jdeena

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

Tag: islam

Stop Shaming Non-Hijabi Muslim Women

In recent months, the conversation around Muslim women has shifted, both from the alt-right who seem to have a savior complex mixed with a violent need to save us from “oppression”, and the Muslim sheikhs who seem to follow our every move, both on and offline.

As a hijabi myself, it is SO FRUSTRATING to be attacked by conservative non-Muslims who claim I am un-American, and at the same time attacked by conservative Muslims claiming I am too liberal and need to wear my hijab to “better represent Islam the correct way”. And what way is that? Well, based on the sheikh of the day, it can vary from a woman who shouldn’t wear makeup to a woman who can’t leave her house, because- well, why would she if she finds a suitable man to marry her and “take care of her.” Blah.

There was actually a guy on Twitter who recently private messaged a Muslim girl to tell her that her selfie profile picture (mind you, just her face, and in hijab) turned him on so much he had to take a shower to re-cleanse himself. Yea, I’m being serious. Not kidding. It was the most disturbing thing I have seen since the racist, misogynistic Twitter attack on a black Muslim sister who commented on Drake’s album and compared it to memorizing Quran last year. This time though, the Muslim girl took the blame upon herself and APOLOGIZED for creating discomfort for this guy. It was a disaster. Twitter was in a frenzy, and my fingers were exhausted trying to fight off the hypocritical guys with shirtless avis who were shaming hijabis in makeup.

Yet, this is not what my post is about. Now that we hijabis have absorbed most of the controversy (since we are more visible in society), there is an emergence of hate directed towards Muslim women who DO NOT cover. At first glance, you can’t tell if they are Muslim. But usually they have a Muslim name, so they may get some non-Muslim commentary. However, the hate they seem to face the most comes from within their own communities. Yes, you heard me. Muslim men AND women (unfortunately) have labeled these women as shameful for not covering. They refuse to acknowledge their struggles that are just as tough as covered women, and even more so- because these women are not visibly Muslim, they work harder to promote a positive image of Muslim women while not really “looking the part.”

You’d think that burden would be bad enough, but now you have people telling these uncovered women that they are not fit to represent Islam because they are not adhering to true Islam, i.e. covering. Says who? Last time I checked, you’re not God. And when these women are out there fighting patriarchal and misogynistic ideals that have plagued our communities for years in order to improve the state of Muslims in America, HOW DARE YOU TRY AND TAKE THEM DOWN? A woman doing her best to serve the community, to stand up for social justice, to fight for marginalized communities, to CARRY OUT THE DECREE OF HER FAITH by serving humanity, is not good enough for you because she doesn’t cover? Muslim women come in all images- hijab, non-hijab, part-time hijab, abaya, niqab, skinny jeans, skirts, dress pants, leggings, makeup, makeup-free, and so much more. We are not autonomous. We are not one mold to be recreated over and over. We are individuals and we serve our Lord by wearing or not wearing hijab as it is our choice and we have control over such a decision.

So, the next time you decide you want to judge a Muslim woman by her hijab- or lack thereof- look back to the scholars and example of our Prophet PBUH, who spoke with kindness and drew people to Islam with his beautiful words and understanding of people. Only then will you know that this uncovered woman you so despise, is at a much higher level of faith than you.

*Dedicated to my non-hijabi sisters, with one in particular. I love you RM, keep fighting the good fight and your reward is with Allah <3*

 

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.

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.

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.

Feminism and Islam: Does it Mix?

The other day I posted the blog of the Christian woman who wrote about her decision to stop wearing yoga pants in order to respect her husband and the sanctity of their relationship. If she would have left her sentiments at that, I could have accepted it. After all, a woman has the right to save for husband what she wishes. However, she included in her post that before coming to this decision, she asked her female friends and her husband about what they thought of women who wear yoga pants, and her husband admitted that it would be hard for him “not to look” if a woman walked by in them.

Um, what? So your husband openly admits he might sneak a look now and then, and instead of telling him to avert his gaze, you make the decision to stop wearing them so other guys don’t look at you- because it’s disrespectful for your husband? What about all those other women still walking around in yoga pants? And now you will only wear yoga pants at home for your husband, but he is still out there looking at other woman in them. Seems like a useless decision.

This is what I have a problem with. Women who choose to stop wearing something “because men” something: can’t help themselves, might be tempted, might get the wrong idea about you. How about, men control their mouths, their hands, their thoughts? Don’t tell me men are animalistic by nature. Don’t tell me they are primal beings that have the gene of provider and pro-creator. We’ve come a long way from the Dark Ages.

As much as this topic is interesting, what I really wanted to get into was the debate that ensued after I posted this article. My point in posting it was obviously from a societal standpoint- that as women, we continue to be blamed for men’s reactions to what we wear. And that in order to get them to stop, WE have to change. As a feminist, that doesn’t sit well with me.

