jdeena

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

Tag: Arab

New YouTube Channel- Check It Out!

Here is my latest video on my channel: Depreciating Value. Enjoy!

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Women Are Not Your Slaves

It’s been a while, lovely readers. The past few months have been tumultuous, with job searching, interviews, emotional and physical struggles. But I am always assured that coming back home to my blog will make things right in this world. To keep myself occupied (and earn some income) I took a job as a server at this new hookah lounge in Toledo. I went there sometime back in July to write (coincidentally, the last post I have on here), and the owners offered me the job based on my background in restaurant experience and customer service. It’s a fun job, very laid back, and although standing on my feet for 7-9 hours is exhausting, I’ve met some great people.

However, I have also met some not-so-great people, mostly males. Arab males to be exact. So before I took the job, my bosses failed to mention that the majority of their customers are men. Mostly Saudi students from the university nearby, but also men from the community. At first, it didn’t bother me much that these were the majority of my clients. Well, the Saudis bothered me because they don’t tip well (or at all). But slowly, I started to realize certain behaviors from these customers that have since propelled me to speak up even if the time and place isn’t exactly opportune.

For instance, when asked about my status (relationship, of course) most of the males are shocked to hear I am 34 and single. Many will see me work every night and make a comment like “you should find yourself a man and get married so you won’t have to work.” The first time a guy said that, I looked at him and said “why? So I can sit at home with the kids and take care of the house for him while he works?” He said, yes, that life is a much better fit for a woman, and this way she won’t be worrying about living expenses because- lucky her!- she has a man doing it for her. Um, no thanks dude.

There are two types of married men who come into the lounge. The first type are the ones who will hit on the servers even though they make it clear they are married. These guys are scum no matter what anyone says. How dare you defend a man who is married, with children at home, who finds nothing wrong with stepping out on his marriage for the “fun of it?” This one customer actually pointed his ring finger at a server and said “look, I’m married, but I want to take you out after your shift.” She said no, and he kept pursuing it, going as far as leaving her a large tip at the end of the night. I know who he is and who his family is and I could easily shame him in the community, but what good would that do? I’d probably end up being the one who is shamed for exposing him, as that is “unlady-like.” Fuck off.

The other type of married man is the sexist misogynist. These guys come in almost every night and stay until close, hanging out with other married men. They never bring their wives. I know the majority of them and know they are married, so one day I asked a group of them why they don’t ever bring their wives. One replied “we have 4 kids, who else will babysit?” I stared at him in disgust and told him “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize your wife is your babysitter.” He gave me  a dirty look (because God forbid I call him out in front of his friends). The other guy with him told me that his wife goes out with her friends other places, during the day while the kids are in school. So I asked if she ever gets to go out at night, and he said she can’t because they don’t have anyone to watch them and they don’t trust babysitters. When I suggested maybe he could watch his own kids- gasp!- he stared at me blankly, as if the concept was foreign to him.

Another married man calls in on his way home from work for me to get his hookah ready, as he usually only has 45 minutes or so before going home for dinner with his family. The one day he was talking to one of my bosses, and his wife started calling. He groaned and silenced his phone, then started a tirade against his wife, calling her a nag. I was sitting there and looked up from my phone and replied “well maybe she wouldn’t be a nag if you didn’t force her to stay at home with the kids and allowed her a life of her own.” He laughed and said “oh, now look, we have a feminist amongst us!” As if me advocating for women to be something other than an imprisoned housewife is something to be laughed at.  Asshole.

Now, when any of these men tell me that I should get married, I say “why? So I can be like your wives who sit at home with your children, cleaning your house and washing your clothes, just so you can be here smoking for 4 hours while you piss me off with your misogynistic rhetoric? No thanks.” I know a hookah lounge is probably not the best place to argue my feminist points, but when this is all I see every day, I can’t help it. It’s an uncomfortable feeling when one of these men tells me a hookah lounge is no place for a woman, but they have no problem with me serving them or them looking down our other server’s blouse.

