Identity Crisis

 

My mom was in need of some new hijabs and so, of course, we headed to Al-Afifa Islamic Fashion where the selection is huge and the prices affordable. Now, although the hijab style my mom shops for is pretty basic, it normally takes her about thirty minutes to decide on the colors and the style that would work best with her face shape. I mean she’s worse than me when it comes to high heels. OK…maybe not. As she finally came to a decision on eight hijabs, we walked over to the cash register. As the young lady took my mother’s credit card, I could hear an obvious female ‘boater’ behind me.

A boater is a man or woman straight off the boat. Usually has a very thick accent, wears Arab sandals everywhere, and believes that a woman is ready for marriage at seventeen.

The woman’s English was awful; I mean she could barely get a few words out, the syntax was just plain wrong and she could not get through the conversation without stumbling over every third word. I felt uneasy and thought it would be easier all around if she just spoke Arabic to get her point across,but since she was obviously a boater, she was obviously trying to practice her English. When she struggled to pronounce the word wedding correctly, I had to turn around and see who she was. At that instant, my jaw dropped when I realized that it was Mrs. Ashgar–my middle school English teacher.

Seeing that I was raised in Palestine for the first several years of my life and that Arabic was my first language, I have always been very grateful to Mrs. Ashgar for her excellent teaching skills and always have credited my command of the English solely to her. Mrs. Ashgar, a Scottish native, was married to a Palestinian man and had, from what I always remembered, spoken impeccable English save, for an ever so slight endearing British accent—and so I thought. How could it be that this woman, who taught me English, a language she supposedly spoke flawlessly, was standing right in front of me not being able to utter a sentence correctly? I shook my head to bring myself back into reality as I stood dumbfounded staring at Mrs. Ashgar who continued to struggled to get her point across.

“I…eeeh…I … need you to make’eeeh… fixing for this sort of alteration. Alteration: a word I learned from reading the many books she had suggested to me throughout my school years.

We made eye contact at this point and it was then that we greeted each other with Assalamu Alaikum. I decided that this was my opportunity to ask if she remembered me.

“I was one of your English students,” I said with a wide smile.

SubhanAllah,” she said praising God for the uncanny coincidence. “I had eeeeh…students eeeeh…it is so nice when eeeeh…I see one,” she said her accent still heavy and her English still shitty.

As she continued on in her substandard English, I remembered Wafah, a girl who I had once called my best friend. Her mom was Brazilian and her dad Palestinian. She was very proud of her Brazilian heritage as well her Palestinian one. We became very close because the other girls from school, the full blooded ones, didn’t seem to want to befriend “half and halfs” as they called us; they believed that we weren’t Arab enough for their liking, it was beneath them to make friends with us. So Wafah and I started our own clique and called them the ‘Fuck you, you racist, small minded, bitches.’ Our clique consisted of exactly two members, her and me. We became very close; we were like two peas in a pod that is until she married Firas, a Palestinian native. Her father insisted she wed this man when the rumor mill had a field day claiming she was dating some non-Arab, non-Muslim guy she had met at a U2 concert. These allegations were absolutely untrue and unjustified. Wafah was about as straight at narrow and the only U2 she knew and understood was the one we wrote to each other at the end of our AIM messages, after saying ‘I love you.’ But nonetheless, for many Arabs, gossip means fact even when unsubstantiated. Gossip takes precedence over everything else and leaves little to no room for the truth–even if it is coming from one’s own child. And so, subsequently and to avoid a scandal, her dad packed her up and sent her overseas where she stayed for almost five years. When Wafah returned she wasn’t the same. She was now married and her identity completely different; her soul had been taken away from her.

Wafah’s new found Arab accent wasn’t the only thing that had changed, but so did her mannerisms and the fact that she was now rejecting her Brazilian heritage saddened me. As a matter of fact, when asked her about her cultural background, Brazil was never even mentioned. Brazilian flags were nowhere to be found in her home or car as it use to be, and she had suddenly found herself bff’s with the very girls who had out casted us for being “half and halfs.”

