We often talk about how the hijab is viewed negatively in the Western world. But I don’t think that many people realize that discrimination against the hijab doesn’t only happen in western society. In my experience, it also occurs in my home country, Pakistan, and my own family members are a part of the problem.
My sister and I started wearing the hijab when we were 15 and 13, respectively. For us, it seemed like a natural choice since we’d spent most of our childhood in Saudi Arabia, where the hijab was mandatory. When our family in Pakistan found out we still wore the hijab after moving to Canada in our teen years, they were ecstatic. They thought it was wonderful that we chose this for ourselves and praised us for making seemingly religious choices.
But that all changed when my sister turned 20 and someone tried to propose to her. Our mother rejected the engagement and it sparked a debate within our entire family. Most of them believed that more proposals would come her way if my sister took off her hijab. I still remember my mother arguing with our aunt who said that hijabs are only meant to look good on girls who are “white, thin, and pretty.” She thought that I was too dark and my sister was too fat, so we were ruining our prospects by sticking to our hijabs.
The worst part about all of this is that my aunt wasn’t entirely wrong. The hijab didn’t make men jump at the chance to marry us. Due to pressure from extended family members, my mother was constantly on the lookout for potential matches for my sister. But every guy who approached would run away just as fast once he heard that she wouldn’t be taking her hijab off for him.
After a while, my sister did it. She found a guy who seemed accepting of who she was and agreed to marry him after a year. Suddenly, the tune the family was singing changed, but not for the better. Everyone asked if she’d be taking her hijab off for the wedding and discussing how beautiful she would look in this or that hairdo. They tried to talk my mother into making my sister buy lehengas, which would show off her midriff and arms. This completely goes against the very purpose of wearing a hijab.
To reach a compromise with my family, I nominated myself as my sister’s makeup artist and hairstylist for the wedding day and began experimenting with different hijab styles. We naively thought that if we could show them that the hijab could be dolled up, they would accept her decision. They did not. In the end, when the engagement was broken off, they simply returned to their earlier comments about taking off the hijab to score a husband.
The sheer amount of criticism that came with all this has my sister unsure about whether she ever wants to have a wedding, let alone one in Pakistan with our family. It hurt to watch my sister try and deal with the harsh judgment and then come to realize that her opinions hold no value in our community. It hurts more to think that other Pakistani brides might have to put up with the same level of harassment all over one headscarf.
My sister was always much more staunch in her love of the hijab. Truth be told, I started wearing it on the condition that it would be pink and glittery. If you asked me just two years back, I might have given in to the family pressure and agreed to take off my hijab for my wedding.
Yet, knowing the struggle and judgment that comes with making a choice has given me an appreciation for the fact that it was a choice. However petty my reason is, it is my choice to put on the hijab, and I will be damned if I let someone else try to make decisions about my body and my attire for that one day in my life.
Now I can say with confidence that I will not be taking my hijab off for my wedding.
Earlier in November, the last three recorded deaths of COVID-19 in Sri Lanka, all of Muslims, had seen the bodies cremated for disposal by governmental authorities. These were not the first, and despite many attempts to stop it from further happening, won’t be the last to be disposed of in a manner prohibited by their religion, all in the name of public health. According to the country’s Muslim community, the government is using the coronavirus as an excuse to discriminate and add to the suffering of the minorities.
The practice of cremation had been taking place in Sri Lanka since the start of May, a violation of both the religious and emotional sentiments of the people who had lost loved ones to COVID-19. After months of trauma and in search of justice, minority groups filed a petition against the unending discriminatory pattern by authorities in July. Much to their dismay, the Supreme Court blatantly threw out the case as a result of the country’s mandatory cremation policy for dead bodies that are suspected to have been infected with the novel virus.
Cremation is prohibited in Islam. The practice is considered a violation of the dignity of the human body, making it a direct clash with teachings of the faith. The Buddhist-majority nation initially agreed to let Muslims bury their own in accordance with their religious practices. However, these inconsiderate amendments were made on April 11, depriving the nearly 10% of the total Muslim population of their basic religious right.
The Sri Lankan authorities have also denied any accusations of discrimination against Muslims, maintaining that the cremation order applied to other religious groups as well, including minority Christians. The government’s chief epidemiologist, Dr. Sugath Samaraweera said that it was the Sri Lankan government’s policy to cremate all those of either die from the virus or are suspected of having infected from it. According to the authorities, burials could contaminate ground drinking water. They only intend to do what is best for the people, regardless of religious differences.
In light of the rule proposed by the local authorities, a senior Muslim leader of the Sri Lankan Muslim Congress Party, Ali Zahir Moulana said that the Muslim community would accept this rule, despite religious obligations and belief system, if there were enough scientific evidence to prove that the act of burying the dead underground caused harm to the health of the living. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), people who die of the coronavirus can either be buried or cremated. There was no mention of the burial causing harm to the living or affecting their health by contaminating the groundwater, whatsoever.
The Buddhist majority nation’s cremations policy disregards the religious beliefs of minorities such as Muslims and Christians living in the county for centuries now – dead bodies should be buried six feet under the ground and not cremated as they are done in other religions, including Buddhism and Hinduism. In Islam, specifically, Muslims believe that to cremate the dead is equivalent of making them rot in hell which is considered as a punishment in the hereafter from God.
The story of religious hatred and injustice goes far beyond the affected bodies of Coronavirus patients being cremated. Muslims in the region believe that they have been demonized since April last year when a local group of Islamists started targeting Churches in the east side of the country. Another thing that has increased this outrage is irresponsible reporting by a few local media outlets, which were quick to blame the spread of Coronavirus in Colombo onto the Muslim population after the death of a Sri Lankan Muslim patient in March. According to the BBC’s story, many cases that were reported to be cremated by the Sri Lankan authorities were not tested positive of having the virus.
