Tuesday, 4 September 2012

I took a stand today

I took a stand today. Just a little one.

I was in the kitchen squeezing the soapy grey water out of my laundry. An older woman was unlocking occupied rooms and showing them to two girls. I think I've seen the woman before, but I don't know who she is.

"You're in the private room?" She asked.


"I'm going to show it to these girls." She threw another door open. There were scarves on the unmade beds and open books on the floor. Dorm rooms never have desks.

The girls peered into the room. I looked away. I know the girls who live there. "Nope. It's occupied."

"We're going to go see it now."

"No. I live there."

"I'm showing them the dorm."

"They don't need to see my room. I'm not moving."

"No, I'm showing it to them." She puffed her chest out and glared at me. This could go on and on.

"It's not clean."

"Oh." They went and looked at more rooms.

I left my wet clothes in the tub, went back to my room, and locked the door behind me. I left the key in the lock.

This is the first time in three years that I've had any privacy. It's not that I couldn't afford my own room before, just that dorm supervisors would never allow me to have one, regardless of how many rooms there were and how few residents. We were not allowed keys to our own rooms, and subject to search at any time. Anyone could invade my space at any time, and I couldn't stop them. And so I spent two, nearly three years basically a houseplant, not talking to anyone, not writing, barely even thinking. I got myself into a bad situation and couldn't escape, so I withdrew.

I finally managed to pry myself loose and got out. I found this tiny room, and I pay more for it than some of my friends in other towns pay for their apartments, but I don't even care. It used to be the men's washroom - the dorm supervisors say it didn't, but the tiling and the sawed-off plumbing and the fixtures and the painted-over sign on the door and the women's washroom right next to it reveal their lie. I don't care.

Because it's mine, and I will not let anyone invade my space if I can help it. Little power struggles like this are just one more way that dorm supervisors - and older women and people of higher status in general - impress on young women that they have no control over their own situations and no right to refusal. It's a lot like prison.

So when something large and heavy slammed into my locked door, I smiled. The door handle rattled violently, and metal scraped against the keyhole, but my clunky old skeleton key didn't even budge.

I expected the woman to pound on the door and shout at me to open it. I was going to refuse, and throw myself against the door if need be, and probably be evicted.

But she went away silently. I won't win them all, but I won that one.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

A never-ending stream of bloated corpses

I've been struggling for some time, trying to find a polite and socially acceptable way to say this, but I don't think there is one. I think this is one of those things that you must not say, but it bothers me, and I think it needs to be examined. So I'll just say it.

Please forgive me if I offend you, it's not intentional, and I'm probably not talking about you.

A number of people have been flooding my Facebook wall with images of corpses from the war in Syria (and some from Burma). Usually corpses of children or infants, or adults with young children crying over them, or just piles of corpses. Bloating and rotting and covered in blood and dirt and shredded clothing.

They all have two things in common: they're as graphic as possible, and they're posted by people who do not live in the Middle East.

I'm not sure why the posters post them. They seem to be trying to raise awareness, which is a valid concern in North America or Europe or Turkey. People in those countries might forget about the atrocities happening in Syria, because they don't deal with the survivors on a daily basis.

I do. I donate my time and knowledge to teach them English, and give them clothes and food and what money I can. I've been to the refugee camps near the Syrian border and I know that even though I do everything I can, it has little or no impact on the daily lives of refugees in Jordan, much less people in Syria. Or Gaza. Or Somalia. Or Burma. Jordan is flooded with refugees, and I see their desperate situation and confront my own helplessness in the face of it every day.

I don't want to go on Facebook and see a continuous wall of corpses reminding me of these things. That may be selfish. So be it. No one else is going to look out for my mental health. So I deleted a few people who posted nothing but dead babies and unsubscribed from quite a few others, without warning or discussion. Those pictures still come up, but it's not continuous anymore. I'm not advocating pretending the conflict doesn't exist, I just need a break from it.

There's an even bigger problem with these photos and Muslim chain letters: they're graphic to the point of voyeurism, and devoid of context. They're not attached to articles about the conflict, or commentary from people who survived. It's just gore.

