jdeena

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

Tag: american

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.

World Hijab Day, and Why I’m Against It

So this past Sunday was the 2nd World Hijab Day, a day where non-Muslim women are encouraged to don the hijab to “see what it’s like wearing hijab.” This even was started in 2013, and as noble the idea is, I can’t help but have a few reservations about those celebrating it; Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

What is the premise behind this event? So a non-Muslim woman can wear hijab and see what we, hijabis, go through on a daily basis. Now, I know that some girls do get comments and are harassed sometimes. I will not say it doesn’t happen. However, having worn hijab for 18 years now, my incidents have been far and few between. Yes, some people will stare, some will make a comment (I’ve been called terrorist and oppressed), but you will find those incidents in any social interaction in society. If I didn’t wear hijab, I’d be harassed as a woman. If I wasn’t a woman, I’d be harassed for the way I look….and on and on it goes. Because you will NEVER be fully accepted in society, no matter who you are.

So let’s say the woman wearing hijab for a day DOES get harassed. Now she will feel pity at the women who do wear it daily. She will also feel some resentment towards a religion that mandates a woman to succumb to that type of ridicule. No, she will not understand that the struggles we face will be rewarded. It might seem like a sweet idea to believe she will, but because she does not understand Islam, she really won’t see it that way.

That leads me to the second point; the women wearing the hijab for a day do not understand Islam, nor do they have the emotional connection to hijab and what it truly means. They have it on for a day- not a lifetime- so they will not truly respect the idea as someone who knows they have to wear it for years to come. It takes a certain type of person to understand that when you wear hijab, you are preparing yourself for a lifetime of possible hardships. To wear it for one day and then go back to your old self will not give you the full experience.

But here I am talking about IF they DO have an experience. Because honestly, most will not. If you wear for hijab for one day, you most likely will not experience harassment. I go out every day to the gym, grocery store, shopping areas, etc….and I never get harassed. I get looked at yes- but I like to think it’s because of the smile on my face, or something I’m wearing. We can’t always assume someone is looking at us because of our hijab. How self-centered can you be? I travel a lot for work, and the last time I flew, I had two flights each way to my destination, and on each flight, the person I was seated next to was welcoming and asked me lots of questions. There was no fear and no ignorance.

So assume these non-Muslims wear hijab for a day- AND NOTHING HAPPENS. No one looks at them, no one says anything to them….they are treated as a regular person. And again the possibility of this is much higher than the opposite reaction. So now these non-Muslims will wonder “what the heck are hijabis complaining about all the time- they don’t get harassed! No one views them differently. So why all the fuss? This is what you wanted me to experience? Hijabis don’t have it harder than anyone else.”

Also, whatever happened to hijab making women feel empowered? Why do we want people to wear it to feel how oppressed we feel in it? It’s like asking someone to dress in blackface to see how it feels to be black. One, that would never work; there would be such an uproar on how disrespectful it is. Black people know that if a white person donned blackface for a day, their experiences will never measure to the ones they face daily. Suffering for one day with someone will not alleviate the overall suffering of that people. Hijab is not meant to be used as a method to get people to sympathize with you, because just like I mentioned above, they will not be able to fully comprehend the notion.

So let’s assume they wear the hijab, and they somewhat get harassed, and now they sort of understand it. This is the best case scenario. Now, what happens when someone bashes hijab and the idea of it in front of this person? Of course, this is the reason why we want them to wear it- so they can defend us! So they will bring up their experience, and say how for one day they wore it and it was hard and awful and people looked at them funny….so now more people will pity us? COME ON PEOPLE. We do’t want that, do we? When people used to ask me about hijab, I never whined. I never complained, nor did I throw out the “woe is me” card. I replied with strength and courage, and said it empowered me and gave me experiences that shaped me into the person I am. I don’t want people to pity me. You shouldn’t either.

The last point I want to bring up is about Muslim women who support Hijab Day. I honestly do not understand how the SAME women who wear hijab and judge other Muslim women in hijab, are supportive of non-Muslims wearing the hijab. Because they are not wearing it up to “your standards” yet you are applauding them for taking the chance to wear it to see what it’s like. So it doesn’t matter if these non-Muslims in hijab have nail polish on, wear skinny jeans- heck, even have short sleeves on in hijab- because hey, they’re just trying to empathize with us!

HYPOCRITES.

I cannot STAND that idea. How about you first learn to respect your other Muslim hijabis, and not judge them, before you applaud someone for trying it out for a day. How about, instead of focusing on a World Hijab Day, you focus on becoming closer with other Muslims that you know first? I love how we as Muslims are so excited to get non-Muslims to learn about us, yet we create such divisions within our selves. So what if your fellow hijabi is not wearing hijab the “right way?” Did you ever stop to think that maybe your constant judgement is making them feel so far from their community that they will no longer listen to you? I see it all the time- there is even a page on Facebook that was leaked recently where Muslim women take pictures of hijabis in public and then bash them with comments. ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Then these same women want to encourage World Hijab Day? PLEASE.

