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.

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.

 

 

‘Don’t Judge’

‘Don’t judge.’ ‘Don’t judge me by what you see.’ ‘Don’t judge, don’t judge, don’t judge.’

It seems to be an increasingly popular phrase among young Muslim women now, a seemingly perfectly justified one until you see that it’s aimed at other Muslims in general. I can’t help but wonder who is ‘judging’ and what they are judging; it seems mostly to be around the hijab and modesty.

Don’t judge my lipstick or my tight jeans or my half khimar. You don’t know what a person is going through; don’t judge them.

Is it because they’re being criticized? Harassed by practicing Muslims, bothered as much by their brothers and sisters who want them to be better as the other influences encouraging them to be worse? Subjected to the same humiliation and harshness? Or is everyone increasingly defensive in the face of Da’wah, refusing to see it as a helping hand, instead casting it as bothersome criticism employed by ‘haters’?

I don’t know. But if the first is true, we need to remember that one of our duties as Muslims is to help our sisters and brothers in the good. This doesn’t mean slut-shaming or criticizing. It means gentle reminders, following in the Sunnah of the Prophet, whose gentleness was legendary. The Prophet who told us- “Make things easy and do not make them hard; give people glad tidings and do not scare them away (from Islam).” The Prophet who, when a man began urinating in his masjid, told his companions to let him finish and then fetched water to clean it with his own hands. The Prophet who took the time to comfort a little boy whose bird had died, who smiled at his people often, who wept for us without knowing us saying- “My ummah, my ummah.”

If it is the second, and no one wants to hear their own faults, then we should all try to examine our intentions. If our deed is truly for Allah then bettering it should be one of our desires- an achievement we should try so hard to reach. Listening is important to learn, and none of us can learn all alone.

And something else-as easy as it sounds- ‘Don’t judge’- it’s actually not that simple. (It’s instinct to form some kind of conclusion on sight; a person can hardly suppress that instinct!) It’s not wrong to do so unless you assume the very worst, because none of us want to be thought ill of, but telling people to reserve any kind of judgement isn’t quite feasible! Maybe we need more discussion and less ignorance, more connecting and less blaming. We need to stop assuming that correction means criticism and discourse means disagreement. Allah says in His Book-

“Oh you who believe! Let not a group scoff at another group, it may be that the latter are better than the former, nor let some women scoff at other women, it may be that the latter are better than the former; nor defame one another, nor insult one another by (rude) nicknames.”

Maybe it shouldn’t be so much ‘don’t judge,’ as ‘don’t criticize’. Let me know your thoughts on the matter below!

‘So Much Holier Than Thou’

‘So much holier than thou.’

She described us like that, in one sweep. All of us, those of us who have just begun, those of us who have been wearing it for years. Those of us who wear the niqab. She didn’t like women to wear the niqab- it made them think they were ‘better than her in her loose pants and headscarf’ and ‘holier than thou.’

It was both annoying and enlightening. I felt like cocking an eyebrow-(you sound pretty arrogant yourself, and exactly how many of these unbearable sisters did you meet?)-but resisted. It wasn’t the fact that she accused someone in the niqab that annoyed me, nor her defensive attitude, but her assumption that it wasn’t the person in the hijab that was acting arrogant.

It was the niqab. It was the fault of the sweep of light cloth that covered their faces from public view that brought humble sisters in jeans down to the hateful sin of arrogance in niqabs. It was the source of corruption that made them treat her with less respect. It was her complaint.

It reminds me of an incident that happened while I was in school here in America. It disturbed me- as well as made me think. A girl in the grade below me married, and when she came back to school it was in niqab; her husband had asked her to wear it, and we were all quiet on the subject until the teacher pulled her aside and spoke to her.

“Now that you’re wearing the niqab, you have act like it. You don’t see them joking with the boys like that.”

The girl was silent. I could only shrink into my seat,my soul protesting.Even now I think I should have spoken up, even now remembering the accusing silence of the classroom. I should have spoken, but I couldn’t; it was all I could do that painful year to speak in my heart, and speaking aloud evaded me.I wanted to stand up in my seat and set them straight, make it clear, defend her and myself from the quiet. The words didn’t come; the girl went silently to her seat,the teacher briskly picked up her book, and class began.

I should have told them that hayaa’ was not encapsulated in the niqab. That the idea that the more you wore the better you had to act was banana peel, and you had to act right no matter what you wore. That this gesture of covering didn’t suddenly lift a girl onto a higher purer plane of character than the other muhajabahs around her. That if they knew chumming with the guys could lead to trouble, they shouldn’t have been silent the entire rest of the year. That for all they knew, the reason I wasn’t friends with the boys was because I didn’t like any of them. That already this sudden covering wasn’t easy for her, and making it harder wasn’t right. You don’t know anything about me, I wanted to cry. Nothing.

Nothing except that I wear the niqab. (And suck at math.) This isn’t a gesture that I am better and purer than the rest of you. This isn’t a proof of virginity or a flag of a jealous husband. This isn’t a nose-thumbing at the lesser covered of my sisters. It isn’t, to me, holier-than-thou. It isn’t. It really isn’t, for me. I can’t speak for everyone, but for me, it’s personal.