A few people came on to the post and told me that from an Islamic point of view, this is why we women cover- to avert mens’ gaze. However, I don’t believe that should be reason enough. And really, it is not meant to avert a man’s gaze, but more so to keep hidden the things you should only want to show your husband (which is subjective in my eyes, since I have many friends and family who have lived their life uncovered and are by no means bad people). Ok, so back to the comments. I was told that is a woman PROPERLY covers (meaning that I do not), she will not have men harassing her or looking at her in a lewd way. So basically, if I don’t want to be harassed, cover up.

BIG ISSUE HERE. Because I have had friends overseas who will cover completely, and men will still harass them. Men will cat-call a plastic bag if it has the right curves, okay? Regardless of what you wear, you will get harassed. I was wearing no makeup one morning, barely awake, and filling up gas. It was sunny so I had sunglasses on, and the guy at the pump next to me said “Hey ma, why don’t you take off those sunglasses so I can see your pretty face?” I’ve had guys hit on me at the gym (insert lame “let’s workout together” comment here) as I was red-faced, sweaty and panting for air. Some guys will just harass because they can. And yes…it IS harassment. It is unwanted attention, it is not a compliment. See previous post for rant on that.

Once I got everything out of my system on why men should not harass a woman regardless of what she wears, and once I advocated why women should be allowed to dress any way they choose without harassment, I was told that as a Muslim covered woman, I cannot support that ideal. Because my religion encourages women to cover, I cannot advocate on behalf of women who want to dress provocatively.

Wait, what?

So because I am a Muslim woman, I cannot fight for women to be able to wear what they want without fear of retaliation? I was told yes, because fighting for that goes against the very ideals that Islam instills in us. Which is that women should be covered and therefore will be protected. Of course, this did not sit well with me, as I feel a woman should be able to do whatever the hell she wants to do. I have many friends and family who are not covered, and so I will fight for their right to be uncovered and not harassed. It has nothing to do with religion, it has to do with the fact that women are HUMAN beings, not animals, and they deserve to walk out of their homes without worrying if a skirt above the knee will warrant unnecessary comments. Or that a pair of heels will not invite men to make disgusting comments about where else they can wear them.

So can I, as a Muslim woman, be a feminist? Well, I say yes, because here I am! I am fighting for women’s rights all over the world and I wear hijab and identify as a Muslim. Now, many people seem to have a problem with that, but guess what? I don’t care! Regardless of whether or not you think my ideals coincide with Islam, I am content with still upholding my traditional Islamic values while also fighting for female equality and proper treatment. I recently read an article about a woman who identified as a feminist while being Christian, and she spoke of many of the same issues I have discussed here as well (although she went a bit further). Here is a link to her post: http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/worldview/christian-cleavage-probably-isnt-problem#o97qZSH5dpz14m3H.01.

It does stem a bit further than just Muslim women, so really, can we say organized religion and feminism cannot mix? As far as I can tell, yes, it can….it is those who doubt the power of the feminist movement and have yet to believe in its cause that seem to think it cannot. If you want to seemingly hide behind your scarf and use that as your shield against the “harassment” you go right ahead. But I will have no problem continuing to prove you wrong.

Hijabis are Women Too

So for the past month, I have challenged myself to a no-makeup rule. I do not apply ANYTHING on my face in my day-to-day tasks such as work, errands, gym, etc. I will wear it for special outings and occasions only. So far, I have loved the feeling of nothing on my face but skin, sun, and air. It’s given me more confidence in myself, and when people look at me, they are seeing the real me.

I am always pleasantly surprised when people compliment my looks. It takes me a few seconds to realize they are complimenting the real me, and not the made-up version. I was never big on heavy makeup application before, but even so, it is nice to see people appreciate my true beauty. Some people have said it makes me looks years younger. And while I always have been told I look young for my age, the no-makeup takes it a step further.

I have also been complimented and approached by members of the opposite sex as well, which is truly (to me) the test of this whole challenge. Women, for centuries, have done crazy things in order to make themselves more attractive to the opposite sex. From makeup, hair extensions, plastic surgery, and body-controlling items such as corsets, women have made themselves uncomfortable and stressed out in order to make themselves look a certain way. Why? Because that’s what we are taught from the time we are little (think Disney princesses) to the time we are adults (think magazine covers, actresses, models, etc.).

So you can imagine my surprise when in this last week, I was approached by two guys who complimented me on my beauty and asked me out. One was at the gym, so I was even sweaty and out of breath when that happened haha. To me, I was a bit taken aback when they approached me, because- duh!- I wasn’t wearing makeup or even a cute outfit. But clearly, something caught their attention. And while they both said I was beautiful, I took it to mean a little more than just the outer beauty. Now, I have seen plenty of shows where guys overlook the outer shell of a woman because her confidence outshines her looks. So I know it is possible that these guys saw something that I don’t usually see in myself. Nonetheless, it was a breath of fresh air.

I had to share my observations with someone, so I told one of my guy friends about it. I was excited to talk about my revelations of the no-makeup challenge. However, when I told him about it, his first reaction was that of shock. How dare a non-Muslim guy approach a Muslim woman, and one who is covered at that?! I was confused. Why was that shocking?

