on ability and relevance

The first time that blogger failed, I had a post up announcing that “glasses are sexy!” along with the following picture:
sexy glasses
Shortly afterward, I met with a friend for lunch, who casually expressed surprise, “You know, Nahida, that post was kind of ableist.”
Pushing aside my slight hurt, I asked, “What do you mean?” but even as I did I could see what she meant: I wouldn’t tell someone xir broken arm was sexy, because it’s fetishizing and creepy, what the hell was I doing implying, “Hey it’s really sexy that you can’t see at full capacity.”
“But that’s–” my voice trailed off as I thought. But that’s what? Different? Because glasses are a lot more socially accepted compared to pretty much every other tool for pretty much every other physical disability?
But even the sexualization of socially acceptable characteristics is (rightfully) offensive. I’m constantly irritated when men tell me, “You’re really smart. That’s hot,” because it’s fetishizing and belittling, and it means they’re not taking it seriously. Instead this characteristic has conveniently become an object of sexual attraction, something to be put away when they’re done. My intelligence is a real part of me that does not exist for the fetishes of others.
I tried to pretend that it was someone else, telling me my glasses were sexy. Considering that I need them, and depending on the context–yeah, I may possibly find it really, really strange. If I had just gotten new frames, and it were a friend comparing the old with the new: “Your glasses are sexy,” I’d be flattered, because she clearly meant the frames themselves–not the fact that I have to deal with horrible vision. If it were in a different context however, a stranger saying, “It’s really sexy that you wear glasses,” I’d be a little disturbed–and though I wouldn’t immediately have known why, it would be the same subconscious discomfort I’d feel if they’d said, “It’s really sexy that you wear a cast,” had I a broken arm.
If I’d decorated the cast, I wouldn’t mind someone telling me it looked good.
“I meant the glasses themselves,” I explained meekly.
She smiled, “Yeah I know what you meant. But what if you said that wheelchairs are sexy?”
“I was just thinking something along those lines. I think… when people say glasses are sexy you can safely assume they don’t mean that the characteristic of less than 20/20 vision is sexy, because they’re practically a fashion trend. Like sweaterdresses or high heeled shoes. But wheelchairs aren’t nearly as openly accepted or willingly accommodated. A guy telling you your wheelchair is sexy sounds like the same ass who tells you you’re exotically beautiful and fetishizes your race, or tells you how your intelligence is sexually attractive.. and he’s your boss or something.”
Context counts for this one, but I’m still tentative with that conclusion.

While I don’t have a cast or a wheelchair, I emphasize that glasses are sexy because I wear them. Is it not as douchey when it’s a way of reclaiming what others disagree about?

All the cool kids have sideways crappy cellphone pictures.


In case you haven’t heard, the rapture has been postponed to October.
I poke fun at those who believed it, but it’s fair for anyone to say that my beliefs are equally absurd. I personally don’t think so. =P But of course it’s a valid point.
You see, I’ve always entertained the thought that time isn’t linear, and to some extent, that it doesn’t really exist at all. As a child I wondered that if the Day of Judgment–Muslims don’t believe that the Day of Judgment is predictable; there are Signs that are supposed to hint to it, but when it does arrive those who are still around will be in shock–if the Day of Judgment is the same day for all of us, and our punishments for sins and rewards for good deeds do not commence until after we’ve been Judged… what happens until Judgment Day arrives? Do we simply lay in our graves waiting for centuries for the world to end? Do we wander the earth as ghosts, visiting unsuspecting relatives every Wednesday? And furthermore, if we are not punished or rewarded until we are Judged, why have so many reported fearfully witnessing the punishment of what appear to be ones who have passed away just as they are lowered into their graves?
My mother warns me when I walk through graveyards, that some of the souls are being punished for their sins and if I happen to stumble through a barrier of space I may not be suited–as a living being–to deal with what I may witness.
I’m certain she’s stretching it, but strange things happen. Your grandmother passes away and one day you enter her room and are consumed with the scent of her perfume–freshly sprayed, from a bottle that no longer exists, in a room that’s been airing out for years.
There are logical explanations. You look for them first. But every suggestion of reason fails you. The scent must be in your head, you think, it’s only natural, because you’re among her things and you associate them with a scent. But it’s too intense to be imagined, and your friend walks in, who’s never met your grandmother, and she asks, did you just spray something?
I don’t believe in ghosts. But I do believe that some people, when they pass, leave such a strong imprint of their presence in the space they once occupied and in the shifting air itself that our mortal minds interpret their form and we sense it. And our eyes fill in the rest.

