Sunday, December 30

Hijab as a Dress Code

Another visit to Egyptiana's blog and another discussion. This time, however, I am not being merely inspired by her latest post.. but I am also conversing with the ideas mentioned in it. First time ever to have something else to say other than agreeing with the brilliant ideas expressed by this dear friend, ever since I started blogging. I felt there was a need for someone to step in and clarify the blurry image that tends to generalize our view of the Other, with capital O. The inspiration came as I read the questions being raised at the end of her post:

لم اذن ندعى ان الحجاب خطأ بشرى فى حق النساء المسلمات؟؟؟انقول المثل على اليهوديةانجرؤ ان نقول المثل على الراهبات المسيحياتلا والله ما يستطيع ان يتدخل اى شخص فى حرية اليهودية او المسيحية... ولكن المسلمة تحتاج الى وصاية... الى من يقول لها افعلى هذا او ذاك... حجابك خطأ ... حجابك جاء من وراء البحر ثقافة بدوية تدعو الى قمع الحريات لا اهوى المهاترات او المناقشات العقيمة فى امور محسومة... وما هذا البوست الا دعوة للتدبر فى الامر... والتفكير فيه بتأنى ما كان الحجاب قيد... ولكن تجميد عقولنا ومحاولة فرض اراء تبدو فى ظاهرها حرة هو القيد العظيم

Why do we claim that hijab is a human fault committed against women? Do we say the same about the Jewish woman? Do we dare say the same about Christian nuns? No. I swear by God that nobody can interfere with the freedom of the Jewish or Christian women. . But the Muslim woman is in need of patronage.. of someone to tell her do this or that.. your hijab is wrong.. your hijab came from overseas.. a beduin culture promoting oppression. I don't like talking nonesense or aimlessly discussing what is well known. This post is only an invitation to reflect on this issue... Hijab is no bondage.. but freezing our minds and trying to force ideas which appear to be free is the great captivity.

At first sight, it may appear that the conclusion being made is about a well-defined group. But as one readers to search for such a definition, things start getting mixed up. The descriptions being stated as examples of what "this group" believes in, reveal that a wide range of people are gathered together in a single basket. Let's review each together:

1- Why do we claim that hijab is a human fault committed against women?

Not all people who believe that hijab is not doing good to women have the same reasons. There is a large range from conservatives to moderates to extremists, each group having their own reasons. Consequently, although they may agree on the disadvantages of hijab, they do not all share the same view about it. Therefore, assuming that they all have the same attitude towards hijab is so unfair.

2- Do we say the same about the Jewish woman? Do we dare say the same about Christian nuns? No. I swear by God that nobody can interfere with the freedom of the Jewish or Christian women.

Mmmmm.. There are those who say the same about Jewish and Christian women. They don't all interefere with their freedom. Some of them dare to do it. Others are not afraid, but don't interefere because they believe it is not the right thing to do.

3- But the Muslim woman is in need of patronage.. of someone to tell her do this or that.. your hijab is wrong.. your hijab came from overseas.. a beduin culture promoting oppression.

Which ones are we talking about here? Do all those who refuse to wear hijab patronize Muslim women or tell them what to do? Do they say that their hijab is wrong? And why would analyzing the origins of hijab be considered as a way of attacking it or those who wear it? Isn't the beduin culture seen to be oppressive, regardless of hijab? Doesn't this same beduin culture tell women who don't wear niqab that their hijab is wrong?

4- I don't like talking nonesense or aimlessly discussing what is already undisputable.

What makes hijab undisputable? It is not one of the five basic pillars of Islam. Islamic scholars are disputing about it all the time. Different cultures have different definitions of it. What makes it undiscussable? And why would discussing it be a sort of nonesense?

5- This post is only an invitation to reflect on this issue... Hijab is no bondage.. but freezing our minds and trying to force ideas which appear to be free is the great captivity.
I totally agree. And that is why I would rather discuss my point in detail, as I feel like I have been put my mistake into the wrong company. I don't wear hijab. I don't believe it will do me good. I have my own reasons to think that it has many disadvantages. Yet, I never forced anyone to take it off, but the opposite always happens with me. And I never told anyone who agrees with it that it is wrong, although the opposite is always said to me. And I certainly would never judge anyone based on whether or not she is wearing hijab.. again in spite of having been always judged as a non-hijabi. I don't support hijab, but I am not against it, either.
Allow me to defend myself. In saying so, and from now on, I am not addressing Egyptiana. I am expressing myself, and giving myself the right to talk on behalf of others who hold my beliefs, and who are usually misunderstood and accused of joining those who are against hijab in general. Egyptiana did a great job with her post, actually. She displayed three pictures of different women who are covering their hair.
1- A Jewish woman praying:
2- Christian nuns praying:

3- A group of Muslim women awaiting prayers:

I so much believe that "a picture is worth a thousand words". Egyptiana's 3 pictures say that women have been covering their hair regardless of their religion, nationality, or race.
But I would like to add some more pictures to her wonderful collection to aid me in explaining my point. I would ask you to please have a look on the following ones.

4- Buddhist women:

5- Hindu women:

6- Sikh women:

7- Jain women:

8- Parsi Zoroastrian women:

So.. What are those pictures trying to tell us? Can you read them? Apparently, women who follow non-Abrahamic religions also cover their heads, as you see. What does this invite us to conclude? I, personally, believe that this dress code is purely traditional, passed down from one generation to the other.. Just like men in the Gulf who cover their heads with aggal.. or other Muslim men who wear turbans, or 3emma, like men of Azhar.. or those who wear chitral, like Afghani men. Can we call this hijab? Can we force men to wear it, knowing that Prophet Muhammed used to cover his head? I don't think so.

Moreover, it is normal to see a male sheikh who doesn't wear a 3emma nowadays.. although this was completely out of question in the past. Does this make the sheikh who doesn't wear the traditional 3emma guilty in any way? Can we judge him to be less moral or less religious than other sheikhs who do wear it? It is a traditional way of dressing, people. All kinds of clothes are passed down through imitation.. That's what we now call "fashion".

Islam, like all other religions, never told people what to wear. It is a matter of what people decide to wear at a certain time. We are only demanded, men and women, to dress modestly while praying.. like all other religions. A man can not pray in his shorts, although there is no clear or direct verse in Quran to prohibit that. But, logically, measuring on other demands in Quran, we can easily reach this rule. It is the same with females.. who were only instructed to wear moderate, conservative clothes, that won't cause "NORMAL men" (and i insist here on NORMAL) to be seduced.. or invite morally corrupt or sick men to abuse them, or harass them sexually. What was said is clear: Cover those parts that are private.. Don't wear sheer fabrics.. Don't wear tight clothes.. And try to keep away from too much accessories.

These are the demands of God. That's how women were asked to dress according to the Quran, which God declared to be complete and whole. He could have easily told women "Cover your hair" or "Cover your breasts" or "Cover your legs".. But He didn't, because He created this world and He knows that people's habits change from time to time, and from place to place. He didn't care to put a piece of cloth on women's heads. He only instructed them on how to protect themselves and how to avoid sinning by means of (intended) seduction. Accordingly, the choice of outfit was totally left to humans. They decide according to their culture, traditions and times what is considered to be appropriate and what is not. How can God order a Muslim woman who lives in equatorial Africa (in Kenya or Congo or Ughanda) to wear hijab or niqab? She will be committing suicide if she did! Besides, with global warming - which we know is a fact - the Earth's temperature is expected to rise.. which will make poor countries, which don't have proper homes, not to mention air-conditions, a living hell. Don't you think God knows about that? How can He then demand women there to wear the thick black niqab of Saudi Arabia? We all know that women are flogged (in one of the hottest countries during summer) if they don't abide by this dress code. What would please God in that? Do you think their rich women, who are married to the princes of oil, would find any difficulty in wearing this outfit? Those who have air conditioned luxury cars, with chauffeurs.. Those who live in villas with central air conditioning.. Those who wear original brands underneath their black abayas! Would they suffer in any way?