They want to be hailed for keeping their women at home and “protected” from men just them; men who will ogle and harass the few women who do enter the lounge. Men who seem to have an opinion on everything I do: smoking hookah, living away from home, being single, and not wanting kids. They want to “fix” me; they want me to be just like the women in their lives. Why? Because I scare them with my decisiveness and independence. I talk back; I fight. I make it clear that the lives they have provided for their wives hold no interest for me. I’d rather be working 48 hours a week, exhausted and weary, driving my old car and living with roommates, than live in their mansions and drive their luxury cars with a diamond as big as a pistachio as a center stone.

The talk I hear about women from the men who come in either show them as sexual conquests or their domestic employee. But women are not your damn slaves; we were not created to do things FOR you. Unfortunately so many women feel as if they have no choice because of the way they were raised. So what we need now is a revolution, one where women will start shutting down these men and their ideas of what it means to be a woman in this world. Only then will men start to realize that we will no longer be silent in the face of their sexism and misogyny.

Married Men Cheat

Oh, I know I am going to get a lot of hate for this post. And it’s probably a subject that most people will shy away from, but it has become so common in my life that I need to address it.

Married men cheat.

Yes, they do. Oh boy, do they! I remember reading a statistic once that about 80% of married men cheat. I laughed at the time, thinking to myself that there is absolutely no way the number could be that high. But after seeing and experiencing advances from many married men, I can see how that number could be true. Now, before you start to blame me for their actions, such as saying that I lead them on, or I manipulate them, read on.

I don’t go out of my way to meet married men. More than half the time I don’t even know they are married. Rings do come off you know. And if the guy does not mention a wife or kids, how am I supposed to know?

By the way, I know married women cheat as well- I’m not going to deny that fact. However, this post is based off my personal experience, which is why I am focusing on married men.

The first time a married man approached me, I was hanging out with friends at a cafe. The guy was seated across the room from me, and he kept looking over. Towards the end of the night, he approached me and made small talk. He seemed nice enough, and he had no wedding ring on. So when he asked for my number, I said ok. We exchanged information, and he said he’d call me so he could take me out to dinner. As soon as he walked out, our waiter (whom I knew) came over and asked me what the guy wanted. I told him, and he looked at me and said “Jinan, he’s married. And he has four kids.”

I was appalled. Seriously? He came up to me that casually, asked me for my number with the intent to take me out and he was MARRIED? What the hell! So I thanked my friend, and decided to see if the guy would even contact me. He did, later that night. In order to not assume anything about him upfront, I played along, not wanting to unfairly accuse him of something until I was sure. Maybe he was looking to offer a business opportunity, or something else along those lines. However, the conversation was anything but professional. When I hinted at the fact that I knew he was married, he got upset and said it wasn’t true. I told him I knew for a fact that he was, and that he was lying, and he finally admitted he was but he was unhappy and looking for companionship. I told him that if this was true, he would need to tell his wife, get divorced, and then contact me. He did not like that, and I ended the conversation by asking him to never contact me again.

The next time it happened, a guy messaged me on Facebook. I didn’t know who he was, but we had one mutual friend in common. As the conversation became inappropriate (from his end, not mine) I felt so repulsed that I texted our mutual friend (who was a close friend of mine) and asked him what this guy’s deal was. He asked me why and I told him. That’s when he said “Jinan, he’s married.” WHAT THE HELL! I went back to the guy, told him I knew he was married, and he gave me the excuse that he was “separated.” I asked my friend, and he said no, he is definitely still married. I told this guy as much and he got upset, saying that he knows his life better than anyone, and if he says he is separated, then he is. I told him that may be, but I wouldn’t consider talking to him until he was fully divorced, or had a legal separation notice. He didn’t like that. Our conversation was over at that point, and I blocked him.

I could probably go on and on with similar stories, some of them worse than others, but I won’t. I’m sure you get the idea. Unfortunately, I do not have friends who know all the married men who have approached me, so I don’t find out until after we have gone out. I mean really, how am I supposed to know? I’m sure there have been times when I have never found out. That is the part that really pisses me off. If you are that good at hiding your marriage, what else are you capable of?

Here’s my take on men like that: you are all cowards. You live a life where you lie, constantly. You lie to your wife, to your kids, to me- and most importantly, to yourself. You claim you are unhappy in your marriage. Well, guess what? You can get a divorce. You claim you are trapped, and can’t divorce because you love your kids and you’d lose them. Well then, pick a side. You cannot have the fun without facing the responsibility as well. You feel tied down? Then don’t get married! It really drives me crazy when guys will get married- because duh, it’s what they are supposed to do- and still expect to have the fun of a single guy. If you are not ready to uphold the values of a married man, it’s simple- DO NOT GET MARRIED.

