Friday, June 8, 2012

Make Your Path

Asalamu Alaykom
and Jummah Mabrook (Happy Friday),


This is what I saw walking towards me on a pink T-shirt.  I stared through my taxi window.  The heat was stifling yet I was suddenly refreshed.  Once again, like a linguist oasis, I had discovered some "Arablish".  This is what I call English in Egypt which is more kofta than hamburger.

In English, we have idioms.  Non-native speakers of English are horrible with idioms.  This is the way we Americans can continue to feel superior to someone trying so hard to speak two languages (while we can't).  We can laugh at their inability to make the right word choices in a colloquial phrase.

I'm constantly hearing:

"I made toilet."
instead of
"I used the toilet."

"I have twenty years."
instead of
"I'm twenty years old."

"Shut the light."
instead of
"Turn off the light."

And this phrase on the young man's shirt (yes, real Egyptian men wear pink) was yet another phrase which almost sounded like English.  Except, we would say, "Choose your path," or "Find your path."


It struck me, in the way which only Arablish can.  It made sense to me.  I had just given my resignation to the headmistress at school.  Truly, I didn't feel I was making my own choice entirely on my own.  I felt that I was given circumstances over many months (and even years) which pointed to my incompatibility at my international school.  So, many people helped to show me that I was on the wrong path.

It was my son's upcoming seventh birthday which really made me wonder where we were going.  Seven years is a milestone in Islam.  See?  There's another illusion to traveling on a road:  milestone.  These used to be actual slabs of info stuck into the side of the path to tell you how far you had come.  At age seven, Muslim children need to start their life of five daily prayers.

Me?  I'm having a tough time at school performing them!  There used to be a small house of worship on site.  Not any longer; it's a storage shed now.  The book room used to be of service but then they started locking it.  So many places are occupied with people and at this school no one is allowed to see you pray.  No place to pray.

There's also no time to pray.  There is no time set aside to remember God.  It's harder at this school than any other school I've worked in to find time to pray.  There are no accomodations to keep child-teacher ratio while on breaks.  I, therefore, don't feel at peace praying while I know all hell is breaking loose in my kindergarten class with only my assistant to supervise.  I often wait until the children are gone at the end of the day.

So, how would my son do next year?  Could he be given help to pray?  Would anyone make an effort for his faith?  I didn't feel so.  I didn't feel like any other parent was concerned and I was tired of being the only one speaking up for our faith.  

My son had to be the one to tell his first-grade teacher that he would not be bowing to the audience at the end of their show.  "I bow only to Allah Subhana Wa Tallah."  He was very brave to repeat what I had told his kindergarten teacher the year before.  Why hadn't anyone remembered our stance?  Why did I have to talk to the Islamic Studies teacher for support.  Sadly, she was no help.

It's hard to be striving for Islam more than the resident expert on Islam.  Everyone respects this lady and I used to but I don't now.  Though other people were ruder and coarser in their behavior, I am saddest at this quiet, modest lady who refused to speak up for what she knew was true.

When the school was going to have a "fortune teller" at the Moulid Al Nabi (Prophet's Birthday) carnival, I was the only one who spoke up.  The Islamic Studies teacher refrained.  She didn't feel she could make a difference.  The fortune teller was removed from the line-up.  Alhumdulillah.

When a new teacher...Muslim by birth...began to wear tight, revealing clothes that were showing cleavage, I asked if this Islamic Studies teacher could speak up.  No, she could not.  The other ladies at work loved to talk about the immodest teacher behind her back.  I tried to talk to administration and was rebuffed.
"The children are too young to think anything about covering up."

I countered with, "Not my son.  My son saw a woman presenter on his MBC3 [a children's network] with a scoop neck top and placed his hand on the TV screen to cover her up.  He knows."

So many teachers began to wear tight clothes, skinny jeans, see-through tops (showing bra straps) and short tops that barely met their waist.  It was a daily barrage of indulgences which went unchecked, though it all went against our modest dress code. The new found freedom of Egypt became an excuse for unprofessionalism. 

This Spring, when a picture of "Christ the Redeemer" was placed on a wall display, I spoke up---with firm conviction but without rancour.  I asked the Islamic Studies teacher to please tell the administration that images of prophets (peace be upon them all) should not be displayed.  She said she would but didn't.

Here's an idiom for that:  Left hangin' in the wind.