What have we to offer but the absurd?

A year or so ago I had the following conversation with a friend:

“People are selling ‘magical charms‘ on Ebay!” he laughed.

“Magic is real,” I said solemnly. (This is also a part of Islam, and I do believe it.)

“Yes, but real magic is not sold on Ebay.”

And I did agree with him, but isn’t it amusing where we draw our lines?

While there’s an implication that we don’t receive punishments/rewards until after we’ve been judged beside everyone else, there’s also one that we are judged right away after we’ve passed–and there’s a consensus that both are true.

“Mother, we’re all dead,” I told her with a sense of awe.
“What? Don’t be ridiculous.”
“It’s true! If we’re not punished or rewarded until we’ve been Judged and yet there are souls who are being punished and rewarded now it means that time isn’t linear and that it doesn’t exist at all, that in some form of space in some division somewhere we’ve already died and Judgement Day has passed.” I stopped to catch my breath. “We’re dead. We’ve died.”

Islamic History and the Women You Never Hear About: Wallada bint al-Mustakfi

Cordoba, Spain. Wallada bint al-Mustakfi was a poetess, who both wrote and inspired poetry, and is said to have been an ideal beauty for her time. (Blue eyes, blonde hair, and fair skin–that was always a thing, apparently.) Al-Mustakfi is known for her unshakeable pride and defiance of traditional gender roles. Not only did she stay uncovered, her tunics were transparent and along the rims she’d sew on her own verses. She was unapologetically intelligent, and taught several classes in poetry and art–which was at the time considered a field for men–in the halls of the palace. She accepted women of all economic status, from nobility to slaves, and–unfortunately–she did have slaves herself, some of which she’d “purchased” (if one could purchase a human being) from their previous “masters” after they began attending her lectures. She continued to educate them. She hosted poetry reading at her palace with mixed–men and women–company.
If you were wondering about the verses embroidered on her tunic, they read:

On the right side:
I am fit for high positions by God
And am going my way armed with pride.
And on the left:
I allow my lover to touch my cheek
And bestow my kiss on him who craves it.

It’s a little shocking, but poetry this stormy and straight-forward and passionate can be found in astonishing abundance throughout Islamic history. Here’s a little bit from poetess I’timad Arrumaikiyya:

I urge you to come faster than the wind to mount my breast and firmly dig
and plough my body, and don’t let go until you’ve flushed me thrice.

As for Wallada bint al-Mustakfi, she remained independent her entire life and never married, though she did have two long love affairs.
Unfortunately only nine of her poems have been persevered–eight of them were to a famous lover, a controversial relationship (political and artistic rivalries) that the two had to keep secret for as long as anyone with hot blood can. Of course, they failed to do this, and the leaked revelation stirred jealousy among other great poets who strove to conquer al-Mustakfi’s heart. One of them caught her lover cheating, gleefully informed her, and she–enraged–abandoned him in great public scandal. He was devastated, and the man who’d informed al-Mustakfi of his infidelity took his place beside her, seized his property, and exiled him from the land. Consequently five of the eight poems written to her former lover by Wallada bint al-Mustakfi were as scathing in their passion as her love had been.
The two were reunited, however, later in life, and forgave each other. They didn’t marry, but lived loyally together until death.

an email

SalamAlaikum Nahida,

First I want to say that I really love your blog, and I hope you don’t take this too hard, or the wrong way.

I read your post about hair a few weeks ago, and I felt like crying afterwards because, your hair is White. No offense, but if you can straighten it with just a straightening iron, and it sits like that, like it did in that picture, it’s White. I’ve had nappy hair my whole life, and I can’t get myself to stop doing things that harm it. I can’t get it straight, unless I use chemicals that burn. And even if your hair isn’t like everyone else’s, it’s closer to conventional beauty that mine will ever be! And if even a woman like you can’t seem to post a picture of it in its natural condition what the fuck am I supposed to do?

It’s taken me a long time to write this. I kept arguing with myself, but I finally had to do it. Again, I really love what you’re doing here, and I understand you don’t owe me anything.

Your hair is so beautiful, you probably don’t even know. You know who wants your hair? Everyone. People sell wigs for hundreds sometimes thousands of dollars that look like your hair! To Black women. With nappy afro hair that doesn’t move in the wind like in the movies. Women like me. And you know what? We pay for it. Isn’t that sad? Letme admit something: I’m crying again. I’m not saying that you didn’t hurt and struggle, but it makes me so angry that you have this HAIR and that you’re writing about ACCEPTING IT, accepting ethnic hair, and both pictures are of it straight! The least one would expect is a before and after shot, but it’s like you’re deliberately hiding it!

