I hate that the most important stories belong to the people who can least afford to tell them.
I hate that the most important stories belong to the people who can least afford to tell them.
I know, I know, I suck. I’ve been trying to recover from a particularly severe bout of depression lately, and have neglected to update this site. When I get through this, I’ll get back to it. Thank you for your patience in the meantime.
A reminder to our contributors and readers: This is a safe place of expression for those wanting to share their stories in dissent of Islamic norms that limit bodily autonomy. In short, it’s about you. Feel free to request any and all accommodations for your stories, including removal afterwards if you change your mind or find yourself in a risky place and don’t want your story to be online anymore.
Another late #Haramadan post, from a closeted still-hijabi ex-Muslim
I enjoyed this sausage, egg, and cheese mcgriddle from McDonalds. I always wanted to try it but didn’t because it was pork. So, one morning I decided to be bold and go ahead and just get it. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to eat it at home since I have to fake fast in front of my family, so I ate it in the comfort of my car with no one watching or judging me. I also felt like a badass because not only did I eat this pork sandwich when I was supposed to be fasting, but I ordered it while wearing hijab. I was expecting the cashier to mention something about it being pork and if I wanted it without the sausage but she didn’t. Unfortunately, I still wear the hijab because I’m in the closet. But at that moment I enjoyed my freedom and didn’t let the hijab stop me from eating what I wanted. There were times in the past where I didn’t do certain things because of my hijab and what people would think of me as a hijabi doing haram things. Well now that’s no longer the case. I’m starting to try many new things that I couldn’t do as a Muslim and I’m looking forward to the future when I can be an ex-hijabi who’s out of the closet.
This is a late #Haramadan submission. I know, I know, bad admin. More coming.
We’re both looking at the menus and he asks, “What do you want for an appetizer?” I look over the menu and reply, “Um, how about the bruschetta?” He leans in and points to an item on the menu that I always overlook, don’t even bother reading the name of – ‘Charcuterie platter’. I freeze for a second. What goes through my mind might surprise many people. I wonder ‘Is the meat from a pig?’
We’re at another restaurant. I’m craving steak. I read over the Main Dishes, making sure to read the description and ingredients of each one of those succulent masterpieces. I read ‘Pork Tenderloin’. I skip reading its description.
Why do I do this? Why, as an ex-Muslim, am I okay with alcohol and eating non-halal meat, but not bacon? Or pork? Or ham? Or pepperoni pizza?
I’ve been an ex-Muslim for a few years. Letting go of this fear of eating pig is one of the last, and hardest hurdles for me to overcome. I started out with the little things. At restaurants, I stopped telling servers to hold off on the bacon bits in my Caesar salad. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t think about it. I thought about it every time I took a bite of that salad. I didn’t feel bad. I didn’t feel like I was doing anything wrong, or forbidden. I just, thought about it.
It’s so heavily ingrained in each and every Muslim’s mind, that even after years of telling yourself, after years of getting away from it, you still can’t truly escape it. So many false statements ring in my mind when I think about eating bacon “It’s haram. Kaafirs eat pork. A pig is dirty, it’s been cursed by Allah.”
I remember a vacation to France with my family when I was 6 or 7 years old. We were at a lunch buffer, and there was a French family sitting on the table next to us. The mother had lots of freckles on her arms, but me being a simpleton from Pakistan (where people hardly have the kind of freckles Caucasians tend to have), I asked my mother what was on that woman’s arm. My mother looked over at her for a second and replied, “It’s what happens when you eat pork.”
I took these pictures this Haramadan to help myself get over this irrational fear I’ve been carrying with me my whole life. And I share them with others who might be going through similar things as me. Those who constantly wonder, even as ex-Muslims, “What am I doing?” What we are doing is living life, and enjoying everything it has to offer us. Without guilt. Without shame.
*hugg* I’m glad the story resonated with you. I’m sorry for what you’re going through.
[Content Note: Body image, dissociation, mental illness, also small spoiler from Disney’s Frozen]
Some nights, I wish for remnants of that old Muslim self who governed her body with unwavering direction, powerful in her command of the movements of her hands, her legs, her body, teaching herself how to play a perfect role, to stay observably in line no matter what injustices rattled her insides. To keep form, to protect herself. She had undeniable discipline, believably forcing her body through rituals and routines repugnant to her spirit but necessary for her survival.
