On Why I Support Gaza; Feel Gaza; Am Gaza

Right around this time of Ramadan in 2011, I had gone to a nearby local Arabic market to pick up fresh dates. The owner of the market, a Palestinian who was fluent in English, Spanish and Arabic, greeted me in a manner that is so familiar to me and my Cuban roots; a grandfather-like laugh that was full of things to share with this apparently young and naive stranger at his market: “You could be my granddaughter”.

While I shopped, he started to tell me stories of a month called Ramadhan. He had no idea I was Muslim, and I didn’t find a need to tell him. I just listened to him like I was used to listening to my grandparents’ stories—full of vivid imagery and memories. He told me how he came during the inception of the occupation and had settled in Miami where he married a Cuban woman and had children. He learned to speak Spanish fluently over the years, and I was further surprised by his usage of Cuban expressions and mannerisms too. He offered me a taste of the dates before I bought them, but I told him I was fasting too. He said I was the first Cuban Muslim he had ever met and ran back to get me a giant container of homemade rice and lamb. He also told me that he cooked for the local mosque every night during Ramadan and bragged that his dishes were everybody’s favorite. I wanted to pay him, but he refused and told me it was his responsibility to feed a fasting sister.

This morning, I wonder about Palestinians like him who have been fortunate enough to escape the terrible bloodshed that has occurred the past few weeks. Those who have settled in lands like the United States and replanted their roots to ensure that their children would live humble, yet safe, lives. The displaced millions. Like the Cubans in Miami, would they continue to hold on to hope and stories of days long gone? Will they show their children pictures of monuments and markets, and tell them stories of safer streets, more wholesome fruit and beautiful beaches like my parents did with me growing up? As a Cuban-American who grew up in the heart of a Cuban community in Miami, I grew up overhearing nostalgic men retelling stories of Cuba at café joints, like Versailles and La Carreta; voices talking about a day when the oppressive Castro regime would disappear; some even wishing el hijo de puta to be dead and forgotten.

Every now and then, you’ll overhear a Cuban wondering aloud of the malparido is dead or alive, but we all know that it wouldn’t make a difference because that land cannot heal overnight. As a child of Cuban immigrants, I sympathize with the Palestinian people, but I carry only a second-handed account of having a homeland raped by oppressive ideologies.

But the fight of the Cuban people and Palestinians are not the same. The Cuban people have not been systematically invalidated as human beings like the Palestinians have; we have not been wrongly branded as enemies to values like “democracy” and “freedom”. Our collective ethnicity, nationality, political affiliation and religion have not been used as tools to guarantee the rejoicing of our collective displacement and slaughter. What happens to the stories and histories of a people whose very identity and existence denies them the right to gain sympathy for their struggle and have the entire world watch while their civilians and homeland is beaten to a pulp?

It has always been in my nature and academic training to see two sides to every story; to dissect narratives for multiple perspectives and meanings, and unearth complications for the sake of avoiding reduction and simplifications. The problem is that the occupation is one of the few narratives without two sides because one side has been systematically silenced; the criticism of the actions performed by the Israeli state onto the Palestinians is nearly impossible without some sort of backlash. Today, I turned on computer to catch up with some news and there was a picture of a Palestinian father holding his daughter–same age as my own– who had part of her head blown off; the little girl’s brains dripped from her skull and I could almost hear his father’s cry. I wondered how many times that image had been seen and not felt; or worse, dismissed as just a casualty of war. This is not a war. When a man goes out to kill deer, he refers to this dynamic as a sport, a hunt or a game. Never does he refer to the imbalance of power between his armed self and his prey as a “war”. Why do we do so with the clear imbalance of arms, resources and death toll between the Palestinians and Israeli Defense Force?

