I haven’t written any blog entries because I’m traveling in Egypt until the 4th. I slept only an hour the night before the trip. I normally can’t sleep before a trip. So, I looked really tired when I arrived in Alexandria. My Egyptian friend who spent several years in California with her husband met me at the airport. I swear, she and her family are among the nicest people you could possibly meet. That was evident back in California. But we didn’t get to spend a lot of time together before she and her husband returned to Egypt to start their lives. Her family exemplified the Arab hospitality. The only comparable hospitality in the US would be maybe Southern, even though I’ve met really kind mid-westerners. But even then, it is nothing on Arab hospitality. My hosts kept feeding me, and my friend’s mother-in-law gave me snacks and sweets to take with me on my 2 hour train ride to Cairo. Her father-in-law gave me a Qur’an with tajweed markings (which is soooooooo helpful). Also, since my purse’s zipper broke, they gave me a purse to carry all my things. I spend several hours with the family. They were so kind, and even gave me compliments on my Arabic (which was more than generous because it needs a lot of work).I was pretty nervous before leaving on the train. But my friend was really helpful, guiding me along the way and making sure I understood the illegible writing on the ticket (seriously it printed so faintly I could barely make out the numbers). I always get nervous about train rides, in the US or abroad. Something about missing the stop, getting off too early, it just makes me nervous. I managed to get a second class ticket at 7:15, with an arrival time of 9:30 in Cairo. I think I dozed off several times on the train ride. But I listened to my ipod, with each song bringing bringing back memories of someone or some place. Some songs brought back old feelings, as the time passed I kept thinking about how sweet or sad an experience was for me. I tried to set aside any preconceived notions. But I didn’t want to talk too much or stand out. It helped that I wore abaya. My friend noted that I didn’t stand out much as a foreigner. She noted that I looked like any African, like I could be Egyptian. She just said try not to be noticeable or speak loudly. I guess most Egyptians get confused, I am sure they assume I’m dumb because I can barely understand or it takes me a while to process what they’re saying. But overall, I didn’t get haggled too much as a foreigner and in general, people were courteous and helped me with my luggage as I struggled along. When I arrived in Cairo, I slipped by a sleazy taxi cab driver and found a man that looked about 100 years old. He asked if I needed a taxi. I said “na’em,” like a good foreigner. I then told him Nasr city and pulled out address from my phone. He said 30 EGP, I said I heard 20 EGP. He said 25, I said, “tayyib.” I’m staying with friends, who are also amazing hosts. It is really interesting to see the expat American Muslims, Arab Americans, British Arabs, as they manage lives in the hustle and bustle of Cairo. It gives me a chance to know what I’m in for. I guess I won’t be so overwhelmed when I come to live in Cairo to do research and continue studying Arabic. I don’t make it a point to do touristic things. Of course I want to see things. Coming to Egypt is like a dream. I can’t believe I’m within reach of some of the most historical sites. I guess that’s why I’m not in such a rush to see everything. I have a fear that I’m going to impose some preconceived notions on this experience. Still want to see pyramids, al-Azhar, old markets, and even the cheesy touristy spots. But it is nice to just visit friends, get to know new people, and get a sense of the way of life.
Tariq Nelson announced the exciting documentary premiere of “Prince Among Slaves.” The documentary details the amazing life of Abdur Rahman Ibrahim Sori. I suggest anyone in the DC area check it out.
…in Washington, DC at the Cramton Auditorium at Howard University on December 1st at 2:00PM.
This documentary was filmed by the Unity Publications Foundation here in the DC area and will be shown on PBS in February. It tells the true story of a little known African American hero, an African prince who was sold into slavery in the American South in 1788. His name was Abdul Rahman Ibrahima Sori, and he remained enslaved for forty years, before ultimately regaining his freedom and returning to Africa. (read about the documentary here)
Several Muslim Organizations in the DC Area are already co-sponsoring this event
If anyone wanting tickets to the premiere or sponsorship information can contact me
Sometimes I wonder why I am so preoccupied with concerns that are in the states. Right now I’m living in an alternate universe. I’m abroad in an oil rich country where “Fair” equals “Lovely.” All the way across the world, I’m not feeling the reach of many of the containment policies and strategies during this Cold War between Black Men and Black women in America. At this point, I’m joining the non-alignment movement, to focus on development. But I will have my defenses up just in case some missiles shoot my way.
