My recent post on creating a child-like Ramadan generated a lot of attention on Twitter and Facebook — with many commenting about the frustrating balance between motherhood and the sometimes unfair expectations placed upon mothers during Ramadan — usually at the expense of their spirituality. I thought it might be productive to create spaces where people could share stories, commiserate, debate or come up with plans of action to address the issue. Especially now that we’ve entered the last 10 days of Ramadan.

I’ve teamed up with the amazing Asiah Kelley, to explore some of the problems in the discourse on motherhood and Ramadan — which we’ll look at over the next two postsAsiah Kelley is a fantastic person and mother and I am honoured to share her work with all of you. Please join me in welcoming her as she shares her thoughts and reflections on the importance of recognizing motherhood spirituality.


khatm

Ramadan is supposed to be the month of mercy. But for many mothers and wives, it can feel merciless. The work is unrelenting — food preparation, child care, house work, and all the while trying to fit in any act of worship possible.

Muslims start mentally and physically preparing for Ramadan at least a month ahead of time. The excitement builds as people think of all the food they will eat, and all the events they will go to. Young girls shop and prepare their outfits for the different parties they will attend. Boys think of the fun they will have staying up late nights with their friends, while sleeping it off the next day. But mothers? They just might tell you that Ramadan is met with a sense of dread. All the expectations — their family’s and their own, are hard to live up to.

Something has to give, and that something is usually the mother.

Ramadan crept up on me this year. My husband came home from the store with $45 worth of Gatorade, and I was more than confused until he said “For Ramadan? It starts next week.” I guess I knew on some level that it was coming, but had been ignoring it. In fact, I was dreading it. Since having my daughter two years prior I had slowly sunk into an iman hole. My faith was shot.

Ramadan wasn’t a welcome friend, it was a reminder of how bad of a Muslim I considered myself to be.

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Happy February everyone! It’s been a while since hijab has dominated the headlines (har har). But with so many people talking about hijab-as-veil, hijab-as-appropriation, hijab-as-the-only-thing-defining-muslim-women this past week, today is a special hijab version of the roundup.

In other news, Bremen becomes the third German state to recognize Islamic organizations as official religious bodies — meaning that Bremer Muslims can now take ‘Eid off! Muslim students in a Maryland high school can now pray during class time — but only if their grades are good. And while it was feared that extremists destroyed priceless manuscripts in Timbuktu, the bulk of the collection was saved, by fabulous superheros in the guise of mild and meek librarians.

Today’s lesson: Don’t mess with people who command Silence in the Library and smash metadata for fun.

Enjoy!

hijabday

tokenization of Muslim women, “Hijab Day” by Person of Color.

1) So another World Hijab Day has come and gone.

Some marked this social experiment by wearing a special designer, invisible scarf known as the NoHijabHijab,™ some marked it by wearing their touques, Tilleys or sun hats, and some marked it by joining a relatively safe and supportive community environment to see what it feels like to be a “veiled” Muslim woman for eight hours in a relatively safe and supportive community environment. You know, without the hangups of praying, fasting, giving zakat, being discriminated against for having a Muslim sounding name, community racial microaggressions and invalidations based on gender, being overlooked for education/employment/marriage/social mobility because of hijab, or experiencing all sorts of gender and religious based injustice…

I could go on, but my current blogger hero, mama and footballer extraordinaire, footybedsheets, said it all so succinctly:

This exercise reduces a Muslim woman to one yard of material. It is not an action that one can adequately educate and put another woman in their position. It’s completely disingenuous  to think so.

Will having my teammates wear a hijab for a one hour match allow them to understand a lifetime of stares, barriers, “No, sorry you can’t play with that on” decisions, struggles and then my own strength and confidence to embrace it and keep going?

No. No, it won’t.

Just like wearing a hijab for one day will not provide a woman with contextual understanding of challenges and the realities that a woman in hijab may face: misogyny, cultural stresses, financial problems, prejudice, racism and even effects of war.

WHD was created to fight hijab stereotypes by inviting non-Muslim women to try it for a day. Al-Jazeera has a summary of the myriad reactions to the event — everything from, “yay, we all love and understand each other” to “boo, this sucks” to “taking the hijab off the next day defeats the purpose of hijab.”