I realized that what had happened to Wafah was the very same thing that happened to my Scottish English teacher that stood before me that day at Al-Afifa. These women had found themselves facing an identity crisis and the best possible way to deal with the situation and reach a positive outcome was: If you can’t beat them, join them! Mrs. Ashgar’s husband’s family never fully accepted her because she wasn’t Arab or M.O.T. [member of the tribe from the get go] and since his family felt this way, he himself began to treat her like an outcast. Wafah’s case was no different. Despite their dual ethnicity, these women had to transform themselves into fully Arab women, so that they could somehow fit in; but at what cost? Is fitting in worth giving up your own identity and thereby totally losing who you are? Is this realistic? Is this fair?

As myself is a “half and half” or as the kids in Hogwarts would call me, a “Muggleblood,” I was in the very same predicament these two women were faced with: remain an outcast, or join them by changing myself. I chose to remain an outcast because it’s sure as hell is a lot better to be hated for who you are, than to be liked for someone you’re pretending to be. But not everyone shares my belief and possesses the same strength of character. To people like Mrs. Ashgar and Wafah, it was better to just become someone they’re not, if only to live in harmony with those they have to face every single day. I don’t blame them, but I do guilt the Arabs that make them feel this way. Those unfeeling people that make Mrs. Ashgar believe she had to lose her Scottish heritage and replace it with an Arab one. I mean, the Scottish culture goes back to at least one thousand years, and their traditions are not something sterile you can only find under a glass and steel in a cold museum. It is a vibrant society full of great minds such as the scientist Robert Watson-Watt, David Hume the famous philosopher, great art, kings and queens and let’s not forget have Braveheart, the Disney film Brave, and of course Gerard Butler and that’s pretty damn cool. And don’t get me started on the perks of being Brazilian. I mean they have everything, from the beautiful sun-kissed beaches, amazing bodies, contagious and uplifting music, and soccer… who could forget that!?

With such rich cultures behind them, I couldn’t imagine anyone ever making them feel they had to forget their origin, just to fit in. I am starting to realize that, because of them–the full-blooded Arabs,– many people who have married into an Arab family, must have by necessity, put aside and forgotten what it means to be who and what they are. I see this so often in our community and it hurts me to see people like Mrs. Ashgar who were pressured to entirely forget and reject their own culture and language, just to be able to walk into a room filled with Arab women, without being out casted because, although married to Arab men, they are not Arabs born. It pains me to see married women being harassed and degraded by their racist in-laws and, to add insult to injuries, not being defended by their own husband only because they were born into another culture and religion. After all, wasn’t their birth’s circumstances God’s will? Why then is it a cause for chastisement?

As Mrs. Ashgar continued her conversation with my mother and I, us barely understanding a word that came out of her mouth, we found ourselves losing an hour between her ‘eeeeeh’s’ and “What do you call this again… oh yes a pen.” But what we did find out is that she no longer taught English. Mentally, I let out a sigh of relief, since I wasn’t sure exactly what these students would be learning. It was clear that she was no longer Mrs. Ashgar, the pretty red-haired Scottish English teacher I once knew. As a matter of fact, I’m sure her husband’s family is very happy about her metamorphosis. I suspect she must, by now, have been accepted openly into the family fold seeing that she’s this ‘boater’ whose Scottish ancestry has been discarded and no longer teaches English. I don’t know who she is anymore. I wonder if she knows.

I wanted to just grab her by the shoulders and shake her into reality. I wanted to tell her to lose the shitty accent and start speaking the God damn language she taught so well to so many of us, but I couldn’t. I wished I could tell her that we, of mixed heritage, are not always going to be accepted for who we are and it won’t matter if we take on an Arab, Irish, or Chinese accent to fit in, we are not going to be accepted for who WE are, but maybe, for the accent and demeanor we took on just to be part of the community. We’re not always going to be liked! But we can choose who we want to be. I, for one, choose to be me. Who do you choose to be?

 

 

 

72 thoughts on “Identity Crisis

  1. A word from the wise: Nishan Panwar:
    The world is full of nice people. If you can’t find one, be one.

    Being nice to people has gotten me everywhere. So why not try it you folks out there; you have everything to gain.

  2. I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving. It is strictly an American tradition and one I find could benefit the whole world if all could stop all the nonsense for one day and think of all that we, as individuals, are thankful for.