As per recent data by TRT World, Sri Lanka has had more than 25,000 cases of Covid-19 and 124 deaths, including more than 50 Muslims who were cremated. Despite the interim guidelines by the WHO and several efforts by Muslim activists to stop the act of cremation of dead bodies of their own, the Sri Lankan government has turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to the minorities concerns.
The issue has been raised by many human rights organizations, including the Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission (IPHRC) of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Belief, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International calling it inhumane and urging the Sinhalese government to respect burial rights of its Muslim minority.
For those unaware of the Yorùbá ethnic group, let me give you a quick rundown. We are one of the largest ethnic groups in Nigeria and we have the most popping diaspora – I don’t make the rules. With over 47 million Yorùbás living in Nigeria and countless of us scattered around the world from the UK, the US, Brazil, Ireland, Canada, and Latin America – we are practically everywhere. But, there’s more to us than our vibrant culture or our diaspora, we have a vast history that people remain unaware of.
I believe as a royal, you are accountable to your people. By no means was Queen Mọ́remí an exception to the rule. Her dedication to her people was so strong that she sacrificed even the important thing to her. Because of this, I believe Queen Mọ́remí is the epitome of royalty. Now, I know that ever since Meghan Markle married into the British Royal Family, the American media wouldn’t stop talking about the British Crown, but let’s get into African royals. Other than Cleopatra and Nefertiti, who were Egyptian, most African royals are often excluded from the narrative. But it’s not surprising when we were taught that Egyptian royals were white (or in some cases mixed-race) in Hellenistic times.
Let’s travel to Ilé-Ifẹ̀ – now in Osun State, Nigeria and the birthplace of Yorùbá civilization. Queen Mọ́remí lived around the 12th century and was very beautiful and loved by the people of Ilé-Ifẹ̀. During the reign of Ọ̀raǹmíyaǹ (Great Prince of Ifẹ̀, King of the Yorùbá), her husband, the people of Ifẹ̀ encountered numerous raids and many were captured and enslaved by Ìgbò warriors.
But it’s important to note that because this was the 12th century – there was no concept of having nations or countries until the colonizers came and forcefully amalgamated hundreds of ethnic groups into what we now know as Nigeria today.
However, the people of Ifẹ̀ thought that these warriors were aliens and out of this world. So, they believed that their gods had been sent down for these ‘aliens’ because of their evil acts.
I should also point out that this was pre-Abrahamic religions and that Yorùbá people at the time never worshipped Allah or God as we know today. Islam reached the Yorùbá people in the 14th century in the midst of the Mali Empire whereas Christianity reached the Yorùbá people by Europeans in the mid 19th century. Despite this, it is strongly believed that the Yorùbá people still worshipped God through their deities but, this changed once mainstream religions were brought into Yorùbáland. After the multiple raids – the people of Ifẹ̀ decided to offer sacrifices as a means of appeasing the gods yet this didn’t work.
Mọ́remí didn’t sit back and watch her people go through their hardship but instead tried to find a solution to the problem. This is the energy all leaders need to exhibit.
With her kindred spirit, Mọ́remí sought assistance from the river deity Esimirin and vowed to sacrifice everything she had for the sake of her people. Mọ́remí did a courageous thing – not sure if our modern-day royals could ever but still – she allowed herself to be captured by the Ìgbò raiders in hopes of learning more about them and their tactics. I mean, if you can’t beat them (spoiler, she did), why not join them?
After being captured by Ìgbò warriors, their king is said to have fallen in love with her because of her beauty. Classic – even in the 12th century, history still shows us that men are the weakest link. But her beauty should not be the focus of her story – or any woman at that matter – it should be how she saved her people. So of course he didn’t want her to be a bed slave and instead took her as his wife. Perhaps Mọ́remí was the originator of pretty privilege and used this to her advantage, garnering substantial information and understood how these warriors were able to capture and continue to wreak terror upon the people of Ifẹ̀.
Due to her newfound knowledge and how she gained the trust of the Ìgbò king, she escaped back to Ilé-Ifẹ̀ and helped free her people from the terror of the Ìgbòs. By arming herself with knowledge of their warfare tactics, the people of Ifẹ̀ were freed by burning the Ìgbòs, who were scared of fire, during the next raid.
Remember when she made her sacrifice to the river deity? Yeah, she had to pull through with that too. So, the river demanded she sacrifice her son Olúòrògbó and of course this must have been incredibly hard for her. I doubt that any mother would want to sacrifice their child, Mọ́remí was no exception. But she had no choice and did what she had to do. The entire kingdom of Ifẹ̀ was in grief because of this. Instead, they promised to be her eternal children because of her sacrifice.
Unfortunately, there isn’t much history recorded after her sacrifice but she is memorialized in Nigeria through a number of books, plays, traditional songs and the annual Edi Festival. I think it is a testament to how the actions of women in history are often ignored or inaccurately depicted. It’s important for us to reflect on the stories we are told about women in history and delve deeper. We should make it our mission they are not forgotten.
As a modern honor of Queen Mọ́remí, a statue was erected in 2016 in line with the Edi Festival. The statue is Nigeria’s tallest and one of the tallest in Africa. Today, we see in the city of modern Ilé-Ifẹ̀ how her sacrifices are celebrated with the annual Edi festival.
If your high school education was anything like mine, you learned a whole lot about Zeus and Poseidon somewhere between reading The Lightning Thief and Oedipus Rex. You probably caught on to a couple of the awesome goddesses in these myths (Hera, Aphrodite, Athena, we all had our favorite), but might not have known that there were more where they came from. Il capo farmaceutico difende l’aumento del prezzo dei farmaci del 400% come un “requisito morale” | Financial Times boldenone doppia blusa katori in carta taglio farmaceutico 38size
It turns out that there’s a whole pantheon of incredibly cool and world-changing female figures in world mythology. We’ve found twenty-three that struck us as the most amazing examples of women in religion and legend. Without further ado, here are our favorite goddesses.
