Lipstick In My Hair
Last Friday I managed to make the prayers at the mosque. I'm always happy when that happens for a variety of reasons. One of which is that I can remember complaining for years about the fact that mosques in UAE have no place for female worshippers. Always saw that as blatant discrimination against women. Very annoying to see when even the most conservative sheikh will tell you that men & women are equal in spiritual matters. Isn't prayer a spiritual matter? If we're equal to men in spiritual matters then at the very least we should have equal access to houses of God.
Now that this has changed I feel I would be a real hypocrite if I don't pray at the mosque every chance I get. Just couldn't live with myself.
Of course the discrimination hasn't completely disappeared. Mosques with a seperate division for women are still in the minority. So we usually need to drive to get to one while men rarely do. Of course if the mosque doesn't have an entirely seperate room with seperate washing areas etc...for women, then we're not allowed in at all. This seems unfair to me. We only get to hear the Imam through a TV screen in the women's section. During sermons or religion classes only men get to ask questions. We can't obviously because he couldn't hear us. I've seen some women writing their questions on a piece of paper & handing them to their husbands or sometimes to a kindly looking male stranger before going into the mosque.
I thought that in the Prophet's day men & women all prayed in the same congregation?
My other gripe is about those sermons. A by-product of Sept.11 has been that all mosques in UAE now have to preach exactly the same sermon. And I mean exactly. As in word for word. It comes typed-up on a piece of paper from the Ministry of Religious Affairs. Any Imam who says a word outside the script gets immediately deported if he's an expatriate or fired if he's a local. All said scripts are strictly apolitical. They talk about things like Islamic dining table etiquette, or the Islamic way to knock on doors before going into people's houses etc....And they don't answer questions outside the designated topic.
I have mixed feelings about that really. On one hand it's nice that one no longer hears calls for hatred & violence coming out of the loudspeakers in the mosques. Some of them used to be quite distasteful. On the other hand, in the old days if you didn't enjoy one Imam's sermons at least you could change mosques & listen to something more inspiring. There was a lot of variety. That's no longer an option. They all have the same sermon & you're stuck with it.
The quote that keeps springing to my mind is "You have not converted a man because you have silenced him". In my humble opinion we need more discussion about fanaticism within Islam, its disregard for the value of human life, the viciousness it displays against women, disbelievers & even other Muslims. We need to talk about it more, analyze it & eradicate it. Simply silencing those who call for this fanaticism is just burying our heads in the sand, failing to confront them, failing to subtantiate our claim that they are distorting Islam. And what better place to fight this battle than the mosque?
Anyway I guess that is too much to ask of a country like UAE with a clearly stated policy of staying out of all regional conflicts - not getting on anyone's bad side. This is the Switzerland of the ME. You can't expect Emaratis to fight battles of any type. They're too busy trying to find a cool new ringtone for their mobile phones to bother. I swear this country is sometimes like an island in a turbulent sea. Except the islanders have very little awareness of the turbulent sea.
It was such a shock for me when I first saw the Boycott Danish signs in Carrefour. I mean this was so unEmarati!
So yeah I guess simply silencing the mosques is the patented, Emarati way of handling controversy.
Walking out of the mosque on Friday I had a strange encounter. My car was parked about 20 minutes walk away from the mosque because it's simply impossible to find parking space around a major mosque on Friday. Not unless you're there very early & everyone knows very early is just not me. Am more like very late.
I don't wear hijab but I do cover for prayer. On that particular day I was wearing a silk sheila & abaya on top of my jeans & t-shirt. Normally I would wait until am in my car before I take it off rather than start undressing in the middle of the street. But the weather was horrible & the walk in the sun was making me so sticky I felt I was suffocating in all that silk. So I stopped, took it off, stuffed it in my backpack & was about to move on when I heard someone say: "That's better."
I turned around & it was a British guy. About the same age as me. In shorts & sleeveless t-shirt. Clearly out walking the dog.
I said :"Excuse me, were you talking to me?" He said yes he just thought I looked really hot & bothered in the hijab & that I looked much better without it.
I didn't know what to say. So I just turned around & walked off. I heard him saying :"Sorry" but I never looked back.
Am so sick of the hijab debate. Sick of both sides. Those who think it's what defines a good Muslima. And those who refuse to accept that a woman has a right to veil if she wants. I find both sides intrinsically hostile to women because they treat us like idiots who shouldn't be trusted to choose what we want to wear today. And because of both sides life as a Muslim woman is becoming extremely stressful. If you wear it you face harrassment & discrimination from one group. If you don't wear it you face harrassment & discrimination from the other group. It's like both sides are forcing you to take sides in a conflict you think should not exist & have no interest in. Why is a woman's clothing such a polarizing issue? Why isn't it that way for men?
On a personal level, it always makes me livid when people think they can tell me what to wear. It's something I consider completely personal. And it's particularly infuriating coming from total strangers in the street. Normally I would have said something very rude. He was just lucky that I'm so overdosed on the hijab debate. I couldn't face it. So I ignored him.
And went home in a very bad mood. The traffic didn't help either.
When I got home my husband was in the living room, watching TV, having arrived home AGES before me since he, being male, just attended the mosque next door. And being male, he didn't have to cope with Friday noon traffic. And of course being male, he didn't have to deal with any hijab issues.
I stared at him resentfully for a second then without a word, I went & threw myself on the couch next to him, waiting for the air-conditioning to cool me off. I was thinking given the fact that we only have one couch big enough for a human adult to stretch out on the least he could do was get up & let me have it to myself. Couldn't he see how hot & tired & annoyed I was?
Apparently he could because he did get up & move into an armchair. I mumbled thanks & lay on the couch. A second later I felt his fingers in my hair. He said: "You have lipstick in your hair."
Let me explain. When your hair is impossible to control like mine & it's always getting in your face, sometimes it will touch your lips & stick in your lipstick. You pull it away of course but then the wind blows it back in your face. And ok I'll admit that I will sometimes chew on a strand of hair when am particularly stressed about something. The end result is that sometimes I look in the mirror & find lipstick smears all over my hair.
I tell him that it's MY hair & am tired of people telling me what to do with it. That I can show it or cover it if & when I choose. And that if it pleases me to wear lipstick in my hair then am well within my rights as a human being to do so.
He didn't say anything. Just kept on wiping lipsick from my hair, strand by strand.
Then I remembered you're not supposed to wear lipstick to the prayers & felt I should explain myself. So I told him I did try to wipe off my lipstick before I washed for prayer but I guess not all of it came off.
Again he didn't say anything. I guess he wasn't in the mood to talk.