#TodayIMet Zahra

Zahra and Nida talk about why she got into comedy, Santa confusion, and constantly unlearning beauty standards.


Created & Hosted By: Nida Chowdhry
Guest: Zahra Noorbakhsh
Executive Producers: Nida Chowdhry & Yumna Khan
Director: Yumna Khan
Editor / Post-Supervisor: Nida Chowdhry
Assistant Editor: Zayd Ezzeldine
Production Sound: Kari Barber
Post-Production Sound By: Transported Audio
Supervising Sound Editor: Eric Marks
Re-Recording Mixer: Austin Chase
Dialog Editor: Anna Cassady
Music: “Engaging Stories” By RimskyMusic
Production Company: Stranger Magic Productions
Production Coordinator: Leah Kunnath
Production Interns: Bridget Kelley, Natalie Handelsman

#TodayIMet Seema

Seema and Nida talk about her experiences with colorism and bullying, why she models, and her definitions of beauty. Trigger Warning: Bullying, Depression, Suicide, Colorism


Created & Hosted By: Nida Chowdhry
Guest: Seema Hari
Executive Producers: Nida Chowdhry & Yumna Khan
Director: Yumna Khan
Editor / Post-Supervisor: Nida Chowdhry
Assistant Editor: Zayd Ezzeldine
Production Sound: Kari Barber
Post-Production Sound By: Transported Audio
Supervising Sound Editor: Eric Marks
Re-Recording Mixer: Austin Chase
Dialog Editor: Anna Cassady
Music: “Engaging Stories” By RimskyMusic
Production Company: Stranger Magic Productions
Production Coordinator: Leah Kunnath
Production Interns: Bridget Kelley, Natalie Handelsman

#TodayIMet Deondra

Deondra and Nida talk about her love of baking, how she navigates social media, and what she wishes for her children.


Created & Hosted By: Nida Chowdhry
Guest: Deondra Wilks
Executive Producers: Nida Chowdhry & Yumna Khan
Director: Yumna Khan
Editor / Post-Supervisor: Nida Chowdhry
Assistant Editor: Zayd Ezzeldine
Production Sound: Kari Barber
Post-Production Sound By: Transported Audio
Supervising Sound Editor: Eric Marks
Re-Recording Mixer: Austin Chase
Dialog Editor: Anna Cassady
Music: “Engaging Stories” By RimskyMusic
Production Company: Stranger Magic Productions
Production Coordinator: Leah Kunnath
Production Interns: Bridget Kelley, Natalie Handelsman

#TodayIMet Hishaam

Hishaam and Nida delve into his coming out journey as queer Muslim. He shares what it was like coming out to his parents, reconciling his faith with his sexual orientation, and finding self-acceptance in a profound place.


Created & Hosted By: Nida Chowdhry
Guest: Hishaam Siddiqi
Executive Producers: Nida Chowdhry & Yumna Khan
Director: Yumna Khan
Editor / Post-Supervisor: Nida Chowdhry
Assistant Editor: Zayd Ezzeldine
Production Sound: Kari Barber
Post-Production Sound By: Transported Audio
Supervising Sound Editor: Eric Marks
Re-Recording Mixer: Austin Chase
Dialog Editor: Anna Cassady
Music: “Engaging Stories” By RimskyMusic
Production Company: Stranger Magic Productions
Production Coordinator: Leah Kunnath
Production Interns: Bridget Kelley, Natalie Handelsman

Las Chicas del Cable Season 5 Part 2 – EL FINAL (Season 6)

Okay, Chicas. I have something to get off my chest.

I actually wrote this review back in July 2020. I started writing as I was watching the series, episode by episode.

And then… it dawned on me. That there is more going on in this season than I previously thought / registered.

And to be honest, it hit me, really, really hard. And I found it hard to just, write. I found myself thinking and feeling what the show wanted me to feel. And damn. It was emotional.

I knew that Lidia was in some type of internment camp at the end of Season 4. It was evident and worrisome, but, I think the whole Doña Carmen thing was at the forefront of that teaser. And I don’t think it really like, set in my mind, the full GRAVITY of that. OR. Maybe it was how the story was meant to be told… that the gravity of Lidia’s situation is supposed to unfold in front of us in layers.

All I know is that the whole thing has me sobbing, ya’ll.

This really has been such a beautiful show. It’s gone through so many topics and the main characters have gone through so many struggles. The friendship of these women, Las Chicas Del Cable, has really become a big part of my heart. It was especially hard to say goodbye to them… a real goodbye, during a tough year.

We began following these women, who coincidentally met, back in 1928. And we travel the course of their friendship for a decade. That puts us in 1939, where Lidia has found herself imprisoned in a Spanish internment camp.

