"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Life for Observant Muslims in the United States

Have any of you read The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf by Mohja Kahf a Syrian who grew up in the United States? This is a rather cute book especially as it talked about life in the United States from the perspective of observant Muslims Khadra Shamy and her family who moved to Indiana after the family left Damascus, Syria.

It was at times funny and at times maddening to hear American culture discussed (at one point I thought if we are that dirty, why come here to live?!), however, I gradually got used to the style of this book and enjoyed much of it.  The reviewer at Muslim Matters liked the first half, but not the last when Khadra started enjoying Western culture and finding fault with the hypocrisy of her Muslim community. What hypocrisy, you ask?  I recall when Eyad, her older brother, wanted to marry the beautiful Maha and his father's first reaction was she's as "black as coal."  Yet all their lives they were taught Islam saw no color...they were not racists.  Uh huh.  Other issues as well.

When Khadra married a Kuwaiti studying in the US, their marriage quickly turned sour.  First he had a problem with her riding her bicycle even though she was Islamically attired. When his "why does my wife have to ride a bike?" didn't work, he finally pulled the husband rank card and told her she could not ride it.  So she put it in storage, but felt more and more that she had to give up being herself while being married to him.  He was always concerned about what other Arabs might think way more than she was concerned with this.

Later in the book she meets someone in her photography class in Philadelphia -- Blu "short for Bluma - Yiddish."  The young women "discovered they were both emerging from the shell of a highly observant, orthodox religious upbringing.

'Yeah, yeah, yeah, a thousand rules for everything, that's halakha, too,'  Blu said, recognizing Islamic fiqh as a parallel structure to Judaic law. 'I get it.'

Christians in Indiana never, ever got it.  Protestants found it so foreign and bizarre to have a religious law, the sort with rituals and specific rules and all. If they knew anything at all about shariah, they equated it with stoning.  Death, that's all shariah was to them. Yet it wasn't that way at all.  Just like American constitutional law, shariah expanded and evolved, and was meant to protect life, and relationships, and all that was good.

So it was a relief not to have to explain every little thing about that to a friend who was an American. Cool to find an American who was not even a Muslim but got it."  

This reminded me of how I often think that Jews and Muslims do have a very detailed Law to follow!  You may recall my post on our lack of rules in Christianity addressing this topic a bit.

Later I'll share an interesting conversation Khadra had with a guy from Tunisia who declared himself culturally Muslim, but not religiously one.

Do you agree that shariah expands and evolves or do most people hold it rigidly in one way...like maybe how they did things in 7th century Arabia or perhaps there is a mixture of both?

If you are familiar with this book, do you have any thoughts about it?

Oh, when Khadra went to visit her great aunt in Syria, she was given some valuable coins. Her aunt said that there were strict inheritance laws in Islam and the way to get around them was to gift people so her aunt wanted Khadra to have the wealth these rare coins would bring her.  I thought that was nice and wondered how often family members get around the seemingly unfair inheritance laws by giving beloved daughters "gifts" rather than inheritance.



observant observer said...

Ach...I certainly think that perhaps the shariah that the book's talking about is the Arabic Islam version, to many of my Indonesian muslims friend, they find that the shariah that binds the Muslims in Arabian culture or setting is not the kind of shariah that they would like to share. That's why even though there are 85% Muslims in Indonesia, most of them will not believe that Indonesian's secular law should be superseded by shariah except some of the rules that has to do with family matters which is private matters and not regulated in the state's law, and in even in that case some traditional ethnic customs play additional role. The only shariah that applies in law that only binds the Muslims is the marriage law.

I just hope that my fellow Indonesian citizens would not resort to the more fanatical or stricter codes. Even some of my Muslim friends that I know of eat pork !! (LOL)! They also drink alcohol. Not that they are not devout Muslims, it's just that they find certain rules must have some explanation that they think if they can handle all the consequences, the "disobedience" would not make them bad people.
There are only 50% women here who wear veil,and it's usually because of husband's desire of which much of them are free to decide. They date, they mingle in very much all activities, ....well, it's certainly very different kind of Islamic conduct compared to Middle East setting.

Susanne said...

Thanks for sharing this about your culture. I always find it interesting to learn about people in other countries. I didn't realize Muslims in Indonesia were so different from the ones I am familiar with! Really enjoyed your examples,OO! :)

Amber said...

What hypocrisy, you ask? I recall when Eyad, her older brother, wanted to marry the beautiful Maha and his father's first reaction was she's as "black as coal." Yet all their lives they were taught Islam saw no color...they were not racists.

I think a lot of people who don't consider themselves racist suddenly have an issue when one of their children brings home a boyfriend/girlfriend/fiance of another race. These people believe in the conscious parts of their brains that people of other races have the right to do all the same things that they do but there's something about the mixing of the races through marriage and children that gets deeper than that - gets into their hind brain and this prejudice and discomfort that they never even realized that they had.

And then you get people like my grandmother who doesn't believe that she's racist at all, but every time she's talking about an incident she has to mention what race the people were. There was an accident one time and she was telling us about how these people were riding in the back of a truck and got thrown and she ended the story with, 'but they were Mexican.' Why? Who knows. She can't explain when asked why she has to do that. Or like when she talks about a cousin of mine who happens to have a white father and a black mother. Every time she talks about him she raves about how cute he is and how he has the loveliest curly red hair. 'And he's half black.' Why? What purpose does it serve? He's family, so we all already know, and I'm pretty sure that no one else cares. But she has to say it.

With her and so many older people I think it's a generational thing. Prejudice of any kind takes a long time to be worked out of the collective system. And I think that no matter what there are always going to be people who are prejudiced against other races or religions or what have you for myriad reasons.

This actually sounds like an interesting book. I almost got it a while back but decided against it for some reason. Hmmm...

Susanne said...

Amber, I totally agree. It's one thing to believe all races are equal, but quite another when someone wants to marry another race and bring forth "half black" babies as your example of the cute curly red head. :)

Actually in the book Khadra mentions how she can tell her mother agrees with their father because she never saw herself with black grandbabies. But it seems the children - Eyad and Khadra - never thought that way. To them skin color was a nonissue so reading this book through Khadra's eyes, she called them on it.

Oh, I must be near the age of your grandmother. I have that same habit sometimes. It's honestly not that I mean it in a bad way, it's just one way I describe people. Like the other day I met a funny black lady at Walmart. (Seeeee?) She was the cashier and as soon as she said something about "foster children" I said,"you aren't from around here, are you?" and we laughed. She's from NY and I picked up on the accent when she said "foster" in that Yankee way. :)

I don't know why I do that. *sigh*

If you don't want to read the book, but are interested in a summary of it, go to the Muslim Matters link in the post. She's more critical of it. I find it interesting because I enjoy learning of the immigrant's experience through her own eyes. I know it's fiction, but the author is from Damascus and came to the US as a child so I like to pretend some of it is HER childhood that she is discussing.

Thanks for your comment. :)

Amber said...

Oh, I must be near the age of your grandmother. I have that same habit sometimes.

*haha* No....remember my grandmother just turned 80. :)

Mentioning a persons race is sometimes just a descriptive. Like you just met this nice black lady. It's hard to describe, but there's a difference in the *way* that some people bring it up versus just mentioning it in passing as an adjective.

Susanne said...

*phew* :)

Suroor said...

My Bloglines deceived me. Didn't know you had so many posts. And I have three more Christmas parties to prepare for!

I'll return to this post on Monday.

Susanne said...

*tsk* Those naughty Bloglines! I was missing your comments and am eager to have you chime in on this one ...once the parties are over, of course! :)