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Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Why I think that Islam Needs Reform

Like most of the Muslims today, I was born to follow this religion rather than it was a personal choice which I decided upon later in life. The earliest realization of this religious identity came in the first class of "Religion" in school when I was six years old. The teacher asked couple of my other kids to go to another class when it was the time to study religion. When I asked the kid next to me why those other kids had to leave, she said because they were Christians and they didn't have to sit in the Islamic religion class. I knew then of the difference between me and those other kids. My mother explained to me that we were Muslim, and Christians were different from us because they had another prophet other than Mohammed.

I grew up to be Muslim but I could not accept my religion blindly like many others and wished to learn more about it and the more I read, the more questions I had about why and how religious laws developed. These questions were intensified and became more urgent when Quranic verses started to be linguistically clearer as I have advanced in Arabic language study in high school. Language learning and exploring linguistic structures was something I was good at and loved. Thus, when I read Quran, I couldn't escape applying the linguistic rules I had learned of Arabic on the verses I was reading. More questions started to formulate and became more urgent when the linguistic structure refuted the Islamic laws imposed by Sharia.

I couldn't escape noticing that men's taken-for-granted guardianship over women, which is claimed to be stipulated by a Quranic text, was cleared condition in the only verse cited to support this guardianship. Quran says men are guardian of women because of the latter economic and physical dependence. So if these two conditions of dependence didn't exist, would women be free of this guardianship? I wondered. Unfortunately, no sharia book explained this guardianship as conditioned and actually made it part of Sharia followed for centuries that no one question any more.

I found the polygamy verse also conditioned linguistically and with further reading it was given in a specific historic situation, and yet polygamy in Islam is part of Sharia and Islamic culture! I found covering the head is not exactly mentioned in Quran and instead we have one verse that advises decency of clothes rather than strict dress code, but still the latter is inserted as part of our Islamic Sharia. Singing, art, literature, poetry, and many other things that Sharia would label as "haram", or against true religious devotion were not dismissed as such in Quran, yet Sharia would not even reconsider their Prohibition. In two verses, in different chapters, Allah talks to Mohammed telling him that he is given these stories to entertain him in hard times, and find solace in the similar path walked by previous prophets: entertainment and instruction. Yet, authors usually are frowned upon in Islam, unless of course they write about religion!  

When these ideas started to take strong hold of my brain, my alienation from the world increased, and thought there was no one who might walk the same road and became critical of Sharia, which I believe was the first reason why Islam is hated that much today. I saw this Sharia make us miserable and turn us into hated rigid human beings who thought they were the chosen ones (which is quite ironic considering that Muslims reject Jews claim of being the chosen ones as mere human vanity!)

For years I have been nourishing these ideas on my own, but I didn't dare to breathe them out because I knew that people don't separate our faith from Sharia, between Islamic set of believes and Islamic law (the religious institution). For me, Islam as I have learned from Quran is to believe in the maker of the universe (different cultures gave the Maker different names), to believe that through human history there were men who knew that maker, who managed to land on the truth which most of us search for today, there were men who were social reformers, and there were men who were political leaders, and all sought for better life. What people made of them later, that was not their fault. Quran argues that Jesus didn't claim divinity, and didn't ask his follower to worship him as God. It is not his fault that people now called him God, as it was not the fault of Mohammed that his followers believed that all should become Muslims even if it means using force!

I have learned that there were many things in Quran or Islamic history that were bound by the culture and history of Arabia almost 1400 years ago! To judge Mohammed for having many wives, is to judge the Romans or Greeks for having slaves! It is a cultural practice which was unquestionably normal then. However, it is not today's culture, nor it is acceptable with the increase of women's self-empowerment.

Our religion doesn't need reform, but our Sharia need it badly. It is simply ridiculous to regularize the life of 21st c. by laws based on a culture that doesn't exist any more. Today's world is regularized and organized by set of rules and laws that change with every historical and political crisis. With the world as a small village and open communication, a religion that keeps its people enclosed in a world of their own is destined to perish or his followers will do. In today's world, anyone cherish their own vision of life as the only one that is right is stupid vanity. Today, the universe is open and it showed us how small and insignificant we are against the vast existence of worlds that went for thousands of years beyond man's imagination.

Death is still the unconquered territory for man. We can travel into the vast space of the universe, but death will always brings us down and end our vanity. Because of that, throughout our history of existence we may have imagined or we may not a life after death. Can anyone assure its existence? did anyone we know who died and came back to tell us what would happen after that moment when the brain cease to work? Even in the times of complicated medical sets, we can trace when exactly the brain stops to work, but we can't tell how or what is happening inside that brain at that exact moment! Heaven and Hell have always found colorful description that abide by the culture of the time. For me, heaven of leisure life and variety of foods and drinks never interested me: I don't want a heaven that will reduce me into an animal for eternity. To feel the pain of hell need fleshly existence which goes in contradiction with the later eternal life! Heaven and Hell can be something else we need to re-imagine, or we just can't take this description literally.

But the belief in heaven and hell is not related to the essence of Mohammed's or any prophet's messages of social reform: all called for better life, social justice, and more humane conduct. All wanted their people to be kind to each other and don't persecute each other. Yet, their followers, in vanity of being the chosen ones, ruined the teachings of their masters and decided that God is helpless divine entity that needs their worldly help to have his word preside over earth!

Time to re-read our holy books, time to look up and down and place Sharia in its cultural and historical contexts. If someone says "reform your religion", ask them to elaborate and learn to listen to what they have to say. If they made a good point, maybe this would be for the best interest of our faith, if they missed it, explain to them why. Dismissing other's opinions is just vanity which will alienate us further from the world. In the so-called Islamic world people are not happy, not because some conspiracy theory made them so, but because they are now opened to a world that goes beyond them, a world of different cultures and beliefs with people variously happier than they are, the ones who believe they are the best nation. God's chosen ones!

N. F. M.      

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Who I am

I was reading on Arab-American women writers as part of my research and for the first time I find a lot that defines me and speaks for my experience. For the first time I felt inspired, and found my true voice. I could find myself in the words of Lisa Suhair Majaj who yearns for a recognition of her identity, not as the stereotyped "harem" girl, nor as the "Americanized" female. But I know that I am not eligible to dream that dream, nor to aspire that one day to free myself from the burden of people's expectations of my identity. Like Majaj, and many other Arab -Americans I wish to "walk into the forest empty handed, /climb up a mountain and down again,/ carrying no more than what any human needs to live". Like them, I want "to stand alone in a high place,/send [my] voice echoing across wild rivers"

These writers always struggled to define an identity that is denied by both: the Americans who always considered them "foreign", and framed them in an orientalist stereotype of exotic harem, and the Arabs, the other half of what they are, who considered them "Americanized" or "westernized" women who rebelled against their cultural traditions.

For an Iraqi girl who spent the time passing from teenage to adulthood reading Jane Austen, Emile Bronte, George Eliot, Elizabeth Gaskell, who loved poetry because of Emile Dickinson, Maya Angelou, Gwendolyn Brooks and Rita Dove, and took "Still I Rise " as her motto in life, this girl was not less confused about who she is, and didn't struggle less with stereotyping and positioning as much as her favorite writers.

I lived most of my life in Iraq. My first travel happened late when I was already above thirty-five, but my mind traveled way before that, when I first read Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, and learned that in faraway land, miles and century and half away from Baghdad 1998, there was a girl names Elizabeth Bennett who refused to abide by the surrounding conviction of marriage, and sought someone who could win her mind and heart before winning her body. My mind took me to a room of my own, where an isolated 19th American girl, who might have lived unrecognized in her family's house, with suppressed screams for freedom and spiritual release, but loud enough to reach a girl of 22 in Baghdad. My traveling mind took me everywhere, to all the magical places my books offered, and brought me back to Baghdad, to my family house, different adult who can't live by the rules of her restricted culture.

By the time I finished my PhD, I could no longer identify myself with world around; it just seemed to me so small and so limited. I felt that I had the energy to reach to the stars, but my world was putting my down. At that time, I knew I don't belong to this world. I was so different from my sisters, for I never shared their interests, I was a disappointment to my mother, who suffered a lot with me for not being what she wanted me to be, and I know that I wanted more from my world that it could really offer. I developed a yearning to travel and live abroad, maybe in that world I have read so much about in literature, where I can be free, and only the sky can be my limits.