It’s like all of these tough years and challenges these women have been through… it all led up to this final challenge. This test of what their friendship means. What it means to be there for someone through thick and thin. And ultimately, what these women stand for and will stand for.

I hate that this show is over. I love that this show took us to some unexpectedly tough places. Carlos was a hot idiota all the way to the end. And Doña Carmen a stone-cold monster. And our Chicas? Heroes. Imperfect heroes. That showed us, showed me that there are so many stories history hasn’t told, but through this, we can imagine.

Through tears, I say, thank you, Las Chicas Del Cable.

Now… are you ready for my Season 5 Part 2 Review? It begins now.

Written on July 2020:

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!! Ayyyyyyyyyyyy. My heart. MI CORAZON. I’ve been watching this show for years now, and now it’s OVER?! The final episodes are sitting in front of me. HOW CAN THIS BE. I NEED more Cable Girls. Whyyyyyyyy?!

If you’ve been here before, you know the deal. My review is FULL of spoilers. So… OMG. I’m sobbing. UGH. Why. (PULL YOURSELF TOGETHER, NIDA!)

Okay. Let’s try this again. If you need a refresher, you can read my Season 4 Recap here and my Season 5 Part 1 Recap here.

And my Season 5 Part 2 aka Season 6 aka El Final review, begins…NOW… ::sobs::

Are you ready? Let’s hold hands and ugly cry together, shall we?



Season 6 Episode 1, Chapter 38 “Power”

Robin Hood

To begin with, I can’t believe Lidia has been in prison for mas de SIETE meses. Seven months?! Omg. This is already a disaster. Of course we knew the evil bruja Doña Carmen was going to make this hell for Lidia, and she is, from the get go. And Lidia is being Lidia, of course, trying to help people even and especially when she’s in harms way. I’m going to miss this b&&&h. Ugh.

Of course her loyal loved ones are working tirelessly to save her. Francisco is looking SHARP might I add, as are Carlota and Oscar. Oh, Oscar. He looks so calm and collected on the outside, but I just know we’re in for some challenging heartbreaks here. I hope we get a good ending for all of these characters. And also, Francisco looks great, but I freakin’ miss Carlos. ::ugly cries:: Él era una hot idiota. Waaaaaaah!

Sofia – oh Sofia you caused such hell in the first 6 episodes – looks great and I’m so sad her soldier doesn’t seem to be around, at least not yet. Maybe he’ll be involved in saving Lidia? We’ll see.


Back to Lidia. OF COURSE CARMEN is slinging meds! OF COURSE! She’s evil isn’t she?! Of course she’s selling 15/20 crates! I’m surprised she’s not selling all of them!!!

OMG WAIT… OMG… this conversation with the Bishop. I’m only now just truly realizing. IS LIDIA IN A CONCENTRATION CAMP?! Que horror.

Taking a moment of silence for this.

That means Doña Carmen is a Nazi?!?!?!?!?! I just did some googling and read more about this. Shaking my head. Que despicable.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised re: Doña Carmen.

OMG. Back to this scene where Lidia Robin Hood’s the medicine and gets Donña Carmen in trouble. THIS IS NOT GOING TO GO WELL FOR LIDIA. And… it doesn’t.


I… can not believe Oscar just broke up with Carlota. But I can also believe it. As Oscar says, he’s not doing well right now – he only seems like he is because he needs to give that appearance in order to survive.

And NOOOOOO! Julio is dead. Ugh. Is it bad that I’m like, okay at least there’s only one Pablo now? Ugh I’m terrible

Julio no esta aqui.

Omg. Palmira… helping Lidia. Is this going to work??? No way it can… no way…

And then. NO. NO. Marga. No!

No, Marga, no!

I’m surprised Lidia ends up leaving Marga…


Omg. Lidia is out to get Doña Carmen (and vice versa)… this is going to be a war.

Revenge, but first, red lipstick

Btw, you know who the Doña Carmen actress reminds me of? The mother in law in Secret of the Nile! (Read my review for another amazing juicy show. Sadly, the actress from Secret of the Nile passed away recently. She was in over 100 films!)

Season 6 Episode 2, Chapter 39 “Patience”

PATIENCE? Who has patience?

Honestly, Lidia, you should have ended Carmen when you had the chance. But here we are, and Marga is in prison now, eight months pregnant, PERFECT HOSTAGE for Carmen. And yikes, ya’ll… hearing Doña Carmen’s plan for Marga… damn. She.is.evil. And Lidia’s impassioned speech about needing to help free the prisoners – heartbreaking.

