AlJazeera’s The Stream will be doing a piece about female genital mutilation (FGM) and it’s growth in the west, mainly the UK, later today. I was approached to include my comments which I’m sharing with my readers below. Click here for the link to a very important story!
The fact that this horrid act continues into the 21st century says something not only about the worlds education system but also about the worlds health system.
There needs to be a global initiative to be educated people on FGM, the myths behind it and the health risks. First and foremost, this whole obsession over female virginity is absurd! FGM has nothing to do with keeping a lady a virgin, her choice to be celibate (or a virgin) until marriage does.
Second, FGM is a health risk, many die under the knife during this procedure, especially when done to girls as young as 12 years old. I was in Egypt in 2011 when a girl not far from my family’s town had died under the knife of a doctor whom was an “expert”.
Finally, and I’ve had this argument with many people, FGM has nothing to do with religion. It is not Islamic in any way shape or form. Islam dictates that only men are to be circumcised after birth if health of child allows for procedure to happen at the time.
When I was a young girl, a part of me always wished there was a place where I could be with other young Muslims. Please don’t get me wrong, I loved most of my time in school with extremely diverse surroundings, but I always found myself to be the only Muslim in the room. There was a handful of occasions where I was bullied for being the only Muslim, looking weird and being just plain different.
Thus a part of that young girl always yearned to be in a place where people prayed like her, understood her love for Hijab and helped her learn the Holy Quran. A place where a Muslim girl who looked weird and was just plain different was embraced. That place did not exist in this young girls time.
I was finishing up grad school when I first came across the San Francisco Islamic School (SFIS) a few years ago. That’s when the young girl within me smiled from ear to ear! It wasn’t long before I joined as a volunteer teacher myself and having one of the most amazing experiences of my life! I looked forward to planning my lesson plans every week, waking up early Sunday mornings and seeing my students gather at Mercy High School where SFIS was welcomed.
This non-profit educational initiative, started by a handful of community members, meet every Sunday in San Francisco where a diverse group of students from all parts of the Bay Area gathered to learn the Arabic Language, the Holy Quran and Islamic studies. From a handful of students to the creation of a waiting list, the demand has grown bigger than ever imagined.
As of today, SFIS has become more than a Sunday school with…
A weekly structured coursework of the above mentioned areas
Multiple field-trips and activities on a regular basis
Daily tutoring and mentoring programs for all subjects
Adult education courses and seminars focusing on Islam, health and family well-being
Realizing the need for a full-time Islamic faith based school in San Francisco, board members worked tirelessly for years to develop a successful strategic plan. From becoming accredited by the education department to finding a suitable place to call home, the plan is now in motion.
We are now closer to the dream!
An offer on a beautiful facility on the borders of San Francisco and Daly City has been made. This is a prime location making it accessible to students from both within and outside San Francisco. It houses eight decent sized classrooms, offices, a full functioning kitchen, an auditorium, a cafeteria… the works! SFIS’ offer has been accepted and now a down payment is to be made to secure this home for SFIS.
Seeing SFIS be closer to the dream while being so far away has been difficult for me on a personal level. What can I do to support the cause aside from catching a glimpse via social media of the amazing work the volunteers have been doing towards this campaign? The best thing I can do to contribute is to reach out to you as I’ve done in the past. Your contribution of any size is not only tax-deductible but counts towards your zakat. Your contributions of both funds and time to help support this campaign and SFIS as an organization makes all the difference in one person’s educational experience!
I urge you to not only donate, but to visit SFIS, talk to the volunteers and see for yourself the work that’s being done. Visit SFIS’ Indiegogo’s page today to learn more, view pictures, stay informed of the latest announcements of the campaign and of course, to donate. =)
I promise you, your contribution of any form to SFIS will make at least one young girl smile from ear to ear.
Thank you all for your kind messages after noticing my absence for the last month. It’s been rough living with limited access at my place and working hard to prove myself at this new turn in my career. I have been writing a lot, believe me! I’ve written a few parts about my expatriate life in Qatar. Let’s start it off with the piece I wrote about identity…
Living the Confused Expatriate Life Part 1 of a Few… Identity By: Ms. Hala
I have lived the expatriate life here in Qatar for over 8 months now. There’s still a few bumps in the road to smooth out but overall, life is good. I’m enjoying my very busy and challenging job in a new industry. I’m apartment hunting for a third time now that my temp rent will be up soon. I’m following my 2013 resolution to a tee thus far… so life is good! Oh, did I mention I’m a legal resident of Qatar now? Oh yes baby I am! Got my residency permit a couple of weeks ago, now I can do stuff like get a monthly mobile phone service… hehehe Yes, mobile not cell… I’m catching on to the popular Euro lingo here. 😉
However, living this expatriate life comes with a couple of interesting confusions. Maybe I just lived in this wonderful tolerant city that is San Francisco to have to deal with this identity confusion that I’m dealing with now. I’m a Muslim Egyptian American expatriate who talks in a lovely California accent but “looks” and talks Arabic like an Egyptian. Confusing much? Apparently so!
