Archive for category We owe you an apology

The way we were: Bans on Hallowe’en, or when God was a killjoy

‘Tis Hallowe’en, and the wind is wuthering around the window in a spooky sort of way. Nowhere near the witching hour yet… which is lucky, because my youngest kid has gone out trick-or-treating with friends, and had better be back home well before that. Sitting here by the window and waiting for said kid to reappear, I can’t help remembering that not too many years ago, this would be inconceivable.

I'm glad to have Hallowe'en back... disgustingly sweet candy and all.

I’m glad to have Hallowe’en back… disgustingly sweet candy and all. Yeah, it’s cheesy. So what.

We didn’t let our kids go out for Hallowe’en. Back when I was a hyper-conservative Muslim, Hallowe’en was verboten in the circles I moved in.

Back in the ’80′s when I converted, the subject of Hallowe’en (as well as a whole slew of other holidays and special occasions) was a very controversial topic in the Muslim community I was living in at the time. I remember sermons preached on the evils of Hallowe’en—how it is a pagan holiday that used to involve appeasing the spirits of the dead. And how dressing up as ghosts and devils and witches and whatnot makes a joke out of what is really a very serious matter. Because the power of Satan and demons are real, and anything to do with witchcraft or trying to contact such evil supernatural beings is strictly forbidden and so not to be turned into a child’s game. And anything “pagan” in origin was of course absolutely incompatible with monotheism, anyway.

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We failed you in so many ways

To my kids (and my convert friends’ kids…):

We failed you in so many ways.

Far too many ways to count.

And for that, I am so very sorry.

Two posts ago, I received the following comment, which brought to mind a key way that we failed you:

“…I did wonder, aside from forced marital sex, have you ever discussed, or even experienced the effect of pornography in muslim marriages? I have grown up witness to the horrific effects a husband’s addiction to pornography can have on a marriage, and I feel it links closely to the idea you touch upon in this post about how women are expected to “keep beautiful” and “not let themselves go”, while men are to pursue and enjoy them… This is one excuse I have heard for the husband watching pornography (i.e. he feels the wife has let herself go so no longer is able to please him). It sickens me. I am sure it happens in non-religious marriages too, but the reason I raise it here is because another excuse the husband has given for it is that “it is more halal than outright sleeping with other women”. In my mind, though, I can’t help but think it is almost more haram than actually taking a mistress… At least with a mistress, there is something tangible to deal with.

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Converts… and downward spirals

Recently, Muslim converts—particularly, white, middle-class female converts from North America—are in the news again, thanks to the attack in Boston.  And not in a good way.

I’ve been too heartsick to blog about it.

The (white, female, North American) convert responses to this latest situation that I have so far been able to find online deal with two main issues: the stereotypical media portrayals that imply that there is a connection between putting on hijab and becoming radicalized, and media portrayals that imply that female converts who marry immigrant Muslims don’t have agency. In other words, these converts don’t want to be put in the same category as Katherine Russell. They don’t want people making assumptions about why they converted, or why they wear hijab (for those who do), or what their relationships with their husbands are like.

Well, that’s understandable. In the more than two decades in which I lived as a conservative, hijab-wearing Muslim, I had to put up with a lot of assumptions about why I converted, why I wore hijab… and I had to deal with patronizing dismissals of my agency. And not only from non-Muslims, I might add. The stereotypes about female converts—that we don’t really know anything about Islam, and/or that we were motivated to convert by emotion or a desire to please a Muslim man—were not uncommon among the immigrant Muslims that I dealt with. So, enough with the stereotypes already.

But. To my mind, rejecting such stereotypes shouldn’t be the end of the discussion. It should be the beginning. And now that we’ve done that, can the discussion move on to more important things than headscarves and alleged initial reasons for converting. Things like what resources there are that might be available to converts who find themselves getting in way over their heads.

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We did not model unconditional love

In the last post, I was discussing Amina Jabbar’s awesome post over at MuslimahMediaWatch. Among other things, Jabbar’s post gave me some optimism that maybe it might some day be possible for Muslim  discussions about various types of oppression in Muslim communities to get beyond the simplistic approaches that I usually see. That it might become possible for ideas and practices to be recognized as oppressive without also simultaneously disavowing them as “cultural, not Islamic,” or “extremist, not mainstream”… or the results of “wrong interpretation” or whathaveyou.

Looking back, I wish that I paid attention to my misgivings about some of the ideas floating around in the '80's and '90's about "how to raise our children to be good Muslims." Ah well, hindsight is 20/20....

Looking back, I wish that I paid attention to my misgivings about some of the ideas floating around in the ’80′s and ’90′s about “how to raise our children to be good Muslims.” Ah well, hindsight is 20/20….

