jdeena

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

Tag: advice

Forced to Marry

I see it every day, all over my newsfeed and social media: girls are forced into marriage. No, I’m not talking about overseas in some remote country. I am talking about here in the US.  You might be thinking “Jinan, you are CRAZY!” but let me explain what I mean.

I know women have the right to choose their partner in Islam. I know no one can actually force you to get married. However, culturally, I feel that we are still bound by the obligations passed down from one generation to another. Think about it: when a woman says she doesn’t want to get married, what is your first reaction? Probably horror. Or, let me put it this way: when you meet a woman and ask her age, what is your reaction if she is over 30 and still single?

I am not singling myself out in this post, although I do face both scenarios quite often. But I am trying to open your eyes to a bigger issue in our society- one where a woman’s marital status and her ability to bear children is valued more than anything else she can offer. Just scrolling though social media and seeing how many comments a woman gets when she posts an engagement or wedding picture versus one of her new promotion or a solo trip she’s taken is enough to prove my point. However, it doesn’t seem to be enough for people to be convinced that we- as a society- are obsessed with marriage.

That point alone could have been enough to push me away from that institution; yet I chose to still become a part of it at the age of 27, when I first got engaged. To be honest (and I didn’t admit this at the time), I didn’t want to get married. I did it because my parents were becoming more and more frustrated with me, I was close to thirty, and the guy seemed decent enough. Everyone I knew would always tell me they thought something was wrong with me because I just wasn’t jumping to get married. What can I say? I just felt like I wanted to be on my own, and that I’d never find a guy who could tear me away from my singleness.

So, I got engaged. I went through the motions, made everyone happy -and then just as quickly- disappointed everyone when I took off the ring and left it on the bathroom sink before work one day. It was just two months shy of our wedding day. Yet I felt freer than I ever had that day.

Of course, everyone told me that I shouldn’t give up, and that I needed to keep an open mind. So I did, and I entered into yet another serious relationship that would be the beginning of the demise of my character.

Our culture fails to understand that we of this generation are looking for more than just a man to support us. We want a partner, someone we can love and respect and build an empire with. This second relationship chipped away at my self-confidence over 9 months. By the end of it, when he decided he wasn’t ready to get married, I was the shell of a human being. I was devastated and went into a depression so deep it consumed me. I felt lost, confused, and unmotivated. I was sure no one would ever love me, and spent my days crying and wondering what was so wrong with me that no one wanted to marry me.

And that was it- the breaking point. I went to therapy, and she asked me “why do you feel you need a man to love you to make you feel valid?” And it was such a simple question. Yet all my life, I was taught that marriage is half my faith and my culture made me feel that without a man I was nothing. I mean, just look at the questions we are asked when we meet people: How old are you? Oh, are you married? Oh, why not? I mean, are we seriously validating a woman by her marital status?

So since that day in my therapist’s office, I have vowed to work on loving myself. I have thrown myself into work and activities, focused on my writing and activism, and learned to be alone. I have a great circle of friends, but they are all married. So to count on their company proved fruitless. I go to movies alone, I go to restaurants alone; hell, I even travel alone! It’s empowering and liberating, but even more so, it shows that a woman does not need a man in order to enjoy life. I am not saying I will never get married; but I will definitely be enjoying the journey until that happens.

Do I get questions from my family and friends? Always. Everyone is scared of the “single girl” especially when she is so content in her singleness. But no matter; I don’t let it bother me. I have learned to laugh it off, and to focus on what is important to me. The way I look at it is, this is my life. Not theirs. To live your life for others will mean you will never truly live. So be content in your choices, as I have become.

They won’t like it, but then again, who cares?

Get Off Your Soapbox

I encountered one of many internet trolls yesterday when I was online.

I am subscribed to a few “matchmaking” Muslim sites, in the effort to meet someone, as my city offers very little in the dating scene. So last night, after a fun evening out with my coworkers, I came home and was scrolling through my phone in bed and a chat box popped up from one of the sites. I usually never respond to chat requests, but for some reason, I decided to click “accept” and see what this guy was about.

