Thank you to AltMuslimah and Sofia for the invitation to speak so candidly about something so close to my heart <3
Check out the interview here:
As a woman conscious of my ancestry, colonized body and mind, I recognize that we must come together to fight the continuation of colonization. I didn’t go to #StandingRock out of some kind of moral obligation or activist drive. I went because my sisters and brothers put out the call to come pray with them. I went because my heart was magnetized by this call. I went because of my love for Mother Earth. Those who stand up for her are my people and I will always stand with them. It is the work of the human family to say that all our indigenous ways and cultures are valuable and beautiful. It is not for western forces to say what is good and right for the Earth. We say we want to learn about sustainability and yet we continue the oppression and marginalization of indigenous people who have lived sustainability since the dawn of man. #keepitintheground is not a new concept– #nodapl is simply us saying no to the latest manifestation of the culture of western domination and exceptionalism. Have you divested from banks which support the destruction of our Earth? Have you heeded the call of our Native sisters and brothers to pray with them? These camps are not activist camps. They are prayer camps. The resistance is and will always be prayer. This is our power as spiritual people and western forces know our prayer works. This is why they’ve sent heavily militarized groups to confront these prayerful peaceful water protectors. Have you seen their Amazon wish lists? Have you sent what you can? Have you given over your heart to this call to prayer?
(If you’re just here to read the story of my time at Standing Rock, scroll down to “The Story.”)
Reflections since being back:
Before I left, I was telling my almost three year old son about my upcoming trip and he started to cry. He asked me why I had to go. I said to him, “There are some people who are trying to hurt the Earth. There are some other people who are trying to protect it. I’m going to help protect the Earth to show the other people how much we care and love the Earth.” He stopped crying and asked me very seriously, “Mama, can I come protect the Earth too?”
Yes, I’m almost 7 months pregnant and yes I would do it all over again in a heart beat. From the sleeping in my car, to the bitter cold nights and tender sore fingers and toes, to the porta potties, to the discomfort of running(waddling around camp)— it was all nothing in comparison to being there in prayer- heeding the call of my sisters and brothers to pray there.
It was like hajj- people of all colors from all over the world gathering in prayer- for prayer. This was a spiritually rich, fertile ground upon which people are converging to pray. When God is people gather to pray- my tradition says that God is deeply pleased- and more than that- God is present.
There were young people who were new comers to the camp who oozing passion, angst and zeal cried out: “Is this a resistance camp? Are we really trying to stop this thing or is this just a prayer camp.” And the answer of the elders was as confident and steady as the sun sets every evening. “This is a prayer camp. Prayer is resistance.” One woman who is always at the front lines stood and said: “I go out there everyday and sing my prayer songs and they aim for me. I have no weapons. I’m not advancing towards them. I just stand there and pray and they feel afraid and defensive. They know our prayer works.”
It was such a blessing to be there with so many children running around. It really made me miss my own.
It was bitter cold sometimes but the warmth of the hearts of all the good people there burned hot and true. It warmed me into the parts of myself that needed deep loving- the parts of myself which needed reminders that we are more connected than we think. The parts of myself that want me to give up on love and goodness because the destructive forces at work against goodness and gentleness are so powerful and come with so much money.
I was reminded that what we, the community of humans inside our relationships- when we work at them and seek to make them beautiful, we come to be full of prayer. We come to fulfill our heart’s deepest wishes. We fill those voids inside of ourselves which at other times we try to fill with social media to ease our loneliness, or drugs and alcohol to numb us to it, or food and sex which only very temporarily satisfy that hunger for community — for communion.
I didn’t do it out of some moral feeling of obligation. I did it because I deeply care for and love our Earth. Recently a friend asked me what I believe about judgement, heaven and hell. My answer surprised me because it’s one I’d never articulated in quite the way I did then before. I shared that I believe that we are made of this Earth and that we have many judgement days. I believe that one of these judgement days is the day we die. On this day, we return into the womb of our mother Earth. How we lived, I shared, determines how we will return to the Earth. Do we become toxic to her? or do we return full of love and goodness and become an oasis for life to thrive? Our tomb becomes a resting place of eternity, will our mother embrace our return and celebrate, or will she have to do so much damage control and remediation or return us to our most essential and organic natures?
