Categories
Gender & Identity Life

Just because I’m quiet doesn’t make me any less of a feminist

Picture the quiet, submissive, obedient, perfect-haired, housewife image that was so prevalent in the 50s.

You probably thought of something like this, right?

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Now think of the opposite.

What exactly are you picturing now?

The image that comes to my mind is a fearsome, cool, quick, witty, fierce, loud, and rebellious type of woman.

Something like this:

https://www.instagram.com/p/BKqR-WJjVT5/

When we want to separate ourselves from the painful image of women who cannot speak their minds (the first image), we want to separate ourselves completely. Throw away those perfect bell-shaped skirts and white smiles and give me your oversized denim jackets and sly smiles/grimaces.

That second image is beautiful and empowering, and I have nothing against the women who fit that image.

However, not every feminist does. Like me, for example.

Yes, I am a feminist, but I hate raising my voice and confronting others. I prefer listening to and writing stories than speaking them. I’m not antisocial (read: introvert does NOT mean awkward or antisocial) and I love people, but I prefer small groups to big ones and often need time to myself. I write poetry but will probably never do spoken word. I don’t wear dark lipstick ever. My mean mug is awkward. I stop at stop signs and have never illegally downloaded a movie.

With this, I still consider myself interesting, and I definitely still stand for gender equality.

[bctt tweet=”I still consider myself interesting, and I definitely still stand for gender equality.” username=”wearethetempest”]

Previously, I had internalized this image of a feminist so much that even though I recognized both my feminism and my introverted personality, I always felt I had to be louder, have sharper comebacks, and dress differently.

I’d only realized this was not necessarily the only image of a feminist when I was asked a very simple question: “What book character are you most like?”

Immediately, I thought of all the strong female characters I looked up to: Elizabeth Bennet, Annabeth Chase (yes, the Percy Jackson series was my life in middle school), Ma Joad, Scout Finch, Minny Jackson, and Dido.

I remembered them for the loudness and I equated that with strength. Perhaps I was just remembering the wrong characters, but doesn’t it say something that in that moment the only strong female characters I could think of were extroverted ones?

tumblr.com Like how does Elizabeth just come up with that and SAY it?

It was only later that I thought of the more introverted Aibileen Clark, Jane Bennet, Katniss Everdeen, and Mariam (from A Thousand Splendid Suns).

This was an eye-opening realization for me. Introverted characters and people, in general, can have personalities and can be amazing leaders, fighters, and thinkers. I decided I could be myself and did not have to have a certain look or voice to fight for the things I felt I had to fight for.

This was further ingrained in me in a moment last year at the DNC. Khizr Khan gave a speech about his veteran son, the Constitution, and Donald Trump’s proposed policies. Meanwhile, his wife, Ghazala Khan stood beside him.

Later, when Trump was asked about this speech, he said, “If you look at his wife, she was standing there. She had nothing to say. She probably — maybe she wasn’t allowed to have anything to say. You tell me.”

[bctt tweet=”Quiet is not the same as being silenced, and strong is not the same as loud.” username=”wearethetempest”]

I empathized and identified with Ghazala Khan. As evidenced by Trump’s interpretation, the introverted feminist idea is made more complicated when you’re constantly told your religion oppresses you. That oppressed image is the default, and, unless you’re actively combating it, you will be labeled as such.

Couldn’t we allow Khan the right to be silent instead of being forced to talk about the painful matter of her son’s death? What did she have to do to prove she was not oppressed?

A feminist can be a stay-at-home mom, be awful at comebacks, and wear collared dresses.

For me, a feminist can be quiet.

Quiet is not the same as being silenced, and strong is not the same as loud. Just because I am introverted does not mean I will not be vocal. In fact, expect me to be vocal when I see injustice, but expect me to express it differently than an extrovert would.

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Plenty loud without saying a thing.

I am not your typical image of a feminist, but don’t mistake me for anything other than exactly that.

Categories
BRB Gone Viral Pop Culture

#MuslimWomensDay totally happened – and we were totally there for it

The 27th  of March, Women’s History month, is now marked as Muslim Women’s Day after the hashtag #MuslimWomensDay spread wildly on Twitter, thanks in part to the partnerships between media outlets like Refinery29, Teen Vogue, Muslim Girl, and Equality4Her. Women all over the world proved that they are not afraid to speak up and unapologetically be who they are, whatever that may be.

There may have been some bigots, but hey – here’s to us being amazing.