A few days ago, I was asked by a relative why the Palestinian struggle was any more important than the recent deaths of the Ukranian people. The comment came after a discussion of why I had decided to start sharing alternative news about Gaza on my social media page. The response to that is that one life is no more important than another life; and there is a saying in Islam that the weight of one life is equal to that of the entire mankind. All life is sacred, and as such, a Palestinian’s victim’s life is not more important than an Israeli victim’s life. Life is life, and it must be preserved and treated in a dignified way until we return to our Creator. However, it is critical that we stop creating more distractions from what is currently happening in Gaza. The Israeli attacks began at the beginning of July, the beginning of the holy month of Ramadhan, with the claim that Hamas had kidnapped and murdered 3 Israeli boys (a claim that has now been corrected by the Israeli government itself); the attacks on the Palestinians continued while the world was distracted by the World Cup, by the 3 plane crashes and the atrocities occurring in Ukraine. For those who continue to passionately advocate for the Palestinians (even if it’s just by trying to raise awareness), it is critical that  others’ efforts to make the issue a casual one (“oh, this has been happening forever between the Arabs and Jews” or “I am tired of seeing bloodshed,” or “What’s wrong with Israel’s right to defend itself?” These moments must continue to be interrupted with awareness and education.   Allowing others to turn away, is to play a role in passively watching a country and ethnic group wiped off the map. Literally. Victims will always exist on both sides, but a neutral and polite position is no longer logical nor okay.

A Stream of Thoughts on Depression and Death

It’s 4.41pm when I begin writing this post.

Just today, I applied to 17 job postings to which I meet the minimum requirements and qualifications. 17 carefully crafted applications in one day. Each submission bringing a new hope and a different vision of how my life could be. Of the various possibilities of my grown up life.

Over the past few months, I decided that I should begin taking career-searching seriously. I mean, I had been running a business for over 2 years quite successfully and profitably. However, the past two months with the critical illness of my father, I have fallen into a depression.

This is the story of my great depression.

It’s only been two months since my father fell critically ill and my family went through the hell of his near-death experience that eventually lead to an amputation of his right leg. He had lost the left leg to diabetes 18 years ago, when I was eight years old. I still remember when my dad returned home from the hospital after his first amputation. I spent a whole week without looking at him. I was afraid of what I would see (or would not see). I remember him feeling hurt, but taking it slowly with me. Not my brother, though. My brother jumped right on my dad to hug and kiss him. One day, he asked me if I wanted to see it, and I was afraid, but said yes. He showed me the stitch marks and I asked him, “is that it?” I lost my fear. Truth is, that while he had been hospitalized for 3 months, I had convinced myself that he had died and that the father who had returned home was a robot that my mom ordered so that we wouldn’t have to feel so bad about my dad. I had nightmares of my father being a robot for weeks, or months.

Over the past months, I have fallen apart emotionally, psychologically. Waking up in the middle of the night yelling in panic because I had dreamt that I was in the surgery room while surgeons patiently and painstakingly amputated my father’s legs and rewired him back together. Like an automobile. Like the inner plumbing of your kitchen sink. Our bodies. They are nightmares. And doctors, their hands.

Four years ago, I vowed never to have an alcoholic drink again. I became Muslim and this was my big step. Three weeks ago, I had an entire bottle of cheap wine and cried myself to sleep. For those who aren’t regular wine drinkers, the sensation goes like this: you take a sip and get goosebumps all over your body. The hairs stick right up. After a few sips, the cheap wine begins to taste bitter; it never tastes sweet as it should. After many sips, you begin to feel numbness on your skin, hands and things move a bit slower. It’s like anesthesia running through your veins. My husband came home to a mumbling wife. It’s truly tragic to think about what I have become over the months. A depressive maniac who cries and yells from macabre nightmares.

