Monthly Archives: March 2009

A Picture is Worth A Thousand Words…

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If There Were Peace

If there were peace,
if there was a way to touch you from the inside,
the core of you,
then I know love would eventually follow.
Could you open yourself to the possibility?
Because this is what I represent- possibility.
The smooth lines of qiblah,
a direction,
a focal point.
There is so much that lurks behind the mystery.
So much reward and so much benefit.
For the first time he refuses to be blinded by the illusion,
he refuses to be dissuaded by the impenetrable wall I’ve carefully constructed.
He’s scaled it with such agility and expertise…subhanallah.

If there were peace…for even a moment.
I’d finally surrender to the silence.
I’d be a whirling, elusive band of light.
The realization of fantasies and wild dreams come true.
I’d be the key that unlocks ancient treasures recently excavated.

If there were peace…I’d finally be free.

©2009 JAMuslimah

REPOST: The Benefits of Hijab: Scripted Sayings vs. The Reality

About this time last year I posted a blog entry entitled “The Benefits of Hijab: Scripted Sayings vs. The Reality.” I’d really encourage you to reread this post if you’ve already read it. Otherwise, I’d love for the new visitors to my blog to read it and respond. There are some statements I made in this post that don’t necessarily reflect the way I feel today (and we can discuss that). So tell me what you think:

From the moment I decided to start wearing hijab, I, like many other Muslimahs, became the public face of Islam. I am asked hundreds of questions about Islam and/or Arab culture. I am expected to explain the history of the Israeli-Palestinian, conflicts in the Middle East and what every Muslim on the planet thinks about a given issue. As complicated as those questions may be there is one simple question which people never fail to ask- why do you wear hijab/the veil/”that thing on your head”/the scarf? After I provided an “official” answer about why I was wearing it- per the Quran, modesty, distinction as a Muslimah- I proceeded to highlight the benefits of wearing hijab. I would launch into a scripted but passionate explanation about all of the perks that go along with being a hijabi.

One day I listened to myself and I began to pick apart my own arguments with examples I’d seen in the Muslim community and in my own life. I was going on and on about the benefits of hijab but in the back of my mind I knew that my life was more complicated than I made it sound. If I’m honest I’d be forced to admit that subconsciously I was trying my hardest to make the life of a hijab-wearing Muslimah look appealing to non-Muslims (and even to non-hijabi sisters.) Somewhere along the lines I must’ve read an article or a book on hijab and decided the answers someone else provided were the best. Who knows, maybe I was trying to convince myself. So, what are some of the common answers I used to give? Let’s take a look.

Hijab protects me from the harassment of men. They do not look at me like a piece of meat or treat me like an object.

Believe it or not, there is some truth to this statement. On the average men do not hit on me when I’m out in public. They don’t whistle or make obscene gestures towards me. On the average they do not “hey baby” or ask me for my number. They either see the hijab as an off limits sign, don’t know how to approach someone like me or figure it’s too much work. However, I don’t think it’s true as a general statement to say that hijab makes me 100% exempt from the treatment other women receive while out in public. I think it depends on the situation and the person who’s doing the approaching:

-I’ve been approached by non-Muslim men who pretend to be interested in learning about Islam so that they can get close to me or at least get my number.

-Even though I’m in hijab I’ve been solicited by men who are looking for prostitutes.

-I’ve come to the realization that some men have a veil fetish. They wonder what’s underneath all those clothes and apparently it turns them on. Non-Muslim relatives of mine have told me that sometimes men like things left to the imagination. A woman who is all “covered up” is seen as challenge.

-I’ve had Muslim men catcall me or try to get with me. (And I don’t think it was for the purpose of marriage). One time I was catching the bus to work and two Muslim men held up traffic as they tried to offer me a ride or at least get a telephone number. The fact that I was wearing an abaya didn’t seem to dissuade them in the least.

