jdeena

Never settle for what is…come tomorrow it will be what was

Month: December, 2012

Veiled Perception

On March 1, 1997, I made a decision that ultimately changed the course of the rest of my life. I started wearing the hijab.

I was a freshman in high school, and nothing could have prepared me for what was to become the defining characteristic in my being. I’ll admit; high school wasn’t easy. I endured a lot of snickering and pointing fingers. I had rumors made up about me. I lost friends. None of that mattered to me though because I had my Muslim friends outside of school who supported me. I was involved in my mosque and had a lot to be thankful for.

Then I started college. This was a whole new world for me. I was exposed to so many new experiences. I joined the usual activity groups like the Arab Student Union and Muslim Student Association. But then I was invited to join Student Government, and once I was in, the doors were flying open. I was so involved on campus that people knew me by name. My social circle expanded beyond the typical. I was now friends with many non-Muslims, and so things shifted a bit. I now had people asking me questions about Islam and my hijab. However, throughout all these inquiries, I remained myself. I acted as who I was, and never hid or altered my true being.

Truthfully, it was those from my similar background who judged me more than anyone else. They felt I was being “too liberal.” Just because I didn’t fit into the mold they expected me to fit in I was cast as a pariah. Looking back, I know now that those people didn’t know any better. Or maybe I’m just giving them the benefit of the doubt.

When 9-11 happened, I really thought my reign as campus queen would be over. I thought for sure the students on campus would turn the other way and hide under their ignorance. But I will never forget my first day back on campus after it all happened. I was in the Student Government office and one of my friends told me that she had been so worried about me and my family. And then she said something that has always been something I carry inside me. She said, “I don’t even notice the scarf on you anymore. At first it was something I saw, but now it’s just become a part of you that I don’t even see it anymore.”

I remember my eyes brimming with tears and my heart swelling with gratitude that I had found such an honest and compassionate person. It wasn’t just her though; the entire Student Government members echoed her sentiment. That was the day when I realized I could rule the world as a hijabi.

Since college, I have been afforded so many wonderful opportunities. I have never interviewed for a job and been denied for wearing the hijab. I have never been singled out in a crowd, or felt uncomfortable walking into a room. Yes, people stare at me at the mall. Yes, I have had some people make unnecessary comments to me. But hey, everyone gets stared at for some reason or another. People make derogatory comments to anyone, not just hijabis.

So, with all that being said, this is what I want to discuss: should Muslim women in America wait to wear the hijab until a much later age to avoid the perceived complications it may administer? Yes, wearing the hijab makes you stand out in society. Yes, Muslims have a negative image thanks to the media and extremists actions of a few. Is it fair to say though that hijab should be pushed aside until society is “more accepting?” I have heard some women say lately that they have a good standing with their childrens’ school, parents of their friends, and teammates. Meaning, that they feel they are giving a good image of Muslims, showing how modern and non-threatening we are. To them, wearing the hijab would make them seem “extreme.” They think that if they “win” these people over with their “normalcy” then 20 years down the road put on the hijab, these people will be more accepting. Also, they don’t feel that it is fair for their kids to have to explain to people why their mother “wears that thing on her head.”

I have to disagree.

I think that you can still present a positive image of Muslims as a woman who wears hijab. So what if your kids have to explain why you wear hijab? Are you ashamed to have them do that? Why is it such a big deal? It seems to me that although you feel you are being a modern Muslim, you are hiding what Islam really is. Hijab can be a beautiful thing, even “modern” as you so like to emulate.

It seems to me that what people want to do is “win” people over with their personality and then wear the hijab once they are confident that they will be accepted. However, no one ever said that wearing hijab was easy. You stick out like a sore thumb in society, especially here in the US. So there is a bit of a struggle, but that is to be expected. My job requires me to speak in front of 40 strangers every week and get them to trust and respect me enough to learn things that will help them become more successful at work. It may sound like it is hard, especially for a hijabi training mostly in the midwest, but it honestly is not.