I thought, when I moved to the United States, that this discipline would redeem me, this ability for incredible control cultivated through years of mistakes and violent punishment and learning, that it would help me build a new life of strength, fortitude. I did not expect to discover that this incredible control I had over my expressions, my movements, my very line of vision was as fragile as it seemed strong, dissipating almost immediately when there was no longer need to suppress myself. I let my body go, in many ways. In giving myself an inch to feel, make moves, to feel, to try out new experiences, to feel, to touch, to taste, to run, to feel— I took ten thousand miles: of the wind, the rain, the sun that I drank into all the parts of my skin.
Have you seen Frozen? This 25 year old academic with a master’s degree cried watching Queen Elsa let loose and make an ice fortress on a mountaintop, reveling in the power and magic and splendor of a body newly freed from a lifetime of isolation and suppression, a lifetime of having to control and limit that body and the feelings that moved it, to negate her own self only because others thought her body was too dangerous and threatening to be free.
Who would have thought a Disney movie could perfectly encapsulate what it is like to be a Muslim woman who escapes the suppression and bodily control of the hijab and its behavior codes?
A woman who must then learn anew how to understand, direct, and connect with her body in healthy and healing ways. Ah.
I’ve written so much about the experiences and challenges I’ve faced growing up in a conservative Muslim society in the Middle East—the repression, the bodily control, the lack of privacy or self-determination, the dehumanization, the physical abuse, the kidnapping, imprisonment, all of it. In doing so I’ve only touched upon and hinted at what it can be like to try to build a life after all of this, after a lifetime of this—to salvage a sense of self, a wholeness of being, to pick up the pieces of this person bound up so tight that she has cracked and splintered in a thousand and one places—
and I decided to try to write about it tonight. Tonight has been another night of this struggle, one of what I term my “badbrains” days, shrouded in blurriness of spirit and an unsettling disconnect from this body that was, in my years of Islam, perpetually hidden as an object, made invisible, whose worth was thoroughly negated time and again.
It is true that I now own my body in ways I always should have had and was never given the right to. It is true that I’ve had some time and space to adjust—I’ve been in the US for about a year and a half now, and am surrounded by supportive and loving people, people of great wisdom and understanding. But still, I find that these challenges of self-making take up most of my thought and energy, and have led me to make drastic life changes, including quitting my job teaching college to attempt to make a living doing freelance work in the safety and flexibility of my own home instead, just to safeguard my health from the stress of academia. This struggle is borne too, I think, by many people who for a plethora of reasons feel hostile in their own bodies, but I’ve noticed that it is one that many of my Ex-Muslim sisters contend with post-Islam, and can trace its effects to the smothering influence of bodily regulation inherent in many Muslim codes of living.
There is hardly a time in my memory when my body has not been shrouded in the loose, flowing clothing of the conservative form of hijab espoused by my culture. I started wearing it when I was a child of 8, and wore it for fifteen years. I’ve written about this before, but inherent in wearing the hijab in my family’s from of Islam was a behavioral code of modest bodily interaction and conduct, even at home, that hypersexualized and shamed my body and at the same time suppressed and made my body invisible, all beyond the obscuring nature of the wide, loose clothing. I never learned to think of my body as perceivable, my own thing that I could love and take pride in, whose appearance and style I could control and create for myself; ever it was meant to be hidden away, unadorned, insignificant, unnoticeable, worthy only for the restricted use of others.
And now, I’m consistently hyperaware of it.
FYI, ‘Anonymous’ is from Hot Snakes Media—the production company that was responsible for the travesty of Breaking Amish, and has continuously attempted to recruit members of the North American ex-Muslim community in order to basically turn our experiences into a ‘reality’ television show, a thing that we do not believe to be in our good interests. The fact that we were clear and vocal and public about how we felt about this has clearly not deterred them.
Watch out for messages of this sort, ex-Muslim friends. Your story will not be respected at the hands of television producers.
Newsflash: Women Are Not In A Competition For Human Rights
Here’s an idea: If you hear about a horrific injustice perpetrated against girls and women, try not to use that story as a weapon to silence other women who are fighting their own battles against violence and discrimination.
When a South Korean ferry capsizes and hundreds die do you see media pundits tweeting that the victims of boat crashes in the U.S. should stop talking and take a hard look at what a really terrible disaster looks like? When prisoners in Egypt die, do they say to those raped or shackled while giving birth in U.S. jails, “See, those prisoners over there have it really bad”? When members of the LGTBQ community in Russia are brutally assaulted, do you hear people say to those here, “Now those people, they have something to complain about”?
