Sunday, July 31, 2011

Reactions to my Hijab

Rasha and me.  Rasha was the assistant who helped us with
EVERYTHING while we were in Amman.  She is wonderful.
During my last day in Amman, I asked Rasha to go with Dilene and me to McDonald's and to the tunnel that led to the university.  There were shops in the tunnel and I wanted to buy some souvenirs.  One of the shops was full of scarfs that women use to cover their heads (commonly referred to as hijabs).  There were probably 50 scarfs--in bright, beautiful patterns.  Rasha asked me if I'd like for her to put one on me.  Honestly, I was honored that she wanted to do it.  I told her sure and asked her to pick out the one that she liked the best. Since I had admired her collection of hijabs over the last week, I trusted her taste.

Once Rasha had chosen the scarf, she put it on me while Dilene filmed and Rasha spoke to the camera.  I asked Rasha if me wearing a hijab would offend anybody.  She said of course not.  And sure enough, the locals just smiled and watched.  Rasha had the scarf on in no time.  I put my sunglasses on and was ready to go.  She asked me if I was wanted to keep it on.  I said of course.  I wanted to feel what it was like to walk down the street.  I had walked down the street many times during the last week as an uncovered woman; I wanted to cover and see if I felt any difference.  Rasha beamed and looked at my uncovered elbows and lower arms.  After all, women wear the head covering to promote modesty.  My naked elbows weren't too modest. I took the other scarf that I had around my neck and used it to cover my arms.

Rasha took a photo of me walking down the street from the tunnel back to the CIEE office.  That is the photo that ran in my university's newspaper last week.  I have been told that at least one person feels that she needs to pray for me because she believes I am Muslim or maybe she thinks I'm too friendly with Muslims.  I'm not really sure.

I'm not going to spend time on whether or not I'm Muslim.  I think that a stranger making that assumption about me is about as ignorant as the spam emails accusing President Obama of being Muslim.  I do want to spend some time on why wearing a head covering doesn't make anybody anything.  It's a head covering.  It's like wearing a hat or a 'do-rag.  For me, it was an opportunity to embrace the culture and take a walk down the street.

And while I'm on the topic, I'm afraid many American's ideas of what is Muslim is way off.  Christians, do you want people to think of David Koresh as a mainstream Christian?   Osama bin Laden and his posse were NOT mainstream Muslims.  They were extremists, just like Koresh was an extremist.  Rasha is a mainstream Muslim, and she is a wonderful, loving, fun person.  I would like to think she (and her beautiful hijab collection) would be welcome in Tahlequah.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Biggest sin

Many of you have asked about the "biggest sin" I committed that I referenced in an earlier blog entry.  This is the scene of the crime:

This is a section of a very long wall of murals in King Hussein Park.  The murals are a timeline of the country.  As you can imagine it is a VERY long wall.  What you're looking at here is the very end of it (which is where we started).  As I continued to make my way down the wall, I came across this plaque:
Next to the plaque was a door.  I tested the knob and it was unlocked.  So I walked in.  I thought of it as a replica.  I've been to Silver Dollar City.  Replicas are meant to be explored.  Same rules don't apply in Jordan though.  As soon as I walked out of the closet-sized mosque, the Jordanian leader of our group told me I committed the biggest sin.  I immediately knew she was telling me I should have covered my head.

I asked her what I should do.  She told me to ask Allah for forgiveness.  Uhhhhhhh.  I'm not Muslim.  Now I happen to believe God is God no matter what we call it, but I wasn't sure how most Muslims felt about that.  I didn't want to commit another sin before I even got forgiven for this one.

At that point, I felt very ostracized by our leader and the rest of the group.  I'm sure it was mostly in my mind since most of our group didn't even know about my cultural mishap.  It still didn't feel good.

I ended up asking Rasha (the Jordanian graduate student who worked for CIEE) to ask Allah to forgive me.  She assured me that what I did wasn't a big deal.  Allah bless her.

What did I learn?  I shouldn't use American tourist rules in another country.  Just because the door is unlocked, I should just walk in it.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Jordanian Men

During my time in Jordan, I began to feel sympathy for Jordanian men.  They are often blamed for oppressing women within the country, but I really believe the men are victims as well.  They perform a masculinity that is expected of them.  There is sadness mixed with an arrogance one senses when interacting with the country's men.

The oldest males in any family are favored.  In fact, once a male is born the father loses his name and is know as "father of ______" and the mother becomes "mother of ________."  This doesn't happen when a daughter is born, even if she is the eldest.  One of our tour guides told of us of men who never had sons, so they just made up a name of a son so they could have the nickname as well.

I witnessed the favoritism of eldest sons many times during my time in Jordan.  When I was leaving Amman, an Arab man and his two sons were on my flight to London.  The father spoke directly to his eldest son many times, virtually ignoring the younger son.  He also kissed the child on the lips multiple times and checked on him constantly while the boy was sleeping on the plane.

There was another Arab man on the plane; he had two daughters and a son.  The son was the middle child.  Again, all of his attention was on the son.  These sons are treated like kings and waited on hand and foot by their parents and the rest of their families.  They can't help but grow up with a sense of entitlement.  (Speaking of kings, it is law that the successor to the Jordanian throne must be a male). 

One of our speakers during our seminar spoke about some research she had done on invisible girls in Jordan.  Basically, she was concerned about how girls were rarely seen in public.  (You may remember that I commented on an early blog post how I rarely ever saw young girls in Amman).  The researcher found that people believed girls should be in the private sphere while boys can be in the public sphere.  It all boils down to how the people interpret modesty in Islamic Law.  Many people believe that keeping girls in their houses protects them.  (An expert on Islamic Law told us that this is a misinterpretation of the law.  They said that this is a cultural practice not dictated by religion).

Unrelated boys and girls rarely interact with each other in Arab parts of the world.  They are schooled separately, girls are rarely in the public sphere, and everyone is pretty much banned from coed interaction.  As a result, boys become young men without any unrelated girl friends.  The young ladies at the University of Jordan told us about all of the catcalls they get on the streets.  They believe this has a lot to do with men being sexually oppressed.  Women are a mystery to these catcallers; the men feel no personal connections to the women as human beings with feelings.

These boys make all the calls in their houses when it comes to their sisters and mothers and female cousins, so they feel that every women should be bossed around by them.  The men are behaving the way they've been taught.  There are expectations on Jordanian men and they're just trying their best not to disappoint their families and their tribes.