Non-alignment is a good strategy right now. Relationships are just no big on my mind right now. I got some immediate things to take care of. But, the marriage issue does come up often. I get the usual question of whether I’m married or not. Women usually say something like, “Maybe you’ll find someone here.” “Maybe when you get married you can visit us in Yemen.” etc…etc.. A couple of occasions an expat mentioned somebody’s name.But because I’m not doing a back flip just hearing about the random brother. I’m not ready to drop out of my Ph.D. program and become an instant homemaker. So the issue usually passes. A sigh of relief, I get back to focusing on my Arabic and surviving.
I’ve been trying to play matchmaker for a while. And so far, I have a zero success rate in match making. And not so much luck in my own bureau of internal affairs and love. I know all about what not to do. But still who am I to be a matchmaker? Despite any blow back that I have received from a possible link up gone wrong, I still discuss gender relationships with a number of my married and single friends. I like having conversations about Muslim marriages and Black women in healthy relationships. I like seeing positive examples. For many women of different ethnic groups getting married is a given. But not for Black women. Who said life was fair? I guess it will all balance out in the Last Days.
One of the things that drew many Black women to Islam was the idea that women were honored. In fact, as women we applied the Prophet’s (s.a.w.) last speech to ourself, “a white is not better than a black, a black is not better than a white.” When I went to a mosque for the first time it was a predominantly Black mosque. That was the first time I saw so many Black families, in tact families. Sadly, over the years, the reality of unstable marriages in the African American Muslim community settled in. I had saw figures like Malcolm X, loyal to his Betty Shabazz, with a strong sense of self. I just kind of expected Black Muslim men to not buy into gendered racism or colorism. But over time I have seen that there is a small but increasing number of Black men who exclude Black women as viable partners.
Clearly, the growing trend has roots in some shifts in the consciousness of Black American Muslims. In the early 90s there was still that tinge of Black nationalism from the sixties movement. Black Power, Black consciousness, what ever you want to call it, whithered away. More of younger brothers moved away from the W.D. community, critical of what they saw as syncretic practices of “Baptist Muslims.” These Muslims aspired to engage with other mainstream Muslim communities. They began to seek training from immigrant teachers and some even went abroad to study. This generation hoped to integrate into a singular Muslim identity. Bloggers like Tariq Nelson seems to be of this ilk, he sees intermarriage as a way of forging a new American Muslim cultural identity.
As Black Muslims shifted from thinking of ways that Islam could solve issues that plagued the Black community, they begin focus on global issues that seemed to rock the “Muslim world.” During this time Many Black Muslims began looking for a culture. They adopted markers and signifiers. They began wearing thobes, Moroccan jellabas, shawal kameeses, turbans, wearing sandals or those leather socks in winter, speaking with an Arabic or Desi accent. Some men say they want a native speaker of Arabic, so that their children can speak Arabic. Others say they want their children to ahve a culture, especially one they see as closer to the culture of Rasullah (s.a.w.). Basically, they seem to be aspiring to create a new ethnic identity for their children by marrying Arab women or South Asian women.
But over the years, a disturbing trend began to emerge, where professional and educated Black men were buying into some negative stereotypes about educated Black women. I found that we were traded in for Moroccan and Malaysian women, many of whom were not well educated. For these men felt they were trading up. Often these men let us know why these women were the types of women that we never could be.It didn’t take me long to notice that in my immigrant community, white convert women were hot commodities. Initially immigrant Pakistani, Indian, and Arab men pursued them. Over time, I began to see more African American sunni men married to white convert women, as well as immigrant women. As this trend rose, I began to see more and more single African American women. Mind you, these observations are anecdotal. There are no studies, besides one conducted by Zareena Grewal on marriage preferences in four Muslim communities. It affirmed that Black Muslim women were the lowest on the totem pole of marriage choices. Not surprisingly, even the African American informants stated they desired an Asian or Arab bride.Overall, it is a negative message that they are sending. But then again, isn’t this world full of negativity?