But, women? Well, like you, everyone’s an expert on exactly what level of misogyny and violence is acceptable. You sound like media pundit Tom Bevan who recently tweeted: “Real war on women: Pregnant Pakistani woman stoned to death by own family for marrying the man she loved.” Within hours of Bevan’s tweet, journalist David Frum shared the sad and enraging news about two Dalit girls, gang-raped, who hanged themselves from a tree: “The next time somebody talks about ‘misogyny in American society,’ forward them this.”
What are you, six?
This is a “stock” formulation, a knee-jerk response for many people, especially conservatives. There are people suffering far more violence and social ills elsewhere, always, and we should think about that. But, it’s immediately insulting because it implies that those protesting violence and talking about sexism in the United States (and the rest of the developed world) are too stupid to understand that there is a spectrum of violence.
Your statement ignores the glaring fact that the spectrum we live with, globally, is one where women aresubject to gender-based violence. There is nowhere that this is not true. Everywhere, we face the political, legislative, and legal regulation of our bodies and reproduction in ways men don’t and we live, daily, with the real and abiding costs of avoiding or living with violence perpetrated almost exclusively by men. Many men apparently still doubt this, even after millions of women tell them that it’s true.
Last week this commentary was more visible because in the days since Elliot Rodger’s killing spree the trending of #YesAllWomen catalyzed unprecedented media conversations about gender and misogyny. Quick as a flash the Misogynistic Theory of Women’s Relative Rights made its rote appearance: Women “here” are so much “better off” than women “over there.” Pick your “here,” “better,” and “over there.”
Women are not in a competition for female human rights.
The implication is that we, “here,” are supposed to be comforted that two girls were raped and hanged themselves in India. Do more men in India, per capita, throw acid on women than men in the United States douse them in gas and light them on fire? Every woman on a South African women’s soccer team has been raped, isn’t it better that on our national team chances are only two or three? I don’t understand why anyone thinks this is a “reasonable” and “balanced” thing to suggest. What is the point of this equation other than to put on display the sexist notion that women’s safety and rights are relative and contingent on other women’s lack of safety and rights? What is it about the notion of non-negotiable rights, human rights, for women, that is so hard to understand?
In case it’s not clear, this is what that way of phrasing says to the people who work to end this violence:
Comparing women’s security and freedom in this way does nothing useful or helpful at all. Instead, it demonstrates an inability to consider privilege and power when it comes to matters involving women.
Have a nice day.
It was Eid morning and through Facebook I was able to look at pictures of all the stunning Eid caftans my friends posted. I opened my closet and tried on my caftan and a couple of dresses that I had bought this year. It was quite lovely seeing my clothes neatly folded, taking up considerable space in a closet that was always empty when I was a child. Not in a million years did I imagine owning so many clothes, many of which look new. Growing up, I was used to handme downs from the older boys in the family. I dreaded wearing them because many of those same boys bullied me, and it stinks to get beaten up in your bully’s castoff shirts.
It wasn’t like my parents never bought me new clothes; they bought me one new outfit once a year before Eid alFitr. Mother, being profoundly superstitious, lived in fear of the evil eye; a sinister look usually caused by envy that has the power to cause great misfortune. It was a superstition shared by many, and everyone dealt with it differently. Mother preferred that I wore hideous clothes so that no one would ever have any reason to envy me and thus I would always be protected.
She always bought me my Eid alFitr outfit from the back of carts and not stores. Those outfits always bled into my skin and for days after Eid my skin would be blue or red or purple or whichever the colour of the outfit was. Father, didn’t share Mother’s fear of the evil eye. He believed that people must always look presentable when meeting family members and that having his daughter runaround in clothes that bled colour everywhere reflected poorly on him in front of elders in the family. On my sixth Eid alFitr, I asked my parents for a new outfit that came from a store and not a cart. Father agreed while Mother remained against it.
We went to a clothing store, and I tried on a few different dresses. I felt girly and princessy and happy. He bought me a beautiful dress. As soon as Mother saw it she begged me not to wear it. “Something awful will happen to you if you do,” she said. But I promised her to recite prayers at the Eid party for protection. I was in love with this dress to the point where thinking about it consumed most of my day dreaming time, every chance I got I would peek into the closet to look at it, and it made me euphoric. If I could’ve, I would’ve played and slept and eaten in it, and never have taken it off. Similar to Miss Havisham in Great Expectations or my cousin Alaa, who cried with excitement when her mother bought her new slippers and wore them everywhere all the time until they got muddy and torn and fell apart.
