Why I miss Ramadan…

I miss Ramadan.

Not the fasting and praying by any means, but the insanely warm and tingly atmosphere, the food and chattiness and thankfulness.

It gets to you.

Because the whole city is awake, and even the littlest of your cousins is up at 4am. You sit on chairs beneath your building, with battery lights and summery breezes, with watermelon and football matches and the sweet smoky scent of arguileh. You hold babies whose faces are sticky with cake as you bat at bugs with a long, sizzling mosquito swatter.

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{Sunset in Beirut, sunset in Doha}

You break fast with dates and a tall glass of ayran every evening and there will be a thousand pumpkin seed husks spit into the garden from the porch before the moon sets. By then, everyone will be too full and relaxed to care about yelling at their kids when they run off to buy cheap chocolate and peanut puffs,  firecrackers and water pistols from the corner store.

And  there are lanterns everywhere and dozens of hands hold dozens of palm-high tea glasses that glow amber-red.  Every summer fruit is stacked high on platters and  you stand on a ladder and cut grape clusters straight from the vine overhead.

And though you are full to bursting, you can’t help but nibble at those sheets and sheets of Arabic sweets dripping with syrup and cheese and pistachio and that one candied orange blossom that tastes like wax.

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{My father’s village home}

And at no other time do you turn on the radio with a glass of water in hand at dusk and the jingles drive you nuts while you wait for the adhan to come warbling out.

And you never get  tired of cheese sambousak and lentil soup and fattoush even though you start with them every night because it is that familiar and comforting. And you watch pine nuts swirl in your iced jallab as you vaguely wonder why you never drink it any other time of the year.

There is a drummer walking the streets before dawn. He strikes his drum with slow, deep booms to wake those in slumber to  their last meal before the day breaks.

And, even though you are twenty three years old and have work in the morning, your mother still shakes you awake when he comes around, and pushes a mug of warm milk to your lips. The drummer in the street syncs in time with your sleepy gulps.

Yes, I miss Ramadan. I miss home.

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{My mother’s village home}

Here is to a happy, willing, and safe Ramadan for all Muslims and members of Muslim families everywhere.

My wish and hope is that out ex-Muslims and non-Muslims from Muslim families will still be welcome among their families and cultures. My hope is that we never have to say goodbye to home, that home remains a safe and welcoming place even if we choose not to fast, choose not to pray.

-Marwa

A call for mercy, because of what Muslims and ex-Muslims share

I wrote a blog post a couple of weeks ago. It was read by tens of thousands of human beings. This would be unnerving in and of itself, but the feedback I received is what really moved me.  It was so resounding that I am still shaking from the grace of my readers.

I have received comments, emails, and messages from friends and strangers alike.

I have received responses from people in my hometown Beirut, from friends from religious and nonreligious families alike, Muslims and Christians. I have received responses from people from fundamentalist backgrounds differing from my own, people from other third world countries, Arabs and Muslims American-born-and-raised, white Westerners, from men from my lands and men from the West, from people who are Muslim and people who are not.

I was gifted words, largely from people I will never meet, who I probably would never have touched or spoken to, and I was gifted words from the heart.

Confidences, testimonials, secrets, I was gifted tears.

Expressions of confusion, horror, injustice, I was gifted empathy.

Expressions of resonance, of equity and grace.

“This hits so close to home.”

“I never imagined it could be this way.”

“This is my life too.”

“Thank you for confirming that my life is worth fighting for.”

“I can’t believe I’m not alone.”

“Thank you for saying what I cannot.”

“Love, strength, hope to you. Blessings to you. Keep writing.”

It made me realize how much more difficult this project of mine is than I anticipated–though try to anticipate its difficulty I did.

I knew it would require imaginativeness and nuance, thoroughness and integrity. And perhaps because I am lacking in some ways in these areas, I was girded for a much simpler responsibility than this. The responsibility I feel is greater now.

