Missing…

As the reality of being a woman in the Middle East sets in, I am becoming increasingly aware of my limitations in social opportunities. I talked to a friend who is doing research in Europe. She has gone through the same thing. We have very few people to hang out with. Everyone else has their own things going on and not a lot of time. On top of that there is the whole language barrier thing.

But Kuwait is different from Northern Europe. It is not like I can go out to cafe and meet new friends. Nor can I just go for a stroll, catch a bus downtown and explore Kuwait city by myself. Buses in Kuwait are filled with male laborers. I was told you better be a tough woman to handle that experience. Honestly, travelling alone as a woman in the Middle East is the pits. During my stay in Morocco, I had to gather up the will to explore Fez. Sometimes it was just plain tiresome. First, you have to develop hard look in order to reduce the unwanted male harrassment (i.e. the walk by “zwaina” or the cat calls, I mean for reals they used the same sounds you called cats with). Then you have to be prepared to avoid all eye contact with any males, such as looking up at the sky and risk falling into some hole in the ground (and in Morocco there are many ditches, potholes, and uneven pavement). The most effective method is looking at the ground and watching where you are going. This too has downsides because you can miss some very nice sites and historical landmarks. Plus I had to map out my route, I wanted to avoid the 100 to 200 glaring eyes that follow any woman who passes the packed cafes. I wasn’t in Egypt long enough to make any lengthy commentaries, but from my experience Cairo seemed pretty much the same.

But Native Kuwaitis are pretty good about not harrassing, I’ve only gotten a few staredowns in stores and businesses. But, there are tons of single men immigrating from the Middle East and South Asia. I’ve heard that depending on the neighborhood, you can get annoying harrassment. But my friend said it’s not that bad as places like Sanaa, Yemen. There if you walk down the street and don’t wear the face veil you’re a slut, if you wear a veil you’re a slut, if you have your whole family in tow you’re a slut, because honorable women apparently either stay at home or they only have cars. But in Kuwait even the men who are pretty hard up for women (the country has a population of 60% adult males) don’t get too bad because no one wants to get deported.

So, with that in mind I don’t feel like I’m going to be bombarded by men whose pasttime consists of making lewd comments to passing women. But, I am following as much of the decorum and etiquette as I can. So, I’ve only had very limited interactions with men, that is even on a professional level. I am sure this while change when I enroll in my course at the University. But I wonder how much will that change. I really doubt I’ll make any substantive male friends or be able to chop it up in a mixed setting (unless it is at one of the East meets West centers). The most common interaction I’ve had with men is being told that a male is coming so go some place not to be seen, usually to my room or close the kitchen door. We have a Yemeni couple as neighbors. So, apparently in their culture women can be heard (but not talking to you if you are a male), but not seen. I know this because all day my friend’s husband gets hear our neighbor’s voice call our maid for various tasks “Adaam, Adaam!!” Very opposite of the old school thing about children, “Children are to be seen and not heard.” In the Middle East, by the way, children run the whole show. The children running freely in American masajid are just a taste of the wild antics in the Middle East.

But I digress. So I scratch the whole thing about being able to chop it up with Muslims of all shapes and varieties in Kuwait. In reality, there’s not much to do for a woman by herself. There are family things, stuff women do in groups. I don’t have any kids. If you ever want to feel like a fifth wheel, try being the only single girl on a multiple family outing. Basically, if the kids aren’t spitting up on you some one may want to spit on you if they think you are looking at their husband sideways. So, besides looking at the ground and occassionally trying to match the dozen children to mothers and fathers, I just looked at the ground feeling awkward like the poor miskeena over thirty and divorced without kids that I am.

I read a thing that said that Kuwait was family oriented. Unlike more open societies, those that follow gender segregation such as Kuwait have nice accomodations for women. There are Arabic and Islamic studies classes, social clubs, swimming pools, and gyms for women. But sometimes they can have their downsides, especially if you don’t understand Kuwaiti Arabic. One time I had to try to find information about some religious studies programs for women. But the building was closed to men, so I had to go at it on my own. Nothing beats down your confidence in your Arabic skills like trying to get information.

