Take the overwhelming desire for people to know how others live, along with the fact that I am having a hankering to talk about myself this week, and mix in the fact that lists are fun and in the world of technical writing- easy to digest.
And what results is:
Let the countdown begin!
7. I didn’t expect to love dressing modestly
I thought I would have to swaddle myself in hideously, un-creative clothing in order to observe hijab. While I became interested in controlling who saw what parts of me, I didn’t want to give up my style. Now there is nothing wrong with looking bland if that is your thing, but it is not mine.
I am in LOVE with color, and I am a highly creative person with a love for fashion. I learned that I didn’t have to give up my signature style just because I wanted to be modest. See islamwich’spinterest page if you want more examples of what I mean. Modesty doesn’t mean giving up style. I was very happy to discover that.
She sits with her rolling chair turned slightly away from the desk, listening patiently as I explain my symptoms and current state of health. When I’ve finished, she smiles kindly. I’ve seen the smile a hundred times. Not on her. On the others.
“So, you’ve been diagnosed with . . .”
I repeat my diagnosed conditions, again, more slowly this time.
“I see. And where … ?”
Again, I tell her I’ve been treated in various countries: the US, Saudi Arabia, and now Oman. I remind her I also go to the university hospital.
“Oh, so you see Dr. Maha?” She looks up, as though my seeing this particular doctor provides evidence of the reality of my claims.
“Saw. I saw her. She discharged me from her clinic.” I say it as politely as possible, but I can feel the loathing inside. Let’s just say, it was a mutual discharge.
“Ahhhh,” she murmurs.
My husband is sitting on the examination table across from me, waiting for the doctor to say what all the rest have.
“Do you exercise?” she asks.
His eyes light up. Bingo!
“Not regularly. No. I hurt. All the time. Everywhere. Everything. All day long.” I’m there for a referral. But before I can get one, I have to play the game of, “You Should Lose Weight”.
For most converts, the day they become Muslim is like a new birthday. It’s a date that sits foremost in their minds, rolls off their tongues like the alphabet from a kindergartner’s. They may forget their anniversary, ATM PINs or even their private safe combinations, but the date of their conversion is ever-present.
Not me. I don’t remember the most important date in my spiritual history. I know the month (March), and I’m pretty certain of the year (through deduction and certainty of other things going on around that time that I do remember) — 2005. But I have no idea what day I became a Muslim.
I do, however, know where I was, what I was doing, and who I was with. The answers, respectively: Mobile, Alabama; walking around my neighborhood; a former friend. But, honestly, not much of that matters. At least not to me.
When I’m quizzed on the details of my conversion, the first assumption people usually make is:
Oh, you’re a convert? You became Muslim for your husband, didn’t you?
Actually, no. I did not. My husband and I were still a year and a half away from meeting each other when I converted. Read more ›
I made the front page of CNN.com on Tuesday for an opinion piece I wrote for them. Alhamdulillah (All thanks and praise are due to God), it has been very interesting. I must thank CNN for their reaching out to me an affording me, and by extension all Muslims, a space to talk about Islam. It is refreshing seeing news media doing something to break down stereotypes instead of reinforcing them.
When I reverted to Islam in March 2005, I have to admit I was afraid. Okay, perhaps nervous is a better choice of word, as I wasn’t scared or frightened. And I know I’m not alone in admitting this feeling, especially with female converts. The process of transitioning into Islam from a previous faith/belief system (because face it, even if you don’t believe in God, you believe there is no God) is daunting:
What will my friends think? How will I be received by the public? Does this mean I have to start dressing like an Arab or East Asian-er? Do I have to start my life over from the beginning, rethinking every choice I’ve ever made?
While all of those are valid concerns, and ones that I did contemplate at some point in time post-reversion, they weren’t what I was afraid of. My fear came from telling my father.
Not my family. Not my Mother.
Now, before you start thinking my dad is this overbearing and close-minded totalitarian who lives for controlling others’ lives, he’s NOT. In fact, he’s the polar opposite. He’s one of the most open-minded individuals I’ve ever known in my life. And if there is a perfect antonym for overbearing, that describes him, too. I mean, for Heaven’s sake, the man used to sit and logically discuss with me the reasons I should pick up my toys when I was 3 years old. If there’s anything my dad is not, it’s overbearing and close-minded.