It also was really (for lack of a better word) triggering. In part because of the article she linked to, about Maryam Basir and her father’s response to her career choices. According to the article, Basir prays five times a day, fasts in Ramadan, eats halaal, is married to a Muslim man, and avoids alcohol and drugs. Nonetheless, she and her father are estranged as a result of her decision to become a model. Her father, a convert who serves as an imam for two prisons, laments, “I wanted my children to be pious and knowledgeable. But only one of my daughters still wears the hijab. In the end, you meet Allah and you are judged…. it hurts my heart to see what Maryam is doing. I fear for her.”

My first response to that was recognition. Yes, I recognized that approach to child-rearing, all right.

And I remembered a story that we read to our kids, about a girl who had been thrown out of the house by her good Muslim parents because she would not live according to their (Islamic) rules. Samira, her name was. I hadn’t thought about that story in years. What a horrible story for us to have exposed our kids to. What the hell were we thinking??

Back in the ’80′s and ’90′s where I was living at the time, so much effort went into “raising our children to be good Muslims”—which meant first and foremost, that they had to practice Islam in accordance with the conservative understanding that we were being taught. We were absolutely determined that our kids would learn how to pray, fast, read the Qur’an, eat halaal, adhere to conservative Muslim norms of behavior, and (in the case of girls) wear hijab… and as far as we were concerned, failure was not an option. Nor was partial compliance an option, because “Islam is a complete way of life.” So it would not be good enough if (say) a child prayed regularly but dated, or was a good and generous person but didn’t wear hijab.

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Jumpers

What do… jumpers, alternative communities, religious hip-hop, incense, Malcolm X, traveling to Asia to find a religious teacher, long denim skirts, reading Rumi’s poetry, religiously-motivated home-schooling, Sufi chanting, preachy children’s videos, religiously-themed nursery rhymes and squeaky-clean boy-bands singing religious lyrics for audiences of ecstatic pre-teen girls have in common?

Not only did we design, sew and wear abominations like this for a time, but Shukr did it too... Yes, that's a Shukr design there, with the usual headless model. Fortunately, they seem to have ceased committing such fashion-crimes... thank God.

Not only did we design, sew and wear abominations like this for a time, but Shukr did it too… Yes, that’s a Shukr design there, with the usual headless model. Fortunately, they seem to have ceased committing such fashion-crimes… thank God.

They are all North American Muslim fads that I have lived through.

Man, do I feel old.

Reading a post over at Love Joy Feminism, which quotes Julie Ann asking how she as a homeschooling mother ended up getting sucked into buying an entire conservative lifestyle “package” that included wearing jumpers, I was reminded of when I and a convert friend of mine experimented with them.

Our problem in the clothing department (as we saw it, back in the ’80′s and early ’90′s) was twofold: to somehow discover a way of wearing hijab that would not look alien to North America, but would also be “modest” enough to fulfil what we were taught were the requirements for a Muslim woman’s dress in public, and to devise something similar for our young daughters to wear.  For a time, we saw jumpers as the answer. I designed and sewed jumpers for myself, out of plain broadcloth. For the first one I made, I used recycled fabric—it had originally been sewn into and used for something else. My friend had slightly more fashionable ideas (and more money to spend); she bought heavy cotton patterned cloth, and paid a woman with better sewing skills to make it into a jumper for her.

At the time, we thought pretty highly of our efforts to dress “modestly”, yet also not stick out too much. We sewed jumpers for our little daughters to wear too, over t-shirts and pants, and with matching hijabs. We thought they looked cute, yet also suitably modest, especially when compared to the “unsuitable” clothing that other girls their age were often wearing. We thought that we had managed to strike a balance between timeless “traditional” values of female “modesty” and the need to relate to the time and place in which we were living, by wearing North American clothing….

But when I looked at the photo of Christian homeschoolers wearing jumpers that Julie Ann linked to, it was unnerving. It was like looking back through time at ourselves and our daughters… and suddenly realizing that actually, we must have looked pretty… strange. Frumpy. Self-righteous. Cultish.

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Idealism… and genetic consequences

Recently, I tripped across a clip on youtube of a very young FLDS (Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints) woman, who was being asked by a reporter how many children she wanted to have when she got married. She replied enthusiastically, “As many as possible!”

I sat in the clinic, and heard babies crying in other rooms. I remembered my own kids at that age. It had all seemed so simple then. Trust in God, and it'll all be fine....(www.wikimedia.com)

I sat in the clinic, and heard babies crying in other rooms. I remembered my own kids at that age. It had all seemed so simple then. Trust in God, and it’ll all be fine….
(www.wikimedia.com)

It was like looking in the mirror—though back in time, to when I was still a very conservative Muslim. Yes, that was our attitude, all right. We were pro-natalist to a fault.

The clip went on to explain that their church believes that God creates all these spirit children, and that the women regard it as an honor to enable these spirits to have bodies, and to provide good homes for them. So, they have as many children as possible.

While we didn’t believe in spirit children, we did certainly believe that it is God who wills whether or not a child comes into existence—to the point that some sisters would speak of birth control as “a waste of time”, because whatever God wants to happen will happen. Birth control was also widely denigrated in the conservative literature that we read as a lack of trust in God’s ability to provide for every living creature. And we were constantly told that a woman’s highest and most important calling was to marry and bear children. There was no real place in any conservative community that I was involved in for single women who had never and would never marry—or even for married women who were childless.

