As I prepare to say goodbye to 2012, I hope that I'll also be saying goodbye to these 10 interesting questions I am occasionally asked. I am not providing this list to make fun of the individuals who have asked these questions, but as a means to answer them for the last time.
1. How did you feel about Bin Laden’s death?
It’s been over a year since U.S. Navy SEALs raided a compound in Pakistan and killed Osama Bin Laden yet I continually get asked how I feel about Bin Laden’s death. Those who ask, believe the question is an innocuous one and fail to realize the hateful connotation it illustrates. What these individuals are really asking is “Were you sad about Bin Laden’s death?” The assumption would be if I am, in fact, sad about his death then I, as a Muslim, support the murder of innocent individuals. It’s really an offensive question to ask. American Muslims were also attacked on 9/11. We were attacked twice. The first attack was on our country, and the second attack was on our religion. Islam denounces terrorism and rejects all forms of unlawful violence and killing of innocent civilians. We will never lament the death of any terrorist in the world.
2. Are you forced to wear “that thing” on your head?
It’s crazy how many variations of the same question I get about my hijab. One of the major misconceptions about Muslim women is that we are oppressed because veiling is linked with oppression. People are usually shocked to hear that wearing the hijab is 100% my decision. I have immediate family members who chose not to wear it and I respect their choices. I won’t deny that in some parts of the world women are forced to cover; however, this is not a representation of Islam. Islamic principles exist but whether or not Muslims choose to follow them is entirely their decision. So, before you assume that Muslim women cover because their husbands, fathers, brothers…forced them to, think again. Quite frankly, I don’t care what people think when they see me all covered up. I’ve always rejected the “Western” definitions of beauty that provide emphasis on physical sexuality. The hijab is my version of beautiful and wearing it makes me feel confident and modest. I don’t try to compete with other women for males’ approval of my physical appearance. I am happy to lose that competition.
3. How do I know you are not bald under that?
I usually get questions relating to my hair from men. I think it’s their way of hinting, politely, that they want to see my hair. Other males are more courageous in their approach. They get straight to the point: “Can’t you just show me your hair once?!” Sorry gentlemen, no sneak peeks unless you’re family or my future husband. No, I’m not bald, and you’re just going to have to take my word on this one.
4. Is your marriage arranged?
Nope! Unfortunately I have to go through the process of weeding out all the creepy douchebags, in search of “the one,” all on my own. I’m not lucky enough to have my parents provide me with a line up of eligible bachelors to choose from. Arranged marriages are not a characteristic of Islamic teachings; they are a cultural practice, not a religious one. There is a major misconception about many communities that engage in so-called “arranged” marriages. Most people believe the scenario goes a little something like this (I’ll use fake names):
Parents: “Jane, meet Alan.”
Jane: “Hi, Alan.”
Parents: “Great, you like him. You will be marrying this man tomorrow.”
Parents: “No buts. This isn’t negotiable. Alan will be your husband and you have no choice in the matter.”
When in reality, most families who engage in so-called “arranged” marriages the actual incident is like this:
Parents: “Jane, do you know Alan? He is a very nice man I think you should meet him.”
Jane, while hesitant to do so, actually takes her parent’s advice and meets Alan. They date. Fall in love and THEN get married. Did the parents pick a person who they thought would make their daughter happy? Sure they did. It’s no different from being set on a blind date by your parents, friends, or coworkers. They are arranging a meeting between you and someone with the hopes that you will hit it off and live happily ever after. I wont deny that there are cases where women are not given a choice, which is very unfortunate and depressing, but again this isn’t a representation of Islamic principles.
5. What do you do for “fun” if you don’t drink?
It’s always surprised me how much people think they need alcohol to have “fun.” Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against drinkers (most of my friends drink), but I choose not to because my religion prohibits it. I always respond to this question with a question: “Well, what do you do for fun?” The response is always the same: go to parties, concerts, sporting events, theme park etc. Well, I do all those things too, just minus the beer. The idea of possibly not remembering what I did the night before because of a “few” drinks never appealed to me. I’m forgetful as it is, so I don’t need a substance to facilitate that process.
6. Do they have cars where you come from?
I don’t know. Do they have cars in the United States? That is where I’m from. Of course, I know what they really mean by the question. People have actually asked me if camels are still the means of transportation in the Middle East. It’s quite hilarious but also expected. When you watch various Hollywood blockbusters (even recent ones) whenever the characters are in the so-called Middle East the scene looks like this: camels roaming in the vast sandy hills, women in burkas, men wearing long thobes and turbans, and a small village with homes made out of clay and twigs. No cars, no freeways, no streets, no skyscrapers. Nothing! So I can’t say I’m surprised by the question.