But what about poor women? What about those who can't afford any of those luxuries? Aren't they suffering? What about the old Egyptian women we see waiting for a long time under the hot sun in summer to ride a public bus, or any other means of public transportation? Have you ever seen their red sweaty faces? Have you ever felt how hard it is for them to deal with poverty as well as the summer heat while wearing the veil? What about those wearing niqab? Do you think God is a classist? He should be if He demands something that doesn't require any effort from rich people, while it would make the poor really suffer. Do you think God is a racist? Well, He should be if He truly would punish women in Congo for not wearing the hijab/niqab, and reward women in Russia for covering their hair (which they all do automatically in winter).
Now, we come to the most important question of all. Do you think God is a sexist? If you truly believe that God will never approve of His female worshipers unless they wear hijab/niqab, then that's what you are saying. Because in this way it would be impossible for them to have equal opportunities in life.
First, what is the original definition of hijab?.. Hijab is only mentioned once in Quran, while refering to male visitors who entered Prophet Muhammed's home and wished to talk to his wives. In this case, God instructed that there should be a hijab between them, meaning something that would block their vision, a curtain, so that they won't be able to see the Prophet's wives, who are described by God as being like no other women.
Does this mean that nobody saw either of the Prophet's wives? Of course, not. We know from many history books that those women interacted very normally with their community. The most powerful of them, Aisha, was known to be an excellent scholar, and who told many of the stories about Prophet Muhammed after his death. She even raised an army against Ali ibn Abi Taleb and directed it herself while riding on a camel's back.. Hence, the battle took the name of "Mawqe3at el Jamal" or Battle of the Camel. And there was a huge uproar against her in Basra (where the battle took place) for not respecting God's orders to the Prophet's wives; for she has left her home, and she has overthrown the rule of hijab! Notice that we are talking about Aisha, mother of the faithful.
Now, let's move on to the present time. Can anyone give me one definition of hijab that all Muslims would agree on? I dare anybody to do so.
Each Islamic culture has come up with its own version of hijab and claimed it to be the best of all.
There is the Wahhabi hijab of Saudi Arabia (niqab):

There is the Isdal/Chador of Iran:

There is the Talibani Burqa of Afghanistan:

There is the Khimar:
There is the Egyptian head scarf which covers/uncovers the neck:

Each woman of those thinks she is wearing the right hijab. Each woman of those thinks her hijab is better than the rest. Each woman of those believes that her dress is religious. None of them is right, and none of them is wrong. Nobody can objectively tell who is better than who. Nobody can prove any claim of superiority of one of those styles.

It is enough to show your face down a Saudi street to receive lashes on your back. So, do you think they believe that women who cover their hair and show their faces will enter heaven? Can an Egyptian girl who is convinced with her hijab wear it there? Can she convince them that she is not upsetting God? Can she get the women there to believe that she may be rewarded as well as them in afterlife?

In short.. There is no such thing as Islamic hijab.. There is only traditional/cultural hijab.. The hijab approved by the community where a female lives.. Just like any other set of traditions that she must follow in order to win the respect of her community. In some African tribes, it is normal for women to walk topless in public, while it is shameful to reveal their legs. We may find it strange, we may disapprove of it, but we should respect their culture.. because that is what they believe to be right, and thus is of high value to them.

Many people are surprised that I am not against hijab although I don't believe that it is a must, or that God would put it into consideration while judging my soul. The reason is that I respect the beliefs of others so much.. as long as that's what they are truly convinced with. Moderate secular thinkers are not extremists.. And that is what I meant to say through this discussion of my personal opinion of hijab as a dress code. Moderate secularists agree that a woman is free to wear hijab when it becomes her choice. They respect others' beliefs, even if they disagree with them. They don't pass judgements or condemn others. They don't seek to force women to take their hijab/niqab off their heads/faces.. but they wish them to take it off their minds. Talking about the origins of hijab, or how it found its way back to Egypt, is not an attempt to shake the belief of others. WE DON'T DO THAT. We are the ones being accused all the time of having weak faith. We are the ones who are insulted for questioning human explanations of religion. We are the ones being attacked because we don't wear hijab. Thus, our aim is to let others see things from our side, in the hope that they would be more understanding and tolerant.. not to tell them "you are wrong". The person who aims to force others to adopt his/her ideas is not a secularist. All we want is coexistence. We don't want to be accused of athiesm or lack of ethics. We don't want female secularists to be disrespected or considered to be women of easy virtue. Don't you think it is fair enough?

I said it many times, and I will say it again. Variety is the law of life. Difference will always exist. We have to accept one another without trying to wipe away differences. God could have easily created us all the same. Thus, our ability to tolerate difference is a virtue, and will be rewarded by God. Moderates, whether agreeing or disagreeing with hijab, should always have a quite dialogue based on logic. Disagreement is not equivalent to hostility. We shouldn't be putting any person who disagrees with us in the place of our enemy. We would be losing many good friends if we do so, as well as creating false stereotypes. When we seek to compare views, we should make a balanced comparison. We shouldn't show all those who differ with us as the opposite extreme.

Moderate people, should compare their views to those of other moderate people. You wouldn't like others to say that all those who wear hijab are terrorists, would you? You wouldn't like them to say that those who agree with hijab want to force everybody else to wear it. So, it won't be fair when you use the same way of thinking with others. Always look for similarities instead of difference. What unites us as humans is much much more than any differences between us.

Daughter of Sheikh Hassan Al-Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, unveiled and wearing make-up

Thursday, December 27

A Woman to Remember

The former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated today. Bhutto, who was the leader of the main opposition party, died after bursts of gunfire followed by a suicide bombing. It was carried out minutes after she delivered a speech at an election rally in Rawalpindi, near the capital, Islamabad.

A brave woman in her life and death. A woman who looked death in the face.. She is a bold soldier who died fighting for the freedom of her country. Banazir Bhutto scared cowardly men, although they have all the power and authority in their hands.

Another light is out.. Another candle in the wind.. Another flame gone out.. Another voice silenced forever.

Seems that evil is winning nowadays. My tears shall never dry out, my courageous lady. You are one of a kind. You showed the whole what women are made of. It's time for you to rest in peace. And it's time for us to carry the torch. Shame on her who doesn't learn your lesson.

Friday, December 14

Egyptian Mozzah

The word "mozzah" in the Egyptian slang dialect stands for "sexy chick" or "diva". And when used as an adjective - as in "that girl is mozzah"- it basically means, "she's hot". But the word "mozzah", whether used as a noun or an adjective, is not really a good word in Arabic. Actually, it is a very clear example of how our modern language itself reflects how the Egyptian society views females nowadays. This word is a live expression of all the negative feelings and disrespect that men have in the back of their minds while dealing with women.. even those they find to be attractive or stunning.

Mozzah was initially used by men of lower classes and those who work in manual labor. This particular social group, as you would expect, had a very narrow prespective.. and its view of women was totally physical. Therefore, when a mechanic used to tell his fiancée that she was a mozzah, all he meant was to praise her beauty and her feminine appeal. It didn't sound inappropriate or vulgar at the time. And girls who were considered "mozaz" (plural) usually had lots of confidence, knowing that they are desired by men. That was due to 2 reasons: 1) Those girls mainly belonged to the same social class. 2) The word itself did not use to have the strikingly negative associations it expresses nowadays. Thus, the word existed peacefully in the vocabulary of this group, and was merely considered a bit crude by those who happen to hear it from outside it.
When combined with the possessive pronoun "my", mozzah becomes "mozzeti", which meant my sweetheart (the old term for girlfriend). Men used to tell their male friends in the neighborhood about their emotional commitments, so that none of those friends would have a crush on their sweethearts. The girl labelled as someone's mozzah was in fact protected by this declaration, and automatically conceived of as this person's future wife. Other men usually kept their limits and would never ever attempt to court such a girl or annoy her. By no means could a man dare do that, except if he was an enemy of that girl's boyfriend. By flattering with someone's mozzah, a man was sending a message of open hatred, and his clear aim was inviting her boyfriend to fight. Having said that, I should add that a mistress was never described as mozzah, or given the title of being somebody's mozzah. Men of those classes were very serious about differntiating between girls for fun (easy girls that were notorious for their multiple relationships) and those they truly loved and wished to marry.

That was just a brief "historical" background. Of course I'm kidding.. It wasn't that long ago anyway. What I meant to say is: that was a thing of the past.
Due to the political and economic factors which were altering very rapidly during the previous decades, many social changes took place.. The most observable of which was what happened to the Egyptian social pyramid, causing it to turn up-side-down. This had its huge impact on all the facets of Egyptian life.. And I would have loved to go through them all, except that there is no room for that here. What concerns us, though, is the disappearance of the Egyptian middle class, which used to hold the whole social structure together.. as well as bearing the responsibility of directing the whole society. The middle class - with its well-defined value system, cultural interests, political involvement, and high awareness - is an indespensible component in maintaining balance and deciding the general social frame of any country. Thus, the collapse of the middle class in Egypt led to massive chaos in the social scene.
Hearing the language spoken in the Egyptian street nowadays, one will notice that it is a hybrid mixture of different classes, different cultures, different backgrounds, different languages, that have absolutely nothing in common; neither between one another, nor between them and their original sources. At the heart of this linguistic mess comes the word "mozzah" to summarize the modern social scene with its explicit definition of the current relationship between genders. It sums up how today's patriarchal society thinks about females, and manifests how words receive different meanings according to the prevailing culture/mentality.

The modern use of the word mozzah has absolutely nothing to do with social class. Moreover, it is commonly used by young Egyptian men while talking about females in general.. in a way where the word "female" became actually replaced by the word "mozzah". It is not categorized as an offensive word, in spite of the fact that it is considered as a kind of verbal harassment when it takes the form of a loud remark from a male stranger. Being called "mozzah" while walking down the street is enough to make any girl turn red and run away. The word now has a straight sexual meaning, and it is used for indecent flirting, or at least with a clear aim of embarrassing girls who are chosen to be victims of those loud flirtatous advancements. When used for this purpose, a guy usually follows it by a sound of a kiss, or a wink, or any similar gesture that would stress its sexual connotation and cause the biggest possible amount of embarrassment to his victim.

