“And do not befriend the Christians and the Jews.” This is what the Qur’an says. Youth, please remember this while you’re in school: keep Muslim friends. Having Muslim friends is important. We are mirrors unto each other. When I see you doing something wrong, I will remind you. When you fast and pray, I will be encouraged to fast and pray. The Christians and the Jews will only lead you astray. This is why it is important to have Muslim friends in this country of unbelievers. We remind each other to hold true to our Islamic values.”

What. Since when does holding true to Islamic values mean vilifying others?

I looked around at the other women spread out in our private section of the mosque. No one seemed to be listening. No one was engaged or looked up at me as I tisked and shook my head. A couple were propped up against the wall reading Qur’an; another was trying to control her son who really just wanted to run around in the large carpeted area; but most were just sitting cross-legged on the floor, looking down at their laps, clicking prayer beads, picking dry skin off a toe or dreamily gazing at the one-way, mirrored glass that kept us hidden from the men.

Just another consequence of gender segregation. Though, from what I hear, most men are just as disengaged with the Friday sermons. It’s a rare gem to hear a khutbah that gets you fired-up, excited and shouting praises to God.

I looked over at Eryn who was modelling perfect mosque behaviour for the rambunctious boy. She was sneaking glances at him while making her sock monkey touch its forehead to the ground in mock prostration. I was so thankful that she was too young to understand the hate speech coming from the pulpit.

I sat through the rest of the sermon absolutely seething and thinking about how I had to cut short a meeting with an amazing non-Muslim friend (the fabulous Renee!) in order to make it to Friday prayers on time. And here the khateeb, the community volunteer delivering the sermon, was telling me to stop associating with my friends, my parents, my interfaith partners and my colleagues. Because Muslims are somehow better, more righteous people.

(more…)

Advertisements

It’s nearly midnight on the first day of ‘Eid here in Kuwait and I haven’t slept in over 24 hours. So enjoy some of this lazy photoblogging!

'Eid started with an announcement at the mosque and a round of balloons, music, dancing and henna at home.

I decided to stay up all night, since the morning prayer is at 4am and the ‘Eid prayer starts at 5:39. It’s so not like Canada or the US where you have the option of attending the 7am, 8am, 9am or 11am ‘Eid prayers.

We decided to pray outside as it’s a prophetic practice that many mosques here follow. It’s absolutely lovely weather at 5am. But the second the sun breaks, temperatures soar right up to the high 40’s.

Naturally, the men's section is open. The woman's section is hidden by a tarp barrier. We came early and had the front row... which doesn't really make for an interesting view.

There’s no “field” to pray in per se. Kuwait is a desert. So we prayed on tarp and carpet that was put down over a gravel clearing in a residential area.

Here’s a short video of the takbirat with a lovely view of Eryn and the tarp:

There were thousands of people all coming together to join in this special prayer. Honestly, it was amazing praying outside in the morning heat, watching flocks of birds take advantage of the dawn and just a wonderful feeling being so close to so many people who were all in a celebratory mood. Unifying.

Women greet each other with hugs, kisses and a happy 'Eid Mubarak after the end of prayers.

This ‘Eid is a little toned down due to some family concerns — so after prayers we had breakfast with family and literally just hung out all day visiting a few close friends. It was simple and wonderful and definitely has advantages over going back to the office and spending ‘Eid commuting to and from work.

Eryn's lovely 'Eid outfit that I picked up at this year's Muslimfest!

While I’m going to miss the sweetness and joys of Ramadan, it’s also my pleasure to say Happy ‘Eid everyone!

What do you mean we have to sit at the back?

I stared incredulously at the mosque representative. About 10 men already sat on the bus waiting for an organized student trip to Montreal – and they were occupying the front seats. A group of six women were standing in the cold waiting for my standoff to end.

I argued that we had mixed classes together, that this was a social trip, that the bus was secular ground, that there was no religious reason why we had to be segregated on a bus, and asked why the women were being forced to the back. I was told that despite the trip being social, we should always maintain proper Islamic decorum, that I wasn’t being culturally sensitive to the needs of the bothers who were accustomed to gender segregated spaces, and that they would feel more comfortable not staring at women for the 4 hour trip. “And what about us? Do you think we want to be staring at you?

He wasn’t going to budge. The least I was able to negotiate was to get all of the men to disembark first so we could get on the bus without having to brush their knees as we passed. I was furious.

Sex segregation in the mosque made sense to me when I first converted. I was interested in learning about my new religion, and was not necessarily on the lookout for social inequities. I probably wouldn’t have been able to see them anyway, since I was still the starry-eyed new convert, and often celebrated the great rights and status that Islam affords women, over recognizing that things weren’t often practiced in the same way.

I did eventually start questioning more frequently when men and women also had to sit in different sections during lecture series, during community dinners, and even during movie nights at the mosque – but the reasons I was given seemed to make sense, so I didn’t argue further. Often I was told that Islam curtails interactions between the sexes to help decrease the chances that an unrelated man and woman would be left alone together. Also, that it discouraged physical touching between potential marriageable partners – which could lead one to temptation and the eventual transgression of pre/extra-marital sex.

Then when I put on the hijab, I accepted an even stricter understanding of the rules of engagement between the sexes, and self imposed a manner of speaking and acting I thought was expected of the truly pious. I avoided looking at men, rarely spoke to men directly, and if I did it was with downcast eyes and with a firm, no-nonsense tone of voice. I let men walk in front of me and stopped shaking hands. I cut off ties to many of my non-Muslim male friends and stopped frivolous, non-work related conversations with my Muslim male friends. My actions were applauded by many in the community, and like-minded sisters used me as an example of a model Muslim at women only events. Together we arrogantly argued that western modes of interaction were shameful — and the pain of socially isolating ourselves seemed to be worth whatever spiritual gains we were receiving for acting in the appropriate “Islamic” fashion.

My tipping point came almost a year later, when I saw a leader within the conservative community chatting up a non-Muslim female student. He looked her directly in the eyes, smiled, joked, laughed, and even touched her elbow. While the last time he spoke with me, for an event planning meeting at the mosque, he did so through a barrier. We never had interactions outside of the barrier, and if we passed each other on the street, he would look beyond me, never acknowledging my existence.

(more…)