Dear World

He would fall silent, his face crumpling in consternation as he realizes his idea of what I am is fast disappearing along with my drink. How did a girl with parents like mine get her toe cut off?

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Dear World-

I’m sitting on my bed with my old friends of the week- anti bacterial ointment and a bandage- and examining the ugly cut on my toe. I wasn’t exactly being smart when I got it, not unless you call running across the hay meadow at dusk in foam soled shoes smart. (Old hay stalks are sharper than you think!) To be honest, I have no real idea what I stepped on,and what if it was metal or something like that? And I get gangrene? Darn!

I picture my toe falling off. Carefully putting on the bandage, I imagine me in five years sitting across from a suitor and lifting a nonchalant shoe under the table.

“I thought I’d better tell you before we get too serious- I’m missing a big toe.”

 He would fall silent, his face crumpling in consternation as he realizes his idea of what I am is fast disappearing along with my drink. How did a girl with parents like mine get her toe cut off?

 “Oh- uh- how did that happen?”

It makes me laugh, but it brought to mind how little Muslim couples actually know each other sometimes. I’d heard way too many stories of people getting married in a flush of nuptial bliss, only to face nasty reality when their dowry never shows up- or the Perfect Dude suddenly won’t let them out of the house- or he already has a wife he didn’t mention- or a toe missing! And chances are a kid is on the way.

I like to think I’m far too suspicious for this to happen, and definitely not the trusting type. I tell my sister that a definite clause in my contract is the No Second Wife Rule….i.e.’if you get a second wife I get a divorce’.

“Maybe you shouldn’t put it in the contract, just get it across that you trust him to understand that it isn’t okay with you.”

“He’d probably do it anyhow. This way it’s crystal clear that if he wants a second wife she won’t be my second.”

Misery is what comes to mind when I think of that scenario. Freaking messy misery. And I wonder if I’m being too distrustful.

But honestly, I think that as women we should avail ourselves of all the Islamic rights we have in marriage and be sure to follow up on them. We hear a lot about the women we should be, the wives and sisters we should be like, our husband’s rights, but not so much about our own rights. In the end, our parents and friends can’t always protect us. I have to look out for myself in some things, and that’s where dictating the terms of the contract come in. If he refuses to fulfill them I’d have to seriously think about whether I wanted this to be the rest of my life with him- and I feel like I’d probably decide not to.

But then, I reason, there’s love, which is messy. What if he disregards the rules and does what he likes but I love him too much to leave him? The idea leaves me feeling rather helpless.

“You know, I don’t plan on having kids for at least three years so I can be really sure he’s the father I want for my kids.”

My sister just looks at me.

Peeling Away

So a few weeks ago, Donald Trump was voted in as President of the United States. (It was going to be Hillary Clinton-everyone was pretty sure about that- but somehow, right after our first black president, we elected our first buffoon president.) And with him, hate was elected. Fear was elected.Blame and ignorance were elected. And especially for Muslims (because obviously if you come from a different country and are Muslim something must be goin’ on with you.)

To a Muslim woman, this came as bad news. In those comparatively few days, fresh reports of hate crimes and hate speech towards Muslims has poured in, and with it the fear-fear of walking alone outside, fear of the guy in the baseball cap who seems to be staring at you funny as you walk to your car, fear of being hated and blamed; the same fears you face everyday as a woman and a Muslim, but suddenly magnified. You fear for yourself as a woman, as a Muslim, and in another subcategory, as a hijabi. It’s not groundless fears either- it’s thinking about the woman whose hijab was set on fire, the girl who was grabbed by her hijab and choked, the girl who might have been- you. There must be a solution, even a short term solution, something to help you feel less afraid and less conspicuous.

The answer that came back was quick. Maybe you all should take off your hijab for a while. Tone it down. Twist it into something more acceptable. Hide. Maybe we should just stay inside. Maybe we should start wearing hats instead. Maybe we should start being afraid enough to hide now; desperate times call for desperate measures, right?

Or maybe not. Maybe we should start smaller- walking with a friend as often as possible. Staying as close to groups when possible. Avoiding confrontation, slipping around the aisle to skip bumping into the guy in the Trump T-shirt. Maybe that will be enough, that with the pepper spray and self-defense moves you already know; it’s not like you haven’t been afraid until now.