In casual male conversation, however, "mozzah" can be used to refer to any girl, or to describe a physically attactive babe, or as an indirect way of describing certain seductive features of the female body. The word is seldom used in its possessive form.. and in this case it may refer to the guy's own girlfriend! Yes, you read it correctly.. but it is a way of expressing that the relationship is pure dating.. nothing serious involved. Thus, in fact, it gives the total opposite message that was intended by the original "mozzeti". This time the person speaking is declaring that he does not really care about his mozzah (his girlfriend) . It is anindirect invitation to his friends to consider dating that girl after he gets bored with her, and a green light for those friends if they wish to tell jokes about that girl or exchange any negative remarks about her with her boyfriend!
So, as you have seen, our patriarchal culture has borrowed a word from the low-class dictionary, changed its usage, colored it with various negative paints, made it entirely sexual, and turned it into a weapon against females. Yet, it is not a hidden weapon that circles among men during their private chats.. nor is it condemned by society for its negative implications.. nor is it rejected by the media or movie makers. On the contrary.. It is welcomed into our daily lives and is openly exchanged between people everywhere.. It is now a most used word in Egyptian vocabulary.. and has become closely related to the Egyptian dialect! Now what does that tell you?
The word's influence didn't stop here, though. For as long as the usual scenario goes, whatever is imposed by the patriarchal society is automatically accepted by the vulnerable followers. It becomes a matter of fact. That's exactly what happened with Egyptian females who readily digusted the word as part of their cultural environment. Yes, "mozzah" is undeniably an anti-female word, aiming mainly to humiliate women and destroy their self-esteem. Its purpose is to objectify women and turn them into the purely physical/sexual dolls. They are plainly conceived of as only bodies, made up of flesh that is both desired and despised. A girl gets trapped inside this narrow tunnel.. She has to be mozzah in order to be appealing to men, and at the same time she is humiliated for being one. She has to be objectified twice: as a sexual body, and as an object of verbal abuse.. a source of shame.. a passive recpient of patriarchal violence and hostility.

In spite of all that, Egyptian girls do use the word mozzah in their speech, just like parrots. However, they prefer to live in denial.. and they use it to praise the beauty of each other, or to refer to THEMSELVES when talking about looking exceptionally stunning. For example, a girl might tell her friend that she was a mozzah (looking really good) the previous night, when she was dressed up for a party.. Or she might seek to compliment her friend by telling her that she is a mozzah, instead of saying "you look great". In doing so, girls are responding to the social stress and the constant demand that they should be physically attractive. They know that society wants them to be sexually appealing. And instinctly, those girls need to feel accepted, desired and loved. To achieve that, they are forced to follow the criteria defined by their society. Before anything else, a girl has to be a mozzah. Yet, likewise, Egyptian girls are aware of the lusty, indecent, abusive, degrading, and hostile nature of the word.. That's why in their current vulnerable position, they had to come up with this tactic of self-deceit which enables them to accept the concept of mozzah, while escaping it as a verbal phenomenon. They have reflected their own desperate need for admiration, along with their inability to face the powerful tools which patriarchy uses against them, on the word itself. Just as girls are torn between those two pressures, they split "mozzah" in half. But how far will this self-deceit actually lead them?

To every Egyptian Mozzah reading this: Burying your head in the sand will only make you weaker, more disrespected, more vulnerable, and more shameful. You are not a body, girl. You are not a piece of dilicious meat, or a sexy doll! As long as you don't believe that.. as long as you don't realize that you deserve a better treatment.. as long as you surrender to such assaults and degradation.. as long as you are not ready to stand up for yourself and defend your dignity.. as long as you don't value your mind and soul.. as long as you are following your oppressors.. as long as you don't have the courage to say NO.. as long as you accept being a mozzah.. YOU WILL NEVER BE A HUMAN BEING!

Friday, December 7

Niqab or Bikini?

I'd like to salute Miss Egyptiana for her recent post which inspired me a lot, especially that it came after I've written about Sabaya café. In her post, Egyptiana poses many questions while attempting to find a suitable comment on a picture featuring 2 girls on the beach, one of them in bikini while the other is veiled.

Actually, it was my intention to write about the issue of stereotyping women in our society, and how this usually takes the shape of a shallow binary opposition. This basically means that women are seen as either black or white, nothing else. If a woman is not what society defines as "white" then she must be "black". The exsitence of other possibilities or mere "grey" is unthought of. A woman is either a saint or a whore.. You are either a wife or a woman looking for a husband.. You are either shy or barefaced (beg7ah).. You are either an angel or a devil.. and on goes the list of opposites.

The most common example of this female binary stereotype, which seems to be so popular nowadays, is the one which assumes that if girls are not veiled, then the only alternative would be for them to wear bikinis!.. Yes.. Don't be surprised when hear this kind of twisted and deformed "logic". In fact, nobody seems to feel ashamed when they proudly present those opposites as the only available choices for female outfits.. It's either the veil or the bikini. So if you happen to discuss a woman's choice in wearing the veil or hijab, you will most probably find someone who instantly asks with much confidence, "Then what do you want? Do you want women to wear bikinis?"
For some of you this might sound like a funny thing.. a kind of silly joke. Or you might think that the person saying this isn't really serious.. But can you imagine that many people believe this to be a serious argument! Not only so.. this kind of belief has shaped the general view of women in Egypt. In fact, the reason behind the rapid increase of veiled women in Egypt, unlike what most people think, has more to do with having a social nature than being driven by a religious conviction. Many (and I am saying many) of the young girls who wear hijab do not actually abide by Muslim daily prayers (which is the second basic requirement in Islam, while hijab is only mentioned in one weak hadith). Muslim women pray at home.. You can rarely find one of them who prays at the mosque. Thus, while prayers are a matter of a private relation between a girl and her creator.. practiced out of people's sight.. hijab is a public statement, announcing to society that the girl who wears it belongs to the "white" category.

Belonging to the "whites" has its many advantages. Needless to say, the best of which is moving away from the other side of the binary opposition system. By declaring yourself a saint, you are protecting your public image.. sending a clear message that you are not the opposite.. That's to say.. You are not the bikini whore. That in itself is a huge benefit. Other minor advantages would include: social acceptance and respect, winning the admiration of men, having a better chance in the marriage market, gaining the trust of the family, relatively having more freedom, fitting into the general female community... etc.
When females responded in such a way to pressures from our patriarchal society which seeks to impose a certain moral system.. one that depends on binary oppositions.. They actually gave this bizaar system a huge credibility.. or I'd rather say, they were the ones who established this system and turned it into a matter of fact. Then more and more females were lured in.. and more were forced to abide by this new social visa. Until we woke up one day to find, for the first time in our history, little girls wearing hijab!
Why does a child have to be veiled? Why is this greeted and welcomed by many people as something positive? Isn't this a vicious murder of innocence? Isn't this a kind of assumption that even a child can be seductive? Why do these people then become so surprised that children (of both sexes) are being sexually molested? It is their own doing.. They have included children into this whole adults' system. Weren't they so pissed off when the ministry of education tried to issue a law preventing primary schoolgirls from wearing the veil at school! Do these adults suppose themselves the only sick people around?.. Of course, not.. There are other kinds of sickness that were being fed by this twisted pratice. Pedophyles loved this kind of declaration.. and it gave them a good excuse for their sickness. Here are some parents who acknowledge that their little girls are sexy! Why then don't they consider pedophyles to be victims who were not able to resist the seductive appeal of those children? Why don't they consider this as an excuse for them, just as they tend to find a justification for men who rape women?!!

Hey, that's not all.. Let me share another tragedy with you. A few days ago, I was shocked to see some of the girls who participated in the Special Olympics this year being veiled!! Of course I was so irritated.. Couldn't believe my eyes.. And all I thought of was "WTF?".. Those are girls who God Himself execluded from all forms of religious obligations. They could not decide anything for themselves, and hence could never have chosen to wear the veil. This is a clear violation of human rights! How could anyone see such a thing without being extremely troubled? What's this for God's sake? Should girls born with down syndrome be held accountable for not covering their hair? Are they supposed to be a source of seduction? Would they also be considered responsible if they were victims of sexual harassment? And would this veil protect them from someone who doesn't show any mercy for their condition? Someone answer me before I go mad! What's going on?.. Why have our people's minds become so fuc**d up?!

