Little Things

Sometimes it’s the little things: a subordinate clause in a sentence, an off handed comment, a book title in the window shelf, a magazine cover, a hot off the press article, the thousand words in a glance, the backdoor, the curtain, the wall, the two way mirror… It’s that anecdotal story, that tirade, that verbose soliloquy… Two hands nervously shaking under the scrutiny of those who focus on the material and not substance of a person. Those things are multiplied with the lack of equivalence, the well crafted stance, based on the correct position, the most authentic position, the most sound position. All I wanted was to be free. But these little things build up to a gigantic mountain and they weigh so heavy on my shoulders that I can’t breath.

Women Versus Men; Women Versus Women

No nation, culture, or community has found a truly peaceful resolution to the battle of the sexes. For the most part, it is a cold war that is fought on many fronts. We’re talking about urban, rural, and suburban warfare because for the most part the battles take place in the home. But the battle ground can be more public, like in political debates broadcast in every home in America or think pieces published in esteemed press. In some cultures men have always had the upper hand, so women must use indirect tactics in assymetric warfare. In other societies women are gaining more ground and they are able to make gains in in the workforce, political office, and even demand that their husbands–shudder–help with the laundry. The strategies vary as much as the millions of individuals who deploy tactics to undermine, overpower, or demand recognition of their grievances from their adversary.

It is my opinion that nowhere on Earth is the battle of the sexes fought with as much ferocity as in the Black American community. We’re talking family, children, and lives have been ruined in the collateral damage. At worst, the violence of these battles have led to tragedies and human loss. At minimum, the warring parties and innocent bystanders, have been traumatized by psychological warfare. I have first hand experiences in the trenches of what I’d like to call asymmetric warfare.

The sad thing is, that the most vulnerable (in my opinion this would be women) are often left with few allies. You’d think that in what seems to be an all out war, that there’d be some sort of solidarity. My first hand knowledge comes from the female front, so I can tell you little about what happens from the male perspective. But what I can tell you is that in the Black American Muslim community, there is little female solidarity. Basically, women have fragile bonds meaning that there is a lack of sisterhood. Instead, we seem to be tearing each other apart, all the while finding the weak spots of our adversaries of the opposite gender. I’m not saying that BAM women want to defeat their male counterparts. But basically, they want to have their grievances heard and have their rights recognized. Above all, they want BAM and the Muslim community as a whole to help rectify the problems that have led to some serious social problems and instability.

One of the major problems I have seen is gendered racism in the BAM community. This had led to some serious demographic problems, such as the shortage of viable BAM. BAM women are finding it increasingly difficult to find suitable life partners. For the most part, people have written thoughtful posts on issues surrounding gender relations. However some of the opinions espoused by bloggers and commentators have been downright reprehensible. I, myself, felt alienated by some of the views held by some American Muslims during a lengthy discussion about the growing trend for BAM men marrying overseas. One that especially got under my skin was the tendency to criticize educated Black Muslim women for being nothing else than educated Black Muslim women. I am sure that many of responsible, hardworking, conscientious, and ethical Black men have felt alienated by some of the critiques BAM women have had of BAM men. For example there is the constant mantra, “There are no good Black Muslim men!” “Black men are trifling!” etc…

This constant mantra is something that I wanted to address. I wanted to talk about the woe is me attitude, the victimhood, that many of us women carry like its our cross to burden. We are martyrs right? Especially us Black Muslim women, the world has dealt us a terrible hand? I wanted to move beyond victimhood and to talk about how WE, as women, contribute to our own predicament. I want to talk about how our lack of sisterhood and self respect causes us to damage ourselves, and sometimes other people. I wanted to move beyond the two front war, to talk about what do we women do that damages other women. One of the primary causes of instability in the Black American Muslim family is polygamy or some type of infidelity. I wanted to talk about how Muslim women contribute to failed marriages and thereby undermine the struggle of our fellow sisters.

I’m not trying to criticize people who happily go into this situation. I, for one, don’t understand how can a woman be truly happy about such a situation. She has somehow been convinced that she deserves less, not a full partner in life. She must have been convinced that she is just happy to a man in her life, at least some of the time. Muslim Hedonist writes about how insulted one woman felt when she was approached as a second wife. I suggest her thoughts on the matter. When I read many of the writings of women who are in polygynous situations or were formally, I noticed a lot of pain. Forever loyal wrote a blog about second wives and how she doesn’t feel sorry when she reads their sob stories on the internet. Normally we blame men for these situations. But I think there are many women who are contributing the situation by promoting certain ideas that undermine women’s sense of self worth, or by women acting out of self interest when making moves on other women’s husbands.

One of the first ways that we Muslim women undermine our sisters is by promoting ridiculous, sexist views. Jamerican Muslimah wrote a great post on how Muslim women promote sexist views. Basically, as a woman, YOU are to blame if he finds another wife. This has left a lot of women paranoid and hating other women. She wrote:

It is clear who this idea stands to benefit. What I don’t get is why so many women readily accept it. I mean, it has double-standard written all over it! As Muslims, it is not our example anyway.

