Saturday, January 21, 2012

Hijabalogues Part IV.

If I look up once and don't look back about half the people on the street look like hijabis. There are a whole bunch of them in my peripheral vision. It adds a comfortable false sense of camaraderie to the feel of the new neighborhood. I often mistake small African-American boys in hooded sweatshirts and winter scarves for my kinswomen of faith, so long as I don't let that first perception last longer than a second. Same goes for all the winter-geared women that let their pashminas drape over their heads with a few strands of hair open in the front in the style of pretty journalists reporting from Arab countries.

I do not actively scan the urban landscape for hijabi companionship- it doesn't mean much to me. But my secret favorite thing is when I end up sitting beside one of the Orthodox Jewish men reading the Torah on the morning train into the city, or a cute old lady reading the Bible. Me with my little Quran, her with her little golden Bible, Jewish guy with his giant Torah. I wish I could take a picture of it so you could see how cute we are and you would love it too.

I described my typical stance as public worshipper - my interpretation of being a public servant - to my sister, to make sure it wasn't too scary. Taking this measure is also a way of serving the public- taking responsibility for looking scary, and trying not to.

A report was recently released revealing that the NYPD has been monitoring Islamic Student Associations at universities across the country, specifically SUNY Buffalo and NYU (holla! two for two!). It is mostly cyber-related and sounds like the most boring assignment ever, except for that one guy that got to go undercover on a rafting trip. Maybe he just really wanted to go rafting, like that time I re-joined Girl Scouts in high school so I could learn how to farm and keep bees. Clearly the NYPD does not realize that most of us join the MSA to find a future husband. And because, while nine times out of ten praying in the dusty aisles of the stacks in the library is not an issue, there is that special 'one-time' that makes it pretty awesome that NYU has given us a really comfy prayer room with a beautiful view of Washington Square Park. Good job, NYU! I promise never to steal paperclips from the library and to actively try not to scare people. Girl Scouts honor.

Repeating short phrases of praise on prayer beads ('dhikr') is less obvious than offering the mandatory prayers in public, with all its prostrations. But sitting still with your eyes focused on nothing in particular with your mouth moving and no sound coming out also has some fear-potential, according to my reflection in the subway window. Religion aside, it makes you look INSANE. Especially when I keep my beads in my coat pocket 'so as not to attract attention' and then just end up struggling to moving my hand around until it gets to the point where I have to take the beads out just to be sure everyone is clear on what I'm up to and not up to.
I decided it is better to keep the beads public. Keep things kosher. I wonder how many candies are on candy necklaces? One hundred, perhaps? What would Alla say?

Dr. Alla is my Iranian dentist. He shortens his last name to make it easy for his patients because there are about twenty letters after those first four. While he subjected me to many hours of mouth-torture and I felt my soul slipping away, I clung to my prayer beads with the hopes that they could protect me from the potential for harm by a dental student paying me to be his test subject for his board examinations. I see the situation now for what it was- a hopeful guy with the fate of his future in his hands, paying me to let him put those same hands in my mouth while he nervously fumbled for success.

When it was over, Dr. Alla apologized for taking so long and went to shake my hand.
I twisted mine together in a weird way and held them close to my stomach. "Oh, I don't shake hands." I hadn't figured out if he was Muslim or not and hoped that was enough to explain it.

"It" was an on the spot decision, just to see what would happen. I have seen my mom do it so many times, but she somehow manages to be extra cute when she explains herself, like she and the other guy are buddies sharing a secret.

I think I was making a wincing face as though he was still torturing me with those shaky my-career-depends-on-this hands.
He also looked uncomfortable. How quickly the tables turn!
"Oh, it's ok." He looked around at his peers to see if they were watching, and for some reason they all were.

"Yeah, sorry. It's sort of funny, since your hand was just in my mouth for like, five hours."

Look, Ma! No hands! Also, another guy that does not laugh at my jokes! Just when I thought I had seen them all, thinking I'm in the clear, making appropriate jokes, being an appropriate person...

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