African American men frequently feel the brunt of racism when their immigrant brothers at the masjid won’t let their daughters marry African American men. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard a Black Muslim man tell me that was his primary grievance. South Asian families are even more resistant to interracial marriage than most other groups. And they are very unlikely to approve of their daughters marrying an African American male. So some men , with the aspirations of transcending the ethnic, tribal, and so-called racial boundaries have found other ways around it. They have found a place in the world that seems not only to accept interracial marriage, but families seem to welcome these African American men as knights in shining armor who will wisk their princess away to the Land of opportunity.
While this fairy tale should have a happy ending. One where, that the newly married couple cursed, harrassed, or bothred by all those evil Black spinsters and their jealous glares. But apparently some Muslim men are finding certain trends problematic. Maybe I’m not such a evil wench after all.
Umar Lee wrote about the Muslim marriage session at the MANA conference in his blog entry,
“Morocco is Not the Solution” and Thoughts of Muslim Marriage Discussion. He wrote:
Brothers have personally told me that they would go over to Morocco and spend a lot of money on getting married (flying back and forth a couple of times, flying the sister back, the visa application process, paying the necessary bribes in Morocco to get the marriage license, paying the actual dowry, paying for the wedding, paying for the wedding celebration, giving the family money, etc.) ; but would not give a black woman in America a significant dowry because in their minds black women weren’t worth that much. They would say you can always marry a black woman who will only want you to teach her a sura because she may be hard-up and needing to get married ASAP.
For anyone not familiar with Umar Lee, he is a white American convert who writes a popular blog. And no, I don’t think he’s mad at all the brothers who are stealing those white convert women, let alone the seemingly endless supply of third world women. He continued:
The moment that brought the loudest applause though came towards the end when a brother from the Washington, DC area came to the microphone and simply stated ” brothers, going to Morocco is not the solution” and at those words the sisters erupted in cheers and laugher and many of the brothers chimed in ( although more in laughter).
So then the brother who stood up and said the infamous state, Abdur Rahman, wrote a blog entry explaining his reason for the statement.
It sends a loud and pernicious message to the world that our Black women are too unruly, uncouth, unmanageable, unlovable, unredeemable to take as a wife and to build a life with. I’m sorry, I believe she is not only lovable, but worthy of love. She’s crazy at times, but who isn’t. You can’t be a Black man or women in America and not be a little crazy? And if she happens to be in a lowly condition, isn’t it our responsibility as men, followers of the final Prophet and Messenger to humanity (pbuh), to raise her up by Allah’s permission and place her in her proper station. Does it ever occur to us, or do we even care really, that her lowly and unrefined condition stands as an indictment on our own manhood. I should like to know what other people turn their backs on their own women, heaping scorn and invective on her, calling her vile and despicable names (”chicken head”, “Safire”, “B*#th”).
Over the past year, I have written about this issue. Several times I have weighed in on this subject in comments and other discussions. People may consider me a racist for exploring the damaging effects of racism in the communities that I consider myself to be a member of. Sometimes I speak some uncomfortable truths (well, they’re true for me) from a very unique perspective. But just to be clear, I am not angry that someone made their personal choice. But I am angered when I hear about men who abandon their Black wives and children in favor of their new “mixed-raced” family. I am angered when I hear unfair statements about Black women thrown around to justify their personal choices. But ultimately, I have to let those statements roll off my back. I move on. I can’t internalize it. Yes, there are people who will judge me by color of my skin and say I’m not good enough even though they have felt that how much that hurts when they were discriminated against. Perhaps in their pain, they can’t see the hurt they dish out when they tell women who are not blond enough, not light enough, hair not straight enough, too educated, and have some genetic predisposition to have an attitude. I guess it is hurtful when you live in a society that discriminates against you, then in your own little ethnic enclave, you get devalued. To tell someone they are unworthy of love is truly an injustice.