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https://twitter.com/foxville_art/status/846509350558535680

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https://twitter.com/PickMyYA/status/846381079061676033

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https://twitter.com/MuslimahMontage/status/846366934878740480

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https://twitter.com/BlairImani/status/846466886003019776

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https://twitter.com/beIIatrx/status/846733549948604416

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https://twitter.com/krennylavitz/status/846499906114260993

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https://twitter.com/shahd_st/status/846821857441595393

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https://twitter.com/92peachy/status/846860571601362944

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https://twitter.com/tuktomalbdair/status/846873771520724993

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https://twitter.com/marah_jad/status/846922322917429249

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https://twitter.com/fahimazzam/status/846931597446164482

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https://twitter.com/HanaShafi/status/846442519441428480

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https://twitter.com/MahdiaLynn/status/846162460105211904

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https://twitter.com/tara_farage/status/846777448142393344

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https://twitter.com/riyaanxx/status/847042296247922690

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https://twitter.com/African_Jawwn/status/846380628811624448

Though Muslim Women’s Day has now passed, don’t wait until next year to support, ally with and celebrate Muslim women for their amazing accomplishments. Most importantly, celebrate Muslim women for being who they are: amazing.

 

Oh. And shoutout to this fool:

https://twitter.com/dalsx1/status/847104787925602304

Categories
Love Life Stories

I support your right to wear whatever you want, even if you don’t support mine

Many people find the niqab to be polarizing.

When I became Muslim, my first Muslim friend was a niqabi. I remember how intimidated and nervous I felt when I met her. Khadijah* was so kind, but the news had shown me that women who dressed this way were to be feared. She was the only niqabi I’d met in years, as it was not the norm in my community.

Several years later, I felt the call to wear the niqab. Nobody had asked me to, not even Khadijah. When I started discussing it with friends and family, many asked me not to wear the face veil.

[bctt tweet=”There is nothing better than women who support women.” username=”wearethetempest”]

Some were concerned I thought covering one’s face was obligatory for all women. Others told me I would be too scary in American society. I took all of their opinions into my mind and continued to think it over.

I ended up deciding to wear it when I got married. When I told my husband that I would wear the niqab, he asked me not to, because he was scared people would mistreat me. I told him I was going to wear it even if the world didn’t want me to because I felt happy in it.

He ultimately supported my decision.

Women are often expected to justify why they wear something. Why can we not say, “I like it, so I wear it”?

[bctt tweet=”Women are often expected to justify why they wear something.” username=”wearethetempest”]

For me, the niqab offers privacy. It is a reminder to be God-conscious and also allows me to choose who I show my body to. Nobody can choose that but me.

For me, niqab is a feminist experience.

However, I recognize that for many women, it is the absolute opposite. For them, the niqab is suppressive or regressive.

Having the background that I do helped me understand how important it is to be able to navigate the difficult discussions around the niqab. I went from a non-Muslim who had never seen a woman wearing niqab before to a Muslim woman who regularly wears it. I know how people have to work through their emotions when they see somebody who dresses outside of the “norm”.

[bctt tweet=”In my heart, I believe we can make space for the women who love and hate the niqab.” username=”wearethetempest”]

I often hear of two scenarios:

The first? Women who were forced to cover themselves and were not given the space to be open about their experiences. In places like Saudi Arabia and Iran, the hijab is legally required.

And second? Women who were forced to uncover themselves and were not given the space to be open about their experiences. In places like Belgium, France, Chad, and the Netherlands, the niqab is illegal.

I have been told that I am a slave who likes to wear shackles and a woman who hates her gender for wearing the niqab.

Ultimately, I think the former is a load of crap. I like to wear it and if you don’t like to wear it, that’s okay too.

The issue is one of force, not the cloth.

Regardless, if one prefers a hijab, a niqab, or nothing at all, I believe a woman should have the right to wear what makes her happy. It sounds like we’re all tired of being forced in and out of clothes, so let’s just support one another instead. There is nothing better than women who support women.

*Name has been changed.

Categories
Gender & Identity Life

Here’s what shocked me when I got to Denmark

When you are travelling to a new country, you plan for everything in advance.

Or at least, you think you do: you research the local culture and traditions, you check the weather and purchase clothes accordingly, you make sure to have local currency and that your credit cards work, and most importantly you buy a charger adapter (life stops if your cell phones and laptops are not working). And did I mention food? When you go to a new place, you want the everyday traditional dishes your family makes at home, so you look for the best local food. But even after you think you’ve done all your research, there is always something that surprises you. That is exactly what happened to me when I moved to Denmark as an exchange student from San Francisco.

