Posts Tagged ‘personal’

Ulterior Motives

March 4, 2012

My friend, a man from work*, told me recently that he has me all figured out. He tells me all the time that I remind him of him when he was younger, which usually wins me over.

He said he didn’t believe that I wore my headscarf for “all the normal reasons,” for religion or anything like that. (Me: what the?) I just like being an outlier, he said, and I delight in outlying in all the different identifiable categories. Surprisingly liberal hijabi, e.g., or surprisingly conservative feminist.

Not too far off, I guess. Rebel Without a Keffiyeh, how does that sound?

*New job and new city since the time I really wrote last. More to come (I hope).

MetroDad

October 27, 2011

I have some internet idols, and one of them is this guy. He makes me want to blog more.

Exploring the Hijab as a Limit

September 7, 2011

I’m very interested in the concept of limits, and the idea of leaning into them rather than working against them.

Most of us don’t realize how much we’re the products of our limits. For example: eating only what’s in your pantry (and cooking only from your personal repertoire of recipes), paying visits only where you’re invited, consuming only media that’s readily available to you, becoming friends with and marrying only people you physically encounter. We resign a lot of ourselves to fate and coincidence.

I can’t decide, however, whether that’s a bad thing. For sure, sticking only to what you know is bad—exploring possibilities into the tenth dimension is crucial! At the same time, merely knowing about the existence of those possibilities can be insidious, because it always leaves you wondering.

Anyway, right now I’m more interested in the potential of embracing limits than expanding them. I tried to explain this to a friend while shopping over the weekend: sure, it’s a little harder to buy clothes while working with the constraints of hijab, but sometimes the limits feel liberating.

“Artists don’t think outside the box, because outside the box there’s a vacuum. Outside of the box there are no rules, there is no reality. You have nothing to interact with, nothing to work against. If you set out to do something way outside the box (designing a time machine, or using liquid nitrogen to freeze Niagara Falls), then you’ll never be able to do the real work of art. […] Artists think along the edges of the box, because that’s where things get done.”     Seth Godin

Liberal Arts and the Culture of Self-Examination

August 17, 2011

Last week I had the pleasure of a visit from one of my dearest friends from college (to whom I’ll refer as A.). Together we engaged in one of our favorite pastimes in all the world: trying to make sense of our experience at a small northeastern liberal arts college (via much conjecture and conversation).

For four years, our school truly made up our world—”bubble” culture at its most bourgeois-bohemian. But the truth is that our experience as liberal arts students, compared to those of the rest of the world, was unfathomably specific—and learning to reconcile that now (1.25 years out of college) seems to me so daunting a task that it’ll take up the remainder of our lives.

For us, the link between the liberal arts tradition and the pursuit of some greater consciousness of the self (à la Western Enlightenment—thanks A.) appeared to be rock-solid and pretty obvious (though, writing this now, I guess that doesn’t need to be the case).

Under that premise and with my undergraduate experience, endeavoring to write this blog is the most natural thing in the world. I’ve always a) prized the “Know thyself” mentality as valuable in almost every respect; b) shaken off any claims of corrupt narcissism with the self-reflection framework’s implied virtues; and c) lamented other people’s shortcomings when it’s clear that on this point we don’t agree.

How this exposes my own nearsightedness is perfectly ironic. We—A. and I, at the very least—assume that this sustained, unrelieved reflexivity is the highest, most evolved form of existence (placing value like it’s our job, almost as if we have something to compensate for). But is it really the road to happiness? Does less self-reflection really lead to a lower quality of life?

I haven’t changed my mind about it, but A. and I both decided it’s best to try as hard as possible to acknowledge a lifestyle of constant and critical self-examination as just that: a lifestyle, among many others, and not necessarily the best one.

A sketch that developed out of a nerdy mood a few weeks ago.

To follow up:

“The unexamined life is not worth living.” Socrates

cf. “The unexamined life may not be worth living, but the life too closely examined may not be lived at all.” Mark Twain

P.S.: I’m still stumbling around with the vocabulary of this topic, and am 100% sure that there’s many a scintillating essay about it out there. If you have any interesting reading on the aforementioned culture or the liberal arts tradition, I’d love it if you sent it my way! It doesn’t bear repeating that I navel-gaze like it’s the degree on my diploma.

Some True Statements

April 25, 2011

Four of them, all genuine:

  1. Once in a while—about every day or so—I consider “taking off my hijab.” (Actually, I already do this every day when I get home from work. It’s not very dramatic. I’m referring to the drama, but there’s no elegant way to talk about the more serious decision without sounding silly.)
  2. Currently, the worst thing about wearing hijab is that I feel self-conscious about standing out when I exercise or, worse, when I go swimming. It is virtually crippling. (This is, by the way, the reason I don’t ever exercise or go swimming. My indolent inclinations and complete lack of athletic ability have nothing to do with it.)
  3. I sincerely believe that, despite its inconveniences, the hijab has made me more confident about both my appearance and intellect than most people I know. It’s hard to explain. I try not to be arrogant about it.
  4. I have a dandruff problem, and I delight in ignoring it completely.

WSJ review of A Quiet Revolution

April 24, 2011

Leila Ahmed* is coming out with a new book called A Quiet Revolution about the resurgence of the veil in the last 30 years. Fascinating!

*For the class I’m auditing we’re reading Women and Gender in Islam the same author. I haven’t gotten through the whole thing, but I liked what I read a lot.

