As I walk upstairs the same smells greet me from when I was but a girl. Memories of my time in a pleated skirt, white blouse and most likely pink or white hijab. I can see my friends and I giggling in sujood while Anse (teacher) reprimanded us later.
I also recall:
The trailer classrooms and how I used to think there were most likely tarantulas under there.
The silver cluttered wudu wash station.
The tiny gift shop downstairs; I used to buy dates and gifts for mom with my lunch money savings.
The chandelier in the prayer area adoring God’s 99 names. Al-Bari is the first I always see.
The pistachio and beige carpet, smelling something of a mix between feet, masala, and tears.
Today I am a revised woman who no longer giggles in prayer. I go through the motions of preparing for prayer in the same spaces but with a reinterpretation of the world around me, with an appreciation and deep pursuit to understand the Natural, with the Natural before me.
“everyone got a favorite sweet every woman got a recipe she is baklava backbone strong foundation layers thousand layers”
Literature and Baklava? Yes.
From an early age I gravitated toward performance arts. In elementary school I was encouraged to submit my poetry to a publisher and present at a school poetry cafe. In middle school I joined choir and tried out for a few plays. (I never made the cut for any productions.) To me, written poetry is freedom.
During my second year at University – I enrolled in a performance literature class which explored forms of communicating prose, poetry, and literature through voice and body. At the end of the quarter I selected a poem by Suheir Hammad, titled “mama sweet baklava” which, when read, is a visual and emotional expression of the fortitude Arab women value. The process of making baklava is used as a metaphor to illustrate how the challenge of repression only extends itself to fortitude and beauty in the delight that is baklava.
Ingredients: 1 pack of Phyllo dough
1 bag of walnuts (or any preferred nut base)
Two sticks of sweet butter
1 bottle of orange blossom water (maa zahr) *(Be careful not to get maa ward – rosewater)
Half a lemon (we’ll only need a squeeze)
Filling Options: Ashta based | 1 cup of milk:2 spoons of semolina (We’ll be using 3 cups of milk and 6 spoons of semolina)
Walnut based | walnuts + 1 tablespoon sugar + 1 teaspoon olive oil
Directions: 2 Hours Before:
Allow Phyllo Dough to thaw at room temperature on counter.
Crush walnuts using a blender or crusher – Do not crush into fine grains. Pieces should be broken up and still somewhat chunky.
Mama’s Walnut Baklava Recipe:
1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.
2. Walnut Filling Option: After crushing walnuts and tossing with a spoon of sugar and a teaspoon of olive oil, set aside and unroll phyllo dough. Separate into two equal piles. Depending on your pan size, cut stacks to fit the pan but be sure to cut so that ends of dough climb up the side of the pan.
Ashta Filling Option: After following instructions below, pour ashta over the bottom phyllo layer on the pan.
3. Lay walnuts over the phyllo dough in the pan and cover the top with the second stack of phyllo dough. Pat lightly over the top so the surface is smooth.
4. Using a sharp knife, cut horizontal lines across the pan and then diagonal lines so that you create a diamond shape.
5. Melt two sticks of butter. While hot, pour over the phyllo dough making sure to soak the open cuts and edges.
6. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until top is crispy and golden.
7. Take the dish out of the oven. After 10 minutes or until the steam disappears, pour the hot atr over the baklava. Do not pour immediately. The baklava will become soggy.
Mama’s Atr Recipe:
My mom has always used a Turkish rakwee or ibrik or coffee decanter. She fills around 3/4 of it with sugar and soaks the rest of it with water. Proportions are up to you.
Atr = sugar + water + 5 minutes on medium heat while stirring + squeeze of lemon when it boils.
Mama’s Ashta Recipe: Stir 3 cups of milk + 6 spoons of semolina in a pot on medium- high heat (level 7/10 is good) until contents begin to solidify and bubble. When bubbling begins add maa zahr to the pot. Mom says the more you add, the better. Taste it out!
I love my baklava hot with a cup of dark coffee. 10/10!
Enjoy the smells.
“The walnut almond home
of her where she sits back with strong black coffee and finally tastes herself rose water sweet slow delicious”
Thursday night was peaceful. Thinking about it makes me smile.
Forgive the brevity and partially chaotic reflections. This may seem like a laundry list.
After work I went to a knitting shop where I opened my sock book and learned the English cast on method by heart for the Egyptian pair I’m working on. There I tried some new lotion and covered my hands with some chai and green tea scents. So good! The English cast on allows the sock opening to be elastic. It seems sturdy enough too so that it doesn’t over stretch and break. An old couple and their parents sat beside me and had some ice cream – talking about their grandchildren’s sporting games and discussing The Wreck of Edmund Fitzgerald.
“Does anyone know where The love of God goes When the waves turn the minutes to hours?”
A friend and I had plans to meet at a gym to sign up for a membership. The deal was affordable and we took a tour of the facility which we both admired for its simplicity and creative corners and stations. That took us about half an hour before we both drove to the Masjid for night prayer.