I brought 70 some kites with me which had been decorated with the “decolonized” prayers of communities of people from all around NYC. These people represented most continents and spiritual traditions and their prayers
When I first got in to North Dakota, I was waiting for a contact from the Standing Rock Sioux tribe to get back in touch with me about my plans. I decided to run up to the local store and pick up a few items I knew I would need for the cold days ahead. I had planned to sleep in the rental car I’d picked up in Bismarck. I didn’t hear back from him and felt some waves of uncertainty about making my way over to Standing Rock that evening but I decided to push through. I started the hour drive and something felt like it was telling me to turn around. I heard it loud and clear but felt obstinate and stubborn- so set on my original plans. I didn’t want to waste any precious time but there was something telling me to stop. I pulled over into a parking lot to take a look at my phone. The sun had already set and I decided to check my Facebook. It was being reported that the front line was being attacked by police. My heart sank- The road was blocked and the people at the front lines were being teargassed, sprayed with fire hoses and shot with water cannons. I decided it was important for me to turn around and head back to Bismarck to spend the night there. I spent the night watching those horrors transpire on Facebook feeling embarrassed that I was in Bismarck instead of being there with them. The next morning, I was texting with a friend who knew that I was in North Dakota. She told me that an entire group was on their way there from the California Liberal Arts School, Zaytuna College. It turned out I was even acquainted with their group leader. I texted them, and it turned out that we would be getting in to camp around the same time.
Coming into the camp was like coming to a great celebration of sorts. Flags lined the road as I drove into camp, flags representing peoples from all over the world. I would come to meet these peoples who represented all indigenous peoples from all over the world- from the tips of Alaska, to the Maori. I was camped next to a man from the Martial Islands. Every Native American tribe was represented by not just a flag but a community. I’d heard elders speak of the fact that this was the largest gathering of Natives in 150 years. All colonized peoples were represented.
I spent the morning sitting at the sacred fire listening to the elders talk and becoming more familiar with the land. I was trying to coordinate with the folks from California but there were thousands and thousands of people there. I didn’t think it was at all possible that I would find them given the vastness of the camp at Oceti Sakowin and the fact that there was zero cell service at the camp. I gave up thinking I would connect with them and began to look for a place to park my car and set up for the coming cold night. I drove into camp and found some open space pretty centrally located near Grandma’s Kitchen aka California Kitchen. The woman who assigned people tasks took one look at my almost 7 month pregnant body and decided that the only work I should be doing by any means was work I could do while sitting. She sent me to Grandma Diane who embraced me lovingly and put me to work on some kale right away. Seated, I might add and a lovely break from the last two days of travel and quite an honor given the limited number of chairs in the kitchen. She and I chatted while I worked on 30 some bunches of kale. I finished the Kale and went to head back to the car to make sure my sleeping arrangement was all in order so that I wouldn’t have to do any of that in the dark. At this point the temperature had already dropped probably 10 degrees. I got in my car, turned on the heat and moved it slightly closer to the kitchen. I put it in park and looked to my left and that’s when I saw the entire group from California. I couldn’t believe that I’d found them by chance given the sheer size of the camp. It felt so good to know some people and not be alone especially as nightfall was quickly approaching. They’d just about finished building their tents and had begun the process of building a fire. I joined them for a few minutes then went back to work in the kitchens. I worked in the kitchen for the next few days. It was brutally cold some days. I was glad to be pregnant, to have a little oven inside me- keeping my body temperature higher than it normally is. It was deeply uncomfortable at moments to be as big as I am and to be waddling around camp- to the kitchen, to the portapotties, to the sacred fire, to the dome, to the river. Sleeping in the car that first night, I was so hyper aware of all the souls around me. The energy was quiet but so alive. So full of prayer and wisdom. I woke just about every hour that night and remembered the teachings of my elders: when that happens, you are being called to pray but angelic spirits – so heed the call pray and I did. I’d fall back asleep and wake up an hour later. After about 9 hours of that, it was finally time to wake up for the day. I headed to the kitchen. The first day, I butchered an entire quarter of buffalo that had been donated that morning that would go to feed 500 or so people that evening.. I offered prayers of gratitude for the life of that buffalo as I did that tedious work- with every cut I said