I guess I’m realizing that I haven’t explored much. I’ve seen a lot. I’ve been to several hyper markets, been to several car dealerships, the ministry of communications, two universities, to an indoor park, to a souk, prayed in a mosque, visited a Kuwaiti home, stuff like that. I realize I haven’t left the house since Saturday when I went food shopping. It’s just not as easy as a woman to meet new people or do new things. There are lots of Muslim women who live like this, never going out, cooking, cleaning, arranging, hanging out with kids, eating to fill the void, obsessively checking email and reading blogs. I have skyped a few times. IMed my sister the other day. On days like this, I miss television. There’s not a tv in this house. And I think I need one bad to pass the time. I’d prefer to have all the stations in Arabic. My eyes hurt from the Arab channel’s tiny pixelated boxes and chopping programs.

It takes awhile to settle in. I’m beginning to realize how far I am from home. I think about all the women who are at home, as their struggle to not be lost in their relationships, as the reach out to maintain their connections. Are they missing some of the same things I’m missing?

Hot Girls in Kuwait

With all the allure of oil wealth, big eyes, mascara, sexy shoes, and flowing robes yes Kuwait has hot girls. Besides my Maghribiphile tendencies, I’ve always had a bit of a thing for Khaliji style. Kuwait has hot girls and I have found out how quickly I’ve become one of them.

By hot, I mean literally and figuratively. It’s crazy hot here, I mean like beyond Kalahari desert hot. You walk outside and it feels like you stepped into a dryer. That heat hits you like when you open up the oven and stick your head in. Only everyday, walk into an oven. Even at midnight it can range between 111 to 105 degrees. I wear abaya here and hijab here. Underneath I have another layer or regular clothes. I try to wear something light, but it doesn’t matter after 100 degrees you can’t tell the difference. It’s just hot. No wonder why they thought of hell fire in this region. That sun pounds you. To make things worse, men get to rub it in our faces as they rock some infinitely cooler white fits. My black and navy blue hijabs and abayas attract all the rays.

With the sun baking you all day, it is natural that you’d see sun-block at the stores. I’ve seen the highest SPF value that I’ve ever seen in my life. You can get SPF 55 here. I’ve also seen sun-block/fading creame. Women come in all shades here. Some skin tones are more natural and others not so much. All over the Middle East, Fair and Lovely is sold all over the place. It is becoming easier to spot the women who are addicted to fading creme. I remember the first time I saw a woman who had achieved that perfect Michael Jackson skin-tone. You can also see the foundation caked on, shades lighter than a neck (Kuwaitis have achieved a loose style of hijab that manages to stay on) or hands.

I’m slowly getting my bearings straight here. Life in Kuwait is surreal. Everything seems so orderly especially compared to my brief stint in Cairo. Everything is new, I don’t think I’ve seen a building over 40 years old. My friend reminded me that I exchanged the Cairene rate race for the mall. I had to run to the Mac store at the mall, so I had my first taste of Kuwaiti mall life. I saw Khaliji women in Egypt and you can spot them a mile away. They have these big lumps holding up their scarves. A lot wear a ton of make-up, like they get lost in the M.A.C. wharehouse or something. Most women wear hijab and abayas or chadors. There are hijab wearing women with skin tight clothes. And the women love flashy to tacky high heeled shoes. I’ve even seen bedazzled cheap heals at the discount market. Maybe the poorer Kuwaitis are trying to keep up with those who can afford Manolo and Jimmy Choo or Shoe or whatever his name is. I’m not going to hate, because I love shoes. But dang, they took it to the next level. So, I spotted a number of ‘ho shoes beneath some abaya or even chador. I’ve seen women in niqab rocking florescent blue eye-shadow. Women rock the nicest shoes to run a simple errand or do a little midnight shopping on a Monday night.