I never feel uncomfortable or uneasy walking into a room. I’m not wondering if people are judging me or calling me a terrorist under their breath. If anyone has ever had any reservation about who I am, I have never heard it. What I HAVE heard, however, are people saying that they give me credit for wearing hijab in such an unforgiving society. I have girls who come up to me, grateful to see a minority female in corporate America. My hijab has given me more power and confidence than could have ever been thought imaginable.

So to all those women out there who don’t want to wear hijab because it will draw attention to them, I say this:

It’s best you don’t wear it until you are 100% invested. Even then, you will still have doubts. What you need to remember is that in our society, people will judge you no matter what. If it’s not for your hijab, it’s for your name. If not for your name, for your skin color. If not for that, then the color of your hair. You can choose to not wear hijab, but if you are seeking to live without judgement, you will never find that.

When I first got this job, I was in Chicago at dinner with my boss. Over our appetizers, he confided in me that he was worried about me training employees. I was confused as I asked him why. He told me he was afraid of how people would react to me. I personally had not thought of that, as those things never cross my mind. I almost laughed at him but I saw how serious he looked. He told me that when I walked into my interview, he instantly got nervous. Not because I was Muslim, but because he wasn’t sure how people would perceive me.

However, he said, by the end of the interview he no longer saw the scarf. All he saw was a great candidate for a trainer position. And that was when he knew that I would be okay.

This is my point, people. You CAN be viewed as just a normal person in society. Whether you have a hijab, a different skin color, an accent, or a non-traditional name, you can still be YOU. It may take a little longer for people to push past all that, but once they do they will see an amazing person. If they choose not to, well, then….that’s just their loss.

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Forgiveness

As the year comes to a close, it’s always good to tie up any loose ends. In order to start the year anew, there needs to be no bad endings from the previous year. Keeping that in mind, I did something last night that has been on my mind for months.

I forgave someone who had deeply hurt me.

It wasn’t easy; I debated it for months. This person had a piece of my heart and was there for me in a time of great despair. I came to truly loved this person, and so when they abruptly left my life I went about thrashing like a child unable to swim caught in a tidal wave. I didn’t understand it at first. To be honest, I didn’t understand why until recently. You see, everything in life happens for a reason. Every relationship we have is meant to add some value to our lives. We may not reap the rewards of that value until much later; however the worth never changes.

I reached out to this person to show that I finally forgive them for the pain they caused me. I know we both acted childishly and so I wanted to clear the air and put it in the past. This person was a great friend to me and it made more sense to cherish that friendship then throw it away over something we both contributed to.

It’s rare that you can find quality people in your life. Be aware, however, that you should not allow people to take advantage of you just so you can forgive them. That’s not my point. I want you to realize that you shouldn’t throw people away over a mistake. It’s not fair. We are all humans; we all make mistakes. So you cannot judge someone, especially without knowing their intention. So give people the benefit of the doubt. Unless they truly use you and hurt you beyond repair, look to forgive them and give them a second chance.

I was relieved to see that my friend’s response was the same as mine. I know I feel even better knowing that I mended a valuable friendship, all before the end of this year. As we head into 2013, I see nothing but good things ahead for us.

So, thank you, for this forgiveness.

Giving In

This post isn’t meant to point fingers at anyone. My intention is not to single anyone out nor hurt anyone’s feelings. That being said, I also want you to know that I strive to be honest in my blog as this is the only place I feel that I can do that. So please respect that, and just know that I pull a lot of my subjects for my blogs from daily interactions. If you are lucky enough to be in my social circle, you may have inspired one of my posts :).

So here’s the thing. I was thinking about this yesterday. Like really thinking about it. I’m 30. I have a great job that I absolutely love. I have amazing coworkers. My friends could use some improvement though, but I blame my lack of to the fact that I’m never home anyways. My family is mostly supportive. When I say that I don’t do it to be mean. I know they love me. They just haven’t always agreed with the paths I’ve chosen, especially since those paths never led to marriage.

I’ve realized lately that I’m alone. Just like everyone predicted. All my friends are married with kids. They have their lives. I’m single and wanting to live a little. I cannot continue to sit at home on the weekends because no one is free due to family obligation. I am tired of trying to plan something only to see it fall through. Look, I understand this is life. I know this is what we were meant to do.

