Friday, October 31, 2008

Dear Hijab

My good friend Dina and I both went through something similar: a great deal of self reflection and discussion about something so dear to us: al-hijab. This is something extremely personal, and it was therefore very difficult for me to articulate my decision when I decided to take it off. Dina on the other hand so eloquently expressed her decision through this letter. I loved it and decided to share it here because in many ways it is an expression of how I felt as well.

Dear Hijab,

We've been together for a long time. For over twelve years we have shared the experiences that tested my values and faith. But now it is time for us to part. This isn't a complete separation, like a divorce from a loved one or an amputation of a limb. I see this is maturation…simply no longer needing the training wheels and graduating to the next level of spiritual growth.

At first I felt it was silly to think so delicately and feel such strong emotion about you. After all, there are far more dire issues that face humans in the world. But then I allowed myself to look deeper into our relationship, from what began as just following God's command to what became a closely knit link between my character, faith and personality. And I thought, at the very least I owe you the recognition of these huge contributions to my life.

Because of you, the world is talking about Islam. You remind people, believers and disbelievers, of God. You have made women stronger, more able to speak up than their male counterparts in this human race. You have challenged governments to allow people their rights. And have challenged people to seek overlap between the Divine and the worldly rather than separate the two, keeping them far apart, as they have been in the past.

And that's just the grand scale. I can't even count the number of ways you have impacted my life, and this letter does not do you justice. I know who I am now, because you've caused me to consistently introspect. You've allowed each part of my identity to blossom at times where "Dina" was a jumbled bunch of factoids like age, ethnicity, geographic location. You've connected me to other Muslims instantly by virtue of physical recognition. You've helped me make a stand, inadvertently, against corrupt ideals and judgments. And most importantly, you've helped me learn the character traits of endurance, humility, and compassion for people that are considered outsiders in a world of homogeny.

So if you mean so much to me, 'why would I let you go,' you might ask. There are several reasons that float around for why you aren't necessary, but I am not about justification of intentions on already-decided issues. I am a woman of principle, and you helped teach me that. So this decision is based on just that, principle.

The journey to this decision began about a year ago when I came across a few hadiths that struck a nerve with me. They didn't seem to coincide with the teachings of the Prophet or, more importantly, Divine Word (aka the Quran). I dismissed my alarm as paranoia and thought I was not educated enough to make any real decisions. I had to continue to follow what others had interpreted from hadiths to mean that you are mandatory.

But that didn't settle well. I am 26 years old, and must listen to the command from God to think. There is benefit and reward in thought. "There surely is an oath for thinking man [person]" (89:5). I learned that out of the 600,000 hadith collected by Bukhari a few hundred years after the Prophet's death, only around 7,300 hadiths have been left and claimed sahih (valid). And this methodology of weeding out the wrong traditions has not been reexamined in 1,000 years. In addition to the hadiths that we use for interpretation that may not be legitimate, much of what we practice today is based on 1,000 year-old patriarchal interpretation of the hadiths that are considered sahih. So when I say the problem isn't with you Hijab, I mean it. I'm not just giving you a cliché break-up message.

I am at a point where I believe hadiths need to be reevaluated and we need to reopen the doors of philosophy and thought. If I'm wrong in all of this, I hope that the level of effort and thought I have put into this search for what's right in life is counted as valuable, if not more valuable, than the minor acts that I am changing. For this reason, I am continuing to follow what is accepted in prayer, fasting, etc. These are matters much bigger than you Hijab, I hope you understand.

This doesn't mean I don't appreciate you or the many years we've spent together. You mean more to me than I can write about or even realize. But I must do what I believe is right and follow my heart in my search for truth.

We'll be seeing each other frequently though, don't worry. At the mosque, during prayers, and at times when I need you. And I know the doors are always open, because God never closes His even when people close theirs.

