Archive for November, 2013

The way we were: Lists of stuff not to buy

What do Skittles (the candy) and Ivory soap have in common?

Pigs. Pretty much everywhere we looked, hiding behind apparently benign words like "gelatin" or unfamiliar chemical compound-ish words like "diglycerides." Ugh.

Pigs. Pretty much everywhere we looked, hiding behind apparently benign words like “gelatin” or unfamiliar chemical compound-ish words like “diglycerides.” Ugh.

If you answered that both of these items were included in photocopied lists of grocery items with haraam ingredients that were passed out by earnest bearded brothers after Friday prayers back in the ’80’s… you get ten points. Add another ten points if you read those lists carefully, and refused to buy or use any of those items forever after (add only five points if you tried, but weren’t always consistent). Add another ten points if you then used the “principles” underlying the list and further extended them to screening every single purchase you made. And, add another five points if you still find yourself automatically avoiding items on the list when you buy groceries today, or you buy them sometimes but feel guilty about it.

Interpreting your score:

Ten points = You were there. Maybe you lived in my community. Did I know you?

Fifteen points = Back in the day, I would have thought you didn’t take your deen seriously enough. Nowadays, I suspect that actually, you just have a more balanced and sane outlook on life than I did.

Twenty to thirty points = You probably have a lot of the same memories as I do—like busing to a health food store miles away to buy overpriced cheese that didn’t have any forbidden ingredients in it, back before the local halaal meat store had started selling cheese.  Looking high and low for vanilla extract that didn’t have some kind of alcohol/propylene glycol/anything ending in -ol in it. Standing in the drugstore looking at all the soap and toothpaste and trying to find the one or two brands that weren’t on the avoid-list… and trying not to think about the fact that these were more expensive than the other brands, and they never seemed to go on sale.

Over thirty points = Hard core. Props. Can’t say anything more than that.

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Nightmares

Another night, another nightmare.

I am with a friend of mine—a friend that I know my ex would have strongly disapproved of. All is well, it’s a sunny day and my heart is light… until a tall, male shadow approaches from the side.

It’s my ex. I am petrified. I can’t move.

And then I wake up. Whew. It was only a dream. And I woke up before he could… say or do anything.

“But I’m divorced now,” I told myself. “I’m divorced! He’s not my husband any more. He had no right to say or do anything to me or anyone else, regardless of what he thinks of anything I do or who I choose to spend time with! No right whatsoever!”

It was hard to get back to sleep.

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Day of Remembrance

Sitting in a meeting at work. There’s a chairperson, an agenda, and the promise that we should all be out of here within an hour. Most of the others there have a lot more experience dealing with the stuff that is being discussed than I do, so I basically keep quiet and listen.

Among the issues that comes up is gender balance in our clientele and how this is going to be recorded in a report. I quickly realize that by “gender balance” what they mean is the number of females as compared to the number of males. There is no room in either the discussion or the relevant section of the report for people who don’t identify as either “male” or “female.”

I sit there, feeling more and more uneasy. It’s not just this meeting and this report—most of the forms I have seen in use here ask for gender (even when there doesn’t seem to be any particular reason why the gender of the person filling the form would be relevant), and only allow for “male” and “female” options. As though there are no other gender identities out there.

As though people who aren’t either “male” or “female” don’t exist.

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If you know what your life is worth…

Several months ago, I ran across a short film on youtube about twospirit people. The thing about it that particularly grabbed me was Joey Criddle’s description of traditional Native teachings on people who are different:

“You know, there’s a saying we say—We don’t throw our people away. So, people who are born differently, whether mentally, physically, emotionally, whatever, were considered sacred or holy people. There was a reason why the Creator made them different. So historically, traditionally, twospirit people were viewed as very special people. That all changed with the coming of the Europeans. When the Europeans came, they attacked that….”

Wow, I thought. That’s just such a really, really different attitude to human variety than what I am used to.

A particularly difficult part of putting my life back together has been learning to see my life as being worth anything. Some days, it seems as though all that's left is shards of cheap glass. The remnants of something that was not worth much in the first place, and is now simply worthless. (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Broken_glass,_Belfast,_April_2010.JPG)

A particularly difficult part of putting my life back together has been learning to see my life as being worth anything. Some days, it seems as though all that’s left is shards of cheap glass. The remnants of something that was not worth much in the first place, and is now simply worthless.
(http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Broken_glass,_Belfast,_April_2010.JPG)

I can’t even begin to imagine any of the Muslim communities I have been involved with looking at queer people—or at anyone who didn’t fit the mold, really—in such a positive way. Especially not if the person who didn’t fit in for some reason was female-bodied. This was just not how we were taught to think about difference.

More recently, I heard a Catholic priest say that God created every single person, individually and deliberately. Which again struck me as just a very different way of looking at human variety than what I am used to

And then, I was rather taken aback. Sure, the idea that God created human beings is a very familiar one, and we certainly believed it. We even believed that God creates and recreates the world continuously—“yas’aluhu man fi’s-samawati wa’l-ard, kulla yaumin huwa fi sha’n.” That nasheed by Dawud Wharnsby is still stuck in my head, about how even an autumn leaf “only breaks away and sails on the breeze / when Allah commands it to do so.”

And yet. Somehow, I hadn’t connected the dots. I hadn’t really regarded myself as having been created individually and purposefully by God, much less thought about what that would mean.

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The way we were: Games we weren’t really supposed to play

Even though I left my insular, very conservative Muslim community several years ago, there are still times when I feel like an immigrant in my own country.

Somehow, we believed that using playing cards was wrong because it might lead to gambling... but that gambling with your and your kids' futures in the name of trusting in God is a-ok.

Somehow, we believed that using playing cards was wrong because it might lead to gambling… but that gambling with your and your kids’ futures in the name of trusting in God is a-ok.

Not only when the people I work with refer to tv shows, movies and music from the ’80’s and ’90’s (which I missed out on…), but when they matter-of-factly refer to various things that some people do for fun, and I realize that I don’t know how to do that. Because either I’ve never done it, or it’s been so long since I’ve done it that I’ve forgotten how.

And I then realize how much my ideas of “fun” have been molded by my life as a conservative Muslim. Particularly, by certain Salafi-influenced ideas that were common when I first converted.

In the ’80’s, I remember a fair amount of anxiety in the conservative community I was living in about various recreational pursuits. Not just about things that you might expect—men and women swimming in the same pool/at the same beach, Muslims going to the beach even if they weren’t going to swim, women playing sports where men might see them (even if the women were wearing hijab)—but about certain games that we had played when we were kids.

Questions were raised about whether any game played with playing cards was allowed. Or, any game played with dice.

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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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Towards telling our stories

(continued from the October 5th post on the “White Widow”)

In her article on Samantha Lewthwaite, Khadija Magardie  begins by stating that it isn’t regarded as polite in the Muslim community to refer to converts as “converts”—instead, they are called “reverts,” because it is believed that everyone is born a Muslim, but many people regard themselves as belonging to other religions because their parents made them into something else. And, that Muslims see this notion that everyone is actually born Muslim as a positive thing, as proof that the community is open to everyone and anyone who wants to join it. And also, that a number of prominent people in the twentieth century converted to Islam, and in some cases, helped directly or indirectly to promote the myth of an open, embracing world-wide Muslim community that welcomes everyone, regardless of race, class or gender.

But. All too often, converts soon discover that this pretty picture bears, well…. little if any relationship to reality.

And what do converts do when they begin to realize that in fact, they will never really “fit in” to the Muslim communities that they are trying to join?

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