While visiting a friend in Beirut for the first time I struggled to find her name on the 26 doorbells that were on the entrance of the building. ” Dr., Engineer, Sales Executive and most importantly the Manager” where the titles of most of the residents in the building. I had a second look at the building to make sure I wasn’t at some 15 story skyscraper and believe me it wasn’t, it was just a normal building in a normal neighborhood. Eventually I found my friends place but I couldn’t stop thinking about all the ” labels” that I saw that day and I asked my self why was it so important to label the simplest things with what we do or what we have achieved. This phenomena of ” Doorbell Labeling” was not a one time thing and the more people I visited the more I realized that this was a common practice.
In that same month I met the Chief of Staff of a prestigious hospital in the United Sates, when we first met he introduced himself as “Dave” not Dr. Dave or “Chief of Staff” Dave, simply Dave and I am pretty sure that his doorbell does not have ” Chief of Staff Dave”. His modesty made me wonder about all those labels I had seen and made me question the actions of our society.
If I was living in a building with managers and doctors it is only normal that I too would like to prove my presence and put a label over my doorbell, but why should I be forced to feel that in the first place? Sometimes we feel pressured to present ourselves in a certain way but the truth is we shouldn’t.
Changes in our society and in our attitude towards one another begin with and are affected by the smallest things such as simply introducing ourselves as who we really are not by what we do.
What do you think?
Our first guest blogger Loulwa Kalache talks about her experience of wearing the veil at the age of 24.
by: Loulwa Kalache
On May 20, 2012, I was putting the first touches on my crown. It was a coronation for a new Loulwa.
I was putting the Hijab.
It wasn’t just about a piece of cloth that I merely put, it was an actual transformation of my state.
Why did I become a “Mouhajaba” at age of 24?
In 2011, I was going through a lot of personal hardships. Yet it was during this time, that I found myself kneeling to Allah. I found myself fully submissive to His will only.
Although, earlier I was pious in following almost all basic duties of Islam, praying, saying the Shahadah, fasting, believing in judgment day and the prophets…etc However, I wasn’t feeling Islam properly. I wasn’t actually submissive fully to the will of Allah. I put a lot of worldly things before Allah.
Thus, I started feeling a tiny growing feeling in my heart that made me create a long forgotten relationship with my God. Until there was a significant day, I decided what I want from this life. It was a day that I asked and prayed for God to guide me through, to show me the way, and to find me a solution to end this dispute and get rid of the worldly attachments. Indeed, a spiritual revolution occurred inside of me.
In that year, I planned to be a better Muslim; to perfect my prayers, to wake up and pray fajr, to read Quran every day, and to deliver the right message about Islam to others. I did my best to do all these. But there was something missing that I was not following. It was one basic element that God asked from women specifically, which was to cover their heads and bodies.
But what was hindering me?
Despite I was raised in an Islamic setting where my parents always wanted me to wear the veil, they never forced it on me. They used to explain to me the consequences of not putting it versus putting it. I never listened to them and I refused to put it at a young age.
Deep in my subconscious, I was afraid of being labeled as mouhajabah. I wanted to be “free” and not chained by a cover over my hair.
I created this mindset believing that mouhajabeh can’t do anything. And that a mouhajabah is perceived as a “shy”, “behind the man”, and not outgoing persona. And that she will be labeled differently. What was I thinking back then? Indeed, I was blind, and ignorant with these stereotypes. Excuse me for that.
So society or people were never the hindering agent. The only struggle I was facing was my own self. So as soon as I let go of this foolish mindset, I decided to put the veil. I wanted to represent Islam properly. I want to show them what it is to be a Muslimah that can follow religion and at the same time be an activist, a hard worker, and a sociable person …A veil can never hinder me, nor my ambitions.
When I put it, there were no remarkable challenges. I remember clearly the moment I put it: I was walking in Beirut, and I didn’t feel any less different. On the contrary, I felt more confident and proud.
Of course family and friends were surprised and happy. No one criticized me or told me to remove it…They did question my motives and reasons, perhaps out of curiosity. And even if some didn’t like that change, I didn’t really care.
Because it was not something I did between me and my society. It was something I did between myself and the Almighty. Because when someone is doing something purely for Allah, he or she doesn’t wait for the world to approve.
For years my parents have had one T.V. in the house. Me and my siblings would always fight over the remote control and what shows we were going to watch. Few were the moments when we all agreed on something and most of the times we would end up watching either a chick flick or a horrifying movie. In both cases no one was happy,if it was the girls turn to choose the show,the boys would make it impossible for us to watch because of their constant nagging and we would do the same to them just to make sure we were even. No one was happy except Makdis.