I have another confession. This one is worse, but please just listen. This one made me cry for a long time. Two weeks ago, I decided to spend the day with my 15 month year old daughter, so I kept her from daycare. I went to the yarn store with her because I wanted to make her something warm for the approaching cold weather. It was 90 degrees Fahrenheit outside. I left her inside the car. I did. She grew quiet while driving and since I wasn’t used to having her with me during the week, I simply forgot her and left her in the car when I went shopping. My hairs are raised just remembering what I did–to remember that my daughter could potentially suffocate because my head is no longer clear. It’s a confession that I am deeply ashamed and disturbed by. At the store, I suddenly remembered that my baby was in the car, dropped the 6 packs of holiday-colored ribbons on the ground and ran out of the store screaming with tears in my eyes. When I found her she was sweating, but she was okay. Thank God. She was okay. I cried myself to sleep that night too and had more nightmares. My head is no longer clear. I love my daughter and am usually the best mother. But, this day, I failed.

I applied to 17 jobs today, because I need healthcare. My husband’s healthcare cannot be extended to us (for reasons I can’t go into now), and I need healthcare. I end up tossing myself in cold showers every time I get a fever as to avoid the hospital. Over the past 6 months, I have applied to over 80 jobs that I qualify for and nothing. Nothing to show for a Master’s degree and plenty of unpaid student loans. No way to pay those loans back without a steady job. Lenders won’t stop calling and I tell them the same story, “I am unemployed, cannot pay anything and that I wish I could.” I really wish I could pay my bills–it leaves me satisfied and I used to enjoy watching my credit score go up a few points each time I paid off any bill.

After my father’s amputation 1 month ago, I lost interest in my consulting business and just let it fall apart slowly. I get work every now and then, but mostly, I get a bunch of hagglers. My desperation stinks and they can smell it. What I used to charge Whole Foods value, I now charge at Walmart price. I hate being the Walmart of College Consulting. It’s pathetic.

I really need to know if we are going through a something like the 1930s Great Depression. There has to be an explanation why I cannot find employment with a Master’s degree. I remind myself that I am bilingual, fairly good looking (looks count), smart, have 3 degree all with honors, solid work experience, I have so many skills…I am a good catch. Yes, there must be another explanation about things that are beyond out control.

I bomb most interview. Never get the job. Yet, I am overqualified for any minimum wage job to get by until I find a good position. Most employers think that someone with a Master’s will demand a higher salary, so they simply never call. People without college degree, I think, tend to stay at their jobs for longer periods of time because they are perceived as less ambitious. I am not ambitious. I just need to be employed. I need healthcare.

It’s 4am and I am staring at my computer, rewriting this post, yet it all sounds like the same old thing.

Watching Chuck on Netflix.

I prayed today, but I didn’t feel anything. That anesthetic effect is taking over me, but I can still feel my husband toes on my toes. I measure his love by his efforts to intertwine his legs and toes with mine while he sleeps. This is the measurement of love. Of affection. Of marriage.

Hands are numb and it’s getting hard to type.

Bullying a Bully

So, I intellectually bullied a friend (or ex-friend, not sure anymore) today. It wasn’t my proudest moments but part of me feel that it had to be done.

An old highschool and family friend who entered the military right after highschool, messaged me today with the following:

Six Muslims Indicted in Terror Funding Plot. Federal authorities charged three members of a South Florida family, including one arrested in Los Angeles, in a conspiracy to raise money for weapons to “murder, maim and kidnap” people overseas and bolster the Pakistani Taliban. Authorities say the ringleader of the group is Hafiz Khan, a 76-year-old imam, or religious leader, of a mosque in Miami

I asked him what he wanted me to say, and he responded with “Don’t say anything. Sit back and watch them kill each and every one of us.” By “them,” he meant Muslims.

After this message, I had had enough of him. The previous week, he had responded to an article on my facebook wall in the most aggressive of ways–directly attacking me and others who agreed that violence should never be celebrated–no matter how evil the dead person may have been.

In short, he contacted me again today. Apparently, he expected me to answer for the actions of the indicted Muslims. This is when I decided to get a little nasty:

Johnathan, read books. Seriously. I am not trying to be condescending, but you have been immersed in violence from a very young age. It is critical for you to think about the way you are lashing out against me–and on what grounds?