We exchanged hellos, and he asked why I was up so late (it was 12:30). I told him I had just gotten home from an evening out with my friends. He asked where we had gone, and I told him a local hookah bar. He then asked if I smoke, and I said yes. He responded less than enthusiastically, so I asked him if there was a problem, and he proceeded to tell me that smoking hookah is haram (forbidden).

That right there, for me, was a red flag. When someone decides to say something is haram right away, and it in fact IS NOT haram, to me that shows that the person is ignorant to the most basic concepts of what is forbidden and allowed in Islam. So I proceeded to correct him and say it is not forbidden, just not recommended as it can hard your health. He then said that the sheikhs all deem it haram, and their job is to research these things, so their ruling must be right.

He THEN proceeded to tell me that it is also contradicting that I, as a hijabi, smoke hookah, as my hijab represents purity and piety, and by smoking hookah, I am a hypocrite.

Yes. He actually said that.

I didn’t know how to respond, as my instinct was to initially rip him to shreds with an argument about how Muslim women who cover are not to be used as flawless examples of what a Muslim woman should be. We are not without imperfections, and to assume so is setting us up for failure, as we are all human and surely make mistakes. Also, we are individuals, so to categorize all Muslim covered women into one category is unnecessary and harmful to the image of Islam. However, I held my tongue and explained to him that he can have his own opinion of what he would like his Muslim wife to be, but to belittle and criticize a woman who does not fit that image is ridiculous and small-minded.

He then proceeded to tell me that I was wrong for assuming he was small-minded, and that as a Muslim woman, if I was not to cover “properly” why cover at all? He said my hijab was “showy” and that it defeated the purpose of hijab (which, by the way, my photo on that site was a simple photo from everyday- no jeweled headbands or heavy makeup present).

The thing that really bothered me was not the fact that he said these things- in fact, at some point in my life most of the guy friends I have have brought up these points- but, it was how comfortable he felt in saying these things to me so bluntly, and so soon into our conversation. The whole conversation lasted less than 5 minutes. And in that short time he felt comfortable enough to disrespect and discount my knowledge about Islam and my experience in hijab.

To me, this presents a very real problem among the guys in our community. Let me explain something to you: YOU do not wear hijab. YOU do not understand the day-to-day experiences of a woman who wears hijab. YOU don’t know what it’s like to be a very prominent representation of Islam, and have to watch your every move for fear someone will misrepresent your personal actions with those of all Muslim women. So YOU do not have the right to tell me how I should and should not be wearing hijab.

Wearing hijab in the US is a challenge. But to me, the biggest obstacle I face is not from those in the non-Muslim community. It is from those within my own community. The ones who deem it haram to do one thing or another just because they can. I have seen Muslim women ripped to shreds on social media, by men and women alike, who judge their every move. I have seen great examples of successful, intelligent Muslim women who have taken off the hijab permanently because they could not take any more criticism. What are we doing to ourselves? Why are we placing the blame on others, when our biggest problems come from within?

Get off your soapbox. You are not better than another. And if you truly want to help someone, you will find a kind and respectful way to do so. Throwing accusations at someone, calling them a hypocrite and telling them their hijab is wrong will not support your cause. It is people like that who push others away from Islam. Our religion is supposed to be beautiful, welcoming, and understanding. It is not demeaning, harsh, or oppressive. So next time you feel like you want to point out the “faults” of others, be sure you are standing in front of a mirror.

The Evolution of Gender Roles

So lately I’ve had multiple debates about the roles of men and women in today’s society. Take a step away from cultural roles, because that’s a topic in itself. I am talking about the roles men and women play NOW, in 2015. It may seem that we have come a long way since the early 1900’s, and even towards the end of the 20th century women were starting to rise as powerful, professional members of society. But now, in 2015, with the possibility of a female president in our next election, I have seen many people (men and women alike) who have already started to advocate against Hillary as president. Their reason? She is a female, and therefore she should retreat into the role she was meant to fill: mother, wife, and respectable citizen of society- let the men run society.

It frustrates me when I hear these comments on radio, TV, and scrolling through my timeline on Facebook. Why shouldn’t she be president? Politics aside (because I don’t want to open that can, and I don’t want people assuming I do or do not support her), I think it is unfair to say that today, in 2015, we should not consider it an option to have a female president. Some excuses I’ve heard are: women are too emotional, she won’t be logical in her decisions, she will be neglecting her family, and she will give other women the idea that they can run for politics.