I am unnerved because I now know that the responsibility I face is not one of mere intellectual integrity–as if that were not a hefty enough responsibility to carry. The responsibility I face is one of justice to other people and the hope and thought they give me.

It is difficult because there is pain and injustice on all sides, and I wonder about us–Muslims, ex-Muslims, Muslim-ish people, queer and LGBT Muslims and citizens of Muslim-majority countries, Arabs, South Asians, North Africans, Southeast Asians, Arab Americans, Muslim Americans, people from traditional patriarchal societies in the third world, immigrants, et al. I wonder if all of us, if any of us, can reconcile our spiritual, personal, and worldly identities and still do justice to the phenomenally unique pain and/or diversity of experience we carry.

This morning, I had a glimpse into a way in which we can try.

This morning, I read an article in The Sun by an African American poet, a teacher, a scholar, a man I know to be wise and overflowing with giving and empathy, and I was baffled and moved that anyone could speak of such oppression and pain and have it be an unblaming invitation to mercy.

What a wondrous concept, to be able to speak of your own pain and violation and that of your people, and still be encompassing, welcoming, calling for mercy all around, from all sides.

There is in fact injustice and pain on all sides here, and it is difficult to speak of it without casting undue blame, to try to cite real reasons and sources of injustice without furthering more misunderstanding and misfortune.

Because all of us suffer.

Because moderate Muslims with progressive, pro-choice worldviews have an uphill battle to fight against the extreme versions of their faith in their communities and as strongly portrayed by the media.

Because the interpretative, scholarly efforts of moderate Muslims working for change are often discounted as colonialist, imperialist, unrecognized innovations, or worse. (But, please. Please keep working, keep trying. There are those who hang precious hopes upon your work.)

Because a young Muslim girl, faced with fear, threats, and violence her whole life, yet somehow respectful and encompassing and graceful as anyone can be,

because a young Muslim girl, modest, innocent, supportive of her country and of Islam,

because a young Muslim girl who is all of those delicate and wondrous things is slandered as an evil agent of the West bent on the destruction of patriarchal communities because she is an advocate of education for girls and women. (Respect, respect, love to you, Malala. Can you tell me I have hope when someone with your belonging is so hated?)

Because Arab-Americans homes and individuals are suspect: invaded, searched, frisked, judged before and beyond who they are and what their values are. (In the 80’s my mother was visited by the FBI in her home. “Why do you make so many regular phonecalls to this number in this distant state?” To her, it was family. To them, she was calling an Arab-American immigrant hub)

Because Muslims with a sincere devotion and love for their God are ostracized from their communities and labeled haram for trying, with honesty and grace, to reconcile their feminism, their queerness, their non-cis identity with their faith.

Because monogamous, devout homosexual Muslims are imprisoned, beaten, and worse by the communities they want so powerfully to be part of. (Pride, pride. Your courage inspires me. Please stay strong, and pride.)

Because Muslims who travel to the West feel compelled to wear baseball caps and t-shirts, to shave or wear clothes that are uncomfortably stylish so they are not profiled because they look ‘brown.’ (Baseball cap off to my uncle who rides airplanes wearing a Homer Simpson t-shirt. It reads: ‘Everybody is stupid except me.’ Its neon green is less of a beacon than his skin.)

Because ex-Muslims are in hiding even after moving to, running to, living in the West, and when they show their faces and make their voices heard, they are met with threats of death and rape. (Love, courage, honor to you, Reem Abdel-Razek. My heart swells when I hear your voice. It is small; it resounds)

Because when ex-Muslims begin to tentatively bridge, reach out to each other, form communities, they must subject new members to uncomfortable questioning because their safe places of trust and hope are so fragile and new. (I hate that my testimony to your authenticity, my dear, old friends, is more valuable than your authenticity. I hate how necessary it is that I vouch for your goodwill; where are your voices?)

Because Muslims and Christians have to elope to Western countries for their inter-faith marriages to be legal. (Thank you, Cyprus, for being a short boatride from Beirut, for uniting young couples in love when their own country refuses to.)