As soon as I got my visa, I researched endlessly. I looked for local traditions and found out about Shrovetide, the Danish version of Halloween. I found out about their freezing weather and got sweaters and boots, got Danish Kroners – the local currency – and of course, bought the charger adapter.

I thought I was ready, until I landed in Aarhus – the second largest city in Denmark. And boy, did I have another thing coming!

Dark nights:

My plane landed around 21:50. Now for someone coming from one of the busiest-and-never-sleeping cities in the world, Aarhus was a complete shock. Everything was closed, and I mean everything. You could count the cars on the road and barely see people on the streets.

Aarhus has clubs and bars open at night but other than that you are all by yourself. But still, surprisingly, the city is one of the safest places for women.

Pedestrian rights, right?:

You know how,  in America, you can cross the street without getting honked at? Right?

Yeah, you don’t have that in Denmark. Maybe you have the right-of-way, but drivers don’t care. They will stop at a red light, but if there are no lights, they won’t. As somebody who has been living in the Bay Area for almost five years now, getting honked at for crossing the street was a shock.

As one of my tour guides in Italy explained, “We do have pedestrian laws theoretically. But it is always good to look both ways twice.”

Dates:

When it comes to writing dates and prices in Denmark, it is completely different. In US, we use mm/dd/yyyy format while most European countries, including Denmark, use the dd/mm/yyyy format. You don’t think it’s that big of a deal until someone’s yelling at you for putting a date on a form wrong, or you’re trying to figure out what the 24th month is and why the 12th day is a holiday. I found a simple solution to this confusion: I spell out the month. No more confusion.

Time:

For as long as I remember, my phone has always been set to military time, so when I moved to Denmark, where everyone uses military time, I fit right in (finally!). For a lot of people, though, it might be confusing as to why school ends at 16:00 instead of 4pm.

Prices:

Thirty-eight thousand kroners for toothpaste! I’d rather not brush my teeth!

That’s what I thought for a good minute when I  went to the store to get toothpaste. Yeah, it’s unhygienic, but was I really going to pay 38,28 DDK for two tubes of Colgate Max Fresh?

Turns out yes I would, because the Danes use comma instead of a dot for their prices. (Even my text editor doesn’t seem to recognize this style).

Gap year:

Taking a gap year after high school is socially acceptable in Denmark. It is so common that the government proposed a law to provide some sort of incentive to students to opt out of this norm. A lot of Danes I’ve met in school and my dormitory have taken a year off after high school. They usually go abroad and volunteer in different countries.

Bicycle culture:

Davis, California, may be the bike capital of America, but Copenhagen is the bike capital of the world. It is very common to see people of every age riding a bicycle in Denmark. According to the Denmark’s official website, 45% of students and workers bike to school and work in Copenhagen, while 48% of Danes in Aarhus bike to work every day.

The moral of the story is when it comes to travel, research is great, but nothing beats the actual experience. If you’re getting ready to travel this summer, expect the unexpected!

Categories
Gender & Identity Life

Dear aunties, stop using my body for your gossip

Under the dimmed lights of the wedding hall, bhangra music played loudly in sync to the rhythm of the dhol drums. My Muslim friends shook their hips on the center dance floor in the midst of a crowd of men, huddling their heads together in laughter and clapping along to the music.

I sat by myself at one of the empty tables bopping my high heels to the music, pretending that sitting alone for the second night in a row during a week of aunty-approved wedding festivities, didn’t bother me. I was dressed in a blue and magenta shalwar kameez. Neatly tied around my face, in sharp contrast to my friends, was a matching navy hijab.

That evening, my smile was my best accessory. It hid the dawning realization of my outsider-status as a hijabi in my Muslim community. 

I was holding back tears.

I grew up in a small suburban town in upstate New York with a modest-size population of Muslims, the majority of whom were of Pakistani descent like me. This community was an isolated bubble, sheltered from people’s lived realities, on-going politics, and rampant Islamophobia. Having attended Islamic school from a young age, I was taught a black-and-white vision of Islam: boys are haram, hijab is obligatory, and meat must be zabihah or kosher.