I was.  I was without support from the people who should have been the most helpful yet they were lacking that righteous anger to fight for faith.  When I fought, I fought alone and it worked but it took a toll.

The "Happy Easter" card that my son brought home had me commenting to the art teacher.  This is someone I've shared deep, deep times with; not a casual acquaintance.  I said that she could have given the assignment as either "Happy Easter," or "Happy Spring," depending to whom the children were giving the card.  No harsh words.

This Spring, I felt so down.  I wrote on the blog how lost I felt.  I felt so devoid of energy.  I have since learned how many people were eating my flesh.  That's an Islamic idiom but its effects on a gossip victim feel very real.  Yes, I became the staff member which the others loved to hate.  I became the one that everyone ranted about.  Didn't matter if they were there when I told the principal about the picture of the prophet because the tale was blown around the school for everyone to chew up and spit out.  Wasn't a big deal if they weren't in the discussion with me and the art teacher, they FELT like they were there and could talk about RANT about it as if they knew my mind.

Everyone decided I was "not accepting of other faiths."

This label was stuck on me without dialogue.  I love this quote from Kierkegaard, "Once you label me, you negate me".  In other words, you no longer see me; you only see the label.  It was forced on me despite me loving my mom the church minister.  Should I have done the old I-have-many-Christian-friends counter attack?  I doubt it would have mattered.  I had to be the scapegoat.  This was who I had to be in order for the conflict to not be examined.  No, I had no right to speak. 

It was told to me that the Christians at school have been putting up with Ramadan cards and Quran for years.  Yet, they choose not to complain.  That's their choice!  My choice is to be in a place where we acknowledge differences without adopting them. 

On my spectrum of interfaith interactions, there is:

Acknowledging differences
There are Muslim and Christian children at school with different needs.

Accepting differences
Not everyone celebrates or practices faith the same.
Whatever a family does at their home is up to them and private.
If school life conflicts with the way the family adheres to faith then it should be addressed.
Compromises should be readily made in order to keep a child's upbringing intact.

Adapting differences
When it's time to study religion, we separate. 
We take time off to celebrate all holidays.
Teachers give different assignments if needed.

Adopting differences
Christians must listen to Quran on the loudspeaker every morning. 
Muslims dress up for Halloween and give Christmas presents.

Where do I stand?  I believe that we adapt but we don't adopt.  Adopting another's practices means that you are snacking on the spiritual smorgasboard of life.  If I had wanted my son to take a little of this and a little of that, I would have stayed in America.  I brought him here so we could be free to practice our faith.

The Christians and Non-Observant Muslims in Egypt are so mad that the "Islamists are taking over".  Hell no, they weren't going to take over our school!  So, I was the one to repel even though I'd spent three years working alongside everyone and being admired for my teaching abilities.


Life changes on a dime.

Don't put any, any, any faith in people.  I swear to God WALLAHI they will let you down every time. 

That nice lady I always greeted, and joked with?  The one I cared about?  The one I listened to as she cried?  The ones I complimented on new wardrobe, or hair, or glasses or WHATEVER!  All those people I cared about let me down and ate my flesh from my backside. 

Time to move on.

Time to make my path.

Alhumdulillah, I have another school; an Islamic school with an American curriculum.  I will be starting up their new kindergarten program inshahallah.  I have hopes of being in a supervisory position---which was denied to me once again at my former school. 

"You are too direct," is one of the put downs my principal wanted to lob as I gave my resignation.

"For this culture," is my finishing of her thought.  This Egyptian culture is often two-faced and fake is not what I'm about.  I am direct but not usually abrasive.  However, if someone is making it impossible for my son and I to practice Islam, then I speak up.

Be prepared when you speak up to be told off.

Be prepared to move on.

Be prepared  to



Candice said...

It's kind of incredible that there is so much resistance to making things more Islamic when the majority is Muslim. It's normal that not all your ideas were accepted but some of them were no big deal for accommodation (like celebrating Spring rather than Easter for Muslims). They'd be more willing to accommodate here actually!

Glad you're moving on to a place that will answer your needs more than this one. Good luck!

Yosra said...

Asalamu Alaykom Candice,

Thanks for commenting! I've been wondering what Readers would have to say. I know it's a lot to wade through but it's been a lot for me.

I hear you. I agree that the school doesn't have to see eye-to-eye with me on every issue. They should, however, be able to dialogue with me on issues rather than taking behind my back as if I didn't have a right to my views.