    Mike, I have 4 boys and they are taught moral decency: to respect all human lives and especially women who are the giver of life, the ones who bring forth the next generation. These social values are taught at home irrelevant of religion.
    Nonetheless, the Qur’an says that a life of righteousness is the only way to make it to Heaven.

    1. PS, I am raising boys who will respect their wives and treat them as equal.

      1. i just saw a commercial for iphones and pads. he called a restaurant for reservations and a guy with a french accent answered and said they were full and hung up tight away. so the guy called back on his ipad and the french guy was snooty again and said he would never get a reservation. that’s what i’m talking about.

        and look at the canucks, eh.
        http://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-trending-30251954 😉

    2. one more and you can have your own basketball team. moral decency is good. although it can be manipulated to be quite intolerant. to ‘enjion the good and forbid the evil’ begs the question as to what is evil. and what is righteous? the highest level for the mujahideen. the greatest house in the highest level of heaven is reserved for the martyr. do you ever read any islamic websites? from what i have read, if you die in a state of shirk, your righteous deeds are meaningless. the only way to guarentee entry into paradise is the worshiping of allah.

      btw, canada has a thanksgiving. in october i think?

      1. My “Little Ducklings” are going to be like their mother: humanists.
        What is right? An easy way to find out is to ask yourself this question: would I be OK is someone would treat me this way?
        If the answer is no, then it is wrong.

        1. ah, ‘do unto others, as you would have them do unto you.’ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_Rule

          but like all rules, there are exceptions.

          so you are not a muslim, but a humanist? interesting.

          1. Humanism is system of values and beliefs that is based on the idea that people are basically good and that problems should be solved using reason.
            Islam and Humanism are not mutually exclusive but inclusive.

          2. perhaps not always mutually exclusive, but reason and religion often are. good to hear you are leaving the less than humane parts of islam behind.

  3. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-30183711

    mosli, how mamy babies have you had.

    don’t you know you shoud out breed the infidels?

  4. Any thoughts?
    It is not that I agree or disagree to the content of this post but it begs the question: in any culture, how important are traditions?
    If we start changing them, then aren’t we changing ourselves as individuals?
    If we start changing ourselves then aren’t we changing our culture?
    And then, where does that leave us?

    1. your bad traditions should be left behind. the hadd punishments are barbaric and the institution of slavery worse. islam is full of non-snese that should be abandoned. this should be self evident ot even the most ardent muslim.

      we should all change ourselves, and our culture.

      1. From your mouth to Allah’s ears.

  5. It’s a crying shame how shitty we can be to each other. This isn’t exclusively to Arabs or Muslims. It’s everywhere. Only hope for humanity is people like you Faiza who raise their voice to these kinds of issues and try to make a difference through dialogue. That’s change. Keep up the good work.

    1. Yes, I agree. Women like Malala Yousafzai, the 17 year old girl who received the Nobel Peace Prize this year. It took courage to stand up to her country men and say No, us girls deserve an education too.
      Keep up the good work Faizah, you will make a difference in thus sad world of our.

      1. Oops, ‘this’ not ‘thus’

      2. who in the world do you get wee out of oui? the french, keep them outsider frogs out.

        a friend of mine’s kid did a PSA about malala.

        http://www.meganorr.com/post/72147924621/maricopa-mcao-truancy-psa-winner-daisy-pinckley

        you know alot of muslims, especially pakistanis hate her know. they say she is a sell-out.

        1. “…the French, keep them outsider frogs out. ”
          Do I sense a hint of intolerance?

          About Makaka, this does not surprise me; she is rocking the boat. They’ll have to get over it.

          1. that’s a joke. i’m white they’re white. it’s like making fun of canada. it’s allowed.

            we take in immigrants from all over the world, even france. they did give us the statue of liberty after all. not to mention the debt we owe them for their aid during the revolution. if there is anyone we should hate it would be the brits. colonial bastards. and they burnt down the white house. red coat sons-of-bitches. yet some how they are our best friends. americans don’t hold grudges like some.

