Ahlan Wa Sahlan

Ahlan Wa Sahlan

Thursday, May 22, 2008

"Fitting In"

Why does anyone have to "fit in"? Aren't we, as a culture, striving to make a name for ourselves as individuals?

But beyond that even if we are not, why should I or anyone else attempt to fit into the tiny little box everyone else tries to put us in?

Recently my attention was brought to a post by Peaceful Muslimah in which she writes:

"I recently came across a discussion by an American muslimah living in the US lamenting her “homesickness” for an Arab country she visited. Another Muslimah
from that country questioned whether “homesickness” was the correct word/concept. This is just one particular thread but I have read many similar ones over the last year that express similar ideas. Many times Western Muslims glamorize the Arab world as a place where “real” Islam is practiced and often confuse Arab culture with Islamic mandates. I’ve written about this before with regard to converts taking Arab names, wearing Arab clothes and eating only Arab foods. I thought it might be interesting to share my perspective on the issue of Arabophilia."

Of course this is a reference to my post on missing Egypt.

Now I'm not even really upset and when I left a comment it was interpreted as being defensive, but honestly my only real issue with it is that she seems to have stuffed me into the same box as so many others who do legitimately romanticize the Middle East.

However I'm not one of them. I'm not going to Egypt to "get closer to God" or "become Arab" or even "find Islam."

I found Islam, and a more truer form at that, here in the US and I am content with it.

I'm content with who I am, I love to learn other cultures and I am certainly looking forward to getting to know Egyptian culture better but not with the intention of transforming myself into an Egyptian.

I am not obsessed with other, or otherness except in the form of discovering what the "other" believes and thinks and how they view the world. It's called discourse and its my absolute favorite thing in the world.

Today I was reading Artemisia Rants and I came across what I find to be the most brilliantly explained example of how I, myself, view the world and its "other" inhabitants (except in Artemisia's words):

". . . I can see past the surface appeal of this world of ‘otherness’ however, and I have never suggested that it is ‘better’! What interests me is the point where faith and culture meet. I am a strange creature in that I don’t really
trust anything. Only Allah. I can happily love people without trusting, I can
enjoy a culture without trusting, I can move between ideas without trusting.
This tasting of experiences from everwhre is interpreted as superficial, “not
knowing what I want”, but for me, the world is superficial. There are so many
ways of understanding everything. I draw the line at oppression and abuse that
can be quantified. This is where I will stand and judge.

Usually people want to rescue me from my “confusion”, situate me within a definite point of view. But they fail to recognize that I don’t want to be situated anywhere that is closed. My openness is what allows me to float. And I hope to move towards
Allah. I see though that at the moment I am drifting. I don’t need solidity in
my world view, but I need method."

I am not obsessed with "exotica," but I am obsessed with existentialism and I certainly refuse to be fit into a box or conform myself to wear the labels others would like to give me.

I have little to no desire to "fit in."


Umm Yehiya said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Fatimah said...

Wow Molly, you're so popular!!!!
Hope you have the greatest time in Egypt, Insha Allah.
Im happy that you know where u fit in and that's all that matters!
maasalama, Fatimah

Safiyyah said...

Salaams Sis:

I don't think she was picking on you personally; at least, I hope not.

I think that American (or other) women who have gone to the ME have a different take on the whole hijrah experience once they get there. It is a big adjustment. There's a sister, British I think, who made hijrah to Algeria who blogs. It is interesting reading her thoughts.

If you read some of the comments in your original post about missing Egypt, you may discover that some of the sisters in essence implied the same thing, not understanding.

I understand your feeling somewhat. I myself have an affinity with Puerto Rico. Not sure why. When I visit there, I feel like I belong there. Hmmmm ... perhaps in a previous life, lol?

My dear sis, make yourself a mental note to do another post on Egypt a year from now. Allahu Alim. You may even still feel the same way about it :)


Molly said...

Umm Yahya, why did you delete your comment? It was good.

Fatimah- thanks! But I'm not sure what mkes you think I'm so popular. :)

Safiyyah- Oh I know she wasn't picking on me, and like I said I'm not even really upset that she used me as an example. But I feel that she lumped me into a box that I don't belong in.

There ARE so many people who romanticize the Middle East, she's not far off.

But my arguement is that I DON'T and assuming that I belonged to the group just because I converted, am moving to Egypt, MISSED EGYPT, and married an Arab doesn't mean I do.

