O My Sisters...

BismiAllah

This is for my sisters. Not my blood relations, but rather all the women out there.

You see, I detect a lot of male bashing from women sometimes. "He isn't blah." And "He doesn't do blah.." And on and on it goes. Currently, I really don't care where the men folk err directly, unless of course they step out of line and start behaving in a manner that would not befit a gentleman.

But men aside, women have other problems. We generally don't interact well with each other in that it seems to me that we lack sincerity in our meetings (correct me if I'm wrong). Perhaps it is the underlying evolutionary psychology where competition takes precedence over politeness and/or basic manners. I honestly can't say I've figured it out. Ironically, I come from a family and home where women have always outnumbered men. In the midst of this upbringing, one would think I would have the psyche of a "typical woman" (if such exists) figured out.

If you disagree with me that there is a need to address the way women deal with each other, then please consider this for a moment. Have you ever been in a mall and had a strange woman give you cut eye from afar? No? Well, have you ever started a class and had the woman sitting next to you give you attitude? No? Well, have you ever tried initiating a conversation among a group of women who are at least acquaintances if not friends? No? Hmmm... Well, I have.

College was an interesting experience for me. Most of my classes were filled with only women. It was a predominantly "non-ethnic" college where hijab-clad women were rare. By the grace of God, I eventually "befriended" almost every person in my class. This says nothing of me, but I will admit that I made it my business to at least speak to all my classmates. Why? --- Well, why not?

I recently went to a mosque to attend, for the first time, an evening class that is regularly held each week. The sisters were decent, but it did not take long for the group psychology of insecurity to play out with whisperings (more than likely unrelated to the newbie) in their mother tongue followed by giggles. One, it's rude to speak in another language in front of someone who doesn't understand it; and two, it's also a pretty lousy way to welcome someone by not sharing the joke.

But here's the thing. It doesn't affect me personally. In all of the situations that I described above, I've walked away with my secret (and sometimes not-so-secret) smile that tells me there is something better than the games we play with each other, and I leave with the hope that one day she will see it too. My philosophy is this. If one doesn't want to give a stranger the benefit of the doubt and instead finds security in assuming conclusions about another, she's welcome. One is better off without judgmental company. I cannot speak for others, but I would like to take the time to know you, though you're under no obligation to welcome me or reciprocate my hopes. (Unless, of course, you're related, in which case, the rules change.)

But, o my Muslim sisters, why do we compete with each other? Is it the "husband chase" that I sometimes hear of? If you want him, take him. He is all yours. No, that's not it? You just connect better with your "own kind" who speak "your language?" Tafadhali. Do what you need to do. But then don't come back complaining when you see others doing the same to you.

I still want to tell you though, o dear sister, that if you're in pain, seek those you've pushed away. They're not your enemies. They're not your competition. You'll have what's meant for you regardless. Carry yourself with dignity. Be as the Prophet (salla Allahu 'alayhi wa salam) was and open your arms and heart. Only then, dear sister, will we all be able to embrace the sakeenah (tranquility) of sisterhood, insha'Allah.

Let's start this off with a simple smile, insha'Allah!

[Note: I hope it goes without saying that not all women are guilty of the above. I have met some really, really wonderful women who have taught me a lot about heartfelt interactions. So if the above doesn't relate to you, please don't take it to heart, and forgive me. Where you see I err, please correct me. Thanks.]

Update: 2007-03-24

Today the local Imam explained how each person in the ummah is special and needs to contribute his/her talents to the overall functioning of the ummah (especially so because there is lots of work to be done). He made the anology of a car and explained how all the parts of a car are dependent upon each other, though very different. They are all important because they all offer something unique that the other cannot offer.

His practical advice to help us develop love within the community is as follows:
1) Smile -even at people you don't know. [In the very least.]
2) [If you're stronger...] Say "Assalaamu'alaykum" -even at people you don't know.
3) Offer the person something (i.e. put some nice smelling, not-overly-strong 'attar in his/her palm).
4) Invite the person home to eat with you and your family, regardless of how much or little you can offer him/her. Open your home to as many as you can. It is unfortunate that these days we only invite our friends to share meals with us.

May the Almighty help us in our effort to unite the hearts of our Muslim community and fellow humans. Ameen.

4 comments:

iMuslim said...

