As the sun set yesterday evening, millions of Muslims across the United States began to make preparations for the beginning of Ramadan. Ninety miles south of Florida, military physicians also prepared for Ramadan — by shackling detainees into restraint chairs and administering force feedings to hunger-striking prisoners, feedings that have been moved into the night hours in an effort to respect the Islamic practice of fasting from food and water during the day.
Egypt, officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, is a transcontinental country spanning the northeast corner of Africa and southwest corner of Asia via a land bridge formed by the Sinai Peninsula. Those 31 words make up the first sentence of the Wikipedia – also known as ‘the great bastion of modern knowledge’ – article on Egypt. And if you’ve been following the news or logged into Facebook or Twitter at any point during the last 48 hours, it’s probably also where most of what you heard was coming from.
I woke up yesterday morning to a text from a friend—well, two actually. The first was a group thread message foreshadowing what was to come: “Watching the news. Egypt looks nuts.” The second, the one that actually woke me up, came a few hours later. It was an iPhone screenshot of a USA Today pop-up notification announcing “MORSI OUSTED AS PRESIDENT; EGYPT CONSTITUTION SUSPENDED” accompanied by a simple caption—“Upcoming blog?”
Something important had happened. The world was changing. News was breaking in real-time over the Internet and people wanted to make sense of it. Opinion piece after opinion piece, Facebook status after Facebook status, Tweets on Tweets on Tweets, the virtual world was exploding with commentary and analysis before I’d even finished brushing my teeth.
By the time I’d washed down my peanut butter sandwich with a glass of Sunny Delight, I’d already been drowned in a sea of words coming from in-the-field reporters, in-house analysts, and invited “experts.” As someone who could probably name more days of the weeks than Egyptian politicians and could offer reading, at best, a few dozen articles and skimming through a couple of Hassan al-Banna’s works over the years as a claim to expertise, even I knew something was up: No one had any clue what they were talking about.
Most of the TV reporters seemed to be as lost as most of us. The storyline changed depending on who was talking and what channel you were on. The only thing that separated a story about how a progressive, liberal democracy was being freed from the hands of tyrannical jihadists to hearing about how a proud Arab populace was supporting its national army’s ouster of a Washington-controlled puppet government was a commercial break. And if you pulled out your phone, the Internet could tell you how the entire ordeal was just a staged protest involving millions of Egyptian actors hired by the NSA to shift our attention off of Snowden. But the issue wasn’t misreporting. We’re used to that. This time, it was us.
Talking about “Tahrir Square” was hip, socially relevant, and, dare I say it, sexy.
On December 18, 2010, the Arab Spring began in Tunisia. And let’s be honest, most of us probably didn’t even notice. We may have read an article or watched a clip, but it wasn’t “a thing.” By the time the big Egyptian Revolution came along in early 2011, the Arab Spring had skyrocketed in its coolness. Talking about “Tahrir Square” was hip, socially relevant, and, dare I say it, sexy.
Whether or not you knew who Anwar Sadat was and how Hosni Mubarak came to power was irrelevant. Whether or not you knew what abuses of power the people of Egypt were protesting against was unimportant. Whether or not you knew what city Tahrir Square was in or where Egypt was on a world map was besides the point. There was a revolution happening and we were all on board.
The politics, the suffering, the deaths and even murders were overlooked. The hype surrounding a real-life revolution was too overwhelming for things like that. This was the stuff history books were made out of. We didn’t have time for boring things like studying politics and knowing context. How were we supposed to form opinions and, more importantly, share them with everyone if we were stuck trying to figure out what was happening and why?
We learned an important lesson during the Arab Spring: Form an opinion and spread it. It doesn’t matter whether you’re right or wrong. It doesn’t matter if you didn’t care about this issue until everyone started to care. It doesn’t even matter if you’re not sure what exactly you’re saying. Just take a stance and update your Facebook status with it. I mean, that’s pretty much how the 24-hour news networks do it, right?
Over these last two days, it seems like we’ve allowed learning the facts and understanding the complex realities of a very unique situation to take a backseat to forming opinions and informing the world of what side we’re on. And that’s not right.