After years, the dream came true and now I am in London, where I can be whoever I want to be. However, only after settling in London. I realized the liminality of my position, that I have carried with me two cultures whose struggles against each other is still unresolved. In Baghdad, I failed to play the "good girl" part, and has been always my mother's worse headache, and my sisters' worry for not dreaming similar dreams. They all seemed to play in one team, playing one symphony, while I always felt like the black sheep, the one with uncanny voice.

The same sense of alienation seems to follow me in London, where I always wanted to be, because I wasn't as "westerner" as a European woman could be, nor I was the "wild" girl who can now set herself free after years of suppression. In London, I was "conservative" and "up-tight" girl who is "foreigner" to all other girls of her age! The same feeling of "I don't belong here" still overwhelms me, and I still couldn't find "my kind of people", till I started reading these Arab-American women writers. They speak to me, they know what I have been through, they were caught between two worlds neither seemed to be "home" enough for them.

Like them, I long for a status of being human, and nothing else need to follow in an identity card: I don't want to be defined as woman, as Muslim. or as Iraqi. I don't want people to build expectations, and characterize me once they see my head-scarf. I don't want an identity built on features I didn't choose for myself: for a biological reason I became a woman, and because my family was Muslim I was raised as one, and I didn't choose to be born in Iraq. But I choose to be everything else: I chose to be educated, to have a career, to sing a different song! I chose to survive and rise again from every fall I had to suffer in my adult years. I chose to be simply a human being.

N. F. Mohammed

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Our Culture is Medieval

     
While the world is still in trauma from Paris attacks, probably some searching for answers for terrorism and how to fight it back: I would say, regardless who finance terrorism, and what political purposes it serves, religious terrorism takes its raw material from a medieval culture that refuse to evolve and prefer the stagnancy of death to the fresh springs of life.

My education in English literature made me read history, sociology and many other subjects to understand better the literature I was studying. It helped me think outside of the box of the stagnant culture I always refused. When I started my job as university professor in Al-Mustansiriyah University, Baghdad, I tried to have my students think outside the box as well, and develop the individuality our collective culture denies. It lashed back at me when most appeared resistant to be different and preferred the march of the herd, than the dance of the individual. I tried to teach free expression on social networks, and found attackers shooting me with accusations of treason and apostasy and atheism.
  
Honestly I didn't expect this hostility; I expected indifference but not that. They found me a traitor who turned her back to the country that gave her everything she has: education, social status and job. For some reason, my constant reference to the head-scarf , which they failed to get its symbolism, was understood as expression of desire to take it off! Because I passed few arguments that undermine the validity of the head-scarf or neqab as part of Islamic rules, and took a feminist stand against man's religiously imposed guardianship over woman, they attacked me as defying God's words. 

Regardless of the fact that those who attacked me actually misunderstood what I post because of their weak grasp of English, as it show in the broken English of their comments, their attitude was not to be taken as personal. They simply expressed deep rooted culture of monolithic views, and exclusive attitude toward different ones.

They blamed me for "trashing" the country instead of showing gratitude! In Iraq, during the 1980s, 90s and till now education is free and available to all its citizens. But I don't see all having PhDs, so it must be something more than being an Iraqi that helped me come so far in education: family support and faith in me, personal choices that preferred being a career woman rather than a housewife and above all a defying spirit that challenged social convictions which tried to hold me back. These three have nothing to do with being Iraqi, actually being born in Iraq, under the tent of Middle Eastern culture that pushes women to be second rate citizens, just made it harder for me. I remember when I was nominated for PhD program, many of my senior colleagues told me while congratulating me that now I wouldn't have the chance to find a husband as men fear women with PhDs! I had my family at my back supporting me and believing in me. My father, after feeling the sting of letting one daughter marrying young, decided to have all his other daughters pursue their education and have guarantees against the hardships of uncertain future and against prevalent male domination. Now four of six daughters hold higher degrees and work as university professors, while the fifth and youngest is MA candidate in Physics. None of us could have done it without the support of our father, and without the hard experience of the eldest daughter who was the escape goat of a medieval culture that believed in male domination and a woman's need for male guardianship. 