And I agree with you that some of what I've asked about is logical. We Americans are used to keeping religion out of the schools and don't muddy the water with things that create hard feelings. Actually, the American way is often closer to Islam than the way things happen in Muslim countries.


Funny that.

Really, the problem with not accomodating stems from people so out of touch with what their real beliefs are. Do they themselves celebrate Spring or Easter? Does it matter? What matters to them? They themselves don't know. Their religion (especially in the upper classes) is watered down to the point of them discriminating against anyone who practices religion more---as if being high class is a religion itself.

Not sure if that makes sense to anyone outside of Egypt. Let me know, Readers, if you understand that one.

I'd like to hear from more Readers on this post. Candice wrote! Thanks, Candice. Who can go next?

egyptchick7 said...

I, too find it interesting that there wouldn't be any accommodation for anyone to pray...especially in a country that has a mosque in some places literally on every block...

In pretty much every school I ever been to ( High school and college NY metro area), there are designated areas to pray- but I don't think a student or teacher would be allowed to leave class during the formal prayer time, etc...

It's clear that the way you practice Islam would be looked on by many scholars as excellent and the way it "should" be practiced. But it is harder trying to guide others to practice the proper way...

I found this also interesting "Compromises should be readily made in order to keep a child's upbringing intact."...This might be hard to do in any school because not everyone is brought up the same way...This is life and it is filled with challenges, but that is also the real Jihad so maybe these walls make your faith stronger...

Also, I thought the bowing part was interesting...reminds me when I heard clapping was haram because Allah is the only one due of praise. Did you want the teacher to accept this from your son or did you want the whole class to follow suit? Just curious. I think praise and measures of respect like clapping and bowing are acceptable.

I think there are people in your school that have been oppressed so long during the Mubarak era- really oppressed by the Islamic fundamentalists against Mubarak- are indeed trying to be more liberal ( Showing Jesus, accepting of skimpy clothes), as a way to embrace democracy as in the West...Skimpy clothes aren't cool in a professional setting, I agree. I don't think any religious figure should be shown in any school...

Anyways, it is good you left a place that made you definitely hung in there and I admire that and you got something better and more suited to your skill set and aspirations. So mabrook to that!

Gori and Khan said...

Make Your Path. I love to hear wrong Americanese and sometimes the wrong words can actually make more sense. I've been reflecting on which is more suitable in your case... choosing your path or making it. Funny how when it comes down to the wire, we can endure a lot when it effects only us - but when it impacts our families, we feel the weight of our decisions...

I am not sure about anywhere or anyone else, but most people I have come into contact with are very much out of touch with their beliefs. We trust religious leaders more than our own knowledge. We look at the people we want to impress and then adopt their ideas. Don't rock the boat. Don't make any waves. My grandmother used to say, "silence is golden". But I say it is also deadly. Tradition is crippling us and complacency in the status quo is her walking stick. Both are paralytic and each of us is responsible for how we handle it. Kudos to you for taking this complacency and turning it into action!

(OK, rant over now) :)
Allah Hafiz!

Yosra said...

Asalamu Alaykom EgyptChick,

Lots of food for thought in your comment! Thanks for taking the time.

That first comment of yours really hit home. YES it is the norm to have a place to pray in every shopping mall, every street block, every...EVERYWHERE in Egypt. So, why does my school not have a place? Good insight!

There is no group prayer at our school. I have never asked to leave the second I hear azan. I only want to do the dohr prayer at mid-day before the asr prayer. It's worked out alright now because we are getting out at 2pm but for most of the year it's not possible to wait until after school.

As far as the way others practice... they are really free to do as they wish. I only ask that if we are sharing a school that their practices don't cause a problem for me and my son. This is what I mean by "keeping upbringing intact." I know that I am the one to build upon my son's faith. I don't really expect a school to be the leader in this effort. However, I just don't want the school to tear down what I'm doing.

For exmaple, it's proper adab (and more sanitary) wash hands before eating---they don't. If my son doesn't says, 'bismallah' before eating because the other kids say it's Arabic and his teacher isn't teaching that some words you are allowed to say. So, of course he doesn't say, "Alhumdulillah at the end either" or rinse off his hands and mouth. So, just that one little moment of his life has become a hole of forgetfulness and lack of caring, spreading disease, and poor ettiquette.

Do you see what I mean?