Wait… omg… is ISIDRO a straight up COLLABORATOR?! I mean, I thought he tried to turn Pablo in as an act of anger/heartbreak/bitterness, but has he been collaboratING all along? Using the telephone company to wiretap, perhaps? YEESH ISIDRO! You’re being such a CARLOS!

Wait… wait… wait… wait… wait… NO ONE KNOWS CARLOS DIED? OMG. OMG. My jaw is fallen right now with this Elisa reveal to Lidia. Romero… “No necesito esto, Lidia,” is an underestimation on Elisa’s part. NO ONE NEEDS THIS, but these are the cards that have been dealt to us, and Elisa’s cards are a bunch of evil family members. Will Elisa come through to help Lidia? I think she will. She has a heart and eventually follows it.

Oscar y Carlota… so much pain here. Carlota has always been head-strong, which is what makes her her, I feel like she’s giving Oscar some tough love here, pushing him to be stronger for the situation at hand, but, it’s just, it’s still selfish and insensitive towards Oscar’s experience. Oscar’s flashback is hair-raising. And again… with Romero. Romero, Romero, Romero.

LIDIA IS WRITING A BOOK! Or a diary or whatever. It’s that voiceover since Season 1, baby!

AND ELISA CALLED! We knew she would, right?! We knew.

How does Marga just not slap Isidro outright?!?!?! She has every opportunity!

UGH why is Carlos dead. Can they like, bring him back somehow? Like it was a mixup? He was really in the hospital all this time? This box of Eva’s toys that he kept is too much. CARLOS, TE EXTRAÑO, CARLOS! I MISS YOU!

OMG wait, I need to keep reminding myself of this new information… are all of these bad guys NAZIS? At the very least, they’re Nazi-LIKE.



OMG HOW did neither Pablo nor Marga not make the connection that Isidro ratted them out?!

Sofia, Sofia, Sofia. Let’s take a minute to remember whose daughter she is.

Un plan que es loco.




Now, everyone but Lidia is in the concentration camp. The pressures on to break them out, along with as many prisoners as possible.

Season 6 Episode 3, Chapter 40 “Pain”

Well, that title can’t mean great news, can it.

Ayyyyyyyyy. This is. This is tough to watch. The way Carlota & Oscar are treated on entering the camp… the images raise the thought of even worse situations taking place in other camps :(

Alba, I mean… Lidia & Francisco, y Elisa. WHAT’S THIS REVEAL about Elisa’s limp??? Oh, Elisa. Uh-oh… Elisa, you didn’t.


WAIT. EL WINNIPEG! The savior of us all.

Elisa tiene un plan.

Lidia. TU ESTA LOCA! LOCA! This plan is LOCA! But also, OF COURSE, YOU WOULD WANT PLAN TO DO THIS LIDIA. You heart of gold, you.

So… the plan is underway.

AHHHH CHICAS. Marga faking an early delivery. Carlota going into Carmen’s LAIR. SUCCESS! PHEW!

Mucho dolor.

Dios mio. This MOMENT between Isidro and Pablo.

OMG. MARGA y SOFIA overhearing EVIL Doña Carmen’s EVIL BABY PLAN.

Omg…. this tender moment between Oscar y Carlota. THESE TWO.


I love this papa moment between Francisco & Sofia.

WHY IS ROMERO FOLLOWING LIDIA & FRANCISCO?! Ugh. We know why but, like, ugh.

Omg this barricade plan. I am shook.

Francisco… what if we got a truck TONIGHT. TONIGHT. TONIGHT?!??!?!?!??!?! LIKE, THIS PLAN IS HAPPENING TONIGHT?!

The…. the barricade plan, TONIGHT?!?!?!?!??!?!?!?!?!??!?!??!?!?!?!??!?!??!



Ohhhh, hold on, let me fan myself, Felipe is here to burn down the maternity ward. Umm, wow.


omg the barricade has begun, I am shaking in my boots fluffy socks.





Fighting words.

“How does it feel to see the only person who still loves you… DIE?”


Season 6 Episode 4, Chapter 41 “Defeat”


“I’ve been the worst mother in the world. My children had to die for me to become aware of it.”






For someone who is so devastated she seems to have cleaned up.

Barricade part dos. An interesting pause…

This plan with Pablo re: Salgado & Romero…. I HOPE THIS WORKS.

MARGA. MARGA IS HAVING HER BABY! AHHHHH!!!!!!!!! What a time to be delivering a baby AYYYYYYYYY

The phonecall with Pablo, I can’t.

Un throwwwwbaaaaack!



Ummmmmmmmm… Doña Carmen’s revenge is as cold-hearted as you’d expect. But it seems like the right prescription for that dude.

Wow. Wow… the Pablo, Isidro handshake…

Lawd. The truck is here. Francisco is here with the truck.