From the comments on my page (the day after Laden’s death), you weren’t even understanding the conversation that was going on. I think the image I’ve attached serves as a reminder of some of the absurd and irrelevant comments you were making. You were responding to things that weren’t said and were attacking an ideology that you think I represent. A complete lack of reading comprehension skills, sorry to say it.

Again, I am down to discuss things with you (or anyone) with different opinions that my own. The only thing I require is respect–not impulsive responses that misconstrue or reflect assumptions about my position–or even worse, attack me personally! So “anti-American”? How dare you! Just because you own a badge and take a million of ridiculous pictures in front of your mirror with guns does not give you a right to dictate how others should think and who others are.

He responded with “books don’t show reality. My friends are dead because of this religion and their radical goal to kill infidels in the name of their Allah”.

I responded with, “John, did you know Christians who speak Arabic call God “Allah” and “Rab” also? They are Arabic words for ‘God’ and ‘Lord’. The God in Islam is the same God in Christianity. Read Quran and Bible and then we can continue.”

He responded with, “I don’t have time to read. Besides, while you were reading my friends were getting killed in Afghanistan and Iraq”

And I said, “You are right, books do not solve immediate problems, but remaining ignorant by refusing to seek information remove hope.”

I felt like an intellectual bully on many levels. I know that my friend joined the military directly after high school. He was raised in a low social-economic neighborhood and joined the military to escape a lot of road blocks. He has been immersed in violence since a very young age. On the one hand, I felt that pointing out his insecurities (in regards to literacy) was a cruel move. On the other hand, he has the potential to read and arrive at his own opinions about the world–ideas independent from military politics and those of Fox news.

In many ways, I feel sorry for him. He is right on many levels. Books do not solve immediate problems. Many people like him have been raised to be practical. To attack problems as they come–not with their minds, but with their bodies. Many individuals like him have had to fight their way through the streets, through school, through family situations. John, like many people I know, are survivors. John, like many people I know, do not have time nor the opportunity to get an education. For these reasons, I felt like an elitist bully.

On the same token, should I stay silent and let him bully me around? Should I stay silent while he spews hate with which he has been indoctrinated? Should I be afraid to shake his narrow-minded worldview by challenging him to seek information?

He sent another message that said, “You know I care for you. It is my mission to protect others. I just want to open your eyes to what is going on with that religion…” and I responded with, “You did it again, John. You vilified an entire religion that you haven’t taken the time to read,” and he responded with, “How about we don’t take about this anymore?”

I think that my going back to the reading cornered him. It wasn’t like him to drop a subject. In many ways, I think I exposed him to his own “shortcomings”. I did this knowingly–which may have be unethical. I, however, feel even more irresponsible staying silent while a friend loses himself neglectfully to the rhetoric of violence.

Watch Your Language! (part 1)

I thought’ I’d make a post on bad words. Not the f-word kind, but on real foul language. Those who know me may already have heard my Saussurean perspective on language–That is, language as a set of signs (visual and phonetic symbols) that are empty until we organize them in meaningful ways. Actually, this isn’t just a casual perspective, but my belief because it follows logic–words are only seen as “bad” when we (society) decide on their connotations. Therefore, there is no such thing as a “bad” word. There are words. Words are either economical (productive) or destructive.

This is my list of destructive words–again, not the kind that make delicate ears blush but the kind whose very manifestations are like festering sores.

1. Natural: I cannot emphasize how much I detest this word and all its variants. This word has been used historically to justify the subjugation of other people. For example, at one point Black bodies–because they were larger and stronger than the bodies of white colonizers–were considered to be “naturally” designed for labor (enslavement). Nowadays, few people make essentializing claims between races, though I have heard a few that have left me wide-eyed: X* people are “naturally” corrupt; B-women are “naturally” hornier than C-women; Y people are “naturally” cleaner than Z people. I mean, we all joke around privately and are probably guilty of using stereotypes for a good laugh– but the disturbing part is when a person makes these statements wholeheartedly believing them.

Most recently, it is the gender/sex “natural” statements that irk me.

