I’ve been following the Axe Apollo Space Academy Competition jealously for a few weeks. In my head I was saying, “I want to go to space! I’ve had this dream for a very long time!”
I actually emailed the European Space Agency a few years ago to ask them how I could apply to be an astronaut with them. And before that I asked Egyptian/American scientist Dr Farouk El-Baz if he knew how I might get myself into space. Both were dead ends. But I wasn’t afraid to try. You never know when a door you knock on will actually open for you.
So instead of feeling envious of other people who have applied to join this competition, I decided I would knock on this door as well. Why not? I have a dream. I need to do something about it. If the door opens then I am one of the luckiest people in the world. And if it doesn’t, well then I can’t say I didn’t try.
Why do I want to go into space? I want the chance to look at our world from a different perspective, especially now, especially with everything we are going through in Egypt. We live through very difficult times in my country right now. I’ve chosen to step away, just a little bit, and observe what is happening rather than engage directly in it. I want to get a fresh perspective. I want to quietly decide what my role can or should be. I cannot think of anything that could be more inspiring for me than to look at our Earth, at my country, from outer space.
I also feel like I have something to prove. Just because I’m a woman doesn’t mean I can’t dream of going up into space. Just because I’m a mother of four who is over 40 does not mean I cannot dream of going into outer space. Just because I am an Egyptian, Arab, Muslim does not mean I cannot dream of going into outer space.
I live many contradictions. One in particular has been haunting me lately.
For as long as I can remember I have asserted my independence and been proud of it. I make my own personal decisions and take permission from no one. I have my own money. I own my own things.
I recently realized that I have only done this, however, under the guardianship of a male. The first 24 years of my life my guardian was my father. The following 17 years of my life my guardian was my husband.
Why do I call them guardians?
When I think of my father and of my now ex-husband I think: protection, stability, guidance, companionship, someone to trust in, someone to resort to or to fall back on…
Throughout my 41 years of male guardianship I never would have called my father or my ex-husband my guardians; especially not my ex-husband for the principle of it. He was though. They both were. I realize this now.
For the past year, since my divorce, I have been without guardianship.
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.
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?