It is evident that the idea of binary opposition has become a general rule while dealing with females.. It is taken for granted by the majority of people. For instance, I am no longer able to shop for clothes in Egypt during the summer season.. You know why? Because all the women outfits out there are either designed for veiled women or for their stereotypical opposites.. Yeah, you bet.. they're basically for women walking down the streets in their bikinis! Seems like fashion designers have also adopted this kind of conviction while manufacturing clothes for their female customers. Here's what happened when I went summer shopping for 3 consecutive years.. The first year, 3/4 of the outfits on display were long-sleeved and heel-lengthed. The second year, around 90% of the outfits were designed for veiled women. The third year, I was not able to find a single formal outfit in short sleeves!!

Shop assistant: Any service, Ms.?
Me: Yeah.. Please, can you help me find something with short sleeves?
S.A.:Short sleeves?.. I'm afraid this season all the outfit are long-sleeved.
Me: Oh, yes.. I can see that. The fabrics also are all so thick and heavy.. Are we living in Moscow or something? Am I the only one who feels that summer in Cairo is as hot as hell?!
S.A.: Well.. It's because most of our customers are veiled.. But you can cut the sleeves if you want.
Me: Oh, yeah.. Coz I ain't one of your customers. And what about the fabric? Or wait.. I can make a guess.. You will tell me to buy my own fabric and have it tailored.
S.A.: I'm sorry, Ms. That's all what we have here for now. But there is a shop, not far from here, where you can find what you are looking for.
Me: I know it's not your fault.. I just hope you tell the shop management that they lost one of their "customers" today.

And off I went to the shop she told me about. The window display looked so weird.. But, hey.. I got nothing to loose.

Me: Good evening.. I was hoping to find a short-sleeved outfit.. be it with a skirt or pants.
S.A.: Sure.. Please have a look on this collection and choose whatever you like.
(After turning one hanger after the other in dispair)
Me: Ehhmm.. Excuse me.. I am not looking for beachwear. I'm looking for an outfit to wear at work.. Besides, I don't think any of those would fit a mature woman.. Those are barely for teenagers.
S.A.: Oh, how untrue.. Ms., I want to tell you that we have got veiled customers who buy these clothes.
Me: Veiled customers?!.. Are they done with all the other shops in the city? And how on earth do they wear this stuff? Do they wear it at home?
S.A.: No. They wear it to work, college.. everywhere.. Let me explain.
(She picked a hanger which had a tank top with spagetti straps and a way-above-the-knee skirt.)
See? A veiled girl would wear this with a long-sleeved body and straight pants underneath.
Me: #%*@*?!!!! But why go through all of this trouble while they have got all shops selling clothes that are made specially for them?
S.A.: Some of those young girls want to define their figure, you know. The thick wide outfits don't give them that.
Me: Oh I see.. So they want to cover their hair and define their figure at the same time.. How nice!.. OK, what about those who wish to dress moderately? Where should they go?
S.A.: Why don't you try [the shop I've just been to]?
Me: Actually one of their shop assistants led me here. All the outfits they have are the exact opposite of what you sell here.
S.A.: I'm afraid that what you're looking for is very hard to find.
Me: I already know that!!!!! Ughhhhhhh.. I've been searching for a whole week so far.
S.A.: Hey.. You can ask a tailor to do whatever you want.
Me: Thank you. I really should have done that from the start. Seems that my species have already been extinct, that they don't sell ready-made clothes for us anymore.

I believe the next extremist step would push women further apart in opposite directions.. If this happens, I won't be surprized if comparisons became even sharper. Probably the future binary opposition would suppose that women have only 2 choices.. Either niqab or one-piece bikini!.. No wonder the dilemma that is yet to face our females will be: "To wear or not to wear.. That's the question."

Monday, November 26

Sabaya: When Women Discriminate Against Women!

This bomb exploded right in my face when I entered Forsoothsayer's blog. She received a forwaded e-mail advertising Hanan Turk's café. Warning: Don't read on if you have any heart condition or high blood pressure.

Plz forward to girls and women you know might be interested
At last a place where Muslim GIRLZ can hang out

Sabaya is a very nice place . .nice food and drinks . .no music played . .entrance is only allowed for femalesso it's is really safe for montaqebat . .
it's owned by Hanan Tork . . and Ahmad El Sakka's wife ( Mohammad El So3'ayyar's daughter ) . .so . . it's a cafe and hairdresser . . and also they sell mo7aggabat stuff . . praying carpets . . and gifts :))
Address: 6 Meet 3'amr street . . Midan Safir . . Masr El Gedida.if u know the street that has Cook Door / McDonald's / Oriflame /Smiley's ) . . it's behind McDonald's . . when u see McD . . go right. . then left . . Sabaya will be on ur left . . isA
Tel: 2240 2223 - 2240 2229
Advantges of SABAYA café
1- You have the freedom of taking your veil/neqab off.
2- Meeting muslim girls who are willing to get closer to Allah.
3- Increasing your 'so7ba sale7a circle'.
4-Getting the opportuinity of being inspired by real stories by the same girls you meet.
5-You can have parties.
6-Learn how to shun sin...since You won't be exposed to songs or movies JUST CARTOONS AND RELIGIOUS SHOWS.
7- Get to meet Hanan Turk. heheheheheheheheheheheh
8-Enjoy the feeling that you'r making everything which is not allowed outdoors and Allah won't be mad at you :D..

P.S. Attending sabaya will be very useful from both the life and religious prespective, since YOu will be helping in changing the wrong perceptions about both Neqabis/ Hegabis that were already inheritied ages ago. Help in renewing a new age of respectful, effective, lively , happy with their commitment to Islam :) EGYPTIAN LADIES.:) nOthing is impossible.. May Allah grant us His Mercy and sincerity

-- First please Don't invite Christian girls , because they aren'tallowed to the place.. Second inform all your friends that if the number of visitors increased remarkably in the coming year..inshAllah next year they may be able to open a branch in mohandesen or down town ..We ARE IN DIRE NEED OF A PLACE THAT CONTAINS US 'NEQABIS' OR 'HEGABIS' SO PLEASE THINK BEFORE U GO ANYOTHER CAFE ;)

That was the email published by Forsoothsayer. Then I read a post written by Sandmonkey who has asked a female co-worker to call this place and demand whether this was true. The café confirmed all the above information and added that enterance is only allowed to Hejabis and Niqabis (new terms which refer to women wearing veils or niqab). Both bloggers commented thoroughly on this ridiculous new business, so there is no need for me to say any more about it. I would rather try place this example where it belongs in the bigger picture.

The worst kind of discrimination that a woman faces is that which comes from another woman. As human nature goes, women are not all the same. Their inferior social, cultural and financial position, have caused them to split into two separate teams:

1- There are those who look at their current state and wonder why they have to put up with all the injustice and domination. Those could be: a) smart, talent females who were sick of all kinds of obstacles thrown into their way and the heavy pressure imposed on them which threatens to rob them off any advantages their skills allow; b) females who reject their local culture and are rebellious against oriental or conservative traditions; c) very conservative females who enjoy a strong character and who only wish for a limited margin of freedom where they can practice leadership (or let's say exercising their influence).

Women who belong to this team, with all its diversity, are pushing society forward. They all walk in the same direction. Some of them may stop after a few steps, some of them may go too far.. but they are all heading forward and they all desire a change which joins hands with the movement of history.

2- There are those who look at their current state and accept it. They don't feel there is anything wrong with being an inferior, because they were made to believe that this is the law of nature. Those could be: a) educated females who don't have any exceptional qualities or talents, and thus do not have the urge for achieving something on a large scale, being contented with their traditional roles; b) ignorant or semi-educated females who are oblivious of their rights or any alternatives better than what their local community dictates; c) religious extremists who believe that as females they should imitate the early women of faith and stand against all modern claims of liberation or independence.

Again, women who belong to the second team, with all its diversity, are pulling the whole society backwards. They all walk in the same direction. Some of them may stop after a few steps, some of them may go too far.. but they are all heading backwards and they are all against a change which joins hands with the movement of history.

[For those of you who are interested in a more general social analysis, the current scene as described above may appear to be having gaps. You may wish to include men and see where they stand. I tell you that women give birth to men. Even if they don't lead them, there is still an invisible umbilical cord tying them together. Therefore, men are also divided among those two teams, with some variation when it comes to motives and characteristics. Yet at the end, we will be looking at the same scene.]

Now, let me get back to my subject.. Women Against Women.. or call it women against themselves, if you like.. Those two teams (described above) are in constant interaction inside society. Each team affects and is in turn affected by the other. That is the law of nature which exists in all societies. However, what makes the difference between advanced and retarded societies is the quality of interaction taking place within a certain society. In order to measure that, we have to break down the factors which administrate the interaction in question.