When I first took on my new job, the grapevines of the office announced there’s an American among them. Aside from the fact that everyone thought the American was getting paid a bazillion dollars (that’s another entry, I promise you!), no one could tell whom the American was. Many didn’t realize until I started talking to everyone, introducing myself and getting the question, “Where’s your accent from?”
I reply, “I’m American”.
“Yes, I’m from Calfornia.”
“How long did you live there?”
“Born and raised.”
The major problem in Qatar is that everyone here is labeled based on their nationality. Even those born and raised in Qatar don’t even get a Qatar citizenship. They do get treated like Qataris with regards to “Qatarization” but aside from that, they are not even legally Qatari.
There’s this thinking that one or the other has a look, has a personality, has a way of thinking or a way of doing… and everyone’s judging you based mostely on those ideologies and stereotypes. There are so many ridiculous notions about every ethnicity out here, it’s unbelievable.
Let’s start with being an American girl and how exhausting it is to overcome that terrible stereotype. What’s the stereotype here about American girls you ask? Drum roll please… American girls have non-stop wild parties, get drunk all the time and the rest is flushed down a toilet in the morning. Mind you, many conservative expatriates here have come to this conclusion from the many movies and television shows that “always show you American girls drinking and having crrrazy parties.”
*sighing and shaking my head*
Finding an apartment under the American girl banner has simply been the most annoying experience of my life, twice! Having to do it so many times now is just torture at this point. I’m repeatedly asked where I’m from and have to answer with Egypt just to get a viewing appointment. Once they see my “Egyptian look” but hear my “berfect ingelesh”, I get asked, “Where are you from, exactly?” After going through an identity explanation, I have to further explain that the idea that us American girls are drunk party animals is just plain false. I’ve even had to emphasis that family will be joining me in Qatar permanently just so that they don’t think I will be in fact living alone and using this “extra space” for my wild parties.
During my time as a temporary English instructor, I was asked to take on a group of young children. To my hesitation, I accepted and on the first day, disaster. One of the parents whom signed up his very disrespectful son only signed him up because it was exclaimed that the instructor was an American lady. Seeing that I wasn’t up to par, the Egyptian expatriate bee lined it to the director’s office exclaiming false advertisement. What did he expect? A tall blonde woman like the Americans he sees on television. Upon hearing this, I rolled my eyes and walked away before the ghetto San Francisco girl in me came out to bitch slap the stupid outta him!
I’m trying my best to overcome this stupid ideology that I can only be either Egyptian or American. I had an argument with an Egyptian fellow a while back over a remark I found quite offensive. He went on to say, “oh, is your American turned on? I forgot you don’t get some of our jokes.” I didn’t even know we could switch between our bicultural identities… WTF? Apparently, there’s a stupid stereotype about bicultural Americans, especially Arabs… Those whom hold an American citizenship think they are better than everyone else, act like they don’t get some traditional lingo and will use their American identity for beneficial purposes. As a first generation born Arab American, this stereotype is so far from the truth, you’ve got to wait for the six o’clock train to get there! Half my family from both sides hold an American citizenship after immigrating from Egypt in the early 70’s and 80’s. They’ve all worked tirelessly, raised their children and grandchildren, paid their taxes, contributed to the American society just like any other immigrant family from any corner of the world. They all deserve the same respect as every other American out there.
I’ve learned over time that I’m not alone in this odd confusion. The citizens of Qatar themselves are also in this weird situation where stereotypes about them isn’t only false, but many act upon it to the point of disgraceful. The stereotypes about Qataris… they are extremely conservative, snubby, spoiled and unkind individuals seeing all others as second class citizens. Not only is this stupidity far from the truth, but many dress in traditional Qatari attire in an attempt to act upon these stereotypes and intimidate others. Yes, this includes bullying people on road to outrageous behavior towards others… just disgraceful!