I haven’t had to walk alone. I haven’t been vulnerable to much other than the hissed insults at our group as a whole, the dirty looks and flashed signs. I don’t have to interact with people I should possibly be afraid of daily; a few times a week, in class or at the checkout, is exhausting enough. I do live in a Trump area, at the edge of the Ozark foothills and perilously close to Hillbilly Haven. My teacher and classmates supported Trump. Our landlady did, and our neighbors. But these were the kind people who lent us cars when ours broke down, sent us fresh eggs, offered to come into town with us, reached out sometimes before we did.

And that brings the confusion. How could they, people who have welcomed us, reached out to us, been kind to us (and still are) vote for someone so obviously standing for hatred of us? It’s a question that so far has only been answered with excuses.

We have learned to push politics aside, as best as we can, but it’s hard to push aside something that is suddenly affecting you so personally. It’s important, that just as you respect their position on certain things, you don’t let anyone disregard yours. It’s important to stand up, here and now, to refuse to give in to the intimidation, to defy fear and reject secrecy. It’s important to speak up for the right things and do your best to right the wrong things. It’s important to keep friends and make connections.

And I feel it is most important of all to be the change you want to see, instead of peeling away my identity and waiting for someone else to do it for me while I wait in the shadows.

Sameness Of Days

I have to say it annoys me when people get too personal with their poetry. Perhaps unreasonably, it feels almost as if they’re forcing the burden of their emotion on you, like that person who you meet once and they tell you every tragedy in their life. It becomes, for me, unrelatable- but that isn’t the entire point, is it?? Just one of my pet peeves. Which is why I don’t like posting poems that are too personal to me.(I guess I’m very private, and if I start complaining it means I’m really really worked up. No one in family knows or ever knew that at one point in time I was suicidally depressive, and that’s how confiding I am.) There is something very freeing about anonymity. This is about depression.

Sameness Of Days

into another and
into another and
into another and
into…….
sameness of days
grimy grey bright hot
whimpering medley
sameness of days and
into another…..
sameness of work and
sameness of leisure
words swim before my eyes
under fingers
no pleasure
and into another and
into-
waiting for someone
white hot rose
to break the momentum
of unfelt blows
and into another and
into another and
into……..

Liebster Award Thingy

A few days ago I was nominated for The Liebster Award by bintabdillah  (who has a lovely blog on her life as a Muslim mum!) and since it sounds like fun-! I have to tell eleven facts about myself- yikes- and answer eleven questions before nominating eleven other bloggers for the award. So here goes for the eleven facts (double yikes)-

(1). I once had a narrow escape with a coyote while I was walking in the woods. We kind of ran into each other- and I ran all the way home. I still can’t believe I didn’t have a heart attack.

(2). Hotdogs make me sick but I eat them anyway. Because I like them- and no, I don’t usually apply this rule to my life.

(3). I’ve lived in- to date- seventeen different houses in different countries and states. One was a one-bedroom mud house.

(4). I’ve never sent a phone text in my life. No phone- then once I get a phone, no reception!

(5). I hate guns.

(6). One of our houses was so bad (No heating! No cooling! Full of cracks!) that I got mild frostbite while cooking in the kitchen in January. I used to have to go and warm my pale toes under hot water to thaw them. (Kansas City, looking at you.)

(7). I. Will. Not. Wear. Scratchy. Clothes. Not for a party. Not to look cute. No.

(8). Or pants, unless I feel like Today I Should Maybe Wear A Cute Dress With Pants! Which is not most days.

(9). My proudest accomplishment is teaching my little sister to read. She read on a second grade level when she was five.

(10). Ahh…..running out of facts here. I……..am not really a fan of makeup. Like to my sister’s wedding I honestly wore mascara and lip gloss, done.

(11). Thinking……..thinking….okay, when I was little I refused to talk to people. Refused. Period. I think I’ve improved since then. I mean, I say hello to the cashier!

Sigh. That’s eleven facts about me- which were pretty hard to come up with! I mean, not to get too confidential on the World Wide Web is kind of hard. Now to answer the eleven question bintabdillah put for me.

(1). Would you consider yourself an introvert or an extrovert?

(Oh my gosh, why is someone talking to me!?!)  Lol, introvert, I’m pretty sure- but now that I have no people around I get really depressed. So I don’t know- maybe I’m taking my introversion part time now?

(2). What is one of your favorite memories?