Eid began and ended as beautifully as I expected. I tucked my dress neatly in plastic and hung it in the closet. I was happy. School started after the holiday. There was one crucial thing that I loved about school; uniforms. In my uniform, I felt somewhat equal to the other girls and it was quite a comforting feeling. Aside from getting to wear uniforms, I disliked school. I got picked on and beaten quite a bit and was given an odious nickname “white girl” by teachers and students—who probably had no idea that my unusually fair complexion was partially due to anemia and malnourishment—The teachers were always angry and yelling.
"What is this? Why are you spelling girl without an e?" screamed the English teacher while shoving my notebook in my face.
"There’s no e in girl," I said.
"No e in girl? I told you there was. I wrote it on the board last week. Do you think you’re the teacher?"
"So is there an e in girl?"
"That’s it! Put your hands on the board, someone get me a broomstick!"
She took the broomstick and whacked me with it four times, each time asking once more: “is there an e in girl?” Each time I gave her the exact same answer.
As soon as I got home, I coiled up in the fetal position on the couch.
“Why are you still in your school uniform?! Go change!” said Father, oblivious to my being coiled up and sad.
“I’ll do it in a minute,” I said.
“No, you’ll do it now.”
“I can’t do it now; I am too sad to move.”
“How dare you talk back!” he said, lifting me in the air. “When your father tells you to do something you say yes I will and go do it!” he yelled and threw me against the wall with all his might.
I landed on my left arm with a popping sound and sharp pains that got me screaming and crying. Mother heard the noise and ran in.
“What’s going on?” she asked.
“Your spoiled brat of a daughter doesn’t listen and when she gets the punishment she deserves, won’t shut up!” said Father.
As they were arguing, I tried to move my left arm but couldn’t so I used the other arm to carry it.
"It’s not moving, it’s dead,” I said.
“What do you mean it’s not moving?” she said with concern.
“Don’t indulge her; she is obviously making this up to gain your sympathy and avoid being punished,” said Father.
They went to argue in another room, and I fell asleep in that position. The next day, I woke up to hear both of them screaming at each other.
“I’ll take her to the hospital,” said Mother.
“You know you can’t do that,” said Father. He was afraid of what people would say. Father, who worked as a physician, built an amiable image of himself outside of our home, and something like lifting his daughter and throwing her would hurt that pleasant image of a kind, calm, and very together doctor.
“I’ll tell them she fell,” said Mother.
“What if she blabs?”
“She won’t, I promise!”
After doing Xx-rays at the hospital, they found out my arm was broken. Father was becoming more and more apprehensive. While things like this aren’t taken that seriously in Egypt, in a small city like Port Said, breaking his child’s arm could damage his medical reputation.
Mother came with me to school and talked to my teacher. “You know how weak and pale she is; so simply rolling off the bed at night just broke her arm,” she said to my Arabic teacher. At school, I wasn’t just too pale anymore; I was bruised and in a cast and even the meanest of the girls who used to bully me looked at me with sympathy. A third grader walked up to me asked what happened.
“I fell,” I said.
“Yes, I fell; now leave me alone!” I said. I attempted to run away but lost my balance and fell in the mud. I expected the girls in the yard to laugh and mock me as they usually did but instead everyone was silent, and I heard an older girl say “that poor kid!” Nothing is worse than having your own bullies take pity on you, like you’ve become so tragic and feeble that even the cruelest of children can’t justify hurting you anymore.
"I’m fine, I’ll be moving my arm in no time, so you shouldn’t feel sorry for me or anything," I told the girls as I got on the bus.
I told Mother about what had happened at school and asked when I might be able to move again.
"Reem, we just don’t know yet, you might never be able to."
"Oh." I saw how sad that made her and wanted to cheer her up. "Well, Mother, if I can’t move it again, I think it’s only fair you buy me a robotic arm."
"You know, like, in grendizer, those things are cool!"
We both laughed and then she turned serious. “I think someone saw you in Eid alFitr and gave you the evil eye because of that damn dress,” she said. She fetched a pair or scissors and began to cut my dress into small pieces. “It must be destroyed and rid of its evil,” she said over and over again, while I sat there with my broken arm, watching the destruction of the only source of joy I had that year.
Read more of Reem’s writing at http://reem-unveiled.blogspot.com/ and http://www.centreforsecularspace.org/sexual-violence-and-islamist-propaganda/
Also, please try to support her crowdfunding campaign to go to school while she seeks asylum by sharing or donating: