Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Opting Out of World Hijab Day

Asalamu Alaykom,

Today marks another "World Hijab Day" and I am opting out of it.  Oh, make no mistake, I still wore a hijab today.  I got up and put on a hijab before dawn to pray fajr.  After hurrying around making breakfast, making lunch, waking the kid, and getting ready, I got on hijab again.  I wear hijab out of the house because I don't show my hair, neck or chest to any men except my husband.

My Background

I wear hijab as a protection from Allah.  I wear hijab for religious reasons.  I take it very seriously because I felt how life was for me before I wore it; I know that I was unable to be my own person without hijab.  I know that my body was for men's eyes from the time I was very young.  Astragferallah.

I know how I felt when I wore it in Egypt when I first visited in 2002.  I really didn't mind it.  I felt like I finally had permission to stop that social contract of belonging to the masses.  For the first time, I felt like I didn't owe anybody anything.

I will never forget how it felt when I was enroute from Egypt to America and I walked into the Frankfurt Airport bathroom.  I had decided that the hijab was only going to be for Egypt (since it was a Muslim country) and that I could never wear it in America.  I took it off and walked outside.  For the first time in two weeks, I was uncovered in public.  Immediately, I was gripped by a dizzy nausea.  I rushed back to the safety of the bathroom as I wasn't sure what had hit me.  We almost missed our plane!  Now, I believe that my extreme reaction was the result of stripping off my protection.

Back in the States, I started to wear hijab.  I would wear it in Muslim surroundings such as the mosque, halal restaurants or grocery stores.  Then, I began to wear it any time I was out of the house---with the exception of work.  At work, I was wearing a scarf that I would tie in back which was more Rhoda Morgenstern than Muslim.

It wasn't until the last day of 2002, that I was coming back from lunch with my then-husband and I reached under my chin to re-tie the scarf but didn't.  I left it there.  It wasn't so much activism as tiredness.  Rosa Parks got her start that way too.  When I came back to work in the new year, I came back as a Muslimah in hijab.  I was harassed and called names on an hourly basis.  By the end of March, I was fired (a matter which was later settled out of court).

A Covenant with God

Faith journeys are about just doing something because you feel it has to be done.  

My husband has asked me, "Do you love Islam?"

I know he wants me to answer, "OH, HABIBI!  I love Islam with all my heart.  It is my deepest soul and the widest river and the mountains of my being!"

Instead, I answer with another question, "Do I love breathing?"  I have to breathe.  It's not as if I have a true choice other than to die.  I do feel that I would have a spiritual death to be without my Islam and a part of my submission to Allah is the hijab.

Hijab is not just a piece of fabric.  It has had such power that it has completely changed the course of my life.  It has changed the way I interact with others.  It has changed the way I see myself and see my body.  I need to wear hijab---and not just for one day out of the year.

It doesn't mean that every woman has to wear it.  Truly, only a woman who feels the need to wear it should.  I have never lectured a woman not in hijab that she should wear it.  I have only supported a woman who already feels the pull.  I have also supported women who have taken off the hijab to stay true to themselves.

Non-Muslims in Hijab

Sacredness is not going to be understood in a day.  It has taken me many years to get to this level of understanding about my hijab.  I used to think that World Hijab Day served purpose in celebrating this part of my identity but it has become a day for non-Muslims to try it out.

Alhough I won't quote the many writings of these non-Muslims, the gist is basically the same.  They felt empowered somehow and faced discrimination.  I seldom (if ever) read about the hijab in relation to their faith.  I don't think I've ever read about a woman who combined wearing hijab and prayer (an outer and inner combo).  It's all about self knowledge, inter-personal knowledge but not about that amazing spiritual connection with God.  It all seems to be so dunya or "of this world".  

All of that is deep.  Non-Muslims in hijab for a temporary basis will never reach that depth.  It's impossible!  You can't get deep while looking around to see who is scoping you out.  You can't get deep while being out in public as a kind of Islamophobic target without any conviction of "I must wear this or I will suffer dire consequences."

The ability to see an end to the hijab experiment means that it is useless in understanding my life.  I don't take it off when I feel like it.  It isn't always a joy but it is always on me.  Commitment is key.  I am committed to it.  Sure, there has been faltering but in the end I am living my life as a veiled woman. 

Honestly?  If you have a scarf on your head but you haven't committed to Allah that you are wearing it for protection, then you are ONLY WEARING A SCARF and not hijab.  A ring on the left hand isn't a wedding ring unless the wearer has made a promise.  Any woman can place a ring on her finger and pretend she is really married but she knows that, in the right circumstances, she can take it off; play time will be over.

I don't like that the World Hijab Day has been co-opted by non-Muslims.  Let it be.  If you really want to wear hijab, then become educated on the reasons behind it.  Learn about Islam from reputable sources.  Dress more in long and loose clothing to feel the protection of Allah.  Go step-by-step in a process of understanding modesty instead of a showy display for a day which is all about getting attention.  

In Islam, something can be very good but still have more bad against it.  Be careful not to endorse something because you wish it to be positive rather than seeing it for what it truly is.  I am not so sure that the good out weighs the bad for World Hijab Day.  