Women are “naturally” more emotional than men; Men are “naturally” more sexual than women; Men are “naturally” more rational than women; Women are “naturally” more talkative than men; Women are “naturally” more nurturing than men; Men are “naturally” made for the public sphere and women for the domestic sphere.

No, No, No, No and No.

Get your science straight, people! Men and women are both equally capable to being caring, nurturing, sexual and rational human beings; equally capable of sharing tasks and responsibilities. Honestly, I could care less how people/couples choose to organize their lives–whatever works for them. But please leave archaic “nature” arguments where they belong: in medieval science books.

2.Impossible. Yes, it is possible. We should never blame the things around us for our failures. It is up to us to work hard to achieve our goals; to possess the things we want; to make things happen. Yes, sometimes things are out of our control. If a blind man says he cannot see, it would be cruel to tell him he isn’t trying hard enough. There are some things that are out of our control. The problem is that we often pretend that situations are out of our grip when they are not. As a believing Muslim, I pray to God and I ask for help, but I will never ask God for something for which I am not prepared to meet Him halfway. I do believe that if I try my best, God will do the rest–and that is why I believe that nothing is impossible. 17 years ago, my father had his left leg amputated. Although wheelchair bound, I never heard my father say it was impossible to walk, work, drive, and do other things he wanted to do. The odds were against him, but he still made things happen. Why should we ever use our weaknesses as excuses to let ourselves and others down?

More Foul Language Is Coming Soon!

Feel free to add your own “bad” words to this list in the comment box below!

Why I’ve started to resist the “Feminist” label…

1. The Undefinable. What exactly does it mean to be a “feminist”? According to the Webster dictionary, “feminism” refers” to movements aimed at establishing and defending equal political, economic, and social rights and equal opportunities for women.” And a “feminist” is someone who practices feminism. What does that even mean? How do you practice feminism? What principles do you have to accept to be considered a “feminist”? Who knights you into feminist-hood? What pillars unite the various schools of “feminist” thought? Moreover, what if you don’t practice the principles of “feminism”–can you still be “feminist”? Do you have to have time in your life in order to be an active participant (or practitioner) of “feminist” ideas? The more I think about these questions, the more I am annoyed confused when someone labels themselves as “feminist”. What does it mean to be a “feminist”? I would not consider myself completely ignorant in “feminist” theories . My undergraduate minor was in women studies and I know Judith Butler, bell hooks, Faludi, Friedman and Steinam. I am quite limited in my knowledge of the criticism, but I just want a working definition. What does it mean to call yourself a “feminist”? And if you do not fit a definition of a “feminist”, then are you an anti-feminist?

2. The “Backlash”. Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women. One thing that is also beginning to bug me is empty terminology. If you critique the Israeli government, you are labeled an anti-Semite. If you critique a principle accepted as “feminist”, it becomes an attack, or a backlash, as Faludi termed it. If you think against the grain, you receive a label that marks you a cancer to “modern” society. The backlash mainly refers to religious resistance against “feminist” movements around the world who want to confine women to the domestic sphere. This is problematic to say the least. The assumption that religions require women to remain in the domestic sphere is a false one. If religions will be criticized by “feminists”, I at least hope that the critics have studied the religion’s scripture and the representation of women in their sacred text before religions take the beating for social ills.

3. The Timeline. how many”feminists” are aware that Islam ensured women of their rightful inheritance (property, wealth) and that the first wife of prophet Muhammed (pbuh), Khadija, was a business woman who ran and maintained her own successful business? If “feminism” serves to secure rights to women, then Islam has been a feminist religion from its conception. Islam demanded an end to female infanticide occurring in pre-Islamic Arabia, secured a woman’s inheritance and rights to her OWN wealth, encouraged education, and corrected Biblical account of Adam and Eve by dividing blame equally between man and woman instead of the Biblical blame on Eve.  “Feminism,” as we have come to know it, is a collection of ideals and principles by white upper-class women that served the needs of white upper-class women. The first wave of “feminism” is dated in the 18th century. This is absurd to say the least. It completely wipes out efforts that were taking place hundreds and thousands of years before the 18th century.