          2. Mike, I cringe when I hear ethnic ‘jokes’ no matter which ethnic group it is about

          3. mosli, you must have cringed all through this post. don’t ever watch ‘how i meet your mother’, they make fun of canada all the time. hell i was watching a ‘friends’ re-run and rachel was moving to paris and phebe said don’t turn into one of those ‘french bitches’.

            you didn’t see that i used the word ‘outsiders’. you said it was ok not to like ‘outsiders’. you are confusing the bejesus outta me. can no one laugh at themselves anymore.

            what do you think of this skit? an oldie but a goodie: https://screen.yahoo.com/white-000000112.html

          4. Let me clear that up for you Anon; Nov 20. “outsiders” was a quote from someone else.

          5. sorry mosli, my bad. forgot my name there. i’ll blame my computer, sometimes it is there, sometimes not. time to retire this box, hell i’m still running XP. anyway, i was making a play on this comment: “Arabs are very prideful people and enjoy being around their own kind. Why is that a bad thing? A lot of people don’t like outsiders in their group. So what?” we were talking french and it is a classic joke for americans to to act like we hate the french. it’s goes back to the old snutty french witer stereotype. we have run this circle twice now, looks like we are getting nowhere. you have a good day mosli and a belated welcome to america. or are you still in france? 😉

          6. Mike, I am not French, far from it …. went to Paris once for a couple of days and that is the extend of it but I do know some French.
            Of course, all people like to hang out with their own kind, and so do I but that does not mean we should denigrate others. As an anthropologist, I know that we must try to understand others and not criticize until we have lived in heir shoes for a while. We can all learn from each other if we only keep an open mind.
            I do live in America. Faizah and I are close friends and I admire her very much.

          7. my bad, things must be running together on me. i could have sworn someone said said something about the minimum age for marriage in france and you said they were wrong, that you lived there. must have been a patheos comment?

            that’s funny someone mentioned the old: ‘walk a mile in their moccossins’ earlier today and i laughed. ‘judge not lest ye be judged’. oddly enough your prophet’s ‘let he who is without sin cast the first stone’, didn’t take.

            anyway, you are an anthropologist? christ, everybody here is more educated than me. so you a digging anthropologists or a cultural one? either way, do you think the people of ad and thamud were giants?

            to more recent matters, did you see the scholarship fund they are setting up in the name of an afghan girl blown up the other day?

            http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-30135739

          8. Mike, tales and people seem to be getting taller as time goes by and the legend embellishes. Were they giants? I doubt it. We won’t know for sure until someone with a tape measure find a burial site and checks it out.

        2. so you are not french, are you muslim? doesn’t the koran claim there were giants? the people of ad? and then the people of thamud had a giant she camel emerge from between a rock?

          now i’m confused again???

  6. how old is this woman? how old was she when she was still teaching english? did you speak any arabic to her, and if so was she fluent in that? you sure she didn’t stroke out maybe? that or a head injury or even just old fashion dementia can really hurt your language skills.

    1. Lmao I only spoke French until about eight and my English teacher didn’t know a word of French. She didn’t need to. It forced me to learn English. I assume it was the same thing here. But who knows maybe she did have a stroke.

      1. can you still speak french?

        1. Moi? Oui.

          1. 🙂

        2. Actually I forgot a lot of the language shockingly. But I’m moving back to France next summer so it’ll all come back

    2. Michael….. those are all logical conclusions when trying to piece this women’s utter stupidity, BUT…. believe me…. it’s just another idiot trying to make herself liked and accepted by her stupid husband’s family, friends, and the local community. If you read below you’ll see many references to those wackos and not all of them have had head injuries, dementia, etc. They’re just desperadoes looking to have others look at them with admiration and approval. We’ve got a few of those bimbos in my family too, and all their in-laws deem them good for is babysitting and using their homes for big dinners instead of trashing theirs. I don’t know if it’s a Scottish revolt of some kind, because my cousin’s wife is a Scot who’s transformed herself into “Hajja Jamila,” and although she hasn’t lost her accent, she supposedly hates anything and everything that reminds her of her home. A looney toon and I don’t miss an opportunity to let her know she’s as f’ked up as they come.