So, I give up.

I’ll do it. I’ll get married, have kids, and be domesticated. I’ll quit my job and tend to my husband’s needs. I’ll sacrifice my free time to take my kids to after school activities. I’ll lose my hobbies, give up sleeping in on the weekends, and save my money for my kids’ needs instead of a cute new pair of boots. I’ll grow weary of the mundane tasks presented to me in my new life. I’ll resent the decision I’ve made every day for the rest of my life….

….but I’ll do it. Because you were right. I am alone.

What people don’t understand is, I don’t care about a wedding. I don’t want to “fall in love,” I don’t want the politics that come with a marriage. What I want is a companionship. What I need is a mutual respect for my career. I want someone who already has a sense of self so they feel no need control me. I want someone secure enough to say they enjoy my companionship but can just as easily let me live my own life.

So, if you can find this person, by all means send him to me. Because I am tired. Tired of being picked on for thinking differently. Tired of being told I am incomplete until I find a man to complete me. I want to be able to find the one who will support me as I am, and would never ask me to change. Call me a pessimist, but I don’t think that guy exists.

So until then, I will read my books, write my blog, do my work…all in a fabulous pair of boots that I didn’t need to sacrifice for something else.

The Almond Tree

So I just finished this book, The Almond Tree, by Michelle Cohen Corasanti. She is a Jewish American who wrote a story about a Palestinian boy who grows up amongst the war and terror under Israeli rule and turns every obstacle into an opportunity. It is such a heart-wrenching, honest portrayal of what Palestinians have gone through for the past 64 years. She explains in excruciating detail the harrowing journey from poverty to success.

The reason she wrote this book was to shed some light on the plight of the Palestinian people. However, as a Jewish woman, she has received a lot of negativity for writing such a story. Although she was raised Jewish, she married a Palestinian and always believed in peace. She felt the need to write this story so that she could show people what truly happens over there. Being Palestinian and having spent many summers and even lived in Palestine for a while, I can recall many of the situations mentioned in the chapters.

I urge everyone to read this book, as well as become fans of Michelle on Facebook and Twitter. She has taken a big risk in writing this book, and we owe it to her to support her endeavors. You can also download the book off Amazon for only $2.99 right now, although it is also available in paperback.

As a writer, I can recognize how much courage it takes to write about a controversial subject. I commend Michelle for all she has done to shed light on this subject. I pray that I too get the courage I need to finish my book one day despite the criticisms I may face.

Appearances are (not) Deceiving

I’m going to take the opportunity to warn you that this post is going to seem superficial and materialistic. This post is going to solely be dedicated to appearances and the importance that a good appearance plays in our every day life.

One of the things I teach in my classes is how to be prepared for work, and the one point I emphasize is your appearance. Now, we can sit here and argue all day long how looks don’t matter, and it’s all about the person underneath the clothes. However, everything we do in society claims otherwise. We are drawn to the shiny, the new, the pretty, the lithe, the glamorous, the beautiful, the charistmatic, the attention-grabbing, the well-assembled, the approachable, the handsome, the charming, the engaging…

The list could go on, I assure you. No matter what anyone says, looks matter. However, I will make the point that looks should not be the ONLY thing that matter.

Now, back to my thoughts.

In society, we are conditioned at a very young age that looks are important. We are surrounded by airbrushed, glossy, perfection. Advertisements for beauty products and must-have wardrobe staples grace our TV, radio, cell phones, and computer. Feeling good is about looking good. One cannot happen without the other.

So why not embrace it? Why do we fight the theory when we know deep down it is what needs to be done? There is nothing wrong with taking some pride in your appearance. There is a limit though; I do not condone being a brand snob. I look good and I bargain shop. Recently my clothes have come from Old Navy, TJ Maxx, Marshalls, and Forever 21. I like to think that I have fashion appeal, and I can put together outfits that look good without going broke.