Well, DUH!

We need more people like Hillary. We need more women who are willing to step over that “line” that was drawn to segregate the genders. Why shouldn’t a woman be the CEO, the VP, the Senator, the President….if she is, in fact, perfectly qualified to do so? Just because she has certain anatomy that differs from that of a male, she should be punished? I never understand what people are thinking when they say things like “that’s not a role for women.” What is, then?

And, for that matter, who decided what role women should play in society? Who decided that women should be home taking care of the kids? Why is it not seen as masculine when the man stays home to raise the kids while his partner works? Or is that seen as noble and progressive? And if it is, why then when a women steps out of the home to work and pursue a career she is seen as selfish?

Our view of gender roles needs to change if we ever want to progress as a society. The sooner people realize that women are just as capable as men in holding a career and excelling at it, the easier it will be for people to sustain long-lasting, healthy relationships. One of the biggest obstacles I hear from females wanting to meet someone is that their life is unconventional from those who were married ten years ago, and so they are viewed as being unrelenting and difficult. But why? Why can’t the male be seen that way NOW, and for the last 100 years? And yet, when a woman decides to follow her goals, she is now being judged? Seems a bit unfair.

I met a girl who is a doctor, and she said that while she was studying to become a doctor, she was judged by people for being to driven, and not wanting to jump into marriage right after college. They asked her why she bothered with becoming a doctor. Then, when she was finally a doctor, people are now telling her she is arrogant about being a doctor and that she will never get married because men don’t want a woman who is more successful than them. Um…that doesn’t sound like it’s her problem. Sounds like some men are too insecure to be with a woman who has her shit together. That’s your problem guys, not ours.

I am not being unreasonable here. I am not saying men need to start carrying the child, and I am not saying women need to treat men the same way women were treated by men all these years- as second-class citizens and housewives. No, I am suggesting that women stand up and fight for what they believe is best for themselves, and for men to set aside their pride and old traditions to support these women. It is okay for a man to be proud of a woman who is driven, successful, and confident. It does not make you less of a man, I swear! But to continue to demean and degrade women who are making strides and following their dreams WILL make you look like less of a man.

I hope that with the emergence of social media and the plethora of stories and articles showcasing the achievements of great women, there will come a day when the question of gender roles will cease to exist. However, it could very well be that women will continue to make great strides while fighting this gender equality battle.

That, in itself, should show you how determined we will be.

The Power of An Education

This past weekend, I had the pleasure and honor of speaking at Kent State University for the Arab Student Association’s Women’s History Month event: Modest Me. I haven’t done much public speaking in regards to Muslim women in a very long time, but I’ve never been shy about speaking in front of large groups. I was on a panel with two other influential women, Winnie Detwa (a fashion/lifestyle blogger) and Fatina Abdrabboh, (the director for the Michigan Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC)).

We were given questions ahead of time to prepare, but the answers I gave were a lot of the same ideas that I present in my blog, so I didn’t have to write anything down. One thing really stood out to me throughout the event, and it was that the questions asked by the audience members came from an uneducated space. Which is completely acceptable; I am in no way saying this is a bad thing. Quite the opposite; these events are created for this exact reason. But this just reaffirmed a view I’ve always had about non-Muslims’ perception of us: they are simply uneducated.

I included in my introduction the clause that I welcomed any question, no matter how offensive it may seem. I wanted people to feel comfortable asking anything, because I feel that is the only way to truly seem approachable. I made sure to notice people’s reactions as the panelists spoke, and I saw a lot of nodding heads and smiles. It was important to also add in humor, which I wanted to do in order to make the subject a little less serious.

The best part of the night came at the end, after the event was over. I had students come up to me, thanking me for speaking on such an important topic. They told me they had learned so much from our talk, and many exchanged information with me so we could plan more events in the future. It really warmed my heart to know that in that span of two hours, I was able to reach over 200 students and give them a different view of Muslim women than what they see in the media.