One of the things that I do admire is that even though many Kuwaiti women wear tent-like chadors or loose enough abayas to conceal their “adornments” for their husbands and family members, they do keep themselves up. It is easy to let youself go and not have any body issues when you spend most of your public life all covered up. But seeing them shop at H&M and the M.A.C. store reminded me that there are hot Muslim women all over the world who love being beautiful.

In the Muslim World

What does it mean being in the Muslim world? Does it mean that a society is more Islamic?  Does the percentage of Muslims make a difference? What about the percentage of women who cover and men who wear big beard and long thobes? What happened to all those traits we’d hear about in khutbas about the Ummah being an exemplary community, the best of peoples, etc…etc…

Well, the Muslim world isn’t this happy Muslim place where people are singing “Tala al badru wa’alayna” skipping down the streets giving salaams to their neighbors. No, the Muslim world is a place where a woman will get hit on and ripped off by an airport worker within 1/2 an hour of stepping on Muslim soil. The Muslim world is where a throng of people pass by an old lady struggling carrying her loaded bags and some random western woman offers to help. The Muslim world is where cars mow down pedestrians on the road and where everyone cusses each other out. The Muslim world is where men say disgusting things to hijab wearing women sweating profusely in the humid  air.

Being in the Muslim world means your landlord commands you to cover the toilet seat because there are jinn residing in the toilet and he accuses your roommate of practicing magic. It also means that he or his sons feel like they can come into your apartment at any time at night and take stuff out.

Being in the Muslim world means being thankful that you meet up with old college friends who will take care of you and make sure your stay is as comfortable as possible. It means you are thankful for the rare and random acts of generosity from those Muslims in the Muslim world who truly exemplify the beauty of Islam—Sadaqa and Karamah.

On Pictures, Hijab, and Forbidding evil

I decided to make this a blog entry, as opposed to remaining in commentary on my main page:

Assalamalikum wa rahmatulahi wa barakatu,
Am trying not to be rude but I just have to forbid the evil you should be following the rules of hijab on the internet.We don’t know who might be looking at them
secondly I think you should read the views of the scholors on taking Picture you can try checking it out on http://www.islamqa.com
BintAbdullah

My response:

Perhaps you can find a scholarly opinion on spending idle time online on blogs, which can be nothing but idle talk and distract you from higher acts of ‘ibada like reciting Qur’an, making sunnah prayers, performing dhikr, or giving charity or volunteering. Muslims love to find blame in others who may have different levels of practice. If I felt compelled to wear hijab because of what other musims, whether scholars or not, that would be committing shirk. I dont wear hijab in pictures because that would be misrepresenting myself and quite insincere. I don’t wear hijab in the pictures because I have chosen not to wear hijab in daily life outside of the masjid or prayers.

I also believe there is no compulsion in religion. But there are societies that impose hijab, meaning that women who are forced receive no reward for intending to please Allah by wearing hijab. Rather than comply to the law of the land or to social pressure due to culture. I don’t argue matters of religion, but I see it like this, to me my way and to you yours. Thanks for your concern….

Last year I read Michael Cook’s book on Forbidding the wrong. Very interesting read. Book provides evidence to show that modern Muslims are more preoccupied with telling other Muslims what to do, as opposed to earlier texts on forbidding the wrong. While it is clear that we should command the good and forbid the wrong, it was never really clear how or who had the authority to forbid the wrong. But clearly, some communities give their members a permit allowing them to tell anyone else how much they suck. Apparently, me not wearing hijab is a evil. It is the most obvious evil that can quickly be eradicated, as opposed to “honor” killings, banditry, kidnapping, drug running, killing of civilians, corruption, bribery, rape, harrassment, defamation, assault, prostitution, forced marriages, and false testimony. Those will take a lot of work. It is less difficult to cover up a woman’s sexuality, now that is a real social evil that is destabilizing. Compared to the threat of a collapsing order due women in public spaces uncovered, the other drama we are faced with must be small cookies.