They blamed me for arguing against hijab (wearing the head-scarf) or neqab (covering all the body). Unfortunately, if it is the word of God or the word of someone else, the arguments that support hijab spring from the idea of protecting men from the seductive beauty of women. They project women as sexual beings, created for the pleasure of man, and thus they need to cover up whatever in their bodies that is considered "seductive" to men! In other words, if I felt uncomfortable with heavy clothes and covering up, I need to hold it up and bear it, so I won't seduce men, and drag them to sin, or probably provoke them to hurt me (many would attribute harassment against women to the latter indecent clothing, always blaming the woman for provoking that animal behavior in man). Ironically such arguments don't insult women as much as they insult men, and carry an implied acknowledgement that men are like wild animals who can't help but drool over naked flesh! If I was a man, I would never accept such insult to my humanity and self-esteem and would be ashamed of such arguments, and instead of repeating blindly these views, I would raise my sons to be respectful of women, ask my friends and every male I know to be "human"! 

My personal attitude toward the head scarf is well known in previous article I published, in which I said I wear the scarf since I was 13 and even when I was given the choice, I don't take it off because it became part of who I am. Do I support it? Do I recommend it? Would I ask my daughter, sister, niece, or anyone to wear it? Definitely no! For me, it doesn't make a difference in one's personality and it won't prevent a girl from being what she is. 

The attackers wanted me to express patriotic gratitude and feel proud for being Iraqi, Muslim and voice out the bravery of my country. I am sorry I can't lie! I am not happy in a culture that support male domination even when the woman is the bread winner, even when she is the one who holds the family together, the decision maker would be always the male, even if he was quite useless! I don't believe in a culture that sees me a tempting meat that needs covering while wild animals drool over it! I don't feel proud of  a culture that makes me the property of family, husband, and tribe! I don't feel proud of a culture that make me an outcast and social alien because I am different! I am not proud of a culture that failed to see through my humanity and disregarded my individuality, a culture that wants me to be part of a blind herd. 

Finally, I am not proud of a culture which can admit its hypocrisy, division, and can stop all wars, but when it comes to me, a woman, it retreats back to a stone age, and lashes me as a shrew.       

N. F, M 

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Upon Visiting the Jesus Christ Church

Biology proved humanity as one species with different colors and features, but in core anatomy, we are all the same. However, with the great gift of the mind and the power of thinking, we developed to be enemies of each other and we fight like no other wild animal does!

Away from home, away from everything familiar, I found myself in need of praying, in need of spiritual connection. At home, because of personal crisis, I always had the need to visit a house of God and pray or cry there, asking God to rescue me from the abyss I was falling into. As a Shiite, I always asked my family to take me to the holy shrines of our saints, somehow finding solace in letting out my grief with prayers and always found myself lighter after spending time there. But today, in this foreign land, I couldn't bring myself even to do my prayers properly in my room, and always suffered nostalgia for the shrines in Baghdad.

While I was walking in a park, two lovely young ladies approached me and started a small chit-chat. When they knew I am Iraqi, they gave me their card and invited me to visit their church, Jesus Christ Church of Latter Saints. For some time, afterwards I struggled not to go there, and I thought this would be betrayal for my faith, since Muslims visit churches mostly as tourists to see the fascinating buildings and historical possessions included inside. I wanted to visit for another reason: not that I was interested in the beauty of architecture or the historical treasures in the many English Cathedrals I pass by every day. I was really eager to get inside any of them and take full image of amazing designs a human mind and hand can create. However, during the last couple of weeks, with my nostalgia increasing, I wanted to speak to God, and for some reason I failed to achieve that in the small studio-room I live in. I didn't even know for sure where Mecca's direction. Something was setting me off, and it tormented me that I couldn't pray the way I needed.

On Sunday morning, I set out toward Jesus Christ Church of Latter Saints in Exhibition Road, London. When I arrived there, it appeared to be a modern building, with no particular architectural design to attract tourists, who would rather, maybe. visit the many amazing museums surrounding the area. I approached the building and with the encouragement of a middle-aged man with broken English, I entered the building and waited for the morning sermon to start.

The place felt reverend: all the men dressed in suits, as if it is the meeting of high-profile corporation. Someone on the pedestal was adjusting the screen for some video to display. The man with broken English told me that he became a Mormon five years ago, after being an Orthodox. I looked at the book of Hymns in front of me, and it was full of poems in praise of God the Almighty. Nothing was there to drive me off, or arouse any suspicion. Everyone sees me greet me with smile, and some extend their hands introducing themselves. I knew I looked different to them with my head-scarf, but it was a relief that all were warm and welcoming.