Because Muslims from differing denominations must beg their countries, their sheikhs, their parents to allow them to marry because of political differences. (Strength and spirit to my Sunni Saudi friend and her Shia Lebanese love, you who wandered like pilgrims from cleric to cleric begging to be legally united. I am proud of your pleas.)

Because women from Muslim countries who bare their bodies are exiled, kidnapped, and put on trial. (We are all Amina Tyler. We are all Aliaa Elmahdy.)

Because Muslim lands are invaded, divided, set to fire and unearthed by foreign forces. (How much of this do we do to ourselves, with our ceaseless bickering and ebbs and flows of power and patriarchy?)

Because, too, Muslims suppress, destroy, punish, sanction, inflame their own people. (How much of this is due to the endless cycle of colonialism, war, rebuilding, fear of those world powers stronger than us?)

Because, simply, Muslims are hated for being Muslims.

(I walk on the streets of my college town, ride on a college bus on my way to teach the students of this campus. I wrap my head in a scarf from the wind. I forgot my ID at home for the busride; I am not the only one. But you, bus driver, single me out, aggressive, rough. “Did your parents not teach you to pay for things?”, you ask. When my head is bare this never happens.)

Because, simply, ex-Muslims are hated for not being Muslims.

(I turn off my phone, I reject numbers I don’t know. My heart flutters to my throat with every unexpected voicemail. Do I listen to it? Next week, next week, I’ll change my number. Next week, next week, the loss of my family will be complete.)

This painful testimonial can go on for pages and it is not a tombstone or a dirge. It is complex, multifaceted, organic, flowing. It is a book of many voices, many authors, many pages. It withers and shrinks on all sides and stabs itself with itself again and again, then blooms and rises in hope and power.

And falls again.

And I have a fear, because not all of the responses, emails, and testimonials I received were of empathy and mercy. Because some of them were reactionary, lashings-out of pain and affront because my experience, on the face of it, delegitimatizes other experiences, different experiences, experiences of vibrancy, hope, life, and joy as proud Muslims, as citizens of Muslim-majority countries. Experiences, too, of those who are hated and misunderstood despite all that. Because they have good lives, and they try to spread this good. Because they are tired, too, of their value as human beings being discounted because of the name ‘Muslim’.

And this is what I say to you: that I am afraid too. I say to you this, because I understand that our lives and experiences are not monoliths, that our challenges are multifaceted and versatile.

I feel afraid at simple sentences like “But I thought Lebanon was a liberal country–I am shocked and disappointed” from Westerners who read my post, because there is something there that is misunderstood, because the progressiveness and freedoms of my homeland should not be nullified by my experience. I am afraid too, at reactions from others, who continually glorify and tout the graces of  Lebanon’s capital city in attempts to delegitimatize its problem areas.

I am afraid at both reactions because they exclude the other, and it makes me think of a cyclical motion that moves slowly back and back. I am afraid because this paradigm of response, this binary, can be lifted and applied to many Muslim-majority countries, Islamic societies, and Muslim family-structures, and this binary is too divided, too excluding, too extreme on either end to be either accurate or productive.

And here is the truth about my story: I come from a city, Beirut, that is beautiful and vibrant, full of art and culture and education. And yes, one side of it is a party city, a city of hedonism, of great food and good beer, with a glowing, robust nightlife, a city of joy and hope. It is also a city of interfaith living, with churches and mosques and multiple religious communities coexisting side by side. It is a city of good people, welcoming people, open and friendly and kind.

This is why I understand a sentiment some of my friends have given me in earnest protest: “Please don’t paint Lebanon with this brush; please. We are liberal, we are learning, we are hope.”

My city, Beirut, is all of this. I agree.

But because it is so important, let me tell you what my city, Beirut, is also. My city Beirut is the capital of a country torn by sectarian schism and civil strife: recurring, powerful, deadly.

In my city, a Christian cannot sell beer in a shop in a Muslim district without being ostracized, vilified, driven away. A Muslim is uncomfortable and afraid of driving to Christian areas, walking in them with head covered and hands bare.