The rule to bow only to Allah is very much a part of my identity as an observant Muslim. Last year was the first it came up (since it was the first year for my son to be in a show). My background is theatre so I get that acknowledging an audience's presence and thanking them is part of the end of a show. However, we don't need to bow to them. Options: wave and smile, or hand on heart, or blow kisses... and maybe a few more I can't think of. The point being that it's possible to work around it.

I told the principal last year about the Islamic ruling on that. She decided to go ahead with the bow for his class but exempt him. So, this year it was to be the same except his teacher made a stink. She yelled across the room at me while I was trying to talk to the Islamic Studies teacher. She tried to counter that Egyptian actors bow all the time so why can't my son? I explained that their faith is up to them but for me and my son we do not. Everyone is different. I tried to say one more thing and she started to yell at me. I had to walk away. This was in front of my son's class. AWKWARD!

By the way, I hated clapping in the church. Our efforts are offerings to God if they are in His House of Worship. We need to remember the vertical and not the horizontal. I've written about it on this blog...somewhere.

Good point about the oppression in Egypt now popping out some rebellious behavior. And YEP we're in agreement over school setting. Sexy in school ain't cool. And it's just dumb to place a religious figure on the wall and then act as if it's me who is in the wrong. There is NO SCHOOL in the public system in America which would allow it.

Shukran for your well wishes. Inshahallah it will go better.

Yosra said...

Asalamu Alaykom G&K,

Nice to see you again. You are absolutely right that I put up with slights that I can't abide for my son. Now that he's needing a fuller religious life, I have to be the one to provide that.

Really interesting paragraph you have written about being silent or speaking up. It is a tough choice. Actually, none of us want to rock the boat. However, I remember all the early followers of Islam had to push ahead for changes in themselves and in society.

One of my pithy magnets on my refrigerator says, "Well behaved women seldom make history."

:) Thanks again for stopping by and saying some really smart things which truly help.

Candice said...

Yosra: Yep, I definitely get what you're saying about Egypt. I haven't been there since 2006 and when I was there I wasn't Muslim yet so I haven't lived through any of the frustrations related to religion but I can imagine it. My husband is I guess in the higher class in Egypt so I've seen plenty through him of how off they can be about religion. Luckily a lot of my husband's family is quite religious like his cousins who brought us to an orphanage that they volunteered at weekly and they recently started wearing niqab as well as a couple other aunts. I'm not saying the niqab part to show how religious they are but rather to show that they are not afraid of being seen as women who practice their religion. They actually embrace Islam and not the opinions of others who look down on them especially in the higher class which they're a part of.

Still, not everyone I saw in Egypt was like that and my husband is somewhere in between and I deal with that each day.

I like what you're saying about making compromises to keep a child's upbringing intact but I wonder to what extent? I like the idea but it can get complicated really fast and people who are in the minority or are in a group of beliefs that are not well understood or known will have trouble getting the quality education that respects their upbringing like the other groups do (like Bahais if we're talking about Egypt or Pagans if we're talking about this approach here in N-A). It would end with complete separation of the groups if we apply this idea to the fullest extent. Not that I think that's what you want, but it is why I'm asking to what extent you imagine this should be implemented.

Yosra said...

Asalamu Alaykom Candice,

These issues really do have so much to do with classism, don't they? I appreciate you shedding light on that.

You asked me about my comment, "making compromises to keep a child's upbringing intact". I'm thinking about how Egypt has a cultural identity. Those of us parenting and teaching these children don't need to re-make them in to Disney stars. They are not the new Hannah Montana or Zach and Cody. They are Egyptian and they are to keep that part of their identity.

If a child is Christian or Muslim, that is part of their identity too. We impart so much of our ideals on them, that it's a shame if we send them to a school which runs counter to those goals. We need to remember the universals truths (treat others as you'd like to be treated, respect elders, stay clean and healthy, be studious, etc.). We also need to admit that the families vary in what religion AND how much of that religion. Some parents don't want boys and girls dancing together so we need to be mindful of that and respect parents' wishes. Or maybe it's an issue of studying social studies objectively but not getting so deep into it that the child becomes enamored with aspects of the other culture or people which are both attractive and dangerous to their own identity. An example would be learning about the Indian festival of Holi and having the children throw colors around actually participating in the event. This could get children loving something which has a undertow which could pull them away from their family's religion.

Does this make sense to you, Candice? Anybody?

Don't just "nod" because I can't see you!

Light and Love to All!