7. Do you hate Jews?
It’s very unfortunate that the Western media has been successful in portraying the many conflicts in the Middle East (especially Palestine/Israel) as a religious conflict where Muslims hate Jews. Do some Muslims hate Jews? Yup! Do some Jews hate Muslims? Sure. However, this isn’t a representation of everyone. In fact, I would confidently aver that it’s a minority. The Quran refers to Jews and Christians as “Ahl al-Kitab,” or People of the Book. Muslims believe these groups received divine revelation. The Quran is clear in recognizing previous Abrahamic religions and provides special status to “The People of the Book.” I’ve always enjoyed introducing my Jewish friends to people. The bewildered facial expression they get after they learn my friends are Jewish (and I’m clearly Muslim) is priceless. They exhibit a confused “Oh, wait, you guys actually like each other?” expression.
8. Is it true that Muslims want to kill “the infidels?”
One of the most quoted verses in the Quran is the one that reads, “Kill them wherever you find them” (2:191-192). It’s interesting that those who quote that verse always exclude the beginning, which reads, “Fight in the cause of God those who fight you, but do not transgress limits; for God loves not transgressors.” This verse is referencing a specific war. The only time Muslims are permitted to kill someone is if war is being waged against them and they are defending themselves. “Permission to fight is given to those upon whom war is made because they are oppressed” (Quran 22:39). Of course, those who argue that Muslims want to kill “the infidels” exclude major Islamic principles from their argument so that they convince people to adopt their hateful views. Unfortunately, these bigoted individuals have been successful at doing this and I know this from personal incidents. In the last year of my undergraduate education me and a few of my friends were always harassed by this lunatic girl who would yell, “If you don’t want to kill me right now then you are not real Muslims. Real Muslims have to kill the infidels.” Yeah, we laughed.
9. Are you hot?
The hotter summers in California get the more this question is asked. I’ve always felt the need to respond with, “If you mean in a physically attractive way, then yes, I’m hot.” Although, I fear people won't sense the sarcasm and will assume I’m arrogant. If it’s 100 degrees outside, then yes, like a “normal” person I’m hot. However, I’m not a lot hotter than most people. People don’t notice that hijabis* have different clothing options depending on the weather. So if it’s hot, we usually switch to wearing lighter/sheer hijabs and lighter long-sleeved shirts. Do you ever notice that gardeners, construction workers, and other outdoor workers always put a cloth or towel over their head and then wear a hat? It protects their skin from direct contact with the sun, and it’s actually a lot cooler. The hijab is similar in that way. It Isn't as hot as it looks, trust me.
10. Do you want the United States to adopt Shari’ah Law?
I am satisfied with the United States Constitution and wouldn’t want to replace it with anything. Having said this, I would protest the banning of Shari’ah. Confused? I bet. Let me explain. The meaning of this term has been widely misunderstood. Shari’ah literally means a way or path to be followed. For Muslims, it is the path of faithfulness to God. Shari’ah encompasses a wide range of values for Muslims like social, moral, and economic regulations among other things. Let me give you a few examples. I must exhibit a respectful attitude and good conduct towards non-Muslims because this is required of me by Shari’ah. I must donate the money I make off of interest in my savings account because Shari’ah prohibits me from keeping it. If my neighbors need assistance, and I have the means to help them, then Shari’ah commands that I do. When I see a hungry homeless person on the street and God has blessed me with more than enough to eat, then Shari’ah encourages me to feed that person. Banning Muslims’ right to practice Shari’ah is an infringement on our right to freely practice our religion.
I do not demand or expect that non-Muslims follow Shari’ah, after all, the Quran does state, “There shall be no compulsion in religion” (2:256). However, I would still demand that First Amendment rights be extended to Muslims too. Now the million-dollar question that remains is does Shari’ah law exempt me from following the laws of United Sates of America? Absolutely NOT! Did you know that Shari’ah also commands Muslims to obey the laws of the land they live in? I am required by my religion to obey and follow U.S laws as long as I’m living in this country.
While we get ready to welcome the New Year, I hope that 2013 brings more curiosity and a zeal for learning about diverse cultures, ethnicities, and religions. While I hope I wont have to be answering any of the above questions anymore, I do encourage people to ask anything their minds desire to know. I appreciate every type of question and I commend all individuals who have the courage to ask their questions. I know it’s not easy but it’s the only way misconceptions can be eradicated and we can truly learn to respect one another. Instead of relying on what the media says about Muslims go out and meet Muslims and get a first hand account. Most, like me, will be more than willing to answer your questions. Don’t be afraid to express your thoughts even if you think they may offend someone. Open dialogue and discussion is the only way we can move forward in society.
So, ask! You can ask me anything. I’m an open book. Almost nothing offends me. If being called a terrorist, Osama’s daugher, and “rag-head” hasn’t offended me, then rest assured your question will not either. Let me apologize in advance if I laugh at your question. Sometimes it takes me a while to realize that people are being serious. One time, a student in my class asked me if I shower with my hijab on. Of course, I thought he was joking so I responded with, “Yes, I shower fully clothed.” Then he said “really?! That’s interesting.” At that point I realized it was a genuine question. Oops.
I'll leave you all with this quote: "Don't make assumptions. Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstaings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life." -Miguel Angel Ruiz.
Happy New Year, friends!
*Hijabis isn’t a grammatically correct word. It’s something women who wear the hijab came up with to address a group of women who wear hijab. So instead of saying “women who wear hijab” we just say “hijabis.”