If you’re a fan of creation myths, Tiamat has got to be one of your favorite goddesses.
In the Babylonian Enuma Elish, Tiamat gives birth to the world’s gods and creates the earth–then she gets into a major battle with the other gods. Plus, her nickname is “chaos monster,” so that’s pretty legit.
We get our name for the underworld from this crazy cool Norse goddess. When the ancient Norse told each other to “Go to Hel” it literally meant “To go to the underworld” or “To go to see the goddess Hel.”
Did we mention that she leads an army of the dead during Ragnarok (the Norse apocalypse)?
All cat-ladies probably should have lived in Ancient Egypt. Then, they could have prayed to the cat goddess Bast for sensual pleasure, fertility, and health.
Goddess by day, Bast transformed into a cat at night to fend of serpents that sought to attack her father Ra.
4. Mazu/Tin Hau
Born Lin Moniang in 960, the goddess Mazu was said to have guided ships to harbor during her childhood. She continues to be worshipped across China and South Taiwan as a goddess of seafarers (pirates and storms beware!).
Raised by bears and hunters after her father abandoned her on a mountaintop, Atalanta became a feared virgin huntress. She eventually married Hippomenes after he beat her in a footrace (only because he distracted her with golden apples) and they had one son (but were turned into lions after disappointing Zeus).
6. Mami Wata
African goddess of water Mami Wata represents and controls the spirits of the water. She’s often depicted as a mermaid and seen with snakes, and she’s as important to African diaspora communities.
If she isn’t badass, I don’t know who is.
We could tell you that there are goddesses more badass than Ixchel, but then we’d be lying. After all, her nickname is “the aged jaguar goddess of midwifery.” Wow.
She’s the goddess of both war and childbirth, so that’s more than a little cool in our book.
8. Princess Liễu Hạnh
If someone tells you that you’re definitely not allowed to worship a god or goddess, you know there must be something cool about them. Turns out, worship of Princess Liễu Hạnh was totally prohibited during the first years of the North Vietnamese Communist regime (but women have started worshipping her again since the 1980s).
Goddess of female emancipation and female power, Princess Liễu Hạnh was the daughter of the Jade Emperor, one of the four immortals, and a central figure in Taoism and other East Asian religions.
Goddess of chocolate. Need we say more?
Ixcacao (or, Cacao Woman) was a Mayan and Meso-American goddess of fertility and agriculture (and, of course, chocolate).
Gaea is not just the earth goddess in Greek mythology, but the actual Earth as well. In Greek myth, she gives birth to the sky and sea, as well as all of the Titans and Giants.
Wife of Shiva and mother of Ganesha, Pavarti is the Hindu goddess of love and devotion. Her love for her son Ganesha forced her husband, Shiva god of war, to find her son a new head when his was lost – leading to Ganesha’s appearance as a human god with an elephant head.
We have three words for you: Goddess. Of. Volcanoes. Pele’s creative and destructive powers allowed her to form the volcanoes that would eventually create the Hawaiian islands.
In Buddhism, the goddess Tara is not only a deity but also a Bodhisattva ( person who has reached enlightenment).
She’s often depicted as either the White Tara (goddess of health and peace) or the Green Tara (goddess of fertility and protection).
In Ancient Nigeria, Yemaya was the goddess of the river among the Yoruba people. But, when Africans were taken as slaves to the Americas, she became the goddess of the ocean and followed in their stories.
When you hold a seashell to your ear and listen to the roaring noises it produces, that is said to be the voice of Yemaya speaking to you.
15. White Buffalo Calf Woman
Among certain Native American tribes, White Buffalo Calf Woman taught her people to live in harmony with the natural world. Not only did she teach children to love and care for wild animals, but she also taught the people of the earth that they all came from the same beginnings.
Get excited again, cat-ladies, the Norse goddess Freya rode a chariot driven by cats according to ancient myth. Freya, goddess of love, sex, beauty, fertility, war, and death, also governed the afterlife in Fólkvangr (not Hel nor Valhalla, but a kind of in-between).
Goddess of nature and magic, Isis was the Ancient Egyptian goddess of children and the dead. With her brother Osiris, Isis gave birth to the falcon god Horus.
The annual floods of the Nile river are even tied to her: Ancient Egyptians believed that her tears flowed heavily in memory of the time when the god Set dismembered her brother.
Saxon goddess of dawn and spring-time, Ostara is often depicted with a hare, or rabbit, alongside her.
According to myth, when spring arrived late one year, Ostara felt guilty at the sight of a shivering bird and took that bird as her companion (giving him legs to avoid hunters and naming him Lepus).
In the Persian epic poem The Book of Kings, Gordafarid is a heroine who defeats Sohrab, the commander of the Turanian army, to protect her homeland.
In modern Iranian culture, Gordafarid continues to represent female bravery and wisdom.
Durga takes many forms as the mother goddess of Shakti mythology but is most well-known as the goddess of victory of good over evil. In some traditions, she’s even thought to be the basis for the goddess Pavarti: Durga is the warrior goddess version of the earth mother goddess Adishakti, and Pavarti is the earthly-version of Adishakti.
Ancient Sumerian goddess of love, war, sex, power, and fertility, Ishtar also appears in Aramean mythology as the goddess Astarte.
If you’ve seen photographs of the Ishtar Gate, then you know how influential Ishtar was across Ancient Near Eastern religions.
22. Banu Goshasp
Another favorite of Persian poetry, Banu Goshasp appeared in many Iranian epics like the Banu Goshasp Nama. In fact, the Banu Goshasp Nama is thought to be one of the oldest Persian epics about a warrior woman, and tells the story of Banu Goshasp’s journeys through Turan and India.