I don’t think that every Black man who has traveled abroad has consciously though about denigrating his sisters in the states. Nor do I buy into the negative stereotypes about Moroccan women or women from developing nations. Once again, I would like to assure my readers that I am not condemning interracial relationships, but I am condemning racist, essentialist notions that may drive the popularity of a growing trend. I just hope we think about the underlying reasons of why we do things. Ultimately, it is not up to me to judge, but Allah will know your intentions. And that’s what you’re going to be judged by. That’s what we’re all going to be judged by.
I’ve been reading a really good book of short stories about marriage. One story was particularly funny in Arabic, it is called زواج فتاة غير باكر it is a great story that I wanted to share with you. It’s not for the feint of heart, there’s jinn, madness, and the uncomfortable predicament of one young bride. I’m only providing a rough translation, since translation isn’t my strong suit. But I think you’ll enjoy the story anyways.
Uqbah al-Azmi was famous for dealing with jinn and for his incantations and spells. One day he passed by his neighbor who went crazy during her wedding night. So he made an incantation on her to see if she had fallen under a jinn’s spell. He told her family, “Leave me alone with her.” So they left them alone. When he was alone with the young woman he said to her, “Tell me the truth about yourself!” She said, “I am in my family’s home and they want me to go to my husband’s house and I’m not a virgin. So I feared that my fault would be revealed. So do you have a trick for my issue?” ‘Uqbah told her, “Yes.”
Then he went to her family and said, “Indeed a Jinn entered her body and asked me to leave from her. So you pick where you want the jinn to leave. But take heed, whatever part that the jinn leaves from, it will perish and rot. So if it leaves from her eyes, she will go blind. If it leaves from her ears, she will go deaf. If it leaves from her mouth, she will go mute. It it leaves from her hand, it will whither. If it leaves from her leg, it will cripple. If it leaves from her opening down there, her virginity goes. It is your decision.”
So after her family consulted each other for a long time they said to him, “We haven’t found an easier way to escape disgrace. So force the Shaitan out, and for you whatever you want. So he made them believe that he did exactly that. So the woman went to her husband.
الدكتور محمد التونجي اروع ما حكي من قسس العرب في الزوج Beirut, Lebanon: Dar al Marefah, 2005
No, my cup does not “runneth over.” I’m looking at it half empty. I read a recent study that suggests that some people may be hard wired to be optimists. I don’t think I came equipped with that hard wiring. I’ve tried to reset my hard wiring. But I’m an over-achieving, constant worrier, sensitive, hyper-critical, driven person.
I know a lot about myself because I began my self exploration at a young age. Much of it was influenced by mom mom. She was always an avid reader. She had library of self-help books. I remember seeing expensive book and tape sets from Dianetics, the Silva Method, and Tony Robbins. She had books like How to Win Friends and Influence People, and dozens of titles from how to became a self made millionaire, to how to actualize your dreams. My mother read popular psychology books, relationship books, horoscope books, speed reading, and Mega-memory. She had a range of new agey books about positivity, meditation, relaxation, personal development, and spirituality. But growing up I just thought most of the stuff was rubbish. I mean, I respected her meditation. She’d come home from work and handle her business until around 10 when she’d listen to her relaxation CDs till she fell asleep. She’d then wake up at 4:30 and begin the next day. My mom did not have a lot of encouraging people around her. For her, these books offered keys into providing a better future for herself and children.But I grew up skeptical about the books. Mom was wasn’t positive all the time, nor did all her aspirations fall into place as her positive visualizations envisioned (at least that’s how I saw it at that time).
I developed a fatalistic attitude because contrary to what the books claimed a positive outlook didn’t always get you what you wanted in life. Then my intellectual proclivities added a hyper-critical aspect to my outlook. Sometimes I just lived in my head, trying to find overall patterns, the underlying logic to seeming absurdities. Everything I saw around me had to be picked apart. I developed insomnia thinking about ever interaction through the day, global issues, my own person conflicts. My life, itself was a battleground, a constant struggle to prove to myself and the world that I was a worthwhile. But how does one prove something that is inherent? How do you prove to people who wouldn’t be convinced no matter what evidence you brought forward? And why did I need to convince myself? Why do I still need to? My mom used to tell me that half the world will love you and the other half will hate you. Growing up I was obsessed with the half that hated me.
