Posts Tagged domesticity

Becoming super-Muslimah-mommy

In the last post, I discussed a number of reasons why I (and many of my convert friends) found conservative Muslim arguments in favor of women being stay-at-home wives and mothers convincing, and highlighted some of the ways that deciding to stay home limited our ability (and even, our inclination) to make independent, adult decisions on a whole range of things.

In staying home, we became financially dependent. And, we didn’t chart our own courses as wives and mothers either—there were not only our husbands to answer to, but also various conservative, insular and often quite intrusive Muslim communities. For those of us who became involved in Muslim cults, that goes double.

I became financially dependent, despite the fact that my ex wanted to have both the comfort and convenience of a stay-at-home wife (and mother), AND the benefits of a wife who also brings in some money—though, one who would work in a way that wouldn’t ever inconvenience him. I tried to do that by babysitting from home. That was supposed to be the ideal balance between the need to generate income, and the “need” to be at home with my kids full-time, without in any way falling short of my wifely responsibilities to cook, clean, etc, or my moral responsibilities to wear hijab and avoid working alongside or closely interacting with men. I also hoped that it would protect me from job discrimination and the type of dismissive treatment that often is experienced by people in low-status jobs. After all, I was working at home….

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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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Looking back on my homeschooling experience

In the last post, I talked about how and why I started homeschooling my eldest child.

Looking back, I can see both positives and negatives.

On the positive side: I and a good friend of mine (also a conservative Muslim homeschooling mother) did our best to provide our kids varied and interesting learning experiences, despite our poverty, lack of access to a car, very limited support even in our own insular, conservative religious community, and the pregnancies/responsibility to care for our infants that tended to limit our mobility. We dealt with these considerable challenges with a can-do attitude and lots of ingenuity. Since God (we sincerely believed) wanted us to homeschool our kids, then it must be possible for us to somehow make it work.

We took our kids outside as much as possible, so that they could experience nature and learn about it in a “hands-on” way. (We lived in a city, so nature wasn’t going to come to us—we had to go out and seek it.) We wanted them to learn the names of different animals and birds, to be able to identify animal tracks, to know that some wild plants are edible and others poisonous, to recognize different kinds of trees… so, we took them out to parks as much as we could. We would take long bus rides in order to get to reasonably “wild” parks, pushing strollers and laden with diaper bags and packed lunches and whatever art or other supplies we thought we would need.

We took them to museums, the zoo, a kids’ farm and historic sites as much as we could. Entrance fees were a problem, given our poverty, but we took advantage of discount coupons, family passes and free or reduced-admission days.

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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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Eid al-Adha: working through the aftermath

I’m still recovering from Eid. Rather odd, I know. Eid was on October 26, which is what—three weeks ago, now?

But Eid al-Adha (Korban Bairami, Eid l-Kbir, Hari Raya Haji, Baqar Eid, Eid-e Qorban…) was a transformative experience for me this year. Which was completely unexpected, because even when I was a very conservative Muslim, Eid al-Adha was my least favorite holiday.

Abraham and his son, on their way to perform the sacrifice… but who is missing from this story?
(Ferdinand von Olivier, “Abraham and Isaac” http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Olivier-abraham-isaac.jpg)

Why that was so, I never really knew, because I could never allow myself the freedom to be honest about what I was thinking or feeling, especially if that threatened to take me into any kind of doctrinally or socially questionable territory. Early on after converting, I quickly learned that openly expressing discomfort with any ritual practices would lead to me being classified as someone that other sisters would be warned to stay far away from. And I and my convert friends were trying so hard to be model Muslimas, so rather than ask ourselves why we weren’t really feeling the Eid spirit, we threw our energies into trying to make it something we could somehow connect to—or at least, that our kids would enjoy.

As we tried to connect to Eid, we retold the story of Hajar as a model of a pious woman who suffered adversity, but relied on God alone, and in the end, her faith was abundantly rewarded. By focusing on her actions, her faith, and the hajj ritual that required every pilgrim to retrace her steps between the two hills, we could avoid dealing with the many troubling questions that the story raised for us that we couldn’t quite suppress.

After all, here was an African female slave who had been forced to bear children on behalf of an infertile free woman, Sara. There was no suggestion in any retelling of the story we were aware of that Hajar’s consent to either sex with her mistress’s husband or child-bearing was thought to matter in the least. Meaning, it hadn’t mattered to Abraham, nor to Sara, nor even to later audiences down through the centuries. Including the communities that we belonged to.

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What would a wholistic female piety look like?

As in, female piety that doesn’t inhibit or prevent women from being complete human beings. That recognizes and celebrates women’s abilities to think, reason, create, feel, desire and love to the fullest extent of their abilities. I’ve been asking myself this question, and I really don’t know.

There seems to be something kind of haraam going on here, though I’m not exactly sure what…. Why is it that when I remember my former life as a wife and mother in a very conservative community, that this is what comes to mind? Can a pious woman own her own body??
(www.wikimedia.org)

Of course, I know what the conservative Muslim communities that I have been involved in or have otherwise encountered in the past would say. When it came to female piety, there was a sort of double-talk that constantly went on. The sameness of men’s and women’s ritual obligations—to pray five times daily, to fast in Ramadan, to pay zakat, to go on Hajj at least once—was stressed. Also, both men and women were often reminded of the importance of seeking to follow the Prophet’s example in praying extra prayers, fasting outside of Ramadan, giving in charity, doing dhikr and reciting the Qur’an.

But as some say, the devil is in the details. In reality, the details of fiqh of salat, fasting, pilgrimage, charitable giving, reading the Qur’an,… constantly remind women and men that they are not equal. And, lived practice in the communities that I was involved in underlined these inequalities even more sharply. Essentially, the fiqh plus the lived practices that I experienced helped to produce a situation in which the body of a woman was never, ever her own. It is never really under her control; unlike a man, she cannot be assured of being able to choose to engage in rituals, or to enter sacred space. And, her body was always at the disposal of others—her husband, of course, and her children, as well as to a lesser extent, relatives and guests. 24/7.

Nothing brought the internal contradictions of these ideas about female piety to the fore quite like Ramadan did. For me, anyway.

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Of tunes and pipers—more on patriarchy and “responsibility”

In the last post, I wrote: “What we didn’t realize is that in reality (and also, in Islamic law…), responsibility and power go hand in hand. What was marketed to us as freedom from responsibility ended up meaning lots of responsibilities for wives and mothers, but little actual power or resources to deal with them. And, lots of blame for failing to live up to idealized standards of “good” wife- and motherhood.”

As my grandmother would have said, “He who pays the piper calls the tune.” Aye, that’s the way it is in reality, lassies. (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Scottish_piper.jpg)

And that was the way it was. Men had responsibilities, but also the power to decide what the scope of these responsibilities was, how they were going to meet them, and when they had met them “adequately.” Which meant that, in effect, we women were always in the business of taking up the slack on their behalf. But we didn’t derive much if any power to determine the course of our own lives (or to make the lives of our children better) from doing so. If we managed to do it well, then we were just doing what was expected, because a “good wife” was supposed to cover her husband’s shortcomings. And if we didn’t manage to take up the slack , despite trying—or, god forbid! we got tired of doing so and voiced our objections to the way things were going—then this meant that whatever happened was our fault.

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