You want people to learn about hijab, write something. Speak at a conference or woman’s event. Get involved at your university or in your community. Talk to people you meet in public. Be approachable. I don’t know how many times I’ve been approached by someone wanting to ask me about hijab but they are too scared because the last hijabi they asked was mean-spirited and disrespectful. Having someone wear the hijab may get them to see how hot it is maybe underneath it on a summer day. Or see how warm it keeps you in the midst of winter. But it will not give them the full idea of hijab- not even a small idea. To them it is a costume they will wear for a day- “oh look, I’m Muslim!”- and then discard the next day and return to their life of detachment.

Unlabeled

I have been away for a while….so sorry! My break from school has been filled with work, holiday gatherings, work, a snowpocalypse, and more work. So glad to be able to have a chance to sit and just BREATHE.

Today’s topic is one I deal with regularly with the guys in my culture. It seems that as a girl who wears hijab (a hijabi, if you will), guys view us differently than Muslim girls who do not wear it. Hmmm. Ok. This can be good or bad. I have had a lot of guys that I’ve met over the years tell me that I’m the first hijabi they’ve talked to or hung out with, and they are uncomfortable at first. Then they realize that- gasp!- I’m an actual PERSON underneath the hijab and they forget all the discomfort. But here is what I don’t get: WHY do guys feel that way? Why is it that hijabis are seen differently and therefore are unapproachable?

Well, I asked a guy recently that same question when he admitted that he wasn’t being himself in our conversations because I was a hijabi and there were “limits” to what we could discuss. I met this guy a couple months ago and we’ve been getting to know each other slowly. He lives in Canada and so we usually text more than anything. The other day we were texting back and forth and at one point the conversation stalled. I asked him what the problem was and he said that since I was a hijabi he couldn’t say what was on his mind.

Is it wrong that I felt offended? In his defense, he said that he was taught that hijabis are more devout and so he had to be reserved around them. His whole life, that was what he was told and so he grew up with that mentality. He didn’t feel uncomfortable talking to me overall, but just couldn’t be his complete self. So I told him that I was not offended by much and to be open with me, as this is the only way we can move forward. It took some convincing but he finally opened up.

Yet after our conversation ended, I stayed up thinking about what he said. How hijabis are more devout. And while you can argue that wearing a scarf is a big, public step in announcing your faith, it needs to be said that how devout a person may or may not be is not determined by a piece of cloth covering their hair. I was offended initially by his comment- not because of his generalization about me- but because he categorized all non-hijabis as being less devout by process of elimination. And that upset me because I know many women who do not cover and are actually more devout than I am.

So again, what is it with the image of hijabis always being tied into the perfect image of a Muslim woman? It is so unfair to place that burden on someone. We are all human, and we all make mistakes. To label a woman more devout because she wears hijab will automatically make her seem like a terrible person if she- God forbid!- makes a mistake once in a while. Wearing hijab does not give room for assumptions, such as we are less fun, deserve more respect than a non-hijabi, or that we are unapproachable. I am Jinan. I am a Muslim American woman who happens to wear hijab. At this point in my life, it is NOT for religious reasons. I started wearing it for that purpose, but over the years it has evolved into a part of my identity. It is who I am.

Put me next to one of my many friends who do not wear hijab, and you will see no personality differences. In fact, I am a lot more outgoing and risky than my non-hijabi friends. It’s just ME. Wearing the hijab does not mean that I need to fit myself into a mold so that everyone else is comfortable. I used to think that a long time ago which is why I was always conflicted about who I was. The beauty of our religion is that it allows us to be individuals and God sees our faith within our hearts. We don’t have to prove it to anyone else but Him.

So, the next time you see a hijabi, please don’t treat her like a leper. We are not less of a person because we cover, nor are we MORE of a person. We are just like everyone else in this world; trying to find a way to be ourselves amidst a society set on labels.

“I Speak for Myself”

Ahhhh…finally! I have felt so lost without my writing the last few weeks. I apologize for this dry spell but school had kept me so busy with end-of-the-semester assignments, and I took my last final this morning. So I am DONE!

So much has happened since the last time I blogged, and it was so hard for me to choose one topic to discuss this time around and so this blog may jump around a bit. And it may be long, so bear with me.

