Seattle Mosque and Community
Balance comes up so often in my conversations with people. Balance between work and personal, balance between wants and needs, balance of choice and desires... and Azizeh was no different. The first thing she said was that she wanted less focus on work, more focus on family. But what we tell ourselves is really just the tip of the iceberg.... Balance between work and life sounds easy, like a to-do list that you can check off at the end of each day... but the more we talked, what came up is not that Azizeh needs more balance between work and life, she has positioned herself and her family in a way that she spends quality time with each person in her family and they appreciate that and recognize it.
It's the guilt that she needs taming. That dreaded mommy guilt – the shoulds and woulds and coulds that keep us up at night. The comparison that we heap on our own heads – in Azizeh's case, comparing herself to her own mother who raised and selflessly loved her 13 children, that she admires and wants to emulate... But that is not Azizeh's path – she is here to be a mother and an educator to all of her children , way more than 13, biological or not. There are the students that she helps excel in a very dry subject, General, Organic and Biochemistry, that most students run away from screaming; the ESL students that she founded a mentoring group for so that they won't have to face the same struggles she did when immigrating to the United States; the “Friends Potluck Dinner” that she founded to originally bring Muslims together in the community to find new friends, but now has evolved into a potluck for all that want to meet or engage within the Muslim community; her two sons and one daughter that she treats with love and compassion and joy, engaging with one another in quality time. But it is her two sons that the guilt is most wrapped around.
It's not always easy to live our path, in fact it's down right difficult, because everything in your body screams to make things easy... that little voice says “shhhhh... you're fine the way you are” it takes real courage to make the sacrifice, face your fears and live the life that drives you, to go after a dream, to make choices and decisions that guide us to be the best that we can be and to really live by our values.
Which is why it was so difficult to make the decision to send her two young sons away to live with family in the West Bank so that she could pursue graduate school while offering her boys a stable, loving home environment with family. She hopes that they can understand that “it wasn't easy for me to only see them during the summer. Even though they were fine..... I was the one struggling with that.... I love them, I care about them. It wasn't a lack of responsibility that I sent them to live with their grandmother but it was to give them a stable environment – not to have to rush through breakfast, to rush to daycare, they were spoiled, they were loved” but she regrets that she was not the one able to do that loving and spoiling.
Ironically, the decision to send her boys to live with their grandmother and to be raised overseas – giving them the best of both the Arabic and American worlds, was precipitated when she gave birth to her second son and realized that she didn't want to be a medical doctor, to spend all of her time in hospitals and clinics away from her family, that she saw her true calling as an educator. In order to follow and succeed in that path resulted in her sending her sons away for 6 very long years and is exactly what her sons love and admire about her – how she emigrated to a new country, tackled graduate school in a foreign language, showing her kids how important it is to work hard, while still being there in order to hear their confidences and help shape her boys, into men.
I oftentimes find the story of how I meet people so fortuitous... and my connection with Azizeh is no different. After dropping my kids off I ended up going to get a coffee without any intention of reaching out to someone, but while I waited I noticed Azizeh sitting by herself, so I approached her. Though she was waiting on someone she was supposed to meet, she was willing to talk to me in the meantime. By the end of our 45 minute conversation, and her appointment was a no-show, she shared that she was supposed to be meeting a woman who had contacted Azizeh's mosque wanting to connect with a Muslim.
Since the election, more than 150 people have emailed and/or called the mosque to offer their support within this Seattle community... and Azizeh is one of the people who often engage and supports the community outreach as she has a passion (again) to educate the people – she feels that the hatred against the Muslim community is based on fear and not having any personal interactions. Of the 300 Million people in the United States, there are only 3 Million Muslims, which means chances of knowing a Muslim are slim – and so, because of this, they opened up their Potluck, which originally was created for Muslims to find friends within their community, to all people that would like to find friends within their community. And as of their last meeting over 30 non—Muslims came to eat, befriend and learn a little something – as they often have speakers come to give a small educational component as well, then they all sit down together to break bread. I for one look forward to the next one on January 22nd, where I intend to take my family, share some food and make some more new friends. Because when you meet Azizeh, there is something so open and loving to her, which in my opinion is very typical of the Muslim community, that if you are a friend you are also family.