Pablo sees his baby!!!!!!

Hope personified.



Why?!! You need to torture them some more?!!


Seriously though, is Doña Carmen really dead?!?!?!?!?! I’m honestly expecting her ghost to hunt down the truck and stop Lidia once again.

Season 6 Episode 5, Chapter 42 “THE END” – UGH!!!!!!

I can’t. I can’t. I CAN’T WATCH THIS. I CAN’T!

The truck. Dolores dying. Lidia holding Eva in her arms.

This is just the beginning.


Honestly, this is the last of what I can write about without crying.

I truly can’t believe the rest. It’s so true to our heroine’s characters… but I so hoped…

I so hoped.

I really tried to watch those closing images and not think. Like. This can’t be adding up…


I guess………… our Chicas are reunited with hot idiota Carlos and Angeles after all. And Elisa. And Doña f***ing Carmen.


They did leave some things open, like, we still have (freakin’) Sofia. Maybe there will be a Chicas del Cable spinoff that picks up after her adventures in America (or maybe she stays back in Spain!). Either way, I understand the show writers wanted to close the chapter on our heroines in the way they truly would have gone out. Brave, brilliant, foolish, heartful, friends, til the very end.

Sigh, chicas. If you find yourself looking for something to watch after that marathon, I have a show for you – my own in fact! It’s called Unfair & Ugly, and its about a South Asian Muslim American family in Orange County, California trying to keep it together. Give it a watch and do let me know your thoughts! <3

I have a surprise for you!

You can watch my web series, Unfair & Ugly, about a South Asian Muslim American family in Orange County, California trying to keep it together. It’s had over 300K views on YouTube and been featured on NBC, Aljazeera, and Refinery29!

‘Bridgerton’ Season 1 is so, so good

If anyone is looking for me, I’ll be in my parlor, curtains drawn, peering out from under my unkempt 2020 brows, ON MY BRIDGERTON SH*T.

Some of you may know, I am of the Abbey, a frequent guest at the Grand Hotel on the Nile, and, of course, I patch all my calls through Las Chicas Del Cable. I love to get my historical drama on, and if you’re reading this, so do you.

PRAY TELL, who would think such a thing as, ‘What ever would happen if Gossip Girl met Jane Austen and they bequeathed a babe of the likes of Downton Abbey and lived happily ever after in one hour installments of equal parts whimsy and scandal?’ Julia Quinn did think such and such a thing. 



Hang onto your pink powdered wigs, dear viewers, for Shonda is about to blow all of us out of our tightly bound corsets. 

At every turn about the room, there is a twist. Each character unfolds in layers, there is more to them than the face by which they are so deeply scrutinized and judged. And I am here to sip the English Breakfast that Lady Whistledown spilleth.

This set design though.

My favorite thing about this genre is how in all of the rules and restrictions, the way women – who are written out of history textbooks, said to have no agency, no import – are imagined to have navigated and pushed against those boundaries. And Bridgerton delivers on those intricacies generously.

A few noted notes:

  • “Surely, I can not be expected to wear these fashions the entire day?!” Girl, I am in my sweatpants, thank you very much. With that one line, Eloise Bridgerton immediately became one of my favorite characters. 
  • If you are imprudently PRUDISH as I am, then FYI this is a NSFW, NSFKids and definitely NSFWatching-with-your-immigrant-parents. Oh, Lord! Literally. 
  • Those thoughtful, hopeful, and often dashed looks from Penelope Featherington are the makings of a deeply captivating character. Color me intrigued AF. 
  • When Simon rides in on a f*cking horse. OF COURSE. OF COURSE, HE DOES. AND WHY WOULDN’T HE? Lordy, Lord-Lord. 
  • The fashion is undisappointingly stunning. The production value and set designs, the cinematography and lighting, sheesh. Some of the most dazzling, delightful, and FUN I’ve seen in awhile. Netflix showed me the monet on this one. 
  • Lady Danbury is giving me those Dowager Countess vibes I live for. 
  • Queen Charlotte’s pink powdered wig, people!!!
  • The ENTRANCING quality of Marina Thompson. I need to know more! 
  • Anthony, Anthony, Anthony. SMH you handsome idiota.
  • Each and every line Daphne delivers after one man or another attempts to dictate her life. GAME SET MATCH, TOUCHE, EN GUARD, ALL OF IT.

I’ve devoured the first couple of episodes, pausing to rejoice, then immediately hitting play to take it all in. In the DROUGHT OF MY SOCIAL LIFE that is pandemic isolation, this FRENZY of so many maskless people at balls is all what I need in this very moment.

Take me away.

I read ahead and there seem to be many scandals to come, including, trigger warning, a sexual assault. 

