The Lid is Off: Battered Muslim Women

Last night, I received an email about the New York Times Article Abused Muslim Women in US Gain Advocates. I had started writing something late into the night, but by accident I erased it. Tariq Nelson captured much of what I wanted to say in his post, Helping Battered Muslim Women.
He wrote:

I feel that these types of articles are good because it shows that Muslims are being pro-active in not accepting abuse (we’re talking broken jaws and limbs here in some cases) and helping the abused find help. There is a fine line between “exposing the dirty laundry” and doing what it takes to solve problems (of all types)

This is why some people would rather remain in denial then admit that such problems exist. The fact is that *some* Muslim men are barbaric, oppressive, terrible people and we should distance ourselves (and our religion) from this type of crap rather than denying what everyone can see.

I suggest you head over to Tariq Nelson’s page and read the rest of the article. I was also very happy to see in the article the work of Imam Johari Abdal Malak. On his blog, Muslims Against Domestic Violence, Imam Johari wrote:

Our goal is to return people to the original and proper understanding of the Qur’an and Sunnah on this issue. We believe that the Words of the Qur’an are the Words of God revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) and that it has been preserved. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) – who is the best example – never beat his wives. The Qur’an calls upon men to be maintainers and protectors of women and this is a religion of expressing God’s love (rahma) and being kind to one’s spouse. The goal of a marriage in Islam is to promote love and compassion between the spouses and the family in general.

Another thing that excited me about what Imam Johari wrote is that  they’re staring an initiative called Muslim Men Against Domestic Violence.  The imam has also edited a book titled “What Islam Says About Domestic Violence.” As the article demonstrates, Muslims are holding seminars, workshops, lectures, and in various community centers and mosques. But it is an uphill battle against silence, censure, and denial. I have heard reports that Muslim women’s shelters get death threats and a lot of people still have a problem that we have such institutions.

I am still wondering what are we going to do about teens at risk. Many people who abuse their spouses abuse their children. I am hoping that there are support networks for teens who may suffer the fate of Aqsa Parvez and Sarah and Aminah Said. Whatever the levels of practice of the wives or daughters, we as Muslims should be supportive and offer those in need refuge. We haven’t even gotten to the world of sexual abuse, which counter to what some people say does exist in the Muslim community.

It is time that as American Muslims, we begin to deal with social problems with real social solutions that are informed by universal Islamic principles of charity and mercy. We should be a benefit for our our community and others. Our da’wa should not be selling ideas, but living through example. And by doing so, we can help ensure a better future for our children. We can be proactive, there are Muslims who are beginning to develop nursing homes, food distribution, health clinics, and youth outreach programs. There are even an increased amount of Muslims who are counselors and therapists. At this stage, we need to begin to look at real problems our community members face, as opposed to being in denial. There are families broken up because there are Muslims who have drug addictions. Muslims are suffering with mental and emotional issues. There are Muslims who need jobs, but have no skills and training. We need to develop substance abuse programs, mental health care programs, job training programs. There are many more areas to be addressed. And only by talking about it, can we begin to think of solutions.

Aftershocks: Benazir Bhutto

abhutto1.jpg

BBC’s Benazir Bhutto obituary

Many of us Muslims who are not deeply involved in politics have been following what’s going on in Pakistan. I shocked and deeply saddened to hear the news of Bhutto’s assassination. To me, this is a sign of the madness that we ae facing in the Muslim world. Bhutto had barely escaped an terrorist bomb, but she wasn’t able to dodge the bullets this time. One friend noted that Muslims have not learned how to peacefully transfer power. This is an ominous sign (as if we didn’t have enough already), that there are Muslims who deal with political opposition using murder, terrorism, and violence. We really need to go back to the drawing board, to get back to basics. This is why we need Muslim scholars and thinkers to begin to address political and social issues. Otherwise, we are headed into chaos.

What Black American Muslim Women Are Reading, Isn’t it Fascinating?