It’s hard to find a goddess worthy of closing-out all these other incredibly female goddesses, but Itzpapalotl fits the occasion. After all, she was the Aztec skeletal warrior goddess who ruled Tamoanchan, home of human creation and infant mortality victims. Her nickname was even “Obsidian Butterfly”–pretty cool if you ask us. Online PHP Sandbox on Steroids! dimethazine alarming number of pharma executive login credentials available on the dark web
Even though we’ve all grown up in a patriarchal society where Jupiter and Shiva, Hercules and Ba’al come to mind before any female goddesses, there are plenty of rocking ladies in the land of mythology. Here’s to these literal goddesses!
The Golden Globe-winning dramedy Ramy has returned to Hulu with a second season, starring creator Ramy Youssef as the fictional Ramy Hassan, an endearing Muslim millennial from New Jersey. Season 2 continues to follow its title character on his spiritual journey, which is more of a crisis than anything else.
Ramy has just returned from his quest to find purpose in Egypt, his motherland, and is wallowing in the ruins of his love life. After a frank intervention from his concerned friends and almost being shot while on the toilet, Ramy seeks out spiritual guidance for his problems. This leads him to meet Sheikh Ali, played by the Oscar-winning Mahershala Ali.
Mahershala Ali radiates grace in his role as the endlessly patient and wise Sufi Sheikh. Kind but uncompromising, Sheikh Ali brings Ramy the structure he so desperately needs in his life as well as divine purpose. Ali listens to Ramy’s woes without judgment, demanding openness and honesty if he is serious about changing his ways. Ramy leaves his stuffy, conservative mosque for the Sheikh’s Sufi Center, a place where men and women pray side by side. Eager to conquer his demons, Ramy begins following Sheikh Ali’s instructions to the letter, starting by switching his diet to halal-only.
“Our ummah often doesn’t understand what is haram and what isn’t. Nothing in and of itself is haram,” explains Ali. “It’s a matter of how we choose to engage with it. Alcohol, for example, isn’t haram. Drinking it is. The rules are very important in our faith. Not for the reasons you might think. I was confused about this once too.”
Ali goes on to use an orange and its tough skin as a metaphor for the rules in Islam. The tough skin is necessary for preserving the sweet inside of the fruit. “The outer Sharia protects the inner spirituality. And the inner spirituality gives the outer Sharia its purpose and meaning.”
If Ali is the composed spiritual leader of a beautiful faith, Ramy is the extremely messy believer struggling to hold himself accountable for his destructive actions. He wrestles with being more than just a good Muslim, he struggles to be a good person. The pair test each other, the Sheikh challenging Ramy to destroy his ego as Ramy pushes the limits of Ali’s patience.
Also in the mix are a string of temptations, ranging from Ramy’s porn addiction to alienating his friends with his renewed sense of morality as well as the Sheikh’s beautiful daughter Zainab. As Ramy undergoes his spiritual makeover, his family members are confronted with their own challenges. His immigrant mother struggles to understand the issue when she misgenders one of her Lyft passengers and is anxious to earn U.S. citizenship so she can vote in the upcoming election. Ramy’s father is cracking under the pressure of hiding his lay-off from everyone and becomes increasingly depressed as he realizes the American Dream doesn’t exist. Deena, Ramy’s sister, is forced to combat misogyny and Islamophobia in a way Muslim men never experience.
As a first-generation New Jersey Muslim myself, I was excited to see how creator Ramy Youssef would portray us. Our representation in Hollywood is severely lacking, usually limited to villainous terrorists or oppressive parental figures. With Ramy, Youssef wanted to honestly depict how first-generation Muslim Americans engage with their faith, instead of distancing themselves from everything that makes them different. Personally, I was expecting a diverse group of characters pursuing their respective versions of the ever-elusive American Dream and building each other up over waffles at Tops Diner in Newark, but Ramy is absolutely nothing like that. Although characters are diverse and they do hang out at a diner, it is usually to check in with Ramy’s truly awful decision-making.
The series isn’t meant to be a catch-all work of representation for every Muslim but instead stems from the experiences of a highly flawed individual. That is not to say Ramy isn’t relatable, the range of characters and their respective worries speaks to more than just Muslim audiences. Islam is an important part of Ramy’s identity yes, but it does not make him who he is. By centering themes of forgiveness, redemption as well as discrimination and the dangers of ego, Ramy masterfully opens the door to audiences from all walks of life.
How many books have you read where the protagonist tells the story from their own eyes?
Where the narrator has opinions that end up defining and shaping the rest of the characters, and it’s up to us viewers to catch the slivers of objectivity and piece together the whole story?
We rely on the narrator’s lens to show us the whole picture.
But, what if… we don’t know the narrator at all?
It was with these thoughts that I came across a Twitter thread by Persian Poetics that explained the removal of Islam from the famous poet, Jalaluddin Rumi’s writing.
Born in the early 13th century, Rumi grew up in what is now Afghanistan and eventually settled with his family in Konya, today’s Turkey.
Rumi is known for his life-changing, mystical, enlightened-esque poetry, but hardly known as what he truly was: a scholar of Islam, and a practicing Muslim.
The thread goes on to draw a massive distinction between Rumi’s original writing that was ingrained with the teachings of the Quran, and Rumi’s spiritual and religious knowledge. His original poems, written in Persian, were a vivid reflection of Rumi’s Muslim identity and spiritual beliefs. In the hands of colonialist ‘translators’, Rumi’s poetry was distorted, stripped of the culture it steeped in, and converted to a diluted version of his true poetry.
The interpreter responsible for most prominently separating Rumi from his Muslim identity and who made a career out of his ‘translations’, was Coleman Barks. He may have had a degree in Literature, but Barks had never studied Islam or Sufism academically.
Yet, somehow, this man who could not understand a word of Persian decided to ‘translate’ the work of Rumi, a poet who wrote fifty-thousand lines of mostly Persian, some Arabic poetry, and often used Islamic anecdotes in one of his final works: a six-book monumental poem titled ‘Masnavi’.