And then there’s the Somali mall. If you ever been to the Twin Cities or lived there then you know, hijabs, niqabs, abayas, gloves or burkhas do not prevent a sister from being heckled, stared at or even touched sometimes…

When people (non-Muslims) see me in hijab, they will see a righteous, pious woman who is committed to God. They will be drawn to Islam as a result.

Hmm, I don’t know about that. From the studies I’ve seen and the conversations I’ve had with people, it seems that when people look at us they think the following: She’s oppressed, she’s backwards, she doesn’t speak English, her husband/brother/uncle/father made her dress like that, she’s not very educated etc. Some people are repulsed or even afraid!

Not a lot of people look at us and automatically see a righteous woman who is consciously striving to please her Lord. In fact, people are surprised when I tell them that I chose to dress this way and that I am doing so to please God. They’re shocked when they discover that I converted to Islam, don’t come from an “Islamic country”, have no Muslim family and made the choice to “dress like this.”

It seems like once people have had the chance to get to know me (and interact with me) only then do they start to think, Oh, she’s a person who’s striving to be religious. Whether they understand it or not is another matter…

The hijab forces people (esp. men) to move past the physical and to focus on my mind; my intellect.

In the right situation, yes. As I mentioned in the previous example, when it comes to non-Muslims, the majority of them are already convinced they know who we are. And one of the things they think is that we are not very educated (read: not very intelligent). Again, think about the surprise people express when they see a hijab-wearing Muslimah who is educated, articulate, and intelligent.

When it comes to Muslims (generally speaking of course), as much as we would like to believe this statement to be true, I have my doubts. I don’t think I need to discuss the sexism that exists in our community (check out the Muslim blogosphere.) Sisters are fighting to make their voices heard and for positions in key organizations. Sisters are tired of simply cooking for masjid functions or supporting the brothers. And we’re tired of being regulated to the back of the masjid to be heard from no more.

No, not all Muslim men are sexist. There are brothers who do appreciate us for our intellect. We thank them. Now it’s time for you to get out there and challenge the other brothers!

Muslim women wear hijab as a sign of modesty and purity. It is a symbol of their chastity and dignity.

Ideally yes. Realistically no. We all know that there are Muslim women who wear a scarf (and I say scarf deliberately rather than hijab) but have cleavage hanging out, painted on jeans, see through garments etc. The only thing they are hiding is their hair (or part of their hair). And believe me; I say this not as a judgment but rather as a statement of the facts. One day I was walking to work and as I approached the corner I saw three guys with their neck stretched out, looking at someone who was around the corner. I heard them saying, “Dayyum, look at all that ass!” Much to my surprise they were checking out a Muslim woman who was wearing a scarf but had on ultra-tight jeans with a fitted shirt. I try not to judge people- esp. women when it comes to wearing hijab- but I didn’t think those guys were looking at her and seeing a woman who is modest and pure; a symbol of chastity and Islamic dignity. (And I am not fully blaming her. I could write another blog about the objectification of women etc.)

The other thing is that there are women who wear hijab (and I do mean ‘proper hijab’- whatever that means to you) whose behavior does not reflect its purpose. The way I see it, hijab is more than just the clothing you put on, it’s also in the behavior, and how a woman carries herself. Unfortunately, there are hijabis who curse like sailors, hijabis who are loud and rude in public, hijabis who are wild, and so on. A friend of mine once told me that she knew a non-Muslim guy who had a hijabi “girlfriend”. My friend was trying to explain the purpose of hijab, modesty etc. to him but he thought it was a joke. He told my friend when it came time to have sex with his “girlfriend” he just lifted up her skirt and “did his thing.” He’d never seen her hair but he was “getting it.” (And I say this not be crude but to be honest about what’s going on out there).

If iman is not cultivated but sisters are urged to wear hijab, what do you think will happen? When we place all of our hopes, expectations, dreams and visions of “pure Islam” on women wearing the hijab, what do we expect?

By wearing the hijab, I am freed from the body image issues that exist in American culture. As a hijabi, I don’t need to worry about suffering from Bulimia or Anorexia or similar illnesses. Unlike non-Muslim women, I am not influenced by the media or society’s definitions of beauty.

WRONG! While I have not seen statistics on bulimia or anorexia in the Muslim community, I find it hard to believe that there aren’t practicing Muslimahs who suffer from either disease. The reason I say this is because I have been around Muslim women and have listened to them complain about their weight- even if they are slim. I’ve also know that in certain Muslim cultural communities the ideal woman is fair-skinned and skinny. What happens if a woman is neither?

Even though we are Muslim many of us are still subjected to the same messages about beauty that every other woman in society is subjected to. (i.e. we are taught to hate the way we are designed and to spend exorbitant amounts of money in order to change ourselves). Our men (Muslim men) are influenced by the larger society as well as we are. I know sisters who husbands have put pressure on them to lose weight so that they can fit into the American body ideal. (I personally experienced it in my previous marriage). It’s not a secret that some Muslim brothers are looking for walking perfection in a hijab. True: I know a sister whose husband placed it in their marriage contract that she had to work out a certain number of days and do everything she can to maintain her weight. (Even after kids).
I think it’s rather foolish of us to think we won’t be influenced by our environment. Unless you’re living like the Amish, it’s going to be there. I think ideally we’re striving to get to a place where our main focus is developing internally (with less focus on the external). We’re trying to abide by the Islamic principles we read about and are exemplified in the life of the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) I just don’t think the majority of us are there yet. That includes me! Hence the outside influence.

I love hijab and I never regret the decision to wear it. I am so happy! I’ll never take it off.

For some Muslimahs the aforementioned statement is true. However, I have to admit (and I know I’m not the only one) that I have my ups and downs. For the most part I absolutely love wearing hijab. It has become like a second skin to me and most of the time I could not fathom the thought of taking it off. Generally, I feel so feminine and so proud to represent Islam. Then there are days when my iman is not as high and though I still wear it, it’s difficult. Sometimes I feel unattractive in it. I look at myself and I see a strange, foreign lady staring back at me. Those days are rough. I have to ask for Allah’s assistance and do little things to lift my morale.

I’d also be lying if I said I never thought about taking it off. Especially in this post-9/11 world with the spike in hate crimes directed towards Muslims and the overall discrimination we face. The other day I was telling my husband that he does not feel the sting of racism and discrimination directed towards Muslims in the way that a woman wearing hijab does. Without a doubt, people KNOW I am Muslim when they look at me. By the same token, they don’t know he’s Muslim unless he tells them. They just see a Black guy with a beard who has a “funny name.” From time to time, the staring, the rudeness, the stereotyping, and discrimination starts to get to me. But alhamdulillah, my saving grace has been that I remember the blessing that is involved. I rememeber the more difficult something is, the more reward you’re getting for it.

But you have to know, it’s difficult being the public face of Islam every single day. You have to be a really strong person. Among many other reasons, some sisters don’t feel like they can do it anymore and they take their hijabs off. While I don’t think they should give up so easily, I certainly understand. I pray, in time they will make the decision to try and it again- once and for all.

In Conclusion

I am not saying that some of the statements listed above are not true for some Muslimahs. And I am not suggesting that we air all of our dirty laundry to people when explaining the benefits of hijab. I just don’t think it’s good to try and sell a dream or to be deceptive in any way. And I feel like, in some respects, many of us are just regurgitating statements we’ve read and heard over the years without seriously thinking about what we are saying. I personally decided that I would tell people my reasons for wearing hijab but I would also share the complexities (and ups and downs) that come along with it. I’m all for being real and I think people respect you more for that.

Besides, the biggest benefit I’ve gotten from wearing hijab has nothing to do with other people or their understandings of Islam. The best and most important benefit is the closeness I feel to ALLAH by doing something he has commanded- no matter how difficult it is at times. That’s enough for me.

Random thoughts, complaints, and controversy. (sleepy again)

-I am so sick of the feminization of today’s men. I’m not on some ole 60’s version of men and women’s roles but this madness has got to stop somewhere. My gripe is with fashion. For instance, dudes in skinny jeans- NO! DON’T DO IT! Men in low rise jeans- NO! (Okay, anybody in low rise jeans with their butt crack hanging out- stop the foolishness). What’s with men and the long, pressed out, flat-ironed do? Or the curly do they sport after taking down their braids? The other day this dude was trying to holler at me (don’t ask!). His hair was slicked back in a ponytail and braided (kinda like my mom used to do my hair when I was a little girl). EWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW! So here it is, Jamerican’s personal gripes with men’s fashion:

(1) Long hair unless you have locs. (I am obviously referring to Black men here. Though I don’t like long hair on any man). White dudes and locs? Uhh…no!

(2) Men with their ear(s) pierced. I especially hate the men with two big, blinging earrings in their ears. Give your grandmama back her earrings and stay out of her jewelry box!

(3) Skinny jeans and men.

(4) S-curl and other curl kits. Especially when said man is trying to pass it off as being “natural.” NEGRO PLEASE! Just fade your junk and be done with it.

(5) The sagging, wet baggy pants. I watched a guy trying to jump over a snow bank while his pants were sagging…not a pretty or safe sight. It was a good laugh though!

(6) Grown men with cartoon characters on their clothing. Seriously…

(7) Grown men with braids and beads in their hair. Really?

(8) There is a whole line of F.O.B. clothing I could get into but that’ll take all day. Let’s just say tapered jeans and New Balance sneakers are not the lick.

I’ll stop there…

-One fashion I do like is the Black Man Mohawk. (Sorry for using him as an example but it’s the best I could find). I’m sure some Muslims probably think the do is unacceptable.

-And while I’m at it, I am really trying to be as tolerant of really conservative Muslims as I want them to be of me. More often than not that means staying quiet unless they’re trying impose their views on me. I’m just on something different right now. Yeah, I could use an iman boost (we all could) but I have no intention (insha’allah!) of returning to the glory days of ultra-conservative Muslim thinking. My mind won’t even bend that way. I’ve changed and some people can’t accept it. They think I’ve fallen off…And you know what? I don’t even care. So, how do you deal with Muslims of other Islamic interpretations when they’re pushy with you?

-I’m in need of some new nasheeds. Not Arabic or acapella nasheeds. Some new hip hop nasheeds. *sigh*

-I’m struggling to complete the 4 days of fasting I owe from Ramadan. Insha’allah I’m going to fast tomorrow. My nafs would like otherwise. I hope my intention wins out this time. (I was supposed to be fasting last week).

-I went shopping again this weekend. I am so excited that wide leg pants and jeans are back in style. I need to stay out the stores though. I think I’ve been shopping every weekend for the past month. After I get a pair of black heels and patent leather flats then I’ll call it off, insha’allah. This weekend I successfully found a purple cardigan and completed this outfit:

PURPLE PASSION
PURPLE PASSION - by Jamerican Muslimah on Polyvore.com

I need to stop inspiring myself…lol!

-Speaking of weekend, alhamdulillah, the weather was nice. I was out yesterday and today with no coat on, just a light jacket. I heart spring…

-Anybody like my new ring tone?

-I need a vacation. Insha’allah I’m thinking something within the U.S. (can’t really afford anywhere else right now). Some place on the east coast. Any sisters want to host me? I’m cool as long as you don’t have roaches. 😉

Gosh, I’m sleepy…it’s only 5:30pm. *sigh*

Trying new things

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So, I’ve talked about wanting to do something different but halal. I’ll have you all know I finally committed to something…alhamdulillah. I’m taking Tai Chi. Granted, it’s only for a half an hour and once a week but I’m doing it. When I came back to work from my class several people commented that I looked calm and relaxed. I felt like it too. (And that was only after one class. Imagine me in 6 weeks from now, insha’allah). Even though I researched Tai Chi before enrolling in the class, I expected to be kicking and punching…no such luck in the beginner’s class though, LOL.

