Thursday, July 22, 2010

Hum kya chahte, azaadi!

Shouting through speakerphones. Azaadi!

July 22, 2010, “More than a hundred thousand people marched peacefully to the UN office in Srinagar. They burned effigies, chanted ‘Azadi, azadi’ (‘freedom’) and appealed to India to leave Kashmir. The movement was not crushed. It was merely ignored. Nothing changed. Now a new generation of Kashmiri youth is on the march.”
European Parliamentary Delegation said that “Kashmir is the most beautiful prison of the world.”

In the worst violence to hit Indian-occupied Kashmir in over two years, the curfew continues, more people are dying every day, and demonstrators are still protesting.

Friday, July 16, 2010


The first thing I did when I got to Amman was call my mother to complain to her that this "jilbab phenomenon" everyone was raving about- yeah, guess what- TRY WEARING IT IN THE WIND! I elongated and punctuated the words "in-the-wiiind," to capture my subject. Half the girls here are wearing niqab although they don't wear it at home, as a sign of respect and accommodation to the situation. I respect that completely, but it is still odd to hear them complain about it. "Sometimes the niqab gets caught in my mouth as I'm breathing" etc.

They have adopted it, dealt with it, complain about it, and it usually blows off their face as we walk to school anyway. I realized within hours that it only upset me because I didn't want to hear women complaining about it, I wanted to hear all the tales of glory and joy that come following an open and visible spiritual transformation. But if a girl is complaining about her hijab, it is because it is, at the end of the day, an article of clothing. And clothes can get annoying. I should equate it with someone else complaining that their heels are killing them, they can hardly sit down with their dress on, or even at the most simple level, in an effort to look cute on a chilly spring night, they are just so cold.

When you wear a jilbab, you feel religious. My form of burqa was sunglasses because honestly, I have asthma and my nose is not attracting anyone anytime soon. There I was in the barely bearable summer heat of the city walking up hills at noon, with all that fluttering and exposing of curves, and it felt so hypocritical. I was embarrassed every time I passed by a man and was still honked and whistled at. I didn't pay as much attention to whether men were paying attention to me- (largely because the women here are so ridiculously beautiful. YES frustrated Muslim unmarried men: if you want beautiful children, here's your ticket).

It only took a few days get used to the niqabs all around me at school, because it's not that difficult to read people by their eyes alone. My point: Tyra, as the queen of smizing, you would be an amazing niqabi. But I can guess what she might say. Probably something similar to what one of my dear sisters said before she became Muslim - "what's with all these poor women wrapped up like burritos? Giiiiiiiiiirl?"
"Women parading around looking like batman" is another one of my favorites.
Wait, I can be a superhero?

I have to admit, sometimes illusions of grandeur are tempting. I can tell when people are intimidated by me and I can tell when they are intimidated by my mother, who acts as though she can see straight through you and wears a jilbab and headscarf. The headscarf is mostly a constant reminder to "be good," which is a kick in the butt that I honestly need from time to time. There there's always Vanity smurf, who I grew up with, and always wondered about. Almost every time I looked in the mirror I wondered if I was admiring myself, when really most of the time I was seeing images of my mother and how similar we look and completely terrifying myself. For me to adopt hijab because I am scared of hell is fine with me. For me to adopt it because I want to make a stand is fine as well. To adopt it just because I can feel something tugging down at me saying 'this is it,' is fine with me too, if I think it will contribute to making me a better Muslim. Whatever reason we start to wear hijab, it is part of God's trajectory for us to get to where we are supposed to be.

I will admit, my intellectual attraction to the ideas of Saba Mahmood in Politics of Piety did had a huge effect on me, not that it was written as an invitation in disguise for young confused Muslim women to go out and wear the veil and see how it changes them from the outside-in.

She posited a motivation for wearing the veil in the idea that religious practice can change one's religious comportment. I was surprised to read about this new perspective from within academia (or anything new regarding Muslim women), although it is similar to what our Prophet, peace be upon him, taught us about fake it til you make it. It inspired me to try. I know a headscarf does not equal a law abiding Muslim, but at the point where I am at in my spirituality, it can't hurt?

This concept is much more well articulated by Janan Delgato in her article in response to a NYT article. Delgato writes, our need to "dismiss once and for all the ill-conceived notion of universality of desire; Not all women find fulfillment and happiness in the same life choices... A second step is not to insult each other’s intelligence. Muslim women have not been brainwashed into Islam, nor are we waiting for anyone’s help to awaken from our supposed 'false-consciousness.' Islam is our informed choice."
I have read these articles so many times, and it is generally always the same debate, except that lately there is legislation at stake around the world and protests for mosques to be built here in the US. Didn't we get over this?