thank you. I attended the morning gathering where people brought useful and pertinent information for the day ahead. This was also where people debriefed on the happenings of the days before. On the first day, people were discussing everything to do with what had happened on the front lines the night before. I went to the direct action meeting where I shared my idea for the kites. I received some great feedback and there were a few folks who were interested in helping to facilitate my project to make it happen. The community decided that it would be a rest day and that no direct actions were to happen that day— an idea that was welcomed by most, especially those who’d been at the front lines experiencing all that they did. I headed back to the kitchen to work more. I spent the rest of my day in the warm cocoon where Grandma Diane held the fort down with a smile and immense love, reminding me to sit down, take breaks, drink water and care for myself and the baby. She joked that she could deliver the baby if I needed her to so I shouldn’t worry about anything. That evening I served some 400-500 bowls of buffalo stew to cold hungry people. I looked into the eyes of each person intentionally. I said thank you to each one of them- to which they always replied, thank you. It reminded me of Hajj. People of all colors, of all sizes. Pilgrims of sorts- full of prayer all covered in a layer of earth. I loved each one of them deeply, not knowing their names or their stories. I just loved them, their faces and hands covered in dirt, their cheeks and noses deep shades of rose- marked by the cold air. The cold air crept in with every new wave of people entering the tent to partake in this community meal but I wasn’t bothered. My face was being steamed by the buffalo stew and the rest of me was warmed by the hearts and prayers of people there, these people made of Earth, covered in Earth protecting Earth. I had the teaching of the prophet Muhammad in my heart, “When the Day of *knowing dawns, the One descends to the lowest heaven and proudly remarks to the angelic spirits: ‘Look at my servants! They have come towards me with their hair disheveled and scattered, while their bodies and clothes are covered in dust after long journeys. Their cry is Here we come Oh beloved One, Here we come!’ O my angelic spirits! I make you witness that i have elevated them.”
I had several offers that night to share tents and other sleeping quarters with people, people I’d only met that day. Everyone wanted to take care of me. All the women and men elders from innumerable different backgrounds came flocking to me to make sure I always had enough to eat, was comfortable, and had a safe and warm place to rest. It was highly embarrassing for me. I felt like a drain on the community instead of being there as a help. So many elders shared such gratitude with me for making the journey out in my condition. Saying that I brought great medicine with me in my belly. Hopi, Dine, Sioux women elders seemed to be especially drawn in by my belly, people asking to touch it and so many praying for me and this baby. They said it was medicine for them that I was there and they were medicine for my aching heart.
On my last day there, I woke up just before sunrise to pray. I got all ready for the day and got out of the car to offer my morning prayer. I unlocked the door, stepped out, shut the door and went to go open the front door. It was locked. I went back to the back seat door to open that one since I had just unlocked it and used it and it was locked. They keys were in the ignition. I was locked out without my mittens, without all my stuff and without cell service and the ability to be in touch with AAA to come out and help. I decided not to worry. I prayed it would sort itself out. I offered my morning prayer and decided to head the kitchen to help with breakfast. I shared the mornings events with a beautiful family from Mexico City who’d been working in the kitchens just about as long as I had. It turned out that the father had owned a taxi cab company in florida for a long time and so had come across this many times. He offered to try but made no promises given that the car was a newer model and those usually provided a bit harder to open. He asked me to find a wire coat hanger. Where was I going to find a coat hanger? I decided that it would be okay and that I’d come across one in time. I had a flight to catch an hour away and had to return the car by 3pm. It was already around 9AM. We were congregating around the fire and I asked if anyone had seen any hangers around camp. A couple of the girls around the fire had been working at the donation center and said they’d seen lots of plastic hangers there— they hadn’t however see any wire hangers. One of them volunteered to go and see if they could find one. 10 or so minutes later, they came triumphant with the only wire hanger in the whole donation center amongst hundreds of plastic hangers. This amazing man stood outside my car with a wooden wedge block from a construction crew from Vermont, a hammer and that wire hanger and worked on it for almost 30 minutes. His fingers exposed to the cold air, he tried and tried to get that door open. Just as his fingers were getting stiff from the cold, he managed to grab the lock and pull- Success! We were in! A big hug and lots of high fives and thank yous and we parted ways. I never even learned his name.