I’m looking forward to watching what this show has to show, and getting DEEPLY LOST in the world of Bridgerton. GOOD ‘MORROW!

*23 Hours Later*

Okay, well, um, I watched the whole thing. Thankfully there were a generous 8 episodes, rather than that dreaded Netflix half season of 5 or 6 episodes where I’m left shaking my fist.


You shan’t, I repeat, you shan’t read past this line if you do not wish to know of the spoils.


we’re scrolling

and we’re scrolling

and we’re scrolling

and we’re scrolling

and we’re scrolling

and we’re scrolling

and we’re scrolling

and we’re scrolling

and we’re scrolling


  • Penny. You sneaky little minx. PENNY, PENNY, PENNY. There was that moment where, I do believe the show wanted us to suspect her. When she ran into the garden crying to Eloise. And then the next morning, we read the news i.e. gossip about Marina’s wombage. The way Penny looked and hugged Eloise, I was like, girl, did you do something rather questionable just now? Lots to unpack here. I almost want to go rewatch the whole thing with Lady Whistlepenny in mind.
  • Umm, okay, so remember 5 paragraphs ago when I was like, NSFW? There’s quite a bit of female-gaze-unlaced sexy, sexy here. Something for everyone really, whether you’re into Daphne or Simon or both or neither. They ain’t messin’ around either. There’s like a whole 3 minutes straight of “marital bliss.” Shonda took things out of the Grey Sloan Memorial supply closet and let it out all over the lawn, stairs, hallways, and dinner table on this one.
  • I guess I should have seen Marina’s story coming, but I didn’t. It seemed like it was going in one direction – Lady Featherington’s jealousy. But then there was the twist that laid ground for the rest of her story. I was fascinated by the tug-of-war between Marina and Penny, and the way she navigated herself in search of a way out.
  • Siena. A name. Great closing monologue by her!
  • Did Eloise figure it out in the end? Who Miss Whistledown is? It seemed like she did. What do you think?
  • I think Colin is going to come back with someone on his arm. And then there will be a questioning of her past. And, perhaps worse for Penny, there won’t be anything questionable.
  • Anthony, you hot idiota. You really are the Carlos of this bunch.
  • I got some Ayla/Jondalar vibes betwixt Daphne/Simon’s troubles, in case anyone knows that reference. All that miscommunication! Just glad it didn’t last 3 billion chapters.
  • Oh, my. This whole mess with the Featheringtons. There are lots of questions. Is Lord Featherington really dead, or has he been kidnapped? There’s obviously foul play at hand. But… that means danger also lurks for the Duke’s friend, boxer Will Mondrich. Those horrid people know he threw that game, and subsequently came into some money. Unless they think he has the Duke’s protection and dare not encroach upon that.
  • Damn, Lord Featherington. I must say, this was, I did loved this dark twist of his gambling debts for Lady Featherington. I loved seeing her reactions, and how she tried to clean up a mess that was out of her hands. So real.
  • Lady Featherington’s fashion.
  • I am glad for the important issues around consent and sex education that the storyline between Daphne & Simon raises, as painful as it is to see.
  • Lady Danbury knows how to throw a party! I need some more Lady Danbury sauce though. Let’s hear some stories. What’s her love life like? I need details, people.
  • I’m glad we got more Queen Charlotte as the episodes went on, but I must say, I was left wanting to know much, much more.
  • That leap for The Duke/Simon, where he goes from finding out Daphne read his childhood letters to his father, to being able to… that was a bit of a leap for me (regardless of the well-established rift between them). Like, mmm… ya’ll need to have been seeing a therapist this whole time.
  • I love those betrayal conversations between Daphne and her mother.
Now that’s a coiffure!

And here’s the part that’s hard to write. I adore this genre. I love the escapism. I love the romanticism. I love the conjecture, the historicizing, the female gaze of it, the herstory of it. But, for as long as I’ve watched it, I have known that, I will rarely get to see a woman of color on screen. Aside from the phenomenal Belle (and I’m sure some other portrayals), it’s rather a wasteland in that regard.

So it is no small thing, how well this is done, it has changed the game. I wouldn’t be able to put into words how I feel about that. Alls I can say is, I am looking forward to seeing the next twenty-fiffle seasons on Netflix.

If you enjoyed this show, you might enjoy watching ‘Secret of the Nile’ and ‘Las Chicas del Cable,’ both on Netflix. And maybe you’ll enjoy checking out my show, ‘Unfair & Ugly,’ too!

All out of episodes?

You can watch my web series, Unfair & Ugly, about a South Asian Muslim American family in Orange County, California trying to keep it together. It’s had over 300K views on YouTube and been reviewed by NBC, Aljazeera, and Refinery29!