Cross Dressing For Allah

So one of my friends asked me what did I think about the Red Mosque stand off. You know, the one where the pious Muslim leader tried to escape out the backdoor dressed as a woman. I’m not one to write too much about politics. I am also very careful about writing on events that I don’t understand. But who could ignore the dramatic events and the burqas. Umar Lee has made some very interesting comments on this piece in his blog. My response is delayed because I’ve been really swamped with my work and studies. But with the flurry of blog entries, here’s my two cents.

There is so much discussion about women’s dress, hijab, niqab, and burqa. A few years back, Michael Jackson made headlines by dressing in an abaya and veil and powdering his nose in a bathroom. Himesh Reshammiya pissed off a lot of Muslims in a shrine. Himesh and Michael were just trying to escape paparazzi. But there have been a growing number of stories where bank robbers and Muslim militants donned the burqa to escape police or military capture. In the case of the mosque standoff, I think I’d cut the brother some slack if he didn’t have such a hard core deen-or-die-rough-rider-pakistani-style rhetoric. So what’s up with that ready to die as a shaheed, but dressing up as a meek Muslimah? I’m really rusty on my Fiqh, but last I heard was that cross dressing was haram. In fact, I’ve read works by Muslim writers who condemn Muslim women for wearing jeans and pants like men. But maybe in this case they used ijtihad and came up with some ruling that it is okay to cross dress fi-subil-Allah.

Diary of a Tired Muslim Woman

So this is hell. I’d never have believed it. You remember all we were told about the torture-chambers, the fire and brimstone, the “burning marl.” Old wives’ tales! There’s no need for red-hot pokers. Hell is other people!

Jean-Paul Sartre

Yes I said it. I’m tired. Tired of the insanity. I am sort of speechless and really can’t articulate what I’m upset about. But the madness that is rampant in the world is disturbing. I don’t mean the kind of harmless insanity, but the diabolical, self-righteous insanity. It bothers me that some twisted leaders are using media to indoctrinate children and radicalize them. It is bad enough that they indoctrinate weak minded adult men. People are in denial about the cult of martyrdom that exists in some cultures. I haven’t been to Palestine, so I don’t know the extent of these attitudes in the occupied territories.

The show reminds me that ideologies that justify terrorism (and violence) is spreading in the Muslim world. Not to be mean or racist, but in the 90s many of us Muslims considered suicide bombings a tactic used by Palestinians for their nationalist cause. Every Muslim I knew considered terrorism un-Islamic. We refused to accept the fact that Muslim leaders were manipulating the religion to justify send young men out to die. Over time, the occurences increased and spread to places like the Philipines, Chechnya, London, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Egypt, Iraq, etc… I have to call this the mainstreaming of terrorism. And the acts are so widespread that I can’t buy into the lame conspiracy theories that deny that Muslims are committing atrocities.

The vast majority of Muslims do not agree with terrorism. And in fact, we are more in danger of terrorist violence than non-Muslims. If you look at the casualty figures, you’ll see that more Muslims are killed than anybody else. I’m just afraid that if we stand by silently, that the mainstreaming of terrorism will continue to spread. Terrorism is just one of the issues that wears me down. Violence against women, racism, sectarianism, ethnic violence, tribalism, exploitation, corruption, backwardness, injustice, political ineptitude, repression, oppression, marginalisation, isolation, etc…. all these social ills are exhausting.I’m not saying I’m out for the count a little fatigue can be good. But sometimes I feel like I need a breather from all the drama.

Islam and Hip Hop: Who’s Gonna Take the Weight?

Repost: After a walk down memory lane, I thought I’d repost this entry:
Gangstarr’s 1991 track must have dropped a seed. Three years after viewing this video on the daily on Rap city, there I was, as a Muslim. It was summer of 1994, in Atlanta. I was covered, rockin the head wrap and a printed wrap around skirt. I was so pumped when Guru hit the stage,One of my favorite memories…

Who’s Gonna Take the Weight
Intro:
“Knowledge is power, and knowledge can be the difference between life
or death…you should know the truth and the truth shall set you
free.”