From what I understood from the man sitting next to me, this Sunday was a day for celebration for the Mormons. I listened to couple of sermons from outstanding people in the Church, and throughout the stories they told of different prophets, I kept wondering what was different between Islam and Christianity or Mormonism?!!! They talked about people who, in a hard moment of desperation in their lives, managed to grasp their faith, and rise above their hardships and spot the light at the end of their dark tunnel. They talked about people whose names mentioned in all holy books of Abrahamic religions; they preached honesty, integrity and faithfulness. Again, how this was different from Islam or any other religion?!! I know that there is no religion would allow lying, stealing, hurting others; I know there is no religion would preach shedding the blood of the innocence for earthly power!! So why we are fighting?!!

While listening to sermons that sound so familiar in its content regardless of its foreign language, my mind wandered back to all the sermons and essays I read about Islam as the greatest religion, and Mohammed the greatest prophet, and how many preachers did what they take against the Jews: believing arrogantly that they are "the chosen ones", and only they had the true word of God!! If Islam means "surrendering to the will of God, and obeying the creator", how is that different from Christianity and other Abrahamic religions? Is calling the creator Allah or Lord makes the Muslim's God different from Christian's God? Shakespeare's says a rose by any name would smell the same, and the creator that inspired Abraham is the same creator that inspired Jesus and Mohammed toward his word, so why we are fighting again?

Our division weakened us, and made us susceptible to doubt and fruitless skepticism. We are too busy in pointing out differences, highlighting assumed advantages and privileges, to notice that we all pray to one heaven.

I am a Muslim. Shiite, but I find comfort in a house of God, where He was referred to as Lord, and hymns were considered prayers, and music filled in the air. Still, I left this house of God as light as I used to feel when I leave the holy shrines of Muslim saints.

Nadia F. Mohammed      



   

Friday, October 2, 2015

First Morning in London



I am one of thousands, if not millions, who left Iraq escaping the violence, killing and terrorism which are killing the Iraq we knew since 2003. I had a relatively good job with good salary, but I couldn't bring myself to submit to its internal politics and accept its slavery of my mind and integrity. I am well-educated in a subject which barely means anything in a country where literature is dying and people, too busy with figuring out the harsh reality they live in, become indifferent to aesthetic expressions. I have a good loving family, for whom I speak a language that they don't understand. In a moment of despair and skepticism over the future in Baghdad, I reached out for every possibility that can take me somewhere safe where I can find myself and speak the only language I  knew. When a hand was stretched to take me out of the abyss I lived in, I took the chance and packed my bags. I folded my broken-heart, and said good-bye to the world that felt lately so small and suffocating the last breath out of me. 

I arrived London late in the night of the last day of July. Familiar faces of colleagues welcomed me in the airport to help me settling in. My first night in the strange city was sleepless. I was too excited to put myself to sleep. With the first threads of light in the sky, I jumped out of bed, got dressed, and hit the streets to explore the new place. Luckily, there was a park just around the corner in Russel Square. One of the things that I always wanted to do in Baghdad was to walk in a park full of flowers and green gardens, and now my wish was coming true. Pigeons were picking the grounds searching for crumbs, and there was a scrawl running from one tree to another. We don't have scrawls in Baghdad, and was so excited to see that small cute animal that for a moment I wished to be Piper, the witch who freezes time, so I could keep the scrawl on the ground long enough to see it closely and maybe take a picture for it. Bad I was not! I spotted a cafe in the corner of the park; the need for caffeine took me there. A nice old man greeted me with a smile and "how can I help you darling?". With a cheerful voice, I ordered cappuccino and a muffin. My ideal idea of breakfast: sitting in small cozy cafe in a park with the sweet morning symphony of birds and smell of flowers filling the air, while I sip my cappuccino and eat my muffin. Best breakfast ever and now it was happening. 

The breakfast was over, but not my appetite to explore the place. I knew that it was too early for my friends to wake up, so instead of going back to the hotel, I walked down the main street to the south of Russel Square. I walked on the right side trying to capture in my mind every spot my eyes were drawn into. I was not just looking, I was literally gazing at everything. With every step I was taking in my high heels, I could hear my mind screaming Joey's catch line when the six Friends visited UK, "London Baby!!"; I tried to hide the smile which my lips do whenever Joey's line flashed in the middle of my mental cheerful screams, but I couldn't. Luckily I restrained myself from doing his excited moves which he does when saying that!!

