Posts Tagged convert guilt
One of the things that struck me most in all the backing and forthing over Abu Eesa’s misogynistic comments was how willing most people were to make excuses for him, minimize the significance of what he had done, try to understand where he was coming from… even many of his critics. While some called on AlMaghrib to fire him, a number of those who were very critical of his comments still didn’t seem to think that he should lose his post or suffer any long term consequences.
I found this all the more striking because in my experience, this is absolutely not what happens to a girl or woman whose behavior is seen as embarrassing or offensive to the community.
And it’s not just because he is a scholar with a wide following, either. Yes, that likely helped—but being given the benefit of the doubt (and being quickly forgiven even when caught red-handed) is one of the many perks of patriarchal power and status. Generally speaking, the higher status a person has in a community in terms of their race, ethnicity, social class, gender, educational level, health, sexual orientation, etc, the more likely they are to be given the benefit of the doubt.
Oddly enough, I’ve known that for a long time. Back when I wore hijab, when I would walk into a store, my presence would immediately be noted, and within a few seconds somebody would usually come bustling up to “help” me find whatever it was that I wanted. Nowadays, my shopping experiences are much more relaxed and leisurely. Nobody acts like they find my presence unsettling, or that they want me to leave. I knew what was going on then, and I know now. But somehow, I didn’t connect the dots until recently. Because in the Muslim communities I was involved in, religion was used to cover, legitimize and excuse everything.
Something woke me up. Wasn’t sure what it was, at first.
Then, I realize that the phone is ringing.
I reached for it, and picked it up, dimly wondering who on earth it could be at that hour. A wrong number, maybe? Not that many people have my phone number, and anyone who knows me knows better than to try calling me at 2 am. I’m barely able to string a sentence together at that hour. Especially not when I have work the next day.
It was one of my daughters. Her voice was shaking with sobs. I asked her what was wrong, and she began to talk about… her memories of when I was still stuck in polygamy.
Her father shouting at her to do the cooking and cleaning while I was off at school (trying to get some skills training so that I could get a job because now that he had taken another wife, I needed to find a way to support myself and the kids). The feeling of being made to be the woman of the house, although she was not even in high school yet. The other woman—now called her “other mother”—coming to visit from abroad for the first time, with her kids, and my ex telling my kids that these are their siblings now. And then, after my ex divorced her, she and her kids vanished… and my daughter wondered what became of them. How could they be her siblings one month and no relation at all the next?
But why is it that some converts accept Islam, adopt some of the practices and rituals, make some Muslim friends, maybe get a bit self-righteous for a short while……but soon come back down to earth and manage to live a relatively balanced and “normal” life involving good relations with their non-Muslim family and neighbors, a happy marriage, fairly well-adjusted kids and making positive contributions to the well-being of society?
While some other converts end up cut off from their non-Muslim families, former friends and neighbors, or suffering psychological harm, or getting into bad or abusive marriages, perhaps only managing to get out years later if at all, with traumatized kids?
I don’t know. It does seem to depend on a number of factors: When and where people convert, their social location (gender identity, race/ethnicity, social class, religious background, educational level, age, occupation, sexual orientation, etc), what sort of Muslim community they get involved with, where they are in their lives at the time, how their family and friends react… and a whole slew of other factors. Some converts seem to be more resilient than others. Some are more able to access the support they need, whether inside or outside their Muslim communities.
Sorting through all the mental baggage that those experiences have left with me, one thing that I notice is… shame. There is still a residue of shame about the body. My body, as well about other female bodies. The idea that a woman who is sensibly dressed for jogging or yard work or whatever-it-is in the middle of the summer is being “immodest.” The idea that being uncomfortable in order to cover a bit more skin is better than the “shame” of exposure. And that judg-y undercurrent that still to some extent filters my perceptions.
As well as the constant awareness of being (for lack of a better word) seen, whenever I am in places that Muslims might be. Seen, and judged.
Back in the day, we used to interpret feelings of shame about our bodies and others, as well as that feeling of being “seen” as a positive sign that at last we were managing to internalize “true modesty.” Our consciences had become Islamified, we thought… and that could only be a good thing. We must be increasing in iman and taqwa.
My inbox is still kinda conservo-Muslim-ish. I still get emails from a number of Muslim orgs and businesses. Including Shukr.
Clearly, Shukr is rather proud of their line of “modest” sportswear for women. I clicked on the link… and sighed.
“Move with modesty.” Trademarked, no less. Wow.
Hoodies to the knees, sweatsuit material “fitwalking” and even “powerwalking” long skirts… oh, did that bring back memories.
Because I and a good friend of mine used to do a lot of fairly “active” things while wearing conservative hijab. I well remember hiking, skating and boating in long, heavy skirts or jilbabs—even swimming in lakes in jilbabs or long dresses and headscarves. Needless to say, it wasn’t easy or comfortable (and in some cases, it wasn’t very safe either). Though, at that time we were less worried about ease or comfort or safety than about our kids, as well as community gossip.
We wanted our kids—especially our daughters—to know that hijab does not need to limit women. We were concerned that if they picked up the idea that hijab comes with a long list of “can’t do this/go there/be involved in that” then they wouldn’t want to wear it. So, we felt that it was on us to set an active example. For sure, no one else in our conservative community was likely to. We exercised in those conservative clothes, and tried to ignore the disapproving glances and the sideways comments about how we evidently hadn’t really understood the “spirit of hijab.”
Several weeks ago, one of my daughters had a school field trip that involved visiting a Hindu temple, a Christian church, and a mosque. A class project on world religions.
Along with the permission forms sent home for parents to sign came a letter from the teacher explaining the type of behavior and dress that would be required of the students. Much of it was very reasonable, reminding the students that these are places of worship, so they needed to behave respectfully. But the girls were also told that they needed to wear long, loose pants (preferably sweatpants) and headscarves when they were at the mosque.
I paused, reading this letter. The field trip was going to take place in the afternoon, in the middle of the week. They would not be attending Friday Prayers, or any congregational prayer. They were not going to pray, either—they were there to see the building, and to hear the imam explain a bit about Islam and the community and the kinds of rituals and activities that would normally take place in a mosque.
In other words, what on earth would be the reason for requiring a bunch of mostly non-Muslim teenage girls to wear headscarves?? Or even to worry about what they might or might not be wearing on their legs??
My daughter wasn’t bothered by this, however. Because she took it for granted that somehow, a girl entering a mosque with uncovered hair or limbs profanes the mosque. And she was proud that at least she knew better than to even think of doing that, unlike some of the non-Muslim girls in her class, who didn’t seem to understand that you have to really watch what you wear to the mosque.
I pointed out to her that when I had first visited that same mosque in the early ’80’s, I saw women wearing short-sleeved, tight, scoop-necked shalwar kameez entering that mosque with transparent dupattas loosely draped over part of their heads and not concealing much of their hair, in order to attend Friday Prayers. They entered through the main door, along with everyone else. Then, they went up to the women’s balcony, put on the large white cotton prayer khimars that were kept there for all those women who did not come to the mosque dressed “suitably” for prayer, prayed, and left at the end of the service.