Assalamu 'alaykum wa rahmatullah sis,

I have an idea of what you're talking about, though i haven't experienced it for a while. I saw a lot of this clique attitude in school, and then at uni to a lesser degree. I don't see it at work, probably because it's a completely different environment, and most of us are too 'old' for that kind of behaviour.

About the whispering, and other girly behaviour in your class: I did see that in my Tajweed lessons. I think there were 30-40 students in my class, ranging from young teens to 'mature' sisters. So the girls did segregate themselves according to age, usually. I think it was more about being in the 'comfort zone', than intentionally excluding others.

It didn't apply to me though, cos i was the class clown - well, i was definitely the most outspoken! I used to tease the other girls when they wouldn't recite loudly enough, "WHAT? SPEAK UP!", etc. They knew i was joking with them; just trying to coax them out of their shells. I'd also say/do other silly things, just to relax the atmosphere. It was just girls on the whole floor of the building, so I could 'let loose'. Muwahaha.

I'm much more confident these days in my social interactions. I'm turning into my mother!! Really, i am. But all my friends love her for her 'jolliness', so it can't be a bad thing, inshallah.

However, the weird thing about me is that although i have little fear in speaking to strangers, i will sometimes avoid speaking to people i know semi-well, such as acquaintances who i've only spoken to a couple of times. This is because i detest small-talk. I really do. If i think that approaching that person will just lead to stilted conversations about the weather, and other mundane matters, then i will ignore them (to a polite degree). I only really do this with non-Muslims, but not out of some irrational prejudice against 'kafirs', but rather i feel guilty not to say 'salaams' to a sister! But it all depends on the moment, and the person. Yes, i am very strange... hehe

Wa'salam

Farzeen said...

Wa 'alaykum assalaam wa rahmatu Allahi wa barakaatu dear sister

I think the behaviour isn't out of immaturity, but as you said it's the "comfort zone." It's hard to get out of it. I'm learning a lot about these things in myself, slowly...

During one class, Dr. Umar Faruq Abdullah mentioned that our purpose of life is to worship God, but the worship is not the end. It is the means to know Him and become perfect. Insha'Allah.

Your inclination to speak towards strangers over acquaintances is fascinating... and that you attribute it to your dislike of small talk is interesting too.

SubhanAllah.. what are we all doing.. what am I doing?? I smile at that island, but it's the beautiful bridges to the island that fill my heart with love. We all have our islands, we always will. We only know ourselves best. We have to work inward and move our way outward. We have to work with love and move out to compassion.

Pretty words fall so easily upon my lips, but where is my heart? Such is the trouble with finger pointing when it isn't in the mirror. May the Almighty forgive me and guide me, ameen.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts sis. :) Much appreciated.


*Now centuries lie between all the prophets and you and I, civilizations are born and die each and every day. We see good and bad and happy sad and mad mistakes we wished we hadn't made in our attempt to try to live up to their way. But if we hide ourselves away, afraid to grow and learn we might wake up in the flames of the ignorance that burns; and we'll never be much more than only casualties of war in a struggle we can't win if we have no faith to begin. We've got to tip the lid and let some sunlight in.* - Brother Dawud W. Ali

Ameera said...

Assalam-o-alaikum!

This was a really good post. I can understand what you're talking about as I've experienced similar situations too. With women, there are always certain 'set' rules of interaction and the complicated part is, there are too many causes underlying that.

Like you said, the reason could be a man as the common interest of two girls, who then have a go at out-doing each other to win him. I've seen that up close and it gets pretty nasty, even if no words are exchanged!

The Quran has warned women (and men) to refrain from backbiting and suspicion. And it's so true how these two behavioral characteristics are often reflected in interactions along women.

As I said, the underlying causes for such behavior are many. I've seen my mother talk to one young relative in one tone and to another in another tone, even though both relatives are equal in their status i.e. both are daughter-in-laws of my mother's siblings. When I asked my mother about the change in tone, to one with mild politeness and to another with a degree of indifference, her reaction was susprising. She didn't admit to discriminating between the two young relatives. It goes to show how women have come to regard certain types of behavior towards other women as 'necessary' or 'natural'.

