be too. And it’s up to us to crack the whip, to dodge the bullets and roll with the punches. And other inane metaphors.

Basically, it’s important to figure out your goals and how you’re going to get there. And if it doesn’t work in practice, adjust.

2.       Follow your leaders

There are people – mentors, friends, colleagues – who are inspiring. For me, it’s our beloved Prophet (peace be upon him) and Imam Suhaib Webb.

I have yet to find a mentor in screenwriting, though.

3.       Have prescribed times for work and play.

One needs to keep balance in their life. Ramadan shouldn’t be a month where nothing gets done (the most common complaint in the Arab world).  There needs to be a balance between the world and the spiritual. One should not suffer on account of the other. It’s a fine balance and one that differs from person to person. But it’s necessary to walk that line.

As screenwriters, if you’re stuck inside your house writing all day, you might just end up writing the same story about the one-eyed cat who finds a key to heaven in the back-yard over and over again. For decades. Or you just might go postal and kill all the pets in the neighborhood.

The world has a million stories.  At any time, the most mind-blowing stories are running in HD 3D all around – and they’re called human beings!

4.       Learn from your mistakes.

I keep a log to a) make a list of all the things I’m learning b) provide a place to vent c) figure out problem areas I could work on.

5.       Patience in times of frustration

It isn’t easy.  In fact, it’ll probably be downright painful. You’ll lose sleep.  You’ll be hungry. You’ll say no to things you want to say yes to. You’ll be scared. You’ll take leaps of faith as a matter of course.

But it’ll all be worth it in the end.

I’ll see you after the month of mercy, brothers and sisters. Stay blessed.

Wassalam and Fee Amanillah,

The Happy Muslimah.

Salah: All I need is a Q-TIP

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

Assalam alaikum wr wb, peeps.

Some time ago, I read this article by Shaikh Abu Easa Niamatullah. To summarize the main thrust of his argument: Though the numbers of Muslims may well be increasing 235% a year, that is probably because we have more children than non-Muslims and it only takes into account the last 50 years, starting on an uneven footing anyway.

Moreover, so what if we are the fastest growing religion in the world? Just because there are more Muslims, doesn’t mean that they are all good Muslims. In fact, the opposite is quite likely.

If the five pillars of Islam, specifically Salah (the five daily prayers) are considered to be the absolute minimum a Muslim has to do to be practising, then well, according to Shaikh Niamatullah, there are probably very few of those around. “With more people seen to be praying, there are many times over more Muslims not praying. As those who are practicing their religion properly increases, the numbers of Muslims not practicing properly dwarfs it.”

The only question ringing in my head after reading this article is, “Why aren’t Muslims praying? More specifically, why do I find hard to maintain my daily prayers?”

I started to pray regularly when I was 11 years old, around the same time I started wearing hijaab. I missed prayers often, for parties, exams, studying, even TV shows, making it up in Khalah. I became stricter with Salah as I got older. This was mostly because of fear of Allah (SWT), but not really love of Him. Hadith said that if I missed my Asr prayer, all my good deeds would be wiped out. Others that played frequently on my conscience was that a believer’s faith could be judged by the frequency of their Isha and Fajr prayer.

But let me get to love later.

Sheikh Niamutallah’s article got me thinking about what it was about the practice of Salah that provided challenges for me and mah brothas and sistas.

The basic elements you need to comfortably pray are a quiet place free from distractions, adequate time to perform ablutions and your prayer and of course, a clear heart and mind. I tried to come up with a catchy acronym but the best I could do was another acronym – Q-TIP. Quietude, Time and Inner Peace.

I live in the UAE and by the Grace of God, there are prayer rooms in almost every building.

In Dubai Mall, there’s a prayer room every hundred paces. Emaar Properties takes their prayer facilities quite seriously.

A friend of mine who’d grown up in London once called prayer rooms in shopping malls “beautiful”. I admit I used to think it bizarre to suddenly come upon beautiful places of worship in a temple of consumerism. But still, they are blessings.

In my office building, the ladies’ prayer room is basically a converted janitor’s closet, but still, it qualifies as a quiet place free from distractions and I’m grateful for it.

Even though sometimes there’s a rather frazzled gentleman that uses it. I don’t mind – I think we’re the only two people in the whole building using the prayer room and I can’t think where the men’s prayer room must be and what it must be like.

What do people do in places where no such prayer rooms exist? Pray in car-parks? Changing rooms? I’ve heard it helps to have someone to keep watch and field any questions from onlookers so you can do your Salah without people freaking out. There have been some funny stories.

Ablution has traditionally presented some problems, even here in Dubai, where sometimes I’ve not had the luxury of Wudhu facilities. Try explaining to someone why you have your foot in the sink. The result? More funny stories.