I don’t have a great memory, but I think playing on the beach in Hadhramout just after Fajr, with the seabirds wheeling above and the sun glowing on the waves, smelling the salt and running in the water- I think that’s one of my favorite memories. I was so happy then, and when we got home my sister had to cook breakfast. (Cue evil laughter.)

(3). Who is someone who inspires you to do and be better?

I would have to say the Prophet Muhammad, sallallahu alayhi wa salam. I mean, I used to look up to a lot of people in my life, but I learned that ordinary people always fail you somehow. Not to sound bitter at eighteen.

(4). If you could describe yourself in five words, what would they be?

Um……… right now I’m not really on top of the world! Persevering. Emotional. Stubborn. Loyal. And……….Dreamer, maybe? Do those even match up?!?

(5). What is your favorite thing to do in your spare time?

Read, eat potato chips, read, eat more potato chips!

(6). What is one of the craziest things you’ve done and would you do it again?

That’s a hard question. I’ve had a kind of crazy life, but not through any interference of mine. I kind of feel like I haven’t done anything crazy, which is boring. Gotten in the river in my full hijab and played? I do that, and I probably look crazy, lol. Still do it.

(7). What’s the one thing that people always misunderstand about you?

My mood? I tend to hide my feelings unless they’re too strong to hide.

(8). If you could only eat one meal for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Either Kentucky Fried Chicken or Yemeni grilled chicken with rice. And cake for dessert…mmm..( I feel like if I ate everything I wanted to eat, I would be very fat.)

(9). What are two pet peeves that you have?

People chewing noisily and hypocrisy. I can’t stand either one.

(10). Would you rather trade intelligence for looks, or looks for intelligence?

That’s a really hard question. I mean, even if we don’t think about it a lot, we all value our beauty a lot and our intelligence. Is it cheating to say I honestly can’t decide, and hope I never have to?

(11). If you could have a conversation with someone over lunch, whether living or dead, who would it be?

Would it be disrespectful to say, again, Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessing be upon him?

And for bloggers I nominate- and I know not all of you will be able to do this, but it might be fun if you have the time! Assalamu Alaykum- just a notice that I’ve nominated you for the Liebster Award!- which is really just a way from bloggers for bloggers to spread your blog around the community. All you have to do is download the logo, tell eleven facts about yourself, answer my eleven questions, then nominate five (or eleven, if you can manage it!) other bloggers, whose blogs you want to draw attention to, for the award.

Oklahoma Niqabi

A Creative Mom in Dubai

Hijabi on Bay Street

Confessions of a Hijabi

Aren’t you hot in that?

Soul Hijabified

Under a Veil

In The Kingdom, Not A Princess

The ramblings of a Saudi wife

Veils and Vanity

(I couldn’t find another one! Do I still get the award? :))

My eleven questions:

(1). Tell us one quirky thing about you that nobody would guess!

(2). When you feel really down, what keeps you going?

(3). What’s your comfort food?

(5). If you had to wear one outfit for a week, what would it be?

(6). If you could be someone else for a day who would it be?

(7). What is the one makeup you can’t do without?

(8). What are you absolutely worst at?

(9). What is something you feel really strongly about?

(10). Name something that really makes your heart warm.

(11). Name one thing you really hate (my example- sweatpants!)

Whew!

 

 

 

 

To Never Hide

I’m eighteen years old, American, and am living in the wilds of Missouri State at the moment. Not that anyone notices that about me at first sight. The first thing they notice is that I wear hijab. I wear niqab, to be exact, but until I came here that was just called wearing hijab.

 

It wasn’t the world’s hugest deal. It wasn’t a barrier between me and life, a sign of Worse Things, an expression of any kind of rebellion. It was the way I wore hijab. It was the way most people wore hijab back home, where hijab wasn’t the first thing you noticed- no hijab was the first thing you noticed. It was worn outside, and taken off inside, and it wasn’t a sign of special faith or super bravery.

Then we came here. One of my first bewildered impressions of America was the amount of skin that was showing the frigid day after Christmas in New York. We were the only Muslims in the whole place, it felt like. Covered.

It didn’t get a whole lot better at the masjid there (at least we had one) where although it was a large community we were the only family of girls that dressed that way. We stood out, a bevy of doves in a crowd of bright parrots. We were the niqabis, fresh from the Middle East. We were, it sometimes felt like, the strangers. We found kindred spirits more often with Arabs than anyone else, often glad to hear their home tongue or see something familiar to home (us, lol. No one wanted to believe we were full-blooded Americans).