      1. ok. just struck me as strange. i can see changing your dress and following rituals, but to intentionally lose a language. although i guess it happens. certainly some people want to run from their past or even there heritage.

        you didn’t see henery louis gates’, ‘finding your roots’ on pbs the other night? the one guy made a joke after learning that his great-great-great aunt had been taken as a sex slave by the ottomans during the 1820 greek revolt and latter told he had 4% dna from turkey. he said that must be the self-lothing part of me.

        1. Okay Michael, and we’ll give that guy that much, but…. I doubt all of these brainless bimbos found out that their great, great, great grandfathers were sex slaves to the House of Stuart, or to King Louis XV.

          1. FYI: Louis XIV had courtesans which is just another word for prostitutes.

          2. yes courtesans and concubines or sex slaves, prostitutes and mistresses. some get paided, some don’t. some treated better than others. some have a say, some don’t. some even argue a wive has no say in some religions. so do you consider maria the copt to be a wife or a concubine? anyway i didn’t think that i conveyed the joke very well. or the point that some may not be as ‘greek’ or ‘arab’ or ‘anything’ as they think. greeks conquer, persians push back, arabs spread out, turks, the moors. hell the monguls conquered baghdad in 12 what? 32? as tina fey said, people have been swapping genetic material for 1,000s of years. sometimes volutarily and sometimes not so much.

  7. Faizah, your story brings to mind the experience my own sister had. She married a Syrian and lived in Damascus. The only family member that truly cared, understood her, and always took her side when the others were criticizing or needling her for this or that, was her mother-in-law.
    This woman was totally uneducated, really, she never went to school one day in her life. But she had heart and obviously common sense. She realized that if my sister did things a bit differently it was because she [we] had different customs. When others were making fun of her for instance, she always said to be patient and to them to explain how things were done in Syria.
    The woman died years ago at the ripe old age of 80-something but in my sister’s mind, she is always a person she will cherish.
    I never met her but in my book, this was a woman of substance. We can all learn from this woman.
    Like everywhere in the world, there are some wonderful good people and bad people. The good one need to be appreciated and we need to listen to them.

    1. That’s insane. You’re a great writer.

    2. Actually Moz… I’m lucky enough to be Syrian. From Homs. There was no place on earth more beautiful. :(((

      1. Try Chine during the Fall

        1. I’m sure, but Homs is where my heart is and that makes it THE most beautiful place in the world…. to me.

  8. Arabs are very prideful people and enjoy being around their own kind. Why is that a bad thing? A lot of people don’t like outsiders in their group. So what?

    1. To each his own. However, if that is the way you feel, then DON’T MARRY AN OUTSIDERS

      1. MOSLI for President!

      2. I agree. President material right here.

    2. It’s bad when you make others feel left out because of pride or small minded things like that. That’s how bullying happens.

      1. I hear you!

    3. Oh, honey, I’m not arguing! I don’t see why we can’t be exclusive, if we choose to be, when other minorities do it too. I for one don’t mind having all kinds of friends…. as long as they’re REAL! I HATE PHONIES! And that’s why I hate these losers because they’re as phoney as they come and they turn into the most judgemental hypocrites EVER!!!!

    4. well here in ameirca some guy once said something like: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

      so what… if you don’t want outsiders in your group, then your neighborhood, then school, city, county, state, country?

      so you are an arab? i take it you live on the arabian peninsula?

  9. The saddest part of it all is that it’s not just Palestinians, it’s pretty much all Arabs, and the other half doesn’t even have to be non-Arab to get a backlash. I married a Yemeni, and some Palestinians were offended (“our men aren’t good enough?”) and he got some backlash (“our daughters aren’t good enough?”). People started saying “oh you’re Yemeni now!” No I’m not, I didn’t even change my last name, doubt that I’ll be changing my nationality. And on Eid, when my two yr old wore a Pali thoub, I got “why is the Yemenia wearing a thoub?” Um because she’s half palestinian and because her sido bought it for her. I kind of hope my youngest sister marries a palestinian, because I married a Yemeni, my sister married a Syrian, and I don’t want my father to be lynched. This is why our Ummah is divided, it’s not the other Muslims, it’s the Arab Muslims. Our pride is poison.