[name redacted]


Wa’Alaiykum ‘Assalam [name redacted],



practicing feminism: compliments

I can’t remember the very first experience. All I know is that it took a couple of times to get it right, to conform to what is the culturally acceptable response for a girl who had just been complimented. What I can remember is the first time I understood that I was doing something wrong.

Second grade, I was wearing a flow-y white dress. It was a big deal for me, because we only went shopping about once a year, picked up a couple of jeans and a sweater, and I was allowed one pretty thing each year. I ran across the playground and spun in a circle.

“Your dress is so pretty!” exclaimed one of the girls.

“Thank you.” I smiled.

There was a moment of stunned silence. Then a burst of cruel laughter. “She’s so stuck-up!”

I stopped spinning to turn to them, wide-eyed. The first girl glared at me. “You’re not supposed to say ‘thank you‘!”

Back in the classroom, I was handed back an assignment. “You’ve done beautiful work, Nahida.”

“Oh… it’s nothing,” I said.

That was the right answer.

And for the next few years, I struggled to come up with more right answers. “You write amazing poetry. This is a great poem.” “No it’s not.” “How do you work that fast and get all the problems right? You’re so smart!” “I’m really not.” “You’re such an interesting person!” “Not really.” “Those earrings look so good!” “I got them at _____.”

Damn straight they look good–I have fantastic taste. And while I genuinely think this poem sucks, yeah it’s better than most. Because I’m smart, and that’s quite an accomplishment considering math requires no imagination and too much concentration. (For algebra that is. I like geometry.)

But we’re girls, you see, and we don’t take credit for our work.

We are not allowed to accept compliments. I have a tentative theory that this is why we go fishing for them.

They are powerful things, compliments. And pressuring women to deny them to ourselves is a socially enforced way of making sure we put ourselves down at every opportunity. Stay marginalized. You don’t deserve credit. You have to be modest or–

Or what? It’s unladylike and unattractive. You’ll have no friends.

I think I’ve always been allergic to bullshit, but it took extra exposure on this one for me to react–which goes to show how deeply ingrained and dangerous it is. Luckily, after a while, my natural impatience began to kick in. (Contrary to what a lot of my friends believe, I am not a patient person.) It started to actually kind of annoy me that my friends weren’t taking my compliments, putting themselves down whenever I gave them one, and expecting me to gush over them disingenuously to compensate for the self-esteem they’d just crushed. I realize this makes me a terrible person, but in my defense, it got shit done. Especially since I began to sincerely take offense.

“You don’t believe me?” I asked one of them. “Do you have any idea how invalidating that is? I’m telling you that you’re a brilliant, profound person and you’re just shoving me aside.”

Because refusing compliments does more than deny to the receiver. It takes away something deep from the giver. It’s a form of rejection.

And that contributes to compliments becoming deceitful tools rather than loving gifts. They are powerful things, after all.

“You have beautiful eyes,” I told a girl in high school.

She smirked. “I’ll thank you when you get some sense and wear a tighter skirt.”

“That’s fine. My compliments aren’t conditional, unlike your thanks. I give them because I mean them.”

She looked both shocked and infuriated at once. As I walked away I reminded myself she was more likely a victim of the system, and probably not a horrible person. I was right. She was suddenly kinder after that.

By 16 I had returned to accepting compliments, even from schoolmates I didn’t know very well who gave them with a sense of rivalry. I accepted them graciously, without excuses or the obligation to give one in return. And every time there was a flutter of surprise across their faces, followed by a discerning expression. She’s thinks she’s so entitled. And then, miraculously, but I like her.


Hadith are used as tools to understand the Qur’an. Whether or not they should be used at all is up for debate and has been a subject of great controversy. It’s been noticed here that I rarely use hadith–the reason is not because I am a Quranist, (though I emphasize with them) but rather because (1) hadith can be found for and against pretty much anything, (2) what use are hadith on a particular topic when the Qur’an answers my question entirely for that subject? will I look to a mortal man for answers, however perfect of a man he was–the name of whom other men have probably used to tell lies–when God has satisfied me? and (3) I am very, very, very picky about hadith. I’m choosier than most scholars are when it comes to hadith. (That implied that I am among them; I’m not a scholar, just to be clear.) And so, I will use hadith, but only in very specific circumstances. While even very “Orthodox” (I hate to use sectarian adjectives) Muslims will acknowledge that most hadith are complete fabrications, a good number of them will assert that previous scholars, through centuries of work, have disposed of the ones that are fabrications.

This is bullshit.

The Prophet is recorded, in his own hadith, to have forbidden Muslims from recording his hadith. Muhammad (P), while a diamond among plainer stones, was still a human being, subject to sway on anger and other passions. Nothing was to be written down except for the Qur’an itself, and very few things outside of that were to be passed down at all. For example, how to pray the 5 daily prayers is an obvious exception, and the Prophet clearly taught this to the first converts with the expectation that they would teach it to their children. I once criticized an imam for saying that music is haraam, and pointed out that if God wanted to make something forbidden for us, God would have said so. The Qur’an doesn’t say that music is haraam, but it definitely says that we should not make forbidden things that are permissible. The Qur’an is perfect on its own, I said. We have little need anything else. He replied by asking me what was meant to be a rhetorical question: where in the Qur’an does it tell us how to pray?

Um. What just happened?

“That doesn’t have anything to do with what’s permissible or forbidden,” I answered. “That has to do with detailing a specific command. Prayer is already made mandatory, and the Prophet taught us how. He meant for that to be passed down, but he made clear orders that he wanted nothing else to be recorded of him in fear that his words would be held to equal or higher importance against the word of God. And look, now they are. God said that in the Qur’an nothing has been omitted! Chapter 6, verse 38! Do you dare contradict the Word of God?” I glared at him. (I would have ranted on, but we were in a classroom, and he was the instructor, and I didn’t want to steal his lesson.)

In fact, very early in Islam, after the Qur’an had been written down, Caliph Omar expressed a wish to record the sayings of the Prophet, but he refrained for that exact reason: that they would be lifted to a degree of undeserving–and blasphemous–importance. Hadith is another example of tradition being changed after the death of the Prophet–hadith inspired sects, several are anti-woman (both of these things contradict the Qur’an itself), and most were made up in the spur of political conflicts. There are hadith that warn against hadith:

The Prophet said: “Whoever tells a lie against me intentionally, then (surely) let him occupy his seat in Hell-fire.” [Sahih Bukhari – Book 03: Hadith 108]

But we don’t need that hadith to tell us this, because the Qur’an itself warns against hadith:

But there are, among men, those who purchase idle tales, without knowledge (or meaning), to mislead (believers) from the Path of God (Qur’an 31:6)

We have permitted the enemies of every prophet human and jinn devils to inspire in each other fancy words, in order to deceive. Had your Lord willed, they would not have done it. You shall disregard them and their fabrications. (Qur’an 6:112)

Shall I seek other than God as a source of law, when He has revealed to you this book fully detailed? (Qur’an 6:114)

Isn’t it so convenient that the Qur’an is completely egalitarian and yet suddenly, after the Prophet dies, there are all these hadith–supposed sayings of the passed Prophet–that are blatantly sexist, as narrated by powerful men? How very interesting.

As I mentioned already, the Prophet prohibited the written recording of hadith, and so did the caliphs who ruled after his death. I would go as far as to suggest that the Islamic Golden Age was a result of these prohibitions. Once hadith (again most of which were fabrication–events out of date, legal practices that did not exist at the time which the Prophet was alive) were raised to a status by which they were as heavily relied upon as the Qur’an, women were oppressed, sects were forged, and there was economic loss and social turmoil–and down went everything.

So, yeah, I’m really choosy when it comes to hadith. I will shamelessly pick and choose.

If anyone is interested, here are my personal standards:

  1. Does it forbid something that the Qur’an does not forbid? This is a clear contradiction of verse 10:59 of the Qur’an. Throw it out.
  2. Is it anti-woman? This is a clear contradiction of the egalitarianism in the Qur’an and was falsely attributed to the Prophet. Throw it out.
  3. Does it refer to a legal tradition during the Prophet’s life of which there is no evidence? Someone probably pulled it out of his ass. Throw it out.
  4. Is it narrated by some random dude who says something like “Prostitutes will go to Hell” yet has no right to dictate who does or does not go to Hell, and could not possibly know this information because he isn’t God? Throw it out.
  5. Does it extend something that is a grave sin–like murder, the parameters of which are very clearly and strictly outlined the Qur’an–to what the Qur’an has not made permissible (i.e. killing apostates or stoning adulterers when the Qur’an says over and over do not kill unless it is in self-defense)? Throw it out.
  6. Does it say something absurd, like “men who die get 72 virgins” or something, in astoundingly detailed sexual description that–again–no one alive could possibly know unless it was mentioned in the Qur’an? (In the Qur’an companions of explicitly both sexes are said to reside in Paradise [well yes, I would hope I had friends there] for all who enter–both men and women–not just matrys, and a number isn’t specified.) Laugh at it. Inappropriately wonder if the guy responsible for it was sexually deprived. Then throw it out.
Hadith are useful when they are tell us how to understand the Qur’an, not contradict it, or when they give us more information about a specific obligation that is already mentioned in the Qur’an, such as prayer. For example, since the Qur’an is written in classical Arabic, hadith can be used to verify vocabulary and how words should be translated. We know that the verse famously “permitting” husbands to “beat” their wives in fact was not permitting husbands to beat their wives, and translators simply chose the literal definition of the word despite the fact that when that same exact root in an even closer form was used in other parts of the Qur’an they translated it using the more abstract, figurative meaning. Chauvinistic deception at its best! And we know how to translate that verse because, other than it being totally obvious when put in context, there are these hadith:

The Prophet said with repulsion: “How does any one of you beat his wife as he beats the stallion camel and then crawl to bed beside her?” [Al-Bukhari vol. 8, Hadith 68]

The Prophet said: “Do not strike the female servants of God!” [Abu Dawud]

Female servant of God, bitches. Hands off.

I’ll leave you with some hadith:

It is better for a leader to make a mistake in forgiving than to make a mistake in punishing.” [Al-Tirmidhi, Hadith 1011]

“A dying child was once placed in the lap of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Tears flowed from the Prophet’s eyes. When he was questioned about crying for the child, the Prophet said: “(Tears are a form of) mercy that God has lodged in the hearts of God’s servants, and God is merciful only to those of God’s servants who are merciful (to others).” [Bukhari, Volume 2 Hadith 373]

Narrated Abu Huraira: God’s Apostle (peace be upon him) said, “When God completed the creation, God wrote in God’s Book which is with God on God’s Throne, “My Mercy overpowers My Anger.” [Bukhari, Volume 4 Book 54 Number 416]

Narrated Abu Huraira (Radi-Allahu ‘anhu): The Prophet (Sallallahu ‘Alaihi Wa Sallam) said, “The one who looks after a widow or a poor person is like a Mujahid (warrior) who fights for God’s Cause, or like him who performs prayers all the night and fasts all the day.” [Bukhari, Volume 7 Number 265]

‘Abdur Rahman bin Abi Bakra: Abu Bakra wrote to his son who was in Sijistan: ‘Do not judge between two persons when you are angry, for I heard the Prophet (peace be upon him) saying, “A judge should not judge between two persons while he is in an angry mood.” [Bukhari, Book 9 Volume 89 Hadith 272]

Narrated Abu Huraira: The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “Religion is very easy and whoever overburdens himself in his religion will not be able to continue in that way. So you should not be extremists, but try to be near to excellence and receive the good tidings that you will be rewarded; and gain strength by worshipping in the mornings, the nights.” [Bukhari, Volume 1 Book 2 Number 38]

Narrated ‘Abdullah: The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “The cases which will be decided first (on the Day of Resurrection) will be the cases of blood-shedding.” [Bukhari, Volume 8 Book 76 Number 540]

(Seriously, don’t kill people.)

Abu Huraira reported God’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: An ant had bitten a Prophet (one amongst the earlier Prophets) and he ordered that the colony of the ants should be burnt. And God revealed to him [reproaching him]:”Because of an ant’s bite you have burnt a community from amongst the communities which sings My glory!?” [Muslim, Book 26 Hadith 5567]

Narrated ‘Aisha: God’s Apostle (peace be upon him) said, “No calamity befalls a soul but that God expiates some sins because of it, even though it were the prick he receives from a thorn.” [Bukhari, Volume 7 Book 70 No. 544] (Basically, for any hardship you face some sins are being erased.)

Abu Huraira reported that a person said: God’s Messenger (peace be upon him) who amongst the people is most deserving of my good treatment? The Prophet said: Your mother! The person asked: Then who? The Prophet said again: Your mother! The person asked: But then who? The Prophet replied a third time: Your mother! The person asked: Then who? Finally, the Prophet said: Then, your father.” [Muslim, Book 32, Number 6181] (Mothers are important. 3xs more important than fathers, in fact, according to this.)

The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) reported that the devil said to God: “I shall continue to lead Thy servants astray as long as their spirits are in their bodies.” And God replied: “(Then) I shall continue to pardon them as long as they ask for My forgiveness.” [Al-Tirmidhi, Hadith 742]

Peace out.