And here's where my understanding breaks down. Why do people in other countries post disaster porn? What purpose does it serve, for the posters or the people caught in the conflict, and how does it help? People far from the conflict see the images, slow down and gawk like motorists passing a pileup on the highway, and then move on. They don't stop to help, they just want to have a look at the damage.

I don't entirely buy the 'raising awareness' justification. People think that's why they do it, but I don't believe it's the real, complete reason. This is one of those dark corners of human psychology that we'd rather not look too closely at.

Somebody do a study on this, because I just don't understand.

I'd appreciate comment, but please keep it civil.

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Walk like a lady

TW: rape, victim blaming.

Our dorm's curfew is eight thirty pm in the summer, but I got permission to go to taraweeh prayers at the masjid across the street during Ramadan. I'm the only one in the building who goes. Taraweeh ends around eleven pm. The dorm supervisor usually calls me at ten thirty to ask why I'm not back yet, but I'm in the masjid and I'm praying so my ringer's turned off. She knows perfectly well where I am and what I'm doing.

Instead of going to taraweeh today, I went to the souq and bought food. Because I had none, and nothing is open until after ishaa, and I'm diabetic. I eat or I die.

It was a Saturday evening during Ramadan, so I waited a long time for buses, and I walked a long ways. Some of the streets in the souq were dead, nothing open, and some were packed wall-to-wall with people and cars. Most of the vendors wanted twice the usual prices. I sat at the mujamma'a for half an hour, waiting for the bus to fill up with passengers and leave.

So it was quarter after eleven when I got home. The dorm supervisor and some of the girls sit on the main floor (the third floor) smoking and talking and watching muselselaat (soap operas) and watching the stairs. Nobody gets by unnoticed.

They stopped me on my way up the stairs, dead tired and loaded down with vegetables, and asked me, with obvious suspicion, how many raka'at I prayed this time. I told the truth. I went to the big masjid in the souq, against the rules and without permission, and prayed the minimum number of raka'at, and then bought food. They berated me for breaking the rules. I don't think that people who don't pray or practice their supposed religion have any business criticising me for doing halaal things.

The dorm supervisor said that she was about to bolt the door, and if I was any later, she would have locked me out.

I believe she would lock me out; it's common practice in dormitories. Any girl who stays out late is obviously bad, and deserves what she gets. And the dorm supervisors know that I don't recognize their authority or abide by their rules. I've got it coming.

Basically, she gave me a choice between death by diabetic coma, and a shallow grave in the desert.

Groups of men hang around in the parking lots outside our building. I've been surrounded and attacked several times in this area, coming home from work in the evening. I fended them off with rocks and blows and shouting. I guess they weren't that determined, and Allah was with me.

I don't carry a knife anymore, and I know it's stupid and I'm putting my own safety at risk, but if I was armed I would stab the next man who touched me. I don't think I would be able to stop. And I don't think I'd be able to live with myself after that.

When I told the dorm supervisor, she said they assaulted me because I was afraid. Right, because fear totally causes gang rape. Other women said it was my own fault for being outside. Or for wearing colour. Or for having pretty eyes. Here's a tip, folks: nothing women do or don't do causes rape. Men raping causes rape. Society blaming the victim and not the attacker perpetuates rape.

I'm conscious of the men eyeing me, and I'm aware that I'm not safe, but I'm not afraid. I hold my head up and walk like someone you do not want to mess with. Women tell me to walk like a lady, slowly with small steps, don't draw attention, don't make men desire you. I don't care. Meekness gets you nothing but abuse in this world. The next man who gropes me will lose a nut, and people can think what they like about it.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

وَيَمْكُرُونَ وَيَمْكُرُ اللَّهُ وَاللَّهُ خَيْرُ الْمَاكِرِينَ‏

{‏وَإِذْ يَمْكُرُ بِكَ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُواْ لِيُثْبِتُوكَ أَوْ يَقْتُلُوكَ أَوْ يُخْرِجُوكَ وَيَمْكُرُونَ وَيَمْكُرُ اللَّهُ وَاللَّهُ خَيْرُ الْمَاكِرِينَ‏} ‏ ‏[‏سورة الأنفال‏:‏ آية 30‏]

"Remember how the unbelievers plotted against you, to keep you in bonds, or to slay you, or to get you out (of your home).  They plot and they plan, but Allah too plans, and Allah is the best of the planners."  - The Holy Qur'an, translated by Abdullah Yusuf Ali, Surat al-Anfaal (The Spoils of War), Ayah 30, pg. 109.