With love,

Monday, October 27, 2008

Window 12, 42, and 33, Adventures of the Mugamma

About three months ago, during my job interview I asked my colleagues about changing my visa into temporary residency and obtaining a work permit.  I was assured that the human resources department at the university will deal with it.  Two months later, I realized no one has done anything, and I was therefore technically “illegal” in the country.  I couldn’t wait any longer, so I decided to go there myself.

The mugamma is a large building with various ministerial offices that has a terrible reputation for being the most bureaucratic entity in Cairo (imagine that!).  The Cairo Practical Guide warns: “This daunting pre-evolutionary monstrosity on the south side of Midan Al-Tahrir strikes terror in the heart of any Kafka fan.”

I left early morning and headed to the mugamma.  I arrived there at 9 a.m. and it was already packed. Of course I was given a million different directions of which way to go, but I finally found the right window, window 12.  I explained my situation, and I was informed that it’s not a big deal, all I need to do is pay the fine (150LE, about $30), which includes the cost of a 6 months visa extension.

She handed me the form and I proceed to fill it out in Arabic assuming that will make things easier since we are in an Arab country and sine most of the staff do not speak English.  I returned to the window and handed her the form.  She asked me to please fill it out again but this time in English because I have an American passport so it had to be in English.  I did as I’m told.

She then asked for 1 copy of the passport.  (Oops didn’t know I needed that!) I asked where I could find a photocopy machine and she directed me to the first floor.  I went downstairs and to be on the safe side, I asked for two copies of my passport instead of one!  I returned to window 12 and handed her one copy.  She then asked for a picture.  (Oops I didn’t know I needed that either!)  So I asked her half jokingly if I could photocopy my passport picture instead of handing in an actual picture.  She said: ya course, anything will do!  WOW, I can’t believe that worked!  So I handed her my other copy!  She then directed me to window 42 to buy some stamps costing 11LE. 

I returned to window 12, and delivered the stamps.  Then they gave me a ticket and asked me to go back to window 42 to pay my fine.  At window 42 they told me this is NOT where I’m supposed to pay my fine, I should return to window 42.  Back at window 42, they directed me AGAIN to window 12!!! I then went to a random window and asked them where I’m supposed to pay my fine, and they explained that I should go to window 33, not window 44, or window 12!

I paid my fine at window 33, then went back to window 12.  They explained that I needed to get ANOTHER stamp from window 12.  I went back to window 12 to buy the 3 LE stamp, but they didn’t have change, so I couldn’t buy it!!! Ahhhhhhhh  At this point I wandered the halls asking random strangers if they had change for 50 LE, and in the process made some friends.  I finally managed to get change, and returned to window 12 to buy my stamp.

I returned to window 42, and at 10:30 I finally submited my passport. 

I was told to return in two hours. So at 12:15 I returned.  I went to the window to pick up my passport, but there were MANY MANY people waiting there.  I finally got my passport at around 2:20.

Of course since we waited there for two more hours, I ended up meeting a lot of the people that were also just sitting there waiting for their passport, including an Algerian man, a Jordanian woman, two Palestinian men, and an American woman.  It felt great to see people from all over the world.

The funny part is that while we were waiting, three different guys asked me out!  One was as old as my father, if not older (and my father is 751).  The second was as old as my kid (if I had one), I know I always say I don’t care about age, but there are limits!  The third was a religious Christian man who was talking to me about how much he loves Cairo because it has a large Christian population and how he wants to get married from here.  However, before he left, he wanted my number and wanted to get together for dinner.  Confused, I remind him that I’m from Yemen (not from Egypt) and that I’m Muslim!

2:15 I left the mugamma with some funny stories, and an extended visa until February.  Alhamdulilah!