In a brilliant article for the New Yorker, Rozina Ali writes, that Jawid Mojaddedi, a scholar of early Sufism at Rutgers, told her that, “the Rumi that people love is very beautiful in English, and the price you pay is to cut the culture and religion.”
So, when I heard that Brad Pitt had one of Rumi’s more famously translated poems tattooed on his arm, I immediately began wondering how he’d feel when he found out what Rumi was actually saying.
On the right is Barks’ ‘translation’ and what Pitt has tattooed.
In the hands of colonialist ‘translators’, Rumi’s poetry was stripped of the culture it’s steeped in.
See what I mean?
In the words of Persian Poetics: my heart aches for those who only know Rumi via this orientalist garbage masquerading as a translation.
Let’s pull this back and examine the role of a reliable narrator.
Even as a translator, Coleman Barks wasn’t reliable. He tried to westernize centuries-old poetry that represented a religious scholar’s life work, in order for it to seem more approachable and easier to face by an audience that it probably was never even meant for.
It makes you seriously question: how much do we just not know? How much of the history and culture of the past has been deliberately mistranslated, before it was even misinterpreted?
A narrator’s job is to be reliable and tell the truth. A narrator should merely translate the scenes playing out; it’s up to us to interpret them.
The truth is that an unreliable translator can change the story instantly.
That’s how you preserve all of history – not just a single dimension of it. The truth is that an unreliable translator can change the story instantly.
It can trick you into mixing up the good and evil, the black and white.
But, most dangerously, an unreliable narrator can take all the shades of grey and distort them into one giant blob, making it unable to ever understand the story and risk losing its true essence forever.
You’ll never trust the story.
If nothing else, the weak, one-sides translations of Rumi’s powerful work are proof of that.
Growing up in Saudi, with a predominantly male group of friends was nothing short of an adventure.
Up until its recent flirtation with liberalism, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was known for its ultraconservative governance, a large part of which were strict gender segregation laws. However, it’s important to note that the lifestyle you led depended on a lot of other factors such as which region you lived in, what kind of social circle you were a part of, and of course, your own family dynamic.
The older I got, the more dangerous it became to hang out with my male friends.
I grew up as one of five sisters in a pretty conservative household. Whether it was a symptom of middle-child syndrome or just an innate rebelliousness that was a part of my personality, I had trouble with stereotypically “girly” things.
I didn’t fit neatly into the “girl” box that the society, culture and local interpretation of Islam drew out for me. I liked doing what the “boys” did – playing football, running around in the dirt, climbing things and getting hurt, and chewing loads of gum to see who could spit it further.
I made my first male friend when I was about 8 years old. His name was Ziad, and he was also half-American. We bonded over our love for cats and dinosaurs.
At the time, I was young enough to get away with it.
My father turned a blind eye to the situation for a while, and at the most, we got a few disapproving tuts from passersby when we were out playing in the park. I used to wait for Ziad outside his apartment building at about the same time every evening to catch him on his way back from the mosque. One day, we were sitting on the steps outside his living room window and talking, though I can’t remember what about.
To this day, I regret nothing.
“Shaima!” I looked up to see my father standing a few meters away. Bear in mind, my father only used my real name instead of my nickname “Shimmy” when he was being stern with me. I walked up to him, confused. “I forgot my wallet. Go get it for me.”
I remember thinking back through the day to try and pinpoint what I could have done that upset him, and I couldn’t figure it out. But, as the weeks passed, it started to become starkly clear what the problem was: I was growing up. It happened gradually and then all at once.
The casual tutting started turning into yelling, as well as the occasional attempt at a compassionate lecture. The bottom line was that he was a boy, and I was a girl (could they make it any more obvious?)
It didn’t matter that we were ten years old and enjoyed marveling about how Stegosaurus had a brain the size of a walnut – it was wrong.
My family eventually moved to a different part of the city, and I never saw Ziad again.
Surprise, surprise… I just made new friends. Naturally, some of them were girls, but no matter how much I tried to fit in, I didn’t. They wanted to wax each other’s legs, and do each other’s makeup, and talk about the guys they were secretly meeting up with on the rooftops of buildings so they could make out. I wanted to skateboard, sing in a rock band, and explore abandoned buildings.
The older I got, the more dangerous it became to hang out with my male friends. Aside from hiding from my dad, we’d get chased by the police, and threatened by strangers. A teenager once pulled a gun on me, calling me a slut.
I still thank God for how flat-chested I was.
I had to get creative, and so, I started utilizing one thing almost every little girl grows up doing – I started playing dress-up. I’d leave the house wearing my sweatpants and a band t-shirt under my abaya. Then I’d run into another building, hide in the staircase and stuff my abaya and headscarf into a black Adidas backpack. I’d tie my hair and fold it up into a cap and put on the baggiest hoodie I owned. I still thank God for how flat-chested I was.
Sometimes it felt like we were fighting a battle we could never win. All we wanted was to be normal, and there was nothing normal about the lengths we’d go to so that we could eat a burger together and host burping contests.
If you’re sitting there wondering how I got away with all of it, you should know: I eventually got caught when my father went through my phone. He put me under house arrest for months.
To this day, I regret nothing.
So, Ziad, Muneer, Abdulelah, Hatem, Ammer, Fahad, Tarek, Rami, Tomas, Yazan, Mahmoud, Salman, and Mazin…I just want to say thanks. Thanks for the laughs, the thrills, the music, and the free food.
Most of all, thanks for befriending me despite the risks, and for letting me be myself in a society that always wanted me to be somebody else.
First-generation Muslim American Ramy Youssef isn’t your typical actor. He’s made waves by taking home a Golden Globe for best actor in a comedy or musical television series, for his role in the Hulu series Ramy.