A group of important men of the Qureish gathered in Makkah to decide what to do about the Messenger of Allah, and Iblis joined them, pretending to be a Sheikh from the Najd. 

Abu al-Bukhtari proposed that they shackle and imprison the Messenger until he died, but the Najdi sheikh pointed out that the Messenger's companions would rescue him from prison, and possibly kill some of the Qureish.

Hishaam bin 'Amr bin Bani 'Aamir bin Lu'ye proposed that they load the Messenger on a camel which would carry him out of Makkah.  The Najdi sheikh objected that Muhammad (saws) would capture the hearts of any people he met outside Makkah, and convince them to take Makkah from the Qureish.

Abu Jahil proposed that they choose a young man from every family of the Qureish, give them each a sword, and send them to kill Muhammad (saws), whose blood would then be spread among every member of the tribe.  The group of Bani Hashim living in Makkah would not be able to fight the whole tribe of Qureish, so they would accept blood money in compensation for Muhammad's (saws) death, which would not cost any individual member of the Qureish very much. 

Iblis, in the guise of the Najdi sheikh, said that this was a very good idea, and the Qureish agreed.

The angel Jibreel appeared to the Prophet (saws), informed him of the Qureish's plans, and told him not to sleep in his bed as he usually did, and Allah permitted the Prophet (saws) to leave Makkah and go to Medinah, as many of the Muslims already had.

The Prophet ordered Ali bin Abi Tolib to sleep in his bed under his cloak, while the Quraish surrounded the Prophet's house and lay in wait for him.   The Messenger exited the house and sprinkled dust on the heads of the Qureish, reciting the ayah "And we have put a barrier in front of them and a barrier behind them, and we have covered them up, and they cannot see." (Qur'an 9:35)  And the Qureish did not notice the Messenger of Allah. 

The Messenger went to Abu Bakr's house, and the two of them left Makkah and arrived at the cave of Thawr (about five miles from Makkah) before dawn.

As for the Qureish, they mistook Ali for the Messenger and remained in ambush around the house where he lay in bed, waiting for him to exit. When it grew light out, the Qureish rose up and seized Ali.  They asked him about the Messenger, he replied: I have no knowledge of him.  The Qureish struck him and dragged him to the Ka'abah, where they imprisoned him for an hour, whereupon they went to the house of Abi Bakr and asked his little daughter Asma about the Messenger.  She said: I don't know, and Abu Jahil slapped her so hard that her earring fell off.  Then the Qureish sent out in every direction a request for the Messenger, offering one hundred female camels to anyone who brought the Messenger to them, be he alive or dead. 

The Qureish arrived at the entrance to the cave where the Messenger and Abu Bakr were hiding.  Abu Bakr feared that the Qureish would capture the Messenger of Allah, and said: If one of them looked at his feet, he would see us.

And the Messenger replied: O Abu Bakr, what you suppose are two, Allah is the third of them. (Soheeh al-Bukhari, 190, 4/189) 

‏(‏يا أبا بكر ما ظنك باثنين الله ثالثهما‏)‏ ‏ -‏رواه الإمام البخاري في ‏"‏صحيحه‏"‏ ‏(‏4/189، 190‏)

The Qureish saw a spiderweb over the entrance of the cave, and said: If he had entered, there wouldn't be a spiderweb here.  They left the cave, and the Messenger and Abu Bakr stayed there three nights, then completed their migration to Medinah in safety, although the Qureish were hunting them.

Had the Qureish looked down at their feet, they would not have seen their quarry, even as they didn't see him when he left his house in Makkah and sprinkled dust upon their heads, because the Messenger sought protection in Allah, the best of planners, who made him victorious over the Qureish and over Iblis.