What can we say? We believe in our religion. It is a personal choice. The experience is different for everyone I know. At this point I can take a breath and relax with a cold and lemony fizzy drink on our rusty lawnchair and say, I'm doing this for you, God. Let's both hope for the best. Let's make some honey. The halal way.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Black Sheep

I might call myself the black sheep, all shifty eyed and wandering from the flock, but we all wear black all the time anyway. Didn't whoever made that rule understand that women always look better in black anyway?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


The girls met for fruit and fruit juice at apartment B and we had an interesting conversation about what it means to be Muslim. One thing that has really struck me about my present company, although we don't have the same taste in music or heel size, we have really meaningful conversations that actually make me retreat to my room and think twice about.

What do you have to be to call yourself Muslim?
Two days ago while waiting to get the mandatory HIV test in order to extend the Jordanian visitors visa, I read a paragraph in a book on Shafi' Fiqh about it, which was both cryptically and comfortably vague. I think a lot of us (American Muslims, "regular" Muslims) are asked on a regular basis, and some of us can think of an answer on the spot but I've never been good at improv. But I don't have an issue with being rehearsed. It means you have practiced. And religion is practice. And practice makes perfect.

Why do I need to explain myself? I think (I am a Muslim) therefore I am (a Muslim.)
Ya Jam3a! Sm3a! That was the sound of me thinking. Wait, Musim women can think? Let's rethink this...

(Variation of Q.1) So what does it mean to be Muslim? The list of questions I have prepared are the ones I need to ask myself and others, which in the modern world of course requires a voice recorder. I went to Radio Shack yesterday to try and find one but since I have already lost three in the past three years I'm starting to feel like I might not be meant to have one. Also, there is a feeling amongst the girls here that most people don't really care what other people think, they just want to make sure you don't get lost. This may be because I have a tendency to wander off.

Sunday, July 11, 2010


I can only remember my first days in Fez because
a) they were ridiculous
b) I started writing from day one.

Amman Street fashion: I can't say I'm impressed with anything so far except for the widespread meticulous attention to personal hygiene. We were told at orientation to "try not to be weird." I don't think this rang any alarm bells in anyone except me, judging from the lack of darting, shifty eyes.

It's always fun to see other people's first impressions of a city that you love. I don't think I was ever outright mean to anyone who looked like they did not love Tangier enough, but I probably had little respect for them. Here in Amman I have a newfound appreciation for these pitiful wanderers, especially after taking up this new project of "trying not to be weird."

Upon embarking on an unfamiliar place, like a new house or the nursing home your son is about to commit you to, they say to have a list of questions prepared. I have local resources here, but no idea what to ask these gems. This is why I will never succeed in journalism. I never know where to start. Aren't you supposed to start from the beginning? Same reason I failed at philosophy. How could I read Derrida if I hadn't read Heidegger if I hadn't read Hegel etc. In the end I had to assume Derrida was the origin of what I believed about literary theory. Funny, because in the end, even that bastard didn't believe in origins.
In its own language, a lack of a beginning only served to reinforce my faith in God.

Given my penchant for origins, I figured I would start at wst-al-medina. or at least that's what I heard the taxi driver call it (city center?). There are tons of western-style cafes with beautiful Jordanian girls with tatoos on their forheads saying "don't even think about trying to find a husband in this country srsly you don't even have your nails done."

I now know that this must be one of my many random gaps in common knowledge, but hijabis smoke sheesha in Jordan. The most baffling thing about this to me is the combination of smoke and fruit. How can so many people enjoy this ridiculously habit? Maybe this is how atheists feel about us God-fearing believers. Or like how I feel about people that listen to the Pixies.

There are ashtrays everywhere but it appears men go out of their way to smoke only where there are no ashtrays. Like the very small enclosed places where I buy my batteries. And we all go home smelling like fruity smoke. It's a lose-lose.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Open Letter

Okay Jordan, I get it, we're not the best of friends. I am not particularly charmed by your Western ways and not your "Oriental" ways either. Let's make a deal. Disorient. We can be like the Black Eyed Peas and get confused and then get ashamed and then censor ourselves on the radio.

There is a honey store named after me but with an extra F. I am always either a brand of honey in a non-politically threatening country or a pharmacy in the middle of Iraq.
"Al-ShiFFA" Honey.
Everytime I see it it's like just seeing a giant F!

There is a scar on my foot the shape of Africa. To the dot. If playing connect the dots. Jordan, you gave it to me.