Healthy social interactions, especially between opposing groups, have to be governed by tolerance, mutual respect, dialogue, flexibility and acceptance. I don't think you need to read any further to know the result, as there is no surprise involved. Of course when we put female interaction in our society to the test, we'll find out that none of those factors exist. Even when we can catch a rare glimpse of them, we find them practiced by a few individuals, who mainly belong to the first team (those moving forward). But those few incidences do not by any means reflect a general trend, or even that of a limited considerable group of people. And don't forget that the division of teams is not equal. In fact, today's Egypt is witnessing a rapid increase in the number of the second team (those moving backwards) at the expense of the first. This means that the force of those pulling backwards is much greater than the eager attempts of those pushing society forward. The imbalance in this equation along with the absence of a healthy interactive environment put us in a very critical situation. Mmmmmmmm.. I have to say that what takes place between those teams is not interaction at all. Calling it an interaction would be ridiculously false, for these two teams are basically having a clash.

I want to be as objective as you've always found me. Therefore, allow me to say that the case with Egyptian women is devastating! Many of those who are pro-change, in spite of being relatively open-minded and more flexible, find it very hard to live up to their ideals in practice. You can find them rejecting the others, or criticizing their beliefs, or addressing them from above, or making fun of their choices, or acting repulsively towards them, or insulting their brains. I don't understand it!.. This is totally against what they are calling for. How do you expect people to accept you when you are not even willing to view them as equals? How can you possibly convince them with the necessity of change? How is this going to serve your positive aims? I am against women staying at home. I want all women to join the workforce and take an active part in the development of their country. But I have to respect women who willingly chose not to work. I will do my best to present my argument, and if they still are not convinced, then I have to accept them as they are. What good will rejecting them do?

I know that most of you reading this are going like,"Hey, are you really saying that we are the bad guys here? It's all our fault now? We are the ones who have no tolerance?" Before you start throwing empty bottles or anything, let me tell you that I'm not saying that at all. I had to begin with you because you are the ones who are calling for change. Therefore, I can't stop expecting more from you. There should be more patience and a sincere desire for communicating with the Other. They have some excuse if they don't abide by the proper rules of interaction, but what excuse do you have?

It is evident that the major problem lies in the method followed by the second team in its reaction to the first. We're talking massive collision here. Not only don't they have respect for the others, but they also show it with open hostility. Where do I start?.. Shall I recount the details of how they always try to stain the image of free-thinkers and feminists? Or shall I talk about their insistence to summarize women into their physical bodies? Or shall I describe the way by which they associate ethics with clothes? Or shall I be brave enough to say that to them, basically all women who belong to the first team are morally inferior? I really don't want to go through those tragic facts. It is the worst way of rejection. No, it is worse than rejection itself. So.. let me stop here.

The conflict at hand would not be resolved out of its own. We can't wish for a miracle to make it disappear. Part of the solution lies in our hands. Let's create a healthy environment for interaction between those two wings, or else the results will be destructive for everybody. There is nothing wrong with being different. As a matter of fact, there should be difference for life to go on. Difference is an essential part of our existence. But when difference creates a thick wall that separates us and prevents us from having a healthy society, it becomes harmful. We can not wipe away difference from existence.. We can not throw all those who differ with us in the sea.. We have to learn to live together.. I am sorry to use "learn".. I would rather have used "remember", because we actually used to live together, and we actually used to support positive change and progress in spite of our differences. But, since we have lost the tools which enabled us to do this in the past, then we have to learn from the start and create new tools.

As women, we are all second-class. We all sip the bitterness of discrimination and inequality. It is such a shame that instead of joining hands to regain our human condition, we are allowing our differences to blindfold us and distract our efforts away from the main target. It is such a shame to turn against each other and seek to make more divisions. It is such a shame to see women practicing discrimination against other women. It is such a shame when we split into groups and form exclusive clubs. It is such a shame when women seek isolation from other women. And today I publish this pathetic example to ring a bell.. Is there anybody listening?

Thursday, November 22

The Wife's Boyfriend: Is He the Better Deal?

How does this sound?.. Awkward? Bizaar? Meaningless? Well, not to me. I'm pretty familiar with the concept. Heard it being justified over and over. Yes, there are wives who do have secret boyfriends. But they didn't mean to cheat. In fact, they think that those boyfriends help them go on with their marriages. They would never think of cheating. It's completely out of the question.

To start off, I want to make it clear that I am not making any moral judgements. Those women are all devoted wives who took the decision to stay on board of a sinking ship in the hope of saving whatever can saved. I won't betray the trust of those who confided in me and shared their stories. Yet, I feel obliged to talk about this subject for a number of reasons:

1. The several cases I knew of suggest that there are quite a number of wives who share the same secret.

2. All those wives are suffering an ethical dilemma that is threatening their lives, and which could have been easily avoided if they had read a post like that before slipping into the area where they are trapped now.

3. Women usually open up and talk about their problems after they grow beyond repair. They are being intimidated to express their pain by everybody around them. Families are so relieved once a girl is married off, they focus all their efforts on keeping their daughters inside the marriage. This causes them to refuse acknowledging that their daughters are having problems. They won't listen. They may tell them that all those feelings of frustration are imaginary, or caused by the evil eye. It is the devil that makes her imagine things. Similarly, friends would refrain from providing real support, thanks to the common female wisdom which says that complaining wives will always reconcile with their husbands making the friend who interfered in their problem be classified as jealous and wicked. Who can give sincere advice when their reputation is at risk?

4. Each of those wives thought that she was a unique case, unknowing that her frustration is actually shared by many others. If they had known that, they would have learned of better ways of coping with their frustration before it devours their hope.

5. Wives who ended up having double lives didn't ever plan for anything of that sort. What started as an innocent attempt to break away from depression, gradually turned into a serious situation. They are victims of inexperience and unrealistic assumptions.

6. None of those women can bring herself to see that what she is doing is cheating. Cheating seems to have a very narrow meaning in our culture. Some forms of cheating are even idealized by those who commit them. Like students who cheat in exams and think it is a good sign of cooperation. Those wives, as I said earlier, are under the illusion that what they are doing is helping them continue with their married lives. As long as the relationship doesn't involve anything sexual or indecent, then it can not be considered cheating. Those of them who didn't actually meet their boyfriends in person, don't consider this a relationship at all.

7. In many cases, the wife suspects that her husband is having an affair (or multiple affairs). This puts her conscience at ease somehow, as she believes that her innocent relationships can in no way be compared to his sins.

8. Those of them who are mothers claim that they are putting the kids' best interest before their own. If they were selfish enough, they would have asked for divorce, in which case the children will be the victims, they argue. So mainly, they prefer to have secret affairs instead of divorce!

Allow me to repeat that I am not passing any moral judegements. I place my honest opinion in the care of those who wish to face the reality of the situation, and for anyone who is actually involved in this kind of relationship or is about to get involved.

First of all, it is in my humble opinion that the extremely high social cost of divorce (which I discussed in my previous post) should be the first to blame if anyone wishes to place criminal charges. Society has made divorce (which is allowed by God in mercy of his mortal creations) become such a shameful stigma, that would stain any woman who happens to be unfortunate enough to actually hold the title of divorcee. As I explained earlier in my posts, our culture values appearances much more than it values the real ethics of people. If you appear good according to social measures, then you are good, no matter what you do in secret. As long as a person is clever enough to keep secrets hidden from everybody, then he/she has nothing to worry about. On the other hand, if you are the best person that could ever be, yet you fail to maintain the accepted appearance, then you are in a position to be questioned by others, who tend to attach the worst explanation to anything that won't appeal to them. What if you carry a label that generates all kinds of negative responses from society? Imagine if you move around with a sign sticking to your chest saying "DIVORCED WOMAN"! This does not need any kind of effort from others to put you in the black list. You skip the questioning phase to be automatically delivered into the social waste basket. Nobody cares to know any background details. It doesn't mean anything if you were a victim in a miserable marriage. It doesn't make a difference if you are a surviver of the marital hallocauste. You carry the label. You have a criminal record. You are evil by default. You are guilty by nature.

Who wants to step into this fire? Hey, welcome tough woman! Show us your guts! You're nobody's friend. You're everybody's ex-friend. You scare the women away. You invite male scum who invite themselves to take their chances. You are avoided by married couples. You can't be seen anywhere in public. You are suspicious. You never get invited over. You can't expect good wills from anyone who comes near you. You're harmful bacteria.. and everybody fears infection.

If this is not intimidating, please tell me. We crucify our divorced women in public. Human cannibals eat their flesh alive. What do you expect? Honesty? Moral values? Courage? Truth?.. What? This society deserves nothing else than its own nature. Double faces, double values, double standards, double lives, and LIES, LIES, LIES. A society that lies to itself can expect no more or wish for no more. Exceptions will exist at their own risk. But if you are a true daughter of this society, you have well absorbed its teachings. You are like the fish in water. And you will be safe inside the water as long as you are in harmony with your surroundings. Only fools are ready to lose everything in return for nothing.