You may think these guys are random men, but let me explain something to you. These men are my friends’ husbands. They are prominent men in the community. They are men who sit on boards of reputable charities. Men who seem like the most religious type on the outside, but have the sickest, most twisted thoughts swarming around their head. You may want to blame me at this point, and ask me why I engage with these men. Do you know what it takes to get an unhappily married man to spill these things? Pretty much nothing. If you even engage in a conversation, and you are a single female like I am, married men will start dropping hints in the conversation early on to gauge your interest. They will throw in winking and heart emojis after you’ve answered a basic question about work or an event. They will want to “drop by” your hotel room to help you with conference materials, or ask you to stop by theirs to look over their speech.

Don’t tell me that married men are innocent. Maybe a small percentage are, but the majority need to realize that some of us won’t keep it quiet. They use their power and authority to intimidate, but let me tell you something: I WILL reveal names if it continues. I WILL send screenshots to your wives and fellow board and community members. I have no problem being seen in a negative light for a moment, if only to reveal the HYPOCRISY of the married men in our community.

I know a lot of women want to have the ideal marriage where they feel they can trust their partner. That is so admirable. I applaud you. But just remember that your husband is not perfect, and at some point he will be tempted, just like I am sure you will be. I am not saying monogamy doesn’t work. I am just saying that as humans, we cannot expect people to be without faults. I have come to terms with that, and if I ever get married, I will realistically recognize that my husband may step outside the marriage at some point. It doesn’t make me naive. It makes me smart. But to you married men out there who think YOU are smart, I have to tell you that you are sorely mistaken. You may cheat on your wives and try to justify it any way you can- she doesn’t appreciate me, we don’t have sex anymore, we drifted apart- but the truth will always be there when you look at yourself in the mirror.

And that truth is: you are a CHEATER.

 

Online Dating Woes, Part 2

So last week I joined another dating website. I figure that I need to try all avenues before truly giving up on ever finding a partner. So, I filled out my profile, writing about my passions, my activism, my writing. I filled out all of the categories. I put together a really great profile, if I do say so myself. Of course, I did add a few pictures, as I personally loathe it when someone has one grainy photo of himself.

Imagine my surprise when almost every single message I received was about my looks. And they weren’t even clever openers. For example:

TypicalGuy1 (not his real screen name): You look gorgeous.

Me: That’s because I am. Anything else in my profile catch your attention?

TypicalGuy1: To be honest your shirt that has your country’s flag.

Me: Ok…anything else you READ in my profile not related to my pictures catch your attention?

TypicalGuy1: Why? Do I have a quiz?

Me: Well, if the only thing that prompted you to contact me was my looks, then I’m not interested. I have more to offer than my looks.

I have yet to hear back from him.

WHY? Why is it that with everything I have to offer, my looks are what drive men to contact me? Oh, I know, initially something has to prompt you to want to talk to someone, but I would hope that after my looks, reading my profile and seeing all that I do would be more of an incentive to want to talk to me. What I really want to say when a guy tells me “you’re so hot” or “wow you’re gorgeous” is “yea, I know.” Because I do know. I am not being conceited. I know I have good looks. And enough people have said it that over the years I’ve started believing it. But that is NOT what I want to be known for.

The other thing that annoys me are the questions about my virginity. Why is it that every single guy just HAS TO ask that within five minutes of conversation? Are we really that regressive that we still judge women by their sexuality? Why does it matter either way? When I bring these points up after being asked, I am told to “calm down” and that I am “overreacting.” Overreacting? Did I ask about your sexual status? Did I try and judge you solely by something that neither is your business nor your right to know?

So here I thought this dating site would be different. Here I thought that I would be able to find some men who were more enlightened. Not to say I haven’t has some decent guys message me. I have. Or I have, somewhat. So many are getting smarter, and will mask their misogyny by pretending to be interested in me, but then once we exchange numbers, turn it all around. Thank God for being able to block numbers.

Lastly are the Muslim guys who will flat out judge me for being on this site. Um, hello- you are as well! Why is ok for you and not me? For example:

TypicalGuy2: Why are you on here? (yes, his opening line)

Me: For the same reason as you, I suppose.