On New Year’s Eve, a Qatari lady was discriminated against for, get this, looking and dressing Qatari… WTF? According to Doha News, a Qatari lady was not allowed into a hotel restaurant on the said day because it was deemed inappropriate for Qatari ladies to attend. Again, WTF? Sadly, this this happens a lot across Qatar.
I must say however, for the most part, Qataris are the complete opposite of these stereotypes just like any other ethnicity being treated according to whatever stereotype is drawn up of them. Qataris are quite polite, kind and generous. They may be wealthy but not many act like it’s their forsaken right to the wealth or OK the ill treatment upon others.
An interesting example I see all the time: in Qatar, you are not to fuel your own vehicle (similar to the law in New Jersey), you are to stay in your vehicle or go to the many shops at the station while an station employee fuels your vehicle. On any given day, as I sit comfortably while another fuels my car, I’ll see a Qatari gentleman step out of his vehicle, have a small talk conversation with the employee fueling and washing down his car, before tipping and driving off. Every time I see that scene, I see the employee with a huge smile on his face. Many of these employees can use the extra tip for phone cards to call home or even save up for an occasion.
Other times, I hear of stories of how someone had their tires blown out and a Qatari pulled over in their designer attire to help out hands on. That I’ve personally experienced personally when I had my car accident. Yes, people from various backgrounds pulled over and offered to help but I gotta say, the Qataris were the ones whom stepped out of their vehicles, yelled at the rude police officer on my behalf and moved my car because, “She’s a lady and should be treated with respect.” Chivalry is still alive and kicking! Even the Qatari police officers at the police station gave it to the non-Qatari police officer for discriminating against me because I was American. “That doesn’t matter, she’s still a lady, have some manners brother!” Thank you. =)
I do have to admit that my identity has brought up many a funny conversations.
At an event a few months ago, I was blessed to meet some wonderful people. One of them was an elder businessman whom owns one of Egypt’s first timeshare businesses. We got to talking business until I mentioned how the timeshare business in the USA works. Once I stated that yes, I was an Egyptian American, he just stared at me. “And you wear hijab?” I couldn’t stop laughing before it was like, man you just opened Pandora’s box! I went on and on about the wonderful community that is the Muslim American community; from the San Francisco Islamic School where I volunteered to the advocacy work of CAIR to the masjids where I’ve prayed at. I had to stop myself at one point because I realized I was missing my community to the brink of tears.
I know Qatar is trying really hard to create a tolerant, diverse and welcoming community. I know it will not happen over night and not by one feeling superior or the other feeling intimidated. I see the problem in Qatar as people coming from the many corners of the world with ignorant, close-minded and/or just confused and conflicted as I am. The thing is, it’s going to take a long time before the ignorant to be educated, the close-minded to be tolerant and the confused to take it all in one day at a time.
I’m in the process still of taking it all in, one day at a time.
Ramadan Mubarak everyone! It’s already Day 9 for me here in Doha, Qatar. So far, it’s been an interesting experience despite my slight homesickness. I must say, Alhamdulillah (Praises to God) for technology, it’s really makes these many time zones between us all the shorter!
Without further a due, here’s your first (Insha’Allah of many) Ramadan Verse & Quote for 2012/1433!
Being that this holy month is in large part a celebration and reflection of the Quran, I thought it was approapriate to start with this verse from Surah AlAalaq. The first verse ever to be revealed to Prophet Mohamed (pbuh) being:
“Read! In the name of your Lord Who created.” -Quran (96:1)
Personally, this is one of my favorite verses in the Quran. It reminds us of our obligation to be educated, intellectual and a functioning part of society. It also defy’s these stereotypes in our day and age when it comes to Muslimahs and their role in society.
I’d like to remind my readers that the Quran was not revealed for men, but for the people as a whole. This means both men and women have an obligation to be educated, intellectual and a functioning part of society. Remember, half of society can not function without the other. Thus half of society is not superior of the other. The Prophet (pbuh) assuring that by asking us to seek half our faith’s knowledge from Muslimahs (at the time, referring to his daughter Fatima and his wife A’isha).
When this verse and the following were first revealed to Prophet Mohamed (pbuh) by the angel Gabriel, he sought refuge in his wife’s arms out of fear. As he grew in his leadership role, he not only championed to educate himself, but the entire community around him. He not only ordered for the Quran to be written in multiple copies and spread, but for it to be memorized so that this knowledge is not lost or distorted. Over 1,433 years later, his championing causes is still going strong.