It’s between me and Allah, because honestly there’s no one else I could be doing it for. It’s an act of worship. All of you- all of you, covered and uncovered, are my sisters. I don’t avoid friendships with men because I wear a niqab, to be honest. (If I ever took it off, I’m sure I would hold myself to exactly the same standards.) I’m not sure I understand the defensiveness, but I guess the only thing I can say is- my sister, I apologize for the bad impression, but we’re not all like that. Believe me, we’re not. If I think a judgement, I don’t convey it; but why do you think all women in niqab are the same? Your judgement is eerily close to non-hijabis deciding the exact same thing about hijabis. Like you, and you have thrown it back- at us. You don’t see a woman in short shorts and decide she’s a prostitute. You don’t see a girl in full hijab and decide she’s either an arrogant self-oppressor or someone who has reached a special marker in faith. And I don’t care what you wear that much. And I wish it wasn’t true, but some of the most vicious condemnation of the niqab has come from our brother and sister Muslims too. Some of the worst abusive insults and the most painful snubs.

It isn’t the niqab. It’s the girl in it, whether she’s shoplifting or saving a life, that you can blame or admire. You don’t have to take it from me, but think about it.

(She also said the niqab was cultural, but I’m too tired to summon my full rant mode for that right now.)

In This Hijab

I wonder sometimes, as I walk down the street in my hijab, what people are thinking; I can imagine, but none of it turns out pleasant. I know sometimes I am seen as backwards, oppressed under my hijab, subservient to ridiculous rules. Sometimes I am given quiet pitying smiles as if to say- I’m not scared of you, poor thing, and I can only smile back as if to say-at least someone’s sensible here, honey. I still know that no one bothers to see me. As a person with a life and dreams just like every girl. After everything-a woman, like all the others.

 

Looking at me-
Who do you see
dressed in folds
of flowing cloth
dark as Arab eyes?

Do you see me?
a Muslim girl
with dreams so fierce
and hopes
and loves
and tears
and passions
a woman,underneath?

Smiling-different-
a girl who
loves to dream stars
hear the wind calling
whispers to flowers
writes to become herself
weeps like you
from tired eyes-

Do you see me?

Dressed in hijab, as dark as midnight skies?

Hot Coals

There’s a hadith in which the prophet salallahu alayhi wa sallam says-
“There will come a day when holding onto your religion will be like holding onto hot coals.”Not so long ago I read an article detailing the demographic of the victims of anti Muslim hate attacks.’ Female, visibly Muslim, between the ages of fourteen and forty five.’One of those thing you look at a moment to be sure of what just occurred to you, then
you turn around and say it.
I turned to my mother and said- “That’s us.”

Hot Coals

holding onto hot coals.
onto hot coals,
he said.
those hot coals
red
of life
stepping out your door
a target.
seventeen mixed-race female
visibly muslim
oh yeah,
a breathing target.
-almost like i’m asking for it.
demographic of an
easy fragile victim at your blinding angers whim
if i were just-
alone.

but i won’t show you fear
i won’t dip my head
hunching covered shoulders
to avoid your gaze,no,
i look you in the eye
i walk with confidence
the moment hazel pause when i fix my eyes on yours
and you always look away.

Looking Deeper

I have been called a shadow, a mystery, a faceless example of oppression. I walk outside with my head and body covered, my face veiled. I get it all, the stares, the whispers, and oh yes the smiles- of genuine friendliness, of annoying pity, of sarcastic amusement. They see only that I cover, not that I am following my convictions and am no less human then they are. A symbol. Not a girl who prefers to cover but is just like other girls in many ways, but someone to stare curiously at until she passes by. No one notices suede boots or a white purse, glasses or a smile.

You become accustomed to it in time. Sometimes I have the sad feeling that my own non-Muslim relatives wouldn’t look close enough to know me in my hijab. In a culture where you are measured at first glance by your body and dress, no one knows how to go deeper. But we sisters have learned; we tell the difference in the details, the shoes, the purse, her voice, how she carries herself. Her eyes, her energy or ennui, her attitude. We learn to know each other more carefully, remembering laughs and gestures and the way her eyes crinkle when she smiles. I have never once confused my two sisters in their niqab; they’re so different, when you learn to look.

They all look the same. Why black? Don’t they know they don’t have to do that here?!?!

It’s black, I tell you, out of choice. I could get white or plum or blue, but I choose black; partly because I identify with my sisters in Islam who dress the same, partly because that’s the color I prefer, partly because that’s the easiest color to buy. Yes, it’s head to toe. Or to be more accurate, head to a little past my ankles. Yup, it probably looks foreign. That’s probably because it is foreign to you, as foreign as the concept of modesty and purity, as foreign to you as dedication to Allah and living with goodness. Yes, it is a choice, believe it or not; a choice that hurts no one, unless you use it to hurt me.

A choice to live close to Allah’s Way, to try to be modest and pure, to distance myself from the painfully shallow way so many live. It’s a choice I saw was beautiful, from a young age. A choice between right and wrong, between ease and respect, between losing my religion and holding tightly on to it in its entirety. A choice of dignity. A choice that, yes, belongs here, because I belong here, and that I can only ask you to respect.