Yet, I ask, what about you? What about the person inside you? How can you calm her down? How can you shut her up? I know your husband is an insensitive pig. He doesn't have this good person inside talking to him. He does not suffer when he is mean to you. He is a natural bastard. But what about you? You do deserve a better life. You have many admirable qualities that he can not appreciate. You have a huge emotional energy, a volcano of feelings, a longing for romance, a thirst for understanding.. Yes, you have the right to satisfy your heart. You have the right to feel wanted and desired. You have all the right to find someone who listens to you. You only want a receptive heart to absorb your pain and sadness. You need a soft pillow to be able to take a nice nap that will aid you to go on with your tiresome life. You are human, and all humans are weak.

A nice chat with someone with whom you feel comfortable can lift up your mood for the whole day. I understand how good it feels when for the first time you reach out your hand in distress to find another hand willing to catch yours. There is someone who is not trying to make use of you. Someone who finds you funny, intelligent, interesting, and romantic. Someone who sees the real you. Someone who is always there to hear you and comfort you. Someone who cares for your feelings and tries to lift up your spirits. Someone who doesn't criticize you or patronize you. He makes you laugh. He says nice words. He is interested in what you think. He likes your sense of humor. He asks about your day. He pays attention to all the details. He gives you his opinion when you ask for it. He cares and shares your troubles. He finds your voice musical. He knows how to bring out the best in you.

And you got used to this man in your life. His presence, even through emails, online chat, phone calls, or sms, has become so essential. You can't go back to your life before him. You can't stop needing him. You feel you are addicted. It is all innocent talk. It is just communicating with someone you feel comfortable with. You exchange views and a couple of jokes. It's not a big deal. It's not your fault that society doesn't allow a married woman to have a male friend. You have to keep knowing him a secret, although there is nothing secretive about your relationship. I understand it all, believe me. And I don't blame you. And I don't have any bad thoughts about you. I know you are a good woman. I know that you are a respectable person who wouldn't do anything shameful or immoral. I won't care for you if I didn't believe all that.

My dear, I want you to think more about yourself. You might think that you are in total control of how this hidden communication is going and where it is heading. But others who did that all thought the same. However, they reached a point when they became more flexible with the strict rules they put from the start. For some, curiosity was beyond control. "I have to see this person. His face will say more about him. It would tell if I can really trust him or not. What if he is a young boy or an old man who has been deceiving me? I must find out for myself." For others, it was the unexpected development of feelings towards this person. They found themselves getting closer and closer, and the closer they become the more they get attached. Then you can never know. Your mind will start deceiving you in such a cunning way, making you able to find a justification for anything you want to do. Your mind can use your negative feelings towards your husband to push into directions you didn't really want. It can make the idea of revenge sound so tempting that it becomes irresistable. I've seen women going for things they didn't truly want just because they felt like a chance for revenge. The more they get attached to other people, the more guilty they feel, and the more they hate their husbands for being the cause for all this mess. This area is so slippery. No matter how much you think you are in control, there is always a chance of falling. The secretive nature of the relation gives it unlimited possibility for expanding. Walking two steps sounds as risky as walking the whole mile. It is a dark side of your life after all, and once you have this side it tends to fill itself gradually, adding more and more secrets. Then you will find that the innocent secret has turned into a whole other life, where there is a whole other you playing the leading role. The amount of secrets piling up will turn into a mountain dividing your life into two. Once this happens, a secret whether innocent or not, becomes a load of guilt placed over your shoulders. You only shake it off when the other person takes over, but it will quickly return again once you are back to your first self. And that's what you are stuck with most of the time.

You don't deserve that. Why torture yourself in such a way? Why do you willingly switch from being a victim to being guilty? What if your most carefully hidden secret was found out? How will you be able to prove that it is innocent? How will you appear in the eyes of everyone? Who will believe your defences or understand your motives? If you have kids, what will happen to them? What if they heard any of the things being said about you? How can you face them? How will you be able to continue being a mother in their eyes? And what could possibly be worth all this disaster? Fear of society? Fear of divorce?.. Do you think these are enough reasons to ruin yourself?

If you are having a bad marriage, invest the time and feelings you are ready to place into another relationship inside your marriage. Try to work things out using all possible methods. Express yourself honestly. Don't seek quick fixes that depend on your endurance and sacrificing your wishes. If that doesn't work. Face it! Be brave to admit to yourself that now is the time to jump off this sinking ship. Marriages fail for many reasons, but they only destroy people who are not wise enough to know when to end them. If you are newly married, give yourself at least 2 years before having children. You can never test the stability of your marriage before that. If things are not going well, don't ever listen to those who say that kids change husbands. They change them to the worse, that's all. Get out. Now is the right time. You don't need to increase the number of victims in this sinking ship. It is never too late to have the life you want. Don't live in denial. Denial only complicates matters and makes them grow beyond repair. Each year you spend in a failed marriage, is not only wasted from your life forever, but adds up to the losses and makes it more difficult for you to leave.

My final advice to you is to weigh things before taking any decisions. If you lose yourself, there is absolutely nothing to win.

Wednesday, November 14

How Much Does a Woman Pay for Divorce?

This time I pose the above question because I was so surprised to see that many people can't form a realistic image about the critical condition of divorced women in Egypt. I'd like to say that women who haven't undergone the painful experience have a big share in contributing to this unrealistic view. Our media, with all its messed up representations of almost all social groups, also played a very big role in shaping this image. This false image more or less originated after the law of khul' (a law which gives the wife the right to divorce her husband through court if she hates to continue living with him on the condition of returning back the amount of money paid by her husband as dowry at the time of marriage, and which also states the inability of husbands to appeal against their wives divorcing them) was approved by the Constitutional Court. It is as if a single law can wipe away long years of negative stereotyping and social discrimination practiced against divorced women.

It is true that this long-anticipated law (along with the introduction of family-court) came at a very critical time, and was actually the only hope for thousands of women who have been waiting for years for a verdict that would put an end to their miserable marriages. Going through many legal battles, years of waiting, going from court to court to follow the lawsuit, paying a big sum of money to lawyers, were never enough to ensure winning the case. Women faced many obstacles during hearings, and it is so difficult for most of them to prove that serious harm was inflicted on them by their husbands. That was because of the general trend among married men here, who refuse to divorce their wives no matter how bad their marriages have turned to be. The majority of men think that women have no right to decide when to terminate a marriage. It is taken for granted that such a decision is 100% masculine. A man can suddenly and unconditionally decide to divorce his wife, and the law even gives him the right to divorce her without her knowledge. He can then be kind enough to ask the police to notify his ex-wife, by sending her the divorce papers, or he can just disappear without ever caring to let this woman know whether she is still married or not.

Another reason why men refuse to divorce their wives has to do with money. According to the Islamic shariaa, a man who divorces his wife has to pay a fine (mo2a7'ar) which is already stated in the marriage contract, a monthly amount of money for children fees (nafaqah), and monthly payments for the ex-wife (nafaqet 3eddah+mot3ah) as long as she doesn't remarry. All this in addition to the wife's right to keep the appartment where she lived with her husband in case she has custody of their children who are under 12. Of course these financial rights will be lost if the husband refuses to divorce his wife officially. Men have the choice of verbally declaring divorce, which is considered a full divorce from a religious point of view, without going through the official procedures to authenticate this divorce on paper. In such cases, the Egyptian legal system is totally paralyzed. Women who are verbally-divorced have absolutely no authority to claim their financial rights. They have to file for divorce first, and if the court divorces them, then they can claim those rights. But the problem is that the judical system doesn't approve of verbal-divorce, except when the ex-husband confesses that he did actually tell his wife that she was divorced, which is useless of course!.. or if the wife can get witnesses who are ready to testify that they heard her husband while verbally declaring divorce, which is equally useless. In 99% of the cases, husbands who divorce their wives by saying "you are divorced" won't say it in front of witnesses. Besides, a husband can always object to the testimonies of the witnesses, and members of the wife's family are already considered as having weak testimonies.

The other option would be for the woman to pretend that she was still married. She will then try to convince the court that her husband has been harming her. Again she will have to face the dilemma of the witnesses, objections by the husband's lawyer, and the own estimation of the judge of what is considered to be real harm. Therefore, most wives had no other choice but to say that "this harm" was due to lack of sexual intercourse. Can any Oriental woman stand in front of judges and lawyers to say such a thing? Even if that was the only way to have a divorce, it is considered too shameful and scandelous.

Now, what happened with the khul'? Not a big difference in fact. A wife has to convince the court that she has experienced a "change of heart" towards her husband, which prevent her from giving him his shariaa rights (which is the polite term for sexual rights). In this case, she will be viewed by everyone as being an unfaithful wife, who probably has an affair with another man. This would be the only reason behind her mysterious "change of heart," what else can it be? So, as you see, a woman who resorts to this solution is risking her riputation. What good will divorce do her after that?

What if she doesn't want to mention this change of heart? Same dilemma. She has to prove that her husband is abusive or violent or that she was seriously harmed by him. Now, with khul' (also called no-fault law) it is different. She doesn't have to go through the same complicated process of proving physical harm. After all she is will pay for divorce, so it may be enough that she gets weak testimonies. Yet, the fact that the law does not strictly define the degree of harm sufficient to grant a woman's right to divorce leaves a big room for the estimation of the judge. You can now guess what that means. Women of low social status won't be taken seriously if they filed for divorce because of being hit by their husbands. It is generally accepted among low classes that men can be phyically voilent with their wives. And this doesn't seem to alarm anyone who belongs to this social class at all. The judge then believes that rejecting the case is in favor of this family. To him, this woman is just angry and will soon calm down. So what if her husband hits her? Did he hit the queen of England?

Another example on the absurdity of the word "harm" is the fact that polygamy isn't considered by some judges to be harmful enough to the wife who discovers that her husband had secretly married another woman. The fact that polygamy is authorized for men in Islam, makes many judges reluctant to certify that it is psychologically harmful to the first wife. Judges are men after all, and with male calculations, a verdict that permits a wife to have divorce when her husband marries another can cause a revolution among women. If all women had easy access to divorce, the majority of men won't be able to marry more than one. Even a judge is not brave enough to announce a final judgement concerning polygamy. But is it really that hard to tell whether polygamy harms the first wife or not?

I hope that by now it is clear for you to see that women don't really have much say in deciding whether to go on with their marriages or not. Those who are lucky enough to get off the hook are only a small percentage. Women care for their children much more than they care for themselves and are willing to endure anything for the sake of protecting those children. Therefore most women whose husbands refuse to divorce them won't have the guts to file a lawsuit against their kids' father. How can a mother subject her children to this ordeal? How will she appear in the eyes of those children when they see her standing against their own father in court? This is the absolutely unendurable thing for mothers. Can you see it now? While men have unconditional access to divorce, not having to even enter a courtroom to end their marriages, women undergo a long process of painful suffering and have to beg for their divorce! They are forced to stay with husbands they hate. They are denied justice in the legal system. And those who succeed to end their marriage carry a social stigma and face a wide social rejection that reduces them to the level of bacteria!

-"Did you meet the new employee?"

-"No. Is she here already?"

-"Yeah.. hmhm.. Take care, she's a divorcee."

-"In what way shall I take care?"

-"She will share the same office with you. You may think she can be a close friend."

-"And what's the problem with that?"

-"Oh, you innocently naive girl! Sure you don't want anyone to think you hang out with her."

-"Sorry, I really don't get it. Why won't I want that?"

-"Hey.. You're single girl. You don't want to harm your reputation in any way. What if a colleague wants to propose and then finds out that your friend is a divorcee?"

-"What will happen?"

-"Are you seriously that naive? He may change his mind."

-"That will be good. But why?"

-"You don't mean that for sure. Why?? He will have doubts about your behavior. What makes a single girl like you have a divorcee as a friend?"

-"Wow.. And will it be any different if I was married? Can you be her friend for instance while I can't?"

-"NO WAY! Will only be friendly around the office, but I must keep my distance."

-"Why? Doesn't your husband trust you?"

-"Of course he does. It's I who don't trust him. Not him as a person, you can't trust men in general."

-"What's the relation between not trusting and the new employee?"

-"If I ain't careful enough in keeping my distance, she may wish us to be friends outside the office."

-"What's wrong with that? Can't you have coffee with her in a public place or what?"

-"That's not the problem. She may call me at home. My husband may pick up the phone. She then might visit me at home, and my husband can meet her."

-"Oh, I see.. So, you don't allow any women to call you or visit you at home."

-"Not any women. She is a divorcee, don't you understand?"

-"No. I can never understand, and I refuse to accept such a thing. What is there to understand? What if I was the one who was divorced and she was the single girl? Would you be telling me this precious advice now? Please go to attend to your work and never mention such things again."

-"You are young and inexperienced. I was just trying to open your eyes. Do as you like, you will only blame yourself for not taking my advice."

-"Thanks ya madam. But I don't think I will ever blame myself for being human and fair. I don't care to please a suitor who will doubt my conduct if one of my friends is a divorcee. And I certainly won't marry someone that I don't trust. Even if he leaves me for her, I won't regret. Because then I will be sure that this man did not deserve me and therefore is not worth keeping. That's me and that's how I think. There's no place for your wisdom here I'm afraid."

Do I need to say more?.. Not only does a woman pay a very high price for divorce, but she also has to pay for it more than once.

Thursday, November 8

Weddings: The Facts behind the Biggest Conspiracy

How many weddings have you attended during your lifetime? How many of those whose wedding you attended ended up in divorce? Does it make you wonder?

When I was a child, the thought of attending a wedding was so exciting. From the moment I learn from my parents that we are invited to a wedding party, I kept counting the days. I always loved to keep wedding invitations. They looked so elegant and beautiful. To a child, a wedding party is a huge event. You get to see lots of people, who are wearing their best clothes. The whole atmosphere is filled with happiness and joy. The wedding march (zaffah) with the loud drums, singers dressed in uniform, the bride and groom who have an exceptional glow, the typical two rows of guests surrounding the march with clapping and zaghreet (a special cheering sound by which women salute the newly weds), the dazzling light in front of the march which is held by a man walking backwards for video recording, the organized drum beat which is played whenever the couple are to take a few steps forward, all this creates a magical atmosphere that is sure to stick to the memory of children in particular. The married couples themselves need the video tape to remind them of the details of their party. But it is all printed in the memory of the very young guests.

It is a whole other experience for the children, especially girls. I remember waking up on those days feeling the thrill of the big event yet to come. At school, I told all my friends that I'm attending a wedding. I would describe my dress and what I intend to do with my hair. I may be even lucky enough to convince my mother to lend me some blush or lipstick. I would tell them which famous singers or belly-dancers I expect to see (it was common at that time that parents who sent out invitations would let the guests know about the entertainment program). I would even tell them everything I know about the bride and groom whose wedding was to take place that evening. Classes felt a lot longer than usual. They were keeping me back from getting ready for the big event. I still had to go with my mom to the hairdresser, which is usually so crowded on those days (almost all weddings used to be on Thursday night). I would dress up like Cinderella and wear the pair of sparkling shoes which are carefully kept in their box for such events. The party itself was just a fairy tale, and like Cinderella I danced till it was time to go. I couldn't sleep at night without revising every single detail that had happened at the party. I remember (what I thought then to be) nice women wishing me the same luck of the bride (the usual "3o2bal elbanoota" felt so good back then). If the bride was one of my relatives, I keep thinking why she looked so different. I barely knew her in this new hair color and heavy make-up. Why didn't she ever try this make-over before? She looked amazing that night, like a star.

I find it very hard now to evaluate my childish thoughts. Was it good for me back then to live in Wonderland? Could it have been better if things were put in their right perspective? Is it good for a child to live in an ideal world, even if it doesn't really exist? Or is it better for her/him to know the facts from the start? Would I have been that happy back then if I had been realistic? Or it would have been better to save me the shock of discovery later on? No one can tell.

But what I am sure of now, is that it is a crime to be left to maintain this childish view while growing up. The way I see it, leading a girl to keep her idealistic imaginary view of marriage falls under the domain of conspiracy. It is nothing less than that. And should never be taken less seriously.

Yes, parents have the right to be concerned about the future of their daughter/s. Yes, they have the right to dream of her wedding day. Yes, they do have the right to want her to start a family which will grant her social and psychological (sometimes financial) security long after they are gone. It is so understandable. Nobody can argue against that. You always want what is best for your children. But many crimes are committed under this banner, from authoritative upbringing to telling lies to deciding what is right for them.

When you watch TV shows which claim to be searching for answers concerning the reasons behind high divorce rates in Egypt, they just keep bluffing about married couples who are not ready to make compromises. (Of course there are rare exceptions to this rule, but the majority sticks to deciding what is right for you, just like your parents.) They will talk about ambitious girls, whose financial independence may tempt them to risk the stability of their marriages. They will tell you that we lack old social values and family ties. They will do whatever it takes to convince you that a marriage is a sacred union which deserves sacrifice. They can't bring themselves to see the roots of the problem. If the roots are rotten, you can never save the plant. You may prolong the life of the leaves on the surface, but not for so long. Unless you dig your hands into the mud to see what's down there, you are risking massive infection in the whole soil. I find this to be particularly true when it comes to the institution of marriage.

Why do people get married? The answer may be obvious to you. And no matter which words we choose to rephrase our answers, they will all eventually evolve around something like "because it is a human and a social need for mating and forming a socially accepted structure where partners and their offspring are able to exist harmoniously in the wider network of social relationships." This is my own definition, and you may disagree with it. If you find it good enough, then let's examine whether this is what really takes place in reality.

It is clear that we have deviated from the core philosophy behind marriage. When you come down to Egyptian marriages and the way they are managed, you will find that it has absolutely nothing to do with that. In our society, there is a culture which promotes external appearance at the expense of essence and meaning. To explain further, society pushes its members into the direction of adopting an image which satisfies the demands of the bigger picture that society wants to reflect about itself. It is the appearance that matters. You have to mainly photocopy the pattern followed so that you earn a place for yourself among the socially accepted group. There are lots of rewards for those who follow the pattern, while there are severe punishments for those who don't. Even if you agree and believe in the same values, you are no good as long as you don't fit into the frame they decided for you.