“O Lord, increase my knowledge!” -Prophet Mohamed (pbuh)
Learn more about this verse and Prophet Mohamed (pbuh) from this week’s Friday Nasiha.
She’s one of those people that really molds you into who you are. Or maybe it’s because somehow you’re existence has molded her. Some say it’s the best feeling in the world after all the pain. I say, I’m not half as strong as she is to ever be there.
She’s beautiful, oh so beautiful. She’s so gorgeous, it’s criminal! Like seriously, it’s gotten us into so much trouble!
It really is like when Frank Sinatra sings, “when she smiles, the whole world smiles”. And God forbid when she weeps, it’s just a sad, sad place. You want to do anything to make it all better just because you can’t bear her sadness.
She ignores me when she’s focused on playing games on her iPhone. She’s such a gamer, I can’t attempt to compete. All my friends are her friends on Facebook because “she’s just so cool!” Thank God she’s not on Twitter, she’d laugh at my small number of followers.
We can’t hang out without someone thinking we’re sisters rather then mother and daughter. Then again she’ll respond with, “I’m the daughter, she’s my mother.” That makes me feel so much better about myself, thanks!
She shushes me despite the fact that she knows I’ll always be too loud for my own good. She makes good fun of my height, or lack there of. I’m just not going to be as brave and tall as her, I’ve come to terms with that. She laughs at all my silly jokes and antics, I should be a comedian.
She’s encouraged my higher education, crying at ever graduation ceremony, except for the last one. Instead, with a straight face, she’s snapped, “This is it, enough degrees!” Yet I’ve caught her bragging to her friends about all the degrees and experiences she’s gotten through her children. What they have are hers too.
She can do that, because she is not just anyone. She is the mother. She is the best friend. She is the confidant. She is simply immaculate.
She raised her kids with all she’s got. She supported their every wish and dream. She loved them unconditionally. We are seriously blessed to have her.
She’s your mommy. She’s my mama. She’s our mother. She’s MOMMY and we love her! To all our mother’s on earth and in heaven, we love you every day, we appreciate you always and nothing will ever be enough to show it.
My time in Egypt was simply amazing! A learning experience like no other! I saw history in the making, meet amazing people and truly lived like an Egyptian! The one question everyone seems to ask me since I’ve been back, “did you meet anyone special?”
The answer with a loud laugh is, “of course not!”
Staying with family the majority of my four months stay made it pretty well obvious amongst family, friends and neighbors that there was an American girl amongst them. That theory resulted in a lot of marriage proposals. Some funny and some completely absurd. Two of them were probably one of the worst I’ve ever encountered. Here’s the second story…
“Hala can I speak to you for a moment?”
“When I went to visit a cousin of mine in a nearby town the other day, he told me of a suitor who was very interested in you.”
“And I’m very not interested Baba”, I said with a big smile on my face.
Two days later, I found out that smile didn’t work! His family invited themselves over to my Aunt Sayeda’s house where I was staying during my father’s last few days in Egypt with me. It was just my Aunt Sayeda, her daughter-in-law Fatma and I hanging out when three men came knocking on the door about a couple of hours earlier then expected.
My aunt and Fatma went to the reception area to greet them with soft drinks while I stayed in the other room. I could hear a man speaking quite confidently of the suitor as I sat there hesitant to meet these people. From the minimal words Aunt Sayeda and Fatma said to the guy, I figured I should go into the reception area and try to end this once and for all.
As I walked in, I saw the three men sitting across from the ladies. As I gave the “salam” formalities, I saw the man whom I had heard earlier, a mutual friend, the spokesman of the family. To his left was a slim white-bearded man and a very young, clean cut slim man. Both rarely raising their gaze from the floor to return my “salam”.
“Are you Nagah’s daughter?” asked the spokesman.
“Yes I am. Who are you?” I blatantly asked.
“I’m ‘so and so’ and we are related through your father. What’s your name?”
“You don’t know my name?” I laughed as I rolled my eyes.
“No I don’t” he answered, a bit confused.
“I’m Hala. So how are we related exactly?”
He continued on as to how he’s related to my father and Aunt Sayeda. Him and my aunt talked a bit about the family tree as I took a second glance at the two men. The older man, the suitor’s father, would switch his gaze between the spokesman and the floor. The suitor quickly returned his gaze to the floor after I caught him looking at me.