My city, Beirut, is in a land where domestic violence and marital rape have yet to be criminalized. Draft laws proposing to criminalize them have been shot down time and again by the top religious authorities, who say it will threaten the closeness of familial bonds.

If you are a citizen in my city, your religion of birth, displayed on your ID card, will determine whether and where you can run for office, who you can marry and who has a say in who you can marry. In my city, all civil rights are routed through religious courts. Interfaith marriage cannot occur except in conformity to religious doctrine, because we have no civil institution of marriage.

In my city, it was not until last week that the government made an official declaration that being gay is not a disease and does not need treatment. It is the first Arab country to do this. Having ‘unnatural’ sex is still against the law. In my city, boys are arrested, interrogated, beaten, tortured, and raped by the police on suspicion of having gay sex.

In my city, if a girl is raped, it will likely go unreported, and if it is reported, her aggressor will likely go unconvicted, and if he is convicted, there is a lawful provision allowing him to be acquitted of all charges if he marries her.

In my city, there is special provision by law to allow for lesser sentences for murders categorized as honor crimes. This is if these cases ever go to trial. In my homeland, a man beat his wife to death only days ago, and he is free and unquestioned.

In my city, religious and honor codes often operate above, beyond, and ignored by the law.

In my city, no police station or officer will protect or help a woman reporting domestic violence, because it is not a crime, and because it is not worth the trouble of interfering in private family matters. In my city, a woman in a police station is routinely harassed and sexually assaulted by the police.

In my country, no Lebanese girl who gives birth to a child can give that child her citizenship.

In my city, girls who live alone, even if they are Christian girls with parental consent or girls from nonreligious families, are watched and their behavior regulated by their neighbors, their community, their apartment building watchmen. Their trustworthiness and honorableness, and thus their treatment, is based on these assessments.

In my city, a girl under 21 can be banned from leaving the country by her husband or father, and many girls over 21 too, because political corruption, bribery, and sectarian politics can shift the criteria of a mechanism already in place.

In my city, a girl who leaves home as an adult can be dragged back to her parents’ place against her will by the political/religious party governing the demographic she was born into.

In my city, a girl walking the street at night can be picked up by members of the political/religious party governing her area and driven home because girls cannot wander the streets.

And when I say that my city is all of these things, I will turn around and tell you that it is also the most liberal place in the Middle East, a place where many glorious freedoms flourish, and where life, youth, and joy are to be found. It is my home, the city of my dreams, and I see it in my sleep every night. I love it for all of those reasons, and because it is freer than many other places in the Middle East and beyond.

But it is still not free, and this is a truth as important and honest as any of the great things about my home, and in telling my story, and the stories of so many dozens of women I know and love, I seek for understanding, for hope, for mercy. I understand the instinct to react with affront, with hurt, anger, and confusion at a negative story that is only partially representative of a culture and a place that is not a monolith, I understand this reaction when it is bolstered and fueled by a long history of misappropriation and misunderstanding and structural discrimination and hate.

But for Beirut and Lebanon to be greater and more brilliant beacons of hope and change, I hope and wish that we can learn to avoid binaries, and think of what we do have in common, though we are not a monolith: the injustices on all sides of the human condition of our cultures. Because we must acknowledge, that as liberal as Lebanon is, it is also an oppressive, terrifying place to very many, and it is the best we have in the entire Middle East region so far–let us not think of the horrendous eruptions of people and thought taking place in Syria and Egypt, let us not think of war on one side and patriarchy on the other in Palestine, of the honor-killing culture of Jordan, of the black-bound suppression of the Gulf, let us not think of the acid-in-faces and children-sold-and-raped in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Or let us do.

I will continue to tell these stories, because they are powerful.

Because it is true that many Muslim families are progressive and non-restrictive, and it is true that they are able to find self-actualization even under oppressive laws through support and mutual understanding. But it is true, deep, important, grave, that women, men, and children are denied basic rights, are pressured and socialized in oppressive ways, are discriminated against unjustly, harshly, reactively, and suffer beyond imagining.

