62 years, memories from my village

A few months ago I attended the debut play by the Irish-Palestinian playwright Hannah Khalil. The play entitled “Plan D” was a look at the lives of a small family living in a generic Palestinian village during the spring of 1948. I was moved by the play, and it haunted me for a while afterwards, actually I still think about it every now and then. It was disturbing in the most subtle of ways, and it certainly got into my head. One of the things that bothered me and the people I was with was the fact that the family in question never fought back. They heard whispers of something coming, and knew that their neighbors had disappeared. Playing it safe, they decided to camp out in the hills near their home, and keep a lookout to see what unfolded. The father eventually goes back to check on the house, and upon entering the kitchen he sees  a man seated at the kitchen table grinning at him. The father leaves back to the hills, and takes his family to Jerusalem on foot, when asked what prompted his sudden departure he said “I felt like I never existed”. I asked Hannah afterwards about this, I mean we were brought up to believe that we fought back, and only when we ran out of ammo did we leave, to catch up with the Arabs, form an army and return, assuming a timescale of a month or two at most. Hannah said that that part was based on a true story. I was stunned.

This year I went back to Jordan, my first ‘proper’ visit in 9 years. I spent loads of time with my Aunts and remaining Uncle, and found them to be unusually open and chatty about their experience of the Palestinian Nakbe. I say unusually, because I have found that my relatives tend to speak about the pre-Nakbe period or they focus on politics or life in Irbid. They tend to avoid massive chunks of their experiences, namely their experience of occupation, ethnic cleansing, and their times in the refugee camps of Karami (Jordan). With Hannah’s play still playing on my mind, I pressed my Aunt for more details of our village and what happened there.

My Aunt was eight at the time and she remembers how she used to play with the European soldiers, who gave her sweets, and how one day when she skipped up to them they angrily told her to get lost “rookh!”. Confused, she returned home. Not long after, her sisters and younger brothers, along with their Mum and elders moved to the hills surrounding the village. They left behind the young men.

No shots were fired when my village was invaded, or so my Aunt says. The Iraqi army, from whom the Palestinian ‘fighters’ took orders, entered one night and told the Palestinians not to fire, as people walked into the village. Who these people were, what exactly the Iraqi army said or did and how the Palestinians reacted I may never know. My grandfather and eldest Uncle are dead, and they would have been on the front lines so to speak. My Aunt does remember that her brother in laws father remained in the village, and was never seen or heard from again and she remembers whisperings of what happened in Deir Yassin. Someone said that they saw his dead body in front of his house.

So my Aunt remembers, starting the long walk to Jerusalem. Along the way, her heavily pregnant 16 year old sister goes into labour, in the middle of a valley with planes flying over their heads. No army was formed when they arrived in Jerusalem, and thus began the refugee camp years. She remembered later meeting someone whose village had also been invaded. The villagers were locked up in the village hall. One girl caught the eyes of the soldiers and was dragged off, only to be returned later looking sullen. They came again for her, and the girl was terrified, she kicked and she screamed, her parents clung to her, but the soldiers dragged her off. She was never seen again either.

These stories are rarely told and are rarely heard. Rape is viewed as the failure of the man to protect his womenfolk. This may be why so many people left the villages, the idea was to get the women to safety. This was deemed more important than land.

This vagueness I have regarding the history of my own village pains me really. And is why the oral history project, spearheaded by www.palestineremembered.com is so important to us and future generations.

Here is commemorating the 62nd year of the Nakbe

“The Hijab Threat and Airport Security”

A call out from Imaan Networking, she recounts an experience she has had a few times in the UKs airports and then asks us to make the following deal:

So here is the deal I want to make with my fellow scarf wearers, when asked at the aiport to allow a headscarf check, do not refuse but insist on one of the following:

1- a private room where the check can be carried out. I do this and even offer to take it off (in front of women) if they are that worried about, but not in front of other people.

2- a FULL body check so that onlookers do not think that it is the headscarf that they are worried about.


To which I say: DEAL!

To read the full post, and what prompted the deal, click here

A Network for Muslim Women in London

Imaan Networking was launched by a very innovative young professional a few months ago. Having just moved to London, and realising that it was difficult to meet like minded women she simply put an ad in one of the many websites for Muslims in the UK (I think it was islamic events something). Her ad requested that Muslim women professionals in London contact her should they wish to create a network. The idea took off, and several dinners in London restaurants were arranged, where the Women got to know the organiser and each other.