    1. I agree. I said that above. It’s everywhere. I lived in China for a while and they are the most racist people I’ve ever met. Even against people with different skin complexions. Very sad.

  10. No words.

  11. So so so so true. May Allah guide us all.

  12. I am from Düsseldorf and I was married to a Palestinian man for 20 years. I tried and tried for his family to like me. My children they like because they are fair and blonde hair and blue eyes. When my daughter became 18, I packed my bags and left him. Five years later I met and married a Italian man who loves me for who I am and his family is wunderful.

    1. That’s a great story. Sad but great. Glad you found happiness here.

      1. Yea, that makes three of us -I’m including her. And the woman has spunk and guts that’s for sure. Wonder why the 40 year martyr up there hasn’t followed suit? I’m sorry, but anyone who knows me, and this site’s community knows for sure, knows that I’m a loud mouthed B and I don’t take crap from ANYONE! And that’s why I’m still single and will remain as such until I find a mute, or I hit my head on a slab of concrete and come down with a permanent case of amnesia.

  13. This is unfortunately true 🙁 Yes I’m palestinian and yes I live in the community and YES I’ve seen this in person. It’s sad but true.

  14. OMG I’m sorry but this made me laugh so much because of the way she was acting and the way you talked about her. LOOOOOL But seriously now. I totally agree with you. I see this all the time. Especially at the Masjid. People have cliques and they don’t allow people who aren’t Arab into it. It’s sad and I don’t agree with it, but it is true. I always do my best to make friends with people from other cultures especially if they’re Muslim, because they always seem to be separated from us like they don’t belong. But they do!!!!

    1. Made me laugh too but what’s not funny is that we’re doing this to our fellow brothers and sisters. This needs to change.

    2. Thank you for saying that Lulu. I live in the UK and I’m married to a Pakistani gentleman who is anything but. His family treats me like dirt, they ignore my children, and he allows it. Even my conversion hasn’t made a difference, even though I didn’t convert for their acceptance. I keep hoping that one day they’ll see me for who I am and accept me, especially since leaving him is not an option because I’d have to leave my children with him.

      1. This is awful. Omg. What’s wrong with people? I hope you learn to put your foot down or bitch slap them all.

  15. Hi Faiza. Couldn’t wait to read your next post and HERE IT IS!!!!! yeeeeaaayyy

    I totally agree with what you’re saying because I know more than a few ‘Ms. Ashlars,’ and I always feel like laughing when I see these women. Especially because a couple of my university friends ( one is Italian and the other Irish from Ireland), haven’t felt the need to transform themselves into Puerto Ricans or Germans, no matter how awesome those cultures may be.

    If it’s the families who are making them feel bad about themselves, shame on those families and on the husbands allowing that, but they’re never going to see them for anything else than what you are. Why? Because that’s WHAT they are!

    1. I agree. If you are not born Arabian all the accents and all the forgetting where they come from does not make them Arabian.

  16. BTW this is me again and I just wanted to thank you for being brave enough to post something like this. Most people don’t talk about it because they don’t want to admit that it’s happening or that Arabs are doing this to their fellow brothers or sisters. Thank you. I love your blog and I love you.

  17. First comment 🙂 I’ll admit that I’m a Pakistani Muslim born and raised in the US but living around brothers and sisters from the Arab world in that community was always hard. They never accepted me. I felt like I had to change myself to be liked by them and even sometimes I feel like if I do change myself it’s not going to matter because they only want to be around their own kind. See that’s fine but it makes people who are not Arab feel left out and like we don’t belong. I changed myself a lot to be accepted by them. I changed how I dressed and tried to say words the way they would. I mean I’m embarrassed to say that I was like your Eglish teacher lol but I did feel like I had to change. Even in College it was the same thing. They had their group and they didn’t allow people like me in. It’s really sad and it has to change.

    1. Friend, I have been part of this culture for over forty years now, and although I am a BIT more accepted now than I was 35 years ago, I am still known as ” The Spaniolia,” because I am Mexican. My son is referred to as “Ibn Spaniolia ” as if he was the work of me alone.

    2. This is so sad. I’m so sorry you’re going through that.

    3. So sad. Stand by who you are and fuck everybody else.

      1. You tell ’em Anonymous!

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