Verse 1
I was raised like a Muslim
Prayin’ to the East
Nature of my life relates rhymes I release
like a cannon
Cuz I been plannin’ to be rammin’ what I wrote
straight on a plate down your throat
So digest as I suggest we take a good look
At who’s who while I’m readin’ from my good book
And let’s dig into every nook and every cranny
Set your mind free as I slam these thoughts
And just like a jammy goes pow [FX: Gunshots]
You’re gonna see what I’m sayin’ now
You can’t be sleepin’
cuz things are gettin’ crazy
You better stop being lazy
There’s many people frontin’
And many brothers droppin’
All because of dumb things, let me tell you somethin’
I’ve been through so much that I’m such
a maniac, but I still act out of faith
that we can get the shit together so I break
on fools with no rhymes skills messin’ up the flow
And people with no sense who be movin’ much too slow
And so, you will know the meaning of the Gang Starr
Guru with the mic and Premier raise the anchor
swiftly, as we embark on a journey
I had to get an attorney
I needed someone to defend my position
Decisions I made, cuz now it’s time to get paid
And ladies, these rhymes are like the keys to a dope car
Maybe a Lexus or a Jaguar
Still, all of that is just material
So won’t you dig the scenario
And just imagine if each one is teachin’ one
We’ll come together so that we become
A strong force, then we can stay on course
Find your direction through introspection
And for my people out there I got a question
Can we be the sole controllers of our fate?
Now who’s gonna take the weight?

Verse 2
The weight of the world is heavy on my mind
So as my feelings unwind I find
That some try to be down just cuz it’s trendy
Others fall victim to envy
But I’ll take the road less travelled
So I can see all my hopes and my dreams unravel
Relievin’ your stress, expressin’ my interest
In the situation that you’re facin’
That’s why I’m down with the Nation
Spirituality supports reality
We gotta fight with the right mentality
So we can gain what is rightfully ours
This is the meaning of the chain and the star
Land is power, so gimme forty acres
Let’s see how far I can take ya
Original invincible
That’s how I’m lookin’ at it
I use my rhymes like a Glock automatic
Any means necessary, I’m goin’ all out
Before the rains bring the nuclear fallout
So let me ask you, is it too late?
Ayo, who’s gonna take the weight?

A young brother noted in Umar Lee’s comments that hip hop taught him some negative things about street life. But for me, hip hop created an opening. It was not uncommon to turn on Rap City and see references to Nation of Islam, 5 percenters, Orthodox Islam, and Afrocentricity. I loved Tribe Called Quest, had a big crush on Ali Shaheed Muhammad. Rakim was the greatest Rapper alive. I was loyal to Poor Righteous Teachers who came from my hometown, Trenton. I thought that KMD’s peach fuzz was way too cute. Public Enemy enemy politicized me. Brand Nubian reminded me that I could throw out a Takbir and be gangsta too.

Mujahideen Ryder wrote about it in his blog entry, Islam: Hip-Hop’s Official Religion. Adisa Banjoko has written two erudite books on the ways Hip Hop artists engage with chess, holistic health, consciousness, and martial arts and address issues that face our communities called, Lyrical Swords.

So, now getting back to Guru’s lyrics.
Last night, as the conversation went on, I began to feel the weight. The burden of a conscious Black Muslim woman has to carry is real heavy. She acknowledged my situation and sadness relating to structural inequalities and systematic forms of oppression. Since these problems are global I felt the weight of the world bear down on me. But just escaping means that I’ll be part of the problem, but I’m trying to be part of the solution. But sometimes, I can’t handle the whole weight and my pessimism takes over. My sister pushed through all my negativity and gave me hope and solace. Her optimism is full of a positivity that grows from a sincere faith in Allah. She reminded me that he’s the light that shines through us and in us and makes us all beautiful. She carried the weight with me. I realized I can only be close to people in my life who are willing to take the weight.