In Ramadan Imaan Networking organised iftars in members houses. A member would volunteer to host an Iftar, and registered guests only would receive the address. A bit risky, but since many had met each previously, the host knew at least a few of the people destined to show up at their doorstep. As a guest you were expected to bring a dish to share. The atmosphere at these events was amazing, over 15 people showed up at each, and we quickly got to chatting. The women were from various backgrounds and professions (film makers, IT managers, accountants, psychologists, teachers, lawyers, oh and a cosmologist 😉 I had some explaining to do at these events 😀 ), and the converstaion flowed.

The Network has expanded, and now have a website (www.imaannetworking.com) and a blog (www.imaannetworking.wordpress.com). They are now organsing theatre evenings, Eid parties, and trips abroad!!! The latter I am really excited about!

I think this is a neat and innovative way of making new friends 🙂

Emasculated Muslim Men and the Feminist Hijabi

On Friday the 10th of July I attended the Islamic Circles panel discussion on “Emasculated Muslim Men and the Feminist Hijabi”. The event was introduced by the chair (whose name I did not catch) by mentioning (and slightly mistranslating) the verse from the holy Quran, which states that the men are the ‘maintainers and protectors’ of women, and that they are ‘preferred’ because of what they spent from their wealth. However, women have become victims of the worst forms of oppression:

and yet it is Muslim women who are often at the receiving end of some of the worst abuse and oppression that is taking place today.

On the other hand, he continued to say, there appears to be an increase in ’emasculated’ men, and questions whether they are now at the financial ‘mercy’ of women? I think it is funny that when a man is financially reliant on a woman he is considered at her mercy, but if she were reliant on him she is considered ‘looked after’, and in Arabic she would be moazzazi i.e. cared for. The chair has three daughters of his own, and through his own community involvement had noticed that women are the ones responsible for 80% of all the real work in these events. The Muslim men often lacked chivalry, were inactive, and he actually called them ‘useless’. So he posits, is feminism at fault? The chair was affable, likeable and had some interesting points, but I did not follow the argument from ‘men are useless’ to ‘could it be women’s fault’.

The first speaker was Sarah Malik, a (deep breath) ‘Surrendered Wife Trainer’. My first reaction to this area of expertise was ‘what are they dogs’ and half expected her to turn up in brogues with chocolate digestives stuffed down her pocket, carrying a whip. She didn’t, she was actually very sweet, but let us not be distracted away from  her job description ‘surrendered wife trainer’. This seems to be an American movement, and the all knowing wikipedia lists the beliefs of the “Surrendered Wives” movement as (italics are my personal contribution):

  1. a wife relinquishes control of her husband’s life (understandable, I would not want to be controlled).
  2. she respects his decisions for his life (again, respect is good)
  3. she practices good self-care;  she does at least three things a day for her own enjoyment. (Happy to do that).
  4. she also practices receiving compliments and gifts graciously. (is polite and well mannered)
  5. she practices expressing gratitude; thanking her husband for the things he does. (see above)
  6. a surrendered wife is not afraid to show her vulnerability and take the feminine approach. (not sure I like defining feminity as such…)

Not so bad huh? Is common sense, which made me object even more to the title ‘surrendered wife’ as it implies that women are rude and boorish and must surrender to something to give up their awful ways and become well mannered people. But again I digress, back to Sarah. She started by stating that feminism had given women many advantages, and acknowledged that 1400 years ago Islam had also given Women many rights (protection from abuse. the right to inherent etc.). Over the years, the East had picked up some Western customs, women became shunned  if they got divorced, they did not receive education and so on. I admit I was confused by this, being an Arab Western influence is very recent, but Sarah Malik appeared to be of Pakistani descent, and the Indian peninsular certainly did receive alot more western influence alot earlier on ‘thanks’ to the British Empire. But I simply could have misheard! Feminism, she said, did a great job reclaiming rights for women. It gave women support, a voice, refuge, acceptance in society and the ability to choose a career.