The people of Egypt have come together in these last few days in what some sources claim is the largest political gatherings in the history of our species. Let that sink in for a second. Now imagine how many of us have formulated an opinion on the happenings in a land thousands of miles away after reading two news articles and skimming a Wikipedia page.
Looking into the deep history of the Arab world, there is a story from the 8th century CE about a man by the name of Malik bin Anas. This man was considered to be the preeminent scholar of his age, respected throughout the Middle East and North Africa. On occasion, a potential student traveled from Marrakesh, a North African city in present-day Morocco, to meet Malik bin Anas in what is now present-day Saudi Arabia. Having undertaken a 6 month journey, this traveler explained that he had come with a list of questions that his people needed answered. Malik bin Anas asked what these questions were.
What came next is where the lesson of this age-old story lies. The traveler presented 40 questions to the man he had traveled across deserts, a man he had risked his life just to meet. Fittingly, Malik bin Anas took these questions and, to 36 of the 40, answered: “I do not know.”
There’s a lesson there for us to learn from: It’s okay to not know. It’s okay to admit that we don’t know exactly what’s going on in Egypt or what it is that is going to happen. Because the alternative—a slew of half-baked understandings leading to painfully incomplete opinions being projected to the masses—is unacceptable. Over 80 million people call Egypt home. How many of us even spent 8 minutes in thought before deciding how to announce to the world how we felt about their revolution?
So let’s admit something. Most of us know very little about what’s happening in Egypt. Most of us don’t understand the complex forces at play. Most of us haven’t visited, spoken the language, or really been exposed to the culture. Most of us are really just a little lost in all of this.
And that’s okay. Because, in all honesty, no one really cared what our opinion was in the first place.
The early 20th century poet Sir Muhammad Iqbal once asked, “Who will become restless by not getting my letter? … Who will be waiting for me in the homeland? … To whose thoughts will I come in the midnight prayers?”
Having just received news of the passing of his mother, he was left “crying like a helpless infant… with impatience from morning till evening.” He knew those questions he posed were ones without answers. He knew that the fear of every child, the fear of losing a parent, was not only his today but also his tomorrow. He knew that this was it. Memories were all he had left.
On a day of festivities and celebration like Mother’s Day, it seems almost ill-fitting to bethink ourselves of something so somber, almost inappropriate to begin with something so depressing. But, in frank honesty, is there a better day than today to remind ourselves of the fragility of life?
Nearly every year on this day, we see Facebook statuses and newly uploaded pictures commemorating mothers who have passed away and grandmothers who are no longer with us. Many of us sympathize but very few of us empathize. Very few of us internalize those feelings of loss. We offer our condolences and maybe even our hugs, but rarely do we apply that unavoidable reality to our lives. Rarely, if ever, do we imagine what our lives would be like without the women who gave us life being a part of them.
The idea of it even hurts. It pains in a way so deep and so jagged that we avoid even the thought of it. Iyas Ibn Muawiyah, an early Islamic scholar, lamented after the loss of his mother, “I used to have two gates open to Paradise, now one of them is closed.” Drawing on the Prophetic saying that “Heaven lies under the feet of your mother,” this ancient scholar recognized what he had lost — the truest, most pure form of beauty, kindness, and love he would ever see. He had lost his mother.
In the Islamic tradition, we find decrees to respect and care for one’s parents preceded only by decrees to respect and honor God. The place afforded to those who bring us up, who care for us, and who provide for us through our infancy and beyond is such that it is held in the highest of esteem:
"Your Lord has decreed that you worship none but Him and that you be kind to parents. Whether one or both of them attain old age in your life, say not to them a word of contempt, nor repel them, but address them in terms of honor. And out of kindness, lower to them the wing of humility and say, ‘My Lord! Bestow on them Your Mercy even as they cherished me in childhood.’" (Quran 17:23-24)
And upon understanding this plateau of respect and honor that we are called upon to elevate our parents to, a companion of Muhammad asked him, “Who among the people is the most worthy of my good companionship?” The answer he received was simple: “Your mother. Your mother. Your mother.”