It’s not just Black American Muslim women, but a number of college educated Muslim women are reading this book. No, they are not reading some Muslim feminist manifesto outlining the steps to unreading patriarchal interpretations of proper gender relations. They are not forming study groups to closely read Nawal Sadawi or Fatima Mernissi. They’re not even studying Amina Wadud or Asma Barlas. No, the are reading a book written in the 60s by a Mormon woman–Fascinating Womanhood. I’ve met half a dozen Muslim women who personally swear by it. FW is their marriage manual.

It has been nearly a decade since I went through my phase of reading popular psychology and self-help relationship books. I had read several books, including John Gray’s Men are from Mars Women are from Venus and Deborah Tannen’s You Just don’t Understand, Women and Men in Conversation, to try to get a grasp on the different ways men and women interact. My quest for understanding reflected my desire to improve myself, as well as my relationships. My life circumstances changed, and I focused on myself. I wanted to improve my condition by finding a purposeful life and pursuing my dreams. But that’s another story. Needless to say, I’ve am skeptical of any book or program that makes broad sweeping guarantees of transforming your life.

In the 90s, I was really into understanding relationships. I even took a Fiqh of marriage class. Those classes agitated some brothers. They were taught by traditional scholars who taught women their traditional rights in Islam. As any of us Muslim know and one of my Muslim professors affirmed, Muslim women are not even granted their rights accorded to them in Shari’ah. So, when women would march home demanding their rights and telling their husbands that they were not obligated to do housework, some husbands tried to ban their wives from attending classes. Back then I devoured the gender equity in Islam literature, along with fiqh books. It was all about my pursuit of the Islamic ideals of marriage and gender relations. But I also wanted to break the cycle in the Black community, raise a healthy family by beginning with a solid marriage.

In my peer group, I was one of the first waves to get married. So, relationships were new for many of them. And for many of us coverts, serious relationships were just as new. Marriage was a whole new territory. At the same time, it was an exciting and new topic. We were full of ideals and we talked about relationships constantly. I think one friend had ordered a whole series of relationship tapes. I knew she was trying to gain the upper hand in that engagement, to be able to get what she wanted without direct confrontation. After that engagement failed, we never really talked about the self-help literature after that. So years passed by and all that men are from another planet stuff went by the way side.

This past year I began mingling in my old Muslim circles and finding myself in new ones, I found that FW was a hot topic of discussion. Most of my friends are married, some for almost a decade and others more recently. A few of my friends are divorced, some within the past few months and others have remained single for almost a decade. You get women together and we are going to talk about relationships. So, this book came up. I first heard of it from a friend who hated it. But just last night, a young woman swore by it. So I asked my friend what did she think. She said that even though she was unable to apply the principles, she believed that’s how things worked. I began to look it up, to see what other Muslims thought of it. It looks like a number of Sheikh Nuh Keller’s female students were reading this book.
The website, “Marriage the Fascinating Way” states:

Muslim women, for example, claim that the teachings of FW are fundamental to their religion, and found in their book of instruction, the Koran. Women of the ancient Shinto and Buddha faiths make similar claims and Jewish women rely on teachings found in the Old Testament. The Mennonite and Amish women also claim that FW is supported by their strict Christian doctrine.

One well read Muslim woman blogger wrote:

fascinating womanhood by Helen Adeline , ok this book taught me all about men , it beats men are from mars and woman are from Venus , this book I would recommend it to anyone if they want to know how to win their husbands heart . It totally destroyed my feminist ideas and views. Oh and it actually works.

Surprising I found a number of Black American Muslim who read the book did not dismiss it outright. These sisters believed in the principles and they were applying it to their lives. What makes it so interesting is that their views on femininity contrasts with the negative perception that Black women are these independent, domineering, emasculating, ball busting hell on wheels types. I know dozens of Black American Muslim women who are the Martha Stewart types. They are baking, doing crafts, sewing, educating children in the home. They are articulate, charming, soulful, and beautiful. They are smart dynamic women with a wide range of skill sets, from business to engineering as well as cooking. Almost all these women keep immaculate homes and devote a great deal of attention to rearing their children. The second wave feminists dismiss their contributions. But I read one Black woman intellectual write that the form of feminism dominated pitted Black women against Black men. It undermined the solidarity of the Black nationalist movement. But these women are beyond the nationalism phase. They are trying to find a way to rebuild families and healthy relationships. These women are trying to do something that we have seen fail in those earlier movements. They are promoting a revolutionary agenda by being conservative and maintaining traditional values. Now, that’s a fascinating read.