His response was that non-Muslim men should know to respect a Muslim covered woman. Approaching her is dishonorable, so how could he just ask her out? It’s outrageous! I had to almost laugh at his reaction. What was so bad about a guy approaching what he seemingly thinks is just another girl? Even if she is covered? So I had to defend the guys and explain why I, as a covered Muslim woman, was not offended.

We all know most Americans get their news from the media. And the perceptions they have about Muslims, especially the women, is skewed. However, all they see is the surface. So they really don’t know what is allowed and not allowed. And when they see a hijabi, what they really see is a woman, just covered up. And actually, because they don’t know much, after they initiate the first conversation, they tread lightly. They are hesitant to touch you, say inappropriate things, or ask questions. It’s sweet, really.

I think it’s great to have these encounters. Because while we won’t actually date them, these guys eventually muster up the courage to ask you questions about why you wear the hijab, what it means, and other things. As a hijabi, I would rather this happen than brush him off initially and have him revert to the media for the answers to his questions. And as a female, it is nice to be noticed for that- being female- just like any other woman. Because underneath the hijab, we are actually just women as well. Just like any other female in society, we like to be flattered. And there is no shame in that.

Next time you want to claim that non-Muslim men should be more respectful to Muslim women and not approach them, ask yourself this question: is it really a question of honor? Because many Muslim and Arab men have no problem approaching a hijabi and asking for a relationship. And what makes that ok, but not the same coming from a non-Muslim? Oh, and keep this in mind as well: not all Muslim and Arab men’s intentions are honorable either. So be sure to factor that in before you answer the question.

 

 

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.

Understanding Love

A couple of weeks ago I came across an account on Twitter called “Love, Inshallah.” I think one of my friends retweeted one of their tweets. Anyways, it seemed interesting and so I clicked on it. Turns out, it was a good thing I did. “Love, Inshallah” is actually a book written by two talented authors: Ayesha Mattu and Nura Maznavi. They took the stories of 25 American Muslim women and published them in one book. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I started reading the book, but I know that I had never expected to relate so much to the women in it.

I had expected the usually sugar-coated versions of love stories. However, these stories were so raw in the sense that they delved into the subject of sex and cross-religious relationships openly. For the first time in my life I felt like I was not alone in my struggle to find love. Some of the stories mirrored my own so specifically that I found myself crying without realizing I was doing so. The women in this book (as well as the authors) risked a lot in order to honestly tell their stories, and I appreciate it so much.

It’s not a secret that I have refused the idea of marriage. I was raised in a typical Muslim household, with the emphasis on no dating and allowing my parents to help me choose my mate. As I grew more independent, the idea of a traditional courtship held no appeal to me, and I couldn’t imagine meeting my husband in such a controlled and formalized setting. I wanted to be able to meet the guy on my own and then fall in love. It’s what every girl dreams of, right?

However, I have not been lucky in love. It may be that I am a difficult person in the way that I demand things done a certain way. I am not traditional by any means when it comes to relationships, whether you are Muslim or not. I believe both the man and woman need to still retain an independent life away from the other while married so as not to lose themselves in each other. I see too many women who give up their hobbies and goals in order to be someone’s “wife” and I cannot bring myself to do the same. It may be selfish, but to me, my hobbies and interests are who I am; they make me the person that I am and to take them away will strip me of my identity.

Because of my non-traditional views, I have always been seen as the rebellious one. Everyone has a comment to contribute when I bring up my ideas. I sometimes feel so much like a pariah that I try and convince myself to just get married and do what everyone else did…that it won’t be so bad. But then my mind thinks of the unforeseen obstacles down the line and I recoil as quickly as I approached the idea. I just don’t see it for me…at least not in the traditional sense. So I’ve floated along, alone in my thoughts, until I read “Love, Inshallah”.

The fact that there are 25 different women in the book is great because it gives you 25 different stories on love. We all know that love is not the same for every person. Each of us values something different. Some may want an unconditional love. Some may want an all-consuming love. Even some may want less love- such as an arrangement as a second wife. I used to judge the women who were second, third, or fourth wives, but now I know that some of them simply want a marriage- just not everyday lol. Being a second wife gives you the freedom to still be independent while married (although I still don’t think I’d ever do it myself.)

So stop trying to fit women and their love into a box. Society places such emphasis on the “right” kinds of love: chasteness, reserved, shy, etc….when in reality Muslim women are just like any other woman out there. We all want to be swept off our feet; we want romantic nights and special dinners. Being Muslim does not mean the absence of emotion. Yet when we admit that we feel these things we are labeled and made to feel ashamed. Why?

Reading this book has given me a perspective that I now feel more comfortable and confident in expressing my beliefs. Whereas I was once leery of being the outcast, I can now proudly hold true to my beliefs without fear of being categorized as a bitter, lonely singleton. I am a smart, driven woman who just happens to be single. It’s not a crime. And when my love is ready to find me, it’ll know where to look.

“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