These views make it very difficult for BAM women to have a real grievance without the threat of bringing in another woman. When Muslim women seek counsel or help to resolve a major dispute, they are often face unsympathetic women who make them feel insecure and nervous. These women tell their sisters that they are nags, that they are ingrates. Basically, the find that good ole hadith about hell being full of women who complained about their husbands. Meanwhile, the sister who has had six kids, home schooled all of them, cooked three meals from scratch each day, washed and ironed everyone’s clothes, and ran a business out their garage, but couldn’t manage to look like a video ho in the bedroom at the end of the day still has to worry about another woman fulfilling her husbands, “needs”. This is the message you’ll many women get.

While we can take the brothers to task for creeping and trying to get wifey number two or three or four, who takes the women to task for trying to be the second act? I’m not saying that we should vilify second wives. I remember the first time I met a woman who was a second wife. If I remember right, it was at a protest against sanctions against Iraq in the early 90s. She was from another community, had worked with a Muslim guy before becoming Muslim and they “Fell in love.” While most Muslim scholars do not see polygamy as infidelity, I would say that developing an emotionally intimate relationship outside of marriage without the knowledge of your spouse’s knowledge is emotional infidelity. On one hand, you have Muslim scholars saying it is bad to free mix and love comes after marriage. On the other hand, they will accept this type of “love” arrangement. It bothered me to know that a man could legitimate his emotional affair with a co-worker and bring her into the picture with such ease. However, I chalked it up to her own lack of experience in the Deen. It didn’t seem like she was some femme fatale and all covered up in hijab and long sleeve shirts she didn’t seem like a hoochie either. She just seemed like a naïve new Muslimah who felt saved by the married guy who introduced her to the religion and his own complicated family situation. Despite all her justifications, it was clear that the situation was painful for her. A few years later I actually ran into her, still married, while in the women’s section of a mosque in an East Coast city. But more than a decade has passed and I’m not sure how the situation has panned out.

The above story was one of the more innocent situations. I have heard of more devious and destructive types of machinations on the part of single Muslim women who want to snag that eligible un-bachelor (Note: Umm Adam’s blog is pretty mild compare to some of the sordid stories I’ve witnessed and heard). Some women are so wrapped up in their personal loneliness and desire to have a man, any man, in their life, that they will move in on happily married men. Often tied into their sales package is a claim “There are no good Black Muslim men!” They have that Ana miskeenah attitude and somehow every upstanding married man is responsible to save the heaving hordes of unmarried damsels. Some women will forgo a real marriage and take the status of being a mistress in a misyar marriage. Other times that second wife ploy was a way to dethrone the first wife, the ultimate victory in the competition between BAM women. My basic challenge to this approach is that if this upstanding and ethical man goes hooks up with the next damsel in distress without his wife knowing, can he still qualify as upstanding and ethical? What happens when that situation becomes messy? Polygamous marriages are some of the most unstable marriages. Period. And with two broken families and potentially a dozen kids, can he still be there for everyone? Many of us are left shaking our head when we here about the aftermath of a disastrous polygamous situation.

I have been troubled by some of the stories I’ve read in blogosphere and some of the stories I’ve witnessed my own self. I think it is time that we as women begin to take a look at ourselves. We should respect ourselves enough to not hurt our sisters. And importantly, if we are constantly blaming men for the sad state of affairs in our community, we need to question if and how we enable their destructive behaviors. In a conversation I had a while back in Kuwait, my friend pointed out that much of the immature, boyish, asinine behavior has its roots in the ways we as women coddle our sons, brothers, and husbands. We have not held them to high standards. Instead, we have rewarded narcissism and promiscuity. We women have chased the dogs and made them feel like superstars. And even the good guys, some women have worked hard to bring that dog out of them.

I have, by no means, been thorough in my exploration of this issue. But I wanted to begin a dialogue amongst sisters. One brother mentioned noticed that there was a lack of sisterhood, citing polygamy as a major cause. I wanted to begin to talk about ways in which we can make better choices. I wanted to find a way in which we women can help each other to find a peaceful resolution to this damaging multi-front war of men versus women and women versus other women in the BAM community.

Pangea Day May 10th

Pangea Day
I am really excited about attending Pangea Day at the pyramids in Giza this upcoming May 10th. It is a film festival featuring 24 short films that were selected from thousands. The films, cccording to the site, “were chosen based on their ability to inspire, transform, and help us see the world through another person’s eyes.” Pangea Day was organized by the Ted Prize winner, Jehane Noujaim. Noujaim is best known for her 2004 documentary, Control Room.

Here is more information from the website:

Pangea Day is a global event bringing the world together through film.

Why? In a world where people are often divided by borders, difference, and conflict, it’s easy to lose sight of what we all have in common. Pangea Day seeks to overcome that – to help people see themselves in others – through the power of film.

For those of you in the neighborhood (Giza that is), I encourage you to come out. You can get your tickets here.

Live from Cairo – Khaled Aboul Naga and Mohamed Mounir!
Egyptian actor and talk-show host Khaled Aboul Naga will be hosting Pangea Day in Cairo. And popular Egyptian musician Mohamed Mounir will be performing live! Get your ticket to watch Pangea Day at the Pyramids.