The conservativeness of our community was only enhanced by my parents, who began every conversation on womanhood with the word “haram,” or “forbidden.” The word was pervasive in their vocabulary and – although God-forbid anyone says it aloud – subtly associated with sexuality.

 Women singing in public was haram because of its so-called sexual allure. Women were forbidden from dancing in front of men because it was deemed sexually enticing. And for every strand of hair, a woman failed to hide behind a cloth was another day of punishment waiting in hellfire. 

My entire existence was perceived and understood in relation to men.

While most would rebel under these stringent rules and ridiculous principles, I embraced it. My strong belief in God’s goodness was enough for me to see the beauty in what I believed was God’s command. We were taught that God wanted to protect women from the uncontrollable gaze of the opposite sex, who make up 50 percent of the population. 

These rules were not oppressive, but liberating and cautionary.

During Ramadan in sixth grade, I walked through the front doors of school with a hijab covering my hair for the first time. Other than a few comments about my “do-rag,” my change in appearance went largely unrecognized by the student body. Ironically, the most ruthless comments came from outside school, from aunties in my Muslim community, the majority of whom did not wear the hijab at the time.

One aunty laughed, “She even wears the hijab in front of my son!” As if I thought I was a sexual muse for her son, rather than carrying out a religious mandate.

This was my first introduction to what I have since dubbed aunty culture: the innate need of aunties to voice unwarranted opinions and attempt to control the lives of everyone else in our mosque community.

The first time our community was exposed to the controversial idea was by Brother G, a trusted Islamic school teacher. Aunties and uncles came at him with knives and pitchforks ready to drive him out. There were threats of banning him from teaching (though he generously taught Quranic Arabic for free to high school students), letters of nasty words were exchanged (“third-world country” took on a whole new level of meaning) and board members demanded he explain his “extremist” textual methodology at an emergency town hall meeting.

The topic in question? Hijab.

Brother G concluded the hijab was never an obligation, but a remnant of a culture that gave birth to Islam. This kind of talk was unacceptable and it became the community’s sole mission to cast out all deviant voices.

Watching the unfolding drama revealed an entirely different facet of Islam to me just as I went off to college—one where people disagreed on the interpretation of the Quran. And so as I moved to Boston for school, I began to explore the multiple Islams through my Anthropology and journalism studies. Over a span of four years, my views changed and crumbled and my faith wavered in highs and lows.

Exiting the confines of my small town, I became frustrated with the hypersexualization of women’s body and hair. I detested the limitation of my mobility when men were present. I resented the discomfort of the cloth on my head, which never rested comfortably on my shoulders. I judged Muslim men who dared to utter the word hijab in my presence. I questioned the positioning of hijab in a continuum of gender and sexuality notions. 

And I hated the constant feeling of being “other,” both inside and outside my Muslim community.

Aunties – my role models, my mothers, my friends – became the cultural agents by which contradictory depictions of femininity were enforced. One day dancing was classified as erotica, the next day it was a measure of my religious progressiveness or lack thereof. Flexibility was not an aunty-sanctioned option.

The mosque had become a space of hostility and othering. Here, it was impossible for me to not question gender-sexuality norms and the role of the hijab in my own marginalization.

None of my female Muslim friends wore this simple cloth that is now a contentious battleground for political, religious and economic ideologies. 

They will never understand the burden of wearing your religious identity publicly, facing discrimination during countless job interviews, to overcome preconceived assumptions while conversing with a professor, or the fear of walking down a sidewalk after the Boston Marathon bombing.

Worse, they will never understand how it feels to be made invisible and under-prioritized by the women of their very own Muslim community.

I spent my youth desperately looking for someone to rise up and define a new normal among Muslim women—one that empowers relationships, emancipates the female body from a field of controversy, and embraces a spectrum of differences. 

All these years later, I’m still looking.

So as I watched my Muslim friends dancing at the wedding from afar while I sat, decked out and alone, I never felt so distant from my faith, my Muslim community, and the larger American society.

It is a paralyzing realization.

Categories
Gender & Identity Life

Just because I don’t wear hijab, doesn’t mean I need you to pray for my soul

We are inundated with images of the Muslim woman: her headscarf neatly tied around her head, modestly dressed and the epitome of virtue.

Though, as is the case with most media stereotypes, and even stereotypes within the Muslim community, the Muslim woman is in fact varying shades of headscarf, hair, and clothing. No two Muslim women are the same, and as a Muslim woman who doesn’t wear the headscarf, I feel that we are underrepresented and silenced.