It is true that I and my friends scrabble in real fear at how difficult it is to make our American friends understand what it is like to be us, what it is like back home, how to qualify the intangible inhumanity of our suppressed existence, how some of my friends fear that the toppling of a militant Islamist regime in their home country will wrongly be viewed as a change of circumstances that will justify their being sent back home. When the problems are more pervasive, insidious, hidden, and slowly eroding than can be materially captured or simply explained, how can we not fear misunderstanding from all sides?

My hope, then, inspired by the wise, gentle way Professor Ross Gay writes of racial oppression and hate and turns it into hope too– my hope is for acknowledgment first, understanding next, and acceptance. Acceptance and understanding from Muslims and Arabs towards those who suffer in their countries and under their doctrines, acceptance and understanding from nonMuslims and white people towards those who suffer undue hate, discrimination, and violence.

Because we suffer from all sides, and none of it is easy, and all of it deserves grace.

-Marwa

What it is like to be a Muslim woman, and why we know what freedom is (and you may not)

Part Two of ‘What it is like to be a Muslim woman’ can be found here.

A defense and rationale for the title ‘What it is like to be a Muslim woman’ can be found here.

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I have keys.

When I first moved to the United States eleven months ago, it took me several weeks to grasp this bit of information.

I have keys.

I have keys to my own front door and I can open this front door and walk down the street whenever I want to.

I can walk down the street without being watched through the windows and without anyone calling my parents and telling them I am roaming loose on the street.

I can walk down the street, sit down on a bench under a tree, and eat an iced cream cone. Then I can stand up and walk back home.

There will be nobody waiting for me at my house to ask me where I have been, refuse to let me in, call me a liar, and use my walk as renewed incentive to rifle through all of my possessions for proof that I am doing something wrong.

Because the simple desire to take a walk cannot but hide something deviant.

Because there is no good reason why a woman should want to walk down the street just to walk, and expose herself to the questioning and predatory eyes of the neighbors and strange men.

I have keys to my front door, now, and I can open my front door and walk down the street whenever I want to.

In the first weeks when I was in the United States, I had so much fear and trembling at this freedom. I stayed in my apartment alone during my first two days in my new home, and when I did finally venture out, I checked to make sure my keys and ID and wallet were in my purse a thousand times. I wore long, flowing dresses and tied my hair up in a scarf even though it was August and very hot, even though I am an atheist who happens to find no personal value in modesty, even though I was not going out to meet anybody and knew not a single man in town, even though I tried to convince myself that in this land it wouldn’t matter if I was. I looked around every corner and checked over my shoulder in case my father was somehow watching, lurking.

It took a couple of months to stop expecting to see my father in a place I was going or coming from.

I soon got into the groove of my new life, my new graduate program, my teaching and department readings and events. I actually went to bars and stopped feeling guilty about it. I met people. I made friendships, some of them with men, none of them that I had to hide or lie about. I had sexual and romantic relationships.

And all this while, and even now, it sometimes feels like I am another person living a distant dream. A phantom woman. A woman who is only pretending to do things and be things that were never hers.

Even now, I sometimes cannot believe I am not hallucinating all of this from a dark room in Beirut.

Even now, I wake up from dreams of Lebanon and think, “I have my own place. My front door. MY key. And I can open the door and walk out into the street? Whenever I want? And I have MY papers and MY things and MY income? And I can just go somewhere. When I want? I can do this?”

It must be a sick joke.

And I can be at the library however late I want without panicking and fearing for my safety once I go home? Without knowing the neighbors will call me a whore? I can have people over when the sun is down and some of them can be men and we can play games and eat and drink and talk together and nobody will hurt me because of it?

Yes.

And if I leave something someplace, I will come back and find it where I left it, unless I moved it myself.