Elevator problem

If you live in a country with no reliable electricity, I suggest you do NOT live on the 9th floor!  The elevator broke, and it is really tiring!  I guess I’m REALLY out of shape J

Friday, October 24, 2008


Walking to the internet cafe near the apartment I noticed dark clouds. Could it be? Could it rain? It hasn't rained since i got here! I sat at the internet cafe for 10 minutes, then the rain started to pour. Kids that were playing video games left their games and ran to the glass door to watch the rain. The young men that were chatting or on facebook joined the boys. They were all standing in a straight line watching the rain. An older man in the cafe told us all that we should start praying because prayer during the rain is mustajab or "answered."

Rain continued to pour, and the three kids couldn't sit still, they finally opened the door and went out to play in the rain. I really wanted to join them, but people would have thought I was crazy.

The heavy rain reminded me of a summer day in Washington. Except that here it doesn't occur very often, and therefore it is much more appreciated.

After 20 minutes, the rain stopped, but the laughter of the kids continued. This is something they will talk about for the next week.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

I'm in love

Two years ago, in a visit to Cairo, I understood what “love at first site” meant but my rational mind would not accept this type of love. I finally had to move to Cairo to “test” whether it's true or not.

October 20th marks my two months anniversary in Cairo. I can now announce that I am officially in love … with Cairo… :) I know it’s not a person, but at least I’m in love right? hehe

I am still on a Cairo high, and I love every second of it. Well not every second, as there are moments when I want to scream and yell!! Whether its when I’m stuck in traffic, or when the guy insists on honking the horn NONSTOP for no reason, or when my NEW water heater tank breaks for the SECOND time. In the past two months, I wake up everyday praying that I have water in the morning. Sometimes there is no water at all; sometimes there is water but no hot water (I’ve learned to take VERY quick cold showers). Sometimes while I’m taking a warm shower, the water shifts between hot and cold, and sometime it just stops (reminds me of Yemen). I miss having reliable hot water anytime I wanted.

There are also days when I am so furious with my job. I work at a research center in one of the “best” universities in the country, the American University of Cairo. Before I arrived here I expected some disorganization, but nothing prepared me for the level of carelessness and disorganization that I found. (I hope no one from work knows about my blog, it would be quite embarrassing!). It took me about two months to get an email account and an AUC ID (which I need to enter the university) and I still don't have a bus pass!

Despite all this, I am greatly enjoying this lovely city, and I believe this is what unconditional love is all about. Accepting the “negative” because there is a greater good. Like any other city, Cairo has a lot of negatives, the pollution, the traffic, and the disorganization. But I will learn to live with that because Cairo is worth it, as it offers much more than that. And maybe this is what relationships should be like.

I love that my neighborhood has become “home” now. The pharmacist next door knows me by name now and insists on calling me “Dr. Atiaf” because I sometimes wear glasses and I work at a university. The man at the grocery store asks why I haven’t been there in 3 days, and the woman at the internet café asks if my father is enjoying his time in Cairo. Humanity is alive here.

I alos love that there is so much to do everyday. If you want to visit historical sites there are plenty to see, if you want to attend academic lectures, there are many everyday. If you want to pray and visit religious sites, you will find a place in every corner, and if you want to enjoy some music or party you can do that as well. If you want to do a little of everything you can certainly do that.

Yesterday the taxi driver said to me, “you’re not from Cairo right?”, and I said yes that’s right. He then asks if I’m from Alexandria? That made me very happy. He assumed I am Egyptian. J

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Court Orders Release of 17 Innocent Guantanamo Detainees into US

It's about damn time!

The worst part is this: All were cleared for release long ago. However, because of the stigma of their detention at Guantánamo and for fear of offending China, no other country had agreed to offer these men safe haven. 

I can't think of greater torment than to live innocently behind bars for seven years!  I wonder how many more innocent lives must suffer.  Close Guantanamo Now

Arab Unity is Dead

Police in Egypt have blocked a convoy organized by opposition groups to carry medical supplies to the Gaza makes me sick


It's hard to articulate exactly why I'm afraid of this thing we call the future...why should I be afraid? it's just time.. and time doesn't exist..right?