From the Wall Street Journal review:

Even if the veil in America is being disentangled from many of its traditional meanings, it remains a theological symbol, tainted by a long history of religious traditions that fall harder on women than on men.

This is true and it’s very scary.

The good news is that American Muslims—unlike their counterparts in France—have the freedom to decide what the veil means and whether they would like to use it or set it aside.

My reality. Makes it hard, though, to imagine something outside that narrative.

Addendum to My Hijab Story

April 4, 2011

Part of the reason I’m uncomfortable posting my “hijab story” narrative from Friday is because of what it implies about my submission [i.e. to forces other than spirituality]. Certain lines (e.g. “I certainly would not have ended up at that particular destination all on my own”), while still being true, can be read as “I was brainwashed by my upbringing” or “I didn’t actually think for myself about the decision.”

I concede the validity of that reading; given my actual story, it isn’t hard to see how someone coming at it from a different perspective would reach those conclusions. I don’t agree with them, however, and what’s frustrating is that it’s not exactly a right/wrong scenario. That is, I can’t prove the other person wrong—I can speak only for my perspective.

Touching on larger philosophical questions, I guess. How are we ever to argue with a claim that we’ve been brainwashed?

My Hijab Story, AKA Game Changer #1

April 1, 2011

I resolved not to be flaky with this blog, so my lengthening absence has been maddening. I was preoccupied (travel and illness) and since I’m traveling next week too, I’m going to lazily seize the opportunity to plagiarize my former self.

This is a slightly redacted excerpt from a personal statement I wrote for an application last fall. I might not put the same words to it now, but the story remains.

People always ask me whether, back when I began wearing my hijab, my parents or some other authority forced me to do it. No, I say; I’ve always been proud of having made the decision myself, and am eager to prove that I didn’t come from that type of culture, from that type of family.

The truth is, though, that while I wasn’t coerced into doing anything, I certainly would not have ended up at that particular destination all on my own. I came from a family and a culture that were, in fact, enormous influences in my upbringing, and to remove them from my continuous process of decision-making would be inconceivable.

[some extraneous details about my upbringing and where my parents came from…]

Most importantly, my parents were – are – both Muslim, and they did their best to raise me accordingly. I learned short surahs (chapters of the Qur’an) at the same time as nursery rhymes; I was trained to thank Allah after I finished consuming the food I’d seen the kids on Barney eat the day before. From the age of three to 13, I attended an Islamic day school, learning all the normal subjects – math, reading, science, social studies – plus taking classes for Arabic, Qur’an memorization, and Islamic Religion. We broke from classes at 1 o’clock every day for mid-day prayer, and fasted, when we were old enough, for the month of Ramadan.

The other kids who attended my school were like me: children of immigrants, the first generation born in the U.S. and all avid subscribers to Sesame Street, then Full House, then Friends. We were children of the ‘90s, which is to say that we were children subjected specifically to the bombardment of American ‘90s-era media, from television shows to fashion magazines to neoliberal foreign policies to presidential extramarital affairs. All along, however, we felt that they were a little on the outside, distant from our real world: we were the Muslims, and they were “the Americans.” We liked to act like them when we were mad at our parents, and gasp in horror at the things we sometimes saw they did. (Muslims absolutely never smoked cigarettes, I believed for a very long time.)

It was important to my parents for me to receive a religious education, and so, through my time at that school, it became important for me to fulfill my responsibilities as a Muslim girl. When I was in the seventh grade, one evening in November, I casually mentioned to my parents that I was going to start wearing a hijab, “for real.” Doing this would entail covering my head, and all parts of my body except my face, hands and feet, in front of men outside my close family. It was something I had been thinking about for a while, undoubtedly because other girls in my class had already begun. Needless to say, my parents and teachers were all pleasantly surprised to hear it.

Wearing a headscarf was already a part of the uniform for middle school; it already felt normal, comfortable on my head and regimented in my morning routine. So, when I started wearing it like a full-time job, nothing felt all too different: I’d go grocery shopping with my mother and get a few more stares than usual, maybe, but it was only in addition to the ones she got for hers.

Admittedly: I feel somewhat detached from this piece now because it doesn’t really say anything about why I continue to wear hijab, and it misrepresents some of my general notions of identity today. It lays out the honest chronicled details, though—stuff I’m now bored of thinking about—and that’s why I posted it here.

What Were My Game Changers?

March 16, 2011

(This is an idea I’m thinking about turning into a category of blog post.)

What do I mean by “game changer”?

You should know: in addition to wearing hijab, I spend quite a bit of my time being unnecessarily nerdy. Reading useless information, endless list-making, googling how-tos on things that don’t need how-tos (purely to compare notes). Moleskine notebooks and everything. I can probably out-journal you in a blindfold.

Anyway, one of my guiltiest pleasures is reading business/marketing/entrepreneurial blogs; I suspect it’s the hobby that introduced this particular term to my subconscious.

So, by “game changers,” I mean specific events, people, decisions, or new situations in my life that changed the way I think about wearing hijab. They’re the things that redefined the game itself (or, at least, the way I play it).

The first and biggest game changer, of course, was my decision to start wearing the hijab, sometime in late 2000. (It still surprises me sometimes to think of how very young I was—but no regrets.) Anyway, my choice forever transformed a) the way I think about myself and b) the way others think about me—and since those are like two mirrors placed opposite each other, the impact is infinitely reflexive. It set a precedent for the game, established rules, lay the groundwork for scorekeeping.

G.C. #2 came less than a year later: September 11, 2001. I have more to say about the subject than I’d thought, so more on that to follow.