So, why was I scared of telling my dad I had become Muslim?
My father has a strong head on his shoulders (don’t confuse strong with stubborn). His choice of worship was not made based on how he was brought up (Nazarene). He didn’t look to his parents to tell him how he should worship God or practice his religion (Christianity). Instead, he went to a Christian college, studied the history and lineage of the Bible and Christianity, and majored in Bible Studies. His goal: to become a preacher.
When he became a member of the Church of Christ denomination, he did so knowing full-well that it represented the beliefs he personally held based on his extensive studying. To him, it was correct.
Now there I was, his 23-year-old daughter, midway through my graduate school program, and I’d converted to Islam. And I had to tell my Father. The samefather who responded to my 16-year-old self’s idea of becoming Baptist with, “I’ve failed as a father!”
So, one day while my parents were in town for a wedding, my father and I drove over to the beach at Gulf Shores. We had lunch, talked about religion a little bit, and mostly discussed general life topics. (My father is also a severe introvert, like me, and idle conversation is not a forte of his.)
After lunch, we walked out on the beach. I’d planned my delivery. I asked him what it was exactly that he believed about life and death. He started out with the history of religion (he always starts with the history behind the pertinent question), and then he transitioned into his personal beliefs. Once he finished, I offered my part. I told him nobody had ever really asked me what I believe. It was always just assumed because I was part of a certain family or church that I shared the same beliefs. But, obviously, I didn’t.
Then came the time to deliver my blow. I told him I was thinking about becoming Muslim. (I couldn’t own up to it full-force yet; I needed time to let the idea sink in for him.) Surprisingly, he didn’t stop walking. He didn’t yell (not surprisingly). He just said one thing, and his response has stayed with me every day since. It has had my back when people were against me. It has given me conviction along my chosen path. And those words were:
As your father, it is my job to let you know that I think you’re wrong. But you’re an adult. And if you chose to believe something just because I told you so, that would be just as wrong.
It was all I needed. I didn’t need an “I support you” or a “That’s wonderful”. And I know he still doesn’t like my choice. And I know there have been many tears shed on his side on my behalf. But I also think both he and my mom have come to conclusion that after nearly a decade, a husband and a child, I’m not going through a phase.
And as each day goes by, I never lose hope that one day my family will join me in truly understanding the history, relevance and authority of our beautiful Islam, insha’Allah. Until that day comes, I will continue to enjoy the avid discussion my father and I have about our beliefs, and I will rest easy knowing that despite our differences, we still respect each others’ beliefs … and rights to have them.
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First, let me apologize. This is NOT the Hysterical Woman Syndrome post that was last promised. Insha’Allah, I will get to that next time (and I did. And that is here). Instead, I decided to respond to the comments and questions left on my previous post. As they appeared, I read them . . . and after a few, I realized it would be easier if I created an open-letter type response.
So, here goes . . . and here’s hoping this clarifies a few points left unanswered from theseposts
My Saudi Expectations:
I can see why many may consider the previous post to be a little negative or pessimistic towards the Saudi culture or country, in general. I mean, hey, I start out by saying I NEVER, EVER wanted to go there. How can one make that decision without having any real knowledge about a place?
Here’s some backstory:
Waaaaay back in 2004, I married a Saudi and remained in this tumultuous marriage for 18 months.
Through it all, I also garnered some information about Saudi culture and mindset. This particular Saudi considered himself “modern”. We sat with other couples (older than us, mind you), he cooked (for himself), and we split costs 60/40 (mostly he paid 60).
But he told me about Saudi, and he tried to teach me about Islam – despite not wanting to be married to me (long story for another post, so stay tuned). So, he had that going for him.
My best friend – and sister by another mister (brother/mother, pun, ah . . .) – was ALSO Saudi. And she was the ANTITHESIS of anything Saudi you could ever dream of – or so I thought. Until I moved there and learned she was pretty run-of-the-mill, modern-day girl (a few years younger than me). She also introduced me to Saudi mindset and culture.
So, I didn’t exactly move to Saudi without any knowledge whatsoever. I may have had prejudiced notions based on other peoples’ opinions, but I had a basic taste of what to expect:
My other observations were made once I actually hit the ground running in the Kingdom.