At first this continual singling out of my hijab passed me by. Then it bothered me. Why was it so- continual? The society in which no one bothered to ask further if they were confused. They simply assumed. A place in which I was more likely to be threatened than respected. Where if a man stopped in front of me in public, I half expected an insult rather than anything else. A place where I still do.

I understand now why it’s a big deal. It’s a not a societal norm in any way. I have to work around it. I can’t say I never resent it- the way we who wear this type of hijab are somehow often excluded from the popular hijab dialogue and given our own little platform, sometimes, only when someone wants to ban it. The way people assume at once- even if it’s an assumption I wish were true. The way other Muslims take the trouble to paste us as too extreme in words others hear as truth and they can never take back.

Feelings I never had to bother with before all come to the surface. Like wishing people would acknowledge me. Or how, hearing how a sister in niqab was chased down by policemen and stripped, my chest clenches in fear and anger. Or wondering if today is the day someone will choose to turn around and insult me.

But I promise myself I will never turn around and take it off to make life easier, because I won’t bend to prejudice. I won’t give you the reason to say it is so hard to do. I refuse to stop doing something right for myself because someone else is doing something wrong to me. I can’t give my reason for taking it off as because it prejudiced people, because the way to overcome prejudice is to face it, not remove the disturbance and hide.

I don’t go to school and I work from home. All of you out there who have to go to work and school every day, not sure if today will be the day you need that extra strength, I give you a Muslim sister salute.

Food Talk

Eating in public. I mean, it’s simple, right? You buy the food (if you have any money, or if you don’t, sit around sadly until someone offers at least a drink)  and you usually sit down. Then most people will lift their greasy goodness or their loaded fork to their mouth and- well, you know the drill.

But what if……..your mouth………is covered up? That is, behind a veil of cloth. Light cloth you can breathe through, but………not light enough to let a fork through?

That can present a major problem- for me. (Well, only minor, because my part time job isn’t really an eating out salary and I haven’t yet mastered the art of bamboozling men into buying me food on a date. Or- okay, I don’t go on dates, but still.) Often it’s not so much the eating itself as people all watching intently to see how you eat veiled, thereby depriving you of the privacy needed to lift the veil and……..eat. (There, I said it. Lift the veil.) Not even lift it all the way, but if you want to fit a burger underneath without making a mess, it requires a pretty good flip of the niqab and everyone sees what you were covering.

So sometimes, you just can’t eat. You sit there staring at your food while the rest of the patrons stare at you, and count the sesame seeds and salt granules and wonder if the restaurant will ever empty. And then everyone gets a bit impatient. ‘I just don’t feel comfortable,’ only goes so far with other people. Even if you truly do feel uncomfortable with giving people a show when all all you wanted to do is eat- the stares are uncomfortable, the not eating is uncomfortable, and starving, I have to say, may top both.

But wait! All is not a bottomless pit of despair and starvation! There is a savior- permit me to introduce the Side Flip.

It’s not really so much a flip as an artful lift. (An artful lift of the veil- shades of Orientalism!) It’s lifting your niqab not up from the front, but open from the side. Sounds weird, but it looks fine, and if I can eat ice cream…..well, I’m weird already. I wish I could say it took a twirl of the finger, a specially timed lift, and a tilt of the head, but really you just slip it open on the side away from people (in case you always wonder why niqabis like getting a seat by the wall, it’s not because we’re afraid of being shot) and eat like everyone else. If you’re eating something big- I guess you guys can tell I like burgers- you can lift it open further and hold your hand- the hand that’s already holding it open- open a little, or in a delicate half-fist or something to provide coverage. That works. But if you’ve got a seat in the center of the arena and an audience to boot, you might not be comfortable, like I said- in which case I order a smoothie. Delicious, fulfilling, and you can always tell your friends your niqab makes you svelte. (Even thought you go home and tear off your hijab and pig a grilled cheese.)

There’s also another solution. Just put the food under your niqab and make a mess if you’re the arty careless type. Then go home, because you’ll be a mess.

A fork is in some way another story. I’m pretty sure every niqabi has at some time or other lifted a fork (probably while talking wittily to someone) and tried to put it in her mouth right through the veil. I know I’ve done it; it’s a bit awkward because people don’t understand how you can forget you have it on, and you come across as a complete airhead. (I mean, you can’t forget you have pants on, they think. Well, if they were as light as a well made niqab, you probably could!)