As we move through today, it’s important that we recognize that our times on this Earth is limited. Each day brings us closer to an inevitable end of this beautiful blessing we know as a mother’s love. We know not if our mothers will outlive us or we our mothers, but we know that we have today.
We have today to love our mothers, to care for them, to remind them of how much they mean. We have this moment to share with them the joys of our lives, to make them proud, to live up to every hope that they had for us. We have this very Mother’s Day to tell them that they mean the world to us, that we would not be who we are without them, that our existence would cease to hold meaning if it were not for them. We have our today’s to celebrate with them and to give them every ounce of love and kindness we can offer, knowing very well it could never amount to even a fraction of what they have already given us.
So with honest tears in my eyes, I just want to say: I love you, Mum. I love you more than you could ever imagine.
I had lunch today with two of the most respected leaders of our community today. These guys are like the Magic and Kareem of minds. They’re the Shahrukh Khan and the Amitabh Bachchan of thoughts. They’re the JK Rowling and Charles Dickens of ideas. And we talked about everything—from what it is that we might find at the root of society’s struggles to why it is that short guys always start fights on the basketball court. Civil rights, social media, and even abstract concepts of what is forgiveness where touched upon. And in spite of it all, these guys didn’t come away at the top of my amazing-people-I-interacted-with-today list.
The guy who got it deserved it not for his intellectualism, his handsome good looks, or even his undeniable dapper swagger. He got it for what he did. He got it for an action he chose to partake in that he didn’t have to. He got it for being someone who set more of an example with his hands and his feet than any of the three of us did with our deep, intellectually-stimulating conversations.
This guy, this man – he was the gentlemen who served us our burgers. Trying to decide on a place to eat, we had decided to try out a new halal burger joint that had recently opened up. The guy at the counter turned out to be the owner. He greeted us kindly. He took our orders. He dropped off three “giant burgers,” three orders of fries, and a large ketchup bottle that looked like it was probably supposed to have mustard inside of it. And then he left.
Over the next two hours, we enjoyed our burgers. We spoke, we laughed, and we even engaged in some good ol’ fashioned ruminating. But somewhere between those hours, the man who served us our burgers dropped his perfect cashier-smile and exchanged it in for the look of a worried salesman. He suddenly started scanning his place of business with a certain fear in his eyes, the fear of a man struck deeply with terror. He went darting out of the store, into the parking lot. He went back and forth, looking for someone. Something grasped firmly in his hand, the back of his head seemingly screwed into his shoulders as he swung it from side to side still looking. And eventually, it settled upon what it was that he had seeked.
Darting towards a sparkly new, black SUV, he demanded the driver stop her moving car as he planted himself firmly next to the driver’s side window. He opened his palm and handed over a crumpled up ball of dollar bills. Someone had forgotten their change. Someone had left his restaurant without taking the dollar or two that was owed to them. Someone had left behind something that they had a right to, and this man was not one to claim ownership over it.
This was a new restaurant that we were at. It wasn’t a particularly busy one. By all accounts, it was one that epitomized why it is that the restaurant business isn’t easy. Customers can be sparse and margins unkind. And with every reason to compromise his honesty, in a situation where so many would have been tempted, in a reality where we might have even celebrated our “luck,” this man, instead, chose his integrity: What was right was right. What was honest was honest.
When it came down to it, he chose the warm feeling of honesty that emanates from a pure heart over the prideful feeling of success that foams over from a slightly thicker wallet. That lesson, that 40 seconds of watching him scramble – in all honesty, those seconds taught me more about life than any word I heard from the Imam that sat in front of me or the respected civil rights leader who sat beside me. That man, a simple owner of a restaurant, taught me the importance of doing good. Not of preaching about it, not of writing about it, not even about fighting for it, but of doing it.
It was maybe $2 dollars he offered back to that woman, but the lesson he left me with was priceless. Looking back, it’s amazing how great of an effect our actions can have on others without us ever knowing it. As this day comes to a close and tomorrow begins, the single most important thing I took away from today was his simple lesson: Hold on to your integrity. Do the right thing. And always—yes, always—stop by “Jasper’s Giant Hamburgers” if you’re driving down Madison Avenue in Sacramento, because the burgers are to die for.
