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

To Niqab or Not to Niqab
April 25, 2011, 3:57 pm
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The Hijab. The Scarf. The Veil. All seem like a ubiquitous topic at the tip of everyone’s tongue these days.

Interestingly enough, an article entitled, “Lifting the Veil, Muslim Women Explain Their Choices” by Asma Khalid came out within a month or so of France’s decision to ban the niqab – a face veil.

I’ve definitely had an evolution of thought on this issue ranging from apathy to fury. Not sure why there’s such a wide continuum of emotions here– but maybe the variety is simply a reactionary reflex to other people’s comments and/or thoughts rather than my own opinion on the matter.

Initially, I had no strong outlook regarding France’s ban on the niqab. But after briefly reading online commentary, speaking with a few folks on the topic and watching this clip as Hebah Ahmed and Mona Elthaway, both Muslim women, debate France’s decision to ban niqabs in public spaces, I became much more grounded in my own stance.

As a hijabi, and a Muslim woman for that matter, I was actually torn between France’s decision, knowing full well that it was a product of racism and a political move to mobilize a frightened base of French citizens.

So what led to these internal points of contention, and what was I trying to reconcile? I felt that the ban was legitimized given my understanding of the following premises:

1)   That the niqab is not a mandatory requirement. According to the majority of scholars, the niqab is not an obligation or necessity upon a woman, and no sin is committed if it is not worn.

2)   Given that the niqab is not a necessity – and Muslims are generally obliged to abide by the laws of the land in which they reside as long as they are not forced to commit a sin—I felt that the law was justifiable.

I’ve revisited the statements above after watching Hebah’s talking points on the ban.

Freedom of expression, freedom of speech and the ability to freely follow one’s religion is the epitome of any democracy, and should be a foundational crux of ideals represented in the West- or anywhere for that matter. Along with the premise mentioned above, I also had pragmatic concerns. How will a niqabi appear in court, or take a drivers license picture, or generally be identified? These concerns were easily appeased after realizing that as long as niqabi women are able and willing to meet societal concerns of safety, for example, that they should be free to choose their religious method of practice. And the outcome of a ban such as the one in France will only marginalize its Muslim community members and cause deeper rifts within the nation.

Beyond the debate about whether or not this was a constructive decision- we as Muslims need to delve deeper into the issue of women in our society. As much as I desire for Hebah to be representative of all niqabi’s—I have a glaring suspicion that Muslim women worldwide are oppressed- and forced into situations where they are pushed to wear the niqab—or even hijab. One doesn’t need to read between the lines to see that it was indeed a pre-Islamic practice that isn’t currently carried out in all parts of the Muslim world.

Even IF the niqab is a form of enslavement- or perpetuates men to continue abusing their women- or facilitates hiding them from society—the prohibition will not tackle the underlying issue. Men who believe that it is a requirement will continue to influence their opinions through legislation and will in turn institutionalize the niqab.

If we follow suit on this ban, and allow freedom of religion to deteriorate, we are no better than the fanatic men who might believe that Muslim women only have the right to cover their face—and can experience no other freedoms.

I’m a hater, and haters gonna hate
December 2, 2010, 9:23 am
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I’m reading this article, with the hopes of being as open minded as I possibly can. But for some reason, bits and pieces of it rubbed me the wrong me. Maybe the simple fact that a man was writing it delegitimized the entire narrative (sexist, I know- but aren’t my weaknesses diluted because I recognize my own biases?). Or maybe it was because I skimmed the article, and missed the essence of what he was trying to say…but either way…

Let’s begin with the author’s assumptions:

1) That hijab is a choice, and not a mandate.

The problem is, depending on who is the authorizing force is, a hijab could be a choice for a child and an obligation for an adult. OR it could be a choice for an adult (and through transitive property, a choice for a child) per his suggestion.

If it’s an obligation for an adult, then it could mean the child (close to the age of puberty) is preparing for what God has prescribed. (Such as prayer and fasting, as he mentioned in the article.)

2) He’s making the assumption that context is irrelevant, simply by his universal tone in describing the hijab. (ie, a hijab in Egypt does not have the same meaning or understanding as a hijab in the States or in the West.) As much as we attempt to amalgamate our experiences into one, there’s a clear distinction. (Albeit one that I can’t fully define quickly.)

He is utterly unclear about his audience. He uses Egypt as the foundation of all his examples, yet his target audience are British citizens. The connections between the two are weak and it really produces an inadequate narrative.  In Egypt, the hijab can be associated as more of a cultural garb, which might not be the case in the West. Therefore, the idea of force is entirely different. And it just may be that all the little girls are wearing their fashionable, multi-colored scarves with bows along the side—making it a fad above anything else, and thus innocuous.

He should clarify what his intentions are, and who he aims to speak with.

3) How erroneous it is to say that sexuality is restricted to a specific age group. The fact that young children are having sex, or engaging in sexual behavior is a fact which cannot be ignored. But by no means, do I suggest to the solution to promiscuity is a hijab.

Now on to the points that disturb me, in some shape or form:

  • “Adult Muslim women are expected to dress modestly so that men outside the family cannot see their bodies.”

How is that men are left out of this conversation. From my very simplistic understanding, modesty is applicable to both genders. And we’ve once again, reduced hijab once again to sexuality, when in actuality, this “covering” encompasses so much more.

Here you have the author wanting freedom of choice; freedom for pre-pubescent girls to choose what to wear and not to wear, but he feels suffocated by the doll in an abaya. Maybe it’s not the most ideal of Barbie characters, but it’s another choice that a child can have between a blond, partially naked Barbie number 1, and a blond bikini-wearing Barbie number 2. Much research has been conducted on the psychology of young girls and dolls that resemble themselves… finding dolls “that represent some version of the reality of our tonal diversity.” It’s a critical component to a child’s upbringing and identity.

  • “If they see that their sisters have to be covered up from a very early age to avoid being exposed in front of men, it is only natural that they grow up with the concept that women have to be covered, controlled and restricted.”

REALLY? Why is child-rearing not part of the equation? Boys will of course think like this if we allow such a mentality to perpetuate in our society. It becomes necessary upon our society to educate men and dismantle myths on sexuality and women.

I agree that a childhood should be left untouched, and depriving one of such a thing is repulsive. And I may have played devil’s advocate throughout my blog. I just feel blessed to have enough mental faculty to see that we need to step our game up (at least in the West) when it comes to hijab and the beard; and not diminish our understanding of religion and of piety to the two VERY surface level characteristics. Or maybe I’m just being a hater.

Also, food for thought: Oprah magazine: 9-year old girl asks to wear hijab, shocked mom’s reaction