How to not join a cult accidentally

Hello, welcome to my guide on how to not join a cult accidentally. If you are looking to join a cult on purpose, then maybe read this, and do the opposite of what I recommend. And if you’re aspiring to start your own cult, then I guess this is also a great how-to, instead of a how-not-to.

I may be joking now, but things might (read: will) get serious. I’m generally (read: specifically) going to get into how I accidentally joined a cult, and unfortunately, it involves spiritual abuse and maybe also (read: definitely) grooming. Yes, I really would have preferred that I had joined a Polly Pocket cult or something of that sort, but no, this is a good old religious cult.

I’m already immediately running out of jokes because this is not hilarious. I was maybe like 15 going on 16 when I first started to accidentally join this cult. I was in youth group and really excited to transform it from a sexy teenage hookah lounge to a wholesome non-sexy bake sale type of joint. That part is hilarious.

At some point, I’m not sure through whom or how, we had a youthful (read: not 100 years old) speaker come talk to our members. For the purpose of this guide, let’s call him… Demetri? Dementor? Dimitov. Dude. Let’s go with Dude. No. Man, I really can not land on a name because I am still triggered by this person’s existence. Umm, what’s something that’s like, almost non-existent…. Vacuum. Vacuum. Yes, let’s go with Vacuum!

Vacuum seemed to know everyone. He was friends with all the local and national Imams, he was well-known in the community with many leadership positions, etc. etc. Cool beans. Vacuum took an interest in our youth group and started to come around more, and we welcomed it. I welcomed it! Why the hell not. It was volunteering and mentorship.

Then, at some point, Vacuum had an idea to start a halaqa (like a Bible study). The idea was for it to be exclusive, with hand-picked members chosen by Vacuum. His reasoning was that he wanted to make sure that the members were really serious and committed.

Vacuum consulted with me on who was “serious” enough to be a part of the halaqa, and from there, the members were chosen. The closed halaqa began to meet on the weekend inside the youth group office, which was awkward because other youth group members could obviously see they were not invited.

Which brings me to – idk, let’s pick a color, blue, yes, let’s go with blue – Blue Flag #1. Exclusivity. There’s really nothing all that serious that needs such exclusive membership that isn’t obviously a cult. It’s either a self-aware cult, like, idk, Hydroflask owners, or it has no idea it’s a cult. A clueless cult, but not in the 90’s movie kind of way.

We met and read verses and what not and really contemplated the world. That’s fine. Now where the hell did things start to get weird?

That’s the thing… they didn’t. Or… it happened so gradually, that nothing appeared weird, even it it felt weird. I could never put my finger on it, even though I had the heebie jeebies most of the time.

I’ll try to dissect it.

Vacuum got more and more involved with the members of the halaqa. He super befriended the guys in the group, taking them to the beach and on adventures. And he also formed one on one connections with each of the women, as a “brother.” He came to know our families. He started speaking at my high school MSA. He was everywhere I went. He became a fixture in my life.

There was a verse that Vacuum was obsessed with. “Let there arise out of you a band of people inviting to all that is good, enjoining what is right, and forbidding what is wrong: They are the ones to attain felicity.” (3:104)

Vacuum believed we could be that group, not like, metaphorically, but literally, like THE group referred to in this verse, but only if we really, really worked on changing ourselves for the better. (ARE YOU? CAN YOU EVEN!) And that my friends, is Blue Flag #2. The belief that it’s possible to be like, you know, morally superior to others and guide them. YIKES. I mean.

In order to become this group of people, we had things we were supposed to learn, like when he printed this very large pdf for each of us that proved that the Quran is without a doubt really the word of God. I can proudly say I never read the pdf and I’m pretty certain I left it on the youth group table and he was offended by this.

Wow, and now the culty things I really wanted to forget are coming back to me, like how he was enamored by the former glory of the Islamic empire. Personally, I found it really exciting, too, (at least from the partial information I was receiving) because I particularly liked the aspects of universal healthcare and education. I really believe in that to this day, but I could not give less of a sh*t about empires of any sort. But he was really into that, and we go into it, too.

And Blue Flag #3 is that halaqa started turning into group conference calls, and sometimes these calls would go into odd hours of the night. Things were blurring, blurring, blurring.

And then here’s the parts I really struggle with because as I mentioned earlier, grooming.

F*cking Vacuum had some boundary issues when it came to the general presence of a certain someone that is in the general direction of where I am. Like, Vacuum once told someone I know that I wore the headscarf incorrectly, so that they could encourage me to stop wearing it that way. This really bothered me because I really liked how I wore my scarf and it was weird that a man was telling another man to tell me how to wear something on my body. But I was so shamed and horrified that I actually did stop.