We are in the age of YouTube and social media, and what an age it is. Of course, one can list the negatives of these media outlets, but let us not forget how important these sources have been in elevating the Muslim woman through business, fashion, and much more. You don’t have to look far to find beauty and fashion bloggers from all over the world presenting themselves to an audience of millions, representing Muslim fashion and modesty, whilst also enjoying the beauty and holistic therapies that many women — Muslim and non-Muslim alike — enjoy.

I admit, I enjoy watching the YouTubers who use the site as a platform to talk about wearing the headscarf, new styles in which to wear it, and so forth. Though I don’t wear a headscarf myself, it’s still something that plays a part in my religion, and their modest fashion choices can also play as inspiration.

However, what I have seen so little of is the presence of these bloggers who are Muslim but don’t wear the headscarf. I feel that the headscarf has become the pinpoint on how to categorize a Muslim woman. I’m often met with, “Oh you’re a Muslim?” and this is, of course, because I am not veiled.

It has been a discourse that has resonated with me for some time: how has the hijab become the symbol of the all-pious, Muslim woman?

I appreciate that there are the bloggers who, time and again, offer the disclaimer that they are in no way perfect, and that they are simply offering their version of lifestyle, with no bells or whistles attached. However, one doesn’t have to look farther than the comments section on social media to see that the hijab and Muslim police are always on patrol, with, “sister, that’s not how you wear a headscarf,” or, “sister, we don’t wear turbans in Islam.” It’s an interesting battle to see: on the one hand, these woman are portraying a positive image of the Muslim woman, while on the other, they are sometimes targeted for being seen as not Muslim enough.

So where does that leave the likes of me and other fellow non-hijabi Muslim women?

It’s easy to go into the politics of the hijab, dissect numerous verses of the Qur’an to prove your right to not wear it, or hadiths that implement the headscarf as mandatory. Yet, I’m not interested in this. Society has a way of picking and choosing its rules; what it wishes to follow, what it wishes to preach, and what it wishes to demonize.

As a Muslim, I have never thought that a hijabi Muslim sister is better than me, or more pious. And I have wished that these feelings be reciprocated. However, this has not always been the case. Many a time, during my childhood and teenage years, growing up with young Muslim girls, I was told what I was doing was wrong, and that they hoped Allah yahdeek: loosely translated as ‘may God guide you’ (to the right path). There was no discussion, debate or even room to allow me to defend myself. Instead, I was prayed for.

The most basic regulations within Islam lie in the main foundations of the five pillars: these are the testimony to the faith, to fast Ramadan, give to charity, pray five times a day, and journey to Makkah at least once in one’s lifetime. Yet, the outer image of a Muslim has become more of a concern than the inner intentions and acts of the Muslim woman. I think to myself often that if the headscarf instigates these women to pray, fast, and genuinely help them in their path of faith, then I am all for it.

Yet what about those who feel the headscarf has done half their duty for them? It’s like having a padlock but no key: you may be wearing the headscarf, but it hasn’t unlocked your intention to follow Islam in its most basic form.

This sometimes harsh judgment shown towards Muslim women who do not wear hijab can lead at least some Muslim women to become alienated from the Muslim community, and could lead to a loss of Islamic practice. A similar situation prevails regarding evaluation of the headscarf as a token of Islamic faith. The depiction of the hijab as a unifying element within the Muslim community is not well-founded, and breeds a seed of intolerance to those of us who don’t wear it. In addition, it has become a token political symbol, fuelling public debate by non-Muslims, never mind Muslims themselves.

Modesty is not uniquely an Islamic requirement. For many without a religion, it’s a personal choice. Not everyone wants to bare all. And for those that do, that is their prerogative.

The hijab, for some, is genuinely out of piety, while others are conforming to local customary dress. Some are rebelling against state politics, some are acting like testy teenagers, and some are making a statement about religious identity.

The hijab should not dictate what a Muslim woman is.

I am a Muslim who also happens not to wear the headscarf. It has never caused doubts in my mind, and it shouldn’t be a topic of interest to those who wear it. I am free to pursue larger issues and purposes that we all, as humans, are called to fulfill. This unrelenting discourse that focuses only on the head coverings of Muslim women gives an oversimplified version of Islam’s teachings.

As a Muslim woman who doesn’t wear the headscarf, I am not invisible. I practice my faith and adopt modesty not only in my clothing, but my words also.