Prayer began and we had our noses stuck in the booklets.. Hot tea and sweets were served. Three different men passed over the microphone nd I heard different intonations and pronounciations. It got me thinking about how my Madani Homsi Syrian dialect permeates my understanding of the world around me – and especially God’s word. I’ve been going to the prayer consistently and feel more integrated. The ladies there are incredibly welcoming and even offer me tadig – the crisps from the bottom of a rice or potato dish. This is not only a sign of deep respect but it’s delicious. Keeps me coming.
A few of the brothers and sisters went to the room upstairs to play Taboo because they didn’t understand the lecture. It was in a different language. It was a good time to bond with the community.
Later, I asked my friend to watch me pray because I though I was performing it incorrectly before God. As everyone left and people were doing dishes I did a practice prayer. I was doing everything correctly except the dua before rukoo in the second rakaa. And the tahiyat at the end were being said slightly wrong. She watched me make wudu (ablution) and we sat and she said ‘it’s about saving water.’ ‘It makes sense,’ I responded. We discussed wiping vs soaking.
The center was closing so we drove out to her home. There I did more practice prayers. I met her bird, Cutie, who allowed me to rub my finger on her head. She usually doesn’t let people do that when they first meet her apparently. As I read more prayers she sang and squeaked. My friend says that Cutie really admires me. We laughed. ‘I admire her too,’ I said.
We made hot cocoa and ate chocolate covered strawberries. We offered Cutie some tut Farangi too. While she climbed in her large cage we watched a lecture series together. Every five minutes or so we’d pause and discuss our thoughts.
I realized a friendship like this is vital. I remember my religious youth groups in Chicagoland and Syria and how I used to dress and behave. Skirts, loose shirts, simplicity, and the priority of God first. It comes back easily. Bringing those qualities back is deeply beneficial. Even in simple changes of attire make a large difference. Being with friends who appreciate, understand and even practice these qualities is a blessing.
The night came to a close and it was time to go home. All I can say is that it was a much needed night. Before leaving she ran upstairs to get some books I had asked for and that she wanted to share with me.
One of the few things we discussed between pausing the lecture series was about how I ended up here. ‘I can barely explain it with words, but I feel guided alhamdullilah,’ I said. It was easy to cry.
She looked at me and smiled while Cutie sang her song.
Life is too short. I remember my great grandfather praying with his eyes before he passed and I remember the importance of priority. I close my eyes and see brown soil piled on a brother’s body as his widow wept; a tragedy too harrowing, reminding me that love for a spouse is but a further impetus toward returning to God. I remember and see raw systemic issues circulating our world and in order to reform families and communities and work toward my sustainable ethic, I need to reform and evolve my soul first. As I write this, I cry over the infinitely growing and expanding Opening toward God in every moment. A moment, in its stillness, is more encompassing of the Universe than anything within me.
In ethical beauty you will find tawhid, that I can promise.
I welcome the poetics of nature, the sacred revival of speaking to the Sun, and allowing a tree to penetrate my heart.
My Lord, allow me to breathe beauty till my last. Protect and keep me in the company of those who remember You. I surrender myself.
In your life you get some pleasant breaths from your Lord. Make a point of being benefited by them and do not turn away from them.
I am aware of and recognize the raw reality and responsibility individuals bear in their conception on this earth; no one is capable of genuinely caring for my well-being and spiritual ascension toward God except myself. No one else should. This universal truth is my first and most important awakening.
My thoughts are constantly about my grave and how the preparation begins now. I value the imperative of understanding this lesson before being partnered.
I will always cry to God first. Though, there are times I can be confused and yearn for human love, affection and touch. I yearn for it so I may also give back and share in the struggle; individual but united. One of my thematic strengths is being restorative; and now I’m learning the power of disengaging not only with the material world, but also people.
My narrative feels chaotic to me and has been disruptive to my healing. I have self-blamed excessively which hindered my growth. Are we not imperfect? Are we not flesh and soul, forgetful insan? So I focus on the present, because the present is His. Repentance begins when you feel shame. There is a lesson of love which God is teaching me in the most important and beneficial way. There is a hikmah intertwined with pain and it is calculated accordingly.
As I linger in a mysterious silence, I grow to see my beauty. I need not prove it to any other to feel whole. This is a painstaking but necessary process. My heart is not mine. It is His. And I will return it to Him in the most beautiful way.
Whoever is wary of Allah, He shall make for him a way out [of the adversities of the world and the Hereafter and provide for him from whence he does not count upon. And whoever puts his trust in Allah, He will suffice him. Indeed Allah carries through His commands. Certainly, Allah has ordained a measure [and extent] for everything.
There is great beauty in finding and bathing in stillness during immense sorrow which carves into your being. The test bears witness to our faith as we are asked and pressured to rebuild. Surely that glimmer of hope during our shipwreck is none other than the Almighty.
There is a language between life and death. Only when we die will we truly have lived. We live and we die in every moment. Socrates has suggested that one cannot truly fulfill an examination of their life until it has ended.
For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun? And what is it to cease breathing but to free the breath from its restless tides, that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered? Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing. And when you have reached the mountaintop, then you shall begin to climb. And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.