Muslim

I’m an Alien

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…)

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Reflections on My Journey With and Without the Headscarf

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…)

I’ve Gone and Done It Now: What It’s Like Without the Muslim Headscarf

I have a secret. Not a dirty little secret. I’m not going to tell you those. A normal, short-lived secret as you soon shall see. And I’m going to tell you my secret – this particular one anyway – because I hate feeling like a hypocrite. I hate doing one thing in front of people and another behind their backs. I do enough of that already. So I’m going to tell you about this one to lighten the load a bit.

I experimented last week. I took off my hijab – the headscarf many Muslim women wear to cover their hair.

I have been wearing a headscarf when I leave the privacy of my home for 25 years, since I was 17. That’s a long long time in human years.

I took my hijab off during a recent trip to Europe. I wanted to know what it would feel like. I wanted to know how people’s perceptions of me would change and how my perception of myself would change.

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Societies Overpowered by a Headscarf: It’s Time for Change

Muslim women in Europe and the United States who choose to wear a headscarf or face veil are placed under tremendous societal pressures almost every day. On the streets, some people look at them as if they are freaks of nature. Many find it difficult to get jobs or even to be accepted as tenants. And in France, women who wear the face veil are now affronted with legal action. Some women hold their heads high and persevere despite all this. Some women find it difficult to cope, they cringe under the heavy fist of society, and they decide to take off their hijab or their face veil and conform to the societal norm. Other women decide that the hijab wasn’t for them anyway and that this is as good an opportunity as any to take it off.

The struggle of the veiled Muslim woman in Europe has reached the hearts and minds of Muslims all over the world, including mine. Her struggle is their struggle. A woman has the right to choose, we all shout. Muslim women do not wear the headscarf/face veil out of oppression, we explain. In so many cases, they wear it as a matter of choice.

A woman, we shout, has the right to choose.

But do we Muslims really believe this or do we use this argument when it suits us?

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Taboo Topics 1 and 2: Giving Muslim Women and Children Choice

In Islam, Muslim men are given the choice of marrying either a Muslim woman or a “woman of the book”, which refers to Muslims, Christians, and Jews. However, Muslim women are not given the same choice. They can only marry a Muslim man. Why is this?

Most arguments that support this say that it is for the children; to make sure the children are raised as Muslims. The man, the argument goes, is the head of the household and it is he who determines the faith of his children.

But is this really true? What are the statistics (are there any to begin with?) of Muslim men marrying non-Muslim women and ending up with all Muslim children? How much of the non-Muslim woman’s faith is actually instilled in these children?

A more important question is this: why is it that we feel the need to brainwash our children (I apologize in advance for the harsh terminology but if you want to be truthful and sincere this is what we do) into believing in one religion? What is so wrong with having children grow up learning about more than one religion and making their own choice when they come of age? Is religion such a delicate and fragile concept that the only way for a person to believe in it is for that person to have it pounded day after day into his/her head from the day they are born?

So today’s topic is about choice:

Giving Muslim women the CHOICE to marry whomever they want regardless of religion, creed, race, or nationality.

And giving children – all children – the CHOICE to think for themselves and decide what they want to believe based on knowledge and faith and not on what they were groomed to believe is truth.

I will probably be “crucified” by some Muslims for even raising a topic like this. We believe in the word of God and the words of His prophet and we do not necessarily need to understand the wisdom behind them. I wonder when Muslims started making up that phrase. Since the dawn of Islam and until only rather recently, Muslims were allowed to discuss and philosophize about the most sensitive of topics; even about the “whatness” of God Himself. When was there ever only one truth in Islam? When was there ever only one understanding of the script? When did we stop relearning Islam and re-understanding it as times changed?

At the same time, other friends, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, will probably see these questions as very backward and long overdue. Many Muslims are way past discussing these “petty” issues and have gone on with their lives. And for non-Muslims, some might relate to a degree because their religions are not very different and others will not because they live with the times and are more in tune with the universality of the world and the intrinsic right to freedom of choice.

These two topics stem out of a discussion I had with a group of female Egyptian friends of mine. These friends and I have basically gone through similar phases as conservative Muslim women and are now going through a similar phase of questioning some of the most essential “truths” we have learned along the way.

So regardless of whether you are going through the same phase, or you are past it, or you never thought this needed to be a phase to begin with, I’m looking forward to hearing all of your input on this topic. And expect more to come!