Friday, August 31, 2012

Changing from International to Islamic

Asalamu Alaykom,

This picture comes from this article about Tajik.  You can readily see the differences between women who choose Western culture and those who follow Islam.

It's Friday in Egypt.  I don't go out to the masjid to listen to the khotba.  I can actually hear it through the loudspeakers---not that I totally understand it.  Instead, I've listened to this sermon on youtube from an Egyptian-American.  Here is the second part and here is the third..  I searched for "khotba change" as a topic.  I have been experiencing change for sure.

I'm a week into my new job.  For the past three years I've been teaching in Egypt at an international school.  For sure there were some culture shocks coming from teaching in America.  After the Revolution, the school atmosphere (as everywhere in Egypt) changed some more.  In the end, I needed a change.  I decided that coming all the way to Egypt on hijrah didn't make sense if I was surrounded by an atmosphere which brought my Islam down.

So what's the difference?  What is it that I'm experiencing at my new Islamic school which is different from my international school?


The biggest most obvious change is how we greet each other with "Asalamu Alaykom".  We greet each other with the peace of Allah.  In my old school there might have been some of this but it was not encouraged and it was not standard.  I keep greeting my new co-workers with "Good Morning," and "Saba Al Kheir" and they are eyeing me like I might not really know the importance of the Islamic greeting.  It's funny!  They don't understand how I know but I'm out of the habit.

Every meeting begins with "Bismallah".  That's different.  It means that we are remembeing Allah before we start.  Alhumdulillah.  Maybe to someone else these are little things we say which don't hold meaning.  For me, they do.  These words are powerful and they center me.

The name of Allah is all around the school.  In every classroom there is well-designed signage telling the students (and the teachers) that we are together in faith.  Subhanallah, that's a beautiful thing.


One of the most upsetting aspects at my old school was the increasing disregard for the professional dress code.  Within the pages of the handbook we had to follow conservative dress.  Within the hallways, I was seeing cleavage!  I can't even see that in an American school.  There were see-through tops, bra straps showing, tank tops, baby doll lingerie over lycra "body" tops, skin-tight jeans, butts, and chests, and really astragferallah for it all.

Here at the new school EVERY woman wears hijab.  Even if the woman does not wear it outside of the school, she must wear in within our walls.  That's been hard for the new Russian teacher and I'm thinking to gift her with a pretty hijab to help her cope.

It doesn't mean that I don't see hair.  Somehow, if a woman wants to show her hair, then she still will.  Astragferallah.

The style of dressing is alhumdulillah is more covering.  It couldn't be less than the other place!  Alhumdulillah it's so much more respectable.  There are still some tight jeans (and why anyone wants to punish themselves by wearing hot heavy cotton in 95 degree weather I don't know).  There are still sleeves that don't reach the wrist or shirts that don't fully cover the rump.  Astragferallah.

Some ladies are extremely covered.  There are teachers in long coats.  There are teachers in niqab.  This goes beyond my style of dressing.  So, for the first time in Egypt, I am not the most strict in my style at work.  I like that!

I talked with two of the niqabi teachers.  We were alone in a classroom and I had to ask them about their veils.  Their veils were lifted off from their faces and flipped up on top of their heads.  Why?   Did they make that choice?

No.  The choice had been made for them.  So, even at an Islamic school in a Muslim-majority country, a niqabi who wants to work has to take off her veil.  I don't feel good about that.  Even if I don't want niqab for myself, I will fight for any sister who needs to wear it.

I might need to save my fighting strength for the teacher's school uniform.  It was going to be a lovely cotton tunic top and long jersey vest over black pants or skirt.  I got measured for it and was looking forward to it.  SCRAP THAT!

I came back to school after Eid to find out that the teacher's school uniform is now a long black raincoat.  We are to wear this everywhere ---even in the kindergarten classroom.  It's hard enough for me as a 44-year-old woman in a hijab to bounce around pretending to be a kangaroo.  Do I really have to do it in a black raincoat?  That's torture!  And then I imagine...the...playground.  Really?  How am I going to withstand the playground supervision under the hot sun in a BLACK RAINCOAT?!