It’s important to understand that several generalizations about Arabs can be considered correct.
For instance, in my history of knowing Arabs from all around the world – from different countries – of different ages – I’ve noticed that it is difficult – nay, near impossible – to find one who considers time important.
Otherwise, time is fluid. Party starts at 8? Great, I’ll be there around. . .10:30. Class begins at 10? Is 10:20 okay to show up? I’m getting MARRIED! Come to my WEDDING! It’s at 9 pm! (But I won’t arrive until 1 am!!!)
Secondly, Arab hospitality is second-to-NONE on God’s green earth. There is no such thing as dropping by for a quick cup of coffee.
If you come for coffee at 11 am, you’re lucky to leave after dinner at 8. And the order of events, and the steps and. . .oh, it’s so exhausting to a Westerner who understands, “No, I don’t want anything,” as meaning, “No, I don’t want anything.”
However, the hospitality is usually localized to one of two kinds of people: a) Bedouins (in the country) or b) people who know you (in the city). You’re not really going to find a stranger at the supermarket invite you to their house for dinner. But you WILL find a stranger in the desert invite you into their home to sleep, especially if you’re a weird foreigner (hasn’t happened to me personally, but I’ve heard tales).
But, to each the good and the bad.
What the West gets wrong about Saudi:
Of course, many (probably most) generalizations are wrong.
Arabs are not inherent terrorists.
They are not ignorant. While many may be uneducated, their knowledge of life far surpasses anything I know on most levels.
They are not scary. But their driving is.
They are not out to destroy the West. Indeed, they embrace the West and its traditions in many capacities.
They are not hell-bent on forcing others to conform to their ideals.
Ah, the concept of “blending in”.
It’s been mentioned that I should not feel weird being stared at because I am different. I should note my husband, who is only a shade or two darker than I am, was not stared at. He is clearly not Saudi Arabian, yet he seemed to blend just fine.
The idea of staring seemed less to be about confusion or interest in “different”, and more of a lack of manners. When a person glances at me and looks away (in America or otherwise), I consider that interest or curiosity. When a person plays the “no blinking game”, as noha called it, the intent seems to be intimidation and rudeness. THOSE are the prying eyes I want to poke with a pencil. But I don’t. Because I usually don’t have a pencil with me. Ha.
Frankly, gracielawrence and Corbin say it best, and I fully support their comments:
I think that the root of the problem comes in when people confuse their religion for their culture. When you see people trying to imitate a culture that you where raised in, it is only natural to feel superior because in a way the imitator is saying they think you are better (and if this happens we have to resist this urge to act on base instincts). And I think this is where some Arabs are confused (and the rest of us become infuriated). NO! we […] are not trying to be Arab or participate in Arab culture when we practice Islam. […] Islam is for all of humanity. Period. Once everyone understands that and leaves this clique-ish behavior in the past maybe then, Insha’Allah, we can start to resemble an ummah. – Corbin
If you are wearing sunnah, but always look like you are going to eat my face, are nasty with your fellow man, or just have a negative and ugly personality….I am not buying […] – gracielawrence
And finally, Toilet Paper:
I was raised using toilet paper. I know many Arabs were not. Once I was introduced to the water hose, or watering can, or bidet, I just didn’t find myself clean enough without it. But I don’t like walking around with the feeling of freshly-peed pants. So, I supplement with toilet paper. As do most of the female Muslimah converts I know.
In the end, I want to say my overall conclusions about Saudi were totally positive. In fact, had my job been a better place to be, we might have extended our stay. Unfortunately, my university and position there were ruining my health. I was truly going downhill on a bicycle with no brakes, and we had to get outta there.
Sure, there were negatives. There were annoyances. And there were things that made me want to pull my hair out and slap people silly (which, yes, I refrained from). But overall, the positive far outweighed the negative in terms of what I EXPECTED before ever moving there.
We had the chance to go to Medinah and Mecca for Umrah, alhumdulillah. We visited Riyadh a couple of times. I rode some camels. I ate some camel (and then made wudu’u). And I even drove a car. Up the street. By my compound. With the guards smiling and waving.
Ultimately, what I learned was:
Don’t have expectations. If you do, you’re only going to be let down. If you don’t, you can ALWAYS be pleasantly surprised.
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