The BBC used the day as an opportunity to use their horrid “Muslim Headscarves” infographic, and concludes their coverage by saying, “the day is about showing the world that women can choose the hijab willingly.” Making it more difficult to be critical of places where women can’t.

And now, a music video about Class Tourism.

2) This entry should really be in the above piece, but it was too delicious not to give it a seperate honour.

For WHD, the HuffPo published some full on hijab tourism with Natasha Scripture’s investigative journalist fray into a wild and wonderfully desexualizing eight hours of hijab:

So, one morning, after carefully tucking my stray hairs under a plain black headscarf, tightly wrapped around my face (traditional Sunni-style, with my face visible), I looked at myself closely in the mirror. Who is this person? With my long hair concealed, I immediately felt that my face was unequivocally defined by my eyes and that even the faintest shift in my facial expression would be detectable by the least discerning of observers. Most strikingly, I felt instantly de-sexualized. It was as if putting on the veil had melted away my sexuality, and I was left with just me.

Yeah. Because “veiled” Muslim women have absolutely ZERO sexuality. None. Nadda. But oh man, wait until that stuff comes off. Then BAM!

I went to meet a girlfriend at a crowded Thai restaurant for lunch where I was absolutely stunned by the transformation in myself, more so than the way people were treating me. As ridiculous as it sounds, I felt myself becoming more demure, which is not my personality at all. As a journalist at heart, I’m naturally adventurous, even flirtatious, so it was strange to feel this wave of shyness creep over me. I think I became that way because the strangers surrounding me — the server, the hostess, the patrons — expected me to be that way.

Demure Muslim women in hijab isn’t a stereotype at all. Now, why would one’s personality change? Because the hijab has the power to remove one’s sense of self? Yeah, I put it on and wonder where I’ve disappeared to. It’s my invisibility cloak.

Anyway, the piece goes on to talk about how she ended up finally herself again after trying to flirt with a guy over a beer. That’s when she ripped off her hijab and let her hair fly free.

Like a bird.

Lady Gaga in a burqa. To promote her new single, "Burqa." I feel liberated already.

Lady Gaga in a burqa. To promote her new single, “Burqa.”

3) Hijab rapid-fire:

  • More on the fashion front, a Chicago human rights attorney launches a hijab design contest to encourage people to come up with a “truly American hijab style.”

4) And finally, it’s the hijab tutorial to end all hijab tutorials. A must watch for anyone telling you how you should cover (and it’s by a Canadian to boot):

 

**And a hat tip to the always lovely Krista Riley for inspiring “invisible hijab.”

I cannot express how much I ardently admire the work of Nahida from the Fatal Feminist. So I was overjoyed when she agreed to write for our month of guest posts. Not only is she an amazing and feisty author:

Nahida is an American Muslim feminist who frequently disagrees with the positions of male scholars, including but not limited to the rightful and valid dynamics of feminism in Islam, the certification of halaal meat requiring actual well-treatment of animals and not just ritual slaughter, and the permissibility of eating mermaids. She writes about sound Quranic exegesis as well as spectacular women in Islamic history, criticizes logical fallacies evident in male interpretations, and engages in other such scary feminist activities. She returns the salaams of parrots.

So please join me in welcoming the fantastic Nahida as she shares her thoughts on the erosion of “the feminine” in Islamic discourse and women’s religious right to reclaim their space.


Friday before last, I attended jummah prayer at the mosque, and I wore curlers underneath my hi’jab, because I had just raced there after finals and had barely had enough time to apply my red lipstick (a personal employment of verse 7:31), and why not save some time? Needless to say, it was very obvious I was attending the khutbah while simultaneously curling my hair, and I looked badass, like a malformed dinosaur. Because I have lots and lots of hair, the hi’jab did wonders forcing it to hold together the way I had “arranged” when usually there isn’t enough surface area on my head for curlers wrapped with piles and piles of hair. Before we started one of my friends took one glance at my ginormous, lumpy hi’jab and burst into laughter. “WORST case of hi’jab stuffing EVER!”

I propped myself up against the wall and sat there smugly with a sideways smile. Soon I would be transformed into some sort of elevated reverie of reflection—that usual awed, heart-struck jummah feeling—but for the moment, in a different way, I felt strangely feminine, and peculiarly close to God. And it was not just because my blasphemously high hi’jab was closer to heaven.