Many of us have grueling work/study schedules. Work isn’t structured around sacral timings. In fact, I sometimes wonder if it’s even structured around human timings. When I was studying global politics in university, a feminist lecturer suggested that the world of work, politics and power was built in man’s image. Therefore it is rigid, structured and exacting and does not allow for the unstructured gendered feminine chaos of family life and child-rearing.

The company I work for is thankfully far more flexible and VERY family-friendly, Mashallah. None of my female co-workers have lost their jobs because they’ve gotten pregnant. My co-worker once even brought her daughter into work because she didn’t have school that day.

Unfortunately, from what I have observed, they are the exception and not the rule.

Inner peace
For me, since living in an Islamic country takes care of the first two, this third requirement is my personal Jihad.

As I said before, I used to have serious anxiety issues. I focused on the future to the point that it made me physically ill. I couldn’t find peace anywhere, not even in my prayers.

But even then, by the Grace of Allah (SWT), I somehow reached moments of great clarity. And in those moments of clarity, I felt humbled and powerful at the same time. Like I was connected to a power far larger than me. I felt like I didn’t care who was looking. Like I would welcome their questions. Because He (SWT) was on my side.

In the moments of confusion though, I was really confused. My mind would run up and down and sideways on work, men, family, clothes, jokes. I would come to the prayer room looking for answers and would leave feeling more confused than ever.

I began looking for ways to focus my concentration and let go of some of my anxiety. So far, a few things have worked, the most powerful of which is meditation. All these years, I hadn’t even been breathing. No wonder my brain scrambles around like a hamster on crack.

There is still however the tricky problem of motivation. Why am I praying? Why “should” I pray?

Don’t get me wrong. Fear works.

There is any number of sayings of the Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) telling you about the dire effects of missing your prayer. Imams (people leading the congregation in prayer) expound on these from the pulpit all the time.

However, not many of them talk about the flip side.

How many of us are looking for love? How many of us want the love of someone kind, true, loyal, patient and giving?

Allah (SWT) is Al Latheef (Kind, Gentle).
Allah (SWT) is As Sadiq (The Keeper of His Word)
Allah (SWT) is As Sabur (The Patient)
Allah (SWT) is Al Mujeeb (The Responder).
(And this is one of my favorites) Allah (SWT) is Al Mumin (The Giver of tranquility)

Who in the universe could love us more than our Creator?

If you ask of Allah (SWT), He will surely answer. The sacred texts (Hadith and the Qur’an) say it over and over again. I can’t say it any better than this article, so I won’t even try.

Truth be told, I have more questions than answers. I do know I want to try something out. I want to pray in strange places. Mountains, villages, truck stops, shopping malls (not in the prayer room), hospitals, anywhere a modern-day Muslim might find themselves. I want to see what the difficulties are and what tools we need as a community to make it less difficult.

As someone who meditates (arguably a Buddhist practice), I’m really interested to see what the intersections and divergences in diverse spiritual practices are too. In short, I would like to make a documentary.

If you pray regularly or if you don’t, I’d really like to know why. I would greatly appreciate it if you would drop me a comment below.

And that goes for Muslims and for non-Muslims!

I’m really not the Huffington Post (yet), but if you don’t want the whole world reading your response, please do respond here on my About page.

And tell me all your funny awkward praying-in-not-so-private stories!!

May Allah (SWT) respond to your deepest desires in the way that is best for you in this world and the next Ameen! I love you guys 

Wassalam and Fee Amanillah!
Sabina Giado.

Update: Salams! Alhamdulillah just came across this incredible video by Br. Nouman Ali Khan as to how Shaitan tricks us into not praying.

Research is sexy

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem.

Salams and yo!

Research is sexy. Like Angelina Jolie, Ben Barnes, Bradley Cooper, George-Clooney’s-jaw-bones sexy.

….or at the very least fruitful, but blog posts which allude to sex always manage to get more hits.

I’m writing a screenplay about leaving home (a feat I have yet to accomplish myself). The main character in my story is a guidance counselor.  A profession I’ve only once had direct contact with at school. And it was a waste of time too.

Suffice to say, my main character is a good guidance counselor.  I have little idea what that means. This means I need to research.

A part of me (the lazy part) just wants to dive in and write the darn story and to the devil with all this “research” BS.

The part of me that appreciates the hard work that goes into my craft remembers the shock and awe I felt when I found out the inimitable Four Lions was written by *gasp* a white guy.

I’d rather not tell you what this bonkers movie is about.  Please watch the trailer:

I know it’s a movie about terrorism, but somehow it made me hopeful. There is a joy about this movie that escapes their funny accents and their nihilistic fascination with death. Maybe because Wikipedia listed it as a “Jihad satire” .

But I digress.

The point of this post being, the writer Chris Morris researched the heck out of his subject matter. He spent three years talking to terrorism experts, police, the secret service, imams and ordinary Muslims, and then – and only then – did he write the script in 2007. The film only went into production in 2009 and was released late 2010.