The city was waking-up: stores started to open, cafes are arranging their outdoors chairs, and the smell of coffee from the competing Starbucks, Costa and Nero cafes was filling the atmosphere. What could be more beautiful than this: my eyes captured images of flowers on the windows, in the stores and the smell of various coffee brands! But above all, it was safe! It was safe for me to walk and explore with no expected judgement, it was safe for me to walk on my own without a male guardian, and more importantly, it was safe for me to walk, watch, sniff and enjoy without the fear of hidden enemy waiting around the corner or unexpected sound of explosion to ruin the peaceful first morning in London


Nadia. F. Mohammed

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Under the Tent of Religion: Corruption

I was just talking with  Facebook friend on why Iraq lives this drastic situation. His immediate answer was "corruption, corruption, corruption", which were the words of some Iraqi man talking on radio about what happened to our army in June 2014.

Yes, the word corruption sums all our problems. It is like seeing someone with different symptoms of sickness and every time you ask why they had their hair fall, why their faces pale, or why they look tired and so on, one gets one answer: it is corruption. 

I checked the meaning of the word: impurity, depravity and perversion; all these are attached basically to the word "moral" which explains the context of the impurity and depravity. The phrase rung many bells in my mind; actually there are tens of bells ringing in my head when i read the different meanings and contexts of corruption. it is a virus that has pierced and dominated most aspects of our lives, not just the government. After all the corrupted officials are people and their impure work ethics reflect the dishonesty of the way they think which will eventually reflect on their personal lives. 

But then I don't need to look for great corruption scandals to see how this impurity of morality has destroyed my country. It suffices to look at the department of English where I teach to realize how lethal this disease is and how far it infected all aspects of the teaching process. Take that janitor or guard, who takes money from low-achieving students to speak to teachers on their behalf inventing stories like certain student (his client) is the uncle or cousin of his deadly sick daughter (another invented lie) and that this student has spent the night before the exam or the week before handing an assignment taking care of the sick child!! Since this janitor has spent the last two years selling this story to the faculty members and made it more tragic on the payment day, he won most of the time and succeeded in taking the said student/client off the hook. (the poor guy became too conceited with his success so far that he tried the trick me and another teacher who have immunity against such lies and never believed in excuses for an exam or assignment. We both reported him to his superiors who found themselves compelled to transfer him somewhere else). 

Not that the faculty is morally immune against impurity: take that teacher who always expresses her disappointment at the students' indifference toward learning and that they are not making an effort to learn or that they don't have qualifications to be studying English. That same teacher stole a chapter of her colleague's master thesis and tried to participate or publish it as her own paper! The victim of her theft tried to stop her but other colleagues interfered and convinced him not to report the case as she would lose her job (she used few tears to win people's sympathy and she was finally off the hook).    

Then take the head of the department who decided to profit from his current position and gain more by first pleasing his superiors in ending any problems with the students even if this is was on the expense of academic integrity. 

The chain of corruption is endless and can include all: moral integrity becomes an out of date expression which can only receive pity laugh from people today. The weird thing is that all these people claim strong religious commitment: they never miss a prayer, or a religious ritual without being part of it.

Every time, I listen to their religious ramblings I wonder if religion, and faith in God and the teachings of Mohammed failed to end this corruption and lead people toward righteousness, then what is the use of all these ramblings?    

Nadia F. Mohammed 


Saturday, January 24, 2015

To Lift Off My Veil (1)



Anyone who has personally met me, or seen a picture of me knows that I wear "hijab", that I cover my hair and dress "juba", an Islamic costume quite popular in Iraq, Syria and Turkey.

I started this fashion choice when I started intermediate school. It was not a voluntary choice, but a family tradition that I started willingly to please my parents (by "willingly", I mean that took the initiation of wearing hijab before I was told to do so, because I wanted to show my parents what a "good daughter" I was.