As the co-creator and star of Ramy, 28-year-old Egyptian-American actor, and stand-up comedian Youssef set out to tell stories about a kid from an immigrant family who wants to hold on to his culture. He based the main character on his own experiences growing up in suburban New Jersey as a Muslim who considers himself religious.
“I felt like a lot of narratives I saw [of] first-generation children…or anyone from a strong faith background was watching them kind of try to erase where they come from.”
“It shows someone engaging with their faith in an honest way. I felt like a lot of narratives I saw [of] first-generation children…or anyone from a strong faith background was watching them kind of try to erase where they come from and distance themselves from the tension of their parents and culture,” Youssef said in an interview with The Tempest. “I wanted to make something that reflected my experience. [That experience saw me] trying to honestly engage and identify with my background, but still asking questions about it.”
With a 97% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, Ramy is built around Ramy Hassan, played by Youssef, a Muslim unsure of what type of Muslim he is or ought to be. The show breaks stigmas and barriers in the Muslim community by addressing topics like sex and dating in Islam, as well as post 9/11 feels.
During our interview with Youssef, we discussed Muslim American representation in the media, his character and spoke of the importance of diverse and authentic representation in the entertainment industry.
The show’s trailer premiered in March, racking up more than 5.6 million views on Youtube. Muslims, in particular, have reacted strongly, with many feeling represented, while others criticized the show’s portrayal of American Muslims and the absence of Muslim women.
Youssef acknowledges the critiques, explaining that Ramy isn’t meant to represent all Muslims. “[As Muslims,] we take a burden on to try to represent everybody and that’s not fair, that’s not something other creators have to do in the same way. It’s important to tell the most specific story to you, don’t worry about any of the feedback or blowback because your job is to actually make something that you can grow from.”
When it came to the importance of representation, particularly the media’s often inaccurate and harsh portrayals of Muslims, Youssef explained his thought process while developing the show. As an Arab-Muslim, he represented the identity he could best depict.
“This is just one piece of representation. This is a small slice of an Arab Muslim family, most Muslims in America don’t even fall under that category,” Youssef said. “Most Muslims in America are Black, while many are South Asian. So this isn’t an antidote to a 24-hour news cycle or years of propaganda and war literature on Muslims. It’s simply just one piece of the puzzle.”
According to Youssef, there are a lot of differences between the Ramy he plays and his real life. He spoke about the family in the show as compared to his own and described how in real life he has a creative outlet to express himself, whereas Ramy, the character, does not.
“This isn’t an antidote to a 24-hour news cycle or years of propaganda and war literature on Muslims. It’s simply just one piece of the puzzle.”
“This character, this family talks a little less to each other and this character has less of an outlet so he’s more stuck. But the thing that I really love about this character and something that really resonates with me in real life is that when he has a problem or when he’s trying to figure himself out or get the best version of himself he prays,” Youssef said.
“He turns to God. That is where he goes, that is how he feels comfortable expressing himself and trying to figure himself out. This was something that was really important for me to put out there and that I wanted to have seen,” he added.
Youssef aims to depict the reality of Muslims in his show. He wants the audience to see that Muslims have the same problems, values, and desires other Americans do.
“I want the audience to see that Muslims have vulnerabilities. I want them [the audience] to take a look at the types of problems that this family and character face and understand that our problems are very much like anybody else problems.”
Through this show, Youssef hopes to recontextualize words and spaces, while also demystifying the tropes about how Muslims are and operate. “When you hear ‘Allahu Akhbar’ in America it means something violent, but when you watch this show, you realize that is something people say when they are looking to find a calm moment- when they are looking to reflect, just an act of worship that is tied to being a human.”
“Dehumanization here is what’s most important. Anything else is just very specific to this story and not really indicative of anything more than that,” he added.
When asked about the advice he would give to fellow Muslim Americans seeking to follow in his career path, Youssef spoke of the importance of taking risks.
“Try to pray and drink a lot of water.”
“Take risks, don’t be worried about the feedback that you may or may not get. Just know, that if you’re young and want to be something, you just have to be as authentic as you can. Be yourself,” Youseff said.
He finished his advice off with a practical note: “Try to pray and drink a lot of water.”
The first season of Ramy is available on Hulu. Earlier this year, the network announced that the show had been renewed for a second season.
When you hear the phrase ‘fashion capital’, you might immediately think of Milan, London, Paris, or New York. After all, some of the most iconic fashion designers of recent times – Coco Chanel, Tommy Hilfiger, Alexander McQueen, and Gianni Versace, to name a few – have emerged from or are strongly affiliated with these cities.
But there are two cities that are strikingly fashion forward, yet rarely recognized for being so: Tehran and Istanbul. Seemingly different, yet similar, these two cities have one pursuit in common: the breaking of stereotypes through self-expression.
When I traveled to Tehran for the first time, my trip gave me a brand new perspective on what the words ‘fashion statement’ really meant. In Iran, what you wear is more than just the brand name. Your style is a gateway of self-expression and individuality, an attitude that allowed me to embrace my truest self through my wardrobe.
Islamic dress code has in many ways inspired Iranians to create newer, more intricate ideas that fit into this framework for women and men alike. Iranians have mastered the idea of turning a simple look into a unique, chic style tailored to one’s individual personality. Many shop owners travel abroad to different countries, finding the newest, most fashion-forward trends to bring back home. In some cases, sellers open boutiques, called mezon or maison, in their own homes, where they sell only the latest trends. Here, you will find styles that are not yet on the market in many countries, but have been introduced only in cities like Paris or Milan.
Iran has its own set of designers and taste-makers that are redefining street style and Islamic or modest fashion. For modest, yet fashion-forward styles, designers like Naghmeh Kiumarsi are setting the standards. Breaking free of the traditional black or blue chador, Naghmeh incorporates rich colors, like deep maroons and emerald greens, to pull off a sophisticated look.