(I’m sure there will be some incredulous wonderers as to why on earth we go to all that trouble. Read my previous articles! )

Disclaimer: The picture does not depict me. I would never be able to eat rice with my fingers in public; so whoever you are, you have reached a talent above mine and I will refrain from claiming your accomplishment.

 

 

Since You Know Me.

You decide for me, that I’ll never ride a horse or go skydiving (ambitions of mine). You know me, straitlaced and innocent. You know me better than I know myself.

I’m what a lot of people- too many people-would call extreme. Unfathomable, maybe.

Walking down the street all I uncover is my eyes and my hands. Although I’m not walking like a dying flower, I don’t swing my hips or wear shoes that click super loud. Just eighteen. I get a smile. You’re eighteen? I’ve never even had a crush! Not even from a distance! I’ve never been to prom, never been to a movie! I mean, the closest I’ve gotten to drugs and alcohol is Dramamine and the vanilla in my grandmother’s cake! I’ve never touched a man who wasn’t related to me, never been made a pass at (understandably!) don’t listen to music, and for Pete’s sake I’ve never even taken a selfie!

So I guess people get an image. I must be really demure. Probably nice, at best, and at worst a crusader to get you to be like me. My mother is a religious teacher- wow, I must be the most straitlaced person ever. I have a soft voice unless I’m really lively; my teacher used to laugh at me because I had such a ‘soft little voice’ and people tend to shape up around me. You said a four-letter-word??? See me swoon! You walked past me without…a…shirt???? I’m forever corrupted, tumbling offended in the dirty world of shirtless men! You mentioned sex? Sure, I’m eighteen and think babies come out of a- an incubator! Yeah. Or at least I only have a faint idea!

It can be both amusing and tiresome. I don’t use curse words, and I prefer you don’t, but I’m not eternally offended and condemning you to my blacklist. It’s kind of sweet when people cover more in respect to me, but I don’t expect you to and won’t be offended if you don’t.

But you never think of the side of me that wants to get red streaks in my hair.You think it’s impossible for me to have a (slightly wicked) sense of humor.You wouldn’t guess I’m the one who sometimes says the things that make my sisters gasp.You don’t guess at the girl who plugs in her earbuds and tears it up dancing down the forest trail near my house.You don’t ever imagine that I can be a little wild in my own way, a little crazy, and still stay inside the lines Islam draws for me.

I want to get my nose pierced, but am yet summoning the moxie to charge into the town’s intimidating tat place and demand a piercing.My fashion preferences are crimson and peacock blue and black, silk and denim and cotton, elegant and restrained, but wait. I don’t know fashion, out in my fashionless hijab, and for you there is no other world for me. You decide for me, that I’ll never ride a horse or go skydiving (ambitions of mine). You know me, straitlaced and innocent. You know me better than I know myself. You know my teenage years- but wait.

You don’t. You just don’t. You don’t know the raging storm my teen years have been. They weren’t like yours, but my fight was real and painful, and loving Allah fiercely as my stay the entire time. I wasn’t in agony and rebellion because I wanted to uncover and go out to a bar. I didn’t want to break the boundaries; I wanted to break myself. (But of course, it was probably because I was so strict. Right. Remind me again, you’re the expert on my life while I take notes.)

Tell me again, all I’m missing in life.Tell me it’s so sad I cover, because I’m so beautiful. I’m ruining my life. Tell me that when I leave my mother’s house I’m going to be tearing off my hijab and turning up Beyonce in my car. You haven’t seen me dance, haven’t seen me cry, haven’t seen me love, but you know me and I’m like the others.

You think, because you read a book written by a white middle class journalist about her ‘journey into the fascinating world of Muslim women’-awww– you know me. Or maybe you happen to read Muslim Girl, and I’m the classic millennial feminist they like to portray, railing against patriarchy and bright in the world of fashion with a liberal sense of religion. Perhaps you picture me as a some kind of houri under the flowing cloth. Or I’m a radical, imported straight from the wild Middle East. Or I’m ‘just a normal girl, but covered!’

A little crazy, innocent, strict, so young, just weird, unbreakable,fragile, little, radical, sassy, extreme, unique, boring. I’ve been called nothing and everything, some of those and none of those, again and again and again.

I’m a mystery. You hate that, admit it.

I love it. And that’s what makes all the difference in the world.