Allah Subhana Wa Tallah is the Only Judge and will accept any good deeds from what is done with the right intentions.

Friday, January 9, 2015

My Name's Not Charlie

Asalamu Alaykom,

Dangerous mentalities threaten civilization.  That's true.  We saw two -isms clash this week in Paris and I thankfully sit in the middle between the two.  I am a moderate Muslim; I cling neither to extremism or secularism.  Being in the middle, I want to comment on both sides.

There is a huge outcry against extremism when it comes to Islam.  Honestly, no one can be blamed for wanting an end to ISIS/ISL.  That kind of extremist Islam brings about a twisted ideology so far removed from the actual word of God and the teachings of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

Yet, there is a lot happening in the name of Islam which seems extreme to others when it actually isn't.  For instance, the scarf I wear on my head is a religious covering which I believe protects my modesty.  It's worked for me in Egypt but in the United States (Home of the Brave and Land of the Free) I was fired for wearing it---illegally of course (and compensated for it later).  In France, (Land of Liberte') female teachers and students have not been allowed to walk onto school grounds wearing it.

See, that attitude of NO RELIGION ALLOWED is secularism.  That's the belief that we, as a civilized people, can shrug off our life as worshipers when we commune with others.  We should not offend others by identifying ourselves as believers.  We should not ask for allowances to be made; there should not be any accommodating for observers.  If there is one country which embodies secularism more than others it is France where it is called “laïcité.”

One of the fuels for the burning desire of secularism is democracy.  There is a strong belief that a democratic society is an essential human right.  In the West, democracy  is seen as so crucial that wars are fought in other countries that don't even want it.  Yes, freedom of the people must be brought about---even if it means killing them.

There must be, goes the idealized theory, freedom of speech and freedom of the press.  After the killings at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, there has been a lot of mix-up on which freedom the satirical magazine was exercising.  I'm not sure why that was so confusing.  It was not freedom of speech.  It was freedom of the press which allowed such memorable moments as:

in  2006, reprinting the Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad which had provoked outrage;

in 2011, placing on its cover a Muslim man french kissing a man who had "Charlie Hebdo" written on his shirt;

in 2012, showing a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad naked and on all fours on the ground;

and 2013, printing the book, "La Vie de Mahomet" as a cartoon book portraying Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) as a  buffoon.

To be fair, it wasn't only Muslims whose religious leaders were debased and defiled over the years.  There was that one cartoon of the Pope being sodomized by priests.  Isn't that a laugh attack?

Do you find that kind of humor funny or you find all of that kind of gross, rude, juvenile and scatological?  Actually, the head of the Cartoonists Rights International called Charlie Hebdo, "a cross between Mad Magazine, Playboy cartoons, and 'The Daily Show'."  There's another magazine to mention and that's Hara-Kiri.

In 1970, the magazine Hara-Kiri (yes, that's Japanese ceremonial suicide) poked fun at the death of WWII freedom fighter and former President Charles De Gaulle along with 146 victims of a disco fire.  "Poor taste," is putting it mildly but the subtitle of the magazine was, "stupid and vicious" after all.  The Minister of the Interior banned both the sale of the magazine to minors and publicity for it.  France didn't allow freedom of the press in that case, did it?  No.

The staff from that magazine tossed the name "Hara-Kiri" but kept the concept with its new effort Charlie Hebdo.

Freedom of speech was what its editor, Stephane "Charb" Charbonnier exercised when he made his many interviews.  He loved to be public and loved to voice his thoughts even if they didn't exactly coincide with his actions.

He knew that he was inciting rage yet he acted in his interviews like he was unsure why, "...it happens that every time we deal with radical Islam we have a problem and we get indignant, violent reactions..."

Showing the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon) in ANY form is against Islam.  I once asked for a children's book on Egypt in the public library to be taken off the shelves because it showed a likeness of the prophet.  By the way, it was respectfully discarded from the collection.  Am I radical for writing to the Library Board?  Was I violent?  In a civilized society, dialogue is key.

Actually, in 2006, prominent Muslims of France brought the magazine to court for insulting their (and my) religion.  Guess who showed up?  All three presidential candidates came to court as they wanted to support the magazine.  Would they have done that if the group asking to be heard were Jewish or Catholic?

Freedom of Religion is also part of a democracy.  Guess where that shows up in the list of important American freedoms.  FIRST!  Those are the very first words in the first amendment on the U.S. Constitution.

Freedom of Religion was considered important in 1776 but like powered wigs and wooden teeth has been discarded along the way.  Is that right or wrong?  Is everything from the past antiquated?  Of course, as a Muslim, I believe that universal truths, such as respecting the sacred, need to be upheld through the centuries.

Blasphemy is the insulting of God, religious people or holy places and things.  What we are taking about is blasphemy and that's not secular.  Remember, the goal of secularism is that laws of the state are devoid of religion.  It is oh-so-modern to say that God, religious people and things don't need to be respected because in this world everything is fair game.