Another designer, Shadi Parand, ensures that her customers have a one-of-a-kind outfit, as she never makes the same design twice. Shadi incorporates traditional Iranian prints and integrates them into more modern styles. She also designs looks that are to be worn both indoors and outdoors.
Recently, Tehran has revamped the tried-and-true trend of pleated skirts paired with traditional loose coats by adding patterned head scarves with just the right pop of color that are tied or arranged in a number of different styles. It should be noted that these styles are complementary for both Muslims and non-Muslims, such as myself, and allow us to access the fashion world and the latest trends on our own terms.
Istanbul is equally unique, but for a different reason. Istanbul is on the cusp of the Middle East and Europe. Because of this, it has become noted for its unique take on fashion that is influenced by both East and West.
In 2018, one of the more prominent fashion shows, MAGIC, held its annual show in Las Vegas, where Istanbul was named as a fashion capital for the first time. There, prominent Turkish designers showcased their newest designs for the American public. Designers from the most notable fashion capitals, like Milan, London, and Paris, have implemented Turkish designs and ideas into their own collections.
Designers like Zeynep Guntas moved to Milan to pursue her fashion line. Zeynep hand-paints all of her clothing, which has grown in popularity in Milan, especially as streetwear. Turkish designer Bora Aksu has grown rapidly popular in London, where he incorporates designs tailored to a more European style. Another Turkish designer, ERDEM, is based in Canada. He creates chic evening wear that is elegant and unique with intricate patterns.
As of late, Istanbul has shifted from mostly purely European styles to integrating more modest looks that incorporate Islamic values and Turkish culture. One notable modest fashion line is Modanisa, which aims to produce more modest interpretations of the latest fashion trends.
These designs not only have an ‘East meets West’ element, but also recapture a global discourse that has historically been dominated by the Western world. In a day and age when there are many misconceptions about the Middle East and Islam, designers in both Tehran and Istanbul have been working to break free of stereotypes. They also give new meaning to what it means to be fashionable or on-trend.
Not only are both cities fashion forward, the designs they produce appeal to a large, previously uncatered-to audience. This has allowed them to practice self-expression without compromising their values or preferences. This open-mindedness, creativity and innovation make both cities worthy of being the future fashion capitals of the world.
A joyous occasion celebrating the fasts, the prayers, the many times you repeated to yourself through gritted teeth and clenched fists, “I’m fasting” when you tried to calm your road rage.
The morning of Eid is an especially unique moment.
When else during the year do you iron your shalwar kameez at 6:30 in the morning or do relatives 7 hours ahead of you call at the break of dawn to say hello? Only on Eid morning of course!
Despite having to be up by 6:15, you can’t sleep. Are you that excited for Eid?!
Or has your sleep schedule completely been thrown into a blackhole of chaos that is a summer Ramadan and you’ve gotten accustomed to sleeping so early the next morning?
Serious existential questions begin to enter your mind.
Did I do everything I could to be a better Muslim this Ramadan? Did I put enough lemon juice on my henna to get ultimate, long-lasting, bold results?
Your cutesie “EID <3 :)” alarm label is futile against your right thumb that hits SNOOZE.
The battle between the alarm and your right thumb continues. Your thumb wins.
Your brother knocks on your door and tells you it’s to get up. “And oh yeah, Eid Mubarak.”
All the showers are occupied. You use this time to groggily iron your Eid outfit which seems to be completely made of chiffon, sequin, cashmere, rose petals, silk worms (not silk, silkworms).
Once in the bathroom, you wash your face to reduce puffiness. It is still puffy. When your face is all clean, you start putting on your mascara and try to think of the last time you put on a full face of makeup at 7 in the morning.
You remember. It was last Eid.
Dressed and phone in hand already buzzing with “Eid Mubarak” texts, you go to the kitchen and your mom has laid out pastries on a fancy tray. You approach the cookies but hesitate. Then you remember that food actually isn’t haram (forbidden) and that it’s all okay now. You grab a powdered sugar cookie and allow the sugar to melt in your mouth.
You cherish this moment. It feels so wrong.
But so right.
Meanwhile, Baba is on his 3rd cup of coffee this morning.
You are on your way to Eid prayer and there is traffic. Baba makes a dad joke: “I guess everyone’s on their way to Eid prayer!” Your family laughs at the ridiculousness of the notion that all of LA is on their way to celebrate Eid. Then you all silently contemplate how cool that would be.
Then you think about Creeping Shariah and smirk to yourselves.
Your father’s plans for arriving at the early Eid prayer are foiled (as they are every year), and your optimistic mother says, just like every year, “It’s okay, we’ll make the 9 am prayer. Relax, it’s Eid!”
You’re finally at the convention center with thousands of other Muslims here to pray the Eid prayer. You put your shoes in a plastic bag provided so intuitively by the facility, sit down next to your mom, and begin saying the takbir chants. You realize you never really learned the takbir. You just know it from the Eid prayers you’ve attended since you were born. You begin saying it louder.
Eid prayer starts.
Little kids in tutus, bow ties, headbands, mini kaftans run through rows of people praying. Today, you are okay with the children being unruly because it looks like a Gymboree catalog came to life.
Eid prayer ends. You hug and kiss the people you know around you.
And the ones who look familiar but you’re not sure if you met them before but it’s probably better to say hello just for good measure.
Exit prayer area, head for donut table. Eat celebratory Eid donut and relish in the fact that it’s broad daylight and you’re eating.
After much picture taking, people meeting, Eid-money receiving, and donut eating, it’s time for the traditional Eid nap.
Go ahead, you need this. You have a long day of celebration ahead.
The conflict is over the award-winning LGBTQ acceptance lessons known as the ‘No Outsiders’ program. The parents, mostly from the Muslim community, argue that that the lessons are ‘not age-appropriate,’ with some even going further to say that the lessons encourage their children that being queer is okay and that it goes against their religious teachings.
