Abstract Chatter

I respectfully disagree, sir.
November 21, 2011, 11:20 pm
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A sure sign of intellectual growth is when a person is able to translate frustration and/ or anger into constructive dialogue.  I felt this to be me (at least temporarily). Albeit an internal debate, but one nevertheless.  Here goes an attempt to air out my inner workings.

Yesterday evening I went grocery shopping. I wasn’t planning on getting that many items, so I opted for the shopping basket over the cart. Lo and behold, I began picking up more items than my basket could carry. So I did what I would’ve normally done. I did what I’ve normally done for the past two years here in Maryland. I started filling up my reusable bag and backpack with the remaining items, which didn’t fit into the basket. (D.C. initiated a 5 cent tax on plastic bags, which has promoted folks to use reusable bags much more ubiquitously. Maryland offers a 5 cent discount if you use your own bag.) So you’ll commonly find people putting items in their own bags.

Towards the middle of my shopping experience, I noticed two cops with bulletproof vests eyeing me for a good 10 minutes. The cops had no basket, and were clearly not there to shop. I didn’t think anything of it, simply because I was engulfed in my coupons, and calculating how much I could carry back go the apartment by myself.

As I headed towards the yogurt aisle, this elderly gentleman (who worked at the grocery store) proceeded to talk to me in Spanish. Given that I was born and raised in Texas, and took 6 years of Espanol, I felt perfectly comfortable conducting small talk. It was a typical conversation. He asked if I was from El Salvador. And inquired about how I knew Spanish if I myself was Pakistani. Then he spoke at super lightening speed. At this point, I had no idea what he was talking about. I placed a few sentences together, and gathered that the two cops thought I was stealing.

It all made sense. The cops were following me around because they thought I was thief. This would be the first time that someone has followed me around in a store. A terrorist, sure. But a thief? NEVER. Not in a million years. So of course, this situation got under my skin.

What upset me more was what took place after.

I come home, a bit peeved at what just took place. I tell my husband the story, and the conversation goes as such:

Me: blah, blah, blah.
W: Were you using your backpack?
Me: Yes, I was.
W: Well, that’s how most people steal. They put stuff in their carts, and then steal the rest of their items using their backpack.
Me: In my head I’m thinking, if they were actually paying some attention, they would have noticed that I was counting coupons! I don’t know about you, but to me, that’s not how I would characterize a thief.

So my husband thought the cops were just doing their job. (I’ve noticed that he has a tendency to side with the cops over people’s criticisms of them, but that’s a different blog for another day.) I on the other hand, felt that there was a certain level of prejudice to the predicament. There was preconceived bias against me. There’s no denying the fact that in the decade of wearing my scarf, or even in the two years that I’ve lived in Maryland, has anyone followed me around in such a manner. Is it all because I might have looked Hispanic, and was therefore a target?

Maybe I was a bit taken a back simply because I assumed that, by not wearing a scarf, I’d “blend in”. Not that I necessarily wanted to “blend in”. I have a huge sense of pride in my identity as a Muslim. But nevertheless, I falsely assumed that I wouldn’t be bothered. Oh, what an erroneous assumption that was. And perhaps naïve too.

So this leads me to wonder if anyone has done a comparative analysis of the average treatment of hijabi and a nonhijabi in various situations. It might look something like this:

  Hijabi Non-hijabi 
Airport Despite not having sounded off an alarm, and not having anything show up on the scanners, still taken to the side and patted down head to toe. ?
Club/Lounge “Well that’s a bit weird seeing a Muslim here. But I see guy with a turban so maybe “these guys” just really like to dance.”  ?
Grocery Store Nothing out of the ordinary. Followed by cops.

This of course, is a humorous version of what I had in mind but I think it has real potential.

Now I always knew that racism exists for all people. Not just Muslims. But to experience it in multiple contexts is unfortunate to say the least. My only desire is to be left alone, but given that this might not happen anytime soon, I will continue documenting my experience, with eyes wide open.