My missing of Egypt had nothing to do with any romantic notion I had of it, it has to do with a wonderful time I spent there and experiences I lived. I missed Egypt. I MISS Egypt.

I don't have any romantic notion of what I will find there except for my husband, my inlaws, and a new life filled with new experiences. I'd say the same about moving to Idaho.

Amie said...

I think something very deadly for converts to get caught up in culture. I am a convert as well (married to an Egyptian). I have a friend who shall remain nameless. She was someone who didn't exactly "fit in" to what I guess I can call "American culture." She met an Egyptian online, flew to Egypt, married and converted (not sure in what order...). She learned HISlam rather than ISLAM from her not-so-much-of-a-sheikh husband and became infatuated with the culture rather than the religion - because it is what HE taught her and because it's what HE wanted her to learn. Their marriage has sense fallen apart. As sad as it was, she went on the prowl online to find what made her so happy in the first place - Egyptian culture incarnate, not Islam. She's engaged to be married to yet another Egyptian she met online.

This is a common story for most converts. And trust me, I've been accused of "Arabophilia" by Muslims and non-Muslims alike. However, Arab culture is NOT what I'm striving for. But SOME people can't tell the difference.

For example (for those of you who don't read my blog), my friends started making fun of me. They would say, "you only eat 'weird' food since you've converted." Retards. I'm half Greek, y'all. I grew up on hummos and dolmeh (mahshy).

Meh - too long. I'm just gonna blog about this, too - read it. Peace.

janene said...

I give up!

Some people from the west can't see why I would be interested in middle eastern culture.

Some people from the east can't understand either.

Either way, many will make assumptions; many will not understand at all.

I used to be somewhat enamored with arab culture, particulary Egypt, but not so much as of late. Maybe my upcoming visit will refresh my perspective. I hope it does, anyways.

Mama Kalila said...

Nothing wrong w/ not fitting in :-) I don't like boxes either...

saha said...

well I understand..haha!

Molly, get used to people reading past you! quite simply, if you can see past culture, including your own, and therefore have an interest in it that is a bit detached, most people will not understand. Because in doing so you threaten their whole construct of reality and humanity. You can look at yourself from the outside. it's a much more enduring form of knowing yourself. But people who don't understand will insist on situating you somewhere..get back to where you belong god damn it!

أبو سنان said...

I was a punk rocker growing up, so I actually LIKE not fitting in.

I am older, but it is still the same as a Muslim convert. I am a white male convert, that in itself makes me still out.

I am married to a Saudi. That makes me stick out. I am tattooed rather heavily from my waist to my neck, that makes me stick out. I am well over six foot tall.

Sticking out is fine. Why fit in? Just be yourself and if that makes you stick out, so be it!

You'll do great in the land of Um Khaltoum and I wish you all of the best!

Miss Muslimah said...

I hope you fit right in, in egypt,LOl.. :)

janene said...

A funny story, at least to me:

This was a few years ago, and I was newly married and 8 months pregnant. I was running out of clothes suitable and comfortable to wear. I was given an egyptain style galabiya as a gift a while ago and decided it was wide enough for me to wear at home. One day I decided to accompany my husband to the masjid for prayers. I never wear galibiya's outside of my house in Canada. My egyptian husband, after prayers, informed me that he would like to drop in quickly at a friends place to wish them a happy birthday for their chidren. I was reluctant to accompany him but I did not want to wait outside in the car in the freezing cold, (or waste gas warming up the car for who knows how long). So i went in and it turned out that it was a full-out party, with tons of egyptian women (mostly dressed in western type clothes, some hijabi's, some conservative and modest, some not). I felt and looked like a complete loser fake-egyptian-wannabe. I forgive my husband for inviting me to humiliate myself publically but I still have flashbacks. Ah yes, it was lovely to be ignored throughout the evening and be on the receiving end of funny looks given to me by nearly almost everyone.

janene said...

Just to clarify:

I never wear egyptian-style galibiya's outside of my house in Canada but the ONE day that I did, it was just to attend prayers at the masjid, with the expectation to return home.

Maybe I'm making too much of a deal of it, or not. I often think living in a self-contained bubble would be nice.

Molly said...

Amie- (lol at retards) Thats exactly my problem with so many muslims, ESPECIALLY the ones from the ME who think because their culture happens to be in a "Muslim" country it must, therefore, be 100% according to Islam. They ignore the fact that their "culture" existed in similar form for thousands of years before.

I like your use of "HISlam" because thats exactly what it is.