‘No Outsiders’ was created in 2014 by Andrew Moffat, the then-assistant headteacher at Parkfield Community School in Birmingham at the center of the protests. He was awarded an MBE in 2017 by the Queen for his services to education and was shortlisted for the Varkey Foundation’s “best teacher” prize.
He states the program aims to teach children about the Equality Act and the characteristics protected under it – such as sexual orientation and religion. It helps children understand that there are different familial dynamics and also teaches them respect and tolerance of others in a world with hatred for ‘different.’
Moffat has said that feedback by parents has always been positive and the protests a small minority who are using the situation to push forward their homophobic beliefs.
These parents have taken to pulling their children out of the school, protesting outside the school and spewing death threats to the teachers and other parents who refuse to stand up for what they believe is ‘discrimination against their religion.’ Staff at the schools are distraught, and the fear that runs through the country’s LGBTQ community has increased too.
Many of these parents argue it is not a case of ‘homophobia’ but more of ‘age-inappropriate’ teaching of subjects that are sensitive and controversial and that they are better taught in the home to reflect their religious beliefs.
And to that, I say, poppycock!
Islam is a religion that is greatly misunderstood. Our community is adamant about telling the world that we are peaceful, tolerant, and accepting of all. We tell everyone that we are not here to change your way of life but to live freely with you for a better life for ourselves in cohesion with yours. We would never change your traditions, cultures or anything that is associated with you – we respect you, and we hope you can do the same for us.
But when you have narrow-minded parents like the ones boycotting and protesting lessons on LGBTQ tolerance, the eye rolls from the masses and ignorance starts to make sense.
How can Muslims be demanding respect and tolerance when they are not willing to do the same for others?
Teaching your children about equality for all, including different familial dynamics which could be two mothers, two fathers, etc, does not make your children queer. And even if they are, that is who they are, and if you were a decent parent, your child’s sexuality wouldn’t matter.
If these parents are boycotting the school and threatening staff because the lessons go against ‘Islamic principles’ then they are not actually practicing the Islamic teachings themselves.
Islam promotes equality, respect, and tolerance for all, regardless of orientation, race, or religion.
So the usage of so-called ‘Islamic teachings’ as a reason for bigotry is a) wrong and not even Islamic and b) plays into the hands of the bigots searching for any reason to condemn and criticize Islam further.
As the lessons begin in Reception classes (four and five years old), parents are arguing that the lessons are not ‘age appropriate,’ which is also ridiculous. If sexual relationships of any kind were deemed not ‘age-appropriate’ for four- and five-year-old children, adults should not be asking children, if their friends of the opposite sex are their ‘boyfriends’ or ‘girlfriends,’ regardless of whether it is in a teasing manner.
If children can understand heterosexual relationships such as ‘mummy and daddy love each other,’ then why are they too young to understand queer relationships? Relationships are relationships – regardless of gender.
Using a child’s age to protest against these lessons is masking the homophobia clearly at play.
Muslims and the LGBTQ community are no different from each other in one critical way: we are both enemies in the eyes of bigots and criticized for our ways of life.
So why are the Muslims joining the same bigots who wouldn’t think twice to verbally and physically abuse us, too?
Children are the most loving, understanding and accepting humans on the planet. The innocence of children is not threatened by learning about the LGBTQ community – a community still considered criminal in many parts of the world.
What will destroy that innocence is teaching young children to hate.
Hatred grows as time goes by and when things go wrong, fingers will be pointed at the same parents who will argue that they had nothing to do with it. Families socialize children from a very young age – if you are teaching your children to hate others, you cannot be surprised if they react with that hatred in the future.
Maybe it will do some good for the parents themselves to attend these classes.
Two things are different about the online responses to this attack, however. One is that the number of people speaking out about hate crimes against Muslims is disproportionately lower than the numbers that speak out in response to any other display of violence and hatred. This is unsurprising – Islam and anything to do with it has become so deeply politicized that any declaration of solidarity with or sympathy for the Muslim community is perceived as some sort of radical political statement.
To say that Muslims shouldn’t be murdered for their faith is, judging by the few who are saying it, a controversial move in a way that saying it of any other religious group would not be.
The second difference in the social media response to the massacre is that well-meaning as they may be, public figures simply refuse to call it like it is.
There are a lot of mentions of ‘condemning hatred’, of ‘fighting all forms of bigotry’ – vague terms, and, in this case, empty ones. In not mentioning by name the Islamophobia that fuelled the attack and the Muslims that paid for it with their lives, these statements render us invisible. They group the fifty Muslims killed in worship with the victims of countless other attacks, all of whom are denied the right to their individual identities and the acknowledgment of the specific breed of hatred and bigotry that killed them.
Activist Shaun King, in a tweet, described this as “basically ‘All Lives Mattering’ the issue of Islamophobia.” When the motive behind an attack is so blatantly obvious and its victims so deliberately chosen, it is not enough to attribute it to simply ‘hatred’ or ‘bigotry’.
The Christchurch attack was inspired and fuelled by a widespread Islamophobic ideology perpetuated by mainstream media rhetoric, political figures, and social media. It was carried out with the intention of hurting the Muslim community specifically, in their place of worship, on the holiest day of the week.
There is profound power in language.
Vagueness, euphemisms, ambiguity – these are all detractors. They hide the real issues and protect perpetrators. They are of no substantial value, and all they do is prolong the pursuit of justice and accountability.
In not verbalizing the root cause of an attack, in being vague about what fuelled and continues to fuel this hatred, you are doing Muslim communities everywhere a grave disservice. It is not enough to condemn ‘hatred in all its forms’ or to ‘send love to those affected’. The hatred is in the form of Islamophobia, so mention that. The victims are Muslims, mention that too.
There is no ambiguity here, no gray area. In not naming us, in refusing to acknowledge the ideology that is killing us, you are failing us.