I went to go fly some kites with a bunch of kids from around who’d seen them. We congregated near the dome and I tried to get one up. There wasn’t any wind but they loved running with the kites chasing behind them all the same. I had one that I was working on and a man appeared and offered to help me run with the kite. After multipleattempts, he and I decided that it wasn’t going to happen. We exchanged names and realized that we grew up very near to one another. He was an angel investor after starting many successful businesses. It was amazing to me the amazing range of humans who were there to stand up for this cause.
I felt home. I felt like it wasn’t enough time, could never be enough time but my time there was winding down. I had to leave to catch my flight. I went up to media hill with a bunch of people to try one last time to see if we could fly the kites. We got one up but it didn’t last. I came back down but it drew in a young woman who’d frequented the front lines and another young man who while knowing nothing about my project, that if only we had 1000 kites we could subvert the surveillance planes flying above. She mentioned that she’d just been reading about kites as resistance and I as so moved that this was actually a real thing! She commented that simply because of that one kite, the plan was flying considerable higher- a victory in her eyes for the prayer camp. These airplanes have even been seen spraying strange powders or chemicals over the camp – like crop dusters. People have noted that they have coughs and difficulty breathing when this has happened but there has been little to no clarity from law enforcement on what is being sprayed or why. We talked about all this and then I explained my idea to them and told them about the 70 kites I’d brought with me. She stepped away and said she needed to find her brother. She and her brother reappeared a few minutes later and we kept talking. He mentioned that he was a student and I asked him where he was studying. He said he was at Bard College. I’d just had a beautiful event where I performed my poetry at Bard not even two weeks previous to that moment. He asked what organization on campus had invited me to come. I told him and he mentioned that he knew lots of the organizers for that group. I asked if he knew a young woman who was my husband’s cousin and it turned out that they were dear friends. How was it that this person I was randomly meeting at the top of a hill at one of many camps inNorth Dakota knew a beloved of mine? I was stunned. I shared with them my sadness about not getting my kites up before leaving and this woman told me that she was planning on staying indefinitely at Standing Rock — she said she wanted to take the kites to the front lines, which was my hope all along. Too many elders had banned me from even thinking of going to the front lines as soon as they saw my belly and I thought that my idea would never soar and here was this woman offering to remedy this great sadness of mine from her own volition and desire and she was the sister of the young man who knew my beloved cousin. I left the kites in her care with a hug and a few tears on my part and left camp.
I drove up to Bismarck and was an absolute mess. I wept so much that the road became blurry. I pulled over to collect myself and continued on to the airport. I made it to the airport and had not packed anything into my bag. I stuffed things in as best as I could and returned the car. I made my way through security and as I was gathering my many bags I heard my name called out. I looked behind me and a woman who had been with me in the community meeting a couple days ago was standing there. She said how she had hoped to run into me again. I remembered her beautiful eyes and she offered to help me carry my many things which was a welcomed relief. We went and sat in the same area. She had lots of time as she was trying to get on a much later stand by flight. I was furiously trying to re-pack my bag so that more things would fit and she very sweetly offered to help. I definitely needed it since my flight was about to start boarding and my stuff was strewn around everywhere. An extra set of hands at that moment was a definitive miracle. She and I managed to pack everything in to an acceptable ordeal and with a sweet hug and contacts exchanged, I boarded my flight.
“We wanted to replace the trauma and terror with love by way of doughnuts, coffee, flowers and good conversations.”
Check out the article!