Now I just want to be clear to everyone: I appreciate your well-wishes for Egypt they are so sweet and wonderful. Thank you.

But I am not interested in "fitting in" in Egypt either. Thats a preposterous notion in and of itself, but I don't want to stick out though either.

I will be me, I will assert my opinion, I will respect others and their opinions and cultures, I will learn, and I will grow, but by no means am I going with the intention of becoming more Egyptian.

I may change in small ways to accept the natural evolution of my personality in response to living there, but it is not my intention to become a "better Muslim (aka Arab)" by living in the Middle East.

I'm going to be trying to keep from picking up BAD habits instead.

Now, I'm not dumping on the ME either, I'm looking forward to a country that actually CELEBRATES Ramadan, but I'm taking it all in stride.

And I AM going to Egypt with the intention of learning Arabic. Natch.

Molly said...

Janene- exactly as Saha said, people won't understand, everyone likes labels and wants to fit people into certain squares, boxes and categories.

Like whatever you want to like, love whatever you want to love, and to hell with whatever anyone else thinks.

If I want to be obsessed with palm trees I'm damn well going to be obsessed with palm trees (as I am...)

If you want to be interested in the ME culture then go on girl. Its your life, live it, don't let anyone else dictate what you should or should not do, only God can.

Mama K- I totally got that feeling from you too! Its good, I love it.

Abu Sinan- exactly. Thats something I respect about you as well, you love what you love and so what if anyone doesn't like it.

You like Oum Kalthoum AND Social Distortion? Right on.

Miss Muslimah- thanks honey. :)

Molly said...

Janene- I've found most ME women to be a fairly stand-offish lot. Not all of them, some of them are downright bubbly, but a lot are the "wait and see" type.

I sincerely doubt it was about wearing a galabeya so much as a "who is this chick?" and your own discomfort with the situation.

Own your choices, who cares if they were thinking anything? What does it matter to you? Next time you go to a party I'm sure you'll be dressed to the nines.

Also you were 8 months pregnant, in my book that gives you permission to show up in a bathrobe and bunny slippers.

gulnari said...

Hola tesoro! (haha it's so sweet when you say that) I'm in love your attitude. I know exactly where you're coming from, querida Molly. I also have deep fondness and appreciation for other cultures, including my husband's (Pak) and my mother's (Korean), but damned if I will ever try to become anyone other than my gleeful self. If anyone starts thinking I am a weirdo, and an undefineable mutt, it's became I am! And I f'ing love it!

People (converts) who change beyond recognition, who put on a costume and become hostile towards their parents and their heritage, they piss me off. :D Los desprecio hasta la madre! It bothers even more to be perceived as one of them, although that hasn't happened much. To me, you do not come across like that AT ALL, caramelo! hee hee

gulnari said...

*became = because


asiyaummhamza said...

'I will be me, I will assert my opinion, I will respect others and their opinions and cultures, I will learn, and I will grow, but by no means am I going with the intention of becoming more Egyptian'

I'm gonna jump on the other side of the conversation, with a quick warning! It is and will be hard to do this. I'm sure that you know this already. Just be aware that some aspects of Arab culture are much more conformist than our own, non-conforming is often regarded with outright hostility. It can be really, really draining to maintain your ground. I know this from personal experience and I haven't even got to the Middle East yet!

asiyaummhamza said...

that was me (saha)

pixie said...

I hope you enjoy yourself in Egypt! I always get the "you have adapted so well to your husband's culture" line. Which I alwyas find is odd.

UmmLayla said...

Well, I am always fond of reminding people that I was never that "normal" or "American" to begin with, so nehhh!

There is some natural melding of cultures that comes with marrying someone from another culture, with that comes a feeling of loving your spouses home as if it was yours. And I think this is natural and good. It's not imitation really... As it says in the Quran:

"O, mankind, indeed We have created you male and female, and have made you nations and tribes that you may know one another. Verily, the noblest of you in the sight of Allah, is the most God‑fearing among you..."(49:13)

Just my two piasters...

أبو سنان said...


You wrote "You like Oum Kalthoum AND Social Distortion?"

You bet. Right now I am listening to my iPOD. The current song is one by Marcel Khalife, the well known Lebanese 'Oud player and singer, the song before was "Chemical Warfare" by Slayer!

Long live diversity in everything!

Molly said...

Umm Layla- you know, I never did either! normal was never a goal of mine.

Abu Sinan- Amen.