 ‏{‏إِلاَّ تَنصُرُوهُ فَقَدْ نَصَرَهُ اللَّهُ إِذْ أَخْرَجَهُ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُواْ ثَانِيَ اثْنَيْنِ إِذْ هُمَا فِي الْغَارِ إِذْ يَقُولُ لِصَاحِبِهِ لاَ تَحْزَنْ إِنَّ اللَّهَ مَعَنَا فَأَنزَلَ اللَّهُ سَكِينَتَهُ عَلَيْهِ وَأَيَّدَهُ بِجُنُودٍ لَّمْ تَرَوْهَا وَجَعَلَ كَلِمَةَ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُواْ السُّفْلَى وَكَلِمَةُ اللَّهِ هِيَ الْعُلْيَا وَاللَّهُ عَزِيزٌ حَكِيمٌ‏}‏ ‏[‏سورة التوبة‏:‏ آية 40‏]

"If you don't help (your Leader) (it is no matter), for Allah helped him when the Unbelievers drove him out: he had only one companion, and they were two in the cave.  He (the Messenger) said to his companion, "Have no fear, for Allah is with us," then Allah sent down his peace upon him and strengthened him with forces which you did not see, and humbled to the depths the word of the Unbelievers.  But the Word of Allah is exalted to the heights, for Allah is Exalted in might, Wise." - Surah at-Tawbah, Ayah 40.


تفسير ابن كثير لإسماعيل بن عمر بن كثير القرشي الدمشقي, جزء الرابع, تفسير سورة الأنفال, قوله تعالى " وإذ يمكر بك الذين كفروا ليثبتوك أو يقتلوك أو يخرجوك," دار طيبة 1422 -
 - Tafseer Ibn Katheer, Volume 4, Explanation of Surat al-Anfaal, Explanation of His saying "And they plot and they plan, and Allah plans, and Allah is the best of planners."
(http://www.islamweb.net/newlibrary/display_book.php?flag=1&bk_no=49&surano=8&ayano=30) Accessed July 21, 2012.

  - تفسير البغوي, للحسين بن مسعود البغوي, جزء الثالث, دار الطيبة.
 -Tafseer al-Baghwee, Volume Three, Explanation of Quran 9:30  (http://www.islamweb.net/newlibrary/display_book.php?flag=1&bk_no=51&surano=8&ayano=30)

 - ندوات تلفزيونية - قناة اقرأ - سورة الأنفال 008 - الدرس (11-30): تفسير الآيات 30 - 35 ، مكر الله ردّ على كيد ومكر الكفار ـ ما دمنا نتبع سنة نبينا فلن يعذبنا ربنا
لفضيلة الدكتور محمد راتب النابلسي بتاريخ: 2009-07-10
 - Transcript of a lecture given by Dr. Muhammad Ratib an-Nablisi on the television channel 'Iqra,' 10/07/2009.

 - Video lecture:  Sheikh ash-Shu'arawi explains Quran 9:30.

السيرة النبوية, لفضيلة الشيخ محمد متولي الشعراوي, دار النموذجية, بيروت, 1422
 - The Biography of the Prophet, Sheikh Muhammad Mutawalli ash-Shu'arawi, Dar al-Namuthijiyyah, Beirut, 2002.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Magic Powder

I was lying in bed, with the window shut in an attempt to muffle the sound of hammers and powersaws, and the door open in an attempt to get some airflow.  It was past three am, and it was stuffy and smoggy and probably forty five degrees indoors.  I had to wake up at four thirty to pray, and again at seven at the very latest to get to school by nine.  I was pretty sure I wouldn't get any sleep. 

Perhaps reading something boring would help.  A two-volume explanation of a thousand-line poem about grammar, written twelve hundred years ago might do it, and then I could honestly tell the instructor that I'd read ahead.  I opened my eyes, and watched a dark blob dash across the line of pif-paf in the doorway.  I could hear its barbed legs skittering on the tiles.

