jdeena

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

Tag: ignorance

Muslim Women, Stand Your Ground

Some people might argue that being a covered Muslim woman in America right now is just about the worse thing that could happen to me. With the heightened Islamaphobia and the attacks on Muslim at an all-time high, it is normal that any time I go out, I am told to be careful and watch my surroundings. Call me careless or irresponsible, but I haven’t taken heed of their warnings. Why? Because I don’t want to. In doing so, I will no longer be the carefree, fearless woman that I am. And because just like the islamaphobes don’t want the “terrorists to win”, I don’t want their ignorance to win either.

In wearing the hijab for twenty years now, I have become so comfortable in my identity that no amount of hate will make me second-guess my worth as an American. Yes, I am different. So is everyone else. To allow the fear instilled in me by my family and friends to take over my life would be counterproductive to my mission as a Muslim woman in this country. Instead of fading into the background of society, I feel more empowered to wear my hijab and venture out into the world. More than ever, we need to be visible and become the voice for Muslims, to speak out against bigotry and hate in order to educate the ignorant masses that surround us.

I know that there are many legitimate instances where Muslims have been targeted. I will not discount those. However, what bothers me lately are the Muslims who have decided to retreat into safer waters by blending into society. For example, some people have suggested that women in hijab should not make their hijab so apparent- such as wearing a hat or hoodie instead so as not to be a target. Or having men shave their beards so as not to appear menacing. To those people I say: you are a part of the problem. What we need now more than ever is to be ourselves. Changing and becoming less visibly Muslim will not change the conversation around Islam in America.

When it comes to Muslim women in hijab, another thing we need is support from our Muslim male allies. Instead of voicing your concerns for us after every terror attack, how about you voice your admiration for us being unapologetically ourselves. You know that after 9-11, my father suggested to my sister an I to take off our hijabs if we felt scared for our lives. We both looked at each other and had the same answer: never. To take it off would allow hate to win. And for me, that decision became the gateway to years of advocacy where I was invited to speak in non-Muslim communities and all around my college campus to teach people about Islam. THAT is what we need now.

Let me give you a real example. Yesterday, my sister called me and told me she finally got a job in her new city, Knoxville, Tennessee. She wears hijab, so we were worried that she would face discrimination. It was her second day on the job, and a client apparently was upset that she was working there, and he voiced his concerns to a manager. My sister overheard the strained conversation and after the client left, she asked the manager what the conversation was about. Her manager seemed hesitant to relay the information, but my sister assured her there was nothing she hadn’t heard before. So the manager told her that the client was saying that “her kind doesn’t belong here” and that she needed to “go back to where she came from.” And then the manager burst into tears.

My sister asked her why she was crying, and she said she just doesn’t like how hateful people are. My sister consoled her and told her it was okay- that most people say these things because they are uneducated. And from that incident, my sister was able to start a conversation with her manager about Muslims and hijab. She showed her a picture from her wedding and told the woman that wearing hijab on her wedding day made her feel like the most beautiful woman in the world. And that in wearing the hijab for the last 20 years, she has become so much more secure in herself and her identity. The manager was impressed by how my sister turned an awful situation into a teachable moment, and did so with grace and compassion.

It is so easy for us to get upset when someone makes a hateful remark about our hijab. It takes a very strong woman to turn a bad situation into a good one. My sister is one of the strongest women I know, and I admire her for her ability to act with grace under pressure. And now, she has the opportunity to teach her colleagues at her new job about Islam, which never would have happened if not for the reaction of that client.

So, to all my fellow Muslims out there: do not be frightened by the sensationalization of the hate you see online. Yes, we are experiencing the highest instances of Islamophobia since 9-11, but that does not mean that we cannot rise above and use this time to teach others about who we are. Do not cower in fear. Be strong and humble, and while it is smart to stay aware of these issues, do not let it diminish your identity. After all, America is the land of the free, where freedom of religion is a right. So use your voice and make yourself visible. It’s the only way we can stand united against hate.

Advertisements

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.

Veiled Perception

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I have to disagree.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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