Makdis has been part of our family for the past two years, she cleans and does the dishes but most importantly she never complains about what T.V. show we are going to watch, what ever is on Makdis will watch and she always seems to enjoy it.
I really never paid attention to Makdis or what Makdis wanted to watch and for some reason I always assumed that she understood what we were watching whether in English or Arabic. I forgot that she was from Ethipoia, that she barely spoke Arabic or English and that this was the first time she had seen a T.V.
In an attempt to solve all the family disputes my parents decided to buy an additional T.V. set, of course we were all thrilled but no one was more excited than Makdis. The presence of a new T.V. empowered Makdis, now she could watch what she wants,when she wants and was not confined by our personal choices, instead she had the ability to hold the remote and control and choose her favorite shows.
Over the weeks I observed Makdis, in the morning she would watch a morning show with her nescafe and in the afternoon after all the housework was complete she would tune in for her favorite Turkish soap opera. Her life had been transformed!
The assumptions we make about people determine the way we treat them. I assumed that Makdis didn’t care about what we were watching but in fact she did, we assume that physically disabled people might be less intelligent so we speak loudly and slowly when in reality they are as smart as we are if not more.
Makdis’s story taught me a very important lesson, the basic needs of any human being such as laughter, the need for entertainment and having our own space are universal to all human beings whether they are from Lebanon or Ethiopia. The idea might seem cliche but in practice I realized that I was not really applying it.
Today Makdis enjoys a variety of TV shows and my siblings and I still fight over the remote.
“We can either choose to live in fear or speak up for ourselves. No matter how helpless we may feel, change is always an option.”
Since this is my last post for the year 2012 I wanted to share with you one of the most important lessons I have learned throughout this year: ” If we want to see change we must be part of the process, we must be involved in bringing out the change we want to see”.
If we want the laws that we see as unjust to change, protesting against these laws should not be our only option, instead we must strive to become lawyers and law makers in order to change the system from the inside rather than being observers and waiting for others to take action. If we want to improve the healthcare system we must become doctors and healthcare professionals. If we want to break stereotypes about women in the work place there needs to be active women in the workplace to do so.
For years I thought to my self that if I want something to change I must go speak to the officials but the idea of me being an official was never an option and I am sure this is the case for a lot of other people. We choose to sit on the side and watch things happen in front of us believing that we are incapable because that is just the way things have been. This past year I fought discrimination and stereotypes by being involved, by speaking at international and and local conferences, by writing and by spreading the word. This past year I decided to stop sitting on the bench and to move and I hope that through my posts I have inspired you to move as well and to realize that nothing is impossible. I wish all of you a wonderful year ahead full of nothing but happiness, joy and new possibilities!
“I am the invisible woman
A ghost in your house
I go around the rooms without you noticing
Bringing order to your disorder
Cleanliness to your dirtiness
Care to your neglect
Love to your indifference
Company to what you abandon
Pity to your cruelty
Health to your sickness
I’m perfect and miraculous
Because you only miss me when I’m not here
You are only interested in what I say when I do not respond
In what I have done when I make a mistake”
-from ” Ode to the Invisible Woman”
Live Illustrations from TEDxBeirut by Karim Al-Dahdah
I have heard this sentence over and over again , I have even used it my self throughout my life; ” Its because I am veiled that I was rejected from the job , or was not accepted , or did not win ” . As humans we are always looking for some explanation of why things happen , we need justification , we need answers , yet rarely do we really grasp the true reason to why things happen and we choose to overlook the obvious and focus on reasons that make us feel better .
Like any person looking for a job , I faced a lot of rejections and I would quickly rush to the conclusion that I was rejected because I was veiled. It never crossed my mind that maybe it was because I was not qualified or did not meet the criteria , instead I needed an answer that I liked, an answer where I was the victim , I was victimizing my self !
It took me a while to realize that I had been blaming the veil for all the failures in my life . I realized this when I started this blog and it made me think of all the moments where I had judged others decisions and I thought of all the people whom I claimed to be mean or unfair when in reality I was the one that was being unfair to my self ” I am not perfect , I am not always the best , I was not qualified and needed more training, there really was someone more competent than me ” all of these are all truths which I have come to realize over the years.
The moment we decide to be honest to ourselves is the moment we begin to change . When I stopped victimizing my self opportunities started heading my way and I started to understand that sometimes we live in our own little comfortable world with our own ideas because we fear the scary truth that is outside . The truth that tells us that we need to work harder to succeed in life , the truth that tells us that there is good in people even if we choose to ignore it . These are truths which I have come to learn but the most important truth of all is that we need to be honest to ourselves at all times no matter how hard that truth may be.