I spoke to HR about it.  Sadly, I see his point.

"I'll tell you why we are doing this," he told me.  "We used to have the uniform for ladies be a black or navy abaya.  Then there were complaints that it was hard to go through the school with all the stairs; ladies were tripping.  So, we gave them the chance to wear black or navy two pieces.  This worked for months.  About half-way through the year, we started to see pink."

I know he's right.  It is in women's nature to show themselves in the most attractive ways.  Not really sure why we feel the need to look "hot" in a school setting but I guess we do.  I have seen it and felt it.

So, what do I do?  I really don't want to wear that coat.  However, I really left my other school (with alll its clothing freedoms) to find a school with some better policies in place.  I can't have my cake and eat it too.

Actually, I just ate some cake.  It was from a Betty Crocker vanilla cake mix.  No frosting.  So delicious with fresh peaches and bananas!  And now I am incredibly full.

So...where was I?

Ya, I'm going to put up with the idea of the coat.  I've already asked if I can decorate it with extra zippers and buttons.  I'm thinking to make it as fun and KG-functional as I can.  I might even stick a little teddy bear in my pocket.  This is how I'll handle it if indeed it ever happens---which it might not.  No need to worry about the future since there's enough to worry about for today.

Oh!  I almost forgot to talk about the men!  Yes, the men have beards.  It's maybe half and half.  What's strange at the old school was that there were none---ZERO.  It's weird in Egypt to have so many men and not have any men in a large community sporting facial hair.  I'm a big fan of a man looking like a man and following sunnah so alhumdulillah for this change.  Maybe it will help my husband keep his from Ramadan.


Mashallah there are some really great people at my new school.  The other kindergarten teacher is another American married to an Egyptian.  She's also been living and teaching here for years.  Alhumdulillah we are getting just great along and our personalities compliment each other.

There were nice people at my old school too---or so I thought.  What I found so upsetting is the two-faced nature. I am hoping that, in this Islamic environment, there won't be any room for this kind of double trouble.

Already, there have been some really direct moments and extreme honesty.  I don't feel the fake.  I feel the effort to really get along because we working for the pleasure of Allah.

One of the toughest aspects this week has been my boss' decision to rename the assistant position.  She wanted to call it a "co-teacher".  That has really confused issues yet I see her intentions behind it.  She doesn't want so much hierarchy.  I can appreciate that.  In the past there have been a LOT of problems with asssistants feeling lowly.  My hope is that with re-visioning the job title, there can be better feelings.


It's funny.  I just got into my classroom yesterday after peering in the window for the last four days.  It hadn't been ready yet.  I have had such a short time to really get to know the space.

What I do see as a major difference is that quality is all the way through the place.  It is not just a facade.  The construction, the painting, the furniture, the drapery.  All of it is done carefully and with a nod to pride.

I didn't see that at the international school.  There was such an emphasis to decorations while the floor tiles were missing and the curtain rods were falling down.  It was like putting lipstick on a pig.

At the Islamic school, I miss my old number line and calendar from Scholastic.  There is nothing pre-printed and glossy.  I have to create all my own decorations.  I wish I had purchased materials before in America.  I hadn't figured on this being a problem.

I'll be visiting the copy shop with my jpg-loaded USB later this week.


Alhumdulillah, we have some great materials to use this year.  Our textbooks and workbooks are terrific.  I did not have such resources these last three years.  So, that's actually better at the Islamic school.

The lessons are the same and the emphasis on learning is the same.  The only big difference is with Arabic and Quran.  In my old school, these were taught twice a week and often in the afternoon.  In the Islamic school, they are taught every day and first thing in the morning.  This shows you the importance; three more times a week and the most coveted learning time of the day.  I'm thinking to stay in the room during the lessons if I can learn alongside the kids.


Gone are celebrations for Halloween, Christmas, Valentine's Day and Easter.

Instead, there are things like Career Day, a Quran competition, and Splash Day.

Prayer Time

One of the saddest problems I faced at the one school was no time to pray and no place to pray.  It was a major reason I decided to leave (especially considering that Mr. Boo is seven-years-old and now must do his prayers too).