There were times in the last 23 years (I started wearing hijab when I was 13 and now I am 36) when I felt tired, weary and suffocated because of that piece of fabric covering my head; there were times when I felt that it covered my beauty and turned me to hideous creature that no one would ever admire or fall in love with. But I survived all those times of feminine ego stigmatization and grown used to my appearance that even when I had a chance to free myself from the veil in a country where no one would judge me, I felt discomfort and preferred my usual self which took me almost quarter of a century to know and get used to.

Today, I have no complaints against my appearance or where I want to dress and how I wish to look. I feel quite comfortable, safe and at home with the veil covering my hair. There are even increasing occasions when I feel that I have convenient fashion choice: the veil saves me valuable time when I get ready for work in the morning (no need to comb my hair, or worry if it gets messed up in windy or rainy days), the dress also grows part of me because today Turkish Islamic designers provided me with wonderful choices for my over-weighted body.

But to cover my head is not the only thing a Muslim society demands from me, as Muslim woman. I heard all my life people prescribe to me how women should behave, act and talk in public so that I give the image of a "good girl", to be labelled "well-taught" and be the pride of my family. I need to be timid and obedient and do everything my parents, my brothers (the men of the family), ask me to do. I should be well-trained in house chores: knows how to cook and make the house clean as if it is brand-new place. I should not talk in a loud voice, nor laugh (giggle) in front of guests or they would think of me as too forward. I need to be timid in front of males, in the hope some male think of me as a good future-wife for himself, his brother or recommend me to any other male acquaintance he knows.

My education was the fancy wrapping for the commodity in display. In modern society, an educated woman is in demand, not because she would have the brain to lead a fruitful discussion with her husband, but because her education will help her in her expected role as a mother, helping the kids she will have in their homework; she will be good companion in social gatherings and make her husband proud in front of his friends and acquaintance. An educated woman today is in demand as a "trophy wife" in a society that started to awaken new from its rural backgrounds.

However, as an educated woman, I need not to be too educated: I need to know how to read and write but I should not have an intellectual voice of my own, or an opinion that may go against established institutions in Iraqi society.

If a man speaks some doubts against religion, he would be considered confused, lost and in need of guidance to restore his wandering soul under the turban of religion. But, when a woman poses the same kind of thoughts she is deemed as fallen, immoral, and needs to be beaten, imprisoned to force the demon who possessed her out.  

When I started my paper on Anne Sexton, and read of American women struggle in their "patriarchal society",  I felt like telling these women "are you kidding me"? If their social rules considered "patriarchal", undermining female roles and suppressing their feminine identity, what can they say about Iraqi society with its dominant Arab-Islamic traditions? If women living in the western world are struggling against patriarchy, then I and my peers of Iraqi educated women are dead and shrouded under veils of social convenience and "Islamic identity".

Later, I read her poem "Housewife". Then it hits me: an American woman fifty years ago lived our situation. She had the choice to live on her own, to choose her husband, to travel, and to be model if she wanted, but still she knew what was meant to be a woman in a society where "men enter by force". She knew the curse of being our mothers, and continue the role that we never wanted.

But that was half century ago, I thought. I read poems by her and her contemporaries of feminist and thought in envy that their situation is in the past, that women in the west got rid of their veils, and exposed defiantly their individuality for everyone to see. The more I read of their bold oppositions and rebellion against the limited role assigned by the masculine society, the more I grow convinced of my need to live there, and lift off the veil that shrouded for long the freedom of my mind.

My excitement, however, was shattered away by Anne-Marie Slaughter who told me that "Women Still Can't have it all". When I came across this article, I thought what they still can't get there? They can do anything I can imagine without being stopped or judged. I read her article out of curiosity and heard in the words of this high-profile employee in the State Department the frustration of my sisters and colleagues who sacrificed great career to take care of the family. In her words, I read the regret of every career woman who missed the chance to enjoy family life because she wanted to pursue her career, and sacrificing in the way the years to find a husband or raise a family.

Her situation is not alien to me, nor mine is to her. Our grievances are one and so are our dreams. Although, she did not have to wear veil, she didn't have a father or husband who marked for her the way she would take in life, and she were not buried under the turban of some sexiest man who diminished her to a number of four for her husband, still she  had to sacrifice a dream job to take care of her teen boy. Like all women of all colors and attires, she and I accommodate our dreams and fail our potentials to settle for a reality drawn by someone else.   

Nadia F. Mohammed