And if it’s somewhere else, it is likely I moved it and forgot, and I will not start panicking, wondering where and why and how it was moved. I will not wonder: if whoever moved it saw it, did they see that other thing and did they do something with it and what do they know and what do they not know?

Even though I am hiding simple things. A tube of mascara. Some lacy underwear just to see what it feels like to wear that. A poem I really love from the persona of the devil. Something written by a Jewish author. A novel a boy in my class gifted to me. A box of tampons.

I can write things without hiding, coding, burying, and stashing them. I can make notes for myself in a notebook that are for my eyes only without fearing anybody reading them and demanding I reveal their meaning. I can have a password on my computer and to my email and facebook accounts that my parents do not know. I can save my contacts under their real names and not under various female pseudonyms.

I can keep my texts when I receive them and not instantly erase them. I can take my phone off silent mode and if it vibrates in my pocket I can take it out and answer it or turn it off without having a panic attack and without having to find a reasonable excuse to sneak out of the room without seeming flustered.

I can talk on the phone without somebody listening on the other end.

I can ignore a phonecall from my father when I am in class or teaching.

I can forget my phone in another room and not be asked where I am and with whom, and what I am doing because I missed a call from him.

If I spend more than five minutes in the bathroom, nobody will bang on my door demanding to know what I am doing in there.

I can shave my legs without being interrogated as to why I’d do such a thing when nobody ever sees them.

I can brush my hair and look in the mirror and try on clothes and try to feel like I can manipulate and move and enjoy my body, try to feel pretty, without being interrogated and asked who he is and how long I have been seeing him and what I am doing with him and whether I am a prostitute or pregnant.

I can slim down inadvertently or say I am not hungry for dinner without anybody demanding to know why and for whom I am trying to lose weight,.

I can shower without being asked why.

I can smile because I had a good day at work without being forced to explain why I am so happy.

I can cry at my empty, robotic life without being forced to explain why I am unhappy.

I can have facial expressions. Facial expressions.

I can have facial expressions.

I can have facial expressions.

It has been so hard to train myself to voice my feelings and opinions. To turn my face on.

I can sit however I want within my own house without being told that the position my legs are in is immodest.

I can stay up late doing work and reading philosophy or just derping around on teh interwebz without being forced to go to bed.

I can read and use the internet without surveillance and censorship.

I can watch a movie without turning it over for examination first.

I can sleep when I want, wake when I want, eat when I want or don’t want to.

I do not have to pretend to fast and pray.

I can prioritize my work over serving other people. Never again will I pull somebody’s socks off and bring them their food and drink on command.

I can get up in the middle of the night and use the bathroom or get a drink of water without tiptoeing in terror.

I can lock my room door. I can lock the door of my own room.

Saying I want to be alone, that I need space, that I do not want to reveal personal information, that I do not choose to answer that question, that it is none of your damn business, that this is my body and I can position it on the furniture however I like, that I do not have to explain to you why I am smiling, that this is my time, that this is my work, this is my mind and I can use it to read and write what I please…

I can say these things now.

I never could before.

We never could, before. So many of us cannot, still.

This way of living–having to regulate and hide our personalities, our humanity–the tone of our voices, their volume and timbre, the manner in which we sit or stand or walk or speak, whether and when we can leave our homes, how and when we speak to people, what we do and do not read, can and cannot think or express–this way of living is the reality and default for so many of us.

We are suppressed beyond imagining.

Notice that the above does not even begin to touch upon the horrendous physical violence–abuse, marital rape (or just rape), child marriage (enslavement and rape), rape, whipping, stoning, genital mutilation–that happens to a not insignificant number of women who violate the above code of living.

Pretend that isn’t even a thing. Ignore the violence, for now. Set that aside.

And think, now, how even setting all of that horror aside, and pretending that it doesn’t come hand-in-hand with an obsession with the control of our bodies and our conduct and honor and shame, even setting it aside, this is how we have lived.

This is how my sister lives still, my mother, my cousins, my friends.