A message to all of you out there who have ever doubted your hopes, dreams, ideas or even just generally yourselves: We didn’t think in a million years that our little idea of passing out doughnuts, coffee and flowers to passersby in the hopes of honest conversation and vulnerable connection would cause such a stir! But we believed in our hopes, intentions and above all else, in ourselves! We saw the world as needing some LOVE so instead of waiting for someone else to give that LOVE, we decided to be the ones to do it! What we did wasn’t some grand gesture. It was small. So small! So seemingly unremarkable! We just talked to people and shared some yummies– and why did it make such a splash? I don’t quite know the answer but I do know that I’m standing here today with this issue of People Magazine with an article about us in it! Please please please believe in yourselves! Please follow through on your ideas of love! Please give out love like it’s endless! Because it is! If there’s one thing I learned from all my hours out there doing#AskAMuslim it’s this: the more love you give, the more love you receive! Love is endless and infinite! Your #actoflove, no matter how unremarkable you think it is, is important! Believe in your own crazy and silly ideas! Who knows where those ideas of love will take you!!! I’m living proof of that! Oh my goodnesssss! If you’ve ever doubted the little things you do make a difference and needed a sign — well then here’s your sign! Keep on spreading love my good and beautiful human family! Keep sharing the LOVE! ❤
I felt really dumb about my “OlmcDonald” comment… so I went ahead and created my own therapy with humor. Because if you can’t laugh at yourself…well I don’t know what because I OFTEN laugh at the dumb things I do and say and don’t think they make me any less of person! <3
The lovely Melanie featured me as the hijabi of the month. Check out the interview we did for it HERE!
Hijabi of the Month February – Mona Haydar
Posted on February 28, 2016
This month’s HOTM is Mona Haydar. She is a poet, activist practitioner of Permaculture, meditator, composting devotee, mountain girl, solar power lover and a tireless God-enthusiast. She teaches classes and retreats on mindfulness and Islamic spirituality, leads workshops on creative writing and performs her poetry. Her words have found homes in the hearts of seekers, wanderers, poets, artists, lovers and stewards of the Earth. She grew up in Flint, Michigan, graduated from the University of Michigan and has since lived in Damascus where she studied Arabic and Islamic spirituality then went on to live in the mountains of Northern New Mexico at Lama Foundation and in the Redwood forest of Northern California with her husband and son.
Mona and her husband, Sebastian set up a stand in Cambridge, Massachusetts with signs that read ‘Talk to a Muslim’ ‘free coffee and donuts’ ‘free conversation’ and ‘Ask a Muslim’ encouraging open and loving dialogue which garnered the attention ofNPR, Al Jazeera, The Boston Globe among other media outlets. Currently she is working on her second collection of poems and her first work of nonfiction on Islamic Spirituality through the lens of other spiritual traditions. She is working towards her Masters in Divinity. Mona helps to grow a more universal love with her activism, writing, performing and teaching.
1) When did you start wearing hijab? Tell us a little about your journey.
The summer before 6th grade, I was riding my bike – whirring around my neighborhood feeling that very innocent fearless and abiding invincibility. I was feeling the wind on my face and through my hair and inspiration came in that very moment. I decided right then that I would start wearing hijab full time. My amazing mama threw me this awesome party and praise be to God, that hijab has never left my head. I mean, not literally because that’s disgusting! Anyways after living in New Mexico at an amazing place called Lama Foundation, I realized that hijab was this very weird thing to most people. And then in the Redwood forest, it was crazy not seeing any other Muslims for weeks at a time. I started to feel like an alien. After the San Bernardino attacks, I felt the very first wave of real fear because of being so obviously Muslim. I wear hijab as a spiritual practice and a constant reminder to myself that I am so much more than just this physical body. Wearing hijab has been an act of political and social resistance and critique of the major beauty industry and the consumerist culture we live in, too. It’s this amazing magical piece of cloth and way of life and dress that contains so much blessing and benefit to my heart!
2) You are an accomplished and talented poet! Tell us how you got into it, what it means to you and what you hope to accomplish through your poetry.
First of all, aww so sweet! Thank you! I started writing poetry at the very tender age of 8. I slowly fell deeper and deeper in love with this form of artistic expression and soon I was in high school and friends who I’d shown some of my poetry to were telling my to stop being so shy and selfish. My amazing and supportive friends said that I had to stop hoarding my writing and keeping it to myself because it was a gift from God and that I didn’t own it and so I didn’t need to feel so sheepish about it. I started going to open mic nights and slams and soon enough I was winning. After a few wins though, I realized that I didn’t like competing. It didn’t feel good to me to win and to have someone else lose, especially when I saw a lot of these other poets as so brilliant and gifted. I stopped competing and that’s when I started doing it as a profession born of passion. It was an awesome way for me to make money while in University and I was stunned that people wanted to pay me to hear me read my poetry. I still am! I see my poetry as a form of ministry. I try to use it as a tool to inspire love and light in those who are co-creating that space with me as my audience. I use it to connect with people and cut away the superficial and jump right into the heart of our existence. Poetry is this incredible thing because it has the capacity for such vulnerability within sweetness, rawness and simplicity. My prayer is that God keeps this alive in my heart as long as it brings benefit to me and those around me.