4. The Mold. According to the definition, a “feminist” must practice “feminism” (nevermind that “feminism” remains undefined). What if a woman chooses to take part in “things” that reflect patriarchy? A self-declared “feminist” chooses to get married…or adopt her husband’s last name…or perform gender…or wear things that are interpreted as representing patriarchy (wedding ring, head scarf). What if you don’t support abortion?  If you don’t practice feminism at all times, then what does that make you? No, really. This is a serious question. Who is a practicing “feminist” and who is not? Is there a space in “feminism” for women who follow religion? Is there a space in “feminism” for women who believe there is power in the domestic sphere? Who fits the mold? Who doesn’t?

5. The Violence. An abuse of power carried out by those with “feminist agenda” on third world women. I don’t have another word for it, really. I recently read an article in National Geographics titled “Veiled Rebellion” focusing on the issues surrounding women in Afghanistan. A picture that caught my attention was a women who partially shields her face from the photographer. Another picture that caught my attention was one of a group of unveiled women at a wedding. The first question that came to mind was “who gave National Geographics the permission to publish these photos?” Did every woman give her consent and was she aware of the agenda/purpose that her body would be fulfilling? There is something inherently violent about penetrating the private lives of women who may not even know their bodies are being used for a so-called “feminist” agenda. What is most disturbing is that articles like these are published every day and they inspire a greater voyeuristic curiosity into places where  the public may not be welcomed.

6. Liberation. What does it mean to want to liberate women? From what are you liberating women? And what makes one lifestyle more liberating than another? As far as I am concerned, everyone needs liberation from something. So how does a shift into “liberal” mode offer a woman a more fulfilling life? What does it mean to be liberated? I tend to prefer the word “empowerment” rather than liberation as I have come to realize that many women feel empowered through ways that may not always be in line with the connotation of the word “liberation”.

I always considered myself a “feminist”. As I mentioned, I did my undergraduate minor in women studies, though I am no expert in the theories and am sure I am overlooking a lot of criticism. Nonetheless, I have begun to resist the label of “feminist” because it no longer makes sense–and because I admit I no longer know what it means. A fight for equality (and equal access to information, education,  rights, etc) for women makes sense. But I feel that the word “feminism” has taken a life of its own–it has a face, a system, a rhetoric with which I no longer identify.

I wouldn’t be surprised if this post gets labeled as “feminist backlash”–it’s a predictable response.  I am not seeking to make “feminist” efforts seem unimportant nor trivial, but I want to start at square one–That is, with a clear understanding of the word “feminism”, the principles that belong to “feminism” and what it means to practice “feminism”. Until then, the word is empty rhetoric to me.

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One thing I failed to mention when I drafted this post is that I am aware of what is called the “third wave” feminist movement where the needs of women who were originally marginalized (black women, women in third world countries, LGBTQ’s, etc) ‘write back’ against the second-wave feminist movement. A favorite book that raises many of the questions that I pose here are also raised is The Color of Violence: Incite! Anthology. I actually just purchased it because I have checked it out of the library over 10 times and still constantly refer to it. Maybe I should revisit it to get over this slump I’m having over the “feminist/feminism” label.

The Color of Violence: Incite! Anthology


Can I start a fourth wave?

“Go Back to Where You Came From!”

I had heard stories. But, I never thought the day would come when someone would recommend (for lack of a better word) I go back to where I was “from”. So, I was waiting for a parking spot yesterday at the mall when a lady decides she has a right to it before me. I refused to move my car, as I had been waiting there long before she had. I can see through her window that she is yelling obscenities. She apparently gave up the fight bitterly and as she drives past me with a lowered window, she yells “You know what? Go back to where you f***ing came from!”

GASP!!!!