Here’s Variety’s take on Pangea Day

LONDON — BSkyB, Current and Star TV will broadcast the Pangea Day global event live May 10.
The ambitious Pangea Day project, which aims to bring (mainly young) people together through the power of film, is a four-hour program of shorts from across the globe coupled with speeches and music from artists, including Bob Geldof and Dave Stewart. It is being billed by promoters as the world’s first “global campfire.”

Pangea, which features simultaneous live broadcasts from Cairo, London, Los Angeles, Mumbai, Rio de Janeiro and Rwandan capital Kigali, will go out in its entirety on Current TV in the U.S. from 11 a.m. Pacific Time. In the U.K., the global event goes out to BSkyB subscribers on the Sky Movies Indie channel.

Across Asia and the Middle East, Star is the exclusive broadcast partner for Pangea Day. It will broadcast the program on Star World, one of the leading English entertainment channels in Asia.

Additionally, Pangea Day deals are in place with the following regional broadcasters: Globosat (Brazil), MGM Networks (Latin America), Metro TV (Indonesia), NZTV (New Zealand), Digiturk (Turkey), Channel 10 (Israel), City TV (Colombia), KW Networks and Once TV (Mexico), Canal Planete (France), MediaCorp (Singapore), V-Me (U.S., Spanish language), LTV (Lithuania), TVR (Romania) and Rwanda TV.

According to organizers, the Pangea Day event is expected to reach a global audience of more than 500 million via both traditional broadcasts, through free-to-air feeds, and by utilizing both web-based and mobile phone platforms.

Random Things About Cairo

While cats are everywhere, I haven’t seen a single white cat. I haven’t even seen a cat with white spots–just grey. At first, I thought maybe white had been eliminated by thousands of years of cross breading. But then I noticed that nearly all cats in Cairo cats were dingy. I think that they gave up being clean a long time ago. They might have figured that cleaning their fur was hazardous to their health. Licking their fur clean may cause all sorts of health problems (kinda like me eating raw leafy greens here). My friend said she saw a white kitten the other day. But I’d give that kitten a few days and it will be grey like all the other dingy cats. Besides being dingy, Egyptian cats like to wild out. I hear them outside our window every other night, either brawling or trying to hook-up. Overall, Egyptian cats are in better shape than Moroccan cats. I’ve seen cats in starvation mode in the Maghrib, like skeletons draped with mangy fur. But Cairene cats have lots of garbage to go through. You’ll see a cat posted on a garbage pile claiming his territory. My friend saw a neon blue cat everyday for like a week. Who’s ever seen a blue cat? Only in Cairo right? Turns out, the cat was sleeping in a dumpster where people dumped blue washing powder.

Clothes dried on the clothesline outside will smell like whatever is on the street. The other day our downstairs neighbors must have made kufta. My sheets smelled like BBQ. A month ago, I made the mistake of picking the same day a donkey cart was parked outside our apartment. My clothes clothes picked up the faint smell of donkey dung.

I know I’m an outside observer and I’m not supposed to understand everything that goes on, but I have all sorts of funny observations. Metro stations be turn into meeting spots for lovers. Guys who hit on women on the street do not expect any of the women to holla back. Blonde touristy guys get a lot of play in Egypt, as do Blonde women, who are subject to much harrassment. Women in hijab do date, I’ve seen a number of young people in cafes in low intimate conversations. Guys have it pretty rough, they gotta bring big bucks before even thinking about marriage. Zawag ‘Urfi is a way that young people get around some of the restrictions. Similar to a phenomena I discovered in the Bay Area, Halal boyfriend. without their parent’s consent, young folks get a few witnesses write up a contract. Thereafter, no holds barred. But these arrangements can cause problems. Like most things, its the girl who gets jacked. If a girl gets knocked up, the guy can shred the contract. She’s stuck with the baby and the stigma of being an unwed mother. A lot of times, a guy just drops his zawag ‘urfi without giving the girl the talaq. A real suitor comes along, and the girl says “Why not?” Old boy comes back saying, “Hey that’s my wife!” waving his contract. The girl goes to jail because bigamy is illegal. See, what I’m saying? That’s why Sheikh Ali Gumu’ah says that zawaq ‘urfi is not valid in Egypt.

The sights, sounds, and smells
Sights: You have to be prepared to see it all on any given day. Cairo is pretty polluted, so just about every building becomes a dingy brown. The first time I came to Cairo, I was dumbfounded by the amount of high rise apartment complexes and crazy, dusty streets. But there are pretty old mosques in Islamic Cairo. Sounds. It is always loud. You got to get used to honking throughout the night, cars, screaming vendors, people singing on the street, arguments, women screaming at their husbands and kids (especially on Thursday nights or any time after jumuah on Fridays). Just before fajr, our street is quiet. You can hear a low rumble rise throughout the city, then the growing echo of all the adhans until it finally reaches your neighborhood mosque. In some parts of the city, away from the constant flow of traffic and horns, you can hear the rumble just before every adhan comes in. Smells. there are lots of them. Take a deep breath, you can smell good cooking, rotting garbage, donkey dung, burning bukhur, flowers, car exhaust, and dusty air, at the same time.