As I’ve matured, I have had some deep conversations with my mom. You know when most kids would claim that their moms were the most beautiful mom in the world. My mom was always stunning, turning heads wherever she went. She was well read and articulate, dedicated, tough as nails, and vulnerable. She spent her life searching for answers. Much of her quest centered on overcoming the box that people tried to put her in. Considering my mother’s hardships, she is a very optimistic person. In one of the conversations I told her of all that she accomplished. So many people looking on the outside would be jealous. She was owned her own home in one of the most expensive regions in the country, she had a luxury car, she dressed nice, two of her daughters attend prestigious universities, her son has never been to jail and is an entreprenuer, she has traveled abroad. She grew up in New Jersey’s rural area in poverty, at times living in a house that had an out house. She picked vegetables in the field to earn money. Her family then moved to the city and experienced the struggle of urban life, where my grandmother raised 6 children by herself. My mother had her first baby at a young age. From her teen years, she was independent, working jobs from shoe shine girl to seamstress. She lost one of her babies, let her abusive husband, and flew all the way to California to start a new life. She pushed her other three giving whatever our fathers didn’t. She said that for years she didn’t feel accomplished. But when she looked at an old list of goals she had set, she had accomplished many of them. It was suprising to her.
I learned some important lessons before I left the States. There was a family reunion and I spent almost a week with my grandmother. My grandmother is one of thse old school tough as nails little black women. After listening to a week’s worth of my grandmother’s complaints and grievances against everyone, I was tired. I began to realize how much a struggle can wear you down. I rsaw how much of that was instilled in me. It is the reason why I left the question mark in the title of my blog. It is the reason why I explore issues that touch sore spots, especially for Black Muslim Women. We struggle. My people have struggled. There are triumphs, but many of the stories are heartbreaking. That collective memory, as well as my own struggles were becoming part of me. I began to feel like everything was a fight. Every injustice and every affront (real or imagined) was a battle ground. For some of my ancestors it was life or death, it was the flight or fight from the lynch mob. We had real grievances, real injustices that reverberated in our daily lives in sometimes small and other times profound ways.
I have shared much of my struggles. But it recently dawned on me what have I said that is wonderful or amazing about my journey. There are many things. Today, was a mostly positive day. I had someone tell me that something I find spiritually rewarding and beneficial was fundamentally wrong. I didn’t want to engage in an argument. My linguistic capabilities in Arabic are not up to par to spar with a native speaker. I recognize people differ on many things. The way people feel about their particular stances will make best friends go to blows. As I try to navigate the world of new friends, I recognize that large parts of me will not be accepted by others. But that doesn’t mean that I want to be only around people like me. But I want to find a common ground with people who have different experiences and world views. I could focus on the half that we disagree on. But, I am hoping to find a way to find that base where we can agree to meet half-way.
I drove and got lost following simple directions to a park. I was about 40 minutes late and stressed out. It was a relief to make it there. I sat outside enjoying company of three really nice women. Two American and one British, we couldn’t be more different, we couldn’t be more alike in many ways. I can say after the past few weeks of solitude, I can appreciate the warmth. It was a breath of fresh air. The rest of my day rolled out smoothly. I see today may have provided me some major openings.
Plus, I got inspired to keep moving forward in changing the direction of my writing. One of the things that struck me in the conversation this evening was the conversation about the blog world. One woman said it was just draining. Another pointed to endless debates, generalizations, and unsubstantiated claims that try to pass off as dialogue. As I ween myself from pointless debates (I know I still have work to do on breaking away), I am more reflective of the way my writing may reflect of skewed worldview. By skewed, I mean one that focuses on the ugly, the controversy, the negativity, the injustice, that jumps out in our minds. This skewed vision overlooks the beautiful, the harmony, positive things, the examples of heroism and selflessness that should inspire us. While I take a break from serious intellectual clashes, I am still going to explore complicated issues. But as one sister pointed out, I’m not going to make my point with generalizations. I will qualify my statements. I will humbly recant when proven wrong or if my underlying logic is flawed. The exhausation from struggling, fighting, and climbing over obstacles is not a negative thing. I may have gotten the wind knocked out of me. But a lot of people are in my corner cheering me on. My cup is still half full. I might be able to savor that cup, enjoying every drop. Plus I got enough juice in me to get some steam going. Insha’Allah once that steam builds to a critical mass, I am sure I will be able to do some meaningful work.