Thank you! I really appreciate that.
I made two new friends at a basketball tournament I was at earlier today - Gary & Fernando. They’re both in 4th grade.
Fernando’s 10 and Gary’s 11. (I’m supposed to keep it a secret but: Gary got held back a year.)
They asked if we’d hoop with them while we were sitting around between games. Eventually, I gave in and said yes. So, we ended up playing some 21, hoisting up some half court shots, and eventually sitting down to talk for a little bit. They told me about school, about how stupid their principal was, even about the fights they’d gotten into. We started talking about what they wanted to be when they grew up. They decided they couldn’t care less about what professions, but they knew they wanted to drive nice cars and sit courtside at Kings games someday.
I told them if they wanted those expensive cars, they needed to get good grades and stay out of trouble. They needed to go to college and get degrees. Cautiously, they started telling me about how some of their classmates had tried out weed and how one of them even got expelled for selling drugs at their elementary school—yes, elementary school—campus. These were guys they used to be friends with.
Not knowing what to say, I told them it was important that they didn’t make those same mistakes and that they stay in school. I asked them if they’d promise to do well, get good grades, and stay way from drugs and alcohol.
Gary’s response: “But what about Wiz Khalifa? He does drugs and smokes weed… but he’s still rich and successful and drives nice cars.”
Fernando’s response: “Forget Wiz Khalifa. My neighbor - we always smell the weed coming out of his apartment whenever he leaves his window open… but he drives a Mercedes and has hella fancy watches. If drugs are bad, why’s he rich? Man, the only people who sit courtside at Kings games are the guys who smoke weed and do drugs.”
This was coming from a 9 year old.
We kept talking. We went over a whole bunch of things, but those questions left a searing impact. Those role models that these kids talked about… those were the only role models that they had. That was who they looked up to. The guys who smoked and sold drugs were the “success stories” in their worlds.
The rest of us? The doctors, the engineers, the college students and the young professionals who have spent our entire lives working hard to “succeed” in a world outside of that of drugs and violence? We’re too busy bobbing our heads to the radio, glorifying the likes of Wiz Khalifa, and being “young, wild, & free” to bother to think about who’s there for the Gary’s and Fernando’s of the world to look up to.
That needs to change.
Charles Bukowski (via onekareem)
This is an emotional, unedited open letter from one of the greatest athletes of all time just a few hours after sustaining a potentially career ending ACL injury—so powerful.
It really shows what the inside of the mind of someone who’s achieved “greatness” looks like.
This is such BS! All the training and sacrifice just flew out the window with one step that I’ve done millions of times! The frustration is unbearable. The anger is rage. Why the hell did this happen ?!? Makes no damn sense. Now I’m supposed to come back from this and be the same player Or better at 35?!? How in the world am I supposed to do that??
I have NO CLUE. Do I have the consistent will to overcome this thing? Maybe I should break out the rocking chair and reminisce on the career that was. Maybe this is how my book ends. Maybe Father Time has defeated me…Then again maybe not! It’s 3:30am, my foot feels like dead weight, my head is spinning from the pain meds and I’m wide awake. Forgive my Venting but what’s the purpose of social media if I won’t bring it to you Real No Image?? Feels good to vent, let it out. To feel as if THIS is the WORST thing EVER! Because After ALL the venting, a real perspective sets in. There are far greater issues/challenges in the world then a torn achilles. Stop feeling sorry for yourself, find the silver lining and get to work with the same belief, same drive and same conviction as ever.
One day, the beginning of a new career journey will commence. Today is NOT that day.
"If you see me in a fight with a bear, prey for the bear". Ive always loved that quote. Thats "mamba mentality" we don’t quit, we don’t cower, we don’t run. We endure and conquer.
I know it’s a long post but I’m Facebook Venting LOL. Maybe now I can actually get some sleep and be excited for surgery tomorrow. First step of a new challenge.
Guess I will be Coach Vino the rest of this season. I have faith in my teammates. They will come thru.
Thank you for all your prayers and support. Much Love Always.