Posts Tagged family

So much for sisterhood: Multiple ostracisms

In continuing to think about why as white female converts we often didn’t experience much in the way of “sisterhood” with born Muslim women, I found a book that I chanced upon recently fairly helpful. Esra Ozyurek’s Becoming German, Becoming Muslim: Race, Religion, and Conversion in the New Europe (Princeton University Press, 2015) talks about converts in Germany and how they position themselves as both German and Muslim, in a country where “Islam” and “Muslim” are often automatically associated with adjectives such as: immigrant, Turkish or Arab, lower class, chauvinistic.

While I picked up the book expecting to read about how and why people convert (and how they negotiate their convert identities afterwards), I encountered some unanticipated food for thought—about the personal issues that some white converts bring with them, and also about the similarities between some types of white convert discourse and white European racist rhetoric. I will discuss the first issue (personal issues faced by some white converts) in this post, the the second (convert and racist rhetoric) in the next post.

A number of the converts discussed in the book had faced very negative reactions not only from wider German society, but also from their families. While a number of the female hijab-wearing converts’ anecdotes about the ways that they were treated in government offices, or by the teachers at their children’s schools sounded pretty familiar to me (many converts, including myself, have experienced similar things), the book presents many of these anecdotes together. so, reading them (for me, at least) was rather like thinking that you are about to drink lemonade, taking a mouthful, and finding that it is basically undiluted lemon juice with no added sugar. In other words, wow. It packs quite a punch.

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Guess ISNA doesn’t do Spirit Day

I’m still on ISNA’s email list, and last Friday—which happened to be the day before National Coming Out Day, and a mere six days before Spirit Day—I got the following upbeat email:


How does it happen that an organization that says it wants to combat bullying in schools writes an anti-bullying guide that completely ignores LGBTQ students? As in, does not even mention them once? Could the authors of the guide really be so oblivious that they don’t realize that (1) there are Muslim LGBTQ students, as well as Muslim students with LGBTQ family members and/or friends, and (2) that some Muslim students engage in homophobic and transphobic bullying? (Illustration:

“October is Bullying Prevention Awareness Month

Up to 1 in 3 U.S. students say they have been bullied at school. For Muslim students, the rate is at least 1 in 2 depending on the region. In recognition of this growing problem, since 9/11 ING has worked with the U.S. Department of Education, school districts, educators, and Muslim partners like the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) to address bullying prevention on two fronts: Training sessions for Muslim students and their parents on prevention and response, seminars for public school educators on working with Muslim students to ensure an inclusive environment at school. But much more needs to be done…. ING and ISNA believe that bullying is a preventable problem, especially when young people and their parents are well-informed and empowered…. [W]e are pleased to provide supplement to our INGYouth program, a new Bullying Prevention Guide for parents, educators, and community members. This Guide helps define bullying and describes bullying prevention tips for home and schools.”

I downloaded and read the Guide.

I am a parent. For one of my kids in particular,  bullying at school has been an ongoing issue. There has been Islamophobic bullying, with kids calling her “terrorist”  and so forth, because she doesn’t hide that she’s a Muslim, or where her father’s from. And also, homophobic bullying, because when she heard other students saying things such as “that’s so gay” she would object, and tell them, “My mother’s gay.”

The Guide provided some pointers for dealing with Islamophobic bullying… but nothing at all about homophobic bullying.

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I don’t know what to call this… untitled horror, I guess

I just watched the short film, “Banaz: A Love Story.” About a woman who was killed by her family in the UK. For reasons of “honor.”

Really really really bad idea. I’m still shaking. Nauseous. And it’s really late, but somehow I have to get up and go to work tomorrow. I don’t know if I can sleep.

The film itself has some issues (what film on this sort of thing doesn’t?). The oft-repeated street scenes of blurry identified hijabis, or shots of women wearing shalwar kameez through fences… were at best stereotypical and not at all original. It didn’t provide much in the way of social and political contextualization of this particular case either, which is also a definite drawback. Family dynamics like that are produced and sustained by a number of concrete social and political factors (as opposed to simply “culture” or being “old fashioned” or some immigrant mens’ feelings of being unmanned when they move to “the west”).

But. Problems aside, it was fairly balanced, I thought. Which from my perspective is not too helpful, in a way. All these years later, I am still trying to get my head around that family meeting that took place in my kitchen. About ten years ago now. I really, really should now be over it.

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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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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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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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Boundaries… and goals

My ex, his family, and some of my older kids have what one might charitably call a creative attitude to the law. [BTW, for anyone panicking at this point: “Muslims! Law-breaking! What, is this a Security Threat?!”—uh no, that’s not the sort of thing that I’m talking about at all. What I do mean is what has been called a “culture of illegality.” Here’s a post about what I am talking about, though this woman definitely had it worse than I did.]

Alas, the message I got was that a "real" woman, a "good" wife and mother... will do just that.

Alas, the message I got was that a “real” woman, a “good” wife and mother… will do just that. Deform yourself in order to fit into someone else’s idea of what you have to be… in order to suit their needs and wants. Because who are you, anyway?

Which means that now and again, they get themselves into situations. Back in the day, when I was still married and involved in very conservative, insular Muslim communities, I’d sometimes get dragged into things that I wanted nothing to do with. And looking back, my ex in particular was an expert at putting me into positions in which I was made to feel that I had to cover for him, bail him out (figuratively, not literally, but still in terms of money, time or resources), or deal with the trouble, worry and upset caused by whatever-it-was that he had gone and done—although he had gone and done it either without my knowledge, or after I had objected to him doing it.

That sort of thing always bothered me a lot. It was humiliating. Whether or not people found out, I felt wrong. Unclean, even. That was how strongly I felt about it. And all the religious, cultural, political and other excuses that my ex and others came up with to justify things that they did never quite convinced me. I wanted to accept those excuses. Sometimes I almost did. But I couldn’t, and as time went on, I became more and more disturbed by what was going on.

So, one of the benefits of being divorced and moving away from those communities (I thought) would mean that this sort of thing wouldn’t happen any more.

But unfortunately, I was wrong about that.

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