I’m tired. Not just because last night I slept only four hours. But I’m tired of wasting my intellectual energy and spare time on pointless debates. Most people aren’t interested in dialogue. I am not saying that I haven’t had great exchanges. I have gained insight into a lot of issues from a few people. I have found like minds and not so like minds. I have met people who inspired me. But at the same time, I have ran across many people who are demoralizing. A lot of blogs are not much more than intellectual masturbation or soap boxing. People arguing, condemning, judging, assuming, generalizing just to make their point. What point? I am tired of people so intent on proving a point of speaking AT you and haveing a conversation WITH you. There are insightful blogs, especially the ones where the writers bring the readers into their world. When people share their personal experiences or things that give their lives meaning, I feel like they are reaching to connect. Connecting and understanding is important to me–not winning debates and defeating foes. I started writing to share my human experience and my all too human outlook. I read what people have to say in order to make sense of my world. But what I find is that even when something does make sense, people can make nonsense out of it. I think that at this stage I just need quiet, and if not silence then I need something full of harmony. Once I’m recharged, I will make good use of my writing time.
Admittedly, much of my blog focuses on negative or quirky things I observe in the multiple worlds that I occupy. As I am going through these challenging times, I’m trying to remember all the things that inspire me. Time and time again we read about horror stories of the miskeena Muslim woman. One of the most common mantras you here in women’s gathering is how wack Muslim men can be. Even if the women aren’t implicating their own spouses, few hold up good examples that others should follow. That really raised a big question: Where are the examples of good men in general, and good Muslim men specifically? I know several who I really admire.
The other day I had a conversation with my friend where our mutual friend’s father’s name, Salah Lashin, came up. His name really set a smile on both of our faces. My friend said that she wanted to write him and tell him what deep impact he had on her life. Both my friend and I went to school with Salah’s daughters. Occassionally I’d spend the night and on the way to school or to the masjid he’d start the car and make a du’a. My friend pointed out it was a heartfelt du’a. All his bismillahs were. My friend and I were both moved by his constant dhikr. His heartfelt connection to Allah contrasted with the dry version that I was acquainted with. He was is hard working man, devout Muslim, and happily Muslim. His example showed me that you didn’t have to drop everything, perform hijrah, or join some Islamic program to be a good Muslim. Islam was about balance and the emodiment of ideals. I saw how his life was centered around Islam and it manifested itself in the love and care he expressed to his wife and three daughters. Masha’Allah, I really admire him for his role as a husband to Madeha (Allah Yarhumha) and as a father. Over the years I became convinced that this man was destined for jennah. I even have proof based upon Prophetic traditions:
The Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him) said, `Whoever had three daughters and showed patience in their keeping, their pleasure and displeasure, Allah admits him to Paradise for his mercy over them.
A household of four women is not easy. Women are moody and it is easy for the lone man to get ganged up on. That’s why I especially admired Salah. He didn’t have an complexes about his manhood being attacked. He never seemed mournful that he didn’t have sons. I never saw him be mean to anyone and he supported his wife and her community work. Did I mention he loved his wife? He defied all the stereotypes we read abut in the West about Arab and Muslim men. Masha’Allah for some of us salty Muslim sisters, he was proof that there were good men out there.
Salah and Madeha inspired me because they supported three daughters through college. One of the things that makes supporting daughters through school even more laudable than supporting sons is that parents invest in their daughter’s education not for prestige nor for future investment with an expectation that their daughters will take care of them. Daughters often go to their husband’s households, their careers may stop because they have children. But Salah and Madeha educated their daughters as a way to ensure their daughter’s future and to afford them all the opportunities young women should have. And they didn’t half step. They sent them to a prestigious private school. And that was no easy feat on their salary. They sacrificed and strove and made it happen. The third daughter to attend the university applied for financial aid so it would not be such a burden.