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How we were sold on patriarchal religion—reason #59

Because we knew it all. After having read a few pamphlets, and heard a few inspiring (and carefully vague) talks on “the status of woman in Islam” (as such talks were often entitled back in the early ’80′s).

Let me back up a bit here. Several weeks ago, I received a comment that weirded me out because it could have been written by me years ago.

It was a rather unnerving experience, but also an instructive one.

Hajar writes:

“I am a convert, who recently moved from Western Europe to Egypt. I hear all the time that women are oppressed here and controled by men. I however don’t see this in my daily life here. Women work, they are doctors, lawyers, scientists, pharmacists etc.
I also dont know any hadeeth that are demeaning to women, actually i know many that show that men should treat women well.
As always, one must differentiate between tradition and religion. The traditions are stuck to cultures, the religion is what the religious books (bible, quran) say. traditions can change as the people change, religion, like God is constant.
I am sure that every man who abuses a woman, inside himself he knows that what he is doing is wrong, he is just too selfish to stop. All persons (with a few exceptions) are born with the knowledge or intuition of what is right and wrong.
What are the parts of quran or the trusted hadeeth that are demeaning to women according to you all???”

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Of child-rearing formulas and angry teens—and missed opportunities

My kids are angry. They have lots of things to be angry about—growing up in (religiously-induced) poverty, growing up with a lot of religious restrictions that even some other Muslim kids they knew didn’t have, their father’s actions (especially, his cheating, justified as polygamy), my actions (especially, my conservative Muslim idealism that flew in the face of reality), our inability to live the idealized (and for us, quite unrealistic) vision of the “ideal Islamic marriage/family,” our divorce, the bone-headed judgmentalness of those conservative Muslims who couldn’t keep their opinions about our divorce and how the kids were likely going to be affected by my working and dehijabbing and leaving my marriage to themselves….

Is there a way of talking about teenage rebellion without getting into a blame game?(http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hookahin2010lounge.jpg)

Is there a way to get beyond simplistic, formulaic answers when talking about Muslim teenage rebellion?
(http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hookahin2010lounge.jpg)

Sometimes, they turn their anger inward, and become very moody. Sometimes, the younger kids express their anger by squabbling among themselves. Sometimes, by being rude to me. And sometimes, they rebel.

There’s teenage rebellion, and there’s teenage rebellion. Some of it is par for the course in the wider society—piercings, tattoos, skimpy or “gangster-ish” clothing—though not acceptable in the conservative community that they were raised in, where such signs of teenage rebellion are sources of stigma for parents (who clearly didn’t manage to “raise their kids properly”). But some types of rebellion can lead to trouble with the law.

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Why I got involved in homeschooling

As I became involved in The Cult, I gradually learned more about how the leaders saw child-raising, and especially, what they thought about the public education system. The Cult was not the sort of group that kept all its goods in the shop-window; you had to be with them for a while before you’d get anything like a full picture of what they taught.

As I discussed in the previous post, The Cult taught that teenagers are a creation of the modern world, and that parents who raise their children “properly” can avoid having them go through teenagehood. The Cult also taught that the public school system was fundamentally ungodly, and that it would pollute any child who went through it. Therefore, parents who are at all serious about having their kids grow up Muslims would not send their kids to public school.

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I never thought I’d be dealing with teenagers

Oddly enough, it never crossed my mind when I (and my convert friends) were having multiple children as our small, insular conservative Muslim and extremely pronatalist community vigorously encouraged us to, that… we’d be dealing with a boatload of teenagers and their typical teenage problems down the line.

Oh, a few people tried to tell us that, of course. That these cute babies would be teenagers soon enough, and night feedings and teething and all that sort of thing would seem like a picnic compared to teenage shenanigans. But we would either look at them blankly, or feel smugly superior to them. Because our kids weren’t ever going to be teenagers.

After all, this is what The Cult taught: Historically, there is no such thing as a “teenager”—there were children, and then there were adults. A child is a child until he/she reaches puberty, and then he/she is biologically an adult. “Teenagers” are a modern invention, caused by a godless, indulgent consumerist society, family breakdown, peer pressure, advertising and a lack of discipline in childhood.

Therefore, parents could avoid having their children turn into teenagers by raising them correctly, by instilling the fear of God in them, by teaching them to take on as many adult ritual and behavioral responsibilities as possible when they were still young, and by carefully sheltering them from the wider society. Because if we sheltered our kids, they would never get the idea that supposedly typical teenage behavior is in any way normal or acceptable, so they would be much less likely to act that way. And if we kept them securely inside our conservative, insular Muslim bubble as much as possible, then community expectations that they act maturely would be constantly reinforced, and it would be that much harder for them to be rebellious “teenagers.”

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