From development to theatrical release, the film took almost 6 years. SIX YEARS!

I must say, I’m heartened by the level of respect Mr. Morris gave his subject matter – far more respect, it seems, than we give each other these days.

Note to self and to everyone else reading – the details matter. I don’t want my viewers pointing at the screen shouting “That would never happen!”

My kingdom for access to my university’s library again. There was something comforting about the musty smell, the rough carpets and the new weird friends I made between pages in that giant cavernous place.

But I digress again.

The sexy researcher’s toolkit (in other words, things I’ve discovered I need more of):

  1. People – people for me are the most fascinating resources. You see, a screenwriter doesn’t need the facts. We need something more authentic. And what is truer than the truth? The story.
  2. Listening skills – people like talking.
  3. Time – This process is absolutely vital to healthy development of an idea, especially if the idea is even vaguely grounded in reality. It gives solid ground to worlds that our characters can then confidently tread on – and blow up, if need be.
  4. Patience – You might hit a few dead ends. One source won’t give you the quality of information you want. Another will bore you senseless but will be quite useful. Yet another will start out boring you to tears and then suddenly their narrative explodes with colour. As I said, people like to talk. We should (probably) let them (most of the time).

Hope that’s given you some food for thought.

Love, peace and harmony,


A little introduction

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem (In the Name of God the Most Gracious the Most Merciful)

Hello! (to all my Muslim brothas and sistas, salams!)

So let me start with a little introduction.

I’m 5 foot 3, haha.

I’m a 24-year-old Sri Lankan, the daughter of expats based in the Gulf. I went to a Catholic school where I studied too much and laughed too little (I’ve been making up for that lately).

I started wearing the hijab (the Muslim headscarf) when I was 11 years old, following a particularly meaningful Ramadan. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. My friends and family both gave me something of a hard time about it.

Don’t worry, I’ve forgiven them.

I then went to university in Australia where I continued to not be grateful to be alive, young and healthy. However I actually began to enjoy my studies (Media and Communications with a minor in Creative Writing) which somewhat made up for the lack of a life.

Along the way, while I was doing the usual dumb stuff young people do, I noticed a few things:

  1. I had no reason to be unhappy but I was.
  2. Making people laugh made me happy.
  3. I love making people laugh.
  4. And when you make people laugh, they start listening. And when they start listening, you can really tell them something. And this is really powerful and with great power comes great responsibility.
  5. The vast majority of non-Muslims don’t know much about Islam and hence, don’t know much about hijabis. Which leads to quite a few surprises when they actually begin talking to me.

They’re surprised I can speak English – or that I’m literate in any language.

They’re surprised I can take a joke and even make a joke.

They are surprised I know where babies come from.

They are surprised that my parents didn’t force me to wear hijab and that, in fact, I love them and owe them my life (in more ways than the usual way).

They are surprised that I love Star Wars and can quote it backwards and forwards.

They’re surprised, in short, that I’m human.

This is, to a large extent, the fault of the Ummah (the Muslim community).

We’re living in a culture of distraction. At any one time, there’s at least 3 different social media platforms clamoring for my attention on my BlackBerry. And I’m not even that popular.

But I think we as an Ummah have a gift here. People all around the world want to know what we have to say in response to the global “war on terror”. And on an unprecedented level, our world is connected enough to hear our voices and perhaps, if we use the right tools, even listen.

I’ve always loved movies. They told me stories of people that I would probably not have met any other way.

But I never saw myself in the movies. Or anyone that looked like me, for that matter.

As I’ve gotten older, my movie-watching has become increasingly fragmented. If I go to a multiplex, I know I’m going to get mindless drivel which will certainly be entertaining but ultimately dishonest – the same crap with different faces.

And I’m fairly certain I’m not the only person that feels that way. By all accounts, fewer and fewer people are going to the cinema.

So I do what anyone else in my situation would do is and look to art-house and independent cinema for inspiration. I certainly find it.

But still, no (or very few) Muslims.

What’s up with that?

I want to correct that for any number of reasons, small and big. I want something to watch on a Thursday night that doesn’t give me a splitting headache. I want my children to see people that look like themselves on the screen. I want a story I can relate to and that perhaps my children will relate to. I want to see Muslims do something other than blow things up, cut fingers off and beat their wives and generally be giant pains in the collective backside of humanity.

Ultimately I want to make sacred art which according to Frithjof Schuon (I thought I had a weird name), “is made as a vehicle for spiritual presences, it is made at one and the same time for God, for angels and for man: profane art on the other hand exists only for man and by that very fact betrays him.”

Really, a few regular stories of laughing, crying, sleeping, working, joyous Muslims wouldn’t hurt anybody, would they?

Much love,

La Musulmanne Qui Rit.