As a teacher, I read books with my students about Pharaoh Hatchepsut and the Ancient Egyptian deities, Abdur-Rahman the founder of Muslim or Moorish Spain,  Peter the Great and the Russian church, and Crazy Horse and his belief in Wakan Tanka or "Great Spirit".  Which one deserves our respect?  All of them are worthy of our respect.  Learning to value others and their beliefs doesn't diminish us and our beliefs.Civilized people understand differences and appreciate diversity.

There is a name for this method of learning and appreciating others:  cultural pluralism.

  1. Cultural pluralism is a term used when smaller groups within a larger society maintain their unique cultural identities, and their values and practices are accepted by the wider culture provided they are consistent with the laws and values of the wider society.

France has NOT accepted the Muslims in their midst "as is" because they keep wanting Muslims to assimilate.  As a country, it has gone out of its way to be hateful not helpful to that 7.5% of its population.

There is documented discrimination in employment as this article confirms and it is a cyclical problem.  The Muslims are treated differently and fear the mistreatment so sabotage themselves in anticipation of that discrimination.

Above, I mentioned the hijab ban.  A personal hero of mine, school girl Cennet Doganay, shaved her head in 2004 bald rather than submit to the hijab ban.  Later, 2011 saw the "Burqa Ban,"  Just last October, the Paris Opera refused to continue until a tourist wearing niqab was booted from her seat.  She was not even refunded the price of her ticket.  None of that behavior is being tolerant and a country that is intolerance is what...civilized or uncivilized?

"Hate speech" is not allowed in Western societies.  You can seemingly make fun of Muslims' way of life but not that of gays, for instance.  In France, it is against the law say that the Holocaust never happened as it's 1.  wrong and 2.  inflammatory.

Those whose rights are not protected and who are not able to voice their anger often take up arms against the powerful.  When one of the powerful are targeted directly, it is not terrorism but an assassination.  Charbonnier flirted with the rage of 1 billion believers and he didn't care as long as he got to publish as he chose.

It's interesting to me that Charbonnier kept bringing up in interviews that Islam was the second biggest religion in France.  It didn't seem as if he was at peace with that growing demographic.  Islamophobia is rampant in the world because we fear that which we don't understand.  For sure, Charbonnier didn't understand Islam.

So, do we hold up pens in Charbonnier's honor?  I don't.  He was not a friend to Islam.  He's dead now and maybe the world will be a better place without him.  Inshahallah.

Does the Muslim world honor the two orphaned Algerian-French brothers?  I don't honor Said and Cherif Kouachi.  They were no friends to Islam either.  They have done just as much to harm the religion as Charbonnier ever did.

Until our deaths, there is always the possibility for change.  Charbonnier could have changed.  At some point, he could have become more introspective and exhibited more decency.  I don't know how much the Muslim intellectuals of France did to help him gain understanding over the years.

The brothers were so young that certainly they could have matured and found the righteous path.  They also needed guidance and support from learned men.  One of the biggest tragedies is that neither of the two extremes ever found a way to co-exist somewhere in the middle.

Did Charbonnier deserve to die?  Islamically, if he were living under Sharia Law, then "yes" he would be tried for his actions and perhaps sentenced to death.  He didn't live in a Muslim country so that is a moot point.

As Muslims, we are not to live or practice Sharia Law in the countries which are not Muslim.  We are to live according to the law of the land.  Judging Non-Muslims by the same criteria goes against Islam.  We are, as a peace-loving people, to understand the differences and be accepting and kind.  The Prophet of Islam faced many tauntings from Non-Muslims but remained calm and forgiving.

Was it right for masked men to enter the offices and execute 12 people?  No.  That is crazy.  It was not, however, terrorism.  Remember, they were there to kill a specific staff of a specific blasphemous publication.  They were assassins and they have died for their beliefs as sure as the Charlie Hebdo staff have died for theirs.

Two Muslims died at the offices of Charlie Hebdo as well.  Mustapha Ourad was a 60-year-old copy editor for the magazine but he was also an Algerian-French Muslim man.  Ironically, he embodied the two warring factions within one person.

The other man you probably have seen but did not know that he was in fact Muslim.  That policeman lying on the ground hoping for a miracle was Ahmed Merabet.  Caught by that amateur video, the 42-year-old was executed by a bullet point-blank to his head.  May Allah accept him as a martyr.  There is no way, as a Muslim, that he would have supported the actions of Charlie Hebdo but he was ready to die in order to guard the staff in their office.

This is a very sad turn of events that it has deep roots---maybe going back as far as 1830 when France conquered Algeria.  Nine years ago, when I first learned who Charbonnier was and what he was intent on doing, I was pretty sure he would be shown violence if not killed.  It wasn't my hope but it was my very logical conclusion.

Regardless how inevitable the ending is, the immense bloodshed is still very sad and shocking.  Please understand that the sadness and the shock today in 2015 were felt in the Muslim world many years ago and those raw emotions have now come home to roost.  Astragferallah for intolerance and hate.

Let's check ourselves.  It's nine days into the new year and we have a chance to be new people.  Whomever you fear needs your understanding.  Whomever you hate needs your forgiveness.  Whomever you hurt needs your help.

No matter how small your bad feelings are, they are poisoning the world.

Let's stop, push pause, then re-start.