Vacuum also watched me and would point out when my clothing was… see through or form fitting. This really bothered me, because I became totally f*cking sickened when I realized he was physically watching me with his eyeballs. And also because I already wore XL (4 sizes off) clothing from the American Eagle hippie collection which was already in the flared and bell bottomy direction. I felt so uncomfortable and became extremely self-conscious, eventually changing the way I dressed.

And Vacuum would… without warning, start dropping completely inappropriate gifts off at my house. Like, an entire box of abayahs? I.e. overcoats so that I could start covering my figure. This is way before oversized trench coats were in at Zara. And, last I checked, I don’t think one’s male halaqa leader dropping off a gift of hundreds of dollars of clothes has become in as of yet.

And this line between this person being like a teacher, but then also inserting himself into my life was constantly, constantly bothering me. I felt like, I guess there’s something wrong with me, that I’m like, not a good Muslim that I keep trying to kind of, resist his presence in my life. Like, I’m trying to be a good Muslim and listen to all these things I’m supposed to be, but like, can you not like, come to my house and bring me gifts? And when I would say that, he would get so hurt and offended and make me out to be the bad guy.

And all along, halaqa topics were really pushing and encouraging us to think differently about ourselves, how we carry ourselves. We were encouraged to see our own feelings, inclinations, intuition, ideas as humanly flawed, and to turn to (Vacuum’s supposedly unbiased and curated) interpretations of faith being presented to us as The Right Way. If discourse was encouraged, it was only to funnel us towards The Right Answers. We were really, really discouraged to use our own reasoning, to abandon our own critical thinking, and that was one of the really, really Blue Flags, like #4,308 through 5 million.

I learned that everything about how I carry myself was immodest. That I was loud and brash, that I was attracting attention. And I really started to take that in. So I wore the g*ddamn abayahs because well, it was the Right thing to do. And as I was learning, there was only one Right way to do things. And since everything about how I thought about things and did things was Wrong and I needed to do the Right thing because what kind of person would I be if I didn’t, I was going to wear the abayahs everyday now for the rest of my life, because I’m being pushed to see that there’s only one Right way to dress and this is it.

And everytime I tried to kind of resist Vacuum’s presence, he found more ways to press himself into my life.

Like Vacuum would go on my blog and read my poetry and reach out to me about it.

And Vacuum would be at any event I was at, with his eyes on me.

And Vacuum would be interacting with my family members.

And Vacuum would use people in my life to constantly be near me when I continually resisted his presence and he would act very hurt when I was doing so.

And eventually, I found out, Vacuum was intercepting people who were interested in me, you know, romantically. Telling them that I was not available, implying that I was kind of spoken for by him. I found out about this way, way, later, (towards or even after the end) when I also found out that him and the guys in the halaqa had kind of like, talked about which girls in the halaqa they would marry. And Vacuum had… chosen… me.

Did I mention that I was like, 16, maybe turning 17 soon by this point. And that Vacuum was about 10 years older than I was? That’s Blue Flag #10,719,372. What is this guy doing with all these kids? Why isn’t he hanging around people his own age? Why is he so enamored and obsessed with us?

It turns out, those are things people actually did start to notice. Because they were like, umm this seems to have evolved past him being a halaqa leader and into some weird, weird, weird thing.

I wish I could tell you what led to me realizing I had accidentally joined a cult. I’ve really blocked out a lot of things to the point where I genuinely can’t and don’t want to access them. I just know that one day, I snapped. And I was alone in that.

You see, by this time, I had – Blue Flag #8,956 – completely changed as a person beyond recognition of my former self. I dressed differently, I walked differently, I spoke differently. I was quieter, and truthfully, I was completely dead inside. My friends at school noticed this change over the course of the year(s). They were gentle and loving back to me, never really pushed me away, though tbh, I was probably one of the worst people to be around. Because I was so goddamn self-righteous and judgmental all the damn time. Even if I didn’t say it, it was how I carried myself. I was like that to my own family.

So here I was, sitting inside myself, seeing how hollow I was, disgusted and hateful of this weird ass dude that keeps trying to press up into every aspect of my life, and my absolute f*cking disgust of him helped me snap. And I revolted.

I called him out on it. I don’t know what I said anymore. I just know that I launched a bunch of accurate accusations against him about him brainwashing us. And then the whole halaqa turned on me.

There was this one horrid day where I was like, in court. We met in the youth group office, and there was like a tribunal where everyone stared at me and defended Vacuum and outlined how I was wrong. And I sat on the floor, clutching my legs, hearing them, but knowing I was right. And I left. I was done.

And then there was all this community fallout because it turns out other people/groups (within which Vacuum was also deeply enmeshed) had been struggling with Vacuum’s presence and there was a reckoning.