This reaffirmed my belief that so many people have the wrong idea about Muslims, simply because they are uneducated. The proof of this lies in my daily interactions with people. I am always asked about my hijab at the gym, as many people don’t know that Muslim women- can in fact- work out! I am asked about it at the mall as I shop for clothes at Express, or as I buy $5 scarves at Charlotte Russe. It amazes me that as many Muslims as there are in my city, many have never spoken to one. And a lot of it has to do with the fact that we are unapproachable.

I cannot stress it enough; we NEED to be more approachable. That is the only way to show who Muslims truly are in this country. We can post articles on social media until our fingers are tired, but the only way to prove ourselves is by living our life and being the embodiment of a good Muslim in our society.

Another way to help educate is by pointing out the wrongs in people’s thought process when we hear them. We cannot allow false assumptions to be made and let go. I read a post today on an Instagram site I follow, and the girl was talking about how she was in an elevator at a hospital where she works. She overhead a woman saying all these awful (and incorrect) things about Muslims. Yet because she was at work, she couldn’t say anything to this woman. While I can understand that, I would have politely tried to approach the woman and ask her to check out some sites or visit a local mosque to learn more about Islam. Letting it go only adds to the fuel that woman has, and as she was talking to someone else, that is one more person who will have the wrong impression of Muslims.

However, I think that while there are many injustices happening to Muslims nowadays (as Fatina pointed out in our panel, anti-arab/Muslim hate is at an all-time high, even more so than 9-11), we cannot dwell on those. Because for every negative incident, there are so many positive ones. And to use those negative experiences as an excuse to turn the hate around on another group, is not only cowardly, but it contradicts the defense we use when a Muslim commits a crime and we disassociate ourselves from them. The hate/acceptance goes both ways.

Maybe I am a rare exception, but I rarely have negative experiences with non-Muslims. And I am giddy at the thought of being asked questions about my faith and culture. I NEVER get offended. And I’ve had some crazy questions haha.

So the next time you are given the opportunity to speak to someone about Islam or Arabs, take it. You never know who that person may be in contact with; you may end up passing knowledge that will travel across many groups. And if you encounter those very few who are so deep in their ignorance that no amount of education will dissipate, take a deep breath, smile, and move on. For people like that are not worthy of your time. Focus on what you CAN change, and eventually, we’ll get there.

A Numbers Game

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of seeing one of my really good friends Nabil. Every time I’m in the DMV area, he makes time to see me, but nothing compared to this time because when he showed up he was so deathly ill, I thought he was going to collapse right in front of me. However, he pulled through (because he’s awesome like that), and we had one of the best 3 hour dinners I have ever experienced with anyone. Forget the fact that he told me some news that shocked me into a frenzied state of mind (still shook up about that FYI). We ended up discussing- which we usually end up doing anyways- relationships.

As a trusted friend of mine, I have always turned to Nabil for advice and a male’s perspective. Even when I was engaged or going through a breakup. Knowing him for ten years has given me the comfort and ease of opening up to him, and he- in turn- is candid in his responses. So at one point during our conversation, I was telling him about my last attempt at a serious relationship, where I gave the guy 3 months to make the commitment. And Nabil told me something I never would have thought about. He told me that 3 months was way too long. Because as short as our life is, we cannot afford to spend 3 months with each person we meet. His theory is that once we meet a person, we know within 10 minutes if we want to see them again. And within 24-48 hours, we know whether or not we like that person. So, at most, we will know whether or not that person is a compatible match for us within a week. And at the end of that week, as a female, we cut the guy off. If he is serious, the guy will come knocking down the door wanting to be with you. If he doesn’t, hey- you only spent a week with that fool.

I stared at him, trying to figure out if he was being serious. (He was.) But as he went on, I realized that his theory made sense. Why do we always drag things out? Yes, it is important to find out each others likes and dislikes, but you will never fully know the person no matter how many months you date. So maybe the idea that we focus on the positives from the start and have pure intentions for a solid commitment are what we need in order to find that partner. Plus, as a female, it helps us weed out the assholes who are just using you.