She then started talking about the immigrant communities in the UK. When the previous generation emigrated to the UK, they faced many problems. The loss of extended family and sense of community was very stressful. Girls were encouraged to work by their mothers because according to them men were useless. This sort of upbringing resulted in highly independent, fiery women, who maybe didn’t have that much respect for men. Boys also were pushed to develop their careers, and in the process lost out on the family experience, and became rather rubbish around the home. OK, I cant to relate to any of this, and it is clearly culture focused.. I am especially not sold on the theory that mothers tell their daughters men are useless!

‘The Media’ cropped up (as it is wont to at such events), and its the negative portrayal of Muslims. This has driven Hijabis to become very focused on preserving their rights and showing the world how emancipated they are. This is something I do relate to, however due to the lack of media attention to Muslim women while I was growing up, or where I grew up, I cannot blame the media for my attitude. I think it had more to do with me growing up at a time when Arab nationalism was declining, and enlightenment on the teachings of Islam were on the rise. Since the Arab Culture is often incompatible with ones rights in Islam, I did become rather hell bent on preserving my rights as a Muslim woman. She then said that Men had complied (due to this Media pressure I guess), given women their rights, and for some unfathomable reason abandoned their duties towards women!

Sarah then declared to us that ‘Men too have rights’, aww bless them, the weaker stronger sex is having their rights stripped away! I couldn’t help that sarcastic comment there.. back on topic. Men, said Sarah, have a right to admiration, respect, and sex, in the sense that men should not be vilified and called ‘animals’ for having a sex drive ‘, fair enough I say. Men ‘have feelings too’, a statement which amused me since I actually do fall into the trap of dismissing the fact that men have feelings. However these needs are not often met by women, who in fairness were too exhausted to comply. This is due to the mother effect (there we go blaming women for the deficiencies of men 😀 ), men are often over-mothered and end up entering the marital home with scarce little life skills, which women have in abundance. The weak man then ends up shirking his responsibilities and depends on others to do his job for him e.g. his wife. She cited the example of the husbands who don’t bother to pay the electricity bill and their families end up suddenly without electricity.

We were then introduced to the phenomena of the Single White Female Single Female Feminist Hijabi who are characterised by:

  • Men not meeting their expectations.
  • Scare men off with their ‘masculine ways’ (seriously I never classed men as wimpy)
  • Masculine (rubbish!, never came across someone like that!)
  • Ends up with a submissive male

and then to the Emasculated Muslim Man who as a consequence of his dealings with the Single Female Feminist Hijabi:

  • looses his aspirations
  • looses his willingness to help
  • ceases to be attracted to her

Now, I am not sure what to make of this. Why is it problematic that women preserve, and fight for, their rights? Why would this result in the decreasing contribution of men to the society/marital home? Are the women preventing their husbands from doing their duty? Are they denying them their rights as husbands? I find it all a bit hard to swallow..

The next speaker was Susie Heath author of “The Essence of Womanhood- Re awakening the authentic feminine” and relationship coach with many years experience. Susie feels that there is a serious imbalance in relationships these days. Many business women came to her for help, they were quite masculine (with deep voices) and were a bit frightening, complaining that their husbands were no longer attracted to them ‘the idiots’, and the husbands would come ‘dripping in’ whining about their tough wives.

Susie believes that once a couple aim for an ‘equal’ relationship that said relationship was doomed, because we ‘are not equal, we are different’. She then apologised to the men in the audience for ‘stealing their power’, and said that we ‘had dishonoured ourselves as women’. She is grateful to the feminist movement, but does not view women as being 50% male and 50% female, and it is problematic that women try to emulate (agree) and overtake (disagree) men. That due to their taking on more and more work, and enduring more stress, women were producing more testosterone, that their bodies are not equipped to handle (aren’t they?) and hence they are wrecking their adrenal glands. But what can women do? when men don’t step up to the job, when they cease to honour their responsibilities, like keeping his family safe by say locking up at night, then women end up doing it, becoming more controlling, and compounding the emasculation of their husband. Susie recommends men step up and women take a step back. Not in an evolutionary sense or in the sense of giving anything up, but in the sense of allowing him to do something, to cease to take all the responsibilities on her shoulders.

Susie was really the only panel member to define feminine traits, describing the feminine as ‘beautiful, soft and creative’. I admit my notes are a bit disjointed, I am not sure whether this next point is related to the previous one, because she goes on to say that we have to accept that someone has to make the decisions, and if it is not the man, then it is the woman. She objected to the portrayal of too much female flesh in the media (cant escape the media), because ‘it takes away a sacred part of women’ parts that we don’t want to share with all men. I thought it was nicely put.