Eyes Wide Shut
November 16, 2011, 2:48 pm
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It’s unfortunate that every blog post begins with “It’s been so long since my previous entry.” But such is life, entangled in the webs we weave. This entry might be more for me, and less for the public eye. It’s more to document my thought process and attach a narrative to this beautiful spiritual struggle I’ve been going through, than to actively seek out a mufti’s (Muslim legal expert’s) opinion. I imagine there will be some scrutiny, or some confusion, or a combination of mixed emotions too vast to list here. Either way, I appreciate and value the human experience and recognize that we each have our own human journey. So I hope that both the reader and I can come out of this more engaged and provoked to humbly seek answers to the questions we pose.

Curiosity kills the cat, they say. In this case, it might have X’ed the hijab. It would have been nine years this December. I remember that moment like it was yesterday. Winter break 2002. I was sophomore in college at the University of Texas. A wide-eyed youngin’ with a belly button ring and a tongue ring to match. I was attempting to carve an identity that represented my uniqueness. My desi-ness, my latino-ness, my Muslim-ness. In effect, my “hood”-ness.

So there I was. A black triangle scarf tied behind my neck to show off my utterly large, silver hoop earrings, driving to Austin in my 2002 Ford Econo-line Conversion Van. I was a protected “pearl.” For those who might not be familiar with this analogy, Muslim women have been described as precious gems. You find gold deep down in the ground, protected and covered. The same goes for diamond and pearls. And given that our bodies are far more precious than diamond and pearls; our bodies should be covered, too. And so my journey began as a jewel protected from harm and injury. A defined Muslim woman ready to take on the world.

At the time, I never believed that hijab was mandatory or fard for everyone. I never believed that it was a mandate, which if not followed would result in punishment. I simply felt that it was a mandatory requirement for who I was at the time, given that I was veering onto a mischievous path that might have truly induced punishment. As a wise friend once said, I had differentiated between personal ethics and community/societal obligations without even knowing it.

Flash forward. Cairo, Egypt, 2006.

Beautiful women covered from head to toe, wrapped in beautifully colored scarves. Each scarf crafted to replicate the most delicate of flowers. But each “pearl” was not protected. The hijab did not perform its main function. Sexually repressed men were harassing women left and right. Cat calls and intimidation are ubiquitous on the streets of Cairo. Public verbal insults, groping and even rape. But a majority of the women were covered, so why were they not protected? Could it be that I was misinformed about my own religion? Were there really differing interpretations? (A late bloomer, I know.) I’m just beginning to scratch the surface and delve into the nuances of religion and spirituality. And there’s not even a dent.

Post-graduate school, and two years shy of 30. I saw an article that shook me more than I could have imagined. It was at this moment that I began confronting questions that had no definitive answers. It was at this moment that I began acknowledging a past that simply did not sit well with me. This lead me to question the authenticity of hadith narrated by Bukhari and Muslim, and upon doing so, realized that if I questioned the legitimacy of certain hadith, it might lead me to question the accuracy or inaccuracy of all hadiths.

The covering became habitual. It didn’t inspire me to be any more or less God conscious. And for whatever reason, resentment simmered in my heart, which of course, negatively impacted an already vulnerable relationship with my Lord. Tension towards the scarf in particular trumped my desire to keep it on. It trumped my definition of modesty. Most importantly, it trumped my sense of identity. The hostility and friction trumped anything and everything. As a friend told me in retrospect, I was walking around with a sense of sadness in my life.

John Patrick Shanley summed it up nicely. In the preface to his Pulitzer Prize-winning play Doubt: A Parable, he stated that “It is doubt (so often experienced as weakness) that changes things. Doubt, too, that oddly requires more courage than conviction does, and more energy; because conviction is a resting place and doubt is infinite.” Doubt is, he says is, “A passionate exercise we have to undertake if we’re to test our beliefs and assess whether they might be misplaced.”

So here I am. Nine years later. Redefining my religion and identity. Free to ask questions. Free from internal conflict (at least for now). Free from resistance, and free to pursue God’s grace.

Time to save the world
Where in the world is all the time
So many things I still don’t know
So many times I’ve changed my mind
Guess I was born to make mistakes
But I ain’t scared to take the weight
So when I stumble off the path
I know my heart will guide me back

Erykah Badu – Didn’t Cha Know