I think the worst of it was there were some rumors that we were romantically involved. I can’t express what is more vile to a person than being accused of being in any sort of relationship with someone who has continually ignored your boundaries and pressed themselves into your life when you wanted nothing to do with them in that way. That was the worst of it.

All of this, it had a real toll on my life, everything.

By this time, I was a high school senior and I had been failing in all my classes. To the point where I didn’t get into any of the colleges I applied to, even the cal states, and that was the lowest point for me. I had left the cult which I accidentally joined, but had to face the repercussions of my actions and of the traumatic experience.

Also, like very obviously, all along, especially as things in halaqa progressed, I was depressed. Very depressed. I was a zombie everywhere I went. My teachers noticed. They pulled me aside. They helped me get my grades back up. My parents noticed my behavior changes, but I completely hid everything academic from them. It’s hard to label something as not good when it’s being done in the name of religion which is supposed to be all good… it kind of masks wrong behavior and keeps our guards down so low, as we rationalize, and rationalize, and rationalize…

I went to community college and unzombied myself for a good solid year, lying around in parks staring at the sky and sh*t.

Soon after I left, the group fell apart, and my friends came to their senses and were like, WTF just happened? Were we in a cult??? Yes, yes you were. Yes, yes we were. I think they apologized to me or whatever. But I didn’t need their apology. I needed there to not be a Vacuum in the world doing Vacuum sh*t, but I sure as hell made sure he was not in my life.

I made sure I never joined a cult accidentally again.

I wasn’t really able to truly unpack all of this until almost 15 years after, when my friends told me about a notable religious figure utilizing his role to have relationships with his female students. Something about shirtless selfies or something. And as they were talking about him, I had this instant moment where I was like, oh, yeah. That’s called spiritual abuse. And in that moment I kind of realized, oh… I think that person from 10 years ago was grooming me to be his wife. I definitely went to therapy to unpack that.

I think the reason that I accidentally joined a cult – aside from being manipulated by a gaslighting spiritual abuser trying to groom me into his future wife – was really that…

I really wanted to believe, very desperately, that there was a right answer. That there was a way to do things right, and if I did that, we’d all be okay, the world would be a better place.

But as I came back into the world, slowly became myself again, I realized over time that, if there was such an easy solution, people would have figured it out and done it along time ago.

There is no easy solution. Life is in this grey zone. It’s messy. That’s what’s real. And anytime I find myself, reaching for, aching for a simple answer, I remind myself it’s a Blue Flag.

I know that I have told my story in an eerily lighthearted way. I do so because there’s no other way for me to tell it. The more I revisit it, the more I realize how truly horrible and traumatizing it all was and is. I have a right to speak about my own traumatic experience in this way, but, it is not a joke, nor a joke for anyone else to make.

Which brings me to talk about why I choose to write about this. Truthfully, I’ve tried writing about this many times over the years.

I grew up with these notions that Muslims are so infallible because we have Islam. This was ultimately one of the most detrimental ideas I’ve suffered from.

It is under this rug, under the rug of 70 excuses and under our willful ignorance of Muslim humanness, that so much terrible, terrible human behavior is swept.

All of this sh*t happened right in front of everyone who loves me to pieces. It’s because of the way we are taught to let our guard down around anything to do with religion (and manipulative people know how to abuse this). We assume that it’s something that can’t be abused, the idea of our religion, but it can, and is. We don’t even know these abuses can occur. I didn’t, until it did.

I learned a lot of painful lessons about abuse, trust, naivety, manipulated empathy, idealism, and so much more from these traumatic experiences. Though I wish it hadn’t been through this.

It’s not a wonder to me that I still love and appreciate my faith. Nor a wonder to me that other people walk away from these same types of experiences seeking to dissociate from it altogether.

Recognizing that Spiritual Abuse exists does not make Muslims look bad. It helps us be aware and to protect our community members.

And ultimately, that is why I shared this piece.

Lastly, if you’ve made it all the way down here, I’d like to close this piece with these thoughts:

I would love for you to leave this piece with a sense of empowerment. Because we can displace the imbalance of power that perpetuates and, to be frank, encourages abuse of this sort (and of much worser nature).

It does begin in how we perceive people, our religion, and the people who follow our religion. And in our spaces, it needs to translate into boundaries, bylaws, oversight, structures that institutionalize dealing with such behaviors. Amongst our family and friends, it needs to translate into a culture where we speak openly about human flaws and behaviors, shift away from pedestal culture, etc. People do exist who abuse and harm people, and we are each capable of committing such harm. We can empower ourselves by accepting this reality and creating more aware, safe environments around us.

If you’re interested in reading further: