When I was a little Muslim girl growing up in Midwest USA, my Egyptian father did everything in his power to segregate us from Christmas. Christmas, we understood, was a religious holiday; someone else’s religious holiday.
I managed to get away with some things. At school I engaged in the arts & crafts activities of Christmas. Everyone at home appreciated the clove-covered apples wrapped in shiny ribbon that made a room smell nice. My father would not allow me to take part in Christmas plays or even watch them for that matter. But I did find myself humming along to Oh Holy Night and The Little Drummer Boy during music class. I couldn’t help it. They were catchy tunes. Those songs were overtly religious and were frowned upon by my father, as opposed to Jingle Bells and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Rein Deer that were both allowed. (more…)
It has been a very long time since I’ve known what I want to do in life. I’ve been racking my head over it now for months, probably longer. And I’m getting absolutely nowhere.
Yesterday I came out of watching The Hobbit thinking that maybe what I need to do is spend the next two years learning Kung Fu. Then maybe I could go back to Egypt and use my Kung Fu superpowers to save the country from the evil dragons that have taken over the country. I really did decide this was going to be my calling. Those elves and their martial arts really got to my head.
Two days ago I decided that spending so much time on social media was not helping me figure out my calling. Perhaps if I cut back significantly I would be able to spend more time figuring it all out. I have been using social media quite heavily for several years now and it has definitely not helped me find my calling; the evidence being that it has gotten me absolutely nowhere. I did go through a phase where I felt that communicating through Facebook and Twitter had become my job. My husband once asked me to put down my phone and to focus on the moment that we were in – we were travelling somewhere. I replied, “But Colin. This is what I DO!” I have definitely been through phases where I have thought that my Twitter and Facebook followers were hanging on my every word. When did it become so important for me to communicate my every thought to a virtual world? Two days ago when I made my decision to cut down on social media, a thought came to my head and I struggled with myself for hours not to write down on Facebook. I told myself that if I still felt it was important later that evening then I could write it to the world then. I didn’t. The status would have read, “The women at my gym in the UK show hardly any emotion when they workout while I grimace and curse the whole time. I wonder what they are like during child birth.” Clearly this is a completely inconsequential thing to say. Before the Internet, that thought would go through my head and it would then die there. Now it comes into my head and I have to tell the world. What is that all about? I must admit that I am now relieved it is out there in the world through this blog post, though.
But no. I have decided that social media cannot be my calling.
I have not always been at a loss like this. (more…)
My first recollection of realizing that I was “different” was in the 4th grade. My father learned that I was taking part in a class play. During part of the play we were re-enacting a 1970s American beer commercial. It was tons of fun. It involved an imaginary bull bursting into a bar. My father rushed into my school in a rage, took me by my hand, removed me in front of my friends from where we were rehearsing, and led me to my teacher. He had a talk with the teacher and later that evening had a talk with me at home. We are Muslims. We do not drink alcohol. We do not pretend we are drinking alcohol. Period.
In high school, my father insisted that I stop wearing pants and that, instead, I wear skirts with long socks. I was also only allowed to pull my long hair back into a pony tail. This was how my father imposed modesty on a 14-year-old girl growing up in American society. It was a little strange for me in the beginning. I was something of a tomboy as a girl. But I was generally fine with it. I was different. That was the way things were. (more…)
For a few years now I have prided myself on being a non-judgmental person.
Until yesterday, that is, when I wrote a blog post implying that a significant portion of the Egyptian population was brainwashed.
It wasn’t my blog post that made me stop and think. The blog post was actually quite a hit and I received lots of positive feedback about it from Egypt and around the world. What got to me were comments I received from two people on two separate occasions in the past three days. One told me I needed to calm down. The other told me to give myself space to have a “clearer head”.
Calm down?? I thought. CALM DOWN?? I’M THE F#$%ING CALMEST PERSON IN THE WHOLE BLOODY COUNTRY! Clear head?? IT LOOKS LIKE I’M THE ONLY PERSON IN THE WHOLE COUNTRY WHO HASN’T BEEN BRAINWASHED YET!!
“A bit patronizing of you,” I responded to the second person.
A few times now I have been contacted by mainly younger Egyptian friends who are feeling down or are in a semi-panicked state. They confide in me, as if telling me a deep dark secret, that they have doubts about religion. They are scared. They are frightened to tell anyone about their doubts and thus be judged and told they are going down that slippery road towards hell that we keep hearing about. They are frightened that having doubts means they are indeed on their way to hell.
They have doubts and they have absolutely no idea where to turn. Sometimes they do not know where to start to address these doubts. In our culture, we have been taught from a very early age that even though Islam is a religion where there are no intermediaries between one and His God, we can only get information about our religion from “trusted” Islamic scholars. We are often not encouraged to do our own research into questions of religion lest we stray the way and stumble into ideas and information that we are not strong enough to handle or not knowledgeable enough to differentiate what is “right” in that information from what is “wrong”. (more…)
I spent Eid in the UK before and I HATED it. It was a day like any other day. No one else around me was celebrating. People on the street were just going about their everyday business. There were no cheesy Eid songs on television. It was just a normal day. Eid isn’t supposed to be that way.
I didn’t have it in me to go through another Eid like that.
I haven’t prayed the Eid prayer, as far as I can remember, since my children were babies. I haven’t even been to many communal prayers in mosques since my children were babies. I became fed up with the attitudes people had when they went into a mosque. Suddenly everyone became a grand mufti. Suddenly everybody had a right to butt into your business and tell you how to wear your clothes or where to place your feet or even where you can and cannot store your shoes. The women’s sections in mosques were/are always noisy, cramped and smelly. I can barely hear the imam praying most of the time and I can definitely not see him. If I thought of bringing my children I’d get lectures on how I should be handling them. It was an overall miserable experience that I have been avoiding for years.
Even though I don’t spend much time in the UK, I have been spending more time here than my typical four days. And because I’ve been spending longer and more frequent periods of time here, I’m beginning to feel myself struggle with things I’ve never struggled with before on my short trips out of Egypt.
Eid is an example of this. I found myself feeling indignant that my special religious holiday meant nothing to everyone around me. (more…)
Femininity never confused me. It didn’t at least until my late 30s/early 40s. Before that I never really thought about it. I was just me. I was a person. I did not want people to think of me as Nadia the woman. I wanted people to think of me as Nadia the person. And I lived my life that way. And because I did, or at least I thought I did, I did not feel that I faced many of the issues that women commonly complain about. I made choices in life based on what I felt was right for me. After studying medicine, I got married and by my own free will chose to be a fulltime mother and wife. When my children reached school age, when the family needed more financial support, and when I felt I needed more in my life, I freely chose to start working. Throughout my career, I have very rarely felt that I have been treated a certain way because of my gender. The only times where this might apply were when I had been invited to speak on a panel where they needed a gender balance and I was chosen to help create that balance. That really offended me. Otherwise, I have always been very lucky with my employers. My salary has always been equal to my male colleagues, I have been given the same opportunities or even better because I deserved them, and I’ve been given every chance to prove my capabilities; not because I am a woman, but because of what I can do. In my personal life, I’ve worked hard to create a balance between my family, my career, my education, and my hobbies. I never felt that my choices were made or were hindered by other people. I was just me doing what I chose for myself and for my family. I realized that I was very fortunate and that so many women around the world were not as fortunate as me. But I did not think about it that much. Opportunities were created by us and with hard work. Obstacles were made for us to go around them. Stop complaining, women, and move on with your lives!
It was only recently that I started realizing that, as a woman, I do face issues specific to my gender. One reason I did not realize that I faced these issues was because of the way I thought about them. (more…)
The first time I heard about the hijab I was a little girl around the age of ten. I was growing up in the United States, the product of an American mother and an Egyptian father. My father and I were walking somewhere, and he mentioned that Muslim women start to cover their hair after they perform the Pilgrimage to Mekka. He may have been avoiding talking to me at this young age about menses and that in Islam, it is actually at the age that a girl gets her first period that she becomes accountable to God and should start wearing her hijab. Or perhaps my father just did not know this at that time, and because he witnessed so many women come back from the Pilgrimage with their hair covered he assumed that this was the rule. My father did not grow up in Egypt with women who covered their hair. Pictures of him and his classmates in Cairo University show women wearing stylish short dresses, sometimes above the knee, with hairdos that were common in the 1950s all over the Western world. Back then, even the wives and daughters of many of the Muslim Brotherhood did not wear the hijab.
I clearly remember my reaction. “Well, I just won’t ever perform the Pilgrimage then. Not at least until I’m old,” I said. The concept was so foreign to me it did not register as something I would remotely consider doing.
Over the past few years, I’ve started questioning some of the givens about Islam that I grew up believing. My questioning has very rarely been about the foundations of Islam as a religion; those I find myself wholeheartedly believing in. One God, Muhammed is the last prophet, praying five times a day, fasting the month of Ramadan, paying alms, doing the pilgrimage once in your life; these and others are things I haven’t found myself questioning.
There are other issues, however, I find myself continuously questioning and not understanding. Details. Mostly things related to the roles of men and women in society and in religion. I read a Qur’anic verse or a Prophetic saying and sit in front of it bewildered, not really understanding what it means or why it seems to mean something that doesn’t make sense to me. And so I do some reading or I speak to people more knowledgeable than me. Sometimes I will hear an argument or an interpretation that convinces me. Other times I won’t. And the conversation will most commonly end in: Nadia, are you a Muslim or not? Do you believe in Allah and that the Qur’an is the word of God or not? Do you accept Islam in its entirety or not? If so, then you need to accept that there are things that we don’t always understand. If God says do then we do. That’s it.
I need to think out loud. I’ve found blogging my thoughts helps me work through them. Most of the time I receive very helpful comments on the things I blog about. These comments are read and much appreciated even if I don’t always reply to them. Sometimes I don’t reply because I’m mulling over the things that people have said. Of course, other times I receive quite hurtful and judgmental comments. But even these are helpful. It’s good to know where societies stand on certain issues. It’s good to know where work needs to be done to create positive change.
I had a long conversation last night with a very good friend of mine. It was about the hijab; that piece of cloth that covers a woman’s hair. Many of you will recall the blog post I wrote in which I admitted that I had experimented with taking my hijab off during a trip to Europe. That post received more than 68,000 views since it went online and more than 450 comments. Clearly this is a topic that many people find important, whatever their reasons.
Since I wrote that post, I will now admit that I have continued to experiment. My experimentation the first time was mainly to try to see if complete strangers, in a European country, dealt with me differently with and without the hijab. I was raised to believe that the hijab protected women from the evil stares of men. The hijab allowed people to deal with me not because of my beauty but because of my personality and what was in my head. I wanted to know if this was true. The result of my European experiment was that there was no difference. People did not look at me or treat me any differently because I was wearing the hijab or because I had exposed my hair. The treatment in both cases was almost exactly the same. Since then, whenever I’ve been to Europe and when I’m not in the presence of people I know who I feel may be judgmental of me, I continue to not wear the hijab. This time though, I’m experimenting with my own feelings about this. I know that people in a European country could care less whether I cover my hair or not. But do I care? How do I feel? And what are my feelings about doing the same thing in an Arab country? Or in the midst of people I know?
This is what I’ve learned about myself so far: (more…)