I wish I could tell you that I rose above the situation…that I bore my patience like any good Muslim should. But, I didn’t. I yelled back in my best English so she knew exactly where I was from. After I texted a friend to tell the story of this xenophobic woman, he said “I’m glad you are better than that”. The truth is that this time, I wasn’t. It reminds me of the monologue titled “I’m Tired” where the Muslim-American character breaks down one day and cusses someone out who attacks her in a similar way.

The crazy part is that Miami is the most diverse city in the country. Miami was built by immigrants–Cubans, Haitians, Jews, and other non-Caucasian groups! I would expect to hear such a comment in a place where “brown” people aren’t common. But in Miami? And besides, I am an American, this is my only country–so the comment was absurd to say the least. What is crazier is that I wasn’t wearing a headscarf, but instead a winter-y hat that covered my hair. I wasn’t “out-of-place” per say. It wasn’t really Islamophobia, but just plain ol’ brown-o-phobia? Did this psycho think she can carry her white privilege over my parking spot? Her invisible knapsack wasn’t welcome here and she wasn’t havin’ it.

What? I am still in shock.

I wish I had more time to remind her that the only folks who have a right to send anyone back to where they came from are the Native Americans….and they are generally still far more polite than she could ever be. But that kind of comment may have cause her to actually think. Heaven forbid I’d shake her whole universe at once.

Convert Orientalists

From the cover of Edward Said's "Orientalism". Vintage 1978.

What really annoys me lately are “Convert Orientalists”. Yes, you heard right. While Edward Said’s book on Orientalism is mainly about colonialism and Western aggression toward the so-called “Orientals”, I think his discourse about Western view on the “Other” is useful to think about how we sometimes reduce complex cultures to a set of signs—language (words, expressions) and material culture (food, clothing, music, artifacts). When I label someone as an “Orientalist”, I do not mean those who appreciate and learn from other cultures; I am referring to those who (usually unknowingly) exoticize a group of people.

We sometimes see non-Muslim girls playfully done a hijab to imitate the “exotic harem” they see in movies. We may also have seen Western women dress as belly dancer or genies for Halloween—and let’s not forget the ridiculous amount of eye makeup as part of their costume! This mimicry is not surprising at all with the media constantly exoticizing the “Orient”. What is surprising is how many new converts develop a hype over Arab and South Asian culture. One of my white European convert friends was telling me how badly she wanted harem pants. What? Harem pants? Like in Aladdin? What is wrong with regular ol’ jeans?! A second friend constantly updates her facebook status with “romantic” phrases in Arabic—sometimes even obsessing over a single word because “it’s too beautiful for even her unworthy eyes to read”. Fine, so you like the sound of Arabic. I get that. Some languages just sound more poetic or harmonious than others. Fine. A third white American convert took a facebook quiz telling her what “kind” of Arab she was. How can you reduce a race of people to a quiz? Imagine if the quiz said “What kind of Black are you?” or “What kind of Jew are you?” Clearly, the real differences between groups of people are not ones that can be captured in multiple choice questionnaires!

What’s my beef with this? It’s just weird!

Again, it’s a good thing to appreciate other cultures. When individuals, however, begin to forget their own identity by adopt things that slowly replace their unique history and heritage, then they need a reality check. I have been guilty of making this kind of mistake—we all have. But it’s important to constantly be aware of how dumb it looks to pretend to be someone you are not.

Islam is a culture of its own; it’s a unique lifestyle that has developed from Muslims’ belief that Allah has revealed to them what is haraam and halal (forbidden and acceptable). Muslims follow a specific dress code, a restricted diet, follow Islamic propriety when dealing with the opposite sex, and recite the Qur’an in Arabic. Because of these unique qualities of the ummah (community), I understand why some would call Islam a distinct culture. Under the culture of Islam, however, we cannot forget to express ourselves through our individual material culture—music, foods, language, clothing. Islam is not the “Orient”, and the “Orient” is not Islam. Islam is for mankind and what makes it rich is that it offers the space for people to remain true to themselves.