We know that people judge us by our appearance. I find it humorous when people will claim that if someone doesn’t like them without makeup or when they are in their sweats then they don’t deserve them at all. How do you expect to attract the fish with no bait? Bad analogy (or a good one, depending on your taste) but it is true. Your appearance is what lures them in, and if you have the personality to match eventually that will take the front seat. I feel like if you take the time to put yourself together, you are making a statement about yourself. You are letting society know that you are ambitious and have a winning attitude.

I should probably stop rambling on before I start sounding stuck-up. But ask yourself this: would you want to go into a dirty restaurant, an unorganized retail space, or be taught by an unprepared teacher?

I’m guessing your answer is no, and if so, you just proved my point.

Missing: Gentlemen

Ladies, has it felt like recently there have been no gentlemen around? I mean real, actual gentlemen. The kind that walk into a room and command the attention. Whose presence is a compliment to any situation. Who carry themselves with class and distinction.

Since I travel a lot, I notice that there is a lack of true gentlemen gracing our society. I see groups of guys out who have no charm. Guys who are out for a “guys night” who remind me of high school jocks out for their first time. Guys who think American Eagle t-shirts and a hoodie count as “being dressed.” As a single female in her early 30s, I have to tell you that this is not appealing by any means.

Going out to a bar or club every time you “go out” is juvenile and classless. A true gentlemen engages himself in culture. He visits historical sites, museums, musical events that represent genres other than the top 40 hits. He holds doors open for women, not because he feels he has to, but because he knows women should be treated that way.

A true gentlemen dresses not only with style, but with purpose. Every accessory has a reason, and when assembled sets him apart from the rest. He wears clothes that fit him in every way: size, fashion, and atmosphere. A true gentlemen also surrounds himself with the same image that he portrays. The gentlemen he hangs out with are also distinguished and classy.

These gentlemen are far and few between. I have, however, come across one such group of gentlemen. I am highly impressed with the way they live. As a female, I can’t tell you how attractive it is to see true gentlemen such as these.

What’s even better is that they recently started a way of life for the young, male single business professional. How2Yolo has become more popular over the last couple of months. Their website how2yolo is great guide for all the guys out there who clearly need some direction in their life.

Ladies, do your male friends service by recommending they subscribe to their site. Guys, do yourselves and us females service by subscribing to it. The lack of true gentlemen in our society is abominable. As we get older, our options don’t have to diminish. We can all have that true gentleman in our life.

Dream Job

So I was in class on Wednesday, and Day 2 of training is the day that the employees get to ask me personal questions to get to know me. One of the questions I was asked this time was “If you have goals to be a writer so you can positively influence and educate society, how come you have chosen this training job as your career?”

I hesitated. It was a very good question after all. Ever since I read the book “Princess” in high school, I wanted to write a book that would positively portray Muslim women. I wanted people to live in the day-to-day life of an American Muslim Arab woman and understand that we are not so different. That we struggle, we achieve, we love, we survive, and we move on just like everyone else. I’ve always had to work though, and so as I become more involved at work and advanced in my roles, I forgot my ultimate goal. Until recently.

Even though I am not a recognized writer in society, I know I am on my way. I have my followers and I am starting to build up a fanbase. In every class I teach, my writing comes up and so I gain exposure. However, I don’t even need to write to get my ultimate goal accomplished. In every class I have the opportunity to talk about my religion and culture. I am asked questions inquiring about my scarf, my struggles, and how I overcome them.

In a way, my role as a corporate trainer is the best way for me to show society that image of an American Muslim Arab female. It is such an honorĀ  and a privilege to be able to show that success comes in different shades in the corporate world. I am able to be myself and do what I do best, which is motivate and inspire those around me to not only do good for the company, but to do good for themselves.

Having been through a lot in life has allowed me to sincerely empathize with employees, and in turn, have the opportunity to instill that confidence that they had lost. I am proud to be who I am. I want people to see that my generation of women feel empowered and can go out amidst the racism and do well in society. We can contribute positively and have a shining image.

I may not have the job I had dreamed of, but I am lucky that I have found my dream job.