Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Aha! Moment: Two-Way Risk

We have lots of Aha! Moments in MAS Youth. And they’re happening all across the nation at different rates and different points in time. So a map of the MAS Youth nation could look like this:

(Okaaayyyy. I have a little too much time on my hands)

Aha! Moments happen when something that seemed scary, obscure, or impossible suddenly becomes a crystal-clear matter of course. Consensus is built, people converge. Sometimes, these moments come on suddenly. It’s a thrilling experience, washed in relief, excitement, and new-found confidence. You have a conversation with another youth worker, he or she makes you think really hard, and …CLICK! Other times, it is the tipping point of a cumulative mass of information, exchanges, observations, and drilled-in messages.

I caught a recent Aha! Moment at the MAS Youth Directors’ Meeting in Detroit in January. Dr. Souheil Ghannouchi, the president of MAS, spent many hours talking with attendees and clarifying the national vision. I learned to think in terms of two-way risk, and Aha! I spent the entire trip home wondering why I hadn’t seen it this way before.

We usually think of risk in one direction. When we approach new directions in MAS and MAS Youth, we become fixated on the risks. We weigh the risks of the new approach with a hypothetical risk-free scenario. We worry that we will dilute the understanding, compromise on development, spread ourselves thin, or give the wrong message. We worry about what people will say or think. These risks, formidable and sobering to every single worker, often make us settle back into the status quo.

Risk, however, is a two-way street. There is a risk of moving forward, but there is often a greater risk of staying where we are. The risk of not doing something should be scaled and measured with equal apprehension. We become desensitized and blind to the greater risk of remaining in our current situation, only because we are used to it. The risks of staying still and confining ourselves to a comfort zone are actually enormous—falling short of our mission, not conveying Islam to everyone we could, losing momentum because we are unable to replace ourselves, and ultimately not earning the pleasure of Allah. When I see risk as a two-way street, it is better to move forward and deal with the risks, working to minimize them in every way and take precautions, than turn away from them all together succumbing to uncertainty and hesitation.

Concert tours, MAS on campus, attracting non-practicing crowds, taking our message to gang members or inviting a drug addict to a MAS Youth usra, trying new methods and pushing new leaders forward—yes, there are risks! But there are even greater risks of turning away from those opportunities in order to protect a perceived 'safe' situation. By doing so, we are only driving in the other direction, towards another set of risks just as daunting and perhaps of greater consequence.

This Aha! Moment was inspiring and empowering for me. Instead of working to avoid risk, we should move forward in the direction that has the greatest potential, holding in our hearts the highest, greatest, sincerest intentions we can muster. And all the while, we anticipate the risks and design creative solutions to the new problems that will undoubtedly arise. I pray that Allah swt guides us to what is right and makes us always aware and humbled at how deeply we are in need of His guidance. Our eyes must always be open to new alternatives and better solutions, but meanwhile we have to make sure we are heading in the right direction on a two-way street.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Ammu Toot

6:18 p.m.
“Ammu Toot! Umee, Ammu Toot!”

I switch to my new-word-detective mode. Say who? Uncle Berry? A nickname for someone? Some memory involving a brother and blueberries? She is jumping frantically up and down.


I follow her around the corner to the bathroom and she points to a little speck on the floor.

Aaaaaah. Of course. A spider.

Ammu Toot. Ankabut.

6:25 p.m.
I try to adjust her pronunciation a bit. An-ka-boot. An. Ka. Boot. Some progress. Anpatoot. Antaboot.

6:32 p.m.
"Umee! Ayna 'A la patoot'?"

Thursday, February 7, 2008


Ever think something was so hilarious and you laugh so hard the tears roll down your cheeks, but no one else is quite as tickled as you? It happens a lot to little kids. The nice part is, they don’t care who in the world laughs with them. It is FUN-NY.

Today Moona laughed and hooted and choked because I walked away from the sewing table and out of the room with a spool of thread trailing from my skirt. When she saw my tail of green thread, she pointed and squealed and started giggling like crazy.

When I turned around and said, “Oh!” that was the end of it. Shrieks of sidesplitting laughter. I laughed with her, surprised at her exaggerated response and belly laughs.

Tears in her dancing eyes, she was crestfallen when I picked up the spool and put it back on the table. Ah well.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Family Life

Driving through downtown, whizzing by a million sights and sounds in our silver minivan. The finger points, and then the question.

“Marhadha?” “Whatsthat?”

I try to follow her gaze, see where her finger is pointing, as the car sails across an overpass so high I don't look down. Billboards, parking lots, dilapidated buildings, glitzy blinking signs, towering overpasses, crisscrosses of telephone wires and poles, gaping highways. All of the unplanned miscellanea that make Houston so unsightly and distracting.

“Skyscrapers? That’s the city. Look at all of those tall buildings.”


“What? Where?”

“Whatsthat? Therethat. WHATSTHAAAAAT?”

Turning around, I only see her gazing intently at something. “Buildings. They are buildings.”


“I’m not sure what you…buildings.”

I don’t want to frustrate her attempts to discover more about the world, to ask questions, articulate her observations in a jumbled, mispronounced vocabulary. I hope she is never afraid to ask and never feels discouraged that we don’t understand her.

But sometimes I really don’t understand and can’t figure out what her little head is thinking. I try to hide it.

* * * *

Plastic cups with water for the girls, warm tea for me. Blankets. Moona makes sure everyone has a pillow, fetching them one by one from the different rooms in the house.

"Can you close the door, Moona?"

"This door closes by itself." She pauses, mesmerized, as the open door slowly, eerily, drifts closed. The only door in the house with a loose hinge, and she knows it.

Curling up in bed with the whole family. There used to be a time when Moona would watch the show in silence. Taking it all in, occasionally making an observation.

“Camel?” “Mountain?” “Bear wants her mama?”

Our peaceful Planet Earth sessions are done for good, however. Buru, delighted that we are all smooshed together in one place in a dim room, squeals, pulls Moona’s hair, sticks her fingers into our noses, nosedives into our laps and screams when she can’t wiggle out. And Moona asks questions.

“Marhadha? Ew. Marhadha?”

A glowworm excretes drops of mucus onto a thread of silk that dangles to catch insects hypnotized by the light on the worm’s tail.

“Uhhh.” I grope for the right words in Arabic. “It’s a worm. He’s hanging the string to …”

Blink. Glowworm is gone.

“Marhadha? Marhadha, Umee? Marhadha? MARHADHA?”

Now it’s a swarm of bats and a mountain of cockroaches eating... you don’t want to know. Gross. Why am I watching this? Oh right, family time. I look at my husband. He’s lost in action, snoring, and Buru is reaching for his eyeglasses.