So all of what he said to me that night resounded in my head all weekend. I kept turning it over and over in my mind, trying to make sense of it. So if I met a guy today, I’d know in a week if I wanted a solid commitment with him? Could I really do that? And if I am doubting whether or not I could, wouldn’t that make ME the problem? Doesn’t that mean that I am the one running from commitment?

It’s true that I was the one who imposed a 3 month limit in my last relationship, but if the tables were turned, and he wanted to commit after a month, would I have agreed? That’s what scares me. Because I think I probably wouldn’t have. Because since then, I have had a few guys show their interest in a commitment, who in fact want to rush into an engagement almost right away, and I admit it scares the hell out of me. How can they be so sure about me? What if they find out my flaws and realize they made a mistake? I admit that I’m not an easy person to love. Not because you need to prove anything to me, but because I am so used to being on my own that I have a hard time letting someone love and care for me.

So, since Nabil told me I have nothing to lose, I plan on trying this new method. I just need to force myself into this state of mind that not every person will meet all my standards, but that I can overlook the not-so-important ones and focus on what really matters, which is (according to Nabil): physicality, religiousness, and character. All the other things are just minor.

After I made it back home from my vacation, I texted Nabil and he told me something that I will end with. He said: “It’s a numbers game. Just don’t hold on to one ticket too long. Keep swapping them out for newer tickets until one fits the bill.”

So that’s what I’ll do.

Online Dating Woes

So I have dabbled a bit in online dating here and there for the past 8 years. I initially joined one site just to network and meet people, and that proved to be fruitful. I am still great friends with a lot of the guys and girls I’ve met. Recently however, I activated my profile on Arab Lounge. Ok, so yes; you can tell just from the name of the site what kinds of people I will deal with. The thing is, this is not a social networking site; it’s strictly for dating. You can’t post blogs, you can’t friend people, and as a female, I am only accessible to males and vice versa.

So I am constantly getting messages from guys who find my profile “interesting.” Such a vague term. And when I click to see their profile, we have so much NOT in common that I wonder what it is that they find so interesting. I kept my profile short and sweet after a male friend read my previous profile and deemed it too aggressive. (There it is again, I’m “too” something. Sigh). So my profile just says that I want to meet someone, get to know each other, and see where it goes. Casual. Down-to-earth. Simple.

So please explain to me why I get marriage proposals within the first message I’m sent?

Can someone please explain to me where all the normal guys are? The following are excerpts from messages I have received:

 

“You are my goddess, please let me marry you.”

“I am your slave.”

“Can we marry? I make you much happy.”

“You’re face is like the moon.” (So, pasty and round?)

“Why do you only want tall guys?” (From a guy who was 5’4″. I’m 5’9″)

 

I get a few guys that just send “hi.” And a few that write me their life story. But I never get the guy who is nonchalant, collected, and just NORMAL. Is it that these guys online have no social graces that they resort to online dating because they can hide behind a screen? Look, people. I’m trying to keep an open mind that I will meet a great guy. But these idiots are making it very hard for me to keep that faith alive.

I know that at 32 I’m not going to get the pick of the gene pool lottery. That’s my punishment for waiting so long I guess. Although, in all fairness not meeting the right guy earlier is definitely not my fault. I did try; it just wasn’t meant to be I guess. So now the question is, do I continue this madness, or do I delete my online account and wish for someone to cross my path someday? On the one hand, it is amusing to receive these messages. On the other, it is discouraging and a waste of my time.

I guess only time will tell. On another unrelated note, last night I hung out with my coworker. Yes, the same one from last week. Just so you know, I am a very ethical and moral person. I would never act in a way that is inappropriate with someone who is engaged. I made sure his fiance knew we would be hanging out before we went out. I don’t ever want to be in a position where the guy lies to his girl just to hang out with me.

So anyways, we went to Pittsburgh yesterday because he’s never been and he wanted to see the stadium and all that hype. The weather was nice and we ended up having dinner by the water. Perfect setting…except I was with an unavailable guy. But he seemed genuinely interested in talking and getting to know me. We got on the subject of relationships and I asked him, from his POV as a male, why he thinks I have not had any success in relationships. He told me that my personality was great- I am fun, lively, bold, independent….but that when I meet a guy, I shouldn’t show that all at once. He said, and I quote, “don’t show too much of that right away. It’ll scare some guys.”