3) The arts have not always been supported in our community, (despite our rich history in art), do you see that starting to change? Why or why not?
To be honest, I had to step back from performing for a couple years because it was instilled in me more times than I’d like to mention, that it was just a slightly sinful youthful phase that I would grow out of. It was implied, too, that because I stood up on stage in front of mixed audiences that I was somehow improper or immodest, even when my words called for love of our Creator and his beloved messenger (saw), calling for social justice in Palestine and other places and the general grappling for cultural authority and authentic identity as a young Muslim. It was rough and I let it get to me a lot more than I should have. But luckily, I’ve done my due diligence and studied in Damascus at reputable schools and conferred with my teachers who fully support me in my career. It’s taken a lot to get me back on stage in the Muslim community but I’m healing my broken heart and licking my wounds. I wish little 8 year old poetess Mona had someone who looked like her living her authentic calling and passion in the light of her faith and practice — so I’m trying to be that! I’m getting a lot more invitations these days from broader American audiences so that’s been really exciting, too. I do see more openness within the Muslim community. We are coming to buck the cultural and un-Islamic traditions that dictate that in order for a woman to be pious, she must be quiet and invisible and I’m proud to say that I see more people opening to a more Khadija, Aisha and Nusayba way of being– fearless, smart, strong, self assured; this is the way of the hijabi!
4) You and your husband started the “Ask a Muslim” initiative, where you stand in a public place with coffee and donuts encouraging people to have a conversation and ask questions. What was one of the most surprising responses you received and what did you learn from the experience?
One of the greatest responses we got was actually a suggestion– someone said to us, “You know, you should really change your signs from saying “Ask a Muslim” to “Ask a Human Being (who happens to be a Muslim).” That just so summed up what we are trying to do out there. We are NOT out there trying to educate people about Islam. We are out there being our authentic selves, as honest as we can possibly be, as full of love as we can possibly be and all the while just stopping for a moment and being neighborly and saying hello to passersby with the hopes of sharing a smile or a conversation. It’s the little things. We just want to foster human connections because only when we are separated and feel like we’re different can we have unjust feelings about others. We are all on the path to liberation and freedom whether we know it or not. I just want to facilitate the conversations in love that can help us to be vehicles so that we can get free together with love and compassion.
5) What is one statement or motto you live by?
One time, Daniel Ladinsky, the great translator of Rumi and Hafiz, told me, “Mona, you just need to try a little bit harder and you could be a saint.” And I really believe that’s true about all of us. We can’t all try a lot harder — but we can try a little harder in every moment. Can that piece of garbage you’re about to throw away be recycled? Take the extra few steps to recycle it. Start a compost pile in your yard. Grow your own food (or at least some of it). Get a couple solar panels. Speak softly to your kids and kiss them on their heads often. Try a little bit harder, Mona. Just a little bit. That’s what is always in the back of my mind and on my heart and I try to operate from that place all the time. Hopefully it will create in me a grand mindfulness that will open my heart to the inner realities and truths that we are all here to engage.
6) If you could give one piece of advice to someone struggling with hijab, what would it be?
Remember that you are so much more than your hijab or your hair. Remember that whatever you decide, God is generous and loving. Remember to be kind to yourself- in this life and in the next. Sometimes kindness to ourselves means doing the harder thing now for the hope of spiritualizing our selves so that we can know our beloved in the next life. These things are easy to lose sight of when we’re on our grinds –day in and day out. Think long term. Make decisions from your heart and your head. Use both to guide you into a place of harmony. Hijab is hard. I’ve thought about what it would be like not to wear it. I think that’s so natural. I’ve worn hats (as a disguise…lol) in places where I didn’t feel safe. Be kind to yourself. Be gentle with yourself. You are on a gorgeous journey to God — I love you and I’m with you on it!
Is there someone you’d like to nominate for Hijabi of the Month? E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org!