We would never say we were dating,
Especially with our cultural taboos of “Getting to know each other”
But we were dating.
And oh yes, I met the man I had fallen for in Las Vegas.
No, not like that.
I guess there comes a time when
Two doors are open at the same moment and
The places in which they stand seem to collapse
Introduced by my giggling mother nagging at us
“Take a photo,” she said. “He’s cute!”
She, a short stout woman, went up to this tall Algerian guy
And told him outright, “Hey hey you.
My daughter thinks you’re cute. Can she take a pic?”
And I’m standing here mortified and pushes me at his arm
Taking the photo
I promptly got his number –wink-
My mom, the lady, set me up
I didn’t wear the scarf then and
If you asked me to wear the scarf,
I’d tell you “Hell no. There is no point.
Men would be attracted to me even with the scarf.”
We were both young and liberal,
Raised in modern societies interlinked by globalization and wealth
And of course, martial arts
This is not the story of how I was oppressed by my religion.
It is not the story of how I was oppressed by my family, my culture, nor my society.
It is the story of how I oppressed myself
A story of the absorption of mind and thought into breathlessly crashing tides among jagged rocks
It is the naïve belief that the access to heaven was closer to someone else than it was to me,
It is a story of false promises and dances between gripping fear
From the rising realities of tradition
This is the reality that some like me
Must tread upon diligently
Born to a Bosnian ex-refugee family, father blinded and mother forever reminded
And part raised in the colorful scenes of sequined clothing and fast spoken words in Urdu
Raised part “white” blonde and blue-eyed
And raised part American in all its ‘might’
Am I Muslim or am I American?
Am I modern or am I tradition?
He told me that marriage would require him to care for me even if i gain weight
But I’d need to lose it for the sake of his fidelity
He yells at me, taking my photo,
“You call THIS hijab? This is Hijab to you? Then just take it off.”
I stay silent, heart sinking.
He flaunts his Arab heritage as a marker of religious superiority
My heart was breaking
“If you want me to act like the Prophet, then I can tell you to stay at home and cover your face.”
He asked if would leave my job if he told me to
“But what are the conditions? What are the reasons?”
“It’s a yes or no question.”
“What does a strong Muslim woman sound like?” I ask him
“A strong Muslim woman sounds like….” He stopped
What does a strong Muslim woman sound like?
A strong Muslim woman sounds like the moment breaking silence
Among a barren road
Broken by the elongating notes of a long sturdy train
Traveling at the speed of light from the silence of Point A
To the never ending journey to Point B
A strong Muslim woman looks like the elevated posture of chin raised,
Leveled to look ahead and not down,
Eyes forever open to the actions done before her
A strong Muslim woman smells of sweat leaking upon her face in between protests,
Physical and mental,
Academic and fighting.
Smells of blood pouring from the wounds upon her self-belief and hope
That she, as a Muslim woman, could excel.
A strong Muslim woman feels like chiseled arms from punching bags and of strength in light,
Emanating from the womb in the form of a child
Who better to carry the weight of another human being
Than the body of a woman?
A strong Muslim woman tastes of bitter sweetness,
Sweet from the taste of faith
Bitter from drinking among the rivers of fear and forced perception.
Now tell me again, what does a strong Muslim woman sound like?