Beat them (Lightly)?

Dead Teen Refused Hijab

Aqsa Parvez would leave home each morning wearing track pants and a Muslim head scarf. Once the 16-year-old got to school, she would remove the scarf and change into close-fitting jeans.

But, her friends said, her parents got wind of what she was doing. Parvez soon began showing up at school with bruises on her arms.

It was a struggle that may have led to Parvez’ death this week at the hands of her father, who was denied bail Wednesday after being charged with strangling her.

This story tops that chart of popular stories on CNN. The father violated a tenet of Islam, his sacred trust, and destroyed a life. It is as if he killed all of humanity. By killing his daughter, he lost his humanity, his dignity, and hurt us all. May Allah have mercy on her soul. Aqsa was one of the many victims of domestic violence and violence against women throughout the world. Many of us assume domestic violence is limited to a husband beating his wife. But like Aqsa’s case, a father abusing his daughter or siblings abusing their siblings. Our Muslim leaders need to be strong in their messages against the abuse of women. In Muslim majority countries where the laws are either “inspired” by Shariah or lawmakers claim they are in fact the shariah. Men often receive a slap on the wrist for beating their wives. Even in America, famous people who abuse their animals serve more time than famous people who abuse their wives. But I’m not an apologist, trying to sweep the problem of domestic abuse in the Muslim communities under the rug. The point is that our leaders need to make a point that it is unacceptable.

I found the following list of Shelters from ISNA’s Domestic Violence Forum

Apna Ghar
4753 N. Broadway Suite 502
Chicago, IL 60640
773-334-0173 phone
773-994-0963 fax
info@apnaghar.org
http://www.apnaghar.org

Apna Ghar is a domestic violence shelter serving primarily Asian women and children, and was the first Asian shelter of its kind in the Mid-Western United States. Apna Ghar takes its name from a Hindi-Urdu phrase meaning “Our Home”, and since January 1990 has served over 3800 domestic violence clients.

Asian/Pacific Islander Domestic Violence Resource Project
DVRP
P.O. Box 14268
Washington, DC 20044
(202) 364-4630 phone
info@dvrp.org
http://www.dvrp.org

We are a diverse group of volunteers and staff who are committed to ending domestic violence and its effects. We have expertise in a range of areas including education, law, and public health and we draw on the experiences and cultural backgrounds of our members of Asian/Pacific Islander descent.

Baitul Salaam – Atlanta
P.O. Box 11041
Atlanta, GA 30310
800-285-9489 pin# 00
haleem1@aol.com
http://baitulsalaam.freehomepage.com/

We are a non-profit organization consisting of a variety of individuals and businesses in the fight together to end spousal abuse worldwide. Our services include: Counseling and support services, Battered women’s shelter, Temporary financial assistance, Fundraising services, and
Employment assistance

Hamdrad Center
355 Wood Dale Rd
Wood Dale, IL 60191
630-860-9122 24-hour Emergency Crisis Line
630-860-2290 phone
630-860-1918 fax

Hamdrad Center provides culturally tailored, multilingual services to domestic violence victims and abusers since 1993. A team of dedicated volunteers has made it possible to establish a fully licensed shelter and a 24 hour Crisis Hotline, and to provide individual and family counseling to families in need.

HOMS – Housing Outreach for Muslim Sisters
P.O. Box 152611
Arlington, TX 76015
1-877-335-4667
homsoutreach@hotmail.com
http://www.geocities.com/homs99/

H.O.M.S. is a facility designed for Muslim women and their children who are in need of temporary housing/shelter due to family or financial problems.