“We are here to introduce you and your father to this family here.” The spokesman had now turned his attention to me. “This man here has been my friend for over 20 years! He’s worked his whole life in Saudi Arabia, a self-made wealthy man! He has two sons, one married and lives in Australia. His other son, Bakr here, has a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering, very smart! They are here to get to know you and propose marriage to you.”
I wasn’t surprised that this proposal of marriage was for the sake of America, nothing more.
“Really? Marriage?” I asked sarcastically.
“Yes, are you surprised?” he asked smiling, not noticing my sarcasm.
“I’m surprised every day I’m here in Egypt!” I laughed. “However, marriage proposals from people who don’t even know my name has stopped surprising me.”
“This is our tradition! We know you come from a good family thus we propose. Not like in America where tradition and religion doesn’t exist.” He caught himself and took a breath before continuing, “Well, if you’d like to stay for this you can–”
“As an American, when something concerns you, it’s tradition to sit through it. Since this obviously concerns me, why would I go anywhere else? I’m going to be sitting right here.”
My loud, proud in-your-face attitude with a smile didn’t put any of the men in any bit of ease. The room went awkwardly silent, tension to be cut with a knife. After a long moment, the spokesman started talking about religion and tradition in this small town. I responded with one or two words before the Asr Azan (call for late noon prayer) started. They left to go pray at the nearby mosque and stated they’d return shortly. When they left I just looked over at Fatma who had been struggling to cover her grin.
Fatma relieved of their departure began to giggle, “I hope they got your answer. Bakr is obviously trying to following in his brother’s shoes, get married to someone outside the country.”
The ladies shook their head in dismay as they left to pray and prepare for the men’s return. About twenty minutes later, I found myself back into the reception area with the men and my cousin Mohamed who had come home from work. We all sat down in that same awkward silence awaiting my father’s arrival.
The spokesman started going off again about how great this unemployed suitor was with his bachelor’s degree and wealthy family under his belt. When he wouldn’t stop, I made sure to state that I on the other hand was a self-employed working lady with two masters degrees. My wealth, however much (or little) it may be, was my own. That shut them up again until my father finally returned.
After all the “salam” formalities, they started talking about family, religion, traditions, almost anything else in the hopes that I would leave, but I stayed through their entire nonsense. With my father now in conversation with the spokesman, the suitor had summoned some kind of courage and attempted to be part of the conversation. He also summoned the courage to look me in the eye every chance he got to speak.
What was he trying to prove, I had no clue nor did I care.
The spokesman again started discussing the suitor’s father’s wealth when the Maghrib Azan (call for early evening prayers) began. All the men went to pray Maghrib at the nearby mosque and finally got a few words to my father away from my ears. They stated that the suitor’s mother had just passed away about a week or so ago, that Bakr’s father wanted to do what was best for him as he had done with his other son in Australia. Bakr’s father reminded mine of how they were wealthy enough, should I accept Bakr’s proposal, to provide for me the lifestyle I currently have, whether I decide to live in Egypt or in America. He stated this with the hopes my father would give them the answer they wanted to hear.
My father simply replied, “we’ll get back to you.”
Upon learning all this from my father when he returned without the men, I was completely irritated and annoyed. These materialistic idiots kept trying to put a price tag on me! My father tried to calm me down but it blew up into an argument as I continued to ask why couldn’t he just say “no thank you”? Why was he being so polite to them? Why was he giving them any hope of a response?
When the argument went no where, I gave myself a moment of solitude on the rooftop terrace of my aunt’s home. No one seemed to understand why I was even upset. They expected me to be flattered at the attention, meet these people politely then go about my day.
I begged to differ.
My cousin Mohamed waited for me to calm down before having a “father-daughter” talk with me. He, to some extent, understood where I was coming from but that cultural formalities required them to be polite and respectful to those that came into their home. I understood however I didn’t want to conform to it when it came to dealing such people.
After my father flew back to California, I was between ElManzala and Cairo. Fatma told me that the family had sent a messenger for an answer while I was in Cairo. Damn it! I thought. Fatma, giggling a bit, shared with me Mohamed’s conversation with the messenger, “Do you have any idea what Hala thought of them? I was sure they had gotten the rejection from either from Hala or her father. So let’s just leave it at that.”
I didn’t see or hear from them or the relative that had discussed them with my father the rest of my stay. The proposals continued but slowly declined, as a relative in Cairo told me, that it was obvious I’m not a stupid girl falling for stupid men. I found all those individuals absurd, selfish with a one track mind. My blue passport was never going to be of any use to them.