It comes as no surprise that I want to discuss the reactions and debates that ensued after the “Mipsterz” video went viral. In case you missed it, I’ll post it below for you to watch. The premise of the video was basically a group of Muslim hipsters that have formed a group based out of Washington DC, and they showed themselves in everyday scenarios: skateboarding, taking selfies, laughing and hanging out in groups, etc. The song playing in the background is Jay Z’s “Somewhere in America,” and I’m not Jay Z fan, but the it has a good enough beat. However, it was the unedited version which threw some people for a loop. Whatevs. That’s not the only thing that upset people though.

One online writer posted an article titled “Somewhere in America Muslim Women are Cool,” where she went on to discuss the many “errors” in representation of Islam and Muslim women in the video. Now, I believe everyone should have freedom of speech and their right to an opinion; however, she was demeaning in her comments. She said the women were being sexualized, objectified, and the video didn’t really do anything but show a one-sided image of Muslim women. Well, yea….hence the title “Mipsterz.” Not every Muslim woman can identify with being a hipster; the women in this video clearly felt that they did. No big deal. As for being objectified? The girls were dressed in their own style willingly. No one told them what to wear. So if you felt that a girl’s pants were too tight, or her top too flashy….well, I’m sorry. That’s her style.

I actually know a few of the girls in the video, and when I watched it I felt so proud. Not only that, I felt that I could identify with them. Although I don’t consider myself a hipster, I do have my own style of hijab that has evolved over the years into something I am now comfortable with. Wearing hijab for 17 years it was always hard to balance Islam and my American identity. And when people say we don’t need to act “American” I must disagree. We live here; why shouldn’t we adapt? We can still keep our culture and religion. To me it seems like the ones that are threatened by embracing an American identity are the ones whose faith is weak. If you felt secure, you wouldn’t have an issue incorporating American culture as well.

But I digress.

Anyways, after that article came out, all hell broke loose. Facebook was filled with shares of the article, the video, and a follow-up article posted days after the initial one, titled “Somewhere in America, Muslim Women are Being Shamed.” And it was a good article too. Everything I wanted to say was said. Muslim fashion bloggers posted their opinions, as they too are always being attacked for their “incorrect” representation of Islam. To me, I felt like FINALLY, an issue that has plagued our communities has come to light. The problem with living in America in the age of social media is that everyone feels like the Big Man behind a screen. Words are hurled at fellow sisters, disguised as “advice,” but are really meant to judge and criticize openly with no repercussions. Bottom line is, no one can judge another person.

Oh, I know what people are thinking. Some girls I know even posted their thoughts on that under my status, saying things like “well, only God can judge BUT we know how she is dressed is wrong.” Um, no….we DON’T know that. Because you know what? We don’t know what is in her heart. We don’t know at what point she is in her spiritual journey. In fact, she might actually be at a higher level than you, even though you cover your hair. Yes, her neck might be showing, or the front part of her hair, or a sliver of her arm. That, however, does not give you the right to put her on blast on social networks for everyone to read. Come to think of it, that behavior doesn’t seem very Islamic to me, and yet YOU are judging HER? Give me a break.

That brings me to my last point (maybe). I am so shocked and appalled at the amount of negativity Muslim women aim at each other. No, it’s not all, but a significant enough amount that I have noticed. As I said, I follow many of the Muslim fashion bloggers on Instagram, and it just amazes me all of the negative comments I read. Again, it is so easy to hide behind a screen, and I doubt any of these women would dare to utter such hurtful comments face-to-face (at least I hope not). These negative comments are what drive our own AWAY from the religion. When a girl decides to wear the hijab, and then gets attacked on Facebook or Instagram for her style of dress, it makes her feel ashamed. I know one girl in particular who started off her fashion blog with hijab, endured many awful comments, and ended up taking off the hijab. The funny part is that once she took it off, the comments STILL remained judgmental and ugly, this time criticizing the fact that she took off the hijab.

Ok, wait. First, you don’t like the way she wears hijab, and nag her to the point she takes it off….and now that she has taken it off, you nag her even more. I don’t get it! I say leave her be, and focus on yourself. And while we all like to think we’ve achieved perfection, chances are, you haven’t. This particular blogger has since tried to wear hijab again, and of course the critics came out in droves. She has since made a statement that her wearing the hijab is a journey, and for everyone to respect her. Which I feel is admirable.It’s a personal journey that no one should feel compelled to comment on.

I titled this post “I Speak for Myself” which is both true as well as a title of a book. I received this book as a gift from a non-Muslim last year, as he saw my struggles in attaining the “right” identity. This book tells the stories of 40 Muslim American women from all backgrounds and in different professions. It talk about their journey to finding their identity and some of the struggles they faced. The common theme, however, is that all the women recognize that while they are all Muslim, their story is just that- theirs. Each story speaks to that individual woman. We are all Muslims, yes; however the thing that makes us so beautiful is our differences, and even more so, our acceptance of those difference amongst our sisters.

Link to Mipsterz video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z3Nq0NzRrfE