Pif-paf is supposed to give "long-lasting protection against cockroaches, ants, bedbugs, fleas, lice, and all forms of crawling insects."  Says so on the can.  Everyone recommends it.  I shake a thick line of the powder across the threshold of my teeny room every night, like a sorceress in a fantasy novel warding the doors to keep evil creatures and spirits out.

The thing with cockroaches is, nothing works on them for very long.  Stores here have a whole aisle devoted to roach sprays and powders and who knows what else, and I've tried all of them, and I'm pretty sure they bother me more than they bother the roaches.

I got up, flipped the light on, put on my flip-flops, and chased the roach out of my room.  They're harder to catch than you'd think. They're damned fast, especially the big ones, they run in a zig-zag pattern which always makes me think of Captain Picard saying "evasive maneouvers!," they can jump and fly, and they run up walls and upside-down along the ceiling just as easily as they run along the floor.  You want to catch them on the ground, in the middle of the floor.  If you corner them, they'll jump at you, or run up the wall.

I stomped the cockroach, several times for good measure, and opened my cupboard to get the can of pif-paf.

There was a cockroach in there too, an even bigger one.  I've seen smaller mice.  I sucked in a breath and quietly said a very bad word.  It panicked and scurried around the cupboard, up the walls and around the ceiling a few times, and then hid behind the jars of dish soap and vinegar and pif-paf.  Clearly the stuff was not all that repellent.  I really didn't want to deal with the roach, so I grabbed the pif-paf, and slammed the cupboard door shut.  Even enormous roaches can squeeze through amazingly small cracks.  It would be able to get out of the cupboard with the door shut.

I dusted a small mountain range of pif-paf across the doorway.  I knew perfectly well that the stuff didn't keep roaches out, but I chose to believe that it did.  Admitting it didn't would be admitting that no matter what I did, creeping skittering things with too many legs that bend in the wrong places come into my room at night while I am sleeping, and there is nothing I can do to keep them out.  And that way madness lies.

So I say bismillah and make lines of useless magic powder and do not look at the door and believe I will be safe, like a little kid going through a precise routine every night as she climbs into bed, because if she gets it exactly right, the monsters can't get her.

I went back to bed and as soon as I closed my eyes, the athan went off, and I got up to pray, and I did not see any cockroaches. 

I didn't go to school that day.  I hadn't gone the day before either.  An instructor complained that I did badly on a test, and I told him that I was running on maybe three hours of sleep and way too much coffee and I was just glad that I had made it in and written the test, khalas it's done lets move on.  But masha'Allah, you're so smart, he said, you should do better than this.  My students are like my children, I want them to do well, why did you get this answer backwards?

Smart, maybe, when I can pay attention, but I'm also neurotic as a pile of lemurs.  Making it through the day without any major mishaps is success in my books, lately.

I woke up at eight and said to hell with it and went back to sleep and had weird dreams and woke up again at noon, and was pissed off because I never sleep that late even when I go to bed at fajr and I'd just slept through half the day and I'd probably be up till fajr again.

I got up to make coffee and get my ass in gear and my dreams were slipping through my fingers and the freakiness dissolving and I opened the cupboard door and the enormous cockroach I'd not wanted to deal with the night before took a running leap right at my face.

I stepped back out of its way, swore quietly, and watched its parabolic arc to the floor.  It had panicked and tried to escape and there was nowhere to go but out of the cupboard and I was in its way.  It wasn't malicious, but still it was a roach and it was in my house and I didn't want it there.

The roach hit the grimy linoleum, flailed its legs and took off running.  Before it ran six inches I brought my flipflop down and crushed it, then stomped it a few more times and watched its legs twitch and crumple like the poles of a collapsed tent.  I always feel bad having to kill roaches.  Allah made them too and they're big enough that they have faces, and intelligent enough that I can empathize with them, but I can't live with them.  I stomp monsters out, wherever I find them, so that I have a chance of sleeping at night.

Every time I go to open a cupboard door now, I panic a little.  I clench my jaw and stand up straight and just open the damn door.  If something jumps out at me I'll crush it into oblivion, but I'm still afraid. 

Afraid of cupboard doors.  What the hell, God?