It isn’t all pink and fluffy though, Susie firmly believes that women are very competent, but they need to be able to feel safe with men, and only then will they feel nurtured and cared for, and she hopes for the day when cherishment and chivalry return. Her plan? Thank, acknowledge and admire men, and then they will step up (in my notes I had written: are we being held responsible for THEIR behaviour again!!!). She said that the more women do, the more they take on financially the less men have to do, and we should change this.. hey I am all for handing over financial responsibility, and totally agree with her on this point… we wouldn’t want men to feel unneeded would we 🙂

Finally, the only male member of the panel! Imam Shahnoaz Haque, a Psychotherapist, Teacher and Khatib (sort of like a preacher). The Imaam conducted a mini survey of the audience, asking people to state one property that they consider to be ‘feminine’ and one that they consider to be ‘masculine’. One lady objected saying she was uncomfortable with such classifications, and I agreed with her. But the man was driving at something, he ended up with the following (rough) list:

Male strong, decisive, powerful, confident, trustworthy, protective

Female gentle, playful, shy, compassionate, caring, classy, emotional, clean/hygienic, soft.

Then by giving examples from the life of the Prophet Mohammed, he showed that he (the Prophet -PBUH-) exhibited all these qualities, the feminine and the masculine. I think that he was confusing the word hayaa’ with shy, but it is more closely related to the word humility. His point was that it is a mute point to discuss the ‘feminine’ traits and the ‘masculine’ traits as if they were mutually exclusive to their respective genders, because the Prophet -PBUH- was known for both.

He concluded by saying that if feminism meant standing up for rights, then all hijabis should be feminists.


iMuslim also has a post on this event link

Fear for women and their repression in the Middle East

Just a quickie, on why some women are more at risk of honour crimes than others. Based on a talk given by Penny Johnson (Institute of Women’s studies at BirZeit University, Palestine), my own mental meanderings are italicised.

In reality she was looking for the reasons behind women’s bodies becoming the icon of fear for societies, and what causes one community to be more fearful for their women folk and restrictive of their movements… an attitude which could potentially lead to honour crimes.

She compared two small village communities in Palestine (I cant remember their names), both are under occupation (duh) and both are poor. In a survey of 19 to 29 year old women she found in Village A that the women were optimistic and spoke of hopes and dreams for themselves, of ‘developing their personalities’ and such whereas in Village B the women were very pessimistic they said they could not go out, lead very restrictive lives and ‘did not feel they had anything to live for’. Since there were no differences in education, economy or basic culture between the 2 villages, what could have lead to such a difference in attitudes?

Penny was able to determine 3 factors which contributed to the differences in attitude:-

  1. Security: village B was very close to a settlement and were often attacked by settlers and the army, thus leading to an overriding sense of insecurity.
  2. An enabling environment: village A had a more organised and active community council. There were therefore more community activities.
  3. Social cohesion: village B suffered from social fragmentation and unruly men. Thus 1 event can have far reaching events (no one is sure what happened or who to trust)

Lack of these factors can lead to a serious restrictions being placed on the womenfolk, such as:

  1. Blaming seemingly innocous things for the excessive danger perceived to face women (e.g. stallellite televison).
  2. The placement of inane restrictions, such as banning the use of the phone.
  3. Over-exaggerating events, and reading too much into them. An example she gave was the case of Village B, where a young couple were found killed in a car (I think this is how it happened I missed a bit of it) and people assumed the girl had been up to no good, and placed restrictions on their own daughters. Even after the community leaders, including the Imam, exonerated the poor girl from all wrong doing.

I would have loved for her to extrapolate on these points but since she was focussing on the effect that the occupation had on women, she moved onto other issues (namely how women dealt with keeping the family together in hard time).

But I think we can see similar trends in neighboring Arab countries, where women complain about harassment, also complain of a lack of trust of the police (lack of security), community activities are minimal, and people are mistrustful of others (social fragmentation). Often I find that people shift the blame, onto the women, onto the television, onto the high costs of marriage (women again), penalizing the victim I think must be easier. Solving the problem seems to be doable though, upgrade the police forces, offering training in dealing with cases of sexual harassment, probably increasing the number of female officers to make it easier for women to speak out, increasing community activities and projects, this may also lead to a healthier social framework.