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Masha’Allah, I’ve been nominated for a Brass Crescent Award for Best Female Blogger.

Also, my most popular post, Only Women Bleed: menstruation and prayer in Islam was nominated under the Best Post or Series category.

I’m so very excited and if you agree with these humbling and mind-blowing nominations, then please go out and vote for me!

The Brass Crescent Awards is an annual awards ceremony to honour the best writers and thinkers of the emerging Muslim blogosphere. Nominations are taken from blog readers, who then vote for the winners.

Thank you to everyone who sent in a nomination. I can’t thank you and all of my wonderful readers enough for your support over the past 18 months. Half of what makes wood turtle a brilliant place is all of the thought-provoking conversations we have — and I’ve learned so much and am amazed at how much I’ve grown as a Muslim, mom and person from engaging with all of you.

There are some truly awesome nominees this year. You must absolutely check out (and if you’re inspired, vote for):

Thank you again everyone!

“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.

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Sometimes I look at a post for such a long time, reading and re-reading, that I feel like I’m missing something extremely important. The elephant grows so big that I can’t see the trees from the forest. I wrote this post in the wee hours, with the intension of generating some dialogue about modesty — but obviously I can really only write from personal experience. I’d be genuinely interested to hearing all of your thoughts on the matter.


I’m always surprised when someone asks what my hair looks like.

It’s usually a complete stranger or an acquaintance who opens the conversation by complimenting the colour of my scarf. Eryn is another convenient topic starter – with people asking up front if her cherubic curls are mine. I have one acquaintance who jokes that his goal in life is to see my hair and he’s just waiting for a really strong wind to rip off my hijab.

This question is rooted in curiosity, and while mildly invasive, I find it strange that some people think I would actually divulge my “hidden secret.” Or run giggling to the ladies’ room to slowly unwrap my head – fetishizing what lies beneath. Often, I just smile and say that I’m bald.

When I refuse to describe my hair I get the follow-up question, “why?” and have to attempt a discussion on modesty and gender interaction in-between subway stops: I cover in front of men… well, the religion teaches that interaction between the genders should be guarded and has special dress requirements for both men and women… yes, I can show other women… no, I don’t sleep with it on… some don’t cover because there are differences in interpretation and cultural expression… well, no, the Qur’an doesn’t exactly say “hair” and there’s internal debates over that… yes, men grow beards… yeah, I know, ironic — but it’s not about hair per se… yes, I know the hijab tends to draw attention “here”… no, I’m Canadian… yes, originally!

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Originally, I was going to relegate France’s niqab ban to the weekly roundup and have a dedicated rundown of the brilliant pieces being written about it, such as here, here, here, here and here. I’m sure many more will be written. Twitter is also all a flutter, mass campaigning to ban everything from cancer to slut-shaming with a #niqabban hash tag.

But I’ve received a few e-mails asking my opinion on France’s niqab ban. So this week’s roundup has been preempted by my recent experience with niqab.


Assalamu ‘alaikum sister. How are you tonight?  Her eyes twinkled and suggested a smile. I returned the Arabic greeting of peace and smiled back. She flipped up her long black niqab, grinning – would you like to come to my party?

Last week, we were out running errands and were still on the road when it became time for the sunset prayer. Driving all the way home would mean that we’d miss the small window of opportunity to pray on time, so we drove to the closest mosque in the hopes of catching the congregational prayer.

The Hubby went through the mosque’s front door and entered the large, main prayer hall, while I made my way around the building to the women’s entrance at the back and up two flights of stairs to the women’s balcony with Eryn on my hip. That’s when I was halted by six women in niqab. They cooed over Eryn and after some chit-chat, invited me to a halaqa – a religious learning session.

I agreed to attend without knowing the name of the scholar, the audience, or even the lesson topic. I didn’t know what to expect. And while I certainly had preconceptions based on experience – being told at previous halaqas that I was praying wrong, wore my hijab wrong, and that I should reject western-feminist, liberal, progressive, reformist worldviews in favour of more conservative, political, Islamist doctrines – these ladies were just so excited and friendly that I couldn’t say no to the invitation.

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