There it is again. That phrase, “too much.” Always too much of this, too much of that. I will never escape it! Of course, once he said that, I became defensive and combative. He told me that for a guy like him (meaning a coworker and friend) my behaving that way is fine. But for someone who I am in a relationship with it may come off as being aggressive. So basically I need to change myself when I meet someone, and lay it on them slowly, over time.

Is that right? Should I do that? I’m asking all you guys out there. If I did take his advice, won’t the guy later on realize that I was maybe hiding or holding back a big part of who I am? I don’t think that I could do that. Plus, I’d feel really awkward trying to hold back a part of me as I’m getting to know someone. Sounds cliche, but if he can’t appreciate all of me upfront, he doesn’t deserve me.

But that is exactly what I’ve done online. To the virtual world, I am not my typical self. I have scaled my profile way back so that I can appear as normal (relative term) as the other females online. Is that right? Should I showcase all of me right away, or should I take my friend’s advice and wait to show it?

I am so confused. Sigh.

Communication Amongst the Sexes

I have a friend who is an Actor in LA, and he also hosts a radio program every week on LA Talk Radio called Imperfect Gentlemen. He took a lifestyle and made it a brand, in that through his radio show and the products he sells, he has changed the way men and women interact. The show is basically an advice column on air, where listeners can send in topics and he and his co-host will answer it from a guy’s perspective. The aim is to allow women who tune in to know what guys think, and for the men it is a lifestyle rulebook to follow in order to be a true gentleman.

Last week on the show, the topic was “Does no mean no?” Meaning, when a woman says nothing is wrong, or that she isn’t interested in dating a guy is that truly what she thinks or is she playing a game? We all know that ever since junior high, guys and girls were taught that it’s “all a game” and that you shouldn’t answer the first call, or you should let the phone ring 4 times before answering, or you should say you are busy the first time a guy asks you out. Guys shouldn’t call a girl for 3 days after a date, they should show no emotional connection, and they should casually mention other girls to ignite jealousy to see if the girl really likes them. But come on! Why all the charades? Why can’t men and women just communicate?

On the radio show, one of the hosts said that girls don’t tell the truth, and they are always playing games and he wishes they would just say what’s on their mind. Yet he also admitted that even if a girl claims to be telling the truth, he wouldn’t necessarily believe her! So what I’m understanding is that guys want girls to tell the truth, but even when we do, you think we are playing the game still. Ok, that makes a lot of sense (not).

It was funny that this topic was chosen for that show because a few days before that I had a conversation with a guy friend of mine. I asked him why a guy would be turned off a girl after expressing interest in her, as I meet many guys and they find me intelligent and likable, but after a few conversations they are never to be seen again. He asked me what I tell them and what we talk about, and I told him normal, getting-to-know-you topics. He then asked me if I tell the truth about everything, and that perplexed me. I said of course I do, why wouldn’t I? He suggested that I hold some stuff back at first and- in his words, not mine- “play the game a little.”

Woah! So this guy is telling me girls SHOULD play the game to create some mystery. And yet other guys say they want the exact opposite. So, which one is it guys? If we hold stuff back, we are playing games. If we are forthcoming and honest, we’re pushy or you just don’t believe us. Call me crazy, but seems like you are the ones with issues to resolve. Make a decision and stick with it. It’s unfair to say that women don’t know how to communicate when guys give mixed signals all the time.

I’ve always been an honest, open person, and I never played games. It’s childish and a waste of time. Even when I was younger, I just didn’t get the point of it. I used to tell all my friends who would date compulsively to just be themselves. A girl would come and tell me she wants to call or text the guy she’s seeing but doesn’t want to see pushy, and I would tell her to just DO IT. Seriously, why the anxiety and stress over a phone call? If your instinct is to surprise someone at work with lunch, DO IT. Don’t turn it over and over again in your mind until you talk yourself out of it. It always amazed me how much time girls spent stressing over such mundane things.

So the deal is that as a guy, if you want open communication, you have to be able to take it. And when a girl does open up to you, take it as true honesty. Don’t always assume that girls play games. And if they do….well, you really don’t have anyone to blame but yourself.