I moved to the United States almost a year ago and it hurts me when I have to explain to my friends back home that I am much more comfortable being veiled here than I am in my own country. It hurts me even more when an American who knows nothing about Hijab or Islam is intrigued about my veil and politely asks me why I wear the veil versus a person back home who immediately judges you based on your appearance. I am not claiming that everyone in America is non judgmental and is understanding but this past year has taught me a lot about what its like to be veiled in the West. I have never felt uncomfortable here, rarely has anyone starred at me and not once has anyone treated me with disrespect.
The first week I arrived we went to the mall and a lady approached me saying how beautiful my hijab was, she asked me where I got it from and wanted to know more about why I wore it. A few weeks later we were installing the cable at our house and just before the cable guy left he shyly asked me about my hijab and asked why I was still wearing it. Throughout our discussion I realized that he thought all Arab women are forced to wear the hijab and that when they come to America they can be ” liberated” and take it off. This sparked a conversation and as he left he apologized for asking so many questions and said ” I just don’t know anything about Islam or Muslim women and I have never spoken to a Muslim woman before, I was honestly afraid to talk to you because I was afraid I would offend you with my questions.” I was so surprised with how little he knew about our culture and our religion and I just couldn’t understand how that was possible. I immediately blamed the media, I also blamed all the so called Muslim’s who had set a bad example about us and I questioned whether I had done a good job in portraying Islam in the 15 minutes that we spoke. You see it’s easy to start a blog and address your community, it is easy to stand in front of a crowd and defend the hijab especially when half of that crowd are people you know but when you are trying to explain the hijab to someone who has seen it for the first time that is when you are truly tested and I felt that on that day I failed that test.
All of this happened a year ago and since then I have been asking my self how do I better represent Islam and the hijab that I wear, what more can I do? Wearing the hijab in the United States has put me out of my comfort zone and has sparked an interest in understanding Islam on a deeper level and for that I am grateful.
I recently began producing and presenting a TV show called “Evening” which discusses Women’s Rights issues on AL Etejah News Channel. This blog is what inspired the show and it has truly made me believe that every single individual can inspire change whether its through a blog post, an article, a speech or even the way we treat those who work in our household. I look forward to your feedback and ideas for the show are always welcome.
This episode is dedicated to all the men and women who leave their countries and loved ones in search of a better a life. To the mothers who stay away from their own children for years in order to raise children that are not theirs , to the hardworking men and women who work 14 hours a day for salaries that are below minimum wage, to all of the domestic workers that have been abused both physically and emotionally, I dedicate this episode in hope that it will shed light on this serious issue.
Yesterday I was vising a friend’s house with my baby girl. The visit was supposed to be a girl’s night out and a chance to meetup with good friends and have a good time. However having a 9 month old with me transformed the evening into an exercise session and I ended up chasing after her the entire evening. My night out had turned upside down and to make things worse Fatima started getting sleepy and I knew it was time to go home even before I had a chance to sit for 5 straight minutes .
I went home feeling sad that I had not enjoyed my evening, we got home and Fatima would not fall asleep in her bed . As soon as I picked her up she gently layed her head on my chest, closed her eyes and fell asleep. We stayed like that for about an hour before I moved her to her crib and in that hour I learned a valuable lesson.
The whole night I was thinking about me, I was thinking about how I wanted to have fun and enjoy going out, I was so concerned with my happiness to an extent that it was all I cared about that night. When I held fatima in my arms I realized that all she wanted was love and I harnessed the beauty of that moment that made me understand how selfish human beings sometimes are . By going back home that night and holding my little girl I learned what Islam taught us, I learned that to truly transcend into becoming better human beings we must sacrifice some of the things that we care about. This is one of the most important lessons Islam taught us and I am humbled that after 26 years my 9 month old daughter showed me what its like to give with no hope for anything in return. This is one of the many lessons Fatima has taught me.
They say that to truly experience a new culture you must experience the food and the eating habits of this culture. Some people travel the world in search of new flavors, others purchase cookbooks of international cuisine in search of a new meal to add to their next dinner party. We live in a country where food is precious and each region in Lebanon is known for something, whether it is the “Sfeeha Baalbakiyi” or the “Southern Olive Oil”,there is always something new and delicious to discover. But how much do we really know about each others food and what does that have to do with stereotypes and discrimination?
A recent chat with a friend of mine who works as a dietitian made me realize how important food is in bridging the gap between communities and in making us closer to one another. “For the past 3 years I have been seeing the same patients over and over again, I have literally memorized most of the food they eat. Most of my patients’ culture and background are similar to mine. When there would be a holiday or an important occasion coming up I would know what foods to warn my clients from eating, however all of this changed when I started working a few hours a week in a new clinic where I had the opportunity to meet people who were from a totally different religious and cultural background. With every new patient I began to learn about the foods my patients were eating in different occasions and this made me better understand their traditions and culture. ”
This idea of simply learning about other peoples food traditions opened my eyes to the simplicity of the solution that could solve so many problems. We do not need books or anthropologists or documented studies to learn about one another . We need food, music, holidays, events, clothing and anything that can bring us closer. We need to change our social diets, not only our food but also our approach to understanding one another.
The question of how we can break stereotypes has always been on my mind, even before I started this blog I asked myself this question and I have come to realize that doing so requires a lot of energy, patience and time.
Blogging has been one way for me to express myself and what I believe in but I honestly do not feel that it is enough. In my journey to change things around me I have made two mistakes which I believe most of us make. When someone would question my beliefs or my choices in life in a tone that I would find a bit provocative I would immediately get in the “fight” mode. Rather than listening to their opinion I would try my best to prove my opinion and why I was right and they were wrong and in return the conversation would turn into a debate where both parties gained nothing. Every time this would happen I would promise myself that the next time would be different, that I would try my best to be in a “listening mode” only to fall in the same mistake again. The second mistake I have been making is that I made my own assumptions about what people thought about me or veiled women in general and I never really had the courage to ask them what they really believed.
I was recently interviewed in a TV morning talk show to talk about 7ijabi and I was forced to listen to what the “other” had to say, I was forced to be in the “listening mode” rather than the”fight mode” and I had the chance to listen to what others had to say.
For the first time I realized that to break stereotypes we must put ourselves in uncomfortable situations of confrontation were we actually listen to what the other is saying, where we have to engage in dialogue which believe me is much harder said than done.
That TV interview made me realize that to break the stereotypes that surround us we must interact rather than react and that we should initiate the conversation rather than wait for someone else to come and stand up for us. By taking initiatives ourselves we will become one step closer to truly accepting and respecting one another’s differences and similarities and only then can we claim that we live in a civilized society.