I was definitely inspired by the value that many of the immigrant Muslims placed on their daughters’ education. It contrasted with the culture in my family where when you were 18 you were expected to hold it down on your own. My mom pointed out that from age 16, I basically took care of myself. I gave up my college aspirations in high school because I felt like I could not afford to go to school. Years later, after I transferred to Santa Clara, withdrew in 1998, and finally went back in 2001 I got more family support. It took a lot of encouragement and some solid examples–the primary one being Salah and Madeha’s hard work. In the back of my mind, I felt that the way Salah and Madeha raised their daughters was the way to go. It was also my aspiration to work in Islamic schools at the time that drove my initial academic interest at Santa clara.
It just wasn’t in our rizq to have two dedicated parents. I have been blessed to see a wonderful Muslim man embody the beauty of our Islamic values. I witnessed the inner workings of a functional American Muslim family.They worked hard contribute to the Muslim community in Silicon Valley. The family pulled together during hard times and sickness. During that time, the only thing many of us could do was make du’a. Normally I don’t do this. I try not to name names on my blog. But for years I wanted to dedicate something to this brother, for all the hardship he endured with patience and constancy. I think that we should acknowledge everyday heroes. We should remember the people who touched our lives in positive ways. Mr. Salah Lashin, you have touched many people. I will ask anyone that knows you, and even those who don’t to make du’a. May Allah reward your efforts.
My public presence is minimally disruptive, well that’s because I hardly ever go out. But when I do, I dress conservatively and go to most places that women are free to go. In Kuwait, I’m witnessing how gender segregation work in everyday life. There are prayer rooms for women in schools, in malls and stores, in parks, and restaurants. Even though I haven’t yet enjoyed the women centered amenities, I’ve heard that there are separate beaches, and tons of facilities for women like gyms and swimming pools and social clubs. There are many places where men are not allowed to go. I’ve seen gender segregation at Kuwait University and gender segregation in banks (yes a whole separate office space for women). Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to equate gender segregation with Jim Crow. Our fountains are just as nice, as well as our bathrooms. We don’t sit in the back of the bus. We just don’t take the bus. I haven’t seen a sign where it says women are not allowed. I suppose that is just implied based upon context. And yes free-mixing goes on in Kuwait. But like one Kuwaiti woman told me, if you want to go to jennah don’t mix with men.
My friend says that my life reads like I’m in the middle of a participatory observatory study. But this is a real lived experience where I try to balance traditional social norms between men and women and my modern needs as a female student and traveler. In many ways I feel like I can’t win for losing. My friends says that is the only way to make sense of what I’m experiencing is to take an anthropological approach. The only thing is that the I’m not a detached observer, this is my life. I have a Muslim identity, so my so called experiment is directly tied to how I see myself. Also, the social censure has that extra bite. This is part of my social world and the social consequences can be far reaching.
My friend suggests that I write about my experiences because of its relevance to Muslims in the West. It is hard to imagine that what I have to say will really matter. In fact, it may put off a lot of people. For one, I find the rules of gender segregation are stifling. I wrote about the social isolation that I experienced during my first month in Kuwait. It is especially stifling to women who are socially punished by other women for non-conformity. I get the sense that I am a persona non grata. “Who are you?….Are you married?….Where do you live?..With who?…Ohhhhhhhhhhh…” and then awkward pause. I’ve already mentioned judgmental attitudes.
Maybe women who grow up in societies where women sit in the house all day are used to it. But for me, it makes me really unhappy (and I’m a homebody!) and I’m trying to find some way to have social outlets without seeming too desperate. Can I scream at the top of my lungs (PLEASE HANG OUT WITH ME CAUSE I’M GOING TO DIE OF BOREDOM!) I’m not saying that I do nothing all day. I spend much of my time studying. I have editing work, research, and I help out here and there. I even have a tutoring gig in the house, but we got off schedule. I have lot of busy work, I putter about in my room, and then for a few hours I may putter about the winding corridors of this flat. My social word, as well as that of my friend with children, contrasts with the buzzing social world of the male head of household.