It's also got something to do with beliefs and idelogies. I know you think that's too 'deep' for common women but here's an example: I recently attended the wedding of a cousin. For the Valima, the groom's (my cousin) sisters planned to wear Saris. I don't wear Saris, especially because I've got extra baggage in terms of weight and I need to shed that first! Saris don't look good on the obese. Fullstop.

Anyhow, so I wasn't wearing a Sari but five other girl-cousins of my age group, including the groom's sisters, were. Throughout the Valima, I registered vibes - unpleasant vibes - that I was 'different' (made complex also by the fact that I was the only Hijabi). It culminated later, during the photo-shoot. Us cousins assembled on the stage for the shoot but when it came to the girls-only pictures, I suddenly found myself being asked to 'go away' as I spoiling the 'Saris only' picture.

I thought it was a joke before the photographer and my cousins started making it clear I wasn't wanted. I walked off the stage feeling distinctly 'embarassed' and all the way home, I thought about the crazy ways in which women can hurt others of their own kind and not even feel the need to tender an apology!

It's taught me a lot about dealing with such situations. Even among women, one must keep steady and stick to one's own principles. As you rightly said, smile and be on your way. You'll find the gems among the rocks... just keep looking!

(Sorry for the looong comment!)

Assalam-o-alaikum!

Farzeen said...

Wa 'alaykum assalaam wa rahmatu Allah ya Ameera

No worries about the length of the comment. I appreciate that you've put taken some time to share your insights and experiences with me. So thank you!

I'm glad I've never seen a fight for a man, ever. SubhanAllah. I wonder what the brother has to say about it. But jealousy/envy runs deep. It's something I have been thinking about for months.

I'm sure now your Mom probably considers the tone that she uses with different people. I think sometimes the 'unspoken rules of interaction' among women are so ingrained that it's rarely challenged. (Go figure, at the same time, the spoken rules of interaction in Islam are neglected by us.)Over the last few years, I' ve been challenging myself with it. There was one sister at school who was in one of my classes and we took the same bus. We never spoke to each other, and then I thought to myself, "In the least, we should greet. What's the worst that could happen? If she doesn't want to talk to me, she'll brush me off and khalas, I've done my duty." SubhanAllah, after that first greeting, many more greetings and conversations followed to the point of friendship. AlhamduliAllah. There is so much power in "assalaamu'alaykum" :). I remember another time where there was a sister in the MSA office complaining about her sister-in-law. She wasn't talking to me direclty, but I asked her if her sister-in-law is Muslim. She said, "yes." Then I reminded her to honour her if not for their close relation than for the fact that she's a Muslimah. The sister agreed, ... and then said, "but still...." I didn't expect she would cease complaining, but I'm hoping that at some point she'll critically assess herself and figure out if her complaints bear any worthy fruits, insha'Allah. I constantly find myself failing, but insha'Allah by seeing my errors, I at least have the chance to attempt to work towards a solution.

Critical thinking.. gotta kick that into gear, insha'Allah. It's the only way to get over ideological tyranny.

I'm really sorry to hear about the sari incident :(. I agree with you. I think in some situations, people are prone to losing their sense of priorities and values. I like to think that the sari gals weren't deliberately being mean but so blinded by their desire for created 'perfection' that they were oblivious to how their ways affected others. Good for you though sis! Masha'Allah! You couldn't pay me all the money in the world to wear a sari anywhere, especially in public ;).

I love that... "you'll find gems among rocks"-- my thoughts exactly. It's absolutely true. The rocks have their own beauty, but when we finds gems..subhanAllah.... Our smiles are forever, a blessing from Allah!. AlhamduliAllah. :-D

"Do you think that you will enter the Paradise without such (trials) as came to those who passed away before you? They encountered suffering and adversity and were so shaken in spirit that even the Apostle and those of faith who were with him cried: 'When (will come) the help of God?' Ah! Verily the help of God is (always) near!" [2:214]

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"Be mindful of God, and God will protect you. Be mindful of God, and you will find Him in front of you. If you ask, ask of God. If you seek help, seek help of God. Know that if the whole world were to gather together to benefit you with anything, it would benefit you only with something that God had already prescribed for you. And if the whole world were to gather together to harm you, it would harm you only with something that God has already prescribed for you. The pens have been lifted and the ink has dried."
--Prophet Muhammad [peace be upon him]