Think of this, and try to understand what freedom means to women like us. What it means to have choice. What it means to have true choice and not just a variety of empty options. because we too can walk into an iced cream shop and choose what flavor we want just like we could in America, and this is not freedom.

Chronic misunderstanding of institutional forms of oppression is blind to this distinction. The pervasive and fallacious argument that women from Muslim families and/or who live in in Muslim-majority countries with laws on the books allowing them to do everything I have cited as forbidden, that allow them to have technically as many options as men, or as women in the West,  claiming that nobody forces them to do anything absolutely–this is akin to saying that African American kids growing up in inner city slums have the same opportunities as straight white males.

Yes, many of us can go to school, can work, can earn and spend our own money. But what we study or work at, and how and why and when and where and with whom and wearing what–all of this is controlled. If we try to do otherwise, there are institutional mechanisms in place–sectarian politics, social norms and customs ignored by law, people in positions of influence at our workplaces and schools and police stations and government–that can destroy us. That this is a common and chronic condition wherever Muslims live and socialize is true–that it also occurs in other third world societies and countries where Muslims do not live and socialize  makes this no less of an actuality in places where Muslim thought and custom constitute and contribute to society and politics.

We have freedoms that are not freedoms, and we can continue to go to school and go to work and be empty robots all the while. And if we gave up and stayed at home, we would be giving up our education and our careers, it is true, as limited as those things are, but we would also be giving up the chronic hopelessness and self-defeat and empty confusion of striving, striving, striving to be fulfilled when we are effectively mannequins.

It is like three quarters of our limbs and muscles are controlled by strings, and the quarter we have some ability to move keep trying to overcompensate and convince us we are real people.

Giving up is so, so tempting.

But sometimes, sometimes, we escape.

And after we escape, or after things change for us?

We will spend some time adjusting. We will be able to grasp, eventually, what it is like to have freedoms.

Some days we will even take them for granted, and if we realize we’ve done so, we will feel a sort of confused resentment at ourselves for being such spoiled first-world brats and then guilt for feeling that having human rights means we are spoiled because rights should be just that–granted.

Some days, however, we’ll be very aware of our rights. The ridiculous pervasiveness of choice around us will paralyze and confuse us, and we will feel empty, incomplete.

I have had a panic attack choosing pizza toppings when my partner would not take ‘whatever you want’ as an answer for the umpteenth consecutive time.

I have become so used to choosing things according to a quick assessment of what other people want, prefer, or require, so that they will be happy and content and thus my life around them will be easier, so that they will not hurt me or destroy me–so used to choosing what will make others happy– I have become so used to that that I  am deeply depressed trying to make anything meaningful for myself.

I do not know how to become invested in my work and my art, because my life was never more than a big empty chamber of apathetic nothingness at best, and horrible torture at worst.

And I am afraid of becoming capable of being free. I am afraid of transcending my ability to let my trauma and unhappiness consume me. I am afraid that succeeding in pulling together that broken part of me that does not know how to choose or care or be, how to quit compulsively faking emotions and detaching–I am afraid of becoming free because I am afraid of being no longer angry, no longer cognizant of this incredible injustice, being blind to what it means to not to be free.

I am afraid of being happy because it might mean I accept and am blind to my former chains.

I am afraid of forgetting what it means to be free.

I am afraid that once I have freedom, I will no longer understand what freedom is worth and why it is important.

This is my reminder.

-Marwa

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Disclaimer: This is clearly not meant to be reflective of the experiences of all or even necessarily most women who are Muslim or have been raised in Muslim-majority countries or households. This is meant to further understanding of what it is in fact like for many women. This particular blog post is also not making any argument as to how, why, or whether Islam as a religion, doctrine, or ideology in any or all of its forms contributes to the oppression described in this post. That goes beyond the scope of this piece, but I will address it in future pieces.

UPDATE: This post and all others on my website are my property and protected by international internet copyright law. You are NOT authorized to translate, copy, display, and/or redistribute my work in part or in full, digitally or in print, without obtaining my prior consent. Thank you.