At the new school, I have yet to pray.  I have that break all women have.  I am so looking forward to the chance to pray.  I should maybe do an extra couple of rakhas in thanks to Allah for delievering me from a place which made praying a hardship.  No longer will I have to whisper or mime that I was going to pray.  I can just say it freely.


My new school is about 40-minutes away from me.  I hate that.  I hate traveling.  I hate worrying as we zip down the Ring Road.  I hate beng far from home just in case something goes terribly wrong somewhere.

My old school was (no joke) 5-minutes from my home.  I loved that.

Yet, I had to see the BIG PICTURE.  From America, it's such a long distance to either school.  I made hijrah that whole huge way so an extra 35-minutes shouldn't really bother me.

I am doing my best to calm down on the ride and to enjoy the surroundings.  To allow myself to be happy of the view (instead of scared of the bridge) as we cross the Nile.  I try to remind myself that I wanted this.  I asked God for a new school and I got it.  I got so much of what I wanted.  The extra road time is a trade-off.

Alhumdulillah for change.

Inshahallah, the positive change on the outside will result in some positive changes on the inside as well.


Marie Vie said...

I am so happy for you Yosra - finding a working environnement that suits our wishes and needs is important. For sure there are always a couple of things we don't fancy much and I understand when you talk about the 40 mn drive (even more in Egypt) but the positive aspects make the journey worth it.

Were you a teacher in the US as well?
Is Mr Boo fillowing you in this new school too?

Have a blessed and beautiful week-end Yosra.
Stay well always.

Thankful Slave said...

Assalam Aleikum,

Congratulations for your new job! may Allah Make it Successful place for you, and Help you in your upcoming duties,

40 mn trip is nothing, I am used to 60mn and 90mn in other countries I lived in, I have friends commuting 2 hours daily,,,make use of it to increase from adhkar (remembrance of Allah), this will be an excellent opportunity for your to increase hassanat easily that way,



Yosra said...

Asalamu Alaykom Marie,

Thanks for your well wishes. We do spend so much time at our jobs. It's a shame when it doesn't fit any more. Alhumdulillah that I asked God for better and was given better. I just need to remember that when I get fed up with the new changes---like the road travel.

My transportation is leaving the house about 30 minutes earlier than I used to and arriving back home that same 30 minutes later than I used to. Alhumdulillah.

I was a teacher in the U.S. I was many things to get through college: children's museum guide, drycleaner counter help, price marker for a major department store. After college I briefly taught life skills through drama to children (loved that). Waitressed for a year. Worked a year in an emergency shelter for children. I did other things like voice-overs too. Then went into teaching until I had my first baby. When I returned to work it was as a used car salesperson (!) but I was too honest for it. I then went into real estate as a high level support staff. That's the job I was fired from. When that all fell apart, I picked myself up and went back for more credidation (to teach English as a Foreign Language). From that time I was working ESL in the U.S.

Long answer! Just wanted to give the full scope :)

YES to Mr. Boo being beside me. It is in large degree because of his well being that I switched schools. It's not OK for me to have him grow up confused about Christmas and praying only at home, etc. I need him to be 100% Muslim and not ashamed of his faith. He was getting flack for not wanting to bow at the end of performances, or not wanting Santa to come, or being the only one saying "alhumdulillah" in his class.

Mr. Boo will start 2nd grade inshahallah and I hope it goes well. YA RAB! He needs a good experience even more than me :)

Light and Love!

Yosra said...

Asalamu Alaykom TS,

Ameen to your du'a. Yes, I hope too that it will be whatever I need.

You're absolutely right about the ride time. I was spoiled by the last three years. Most people do travel longer than 5 minutes!

I do make thikr (remembering Allah) with every vehicle I jump into. It calms me down and if I die on the ride then it's one of the last things I've done inshahallah. I am centering my mind a bit as I go. Inshahallah I'll be a very calm and centered lady! :)

Thanks for commenting!

Love and Light!

Islamic Jewelry said...

Cardial congratulation to you for your new job dear. I wish for your success.

Khadijah said...

So happy you've found a better place to work. I'm going to try to do better keeping up with your blog. I hope to see you again in Egypt, Insha'Allah.