As a girl living in the Egyptian society you have a list of requirements that you should follow in case you want to join the club of the "respected norm". Memberships are automatically granted if you are:
Educated but not over ambitious
Obedient to men and elders
Shy and timid
Appear to be religious
Marry young

Why did they include marriage in those requirements? Well, because that's what men want. Men always go for young women, and if you happen to break the rules previously mentioned you are decreasing their choices. If you are not under the pressure of having to get married at a certain age, you probably will postpone that until you reach a certain degree of career stability and financial independence. By then, you will be past the preferred age, and threatening to ruin the marriage market for men. What if many girls were inspired by your achievements? Then girls can easily take the decision to turn down marriage offers at a young age. There can be a time when all brides will be mature women, who have already shaped their beliefs, built a career, and are financially secure and independent. Now, I can assure you that men would rather drop dead before they see such a day. How can a man marry an equal? That's a crisis!

Here comes the biggest cover up in history.. (Believe me this is way beyond The Da Vinci Code.) They have to get you into this white dress before you can think of any better alternatives. Brainwash is a very powerful tool that has proven extremely effective. But in this case, it won't be enough. There has to be real temptation.. Something to get your mouth running.. You guessed it right baby.. It's the wedding. Marriage is all about signing a contract, so why do people spend all this money on extravagant weddings? Have you ever thought of that? Why don't we just sign this contract and go home? What's a honeymoon for God's sake? Why do married couples have to take a vacation and travel? They are married for a lifetime. For sure they will get many chances to travel on official and summer vacations. What makes them run away once they seal the knot?

This entire circus was carefully designed to dazzle pretty young girls. Just like luring a kid with candy, you are being lured by the party, the wedding dress, the new home, the exotic honeymoon, and the respected title of Mrs.("madam" is a very prestigious title in our society). Have you ever thought why only women receive their titles according to their social status? It doesn't make a difference whether a man is married or not. He receives his title according to his profession (doctor, bashmohandes, ostaz,). "Mr." remains unaffected, even if this man married 10 times. He is who he is. Why do you have to change your title because you got married? Why does everybody have to know whether you are married or not? And why do you keep the title even if you are no longer married or widowed? In these cases, "madam" does not reflect the reality. Yet, it is a must that you remain labeled as such. The law states that shops displaying "used goods" must put a label which indicates that, otherwise they will be in serious trouble.

So, what happens is that while a bride's mind is so distracted by so many details, she does not pay enough attention to the man who will fill the place of the groom. It is like a fill-in-the-blanks kind of situation. There is a wedding, which means that there must be a cake, a dress, a guest list, floral arrangements, DJ, and of course a groom wearing a tux.. Oh, Wait!.. I don't want him to wear a bowtie. If he shows up in a bowtie, tell him to forget it.

The period of engagement is supposed to be your final chance to make up your mind about this huge life decision. However, you find that it is all about shopping and reviewing catalogs. I believe it would be more practical if they included a Groom Catalog, cause in such a case the catalog will be responsible for the accuracy of the description written under each groom. A bride-to-be gets completely absorbed into designing the final look for her marriage, who has time to spend with a future husband? She is told that this is a huge advantage. You get to choose everything according to your own taste, that's perfect! But later on, she discovers that the only thing which she didn't really choose according to her taste was the groom himself; the man with whom she should be spending the rest of her life. While engaged, she became an expert in wedding gowns. She can tell you the difference between real and artificial marble. She formed an interesting theory about furniture fabrics. Yet, try to ask her about the groom. You will find very vague adjectives being said, like "He's kind. He's good. He comes from a good family."

We have to admit that the social restrictions which avoid the healthy formation of relationships between different genders has caused many to resort to arranged marriages (gawaz elsalonat), especially with the increasing pressure imposed on girls at a certain age. Eligible bachelors are aided by family and friends in the search for a suitable bride. While on the other hand, parents are doing their best to find a suitable groom before their daughter ends her third decade. There is not much room left for choice here. You never know.. Maybe this groom is your last chance of jumping into the marriage train. Are you willing to take that risk? Can you guarantee that you won't regret turning this guy down? How can you be sure that a better one will find his way to you in the right time? At that point, "a bird in hand" seems to be the wisest idea. Now, let's move into serious details: the apartment, the dowry, the furnishing, the party…etc. And the bride has lots of serious business ahead. Her mother suggests that they start visiting jewelers before the groom surprises them with a certain choice. Of course he will want to save money, but don't worry.. your mother will take care of that. She has a great experience with jewelry that she has been waiting for so long to deliver to you. With her help, you will be able to get the best of the best. Just choose whatever you want. The choice is all yours now. You will make a lot of important decisions. Remember that you only marry once (or so it is supposed to be) so you must pay lots of attention to the dress.. the white dress.. your lifelong dream.. you are getting very close to wearing it at last.

I don't think I have to say more about how the process goes on after that. I've made my point. Marriage has been reduced into a wedding. You buy one night with all the rest of your life. This cultural structure has turned an institution which constructs the building units of society (marriage) into a quest for the white dress. How can a girl survive without the dream of the white dress? What if she never gets to wear the big white dress? Is any girl ready to imagine that? Can she really resist the temptation? Will she be able to realize that this dress can not buy her happiness? Could she truly believe that not wearing it doesn't make her any less than those who do? Bring me a girl who can do this. I want to meet a girl who has a realistic idea about what marriage is. I want to see a girl who can challenge this romantic illusionary tale where everything is white.

The conspiracy targetting girls has served its aim. There are girls who are ready to give up anything in return for the big white dress. Many girls take it for granted that they must get married at a certain age. Many girls follow all social requirements so willingly in order to become the one-night-stars. What if you become Cinderella for one night? Better than never. Even if the fairytale sways its way to Beauty and the Beast later on, they don't seem to care. They know that everything is gonna be alright. "Marriage changes everything," mothers keep saying. "When you live together, many things will improve. Don't worry." So, why bother about getting to know the person? You have a long time ahead of you to do so. Just give yourself a chance. Love comes with time and shared memories. Don't waste your only chance to live your dream of the wedding. Imagine yourself sparkling and receiving greetings from everybody. You will be above the stars. You will never see pity in the eyes of women. You will gain the power and authority of a Married Woman. You will have your own home. You will join the club of the respected ladies who used to be your superiors. You will be one of them. You will get the chance to judge others, just as they used to judge you. You will have the wisdom that only married women get to have. You will be the inspector instead of the inspected. Who can resist that?

I have exposed the full chapters of the conspiracy, and I hence put all the facts in front of you all. In doing so, I am not expecting any girl to change her view of marriage. I understand that the appeal of this fantastic image is much more powerful than any facts related to it. By reading those lines, I am holding you responsible for your fate. It is an innocent trick. Now that you have the knowledge of what lies beneath all those fabulous arrangements and celebrations, you can not return to your ignorant state. You will have to act more responsible towards yourself. Nobody knows what's best for you better than yourself. You know that, and you trust that. So don't deceive yourself into thinking anything else, no matter what. Don't search for a husband to fill the gap in your fairytale. Being a good person does not mean that he is the right one for you. Marriage is not a matter of fact. It is not a bridge that you have to cross at a certain point in your lifetime.

I will now attempt to answer the question I raised in the very beginning. I believe that couples get divorced because our social view of marriage is up-side-down. We want marriage and then we search for the one who will play the role of the partner in this marriage. This is the exact opposite of what our human nature dictates. You have to meet someone who convinces you with the idea of marriage. You have to reach the point when you feel that you want to grow old with this person. You need to feel the emotional and mental bond that is strong enough to suggest the possibility of turning this bond into a marriage. Without that, you will be deceiving yourself. Things can never work the other way round, even if the whole world made this claim. Those who tell you that they loved their husbands after marriage didn't actually have any choice, and can never bring this love to the test. Marriage is not a must in itself. It only becomes a must when you decide that. That is, when you have absolute faith in someone, and you feel ready to take your relationship with him to the next level. When you genuinely believe that you can never go through life without this person, only then can you decide that it is time for marriage. You will then find that everything falls into its right place. You won't need a big white dress. You won't care for jewelry. Furniture and electric appliances will go to hell. The happiness in your heart comes from the thought of sharing your life with this person and experiencing everything together. You will find out that a small wedding with family and close friends makes more sense. Those are the people who really care for you and with whom you can share your happiness. You are ready to start your married life at once to experience what it feels like to live together in your own home. Instead of a honeymoon for once, you will plan all your vacations to be romantic and special. You will then discover that marriage is actually the means serving an end.

Here you have it! You are ready now to be in charge. I exposed all the hidden cards in front of you. Take your pick!

"When I dare to be powerful - to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid" - Audre Lorde