Friday, May 28, 2010

Sweet Story

Here's a sweet story I found on about a non-Muslim mother, Karen Bremer, dealing with her "half-Muslim" daughter's wish to wear a headscarf:

Cover Girl by Karen Bremer
"Nine years ago, I danced my newborn daughter around my North Carolina living room to the music of Free to Be...You and Me, the '70s children's classic whose every lyric about tolerance and gender equality I had memorized as a girl growing up in California. My Libyan-born husband, Ismail, sat with her for hours on our screened porch, swaying back and forth on a creaky metal rocker and singing old Arabic folk songs, and took her to a Muslim sheikh who chanted a prayer for long life into her tiny, velvety ear. She had espresso eyes and lush black lashes like her father's, and her milky-brown skin darkened quickly in the summer sun. We named her Aliya, which means "exalted" in Arabic, and agreed we would raise her to choose what she identified with most from our dramatically different backgrounds.

I secretly felt smug about this agreement—confident that she would favor my comfortable American lifestyle over his modest Muslim upbringing. Ismail's parents live in a squat stone house down a winding dirt alley outside Tripoli. Its walls are bare except for passages from the Qur'an engraved onto wood, its floors empty but for thin cushions that double as bedding at night. My parents live in a sprawling home in Santa Fe with a three-car garage, hundreds of channels on the flat-screen TV, organic food in the refrigerator, and a closetful of toys for the grandchildren. I imagined Aliya embracing shopping trips to Whole Foods and the stack of presents under the Christmas tree, while still fully appreciating the melodic sound of Arabic, the honey-soaked baklava Ismail makes from scratch, the intricate henna tattoos her aunt drew on her feet when we visited Libya. Not once did I imagine her falling for the head covering worn by Muslim girls as an expression of modesty.

Last summer we were celebrating the end of Ramadan with our Muslim community at a festival in the parking lot behind our local mosque. Children bounced in inflatable fun houses while their parents sat beneath a plastic tarp nearby, shooing flies from plates of curried chicken, golden rice, and baklava.

Aliya and I wandered past rows of vendors selling prayer mats, henna tattoos, and Muslim clothing. When we reached a table displaying head coverings, Aliya turned to me and pleaded, "Please, Mom—can I have one?"

She riffled through neatly folded stacks of headscarves while the vendor, an African-American woman shrouded in black, beamed at her. I had recently seen Aliya cast admiring glances at Muslim girls her age. I quietly pitied them, covered in floor-length skirts and long sleeves on even the hottest summer days, as my best childhood memories were of my skin laid bare to the sun: feeling the grass between my toes as I ran through the sprinkler on my front lawn; wading into an icy river in Idaho, my shorts hitched up my thighs, to catch my first rainbow trout; surfing a rolling emerald wave off the coast of Hawaii. But Aliya envied these girls and had asked me to buy her clothes like theirs. And now a headscarf.

In the past, my excuse was that they were hard to find at our local mall, but here she was, offering to spend ten dollars from her own allowance to buy the forest green rayon one she clutched in her hand. I started to shake my head emphatically "no," but caught myself, remembering my commitment to Ismail. So I gritted my teeth and bought it, assuming it would soon be forgotten.

That afternoon, as I was leaving for the grocery store, Aliya called out from her room that she wanted to come.

A moment later she appeared at the top of the stairs—or more accurately, half of her did. From the waist down, she was my daughter: sneakers, bright socks, jeans a little threadbare at the knees. But from the waist up, this girl was a stranger. Her bright, round face was suspended in a tent of dark cloth like a moon in a starless sky.

"Are you going to wear that?" I asked.

"Yeah," she said slowly, in that tone she had recently begun to use with me when I state the obvious.

On the way to the store, I stole glances at her in my rearview mirror. She stared out the window in silence, appearing as aloof and unconcerned as a Muslim dignitary visiting our small Southern town—I, merely her chauffeur. I bit my lip. I wanted to ask her to remove her head covering before she got out of the car, but I couldn't think of a single logical reason why, except that the sight of it made my blood pressure rise. I'd always encouraged her to express her individuality and to resist peer pressure, but now I felt as self-conscious and claustrophobic as if I were wearing that headscarf myself...

Click here to read the rest of the essay.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

These are Dangerous Days

I've been reading whatever articles about Muslims show up on and such as pieces about the Burqa ban in France and a couple of spreads about individuals such as the American hikers and a Newsweek reporter who broke Iranian law. After reading the articles, I make the mistake of reading the "comments" section. Ugh. There's a lot of Muslim bashing going on those comment sections! I sometimes can not stop myself from reading the comments because I have a desire to know what other people think, especially about Islam. A couple of my impressions is that all Muslims are lumped together, and I don't just mean the 'crazies' who practice terrorism or wife beating, but all sects and interpretations of Islam as well. I'm all for the unity of Muslims, however, it is important to acknowledge the differences in Muslims so that a wider view and understanding can be established when evaluating the world. Of course there's no point in dwelling in the differences either---even among practicing Muslims there is a notion that 'so and so' is NOT a Muslim because he or she drinks alcohol or dresses against the dress code or doesn't have a beard! I saw that on The View and on there were some discussion about the new Miss USA. She's an Arab Christian (from what I gather) with mixed heritage including--wait for it--Muslim relatives--which has lead to some "talk" about how she must be a supporter of Hezbollah and/or how she and the beauty pageant circuits must now clarify: She is NOT Muslim people, so relax and enjoy! Sort of like when President Barack Obama and his peeps had to go around and keep saying, Don't worry people, I AM NOT A MUSLIM, okay?!! And don't even get me started on the comments section of YouTube videos about Islam. Yikes, that's scary and saddening stuff.

Anyhow, I still got a good feeling about people in the real world when it comes to relating to me as a Muslim. Most people are cool. Still, I do not wear my scarf all the time these days because, well, I'm still not comfortable with it. Sometimes I wish I was like some other 'hijabi' females that I know of who feel very connected to the scarf and wear it with passion.

Still, back to the top. After reading and responding (yes, I often submit my comments in reply to the others) on those articles about Islam, I come away with some thoughts and feelings. Perhaps I feel paranoid and too sensitive afterwards, but I start worrying about the future, if somehow the environment will get too hostile to anything resembling Muslim or Arab and that me and my family will just have to move away to I don't even know where! Since I'm a Shia Muslim, I've thought about moving to Iran---a statement that I type with hesitation--not only because I don't want to leave America--but just because the mention of Iran strikes "terror" into the minds of most. But I've studied a bit about Iran and it is not the evil empire that is presented in the media. Still, I almost did not want to type this idea up for fear that someone in the FBI or what not would blacklist me or my blog or start tapping my phones. That wouldn't happen right? Seriously, I'm not one of those hyper-conspiracy people. But apparently the FBI has started a so-called "community outreach" program in which agents go around and question Muslims. My husband was questioned. Can you believe it? This was last year and I couldn't believe it! They asked him about his involvement in our Muslim community center and about his knowledge of the then resident Alim/Imam/Minister person. Gladly, my husband passed with flying colors so they have not 'contacted' him since, but the whole thing did scare me a little. This reminds me of a song by Sinead O'connor, "Black Boys on Mopeds." It's a beautiful song. It just makes me want to cry right now. She sings, "These are dangerous days, to say what you feel is to make your own grave...Remember what I told you, If they hated me, they will hate you." I love Sinead, and oh how sad I would be to find out if she holds a negative view of the giant umbrella that is known as Islam. But I still hold out hope that she doesn't...

hear it here:"

Margareth Thatcher on TV
Shocked by the deaths that took place in Beijing
It seems strange that she should be offended
The same orders are given by her

I've said this before now
You said I was childish and you'll say it now
"Remember what I told you
If they hated me they will hate you"

England's not the mythical land of Madame George and roses
It's the home of police who kill black boys on mopeds
And I love my boy and that's why I'm leaving
I don't want him to be aware that there's
Any such thing as grieving

Young mother down at Smithfield
5 am, looking for food for her kids
In her arms she holds three cold babies
And the first word that they learned was "please"

These are dangerous days
To say what you feel is to dig your own grave
"Remember what I told you
If you were of the world they would love you"

England's not the mythical land of Madame George and roses
It's the home of police who kill blacks boys on mopeds
And I love my boy and that's why I'm leaving
I don't want him to be aware that there's
Any such thing as grieving.