ISSA – Islamic Social Services Association of USA & Canada
4202 Roblin Blvd
Winnipeg, Manitoba
R3R 0E7
Canada
(204) 889-7451 phone
(204) 896-1694 fax
shahinasiddiqui@hotmail.com
sophiaali23@hotmail.com
http://www.issaservices.com

ISSA is a unique organization since it is not a social service provider, but rather is an organization that serves as a network for addressing the social service concerns Muslims have. ISSA aims to provide support to social service providers through education, training, services and advocacy.

Muslim Community Center For Human Services
M. Basheer Ahmed, M.D.
Chairman MCC for Human Services
P.O. Box 152658
Arlington, TX 76015
mcc1999@hotmail.com
817-589-9165 phone
817-483-4699 fax

Muslim Community Center For Human Services offers the following services to the victims of domestic violence. 24-hour helpline 817-589-9165 ;Counseling service for couples ;and/or individuals ;Computer training program for victims of domestic violence ;Arrangements with local shelters if needed ;Educational programs for prevention of domestic violence ;Educational material is also provided

Muslim Women’s Help Network
87-91 144th Street
Jamaica, NY 11435
Tel.: (718) 523-5100
Fax: (718) 658-3434
mwhn@muslimsonline.com

The mission of the Muslim Women’s Help Network is to promote family life in accordance with the Qur’an and Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (saw), emphasizing the protection and maintenance of women and children as the foundation for a productive community life.

Muslim Women’s Network
PO Box 14023
Columbus, OH 43214
614-470-2848
mwn839@hotmail.com

The Muslim Women’s Network exists to, insha Allah, provide Islamically-trained workers to build stronger families by: Providing counseling and/or mediation services to the community; Introducing and re-connecting women to their community; Helping women to help themselves; Being a catalyst for social change. In the Muslim Women’s Network & Community Services we hope, insha Allah, to support sisters in many ways but to focus our services toward the following core groups: widows, the displaced, the disenfranchised and the abused of our community.

Narika
P.O. Box 14014
Berkeley, CA 94712
510-540-0754 Office
1-800-215-7308 Helpline
Info@narika.org
http://www.narika.org

Narika was founded in 1992 to address the problem of domestic violence in the South Asian community. Embracing the notion of women’s empowerment, Narika set out to address the unmet needs of abused South Asian women by providing advocacy, support, information, and referrals within a culturally sensitive model. We serve women who trace their origins to Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and diasporic communities such as Fiji and the Caribbean.

Niswa
P.O. Box 1403
Alomita, CA 93717
310-782-2482

Azizah Weighs in on African American Muslim Marriages and “Morocco is Not the Solution” From Kuwait

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.

Gender Segregation and Free Mixing: Where is the Equity in Reality?

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.

How Am I Doing?

You want an honest answer? Really?

One of the things I hate about my own American culture is the typical greeting, “How are you?” In truth, most Americans don’t really want the answer. In fact, it is rude to answer honestly if things aren’t going so well. The point is that “how are you?” is really a rhetorical statement. The inflection at the end of the statement is really just a formality. Sometimes it isn’t even there. People say as they pass by, “How are youuuuuuuuu.” voice fading as they speed by. Over the years I’ve had a lot of people ask me how am I doing and then get really annoyed when I tell them the truth. I’ve had friends who call me up and get really annoyed or impatient as I talk about things I’m struggling with. I’ve had close friends who have shared their stories, who I have helped work through issues, who I have sat for hour listening and trying to understand, go off on me or shut down when I share my story. But at least I can write uninterrupted. I don’t have to spin my wheels worrying if my complaints will offend someone’s sensibilities before I can fully articulate what I’m going to say.