So far, my social world is pretty spotty and the few opportunities are rather contrived. It really consists of me being a tag along or default invite to a family social function. Most of my socialization will have to be structured around classes and lectures. I go to a 2 hour Arabic class on Friday and I just started dars (lesson) on one of Ghazali’s books. So, that’s like four hours when I leave the house. But most of my lessons are in the house. For the past week a really nice Iraqi brother has offered to help me with my reading and grammar several days a week. I normally prepare for hours looking up words and translating the assigned text. We sit for an hour reading and talking about various Islamic subjects. I asked to sit in on his sessions of Arabic text incremental reading. So, for the past week, I’ve sat with two men in order to benefit from being immersed in the Arabic texts that are really for very advanced Arabic students. Since both speak English fluently, they define words I don’t know and explain difficult concepts. I hate to slow them down, but I benefit from getting a taste of texts that I might otherwise not read on my own. They are also patient as I try to articulate difficult concepts with my Arabic limitations. My friend’s husband has recruited another man to be a more formal instructor. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I can have formal lessons with this teacher three days a week.
So far, it seems like I have had to transgress the boundaries of gender segregation to learn anything–especially when it comes to Arabic. I’m sitting in the highest level of Arabic offered at the Islamic Presentation Committee. There are 12 levels, this is level 6. The director said that maybe in three years she’ll see our class as graduates from the Arabic class. What that means is that the road to learning Arabic in places like IPC is real slow. I lacks the rigor that a serious student needs. And I found that outside Kuwait University (which brushed me off last minute), there are no full time Arabic programs. With all the students at the Islamic centers, no one is really invested to help fisabillah, maybe fisabalfaloos except for the gentlemen who have offered to help me get to the level of Arabic that I need to move on in my program. So, one has to ad lib. Outside of the group halaqa or dars, no women have volunteered to teach me or help me learn. Last month, I had a chance to meet a well known Syrian scholar. I asked if there were no women to study under, was it permissible to study under a man. He said yes, then hailed Syria’s female scholars. That’s nice, masha’Allah. Since I’m not in Syria, I have to make due.
I know for many Muslims sitting with a man alone is transgressive. If a man and a woman are lone than Shaitan is the third person. I even know a former graduate student who wouldn’t meet with her adviser alone because of that. This caused some problems for her non-Muslim adviser and her work wasn’t taken seriously. The lax Muslim in me just thought Muslims needed to get over it. period.But the Western me believed that we had the internal will to fight back what ever personal demons that might cause either party to objectify the other. There proggie Muslim in me believed that if the intention was pure and that if both people treated each other decently, then both parties could stay out of trouble.
When I had a private writing tutoring, I didn’ feel the same pressures as I do when I have a Muslim Arabic instructor. I’ve had Muslim instructors in the states and there was a bit of the pressure, the worry about adab. Maybe deep in my mind there was the psychological terror that I was leading someone on the path to perdition. The traditional me was convinced that a man and woman cannot be friends and something was fundamentally wrong with sitting in a busy coffee shop was somehow an illicit meeting.
As a young Muslim, I was criticized for free mixing too much. I even attended a study group full of enthusiastic Muslims. The more conservative MCA wouldn’t host a group like that, but we were able to go to SBIA and learn from each other. Unlike some of my non-free-mixing friends, I would have starved to death if I had no interaction with non-mahram men. I’ve always taken a pragmatic approach to free-mixing. I’m not saying that the results have all been good. I’ve had some fitnah past. But I am saying that I couldn’t follow the no free-mixing between the genders without dramatically altering my life–basically get married right away, having tons of babies, and rarely leaving the house. If I followed all the rules of gender segregation I wouldn’t have been able to get my education, let alone learn the language of the Qur’an. I’m aware there are many people who take issue with the path that I’ve chosen. I guess this is what I’d have to say to them: Before you condemn me for being some free-mixing loose Muslim woman, please consider what type of intellectual wasteland you’d banish me to.