TypicalGuy2: Isn’t that inappropriate for someone like you?

Me: How so? I’m just trying to meet someone.

TypicalGuy2: Well, I’m just looking out for you, I don’t think it’s right.

Me: I don’t need you to lookout for me, I can take care of myself.

TypicalGuy2: So you’re being a bitch to me and I’m trying to help you. Nice.

Me: This conversation is over.

TypicalGuy2: Why? Because I was trying to be nice and you’re a bitch? That’s the thanks I get?

Me: Conversation is over.

He continues to message me, until I finally block and report him. As if I need harassment on top of his judgement. Seriously, what is wrong with you men?

Bottom line: using any online dating site leaves you to be disappointed. People are rarely who they say they are, their pictures are usually not current (or even of them), and every guy feels like a big man behind the screen- meaning he will harass, berate, or judge you if you reject his lame advances. You might ask why I continue to torture myself, and the answer is simple: it’s hard for me to meet people, regardless of all the traveling I do. It’s nice to be able to talk to someone and get to know them, and even meet up once we are both comfortable.

And, if nothing else, all these experiences make for a good blog post. So for now, I will continue to put myself out there, hoping that someday all my efforts and patience will pay off.

 

 

 

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.

Blissfully Unaware

I always wonder what it would be like for me to live a life where I was blissfully unaware.

Don’t get me wrong; I love that my mind dissects every single thing I hear and see. However, sometimes I look at how easily people float through life and think to myself, “hey, that life doesn’t look so bad.”

You might want to know what brought this up. Well, after a long hiatus from writing (I was very busy with work and just returned from a trip to Turkey), I figured I’d jump back into writing, and this subject has been on my mind for a while.

I feel that sometimes my mind over thinks things, and it would be easier for me if I didn’t over-analyze everything I came across. For instance, any time I see an article about rape, feminism, or oppression, I have to respond. I just have to. I can’t just let the post go, and move on to the next article. Something in me just rises (usually disgust) and I feel that I have to give my opinion. I know I have alienated a lot of people in this way, but frankly, I don’t care. I have passion for certain subjects, and I feel that it is my duty to combat a lot of those subjects.

However, I also am referring to being unaware in relationships. At this point in my life, any time I meet a guy I can very easily dissect the things he says and does- to the point that I will no longer be interested. You know how some people have family and friends who point out the faults of their partner? I do that all on my own. Because I know precisely what I want in a guy, it is easy for me to pick him apart when one wrong thing is said.

I know I should be more understanding. I know I shouldn’t dismiss someone so quickly; after all I wouldn’t want that done to me, right? However, I feel that the things I get most upset about are things that are extremely important to me, and so if that is the point where I start to break him down, then he can’t be the right person for me. There are certain things in my life that I am unwilling to bend on, and it isn’t enough for me for him to be indifferent. No….he must share the same passion for them as I do.

Let me explain why. I am a very motivated, outgoing, and opinionated person. I know what I like, and what I want from life. It isn’t enough for me to have someone along for the ride. I need him to be there as my co-pilot. I don’t want him to just agree with me, or change his opinion for me. I want him to be just as passionate and filled with fire as I am. I don’t need someone to tell me to “calm down” when I get heated; I want him standing by me, supporting me and telling me I have every right to be upset.

To be blissfully unaware would make my life so much easier. I could get married, have a few kids, and spend my days fitting in things that are important to me- only when my kids and husband were already taken care of, and I had the energy to do so. I often express this sentiment to my friends, and they tell me not to think that way…that my life was meant for more than that. That the way I am is absolute perfection, and that I should never wish to not have my passion.

But sometimes it gets exhausting. I get tired of constantly having to explain myself to those around me. I get frustrated when people assume things about me because I’m a feminist (not to mention 33 and single). I get tired of the battle inside me- the back and forth of two sides, wanting to find that perfect partner for myself but unwilling to bend on my ideals. I wish I could just print out a flyer that lists all my interests and what I am not willing to bend on, and pass it out to everyone I know. That way people will stop sending me or matching me up with guys who I have absolutely nothing in common with.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I am willing to wait for that person. The one guy who will love me for who I am, without making me change a part of myself. At the same time, I am not putting my life on hold for that. I will work, and stay involved, and write my awesome blog and guest pieces for magazines. My life does not revolve around finding a husband. I am pretty sure my life was meant for more than that. At the same time, I want the guy to also have his own passions and ideals. It easier when two people are living their lives apart- yet at the same time- together.