Maybe I’ll take a kick boxing class…I have a one-time (free) personal trainer appointment on Saturday, insha’allah. (I also joined SNAP Fitness which was one of my goals for 2009). I’m feeling very energetic these days as you can tell…

Are you trying anything new?

More On “Muslimah Sexiness”

Let’s leave aside the motivations of men for a second and let’s talk about sisters. Why do you think other Muslim women push the idea that we all have to be quiet, demure, soft-spoken, dull and practically afraid of men? If a woman is stylish (in terms of her dress), friendly, assertive , and outspoken why do some Muslim women rush to give her an “Islamic” makeover?

My opinion:
For one, I think the same brand of female cattiness and competition that I witness in the dunya is present in the masjid and in the Muslim community. I have noticed how sisters size one another up in the masjid, how they will cut another woman down (under the guise of giving nasiha or advice) out of what is clearly jealousy, and, let’s be honest, the fear that their husband might “notice” a sister who is attractive. Sometimes it’s as if our minds can’t process the idea that we are different, that we are diverse in terms of personality, style of dress, and ideas about femininity. We are not a uniform group. In fact, we constantly say as much when talking to non-Muslims! We want them to accept our diversity as Muslim women, yet when we are together, it seems like we rush to whip one another into conformity.

Secondly, I feel like sisters are trying to beat one another at the piety game and the strictest sister wins! I’ll never forget the day I was at the masjid and a group of women I was sitting with started discussing thong underwear and how non-Muslim women were foolish (read:whorish) for wearing those things. Though the women didn’t quite say they were haram, you got the idea that they were unacceptable. I could not keep my mouth shut any longer. I asked them how underwear could be considered unacceptable from an Islamic perspective. Isn’t that a personal choice? And why is it any of our business what someone is wearing underneath their clothing? Boy, they looked at me like I was harlot extraordinaire.

Lastly, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that SOME SISTERS are using Islam to mask their own personal issues with self-esteem and insecurity. I say this not to be arrogant or mean but to speak the truth. We need to put this on the table. There are sisters who do not feel good about themselves and rather then address their issues they become the most aggressive, outspoken advocates of “proper” Islamic dress and “proper” Islamic behavior. If they see a sister who is attractive and confident they feel threatened by her. Some of them worry that their husbands will see the sister and desire her. And, as the story goes with insecure women, rather than say “mashallah” or admire the sister’s beauty they take her presence as condemnation of their own existence. Claws come out and the haya police are on patrol. I leave you with an example:

I attended a masjid picnic. I had already received glares from some sisters because I had shown up wearing a long-sleeved shirt, a reddish flair skirt and gold sandals (feet out) instead of an abaya and closed-toed shoes. Another sister- let’s call her Dina for clarity’s sake- who is very beautiful, mashallah, came to the picnic wearing a long shirt and pants with a matching shayla wrap. There is something very fashion-model about Dina. It might be her build (she is slim), her height (she is tall) or her facial features (which are unique, soft and alluring). She carries herself with quiet confidence. I could feel some of the women becoming uneasy. If I received glares they were feeling very threatened by her. (Keep in mind the men were not far away from us). After hanging out for some time, one of the sisters abruptly asked Dina why she was wearing pants. Didn’t she know pants were haram? She also asked why “this” was hanging out. (Dina’s shayla had moved to the side and was showing a bit of her neck). I glance around and noticed the other women with smiles on their faces or nods of approval. Clearly, Dina was taken aback. She started to explain her view on pants while simultaneously shifting her hijab. I was pissed off because I could tell jealously, not concern was the sister’s motivation. I had seen her sizing Dina up while quickly giving herself a once over. I interjected and asked what was wrong with what Dina was wearing. Her shirt was practically to her knees. Furthermore, why was she calling Dina out in front of everyone?

