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…)
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.
There’s nothing like the death of a parent to smack some sense into you. Or maybe, rather, to smack confusion into you. Or perhaps it’s more like smacking you into realizing
Michelangelo's Finger of God
you need to confront the confusion you already had but did not want to face.
My father taught me almost everything I know about religion; i.e. Islam. I did my own readings, of course. I had a phase of about six years while studying medicine in university when I became a bookworm of Islamic knowledge. Just the other day I decided to organize my personal library at home. I thought I’d organize my books according to subject. I came across the books I bought during that time and I was horrified. Besides a number of books that guide one to the best methods of preaching Islam to others, and other books about how to purify oneself to a place of high moral and ethical standards according to Islamic philosophy, there were books such as Leadership and Following in Islam, Dying with Passion, and The Methods of Ideological Invasion. My books were chosen usually as either required or recommended reading by Muslim Brotherhood “sisters” and “brothers” who were mentoring me at the time. It was pounded into my head that one should not stray from books written by certain authors so as not to have my head messed with, basically, by writers following a non-pure path of Islam. And since I was still young, impressionable and pretty much ignorant and incapable of making up my own mind for myself – or so I was made to believe – I was instructed to follow the advice of those brothers and sisters who were more worldly and knowledgeable than me.
Many years later, I now clearly see how cult-like that part of my upbringing was. My head became lazy. I turned into a person who resorts to certain authorities on religion, i.e. Islam, rather than figuring things out with a mind open to all possibilities.