I recently read an article titled “I Want to Be Single- But with You.” And the article made so much sense. The author says “I want to live a single life with you. For our couple life, would be the equivalent of our single lives today, but together.”

That is exactly what I want. As the author said- “One day I will find you.”

And I intend to.

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.

We Have a Suitor!

The four most dreaded words in a 30-something Arab female’s life are:

“You have a suitor.”

Now, growing up in the US always gave me mixed feelings when it came to suitors. On the one hand, you feel a sense of 1800’s flattery that a man whom you don’t know yet has heard of you and your beauty and requests the honor of coming to see you. On the other hand, it also makes you feel like cattle, waiting on display for the farmer to come around, check your physical appearance, and deem you fit or not to produce milk. I know I may be exaggerating a bit (at least in regards to US customs) but really how can anyone feel comfortable in such a situation? It makes me feel like I have to be on my best behavior since the guy and I will spend time talking within a group made up of our families, and then when we are given the opportunity to go to the other room and talk it’s like a rapid-fire interview with the questions pertaining only to marriage and kids:

“How many kids do you want?”

“Will you work after having kids?”

“How soon do you want kids after we are married?” (I’m thinking: “…after we are married?” Dude…I just met you.)

“What’s your ideal length of an engagement?”

And so on. I usually tune out, make up ridiculous answers (like, “I don’t want kids,” “I’d rather adopt,” “A two year engagement is ideal.” I do everything in my power to try and steer the guy away from ever wanting to see me again. But no matter how hard I try, they always call back the next day wanting to see me again. WHY GOD WHY?

The reason for this reminiscent blog is because I heard these same four dreaded words yesterday afternoon.

My phone rings, and it says “Fetoosh” on the screen (which is my parent’s restaurant.)

Me: “Hello”

Mom: “What are you doing?”

Me: “Hanging around the house, reading, watching TV.”

Mom: “You have a suitor.” (Yup, just like that…no preliminary build-up.)

Me: “Umm…” Silence.

Mom: “Jinan! Don’t start that!”

Me: Silence. (I still don’t know what to say. It’s been three years since we’ve had this issue.)

Mom: “Ayman led him to us. He’s 40, lives in Ottowa, Canada and is working on his PhD. He’s tall and built….you know what I mean? Not fat, but wide…like built.” (She really did say all this, just in Arabic. I’m translating word for word.)

Me: “Ok, FINE.” (I am ready to scream)

Mom: “I wanted to make sure you agreed before we had him come down to see you.”

Me: “NO! I don’t even know this guy. I’m not having him come see me if I don’t even like him. Give him my email first and we’ll talk that way.”

Mom: (Probably overjoyed that I agreed at all) “Okay, okay we’ll tell him.”

Me: Hangs up phone and bursts into tears.

Ok. I know that isn’t the most appropriate way to react to this. But seriously….I felt like I was ambushed. Just recently I was telling a friend how my parents have given up on setting me up and have focused on my younger sister’s upcoming nuptials. Guess I was wrong. Here they were scheming behind my back this whole time.

So now what? I’ve said before that I hate setups. What am I supposed to do when the guy emails me? I could be myself, and miracle of miracles he could actually like me. Or I could just pretend to be the typical Arab girl and answer all the questions in the way he expects me to. I know that he could end up being a great guy. I know that this could be the chance my entire life’s hardships has led me to. But the pessimist in me refuses to believe that.

It is so unfair that we have to endure these incidents in the 21st century. All I wanted was to meet the man of my dreams, become best friends, then fall in love. I don’t know if I will ever be able to see a relationship blossom from a setup for myself. I know what my parents are thinking: I’ll be 32 in a few months, and if I meet someone now I could be married by (if not before) my 33rd birthday. Even writing out these numbers and seeing them on my computer screen just now can’t seem to register with the person living inside me. I just don’t feel this age and I’m afraid I never will and therefore will stay single until one day I wake up, 50 and alone (but still looking 30!).

Sigh. Here goes nothing.

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.