Later, I walked up to Dina and another sister. Dina was on the verge of tears and the sister she was standing with was assuring her that the other sisters were concerned for her, that they want for their sisters what they want for themselves, and they really didn’t mean any harm. I have never heard such a load of b.s. before in my life. I told Dina plainly, the sister was rude to you. There is no justification for what she did. Dina thanked me for coming to aid.

I wish I could’ve told her the real truth: you are beautiful and confident. That is why she the sister chose to publicly shame you. Something about your demeanor, your air, dug deep down into the well of these sisters’ insecurities and they needed to make you feel small. (It didn’t help that their husbands were not far away either). It had nothing to do with her pants, hijab, haya or concern. It was nothing more than age old jealousy, for that I apologize sister.

Let’s discuss.

Muslimah Sexiness?

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Being no stranger to controversy, it’s time for me to open up another can of worms. I want to talk about “Muslimah Sexiness.” I would like to have a very frank and honest conversation about being and feeling sexy as a Muslimah. Can we? Should we? Do we?

Let me start by confessing something to you. I am flirtatious by nature. I’ve always been that way. After I became Muslim I was fed a thousand and one lectures about the “appropriate way” to conduct myself as a Muslim woman. I was told I needed to be shy, demure, quiet, and formal- almost afraid of “strange men.” All of these things were against my nature. The fact remains that I am not shy, demure, quiet or formal (in that way at least.) Since I am not those things I tried my best to fake it. I emulated the behavior of the women I saw at the masjid. Somehow it didn’t work though. Instead of coming across as shy or demure when interacting with the opposite sex, I often came across as rude, aloof, stuck up, cold or unnecessarily formal. I just didn’t know how to make my interaction natural. I started asking myself, why is this hard? What is it that you used to do before?

I come from two cultures where the women- for better or for worse- flaunt what they have. They are not shy or demure. They are stunning and bold. They engage in playful banter with members of the opposite sex, they roll their body in a seductive manner knowing full well that men are watching, they highlight their “assets” and make men swoon from their sex appeal. All of these things are against Islam. So, how do you make the switch when you come from an environment that is completely contrary to Islam? Many of us are lying to ourselves when we say we became Muslim and it simply “changed” over night.

I had a very honest conversation with two friends of mine. Both are converts- one from Latin America and another one from the Caribbean. They admitted to feeling, at times, “frumpy” and “old” in the headscarf and modest clothing. They felt ignored, unattractive and undesirable in the eyes of Muslim and non-Muslim men alike. They felt that Muslim men often placed them on a “purity pedestal” and non-Muslim men simply looked passed them. By the same token, both women felt ashamed of their feelings since their feelings run counter to everything we have been told about Muslim women and sexuality. During the course of our conversation we realized we were trying to reconcile two very different identities and lifestyles- our old one and our new one. We were left with a few questions: How do you go from being a sexy, hot, Jamerican/West Indian/Latina to being a pious, proper, Muslimah? Can the two exist in one body? Do you have to wait for marriage in order to feel sexy and irresistible? And what if your husband (for whatever reason) doesn’t provide you with that attention? Can you be hot and a Muslimah at the same time? Should you even want to? Better yet, what if you are sexy by nature? What if you can’t hide it?

Before a chorus of “astagfirullahs” assault this post, hear me out. Let’s try to be real for once. Most women enjoy feeling loved, attractive, sexy, and wanted. Most importantly, many of us like the attention we receive from the opposite sex. I can already envision the comments suggesting if the woman is single she should get married. (Again, what if her husband does not give her that attention?) Or better yet, I can envision some of you saying, “we should not care about these things because the Akirah/Quranic teaching/Islam/Sunnah is more important.” That still does not resolve the dilemma. The question remains: Can you be a Muslimah and hot/sexy? If so, how and in what context? Is the quiet, demure, shy, Muslimah persona a universal one? What is appropriate Muslimah behavior? (Please don’t just post Quran or Ahadith, help me understand your perspective).

Let’s discuss.