To answer your question:

Alhumdulillah…Things have been challenging and frustrating. I’m just coming out from some major upsets. Thins are looking better, but I’m still wondering if it will work out just as planned. Things operate differently here. And there are different levels of shadiness and ineptitude. Overall, it is a mixed bag. I’ve already written about boredom and being judged. I have felt homesick, isolated, disoriented, and lonely. It would be far worse if I lived on my own. I’m grateful for my friend and her family. They basically keep me going. But sometimes I feel intrusive and like a burden. There are times when I felt like packing up everything and going back home. And then I realize, I can’t because I don’t have anywhere to go back to–somebody’s subleasing my room for the year. Plus through the past few years many of my relationships and friendships back home had become strained or distant at best. The nice ones were ephemeral, kind of like “hi-bye good luck on your trip!”

Before I left for this trip, I had no doubt that I had to take this step. But I had trepidations. I felt like I was putting life on hold. But then again, I wonder what life? I have spent the past 6 years focused on getting into graduate school and then trying to survive graduate school. It consumed everything. Even my few diversions and leisure activities (including laundry, foot soaks, blogging, visiting friends) were just coping mechanisms for graduate school. Even my leave of absence was full of reading, researching, planning, worrying, re-planning, writing proposals, and preparing for graduate school. This whole leave of absence for French and Arabic study took a huge wind out of me.

Cramming a year’s worth of French in six weeks was a piece of cake compared to embarking on this trip. I’m not saying that I don’t enjoy many things about being in the Middle East. But is absolutely frightening to know you don’t have a safety net. By safety net, I mean family members who will send you funds if you get ripped off or stuck in a jam. I know a Muslim woman who was actually stuck, really stuck, in some Gulf country. All our affluent friends did nothing to help her out in her jam. I suppose those car notes and bargain shopping had ran up the bills. There was even one brother all into tasawwuf with a site about sacred knowledge who treated this sister poorly. He ran into her at the house of some people who might have helped her and her children find a safe place to live until she could get a ticket back to the states. But this well known brother sent her packing and told her never visit those people again. I guess he wanted to protect wealthy Muslims from helpless and homeless American Muslim women who are stranded abroad. After a harrowing story full of drama, she finally made it out and eventually made it back home. You can have your passport lost, credit card stolen and personal items stolen, put in jail, or become really sick. I’ve known people who have gone through some tribulations and trials abroad. Some of their accounts speak to my worst fears.

I’m still working on my fears and insecurities. I still get embarrassed speaking Fushah in public. I still don’t understand Kuwaiti Arabic and there are some days when your confidence in your language abilities gets knocked right out of you. I try to motivate and work harder despite the most recent setbacks. I try to think about the overall purpose. Learning Arabic has been a dream for 15 years. Going abroad wasn’t just important for my academic career, but my spiritual well-being. Maybe it was about letting go of some control–even though I finally had taken the reigns of my own life following my divorce. 5 years ago as I prepared for graduate school my adviser David Pinault said that graduate life was monastic. It entails poverty, lonely long hours, etc. He assured me that it was a good kind of poverty. You don’t starve, it is just a modest living. After a few years in graduate school I wasn’t in debt (except for those deferred student loans), I could pay my bills, I was even saving some money. I found history to be isolating. That was just part of the field, the long hours in archives, the long late nights writing, the time in the field. I knew that going abroad for graduate work was looming in my future. And it felt like a destabilizing force.

Two years ago I asked for guidance and support about graduate school and my requisite year in the field. One imam’s wife told me to look at graduate school like it was a prison–I was just doing my time. There are some mind trips about this training and the constant insecurity of graduate school. Academia is medieval in its structure, from the apprenticeship approach to developing your own masterpiece after demonstrating your worthiness to be in the guild of scholars. I haven’t even begun to think about the publish or perish world of tenure. My African American peers in graduate school tell me to keep up the fight. We’re so few, 3% of the graduate population at my university. With more African American men in prison than in dorms, I have to keep trying to make a difference. There are people who don’t want us there. There are people who don’t think I can do it. Jan Barker said that if we felt like we’ve been through a hazing in graduate school, it is because we have. Through the hazing process, my Muslim friends often tell me about having patience and faith. Keep going–it is a test. So, that’s how I’m doing. I’m in the middle of another test. I’m not sure if I’m passing. But I’m doing the best I can.